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.
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.
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.
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…..
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:
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
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.
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.
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?
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