Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Roots of Christmas Traditions

In the 1950s we discovered fun and affordable Christmas plastic
Our families have so many holiday traditions, in each family we have developed things that we hold dear as making Christmas OUR Christmas. I was curious as to how these happened so...

When you send that holiday card to your list, know that the first holiday greeting cards were commissioned in 1843 by a very clever Henry Cole who had John Callicot Horsley illustrate them. Sheer marketing genius, as Cole was a government worker who had helped come up with the idea of the post office and the “Penny Post” two years previously as a way of giving ordinary people easy access to sending and receiving mail in England.  The age of steam made it all work because trains were replacing the horse and carriage conveying mail and packages quickly long distances. The price went down even further when you could mail a card for a half penny if the envelope wasn’t sealed, just tucked in. I remember sending cards cheaply a long time ago in the USA too, same thing, tuck in the flap and don't seal the card.
The very first holiday card, there was a lot of criticism for showing wine, how risque!

Christmas and holiday cards exploded when the Royal Family elected to use a card to send greetings to their general public at Christmas in the 1840s. Their card with the family Christmas tree on it launched another over the top tradition: the modern Christmas tree. Suddenly, a tree decorated with ornaments and little presents became all the rage and it traveled quickly from England to America.

 The history of the original tree is a little cloudy but Evergreen boughs brought in and decorated and later trees are thought to have come from Eastern Europe, as the tree is a symbol of “Evergreen” long life.  In Germany during the renaissance guildhalls would erect trees covered with candies for  children to enjoy. The glass ornament also came out of Germany and became enormously popular as it was both affordable and beautiful.
My sister Marji, in the 1970s, the Queen of Christmas!

 The glass blowers of Lauscha near Nurnberg, made windows and glassware and beads for millinery and tailoring. When the glass blowers in Bohemia invented a cheaper process they were faced with ruin and turned to blowing glass ornaments.  Frank Woolworth bought a box of cheap ornaments in the 1880s for his sole store, thinking he was doing the salesman a favor and they’d never sell. He was so wrong, they were gone the same day and in the following Woolworth bought hundreds of thousands of ornaments for his growing chain of five and dime stores, launching a tradition that still stands.
Wouldn't you love to shop this display?
Interestingly enough, originally the Christmas tree was decorated on Christmas eve along with hanging stockings and came down soon after. It was lit just one time, with candles, which were a horrible fire hazard, hence the one time lighting and candles were expensive too. When the electric light string was invented we extended the tree season by weeks!
My inherited German ornaments from my family. My ultimate Christmas treasure
 Hanging our stockings goes back to Germany too, and the tradition of Saint Nicholas taking pity on three poor daughters who had no dowries to marry.  He heard their prayers and dropped bags of coins down the chimney where they landed in the stockings drying on the hearth, although why he climbed on the roof to chuck money down a chimney has always puzzled me.
1954, stocking hanging with stockings made in Hong Kong
 I like the tradition of St Nicholas day, December 6th which I remember from my own childhood in Germany. We would put our empty shoes out for St Nick to fill with candy, coins and small gifts overnight. The shoes were originally set out by good children filled with hay and carrots for Odin’s horse Sleipinir to eat. In exchange, he left treats. Pity the parent who had to eat hay and carrots instead of cookies and milk.

In the 1950s in postwar American stockings became specialized parts of our Christmas decor, and because regular stockings couldn’t hold enough goodies, we imported great big ones and filled them with fruit and and nuts and candy and presents. Every stocking has to have a candy cane too.

Candy canes are said to have come from Cologne Germany via a thoughtful choir master who had a local candy maker make sugar sticks to keep his young choir silent in the choir loft during Christmas eve services.  They were white to show Jesus’ blameless life and crooked to honor the shepherds. No one knows for sure when peppermint and stripes were added but today they are a tradition found all across America.
Now that is a tree!

 I find it fascinating that so many traditions are connected and linked to one another in wonderful ways. What are your traditions? Do a little research and find their fascinating roots to make your Christmas even more amazing, its so worth it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Halloween History Mystery

                         from Buzzfeed                             creepy kid ghosts                                         
Halloween is one of our favorite holidays in America, for both kids and grownups. How did it get here and what is the significance of the things we associate with the holiday?

