Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hog Scraper Candlesticks

Here is a classic icon of American country style of decorating. What is a picture of a harvest table or painted dry sink without seeing a hog scraper candle stick on the top? You see them in all the books. But what are they? What are they made of, where do they come from, are there fakes out there and so on. Many questions for such a simple item.

The earlier hog scraper candle sticks actually were made in Europe, mostly in England, but also France and Holland. Most of the early lighting used in this country was made in Europe. This was partly because of the laws that prevented us from making our own, to protect the English manufacturers, and partly because our technology just wasn't advanced enough at the time. Hog scrapers, like much other lighting is made from tinned sheet iron, and it would take quite a force to make fine even sheets of iron, and then to mold the sheet of iron into the forms we love today. The first known patent for an American hog scraper was in 1853.

I think all the early hog scrapers had a hook extending from the top edge, called a hanger. This was to hang to candle stick from your chair back or a nearby shelf to get the light closer to your work or your book. Be careful, don't burn your wig! Actually, if you look you can sometimes see burn marks on the top slat of a chair or the the top of a settle. In the pic above on the right you can see a proper hanger. Hangers are always wider where they attach to the candle stick top. If not, see the bit about fakes below. On the left stick you can see where the original hanger was broken off. They often broke, partly I suppose because that part is fairly thin.
 Here is a pic of the base of the three main eras of hog scrapers. On the right is the earliest type, supposedly made in the 18th C. It has two "tabs" that come down through two slots in the base, and then are "cleated" or pounded over to hold the whole stick together. These 18th C sticks are the rarest on the market, as you might imagine. Maybe 1 in 50 hog scrapers are this early type. They also usually cost more. The middle base is from the classic form of hog scraper you usually see in pictures or in the market. They are made in the 19th C. still usually made in Europe. After the Revolution we began to make more of our own goods. This type has a nut that attaches to a screw that is inside the tube part, screwing it down tight to hold the whole stick together. Once in a while you see washers or other devices to hold the nut on tighter as it wore down from use. On the left is what is called the American hog scraper. These are generally considered to be made in the US. The metal is a little lighter, and you can see the ring that clips on and holds the whole thing together. So you see, if you look at the base, you can always date your hog scraper.

Here is the "donut" as seen on both the 18th and 19th C candle sticks.

Here is the ring that holds the American candle stick "tube" to the base.

Here is what is called the Wedding Band hog scraper. You can see the brass "wedding" band in the middle. Just a little glitter for that dark Colonial interior. Again these are fairly rare on the market. As you can imagine they cost more in the day, and fewer people could afford to buy them. Beware, beware! I can't find a pic to show you, but there are so many fake wedding bands out there. It is so easy to cut a hog scraper candle stick "shaft" and solder a brass ring in the middle. But if you look carefully, you can see the solder ring on each side of the brass one, which you cannot see in the old ones.

Here is a pic of a repro I copied off the internet. Note the long curved hanger. Even if this one had been left out in the rain and got rust and patina, even then you would be able to recognize it. Also, notice the donut is not made separate, but is one piece with the base.


Here a few good books I used and I recommend

Colonial Lighting                        Arthur Hayward  Dover
Candle Holders in American    Joseph Butler       Bonanza
Fire and Light in the Home       John Caspall         Antique Collector Club

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stone Fruit

 I've been dealing in antique stone fruit for many years, and often customers new to collecting stone fruit have questions, such as "how old is it", "what is it made of", "how can you tell the difference between the good old stuff, the newer stuff, and the fakes", and so on. So I will attempt to give a few answers.

First off, its not exactly stone fruit, its really painted Italian marble fruit, but collectors and dealers refer to it as stone fruit. Stone fruit was first made in the Victorian days, and became very popular after WWII, and is still made today.

 Look at the beautiful fruit above. It is the most popularly collected stone fruit, call it the "good stuff", if you will. The good stuff was made in Italy, between 60 and 100 years ago, from white Carrara marble. The Italians made fruits, miniature fruits, oversize fruits, nuts and vegetables. They are hand carved, and you can sometimes see the chisel marks. It is hand painted, and the paint is quite dry, you can sometimes see the black marble veins through the paint, and the colors have softened with time. The grapes were wired onto pieces of real grape vine, the stems in all the fruit are short pieces of grape vine, and the cherries are wired together. The peanuts and almonds are carved out of travertine stone, and its many small pits give the look of the real nuts. They feel cold against your cheek, like real stone would do.

