December 1, 2010

Game Boards

Games such as checkers and backgammon provided endless hours of recreation for early Americans, both at home and in taverns. Today their artistic, brightly colored boards still grace many walls as decorations, thanks to the efforts of traditional craftspeople. This article includes a history of game boards, the reasons for their popularity with our ancestors, and interviews with some of the leading creators of reproduction boards.

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November 1, 2010

Antique Christmas

Beth Karp and her husband Jay literally fill their Cincinnati home each Christmas with an astounding collection of seasonal ornaments and decorations, many of them rare. Beth has alternated between collecting Christmas and collecting antique dolls, and each year features arrangements where they all complement each other in a joyous manner.

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August 1, 2010

Walking Sticks

No personal accessory in human history has a more diverse heritage than the walking stick, and it was great fun for me to trace the evolution of the cane and especially its varied presence in early America. An astounding array of folk-art canes ~ as well as their more formal counterparts ~ from that era are highly collectible and today can fetch several thousands of dollars.

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June 1, 2010

Early Personal Lighting

America's colonists carried a variety of personal light fixtures, such as lanterns, chambersticks, and even pocket-size candleholders, sometimes regarded today as "colonial flashlights." A select few of today's most skilled tinsmiths and blacksmiths continue to reproduce these items, mostly to satisfy demand from the growing numbers of Revolutionary-era and Civil War re-enactors. This article explains the history of these lighting devices, plus I talked with several of the leading artisans who are still making them in the traditional ways.

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May 1, 2010

Milliner's Models

It turns out this charming, early-1800s German doll so popular in Europe and America was not at all a model for displaying milliners' offerings, but always was as originally intended ~ a true doll for play. This article dispels the myths surrounding the "varnished head" doll that remains so popular today with doll collectors around the world.

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April 1, 2010

Windsor Settees

Settees were a natural extension of the popular American Windsor chair in the early 1800s, but furniture makers quickly found that the settee presented a number of major challenges to build. This article explores the evolution of the Windsor settee and explains how several of today's finest Windsor artisans are producing settees of exceptional quality and durability.

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The Chopping Bee

Clearing the land was the most daunting task early Americans confronted. A single man could clear less than a hundred acres in a lifetime, so people frequently banded together for "chopping bees." In this short article I tell about these events, including their dangers and some of the spectacular ways our ancestors met the challenge.

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Spring Cleaning

Each spring, people in early America scrubbed themselves and their households clean of months of filth that had accumulated to a degree shocking to our modern sensibilities. Not only did I describe the winter and spring household habits of the era to explain the importance of the annual cleansing ritual, but also accumulated some fascinating demographics for the article regarding living conditions in the first two centuries of European settlement in the New World.

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February 1, 2010

Burl Treen

America's earliest European settlers were astounded at the exquisite beauty of Native American woodware carved from burl and quickly set out to replicate it. Since the 17th Century, burl treen has remained a highly prized form of American woodware. This article traces the origins of burl treen, featuring the research of New York antiques dealer Stephen Powers as well as the work of a modern master of burl treen, Michael Combs of Indiana.

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Colonial Reading

Despite the hardships of living in the wilderness, America's earliest colonists were avid readers, eventually achieving a literacy rate that surpassed that of England. In this article I explore the growth of reading in the colonies, what types of books the colonists read, and the impact on early American society. (This article first appeared under one of my pseudonyms.)

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