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By Terry Kovel, Published May 08 2009

Cake toppers became fashion by the 1890s

At most American weddings, you can expect to see a wedding cake, usually covered in white frosting and often topped by bride and groom figures made of china, plastic, composition or even molded sugar. When the dinner ends, the cake is cut and the bride and groom feed a slice to each other. A 2009 wedding might have a pile of cupcakes instead of a cake – the start of a new tradition.

The custom of a wedding cake began in ancient Rome as a loaf of wheat or barley cake (bread). The bride and groom ate a bite of the cake, then the groom broke the cake over the bride’s head. By the 1700s, a sweet cake with soft white icing was popular.

In 1840, Queen Victoria’s wedding cake was covered with a stiff white icing that’s still called “royal icing.” The queen’s cake was made in layers, so that became the fashion. By the 1890s, the “cake topper” had also become fashionable for elaborate weddings. It could be a bell or initials or a cupid or a bride and groom. In the 1920s, cake toppers became more common, and the Sears catalog included a page of toppers.

During World War II, wedding cakes often had grooms dressed in uniform as toppers. But it was the 1950s that made a topper almost a requirement on a wedding cake. Grooms might be in top hat and tails, and brides followed the wedding-dress fashions of the day.

Today you can find humorous toppers, like a groom carrying golf clubs. The figures represent all races. Collectors began to buy all sorts of wedding-related pieces in the 1970s. There were dealers who specialized in old wedding pictures, dresses, veils, cake toppers, invitations and other memorabilia. Many brides use vintage toppers, but few toppers are found that are more than 100 years old.

Q: I bought a baby-grand piano for $500 at an estate sale in 1972. It’s labeled “Made and Guaranteed by The Packard Piano Co., Fort Wayne, Ind., Est. 1871, Bond Piano Co.” The serial number is 22190. I would like to know what the white keys are made of, and the value of the piano today.

A: Albert Sweetser Bond was one of the owners of Packard Piano Co. In 1911, a group of Packard stockholders founded Bond Piano Co. In 1913, they decided it was inefficient to run two separate operations, and Packard began manufacturing pianos with the Bond name on them while continuing to make pianos with the Packard name. Bond pianos were made through 1925. The serial number on your piano indicates it was made in 1924. Piano keys were made of ivory or celluloid before the 1950s, when plastic keys were introduced. Ivory keys were made in two pieces with a seam between the front and back part of the key. The keys are grained and may look yellowish. Celluloid keys were made in one piece and are off-white. A piano has to be seen and played to be appraised, because the condition of the sounding board and internal mechanism helps determine the value.

Q: I have some Shawnee pottery Puss ’n Boots pieces – cookie jar, creamer and salt and pepper shakers. They’re figural cats with colored decorations on a white base. I have been looking for a sugar bowl, but haven’t been able to find one. Do you know if Shawnee made a sugar bowl or other Puss ’n Boots pieces?

A: It appears that Shawnee’s Puss ’n Boots pieces included only those you already have. The pottery, which was in business in Zanesville, Ohio, from 1937 to 1961, made very few sugar bowls. You might be able to find one decorated in colors that match your Puss ’n Boots creamer. If you can’t find a sugar bowl, look for one of the small utility baskets Shawnee also made. Lots of people use these baskets as sugar bowls.

Q: I bought a Coca-Cola bottle-shaped door handle a while ago. It’s made of cast iron and weighs 1 lb. 6 oz. The screw-on plate that attaches it to the door says “Have a Coke” at the top. What is it worth?

A: To a serious Coke collector, your door handle is worthless. It’s a reproduction based on a 1950s original, made of plastic and metal. No known original Coke door handles were made of cast iron. An original plastic-and-metal bottle-shaped handle sells for about $300.

For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel’s Web site, www.kovels.com

Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any Kovel forum. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.