Early American candlestands: light at the right height

Threaded candle stand screw type
Threaded screw candlestand allowed someone working at the desk to raise candles that had burned down. The drawer is a nice base for stability as well as storage. In the parsonage at Mission Mill in Salem, Oregon, photographed by Glen Bedsoe

When you’re working by candlelight you want as much light on your sewing or reading as possible, but you don’t want to waste candlewax or tallow. It helps if you can raise or lower the light to suit the task, or to allow for the candle getting shorter.

Candlestands colonial screw tripod table type
Early 20th C candlestands inspired by early American designs. On the left, a model for a recreated early American room (photo Knoxville Museum of Art). On the right, a woodworking design for a so-called Puritan candle stand, a "copy of a genuine antique", to be made of maple with brass tubing to hold the candles.

Colonial Americans and their descendants left behind them a kind of threaded candlestand with a special charm. It’s thought of as a distinctively American design: twin candle holders on a wooden bar which moves up or down on a central stem. Floor-standing candlestands like this, with a small tabletop, are desirable antiques, while 20th and 21st century craftspeople have gone on making both full-height and “desktop” versions. For a classic example in maple wood look at this 18th century one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Grandmother’s front room had bow-backed chairs with flag seats, and tables supported by curiously-carved and twisted legs, a candle stand that screwed up and down like a piano stool, a handsome mirror, and the buffet was resplendent in its appointments.
Memories of a Massachusetts room c1800 in Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian by Sarah Emery, 1879

Candle stand in shoemaker's workshop at Colonial Williamsburg (a living history exhibit). Photo by Jeff Kubina.

What are they called?

Now for the name problem. Is there a name that summons up an image of a tripod-legged table with a pair of candle holders on an arm that screws up and down? Or even a name for the top part with or without legs? Here are some that I’ve seen used:

Candlestand or Candle Stand – the name used by the Met, but they use it for plain tables too. Light, portable tables, aka candlestands, were made in quantity in the 1800s as bedside or parlor tables suitable for holding a candlestick. Candlestand can also mean a very ornamental tall stand.

Shoemaker’s or Cobbler’s Candlestand – Adjusting the level of the candle was certainly important for shoe makers and other craftspeople, but they didn’t stick just to the threaded twin-candle type. The photo left shows a very simple candle holder with some scope for height adjustment, while the shoemaker’s shop at Williamsburg also has a more elaborate kind with the “light-focusing” globes associated with lacemaking.

Shaker Candlestand – Is it right to call screw-threaded candle holders “Shaker”? They weren’t just made by Shakers, and the Shakers themselves also made tables with a single hole and shaft for a candle holder, as well as plain small tables to place a candlestick on.

In the evening, after the dishes were washed and cleared off the table and the table set back, the candle stand would be moved out from its proper corner and the whole family gathered around it; some of the men reading a newspaper or a book or the women sewing or knitting, or spinning flax or tow. If there was not room around the stand for all, one or more would hang a candle on the back of a chair.
Memories of a Virginia farm in the 1820s by John Janney

Adjustable candle stand 18th century
A different way of adjusting candle height and position with this holder from Upper Saddle River, NJ, believed to date from c1735. (Bergen County Historical Society report 1920)

English candlestands

What ancestors or relatives did these candlestands have in Europe? I turned to Pinto’s Treen and other wooden bygones for clues. He describes a variety of adjustable one- or two-candle holders and stands: to go on the floor, on a table, or hanging on a wall. The type that sounds most like the taller early American kind discussed here is an 18th century “threaded wood stem or pillar, on which were mounted one or two threaded candle brackets, adjustable in height by turning them on the stem”. “Ratchet adjustment” or “friction rise and fall” were alternative mechanisms. He shows an early single candle friction type, floor-standing with a small square tabletop incorporated in the design. There’s also a short 18th century boxwood candle holder with threaded shaft holding an arm with a candle at each end.

As mentioned above, there’s some similarity with lacemakers’ candlestands, which Pinto says were used not only for lace but for other “close work” too. Usually, in England at least, these were “crude”, “three-legged” like milking stools, with holes for the “flashes” or water-filled globes and for a single “spring controlled rise and fall candle holder”.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:  main picture, scale model candle stand, Williamsburg candle stand.   More picture info here
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A kitchen in 1930 – what do you recognise?

