Friday, August 16, 2013

The Tiny Tea Set, During a Time of War

From time to time I find children's tea sets at estate sales.  This morning I found several pieces that looked like the kind of vintage glass called "jadeite" for its milky green color.

Each tiny cup is about two inches across, a perfect little Art Deco design.  There were also two pale milky blue pieces, a creamer and sugar bowl:

The mark on the base of each piece looked like a large bird superimposed over the letter "A."  A few minutes' online research pointed me to a company called Akro Agate.  The website says:

Akro Agate company was founded in Akron, Ohio, in 1911 and moved to Clarksburg, West Virginia, in 1914. The company made marbles and toys. Before Akro Agate produced marbles of its own, it distributed marbles made by other companies. In the 1930s, it began making other products, including vases, lamps, flowerpots, candlesticks, and children's dishes. Most of the glass is marked with a crow flying through the letter A.

The Three Rivers (Pennsylvania) Depression Era Glass website provides more information.  It seems that the crow in the Akro Agate maker's mark is holding a marble in each claw, and has another one clutched in his tiny beak.  Three Rivers adds to our store of information:

Akro Agate added an extensive line of children’s dishes in 1942 and during the WWII years, the operation grew from $600,000 annually to almost $2,000,000 annually. The growth came almost exclusively on the strength of their children’s dishes. 

So the tiny tea service dates to World War II.   Two million dollars in 1945 is the equivalent of almost $26 million today.  (That's a lot of tea parties.)  Three Rivers continues:

After WWII, plastic children’s dishes became the hot item and it spelled the beginning of the end.  In 1951 Akro Agate closed its doors and went out of business. 

I'm glad someone played carefully with these pieces from their tea set, and thought to save them.  

It's not difficult to imagine a group of little girls (and maybe some of their brothers, if they promised to be nice) during the war years, carefully pouring "tea" into the cups and adding imaginary milk and sugar, reenacting a cherished ritual of innocence while the grownup world was going mad.   

Or the war-weary father, home at last, sitting slightly bemused on the floor of his daughter's bedroom, surrounded by her dolls and stuffed animals, patiently watching his little girl pour out a cup of imaginary tea for him.  A cup for herself.  And a cup for each of the toys.  

She won't really understand until she is older that Daddy was willing to lay down his life in war so she could safely enjoy her tea parties.  A man at war is a symbol of strength.  But a man is also strong when he's being gracious, and patient, with a child.  

"Thank you for coming to my tea party, Daddy."

"You're welcome, sweetheart."  

1 comment:

  1. I have a complete set of this that was given to my mother as a Christmas gift in 1945. Mine also has white glasses, creamer, sugar bowel with lid, and a teapot. I was talking to my mom this morning and we got talking about the set. I wanted to try to find out more about it. Thanks for posting.