Q. In an antiques store, I saw a china soap dish with a lily pattern in the Arts and Crafts style. On the bottom was printed: Furnivals Ltd., England and handwritten initials GED. The shop wanted $55. Can you tell me about the piece? - R.A., Lexington, Mass.
A. The Furnivals company no longer exists, but it was probably one of many ceramics manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent in England, according to a ceramics expert in England.
It was fashionable from the 19th century up to World War II for middle-class women to paint greenware (unglazed and unfired ceramics) with their own designs. Some of these amateurs were quite talented. It's likely the soap dish you saw was decorated by one of these women and that the initials were hers. It's hard to say whether the piece was worth the asking price; the best way to determine value is to educate yourself - visit auctions or auction Web sites such as ebay.com, research pottery companies, and check out museum exhibitions to develop an eye for authentic detail. Keep in mind that objects from the English Arts and Crafts movement (1880s to 1910), and its American counterparts, are hot right now with collectors, which affects price.
Q. Are there solutions to hard water that don't rely on salt, chemicals, or plumbing? - R.G., Sudbury, Mass.
A. Some companies market an electromagnetic device that clamps around your water pipe, plugs into the wall, and creates an electrical charge inside the pipe.
The charge may keep minerals that cause hard water - iron, magnesium, and calcium - from building up in pipes, says Francis Hopcroft, head of environmental engineering at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. This means that low water-pressure problems may be solved, but not the ring around the bathtub, low soap lather, or staining of laundry and cooking utensils typical of hard water.
Professor Hopcroft is skeptical that the particles remain charged for long. Eventually, when particles lose the charge, they will resettle in pipes.
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