Halloween is actually a fairly modern take on an ancient celebration and ritual in the pagan/Celtic world that was called Samhain, pronounced Sah-win.  Samhain was celebrated halfway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, generally October 30 to November 1st (dates were added after calendars came along). It was a time when the veils between the worlds were thinnest and the dead could cross over; it was a time for celebrating a successful harvest and making sacrifices to get through the winter and propitiate the gods for the next year. This was a dark and superstitious world where ritual and offerings to gods and goddesses were important to survival.

During these days giant bonfires were lit, in accordance with specific rituals.  Feasts were laid out and the souls of dead family members were invited to take a place at the table. Additionally, offerings of food and drink were left outside to  honor and ask favors of the spirits and fairies who could cross over the thinned veil between the worlds during Samhain.

People wore masks and animal skins and disguised themselves; ‘mumming’ and ‘guising’ to either imitate the spirits or hide from them. The poor offered to say prayers for the wealthy to keep the spirits at bay in exchange for ‘soul cakes’. In other instances sometimes disguised folk went door to door reciting verses in exchange for food.  This is most likely the ancient origin of trick or treating.

To scare away spirits people carved scary faced lanterns from turnips, remember pumpkins are a fruit of the New World and were unknown in the ancient world of Europe. They put a hot coal or ember in the lanterns and carried them at night during Samhain. What joy to discover pumpkins, so much easier to carve than a turnip!

Pope Gregory II, knowing a good thing when he saw it, conscripted Samhain from the superstitious Celts and turned it into All Hallow’s Eve followed by All Saints Day. Hence, our modern Halloween, actually Hallow evening. This let the Catholic church use the festival to convert the Celts to Catholicism, especially the Irish, by using their own rituals and spirits to win them over.

Early America wanted no part of Halloween and it was not celebrated in the USA until the Irish potato famine of 1845 brought an enormous influx of the Irish to America as immigrants. At first, it was celebrated primarily in Irish enclaves but its popularity spread and charming Victorian illustrations can still be found. By the 1920s the celebrations were out of control. Many cities and towns clamped down and forbade the celebration because of the violence and viciousness it had taken on in adult hands.

World War II and sugar rationing stopped any kind of celebration in its tracks; and after WWII in the 1950s it was ready to be invented as the kid friendly holiday we know and love today. The holiday continues to grow in popularity as adults embrace their inner kids and enjoy today’s trend of costume parties, returning a lot of the holiday to the grown-ups where it started.

Where did all the things we associate with Halloween come from anyway?

The Celts believed the skeleton was the repository of the soul and honored it as such. They wanted to keep the dead from bothering the living and a lot of their rituals were geared to that end. Mexico has Day of the Dead to honor ancestors, and everyone loves spooky bones around Halloween. 

Ghosts are a natural, the concept of roving spirits has traveled directly to the present. Who remembers wearing an old sheet with eye holes cut in it when your mom didn’t get your costume finished? In the 1950's little ghosts were the most common costume out there going door to door and hollering “Trick or Treat!” in the neighborhood.

Witches came out of the ancient tradition of wise women, crones who were herbalists, spiritual advisers and healers in the ancient world. The Catholic Church was not fond of women usurping their authority and cast them as purveyors of dark arts and called them evil witches, something America knows way too much about. Scary witches are still popular in costume and concept.

Black cats have had a bad rap for a very long time. They were regarded as familiars, the spiritual receptacles and advisers for witches and as such were considered very bad kitties, almost made extinct at one time.

Bats came straight out of history. Those giant all night bonfires threw a lot of light that attracted a lot of insects and all those bugs attracted a bunch of bats to eat them. Bats are night flyers, an automatic addition to the dark side.

Spiders show up in autumn, weaving their sticky webs to catch unsuspecting bugs and seemingly everywhere we turn, walking into a web is pretty awful so they got tossed into the arsenal too.

Vampires and werewolves are a more recent addition, added to the mix primarily through 19th century sensationalist literature. Frankenstein anyone?

Today, Halloween decorations from the turn of the century through the 1950s are highly sought after and collected. The early decorations were not geared to happy kiddies. Halloween parties were for grown- ups back then and the decorations were meant to be truly scary and unsettling.

