Friday, December 11, 2009

Tale of the Kennebec, a Rare Maine Book

Lurking behind the lurid front wrapper cover graphics, alluded to by only one word on the title page and further hidden from a knowing eye by a “DIME NOVEL” pedigree is a… remarkably scarce and obscure Kennebec River, Maine, 1756 set, Seven Years War (Colonial French and Indian War 1754-1763) “ten cent novel” that is generally unknown to Maine rare book enthusiasts…but should be.
THE DARING BACKWOODSMAN, MUNRO’S TEN CENT NOVELS, No. 67, George Munro & Co., New York, 1865-1866, may be easily traced to Mr. Munro’s partnership and independent break with his former employer/partners, the Beadles, to become, with them. the top producers of the “dime novel” …genre. Genre it be for today, a century after collector attention was first remunerated and 150 years after the publishing style’s innovation, the WHOLE block of dime novels languishes within a… closed door collector-only… advanced collector valuation critique (cash and literary, in that order) with …an occasional scholar discovering “one” “of particular interest” to THEIR… particular interest. We are a close ratio to that here except that the Maine rare book interest reaches well beyond the state border AND… Maine is in very short supply of actual old rare books that touch the subject of Maine and the colonial wars… particularly in a NON-scholarly way. Here we find that critter.
CHEAP writing printed on CHEAP paper making a CHEAP production of a pamphlet “throw away” style book that is called a “novel” but is more accurately a story with a highly stylized frontiersman woodcut on the outer front wrapper and again appearing as a frontis to tempt the ten cent BUYER who will READ… this “trash”. Dismissed as trash… such writing cannot be accepted in… accepted… literary circles and must be read in… secret. This sort of book was read in secret over and over and over again until pamphlet fell apart. Why? Because readers liked the trashy story.
But… that cheap hack writing… when critiqued TODAY will be discovered to be just worded historically correct enough to catch a Maine rare book collector’s attention AND suggest very strongly that the author; “J. Springer” was very familiar and informed in Maine history himself at the 1865 date. Who the author was we do not know. THAT the book has “KENNEBEC” in it’s “THE DARING BACKWOODSMAN. A TALE OF THE KENNEBEC” title grabs the Maine history sleuth’s eye. That single word is very promptly followed by three opening pages setting the scene as… on the river below Fort Halifax and above Fort Western, “in the summer of 1756” with pioneer farmers, fur traders and Norridgewocks Indians AND… having that setting salt & peppered with Maine history words like “Father Rasle. Woolrich, Cushnoc and even “Bishop Burgess” from Gardener.
The story is in the shadow of James Fenimore Cooper and close to the Green Mountain writer D. P. Thompson… and all the better for it. The author wraps his Indian raid - pioneer cabin burning plausibility with name drop style historical fact. JUST enough name drop allusion to create the illusion that “this really happened”. A little check-it-out will find no identical Indian raid there-then BUT it will find numerous there-then at the 1750’s dates with the same number of Indians raiding the same sort of pioneer farms including the details of cabin burning and… even Indian ambushes at the prominent point on the river between the two forts. Although the story is a spun yarn, the spun of that yarn …has it’s history well tended.
The devil is NOT in the detail but just the opposite. The supreme specimen of this type of Americana gone to full glory is the 1830’s DAVY CROCKETT ALMANCS, wherein lurid woodcuts and spun yarn reign supreme and …historical facts must be hunted like kernels of dried Indian corn on a forest floor. THAT rare book is Grolier 100 Americana (#39) and THIS rare books is Maine's own match to it. To Cooper. To Thompson. To the …true portrayal… of Maine’s Seven Years War.
Sappy details that must be noted include: A romance that is… pleasingly… forced to cut to the chase because the book … is not very long. A horse-in-the-Maine-woods usage issue that the author repeatedly addresses. A pioneer hiding hole under the cabin that equals and emulates the hiding secrets used by the other pioneer writers we have named. Abundant boy - man - Indian loyalty, language and fighting …to the death …that includes a single mercy shot to “finish off’ and a pretty descriptive & nasty knife fight. Before the reader knows it the story is over. It is painless to read and is put-a-smile-on… tidy.