Can you tell the difference here? On the left is a newer stone peach, where the blush is sponged or sprayed on, and on the right is a good old one.  Look at the rich deep yellows and reds. Remember, they took the lead out of paint in the '70s, and you never saw the good deep reds again. And look at the wear and patina. Wear and tear and accidental teeth marks of small boys are part of the history of an old piece. More than one customer has smilingly told me of how he tried to bite his grandmother's stone fruit.

Here are two nice stone fruit "halves".

Here's a nice group of stone veggies I had last year from the "second period."  You can see the hand painting is pretty nice, and they are definitely hand carved, see the carrot!

Here is a pic from a recent visit to the famous York Antique show. Another type of stone fruit to collect is "oversized" stone fruit. They made most forms in a larger than life format. The grapes you commonly see, the others are quite rare. The apple here was about 5" in diameter and maybe 6" tall, see the comparison of the business card. The prices ranged from $700 to $2,300. I thought they were overpriced, but the guy said he used a recent sale at Skinners that brought even higher prices as a comparison.

The "second period" of stone fruit from Italy started in the '70s, when they started using spray paint to paint the marble fruit. They were very good, and the earlier pieces from this time look quite nice, blending the colors well, and adding some hand painted details. Also, I've had some pieces from this time with paper stickers that say "hand carved by  Professor (fill in the blank)". Later the paints got very bright and careless in blending, and the surface got shiny. They did less hand carving, and you can see the mechanical lathe turning marks on the round pieces. The other major flaw with this time period was the use of plastic stems on the fruit, and even the grapes. Very ugly!

Modern fruit from Italy has come back to the earlier look, with wire and grape vine details, and at least some hand painting. Italians made the first stone fruit, and still do so today. Today it is also made in China. The marble or whatever stone they use is a little different from the Italian marble, and the paint is quite bright, but very realistic. You also see carved alabaster fruit from Mexico, also still made today. It is stained, not painted, and polished to be shiny.

Here is a representative group of the Mexican polished alabaster fruit.

Here is a pic of some modern Italian fruit.

 Not a great picture, but look at the nice group of miniatures in the small bowl. Also notice how the dark grapes in the larger bowl brings out the yellows and reds of the other fruit, so don't forget to add a few dark pieces to your bowl.

So how to start collecting? Well, start with your goal, say put something nice in an old bowl you have. Start with the more common pieces, as they are less expensive, the apples, peaches pears, then add some dark pieces, and a few smaller scale pieces, such as strawberries or cherries or nuts, so you have the large and small of it, and there you are, done!
But if you want to do something else, consider a bowl of a single fruit, as you would have if you came home from the market. Some pretty peaches or oranges say. Look at the ones below.

I enjoy seeing the differences in individual carvers work. Here are three old oranges. Look at the peel, think how hard that would be to carve! Look at the differences in the styles of the three oranges, and the slightly different shades of orange. Also, the front one is kind of tapered, maybe it was made from a leftover bit of marble from a statue that wasn't quite right.

You could put three interesting miniatures in a little pewter dish. Or you could take one oversize piece and use it as a piece of art on a shelf or mantel. You could have a group of all one color, you could have a group of "mistakes", pieces made with mistakes. You could collect pieces with painted and carved in bruises, like real overripe fruit. I had a customer who filled a carrier with stone vegetables for the kitchen counter. You could collect just nuts, or just oversize, or just halves. Wow, just think of what you could do.

How available is the stone fruit, how do you buy it? Since it became popular again in the late 80s, its been pretty available at the larger antiques shows, in malls and at some auctions. Be careful at online auctions where you can't see and touch the pieces. Much of what you may see comes from China, and the nuts are plastic resin, not stone. Like all antiques, deal with dealers who will guarantee their pieces, and accept returns. But that said, if you've ever wanted to start a collection, don't wait long. I am seeing a big slow down in nice pieces coming to market. They are much harder to find the last year or so. I suppose like all things, popularity and good prices drove the pieces to market, and now that's slowing down, the attics of America are cleaned out. They are found more often in the south (they don't attract fruit flies!), and were brought home by many GIs, so look for them in estates collected during the 50s and 60s. Prices have been stable for the last few years, so I don't see any changes there for a while. And of course, check out my website, for a great selection of early pieces at good prices.