What’s It Worth?: Agricultural sprayer from 19th century

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What’s It Worth?: Agricultural sprayer from 19th century

What’s It Worth?: Agricultural sprayer from 19th century

Q I’m hoping you might offer insight on this peculiar Item, a sulfur-charged bellows. I had been earnestly hunting for a strong, serviceable bellows for some time when I acquired these at an estate sale in 2014. The craftsmanship suggests some antiquity (late 19th century?). The sulfur reservoir features a manufacturer’s mark. Note the extended “surgical” snout.

These agricultural bellows probably date from the time of the phylloxerablight at the turn of the last century. (Photo courtesy of Jane Alexiadis)It’s not safe to keep these antique sulfur bellows on the hearth. (Photo courtesy of Jane Alexiadis) 

I’m advised that the device functions as bellows, but manipulating the stopper permits a sulfur blast, on demand — this, apparently, for the  “ooohhh!” and “aahhhh!” reactions from those present.

Is there any value to the bellows, beyond a curious museum piece?

A Blasting sulfur into a burning fire would certainly elicit some ooohs and ahhs.  You might also some hear some shrieks of “eeek” and “help!”

I’m not sure how you identified these as “sulfur-charged bellows” but perhaps you smelled some residue on the stopper. I’m sorry to report that they probably aren’t safe on your hearth; your bellows belong in the barn with your farm tools. You have agricultural bellows probably from the time of the phylloxera blight at the turn of the last century.

In the mid-19th century, vines and fruit in French vineyards began rotting. By the turn of the century, somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of France’s vineyards had been destroyed and the affliction threatened to spread across Europe. The culprit was the North American native Phylloxera aphid. Infected vines had to be dug up and destroyed. Eventually France imported phylloxera-resistant rootstock from the United States, grafted their vines onto it and rebuilt their vineyards.

Commercial use of pesticides grew rapidly. Pulverized sulfur sprayed onto crops proved to be an effective, inexpensive and safe-to-use fungicide and pesticide. Your bellows, with their pointed nozzle, could blast clouds of sulfur on leaves and into roots of plants, protecting crops from pests.

The Del Taglia Co. in Italy, founded in 1890, made your bellows; the company still produces agricultural equipment and sprayers in the Signa area of Florence. Modern sprayers aren’t nearly as elegantly crafted as yours; yours would sell for about $100.

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I contacted my Home and Garden colleague Joan Morris about the current use, safety and efficacy of sulfur spray. Her response: “Sulfur still is available and used widely, especially in California’s vineyards. It’s good at controlling pests, but if used at the wrong time, it can harm bees, and of course, you don’t want to inhale the stuff!”

Jane Alexiadis is a personal property appraiser. Send questions to worth@janealexiadis.com.

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Published at Thu, 09 Feb 2017 18:00:23 +0000