What’s It Worth: Chalkware Fruit

Cool and collectible chalkware fruit brought color to postwar kitchens.

Chalkware Fruit apple

Vintage chalkware fruit

An apple a day…A sticker on the back says this gleaming piece of chalkware was a "Souvenir of Waterloo, Indiana." Polish plaques with a dry, soft cloth. Expect to pay $4 to $10 for a 2-inch piece in perfect condition. (Photo by Country Woman.)

Chalkware Fruit

Chalkware Plaque Of Several Fruits

Fruit salad. This large handsome chalkware piece is unmarked, but its size and excellent condition mean it could sell for more than $100. Watch those rummage sales! (Photo by Country Woman.)

Chalkware Fruit

Chalkware peach

Just peachy. The blushing little chalkware fruit still bears a 59-cent price tag, along with a 1947 copyright indicating it was made in Chicago. It could be worth 17 times its original price today. (Photo by Country Woman.)

Country Woman reader and Facebook follower Marge Hess Yetzke shares this shot of her vintage chalkware piece, a ripe tomato topped with pea pods. "It's kind of in bad condition, but I love it," Marge says. (Photo by Marge Hess Yetzke.)

Chalkware tomato

Country Woman reader and Facebook follower Marge Hess Yetzke shares this shot of her vintage chalkware piece, a ripe tomato topped with pea pods. "It's kind of in bad condition, but I love it," Marge says. (Photo by Marge Hess Yetzke.)

This eye-catching string holder was purchased by her maternal grandmother at the 1936 Sportsman Show and Carnival in Spokane, Washington, says Country Woman reader Suzann Collins of Shelton. "As a child, I remember the apple hanging in her kitchen on the door to the basement," she says. "It now hangs in my kitchen as a fond memory, even though it's rare that I need string." (Photo by Suzanne Collins).

Fruit Wall- string holder

This eye-catching string holder was purchased by her maternal grandmother at the 1936 Sportsman Show and Carnival in Spokane, Washington, says Country Woman reader Suzann Collins of Shelton. "As a child, I remember the apple hanging in her kitchen on the door to the basement," she says. "It now hangs in my kitchen as a fond memory, even though it's rare that I need string." (Photo by Suzanne Collins).

Pear String Dispenser

Chalkware pear string holder

Country Woman magazine reader Pat Tuchscherer of Langley, British Columbia, shares this beautiful string dispenser. (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

Apple string holder

Chalkware apple string holder

Another chalkware string dispenser from Country Woman reader Pat Tuchscherer. Before tape became readily available, almost every home had at least one string or twine dispenser—packages were secured by tying string around them, and holders like this kept the string from tangling. (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

Pear grouping

Chalkware pears

Country Woman reader Pat Tuchsherer shares this lovely branch of pears. "I collected these pieces a number of years ago," she notes. (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

Chalkware fruit grouping

Chalkware cherries & apple

"I display my chalk ware pieces proudly in my kitchen," says Country Woman reader Pat Tuchscherer. Note the brilliant colors in this grouping. (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

Apples, cherries, plum chalk ware

Chalkware-Variation

Look familiar? This grouping, also from reader Pat Tuchscherer, is from the same mold as the last slide (and also the first slide of this post), but the fruits are painted in different colors. (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

Check out this grouping of four fruits, including ripening strawberries, from Country Woman reader Pat Tuchsherer.  (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

Chalkware-four fruits

Check out this grouping of four fruits, including ripening strawberries, from Country Woman reader Pat Tuchsherer. (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

Fruit on plaque

Chalkware plaque

Some pieces, like this, were mounted on a backing. This piece is from Country Woman reader Pat Tuchsherer, a collector of these beautiful pieces. (Photo by Pat Tuchsherer)

 

Not that long ago, kitchens were utilitarian, with little in the way of decor. But women who spent long hours preparing meals for their families soon found ways to brighten up the space— like inexpensive collectible chalkware fruit on the wall.

World War II had filled the early 1940s with worry, rationing and sacrifice. With the war’s end, the nation’s mood lifted and budgets eased. Kitchens brightened as women welcomed color to floors and walls.

Remember, even bananas were relatively new and exotic for most Americans then; shipping of fresh produce was limited. People ate fresh fruit only seasonally. Colorful apples, grapes, cherries and more became a popular motif on curtains and canisters and in dimensional chalkware wall plaques.

Despite the name, chalkware isn’t made of chalk, but molded plaster of paris painted in brilliant watercolors or occasionally oils. It was often molded into lightweight figurines, too.

Inexpensive chalkware was often given away at carnivals and sold in gift shops as souvenirs. Honeymooners might bring home a fruit plaque bearing a Niagara Falls decal or stamp.

Two-inch fruit pieces sold for as little as 16 cents, a 14-inch plaque with several fruits for $1.50.  Some pieces had hooks on the bottom to hang potholders, while others held string. Fruit might be painted realistically or imaginatively; some bore cheery, whimsical faces. My grandmother often said, “Come into my kitchen so my fruit can see you!”

Women would collect and arrange pieces artfully on a kitchen wall, well into the ’60s. Chalkware is fragile, though, so these fun bits of kitchen kitsch are getting hard to find today.

Kitchen grease often accumulated in the crevices, attracting dust. Woe to those conscientious homemakers who tried to soak the grease off in dishwater, ruining both paint and plaster. Gentle spot cleaning with a dry, soft cloth, no matter how gritty or discolored the piece, is the better method. (Don’t try to retouch chipped spots; chalkware is so porous that the paint is likely to spread.)

You might still find pieces at rummage or estate sales, or online. Look for undamaged, unretouched, detailed pieces in bright colors. Expect to pay $4 to $10 for a 2-inch piece in perfect condition, or more than $100 for a 14-in. plaque with several fruits.

And who knows? Today, everyone’s trying to eat more fruit and veggies, so a nostalgic “fruit wall” might even serve as a gentle reminder when you snack or fix meals!

Barb’s Chalkware Fruit fun facts

By any other name 

Chalkware looks like chalk, but it’s not. “Plaster of paris ware” would be a more accurate name, but just not as catchy.

Well, what’s it worth?

$4-$10 for small plaques (see photos 1 and 3 above); larger ones (photo 2) can run more than $100. Bright colors are especially prized by collectors.

Where to find it?                  

Check out rummage and estate sales, flea markets and antique malls, online sites like etsy.com and ebay.com.

Going bananas 

In the 1940s, fresh fruit was enjoyed only seasonally.  The bananas we take for granted today were a huge novelty; Miss Chiquita Banana’s 1944 radio jingle was designed to teach people how to ripen and store them. People went bananas for the jingle—at its peak, it was played 376 times a day on U.S. radio stations.

Readers bear fruit!

We challenged readers to help us build our own CW fruit wall. See the slide show above for their cool vintage chalkware finds.

—Barbara J. Eash (Country Woman Magazine’s Antiques Expert)

 

pam clarkson 1 May 3, 2014 at 7:46 pm

thease are awesome

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Ruby Powers 2 May 4, 2014 at 10:58 am

I have some of these but one is a yellow lily and the other one a red lily, they hung in our Mom’s kitchen for as long as I could remember :-)

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