Belgian Brewers Continue To Impress The World

Stepping through the solid-oak door of De Twee Palen, the taproom for the Het Anker Brewery, in Mechelen, Belgium, is like slipping through a portal into the distant past: Dark coffered wainscoting, low vaulted ceilings, and empty wooden firkins dangling from the walls contribute to a medieval aura that is both creaky and comfortable. Taverns like this one crisscross the Low Countries and offer beers that, with a pinch of spice or a taste of cherry, a whiff of wine or the hint of sourness, appear to be the missing drink–er, link–in the long time line explaining the evolution of malty beverages. Belgian brews can prove exciting for suds aficionados interested in stretching their palates beyond the blond blandness that blankets the overall market. I don’t mean to dismiss all light-colored beers out of hand–or mouth–especially not when a very good pilsner, Belgium’s own Stella Artois, is so widely available. If Stella has taken its critical knocks over the years, it has more to do with its being made by Interbrew, one of the world’s larger–and more predatory–brewing companies, than to any intrinsic deficiencies of the beer. Indeed, it is hard to find fault with a lager that, through the use of floor-malted pale barley, Saaz hops, and a creditable 21 days of conditioning, is both refreshing and pleasingly bitter.

Interbrew is also responsible for the Abbey Leffe range of ales, including the rather pleasant Blonde Ale, yeasty, with light fruitiness, and a Brown Ale, influenced by cocoa overtones. The company’s attention to detail is perhaps most evident, though, in its Hoegaarden line, which it acquired nine years ago. These include three of Belgium’s top topes, the archetypal Wit, Verboden Vrucht, and Grand Cru, each one bottled unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally carbonated.

btUnder Interbrew’s stewardship, the cloudy yellow Hoegaarden Wit remains a winning wheat beer: frothy and flavorful with accents of coriander seed and orange peel tantalizing the tongue. The Grand Cru, a shade darker and similarly spiced, is highlighted by a yeasty, mandarin orange character. Still richer is Verboden Vrucht, also fruity, though with more of an edge of apricots. The consistency of these brands from year to year is one of brewing technology engineer Marnix Catteeuw’s primary challenges: “Consumers expect the beer to taste the same, even while raw materials are changing. Yet if the farmers don’t grow the same barley they once did, we have to change the recipe to arrive at the same product.”

Generally, those sorts of alterations tend more toward the subtle than the dramatic. For instance, Jan Adriaensens, brewing engineer at the Abbey ofWestmalle, observes that a slightly different malt may be measured seamlessly into a recipe through adjustments in mashing temperatures. He emphasizes, though, that a beer’s flavor is not affected by ingredients alone: “You have to be very attentive to what you’re doing in the brewery because the least change you make will give you a different taste.” So how have Westmalle’s Tripel and Dubbel fared since the Trappist abbey automated its brewhouse in 1992? Divinely, to judge by recent samplings. The latter retains its velvety smooth texture and palate of nuts and milk chocolate, while the former, which is hopped with whole-flower Hallertau Spalt, Saaz, and Slovenian buds, seems just a shade drier than the Tripel of old.

A difference in packaging sizes, too, can influence flavor and mouth feel. “Even though it’s the same beer, that in the keg will taste completely different than its bottled counterpart,” states Antoine Bosteels, general manager of the Bronwerij Bosteels, in East Flanders. “The aromas are the same and the foam very nice, but the [CO.sub.2] saturation is totally different.” Bosteels experimented with bottle conditioning its delicious Kwak, an amber, aromatically caramel, spicy top- fermenter, but found the process didn’t improve a product that is customarily filtered and flash pasteurized. Such trials weren’t wasted, though, as the brewery’s newest ale, Tripel Karmeliet, does undergo refermentation. This delicious, deep-gold brew derives its smooth, grainy palate from a combination of pale malt, wheat, and oats, while the addition of three spices endows it with fruity orange, coriander, and peppery vanilla flavors.

