Blowtorch & Fire Grenade

This intriguing object (embossed “model no. 27”) was offered at our last Beehive sale. It is a BLOW TORCH, made on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries by Turner Brass Works in Sycamore Illinois, or possibly somewhat later in Chicago when their factory relocated. 

Turner Brass Works produced thousands of blow torches with multiple improvements over the years. Their 1905 catalog touts one as “A pint torch for general light work, constructed with our improved automatic brass pump in the tank. The burner is of heavy bronze, strong and durable. For electricians, painters, etc., we guarantee it to give perfect satisfaction.”

The torches used the same kerosene as household lamps from the 1800s. Since a kerosene flame is not hot enough to melt metal, the torches use a manual pump to pressurize the fuel chamber, forcing the flame into a much hotter jet that shoots straight from the nozzle. The brass button on the vertical stem is the pump, and the black knob on the horizontal stem off the back of the apparatus adjusts the volume and focus of the jet. Later models have a pressure relief cap and a gauge to warn if the tank is approaching a dangerous blow-out.

Turner Brass Works operated for almost 100 years and according to a 1925 issue of The True Republican it was “the world’s largest exclusive manufacturer of blow torches, fire pots and braziers.” The company was founded in 1871 by Edward S. Turner, who was bought out 18 years later by Harrison Rountree. An ardent capitalist and industrialist, the young Mr. Rountree was nevertheless also an enthusiastic member of the more artistic circles of high society and socialized with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, feminist author Kate Chopin, and L. Frank Baum, author of many children’s fantasy books. 

In fact, Roundtree financed of some of Baum’s early work, so the original sale of this little blowtorch helped bring the vast Wizard of Oz fantasy franchise to fruition. Another of Roundtree’s friends, Chicago artist Orlando Giannini, created the hand-standing gymnast that served as the Turner Brass Works’ logo, just barely visible here on the torch’s pressure pump.

It must be said that pressure alone is not enough to get these torches lit, the operator must also pre-heat the outside area around the nozzle with a splash of flaming fuel, so unlike many of the vintage tools we offer, we recommend leaving vintage blow torch use to the experts!

And what did people do back then when a house or shop fire broke out? The answer from another QBO sale: Harden’s brand Star Glass FIRE GRENADE, a liquid-filled bottle sealed with cork and cement. Although the earliest only held saltwater (which didn’t freeze in cold weather) more effective caustic chemicals were soon introduced. The first American patent was granted in 1863 with many following, so there are a wide variety of fire grenades, from 4″ to 8″ tall, in aqua, amber or clear, or rarely green or cobalt blue, with names like “Red Comet” and “Shur-Stop”. If a fire broke out in your home, you were meant to hurl the grenade at the flame’s base and flee before the fumes smothering the fire’s oxygen overcame you, too. So, they were not the greatest and it’s easy to see why they only lasted from 1870 to 1910, when the invention of brass & copper fire extinguishers rendered them obsolete.


If you collect fire grenades, remember: caustic, noxious, gaseous chemicals in fragile glass! Stay safe. We’ll see you soon.

Incredible Drawings for Long-gone Authors

His Don Quixote is still influential today, and his collaboration with journalist Blanchard Jerrold documenting London, poverty and all, impressed Vincent van Gogh. Doré never married. He lived with his mother until his death in 1883 and was working on new illustrations for Shakespeare until the end.

John Milton was born in England in 1608, a poet and civil servant who lived through civil war and religious upheavals. He married three times, outlived two of his wives, and outlived two of his five children. Described by biographer Samuel Johnson as “acrimonious and surly”, Milton was not shy with his opinions, even though his first works were published anonymously. Areopagitica, which does have his name on it, is a condemnation of censorship and is recognized as one of the most historically influential defenses of both freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

But his magnum opus is the passionate and cerebral Paradise Lost, an epic poem written in blank verse (with regular metrical but unrhymed lines). The first version, published in 1667, consists of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. The second edition, with minor revisions, is done in twelve books.

The poem tells of the Fall of Man, with Satan being cast out of Heaven, his subsequent temptation of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Its morally ambiguous interpretation of the fallen angel, and its depiction Adam as a knowing participant in his own downfall, (choosing to eat the apple of knowledge so he can remain with his already condemned love, Eve) made Paradise Lost controversial. And, recognized as one of the greatest works of English literature of all time.

Need a vintage Epic of your own? Visit QBO.

The Bane of Every Parents Existence– LEGOs

The bane of every parents existence — LEGOs

Of all the toys Queen B sells, the brightly-colored, hard plastic blocks known as Legos are among the most popular. The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. LEGO was founded out of desperation by Danish woodworker Ole Kirk Kristiansen when people stopped buying his furniture during the Great Depression. He managed to sell his mini wood furniture and ladder ‘salesmen’s samples’ as toys, so in 1932 his workshop switched over to just making wooden toys.

In 1947 the LEGO Group came across samples of “Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks” designed by Hilary Fisher Page. In what today looks like an act of industrial espionage (or at the least, copyright violation) the Kiddicraft blocks became the prototype for Lego blocks. In 1949 Lego purchased a plastic injection molding machine to make “Automatic Binding Bricks” and in 1953 renamed their toy Lego Mursten, or “Lego Bricks.”

