The wealthy and the almost-wealthy of the late Victorian era in the U.S. chose to take the "Grand Tour" of Europe to show off their sophistication, education and good taste. The tour could take a year or more. Young men went to be educated in a language, usually French, or in architecture and art. Young women traveled with a chaperone and visited museums, attended concerts and went to other cultural sites and events.
Some went to meet eligible men from wealthy or royal families. Middle-age couples and their servants traveled to England, France, Italy, Greece, Germany and other countries to see the sights and to buy things.
Furnishings for the house were important, and everything — from large oil paintings to floor-standing vases to huge carved pieces of furniture — was carefully shipped back to the United States. Many pieces were copies of earlier works: Greek vases, marble statues, Egyptian relics and more. Gold and precious-gem jewelry was popular, and so was souvenir jewelry, carved lava set in bracelets, agate or shell cameos and micro-mosaic pins and necklaces.
Auction houses and shops today often advertise an item as a "Grand Tour" piece. That means it was collected in Europe between 1880 and 1900, and probably is of good quality and expensive. Copies of Greek vases and Roman carvings are popular today because of their size, quality and decorative appeal. Originals are almost impossible to buy, so an accurate old reproduction is a good substitute.
A Grand Tour carved lava and gold bracelet recently sold for $300, a replica Greek vase for $1,500 and a replica Roman statue for $5,000.
Q: I recently inherited a Hoosier cabinet from my mother's estate. I know she bought it some time ago, but I can't find any information about it. A paper flavoring guide inside the cabinet says "Hygena Cabinet Co., Ltd., Liverpool." Can you tell me its age and history?
A: Hoosier cabinets were popular from the turn of the 20th century until the 1930s, when built-in cabinets became popular. A Hoosier cabinet had a work surface and shelves and drawers that were fitted with a flour sifter, coffee and tea canisters, cracker jars and other kitchen items. Hoosier Manufacturing Co. of New Castle, Ind., made the multipurpose free-standing kitchen cabinets from c. 1900 until 1940. Other companies, including Hygena, made Hoosier-type cabinets. Hygena Cabinets Ltd. was founded by George Nunn and Len Cooklin in Liverpool, England, in 1925. Hygena was reorganized with a new owner in 1938 and was bought by MFI in the 1980s. A 1930s wooden cabinet is worth about $1,500, but there is little demand.
Q: I have an old feeding bottle shaped like a flask. It has one flat side and an internal screw neck. The embossing on it says "The Excelsior Feeding Bottle" within a circle of stars. There also are some initials in Old English script. Can you give me any information and value?
A: Until the 1800s, bottles made to feed babies were made from a variety of materials, including metal, pottery, stone or even wood. Glass nursing bottles were developed in the 1840s. Collectors call your bottle a "standing turtle" because it can stand up straight or lie on its back. They usually are found in clear or aqua-green glass with a straight or bent neck. Each bottle holds about 8 ounces of liquid. The bottle is designed to be used with a glass tube connected to a rubber hose at the neck. The hose was attached to a nipple-shaped mouthpiece. They were popular from about 1870 until about 1910, but were hard to clean and unsanitary. Bottles with an inside screw neck were made in England. Your bottle is worth about $75.