“There is as much difference in toast as there is in bread, but unless you have toasted toast made on a UNIVERSAL Electric Toaster you have never enjoyed real toast.”

A Fine Collection readers have occasionally pointed out that many artifacts – perhaps more than seems reasonable – have been described as my “favorite.” Well, here are two more!  This week, let’s look at a pair of electric toasters made by Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain, Connecticut.

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First, a Universal Number E944 (7 inches tall), patented in 1915. It is missing its “Six Foot Mercerized Silk Cord and Hubbell Attachment Plug,” and its nickel-plating is a little dull, but otherwise it’s in good condition. This model features ornamental cut-out designs on the doors, base and top, making it much more than a utilitarian piece. The theory was that you could make your toast (and, if you purchased a Universal percolator, your coffee) right at the breakfast table, conveniently and in style.  The top ad here shows you how to do it right; the fifth ad on the same page, which touts our E944, is the source of the toasty quote that started us off. 

The modern electric toaster was made possible by the invention of Nichrome, an alloy of nickel and chromium patented in 1905, used to make the radiant heating element. In this case, the Nichrome coils are in the center; a spring-hinged door on each side lets you insert two slices of bread. The flat top serves as a warmer for your finished toast (the next model, the E945, featured an honest-to-goodness toast rack up top). So much faster than toasting over the fire or stove! There were a few limitations, however: you had to open the doors and turn the slices over to tend to both sides of the bread, and like other early electric models, there’s no timer or variation settings; when it came to degree of toastiness, you were on your own.

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Here’s a later model, miles ahead in both function and design (although, like its earlier friend, it’s now missing its electric cord). This is a Universal E9410 (9 inches tall), known to collectors as the “Sweetheart” toaster; the design was patented in 1929. The bread sits securely in metal-framed baskets, one on each side of the center Nichrome heating unit. The nickel-plated body is embossed with “classical” motifs, and the feet, buttons, and dangly handles are made of ivory-colored Bakelite. Isn’t it pretty? You’d look super-stylish with this in your breakfast nook! Even better, pushing the buttons makes the baskets flip around, so that you can hit both sides of the bread in relative ease and comfort. You’re still on your own when it comes to timing and toastiness, though. Thermostats, timers, and pop-up slots didn’t become standard until the 1930s and 1940s.

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I do love toasters. They often feature great design, and they make toast – that staple of life – possible. (Apparently there is scientific proof that toast tastes better than bread!) I am not alone; there are lots of websites and collecting clubs dedicated to the history, and seemingly infinite variety, of the toaster.

The E944 was donated to MCHS in the early 1950s and, unfortunately, its donor and history have been lost. The E9410 belonged to Alice Maddox Proffit of Georgia and Washington DC, and was donated by her daughter Edith Proffit in 1963.

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