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Toy Caster Set Research by Gail Ryan (Post 2009, 06-19.1) NBMOG member Gail Ryan, enthusiastic collector of glass toys and editor of Tiny Times: The Quarterly Newsletter of TLC - Treasures for Little Children, submits the following information and photographs relating to her research on the subject of toy caster sets.
In the world of glass toy collecting, caster sets have always been held in high regard. They are attractive forms, enchanting in their miniaturized complexity, and generally consist of a metal stand with from two to five glass bottles. The smallest (see illustration below) can measure less then 2 1/2" in height! Most grown-up versions were intended to hold oil, vinegar, mustard and pepper at the kitchen or dining table. Surprisingly - given the presence of the pepper bottles - salt bottles were not typically included as part of the sets. Collector's literature records the toy versions in a number of different bottle and stand designs. Eight examples are illustrated in the two-volume Patterns and Pinafores: Pressed Glass Toy Dishes by Marion T. Hartung and Ione E. Hinshaw (Desmoines, IA: Wallace-Homestead Co., 1971). Seven sets are illustrated in Children's Glass Dishes by Doris Lechler and Virginia O'Neill (NY: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1976), ten are shown in Children's Glass Dishes, China and Furniture by Doris Lechler (Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1983), and nine each are shown in Children's Dishes by Margaret & Kenn Whitmyer (Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1984), and Toy Glass by Lechler (Marietta, OH: Antique Publications, 1989). The same pattern bottle sometimes can be found with a variety of stand designs, and previously undocumented examples of both stands and bottles still turn up on rare occasion (see example to left).
Toy caster sets can be divided into four size categories. The smallest are the miniatures, intended for doll houses or play with dolls. Many collectors consider miniatures to be a distinct and separate category of collectible. From left to right those illustrated below measure 3 1/4", 3 1/4", 3 3/4" and 2 1/4" in height.
Two particularly exciting toy caster sets from the Ryan Collection are shown below. Designated by Ms. Ryan as "Teardrop Crossbar" (left) and "Figure 8" (right) on the basis of their handle shapes, these designs have never been illustrated in any book on the subject!
Only one other Sherwood box is currently known. It is illustrated on page 47 of Doris Lechler's Children's Glass Dishes, China and Furniture. Unlike the Barlow/Kaiser and Ryan boxes, this example holds a set featuring four bottles. The printed text reads "SHERWOOD'S PATENT TOY Caster. / Four Bottles." Also unlike the Barlow/Kaiser and Ryan boxes, the engraved image on the box shows the Sandwich panel-design bottles rather than the smooth-sided design described by collectors as "Sherwood" (see illustrations below). Invariably when the stand turns up, however, it holds the palin bottles.
(right and above right) Toy Caster Set With "Sherwood's" Box Bottles by B&SGCo Sandwich, MA c.1870-1897 Box: 5 1/2" H. x 3 3/4" L. x 1 3/4" W. Ryan Collection
(right) Toy Caster
Sets in 3 Sizes American, c. 1870-1910 H (from left to right): 6 1/4", 7 3/4", 9 1/2" Ryan Collection
(above) Patent Mark "May 22, 1877" stamped into the base of the caster set illustrated lower far right
(right) Sherwood 4-Bottle Set with Original Box from Children's Glass Dishes, China and Furniture by Doris Anderson Lechler (1983)
Sandwich "Sherwood" Bottle Design from the set shown to right OH: 3 3/4"
Sandwich 9-Panel Bottle Design OH: 3 3/4"
Sandwich Single Ribbon Band Bottle Design OH: 4 3/4"
Toy Caster Set Bottle and stand designs not previously recorded in any book on the subject American, c. 1870-1910 OH: 9 1/4" H (cruet bottle): 5" Ryan Collection
Although many of the toy caster set designs published over the years are represented in the Ryan Collection, one particularly important design has proven illusive. This is the marked "Centennial" caster set. The embossed mark appears at the top of the metal handle and reads, variously, "Centennial / 1876," "Centennial Caster 1776-1876" or "1776 / Centennial / 1876." The handles can be teardrop shaped, round or scrolled, and some feature an eagle or star motif. Three different examples are discussed in the Hobbies Magazine "American Historical Glass" series by Mary and Bill Wollett (September 1972, p. 99, December 1984, p. 31 and August 1985, p. 27). Others are illustrated in the Lechler and Whitmyer books. Ms. Ryan notes that the American Shield bottle design is believed to be correct for the Centennial stands, and that it is found in two different sizes (9 1/2" stand with 5" high cruets, and 6 3/4" stand with 3 3/4" high cruets). She further notes that of all the toy caster bottles known, the American Shield bottle is the only one to have been found in color... cobalt!
