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Folding Chairs Used by Ancient Egyptians

American designers and inventors seem to have flourished in the 1875-1900 period. New machinery and methods of construction became common. The jigsaw and power saws were introduced. Many new forms developed such as the folding chair and the sofa bed.

But sometimes what appears to be new is really a variation of a very old design. The X-shaped folding chair dates back to the ancient Egyptians. Ivory, metal and wooden chairs were made. By the time of the Romans, the X-shaped chair was considered so special it was used only by nobles. The advantages of a chair that folds were obvious and the chairs were used in the Middle Ages. They were less common by the 17th Century.

The Victorian designers rediscovered the folding chair and patented hundreds of improvements and special designs. George Hunsinger of New York, E. W. Vail of Worcester, Mass., and Gold Medal Camp Furniture Co. of Racine, Wis., made the best-known examples. The X-shaped legs and square back became so popular some designers made chairs that only looked as if they could fold. The purpose of the design was forgotten.

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Question: What can you tell me about “ramekins” or “ramequin”? I have seen a few at antique shows. How were they used? Also, what was the use of crescent-shaped bone dishes and oyster plates?

Answer: Fashions of food service have changed. The ramekin was a necessity in most homes by the 1920s. It is a small baking dish that was used to bake and serve eggs, puddings, oysters, or other food. The French used individual baking dishes known as cassolettes or cocottes . Each round dish holds about five ounces. The ramekin was not popular before the baking oven became a common kitchen appliance, probably at the turn of the century. Ramekins are still used and can be found in most good kitchenware stores.

The crescent-shaped bone dish was used with a dinner plate. As you ate fish you placed the bones in the dish. It was removed with the plate from the fish course. The bone dish was fashionable from about 1880 to 1910. Oyster plates became popular about 1880 and are still being made. Each plate has five to seven indentations that could hold an oyster on the half shell. The plates were often elaborately decorated with appropriate sea-inspired designs.

Q: I have a purple bottle 6 inches tall. There are 12 panels for sides, printed A. Lancaster’s Indian Vegetable Jaundice Bitters, Col. Sam Johnson Proprietor, Richmond, Va., 1852. On the bottom it says, “Made in Taiwan.” How could it be from Taiwan in 1852?

A: You have a recent bottle that was made in Taiwan. It is a copy of a very rare bitters bottle originally made in the United States about 1852. Many of the early bottles have been reproduced and sold through the gift shops.


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