Watering cans were invented centuries ago

Ever wonder who invented the first watering can? When were small gardens numerous enough to have customers willing to pay for a better way to carry water to their plants?

Historic records say the first was a watering pot made in about 1580. It was a container with a handle and small holes in the bottom for the water to flow out. It was another 50 to 100 years before someone thought of adding a spout.

The earliest mention in print was in 1692 in Timothy Keeble’s diary. Early watering cans were made of pottery, then zinc, brass, copper, tin and other metals. They were bucket-shaped, then milk-can shaped and then funnel-shaped.

More recently, there were small watering cans that hold liquid in a round ball shape with a spout. Twentieth century watering cans can be plastic, tin or even canvas. Every shape includes a round hollow part that empties through a spout with tiny holes. It is called a “rose.”

It was the early 1900s before sprinkling cans were mass-produced and had a metal company’s logo included on a tag or impression.

And small collectible children’s tin sprinkling cans with colorful decorations were first popular in the 1930s.

The most artistic sprinkling cans were made in the Aesthetic style in the 19th century. The painted cans had decoupaged or painted birds, flowers and other outdoor designs. One sold at a Rago auction for $214. It probably was used indoors.

Q: I have a set of eight plates with center pictures of different flowers and gold trim. The plates are about six inches across. The letters on the back look like an “O” and “L” “Prove. Saxe” over the initials “E.S.” I’d like to know who made these plates and how old they are.

A: The initials “E.S.” stand for Erdmann Schlegelmilch, and the mark on your plates is “Prov. Saxe,” which was used by the Erdmann Schlegelmilch Porcelain Factory. The factory was founded by Leonard Schlegelmilch (1823-1898) and named for his father, Erdmann. It was in business in Suhl, Thuringia, Germany, from 1861 to 1937. The company made decorated and undecorated porcelain. The “Prov. Saxe” mark was used beginning in 1902, and was one of several marks used by the company. The country of origin was required on items imported into the United States beginning in 1891. Since the mark on your plates doesn’t include the word “Germany,” they may have been made for local use. Some small plates with floral decoration have sold online for less than $10.

Q: We inherited an inventory of handwritten and typed jokes and scripts from Lucille Klinker, wife of Zeno Klinker, the head writer for Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. We would like to donate this material to someone interested in the collection or to a museum. Please let me know any information you can provide.

A: Zeno Klinker (1900-1985) wrote jokes for two of Edgar Bergen’s movies in the 1940s and for his radio program in the 1950s. He also wrote jokes for other radio shows. He and his sister designed a series of humorous greeting cards in the 1930s. He wrote the text and his sister did the illustrations. Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen’s dummy, is in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (americanhistory.si.edu). The American Radio Archives at the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation in Thousand Oaks, California (thousandoakslibraryfoundation.org), has a collection of radio scripts, sound recordings and other materials. Contact these museums to see if either is interested in your collection.

Q: I bought a bag of uniform buttons several years ago that have a crown in the middle and “Kent Constabulary” written around the edge. Some are shiny silver-tone metal and some are dark and hard. I can’t tell what the dark material is; it’s possible that it’s leather. The dark buttons are marked on the back “J.A. Grove & Sons, Halesowen.” The buttons are about 7/8 of an inch in diameter and have a shank on the back.

A: The dark-colored buttons you have are horn buttons made by James Grove & Sons, a company started in Halesowen, England in 1857, which became the largest button manufacturer in the United Kingdom. The company specialized in uniform buttons for police, military, post office and railroad workers, and was one of the world’s largest manufacturers of horn buttons. It made buttons for both the Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War. James Grove & Sons went out of business in 2012. Some of the dies and pattern books were sold online and a new company, Grove Pattern Buttons, began making buttons in 2013. The business was closed by 2016. The Kent Constabulary is a police force established in Kent County, England, in 1857. It became the Kent Police in 2002. Kent Constabulary buttons are fairly common and sell online for about $1 to $5.