Although most of the Beall-Dawson House is furnished with period-appropriate antiques – with a focus on items from Montgomery County – the museum is not filled with original-to-the-House furnishings. However, thanks to Dawson descendants, MCHS does have a number of family pieces on display throughout the House. Some are more easily overlooked than others, so let’s take a look today at one of the smaller artifacts that you may not have noticed: A silver plate cake basket, which can often be found in the Parlor.

Gs0003

This pedestal-footed basket dates from the last quarter of the 19th century, probably 1870s-90s. It features a scalloped beaded edge; a flange pierced in a formal geometric design accented with leaves, which curves downward into a plain center well; and a bail handle with stylized design, centered with a plain oval cabochon. The bowl is a foot across, and with the handle raised the basket is nearly a foot tall.

Gs0003 top view

Gs0003 detail

Because there is no maker’s mark, it is difficult to pin down a more specific date. The round bowl and pedestal foot are typical of the 1870s-80s, but only in the most general sense; for example, the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog included eighteen different cake basket options of different sizes, shapes, and designs, including pieces similar to ours. There’s nothing about our basket that shouts out a particular year or fashion. That’s not to say that this is a generic or boring piece, however. The ornate design, including both engraving and piercing, would likely put this at the higher end of the price scale. A triple-plate silver basket, without piercing, in the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalog was available for $3.25 ($83 in 2013 dollars); the 1896 Marshall Field options ranged from $4.50 ($124 in 2013) to a “silver, engraved, gold-lined” option for $14.40 ($397 in 2013).

Three of the cake basket options from the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog, showing the variety of styles. (The bottom basket's description is cut off; it's "satin [finish], bright-cut, 10 1/2 inches high," selling for $5.35.)

Three of the cake basket options from the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog, showing the variety of styles. (The bottom basket’s description is cut off; it’s “satin [finish], bright-cut, height 10 1/2 inches,” selling for $5.35.)

Silver cake baskets were a common sight in upper-class U.S. and European households in the 18th and early 19th centuries. (Here’s an example from 1788, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, made by Hester Bateman of London.) With the introduction of electroplating in the mid 19th century, cheaper silver plate and mass-produced examples came onto the market, so middle-class families could think of adding a stylish, elegant cake basket to the sideboard or tea table.

The image that comes to mind today might be of a round birthday-type cake squeezed under the handle and then perched precariously on the bowl, but these dishes were used for the display and serving of small tea cakes, which are certainly a better fit for the form.  I’ve not so far found any historic images of one in use, but they’re mentioned in entertainment guides and cookbooks of the 19th century, such as the following two table/menu guides (from this handy source, compiling descriptions of appropriate ways to hold an afternoon tea):

A pitcher of ice-water, with small tumblers surrounding it, may occupy one corner, and a basket or plate of cake the other.

“Arrangement of Table, and Bills of Fare, for Tea,” from The American System of Cookery, Mrs. T.J. Crowen (1847)

Variation [on the Afternoon Tea] on a more elaborate scale is the weekly ‘At Home,’ which has grown in popularity with many hostesses . . . . The menu may include both tea and coffee or tea and chocolate. There may be one or two kinds of dainty sandwiches and baskets or plates of fancy cakes . . . . A dish of fine bonbons may also be passed.

Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes, Christine Terhune Herrick, editor-in-chief (1905)

Although many sources suggest that cake baskets fell out of fashion in the early 20th century, the 1927 Sears catalog offered a few examples (including a $4.00 ($53 in 2013) gold-plated pedestal dish, headed “Gifts that add to the table’s charm”), and one still might bring out Grandma’s antique upon occasion:

 An old-fashioned cake basket lends a certain stately dignity to the tea table and a finely etched or cut glass plate is lovely for sandwiches.

