Delft blue tiles – not always blue, not always from Delft

early delft tiles blue pictures
Dutch tiles, probably 1660s, with an animal or small portrait from everyday life on each. Nail marks in the corners show how tiles were held firm during the manufacturing process. In Museum Amstelkring. Photo by Ard Hesselink

The history of Delft tiles goes back to the early 1600s when blue and white porcelain from China first arrived in the Netherlands. It was much admired and Dutch potters wanted to imitate the look, even though they couldn’t recreate true Chinese porcelain.

Potteries in Delft had some success with good quality blue and white glazed earthenware. Craftsmen in the city who were already making multi-coloured tiles soon started to work with the new colour scheme.

The tile-makers began by rolling out a clay mixture and cutting squares from it by pressing a wooden frame into the clay.  Typically these were 1 cm deep with 13 cm edges. They were dried before firing in a kiln heated to around 1000°C. Next liquid white tin glaze was spread on the upper surface and left to dry naturally.

Decorating the surface

delft tiles late 1600s
"New" purplish colour, based on manganese, used with blue for the dairy of Dyrham Park, built in late 1600s. This grand English house featured Dutch decorative arts when William of Orange was king. Photo by Angus Kirk.

Decorative scenes were sketched on paper. Pricking through the outlines with a pin created a stencil, or pricked transfer, called a spons. Then a bag of charcoal dust was rubbed through the pinholes onto the glaze. Painters followed the charcoal tracing and sometimes added freehand shading to the design. The characteristic cobalt blue decoration fused into the opaque white surface during a second firing. Manganese-based purple, introduced in the later 17th century, was sometimes chosen as an alternative to blue.

Dutch homes used tiles generously round chimneypieces and stoves, in kitchens, and decorating hallways or stairs. Scenes from everyday life were popular: children playing, animals, workers, soldiers, or ships and harbours.

“Delft” tiles were made in other parts of the Netherlands too, for export as well as for local buyers. Social and economic trends meant that ceramic production was centred on Delft by about 1700, but was greatly reduced in that city by 1800.*

delft tiles 19th century
Panel of tiles comes from a kitchen in the 17th C Willets-Holthuysen house (Amsterdam) renovated in the 1860s. Other birdcages and bigger pictorial panels are set in expanses of plain off-white tiling. Photo by André.

Antique hand-made tiles don’t look as smooth as reproductions made in modern factories. The glaze is more crackled, with colour variations in the white, and there may be indentations where the tiles were held in place by nails in the early stages before firing.

The Delft style and technique was used for a range of household and ornamental ceramics – often called Delftware or Delft Blue – not just for tiles. By the later 19th century Dutch tile manufacturers were losing out to industrial competitors elsewhere in Europe, but the Delft tile name lives on and is still popular today, whether new or antique.

More tile history from the Netherlands Tile Museum.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:
Early Delft tiles, Manganese tiles in England, Birdcage tile panel,    More picture info here

Notes

*According to de Vries and van der Woude in The First Modern Economy: Success, Failure, and Perseverance of the Dutch Economy, 1500-1815

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Antique work tables for sewing and crafts

needlework and sewing table with silk pouch
A rosewood veneer work table with sliding needlework bag and chess board, from Georgian London c1815. Note the candlestick on a nearby stand. Photo by bortescristian.

Before the 18th century ladies used to keep their needlework projects in a work-basket or bag. Then furniture designers started to create elegant little tables for the drawing room with a silk work-bag or box-holder hanging beneath. You have only to look at one to understand why Sheraton, the famous cabinet-maker, called his designs pouch tables.

As well as slide-out pouches to hold sewing materials, these small tables had drawers and compartments under a flip-up top. The owner wouldn’t always be sewing alone, though. Many kinds of fancy craftwork were done while families, or groups of friends, sat together. The novelist Jane Austen mentions a “work-table” used for “making a filigree basket” decorated with rolled paper quills.* Later in the 19th century a “Complete Guide to the Work-Table” offers instructions for “Berlin work, crochet, drawn-thread work, embroidery, knitting, knotting or macramé, lace, netting, Poonah painting & tatting”.

