Antiques & Technology | Nature's Art Village

1650 Hartford-New London Turnpike, Montville, CT 06370

Nature's Art Village & The Dinosaur Place: 860-443-4367
The PAST & The Gateway Museum:860-437-3615

Piggy Banks – Marketplace Spotlight

Why are children’s coin banks referred to as “piggy banks”? It is commonly believed that piggy banks get their name from a type of reddish clay used in the Middle Ages called “pygg”. Throughout the Middle Ages, people often made bowls, plates and jars from this pygg to hold small items. The pottery made from pygg clay was not very durable, it was a soft material that scratched easily and it was permeable – unable to hold liquids.

A popular item made from this type of pottery was a small storage pot used to hold coins. Coin boxes and money jars had been around for centuries, but the pygg clay coin holders became very popular in the Middle Ages. It was referred to as a pygg pot or pygg jar. Although the word pygg is actually pronounced “pug”, it did not take long for artisans to take advantage of the pun and make pig shaped banks and coin holders. Pigs have long been considered symbols of good luck in different parts of the world, so making coin banks in pig-shaped tied in well. Similar to modern piggy banks, if the owner of the pygg jar wanted to retrieve his or her coins, they would have to break the container open or slide the coins back through the slot with the aid of a knife.

There have been boar and pig shaped pygg pots discovered that date back to the 15th century. Many European countries have traditions of giving piggy banks to bring luck and good fortune. Even today, children are often given piggy banks for birthdays and holidays to encourage saving money. Many cultures consider strong financial management to be essential to a successful and teach these habits to children at a young age. This makes piggy banks a popular and educational gift to children. As they grow, so do their savings and monetary awareness.

The Past Antiques Marketplace has many vintage piggy banks and other models of coin banks available. Piggy banks always make a great gift as well as teach a valuable lesson of saving money. Visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

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Marcus Illions Carousel Horses

Marcus Illions was a Lithuanian woodcarver during the late nineteenth century. Originally in Lithuania, and later in England, he made a living building circus wagons. In 1888, he moved to Coney Island, New York with Frank C. Bostock, a British animal trainer. Initially, Illions carved at the shop of renowned carousel carver Charles Looff and began to perfect the craft. In 1909, llions opened his own shop in Coney Island, calling it M.C. Illions and Sons Carousell Works. His creations which followed this move are considered by many to be the greatest among carousel carvers.

Illions was known for a distinct depiction of the carousel horse, which became known as The Coney Island Style. His horses featured ornate, often bejeweled bodies and gaudy heads.  Very often, gold and silver leafing would accent the horse. Another feature, which is apparent in the image on the right, is the flying mane. Illions watched real horses and used their likeness as the inspiration for his work.

By the 1930’s, the Great Depression had drastically decreased demand for carousel horses, as people had to focus on necessities. Sadly, Marcus Illions passed away in 1949 with little money to his name. The New York Times labeled him “The Michelangelo of carousel carvers”.

The horse shown on the right is a Tobin Fraley porcelain model designed to represent Marcus Illions carving from Coney Island in 1923. It has a brass base with a brass emblem indicating that it is a limited edition (#2865 of 4500). It has a porcelain body with a brass tail and mane. Its body is hand painted and speckled with rhinestones. This horse itself does not date back to 1923, but is a wonderful reminder of a different time and an ode to a master craftsman.

At the height of the popularity of carousels, 1890-1920, there were thousands of these hand-crafted creations operating in the United States. Today, the original antique carousels are a rarity; there are less than 200 functioning antique carousels.

The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village is proud to feature this homage to the “Michelangelo of carousel carvers”, Marcus Illions; in addition to other replica carousel horses. To see this beautiful collectible, along with our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.

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Steiff Teddy Bears & Stuffed Animals

Steiff Bear - The PASTMargarete Steiff, the eventual founder of Steiff, was born in Germany in 1847. She fell ill as an infant and lost the ability to move her legs as well as limited mobility in her right arm. These limitations did not stop her from becoming an incredible and innovative seamstress. She opened a business from home selling handmade felt clothing and used the earnings to buy her first sewing machine. She saw a pattern in Fashion World Magazine for a small stuffed elephant and from it, created a cute elephant pin cushion. Margarete’s brother helped her sell the elephant toys at a local market and they became a popular children’s toy. Eventually, Margarete was able to employ several seamstresses and together they made and sold over 5,000 elephants in just six years!

