Americans’ diets influenced dishes’ designs

Fast food, frozen dinners and ethnic dishes have changed the way Americans eat. And with the change in food came a change in dishes.

In the late 18th century, dishes were on the table when guests sat down. The first course had to be soup or fish, served promptly by the host, hostess or servant. Soup was served from a large soup tureen that usually had a matching undertray and ladle.

By the 19th century, dinner sets included not only dishes and cups, but also tureens for soup or gravy and covered vegetable dishes. The wealthy ordered sets of dishes with the family crest as part of the design. There were many types of plates and bowls needed in a set, because a dinner party had as many as 14 courses, each with its own dishes and silverware.

Soup tureens are still used at large parties, especially for holidays like Thanksgiving. But today, the tureen rarely matches the other dinnerware.

Q: I inherited a wooden rocking chair that’s at least 50 years old. The paper tag on the bottom says “H. Conant and Sons.” I can’t find any information on the company. Can you help?

A: Take another look at the tag. It probably says “F.H. Conant’s Sons,” the name of a chair manufacturing business that operated in Camden, N.Y., from about 1876 until the Depression. The business, founded in 1851 by Francis H. Conant, made chairs, tables and hall racks until the 1870s.

When Francis’ sons, Eugene H. Conant and George F. Conant, took over the business in 1876, they decided to limit the factory’s production to chairs. All of their chairs were well-made, but collectors favor Conant chairs in the Arts and Crafts style popular in the early 1900s. Depending on the style and condition of your chair, it could sell for $200 or more.

Q: I have a plastic Eugene the Jeep. He’s about 12 inches tall but is missing his tail. Can you tell me what the toy is worth?

A: Eugene the Jeep first appeared in the Popeye comic strip “Thimble Theatre” on March 3, 1936. Eugene is a little yellow animal that walks on his hind legs, eats orchids and has a “fourth-dimensional brain.” He always tells the truth and can predict the future. Value with a tail: $200-$300. Without a tail, he’s worth about half that.

Q: I have three pieces of fabric — one very large and two smaller — that are marked “Columbus Centennial” and “The World’s Fair.” Each one pictures Christopher Columbus, “Discoverer of Our Country,” and George Washington, “Father of Our Country,” and includes the dates “1492” and “1892.” Can you tell me anything about them and if there is any value to them?

A: The World’s Columbian Exposition, sometimes called the Chicago World’s Fair, commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America. The fair was dedicated in 1892 but did not open until May 1893.

Your textiles are machine-made souvenirs. The exposition included many firsts, including the first midway, Ferris wheel, moving sidewalk, electric elevated railway and souvenir picture postcard. New products introduced at the fair included Aunt Jemima syrup, Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum, Pabst beer and Shredded Wheat. The Women’s Building housed displays of needlework, lace, other domestic items and art pottery. The fair closed in October 1893, and fires in 1893 and 1894 destroyed most of the buildings.

A bedspread like yours is worth $200, a towel $90.

Ralph and Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.

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