Ask Antique Trader: Yard sale salt box carries German folk motif

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Enclosed are pictures of, I think, a pewter match holder I bought at a yard sale last Saturday for $10. It wasn’t until I got it home that I noticed the date of 1814 and the initials K & B above the date. Around the front edge of the lid is written (first line)  MIR – ULMER – SPATZESIND – G or CUHT – ES – NE – DE –     C  or G RANDE -WEG   (second line)  NET CAR – SO – EVRCHTIC – DOMM – NO – DREHT – MAS – HALME – ROM.  At least I think that is what it says.  Some of the letters are really worn.  There is a small round mark on the bottom of what looks like a girl with a arched scarf over her head and two marks at the bottom — an E and an Sch. I think it might be German as the wife of the man was German. He said she had died a couple of years ago and he was selling everything in the house. Anything you can tell me about my match holder as to origin and value will be greatly appreciated.  — N.G., Cheriton, Va.

Your lovely find isn’t a match box, but rather a 19th century salt box, designed to keep a family’s precious salt high and dry. There is a strong collector’s market for salt boxes.

Based on the images and words we could decipher on your salt box, we suspect it is related to the legend of the Sparrow of Ulm, Germany, also called Ulmer Spatz. The bird, which serves today as a symbol for the town, is always depicted with a stalk of straw in its beak. According to the story, workmen building Ulm’s cathedral were struggling to get a beam of wood through a narrow passage. They noticed a sparrow carrying a stalk of straw in its beak, trying to get the straw into a gap between two stones. The bird turned its head to the side and moved the stalk in tip first, which inspired the workers to do the same to move the beam.

Several of the key words we could decipher that were engraved on your salt box would support that story: (ulmer = Ulm; spatz = sparrow; dreht = turns; halme = stem). Pewter salt boxes are fairly common, and yours is in very good condition. It would probably sell for around $100 to $200 in a well-advertised auction, perhaps more, if even more research was done on the names and the origin. Like many collectibles, however, the market for pewter salt boxes is not as strong as it was, say a decade ago, but you never know what may spark an interest.

I enjoy reading Antique Trader; the articles are interesting and informative. It’s great how you are able to tell people that write to you so much about their treasures. I am sending pictures of an old table I purchased recently. The woman who previously owned it called it a harp table. It has four inserts that are all in great shape. Can you tell me who made it and its approximate value? Thank you. — D. B. Pahrump, Nev.

Thank you for the kind words. Tables like these are popularly referred to as “harp” tables, but the more traditional name is a lyre table. Yours is a lyre-legged Colonial Revival reproduction of a Federal period game table circa 1815. It is a dining table with a pair of support legs tucked up inside the apron (the wood border attached to the table’s top). The lyre was an important decorative element of the American Classical period.

The hardware on the front is only for decorative use to make it look like a console table or a game table. A piece like this would have worked perfectly in the a smaller apartment.

These are highly sought-after today by interior designers who encourage people to adapt rooms to more than one use. Your great dining table was factory made probably in the 1920s-1940s and has a retail price of $600 to start; an auction value of $250 to $300 would be about right.

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Ask Antique Trader, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

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Eric Bradley is the editor of Antique Trader magazine and a former producer of the Atlantique City Antiques Show. He has been buying, selling and trading antiques and collectibles for 15 years. He can be reached via e-mail at or in care of Antique Trader Magazine, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990.


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