Margarete expanded Steiff by designing a variety of stuffed animal toys. The first Steiff catalog was printed in 1892 and included horses, monkeys, camels, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, and giraffes. Margarete Steiff’s stuffed animals were handcrafted with wool felt and cotton velvet. Steiff’s motto, “for children, only the best is good enough,” was clear in the great care put into making each toy safe and durable. There were many lesser quality imitations of the stuffed toys.

The popular Teddy Bear that Steiff is most well-known for was not created until 1902. Margarete’s other nephew, Richard Steiff, created the stuffed bear as the first stuffed toy with movable legs and arms. The stuffed bear was covered in soft mohair. An American toy buyer found the bears for sale at the 1906 toy fair in Germany and had the grand idea of selling them back in America as “Teddy Bears”, named after the current president Theodore Roosevelt.

As a distinguishing maker’s mark for the bears, Margarete and her brother Franz decided to brand the bears with a “Knopf im Ohr”, which is German for Button in Ear. To this day, the ear, or chest button on Steiff animals is an indicator of authenticity and date. One of the oldest Steiff bears to enter the market dates to 1904 and is distinguished by the metal rods and joints used to construct them, which make them sturdy.

Teddy Bears Doll RoomThe bears were a phenomenal hit and by 1907, Steiff had over 400 employees. Steiff began to produce bears to commemorate many events. The Titanic Mourning Bear was produced in 1912 in memory of those lost in the sinking of the Titanic. Only 82 of these bears were produced. The bear created for the 125th anniversary of Steiff is called the “Diamond Eyes Bear”, not only does this bear have actual diamond eyes, but the fur also contains golden threads and the nose is made of pure gold. Surprisingly, this is not the most expensive Steiff teddy bear. That title belongs to the Louis Vuitton Steiff Bear which sold for over 2 million euros in 2000.

Margarete Steiff died in 1909 at the age of 61. Her nephews took over the business which remains a premier international toy manufacturer. More than 16,000 designs of Steiff toys are now available. Vintage and antique Steiff stuffed toys are some of the most sought after collectibles and can sell for as much as $100,000 at auction! The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village features a large collection of antique dolls and teddy bears, including some Steiff Teddy Bears. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and collectibles.

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Lionel Trains

The Lionel Manufacturing Company was founded in 1900, in New York City, by Joshua Lionel Cowen. Although the company originally specialized in lighting implements and battery operated fans; the invention of the steam locomotive in the early 1800’s was a major innovation in transportation and many people became avid train enthusiasts. Mr. Cowen was one of those enthusiasts and he produced his first model train as a way to draw attention to his toy store window. Within days the store had customers lining up asking if they could purchase the display model train.

Lionel Manufacturing Company ended up producing 12 more models of the “electric express”. They then began full production on the new line of Lionel trains, trains that used 110 volt electric transformers. By 1906, Lionel Manufacturing Company was producing pre-assembled tracks and several models of engines. The public loved the model trains and soon they were being mass produced with pressed tin and plastic. However, the models were not accurately scaled.

The demand for more detailed accurate models increased and Lionel began producing specialized models. The 1950’s were the golden years for Lionel Company; the train sets were on just about every child‘s wish list. In 1953, Lionel Manufacturing Company was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Mature collectors and youths alike appreciated all the mechanical accessories available to add to your set, your tracks, and your village.

While the newest model trains out on the market use digital technology, many people love to collect the vintage Lionel trains. Some of the most sought after trains include: the 202 Union Pacific Alco (1957) and the 216 Burlington Alco Diesel A Unit (1958). The 216 Burlington Alco Diesel A Unit was only produced for one year and are difficult to find. The Burlington model trains are noted for their quality engines and lettered red paint and silver painted shell. The 202 Union Pacific Alco is most distinguished by its orange color, with black color used to letter its name on the train.

The PAST Antiques Marketplace has many varieties of Lionel Trains from many different years throughout the company’s long history. To see our full selection, visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.

