This antiques show never gets old

By on June 30, 2015

Lititz Historical Foundation offers a bounty of intriguing contraptions at new site

Henry Paul of Lititz explains that the flax comb is not for personal grooming. (Photos by Laura Knowles)

Henry Paul of Lititz explains that the flax comb is not for personal grooming. (Photos by Laura Knowles)

Think your smartphone has a lot of great apps?

You should check out the 1890 model of a device that was packed with handy features that did everything from storing postage stamps to holding matches to offering a perpetual calendar. Oh yeah, and it also kept sewing supplies neatly accessible and stored ink, pen nibs and holders.

The rare rotary ink well and sewing stand was just one of the innovative items from the past on display at the 53rd annual Lititz Antiques Show sponsored by the Lititz Historical Foundation.

The show is usually held at John R. Bonfield Elementary School, but this year it had to be moved to Warwick Middle School due to renovations at Bonfield. It turned out to be a good move.

“We like it here,” said historical foundation president Cory Van Brookhoven. “There is more room and everyone is hoping we might have it at the middle school in the future.”

With more than 50 dealers from all over the East Coast, the Lititz Antiques Show offered a glimpse of the ingenuity of yesterday. There were many items that did a variety of jobs with design that could rival today’s technology.

“I have never seen a rotary ink well like this before,” said Richard Gryziec of RSG Antiques near Wilkes-Barre. “It did everything.”

Made of cast iron, the rotary inkwell was very heavy. Most likely it was produced in small qualities by a foundry. Another clever device at Mary and Richard Gryziec’s stand was a sewing box and spool holder that kept everything a seamstress or tailor needed right at hand. There were drawers for buttons and thimbles, pincushions for needles and pins, and spools of thread were placed inside the box with thread coming through for easy access.

Mary Gryziec's mysterious rotary inkwell device was a great conversation piece at last weekend's antiques show.

Mary Gryziec’s mysterious rotary inkwell device was a great conversation piece at last weekend’s antiques show.

“I bet you don’t know what this is,” said Jean Rice of Seven Valleys.

At her stand, a cute little bug-like creature sat awaiting its task. Crafted of cast iron, the beetle boot pull was once used to help people pull off their boots.

Just around the corner, a tiny three-inch metal device was labeled with the words “The Pearl.” Turns out that the Pearl was a miniature hand-held iron that was especially helpful for doing detailed work. It could get into cuffs, collars and sleeves. As Lisa Breish of Fort Washington explained, the Pearl would be heated over the flames of the stove, then reheated when it cooled off.

She also had a small device that looked a bit like a Spanish maraca. If you shook it, it made no sound. That’s because the black handled tool was actually a sock darner. By slipping a sock over the rounded part, it was easier to darn a patch for a sock hole.

“Clever, huh?” said Breish.

Another clever item was a foot warmer from the late 1800s/early 1900s. It was a metal box with a door. Hot coals would be placed inside the drawer, and the heat would warm the feet through the holes at the top.

If you wanted to make a piece of toast for breakfast back in the mid-1800s, it was a little more challenging than popping pre-sliced bread into an electric Sunbeam. Back then a “toaster” was a hand-held device with slats that held the bread over the fire until it was nicely toasted, or perhaps burnt. It could also be used to cook meats over an open fire, explained Larry Stickler of Mt. Wolf.

Then there was a cranberry bog scoop, which looked like a huge wooden comb. Bob Lavallee of Treasures from the Past in Maryland explained that the unusual tool came from New England and was used in the early 1900s to separate cranberries from the plant.

Bob Lavallee is ready to give Ocean Spray a run for its money with his antique cranberry bog scoop.

Bob Lavallee is ready to give Ocean Spray a run for its money with his antique cranberry bog scoop.

Another comb-like object was indeed a type of comb. Looking a bit more like a scrub brush with extremely sharp metal teeth, the hatchel at Henry Paul’s stand was used to comb out the flax fiber in linen making. The heavy hatchel was made of sharp nails hammered into the underside and was especially noteworthy with its 1772 date embossed on the side.

Paul, a Lititz antiques dealer, is one of the show’s organizers, and he said collectors have a common fondness for things remembered. Some of the items at the show remind people of things from their grandmother’s home. Some antiques that were meant for one purpose, such as an apothecary cabinet, could now be used as a unique furnishing to store all sorts of things.

“Younger people are not as interested,” said Paul. “They wouldn’t know what many of these antiques were for.”

A few other mystery items included a wire animal trap at Claudia Collins’ Groundhog Hollow Antiques in York County. The trap looked more like a wire basket, just the thing to lure a small animal into its clutches.

A wooden item at the stand of Manheim dealer Cathy McLaren had a carved fish and other designs. It was actually a candy mold for making maple sugar treats. Elizabeth Ayscough of Chadds Ford displayed objects that looked a bit like bowling pins. They were really 1700s opaque glass rum bottles. She also had a metal tray that was used to hold a huge piece of a cheese wheel.

Rick Fuller had come all the way from Vermont, showcasing a strange-looking, mud-covered tee-pee-shaped object that was in reality a beehive from the 18th century, with willow branches covered in wattle and daub.

“Most people can figure out what these are,” said Robert Apgar of Denver, noting that 1860s ice skates look nothing like today’s version. The Victorian era skates have a curved metal blade on a wooden platform that was held together with leather straps.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and a regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at

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