Toys often were made to resemble famous people or characters in plays, books or TV shows. Sometimes the character that inspired the toy is forgotten, but the toy remains popular with collectors because it is so well-designed, unusual or lovable.
Figurines were the “photographs” of the 18th and 19th centuries. Well-known politicians, royalty, sports figures, actors, writers, religious subjects and newsworthy criminals, places and events were the inspiration for the figurines. They were made to sell, so the figurines had to depict something that would add decorative value to a home.
Santa Claus has changed in appearance throughout the centuries. He is now a mixture of the Dutch, German, Scandinavian, British and American characters that have represented Christmas. The earliest Santa-like figure was Saint Nicholas of Myra, a fourth-century Greek bishop. He was pictured as a thin bishop in religious clothing.
Picture frames were very elaborate during Victorian times. The rectangular frame for an oil painting could be 3 or 4 inches deep with several different types of carving on the borders. And the frame often was covered with gold leaf. Small frames were sometimes made of carved pieces of dark wood joined in a crisscross fashion.
A Chinese porcelain “chestnut basket” recently was offered for sale at a Virginia auction. We looked at the basket, which appears to be a bowl and underplate, and wondered if the reticulated (cut-out) areas were simply decorative or if they were important because the bowl held chestnuts.
Thanksgiving dinner in America during the 18th and early 19th centuries was very different than it is today. The traditional menu today includes turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, corn, fruit and pumpkin pie. But at the first Thanksgiving, potatoes were unavailable. Cranberries were nearby but there was no sugar, so the berries probably were not eaten.
Ants have been sneaking inside warm houses for centuries. Our ancestors did not use poison, but they had a way to keep the ants away from their food.
They made ant traps of pottery or glass designed to keep ants from climbing up the legs of a kitchen or dining room table.
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