A simple kitchen for a glass worker's family around 1930. Photo by Andreas Praefcke.

Enamel cookware, dishes and candlestick, a black stove with a flat iron and skillet on top, a nice old wooden high chair – nothing too surprising for a 1930-ish kitchen. But if you live in an English-speaking country, there may be things in this German kitchen that seem slightly, or very, unfamiliar.

Enamel shelf with pots of soap, soda, and sand

Do you recognise the little shelf on the left-hand wall with three pots of sand, soda and soap: a characteristic German way of organising cleaning materials in the early 20th century? Nearby is a “modern” touch: an electric outlet. (The wooden apparatus next to it is a puzzle. Could it be glass-making equipment from the workshop on the other side of the wall? Please tell us below if you know.)

Vintage German coffee grinders. 2nd photo by Rosenzweig.

The coffee mill on the wall has a glass cup to catch the ground coffee and a jar above the grinder to store the roasted beans. This type was used in other European countries too – but not in Britain, where you were far more likely to see a tea caddy than a coffee mill. There was a variety of wall mills in the US, another coffee-drinking country.

Bundt pan
Pan for baking Bundkuchen or Gugelhupf ring cake.

There’s a mould hanging on the wall for baking ring cakes. If you’re American you’ll call this a Bundt pan, but they were uncommon in the USA of the 1930s. In Germany and Austria Kranzform (wreath-shape) pans for baking Bundkuchen aka Gugelhupfer have been known for 300 years: ceramic, copper, or iron before the days of enamelled steel or aluminium.

Whisks tenderiser skimmer
No wooden spoons, but quirl-whisks, a skimmer and tenderiser.

Just to the right of the cake pan is a collection of long-handled utensils. At first glance you may think it’s just a set of spoons and spatulas, but these are slightly different. The meat tenderiser in a poor household surely reflects a “schnitzel-oriented” style of cooking, and would not have been owned by a working-class family in England, for example.

handmade wooden whisk
Quirl - for beating, stirring etc. Photo by Andrva.

And then there are four quirls. Three of them haven’t changed much from when they were part of a tree.  Quirl is often translated as whisk but that could be misleading. These are wooden beating and mixing implements and are not used for whisking up snowy peaks of egg-white or cream. German-speaking households would have a schneebesen (snow-broom) for that, a wire whisk, if they didn’t have an electric or hand rotary beater.

A quirl is essential for making some kinds of traditional dumpling! It can also be used for mashing potatoes, making doughy or porridgy mixtures, stirring liquids, and it’s handy for other things too. You can make one from your Christmas tree when the seasonal festivities are over. Quirl means a “whorl” on a plant.

More

If you like to ID old kitchen items, try the things in a historic English kitchen or a 1920s kitchen in the American West.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:  main picture and cropped details from it, 2nd coffee mill, quirl whiskMore picture info here
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Soap, sand, soda – a clean trio

Enamel holders and shelf with floral decoration, early 20th century, in a folk museum in SW Germany: Landesmuseum Württemberg. Seife means soap; the other words are the same in English and German. Photo by Andreas Praefcke.

German kitchens used to have a decorative shelf with a set of pots, neat and tidy, filled with three essentials for a clean home: soap, sand, and soda. Although English-speaking countries never had a special storage unit like this, and didn’t think of the “three esses” as a trio, they also made much use of sand and soda as well as soap.

1951 German children's book shows the usual soap, sand, soda containers in the kitchen. From diepuppenstubensammlerin.

Antique wall-hung shelves with their three containers appeal to collectors in the USA, not just parts of Europe. The most attractive to me are the ones ornamented in folk art style with full-petalled pink roses and curving outlines. Traditional German lettering adds character too.

They all seem to be made of enamelled sheet metal and belong to the first half of the 20th century, or possibly the late 19th too – the heyday of enamelware. If you know when these first came into use please do add a comment. The early 20th/late 19th century dates would match with cleaning and washing methods in that period.

Washing soda in the late 19th century was factory-made and quite affordable.  Among other things, it helps with laundry and with taking out stains from wood, and is simple enough to be seen today as a “green” product. Soap, like soda, was quite plentiful by 1900, not too expensive, and was available in powder or flakes suitable for filling a nice enamel pot.