Happy hunting for those cool decorations and old photos, and happy Halloween, or Secret Samhain!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

O Christmas Tree: Where Did You Come From?

German Christmas Card, Circa 1910

Our American tradition of Christmas trees probably had its roots in Germany in the 8th century. St Boniface, the German apostle,  brought a fir tree with him when he preached to the common people  because he said its triangular outline represented the holy trinity. This was at a time when very few people could read and visual aids like his little tree were a big part of spreading the gospel.  Devout Germans took this form as a real manifestation of the trinity and decorated their trees only with candles in the beginning.

By the 15th century glass ornaments crept into view and in Latvia trees were even decorated with roses, associated with the Virgin Mary. It has been documented that in Strasbourg in 1605, on the Rhine bordering with France, someone brought a tree indoors and decorated it with roses made of paper, nuts, candy and of course, candles. The Christmas tree was officially born.

Folks got very crafty after that and carved wood, painted eggshells, added shaped cookies and more candy and  and paper decorations.  The very wealthy could even add tinsel in 1610. Tinsel was made of pure silver. Wouldn’t I like to find a box of that somewhere at a thrift shop!
One of the oldest known
ornaments, from Lauscha

Christmas trees gradually slipped into England and became more ornate, using glass beads and handmade embroidered snowflakes along with other decorations. By the 1800s, the tradition crossed the ocean and landed in America where it has been embraced with a vengeance.

We added edible fruit like apples and strung cranberries and popcorn on our trees.  We even stole the idea of putting painted gingerbread cookies baked into Christmas shapes on our trees.  Pictures from magazines and newspapers, rare and treasured in many cases, showed up on trees and then little gifts were tied on the branches in homemade baskets and boxes.

Before the late Victorian era, hand made Christmas ornaments were created by each family with perhaps one or two expensive glass pieces. Lauscha, the top glass blowing area in the Black Forest in Germany, saw the possibility of hand blowing ornaments just for Christmas. They were instantly successful. Everyone in Lauscha was absorbed into some facet of the ornament trade and Germany held the market for Christmas ornaments. If you are interested in this part of history, read  the novels,"The Glass Blower Trilogy", available on Amazon and for Kindle for more history.

F.W. Woolworth of the five and dime stores, visited Lauscha and saw there was money to be made. He began the importation of German glass ornaments into his stores and by 1890 he was selling 25 million dollars in ornaments in the USA, and that’s in 1900s dollars too.
A page from a German Christmas ornament catalog, turn of the century

Queen Victoria loved Christmas and popularized Christmas traditions, and it began to be celebrated with much joy and on a large scale. The Christmas tree crept back to Europe and spread everywhere.
Japan, the Czech Republic and other countries entered the ornament fray but German ornaments are still the most treasured and sought after.

In 1960s America, we took it up a notch with metal trees and white trees and pink trees and trees that were flocked, sprayed with chemical snow and decorated with a single theme such as pink or all turquoise blue. Mid century aluminum trees and the accouterments such as color wheels that go with them are back in fashion in a big way and very expensive and hard to find.
A color wheel used to add sparkle to your metal tree

An original aluminum tree

Luckily, most pretty vintage ornaments are still very affordable, fairly easy to find and great fun to collect along with all the associated pieces like Elf on the shelf, plastic 50s reindeer and sleighs and all the things we remember from our own American nostalgic history.

Old plasstic Santa and and very old German house

Lots more to discover out there if you are interested. For you Mid Century kids here's a great link to aluminum trees. Happy Hunting!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why We Collect

Little pitchers, still affordable and what a story they tell of other times and places.

I call my own fascination with collections focused hoarding and I blame my parents who also collected “things” , including smoking pipes, antique beer steins and tea cups. Perhaps it’s a genetic predisposition in many of us? The antithesis of the need to collect seems to be the person bent on shedding every trace of everything he or she ever knew and living basically out of a suitcase which we collectors find very odd.
Recently there has been a move afoot to discard everything and live a scaled down minimal life. It’s supposed to make us happy and light and somehow righteous and fulfilled. I disagree completely with that notion, to collect Things is part of the human condition.
So why do we collect stuff? Is it a leftover from caveman days? Could it be he-or she--who figured out how to collect the most useful stuff, lived to fight more woolly mammoths and raise children with the same bent?  We know accumulation of wealth leads to living longer simply because one is able to have a better standard of living. Could collecting objects one considers to have value have the same effect?
Clever wooden things, hand carved are such fun to find

