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Bits of Info': Spills, Signals, and Magic

9/1/2010


Sometimes bits of information can be more interesting than an entire article about one item!  During the last year, a number of unusual and different pieces have crossed our path such as "spill vases", "magic lanterns", "signal cannons", and everyday collectible household items. Such subjects might keep the attention for those of us whose minds tend to easily wander as we look back in the rearview mirror of yesteryear.   


We recently told a client that she had an interesting "spill vase".  She looked surprised and said that her grandmother had called the purple and white slag glass bud-like vase that, but she hadn't heard the term since her grandmother died in the late 1960's.  So, those of you who are still with me and can't wait --- since matches were rare and expensive, a mid 19th century spill vase was usually kept on the mantle and was filled with rolled paper or very thin wood sticks that were used to transfer fire from the fireplace to candles, lamps, or a gentleman's cigar.  


Another client had a contraption given to her by a spinster aunt.  It was known as a "magic lantern" that was first invented in the 16th century and much later became quite popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The early device made of tin or sheet iron with an adjustable single "scope" with a kerosene lantern that reflected through the added glass-etched slide was used to project "amazing wonders" on the wall.  It was a marketing success with the many different mass produced glass slides that could be ordered for use in churches, theatres, and schools.  It was the beginning of the technological age in 1890 that you can still find in the reprinted 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalogue for your reading pleasure...that is, if you still want to know more.


Another item of interest was a fifteen pound cast iron cannon with cannon balls, fuses, and black powder owned by an older gentleman who said it had been in his family for over a 175 years.  To his surprise, it was a replica of a "York Cannon" from the American Revolutionary war and was known as a "signal cannon".   Such cannons had a number of uses:  they were used aboard ships and in battle to make salutes, warn of danger, and to signal when action was to begin for a battle.  There were many replicas made during the 1970's that were used for home décor and/or as cigarette lighters.  If you ever find an original one, don't be tempted to fire the thing as it was known to have been "a danger to the fingers and thumbs".


And, of course, we are confronted on almost a daily basis with "is-this-a-household collectible-item?"  Our answer, "yes" for everything!   Magazines, decorators, the media, and changing fads tend to dictate the latest in the collecting world.  If it is "out of fashion today", just wait long enough, it will be back because there is just so much that can keep going around.  Almost every home has a "sad iron", a red handled wooden kitchen utensil, a shopper's scale, kerosene lamps, and vintage furniture. Such items in a home are like a tap root to the past and our connection with the present. Just wait long enough and it will be "back in style and worth the big bucks again".


Such as it is... items of interest, little bits of information to grab your attention and spark your interest to days gone and to what we thought were simpler times.  Somehow, I prefer the trappings of today.






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