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Napoleon’s Coronation Coach

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte became the Emperor of France and held an enormous coronation ceremony. An intricate royal coach decorated with gold was designed to carry Napoleon through the grounds. Its breathtakingly detailed and high-end design made it the aspiration for all elite coach manufacturers. The coach was later captured in the battle of Waterloo when Napoleon surrendered, and eventually put on display in the Piccadilly Museum in London where it is still housed today. This coach became a symbol of quality craftsmanship and its iconic status lasted for centuries…

Fred and Charles Fisher, with backing from their uncle, opened the Fisher Body Company in Detroit, Michigan in 1908. Charles Fisher, who had a background in carriage building, realized that automobile bodies needed to be styled differently than carriage bodies. He began designing closed sedan models that could better handle the stresses of rear wheel drive and withstand all weather conditions such as heavy rain and snow. This was at a time when the Ford Motor Company was dominating the automobile industry.

Also in 1908, Ford’s competitors came together and formed the General Motors Company with the intention of creating luxury vehicles to compete with Ford’s simple-styled Model T. General Motors bought 60 percent of the Fisher Body Company in 1919 and the other 40 percent by 1926. Fisher Body became an in-house automobile body building division of General Motors. Starting in the 1930’s the Fisher Body division placed an emblem on the doorsill’s step plate of their cars. The famous “Body by Fisher” logo was an image of the Napoleonic Coronation Coach.

In the 1930’s the Fisher Body Division within General Motors began a competition to scout for talented auto body designers. Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild was formed and a contest was implemented. The competition was open to youth, ages 14 to 19. First prize was a full scholarship and a guaranteed job with General Motors. The 1934 prize money was $80,000, an incredible sum of money for the time. The competition required entrants to build a ½ scale model of Napoleon’s Coronation Coach. The model of the Napoleonic Carriage was a difficult, time-consuming project. Intricate models took an average of a years’ time to slowly build and complete. This was a serious commitment.

The last competition took place in 1968. The winners of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild still come together for a reunion periodically and bring their winning models for display. The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a vintage Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competitor’s completed Napoleonic Carriage as well as many other automobile memorabilia for sale among its over 90 vendors. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.

Bronze Antiques

Today we journey to the east, and nearly 7,000 years back in time, to when man first began to use and implement a rudimentary material of modern day: metal. Following the previous Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras, humankind transitioned into the mythological “Third Age of Man”, also known as the Bronze Age. Historically, the western Bronze Age is narrowed down to about 3000 BCE, however evidence from the Middle East, China, and even Serbia show primitive metallurgy production 1500-2000 years prior to that date.

Bronze is described as any alloy which is 85-95% copper with the remainder composed of tin and, often during ancient times, arsenic was added to the mix.  The oldest tin-alloy bronze artifacts are axe heads that were discovered in Serbia, dating to 4500 BCE, indicating a shift from stone tools and weapons to the new durable bronze alloy.

One thousand years later, in approximately 3500 BCE, bronze tools and statuettes began appearing in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley of Iraq, used by the Ancient Sumerian people. Bronze in this region was most likely found when tin-rich stones were gathered for campfires, and the heat from the flames melted and mixed the metal components contained in the rocks. There were two main forms of bronze used during this age; the first was “classic bronze” (10% tin) and the second, “mild bronze” (6% tin). Classic bronze was used for casting weapons and tools, whereas mild bronze was hammered into sheets for helmet and armor production.

During the middle of the Bronze Age, between 2500-1500 BCE, casting methods became so advanced that large scale statues and ship fittings were readily manufactured from molds made of sand, wax, stone and clay. In Ancient Greek culture, bronze sculptures were regarded as the highest form of art; however, few pieces have survived, unlike their Roman marble copies. Bronze had numerous applications throughout the ancient world, including mirrors, musical instruments, bells, building materials, coins, and ceremonial relics.

The Bronze Age wrapped up around the end of the first millennium BCE, when the more abundant metal ore, iron, replaced the costly and much scarcer bronze ore.  Bronze still saw use during the Iron Age into Late Antiquity, as bronze is less vulnerable to corrosion than iron, and does not spark when struck against metal surfaces. During the Dark Ages, most bronze art from the Classical Period was either destroyed or melted to build additional weapons for the barbarian conquerors of the former Roman Empire. With the discovery of gunpowder in 9th century China, bronze was once again implemented in the creation of cannons, and by the 13th century, bronze cannons began seeing action on the battlefields of Europe.

