Maker: Unknown Origin: Maryland/Pennsylvania. Circa: 1920-1930. Materials: Painted re-purposed wood tongue and grooved box and plywood. Size: 4 1/8” w x 8 1/4” d x 4 ¾” h. x 3 ¾” d.
“Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly like witches on switches across the sky. Tonight is the night when pumpkins stare through sheaves and leaves everywhere,” Halloween by Henry Behn (1898-1973).
It is almost Halloween. For one magical night, children don costumes and become Superman, Batman, or a perhaps a Disney princess. Trick or treaters’ all carry goodie bags or containers to collect treats.
When this owl candy container was made, Halloween was not the commercially important holiday that it has become. Today, Halloween is huge. The stores are full of decorations, candies, costumes and treat containers.
This little grey owl with big yellow eyes and feet is carried by string handles. I suspect the original handles were made of wire. It maintains the original paint and has nice patina. The maker used a light grey undercoat and delineated feathers and facial features with a darker grey. Black outlines the big yellow eyes, beak and feet on a branch. The artist’s selection of black to outline the owl’s features has a dramatic effect.
How much cooler is this wooden grey owl than a plastic pumpkin?
Maker: Unknown. Origin: Found in Maryland. Circa: 1920-1935. Materials: Carved and painted wood clown head, metal spring, cloth suit, wooden box. Size: 4 ½” w x 4 1/2” d x 4 ¾” h., 10” h. when open.
Needed something fun to do Saturday afternoon, so headed out to a local antique group shop? And there he was. Look at that smile. How can you not love folk art? What a totally awesome handmade Jack-in-the box. When he popped out of the box, I was smitten. This folk artist definitely had an eye for design, creative imagination and the skills required to create a unique piece of folk art. The maker’s inspiration possibly came from an example seen in a toy store, or a book illustration.
The carved wooden clown head has small glass eyes and a strip of black animal hair attached to the top of his head. Ears are carved into the side of the head and accentuated with black paint. The artist painted clown makeup that features a wide winsome smile, arched eyebrows, red cheek and chin dots, and accentuated eye lashes. He wears a multi-colored costume composed of colorful red, green, gold, striped fabrics, and circa 1920-1930 floral fabric sleeves. The clown figure is attached to a metal spring that projects him out of the box when the lid is opened.
Early jack-in-the-box toys were called a punch boxes in Europe. Originally, many of the figures that popped out of the box were Punch or Judy characters or a black devil. The punch box figure in the Brown painting is Judy. Punch and Judy were favourite European puppet show characters.
‘A Surprise Party’ painted by John George Brown in 1888, Accession Number 88.1 by Detroit Museum.
During the 19th century, Punch boxes or Jack-in-the box toys were made by cottage industry craftspeople working in the Sonneberg and Oberammergau, regions of Germany. Their toys were merchandized through Nuremburg wholesalers and exported to Europe and America. Examples are shown in the Brown painting and early McLoughlin children’s books.
I collect old children’s books, and remembered jack-in the box illustrations in McLoughlin Christmas books. These 19th century illustrations show the type of punch boxes made in Germany and sold in American toy stores.
Santa Claus and his Works, by geo. P. Webster, published by McLoughlin Brothers, n.d. (circa 1876). Thomas Nast was the illustrator.
A jack-in-the-box is timeless. Imagine a child’s expression when this grinning clown popped out of the box.
Maker: Unknown. Origin: Found in Maryland. Circa: 1930-1940. Materials: Painted wood horses, wagon and wheels with metal rims. Size: 32” w x 9 1/2” d x 14”h.
This wooden farm pull toy rolls across the floor when pulled forward. At some point, a piece of wood was attached to the horses’ feet to protect the delicate legs, and prevent breakage. Materials used in the construction include plywood, pine wood, thin aluminium metal, miscellaneous metal fasteners, and small aluminium chains. The maker was obviously familiar with farm wagon design and construction, and knew how to harness and hitch a team of horses to a wagon.
Farmers and farm hands created toy replicas of horse drawn equipment they used to work the farm. Who was better qualified to preserve our material culture than people who actually experienced it? This is an example of agricultural preservation in the form of a child’s toy.
Back view of wagon and team, that shows the metal wagon rims and wagon box supports.
These paper dolls–men, women and children– with extensive wardrobes of over eighty pieces, were found packed in three thread boxes. Their original owner had carefully packed them away and they remained undisturbed until the estate was dispersed. One box was labeled Loraine Robertson’s family. Most of the paper dolls had their name and age written in pencil on the back. Jack Colbern from Washington, Arthur Basset, Robert and Edward LeBaron, Wallace Terecia, Mrs. Rose Slesinger, Mary, John and William Neill (children of Alexander Neil III and Mary Simms Nelson Neill), are some of the personages represented in the collection. The
Neills also had a son, Alexander Neill IV (1868-1903), who served on the original board of directors of the Washington County Maryland Historical Society. Alexander lived in the Miller House, the headquarters of the Historical Society.
One dress was cut from paper with a Jonathan Street business address printed on the back. Among the various papers used in construction of the costumes is wall paper. Definitely clever, the maker also used the backs of ABC writing lesson papers. She cut gowns from paper and then stitched and glued fabrics to the paper dress shape.
A Hagerstown dress maker, or one of her patrons, probably Mrs. Alexander Neill, subscribed to Harpers Bazaar. Thus the dressmaker had access to the designs of the Parisian House of Worth. As a dressmaker to wealthy clients, she would have had access to a tremendous collection of beautiful scraps. Her selection of fabrics and lace would have been unlimited and of the best quality. You can see from these tiny costumes that they are constructed from bits of expensive textiles.
Maker: Probably Mrs. Alexander Neill, wife of Hagerstown attorney Alexander Neill III, or her dressmaker.
Origin: Hagerstown, Maryland.
Circa: 1880 – 1899.
Material: Twenty seven paper dolls and costumes of various fabrics, lace and paper.
Size: Vary from 1 1/8 inches to 3 inches H.
Provenance: Purchased from an estate in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland.