Once it was a familiar sight to see a woman in the back yard with a rug beater in hand, beating the daylights out of dirty carpets flung over a clothesline or flat on the ground.
Today rug beaters are collected for their charm rather than for the chore they once performed. Some rug beaters were made of thick wire with wooden handles, others were made of wood, still others were of rattan and woven cane.
Rug beaters popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries included an example of German rattan, 3 1/2 feet long, a huge open loop resembling a giant teardrop, attached to a wooden handle. A similar type made of wood had a red handle with a paper label, "Rug and Carpet Beater." At an antiques show recently, such a beater, believed to have been made by the Shakers, was offered for $85.
Another Shaker-made type with an open-loop design was of wire attached to a maple handle, marked "Levi Shaw, Mt. Lebanon, N.Y." Dating from 1880, one was pictured and priced between $85 and $100 in the "Wallace-Homestead Price Guide to American Country Antiques," by Don and Carol Raycraft ($8.95 plus 75 cents postage from Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 1912 Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa 50305.) Shaker-made carpet beaters are far more valuable than most types found at flea markets and garage sales.
A rug beater 29 1/2 inches long, shaped like the open-loop types, had a loop of braided steel wires attached to a wooden handle and bent at the top in a little loop so that the handle would not come off and the piece could hang. Others, made the same way, were 26 inches long.
A patented 31-inch "Justright," of coppered wire with a brass-ferruled wooden handle, was in the shape of a pair of fly wings, with a bent shank and raised handle at the top. Another, its head a fly-wing design, had a wooden handle with five bulbous turnings so it could be held securely. One much smaller was shaped like a loop, with seven circles inside forming an "O" pattern.
Another patented rug beater, the 22-inch "Niagara," had an unusual head of coiled springs shaped like a flower with five round petals. Still another patented example, by the Johnson Novelty Company, of Danville, Pa., was marked "The Bathing Beater, Patented Oct. 4, 1927."
Many interesting carpet beaters were made of rattan, handle and all, in a variety of pretty patterns. Some had heads in a figure-eight shape, intertwined with loops in an attractive design. Others had heads with a braided lattice motif. Still others had heads with a pattern formed by a series of loops and circles.
In 1895, woven cane carpet beaters, three feet long, sold for 18 cents and were advertised to "last a lifetme." Perhaps that's why so many survive.
Rug beaters, from the Victorian era to the 1930s, can be found at antique shops, house sales, country auctions and resale shops.
Homemade primitive rug beaters can be found, too. They were devised by attaching long pieces of looped wire to broomsticks or similar handles. Sometimes strong hickory switches or simple wooden boards were used to do the job. Q. I have a three-piece Victorian walnut parlor set consisting of a "haunted" love set and two chairs. The set originally belonged to my great-grandmother and was handed down to my grandmother. She weighed 300 ounds and used to take her naps on the love seat, back in the days when it was upholstered in mohair. The set has since been reupholstered in a brocade material. However, when I sit on the love seat, I get a tickling sensation and seem to feel my grandmother's presence. Who would be interested in purchasing this set and where can I find a buyer? A. Mohair feels ticklish and itchy against the skin, and perhaps your grandmother wanted you to experience the original "feel" of the love seat. In any event, such Victorian furniture suites or sets depending on their features -- fanciness, condition, age, style, and whether they are signed by or can be attributed to important furniture makers or manufacturers -- tickle the fancy of many collectors and dealers. An outstanding book that gives invaluable Victorian furniture information and pictures both early and late Victorian furniture styles is "How To Know American Antique Furniture," by Robert Bishop, available for $5.95 plus 75 cents postage from F. P. Duttton, 2 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. Also, you'll find Victorian furniture pictured, identified and priced in "Victorian Furniture Styles and Prices," by Robert W. and Harriet Swedberg, available for $7.95 plus 75 cents postage from the Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 1912 Grand Ave., Des Moines, Ia. 50305.
You might be interested to know that recently at a Sotheby Park-Bernet Victorian International auction in New York, an American Eastlake-style Victorian walnut parlor suite sold for $2,000, while an American rococo rosewood parlor suite attributed to John Henry Belter was knocked down for $16,000. Each set consisted of a sofa, two arm chairs and two side chairs. Q. Some time back you mentioned an old poem written by Don Blanding called "Vagabond's House," which was recorded. Is it available, and if so, where can I get it? I'd like to give it to a special friend for Christmas who treasured the poem during his college days. A. The recording, which includes Blanding's immortal classics "Vagabond's House" and "Farewell to Vagabond's House" plus other selections, is available for $7 postpaid per album or $8 postpaid per eight-track tape from Torch records, P.O. Box 59354, Chicago 60659.