Alice Foote MacDougall’s Cook Book, Alice Foote MacDougall (1935)

 

The basket was donated in 1985 by Amelia Somervell Farmer (Mrs. William T.) Nicholson, daughter of Priscilla Beall Dawson Farmer (1879-1947). Priscilla was the daughter of John and Amelia Somervell Dawson, who lived and raised their family in the Beall-Dawson House; Priscilla lived here until her 1914 marriage, and – since she and her husband lived in Redland, a few miles away – she stayed closely involved with the family home. When she donated the basket to the Historical Society, Mrs. Nicholson indicated that it was originally from the Beall-Dawson House; our then-Director noted “how delighted we were to have the silver compote come back to the House . . . . Each piece that has ‘lived’ here before has special meaning.”

When Margaret Dawson (Priscilla’s sister, who lived in the House all her life) died in 1937, her belongings were first inventoried, and then sold. Some of the Beall and Dawson family pieces in our collections can be found on one list or the other – for example, John Dawson’s desk was purchased at the 1937 estate sale by Mrs. Nicholson, and donated to us many years later – but this cake basket is not easily identified. Possibly Priscilla had already taken ownership of the basket before her sister’s death, though the particular circumstances aren’t known; Mrs. Nicholson told us only that it was from the House.  Was it one of many similar pieces, part of a set, or a particular favorite?  If it’s a tad earlier than I think, perhaps it was a wedding gift for Amelia and John (married 1871), passed on to their daughter; if it’s rather later than the estimated date, it might have been a wedding present for Priscilla herself (1914).  Amelia Dawson died relatively young, in 1896, and maybe her children were given a chance to choose a favorite piece, a reminder of their mother, for their own.  At this point, we really don’t know.

 

A side note on condition: Yes, our friend here is not looking shiny and new. In part this is because some of the silver plating is wearing thin, exposing the plainer metal underneath. Our previous silver curator believed that there was a deliberate gold tint to the leaves on the piercing, which now simply looks rather discolored. The basket has been poorly polished in the past (including by MCHS); in the photo below, what at first glance looks like some kind of white inlay is in fact layers of polish residue that was left behind. We have not polished this piece in some time, because over-polishing will help to remove the plating that’s left, and because cleaning, polishing, and coating museum silver requires a very particular regimen which, as the National Park Service’s Conserve O Gram notes, “should not be undertaken lightly.” For now we’ll leave it be, rather than doing a quick – but, in the end, damaging – fix with commercial polish.

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There are a lot of great things at our museum, but we are sadly (from this curator’s point of view) lacking in the area of diverse flatware. Our silver collection includes teaspoons aplenty, but no oyster ladles, sugar shells, pickle forks, fish slices, or other useful forms. An exception is the delicate little salt spoon owned by Julia Prout Vinson Anderson (1864-1950) of Rockville. This 3.25” sterling silver spoon combines two of my favorite artifact qualities: highly specific function, and clearly marked identification.

gs0049 Gorham salt spoon

For many centuries table salt was served from small dishes, known as salt cellars (or simply “salts”), often using spoons such as this one. In the late 19th century some additives were developed that kept salt from clumping and sticking, thus making possible the salt shaker, but refined housekeepers included salts and salt spoons on their tables into the 20th century. At informal or family meals, one or two “master salts” might be sufficient; at a formal dinner, however, individual salt cellars could be employed. The Social Mirror: A Complete Treatise on the Laws, Rules and Usages that govern our most Refined Homes and Social Circles (1888) included this rule for “ceremonious dinners”: “A salt-cellar of some pretty or fanciful design should be placed at each plate.” No matter how many salt cellars are in use, each should have its own spoon – for, as the same source noted, you should “never use your own knife, fork or spoon to put into a dish from which others must be helped,” or from which the contents might be returned to the main container after the meal. Hence, the addition of both salt cellars and their accompanying spoons to the vast array of ‘necessary’ tableware available to the discerning 19th century host or hostess.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.

