Collecting Country Antiques for $100 or Less

April 2, 2018

 

 

 

Collecting 18th and 19th century American country antiques can be very expensive!  But there are some great, early, authentic items available in today's market for $100 or less.  If you are just starting to collect, or you want to enhance your collection on a budget, here are some ideas for items to look for. 

 

Hogscrapers

 

Nothing says American country better than the hogscraper candlestick. It was the primary lighting device used in the 18th and 19th centuries in America.  Made of rolled iron or tin, they are called "hog scrapers" because of the resemblance of the base to the tool which was used to scrape hog hides.  

 

Most have a chair hook on the rim of the socket and a pusher to raise the candle holder as the candle burns.  The 18th century ones are cleated through the bottom.  Early 19th century hog scrapers have the candle shaft attached to the base with a nut and bolt.  After about 1860 the attachment is a round ring.  (See Blog post on this site: "The Settlers' Light - the Hogscraper", February 2017).  

 

 

 

What to look for: 

 

Condition is always the most important aspect of judging antiques. Feel the rim.  If the stick doesn't have a chair hook, look for a rough bit on the rim which would indicate that it has broken off.  Some never had chair hooks, so if the rim is smooth, it's probably fine.

 

A working pusher is important.  When you push it  up make sure it stays up and doesn't slip down on its own.


A signature of the maker is a nice feature.  You'll find it impressed into the pusher.  Most don't have signatures.

 

Look for a nice mellow patina.  You shouldn't see any orange rust.  If there is rust, it will be dark in color.  Surface rust is fine as long as it doesn't go through and create a hole. Rubbing some mineral oil on the surface will improve the surface.

 

Some get wobbly - avoid these.  Look for ones that sit straight with a tight shaft.

 

The rim around the socket is always part of the shaft.  If you see a seam, it's probably a reproduction.

 

The shaft is attached to the base with a domed piece which is a separate structure, not part of the shaft or base.  If there are no seams, it's probably a reproduction.

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find a good 19th century hogscraper with a chair hook and a working pusher for $65-95.  A signature on the pusher would be at the higher end.  

 

If you find one with the shaft cleated through the bottom for under $100,  buy it, even with condition issues.  These usually go for more than $200 because they are generally from the 1700s.

 

If you just want to go for the "look", you can find hogscrapers which have lost their pushers or chair hooks for $35 and up.  But they won't increase in value over time.

 

 

Treen

 

Treen is a fancy name for woodenware.  There are lots of wonderful, hand made treen objects dating from the early 1800s in the marketplace today, costing less than $100.  There's nothing better than a well-worn and well used antique wood object to enhance the early look of your home!

 

 

What to look for:

 

Smooth edges, honest wear, soft patina - that's what makes antique treen special.  Look for signs that it was made by hand - carving marks, asymmetrical shapes, even crude repairs.  Kitchen utensils, boot jacks, bowls, boxes, tools, are all very collectible and available. 

 

If the wood is painted, even better.  But make sure the paint is original or very old - no shine, lots of evidence of wear, especially on the edges, scrapes and digs.  When in doubt about the paint, pass.  There's nothing worse than fake paint!  And good paint usually pushes the price up over $100.

 

What you should pay:

 

Spoons, cutting boards, mashers, scoops, butter paddles can be found for $50 or less.  Bowls without cracks will usually be more, as will unusually or intricately crafted items.  Let the look and feel of it be your guide.  

 

Tin

 

Tin was used to make simple household objects and utensils throughout the 1800s.  Molds, candle sticks, containers, scoops and cookie cutters are readily available today for under $100. 

 

"Anniversary Tin" is a term used to identify objects made as gifts for a couple's 10th wedding anniversary.  These date from the second half of the 19th century - woven tin baskets, teapots, whimseys - were often given as gifts.  Many of these will be more costly than $100, but interesting tin objects are always worth searching out.

 

What to look for:

 

A mellow, dark patina is the most important thing.  If it shines, it's not old (or somebody's worked hard to remove the patina!).  Look for evidence of use, but avoid holes, deep rust, bends and dents that can't be straightened out. 

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find nice cookie cutters for $20-30.  Small molds can be had for under $30.  The more intricate items will cost more, but you can still find lots of examples under $100.

 

Baskets

 

Baskets are undervalued in today's marketplace.  Hand woven splint baskets without damage can be found for very little money.  Some dealers will ask big prices, reflecting the market of 10 or so years ago, but today, you can find some great baskets for under $100.

