The love of adornment of one’s self and the house has led to many sins, not the least of which is the bric-a-brac habit. The instinct is inherent, from the love of the savage for his war paint and feathers to that of the woman who indulges in “drapes” and Dresden shepherdesses in a vain effort to fulfill its demands.
At its best, cultivated, restrained, and trained in the ”tact of omission,” it becomes a true appreciation of the beautiful and makes our homes an expression of the best in us, artistically and practically. Bric-a-brac comes under even greater restrictions and more stringent artistic rules than furniture simply because it belongs to that list of household furnishings that, if need be, we can do without to a large extent.
We must have chairs and tables, but the only excuse for existence that bric-a-brac may claim is that of true beauty or, preferably, usefulness combined with beauty.
Lamps and Shades:
The arts and crafts movement is assisting materially in making the necessary articles beautiful — our lamps and candlesticks, clocks, fire irons, and even the gas and electric light fixtures formerly so much of an eyesore.
Instead of the hand-painted porcelain bowls or the elaborate gilt and onyx standards of the lamps of a few years ago and today as well, if we yield to the doubtful attractions of the department stores, we have bowls of hand-wrought copper and brass, and pottery in rich tones and glazes, either Japanese or some of the products of the American potter’s art.
Although not excessively so, some of the more expensive lamps have a bowl of Damascus finely wrought brass with shades of iridescent glass in harmonious tones (the ambers and greens are the most artistic) or of cut brass interlined with a color. Still more expensive but extremely artistic are those in green bronze.
Those of Benares brass or Japanese or American pottery are the most practical for a moderate price. Standards in dull green with an opaque green shade are very satisfactory.
Others in the soft grays and blues of the Copenhagen ware, the equally soft greens and browns of the Bigot, or the combined greens and blues of the Japanese, are very artistic, especially when combined with the shades of opalescent glass, either plain or mosaic. The Japanese shades of bamboo and paper are extremely effective if they are good, but the blatant American edition of these shades is inexpressible in their horror.
The iridescent glass shades come either in simple shaded glass or in designs adapted from the forms and colors of nature. Those in mosaics also come in richly blended flower tones. These flower forms and colors are also adapted to the small globes for electric lights and gas. Some never-to-be-forgotten sconces of green bronze have small globes of deep burnt orange modeled upon the graceful lines of the tulip.
The fleur-de-lis, with its rich purples and greens, makes a wonderfully beautiful motive for a mosaic shade.
These homelier articles are hardly fitted to take their places in our libraries and drawing rooms, but we cherish the candlesticks and fire dogs of all shapes and sizes tenderly. The brass varies greatly in quality and color but is usually very good. The shapes are many, with the appropriate names given them largely by collectors of recent years but possibly often by the settlers themselves.
We have ”the parlor,” ‘The cottage,” “the Greek urn,” ”the eight-sided,” “the melon,” and the favorite “Colonial,” so named be- cause it is often seen in pictures representing notable historical events of Revolutionary days.
A marked characteristic of these candlesticks is the arrangement at the bottom for pushing up the candle as fast as it was used so that the last precious bit of fat, prepared with so much pain and labor, might not be wasted.
In others, the stick can be raised or lowered to accommodate the reader, a need which we can easily appreciate considering the dimness of the Hight even at its best.
One interesting specimen has a hook attached to one side so that it may be hung on one of the slats in the back of the reader’s chair or upon a hook in the wall to accommodate the housewife in her duties.
The bedroom candlesticks, supposedly pure Dutch, with the large saucer and low shaft, usually have a small knob in the stick to push up the candle and are accompanied by snuffers and tray, often elaborately chased (Fig. 4). The small, conical extinguisher is sometimes, though not always, present. Many of those of the pure Dutch type has a long, flat handle instead of the small, round handle so often seen.
A little later than the candlestick appeared the first sperm-oil lamps, some of them shaped like the bedroom candlesticks but with a cylinder at the top for the oil and two small tubes from which coarse wicks protrude.
These lamps are rare, as are the Betty lamps, shallow receptacles shaped like the antique Roman lamps, two or three inches in diameter, and an inch in depth, either rectangular, triangular, or oval in shape. These were supplied with a chain or hook so that they could be hung on the back of a chair or on the wall.
The wick hung from the nose. The Phoebe lamps were similar but often with two noses. These are very quaint but very difficult to find. Fenders and Fire-Sets. The brass fire dogs used in the “best room” (those in the kitchen were generally of iron) were the pride and delight of the housewife. There were often two pairs in the same fireplace, one tall pair in front and the other lower pair in the rear, called ‘ ‘ the creepers. ”
The best-known design was the large ball, one variety of which is known as the New Hampshire. Queen Anne is shaped like a double acorn. The steeple pattern explains itself, and so does the ”urn.” The simplest pattern is that which is turned from the base up, increasing in circumference at the top until it resembles the globe design. With the andirons come the fire sets — shovel, poker, tongs, sometimes a brush — repeating the design of the andirons.
The holders of the fire sets and the fenders are either of a solid piece of sheet brass cut in beautiful floral or geometrical designs, and often standing quite high, or of turned pieces surmounted by knobs, also corresponding in design with the andirons. Stands for fire sets are seen in which the different pieces are hung on hooks attached to the circular arms of the stand.
Warming-Pans and Chafing Dishes:
Among the interesting pieces which used to add to the shining array of disks about the kitchen fire are the warming pans with their long wooden handles and gleaming brass covers. These were filled with hot coals and rubbed quickly between the sheets on a cold night. Chafing dishes of brass were used to keep food hot on the table, just as today.
There are fascinating old cut-brass lanterns and foot warmers, and the daughter of a sea captain cherishes a large brass-speaking trumpet beautifully chased. A brass eagle taken from the tall cap of an officer in the War of 1812 is another heirloom. Knockers and Latches Brass knockers and latches are often very elaborate and beautiful. All the ornament of the old Colonial houses was concentrated on and around the doors.
The doorways were often beautifully carved, and the lines extremely graceful or severely classical in motive. The gleaming brass knocker was the crowning touch. The knockers in the shape of a ring are supposed to have been used originally to draw the door. One unique and extremely beautiful design consists of a spread eagle on the knocker, falling upon an exquisitely wrought acanthus leaf.
The gleaming brass surrounds the traveler in Holland, its luster always at its height through the tireless efforts of the Dutch housewife. The dog cart with its burden of shining milk cans is to be seen on all sides. The peasant woman seated beneath her white umbrella in the marketplace has her shining coffee or teapot by her side. Kettles, tea- jugs, tankards, coffee pots, chafing dishes, and candlesticks, sometimes elaborately chased, are hand-wrought and often modeled after those seen in the paintings of Van Eyck and Memling.