Reminiscing about early 1900s Sears catalog items
Glimpses of Yesteryear
Wednesday, October 31, 2012 5:24 AM
A few weeks ago this column dealt with "oddities" around town, things seen but no longer in use. The same thought occurred to me as I cleaned cupboards this fall, following the summer dust storms on South Broadway.
Items from the Sears catalogs, dated 1902 and 1908, some of which we have in our cupboards today or show off in special ways. Many can be found at the local museums — why not bring friends and come for a guided tour before they close for the season? Amazing things can be seen there.
A number of items in my collection, thanks to Grandmother Blanche (Harry) Steffens, or as seen in the 1902-08 Sears catalogs, are almost relics of the past, considering the casual way we often entertain. For instance, how many of you use a "crumb set?" The dining table was stretched out, with additional leaves put in, padded, and the carefully laundered and ironed white linen tablecloth was spread over it with accompanying generous-sized napkins.
After dinner was eaten, and maybe before dessert wasv served, Grandmother used the crumb set, a small tray and scraper, to brush away all crumbs or detritus from the tablecloth to avoid further stains or residue. For those inclined, a fancy napkin ring might be set at each place as pictured here, too. The one shown was $1.40, high end of the other available rings priced from 15 cents to $1.65.
Sugar shells were a standard part of any silverware set, but they often came in a set of three pieces - the sugar shell, cream ladle and butter knife. Of course we are talking a separate bread and butter plate at each place, usually with small individual butter knives, as well. A glass covered butter dish was common, and I still use one. Many folks used cream and sugar in their coffee, and those sets came in cut glass, silver or china.
On the dining table at the Washburn-Zittleman House is a spoon caddy with silver spoons to pass around if anyone wanted to stir their coffee, or for a fruity dessert. There were also the sharply pointed grapefruit or orange spoons when one served that fruit in a breakfast bowl. Silver jelly servers were longish flat pieces for helping yourself to slabs of the hostess's special homemade jellies. The cold meat server, a large wide fork, and the gravy ladle were both of fancy design, or might match the silverware set. A sugar tongs sometimes came in a set along with six coffee spoons.
In the glassware department, I remember cut glass salt and pepper shakers, the individual "salts" for each place setting, footed compotes, and round or oblong dishes for special foods. The dinner caster set included five bottles for various oils, vinegars and seasonings, set on an elegant raised silver tray with tote handle. One pickle caster had a gorgeous gold-trimmed ruby glass jar, and the silver holder had a handle and pickle tongs.
My grandmother's green glass shaker, with its battered tin pierced lid, labeled "sugar" is a treasure - she always used it at the cookstove, filled with salt, which I thought a huge joke as a youngster learning to spell words. It now holds sugar for my tea-drinking friends.
One hundred piece dinner sets of beautiful semi-vitreous china, white and gold china in the Haviland design, or Bavarian translucent china could cost from $5.95 to $13.95 - yes, one hundred pieces - place settings for six plus all the extra serving pieces one could use.
My grandmother had Haviland china, now passed along to one of her great-granddaughters. On the other hand, 100 pieces of genuine Rose Wreath Haviland, Limoges, France, might cost as much as $27.69, place settings for eight with at least 10 serving pieces. There were chocolate sets of pot and six cups and saucers; salad or berry sets with a bowl and six saucedishes; water sets of tankard pitcher and six tumblers. Less spendy items you might consider: "Our superb pressed cut glass assortment, 48 pieces, elegant, stylish" for only $3.39. We can't forget the mustache cups and saucers, "beautifully decorated, trimmed in gold" at only 16 cents each.
Speaking of no-longer-used items - there was the gorgeous 12-piece American Beauty Rose toilet set, burnished with gold trim. None of the items was listed separately (but pictured) so I believe it comprised a water pitcher and large bowl for bathing, the waste water jar and lid for dirty bath water, the chamber pot with lid, a smaller pitcher and cup, a lidded soap dish with drainer inside, and a jar for a toothbrush. Cost was $6.69, shipped from the pottery in Ohio.
Remember ornamented silver cake plates on delicate legs with a swing-down handle? Or silver toothpick holders? There were both silver and china cracker jars, and silver bread trays plus extravagantly decorated cake plates. We would be remiss to fail to mention the wonderful teapots of various shapes and designs. Grandmother had my great-aunt Alice Steffens's lovely teapot from England, and the tea strainer, too. Patented in 1910, the strainer was tilted over the teacup to catch tealeaves that might float from the pot.
Grandmother was a member of the Up to Date Club organized by the noted "Lobdill Twins," aka as Emily Lloyd and Emma Viall. They often exchanged what they called inexpensive prizes, and she showed me neat things - the pretty glass mayonnaise bowl with its glass dipper, and a cleverly handled glass plate for sugar cubes that surrounded the cream pitcher in the middle. Then, did you ever use bone dishes? These curved to set around a dinner plate, and they still come in handy when eating ribs or chicken or fish.
Pretty glass candleholders and a vase to match, for garden flowers, were usually part of the decor. Yes, there was a time when common folk set elegant tables for special occasions, and when someone still does it today, what a treat! It's fun to use those old-fashioned pieces and tell stories to grandchildren about how it "used to be" when we were young. Remember?