Baby Bunting Goes Ahunting?

The youth group at our church holds a rummage sale each year, an event eagerly anticipated both by bargain seekers and congregants doing their spring cleaning. Proceeds support summer work camps or the National Lutheran Youth Gathering. This summer it’s the youth gathering.

Donations to the sale include the usual array of clothing, furniture, books, household items, electronics, sporting equipment, toys and holiday decorations. Every once in a while Mags, our outstanding youth director, will ask me to research a more unusual item. One year it was a player piano spool of Old Man River. Last year, a designer purse with tags still attached. This year Mags was curious about an antique baby plate:

It’s not every day that one sees a toddler on an outing carrying a rifle and accompanied only by a dog. Lunch appears to be a baby bottle in the crook of Bunting’s left arm and a bone for Bunch, who might be happier if Bunting manages to bag a rabbit or squirrel or something.

Unfortunately, my camera’s flash washed out the design a bit. The poem reads “Baby Bunting and little dog Bunch / Go ahunting and take their lunch.” The mark on the back is “D.E. McNicol, East Liverpool, O.” The plate is heavy ironstone, with a rim so substantial it’s almost a bowl.

A search for “Baby Bunting Plate” turned up a few additional poems:

  • Baby Bunting lifts his hat / Politely to the pussy-cat.
  • Baby Bunting & Bunch while crossing a log / Are boldly stared at by an ugly green frog.
  • Baby Bunting takes his hoe / And tries to help the flowers grow.
  • Baby Bunting & Bunch, when out for a walk / Are greatly surprised to hear a bird talk.
  • Baby Bunting runs away / And joins the little pigs at play.

I found several examples of the hunting excursion plate. The borders vary; some are decorative like this one, some have the alphabet printed around the rim, say “Baby’s Plate” or are monogrammed. The little accompanying illustration also varies. This one features Baby Bunting enjoying his lunchtime bottle, another shows Bunch gnawing his bone, while yet another has a little frog, quite possibly the ugly green one encountered while crossing a log.

D.E. McNicol held a patent for Holdfast Plates, which featured a metal ring attachment to secure the plate to a feeding chair. These were very popular around the turn of the 20th century. In addition to Baby Bunting, Holdfast plate designs featured nursery rhymes (Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep, Higgledy Piggledy My Black Hen, Hickory Dickory Dock, Tom Tom the Piper’s Son, Pussy Cat Pussy Cat Where Have You Been, Ride-a-Cock-Horse), Felix the Cat, Campbell Kids, a a boy on a rocking horse, and a little duck that’s out of luck if you eat all the luncheon. Intact Holdfast plates in mint condition are rare and quite valuable. This plate is missing the metal ring and has some crazing on the finish, wearing on the pattern and a few little nicks or chips on the bottom rim. Plates I found in similar condition to this one sell for $10-$15 plus shipping at Etsy or eBay.

I discovered this short history of the D.E. McNicol Pottery Comany (1892-1954) from History of Columbiana County, Ohio by Harold B. Barth, Historical Publishing Company, Topeka-Indianapolis 1926:

The history of this pottery began in 1862 when John S. Goodwin built the original plant, consisting of two kilns. After operating this plant for a few years he sold it to H. A. Marks, Enoch Riley, John Neville, and others, who conducted the business as A. J. Marks & Company until 1869, when it was sold to John McNicol, who organized a joint stock company of the following members: John McNicol, Patrick McNicol, William Burton, Sr., William Burton, Jr., Mitchell McClure, and Adolph Fritz. John McNicol died in 1882 and his son, Daniel E. McNicol took over his interests and later on from year to year he bought all the other interests from members of McNicol Burton & Company. In 1892 he organized the D. E. McNicol Pottery Company which was incorporated. At this time W. L. Smith became interested and took an active part in the business until 1908 when his interest was purchased by Daniel E. McNicol. Since that time The D. E. McNicol Pottery plants have been operated by D. E. McNicol and his four sons: John A., Hugh L., Daniel E., Jr., and Cornelius C. McNicol.

I am seriously considering a pilgrimage to East Liverpool, O. Not only would I have the opportunity to visit the Museum of Ceramics and learn more about the dozens of porcelain, china, crockery and pottery kilns that earned the city the moniker “Pottery Capital of the World,” I would stay at the Sturgis House. This bed & breakfast was formerly the Sturgis Funeral Home, where the body of bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd was taken to be embalmed after he was killed in a 1934 FBI shootout. I could enjoy my breakfast in the very dining room where Floyd’s body was displayed to a parade of curious onlookers, followed by a visit the laundry room, which houses embalming equipment as well as Pretty Boy’s death mask hanging over the dryer.

For those interested, the rummage sale will take place this coming Thursday and Friday from 7:30 – 5:30 and Saturday from 7:30 to noon in the Faith Lutheran Church gymnasium (2027 Industrial Drive, Jefferson City, MO). Who knows what other items of interest will turn up?

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