Another set of enamel containers on a wall-hung shelf. Photo by mhobl.

Sand had been a basic cleaning agent for centuries: for scrubbing floors, scouring iron cooking pots, and much more. This is easier to remember in German-speaking countries where the word Scheuersand, meaning scouring sand, is still recognised. Fine sand for cleaning gradually morphed into white abrasive cleaning powders with hygienic-smelling chemicals. There was an intermediate stage with sand and soda scouring mixes. One brand of “sand”, ATA, was remembered with nostalgia by some older people from former East Germany, after it vanished around 1989.

sal soda
American washing soda, mid-20th century, Arm & Hammer's Sal Soda brand.

Household advice books from 100 years ago tell us about using the three esses. There’s one in German that recommends mixing soda and sand for cleaning wood – no soap as that makes wood look grey. Use all three for metal utensils but be sparing with the sand or you will damage tinned surfaces. Enamel is best cleaned with a soap and soda mixture, after soaking.

Or you can buy some detergent at the supermarket…..

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: first big picture, child’s book illustration, sepia photoMore picture info here

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Early rotary egg beaters

Vintage rotary egg beater
Classic vintage egg beater with wooden handle. Photo by photoptimist.

Hand-operated rotary egg beaters were invented just before 1860, but at that time it wasn’t yet clear what the best design for the job would be. Different inventors had different ideas for labour-saving ways of whisking eggs. The first beaters with rotating parts were probably an American design patented in 1856 (below right) and, in England, Griffiths’ Whisk patented 1857 (below left). A very different “egg-beater” invented in 1849 is illustrated near the bottom of the page.

rotary egg beater patent
First US patent for a Rotary Egg-Beater, 1856, invented by tinner Ralph Collier of Baltimore, MD, in partnership with Alfred H. Reip, tin and iron ware manufacturer.

Rotating beaters with a handle were always going to work best, but they came in different forms. Some early ones were fixed inside a pot, and couldn’t be used with the cook’s own choice of mixing bowl. Some were developed by the same inventors who designed small hand-cranked butter churns.

Griffiths egg beater Victorian
Egg beater invented by E.P.Griffiths of London, patented in 1857. "Every revolution of the handle gives 288 strokes."

By the 1880s, mechanical egg beaters were usually the shape we know now. In the US they were called Dover egg beaters after being popularised by the Dover Stamping Company. The company acquired patents from a series of inventors, starting with the Monroe egg beater (below right), patented in the US in 1859. This design got a UK patent soon after and was manufactured in London by George Kent who also marketed the Griffiths model.

Some inventors focused on whipping egg whites and emphasised how much air they could get into the mix. Others wrote about batter and other mixtures as well as eggs.

Monroe egg beater patent
Egg beaters in 1859 looking quite like today's, apart from the screw clamp. Invented by James F. Monroe of Fitchburg, MA and Edward Pear Monroe of New York. Patent drawing right and English ad left.

Eggs prepared by beating are thoroughly charged with atmospheric air… (Collier patent, 1856)

Who used the new egg beaters?

The 1856 patent, like others after it, said how useful the new invention would be for hotels and restaurants as well as for ordinary households hoping to speed up a “laborious and fatiguing operation”. But some people may have been influenced against the new egg beaters by cookery experts who didn’t think highly of new-fangled devices.

…beat…with the proper stroke, and with wooden rods, and in a shallow, flat-bottomed earthen[ware] pan. The coldness of a tin pan retards the lightness of the eggs. For the same reason do not use a metal egg-beater…..put…the egg-beater always down to the bottom of the pan…Continue till the surface is smooth as a mirror, and the beaten egg as thick as a rich boiled custard… (Eliza Leslie, The Lady’s Receipt-Book, 1847)*

A genuine Dover egg beater, based on an 1873 patent granted to Ethan Handley of Chicopee Falls, MA, and assigned to Dover.** Photo by Elizabeth Thomsen.

