Collectors are in a froth over old eggbeaters and other gadgets

ANTIQUES

June 13, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen | Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers Solis Cohen Enterprises

If you've ever gone crazy sifting through kitchen drawers crammed full of old gadgets and gizmos, then this stirring and kooky tale is for you. Over six dozen "Kooks" (Kollectors of Old Kitchen Stuff) convened an "Eggstravaganza" last month in Camp Hill, Pa., to swap duplicates, share patent information, and identify mystifying kitchen "what's-its" before beating it to an antiques market in Carlisle, Pa., to hunt for more relics of vintage gastronomy.

While most Kooks collect old cookie cutters, apple parers, nutmeg graters, colanders, slotted spoons, raisin seeders, cherry pitters, corn-cob shellers, choppers and other devices from the pre-Cuisinart era, old eggbeaters piqued the greatest interest at the Kooks' first mixer.

Organized in unbeatable fashion by Carol Bohn, a collector and dealer from Mifflinburg, Pa., the two-day convention attracted Kooks from Alaska to Florida, including many men fascinated by the wheels, gears and mechanics of vintage utensils. The largest delegation came from California.

"There was lots of wheeling and dealing, and in the process many good friendships formed," Ms. Bohn recalled proudly.

Good taste and missionary zeal

Good taste and missionary zeal is the recipe for any Kook's success. "I don't have to persuade you that what you're collecting is art," sermonized the convention's morning speaker, Linda Campbell Franklin, to a flock of nodding heads and several muttered "amens!" Ms. Franklin is the author of "300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles" (Books Americana, $24.45 postpaid from Franklin, 2716 Northfield Road, Charlottesville, Va. 22901), a must-have for real Kooks. Ms. Franklin's topic was "Falling for Holes," and she displayed a slew of see-through kitchen implements, including an artfully pierced tin colander, wire soap-saver and pierced fish slice.

Ms. Franklin says she's been collecting since "before I can remember" and has amassed 3,000 or so kitchen items. She pursues unusual things, like her 1870s combination colander/ladle from an orphanage, its brass label inscribed: "Pelham Boys Home, Help Save the Poor Boys." She paid about $23 for it two years ago at a gun show and flea market in Hillsville, Va., a favorite hunting ground.

After a lunch break, Kooks reassembled to hear Don Thornton, RTC assistant metro editor of the San Francisco Examiner and author of "The Egg Beater Book" (Arbor House, 1983), proclaim: "Without a doubt, eggbeaters are America's greatest invention." His remarks chronicled mechanical eggbeaters' earth-shattering arrival on the American scene in the pre-cholesterol-consciousness age. "The rotary crank eggbeater revolutionized American cooking. It took the drudgery out of mixing food ingredients. Its impact on the stomachs of America is monumental," he said.

Mr. Thornton's first eggbeater cost a nickel at a flea market 25 years ago. He had discovered eggbeaters after writing a UPI story about a gentleman who claimed his cache of 50 was then the world's largest. Mr. Thornton bought his second two years later, for $3, and then began buying all he could find. Now he has over 700. Most are displayed on his living room walls; the rest are stored in his garage.

The earliest American-manufactured rotary crank eggbeater, patented in 1859 by J. F. and E. P. Monroe, has a gear-operated whisk-shaped --er. Made of cast iron, it clamps to a shelf or table, and the cook places an egg-filled bowl on a counter or stool underneath. Obviously awkward to use, few were produced. Mr. Thornton paid $300 for his rare Monroe four years ago. None are known to have surfaced since. He estimates a Kook now might shell out at least $500 for one.

The first widely distributed eggbeaters were cast-iron, hand-held models with simple tin --ers, mass-produced by Dover Stamping Co., of Boston, starting around 1870. Several sizes were available, as were at least four different handle styles. The unbeatable Dovers so dominated the market that for years their name was synonymous with "eggbeater." They were endorsed by Fanny Farmer and other late-19th-century cookbook authors. Dovers sold for around $1.25 each in 1880, and now generally bring $40 to $125 each in good condition. Popular eggbeaters that spanned the 20th century include those by Taplin Manufacturing Co., of New Britain, Conn., and Ekco Housewares Co., of Franklin Park, Ill.

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