Miller's Old Stuff on Ebay
Donna's Antiques on Etsy

Ron & Donna Miller - Publishers

Waffle Irons Got An Early Start As Part Of
Local Church Socials

The first waffle irons can be traced back as far as 1358, when they are known to have been in use in church services in England. The earliest ones had oblong heads on long wooden handles, so they could be held safely over a fire. As the name indicates, they were made of iron, and were very heavy utensils.

For several centuries, waffle irons were hand wrought by the local blacksmith, with a block pattern used in the grids. They rested on the grate or gridiron over hot coals in the fireplace.

Waffle irons were used in other countries, as well as in England. In Sweden, there was a special church holiday known as Waffling Sunday. On that particular day, people traveled from home to home throughout the community, where they were served waffles.

The actual waffle served may have tasted considerably different than what we expect to get today. For example, one old 17th century recipe for waffles calls for 1 pound of flour, a quarter pound of butter, 2 eggs beaten, one glass of wine and a nutmeg.

The earliest waffle irons in America were also used in certain church services. Eventually, however, they made their way into homes and gradually developed into a very popular kitchen utensil.

By the mid 1800s, cast-iron waffle irons were being made by several companies. Among the earliest manufacturers were Wagner, Fanner and Griswold. By the late 1800s, round cast-iron waffle irons were being made in a variety of sizes to fit cookstove burners. They had two parts - a heavy rim with a handle, and the hinged waffle iron itself, which set into the rim. The iron was turned over for baking both sides of the waffle.

With mass production, shapes also became fancier; for example, there were heart-shaped waffle irons. The grids also showed variety. One of the fanciest was made in 8 sections, with a different pattern in each section. There were several patented designs in use and probably quite a few that were never patented. One of the first to be patented was Griswold’s American design; it had an 8 1/2 inch diameter, with the basic waffle grid. In the early 1900s, Griswold added its hearts and stars design to its grid on some models. Cast-iron stove-top waffles irons continued to be made and used into the 1930s.

The first electric waffle iron was made in 1918 by Landers, Frary and Clark in Connecticut. Toastmaster produced its first electric model in 1927. Most early electric models were nickel plated or chromium plated and have elaborate filigree pedestals.

By the 1930s, there were numerous companies producing waffle irons in a variety of styles, such as combination waffle iron/sandwich grill and models that would make two or for waffles at a time.

Most reference books on kitchen collectibles will contain information on waffle irons.

Return to Index

Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carved
Carousel Animals For 33 Years

The Philadelphia Toboggan was one of the makers of the spectacular wooden horses carved for the wonderful carousels being produced around the beginning of the 20th century.

During the 33 years in which the PTC carved these horses, a wide variety of styles were used, including medieval, Art Nouveau, and Wild West. This diversity of styles is one reason why the public cannot always easily identify a PTC horse. While the company employed some of the best carvers to be found during this time, they also had a few of the worst, further complicating the identification issue.

The Philadelphia Toboggan Company produced its first carousel in 1899 for the Chestnut Hill picnic grounds. It featured horses running three abreast.

The PTC carousels from the beginning were made to be stationary features in whatever park they were placed, rather than smaller, portable items used by the traveling carnival companies. Care was taken to coordinate the carousel structure, crestings and the decorated parts of the rounding boards and tableaus on the central panels. At their peak, the large park carousels had horses running four or five abreast on platforms up to 60 feet in diameter.

The first of the great carvers employed by the company were Daniel and Alfred Miller, who helped establish a reputation of elegance and realism.

When they left to form their own company, the PTC hired a succession of free-lance carvers, most of whom were mediocre at best. The company went through a period where their horses were poorly proportioned and carved in stiff, unnatural poses. The bodies didn’t match the heads and shoulders well, and the proportions were often awkward.

By the second decade of the 20th century, the company once again had some skilled craftsmen working for it and they began turning out horses that were larger, more realistic and more ornate than ever. With a variety of carvers, a variety of horses was produced, but always within certain constraints.

For example, while touches of the “Coney Island” style - flashy, heavily jeweled carvings - was allowed, it could only be used moderately. While some carvers preferred this type, others were sculpting muscular, pleasant-faced animals with festooned and stencilled saddles.

The entire carousel-producing industry was winding down by the 1920s. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company was the last of the great carousel makers to discontinue production, in 1934.

While the PTC is known to have made at least 87 carousels, very few have survived. Corrosion of the metal parts and splitting of the wood destroyed many. Park fires claimed some and vandals claimed many others that were left abandoned in parks no longer used. A few, however, have been restored and are once again enjoyed by children at several of the theme parks around the country.

There are two opportunities in the Northwest to ride an original Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel. The carousels were numbered by the company.

The Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup has #43. It was built in 1917 and has 42 horses, mounted 3 abreast. It is said to be the most complete one of its kind in the country.

The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle has #45, built in 1918 for an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. With stops at several other parks before it got to Seattle, it has now found a permanent home at the Woodland Park Zoo. (In an interesting modernization note, it is now powered by solar power, according to an online website.)

As a side note, the “toboggan” in the company’s name refers to the eight-sided wooden roller coasters that the company made, which were called toboggans.

Return to Index

Bright Spot In The Introduction Of Brass Beds
Was Protection From Woodworms

Brass beds had their origin in England about 1835. They were originally used on farms or in village homes. The bed’s open construction offered better air circulation than the popular mahogany, and was also not susceptible to woodworms.

By 1850, the fashion had begun to spread to the city, and a brass bed was featured at the Great London Exhibition in 1851. The idea quickly spread beyond England, and soon customers on the Continent and in America were ordering English brass beds.

These earliest ones could not get entirely away from Victorian tastes, of course, and they were made with canopies, hangings and sometimes cupids to hold up the corners. Expensive beds might even have mother-of-pearly inlay.

American manufacturers also began producing brass beds, but they could not keep up with the demand, and imports from England continued.

During the latter part of the 1800s, the design simplified. The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement was apparent, as the canopy disappeared and the decorations became more symmetrical and open.

During the 1920s, the prevailing Art Deco designs were used, and beds from that period have straight lines and squared corners.

After 1930, the brass bed fell out of favor until a renewal of interest occurred in the 1960s. Since that time, numerous reproductions have been made to keep up with the demand.

Several types of brass were used in the beds from the beginning. The most expensive beds were of solid brass. These were made only with straight lines, as curved brass could not give the necessary support. The easiest way to test if a bed is solid brass is to use a magnet; the magnet will not stick. There is also, usually, no visible seam.

The most frequently made type of brass bed had brass sheet metal wrapped around an iron core. Usually a seam can be seen. This kind may have curved lines, because of the strength of the supporting iron underneath. If it is a well-made bed, the brass will be thick enough that it will not have rubbed away through polishing. A magnet can be used to test for the iron core.

A cheaper version was a bed made of brass-plated metal. There will usually be places where the brass has worn away. If iron or an iron alloy was used as the base metal, the magnet will stick.

Many of the brass beds were painted at some point between their manufacture and the present. If you are considering purchasing one, try to find a spot where the paint has worn or been scraped away. The typical golden color of brass should be apparent.

Since many inexpensive beds were made of iron, following the same designs as were used for brass, a painted bed that shows the dull gray of iron in a worn spot should not be mistaken for brass.

If there is rusting on the bed, it was probably of the plated brass variety, with worn spots allowing the iron to be exposed to the air, causing rust.

Return to Index