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Something to Chew On: Mystery Dish Had a Simple Use

I came across this sweet little porcelain dish at a neighbor’s garage sale years ago. Not knowing what it was at the time, I bought it for a quarter, recognizing the workmanship and lusterware glaze as marks of vintage quality and put it away for safe keeping, right next to the other china cupboard odds and ends.

It’s a very small dish with a puppy sitting on one edge. It measures just three by two inches in size. The reverse side carries the mark Germany 757.

I knew right away that this small porcelain dish was well made and collectible — but just what was it used for?

I was surprised to learn after talking to collector friends that it was a gum holder, an unusual vintage piece of porcelain dishware that was meant to hold a piece of gum for future use. It dates to the mid-20th century, when many variations of chewing gum holders were produced.

Some of the gum dishes are even smaller but most feature colorful, playful animal themes. A common one you may have seen is a kitty-cat on its back, creating a “gum parker.”

Gum has been around for a long time — even ancient people like the Greeks and Mayans chewed sap-based products from trees. But it wasn’t till the mid-1800s that commercial gum was produced in this country.

First it was spruce tree based natural gum, then John B. Curtis came out with a flavored paraffin-based product that sold for a penny in drugstores about 1850. Chewing wax doesn’t sound appealing to me but I guess it was like those Halloween lips and teeth we all remember.

Chewing gum was patented in 1869 and the business grew like a big bubble.

It kept right on growing and developed into a popular habit for many Americans, once a machine for gum production came into action in 1871, followed by the first vending machines in New York subways in 1888.

Bubble gum came about later, in the early 20th century.

Gum offers some surprising collectibles, according to a quick search of the Internet. Just do a search and you’ll come up with a variety of enthusiasts who save gum and gum wrappers of all types from around the world.

Which just goes to prove that you can find a collector for just about anything — if you look long enough.

Gum accessories, like my little doggy dish, are sought after by these folks. Vintage gumball machines and other dispensers are also collectible.

Gumball machines are even reproduced and sold today as a tribute to nostalgia. Always popular with the little ones, a vintage gumball machine can be a great conversation piece and is fun to share with others.

Some are table top models, others are floor models and include cast iron stands. These machines are usually coin operated.

It’s amazing to me that gum, gum dishes and gum collectibles are popular at all since when I was young, I wasn’t encouraged to chew gum. I was told it wasn’t “lady like,” so I rarely chewed gum.

But “lady like” or not, gum is an entertaining topic in the world of antiques and collectibles.

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