Vegetable gardens in backyards, schools and public spaces are not a new idea, and a small group of collectors likes memorabilia from this forgotten part of the war effort.
In 1917, during World War I, the government asked citizens to grow more food because the war was creating extra needs. That was not the only reason for the gardens. They were morale boosters, making gardeners and their helpers feel they were helping in the war effort. Charles Lathrop Pack organized the national War Garden Commission and started the war garden idea. Food production was down because many farmers were in military service. Small gardens planted on unused land increased the food supply in areas near customers, so little transportation was needed. It is said that $1.2 billion in foodstuffs was produced by the end of the war.
During World War II, "victory gardens" were planted by almost 20 million Americans, who grew 9 million to 10 million tons of produce, almost 50 percent of the vegetables eaten in the United States during the war. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a victory garden on the White House grounds.
It was patriotic to work in a garden. It made the cost of food lower and saved money to be used for the war. Leaflets and posters with slogans and interesting graphics were sent out by the government and private food companies. Collectors today like the posters because of their slogans, like "Sow the Seeds of Victory," or their colorful graphics, which often included flags or patriotic figures. An old "school garden" poster reads "Helping Hoover in our U.S. School Garden," reminding everyone that Herbert Hoover was appointed head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War I. His famous slogan was "Food Will Win the War."
World War I garden posters have been selling well at recent auctions. One picturing a schoolboy and a basket of food had the slogan, "I raised 'em myself in my U.S. School Garden." It sold for $575.
Q I have a chair that I am told was made in China in the early-19th century. It has a woven wicker seat, an open back with a rectangular support down the center, thin, curved arms and a wide piece of wood joining the two front legs. It is surprisingly graceful. What worries me is the caned seat. Is it original?
A Chinese chairs were made in many styles, and there is a noticeable difference between those made for the hot Southern climate and those used in the Northern part of the country. Caned seats, usually woven rattan, were made to let air cool the seating area. This made it less "sticky" to sit in a hot climate. The idea was so clever that it was adapted by early European explorers for some of their furniture. Lightweight openwork caning instead of solid wood was used in the seat and the back.
Antique Chinese furniture is selling for substantial prices today, but the value goes up with age and quality. So you must have someone look at your chair to learn the value.
Q Do you have any information on Sarah Coventry jewelry? I sold it many years ago and still have some of pieces.
A Sarah Coventry was the first company to sell costume jewelry through home parties. The company didn't make jewelry. It bought designs and had the jewelry made by other companies. The founder, Charles H. Stuart, started Emmons Jewelers, Inc., in 1949. In 1950, Stuart started Sarah Coventry, which was named after his granddaughter. The business was so successful that Sarah Coventry became the largest U.S. distributor of costume jewelry in the 1970s. Home parties were discontinued in 1984 and the company went out of business. Later, the rights to the name "Sarah Coventry" were bought by a Canadian company. The jewelry is still inexpensive.
Q I inherited a desk marked "Landstrom Furniture 1879, Rockford, Ill." Can you tell me something about the company?
A Landstrom Furniture Corp. traced its founding back to 1879 and was in business in Rockford until 1958. During the 1920s, it made furniture in many different Revival styles, including Queen Anne, Sheraton and Chippendale.
Tip: Do not wipe gold- or platinum-decorated glasses when they're still hot after being removed from the dishwasher. The metallic color will rub off.
Terry Kovel answers questions through this column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Write to Kovel, Farm Forum, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.