Bosteels, busily modernizing its facility, intends at long last to allow visitors in for tours, and a taproom is to be constructed to accommodate them. The Proef Brewery lacks such an amenity, though its stainless-steel plant is state of the art. General manager Dirk Naudts, who opened for brewsness three years ago, aims primarily to work as a contract brewer.

Evidence of Naudts’s abilities lies in his Reinaert line, including an especially fine Tripel–yeasty, grainy, and a touch winey–and a rich, caramel malt-infused Grand Cruant.

Reinaert beers share a tendency toward billowy heads, thanks to their all-malt makeup, Naudts believes. Similarly crowned is the classic copper ale of Antwerp, known simply by the name of its brewery, De Koninck, also a malt-only concoction. Long-distance devotees of this ale will be delighted to learn that it is once again being exported to the United States.

More important, since the brewery’s modernization in 1995, this dry, fruity, faintly nutty drink is more consistently tasty than ever before. Additionally, a recent brew from the company, the golden-colored Antoon, is no less pleasing, coating the mouth with a melange of fresh-gristed malt and fruity Saaz blossoms.

ttbTravelers traversing Belgium in search of the holy grale will, of course, occasionally encounter a disappintment. Some misguided brewers seem to feel no need to invest in top-notch ingredients, quality control, and routine modernization as long as they hold a historic recipe. Such appears to be the case regarding the beers of Het Anker. Gouden Carolus was once one of the great beers of the kingdom, artfully balancing chocolate and sourness with a complex spicing that hinted of ginger, juniper, and cloves. A recent serving at De Twee Palen yielded a different sort of “throwback”: It took just three sips of the insipid brew, which seemed little more than a watered down dubbel, before the Gouden Carolus was discarded.

Other down-on-their-luck libations from Anker include Mechelschen Bruynen and Triple Toison d’Or. If such examples are becoming a rarity in Belgium these days, give some credit to companies like Interbrew, De Koninck, Bosteels, and many others. In raising their own quality standards, they elevate the bar for everyone else. Providing Proof-er, proof-that there’s no reason why wonderfully savory suds shouldn’t be created with one mash fork in the past and another stretching forward into the future.

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Winter Tips For Pets

A winter vision: My 11-year-old Norwegian elkhound, Martha, tumbles and leaps in the snow, tossing white mounds into the air with her nose, her arthritis seemingly lifted away-she’s a winter sprite of a puppy again.

Some animals are built for cold weather. Winter is their season, and it brings them a palpable, infectious joy. Falling temperatures, however, should alert caretakers: While we tend to think of summer’s heat as the weather most threatening to our pets’ health and well-being, winter presents its own set of hazards.

Companion animals should always have access to a house,” says Michael Kaufmann, director of educational programs at the American Humane Assn., in Englewood, Colo. “But if you do use a backyard doghouse, make sure it is raised up off the ground, insulated, and equipped with a wind flap. Dryness, in fact, is more important than warmth.”

If you keep your dog’s water bowl outside, be sure it’s full and doesn’t freeze. Dr. Carl E. Rogge, director of the Severna Park (Md.) Veterinary Hospital and a trail veterinarian during Alaska’s annual 1,200-mile Iditarod sled-dog race, names dehydration as a major winter health risk for dogs. “In winter very active dogs can lose body fluids rapidly,

Eating snow, however, does not take the place of drinking water. It takes a whole lot of snow to get a small amount of water. And be on the lookout for antifreeze, a potential health risk for pets, children, and wildlife, which is often encountered in roadside or driveway puddles. While it may taste sweet, it is toxic.

ihftDogs seem to pick up the pace on winter walks. The most important health factors to watch for are the temperature, windchill, and the length of time they’re out in the elements. Delicate and single-coated dogs will definitely need sweaters for cold weather, but bear in mind that ears and paws (forget boots–dogs hate them) on even the hardiest breeds are vulnerable to the cold. In any case, don’t let older or arthritic dogs lie directly in snow or on frozen surfaces for extended periods of time. And ask your veterinarian about adjusting pain-relieving or arthritis medications.