The throwaway pamphlet novel… is, again, a MAINE …French and Indian War… historical saga… found in a splendid ephemeral format designed to be read by Maine farm boys in their Maine farm bedroom when “no one knows”. But it does, effortlessly, include Maine historical clarity. Even the woodcut holds to …Maine historical clarity. Look at the backwoodsman's weapon. It’s an early French and Indian War period halberd… the type that makes one quiver to see when shown in historical excavation reports and …similar to museum specimens "found in Maine".
In the photographs I have included I show the two copies we have in stock. The reason for this duplication is to show-off… but not clarify… edition variants. This sort of printed production often has a very varied printing history making it very hard to determine a "true first" edition (first edition, first printing). Conservatively, I cannot say that either of the photographed specimens are "first editions". What I do denote and show in the images is that… one copy (the one WITH the rear wrapper present) is printed in NY, vended by a Boston publisher, has an inner front wrapper advertisement for the very next (#68) dime novel BUT has an "1866" copyright. The second copy is printed in NY and from a NY vendor but with a later #87 very next dime novel (suggesting it's a later printing than our first) BUT has an… "1865" copyright. The two offerings become… the classic rare bookman's enigma of "what is a true first"… with a classic "go figure" answer. One would need to have a dozen copies side by side to try to sort out a "true first" …sappy detail. This first edition detail we deem "sappy" for… a true LAST detail removes all the sappy and leaves just one aspect: Try to find a copy… any copy …of this rare Maine book.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Respectable Old Fruit Jar.

Following on from the last post, my formal relationship with The Old Fruit Jar began with the discovery and sale recorded there. A quarter of a century and 1000 fruit jars later I was standing in the basement of Maine's most prominent antiquarian fruit jar vender's store viewing a DEXTER JAR with the fruit ring around it. "Oh so long ago" thoughts turned into a spur of the moment purchase of that… very fine and prefect… Dexter and two equally fine and perfect FRANKLIN DEXTER FRUIT JARS. These are the jars in the photographs. This fruit jar dealer was not always a fruit jar dealer and way, way, way back I had "bought" (purchased with my own money earned from the paper route and lawn mowing… a single bottle; a very tiny "Major's Cement" bottle, from this same dealer when he was but a… small table of "old bottles" he'd found out by the street in front of his home.
We reminisced this transaction and juxtaposed that with the tidal wave wash away of subsequent transactions that brought each of us to stand as we were then standing. I said "I will make a commemorative shrine" of the three jars in honor of the antiques trail they started me on. Then we discussed the jars, the fruit jar as itself (the object), the fruit jar collector, the state of the collecting interest and collecting market and… did not get misty eye but found real value.
The real value IS that, when overviewed, the old glass fruit jar has several tiers of "respectable". The old fruit jar is available and accessible. This is because the collector boom has long ago stabilized into a at-the-very-top rarity based… moderately small… group of advanced collectors. This small world fights it out over advanced collector rarities. THAT causes old, fine, attractive and charming truly antique fruit jars to sort of "sit there" in the market. The jar type I am noting is NOT the bottom-feeder ATLAS-BALL-LIGHTING-MASON classic yard sale and flea market jar. It's the ladder rungs of collectable above these focusing on the …middle rungs. Perfect, pretty, precious, popular, pleasing, proper and …postulating (putting themselves forward)… these particular old fruit jars be. They also …be available and do not cost very much. For the latter, for example, a DEXTER may be found "pretty and perfect" for $80-$150. The FRANKLINS: $30.-$85. with a $110. for "SUPER CRUDE" one (meaning clear aqua wobbly bubble filled old glass). The LOWER priced jars of this type have the odd market ratio of being found at the best price from the best fruit jar dealers. A chance find of an old odd jar by a general dealer will usually be priced "too much" compared to the price of the same jar in the hands of a …top fruit jar dealer… who is very, very, very, VERY familiar with what I have written. Buying fruit jars that are, to the decorative eye, the seven P's above is a sure bet if bought from a fruit jar pro.
