Drinks before or after dinner have been part of the ritual of dining in America since the 1800s. By then, the wealthy lived in houses that had a dining room, living room and perhaps a parlor or library. Men and women enjoyed "4 o'clock tea" during Victorian times, but it was usually a ladies' get-together. But after a dinner party, it was customary for the men to go to the library for brandy and cigars.
In the 1700s, alcoholic drinks were served to everyone. It was the safest thing to drink; clean water was not always available. In the years since then, there have been times when drinking was an important part of social events and times when it was illegal.
Through all of these years, furniture, decanters, glasses and other things were made to use when serving drinks.
Some dining-room sideboards in the early 1800s had a closed section deep enough to hold a bottle of wine or brandy to serve at dinner.
In Victorian times, bottles and glasses often were kept on a tabletop or inside a closed cabinet. Closed cabinets with hidden sections for bottles and glasses were popular after 1900. They often were made in a formal style from an earlier period.
The end of Prohibition in 1933 brought whiskey out of hiding and back onto the table. By the 1950s, drinks often were served from a built-in bar in the recreation room.
Special-use furniture pieces, such as the cabinet bar, have limited use today and are sometimes hard to sell. But exceptional examples by companies known for quality often sell at auction for higher than expected prices.
Q: I have an old "Flexy" sled made by the company that made Flexible Flyer sleds. It has wheels instead of runners. I paid only $2 for it when I was a kid because it was used, and I completely wore it out riding down a street in my neighborhood. Eventually, it wound up in my mother's basement. Years later, I was cleaning our many old pieces and found it. It had only one wheel (badly worn) and I saw it as a challenge that I might reclaim through restoration. I found wheels at Sears that fit and successfully restored it and now I have a gem. I would like to know if the company is still in business and if the old Flexy is valuable.
A: Samuel Leeds Allen invented a fertilizer drill and a seed drill in 1866. He later founded the S.L. Allen Co. in Philadelphia and manufactured small pieces of farm equipment. The company began making Flexible Flyers, the first steerable sleds, in 1889. The Flexy, a wheeled sled designed for street use, was made from 1932 until the 1970s. Sleds were made in Medina, Ohio, from 1969 to 1973. Four different Flexy models were made: the Flexy Racer 100, 200, 300 and GTO. S.L. Allen Co. was sold to Leisure Group of Los Angeles in 1968. Flexy sleds sold for $5.95 to $8.50 in 1935. The value today of a restored sled is $150 to $175.
Q: My old cookie jar is marked "JC, NAPCO, 1957." It's shaped like a blond princess wearing a yellow, green and white gown. Can you identify it for me?
A: You have a Cinderella cookie jar made by National Potteries Corp. (NAPCO) of Cleveland. The 1957 mark indicates the year the cookie jar was made. It would sell today for $100 to $200, depending on its condition.
Q: My maple drop-leaf extension table is 58 inches long and has seven 11-inch leaves. The only mark on it is a stamp that says "reliable extension table slide manuf. for Jno. Duer & Sons."
A: John Duer & Sons was a hardware business in Baltimore from around the turn of the 20th century through the early decades of the 1900s. The mark relates to the manufacturer of the extension device on your table, not to the cabinetmaker or company that made your table. Duer's business may have made the extension device or purchased it for distribution to table manufacturers.
Q: I have a couple of silver cake or pie servers and would like to start a collection. Can you tell me something about their history and what I should look for?
A: Silver serving utensils became popular in the United States in the mid-1800s. During the Victorian era, formal dinners included several courses and well-appointed table settings featured several different kinds of serving pieces meant for specific foods. More than 60 different serving utensils were made, including asparagus tongs, bread forks, cake knives, cake servers, cracker spoons, cucumber servers, egg servers, food pushers, horseradish spoons, lettuce forks, lobster forks, macaroni spoons, pea servers, pie servers, pudding spoons, terrapin forks, toast servers and waffle servers. Dessert servers usually have a flat triangular blade. Smaller servers for pastries also were produced. Pieces were made in both sterling silver and silver-plate. An interesting collection can be assembled by focusing on one type of serving utensil, like the cake and pie servers you have. First decide whether you will only collect silver serving utensils or if you will include servers made of glass, porcelain or other materials in your collection. They are all easy to find at reasonable prices at house sales and antiques shops.
Tip: Having a garage, tag or house sale? Use a fanny pack worn in front to hold your money. Be sure to have lots of change, bills and coins, for the sale.