“To avoid frostbite,” says Sharon Granskog, public information assistant at the American Veterinary Medical Assn., in Schaumburg, Ill., “be aware of how cold it actually is out there.” The first sign of frostbite is pale skin that is cool to the touch. If you suspect the condition, warm the affected areas slowly and call your veterinarian immediately.

After each walk, be sure to check paws for salt on the pads and ice trapped between toes. Salt can irritate pads, especially when nicked from ice. Dr. Rogge recommends brushing paws with a dry cloth, then washing them with warm water.

As much as she relishes the snow, my Martha luxriates in the warmth of the blazing fireplace. After a good romp outdoors, she stretches out in front of the fire screen and falls into a profound sleep, her paws occasionally twitching, perhaps in primal dreams of chasing elk deep in snowy Norwegian forests.

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Greenhouses Provide Serious Growth And Fun

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For Minnesota homeowners Eugene and Jeanne Rondeau, who live four miles from Lake Superior, greenhouses have become an integral part of everyday life. “In the cold weather–and we have our share of that–it’s really wonderful to have a working greenhouse,” Jeanne says. “We built our first one in 1960, and we’ve had one off and on ever since as we’ve moved  around the country. Our children loved working in our greenhouses, too.” From their very first greenhouse endeavor, the  Rondeaus have concentrated on growing both vegetables and flowers in an effort to extend the growing season and bring to  maturity the plants that might not otherwise thrive during the short season in their part of the country.

But gardeners don’t have to live in cold climates to reap the benefits a greenhouse provides. “No matter where a homeowner  lives in the United States,” observes Lee Duvall, a salesperson with the Texas Greenhouse Co., in Fort Worth, “he or she  will value a greenhouse for starting plants or for growing rare ones in a controlled environment.

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU EXPECT TO PAY?

You may be surprised to learn that the total price for erecting a working greenhouse outfitted with benches, heater, fans,  tools, and, in many cases, a watering system may be considerably less than that of a decent used car. For example, an  eight- by eight-foot stand-alone, tempered-glass greenhouse from Elite Greenhouses, an English manufacturing company whose  products are imported and sold in the United States by Harris Seeds, in Rochester, N.Y., costs just under $1,500, not  including shipping. Throw in the cost of a professionally installed concrete footing or full concrete foundation with  plumbing and electrical connections, and the price almost doubles. Outfitting the interior with plant benches, tools,  heating, ventilation, shading, and humidification could fall somewhere between $500 and $1,000 or higher, depending on  geographic location and installation specifications. The whole package, completely installed, totals about $5,000.

People like Bill Smiles, a retired retailing executive in Chappaqua, N.Y., who has a passion for raising and showing rare  orchids, might choose a model at the higher end of the scale. Smiles says he usually spends at least four hours a day  working in his greenhouse, which began in 1975 as a simple 10- by 10-foot structure. Over the years, his greenhouse has  expanded (to a 16- by 32-foot model with two rooms) along with his orchid collection (he has one of the finest collections  in the country of the rare South American orchid group known as Draculas in one room, and in the other he houses a  collection of species orchids). To equip the interior of the current structure (each room is individually climate- controlled), Smiles spent close to $8,000 at the Under Glass Mfg. Corp., in nearby Lake Katrine, N.Y. If he were to install  the exact same greenhouse today, Smiles estimates that the price would run some $16,500, and installation might run as high  as $6,200.

It’s not clear how many homeowners assemble their greenhouses themselves and thereby save on labor costs. Keri Schwab, of  GardenStyles, in Bloomington, Minn., insists that more than 90 percent of her buyers put up the greenhouses on their own. She admits that many buyers do probably subcontract the foundation, plumbing, and electrical work. Yet Linda Turner, a  salesperson at Salem Country Gardens, in Salem, Conn., declares that very few of her customers opt for the do-it-yourself  models, even though the eight- by eight-foot stand-alone, redwood greenhouse her company currently markets at $2,499 is  precut and quite easy (for a carpenter, she adds) to put together.