Various extras like a pull-out reading & writing slope and a chess board were common, and you could have an ink-stand, a backgammon board, and fold-down extensions. By 1800 many prosperous households had a lady’s work station that doubled as a play station. One 1815 table auctioned in 2001 (for over £4000) even had a zograscope built in; a high-tech optical toy by the standards of its time. More ordinary furniture of this type included many nicely-made needlework tables with a couple of drawers, a compartment under a hinged lid, but no silk bag. Some fine pieces defy categorisation, like this French porcelain-topped tulipwood veneer table from the 1770s.

globe Biedermeier work table
Work table with sewing tools inside globe. Biedermeier style. Photo by DDDiana. (Please comment if you have more info about this table.)

American Federal or Empire work tables sell at auction for thousands of dollars; one made from mahogany and bird’s-eye maple in Boston around 1800 fetched nearly $20,000 in 2007. UK prices for Georgian and Regency tables vary a great deal according to quality: from hundreds to thousands of pounds. If you are buying, check any restoration work; newly-replaced silk pouches should be in an appropriate style.

Some rare European Biedermeier pieces are hardly tables at all, but globes opening to reveal perfectly crafted compartments for needlework tools and games pieces. Most of these elaborate neoclassical pieces were made, with great skill and fine veneer work, in Vienna or Berlin. Some drum-shaped work tables were made in this style, too.

A magazine in late Georgian London published a picture and description of a “fashionable” ladies’ work table in 1823. This suggests the idea was spreading out from the really wealthy and stylish upper class to more middle-class homes whose owners were interested in the furnishings of the upper social echelons. The writer of the piece quoted next probably thought readers would aspire to have a table like the one illustrated, instead of keeping their needlework in bags and boxes.

sewing table with drawing and writing flaps
Design for a work table from an English style and culture magazine in 1823. The needlework pouch slides out, the desk flap lifts to show a decorative interior, the writing surface can be sloped.

FASHIONABLE FURNITURE. Ladies’ Work-table –
This elegant table forms a pleasing and commodious appendage to the sitting-room of mansions fitted up in a style of superior elegance. It is equally adapted to the boudoir and drawing-room, and answers the purpose of a drawing-table as well as a work-table, and a desk for writing and reading. The silk bag suspended from the desk is, in the engraving, of azure blue, with silk fringe of the same colour, but should be made to correspond with the colour of the apartment for which the table is designed.

In order that it may harmonize with the rest of the furniture, the frame-work should be formed of rose-wood of a rich dark colour, and varied in its grain. The ornaments are wholly of burnished and matt gold. The top of the table should be adorned with some rich design in water-colours, highly varnished, for the purpose of preserving it: this will be at all times a pleasing object to the eye. Fruit or flowers, well grouped, are particularly to be recommended. The interior may exhibit some pleasing landscape, or any other similar embellishment, according to the taste or fancy of the fair proprietor.
From: Repository of arts, literature, fashions &c, Ackermann & Shoberl, 1823

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: silk pouch rosewood veneer work table, globe needlework table. More picture info here

Notes

* Sense & Sensibility

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Caddy spoons

Sterling silver caddy spoon
Solid silver caddy spoon with typical wide, round bowl and short handle. Elaborate decoration is not unusual. Made by Birmingham silversmith in reign of George IV, c1829. Photo by Clark Mills

If you have a nice tea caddy, you may also want a caddy spoon. In the early years of tea drinking in Europe and America, either the lid of the caddy was used for measuring out tea leaves, or a long-handled strainer spoon, but in the 1760s people started to use special silver spoons instead, with short handles so they would fit easily inside the caddy, on top of the tea leaves.

Silversmiths created a wide variety of spoons, and yet certain shapes were particularly popular: shells, especially, and a variety of leaf shapes. Shell-shaped spoons may have echoed the shells packed in tea consignments for merchants to sample the leaves. Fluted shells were a good way of strengthening thin silver spoon bowls along the lines of the fluting. Shovels and ladles are styles of spoon that may sound purely functional, but they too can be very decorative, with handles made of ivoory or mother-of-pearl, and highly collectible.

Spoons from the Georgian era, made by 1830, are very desirable now. A good silver spoon may well fetch several hundred dollars at auction, and a four figure price is not impossible. Silversmiths in Birmingham, England produced a high proportion of these early caddy spoons.

If you come across a pierced caddy spoon, it was probably intended to serve as a “mote spoon”. It could help pick out any mote or stray tea-leaf floating in the tea-cup, as well as being used in the ordinary way for measuring tea into the pot.

