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Toys of the past could be tactless

Political correctness is a recent concept, as a look at the toys of yesteryear demonstrates.

In the days when the United States was still expanding, the majority of those who had spending money were English-speaking, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males, the so-called Wasps of today. Advertising cards and labels often poked fun at unfamiliar ethnic groups. It was good business to ridicule people from the racial, religious and regional minorities who tended to be too poor to buy the products.

Comic stereotypes shown in pictures and on small ceramic souvenirs and children's toys included illiterate maids and smiling black cooks.

Children's toys encouraged many stereotypes that people would find objectionable today. Mechanical banks meant to teach small children to save no doubt taught other, less desirable lessons as well.

The Teddy and the Bear bank shows President Teddy Roosevelt hunting with a gun and looking at a bear cub he declined to shoot _ a decision that certainly would delight today's animal activists.

Toy makers today know that their customers include people from all races, and are careful not to offend any group.

"Caterpiller' fabric

Question: My grandmother has offered me her white chenille bedspread. When was chenille popular?

Answer: Chenille is a cotton fabric with a surface of raised, tufted patterns.

"Chenille" is the French word for "caterpillar."

The fuzzy fabric was first made as a home craft in Georgia about 100 years ago. Women stitched loops of thread through the back of a muslin sheet. After the fabric was washed, the loops were cut to create the tuft.

By the 1930s and '40s, chenille was at its peak of popularity. By that time, it was made by machine and was used to make bedspreads, rugs and bathrobes.

The best chenille spreads were white with colored tufts.

Be sure to thank your grandmother for her gift. Chenille is popular again.

Mark of Limoges

Question: A set of dishes I inherited are marked "Limoges China Co. U.S.A." I thought Limoges was made in France. My dishes have gold trim and an "H" monogram.

Answer: Limoges is a city in France where porcelain has been made since the late 1700s. Hoping to make china of the same quality, the Sebring family founded a pottery in eastern Ohio in 1899 and marked its china "Limoges."

In 1904, the Ohio pottery was renamed the "Limoges China Co." After Haviland & Co. and the city of Limoges, France, filed a lawsuit in the 1930s, the Ohio company changed its name to American Limoges China Inc. It closed in 1958.

The pottery's dinnerware was made of soft paste that was creamy white and heavy. French Limoges dinnerware is purer white, more translucent and lighter in weight than its American cousin.

The mark on your plate was used by the Ohio company from 1910 to 1930. Collectors refer to your dishes' pattern as "Socialite." It was made with various monograms.

Ban the smell

Question: My parents left me a set of 1950s cherry bedroom furniture. Unfortunately, it was stored too long in a closed room, and the drawers smell moldy. I have tried commercial disinfectants, but nothing has worked. Can you help?

Answer: Try spreading some fresh coffee grounds in the drawers and letting them sit for at least 24 hours. They might absorb the odor.

If that doesn't work, sprinkle the drawers with baking soda, and leave them open for a week. Vacuum and repeat if necessary.

If the smell persists, parch several handfuls of uncooked rice in a shallow pan in the oven. Place the pan and rice in a musty drawer to absorb the odor.

You also can try spreading cat litter or charcoal chips in the drawers. Close the drawers for several days, and repeat until the odor seems to be gone. Then wash the inside of the drawers and let them dry.

Some people solve the problem by placing the drawers outdoors in the shade, then using a fan to blow air through the drawers.

If none of those methods work, you can try varnishing the inside of the drawers to seal in the odor.

The going rate

Hand-painted necktie, black with white cat, rhinestone eyes, 1940s: $60.

Political button, "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right!" Barry Goldwater, 1964, 3{ inches: $25.

Quick Curl Barbie, original box, Mattel, 1972: $45.

Toy sewing machine, Casige, "Made in Germany-British Zone," Gesch M1470 stamped on sewing plate, metallic green: $135.

1948 Cleveland Indians World Series pennant: $150.

Send questions to: Antiques, Ralph and Terry Kovel, c/o the Times, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column.