 People have been collecting things for as long as there have been people with the need to understand and accumulate tangible objects. The world’s oldest known collection was actually discovered in 1925, and the archaeologist who found it was puzzled by the fact that he had discovered a neatly organized batch of even more ancient artifacts from different times and places in one place. It turns out he had uncovered the museum of Princess Ennigaldi-Nanna who collected Mesopotamian antiquities—2,500 years ago. The Mesopotamian antiques she collected were already antiques 2,500 years ago, showing us that collectors have been busy for a long, long time.

If we are collectors it’s probably relevant to understand why we collect what we collect, whether it’s Olympia beer can openers, Pyrex bowls, dolls, coins, books or any esoterica that makes us happy and fulfilled and loving the thrill of the hunt for the perfect object to add to the collection. Understanding why and being able to express it is also the first step in defending yourself against the non-collector who doesn’t get it.

Is it to accumulate wealth in tangible objects? Although few collectors are willing to ever part with a piece of their collections except when a better piece of the same thing comes along. Is it actually a collection if it is acquired simply to sell and accumulate wealth? Now there’s a question for you to ponder.
Oriental cats are really popular right now

Is it nostalgia for a lost time? Do you remember your grandparents’ house and your grandma’s kitchen? Do you crave the things from your own childhood that seem to go ‘extinct’ faster than ever with technology? It’s a way to slow things down and remember good times for some of us.

I like the idea that a collection lets us bring order and control to even a tiny corner of a crazy world. You can dust, catalog and arrange to your heart’s content if it’s your own corner. The dusting thing though, I bought three pretty glass fronted cabinets for my own collections to escape the dust part because it makes me crazy.

Can it be the feeling we get from acquisition of things that are beautiful to us that are being trashed, lost, discarded, forgotten or otherwise left behind by the world in general? Entire groups of people take immense joy in hunting down specific pieces like collectible Pyrex, old glassware, mid-century furniture, American pottery, Italian pottery and sharing that information with each other. If you collect it there is a group on Facebook that collects it too, and those become communities of like-minded people who take pleasure in sharing information and bragging rights. If you collect something and you feel alone, hunt it up on Facebook and join the community. You’ll learn a lot and get to share your special bits too.

For me, a lot of collecting is simply the joy of the hunt and finding something valuable that no one knows is there yet. Finding and stalking the wild kitschy deer statue or more restaurant china makes my endorphins percolate nicely. I take pride in owning amazing bits, and yes I confess to buying the aforementioned three glass cabinets to keep different collections in.

It’s odd how a collection starts, take the aforementioned deer. I started out with a cute little California pottery deer or three from my childhood and suddenly I started seeing cute affordable deer everywhere. It was like my being aware of them made them appear and now I find them and sadly, buy them everywhere.
collecting is going for the dogs, not to them.

Sometimes collections are annoying and accidental. Take the poor slob who makes the mistake of saying, “I love ceramic turtles”, and every birthday and holiday for the next 50 years involves the gift of a turtle. I personally know folks who have accidentally accrued collections of flamingos, frogs, turtles and teddy bears, all by accident. They would really like to stop, but it would mean their families would be deprived of the hunt for the perfect critter for them and most don’t have the heart to do it, they just keep filling boxes that will someday appear at Value Village or Goodwill when they can’t take it anymore.

I collect useful things too. The pieces we used in kitchens and cooking in the 50's and 60's were of much higher quality than the Chinese made disposable crap we buy now that breaks often and is supplanted by the next new thing on a regular basis.
Native pottery is amazing stuff and if you hunt, you can still find affordable pieces.

Take a look at the quality of goods from the past; they are so often better made and made to last. I have a hand mixer that I marvel at every time I use it. The perfect balance of utilitarian beauty and function and it will outlive me most likely.  Vintage Tupperware is amazing, it works great, washes nicely and I love the colors. Mouli graters work better than anything else that has been invented. What’s not to love?

Some goods from the past have become insanely valuable. Early Danish modern and Scandinavian pieces, mid-century and atomic furniture, rare Pyrex patterns and studio pottery are hot right this minute.