Caddy spoon in brass
Caddy spoon in brass with Lincoln Imp handle - a design associated with Lincoln Cathedral. Photo by Terry Whalebone

Once tea was no longer a luxury, tea-drinking became widespread, more affordable caddies appeared, and caddy spoons became available cheaper versions. By the early 20th century, die-stamped alloy caddy spoons were a popular souvenir gift for people with modest incomes, and were on sale in every seaside town in Britain. They could be decorated with local motifs or scenes, enamelled crests, embossed placenames etc.

At the other end of the scale, one of the most valuable caddy spoons sold at auction in the last few years was designed by the 20th century craftsman Omar Ramsden. His 1931 art nouveau silver caddy spoon with semi-precious stones in a knotwork handle fetched over £2000.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:
silver caddy spoon, imp caddy spoon. More picture info here

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History of wing chairs

wing chair upholstered in red
Vivid red upholstery on this reproduction wing chair might have suited Colonial and Georgian tastes. Cabriole legs are a traditional touch. Photo by NCJW Home.

Wing chairs are sometimes called fireside chairs, and for good reason. Their design is perfect for enjoying the warmth of a fire while your back and sides are protected from chilly draughts.

These chairs were not the earliest furniture to use this approach to keeping warm. Wings were also used on some of the high-backed wooden settles (benches) found in English manor houses and inns long before the new kind of upholstered chair brought an extra level of comfort to the late 17th century. We now know these as wing or wingback chairs.

The same chairs soon appeared in colonial America. Like other Queen Anne furniture of the early 1700s, they had cabriole legs and curving lines that distinguished them from earlier styles. The famous cabinet-makers of the age, like Chippendale in London, designed elegant frames to set off the upholstery.

The picture of a wing chair stripped back by museum curators reveals that early padding was not as generous as we expect from a modern armchair. Fabrics were often vividly coloured. Bright patterns were seen in both colonial and Georgian drawing rooms. Restorers of 18th century antiques often favour plain colours, but this is not necessary for authenticity. Leather upholstery is also an option.

wing chair upholstery revealed
Original 18th century shape on the left after layers of 20th century upholstery (right) were stripped away. A New England easy chair with wings. Photo by Bdesham.

If you look at antique French wing chairs, or other chairs echoing the Louis XV or Louis XV period, you may see a lower seat in the bergère style. Similarly, in 18th century England Hepplewhite tried lowering the seat in his designs. He called the wings saddle-cheeks, perhaps knowing that they were called cheeks (joues), not wings, in France. Ears is their other name, used in some parts of Europe, German Ohrensessel for example, and remembered in the old-fashioned British name lug chair. (Lug meant ear.)

American wing chairs, also called easy chairs, were considered suitable as bedroom furniture for anyone frail or tired, sitting quietly in their room. Both antique and modern wing chairs may be associated with elderly people; a firm seat and a back with built-in draught-proofing offer an appropriate kind of comfort, and remind us that another name for this piece of furniture is grandfather chair.

In Britain, wing chairs were thought of as essential for a comfortable living room or parlour. Victorian writers describing scenes of idealised family life round a blazing hearth often mentioned a fireside chair. 19th century chairs were often more generously padded than earlier wingbacks – sometimes with a very firm horsehair stuffing.

contemporary wing chair
A 21st century wingback inspired by 18th century style, by George Smith for the Tom Dixon design studio. Black velvet stuffed with cotton and boar bristle. Photo by pressattomdixon.

Contemporary designers now produce all sorts of shapes and sizes of wing chair. Some blend the wingback concept with cutting-edge contemporary design, and yet the early Queen Anne shape has an enduring popularity. If you want a true antique, remember that “Queen Anne style” is just that: a style and not a promise that a chair is 300 years old.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: Red wing chair. New England wing chair with stripped back upholstery, Contemporary black wing chair.

More picture info here

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Bidets past and present

antique porcelain bidet in wooden chair frame
Porcelain bidet from c1800 in wooden chair-shape frame, probably French export to UK, placed alongside newer bathroom fittings. Photo by HomeThingsPast.

Do you have a bidet in your bathroom? It’s always been a difference between English-speaking countries and France. Bidets have never quite caught on in the USA or the UK, except for an occasional “trend” that never really went very far. Some upper class ladies in 19th century England had French-made bidets, and in the 1980s British sanitaryware retailers started stocking bidets.

But in France there’s a bidet in every bathroom, isn’t there? Not any more. In recent years the bidet has been disappearing from new French bathrooms. Only 40% had bidets included in the mid-1990s, as compared with 95% in the 1970s, according to the authors of a French book on the history of the bidet.† In 1995 Italy produced 15 times as many bidets as France.