The plastic bricks were not as popular as the wooden toy line was at first, but in 1960 a warehouse fire destroyed most of the company’s inventory of wooden toys and it was decided to focus on plastic. By then the time was right and by the end of that year, the Lego Group was employing more than 450 people. In 1961, Lego licensed Samsonite (maker of plastic luggage) to produce and sell Lego products in the U.S. and Canada.

Lego passed from father to son and is now owned by a grandchild. The company marches into the 21st century with a popular line of construction toys, as well as products and services including board games, retail stores, Lego video games, Lego films, Legoland theme parks, and Lego Serious Play consultant services. They are everywhere!

But Legos vast popularity among kids who don’t always pick up after themselves has also given them an unintended claim to fame; an endless supply of jokes re: the agony of stepping on one. There are so many Lego jokes you’d think that before their invention, a parent bringing their kid a glass of water in the middle of the night would be completely safe, right?

Not so. From another QBO sale we have a popular kid’s toy from the 1900s still made today, Jacks. AKA jackstones, knuckle-bones, snobs, astragalus, tali, dibs, or five-stones, Jacks is a contest among several players in which the ball is bounced once and then a successively larger number of Jacks is scooped up in one palm at each turn. Different throws have imaginative names like “riding the elephant”, “peas in the pod”, “horses in the stable”, and “frogs in the well”.

Versions of the game are found worldwide. The earliest dates to around 5000 B.C. and was played with real knucklebones of hooved animals, which are irregular, knobby shapes. Which leaves one to wonder, ‘why the spiky Jacks sold today?’ Current Jacks resemblance to caltrops cannot be ignored when your foot finds one in the dark! For those unfamiliar, caltrops are ancient spiked military devices scattered around a perimeter or across a road to stop incoming soldiers, chariots, or in modern times, tanks. The name “caltrop” is derived from the Old English calcatrippe (heel-trap), and the French chausse-trape (shoe-trap). The WWII caltrops pictured were called ‘Czech Hedgehogs’. There’s a reason those Jacks have real stopping power!

Fortunately, Queen B also sells plenty of the best defense against both Jacks and Legos, which would be – slippers! Maybe a pair like these fuzzy pink pigs here. See you soon.

Knives Without Practicality

Knives Without Practicality

If you found this curiosity in the kitchen area at a Queen B sale, you might think you’d come across something from an old fairytale; a 9″ knife made of pressed, sharpened glass. And it is from the past, just not the ancient past; it was made in the late 1930s or 40s.

The Cryst-o-lite knife hardly seems practical, but there were competing brands such as the New Vitex Glas Knife that made it into the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Pre-internet and pre-Amazon, World’s Fairs were a combo of trade show, amusement park and the United Nations, where countries and companies competed to show off their best stuff, such as fancy, futuristic ‘crystal’ knives.

The Vitex Glas Knife was presented in a box sporting the fair’s logo, with the slogan “Always Sharp, Sanitary, Stainless”, much like this knife’s box copy “Always clean, always sharp, perfect for slicing.” The emphasis on the glass knife’s clean qualities is due to metal blades at the time being made of carbon steel, which the acid in many foods will badly stain. The process of developing stainless steel had begun 100 years prior but in the 30s and 40s many households still used knives that could stain and rust. The eternally clean glass knife had modern appeal.

Produced by companies that made pressed glass table wares, glass knives come in the many of same colors as other Depression Glass: clear, pink, purple, and more rarely, uranium green or ice blue. Their handles can be plain or decorated with starbursts, diamonds, or flowers like this one. Like any pressed glass, these knives are breakable. According to the manufacturers they should only be used with a wooden cutting board, and please stick to cutting citrus fruits, tomatoes, meringue pies, cakes, and molded Jellos; no T-bone steaks!

And in case you’re wondering, yes – in spite of their fragility, glass blades can draw blood!

Which shouldn’t be a surprise considering that flaked glass blades have been used for hundreds of thousands of years. These obsidian arrowheads from another QBO sale are from the ancient past – examples of the earliest cutting edge known to humans. Long before we could smelt metals, humans gathered naturally occurring obsidian glass from the slopes of volcanos and worked it into tools. Obsidian blades have been tested and proven sharper than modern scalpels, as they would have to be to slice through mammoth hide. Scandinavian fairytales tell of a Mountain of Glass, and the Game of Thrones saga featured sword blades made of ‘Dragon Glass’ – fantastical references to the place volcanic glass holds in human history.

The newest glass blades were invented in Japan in 1997. Made of zirconium oxide, they are marketed as ‘ceramic knives’ and can be black, or white like this one from a Beehive sale. Blades are produced by sintering; dry- pressing powdered zirconia and alumina into a mold at 300 tons of pressure and firing at a scorching 2000 degrees centigrade. They are then sharpened with ground diamond dust. Ceramic knives are touted as noncorrosive and exceptionally hard so they stay sharp longer than steel. But they can also shatter if handled roughly and can only be used on soft foods, same as the old-timey glass knives. They are not popular with professional chefs but have many fans among home cooks.

It takes an expert to restore an obsidian or ceramic blade, but depression glass knives can be sharpened at home with the same diamond files used on lapidary stones or fish hooks. This file is from the garage at (where else?) a QBO estate sale. See you soon.