Collecting is like a roller coaster, what you love may be hot and then it’s not. Fenton glass, Victorian tchotchkes and cut glass are all seeing a lull but wait, they’ll be back.  Rarity will bring them around again as tastes change through the years. 
I still can't explain all the deer.

Collecting is a positive anchor, it ties you to the here and now, declares to the world, this is my stuff, this is my place and this is who I am. It lets you tell others something about you without your ever saying a word. I like that my shelf of vintage fat lava German pottery makes a clear statement about who I am and my personal style. I still can’t explain all those kitschy deer though….  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

What Exactly is a German Regimental Beer Stein: is it Real or Repro?

A Real Regimental Stein
Who knew that there were so many dedicated, dare I say rabid, collectors of beer steins? I have lately landed like an alien from Mars marveling in their midst, intrigued and fascinated by the history of something that is both plebeian (you drink beer from it) and beautiful (have you seen these things?)

How did I get here? Re-roll the tape to 1957, when a little kid from California is uprooted and transplanted to Germany with her family. My dad was in the Air Force, a code breaker during the cold war. I had no idea what he did for a living until 20 years after he retired. I just knew it was top secret and all very hush hush. Seriously, what 8 year old in the known universe cares about what the parental units do when they are out of sight?
Details of the intricate homey camp scenes on the beer rmug

My mother was a culture vulture and we did not live in military housing on post if she could ever help it. Nope, we lived on the economy as the saying went, in this amazing old house at Number 3 Prieger Promenade in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. Our friends were German, we dressed like German kids and we learned to speak German pretty well over the course of four years.
That list on the back is a list of all the members of the unit at the time this group served.

This was a good thing, and we never missed the snotty army brats we went to school with who were mostly quintessential ugly Americans who wouldn't leave the base and lived to go 'home'. They hated Germany; German food, German customs and German people. We, on the other hand, immersed ourselves totally (thanks for that Mutti) which included jumping in the car every week and going exploring somewhere new.

We camped everywhere we went. I literally never stayed in a hotel until I was 18 years old. Okay, I stayed in a hotel in Paris when I was 10, but I have the dubious distinction of camping with my family at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958 where I discovered Flemish Mayonnaise on Frites (French Fries) and marveled at the Atomium and Sputnik. In our travels we met everyone from cosmetics magnates to gypsies, from college kids backpacking around the country to restaurant owners lolling in the Black Forest and so many more. In short, we landed in enough magic to last for a lifetime.  I developed an itchy foot and a lust for travel that has never stopped.

A lithopane is a porcelain picture in the bottom of a beer stein and in some teacups. You can't see them until you hold them up to the light. 

And oh yes, the steins! My dad went bonkers for bier steins. Heidelberg student steins with engraved glass sides and painted porcelain lids, pewter steins with castles on them, steins with lithopanes in the bottom, which are pictures you can see when you hold the stein up to the light, old steins and new steins, big ones and little ones. Our house was filled with his collections of steins and meerschaum pipes.

After he died a few years ago we couldn't find any of the steins except the metal ones that fell off their rack and got smashed in an earthquake in California, dented Pewter. But after my mother died at the age of 95 last year, my brother found the collection where she had hidden it and they are slowly emerging into the light of day. Which brings me to THIS stein. It was either kismet or good karma, I'll take either one.

A few weeks ago a woman brought a box of her father-in-law's things to the antique mall, Finder's Keepers, where I occasionally work and asked if we would be interested in buying  the pieces she had. She just wanted them gone from her life. A lot of it was non-thrilling old plate silver, a no go in this era,  but then I unpacked a fat German stein with a music box in the bottom, a nice music box too. Unfortunately it plays "How Dry I Am"when you pick it up and that wretched tune has now been stuck in my head for days. It had the words to the song lettered on it and was painted with a Fraulein in net stockings sitting at a table. A guy in a 40's suit is giving her the eye, real hubba hubba stuff. I looked at the beer mug and asked her if anyone in her family had lived in Germany in the 1950s? Turned out most of the box of stuff was brought home from Germany in the mid-50's by her father-in-law who was stationed there.
The best steins have the details picked out in white enamel that is hand applied, like the shield and the guy's buttons.