 

As for our spoon itself, it is marked with both the maker and the owner. The back is stamped with the marks used in the late 19th century by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Rhode Island: a right-facing lion passant, an anchor, and a Gothic G (these marks subtly copy British silver hallmarks, but they’re not quite the same), plus the “STERLING” required on American-made sterling silver flatware.

Gs0049 hallmarks

The bowl of the spoon is gilded, and the handle features an attractive (if you’ll forgive a personal bias) pattern with clean lines and just a hint of frou-frou. I’ve not yet been able to identify the pattern name, as Gorham has produced a LOT of patterns over the years; if anyone can name our little fan/sunburst handle, please let me know! Without a pattern name and the year it was introduced, it’s difficult to date the spoon more specifically than “late 19th century.”

Like a lot of silver flatware, this piece was also engraved with the owner’s initial. That’s not always as helpful as it might seem; we have many pieces in our collection that are unidentified, since a set of initials, by itself, can only take you so far research-wise. Happily, in this case we know that the spoon came from the Vinson family of Rockville, and specifically (according to the donor, Mrs. Anderson’s grandson) from Julia Prout Vinson, who married George Minor Anderson in 1901. We don’t know if this was part of a wedding gift or not (remember, as Julia’s teapot shows, presents given before the marriage were marked with the bride’s maiden initials); Julia married rather later in life than was typical at the time, and perhaps she provided herself with some fine tableware for single-girl entertaining in the 1890s. Either way, it shows that she and her family were concerned with setting a good table – and could afford to do so.

Gs0049 handle detail

Today’s post was going to be on one item, but then it turned into two.  Here’s the later one first: A Silver Badge from the Playground Athletic League of Maryland, awarded circa 1940 to Miss Barbara Walker of Gaithersburg.

3/4 inch diameter

3/4 inch diameter

Barbara Walker (later Barbara Kettler Mills, 1924-2007) attended the local public schools, graduating from Gaithersburg High School in 1942. Sadly (for me) we don’t have any yearbooks from her time at GHS, but her daughter noted, “in high school, [my mother] was athletic, especially enjoying basketball.  She played basketball, field hockey, softball and tennis while [in college] at Penn Hall.”

The pin above (donated by Mrs. Kettler Mills’ estate) is undated, but was most likely awarded to Miss Walker sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. The Playground Athletic League of Maryland, though focused primarily on the Baltimore area, sponsored “state-wide activities” such as annual soccer, track and field, basketball, and dodgeball championships.  In addition to recreation, the P.A.L. was also concerned with tracking and improving the health of Maryland’s youth; they held state-wide, school-level “badge contests” to evaluate students’ basic physical fitness.  The 1922-23 Report of the P.A.L. can be read online; here are the standards for the Girls’ Badge Contest, likely very similar to what Miss Walker achieved to earn her silver badge:

The Athletic Badge Test for Girls.
The Playground Athletic League of Baltimore has adopted the following standards which girls out to be able to attain:
First Test for Bronze Badge-
Balancing [on a balance beam] – once in 2 trials.
Leg raising – 10 times.
Far-thrown basket ball – 25 feet.
Second Test for Silver Badge-
Balancing – once in 2 trials.
Leg abduction – 2 times.
Far-thrown basket ball – 35 feet.
Third Test for Gold Badge -
Trunk raising – 12 times.
Volley ball service – 8 times in 10 trials.
Round-arm basket ball throw – 55 feet.

As for the badge itself, it is marked “sterling,” has a sturdy pin-back, and measures .75″ in diameter. The design, by sculptor Hans Schuler, is described in the 1922-23 P.A.L. Report: “The spirit of the League is symbolized in Schuler’s beautiful design for the League’s medal.  Here we have David in the act of slinging the stone at Goliath.  David was the prototype of the Man of Galilee and typified all that rugged honesty, virile character and physical beauty and strength which we all desire for our boys to-day.”  And yes, though a large part of the Report is dedicated to girls’ sports and activities, and a large number of women (including physicians) are included as Board members, staff, and volunteers, the description of the “spirit of the League” only mentions boys.