That established, I change the subject to those P's. Simply place one's purchased jar out on display and… DONE. It will be admired. Saying that you don't know anything about it but just liked name (such as "THE QUEEN" or "THE EAGLE", for example) will defer the need to explain ANYTHING about "old glass" …and that IS the obvious positive art quality an old fruit jar purveys. Let the jar do that. Let them handle the jar. Let them unscrew the lid. Let them screw it back on. If it is an odd closure, let the viewer fuss with it to their hearts content. YOU already will have done that and know the necessity satisfaction that comes from this.. round lid on round top… skill builder. All this play will make the guest viewer all the more covetous… after the jar is set back down in it's display space. They won't forget it.
The next time YOU are THERE, THEY will… have one? This is the tiered respect blossoming. The nasty neat message is proclaimed… in clean, clean, clean antique glass. The fussbudget eye catcher is handled by the "closure" (the lid). The "obvious antique" is there and often affirmed by a clear date ("1865"). There is no mess. No large amount of space required. A clear "don't break this" message is included with no actual notice needed. And… above all… the "nice"; old fruit jars are "nice". Not pushy, not arty, not pretentious, not poison, not weird. Nice.
For the curious beyond "nice", there is the Bible of the subject: Douglas M. Leybourne, Jr. "THE COLLECTOR'S GUIDE TO OLD FRUIT JARS RED BOOK" with the latest edition having the highest number after "RED BOOK". One does not need this book nor need the most current edition to "do fruit jars" (just use your art eye). I had #1 when it came out. I use and picture #8. Trust me; the subject is covered. I show two pages listing the Dexter. One should be able to get the idea. Every fruit jar there is… is in the book. And fruit jars quickly become mind boggling in tiny print. But "NEAT!" the book is and will stand alone on one's coffee table suggesting to anyone that …you do "know" fruit jars IN ADDITION to being a book that… all will thumb through… especially if one… displays nearby… a respectable old fruit jar.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Saco River Valley

For the antiquarian and antiques hunter, the Saco River Valley is a difficult critter. It is easily identified in full length on a map. It may be reached with ease. Once reached though, it vanishes. Oh the valley is there and one is there too; in one's auto and on "The Right Road" and in the right villages with the Saco River always just "over there" and: From the very ocean tip entrance to the river at Biddleford Pool onward, inward and "up" the river to Fryeburg, North Conway and the Presidential Range of the White Mountains is a vast… modernized, commercialized, re-civil engineered and atheistically… tacky… mess… of landscape, towns, third rate shopping centers, residential development and abandoned 20th century nothings that… rarely give a hint of antiquarian anything. "Wading through" this is the best term for what the antiques hunter does. Around each bend is not a colonial cape farm homestead undisturbed but, more likely, a crummy halfway there and half empty… strip mall… plopped down right where "the cellar hole used to be" but appearing to be in a sandy soil nowhere. Side roads, pieces of old road and village centers do not hint of colonial pioneer settlement. It is only at the Fryeburg upper end that the villages begin to be villages and not small gatherings of buildings driven by at fifty-five. Lost heritage… except to the keen and trained eye… is what one finds and sees when touring the "Saco Valley Settlements".
Oddly, the weight of the lost heritage is offset by the weight of the best book on the subject: G. T. Ridlon's SACO VALLEY SETTLEMENTS AND FAMILIES. HISTORICAL, BIOGRAPHICAL, GENEALOGICAL, TRADITIONAL, AND LEGENDARY. Published by the author, Portland, ME, 1895. This bible size doorstop of a tome… 6 ½ pounds and 1250 printed pages… truly gets under the soil and into the river of the heritage of the whole valley AND may also be used a guide book for the colonial settlement of the rest of Maine (to 1790). The photographs of the book I have included with this post make the tome appear manageable. It is not. The bulk of the actual book is further bulked up by the bulk of the contents being a mind boggling weave of family names, dates and places that, unless being pursued for a one-family great, great, great grandfather's French and Indian Wars homestead family heritage… will overwhelm the reader. One will never understand the tome if one …attempts… the tome from a causal genealogical impulse. The best proof of this is that a great deal of the family data is available in modern single family name off prints taken verbatim from the book and published by the, now closed, Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vermont.
