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

License Plates – 1901

Today’s Flashback Friday examines the history behind American license plates. We travel to the turn of the 20th century, when the first American automobile factories began production. At this time, automobiles were expensive and reserved for the wealthy upper class. As automobiles became less expensive and grew in popularity, outdated traffic laws and undeveloped roads made driving conditions extremely hazardous.

In 1901, New York was the first state requiring residents to display an identification tag. California followed soon after requiring a tag on bicycles and wheeled carts as well. There was an obvious need for the tags as collisions were common and the drivers involved needed to be identified.

The first New York tags were do-it-yourself license plates, with the residents responsible for making their own ID tag with their initials and state name. That same year the state realized that conformity was necessary and began issuing individual registration numbers to be used. These homemade tags were often made of leather or rubber and some people just painted the ID on their car.

The use of homemade tags created obvious problems, such as counterfeit tags. Massachusetts became the first state to have state issued license plates in 1903. These early plates were fashioned of iron coated with porcelain. This style did not last long as the porcelain coating was too fragile. The state of West Virginia designed the first stamped and embossed style metal plates in 1906.

The first Department of Motor Vehicles was established in 1915 and all states required license plates by 1918. During WWII no plates were issued, and to save metal in 1943 and 1944 other materials such as cardboard and stickers were issued as replacement plates. It was not until 1960 that the size of the license plate was made uniform throughout the United States.

The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a wide variety of vintage license plates and transportation memorabilia for sale among its assortment of over 90 vendors. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

For more antique history, check out our Throwback Thursday posts!

Bullard Safety Helmets – 1898

Today’s Throwback Thursday sends us back to 1898 with the founding of the E.D. Bullard Mfg. Company in San Francisco, California. The company, founded by Edward “E.D.” Bullard, began by selling mining equipment and carbide lamps to copper and gold miners.

Miners during this time period wore canvas caps with a leather trim. The miners would brush a layer of tar over their hats and dry them in the sun to form a hard outer shell. E.D. Bullard’s son, E.W. Bullard, realized the need for an improved safety hat. In 1919, he invented the “Hard Boiled Hat” after returning from World War 1 with a steel helmet. The Hard Boiled Hat was made using canvas, glue and black paint. Later the same year, the U.S. Navy requested improved hard hats for shipyard use and Bullard was eager to improve upon his product.

In 1931, construction workers were required to wear hard hats for the first time while building the Hoover Dam. Workers sandblasting needed further protection and, in 1933, Bullard designed a hard hat that protected workers faces with a mask. These hats had a cover over the face and a clear window to see through. The covered hat had an air supply provided by a compressor.

By 1938, the canvas material was replaced by aluminum and the helmets were now being used by a variety of fields, most recognizably by firefighters. Firefighters had previously worn leather helmets and were given the nickname “Leatherheads”. These early helmets did not provide much protection, but instead served the purpose of identifying the firefighter. The new helmets, produced by Bullard and made of metal, were more durable and offered significant protection.

Hard hats were further improved on over the years with stronger materials and with specialized features for specific job requirements. In 1998, Bullard introduced the first thermal imager. Law enforcement uses this thermal imaging for search and rescue and to locate hidden compartments. Bullard continues to manufacture safety equipment, air quality equipment, respirators, thermal imaging, and, of course, helmets.

The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has an early Bullard Fire Helmet available and a large variety of antique and vintage firefighter and mining memorabilia for sale. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full supply of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!


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Automatic Bank Punch – 1884

Auto Bank PunchThis week’s Throwback Thursday sends us to 1884 when John Newton Williams invented an early piece of office automation; a check writing machine. This machine had a metal carousel design with wooden knobs that pressed down into slots numbered 1-10 to punch the corresponding number into a check. The machine was first produced for Williams by the Brady Company. In 1885, Williams began producing the check writer himself under the name Automatic Bank Punch Company in Brooklyn, New York.