In modern times, we associate bronze with the third place position in sporting competitions, which was introduced during the 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics. The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village houses several examples of antique bronze artifacts. To learn more about bronze and other ancient metallurgy, visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.

Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.


Inkwells are used by writers and artists to hold ink for use with quill pens, dip pens and brushes. Ancient Egyptian scribes used small pieces of stone with hollows in them to hold their various colors of ink, as well as to mix the powders and solvents used to make ink. These developed over the years into larger clay containers and eventually fitted with a lid to protect the ink from spills and evaporation.

In Europe a scribe would do the task of corresponding for the aristocrats, as it was considered to be menial work. Inkwells remained basic until the Middle Ages when gold and silver styles first appeared. The 17th century baroque style brought heavily decorated inkwells. Baroque, a French word, roughly translates to: elaborate with details.

In the 1700’s liquid ink was manufactured and sold in wide bottom glass inkwells. The wide bottoms helped to prevent spills. Further developed during the American Civil War, small, portable, lidded screw-top and clasp-top inkwells were provided to soldiers. Quill and dip style pens were used well into the early 1900’s. You may recall seeing old wooden school desks with the hole in the top for the inkwell. Although pencils became more accessible in the early 1900’s these desks with the holes for inkwells were used in rural schools until the 1950’s. In the 1940’s the ball point pen was invented and this allowed the public access to affordable pens that were less messy and easier to use. Quill pens are still used by artists as it is the only way to truly achieve the desired scroll work effect.

Ornate and extravagant inkwells are highly collectible and are found in a large variety of styles. Inkwells are designed to be more of a decorative showpiece, not often made to carry around, but to display and hold ink in a stylish way. Inkwells can be made of various materials including glass, soapstone, onyx, marble, porcelain, horn, cast iron, ceramic, Bakelite, silver, gold, brass and pewter. Inkwells often feature a pen rest, some incorporate calendars or hinged compartments, and more modern inkwells can have lamps attached.

The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a wide selection of antique inkwells, ink bottles, pens and supplies. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.

Antique Baby Carriages – 1848

Before strollers, parents were constantly inventing new ways to carry infant children around with them as they go about their day. Native Americans would hang cradle boards from a travois, a wooden sled-like frame, which was pulled by a horse when traveling. During the 1700’s, royal children were pulled along by a mini horse or goat in fancy shell-shaped baskets on wheels.

Charles Burton invented the “pram” in 1848 in New York City. The pram, short for perambulator, is a 4-wheeled cart with an infant’s bed that the baby is laid down in facing the person pushing as so to keep an eye on the baby’s face. The idea did not catch on, the public at the time felt it was not safe and too many pedestrians were being hit with carriages on the busy streets. Burton went back to England where he opened up factories to build his prams that became popular with royal families in Europe. Queen Victoria, the mother of nine children, ordered three. Prams, and other baby carriages, could be quite ornate with detailed decorations. Some applied the family crest to the side and many had fancy parasols and upholstery. These early carts and carriages were bulky and dangerous, resulting in accidents that injured and sometimes killed the young children.

It was ten years later in 1858 that two cousins, F. A & F.W. Whitney, opened the first American baby carriage factory in Leominster, Massachusetts. This area of town where the factory was located is now known as the F.A. Whitney Carriage Company Complex Historic District. The Whitney baby carriage motto was “Fashioned for Baby… in fashion for you”. Enhancements to the original carriage designs, such as brakes, better suspension and hoods that could be retracted, made baby carriages more popular over the next few years.

Antique prams and baby carriages are very stylish and still able to be used with care. They make great collector pieces as they often feature intricate designs. Wicker baby carriages sold for between $2.50 and $33.50 before World War II. Antique prams available today range in price depending on their age, condition and how ornate they are. A small plain pram runs about $75, antique wicker baby carriages go for $150 – $250, and more detailed carriages can cost far more. The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has antique F.A. Whitney Company prams and baby carriages available, as well as other antique and vintage children’s accessories. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.

