Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A teacup from Emery, Bird, Thayer in Kansas City
As a lifelong lover of shopping, I assumed I knew the names of most popular department stores in this country. While researching old department store tea rooms, however, I have learned there were far more of these stores than I ever dreamed possible, and to learn about them is to learn something new about the history of America. One store I'd never heard of at all was Emery, Bird, Thayer in Kansas City, Missouri, which once held tea parties for children and their dolls. This bright orange miniature cup and saucer was a souvenir from one of these parties. When I bought it, it was actually described as coming from Emery Bird "Chayer," but I can see why.
Since acquiring this cup and saucer with a cat on it (beneath the word "Bird," ironically enough!), I've also seen photos of the same design of orange cup and saucer featuring an elephant and a teddy bear. Do you suppose the little girls got to choose which animal they wanted? It sure beats a Happy Meal toy, doesn't it! The design of this set is interesting because it is scratched into the color. I learned this technique is called "sgraffito." When I first read that word, I thought, "Bless their hearts, they don't know how to spell 'graffiti,' do they?" But then I learned "sgraffito" is correct and comes from the Italian word meaning "to scratch."
The set was made by the Germany company Erphila, and though I don't know the date, other designs of Dolls Tea Party sets from Emery, Bird, Thayer date to the early 1900s, so perhaps this one does as well. (And if not, maybe it got to be in the store when its most famous employee, the future actress Joan Crawford, worked there!) Part of the store lives on in Kansas City today, in the form of the EBT Restaurant whose design incorporates artifacts from the old store. If I'm ever in Kansas City, I definitely will pay a visit! I'd love to know more about Emery, Bird, Thayer – especially about its former tea room – so if any Missourians are reading today I'd dearly love to hear from you via the e-mail button at right!