Wedding cake toppers have changed with styles of the times

  • By Terry Kovel
  • Wednesday, May 6, 2009 12:09pm
  • Life

At most American weddings, you can expect to see a wedding cake, usually covered in white frosting and often topped by bride and groom figures made of china, plastic, composition or even molded sugar. When dinner ends, the cake is cut and the bride and groom feed a slice to each other.

A 2009 wedding might have a pile of cupcakes instead of a cake — the start of a new tradition. The custom of a wedding cake began in ancient Rome as a loaf of wheat or barley cake (bread). The bride and groom ate a bite of the cake, then the groom broke the cake over the bride’s head.

By the 1700s, a sweet cake with soft white icing was popular. In 1840, Queen Victoria’s wedding cake was covered with a stiff white icing that’s still called “royal icing.” The queen’s cake was made in layers, so that became the fashion.

By the 1890s, the “cake topper” had also become fashionable for elaborate weddings. It could be a bell or initials or a cupid or a bride and groom. In the 1920s, cake toppers became more common, and the Sears catalog included a page of toppers. During World War II, wedding cakes often had grooms dressed in uniform as toppers.

But it was the 1950s that made a topper almost a requirement on a wedding cake. Grooms might be in top hat and tails, and brides followed the wedding-dress fashions of the day. Today you can find humorous toppers, like a groom carrying golf clubs. The figures represent all races.

Collectors began to buy all sorts of wedding-related pieces in the 1970s. There were dealers who specialized in old wedding pictures, dresses, veils, cake toppers, invitations and other memorabilia. Many brides use vintage toppers, but few toppers are found that are more than 100 years old.

Q: I bought a baby-grand piano for $500 at an estate sale in 1972. It’s labeled “Made and Guaranteed by The Packard Piano Co., Fort Wayne, Ind., Est. 1871, Bond Piano Co.” The serial number is 22190. I would like to know what the white keys are made of, and the value of the piano today.

A: Albert Sweetser Bond was one of the owners of Packard Piano Co. In 1911, a group of Packard stockholders founded Bond Piano Co. In 1913, they decided it was inefficient to run two separate operations, and Packard began manufacturing pianos with the Bond name on them while continuing to make pianos with the Packard name. Bond pianos were made through 1925. The serial number on your piano indicates it was made in 1924.

Piano keys were made of ivory or celluloid before the 1950s, when plastic keys were introduced. Ivory keys were made in two pieces with a seam between the front and back part of the key. The keys are grained and may look yellowish. Celluloid keys were made in one piece and are off-white. A piano has to be seen and played to be appraised, because the condition of the sounding board and internal mechanism helps determine the value.

Q: I have some Shawnee pottery Puss ‘n Boots pieces — cookie jar, creamer and salt and pepper shakers. They’re figural cats with colored decorations on a white base. I have been looking for a sugar bowl, but haven’t been able to find one. Do you know if Shawnee made a sugar bowl or other Puss ‘n Boots pieces?

A: It appears that Shawnee’s Puss ‘n Boots pieces included only those you already have. The pottery, which was in business in Zanesville, Ohio, from 1937 to 1961, made very few sugar bowls. You might be able to find one decorated in colors that match your Puss ‘n Boots creamer. If you can’t find a sugar bowl, look for one of the small utility baskets Shawnee also made. Lots of people use these baskets as sugar bowls.

Q: I have a miniature portrait of an ancestor who lived during the early 1800s. It’s in an oval frame, probably gold, that’s about 1 by 1 1/2 inches. There’s a loop at the top so it can be hung. The picture shows a man with an elaborate ruffled ascot, a dark jacket and long sideburns, all in the style of the early 1800s. I am worried about cleaning it. Any suggestions?

A: Early portrait miniatures were painted in watercolors on a thin piece of ivory, in oils on wood or even in enamels on copper. The miniatures often were worn as mourning jewelry; the back of the frame might hold a lock of hair. Do not let water or even a damp cloth get near the portrait. A watercolor can be destroyed if it becomes wet. Just polish the metal frame and the glass with a dry cloth.

Write to Kovels, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

&Copy; 2009 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 cake mold, round with scalloped rim, raised spiral grooves, center post, pumpkin-orange glaze, 3 x 10 inches, $45.

Stover Junior waffle iron for children, No. 8, cast iron, wood-handle grips, original box, 7 1/4 x 7 inches, $75.

Bakelite dangling cherries pin, 8 carved variegated red cherries, 5 celluloid leaves, red bar pin, 3 inches, $125.

Mr. Peanut peanut-butter jar, Planters Peanuts, orange metal snap-on lid, 1940s, unused, 8 oz., $150.

Enterprise No. 1 coffee mill, cast iron, original black paint, red and gold highlights, flowers and medallion design, hinged cover, drawer, 12 3/4 x 10 1/2 x 6 inches, $175.

“The Twilight Zone” game, spinner, “Closed Door” blocking cards, Cayuga Productions, 1964, 18 x 19 inches, $230.

Quezal art glass vase, blown long neck and flared rim, bulbous bottom, swirled iridescent blue-green, on yellow-orange ground, signed, 1920s, 6 x 4 inches, $880.

Red-breasted merganser decoy, incised eyes and bill, mortised head with horsehair crest, incised “G.R Huey,” 1940, 7 1/8 x 18 7/8 inches, $2,130.

Biedermeier-style secretary, faux inlaid and figured blond wood, balloon-shape case, fall front opening to fitted interior, carved paw feet, 63 1/2 inches, $3,565.

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