Curling Irons – 1866

This week’s Throwback Thursday examines an interesting invention in hairstyle, the curling iron! In 1866, Hiram Maxim obtained the first patent for a hair curling iron. This, however, was not the first curling device. Throughout history as we see in the ancient carving and artwork left behind, ancient peoples cared about the style of their hair. It was no secret that you could apply heat to a lock of hair and shape it. The trick was not to overheat and scorch the hair. The first curlers were metal cylinders heated over an open fire and temperatures were nearly impossible to determine and control. Many of the historically popular hair styles involved curled hair. Babylonian men dyed their hair black and crimped and curled their beards with curling irons. Persian nobles were also known to curl their beards. Many cultures including the Egyptians used bronze curling tongs.

Curling irons were not only for use on a person’s actual hair; it soon became more customary and hygienic to shave one’s head and use fancy wigs and perukes. During the 17th & 18th centuries, hair dressing became a very popular profession though it typically was the styling of wigs. The wigs were worn by the wealthy elite and styled with curls using curling tongs. Marie Antoinette, Queen of France in 1770, did not like wigs and began the fashion of curling natural hair and supplementing with pre-curled hair pieces and readymade clips with attached curls.

Vintage curling irons were often referred to as curling tongs as they resemble a pair of tongs or needle nose pliers. The wooden handle of the curling iron remained a safe temperature to touch the metal end was heated and consisted of two pieces that hair could be clamped between or a single piece of metal that hair would wrap around. Crimping irons crimp hair in a saw-tooth-style iron.

Many 19th century local blacksmiths would make curling irons for the wealthy ladies in town. Antique cast iron curling irons stands attached to the gas unit on a stove. The inner metal rod would heat up and the curling tongs were laid across to heat.

Coal oil curling iron furnaces allowed women to use a curler in the privacy of their room. Coal oil was the first clean burning fuel. Brass box style coal oil furnaces were used in place of a stove. The advent of electricity brought electric curling devices. Modern curling irons are now made of a variety of materials including Teflon, titanium and other metals, ceramic, and even tourmaline.

Antique and vintage hairdressing tools are highly collectable. Rare curling tongs are worth several hundred dollars. Barbering accessories are diverse, interesting and are beautiful to display. The PAST Antique Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has antique straight edge razors, shaving mugs and more available for sale. The Razor Sharp Barber Shop exhibit inside The Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village has an extensive collection of antique curling irons, barber shop and hairdressing tools and supplies. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.

Bausch and Lomb Company – 1853

The Bausch and Lomb Company began in 1853 when German immigrant John Jacob Bausch opened a small optical goods store in Rochester, New York. He soon partnered with Henry Lomb, a friend who had loaned him money while starting out. The company began selling hard rubber eyeglass frames made from vulcanized rubber, a new revolutionary material at the time. In 1883, it was John Jacob Bausch’s son Edward Bausch that produced the first photographic lens. In 1912 John Jacob’s other son, William Bausch, became the first producer of optical quality glass in the United States. The company manufactured 40,000 pounds of glass over the next decade to be used during World War I for binoculars, rifle scopes, telescopes and searchlights.

In 1911, the Bausch and Lomb Company produced their version of a magic lantern called the balopticon, the precursor to the overhead projector. These easy-to-operate lanterns used 400 watt gas mazda lamps with an internal chamber insulated with asbestos. They used transparent slides and reflective light to project still images on screens or walls. The projectors became popular among teachers, professors, scientists and artists.

The name balopticon comes from combining “ba” from Bausch, “lo” from Lomb, “opti” from optical, “co” for company and adding an “n”. The 1927 model used a 600 watt lamp providing enough illumination to shine an image up to 12 feet in width on a surface. A spherical glass reflector was attached directly to the lamp bulb for greatest efficiency. A 1911 catalog advertises the balopticon for $22, and by 1927 the machines cost between $50 and $75.

The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a 1911 Bausch and Lomb balopticon double lens dissolving projector. Dual lenses were used at angles allowing projected images to overlap, as well as providing the ability to have images fade in and out. In addition, The Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village has an extensive collection of antique photography and projection equipment on display in the “Snap Shot Photography” exhibit. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.