Bidet-style arrrangements for personal hygiene are not limited to Europe. Arabic-speaking countries use them, and Japan is a leading producer of high-tech bidet/toilet combinations (also called washlets), with jets of water washing after you flush, and warm air following on. This type is used in nursing homes.

Bidet history

Bidet pan in stool with lid
This kind of bidet looks like a stool when the lid is on. As used in a 19th century bedroom or dressing room. Photo by Moresheth.

In France beautful bowls set into elegant seats were fashionable with the upper classes in the 18th and 19th centuries. Napoleon’s will left his silver-gilt bidet to his son. A 1751 rosewood-veneered bidet of Madame de Pompadour’s is preserved at Versailles near Paris. The basin in hers is decorative like this slightly later floral earthenware one.

That last link and the first picture on this page show the curving shape of the antique bowls.  This shape explains why the bidet once had nicknames like violin-case or little guitar. Originally the word bidet itself referred to the wooden furniture originally used for holding the bowl, and meant pony.

Debates about who invented the bidet are not likely to be settled any time soon. The French or the Italians? After all, who can say when someone first set a basin of water on a stand at a convenient height for washing the more private parts of the body?

antique bidet austrian
Bidet from the era of indoor plumbing - note the row of little holes - in an Austrian museum. Photo by Alfred Diem.

The earliest written information we have about bidets comes fom a Paris cabinet-maker whose business literature in 1739 offered bidets designed with backs and hinged lids. Rémy Peverie also suggested the possibility of making two-person bidets for his aristocratic clients. Now there’s an idea that didn’t catch on – as far as I know.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions.
Links to originals here:
bidet with lid, Austrian bidet, Japanese controls.
More picture info here

Notes

†F. Beaupré, R-H. Guerrand, Le Confident des dames: Le bidet du XVIIIe au XXe siècle
Katherine Ashenburg, Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing

bidet foot bath
Bidet and footbath combination patented 1879 in USA. Remove soapdish and sit (awkwardly?) on mini-shelf C to use it as a bidet. Invented by Merwin Church of Chicago, owner of large hardware store.
american bidet
Bidet in USA, about 1910.
bidet control panel
Controls for a bidet-toilet aka washlet in a Tokyo hotel. Photo by William Kumberger.

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Toby jugs – comic or commonplace, English or not?

toby, jug full of ale
A Toby with a foaming jug, plenty of painted decoration on jacket, hat and red-nosed face. Photograph by scrappy annie

Toby jugs portray a character whose story is rather unclear. He reminds some people of Shakespeare’s jovial, disreputable Toby Belch, and he very likely has something to do with an old song about Toby Fillpot.

Dear Tom, this brown jug that now foams with mild ale,
(In which I will drink to sweet Nan of the vale),
Was once Toby Fillpot, a thirsty old soul,
As e’er drank a bottle, or fathomed a bowl…
.
(1761, by Francis Fawkes, a clergyman)

This ceramic character was born in the English Staffordshire potteries region in the 18th century, fully clothed in breeches, coat, and a tricorn hat, seated, and clutching his own jug of ale. Sometimes Toby holds a pipe, takes snuff, or has a barrel between his feet.

Although Tobies are real glazed jugs with a handle behind and a spout in front, usually formed by the front point of the three-cornered hat, they have probably never held much liquid, and were originally intended to be decorative pieces of pottery.

Toby inspired many other character jugs, and they have been made more or less continuously over the last 250 years. Some are fictional personalities, and some are based on real people. They generally have humorous, earthy faces. Character is drawn in their wrinkles, and there may be an element of caricature. Themed sets are also possible.

Were any early Toby jugs made outside England?

toby jug from Brittany
This jug is very Toby-like, well-supplied with drink and a clay pipe resting between his legs, but he was made in Brittany, not England, probably before 1800, and he has a bicorne, 2-pointed hat. Is he drinking wine? Photo by Pymouss

Everyone knows Toby is an Englishman, and that’s why I was surprised to find that a French museum (Musée de Bretagne) has a Tobyish jug made in Rennes, probably 18th century. (See photo) His jug says Boy-Tout or Drink-All. In France of the 1700s this was a slangy, joky word to do with finishing your drink in one swig:* rather like the Toby Fillpot character, that “thirsty old soul”. As far as I can discover, Toby’s French cousin is called Jacquot, but please comment if you know more.

