The Canadiana Guidebook by William Philip Wilson

Among the many research tools that I treasure as much as my treasures, is a small paperback book published in 1974 by Greey de Pencier Publications in Toronto called The Canadiana Guidebook and subtitled Antique Collecting in Ontario.

The author, William Phillip Wilson notes in the introduction that Canada is still a young country and is just beginning to understand its heritage. His work sets about identifying all things ‘Canadiana’ with an eye on buying and collecting antiques as investments. His guidebook comes complete with maps to all the most prominent antiques hotspots in the province (in 1974) of Ontario and pages full of helpful tips, terms and references.

Indeed the Table of Contents sets forth the dimensions of his categorization and includes Furniture, Treen, Iron, tin, brass and copper, Silver, Pewter, Ceramics, Glass, Textiles, prints, painting and framing, and also includes lists of stores, and maps of Upper Canada.

Types of wood furniture are first assembled by making a distinction between softwoods and hardwoods. Mr Wilson teaches how to recognize Maple furniture from Birch, and the unique characteristics of Butternut, Oak, Chestnut and Cherry. He quotes Thomas Ormsbee’a Field Guide To Early American Furniture (Boston: Little, 1951), when he writes on how to spot Hepplewhite armchairs and ‘chicken coop’ Windsor side chairs in so much clutter at local antiques shops or mismatched, painted and stacked on tables at antiques auctions. Now I want to own a Schrank or clothes cupboard from the 1830s someday…

Treen is an old word. In the same way ‘wooden’ means made from wood, the word ‘treen’ is the old English word that means the object was made from a tree. Hardwood was most often used for treen objects, especially kitchen utensils. Maple was most popular and birch next. Treen objects include splint boxes, bowls, butter moulds, rolling pins, scoops and mashers and the most coveted pieces, and therefore most often faked items to genuine 1800’s Quebec maple sugar moulds.

Iron is broken into two categories, cast and wrought iron and he shows pictures of commonly faked cast iron items. On page 58 I found a sketch of the Naughty Nellie bootjack which I’d once read about elsewhere and heard mentioned in other texts. Commonly found iron Canadiana includes things like vegetable choppers, cast iron ‘T.Eaton’ trivets, corking forks, and cruise (grease lamps), tobacco cutters and coffee grinders and the big ticket items are cast iron parlor stoves, cauldrons, vats, baking pots and tea kettles.

Tin doesn’t mean 100% tin as the word is commonly applied to sheet iron objects with a protective tin coating in the lexicon of Canadiana. There were many generations of whitsmiths or tinsmiths in both upper and lower Canada and the most outstanding Canadian tinsmithing is exhibited in weathervanes which are eagerly sought by all Canadiana collectors. The chanteclair or ‘crow cock’ from Quebec is most obvious weathervane, but other variations like banners and horses, fish, cattle and beavers exist. Tole or toleware is another popular field inside this category – the word means tin in French and came into the English language in the mid 1800s to designate tin that has been painted or decorated to distinguish it from other more utilitarian items. Common toleware items would include spice boxes, serving trays, document boxes, and chambersticks (a candle stick with wax moat made ‘for the chamber’).

Brass and copper Mr Wilson mentions a Toronto coppersmith named H.Piper and Brothers as being a prolific mid to late 1800’s Toronto based producer of brass and copper items. Items to look for include decorative candlesticks, brass coal scuttles and cauldrons and most specifically copper tea kettles and brass pots esp a ‘jelly pan’ or kettle that was developed in 1851 made of thinner ‘lathe spun’ brass that allowed jellies to simmer properly on wood stoves. Lastly look for chamber sticks and pierced candle lanterns. William Philip Wilson cautions against buying ‘horse brass’ pieces, that’s what the industry calls the brass decorations that have been harvested from old saddles, because these pieces are the most commonly faked brass items as the age and authenticity of such objects is very difficult to determine.