However, by the 1890s The “Dover” egg beater was well-established in the US and was often mentioned in recipes and ads. In the 20 years between 1870 and 1890 Dover made 4 million egg beaters. Almost all were “family size” but they also sold 1000 “hotel size” and 10,000 “extra family size”.**

There’s less evidence of rotary beaters getting a firm grip in Victorian Britain, although some people certainly used them. With no well-known brand like Dover, they were advertised as “one-minute” or “ten-second” beaters, or with fanciful names like Biatrope or Archimedian. Advice on cooking and equipping kitchens mostly assumed an ordinary wire whisk would be just fine. Rotary hand mixers seem to have been even less popular in continental Europe.

To clamp or not to clamp?

vintage egg beater 1930s
1940-ish beater with frame and table clamp, similar to US patent granted to Norwegian Harry Hansen. Photo copyright Dias Museum.

Holding the beater by screwing it onto something fixed seems like a good idea, rather like an electric mixer set firm on a stand. The Monroes’ clamp was part of the original design, but you do wonder how it would work in an ordinary kitchen. Was the bowl held below a table? In 1859 a UK business demonstrated an “egg whisk, fitted with arrangement for screwing to table”.

The later 1800s saw numerous US patents for original clamping devices, presumably trying to improve on what we may call a “normal” clamp. But how many people really used egg beaters like this? Not many have survived. Most antique egg beaters are clamp-free.

Perhaps a hand egg beater is more versatile without a screw fitting? Perhaps the clamp has to be solid and strong to be effective? But then it would be more nuisance for washing and storing. The advertising I’ve seen doesn’t mention clamps.

EGG-BEATER:  We have tried five different kinds in Boston, before a large audience and on the demand of an inventor of one, but none could beat eggs as well as a common hand-beater. The whites of the eggs could not be raised with any of the others much more than half as much as with the common one; and besides, could not be beaten stiff……Any tinsmith can make an egg-beater. It is generally made with tin-wire, but may be made with brass-wire.
1867, Handbook of Practical Cookery, Pierre Blot

First egg beater 1849
Patented by Josiah Lorkin, London, 1849, and shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the spikes broke up the eggs as they were shaken. He thought of including wire gauze, or a rotating "spindle" for a bigger version.
Notes

*Eliza Leslie’s advice was often quoted from the 1850s to 1870s
**Massachusetts reports: cases argued and determined in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,  Jan – June 1895

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Special thanks to Ema Marx of the Dias Museum for photos and correspondence. Thanks also to photoptimist for the first picture and Elizabeth Thomsen for the Dover beater photo.
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Rocking cradles – wood or wicker

Wooden cradle 1600s
Oak hooded cradle, English, 1683, carved initials, alongside 16th and 17th century oak furniture. Photo by HomeThingsPast

Cradle designs have changed, but are parents’ concerns any different? 200 years ago people were writing about the well-known dilemma: how much can I let my baby sleep in the day without stopping it from sleeping well at night?

It only remains…to say something of the cradle…I believe there is no doubt but the custom of laying children down awake, and rocking them in a cradle in the day time, or…in the evening when they are to go into their night’s sleep, as it is called, may [make] them sometimes more wakeful in the night… From: A Treatise on the … Management of Infants, 1784*

wicker rocking cradle with hood
Wicker cradle on oak rockers used by first baby born to settlers in America, probably. Dutch origins, c1620?*. Photo by Sarah Houghton

Two of the cradles pictured on this page are 300-400 years old, but they look much the same as cradles from only 100 years ago. For centuries, babies in Western Europe and North America were put into small baskets or boxes raised slightly off the floor, on rockers, with or without a hood. Rocking cradles like these have gone out of fashion, and we have different customs now.

Rockers, hoods, drapes, handles, straps

Babies could be strapped in, either with strips of cloth tied right round the whole thing, threaded through holes, or attached to wooden knobs or basketry handles. The child was protected from draughts and damp floors, especially in a hooded cradle. Wicker cradles often had fabric drapes over the hood for extra warmth and daytime darkness.

Child rocking baby in wicker cradle
Hand- rocking in: A Little Girl Rocking a Cradle, c1655, Nicholas Maes (detail)

A small cradle can be rocked by an older sibling or a busy adult with a foot to spare for rocking while her hands are busy with other tasks. It can be lifted to another place using handles or convenient bits of wood-carving. Overall, the baby was fairly safe but questions remain. Was it left alone? What about mice in a world without chemical pest control? Would a busy carer tie the baby in and neglect it?

