I collect exclusively German toys (as really the Germans did them best), but I found this complete set of blocks -- made in the USA -- and couldn't resist. They come in their original wooden box, with sliding lid, which is your first clue as to age.
These blocks were made as an educational toy to help children learn their alphabet and learn to read. One side of each block has a black and white paper lithograph attached showing a word and picture describing the word using common items from the time in which they lived . . . ferry boat, stable, ice cart, page, omnibus, cooper, log cabin, etc. What would we put on blocks today . . . yacht, garage, ice machine? These pictures are a wonderful clue to determine age of the set of blocks.
The other sides of the blocks are painted in white or red background with either numbers, Roman numerals or letters of the alphabet under which is written a simple word beginning with the corresponding letter . . . such as S is for "sin." Today it could be S is for "shutdown" or S is for "sequester"!
The blocks were made ca. 1850s by Hill's who were the first American manufacturer to produce blocks in mass quantity.
An offshoot of collecting early toys from the Thuringian and Erzgebirge regions of Germany are these wonderful handpainted boxes, ca. 1840s-1850s, which were made in the Sonneberg area of Thuringia. The consistent theme of these boxes are the landscape of primitive houses and trees.
One page of our book, Early Toys/Frühes Spielzeug, is devoted to picturing these wooden pine boxes. Early Musterbücher/sample books of the 1850s that were used to sell the toys of that day also included colored sketches of these boxes for sale scattered throughout the sample books.
As you might expect, they aren't easy to find. Surprisingly, they may even be relatively "easier" to find in the US than in Germany, as so many German immigrants to the United States brought them along packed with keepsakes from their homeland on their long journey to America. I recently found this beautiful box in Michigan at a sale. American collectors would call it a Bride's Box; Germans call them Spanschachteln because of the way they are constructed. This beauty is 17 inches long with bright original polychrome paint. The painting of primitive houses and trees is repeated and encircles the entire bottom of the box.
What I found particularly interesting was the sentence handpainted on the lid in old German script: "Rettig zwiebel und Sollad, Ist gut Essen fruh und spat." (Radishes, onions and salad is good eating early and late.) Several of the words are no longer spelled in German as they are on the lid (i.e., "Rettig" is now "Rettich) confirming just how early the box is, as the spelling of many German words changed over the years. The woman in early dress with a basket of vegetables is particularly beautiful.
Many of the boxes were made with domed lids. I'm now on the lookout for one with a sliding lid, which I don't have as yet
On the top of this box a red fox flies over the buildings and trees . . . making absolutely no sense, but is exactly why everyone finds these early pieces so charming!
How excited I was to have found this little watercolor in Germany of the same landscape painted on the boxes. I happened to have an old frame to fit it perfectly. I knew immediately it had to have been painted in the Sonneberg area of Germany, no doubt by someone who also earned their living painting these wonderful little boxes!
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.