The automatic bank punch was designed to prevent altercation on bank checks and paychecks.  This was also referred to as an automatic check protector. The machine would punch out a hole in the shape of the number. It was automated in the sense that it would progress to the next position for punching on the check without manually needing to move the paper. Each check was done individually and this required a full time employee known as a check writer. Today, businesses use check writing software to complete this task. Research suggests that more than 24 billion checks are now written each year.

auto bank punch 1In 1899, over 22,000 automated bank punches were in use. Williams’s automatic bank punch was known as “bullet proof”, a quality piece of equipment that was nearly indestructible and reliable, rarely needing repair. Advertised from 1884-1914, the U.S. Treasury Department Clerk stated that the Automatic Bank Punch had been found to serve the purpose better than any other machine on the market. A substantial amount of bank punches were purchased by the U.S. Government. The check writers were used to put a price on government checks in punch form and could be used to cancel checks by punching upside-down.

In 1892, the price for an automatic bank punch was $25, this was expensive for most of the public at the time. Most private banks owned only one machine. This makes the automatic bank punch a rare item. John Newton Williams went on to invent the Williams Typewriter in 1891.

Typing Machines ExhibitThe Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village features a John Newton Williams Automated Bank Punch on display in the Typing Machines Exhibit. The display features the early models of office equipment from many of the greatest inventors. The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village also features many vintage and antique typewriters and office machines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To see our full selection of antiques and vintage technology visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.

Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!


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Corning Glass Works – 1851

IMG_2041This week’s Throwback Thursday takes us back to the mid-nineteenth century with a look at Corning Glass Works. Corning was originally founded in Massachusetts in 1851 by Amory Houghton before moving to Corning, New York in 1868. The company specialized in glass, ceramics and other related materials used for industrial and scientific uses as well as a line of kitchenware. Corning’s glass technology has been and is still used in many applications in a variety of industries.

One of Corning Glasses most popular inventions is Pyrex. Pyrex is a heat tempered glass that is resistant to temperature changes and was first designed for railroad lanterns by Corning in 1913. Pyrex is a borosilicate, a low expansion glass used in test tubes, laboratory equipment and kitchenware. Pyrex kitchenware comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and patterns. Pyrex cooks food evenly, is easy to clean and is break resistant.

CorningWare cookware with PyroCeram was introduced in 1953. This white ceramic material can withstand thermal shock and extreme temperature. PyroCeram gave cooks the ability to take filled baking dishes from the freezer to the oven, then to the table and dishwasher without needing a second dish. This break and chip resistant bakeware is durable and lasts for years. The glass was so strong the military used it to build guided missile nosecones.

MIMG_2038ore than 750 million pieces of CorningWare have been manufactured. However, CorningWare with PyroCeram is no long produced as the material was so durable, it never needed to be replaced. Corning Glass Works changed its name to Corning Incorporated in 1989 and has continued to develop the latest in technology for over 160 years. The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York displays one of the world’s largest collections of glass objects. The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a large variety of hard to find vintage Pyrex and CorningWare kitchen products available for purchase. Visit The PAST Antiques at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!

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Blue Ridge Mountain Boys Mugs – 1947

Mountain Boys MugsThrowback Thursday takes a look at the story behind these interesting mugs created by the Imperial Porcelain Corporation of Zanesville, Ohio in 1947. The mugs feature popular characters from a 1940’s comic strip created by American cartoonist and illustrator Paul Webb. Webb was the creator of a single-panel cartoon called the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. These Mountain Boys became featured on a large variety of merchandise during the 1940’s including the porcelain mugs shown here.

Paul Webb‘s comic strip series in Esquire Magazine, the “Mountain Boys”, was published in 2 collections: “Comin’ Round the Mountain” in 1939, and “Keep ‘em Flying” in 1941. In 1960, a paperback collection was published. Webb also produced paintings, calendars and illustrations of the popular Mountain Boys characters: Ma, Grandma, Pa, Willie & Luke.

American Art Pottery, which was first produced in Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1870’s, was still popular in the 1940’s. The pottery was hand-thrown and hand-decorated. In the 1930’s potters began making more creative and artistic pottery and wares. Collectors consider pottery made by a select group of pottery companies during the time period of 1876-1950 to be “Art Pottery”.