I have three copies of the whole giant book; one for sale in the rare book stock, my copy and… my grandmother's copy. She lived in Bethel, north and "up the notch" from Fryeburg. As an antiquarian there, she "HAD TO HAVE A COPY". That is where I first saw "it" or "one". She kept hers out like it was a Bible; flat on the dining room sideboard top often open to a page she was reading or examining …thereby making the appearance as if she was reading a Bible. If one looked at the page she was "on", one would see that it either related to the general history of the settlements up the valley OR the general history of the things (objects), tales or legends of the valley. THAT, as described in the title as "TRADITIONAL, LEGENDARY" is the true user value of the tome. Between and before the genealogical iota IS SCATTERED hither and thither fine antiquarian reading and antiques hunter tidbit. One would not suspect such fine scattered reading and one must "poke into" the book to discover it but once denoted, this scattered reading is found and followed with delight. A "In A Pillow Case to Dry" antidote, a "A Gineral Meetin" chapter, a "Garter-Loom" description and a "Colonial Relics" photographic illustration is what my grandmother "USED" the book for. Today this book is just as useful and… CHARMING… for the antiquarian as it was for my grandmother… and ME when I first "read it"; that is… "read around in it" like I STILL DO. The key word is charm.
Yes, yes we may all find modern expertise, clear color photography and "every fact is correct" assurance in our …a little too good "current material on the subject". THIS TOME is from the oldest era when there was no expertise and, at the 1890's date, antiquarians were "curiosity" collectors and their reference heritage just a little past the "I REMEMBER", "MY GRANDMOTHER" and …the garrets were still full of …"it". Charming for the book captures the charm of THAT view of "antiques" and never anticipates in any way the modern two lane fast lanes of "EXPERT" and "COMMERCE". Nope, old Ridlon just kept gathering hand written notes on any old Saco Valley anything he liked… for a quarter century… and then… paid to have it printed himself. Charming that is too for it leaves us with a singular reference book that DOES scratch the antiquarian's itch in a most pleasing way. It gives the Saco Valley it's heritage as if it is the music of a valley breeze.
There is no reprint of the whole book and it will never be cost effective to make one. Old copies are vended in the $250.-350. dollar range. Most people don't know the book exists and those that do are unaware that it has fine "old school" antiquarian content. The core interest in the book for the past fifty years has been it's rich genealogical lists.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pequawket or Pequauket or Piggwacket: A Rare Maine Book

Fryeburg, Maine, at the head of the Saco River Valley. but just below North Conway, New Hampshire, contributes Maine's most told tale of Maine's colonial war's Indian battles. It was the fight between a group of colonial mercenary scalp hunters from Massachusetts and the home village site of the Pequawket Native American tribe. The fight took place in 1725. It was considered inconclusive as to victor at the time with many killed and wounded on both sides. Of greater significance was that both sides were scattered and disordered in their retreat-escape flights, compounding the inconclusive perception. The short version of the long term conclusion was that the Pequawket tribe fled never to return and this battle became a… last battle …clearing the Maine frontier for settlement. This consideration is valid but the Maine settlement was confined to the coast until the 1760's. There is plenty of description of the battle via Google and I am not going to cover that.
What I am presenting in this post is my life long quest to find a Maine rare book about the battle. When the battle was fought, a few straggling survivors first emerged from the northern New England wilderness near Bradford, MA. There, Thomas Symmes first gave and then PUBLISHED (Boston, 1725, in two printings) his sermon "LOVEWELL LAMENTED" recording …the battle of Piggwacket… as narrated by the straggling survivors he interviewed. I add that several other survivors emerged from the wilderness in Maine by going down the Saco River thereby traveling a route that would soon become the classic route we traveled in our Littleton, NH post.
The Fryeburg village site, with it's stunning and abundant interval lands bordering the Saco River, promptly attracted settlers once the "Indian Menace" was confirmed as gone. By 1766 the town site of Fryeburg was parceled out and homesteads constructed. The original log cabin quickly gave way to the classic colonial cap style farm once the mills were built and the logs sawed to boards. I show an early (1860's) stereoview photograph of "Oldest house in Town, the Evans place Fryeburg Me" (in ink on the verso). At the 1766 date there were two Evans, brothers (?); John and David and they owned four or five of the original land parcels. This homestead would have been one of theirs on one of their land parcels. I don't know who or which. Although earliest settlers, there is very little mention of these Evans in the subsequent histories of Fryeburg. Usually that means a literacy problem in the family with little or no "writing down". No matter for the photograph speaks for itself showing a colonial homestead with garret spaces of the type I hunt for and relish. THIS photograph shows EXACTLY the kind of "old house" and "attic" I seek to creep.
