Lawn sprinklers could not be used before the first water distribution systems were invented in the 1870s. The new ways to provide water through underground pipes were used by public buildings, then private water tanks.

Farms, public landscapes and public parks were the next to install the systems. So, by the 1880s, there was a way to use a sprinkler.

At first, a plain metal piece with holes was screwed on a hose. Water sprinkled out of the holes.

But by the 1890s, some clever companies started making decorative figural iron sprinklers to be used in a private yard. There were sprinklers shaped like monkeys, frogs, ducks, alligators, turtles, a two-faced man and even a mermaid.

At a recent auction, a two-sided mermaid sprinkler sold for $2,040. Some experts say only about 18 different characters were used as iron sprinkler figures, although at least six companies made them.

Most unusual probably is the 30-inch high cowboy who spins a lasso flinging water on the grass. It is thought that less than 100 were made.

If iron sprinklers are too pricey to collect, look for the colorful Bakelite examples that are not figural made the 1940s and ‘50s. They often are found at garage sales.

What kind of dishes would my ancestors have used? Pewter? Wood? Porcelain?

Dishes used for dinner were made of wood before the 16th century. Then thick ceramics like stoneware was used. It was easier to clean.

The Chinese were making thin porcelain dishes from the 1st century to the 21st century, and thick pewter plates and pottery dishes were popular in the United States by the 1700s.

It also was possible for the rich to order Chinese export porcelain that was delivered by ship in about a year. By the 19th century, all these wares were being made in Europe, China and the United States.

In 1945, plastic dishes were sold in a few department stores, although they had been tested by the armed forces since 1940. By 1948 plastic dishes were often considered the “best” dishes and were used for company. At least 20 companies were making plastic dinnerware.

Best were the sets made of Beetle or Melamine plastic by companies like Brookpark or Boontonware. Cheap copies were made, popularity went down, and by the 1960s, plastic dishes were suitable for picnics — not major entertaining.

Current Prices

Bed warmer, brass, punched decoration, turned wooden handle, green paint, 1800s, 45 inches, $40.

Bowl, black, inlay, schooling fish, 3 fish-shaped feet, porcelain, 2 1/2 x 6 3/4 inches, $300.

Donald Duck figurine, golfing, checkered hat, swinging club, Disney, c. 1947, 8 inches, $950.

Tiffany silver, teapot, chased, repousse, birds, flowers, branches, ebonized wood handle, 7 x 10 1/4 inches, $1,500.

Tip: Antique clocks should be level both back to front and side to side to keep correct time.

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