SPACE-SAVING ALTERNATIVES

While the stand-alone greenhouse has been the most popular style throughout most of the 20th century, the lean-to  greenhouse, snuggled against one wall of the house, is currently gaining greater popularity. Compared to stand-alone greenhouses of equal square footage, lean-to greenhouses provide less usable space (since the  fourth wall is nor glass). Nevertheless, they are attractive to people for several reasons: The cost is at least several  hundred dollars less than a stand-alone version; plumbing and electrical connections are less complicated; owners don’t  have to slosh through ice and snow in winter since most are entered from inside the house; overseeing plant growth is  simpler; fresh produce can still be grown all year long; homeowners can readily show off their latest blooms to guests; and  those who connect the greenhouse to the main house with glass doors can enjoy the beauty of new blossoms from other rooms.

The logistics can be a little tricky, however. The proper solar siting of a lean-to greenhouse is the most important  consideration. Most horticulturists suggest situating the glass facing south. Because of property lines or an existing  garage, a south-facing lean-to may, in some cases, be impossible. A greenhouse that faces southeast or southwest is still  on target. Due-east and due-west sitings are not as satisfactory yet are considered workable. But a greenhouse that faces  north may not produce the plants you desire without the use of artificial light. “That’s not a big problem,” Lee Duvall  advises. “The owner simply hangs grow lamps six inches over the plants and raises the lamps as the plants get bigger.”

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ADDING VALUE TO YOUR HOME

Erecting a freestanding or a lean-to greenhouse may or may not raise the value of your property when you put it up for  sale. “Not everyone is attracted to year-round gardening,” says Walter Molony, of the National Assn. of Realtors, in  Washington, D.C. “But in today’s hot market, I think it would be a plus. After all, there are still a lot of gardeners out  there. Alan Hummel, an appraiser from Des Moines, Iowa, is more doubtful. “Greenhouses are not something the market is really  seeking,” he says. “However, if you’re talking about a solarium-a sunroom with potted plants–then I can see the house’s  value increasing.  According to Sam Grasso, of Janco Greenhouses, in Laurel, Md., homeowners tend to make three mistakes when buying  greenhouses: “First, folks don’t opt for a greenhouse large enough. They realize too late that their desire for plants is  shortstopped by size. Second, they don’t buy sufficient equipment to keep the greenhouse verdant. Remember,” Grasso  continues, “the basic requirements are heating, ventilation, shading, cooling, and humidification. Third, they don’t orient  an attached greenhouse properly. The best exposure, in my opinion, is southeast.

The annual cost of running a greenhouse will depend for the most part on its size and geographic location. Heating and  cooling bills rise with size, and folks farther North or South will have to pay more owing to shortened or lengthened  growing seasons–the longer a greenhouse’s interior has to be heated or cooled, the greater the annual operating expense.

Bill Orange, president of the Under Glass Mfg. Corp., estimates that in upstate New York, a 90-square-foot hobby greenhouse  might run $500 a year for heat, $240 a year for electricity (fans and lights), and $150 a year for water (if the operator doesn’t have a well). These costs, averaged over the course of a year, would run about $75 per month. Of course, plants,  seeds, planters, and baskets cost extra.

And for all greenhouse gardeners, there are considerations that are not necessarily financial. For instance, gardeners need  help when they go on vacation–a trustworthy individual has to be found to tend the plants and make sure they don’t wither.

 

Yet for the majority of greenhouse gardeners, the joys of nurturing plants and enjoying their beauty year-round make  maintaining a greenhouse well worth the effort and the expense.

Season Extenders

Numerous options for germinating seeds safely in early spring and fostering blooms up until the first snowfall are  significantly less expensive than year-round greenhouses. These products include aluminum and polycarbonate cold frames,  polyethylene tents, glass cases the height of mature cornstalks, and walk-in shelters covered with clear, ultraviolet-resistant polyethylene sheets stretched taut over aluminum, tubular steel, or vinyl framing.