 

What to look for:

 

You want hand made baskets, not machine made ones.  Look for uneven weavers, hand tied ends, carved handles.   If it is absolutely regular and even it is most likely machine made.  

 

Baskets come in all shapes and sizes, round, square, rectangular, with handles or without, flat bottomed or raised.  They were used for multiple household tasks, including laundry, shopping, and storage. Look for baskets without breaks or missing splint.   The color of unpainted splint should be a medium tan without shine.  Painted baskets often bring much higher prices - if the paint is old.  

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find good baskets for $50-$100  - without paint and with little or no damage.  Perfect ones will hold their value, and should increase in value over time.  

 

Pewter

 

Another category of country antiques which used to be expensive, but is now cheap (!) is pewter.  Pewter was everyman's silver in the 18th and 19th centuries - fancier than tin and iron, but not as expensive as silver.  It was used for all kinds of household objects - plates, spoons, candlesticks, bowls, platters, and more.

 

 

Warning: it can't be used for food because of its lead content, but it sure looks pretty on the table.

 

There were some famous American pewter makers (Paul Revere being one) whose marks are sought after.  These pieces will be very expensive.

 

But you can find an abundance of pewter objects with or without makers' marks for well under $100.

 

What to look for:

 

Patina is again the most important characteristic of good old pewter.  Some people like to shine it up, but I think that takes away its beauty.  It should be a soft gray color.

 

A maker's mark is always interesting but unless it's a famous maker, it doesn't really enhance pewter's value.  Most pewter was imported from England, some from Holland, and these are the marks you'll see.  American pewter is rare and always commands a high price.

 

Try to find pieces without dents or cracks.  Some evidence or wear - a worn edge, minor bends, etc. enhances it, I think.

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find nice plates for $35-50.  Measures, small bowls, candlesticks can be found for under $100.  Buy the shapes that appeal to you. And use it.  It just gets better with use.

 

Transferware

 

In the early 1800s the English began flooding the American market with transfer printed earthenware.  Americans were hungry of pretty plates and cups to replace wood, pewter and red ware dishes.  It was cheap to make and export - the poor man's porcelain.  

 

 

Most of it was blue transfer prints on a white ground, but many other colors were produced as well.  The English made many wares specifically for the American market - designs that represented events in American history, for example.  The blue transfer printed wares made for the American market were a very dark indigo blue on white, unlike what the English preferred - light blue on white. 

 

Transferware remained the most popular table ware in America throughout the 1800s.  American makers also produced products, but the vast majority were made in England.  Transferware became less popular after the industrial revolution when other, cheaper, sturdier plates were made ( "flow blue", yellow ware, ironstone).

 

Today it is easy to find very pretty transferware for very little money.  I find the patterns to be fascinating - there seems to be an unlimited variety.  Researching them is easy and fun - there are lots of reference books on patterns and makers.  

 

What to look for:

 

Look for pretty patterns on clear white, without chips or cracks. .  A maker's mark is always a plus.  Crazing and crackling is not unusual, but it may make the pieces less useable.  I use my transferware all the time, even putting some pieces in the dishwasher.  I love it!

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find nice plates  and cups for as little as $25.  Larger pieces such as platters and bowls will be $50 and higher.  Don't bother looking for American marks - the are very expensive, and also relatively rare.  You might want to focus on a single pattern, but I like a variety of patterns and colors - they all look great together.

 

Redware and Stoneware

 

Working clay into pots, jugs, crocks, molds  and jars was done in all communities of any size from the 1600s on.  Redware gets its name for the distinctive color that clay with a high iron content gets when it is fired.  Much of the cream colored stoneware was finished with a salt glaze.

 

 

 

Crocks with blue cobalt decorations on them will  be pricey unless they are badly damaged.  But the plainer, utilitarian pieces without much decoration can still be found for well under $100.

 

What to look for:

 

Bean pots, plates, molds, jugs in simple forms can be found in lots of sizes, colors, glazes and styles.  Incised decorative lines are a plus.  Try to find pieces without chips or cracks.  Ovoid shaped jugs are earlier than straight sided jugs, and therefore more costly. 

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find nice, useable pieces for between $50-$100.  I use the bean pots as planters for house plants, jars for flowers, plates for display of stone fruit.  The mellow colors and very pleasing and really enhance an early house.