…That was going to be today’s object. But as I was looking through the 1922-23 report, I noticed a posed photograph similar to the postcard below from our collections, an image which has always puzzled me: A young woman about to throw a large ball, between two lines of spectators, captioned simply “Rockville Md., Badge Contest, May 15 ’17.”

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Aha! The young woman in question is doing the “far-throw basket ball” test for an Athletic League badge!  Indeed, the 1917 Report for the Public Athletic League – a direct forerunner to the Playground Athletic League, with many of the same contests, and the same medal design – notes that Montgomery County’s Third Annual Track and Field Championship was “held at Rockville on May 14, 1917.”  Unfortunately the report does not name badge contestants for that year, but it does give the following rules for the “far-throw basket ball” challenge:

-The ball shall be from 14 to 17 ounces in weight. It is thrown from a stand with feet apart, with the toes at the line. The throw is from both hands over the head. Swinging the arms with bending of the trunk is an advantage. The toes or heels may be raised, but a jump is not permitted.  Touching the ground in front of the line or stepping over the line before the throw is measured constitutes a foul. (A foul counts as one trial.) Three trials are given each contestant, of which the best one counts.  Spalding “O” soccer will be the official ball.
-The ball must land within a lane 10 feet wide and must strike the ground at least 25 feet from the throwing line for bronze pin, 35 feet for silver pin.
-This test will be made the day of the county athletic meet.

If you’d like to while away some time, I encourage you to peruse the 1922-23 Playground Athletic League report, and the 1916 and 1917 Public Athletic League reports.  Each one contains lots of information on the history of the two Leagues, the health of Maryland’s children, and the various championship winners, as well as insight on attitudes toward public health issues, African American schools and neighborhoods (by 1922, the P.A.L. included a “colored section”), and the relative strengths and abilities of girls vs. boys.  If that’s not enough, you can also learn how to play End Ball.

Today we have a small cut-glass jar, with sterling silver cap, 4 1/4 inches tall. The size, style and material all indicate that this piece came from a ladies’ dresser set.  The pierced cap is engraved “MJG 1900,” and features a nifty little tab (“patent applied for”) that can be moved aside to allow the jar contents to sift through the holes when desired. 

Objects with highly specific functions – from fish slices to cooper’s froes – are some of my favorites, and 19th-20th century dresser sets (also known as vanity sets and, originally, “toilet sets”) are filled with such pieces, each with a carefully defined role.  Dresser sets were marketed for both men and women; depending on the cost and the anticipated gender of the user, they might contain anywhere from three to thirty-plus pieces: powder puff box, hair receiver, hair brush, comb, cloth brush, hat brush, velvet brush, manicure tools, curling iron, talcum powder dispenser, glove powder dispenser, mirror, soap box, buttonhook, shaving brush, razor strop, shoehorn, toothbrush, cologne or perfume bottles, a myriad of jars, bottles and boxes for your lotions and ointments, and a tray or box to contain it all.  High-end versions were made of glass and/or silver, or sometimes ceramic; later, celluloid and other plastics came into play. The pieces were often monogrammed, fitting in with their  highly personal (and sometimes expensive) nature.

That brings us back to our particular bottle.  “Powder dispenser” is really too bland a name for this elegant little piece, but unfortunately it’s hard to be more specific.  Faceted jars with silver lids are common in late 19th century sets, but I’ve yet to find a match for this particular dispensing lid.  The applied-for patent is eluding my search (if it was ever granted).  Antique shops tend to hedge their bets when it comes to this kind of item, calling them “sugar or powder dispensers.”  The various bottles and jars included in larger dresser sets were of the fill-it-yourself variety, for rouge, powders, lotions and tonics of your own choosing.  (The 1881 Lord & Taylor catalog offers as “Toilet Articles” Vaseline, Bandoline, hair-oils, pomades, hair-tonics, toilet-vinegar, dentrifice [tooth powder], nail-powders, and smelling salts.) My best guess for this piece is that it was designed for talcum powder, with an inventive lid that didn’t catch on with the public.