Manufacturers claim that season extenders are easy to assemble in the spring and quick to take apart in the fall, allowing  them to be stored until the next growing season. While these structures do not require foundations, several makers claim  their products have withstood hurricanes. If heat is required during a particularly frigid spring, a small propane heater  can be used in conjunction with these products.

The prices for cold frames hover around $100; for glass cases and “tents,” between $200 and $450; and for walk-in shelters,  $250 to $800. (These suggested prices do not include shipping.)

 

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Sun Valley Is Just The Best

It is one of those clear winter mornings for which Sun Valley, Idaho, is famous, and I find myself skiing a little-known run on Bald Mountain. Nestled among Baldy’s 2,054 acres of groomed trails, steep bowls, and huge moguls are powdery paths frequently overlooked by seasonal visitors. Some of these “hidden” trails beckon with the phrasing of a Mozart concerto–happy, playful, and intelligent. Others, like this one, are furious, quick, and barely survivable.

After 25 years of living in the Wood River Valley, I am well aware that I am neither the first nor the best skier ever to carve tracks on this wooded, 3,400-verticalfoot Sphinx–the rich, the famous, and the strong have all preceded me. As my skis navigate six inches of fresh powder, I know why in 1935 Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch fell in love with this scenic valley in south central Idaho.

nprwThe story of Count Schaffgotsch’s search for the American Saint-Morirz is the kind of adventure that fantasies-and legends–are made of. To encourage sales on the Union Pacific Railroad’s northern route, Averell Harriman, the railroad’s chairman, dreamed of building a ski resort, an outpost in the American West, that would be reachable only by passenger train. In the mid- 193 Os Harriman commissioned Schaffgotsch to search for an area blessed with a proper balance of sun, snow, and isolation. Over the course of four months, Schaffgotsch rejected Aspen, Cob., Jackson Hole, Wyo., Alta, Utah, and Nevada’s Lake Tahoe before leaving Shoshone, Idaho, and braving 50 miles of desolate winter roads north to Ketchum, a 19th-century mining town in the Wood River Valley.

An Austrian count, even one who worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, was an oddity in the Wood River Valley, so the local folks turned to Jack Lane, who owned the general store, for advice. “Be nice to him,” Lane counseled the assembled group, “but don’t cash his checks…”

Guided by a local youth on barrel-stave skis, Schaffgotsch explored Ketchum’s high surrounding hills, delighted in the crisp, clean air, and watched the sun swing in a bright arc above the mountains. After a week, he excitedly wired Harriman: “Ketchum contains more delightful features than any other place I’ve seen in the United States, Switzerland, or Austria for a winter sports center.

Much of what attracted Schaffgotsch in 1935 continues to distinguish the Sun Valley ski resort in 2000. Bald Mountain still tantalizes skiers, and Ketchum, a mile to the southwest, retains the spirit as well as the brick-and-cedar architecture of 19th-century Western cities. In fact, faded sepia photographs reveal that Main Street’s Lane Mercantile (now housing a coffeehouse), Casino Bar, and a half dozen other buildings have changed little in appearance in the past 65 years.

Part small Western town with world-class restaurants and hotels, part enormous mountain with ample snowfall, Sun Valley has twice been named the No. 1 U.S. ski resort in the past decade. And, unlike many other major Western ski destinations, lift lines are almost always short, thanks in part to the resort’s 13 ski lifts and 64 downhill runs.

Sun Valley ski instructor Adi Erber is but one of the many Austrians who eventually followed Schaffgotsch to central Idaho. “I was raised in Europe, and Baldy was not the biggest mountain I’d ever skied,” Erber says, “but its perfect pitch, cold powder, and fantastic weather made it by far the most interesting.” Today Erber’s clients range from young families and graying business executives to Hollywood stars.