Victorian and Edwardian attitudes to Toby jugs

In 1904 the writer Gertrude Jekyll thought of a Toby jug as an ornament to sit above the fireplace on a cottage or farmhouse mantelpiece along with other “coloured glazed pottery and low-class porcelain”.

She was not the only person of that period who was unimpressed by earthenware Tobies, whether recently-designed Victorian ones or earlier jugs from the Georgian period. Edward Downman, who wrote English Pottery and Porcelain in 1896, doesn’t sound too enthusiastic, even when he admits that the older antique jugs were made by expert craftsmen.

…the most eminent potters of a bygone age may be associated with this grotesque and commonplace ware…

Now Toby jugs are admired by many and collected by enthusiasts. Genuine antiques may cost several hundred pounds in their home country. Collectors can specialise in particular types – pearlware or Wemyss ware, sailor or farmer Tobies, for example – and they expect the best jugs to be sold by upmarket auction houses and antique dealers.

This Toby jug's handle is reflected in the mirror behind him. Photo by HomeThingsPast.
Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: First jug picture, Breton Toby jug
More picture info here

Notes

*Various old French dictionaries on Google Books explain boy-tout aka  boi-tout: like this one.

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Historic kitchens – visiting with eyes wide open

16th century kitchen fireplace - Tudor England
Open fireplace 10ft across in the 16th century kitchen at Cotehele House, Cornwall, England. See how many things you recognise before reading lower down the page. Photo by Lee Morgan.

Whenever I travel I look out for historic houses, especially if they have kitchens worth visiting, and enjoy picking out bits and pieces for a closer look.

And yet the room often isn’t the way it would have looked at any time in its life. The picture above is of a 16th century English manor house kitchen, amazingly unchanged in its basic structure. The Tudor open hearth with old iron pots and logs in a smoke-blackened fireplace is wonderful, but when did that protective fireguard appear? The things on the shelves come from various different periods in the life of the house. When and where did each pot, plate, or tool start its useful life? Does knowing matter? For myself, I enjoy seeing a kaleidoscope of things that have belonged to the house over the generations – but it’s still good to know what’s what.*

What can you identify in the picture?

Ironware

In the fireplace the classic iron kettle hanging on a chimney crane is centuries-old way of heating water. The crane may have arrived in the kitchen in the 17th or 18th century to replace a simpler kind of hanger. There’s also an “idleback” kettle tilter to help with pouring, probably not there originally. The urn to the left has a brass tap that may be relatively modern. The assorted spoons, ladles, and skimmers look timeless; you’d have to examine them hands-on to try guessing their dates. A trivet sits under the red cloth. Out of sight above the mantel-shelf are racks for roasting spits, and a cradle-spit for roasting small birds or joints of meat is hanging down into the upper left of the picture. Many big kitchens acquired fancier mechanised roasting equipment and cooking ranges or stoves well before 1900, but I understand this room was in use, unmodernised, until 1946. (There’s an old oven in one of the walls you can’t see.)

Kitchen utensils 1900s
Selected utensils have been numbered to help with the discussion. Some are probably 19th century like the mug, and others could be much earlier, e.g. the pewter plates.

Smaller iron things on the shelves and nearby include two pairs of sugar cutters (3), a rushlight holder (7), lemon squeezer (1), and vegetable cutter (2) – suitable for hacking up root vegetables and big cabbages.

Woodware

A wooden salt box (4) hanging to the left of the fireplace has a traditional sloping lid and carved hanging loop. On the shelf below is a nice turned bowl. The two flat moulds with decorative carving (10) have left me wondering. Are they unusually long, flat butter moulds, or an uncommon kind of gingerbread mould with sides, or something else?

Biscuit pricker

The small wooden stamp with a round handle (8) is a biscuit pricker. With lots of little needles on the base, it was used before baking to perforate the dough for thin crackers, to help them stay flat in the oven. Think of it when you see the holes in British water biscuits or American graham crackers. The metal stamp (9) is probably a cookie cutter or biscuit docker: for cutting out small baked goods and possibly adding a pattern.

