Branford House Antiques
A Historic 1850s Farmhouse on a Scenic Vermont Dairy Farm

String Holders - Antique & Vintage

Before scotch tape, before paperclips and before desk staplers came about, the only way to fasten wrapped packages, letters, documents and files was with string or twine. Early patents for cast iron string holders date back to the 1860s and by the turn-of-the-century string holders were common place. Every general store and most retail stores had string holders (often called twine boxes) either sitting on or hanging near the check out counters. Sometimes they were affixed directly to the wrapping paper holder but most often they were free standing or hanging above the counter. They kept the string handy and helped to prevent it from tangling. Often a string cutting device (such as a pair of scissors or a knife) would also be at hand while some string holders had a cutting device built in or attached to the holder. Many string holders had a pocket or place to keep a pair of scissors.

From the mid19th century until around World War I, government offices generally used a special string or twine to wrap documents and to keep them together in their assigned files. The twine government used was a flat string and similar to a thin ribbon and had a reddish color to it. Hence the term: "red tape" which generally meant the more government string that was used the heftier the file and the greater the number of documents entwined therein.

Sometime during the Great Depression, chalkware string holders started showing up at Kresgis's stores and at Woolworth Dime Stores. They were an immediate success. During the 1940s most homes in America had a string holder of some sort. They remained a common household item until the early 1950s. Popular subjects included celebrities of the times, cartoon characters, cats and other animals and especially popular were black maids and black children. The later are the most popular with collectors today and generally command the higher values.

Prices can range from $50 to $250 for the cast iron models depending on size, age condition and degree of uniqueness, etc. Chalkware pieces usually range from $25 to $150 depending on condition but are getting hard to find and are therefore likely to increase in value. The black themed ceramic holders can command high prices and range from $100 to $1,000. String holders as part of advertising displays command the highest prices and can range to $2,000 and more depending on subject matter and condition.

Cast Iron Purple String Holder with Legs

This late 19th century cast iron string holder features a very unusual and original purple paint and three cast iron legs. The color and legs are quite unique to antique cast iron string holders. It stands approximately 6.5 inches tall and has a 4 inch diameter. It is in good and working condition.


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Bee Hive String Holder

This "bee hive" style string holder dates to around 1890 or so. It is all cast iron and looks like a bee hive. In fact, The base is approximately 6.5 inches in diameter. it was in popular use from 1870 through the 1930s. In 1900 every general store in America had this or another type of string holder either sitting on the counter or hanging above the counter. This bee hive is in very good condition and works as good today when it was new well over 100 years ago.


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