Books detailing the trade in period iron, tin brass and copper that Phillip referenced include Seymour Lindsay Iron and Brass Implements of the English and American House 1964, and Mary Earl Gould Antique Tin and Toleware 1957, and thirdly he referenced Louise K Lantz Old American Kitchenware 1971 which he says has lots of tin and cast iron pieces illustrated and lastly Margaret Coffin American Country Tinware covers American painted tin authoritatively.

Pewter and Britannia Metal are described next on pg 76. Pewter is an alloy or mixture of metals with tin as its base metal. According to the intended purpose lead, copper, antimony or bismuth, and more often a combination of all three metals were mixed with tin to make pewter.

The finest pewter contains no lead at all and was used for dinner plates, tankards, and cutlery – the cheapest pewter may contain as much as 25% lead and this of course was the subject of much medical inquiry in the late 1800’s after England adopted laws to restrict lead in household utensils. No such law was enacted in Canada, but very little is known about Canadian pewterers. Unlike European productions which had makers marks and sometimes quality stamps, Canadian pieces were often sold unmarked. But there are some exceptions and these include the flying angel mark of Jean Menut and the beaver mark of Thomas Menut, both of Montreal.

Ceramics is broken into three sub chapters, the first being Earthenware. William Philip Wilson defines this as ‘made from local clay’ that turns a buff or red colour in the kiln at temperatures between 1200 and 1500 degrees F. From the earliest days of settlement, earthenware potters in Upper Canada were influenced by three traditions, French, English and Pennsylvania German. Wilson details how the manufacture of earthenware was often a family industry and could be done by farmers at home in the winter months.

Stoneware is made with a high-firing clay (2000 to 2200 F) that was not discovered in Canada until around 1910. Consequently all 19th Century Canadian potteries arranged for the delivery of this particular type of clay from pits in New Jersey. The importation of clay and the more complicated manufacture of kilns and facilities meant that stoneware manufacture required a factory of sorts and had to be run more as a business. Because stoneware contains silica, or natural glass, it vitrifies or bonds together when fired and as a result it does not need a glaze or seal. Typical shapes in salt glazed stoneware include jugs, storage crocks and bottles. Lean glazed stoneware is something else and when its presented with brown slip over yellow the glaze is called Benningtonware in the USA and Rockingham in Canada. The chapter concludes opposite illustrations of common makers marks used by the St Johns Stone Chinaware Company, St John’s, Quebec, 1873-93.

William Philip Wilson’s favourite books on Canadian potteries includes my own favourite book by Donald Webster, Early Canadian Pottery which Wilson deems essential, and Elizabeth Collards 19th Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada Montreal 1967 which he says is very well researched. And the author tips his hat to R.W Finlayson Portneuf Pottery and Other Early Wares, Don Mills Ontario, Longman, 1972. This book is a wealth of information that’s both a good analysis of Portneuf and many other transfer prints and imports.

Finally, after a great chapter on glass which I’ll save for another post, and some insight into fine art and framed paintings, and some description of Canadiana painting frames themselves, William Philip Wilson leaves readers with maps to his favourite antiques hunting grounds in Southern Ontario Canada.

Glover Boys visit Meyersburg Flea Market

An article on Dumpdiggers.com details an Adventure in the Meyersburg Flea Market. The story explains how the youngsters sought information and transported a fresh dug amber cork top food flavouring bottle to that location for appraisal.

Exploring the lush countryside west of Warkworth Ontario the Glover Boys found a surface dump filled with bottles and mechanical debris.

Practiced dumpdiggers they took the time to sink test pits all through the site to identify the historic perimeters in order to gain understanding of the whole sum of buried material. It’s important to know the answers to questions like, how old is this dump? and where was the gate by which all the dump wagons delivered the trash? And finally everyone was eager to dig down and find out for certain what exactly was moldered away as antique treasure right beneath our feet?

Three foot deep test pits should show signs of period dumping before any further digging occurs. The tell tale clues generally include white furnace ash soil layers atop bits of glass and pottery and the rubble of bricks and cement. Dig deeper and you’ll find orange soil and that’s where the old bottles lurk.