Q: Enclosed is a spittoon — I think that is what it was called — and it was given to us in 1990 when an elderly friend moved out of the home she had been born in. She was 88 years old at the time and said it was her father's, so it must be over 100 years old. Now we are downsizing and wonder if this has any value other than as a conversation piece? It is in excellent condition, and any markings that might have been on the bottom are gone. It is pretty; you can see the beading edging around the top and the flowers, which do not look hand-painted.
Thank you for any information you can give us about it.
A: Spittoons, also called cuspidors, were part of everyday life from the mid-1800s to around 1930. Chewing tobacco was socially acceptable for many men and some women. Spittoons were used for spitting into. Early ones were known as cuspidors, a word based on the Portuguese word for "a place for spitting." They were prevalent in public places, barbershops, saloons, banks and private homes. Antique spittoons appeal to collectors and are part of tobacciana collectibles. Examples can be found made of ironstone, pottery, porcelain, glass and brass. Some were decorated with glazes that included spongeware, flow blue and majolica. Others were finished with transferware or hand-painted. Smaller sizes were available to accommodate women who chewed tobacco. In the early 1900s, people began to catch on to the concept that spittoons were little petri dishes that spread germs and illness. During the flu epidemic in 1918, people became aware of how easy it was to spread deadly germs. By the 1930s, fewer chewed tobacco, and the need for spittoons diminished.
Your spittoon was made in the late 1800s and would appeal to collectors for the price of $50 to $125.
Q: This mark is on the bottom of a porcelain chocolate set that I have. It is a 21-piece set that includes a hot chocolate pot, four cups, four saucers, four dessert plates and one serving plate. They are decorated with sprigs of pastel flowers against a white background, and they are all in perfect condition.
What can you tell me about my set?
A: Your hand-painted set was made in Japan in the late 1800s. The letter "M" in the mark represents the Morimura Brothers, who were New York exporters of porcelain from Japan. "Nippon" is the Japanese word for "Japan."
Your set would probably be worth $125 to $175.
Address your questions to Anne McCollam, P. O. Box 247, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Items of a general interest will be answered in this column. Due to the volume of inquiries, she cannot answer individual letters. To find out more about Anne McCollam and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com