A collection has to begin somewhere, and this one is my first. I wasn't intending to collect more; it just happened. I don't get excited over porcelain figurines or knick knacks, but the Germans have a way to turn everyday kitchen objects into something whimsical and fun -- never meant for actual use, of course -- and my collection slowly grew as I happened upon them. As far as I know, no one is able to attribute them to a particular porcelain factory as they are not marked (there were over 200 at the turn of the century in the Thuringian region of Germany) and probably several of the factories had a hand in creating these fanciful ladies, all holding some item which doubles as the spout. The heads (lids) are removable. This is called "Benzin Frau," or Gasoline Woman, all decked out with goggles, scarf and fur coat.
This pair of Vegetable Ladies were made from the same mold and topped off with different heads. Painting one dress blue and another pink differentiates them even further. The spout on both is a large cucumber. One frequently finds rhymes about the virtues of staying away from alcohol stenciled on their aprons. Written in old German script, it is an indication of an early piece.
In this unusual example, the lady is wearing pants (unheard of in those days). On her purse the words "Hosen Kavalier" are inscribed, Hosen being the German word for pants. This is obviously done tongue in cheek making a reference to the German comic opera by Richard Strauss, "Rosen (roses) Kavalier." The sculptor did not forget to include the roses, however. Notice her hat. Again, her scarf encirles her and is used as a handle.
Kitchen antiques are my weakness, and German spice chests are my favorite! This example is the star of my collection and probably one-of-a-kind. It is ca. 1880 and combines lovely ivory carving with the wooden frame, which I think is possibly made of rosewood.
Note the carved snake which flanks both the left and right of the center medallion on the top and the lovely bouquet of flowers. A portion of one label can be seen. Labels have been made to look like banners with the names of the spices etched into the banners. Each drawer also has an ivory knob. A wonderful example of German folk art.
Drawers are also divided by ivory strips and lovely ivory columns finish off the sides. Here you can see a closeup of the extremely tiny nails used to attach the ivory trim and embellishments. The closeup photo makes the nails appear much larger than they really are.
Here is a classic early spice chest of fruitwood with labels and knobs in blue and white porcelain. Layout of the drawers on German spice chests is virtually always the same (although the names of the spices can vary) with two columns of drawers and a long drawer at the bottom for bay leaves.
Pictured is a rare 1800s tin spice box painted in Bierlasur, which is a grain painting technique, done in mustard yellow.
The spice box opens to reveal a circle of tin cannisters with clear glass lids. The original grater is fashioned in a long oval shape to fit perfectly in the center, along with the original spoon for dipping the spices. This was purchased in Germany, and I brought it home with me last week in my luggage. Many of the spice containers were still full of the original spices. I decided to empty them before flying, as the dogs at Customs Stateside might zero in on my suitcase with the heavy scent of spices and I would have been sent straight to Agricultural for inspection, which would not have been pretty. I could envision them confiscating the spice box, so I opted to toss the spices.
This is an 1880s wooden spice box made for the tourist market as it has scenes of Coburg as decorations all over the box.
A look inside reveals individual wooden containers with spice names written in old German script.
My apologies for the delay in my posting of Antique of the Week. Work pressures and then a recent trip to Germany and Belgium left time for little else. Now that I'm back and my body clock is slowly becoming adjusted to my time zone, I hope to have regular posts again!
Welcome to Living Tastefully’s “Antique of the Week” page. Our love of antiques is reflected in every aspect of our everyday lives. We are passionate about collecting and also love functional antiques that can actually be used and not only admired. Hopefully we can inspire you to incorporate antiques in your home and your life to add charm and beauty to your surroundings.