Sadly, in the 1950s right after the war there were a lot of Frauleins in net stockings and not a lot of jobs for them. I remember my dad joking with our beloved housekeeper, Ushi, about the price for a lady's favors, "Zwei markt funfsiche," and they would laugh uproariously at the idea. It didn't dawn on me until many years later what the conversation was about. So, this stein was a soldier's souvenir from his rollicking 1950s and indicated the provenance of the other piece hiding in there. A regimental stein from 1906.

I pulled it out of the box and it was beyond beautiful, the colors still sparkling bright. I also saw the finial, that pointy thing on top, was damaged and I knew it would drastically affect the value. Still, it was so beautiful I offered to buy it for what I thought was a fair price, not knowing then what the heck it was, just that it was gorgeous,
The stein took a tumble at some point. His rifle is bent like spaghetti

I got it home and started my research, discovering then what a ginormous field stein collecting is--and what a mysterious one too! So many records of manufacturers and potters were completely destroyed during World War II. A lot of history about these magnificent pieces simply doesn't exist anymore. I did find there are excellent articles on them everywhere on the interwebs.  This is a link to an excellent article on identifying real or fake pieces. I highly recommend it if you find one of these and wonder about it too.

Every German, ending about WWI, had to show up and serve his country for a set amount of time.  These steins were a sort of souvenir of service that a soldier would buy and keep along with the other guys in his unit. Regimental steins were a big business, just look at the listings on eBay! And the prices! No wonder crooks are prone to making fakes. 

 This is actually an Imperial German Hessian beer stein which belonged Gardist Geier. He servied with the‘6 Comp. 1 Grossh. Hess. Inft. Leibg. Regt. Nr. 115 Darmstadt 1904-06. The Gross Herzogliche Freiherr Leibgarde Infantry Regiment 115 is the oldest military unit in the German army going back to 1650. This regiment was the traditional Life Guards Regiment of the Grand Dukes of Hesse.

 The front of the stein has an image of a statue of a winged Germania standing over a German soldier Below that is a red shield with a white ‘L’ and crown, and a pickelhaub (the pointy hat) helmet, drum, shovel, flask and bugle. Soldiers are shown in poses of fighting and in a homey camp scene. Marked 0.5 L on one side (liter) and a red 14 is painted on the bottom.  The lithopane is a traditional scene with a mum with a hankie crying and a dad waving to his son.

 The pewter lid is topped with a seated soldier holding a gun and a flask. The thumblift is a crowned rampant lion holding a shield. Steins had lids simply to keep bugs out of the beer.
Lids were to keep out bugs--and the interior should be brighter than the exterior pewter because it wasn't exposed to light

The paintings on steins were fired on transfers and the best steins have details like buttons picked out in raised enamel.  The soldiers of the regiment are listed on either side of the handle, also done in most cases via the transfer process. They could use the same list to sell a stein as a souvenir to every member of the regiment. The company, and the soldier’s name would have been hand lettered for each individual stein and the name on the stein must be on the list for the stein to be authentic.
Glorious deetail

This stein is especially interesting because Gardist Geier served Prince Ernst Louis, the last grand duke of Hesse (1868-1918). He was the brother in law of Tsar Nicholas of Russia and the grandson of Queen Victoria of England. This stein  represents an amazing piece of European history that really demonstrates how interconnected royalty is and was and how very odd it must have been to fight in a war against your family. These pieces are very collectible and a lot of military collectors love them. Beware though, lots of fakes to trip up the unwary collector. Happy Hunting and Cheers! (picture me lifting a beer filled stein.)
Side view, here you can see the lion of Hesse.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Mystery of Kathy Kale

While thrifting in Colorado recently I came across an odd and intriguing thing that looked like a candle holder. It looks rather like an old exploded view of power line insulator in an odd way. It's brown ceramic, has three feet and a beautiful brown glaze-- without the ever popular drippy white edge.

What is it?

Sorry folks,I  have never been a big fan of the drip ware with white edges. My aversion probably dates to a youth of chili in drip glazed Hull bowls or my grannie's awful coffee served in heavy Hull Pottery  mugs.