IMG_1793 (002)The Mountain Boys mugs were some of the last Art Pottery pieces to be created and wildly distributed. As they are all handcrafted, no two pieces are identical; this adds to their value. The caricatures portray southern mountain country daily life in a humorous and whimsical fashion.

Paul Webb passed away in 1985 after producing decades of artwork and collectibles. His folk art and creations are now highly sought after. All of his art is unique and each is signed and dated by Webb. The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a collection of Paul Webb Mountain Boys Art Pottery Mugs available for purchase as well as many other popular Art Pottery from famous American artists. 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 another Throwback Thursday!


Hitchcock Antique Furniture – 1818

hitchcock-chairThrowback Thursday take us back to 1818 with a look into a Connecticut furniture company. Lambert Hitchcock of Cheshire, Connecticut was a skilled master woodworker schooled at the famed Cheshire Academy and apprenticed under Silas Cheney. Hitchcock opened a furniture factory in the town of Riverton located in Barkhamsted Connecticut. The large Hitchcock Chair Company Factory Mill was powered by the Still River a branch of the Farmington River. The factory had over 100 employees and became so well known the town was renamed as Hitchcocksville. The Hitchcock Chairs were made of cherry, maple or beech; woods local to the area. The Hitchcock-style chair combined several popular styles of the times such as Sheraton, Empire and Baltimore styles.

Lambert Hitchcock’s great success was attributed to his ability to build his quality chairs using a new style of mass production. He had studied with great clock-makers in Connecticut and had seen master clock-maker Eli Terry mass produce wooden clock parts. Terry used an assembly line process to cut different parts, then assembled many clock varieties on an assembly line. Hitchcock used this same production method to make the parts for his chairs. His chairs were the first pieces of furniture sold with semi-assembly required. This mass production made Hitchcock furniture affordable to the public and allowed the factory to produce over 15,000 chairs a year!

hitchcock-chair-deskHitchcock antique furniture is highly sought after by collectors. Most genuine pieces of Hitchcock furniture can be dated and identified by a stencil marking along the back or underneath. In 1825, the company moved to a larger factory and began labeling the pieces “L. HITCHCOCK HICTCHCOCKS-VILLE CONN. WARRENTED”. Then in 1832, Lambert Hitchcock went through business difficulties and merged with his brother-in-law, Arba Alford, to form a new company. The stencil was changed to read “HITCHCOCK. ALFORD & CO. CONN WARRENTED”. There was an unfortunate mislabeling of backward N’s on the stencil. This company then dissolved in 1844 and Lambert Hitchcock went on to open a new Hitchcock Furniture Company in Unionville, Connecticut. The label was again changed to include the Unionville location. Lambert Hitchcock died in 1852 and The Hitchcock Company was closed.

In 1946, John Kenney and Douglas Roberts, a descendant of Hitchcock, renovated the old Hitchcock factory and reopened Hitchcock Chairs. They manufactured replicas of Hitchcock’s famous furniture. The company stenciled the signature emblem on the furniture pieces. The Stencil reads the same as the first stencil did in 1825, only it incorporates the backward N’s in the wording. If your Hitchcock furniture has the original style stencil but with backward N’s it was produced after 1946. The company has continued to change hands over the years, but is still in operation in Connecticut.

The early pieces of furniture were painted black or dark green and the then using a stencil they would apply a bronzing powder to create various decorative patterns of flowers, leaves and cornucopias. Yellow-ochre striping and gold banding on the turns of the legs were added by hand. This decorative enhancement is the classic Hitchcock look. The seats of the chairs were made of cane, woven-rush or planks. The later pieces were made of lighter wood colors. The Past Antiques Marketplace features many pieces of famous Hitchcock furniture available for purchase. 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.

Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!



