string holders brought utilitarian charm to kitchen walls
Do you ever wonder how your grandmother carried items home from the meat market or bakery? Long before the question "paper or plastic?" became the norm, merchants wrapped packages in paper tied up with string. String was also common for wrapping and shipping packages to post.
With all this use of string, some sort of contraption to conveniently dispense it was required. As early as the mid-1800s, string holders made their initial appearance on walls.
The earliest string holders were made of cast iron and hung in shops. Their popularity caught on, and by the first half of the 20th century, string holders evolved into colorful, decorative household items.
"Scooped-out, hollow-backed fruits, vegetables and characters graced kitchens everywhere during the 1930s and 1940s," said Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, a contributor to Warman's Today's Collector magazine. "Each featured a hole in the front or on the bottom through which the string was pulled."
Such companies such as Miller Studio mass produced the holders for five-and-dime stores. Montgomery Ward and Sears also offered string holders through their catalogs.
As adhesive tape and paper bags became more prevalent in the 1950s, the heyday of the string holder ended.
But these charming utilitarian pieces have not been forgotten. Collectors across the country are humming "I've got the world on a string" as they pursue additions to their string holder collections.
Whether they are cast iron, chalkware or ceramic, vintage string holders have steadily gained in popularity over the past 20 years.
Ellen Bercovici, an avid string holder collector and co-author of the book Collectibles for the Kitchen, Bath & Beyond, estimates that she has 200 string holders covering the walls in her kitchen.
The affection for string holders is not limited to Bercovici's home. She noted that string holder collecting has become so popular during the last five to 10 years that finding authentic vintage string holders can be a challenge.
"There is a huge antique mall with 200 to 300 dealers within a short distance of my house, and I only saw one common Dutch girl during my last visit," said Bercovici. "String holders used to be everywhere."
In fact, the Dutch girl referred to is among the three most common string holders. In mint condition, it can bring $60.
Less common examples can be worth considerably more money.
Miller Studio's Prince Pineapple from the late 1940s and early '50s is worth up to $250. The company's Susie Sunfish, retired in 1950, can fetch $275.
Unfortunately, the popularity of collecting string holders has created a market for frauds and reproductions. With authentic string holders becoming harder to find, unscrupulous dealers have drilled holes in ceramic and chalkware figurines that weren't originally intended as string holders.
According to Bercovici, however, it is fairly easy for a trained eye to spot a fraud. The new holes in old pieces are usually a different color or have a different type of paint or glaze. A drilled hole may also be chipped.
Older chalkware string holders are among the most desirable pieces, so it is only logical that new chalkware string holders are making their way into the marketplace.
New chalkware can sometimes be detected by the smell. According to Bercovici, it has a distinctive odor that experienced collectors can recognize.
One of the most commonly found reproductions is the Art Deco woman with a green scarf. If authentic, the piece sells for about $175.
Another highly reproduced piece is the Prince Pineapple, which Bercovici says looks just like the original.
Old chalkware string holders are highly prized by collectors. An original Hull Little Red Riding Hood in mint condition can bring $3,000.
"Like many antiques, string holders can have a crossover appeal for other collectors," said Fivecoat-Campbell. "For example, a fan of Betty Boop may want to add a chalkware string holder of this famous brunette's head to his or her collection."
The original chalkware Betty Boop sells for around $800, said Bercovici. A more contemporary Betty Boop string holder marked "Vandor, KFS, 1985" is worth $150 to $200.
Another piece with crossover appeal is the hard-to-find Campbell Soup boy. An original will have the Campbell's name under the chin. It can bring up to $500.
ôReprinted with permission from the Krause Publications, Inc."
Copyright 2001 by Krause Publications. For a free catalog of Krause Publications books or periodicals on collectibles, write Public Relations, Dept. IC, Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001, or visit www.krause.com on the worldwide web, or e-mail email@example.com.
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