 

Blown and Molded Glass

 

Glassblowing is an ancient art and was done in the colonies early on.  While early blown glass objects and not easy to find because of their fragile nature, it is still possible to buy antique glass pieces without stressing your wallet.

Molded glass, where the glass object was formed in a mold, not free blown, began in the early part of the 19th century.  All kinds of glass objects were produced for the household and for manufacturers of all kinds of wares: bottles, decanters, dishware, oil lamps, flasks, medicine bottles, etc. 

 

 Blown glass jars and bottles have no seam and they usually have a pronounced pontil mark on the bottom - where the object was broken off the pontil at the end of the process of making it.  Molded glass has a visible seam and no pontil mark.

 

What you should look for:

 

Molded bottles and inkwells are interesting and collectible, and often come in lovely colors.  Hand blown bottles are harder to find and are usually more costly.   Look for items with no cracks or chips.  Blown glass often has bubbles and ripples in it that enhance its look and value.

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find small bottles and inkwells for under $40.  Blown bottles will be closer to $100 and can go much higher.  

 

 

Leather Books

 

I love the look of old, worn leather covered books!  You can just imagine how someone loved the book by the evidence of its use, the names signed in the overleaf, the bookmarks.  

 

One of the great things about an old book is that you can usually tell exactly how old it is because it has a date, and often you can tell who owned it by the names written in it. 

Books were prized possessions in the 18th and 19th centuries.  If a household had a book it was probably a Bible.  Little tiny ones were meant to be carried to church.  

 

What to look for:

 

I think any old leather book is worth having!  It's best if the bindings are in tact, and the wear not so bad that it's falling apart.  Missing and torn pages detract.  The tiny, fat ones are the hardest to find and the most expensive.  

 

Look for early dates - the earlier the better.  Look for American publications.  I like the simplest books the best - without a lot of fancy gold work, but that's just a matter of taste.

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find nice early leather books for as little as $35.  Tiny bibles and hymnals in good condition are usually over $100.  A variety of sizes and shapes look great together. 

 

 

Textiles

 

Homespun fabrics, samplers, quilts, pincushions, towels, blankets made by hand, woven at home, are wonderful accessories for your early house.

 

While it's hard to find a whole blanket, quilt or sampler for under $100, you can find great early fabrics, pieces of fabric, and small objects like bonnets, aprons, socks, gloves, and towels for well under that.

 

 What to look for:

 

Uneven weave, hand sewn edges, plant dyed colors, hand embroidery.  Remnants of quilts and coverlets make great pillows or table runners.  Look for pieces without holes - although wool usually has a few moth holes - and fabrics that are clean or can be cleaned without ruining them.  

 

Look for hand stitching - the treadle machine came into use in the late 1800s and replaced a lot of hand work.  Treadle machine stitching is less even and regular than electric powered sewing machines of the 20th century, and is a mark of a 19th century fabric.  Look for the muted, soft colors produced by natural dyes.

 

What you should pay:

 

Scraps of good fabrics can be found for very little.  Embroidered towels and cloths can be found for under $50.  Bonnets in homespun fabrics are often $60-$90.  

 

Early Iron

 

Settlers relied on the blacksmith for many of their everyday tools and implements.  Cooking pots, fireplace cranes, hooks, trammels, forks, trivets, hinges, locks and lighting pieces were necessary for living.  Hand forged iron pieces are durable and many are available today for not much money

 

What to look for:

 

Hand forged iron tends to be unique to the maker.  Look for interesting shapes, uneven turns, asymmetrical forms.  Old iron does not show orange rust - rust is much darker.  It tends to have a smooth touch.  Cooking implements look great hung by a mantle.  Old latches, hooks and hinges can add character to doors and beams.  An iron trivet is useful on any table.  Iron pots, when well seasoned are the best cooking pots!

 

What you should pay:

 

You can find hooks for $10 and up, latches and hinges for $35 and up, spatulas, scrapers and small pots for $50 and up.  Other small pieces like tongs and trivets can be found for well under $100.  

 

There are other very collectible country antiques that can be had for under $100 that I haven't mentioned - stone fruit ( although it is 20th century and Italian!), brass beehive candlesticks - almost always English, some toys - clay marbles come to mind, blue and white sponge ware - a favorite of mine, and lots of other good early things that we may stumble across.  The categories I've highlighted are available today and can be found if you look hard enough and in the right places.  Happy hunting!

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