Water Biscuits: Into one pound of flour rub three ounces of butter, add a sufficient quantity of water to make it a stiff dough; well knead it, and roll it as thin as wafers; prick with a biscuit-pricker, and bake a very pale brown. (1870s UK recipe)

Other things

On the shelves are pewter plates and a metal cloche or dish-cover (5) that looks factory-made. The earthenware mug (6) is mocha ware, almost certainly for beer. This design with coloured bands and black-brown “trees” first appeared in the very late 18th century and was often seen in 19th century pubs where it might be government-certified as a pint or half-pint measure. Similar earthenware mugs were also used for the servants’ ale in big houses.†

On the floor, next to the big unglazed ceramic storage pot with lid, is a stone mortar without its pestle. It has those familiar triangular bits round the upper edge, but what are they for?  The hole in the wall is the kind that might be used as a candle and rushlight store: handily near the fire for lighting.

More

If you like to ID old kitchen items, try the things in a 1920s ranch kitchen or a German kitchen around 1930.

Notes

*Please note these are general remarks about all sorts of places, and are not in any way a criticism.

†See Pamela Sambrook’s Country House Brewing in England.

You may be interested in this list of links to sites that help you research kitchen antiques and historic culinary utensils.

Also see this piece about where a butter worker belongs. Was it always in the kitchen?

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. This is the original kitchen photo, or see more picture info here.

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Muff warmers & other antique hand warmers

antique muff or hand warmer
Small stoneware hot water bottle to fit inside a fur muff, c1910. Made by S. Maw, Son, & Sons in London. Photo by HomeThingsPast.

A hundred years ago a woman going out in the cold of winter could tuck a miniature hot water bottle inside her fur muff to keep her hands warm: like Maw’s Dainty Muff Warmer in the photo. This kind of hand warmer was on sale in late Victorian and Edwardian England.

The Thermos Hot-water Muff Warmer is a delightful little invention which is sure to be appreciated by my readers.
Ada Ballin, Womanhood, 1904

Poorer people had to find simpler ways of coping with a cold journey: heated stones or potatoes in a pocket, perhaps.

Ma slipped piping hot baked potatoes into their pockets to keep their fingers warm, Aunt Eliza’s flatirons were hot on the stove, ready to put at their feet in the sled. The blankets and the quilts and the buffalo robes were warmed, …
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods (story of the early 1870s in Wisconsin)

The branded stoneware muff warmer was a new take on elegant ceramic or silver hand warmers that ladies’ maids filled when their mistress was about to set out on a cold carriage ride or walk. With carrying strings and tight stoppers, and optional fabric cover, these were clearly designed for people going out from home.

Hand warmers indoors

earthenware brazier or hand warmer
Dutchwoman covers her hands with her skirt to warm them over a terracotta pan of glowing coals c1650. Detail of painting by Caesar van Everdingen.

Hands could be cold indoors too. Plenty of people made good use of a hand warmer in a room or workshop with neither fireplace nor stove. Most parts of Europe had a variety of portable warmth providers, from silver braziers to ceramic novelties to heat-retaining bricks.

An earthenware pot with glowing charcoal was a common source of portable heat. It might be put on the floor, used as local heating or as a foot warmer, but it could also be raised up to warm someone’s hands -as in the picture. At night it could be used in a bed wagon.

Portable containers for hot water or glowing embers are sometimes called hand warmers even when they are used for more than just cold hands.

Pocket warmers

Neat little hinged cases with sticks of charcoal inside were in use in Europe by the first world war, when some officers carried pocket warmers. Someone patented a design in the US for a similar case holding heated metal slugs but I don’t know if these were ever made. There were also tubes to hold charcoal rods.

Pocket hand warmer. Probably early 20th century German. Photo by Matthias Kabel.

One of the newest inventions for winter comfort is a small hand warmer consisting of a hollow cylinder of fiber. A small pencil of heated charcoal is inserted through one end. The device will keep warm … for two hours.
Popular Science, USA, 1924

Chinese & Japanese handwarmers

You can’t really discuss antique handwarmers without mentioning the traditions of Eastern Asia.

Japanese hand warmer
Ceramic te-aburi hand warmer, Japan, 19th century. Photo by Mary Harrsch.

Japanese homes might offer guests a small roundish ceramic pot with fuel in to warm their hands. Called a te-aburi , it could be used by an individual at the same time as a hibachi brazier big enough for a whole group of people.