With this age (colonial settlement) and this development (numerous homesteads just like this up and down the Saco River as far as the eye can see), Fryeburg quickly elevates in the antiquarian's mind's eye as a destination to "hunt old things". THIS fine quality is further enhanced by prosperity and literacy in the community AT THE TIME (colonial era) and STILL (today). The link pin of Fryeburg literacy is a Maine rare book.
After the original Symmes "Lovewell Lamented" a gap of printings of the narrative of the Piggwacket fight takes place. It is not until 1818 in Portland, Maine that an… obtainable… edition of the Pequawket fight is printed. Pictures of a copy of this edition follow the stereoview images. Notice the "dog eared", worn, "read to death" and hand-sewn-back-together condition of the pamphlet. Please also notice that in the second image of the title page, I have included the imprint (the name and place of the printer usually found at the bottom of the title page as found here). This is a copy I currently own and one of a half dozen I have bought and sold during my forty years as a dealer.
The word "obtainable" is used because… delightfully and astonishingly… Fryeburg, Maine had an early, pre-Maine statehood printer THERE who PRINTED. In fact, in 1799 Elijah Russel printed in Fryeburg his edition of Symmes' narrative as "THE HISTORY OF THE FIGHT OF THE INTREPID JOHN LOVELL… IN FRYEBURG" with a Fryeburg imprint. To review, a man had brought a printing press to Fryeburg, set it up in a farm homestead like the stereoview we show and there occasionally …printed… for profit. WAY out in the Maine woods… Russel printed an edition of Pequawket… in his farm house… in 1799… for his neighbors to buy and read (?). That is what he did. Find a copy?
How many copies does one think he printed? Are there copies known? Do I have or have had one? Russel couldn't have printed many copies. One hundred would have been a lot and costing him money and time. Also, the market for "a book" was skimpy in the Fryeburg area. There are copies known. Williamson, in his 1896 Bibliography of Maine notes THEN that "perfect copies of edition are very rare. No copy is known to exist which contains the title page". THAT last is a line in the Saco River sand and… MERGED with a line-in-sand review of the 1818 read-to-death copy I picture… a "RARE MAINE BOOK" we have. I have looked for a copy all my antiquarian life and have yet to ever "see one" "on the loose". I never go up the Saco River Valley or near Fryeburg without reviewing my life long hunt for this true rare Maine Book. For most of my career my contacts with other "rare Maine book" people about this book is that they "didn't know it exists" until I told them about it. A first edition either printing of Symmes' LAMENT would be worth $15000.. My Portland edition, $250-$400.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Louis Prang & Company Formulaic Corn Bundle Success

At the head of the Saco River, above Fryeburg, Maine, is North Conway, New Hampshire. Following the river is flat valley land, called "interval land" between the river and rise of the White Mountain foothills. This land goes north directly toward Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. North Conway is a village at the head of this fertile valley. The original village was reached after traveling through exceptionally picturesque farm land, among the farm buildings, along the Saco River, before the rising foothills and, seen above all of this, the White Mountains to the north. It is this last that capped the vista. This vista was well understood to be the best of picturesque at the middle fall harvest season when the corn was bundled in the fields, the leaves changing color to gold and red, the sky a crisp clear blue and the mountain tops white with their first snow. I can remember, when young, going up the valley in this fall splendor often. Today, this same valley is filled full (the whole valley is full) of large "factory outlets" and their paved parking lots. To take a photograph of this valley and the mountains… and NOT have a trace of modern man in it… is impossible… for even the reserved vista sites have …condos on the mountain sides "off in the distance".
Before this compromise of "tourist destination" decimated the farm land, all viewers were awed by the harvest beauty. Benjamin Bellows Grant Stone ("B. B. G. Stone"), a Hudson River School White Mountain region artist painted an autumn scene of this harvest beauty near North Conway. In 1867 he sold the painting to the very popular Louis Prang & Co. (Boston) who used a very exacting high quality process to construct superior chromolithographic prints that included superb color overprinting and even an impressed texture to their stiff paper boards to simulate canvas. Stone sold his painting for $50.00. In 1869 Prang published their chromolithograph version titled "HARVEST NORTH CONWAY, WHITE MOUNTAINS" "after B. B. G. Stone" and sold $21,000. worth (at $5.00 a copy, framed) in the first year. If not a legendary "most popular chromo ever published", it certainly was Prang's most profitable. The company sold the original canvas for $125.00 in 1879 and… it has never been found again.