I had made it an invariable rule always to dress and undress my infant, never suffered it to be placed in a cradle, nor to be fed out of my presence. A basket of an oblong shape with four handles (with a pillow and a small bolster) was her bed by day: at night she slept with me. I had too often heard of the neglect which servants show to young children, and I resolved never to expose an infant of mine either to their ignorance or inattention.  From: Mrs. Robinson’s Memoirs, looking back at the 1770s*

Wooden rocking cradle
Simple wooden cradle from the Scottish Western Isles. Holes for cord ties. Photo by HomeThingsPast

Materials and styles varied regionally, though the basics stayed the same. Planks of wood from big trees were available inmuch of Britain and Scandinavia. Numerous paintings of Dutch domestic life confirm that wicker cradles were common  in the Netherlands. Cradles were ornamented with colourful folk art in areas with strong traditions of painting on wooden furniture.

Natural rocking

The last word goes to the 18th century “expert”  quoted earlier:

Painted cradle
Cradle from Swedish farmhouse. Painted and carved traditional folk art decoration. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber

I cannot help thinking, there is something so truly natural, as well as pleasant, in the wavy motion of a cradle, and so like what children have been used to before they are born, ….that, always wishing to follow nature as I do, I cannot, on the whole, but give an opinion rather in favour of the cradle. From: …Management of Infants, 1784*

 Notes

* Michael Underwood,   A treatise on the diseases of children, with directions for the management of infants from the birth; especially such as are brought up by hand, London 1784
* Memoirs of the late Mrs. Robinson, written by herself. With some posthumous pieces. Edited by her daughter, M. E. Robinson, London 1801
* More about the American wicker cradle picture here.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:
Dutch-American wicker cradle, Swedish cradle.
More picture info here
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Is it safe to use a vintage briki, ibrik, or cezve?

Brikia, ibrik, cezve
These are Greek brikis for making coffee on the stove. The one on the left is 60 years old, the other a little newer. Similar pots are common in middle Eastern and North African countries where "Turkish" coffee is widely drunk. Photo by HomeThingsPast

Drinking strong coffee made in a small pot called a briki, ibrik, cezve or rakwa, has become quite popular in English-speaking countries in the last few years. If you have an old briki – from an antique shop, relative’s attic, or an old souvenir – you may wonder if you can put it on the kitchen stove and prepare intense, concentrated coffee in the Greek or Turkish style.

If it’s a copper briki – and many are – you must check the inside. An unscratched tin lining is important for both taste and health reasons. Copper can give a nasty metallic taste to coffee. Even if it tastes OK, there’s a question mark over the safety of unlined copper cookware, especially for acidic drinks and foodstuffs. Using copper for cooking could lead to toxic levels in the body. Brass contains copper so it can’t be seen as a safe alternative.

You should be able to find a tin re-lining service if you want to get a vintage briki back in use, but be aware that having copper cookware re-lined is not cheap. Try to estimate the surface in square inches or centimetres before asking about price.

Making Greek or Turkish coffee

Ibrik, cezve, rakwa set with coffee-grinder
Coffee-making set from Egypt. Brass coffee-mill and portable stove as well as a collection of pots with hanging loops on the ends of wooden handles. May be for cafe use not home. Photo by canbuydesign.

To prepare coffee in any briki, start with Greek or Turkish roast beans ground to a fine powder. You can buy a traditional spice mill to grind the beans by hand if you want to do it the old-fashioned way. Otherwise buy the coffee ready-prepared or use an electric mill or food processor. It’s possible to buy Greek coffees with special flavouring – like rose petal – but this is not for everyone.

Use at least a teaspoon of coffee, an optional teaspoon of sugar, and about 3oz (85g) of water per person and heat the mixture till it boils and froths. Many cooks like to remove the coffee from the heat, stir it, then boil it once or twice more. Pour or spoon out the froth (kaimaki “cream”) so everyone gets some in their demitasse cups. Next share out the liquid, trying to leave the coffee sediment in the briki. Sip slowly, hoping any grounds will stay settled at the bottom of the cup. Do not stir!

