Inexpensive Aluminum Formed Depression Era Objet d'Art

Humble, disposable aluminum was expensive, luminous, and a new invention a century ago. Wealthy patrons of the arts-and-crafts movemnt were its original collectors.

Artisans chiseled intricate designs into steel plates, over which flat aluminum sheets were hand hammered in reverse repousse. A lustrous steel wool rubbing contrasted with coal tar rubbings to add dimension. Desk items, jewelry, tableware- even tables- were hand crafted.

This success spawned a number of automated aluminum table and gift ware factories. Stamped or embossed to simulate hand-hammering, it became an alternative to silver during the Depression years.

A handful of patterns dominate. Everlast’s “Bamboo” and “Rose”, “Pinecone by Wendell August Forge, and Archer Armour’s “Dogwood” came in a wide variety of serving pieces. Produced by Continental Silver, “Chrysanthemum’s” floral and leaf handles were readily recognized, while Rodney Kent’s shinier trays were festooned by ribbons.

The well-heeled modernist could opt for more adventurous, high-style Art Deco designs. Designer Russel Wright’s sleek cocktail services evidenced their machine age creation with striated spun finish; Buenilum competed with similar loop handled ice buckets and covered bowls. Lavrelle Guild’s “Kensington” line introduced Alcoa’s new process for satinized, glossy anodized aluminum in the mid ‘30s.

World War II brought aluminum gift ware production (and most producers) to a sudden end. When material restrictions ended, a new generation added dyes to anodized aluminum, creating rainbow colors of smoothly styled pitchers and saucer shaped casserole servers that sold into the ‘60s.

Collectors have just started to rediscover aluminum housewares  in the past decade, so nice collections can still be built. Naturally, arts-and-crafts pieces have trended to high values; distinguished from the machine made pieces by their single sided design, they were heavier and brighter as well.

Russel Wright lines have climbed in value, as have such scarcities as lamps, trash cans, and purses. Sea forms by Palmer-Smith were popular on the coasts, and remain so. Collectors have spent on ceramic insert trays and other specialties. Yet many fun, functional table tiems have been recently spotted for prices between $5 and $20.

Recently written references on collectable aluminum offer tips on condition (avoid pitting, dents, scratches and wear) with photos of innumerable styles to whet the appetite for all-American aluminum.- George Higby

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