Copper or bronze box-shape hand warmers a few inches across, often with carrying handles, were called shou lu in China: convenient, portable, with glowing coals inside. China and Japan had used both metal and ceramic hand warmers for many centuries. The perforations were an attractive part of the design as well as being functional.  I like this tiny piece of Chinese pottery for warming 7th century hands.

chinese hand warmer
16th or 17th century copper hand warmer, or shou lu, 13.5 cm (5 in) long. A classic Chinese design: box, perforated lid and handle. Photo by the British Museum

European travellers in the later 1800s and early 1900s were interested in the little heaters they saw in the Far East. Some people called them “Japanese muff warmers” and recommended them for nursing and medical purposes. One Englishman bought one for his own winter outings and praised the:

…little stoves which the Japanese women put in their sleeves and obi [wide sash]. They are small enough to push up the sleeve of a [European] coat, and…will keep alight for four or five hours.
Walter Tyndale, Japan and the Japanese, 1910

Hakkin hand warmer
Hakukin-kairo invented in 1923 by Niichi Matoba who founded the Hakkin company. Photo by Pete.

These could be lit with a simple paper fuse in 1910, but it was not long before a modern version of the metal “box” hand warmer was introduced to Japan. It was ignited with platinum catalyst technology. The Hakkin hand warmer or kairo, invented in 1923, looks like a cousin of the cigarette lighter, but I like to think it was inspired by its older ancestors.

S. Maw, Son, & Sons

This English company’s Dainty Muff Warmer was by no means an important product. Maw’s had been dealing in surgical and pharmaceutical supplies from 1807 onwards. One of their early earthenware products was an inhaler (from the 1860s or before). By the early 1900s they were making ceramic foot warmers as well as hand warmers, and also baby feeders, toothpaste pots and more. The company name varied over the years. From 1901-1920 they were S. Maw, Son, & Sons of Aldersgate Street, London.

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals and/or licenses:
German pocket warmer, Chinese warmer, Japanese warmer, Hakkin warmer, or see more picture info here.

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Wedgwood jasperware: solid jasper or jasper dip?

wedgwood jasper cupid psyche 18th century
Wedgwood jasperware plaque with Cupid & Psyche marriage from Greek mythology, 1770s. Photo by ego technique.

Jasper dip and solid jasper are two different kinds of Wedgwood jasperware. Both have white classical designs on a coloured background, and look similar to non-experts. If in doubt you are always safe calling this style of pottery jasperware.

Solid jasper came first. After secret experiments in the early 1770s, blending clays with other ingredients, Wedgwood produced a range of hard stoneware with an unglazed, matt blue or slate-coloured finish, and white scenes, figures and motifs in a neo-classical style. Most of the designs were carefully sculpted copies of classical Roman or Greek ceramics – pottery in “antique form” as it was called then.

green jasperware teapot 1790
Jasper dip teapot c1790 with relief decoration using a design by Elizabeth Templetown. Photo by Maia C.

The colour was incorporated in the basic mix for solid jasper. This formula was expensive to manufacture and Wedgwood soon developed an alternative – the jasper dip, or surface jasper. This was a way of tinting only the visible surface, leaving backs and insides un-coloured. As well as light Wedgwood blue, colours used for jasper dip during this period included deep blue, lilac, olive, light green, black, pink, and yellow.

White ornamention was made in a mould, then attached to the coloured vases, tableware, portrait medallions etc. This so-called “sprigging” technique was already familiar to potters of the time.

The Cupid and Psyche marriage scene in the first photograph was produced in different sizes, from a small cameo ring to a substantial over-the-fireplace panel. Wedgwood wall plaques in this style fit well into Georgian interiors with white plasterwork ornamenting coloured walls and ceilings.

wedgwood jasperware jewelry brooches
Jasperware cameos - brooches and other small decorative pieces - being made on a 21st century workbench at the Wedgwood pottery in Stoke-on-Trent. Photo by Sunil.

Jasperware was probably Josiah Wedgwood’s most successful creation, imitated by Sèvres and Meissen, and despite going out of fashion for part of the 19th century is still made and appreciated  today. When people say ‘Wedgwood’ or ‘Wedgwood china’ they may well be thinking of this particular kind of pottery with its distinctive white scenes on unglazed colour.

…a fine-grained white stoneware for the ‘sprigs’or bas-reliefs…applied to small background tablets which he coloured blue with a cobalt stain. This blue Jasper has become Wedgwood’s most famous product…
…some had just a ‘blue dip’ because the cost of the cobalt was so high; another, solid Jasper, had the blue colour throughout…
Robert Copeland, Wedgwood Ware

Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:
Cupid and Psyche plaque, teapot, workbench with small jasperware.
More picture info here

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Boot scrapers

painted boot scraper
Simple scraper at Münster prison, Germany. Photo by Dave.

