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

Christmas Tree Ornaments

For many of us at Christmas time, the centerpiece in our homes is the tree adorned with brightly colored and uniquely shaped glass, paper or wooden ornaments. This tradition began early in the 19th century in Germany. The early handcrafted ornaments were hard cookies and gingerbread baked in shapes of stars, angels or bells. Some trees were decorated with fruits or nuts to symbolize new life in the coming spring. In an area of Germany called Lauscha they began to make ornaments of colored glass sold exclusively at Christmas time.

During the Victorian Age, mid to late 19th century, Christmas festivities had a major surge. During this time the city of Dresden, Germany began production of handcrafted ornaments of pressed and embossed paper as well as tin. A famous photograph of Queen Victoria and her family posed around a beautifully decorated tree with bright and intricate ornaments circulated throughout England and the United States. This image was instrumental in expanding the tradition of decorating Christmas trees.

Decorated trees with hand-fashioned ornaments became a major aspect of Christmas. Many of these ornaments were featured in popular magazine with instructions. The most popular figures were children, angels, and elves. By the end of the 19th century, F.W. Woolworth, of Woolworth’s Five & Dime, began massive imports of ornaments from Germany and sold them throughout the United States. The industry continued to grow until the outbreak of World War I brought ornament production to a halt.

Even after World War I ended, anti-German sentiment was high. Enter Max Eckhardt, a German importer based in New York prior to the outbreak of war. Eckhardt teamed up with the Woolworth Company and convinced the Corning Company of New York to mass produce glass Christmas ornaments to sell at Woolworth’s called Shiny Bright. By 1940, they were mass producing thousands of affordable ornaments. Shiny Bright was innovative in using silver on the inside of the ornaments allowing them to retain their brightness longer. The practice ended with the advent of World War II and the ensuing material shortages.

For almost two centuries, Christmas trees and the ornaments that embellish them have been an integral part of our holiday traditions with many ornaments having special meaning to the people who place them on their trees. The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a unique collection of antique and vintage ornaments for sale. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

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Seth Thomas Mantle Clock – 1892

Throughout the 19th century, Connecticut was one of the world leaders in the clock making industry. Clock repair and production hit the Nutmeg State at a time when the state was first beginning to realize its massive industrial potential. Being in close proximity to major urban centers of the northeast, as well as passable rivers and numerous raw materials, Connecticut was ideally positioned to become a manufacturing giant.

One of the early leaders of the Connecticut clock making boom was Eli Terry (1773-1852). As a young child he apprenticed under Daniel Burnap (1759-1838) in what is now the town of South Windsor, Connecticut. Burnap had apprenticed under another Connecticut clock mechanic, Thomas Harkland of Norwich, Connecticut, and the skills he learned were passed to on to Eli.

In 1793, after seven years of apprenticeship, 21-year-old Eli Terry opened up his own establishment in Plymouth, Connecticut and a mere four years later he became the first inventor to receive a clock patent from The United States Patent Office. Terry’s early clocks were primarily wooden with wooden gears and works, as was the norm for 18th century clock making. Unlike costly and hard to acquire steel and iron, timber was plentiful in New England and could be easily crafted into beautiful pieces. Eli would go on to receive nine more U.S. clock patents and taught many different apprentices, including the now-widely known clock maker, Seth Thomas, of Wolcott, Connecitcut.

Seth Thomas Clock - Photos - Throwback Thursday TBT - The PASTSeth Thomas, originally a wood worker skilled at carpentry, joined forces with Eli Terry and, between 1807 and 1810, the two men produced nearly 4,000 intricate clocks, including the “shelf clock” or mantle clock. These pieces were quite affordable to New England households and their popularity made Connecticut the industry leader of time pieces in the United States in the early 19th century. Moving forward forty years, helped by Terry’s designs and his skilled followers, the Waterbury Clock Company was incorporated on March 27, 1857, from the Benedict & Burham Manufacturing Company.

The Waterbury Clock Company produced the popular Eli Terry style shelf clock, and later seized the growing popularity of personal brass/steel timepieces and pocket watches. The company’s pocket “Dollar Watch” was sold worldwide, and vastly popular among the mid to lower classes, only costing $1.50 new. By 1896, the ever growing Waterbury Clock Company had storefronts in New York, Chicago, and Glasgow, Scotland. From the early 1920’s into the Great Depression the company began focusing their efforts toward a small, stylish watch that could be worn on a person’s wrist.  In 1933, The Waterbury Clock Company created an icon, the Mickey Mouse Wrist Watch. On the watches first day of release to the public, 11,000 were sold at Macy’s New York Department Store, for the price of $2.95. In the mid-1950s, the company produced a wristwatch line whose popularity was so widespread that The Waterbury Clock Company changed its name to match, Timex. Affordable and fashionable, Timex (based now in Middlebury, CT) continues to produce quality wristwatches that are revered by generations.

