July 2014 Dig Antiques Newsletter
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Staying Sharp with Strawberries

Strawberry Emeries

Strawberries are ubiquitous summer fruits that pop with their bright red color and juicy sweet taste. No wonder they became the subject of “fancywork” during the Victorian era. But the strawberry emery predates the Victorian era.

A “strawberry emery” is a cloth strawberry filled with a very hard granular mineral called emery. Most emery is a gray or black mixture of corundum and magnetite or of corundum, hematite, and spinels hercynite. Crushed or naturally eroded emery (known as black sand) has been used as an abrasive for hundreds of years. The abrasive action of emery removes dirt and rust keeping pins and needles sharp and smooth. An important factor given that pins where used not just in sewing but as a means of fastening clothes and other textiles together – and pins and needles were expensive.

Some strawberries are in fact pincushions, not emeries. The difference is in the content of the stuffing. Typically you’ll find the smaller strawberries filled with emery while larger ones were stuffed with raw cotton, wool roving or sawdust. References to pincushions can be found in the Middle Ages when they had the names of pimpilowes, pimpilos, pimplos, pimploes, pin-pillows, or pin-poppets. By the 16th century, they were referred to as “pyn pillows”.

Strawberry pincushions and emeriesThe tomato pincushion with strawberry emery became an extremely popular design during the Victorian Era. This Threads article addresses the question of “Why the tomato? According to folklore, placing a tomato on the mantle of a new home guaranteed prosperity and repelled evil spirits. If tomatoes were out of season, families improvised by using a round ball of red fabric filled with sand or sawdust. The good-luck symbol also served a practical purpose—a place to store pins.” Although this folklore is also cited in a number of places, no specific reference is available to the origin of this folklore.

There is some belief that the tomato shaped pincushion can be traced to the Shakers. Shaker goods looked like what they were, and the Shakers therefore did not make pincushions that were decorated like tomatoes; however, the tomato shape became common in their pincushions. A reference to “tomato cushions” can be found in 1861 in the New Lebanon NY Shaker community.

Strawberries vary widely – in color, shape and decoration. Some strawberries are relatively plain while some have decorated tops and embroidered seeds. Occasionally they aren't red. Collecting these small artifacts can be fun, relatively inexpensive and don't take up much room. Dating a strawberry is usually done based on the fabric. Prices will vary based on style, condition and age.

Search for strawberry, emery, pincushion and more on Dig Antiques.


Summer Fun and Memories 

We have been collecting strawberry emeries and pincushions for many years. Most are small emeries in different shapes and sizes. A few are larger and we even have one that is a doorstop size (and weight). We have always loved strawberries. Living not far from Watsonville, California, we are spoiled by the freshness of the strawberries that are grown so near us. But it isn't just a California delicacy. This year, we launched into summer enjoying strawberries in California, then in New Jersey, during our travels in Israel (where the watermelon was amazing) and finally now in upstate New York. We hope that you too enjoy strawberries and our article on strawberry emeries. Let us know!

Some of you noticed that it has been a couple of months since our last newsletter. We were warmed by the number of inquires wondering if you had somehow been removed from the mailing list as you missed your newsletter. Thank you for asking. We didn't intend to skip any issues but somehow we ran out of time. We're back on track now.

Summer fun is in full swing which means we are looking forward to exhibiting at and attending a lot of antique shows in a short period of time. We love examining all of the antiques, learning more and especially visiting with old friends and meeting new ones. We will be exhibiting at the following shows (booth is Baker & Co. Antiques). Please stop by and let us know you read the Dig Antiques newsletter! We hope your summer is filled with fun, family, friends and of course, antiques!

Tom & Sheila Baker
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