‘Visiting cards’ left their calling

  • By Terry Kovel
  • Wednesday, December 5, 2012 2:30pm
  • Life

High-society Victorians had a formal way to meet new friends. No playground visits, no social media. The only proper method was an exchange of calling cards, often called “visiting cards.”

The system gave the elite a chance to screen newcomers and reject the “unwanted.” The man’s card was small enough to fit in his breast pocket. The woman’s card was a little larger.

Both were engraved with the person’s name and a title, such as Mr. or Mrs., or rank, like governor, in a simple typestyle. By the end of the century, an address was included, and the typescript was more elaborate.

To meet a neighbor, you went in a carriage to deliver a calling card. Your driver gave it to a maid, who took it to the lady of the house. She decided if she was “not at home” or “at home.” The “at home” meant you could meet right away. “Not at home” meant she didn’t want to meet you then and may never want to meet you.

A card was left on the pile in a silver dish in the hall. The card with the most impressive name was kept on the top. Calling cards for those of lower social standing were decorated by the end of the 19th century, and these are the ones most collected today.

Colorful flowers, birds, hands, faces or designs surround the simple name. Most sell today for $1 to $10. The special silver-plated card trays are another collectible. They often are designed to look like a ceramic dish on a pedestal with a cloth draped on the side or with birds perched in a corner.

The imaginative decorations made it clear that the dishes were not meant to serve food. A silver-plated calling-card dish sells for about $150 to $300.

Q: Years ago, I purchased a Shaker-style rocker at a tag sale. There’s a metal plate on it that reads “American Chair Mfg. Co., Hallstead, Pa.” and “Made for G.E. Finkel Furn. Co., Sussex, N.J.” The seat appears to have the original metal coils, with burlap wrapped around horsehair. Can you give me any information about the maker of this rocking chair?

A: The American Chair Manufacturing Co. was in business from 1892 to 1930. The company was listed in directories in Brandt and Hallstead, Pa. It was known for its Arts and Crafts furniture, which it first made in 1904.

Q: I have a figurine that’s marked “Pasadena, California, Patent Pending” in a circle and “Florence Ceramic” inside the circle. I bought it at a garage sale a long time ago for less than $5. Did I get a bargain?

A: Florence Ceramics was in business in Pasadena, Calif., from 1942 to 1977. Florence Ward (1894-1977) began making ceramics in her garage in about 1940. She established Florence Ceramics Co. in 1942.

The company made figurines, boxes, candleholders and other items. Many of the figurines were designed by Ward. The company was sold to Scripto Corp. in 1964. Scripto made cups, mugs, trays, banks and advertising items under the Florence Ceramics name, but it did not make the figurines and other items produced by the original company.

Scripto closed in 1977. Reproductions of Florence Ceramics figurines made in Asia have been imported into the United States since the 1960s. The more common Florence Ceramic figurines sell for $30 to $50.

Q: I bought an old trunk 40 years ago and would like to know something about it. The emblem on the trunk says “Wheary Cushioned Top Wardrobe Mfg. by Wheary-Burge Trunk Co., Racine, Wisconsin.” Can you tell me the vintage and value of it?

A: Wardrobe trunks were first made in the late 1800s and were especially popular in the 1920s and ’30s. When stood on end, they served as a temporary “closet” for the traveler, with space for hanging clothing on one side of the open trunk and drawers for smaller items on the other side.

George H. Wheary was a designer for the Hartmann Trunk Co. and was granted several patents for improvements to trunks from about 1907 to at least 1947. Wheary and fellow employee Harry Burge opened the Wheary-Burge Trunk Co. in 1922. The Wheary-Burge Cushioned Top Wardrobe came with a removable shoebox, hat carrier and laundry bag, along with 10 hangers.

The cushioned top held the hangers in place. The trunk was advertised in a 1923 newspaper for $49.50. Later, the company’s name became Wheary Luggage Co. It was sold to Hartmann Luggage in 1954.

Collectors today use old trunks as coffee tables or for extra storage space. The value of your trunk is $25 to $50.

Q: I have two 9-inch plates marked “Delfts Blauw Chemkefa.” One plate pictures a small church and is titled “Hasselt Kapel.” The other pictures a man and is titled “Petrus Donders.” I’d like to know something about them. Are they of any importance?

A: Your plates were made by Chemisch Keramisch Fabriek (Chemfeka Earthenware Factory), a company in the Netherlands. The trade name “Chemkefa” is an acronym of the factory name. The company started operating in 1969 and was in business for several years, but it seems to be out of business now.

Chemfeka made collector plates with blue Delft (Delft Blauw) Dutch scenes. Hasselt Kapel (Hasselt Chapel), the church shown on your plate, was built before 1536 near Tilburg in the Netherlands.

Peter Donders (1807-1887) was born in Tilburg and became a Roman Catholic missionary and later a priest in Surinam. Value of your 20th-century plates is about $75 each.

Write to Terry Kovel, (The Herald), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

&Copy; 2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

On the block

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

Redware food mold, heart-shape depressions, manganese, pie-crust rim, Foltz, 1985, 2 x 6 3/4 inches, $12.

American Indian bolo tie, Zuni, cast silver, coral, turquoise, snakes, braided leather, Effie Calavaza, 2 1/4 x 3 inches, $153.

Mickey Mouse roller skates, metal, yellow, leather straps, box, c. 1950, 3 x 9 x 4 1/2 inches, $180.

Mining compass, mounted, wood tripod, John Cail, marked, 1800s, 40 x 7 inches, $180.

Occupational shaving mug, girl in dress blowing trumpet, name “W.J. Dorlac” on front, $248.

Butter paddle, horse-head handle, carved maple, Brothertown Indians, Clinton, N.Y., 1800s, 9 1/2 inches, $415.

Fireplace surround, double panels at top, fluted side columns, center column, 1800s, 75 x 92 inches, $443.

Mail Pouch thermometer, porcelain, blue ground, yellow and white lettering, “Treat yourself to the best,” 74 x 20 inches, $748.

Solar lamp, Gothic Revival, faceted glass, bronze crocket feet, c. 1845, 9 3/4 inches, $1,912.

Polar bear rug, Alaska, 1959, 95 x101 inches, $7,475.

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