Bald Mountain is by no means Sun Valley’s only winter jewel. In the 35 miles between the Sun Valley Nordic Center and Galena Lodge, the Wood River Valley also supports some 125 miles of cross-country ski trails. Here groomed tracks rise, fall, and circle the Sun Valley golf course, search out tributary canyons, and trace the 16-mile Harriman Trail along the Wood River.

Snowshoeing provides an aerobic complement to alpine skiing. In addition to providing an excellent cardiovascular workout, snowshoeing also offers a low-tech means of exploring the area’s woods and canyons. For many travelers, especially those who reside in urban areas, the chance to stand alone on a high ridge in a snow-covered meadow or among winter-bare groves of aspens is mighty appealing. And one often-overlooked attraction of snowshoeing is that it requires little, if any, training. Even the athletically challenged can simply buckle on a pair and start walking.

Off the slopes, the town that has grown up around the Sun Valley resort mixes an undeniable sense of history and incredible views of Bald Mountain with a pedestrian-only commercial center. The four-story Sun Valley Lodge, which features a circular outdoor pool and an open-air ice rink, serves as the heart of the resort town. During the summer of 1935, Union Pacific workmen used local rough-sawn lumber to form the structure’s concrete exterior. As it cured, the cement replicated the wood’s heavy grain, which today accounts for the hotel’s rustic appearance. History plays well here, and hundreds of black-and-white Union Pacific photographs fill the lodge’s long halls. In a quieter time, Ernest Hemingway worked on For Whom the Bell Tolls in Room 206, and Gary Cooper, Jane Russell, Clark Gable, and Ingrid Bergman all danced in its Duchin Room.

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No resort, however, can subsist on snow and sweat alone. Ketchum is a genuine Western town, and Sun Valley is an unparalleled resort; together they define the word authentic. Area hotels such as the Sun Valley Lodge, the Knob Hill Inn, and the River Street Inn offer visitors a warm, undeniably romantic home away from home. The Pioneer Saloon, Ketchum Grill, and Cristina’s Restaurant offer hearty, innovative cuisine of the caliber one would expect to find in larger Western cities like San Francisco and Seattle. Intermixed with the hotels and restaurants are boutiques, art galleries, ice rinks, a theater (the nexStage), and the venerable Casino Bar, where the rich and famous rub elbows with Austrian ski instructors and tanned ski bums, local carpenters and area artists.

There might have been a point decades ago when I could have left Sun Valley, but not anymore. During the past quarter century, I’ve skied in raging powder storms and photographed the alpenglow on Devil’s Bedstead, built a house in a tributary canyon, and watched my two sons grow up surrounded by mountains, rivers, and forests. With those kinds of roots, neither winning the lottery nor 10 acres in a valley as magical as this one could drag me away. The truth is, no other place like it exists.

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Matches Make For Keen Collections

mmkcUntil the invention of the sulfur-tipped friction match early in the 1800s, starting a fire in an open hearth was a chore. Homemakers and kitchen workers had to rely on tinderboxes containing flint and steel, which, when struck together, produced a spark. Matches not only saved time but also proved eminently safer than struggling with a tinderbox in a dark, unheated house. As the new devices became readily available, they created their own necessity: A protected, dry storage place that was both within easy reach of those who needed to use them and away from curious children and the occasional midnight mouse.

Although shelves and tabletops were convenient resting places, many people hung handmade or manufactured holders beside the fireplace or stove. The 1873 catalogue of one British firm took pains to explain the benefits of such containers: “The Patent Safety Match Holder is intended to be nailed up to prevent it being carried about the house, thus saving much loss of time, as it frequently happens that boxes that are not fixed are carried into other rooms, and when it is really of importance to obtain a light quickly, cannot be found.

The first hanging match holders were often carved out of wood, either by a homeowner or a local craftsperson. Many of these early holders were crudely constructed and had limited ornamentation. Pieces crafted by tinsmiths commonly bore painted or inscribed motifs, enlivening the surfaces. Whether simple or ornate, a standard form emerged that changed little over time: a pocket or box to hold the matches and an abrasive surface on which to strike them. Some holders also featured trays for spent matches.