Brownie Box Camera – 1900

This week’s Throwback Thursday sends us to 1900 and the introduction of the Brownie box camera. This camera was the newest invention of the Eastman Kodak Company and forever changed the field of photography. The Brownie camera was a small and portable device. Previous cameras were large, cumbersome and required subjects to pose for extended periods of time. The Brownie box camera provided snapshot ability for the first time.

img_1555-002The new camera was not only more portable, it was now affordable for the general public. Families could now take their own photos and document their life events and memories. Kodak advertising promoted the catch phrase “celebrate the moments in your life” and picturesque scenes were now described as “Kodak Moments”. The first model was made of simple cardboard and cost $1. Then, when your roll of film was complete, you mailed it in for processing for another small fee. The pictures were processed and mailed back within a few weeks.

George Eastman invented the first day-loading camera. This meant the camera could be reloaded without the use of a dark room. He manufactured box cameras with paper film in 1885 and began using celluloid film in 1888. His first camera was called the Kodak. These cameras came with 100 exposures. The quality of the pictures improved with the lighter Brownie model camera. This model remained popular until the 1960’s. The old-style gelatin dry-plate models continued to be produced and used for fine photography.

brownie-8Interestingly, the Brownie camera got its name from a cartoon strip that was popular at the time called “The Brownies”, created after the book written by Palmer Cox in 1887. A Brownie was a small sprite or hobgoblin believed to dwell in the eaves of houses throughout England, performing small favors and never being seen.

The amazing invention of the camera and photography has enabled us to preserve history. The Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village has a Brownie box camera and many more of the early model cameras and photography equipment of the past in its Snap Shot Photography Exhibit. The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a variety of Brownie cameras as well as many other vintage and antique cameras and equipment available for purchase. 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.

Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!



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The word ‘vane’ comes from the Old English word fana meaning ‘flag’.

Much like flags, weathervanes are used for showing the direction of the wind but are also commonly used for their innate architectural beauty. They are commonly found at the highest point of a building – often on a barn or church.

weather-vaneWeathervanes have been found around the world and it is believed they have existed as far back as 2000 B.C. Artifacts resembling weathervanes have been found in Ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese civilizations.

Around the time of the American Revolutionary War, weathervanes began to be used in the United States. George Washington had a weathervane at his Mount Vernon home. Other notable American figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Paul Revere also had weathervanes on their properties.

In those early days of American farming weathervanes were used to tell wind direction because almost every task on a farm was either helped or hindered by the weather; especially those tasks involving cutting, baling, rolling, stacking and storing hay. As the popularity of weathervanes spread throughout New England, people began to create unusual and fun designs. In addition to the traditional banner and arrow, some designs on barns included a running stag, a prancing horse, and a horse with carriage.

Although still used today on barns and outbuildings, weathervanes have become collectible as folk art. Antique weathervanes, made before 1900, can sell for thousands of dollars. 20th century weathervanes typically bring in the hundreds of dollars at retail, depending on the intricate and elaborate designs they display.

The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village showcases a unique weathervane from the early 20th century along with a collection of other antique and vintage farming essentials. To see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.

Check back next week for another Trivia Tuesday!


Charter Oak Bridge – 1941

charter-oak-bridge-treeThis week’s Throwback Thursday looks at local Connecticut history. These large ornamental cast iron plaques were once fitted into the railing along the entire length of the original Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford, Connecticut for nearly half a century.

The Charter Oak Bridge was named after the famous Charter Oak Tree, the Nutmeg State’s official state tree. In 1662, the Connecticut Colony was granted autonomy by King Charles II and created a charter. In 1687, the new King James II revoked the autonomy and appointed a governor-general to rule over the New England colonies. This governor-general sought to seize and destroy all the New England charters. The legend says that colonists hid the Connecticut Royal Charter in a massive oak tree to avoid detection by the English governor-general. This tree became known as the Charter Oak Tree. Unfortunately, the Charter Oak Tree was struck by lightning in 1856 and fell; however, its legend lives on and the lumber from the Charter Oak was used to create chairs now sitting in Hartford’s Capitol Building.