Other names for the briki include the Turkish cezve, and ibrik, a word related to briki.  Brikia is the Greek plural, but ‘brikis’ sounds more natural to English speakers. Arabic speakers may say raqwa, rakweh or similar. Whatever the pot is called, coffee is made this way in many countries around the eastern Mediterranean.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to original here: Egyptian rakwa setMore picture info here
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Spoon warmers

Spoon warmer late Victorian
Spoon warmer c1890 designed by Christopher Dresser, just over 6 inches long. Made by Hukin & Heath, Birmingham. Photo by HomeThingsPast

Food served with a cold spoon may cool down too quickly for some tastes. Even worse, a dish with rich, fatty gravy may congeal unappealingly on its way to your plate. A decorative container filled with hot water to keep serving spoons and sauce ladles warm seemed like the perfect solution in Victorian England. The earliest spoon warmers date from the 1860s.

This makes more sense when we remember how cold British houses could be for much of the year. Until the later 20th century rooms were often poorly heated, even in wealthy homes. Households with servants urged their staff to hurry from kitchen to dining room so food could be served hot, or at least warm, on heated plates. (Keeping the plates hot was a big deal, but that’s another story.) Hot food was appetising and proof of a well-run home too. Spoon warmers played their part in the effort to serve food at the right temperature – and fitted in with all the other paraphernalia in a fashionable late 19th century dining room.

Shapes and materials

Nautilus
Nautilus: the shell that inspired a thousand silver spoon warmers. Photo by Mgiganteus1

A silver nautilus shell, open end upward, was a popular shape for a spoon warmer. Antique shell types are not hard to find today. Presumably they’re appreciated as decorative items and not used much.

Silver and silver plate warmers were common, but spoon warmers were also made from majolica, bone china and other pottery, and sometimes from brass or copper. As well as the favourite shell style, often on a seashore-themed base, there were frogs and fish with open mouths, helmets, or hunting horns on their side.

Designs ranged from elegant pieces of silversmithing and ceramics to absurd novelties. You could buy a neatly lidded spoon warmer to match your Royal Worcester dinner service, or a boat-shaped warmer or bright blue toad made by Minton. The best warmers kept the hot water mostly covered, with an opening just big enough for convenience.

Some were designed to double up as something else, like this one which could also be an egg coddler.

Not everyone was whole-heartedly enthusiastic about spoon warmers and other fancy dining accessories:

His table was a torment by reason of its patented aids to enjoyment. What with his radial carver, iris spoon-warmer, and folding cruets; his self-acting gravy-helper, excelsior asparagus-tongs, and duplex plate-warmer; his royal potato-parer, imperial cucumber-slicer, and oriental digester, to say nothing of patent wine-lifts, corkscrews, oxygen-generators, appetite-stimulators, and the rest of it, dining became a burden, and dessert a weariness of spirit.
M.E. Braddon, A Victim of Patents, July 1869 Belgravia

They went out of fashion early in the 20th century. It wasn’t long before magazines were suggesting you could use them as “novel” flower holders.

Photos

The museum exhibiting this spoon warmer along with a claret jug, also by Dresser, labels them both as “electroplate” and ebony. The metal part of the jug has a silver surface, but the spoon warmer looks like copper. Original nautilus shell photo.
More picture info here

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Can you ID stovetop utensils in a 1920s kitchen?

stovetop still kettle toaster sadiron
Do you recognise all the things sitting on the 1920s stove? Photo by Billy Hathorn

This kitchen is on an early dude ranch set up for city dwellers who wanted an “American West” experience on vacation. Perhaps it’s a little more folksy than some other kitchens of the 1920s, but everything in there is authentic, and could have been found in other homes of that era.

Before I start naming names, have you had a chance to ID the things kept on “Mama” Holzwarth’s stove? The tea kettle is easy, and the classic speckled enamel coffeepot too. These don’t really look big enough to supply breakfast-time hot drinks for a full house of visitors. At busy times 50 people had their meals served in this one building.

In the middle of the stove are two sadiron bases: one with the detachable handle fixed on, and one without. Although heat-it-on-the-stove flat irons, aka sadirons, had been around for centuries, this particular design is an American classic originally patented in 1871 by Mary Potts. In the days of non-electric ironing, the spare base would have been heating on the stove, ready to be used when the other got too cool for effective clothes pressing. Then you’d switch the cool wooden handle over to the hot iron.

