The 20th-century inventions of microwave and convection ovens and prepackaged foods have made it possible to make a 30-minute dinner. But 18th-century American family meals required hours to prepare.
Food was caught or harvested and canned, smoked or carefully stored — but that was only the beginning. The fireplace was used for heat and cooking. Large iron pots were hung over or near the fire. Meat, fish and fowl were cooked on spits, and sometimes food, perhaps potatoes, were cooked in the hot ashes.
The cookstove was introduced in the early 1800s and was used across the country from the 1820s into the 1870s. The black iron cookstove with nickel-plated trim usually had four or six openings with lids, a stovepipe to exhaust fumes and a low shelf in front that could temporarily hold a pot.
Wood and coal were the favored fuels, but later kerosene and natural gas were used. In 1893 at Chicago's Columbian Exposition, the first electric kitchen was on display. By the early 1900s, stoves were being made with an enameled porcelain finish.
By the 1920s, enameled stoves had long legs, an oven with a pull-down door and a top with four to six burners. It was not until after World War II that kitchens featured built-in ovens and countertop burners. The countertop microwave appeared in the 1960s, and within a few years a microwave that matched the oven could be built in.
Children's toys mirror real life, and small cookstoves were made in every era. You can find toy Victorian iron stoves, 1930s toy enameled models and toy microwaves with stainless steel fronts. All these toys are collected today.
So are full-size enameled oven doors, handles and nameplates. Full-size working stoves take up a lot of space and are bought to use, not usually to add to a large collection.
Q: Is sterling silverware usually more valuable as silverware, or for its scrap value? I have several place settings of Kirk Stieff silverware that I would like to sell. I would hate to see it melted down, but I'm strapped for cash and need to get its maximum value.
A: The value of silver fluctuates not only daily, but throughout the day, so the meltdown value of your silver depends on the price at a given moment. Silver prices were as high as $54 an ounce when the Hunt Brothers attempted to corner the market in 1980. Currently, silver is selling at less than $20 an ounce. A Kirk Stieff salad serving fork was recently offered for sale at $95. The fork contains 3 troy ounces of silver, which is valued at about $45 today. Last year a Stieff serving fork and spoon, 4.38 troy ounces of silver, sold for $67. Its meltdown value is about $50. These pieces were worth more than the meltdown value of the silver because the flatware pattern is popular. Sometimes the reverse is true, and sets of silver don't bring a lot of money. If you decide to sell your silver, expect to get about half the retail price that you find online at Kovels.com or in shops. The dealer must make a profit on the sale.
Q: I have an art pottery pitcher with an iris on it. It's stamped "Rumrill." Can you give me some information about this maker?
A: In the 1930s, George Rumrill sold Niloak and Camark pottery through his own firm, Arkansas Products Co. He changed the name of his company to Rum Rill Art Pottery in 1933 and started selling pottery he designed himself. Rumrill's designs were produced at the Red Wing Pottery of Red Wing, Minn., until 1938, when he ended his association with Red Wing. After that, Rumrill's creations were made by Shawnee Pottery of Zanesville, Ohio, and Florence Pottery Co. of Mount Gilead, Ohio. Florence Pottery burned down in 1941. Rumrill pottery was then produced by Gonder Ceramic Arts of South Zanesville, Ohio, until 1942, when George Rumrill died. Your pitcher is worth about $75.
Q: In 1966 I bought an octagonal cabinet from Trader Joe's in Washoe Valley, Nev. The cabinet has 10 pie-shaped drawers on each side. Each drawer is labeled with a number. What do you think the cabinet was designed to be used for?
A: Your cabinet is typical of those used in hardware stores in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The cabinet drawers held various sizes of screws, nuts and bolts. These hardware-store cabinets are popular now and sell for about $300 to $500.
Q: When I bought my house in the early 1970s, I found an old lantern that the previous owner left behind. It's brass and has a reservoir for oil. The only mark on it is "Solar, Model No. 933, Pats. Pendg." How does it work, and does it have any value?
A: Your lantern was once mounted on the side or tail of an automobile. Before World War I, automakers used oil-fueled lanterns for side and taillights because the lanterns were relatively inexpensive to produce. A single Solar auto lantern sells today for about $100.