'Girandoles' helped reflect light in 1800s

Before electricity, most people went to bed at sundown because their homes were dark. Candles, the glow of a fireplace and, by the 19th century, lamps using whale oil, lard, kerosene or gas added a little more light. The rich decorated their room...

Classical girandole
This classical girandole made about 1800 has all the features a collector desires. The mirror is convex, the frame is gilded pine, and the top is a carved eagle. The four candles are held by scrolling arms and brass candle cups. Hammer price at a 2010 Cowan auction in Cincinnati was $20,000. Cowles Syndicate Inc.

Before electricity, most people went to bed at sundown because their homes were dark. Candles, the glow of a fireplace and, by the 19th century, lamps using whale oil, lard, kerosene or gas added a little more light. The rich decorated their rooms with mirrors and polished brass, luster-decorated ceramics and other items that reflected light.

It is said that when Thomas Edison was a child, his mother was sick, but the doctor couldn't help her because it was getting dark. Edison carried all the household's mirrors and candles into his mother's room so the candlelight was reflected in the mirrors, increasing the amount of light. The doctor was able to continue his work, and Edison's mother recovered.

Decorative mirrors used in homes usually do not serve such a noble purpose, but even today when your electricity fails, it is wise to put candles in front of a mirror to magnify the light. Our ancestors also knew that a convex mirror, one that has a surface that curves out, creates even more reflected light.

From about 1800 to 1820, the "girandole" was a popular mirror to hang on a wall. It has a convex mirror, gilded frame and candleholders attached so that candlelight is reflected in the mirror. These furnished light for evening gatherings. Copies of antique girandoles are being made today, but the candles are now electrified. Elaborate antique girandoles sell for $2,000 to $20,000; recent copies sell for under $1,000.

Q: I bought an antique "Ideal Steinway" treadle sewing machine and can't find any information about it. I would like to know where it was made and how old it is.


A: Homer Young Co. of Toledo, Ohio, advertised "Steinway" sewing machines in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1902. The company sold the machines only through mail-order catalogs. Thirty-five different styles were offered. The maker of the machines was not mentioned, but the company claimed they were made by the world's largest sewing-machine factory.

Sewing machines sold under a brand name that is not the maker's name are referred to as "badged" machines. Many major manufacturers' sewing machines were "badged" with the name of the company that offered them for sale.

Q: I have a glass juicer with the name "Sunkist" embossed in the glass. When was it made?

A: The Southern California Fruit Exchange, founded in 1893, changed its name to the California Fruit Growers Exchange in 1905 and adopted the Sunkist trademark in 1908. In 1916, it began to promote drinking orange juice. Juice was made by hand-squeezing fresh oranges at home using a reamer (the collectors' name for a juicer). A glass Sunkist reamer cost 10 cents back then.

Drinking orange or lemon juice has remained popular, but reamers lost some favor when electric juicers were introduced in the 1930s. Frozen juice concentrates, first sold in the 1940s, and bottled fresh orange juice have made reamers much less necessary. But you can buy new glass, plastic or metal reamers or collect old ones, including ceramic examples.

Look for combination reamers: a figural pitcher with a reamer cover or an old wooden two-piece hinged reamer you press to make juice. The first patented reamer, dated 1889, was made in ceramic and metal versions. The Sunkist glass reamer is easy to find at prices from $10 to $50 online, but you would pay much less for it at a garage sale.

Q: I have an oval pendant given to me by my great-grandmother. I think she wore it in the 1920s. It's a piece of glass carved from the back and held in a sterling-silver mount. A silver filigree tree branch and a tiny enameled bluebird are on the front of the glass. It's about 2 inches long and is very delicate. What is this type of jewelry called? Value?

A: You probably have a pendant made from rock crystal, not glass. This type of jewelry, usually a pendant, is sometimes called "camphor glass" jewelry. It was very popular in the 1920s and '30s but has been out of style the past 25 years.


Large modern pieces or very ornate jewelry with colored stones and glitter has been popular instead. Rock-crystal pendants are subtle and feminine, but fragile. It is not used in rings because it could be easily hit and broken. The pendants usually are on a delicate white-gold chain about 16 inches long. Look for a "14K" mark somewhere on the pendant or chain. A chain and pendant sell for about $300.

For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel's website, .

Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any Kovel forum. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

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