I picture an actual 1869-1870 print still in it's original gold gilt frame. This frame is actually just the original frame liner and would have had a Victorian style walnut outer frame. I show the whole print in the liner (under it's original glass, as issued), the farm scene with the mountains in the back ground, a close up of the corn bundles -formulaic in style-, the Prang title label on the back and the "LIST OF PRANG'S CHROMOS, SEPTEMBER 1, 1870" label too. In this label, in the detail photograph, one may note the Stone "HARVEST" chromo listed at the top of the right column.
The Stone view did not stop here. So popular was this Prang chromo, two prominent secondary productions resulted. First, one may find MANY amateur copies …usually oil paint on stiff artist board… of the Prang version. MANY. Once one's eye knows to denote… denote them it will. They range from $10.00 to about $350. for a "good one". Second, other print makers… well into the 20th century… copied the Prang chromo in various ways and styles. I picture a contemporary 1870 "just down the street" Haskell & Allen, Boston, hand colored stone lithograph knock-off. Prang's success probably drove them wild and they got their own version before the public as fast as they could. As most viewers do not know this scene, it's location and it's heritage, the Haskell & Allen knock-off can be found very cheap ($20.00 - $65.00) with vigilance. An actual Prang may slip by too; in original frame with the labels, et al, as low as $50. but no surprise to see it tagged $350.00. Don't buy one that lacks the wonderful labels.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Littleton, New Hampshire Antiques Hunter's Lunch

Last week we had to return to a rural farm near Littleton, NH to purchase a truck load from a whole estate of antiques that we had offered on over two years ago. We had offered on the whole estate … by each single item… recorded… with our offer. The heirs had finally decided to retain the estate property but to sell "a few things" "to cover expenses" (read property taxes) and "would probably do the same for the next few years". "Fine".
Leaving before light we drove northwest from coastal Maine; up the Saco River Valley to Fryeburg (route 113), on to North Conway, up Crawford Notch through the White Mountains reaching Littleton as our appointment required. Each of these locations has history, antiques and rare books associated with it. For myself, even after thirty-five years of antiquarian travels along this route, the day trip still generates excitement for me at every bend of this old and beautiful northern New England route.
At the old farm… we inspected, reviewed, discussed, purchased, paid, removed, loaded the antiques and… left… the farm yard just before noon. We had a full load and a promise for our return "next year". Our next stop, before heading "back down the notch to the coast", was lunch. Where do we eat in Littleton? As our photograph shows, "PORFIDO'S" on main street for a "Grinders/Subs". Our order is pictured in the truck cab. I had a "House Specialties" "The Frank Sr." (imported proscuitto & provolone with onions, tomatoes and s&p) while my wife had a veggie made to her precise order. We drove a little south of Littleton and ate beside the Ammonoosuc River. This river, too, has history, antiques and rare books associated with it for it is the original route (from the Connecticut River) into this region north of the White Mountains.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Hen-and-Chickens Kettle

The economy of using antiques to decorate with in northern New England homes gives us a …very rare… old witch's kettle. I have touched on this economy of decoration in the earlier Old Pickles in the Window post. In the short form it is the practice of keeping and displaying damaged and common "not valuable" antiques that …ABSOLUTELY DO… send the same refined aesthetic message as a perfect, fine form and "valuable" antique. The view from the rural northern New England home is that to keep the latter cannot be done for cashing it in is irresistible and money-wise proper. Right behind that commercial impulse is the "I know", "I like" and "I want" of these same objects by this same person. The way that is found to display one's alignment and full embrace with this embedded aesthetic is to use common and damaged "of no cash value" to send the right message. THIS WORKS PERFECTLY, silently and beyond refute. The plain dirty pickle bottles in the back stair window are a classic of this …decorative school. Should one NOT be sensitive to this secret decorative code, one is quickly found out with one's comments of value, perfection and refinement. Once found out, one receives a qualifier of one's "I know" that is a black spot… forever.