If you don’t recognise the dark metal item on the left, it may help to click on the link below to reach a bigger version of the picture. This item was used for campfire cooking as well as in the home kitchen, though I imagine it working better on a camping stove than balanced precariously over an open fire. Yes, it’s a toaster with a base to set on the heat and four wire racks to hold slices of bread, rather like this. The long tongs: what are they for? Probably for reaching into the fire burning inside the stove – but whether for rearranging logs or deliberately charring some “toasted” food, I don’t know.

Now for the big copper pot with bulbous lid and a tube draining away from it. Perhaps it’s the most difficult thing to identify in the picture. If the ranch owners told you it was only there for “medicinal” reasons, would that help? This is a still for making moonshine or hooch or whatever name you wanted to call your homemade liquor. Heat from the stove would certainly get the distilling process going, but I guess it would be a little risky using it in full view of your guests while alcohol was strictly illegal. Historic kitchens sometimes display items which weren’t there originally, and I don’t know whether the Holzwarths made their own distilled spirits. If they did, it may not have been in the kitchen. A quiet corner seems more likely.

The stove would have burned wood behind the left-hand doors. The central oven door has a temperature gauge, and the right hand section probably held hot water. You could warm plates, buns etc. in the top part or keep cooked food warm in there before serving.

More

If you like to ID old kitchen items, try the things in a historic English kitchen or a German kitchen around 1930.

Photos

Photographer credited in caption. Link to original here: Kitchen. Also see more picture info here.

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Tea caddies

18th century tea caddy
Tea caddy, c1780s, copper with enamel surface decoration, pink peonies in famille rose colours, made in China for Western buyers. Photo by VeronikaB

Tea first arrived in Europe in 1610, when Dutch traders brought some back from Asia to the Netherlands. It reached England in the 1640s and soon became a fashionable drink in London, but it was not something you made at home. If you wanted to drink it in private you had to order a cup from one of the smart coffee-houses where all the new beverages – coffee, chocolate, and tea – were served.

To begin with tea was kept in porcelain jars that had travelled with it from China. Storage for tea became more and more varied once people were able to buy the leaves to brew at home. They had to be wealthy. Tea was so expensive that it was protected from pilfering. One pound (450g) could cost more than a skilled workman’s weekly wage. By 1700 well-to-do households had lockable wooden tea chests holding canisters full of the precious leaves. The lady of the house kept the key, and servants had no access.

A few tea canisters – not yet called caddies – travelled across the Atlantic with early Dutch and British migrants to North America. Matching pairs of canisters were popular for keeping a choice of teas to hand – usually green tea and black tea. Later tea chests sometimes had a third canister and/or a mixing bowl for creating your own blend.

wooden caddy with 2 canisters and bowl
Varnished caddy box with two wooden caddies and glass mixing bowl inside, 19th century. Photo by Leeds Museums

Silver, fruitwood, and other caddies

English silversmiths soon started to make very fine caddies along with beautiful teapots, trays, caddy spoons, and other silver teaware reflecting the owners’ wealth and status. Antique silver and silver-gilt tea caddies attract high bids at auction today, with prices in tens of thousands of dollars for the best of them.

The earliest silver caddies in America were made in the first part of the 18th century – not long before a historic interruption to the growth of tea-drinking in that part of the world. Tea taxes imposed by the British government led to the Boston Tea Party, and, not surprisingly, all this discouraged American craftsmen from making caddies and other tea paraphernalia.

Today’s tea caddies belong in the kitchen, but earlier ones were for public display. A tea table was brought to the drawing room and set beside the lady of the house. A fine tea service with caddy was laid out for her, and she would take charge of preparing the luxurious beverage. In the 19th century she might have a special three-legged teapoy table or pedestal chest with her caddies stored under a flip-up lid.

pear shaped tea caddy
Lockable pear tea caddy, Georgian. The grain shows it was turned from one piece of wood, except for the stem. Photo by HomeThingsPast

Caddy designs proliferated, and most had a well-crafted lock and key. Some were chinoiserie influenced by Asian decorative arts. Furniture designers like Chippendale contributed chests and caddies in Georgian cabinet-maker style. As well as ceramic and silver caddies there were containers made from tortoiseshell, copper, painted papier-maché, glass, and exotic woods lined with foil. Ornamentation might include ivory, mother-of-pearl, enamel, or Regency penwork. Caddies covered in rolled paper filigree work were popular from about 1770 to 1815, some of them professionally finished and some bought ready for ladies to decorate at home.