Two sets from the Ryan Collection shown below, while not marked "Centennial," do feature American Shield bottles. The triangle filigree metal holder to the left is previously unrecorded. The example to the right has a metal holder stamped with the patent date "May 22, 1877" near its bottom rim (see illustration to left; click Patent to see a full copy of the patent text and drawing). Ms. Ryan tracked down the patent through the U.S. Patent Office and discovered that it describes the design of stands with perforated bases. Entitled simply "Design for Casters," patent number 10,008 was issued to August H. Wirz of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia location is potentially significant, since many Centennial glass items were manufactured by Gillinder & Sons of Philadelphia. The company actually erected and operated a small glass factory on the fairgrounds of the Centennial Exhibition, which was held in Philadelphia in 1876 and attracted more than eight million visitors to the city. It should be noted, however, that Gillinder was by no means the only company to produce glassware celebrating the American Centennial. We will examine the subject of Centennial caster sets in greater detail in a later Forum post.
Of all the various bottle designs found with toy caster sets, only three have been firmly attributed to a specific glass company. As luck would have it for toy collectors, that company is the highly esteemed Boston & Sandwich Glass Company of Sandwich, MA. Digging at the factory site, authors Raymond Barlow and Joan Kaiser excavated shards of bottles in the 9-Panel, Single Ribbon Band and Sherwood designs (see illustrations to left and lower left). These mold-blown designs were attributed for the first time in the authors' book The Glass Industry in Sandwich,Vol. 3 (West Chester, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1987). The authors note that the bottles can be found in both lead and non-lead glass. For this reason they speculate that production began about 1870 (when lead glass formulae were more or less exclusively used in Sandwich), and extended beyond the 1888 closing of the original Boston & Sandwich Glass Company to the period of heightened non-lead (soda-lime-silica) glass production by the company's successor firms. They give this production a terminal date of 1897, in which year glassmaking operations ceased at the second Boston & Sandwich Glass Company (B&SGCo II, see Barlow/Kaiser, vol. 4, pp. 82-83).
One of the three Sandwich bottle designs documented in the Barlow/Kaiser book (Vol. 3, #3356, p. 227) is illustrated as part of a set that retains its original merchandising box! This represents a rare and exciting find. The box features an engraved image of the set together with the printed text "SHERWOOD'S SQUARE TOY Caster No. 3 PATENTED." Sherwood manufactured the metal stand for the set and ordered its bottles from Sandwich and possibly other glass manufacturers. Collectors now describe the bottles from this celebrated set as being in the "Sherwood" design.
Very few original boxes survive. One from the Ryan Collection (see illustrations below) is almost identical to the Barlow/Kaiser example. Above the word "SHERWOOD'S," however, it features a fancy initial "S" incorporating the words "SHERWOOD'S STANDARD WHITE LUSTRAL WIRE WARE." The Ryan caster set bottles appear to be identical to those from the Barlow/Kaiser set, except that the mustard bottle has a metal rather than a glass cover. Both are considered correct.
Ms. Ryan provides the following commentary on the miniature sets from her collection shown above: "Three of the four sets can be found on page 103 of the Collector's Encyclopedia of Children's Dishes. Authors Margaret & Kenn Whitmyer illustrate the tiny set with the blown bottles appearing to the far left, but the finial/handle of their example is missing. My two (far left and second from left) have their distinctive finials. On the same page the Whitmyers also illustrate an example of the tiny three-piece set (appearing to the far right above) with the checkerboard texture bottles, but the center bottle is missing. My photograph shows this bottle. The remaining set in the group above (second from the right) is previously undocumented. It features a filigree design and holds three tall blown bottles with their original stoppers. The same bottles are illustrated in a different stand on page 130 of Lechler's Toy Glass book."
After miniatures, the sizes proceed from small (about 6 1/4" high), to standard (about 7 3/4" high), to "juvenile" (about 9 1/2" high). Some question exists, however, whether or not the so-called "juvenile size" (a collector designation) might actually have been used for food service at the table. Examples of the three sizes from the Ryan Collection are shown below. Adult size casters, by contrast, typically measure about 14 1/2" high, with cruet bottles measuring about 8" high.
Much remains to be learned about these delightful toys, and we invite you to join the voyage of discovery. If you are aware of any unusual toy caster set designs, please bring them to our attention at firstname.lastname@example.org or (tel.) 508-984-1666. In particular, we are looking for illustrations of all the marked "Centennial" stand variants. Those we find will appear in a following Forum post. Also scheduled for a following post is a short history of the Sherwood factory currently being developed by Ms. Ryan. She has tracked down several Sherwood patents relating to the production of the caster sets. You'll see them soon!
(right) Toy Caster Set Previously unrecorded stand by unknown maker American Shield bottles pos. by Gillinder & Sons, Philadelphia, c. 1876 H (stand): 6 3/4" H (cruet bottle): 3 3/4" Ryan Collection
(far right) Toy Caster Set Stand with "May 22, 1877" patent mark American Shield bottles pos. by Gillinder & Sons, Philadelphia, c. 1877 H (stand): 9 1/2" H (cruet bottle): 5" Ryan Collection
(right) Toy Caster Set Previously unrecorded stand by unknown maker, c. 1870-1910 Double Ribbon Band bottle design H (stand): 7 1/8" H (cruet bottle): 4" Ryan Collection
(far right) Toy Caster Set Previously unrecorded stand by unknown maker, c. 1870-1910 Double Ribbon Band bottle design H (stand): 6" H (cruet bottle): 4" Ryan Collection