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Humble String Holders Now Pricey Collectibles

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, April 2008

Before adhesive tape came into general use there was a string holder for just about every use that included general stores, warehouses, home kitchens and offices. A few years ago they could be found at flea markets, basements and under sink cabinets . Prices ranged from a few dollars to twenty five dollars, depending on how unusual their form was.


These days they can sell at auction for two hundred to over a thousand dollars. Sometimes when they cover more than one collecting category prices skyrocket. Such was the case with a painted plaster head of comic character Betty Boop that was also a string holder, that sold at a Hake’s September auction for $1,910.00. Another example of a cross-over

would be an advertising figural string holder like the Heinz pickle. They have sold for over $1,500.


Antique string holders don’t necessarily bring big money. At a Cowan auction a cast iron string holder with the head of an open mouthed woman fetched $345. At a Garth’s auction a 19th century blown glass with cobalt ring, holder sold for $258.75.


Imagine my surprise when I found dozens of types of string holders offered on EBay

both new and old, in every form imaginable. A “hot” collectible.


The earliest-known holders were made around the beginning of the 19th century. Prior to that string was sold like yarn, by the skein, bundle or hank.


Early wooden holders were often handsomely carved and turned. Considered rarities are string holders of lacquered papier mache’, earthenware and glass.


By the 1830s string was wound automatically by machine for business use.  Many of the early holders were circular drums with an opening for pulling out the string.


Some string holders made for home use are small works of art. Carved of  wood, they assumed many forms: acorns, eggs, pears and bee hives.


Instead of a valentine, sweethearts often whittled their love a fancy string holder in the shape of a heart. The bee hive was the most popular shape and often made with open-work metal, copper, bronze or with a japanned finish. Some, made for stores, were as large as five by five and ½ inches.


Special holders were made for women. There were miniature cottages with strings going through the chimney and wooden dolls with the string hidden in the body or under the skirt.


In the 20th century women’s magazines offered patterns for “do-it-yourself” holders with boxes as the base. Another type of project offered inexpensive holders with fronts in the form of ballet dancers, parrots and peacocks, to be painted by the maker.


Chalkware figures of Shirley Temple, bride, animals, fruit were made in the 30s, 40s.


CLUES: According to the latest Warman’s Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide there

Are altered figural-head wall plaques with holes drilled through the mouth to pass them off as string holders. Among the heads are Chinese man and woman, Indian and chef. The same thing has happened to some figural wall lamps from the 1950s, 60s. They include a pineapple and apple face.


If you have any questions, you can Email us at

The Antique Shoppe
"Florida's Best Newspaper for Antiques and Collectibles

PO Box 2175, Keystone Heights, FL 32656-2175
Phone: (352)475-1679 Fax: (352)475-5326

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