Artfully arranged on walls, placed in glass-fronted cabinets, and even leaping into the garden, David Spain, owner of Moss and Stone Gardens in Raleigh, NC collects and displays flower frogs; a passion passed down to him from his paternal grandmother, Helen Goodwin, of Pasadena, Texas.
As a young man in my 20’s, I became fascinated with the glass disk flower frogs. From there, I broadened my interest to metal and ceramic, particularly the figural forms, says David.
FLOWER FROGS HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Flower frogs, first known as flower holders or arrangers, were offered for sale as a utilitarian device to quickly and easily arrange flowers. Click to Tweet!
The term flower frog is in common use today, but how that came to be is still a bit vague. No one knows for certain how flower frogs became the popular reference term; some suggest it’s because the insert sits in shallow water, just like a frog.
Today, flower frogs are highly collectable, most often used to brighten a home’s decor, than as a flower arranger. Although still functional, collectors have come to appreciate flower frogs as stand alone ornaments, gracing mantels, bookshelves, and curio cabinets.
The function of flower frogs dates back to 13th century where the Persians were known to make vases with side spouts, giving arranged flowers a more natural look. In the US, flower frog’s use dates back to the early 1800s, with the first U.S. patent by S. Van Stone in 1875 for a cone of concentric rings, with holes, stacked like a pyramid.
Flower frogs saw their heyday in the first half of the 20th century, particularly in the 20s and 30s. During this time, some 20 companies manufactured a variety of different types of flower frogs. The depression era and World War II realized a rapid decline in the making of flower frogs. The industry never fully recovered and all but ceased production when a new product arrived on the market. In 1954, Mr. Smithers invented Oasis, a water absorbent florist foam, which quickly became the reliable standard. Today, Oasis is widely used for flower arranging.
A PASSION FOR COLLECTING
Over the years, David’s collection increased and his interest never waned. “My collection grew as it became common for my mother and grandmother to give me a flower frog as birthday and Christmas gifts.” Davids’ collection has grown to over 250 flower frogs; together, he and his grandmother have over 700.
After many years of exchanging frogs as gifts, it has become harder to find something unique,” says David. Each year’s gift buying became more of a challenge looking for frogs they didn’t have. David says, “Last year, when I went home to Texas for Christmas, I couldn’t wait to show my grandmother the frog I found for her. Unwrapped, hidden in my palm, I opened my hand to reveal the frog and I said here it is.” My grandmother, who is in her 90s, said, “Quit kidding and show me really what you got me; you must have found that in my room.” David’s grandmother went white when she realized they bought each other the same frog. “With all the flower frogs available, getting each other the same, rare find,” David says, “Is like lightening striking twice.
David still loves the glass disk frogs, but has moved on to collecting flower frogs with more whimsy, such as figures, frogs, turtles, and interesting metal designs.
Topping last year’s unexpected gift giving surprise will be tough to do, says David Spain. The hunt to find something unique for my grandmother is all part of the fun, though, of collecting flower frogs.
TIPS FROM DAVID SPAIN
At one time, the hunt for flower frogs was limited to antique shops, flea markets, and thrift stores. Today, while still available in local shops, eBay has become king. According to David,
About 10 years ago, when I did an internet search for flower flogs, I might have found 6 – 10 for sale. Now, when I do a search, there is a minimum of 2,000 for sale at any given time.
Vintage flower frogs are still available for less than $4.00. More sought after frogs can be pricey. David Spain shares, “My advice is to buy what you like and you can’t go wrong.”
Flower frogs can be made from glass, ceramic, and metal; metal frogs came on the market later to give more flexibility and economy in flower arranging.
Most glass flower arrangers were made as a set with a frog insert and a matched vessel, either a bowl or a vase.
The making of flower arrangers was so common, many manufactures didn’t bother to mark them; none were marked prior to1870. When flower arranger sets were marked, markings were more likely on the vessel, not the frog insert.
Markings do increase value, but many flower frogs were never marked and still have value.
Higher end manufactures, notably, Heisey Glass, marked their flower arrangers, both the frog and the vessel. Cambridge Glass marked many of their flower frogs, but not all.
Glass disk frogs, flat on the bottom with a rim recession, were designed to set on top of a matched vessel.
Footed domed frogs were meant to be set at the bottom of a vessel.
Metal frogs we designed to set on the bottom of a vessel and were not meant to be seen.
WAYS TO USE FLORAL FROGS IN YOUR HOME OR GARDEN
When flower frogs were first used in U.S. the floral design style of the times was to display flowers in an airy and pleasing manner. Tall vases, with matched frogs were the standard. Later, design styles changed to low arrangements, held in console bowls.
Prior to metal frogs hitting the market, many complained that the glass and ceramic frogs limited the direction of the flower stem placement.
Earlier frogs weren’t necessarily designed to hold specific types of flower stems. In many ways, it was a one-size-fits-all type of design. As floral designers began to demand more options, different flower frog designs were introduced, notably in metal.
In 1933, Ida Sinclair of Cuyahoga Falls, OH, wanted a flower arranger that offered more flexibility in stem placement. To aid in this flexibility, she designed a hairpin, metal device, called The Blue Ribbon Flower Holder, which is still being made today. This frog works well with all stem types, particularly woodies.
Pin or needle-type flower holders do well supporting flower stems in an upright position, at the same time allowing water to easily absorb. They served as an anchor placed at the bottom of a vessel, often requiring additional support from the neck of the vase. These frogs work well for thin, wispy stems, as well as, a big, meaty stem, such as those found on a sunflower.
In general, glass, ceramic, and metal frogs with holes are best suited for thicker stems, such as daffodils and tulips.
Two-tiered wire flower frogs work well for long, heavier, woody stems.
Helen Yoest is a curious gardener – curious about plants, soil, design, and how others use these to create their gardens at home. She is also curious about what plants do for us today in the here and now, but also about their history and lore. Plants have a colorful past.
As an award winning freelance writer and garden stylist, Helen has traveled the world visiting public and private gardens so she can step into the dream that was once just an imagination. Her work has appeared in Country Gardens, Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, Carolina Gardener, and many others, including her work as the national gardening expert forAnswers.com. Helen is also the author of Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, & Veggies in Your Garden (2014, St. Lynn’s Press) and Gardening with Confidence, 50 Ways to Add Style for Personal Creativity (2012, GWC Press).
Helen curates garden art, serves on the board of the JC Raulston Arboretum, is past Regional Representative of the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour and opens her garden annually, and is an honorary member of Pi Alpha Xi, the national honor society for floriculture, landscape horticulture and ornamental horticulture. Helen lives in Raleigh, N.C., tending to her half-acre wildlife habitat, her husband, and their three beautiful children.