By the mid-1800s, a number of patents registered match holder designs in a variety of materials–including wood, porcelain, glass, bronze, tin, and cast iron. While mail-order catalogues proffered many brand-new match holders, a great number were also sold by general stores, peddlers, and local tin- and blacksmiths. With the advent of sturdy cast-iron holders, homeowners often discarded their more fragile wood and tin versions. In turn, many cast-iron match holders were replaced with larger rectangular tin models that could hold an entire box of safety matches.

By the late 19th century, match holders were being produced in every suitable material, the styles paralleling the design influences, historical events, and advertising gimmicks of the times. Retail businesses and manufacturers–such as Docklash stoves, Solarine metal polish, and Ceresota flour, to name a few–realized the potential of match holders as advertising devices and commissioned examples that bore such information as a company’s name, address, and slogan. The pieces were often kept near a store’s cash register to offer as giveaways.

pceWhen the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, showcasing the Japanese Pavilion, introduced the American public to Japanese design, American artists and craftspeople embraced the aesthetic. Dragons, exotic birds and foliage, and other Japanese motifs began to appear on items throughout the American home, including the kitchen, and remained in vogue for decades. The 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalogue, for example, included a selection of “Decorative Japanned Tinware” that featured a square match holder that was “embossed and finished in assorted colors” and sold for six cents.

For collectors interested in learning more, informative books on the subject include Match Holders: 100 Years of Ingenuity, by Denis B. Alsford (Schiffer; 1994; $29.95), and Collectible Match Holders for Tabletops and Walls, by Jean and Franklin Hunting (Schiffer; 1998; $29.95). A national collectors’ club– the International Match Safe Assn.–also promises to provide up-to-date information on this emerging field of collecting. Annual dues are $50 and include a quarterly newsletter. For more information, write or call the International Match Safe Assn. at P.O Box 791, Malaga, NJ 08328-0791; (609) 694-4167.

Match holders held their place in American kitchens well into the 20th century, but the advent of electric ranges and gas stoves with pilot lights obviated the necessity of keeping matches near the stove in most kitchens. The need for matches and, in turn, their requisite hanging holders consequently diminished. By 1950, production of hanging match holders had all but ceased. Many were thrown away while others were relegated to attics or basements. Today, though, these relics of the old-fashioned kitchen are sparking the interest of collectors, who will most likely find vintage match holders at antiques shows, flea markets, and garage sales around the country. Occasionally country auctions, especially those that regularly feature kitchenware, will include match holders. Prices range from about $50 to $250, depending on age, rarity, and condition. Although most examples were rarely dated, some do bear a patent date on the back, enabling a collector to identify the exact production period. Serious collectors a lso check for registered numbers or marks that can be traced in the U.S. Patent Index or similar published sources. And period trade and mail-order catalogues can also be helpful in identifying the dates and manufacturers of various holders.

Finally, collectors need to be wary of reproductions, especially cast-iron examples, as new pieces can closely resemble their antique counterparts. Question dealers regarding their sources and closely inspect each item, particularly ones with apparent bargain prices. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a vintage example look and feel old, some of the best advice in the antiques field is worth bearing in mind: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

A Collector’s Wish List

Match holders were produced in a wide variety of styles and materials for more than 100 years, Following are some examples that make the hearts of dedicated collectors beat faster:

* Early tin or cast-iron examples that retain their original painted finishes.

* Advertising match holders that feature domestic scenes. (Shows or auctions specializing in advertising material sometimes yield finds in this category.)

* Colorful enamelware items.

* Tourist offerings bearing transfer prints of popular landmarks.

* Intricate beadwork examples crafted by Native Americans.

* Pieces with like-new finishes that were spared the dirt and grime associated with routine kitchen use.

* Intact pieces made from fragile materials such as glass or porcelain.

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