One enduringly popular type of wooden caddy is carved in the shape of a fruit – often an apple or pear – and these are very sought-after today, fetching high prices, especially the earlier ones. They may be made of the fruitwood appropriate for their shape – like a pear caddy made of pearwood. They were inspired by Chinese containers in the shape of an egg plant or aubergine: a good luck fruit.

The tea caddy got its current name around 1800, from a Chinese and Malay measure of weight (cati) that was slightly more than a pound.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:
enamelled floral caddy, wooden caddy box. More picture info here

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Hanging salt boxes

Hanging salt box, wood, Victorian
Sloping lid of this elm wood salt box is hinged with a leather strip. English, Victorian, about 7 inches across. Photo by Leeds Museums.

Hanging salt boxes used to be taken for granted in kitchens throughout northern Europe and colonial America. There they were, on the wall next to where you cooked.

The pictures on this page are all European, but salt boxes were an essential part of life for settlers in North America too. They pounded salt lumps with a mortar and pestle to make it ready for culinary use. Salt was important for preserving food as well as cooking it.

In colonial homes, free-flowing grains [of salt] began with placing the salt box near the fire for drying out lumps or removing a brick to make a salt niche.
Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Encyclopedia of Kitchen History

Polish salt box, hanging, wooden
Wooden salt box hanging near cooking hearth in 18th century mansion in Gdansk, Poland. Photo by Piotrus.

In damp, cool weather salt absorbs moisture from the air. Cooks in colder places used to help it stay dry by keeping it:

  • near the fire or stove – most important
  • in an airy place – hanging on the wall kept it away from damp
  • covered – though not all salt boxes had a lid

The practical Pennsylvania Dutch housewife suspended a patterned and decorated covered salt box on the wall to contain enough crystals for preserving meat or as a granular extinguisher for dousing a kitchen fire.
Snodgrass, Encyclopedia, as above

Wooden salt boxes could be covered with decorative carving, sometimes as an engagement gift, painted, veneered, or left plain. Antique boxes that look simple may be very well crafted. Look at the quality of wood and joints, the hinging of the lid, the hanger, and the overall finish.

A salt box and a welcoming home

Enamelled salt box Germany
German 1920s kitchen has an enamelled metal salt box and a matching flour container near the stove. Photo by Ziko-C

The salt box was full of meaning, over and above its practical importance. It was a symbol of hospitality in Germany, and suggested a well-run and comfortable home in Britain and Ireland too. Like salt itself the box might not be noticeable, and yet it was essential for cooking.

…her kitchen was…large, comfortable, and warm. …to the right hung a well-scoured salt-box…Over the door…were nailed, “for luck”, two horse-shoes that had been found by accident. In a little ” hole” in the wall, beneath the salt-box, lay a great bottle of holy water to keep the place purified…
Lianhan Shee, an Irish story collected by William Carleton, 1833

But if the salt box was unavailable the house was miserable and unwelcoming.

It was a very dark miserable place, very low, and very damp…The grate…was…screwed up tight, so as to hold no more than a little thin sandwich of fire. Everything was locked up; the coal-cellar, the candle-box, the salt-box, the meat-safe, were all padlocked…The pinched and meagre aspect of the place would have killed a chameleon.
Charles Dickens, Master Humphrey’s Clock, 1840-41

Salt box variations

Hanging wooden salt box, Scottish
This simple wooden salt box by the fireplace in a Scottish longhouse has no lid. Photo by Donald Strachan.

Not all hanging boxes were wooden. You may see relatively modern ones in enamelware or earthenware with a wooden hanger and lid. Also see this highly decorative pewter salt box from before 1600.

Silver miniature or toy salt boxes: familiar domestic objects made in precious metal for fun.

Ceramic salt holders to sit in a niche or on a shelf were an alternative to boxes for some people. They often had a round opening in the side like this characteristically Scottish “saut bucket”.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: Victorian salt box, Polish salt box, German salt box, Scottish salt box. More picture info here

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