Thanks to Connecticut clock makers like Eli Terry and Seth Thomas, the Nutmeg State continues to keep the public on time and not a second late. The PAST Antiques Marketplace has an enormous selections of vintage and antique clocks, watches and timepieces both from Connecticut and elsewhere. To see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles, visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.



Cartapesta Angels

Cartapesta is an antique art form which uses papier-mâché to create angels and other sculptures. Papier-mâché, which translates to chewed paper, was first made in China in the second century AD before being adopted in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Once in Italy, specifically Lecce, Italy, it was used for cartapesta, oftentimes called “the poor man’s marble”. By the seventeenth century, cartapesta was in full bloom and was considered an upper-class art form. During this time period cartapesta was used to create furniture, statues and ornaments. In Lecce, Italy, where it was very popular to use papier-mâché, sculptors would create designs of nearly everything and everyone, from peasants to saints and angels.

The PAST Antiques Marketplace carries some cartapesta angelic ornaments and mantel pieces. The angels are fragile and majestic with intricate detail displaying their fine feathered wings and other features. Many of these beautiful angels carry instruments with immense detail including trumpets, violins, symbols, and even small harps. The history on these angels dates back to the fifteenth century, when papier-mâché was most popular.

Papier-mâché was a long and time consuming art, every cartapesta creation was hand-painted making them all one-of-a-kind. Every face and sculpture had its own unique look, just like the angels at The PAST Antiques. Papier-mâché was also made using a clay mold. The clay, which was a negative imprint of the design, was pressed down hard with the papier-mâché and soaked in water, then left to harden. Once removed from the mold, the piece could be painted and smoothed over. This allowed for more generic styles of papier-mâché.
Many of these methods for sculpting papier-mâché are still used today. For centuries, the people of Lecce, Italy have held a holy week where they carve and create statues of holy figures and angels. With the invention of papier-mâché and cartapesta, it became much easier to create sculptures. In addition, the lightweight material, especially compared to ordinary marble, could be transported with ease. This made the event easier for artists to show off their work and add many more sculptures to the celebration.

The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a beautiful selection of cartapesta and papier-mâché angels. These are excellent gift or decorations for the holiday season. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.

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Cranberry Rakes - Photos - Trivia Tuesday - The PAST

Cranberry Pickers

Native Americans first taught the early settlers how to cultivate and use cranberries not only for recipes, but for medicinal reasons and as a red dye. The Pilgrims referred to the fruit as the “crane berry” because of the flower’s resemblance to a crane.

Cranberries grow naturally in marshland areas in the northern United States and some parts of Canada. It’s a common misconception that cranberries are grown in water. These berries can only grow in special areas with the right conditions; they require the right combination of sand, acidic peat soil, gravel and clay often found in glacial deposits. Water is used for a “wet” harvest because each berry has an air pocket which causes the berries to float and can be easily collected.

Today, Cranberries can also harvested using a “dry” method with mechanical pickers that comb the berries off the vines. For hundreds of years people harvested the cranberries by hand, until Luther Hall, Zebina Hall & William Growell patented the first cranberry picker in 1876, which allowed for production to increase exponentially.

The cranberry picker is a hand held rake-like tool, with a large comb at one end and a short handle at the other. Improvements to the tools were added in the early 1900’s with the rocker bottom model. This had a large comb/rake at one end and a new “collection box” at the other with a handle. This enabled workers to rake the cranberries up, rock the basket back and forth to loosen the berries, and then the scooped collection box would catch the berries as they fell. This was the popular tool to use until mechanical pickers were invented. The first tractor like picker came out in 1925.

Cranberries, blueberries, and concord grapes, are the three cultivated fruits that are native to North America. Cranberries do not need to be replanted as undamaged vines will grow indefinitely. Some vines on Cape Cod are over 150 years old!

The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village, does not have cranberries for sale; however, we do have antique cranberry pickers. Visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles from over 90 vendors.

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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.