In the early 1930’s, motor-vehicle travel was steadily increasing and to relieve traffic on the Bulkeley Bridge (1908), the Connecticut General Assembly commissioned the creation of a new bridge from East Hartford into Hartford. The $4.4 million project was set to break-ground in 1933; however, with the Connecticut economy at an all-time low due to the Great Depression, construction was halted for almost a decade. The project was reopened in 1940 and the building of the foundation began later that year.

On Dec. 4th 1941, disaster struck the construction crew as a 222 foot section of the bridge fell into the icy Connecticut River. Sixteen workers fell to their deaths; while, another sixteen workers were courageously rescued by the Hartford Fire Department. Structural engineers concluded the fall was a result of a shift in the falsework. To finish the project on schedule, the American Bridge Company replaced the nearly 800 tons of steel the exact same day of the disaster.

charter-oak-bridge-capitol-buildingThe 3,016 foot Charter Oak Bridge opened its four lanes to traffic on Sept. 5th 1942, collecting tolls in both directions. At the time of its opening, the Charter Oak Bridge was hailed as the longest plate girder bridge in the country. Connecticut motorists traveled the bridge for nearly 50 years until the late 1980s, when the state decided to rework the congested I-84/I-91 interchange on the Founder’s Bridge. Realizing the Charter Oak Bridge was aging poorly in both materials and design, rather than widening or converting the old bridge, a new bridge was to be built south of the original. The Charter Oak Bridge was to be dismantled. The $204 million new bridge was opened in August 1991, free of tolls, and continues to serve motorists to this day.

These cast iron mementos from the Charter Oak Bridge tell the story of Connecticut’s early transportation history as well as preserving our Nutmeg State’s history for future generations to come. Visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see these amazing Connecticut collectibles and many more antiques and vintage collectibles from around the country.

Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!


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The creator of Raggedy Ann, Johnny Gruelle, wrote stories about the doll for his daughter, Marcella.

raggedy-ann-w-collectiblesRaggedy Ann, the little rag doll with striped red socks and a heart on her chest that says “I Love You”, is a staple of the American toy industry and a beloved doll for countless children over the last century. Artist and writer Johnny Gruelle created the character of Raggedy Ann around 1910. Many myths have been created about the origin of Raggedy Ann; though Myrtle Gruelle, Johnny’s wife, says the tattered rag doll was originally found in Johnny’s parent’s attic. Johnny believed the doll could become a great character in his writing; however, he did not immediately begin using the doll in his stories. It wasn’t until his daughter, Marcella, was born that he remember the doll, fixed it up and gave it to her as a gift. Inspired by Marcella’s creativity, Johnny began to create stories about Raggedy Ann. Sadly, Marcella became gravely ill from an infected smallpox vaccine and passed away from her infection soon after. Johnny continued to write stories about the doll in memory of Marcella.

The Raggedy Ann doll was patented in 1915 and the story books, written by Johnny Gruelle, were first introduced to the public in 1918. Raggedy Ann was joined by her brother Raggedy Andy two years later. Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy went on many adventures and traveled to many places, both real and imaginary. The stories were so popular that they were eventually made into movies and even a television series. Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy have been marketed along with a variety of merchandise including coin banks, lunch boxes, games, prints, salt and pepper shakers and more.

Many versions of Raggedy Ann have been produced since her inception about one hundred years ago. The earliest dolls have a patent date mark of September 7, 1915. They are made completely of cloth with tin or wood button eyes. Their hair is brown and their nose is very thin. These rare, early edition dolls are worth thousands of dollars today. Raggedy Ann dolls produced between 1918 and 1920 were handmade with hand painted faces by Cottage Industries. between 1920 and 1934 the Volland Company produced over 75,000 Raggedy Ann dolls with machine stamped faces. The company was sold and resold several times since, each time slightly changing the doll’s design. These variations help with dating each doll. Hasbro has owned the Raggedy Ann label since 1984. The Past Antiques Marketplace has Raggedy Ann dolls and collectibles available for purchase as well as all your other favorite toys from the recent past. Visit The PAST Antiques at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

Check back next week for another Trivia Tuesday!