From grandma's kitchen to museums

If you like old things but your budget doesn't run to authentic Windsor chairs and pricey Colonial highboys. consider kitchen collectibles.

One obvious benefit of these old items is that they're practical.

As you visit flea markets, estate sales, and auctions, you may find a folding omelet pan that never fails to fluff up the eggs, or you might relish a mustard or honey pot, graniteware salt and pepper shakers, a double boiler, trivets, flour sifters, or decorative canisters to store flour and sugar.

Why not squeeze oranges on a Depression-glass squeezer or on a pewter squeezer from the 1920s? Decorative grape shears may come in handy for snipping fresh or dried herbs.

Also popular are metal breadboxes - especially paired with wavy-edged bread knives. In times past, "silent butlers" - to sweep up crumbs from the dining table - were found in most well-stocked kitchens.

A country auction or flea market may be the best place to find old-fashioned ice-cream makers and other vintage collectibles such as a circa 1927 waffle grill. What's so unusual about it? You place it on top of a sizzling-hot stove, rather than plugging it into an electric socket.

The colorful dinnerware of the 1930s and '40s - such as Fiesta and Harlequin - frequently catches the eye of nostalgia buffs. Of particular interest are their stunning-looking serving pieces, which are bringing hefty prices at antique shows.

Also attracting collectors are teapots, tea-cozies, and tea balls. The tiny metal balls come in numerous shapes: cottages, kettles, tea pots, and so on. These remain a real bargain, even the sterling silver examples.

What other kitchen items from the past are being snapped up by collectors? Calendars from the past, along with the items they often hung alongside on the walls - gleaming copper molds and lithographed tin matchbox holders.

Also popular are serrated grapefruit spoons, wooden iceboxes, and even the little girl's version of Mom's tools.

Whether you cook or not, it's hard to resist "mother's little helpers" of the 1920s and '30s. These kitchen toys include miniature rolling pins, pots and pans, and electric stoves that took hours to boil an egg. Before you buy miniature kitchen tools, though, it pays to learn more about these juvenile collectibles because there are many reproductions around.

Even museums have been snapping up kitchen collectibles. Toasters of the 1920s, as well as Fiesta and Harlequin dinnerware, are on exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, a branch of the Smithsonian, in New York City.

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