Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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CNHI Originals

January 8, 2012

Sittin' pretty

Mini brides and grooms take the cake

NORFOLK, Va. —  Sue Wilson has been married to husband Bob for 46 years. She owns more than twice that many wedding cake toppers, including the tiny bride and groom that stood in the frosting atop her own cake in 1965.

The dapper little groom in that one wears a white jacket, just like Bob did. And the bride is in a scoop-necked gown with an A-line tulle skirt, a silhouette pretty similar to the dress Sue wore.

“One time when we moved, I got broken,” Sue said, turning the figures over to show where “she” split in two.

She set the couple back down on the dining room table in her home near Wallops Island where, on this day, the 98 figures in her collection came off their shelves and were gathered, all facing forward toward the living room as if they were waiting to say their vows in front of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, famed for his mass Unification Church wedding ceremonies.

The figures on the table were an international bunch, representing places they were made, or a good portion of spots the Wilsons have traveled to or lived during their years together. Most are cake toppers, two came with floral arbors, others are bride and groom figurines that snuck into the collection because Sue just couldn’t say no.

“This one came from Gettysburg. This one we got for 25 cents in Bradenton, Fla.,” she said of a tiny couple just three-quarters-of-an-inch tall. “My husband worked for the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service before he retired, so we moved around a lot.”

She’s collected toppers for 30 years, long enough that now she sometimes buys a pair and she returns home to find a duplicate. One she cherishes most, she’s never found again - a Kewpie bride and groom sold to her by an antiques dealer in Pennsylvania.

“It was her own and was on her wedding cake when she got married in 1929. She sold it to us because she said she knew it would go to a good home,” Sue said.

Another set of Kewpie sweeties she owns were accompanied by two mini-bridesmaids.

Eventually, when the Wilsons moved to Accomack County, Sue taught culinary arts at Chincoteague High School. Cake toppers were a perfect fit.

So were other manifestations of brides and grooms, like salt and pepper shakers and two flat brides made of paper that served as name tags at her mother-in-law’s wedding in 1929. On the heavy paper cutouts someone wrote “Dorothy” and on the other one, “Richard.”

She has a bride and groom made of quilling, a curled paper craft. She has a set made of marzipan, hard to preserve in heat and humidity.

“Originally they stood side by side, but she’s slid down,” Sue said, gingerly holding the semi-reclining, almond paste bride and her still-upright partner.

Somewhere in the house is the couple that topped Bob’s grandparents’ wedding cake in 1898. That one has paraffin hands, very melty if they get warm. Sue knows she put them somewhere safe but can’t for the life of her remember where.

When she spots toppers in stores, she inspects them for clues about their age. The style of wedding dress on a figure can suggest its time period: flapper types go back to the 1920s; tall, slim figures and grooms with long coattails date to the ‘30s; brides in fuller gowns and grooms in shorter coats indicate they were made in the ‘40s and ‘50s. It’s not an inexpensive hobby with pairs sometimes costing $100 or so.

Sue is a sentimental person, which may explain this passion.

“I still have my wedding dress and my mother’s dress and my daughter’s dress,” she said. “I wish I had my grandmother’s dress. She was a wonderful seamstress. Oh, and I have the flower girl dress that I wore in my aunt’s wedding when I was 5.”

She enjoys the variety, history and romance of her collection - the way the figures represent so much promise, so many hopes and dreams, so many memories of a special day.

Often there’s icing still stuck to the figurines, or their legs are stained to the knees from being stuck in the frosting on the cake tiers.

“Here’s a set with a minister; the bride’s hands lock into the groom’s,” she said. Many are wrapped in an eternal embrace, some have flat backs, designed to be placed against a cake tier and not set on the very top.

She has just one black couple, but not for lack of looking.

“You don’t find them as often,” she said.

People have given her cake toppers as gifts over the years. Her daughter brought her a macabre couple with skull faces from Mexico’s Festival of the Dead and even knitted her a set in the current, pea-eyed Japanese style called Mochimochi.

She has toppers dating to occupied Japan, a felt pair made in Spain that may or may not have been intended for the top of a cake, another fabric couple from Japan, celluloid pairs, bisque, chalkware, even some made from pipe cleaners with wooden bead heads, dressed in crepe paper. Some toppers are still in their original boxes, something that makes them more valuable, Sue said. She has plastic ones from the 1950s, a hippie couple from the ‘60s and her all-time favorite, a porcelain pair in which the groom has extruded hair and striped slacks.

Sue allowed her daughter, Jenny, to choose a wedding topper from the collection for her own cake when she got married. Jenny’s then-fiance, Michael Stumpf, is of German descent, so Jenny picked a bisque couple made there and keeps it in her home in Richmond.

Sue even has cake toppers from the four major branches of military service.

“I like the service ones,” she said. “My dad was in the Army. I had found most of these, then read someplace that military cake toppers are very hard to find.”

Could it be they become casualties of repeated household moves?

Old cake toppers in general have become rare, she said. Flea markets and antiques shops used to be a good place to look for them. But not anymore, she said. Brides put flowers on cakes now, either real or made from sugar.

Frosting flowers are a sweet touch, but somehow not the same as a bride and groom that look just like the real thing, just smaller, always smiling and eternally young.

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

 

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