An excerpt from Kovels on Antiques and Collectibles, June 1998.
Collectors of toothpick holders want the small, vase like containers that once held toothpicks in the Victorian dining room. They collect the holders, called “toothpicks” in most price books, because they’re small, colorful, and inexpensive.
A treasure trove of more than 600 toothpick holders was offered at a 1998 Gene Harris auction in Marshalltown, Iowa. Prices ranged from $3 to $385. The top seller was a Northwood custard glass toothpick in the Argonaut Shell pattern. The toothpick holders offered were glass, porcelain, or metal, and were made in Japan, Germany, or the United States. Most sold for less than $50.
The primary years of toothpick-holder production in the United States were 1885 to 1905, the same years that saw a peak in the production of American colored pattern glass. Therefore, many American toothpick holders are made from colored glass. Some collectors like souvenir toothpicks, whatever they’re made of, or specialize in holders made of silver plate, Royal Bayreuth porcelain, or Japanese porcelain marked “Nippon” (a mark that dates the wares at 1890-1921).
TOOTHPICK HOLDER OR NOT?
• A small bundle of toothpicks should stand erect in a holder but rest high enough so that one can easily be removed.
• If a toy-set pattern was also made in a full-sized table setting, then the mold for the toy spooner was probably also used for the full-sized toothpick holder. If a toy pattern was not made in a full size, what looks like a toothpick holder is probably a toy spoon holder.
• Small match holders are often figurals; toothpicks are not. Match holders usually have a corrugated surface area for striking matches.