To collectors, antiques made by members of the Shakers religious sect are "simply divine," and many pieces command hefty prices at antique shows, shops and auctions.
The supply never seems to meet the demand, and collectors religiously search shops and shows in hopes of finding hard-to-find pieces.
Some collectors mix Shaker-made pieces with other country-style antiques, but purists can spend years trying to furnish their homes "strictly Shaker." Searching for authentic Shaker pieces requires time, patience, devotion and dollars.
Among the most interesting pieces are Shaker-made chairs, with or without rockers, and with or without arms. Some still have the original gold-transfer trademark labels attached, or a numeral from 0 to 7 incised or impressed on one of the slats, to indicate the chair's size. Those numbered 0 or 1, made for children, are very desirable.
Some Shaker chairs have a bar or rod across the two top posts to hold a cushion or mat for extra back comfort. The Shakers made back and seat cushions for some chairs. Chairs were advertised in 1876 as having "web seats and backs."
There were ladderback chairs with one, two, three, four or five slats across the back, with seats of woven rush or splint, as well as chairs with rod or spindle-designed backs, with solid or woven seats.
Other desirable Shaker chairs have mushroom arms, which end in buttonlike caps as hand rests.
Much sought-after are tilters, chairs designed to tilt backward, with ball-and-socket arrangements in the back legs so the chairs can be tilted back on the rear legs while the front legs remain firmly on the floor. Most of the tilting ball arrangements were made of wood; less common are those of pewter or brass. Most desirable are tilter chairs with brass socket arrangements stamped "Patented 1852."
At a recent auction, a Shaker rocker with arms, a cushion rail and a Mount Lebanon, New York, Shaker trademark sold for $375, while a small, unsigned, armless Shaker rocker brought $150 and another Shaker rocker marked "Shaker's No. 4, Mount Lebanon, New York" sold for $180.
Aside from such Shaker chairs as ladderbacks, which often were hung out of the way on wall pegs, there are many other Shaker pieces -- cupboards, desks, ironing tables, candlestands (both tale-type and screw-arrangement examples, to turn up or down to adjust the light), various racks, tables, tall case clocks (usually referred to as grandfather clocks), and stepstools with two or three steps (desirable).
Other popular pieces are wash benches, towl racks, brushes, brooms, combs, yarn swifts, wooden clothes and cloak hangers, apple butter scoops, wood and horsehair sieves, bean-sorting trays (one recently sold for $150 in a New York antiques shop), kitchen utensils, pin cushions (some combined with spoolholders), stoves, tin strainers, cheese drainers, rug beaters and everything from bucket to boxes to baskets to bonnets.
Shaker-made boxes are sought-after: oval-shaped types with overlapping fingers that joined the boxes, and the charming, wooden-handled, basketlike boxes called carriers, because they could be carried by their handles.
Shaker flour bags, pickle bottles, mirrors, sconces, darning eggs, pipes and herb boxes also are desirable, as are Shaker ink and watercolor folk art and "spirit" drawings that make collectors shake with excitement.
If you are contemplting investing in and collecting Shaker antiques, it's best to learn about the pieces first. An extremely helpful, informative, picture-packed book of items that appeared in the Ohio Antique Review is "The Shaker Way," by Charles R. Muller, available in softcover for $9.50 postpaid from Ohio Antique Review, P.O. Box 538, Worthington, Ohio 43085.
A copy of "The Shaker Way" and a one-year subscription to Ohio Antique Review, a monthly tabloid in which desirable Shaker pieces and other country-type antiques are advertised, are $20. A magazine subscription is $12 a year.
"Shaker Architecture," compiled by Herbert Schiffer, features 16 Shaker communities, with photographs of their buildings and lifestyles. It's available in hardcover for $20 plus $1 postage from Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Box E, Exton, Pennsylvania 19341. The book is a must for Shaker exterior and interior architectural study.
If you're "going Shaker," a marvelous, old-fashioned cookbook, with 457 pages of yummy Shaker recipes, "The Best of Shaker Cooking," by Amy Bess Miller and Persis Fuller, is available in softcover for $5.95 plus $1.05 postage from Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., Front and Brown Streets, Riverside, New Jersey 08075. Along with more than 500 Shaker recipes, the book has information about Shaker kitchens and community lifestyles.
And if you want to experience Shaker life in a community that welcomes guests for vacations, you may write for details to Shakertown, Pleasant Hill, Inc., Rural Route 4, Harrodsburg, Kentucky 40330, or phone 606/734-5422 for information. Q: In the old days, how did "ladies of the night keep their figures? A: They squashed their bodies into corsets and bodices that barred over-eating, and their diets were mostly liquid. Madama Pompadour, for instance, supped on her famous celery soup and served it to her royal lover. The original recipe for her soup is one of 800 recipes in the Centennial Cookbook , compiled to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Chicago's Union League Club. (In hardcover for $8.95 plus $1 postage and handling from the Women's Board Union League Foundation for Boys' Clubs, 65 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago 60604.)