With the cast iron witch's kettle comes a two tiered display of this aesthetic alignment. Foremost, commonly encountered and easily understood, it the display of a "broken" …but otherwise perfectly aligned with the "GOOD ONE" design requirements… true old witch kettle. I include a set of photographs of a seriously cracked mid 19th century kettle having a Bangor, Maine makers mark. As already noted, for front porch and outside display, a crack is "GOOD!" for it drains water and …makes the kettle inexpensive to purchase for it is shunned as "damaged" by collectors and dealers. For example, this particular kettle was "give it to you" by a local picker who simply tossed it beside our barn because it is "no good", "no money" and of "too little value as scrap iron". "TOO BAD HUH!" was the picker's final verbal appraisal.
To the knowing eye… the crack is SPLENDID and that "Bangor, Maine" mid 19th century maker's mark is …golden. OUTSIDE use perfect, front porch use perfect, drain ready and "WOW MAINE MADE!" too …one attempting an actually hunt down one this fine will quickly discover that THIS example offers much more to the decorative eye and is actually… very hard to find.
From this spire of perfection the "bring home and display" climbs down the condition ladder to… old busted-up cast iron fragments of kettles. Often times it is a found treasure brought home by a hunter's "I found it in the woods… down below the old Chapman cellar hole. Nice huh.". This is promptly appropriated "by the wife" who nestles it into "just the right spot" of her …garden decoration plan (that never considers a fancy mail order cast cement & bronze sundial …or such). Ever after the odd-to-the-unknowing-eye JEWEL remains displayed FOREVER and is most always "NOT FOR SALE".
Continuing with the Bangor, Maine made theme, I show in the photographs next a large and true fragment of a witch style kettle. With a badly chipped top rim, massively cracked, all feet broken off, rusted traces of old forest service green porch paint, a large hole in the bottom…, even a real Maine woods shot-by-hunter bullet hole AND … a bold Bangor, Maine mark, this is a "best example" of the decorative bottom of the witch kettle type. It is a rusted fragment relic and a prime one at that.
What happens VERY, VERY, VERY occasionally to a specimen like this last is a …great northern New England garden decoration rarity. By the last quarter of the 19th century and continuing to the early 1960's, very occasionally these kettle fragments would by used as garden planters holding Hen-and-chickens. These would be "started" and then left alone forever to "live there" "like that". The "like that" is the decorative key. The hen spreads it's chicks (new baby hens) in little chains that creep away and …OVER THE EDGE… of the kettle fragment. A very old planting has dangling chicks that resemble dreadlocks. The more of this dangling there is …meaning the older and more established the colony… the more decorative, the more aesthetic and the more desirable this planting becomes. A true old one is VERY, VERY scarce and commands a premium in the in-the-know antiques marketplace. They are also very, very hard to purchase when found "kept" by an old family. Generally they pass from mother to daughter and are NEVER "for sale". It has only been in the last decade, with the newest generation "I HATE THAT" indolence that a few true old ones have been found… and purchased. Most fine specimens, confronted by the new indolence… PERISH… due to neglect.
The pictured kettle fragment is a perfect example of this. Once, thirty years ago it flourished fully draped in "MY GRANDMOTHER'S" hen-and-chicks. We tried to buy it. "No". The old woman died. We tried to buy it. "No." said her daughter "I'm taking that" and sold the old homestead and… did take it to her new home. We tried to buy it. "NO!". Eventually SHE died. We tried to by it. It was gone. The heirs knew nothing about it. In a mid Maine April, during a purchase visit, I spied it. The snowplow man, plowing the yard, had long ago plowed the old kettle into the woods at the end of the driveway. GONE were the hen and her chicks, gone was the old soil. I expressed interest and dragged it out of the woods. "THAT?" "You can HAVE that!" the heirs said.
I have seen about a dozen of these true hen-and-chickens kettles in my career and purchased only three of them. I know where four are and keep my eye on them. They are the rarest form of the old cast iron witch's kettle found in a northern New England home. I tag a few hen-and-chickens photographs on the end and recommend a simple goggle of that name should one be unclear about the succulent.