This jar was donated by Mary Beth Fleming; it came to her through the family of her mother, Marian Waters Jacobs. “MJG” is almost certainly Mary Jane (Sellman) Getzendanner (1844-1901) of Barnesville, whose daughter Maude married Charles Clark Waters (Maude and Charles were Marian’s grandparents).  Mary Jane, known as Jennie, spent the last few years of her life with her daughter and son-in-law at their Neelsville farm “Pleasant Fields.”  (For photos of Mrs. Getzendanner, visit the Monocacy Cemetery project website.)

The heavy glass jar, sterling silver cap and ‘fancy’ dispensing method make this a rather high-end, if plainly styled, piece. The inclusion of the date, 1900, on the engraved lid may indicate that this was a special gift.  What the occasion was (perhaps simply in honor of the new century?) or what Mrs. Getzendanner used it for (talcum powder? Sugar? Medication?) is, sadly, unknown.  But happily, the Waters family held on to the jar, giving us some insight into the family’s means and lifestyle.

Below: Pleasant Fields, circa 1900 – around the time when Mrs. Getzendanner lived there.  The house, now owned by M-NCPPC, is still standing.  Photo donated by Charles and Marian Jacobs.

As promised last week, here is another handy-dandy belt accessory. This silver mesh purse is attached to a matching chatelaine, allowing the stylish woman-about-town to carry a few discreet necessities, hands free.

Our example here is marked “G. SILVER,” or German silver, a nickel alloy. Metal mesh bags became popular in the 1890s – along with other “medieval” fads, like the chatelaine itself – and stayed popular well into the 20th century, thanks in part to the invention of a mesh-making machine in 1908. We have several metal mesh bags in the collection, ranging from the 1890s to the 1950s; this one is on the earlier end, due to its combination of hand-linked mesh, chatelaine attachment, and Art Nouveau-esque floral decorations. (The chatelaine bag may have had renewed popularity in the 1890s, but it was not new; see below for an example from 1876, a “chatelaine pocket” illustrated in Harper’s Bazaar.) Unfortunately, this purse was donated without an accompanying history; its original owner is unknown.

Another 1890s trend based on someone’s idea of medieval accessorizing was the finger purse.  Unlike the hang-from-your-belt chatelaine, which fizzled somewhat in the 1900s, the finger purse fad lasted into the 1930s. Evening bags are designed to be discreet in size, but not necessarily in appearance; the finger-ring adds a “look at my great bag” novelty factor, and has the added benefit of being rather more difficult to lose than an envelope clutch.  (Though personally, if I was dangling something like this from my hand I’d probably just end up whacking someone with it by mistake.) This delicate little evening case is sterling silver, with space inside for a mirror, a memo pad and pencil, and two little pockets for calling cards or bills – all the essentials (though I do wonder where you were supposed to put your lipstick). It belonged to Mrs. Helen Slattery Dawson (1903-1986) of Rockville – who conveniently wrote her name and address on the little memo pad inside – and was most likely used in the late 1920s.

Like chatelaines, the finger-ring method was applied to other accessories – as you’ll discover next week, as our How To Carry Your Belongings series continues!

And now, some more photos: the promised 1876 “pocket chatelaine,” a close up of the chatelaine bag’s frame, and the interior of the 1920s finger purse.

 

 

Today we have a fabulous silver chatelaine, from the 1890s. Designed to hang from the belt, it supports a pencil holder, a buttonhook, a scent or smelling salts bottle, a pill box, and a celluloid or similar memorandum pad (“aide de memoire”).