Who uses boot scrapers in the 21st century? Portable ones are on sale for gardeners, and for anyone else who wants to tackle muddy boots before approaching clean houses, cars, or paths. But the days of iron scrapers being placed at every door are over. The finest ornamental 19th century scrapers are still there beside elegant townhouses and country mansions. Scrapers have stayed on some smaller homes, especially where the scraper is embedded in the wall. Plain, functional scrapers sometimes remain by historic buildings.

Gone are the days of architects and builders planning for boot scrapers:

English boot scraper arch shape
Arch framing scraper set into wall - a design once used widely in England. This one is in Cambridge. Photo by Nick James.

Scrapers for the feet may be let into the wall of the cottage, on each side of the door, a cavity being left over the scraper for the foot, and one under it for the dirt. There are various forms of scrapers for building into walls, which may be had of every ironmonger; and all that the cottager has to do is to choose one analogous to the style of his house. There are detached scrapers in endless variety; the most complete are those which have brushes fixed on edge, on each side of the scraper…
An encyclopædia of cottage, farm, and villa architecture and furniture …John Claudius Loudon, London, 1839

Schools no longer put scrapers on their list of essentials:

The Scraper ….. the steps or platform leading to the door ….. either will be incomplete without a strong, convenient shoe scraper at each side. Two will be required, for the reason that the pupils enter the school, morning and afternoon, about the same time, and if there be only one scraper, it will either cause delay or compel some to enter the building with soiled shoes. Cleanliness and neatness are amongst the cardinal virtues of the school-room ; and every means of inculcating and promoting them should receive the earliest and most constant attention.
JG Hodgins, The school house: its architecture, external and internal arrangements, Toronto, 1876

Canadian boot scraper
Old school in Winnipeg, Canada, with a long boot scraper for several children to use at once. Long scrapers were a typical school design. Photo by Per.

What we do have now are enthusiasts who just love old boot scrapers. Since these are often fixed into stone, they are best collected by photographers. One collection is mostly from the UK or US. Another is from Brussels where, says the introduction, scrapers used to be part of the etiquette and ritual for entering both public buildings and individual homes. A Toulouse “collector” has analysed local styles and named them: ram’s horns, fir-cones etc.

boot scraper railings
Scraper discreetly set at foot of steps with iron railings in New York. Photo by Kim Navarre.

When did boot scrapers arrive as a normal part of daily life? The first print references start mid-18th century, when they are simply called scrapers.* I haven’t seen any that go back as far as this, but am hoping a “collector” may know of one and add a comment – please. Foot scraper and shoe scraper are terms also used, but boot scraper is far the most common name.

portable boot scraper
Movable cast iron scraper with tray to catch dirt. Probably late Victorian. Photo by HomeThingsPast.

They attracted 19th century inventors with an eye on patenting newer, cleverer kinds of scraper: quite often combined with brushes. Some of these look useful, some don’t, but none has the elegance of the best architect-endorsed scrapers, chosen to suit the house they were protecting from mud. One design that stands out from the crowd is seen in New York  and Savannah, Georgia. By integrating the scraper into the railings it avoids the “afterthought” look of a shoe-cleaner that doesn’t suit the architectural style of the house, but it isn’t quite as obvious as a free-standing scraper. Did visitors know where they were supposed to clean their footwear?

 cast iron scraper in corner
Scraper with dragon head in Oxford on 1882 building. Photo by Barnaby S.

Specification of Works to be done in erecting and completely finishing a Villa….with all the necessary appurtenances [sic]….
Iron-founder…Provide cast-iron strong tray boot scrapers to front and back doorways.
Specification of Works required to be done in erecting and completely finishing a Pair Of Semi-detached Cottages….
Iron-founder….Fit up to each front door a neat iron knocker and a neat iron-pan scraper.
Practical specifications of works executed in architecture, civil and mechanical engineering, London, 1865

boot scrapers 19th century
US boot scraper and brush combinations patented in 1870s and 1880s. Called foot-scraper, boot-cleaner, and shoe scraper, and all portable.
Photos

Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here:
White boot scraper, school boot scraper, arch scraper, scraper and railings, dragon scraper.
More picture info here

Notes

*Oxford English Dictionary cites Swift’s Directions to Servants 1745

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