The piece is marked clearly on the bottom with "Kathy Kale USA" and a monogram. The clay body is a white sturdy stoneware and even the tips of the feet are glazed. It must have sat in the kiln on a perch that held it up off the kiln floor. It has one little spot on an edge that didn't get glazed. It's not a nick as confirmed by a magnifying glass, but a flaw that got through. So who is Kathy Kale and how old is this little cool  piece and what is it?

It's a warmer. Amazing. I figured it out. How cute is this little thing? But who made it and who is Kathy Kale?

Well...that's a mystery. There were three Kale families that were potters in the Carolinas at the turn of the 20th century, as in the 1900's and before. It is thought, but I cannot find any proof, that Kathy Kale could have been a Carolina Kale.  What we do know is that her wares appeared under the aegis of at least four potteries between the 1920's and 1965. But was she a real person? A joke? A trademark? A designer? No one really seems to know.

She appears to have worked or been a trademark for Canonsburg Pottery founded in 1900 and located in Pennsylvania just outside Pittsburgh.  They sold her Kathy Kale Creations as part of their line which was primarily dinnerware. That company exited stage right in 1978.

She appears to have worked or been a trademark for Watt Pottery, founded in 1886 at Rosefarm, Ohio. The pottery was sold and restarted in 1922 when the Watt family  bought the Globe pottery of Crooksville, Ohio.They made pottery mixing bowls and dishes much as Globe had done. In 1935,  they changed with the times and made pieces with the freehand decorations that are so popular with collectors today.

Watt bowl

Apple, Starflower, Rooster, Tulip, and Autumn Foliage are the most common. Pansy, also called Rio Rose, is the rarest because the glaze was thought to be flawed and they didn't make it for long. They added mid century lines to stay on trend including Kathy Kale, which was their very last line. The plant closed in 1965.  

Her trademarked name is associated with Hull Pottery of Crooksville, Ohio. Found in 1905, Hull originally made utilitarian stoneware, dinnerware and decorative tiles. They kept up  with the times and  from the 1930's to the 1950's, churned out popular patterns of dinnerware such as Magnolia, Orchid, Calla and Rose. They hopped on the 50's pastel bandwagon too, as well as expanding into florist's vases.
Hull bowl

Hull is probably most remembered for their Mirror Brown glaze which is still the quintessential Hull glaze. In 1950 the factory was destroyed in a flood followed by a fire. They rebuilt and reopened within two years focusing on their "House 'n Garden Servware" and  Imperialist Florist lines, but closed permanently in 1986.
Hull mug
Kale also crops up in McCoy Pottery in their Town 'N Country line from the late 50's early 60's.  McCoy was in business from 1910 to 1991 under one owner or another. They didn't get around to marking their pieces until 1933 and McCoy is the most collected pottery in the USA. They made every color, every style and every size you can think of at one time or another. 

Andy Warhol collected McCoy cookie jars and he is credited with the resurgence of McCoy's popularity several years ago. Through the years McCoy was sold several times; in 1967 to Mt Clemons Pottery, in 1974 Lancaster Pottery took over the reins and in 1985 they were sold to Designer Accents in New Jersey. The company breathed its last in 1991, no longer being able to compete with cheap imports. 

Somewhere in their history Kathy Kale crops up again with McCoy and lo and behold...

It's not a Hull warmer, the glaze is wrong, Watt warmers seem to have been round and brown. Canonburg made dishes and no warmers I can find. Drum roll please, its attributed to McCoy, a line called Town 'n Country to coincide with the station wagon suburban mentality of the time. The perfect pot for a potluck, it would have been brown drip glazed with a lid and including this warmer. You can still find them for sale occasionally and the one below is in its original box!

I found this one on line still in its box!

I love solving a mystery, but I still don't know who Kathy Kale is....I'd like to think she was in joke that all these big potteries shared, or maybe a mysterious lady potter flitting from factory to factory. (And although the original pot is long gone, its perfect for a cute casserole still, like this adorable unmarked little guy I found on my trip.)
Perfect with a cute little casserole

You can find lots of collectible pottery at our wonderful store, Finders Keepers Antique Mall in Olympia at 501 East Fourth Avenue; and because we are still a 'small town' the prices are great and so is the selection.
With just a candle

And this little piece is on Etsy at

-- along with the cute casserole. What kind of vintage mysteries are you finding? I'd love to hear!