The clasp-and-chains chatelaine and the attached pieces may have been purchased separately (different silver marks appear on several pieces).  The little bits and bobs are attached to the chains with clips, so they could be removed and changed when necessary. However, it all goes together fairly well; the clasp has Greek or Roman motifs – including what looks like an infant throttling two . . . dragons? Griffins? – and the bottle and aide de memoire continue the theme, with a griffin on the latter and a Greek/Roman-type head (with a dragon on the helmet) on the former. (Photos are merrily scattered throughout this post.) The hallmarks on the clasp are hard to decipher – especially as the entire piece is suffering from an overdose of silver polish residue – it looks like it might have been made in Birmingham, UK though I’m not prepared to swear to it.

The piece was given to Mrs. Sophie McQueen Van Hoesen in 1922 by Miss Katherine McQueen (1874-1954), possibly her aunt. The only further hints of earlier ownership are the inscription “A.B.K. 13.2.92″ on the cover of the aide de memoire, and “ABK” on the lid of the pillbox; the identity of this person is unknown, and while the 1892 date might be the date of acquisition, it might be something else significant like a birthday or wedding anniversary.  Chatelaines were quite popular during the 1890s, however, so I’ve gone with it as an artifact date.  Mrs. Van Hoesen, who lived in Capitol View for much of her life, donated the piece to the Historical Society in 1962.

When we think of chatelaines – if at all – we may envision a bunch of large metal keys hanging from the housekeeper’s waist. Technically, a chatelaine is defined as basically the mistress of a chateau or other large estate, or “a clasp or hook for a watch, purse or bunch of keys.” Some earlier sources define it as the chain about the waist, rather than simply the belt hook. The name for the belt hook stems from the idea that the “mistress of the chateau” kept the keys about her person at all times. The concept of the conveniently-hung-at-waist set of tools dates from the 18th century, though their popularity was not constant (they don’t look so hot hanging from a diaphanous, empire-waisted dress). Chatelaines came back into fashion in the late 19th century (along with voluminous skirts and normal-waisted gowns) and became highly decorative.  The ultimate accessory: practical and attractive!  They were used to hold all kinds of objects. Ours here seems to be sort of generally useful; other examples are geared toward specific tasks, like sewing or nursing. Options for your chatelaine were numerous; in addition to the pieces shown here there were coin purses, spectacles cases, timepieces, key rings, flasks, whistles, baby rattles, vinaigrettes, match safes, mirrors, lockets, pocket knives, face powder boxes, and an assortment of needlework and sewing tools. (Stay tuned next week for a regular-size purse attached to a chatelaine.)

Sadly I couldn’t find a good photo in our collections of a County lady sporting a useful chatelaine, and my beloved Victorian fancy-goods catalogs have let me down today, but if you’d like to see some examples of chatelaines in both artifact and vintage-catalog form, click here.

So if you’ve always longed for a utility belt, consider bringing an antique chatelaine back into fashion. Or if you’re of a crafty bent, you can make a brand new one for yourself. (While you’re at it, make me one for my work keys; I may not be the “mistress of the chateau,” but I do have a lot of keys.)

Happy holidays, my approximately ten loyal readers!  (And drop-in visitors too, of course!)

Today’s artifact is a small (about 1″ high) Santa Claus pendant or charm, probably from the 1910s, ’20s or ’30s.  Although he’s sterling silver, he was made in two pieces (front and back) and is hollow inside, so probably he was a relatively inexpensive little charm.  This Santa was found in an archaeological dig on the Beall-Dawson House grounds, and he did not escape his time underground unscathed; he’s a little squashed, and might be missing his bottom half (unless he’s actually meant to be a little jingle bell); but he looks pretty jolly nonetheless.  Did he belong to a Dawson grandchild, or to someone who lived in one of the 1930s houses built nearby?  Was someone distraught when he was lost?  …In the interest of keeping this holiday post brief, I won’t go into all the wonderful speculations that archaeology makes possible – I’ll let you all do your own speculating.  Enjoy!

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