The following article appeared in the Eastern Edition of AntiqueWeek, Oct. 30, 2000, in CIRCA, a column by Connie Swaim, Editor, Eastern edition. It has been reprinted here in its entirety with permission by Connie Swaim.
If only a recent contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire had put Bonnie Bull on his phone a friend list. One of the recent questions on the show was what do you call the thing that sits in the bottom of a flower container that holds the flowers up. I don't know what all the choices were, but one was ladybug and one was frog. From the conversations I heard at a recent antiquing event, the contestant had to call someone to help with the answer and still got it wrong.
Bonnie would have known the answer. She is the webmaster of the Flower Frog Gazette. She is also working on a book on flower frogs. Frog would have been the final answer to the question on the show.
Thanks to that episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire I sold five metal flower frogs two weeks ago. Unfortunately, I never got to see the episode with the flower frog answer, so I don't know exactly what happened. What I do know is that I was setting up my tables during the recent Parke County Covered Bridge Festival when a woman rushed up with her friend and picked up one of the round metal flower frogs. She then began to tell her friend exactly what the frogs were and how they had been a question on the Millionaire show. She was so happy to see something that related to the show she plunked down $5 for the frog and went away a very happy person.
During the course of the festival we counted at least 25 people who commented on my flower frogs and how they had been a question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Entire families were gathered around the metal, spiky frogs I had and giving lessons on them. No one wants to miss that question again.
Luckily, I had consulted the studio audience, in this case my mother, about my frogs. Actually, I had them in a box and was going to put them back in my truck when Mom saw them. I told her I didn't know how they had even gotten in the truck. I bought them with a bunch of stuff at a recent auction and hadn't even planned to keep them. They were heavy pieces of lead with metal spikes pointing up. They weren't attractive in any way and were somewhat dangerous with all of those spikes sticking up. However, Mom said people came in asking for them all of the time because they are needed by flower arrangers and are hard to find now. So, I put them out and priced them from $1 to $5, depending on the size. I think I sold almost all of the $5 examples. But, most of the credit goes to the Millionaire show. I think every buyer of the frogs mentioned that episode. They just wanted a souvenir they could relate to.
Actually, Regis would have been able to ask a much more difficult question about flower frogs. He could have asked how the term came about. One of the people who bought a flower frog from me asked how come they were called frogs. I had no idea. It was my quest for this answer that led me to Bonnie Bull's Flower Frog Gazette website at www.flowerfrog.com. The website is a revival of the quarterly Flower Frog Gazette that was published from 1984-1989. According to the information on the site, the newsletter helped "unite a small group of collectors who were interested in learning about and sharing information on flower frogs." If you got this publication, I hope you saved it. Bonnie advertised back issues on the site, but the offer now carries the notation "sorry, sold out."
Unfortunately, Bonnie does not provide an answer either to where the term came from. "The etymology of the term 'frog' has proved more difficult to research than the actual items themselves. The term 'frog' as it relates to a holder for flower stems does appear in a 1968 Random House Dictionary of the English Language, but it is not listed in the Oxford and Chamber's etymological dictionaries. How it came into general use remains a mystery. Over the years flower frogs have been referred to by many different names, such as flower blocks, flower bricks, flower holders and floral arrangers," she wrote on her website under "A Brief History of Flower Frogs."
I spent two hours looking online through every dictionary, slang dictionary and encyclopedia I could find and came up with nothing. A few dictionaries did have a definition, which was always listed under "frog" rather than "flower frog." The definition was generally along the lines of, "a small holder (as of metal, glass or plastic) with perforations or spikes for holding flowers in place in a bowl or vase." I did learn some other fascinating things such as: centuries ago doctors placed frogs in people's mouths to cure them of mouth and throat problems, which is where the term "frog in your throat" comes from. The word frog is also slang for condom in some countries, so be careful how you use that word if you travel abroad.
If you know where the term "flower frog" comes from, drop me a line. The best guess I heard was that it is because the holder squats in the bottom of the vase in the water like a frog would.
If you are a lover of flower frogs, then you must visit Bonnie Bull's Flower Frog Gazette website. There are great photos, as well as history, patent information, links to other good flower frog sites and information on Bonnie's upcoming flower frog book. According to the information on Bonnie's website, flower frogs can be traced back to the 16th century in Europe, although they were most popular in the United States in the mid 1920s-30s.
I was actually fascinated to see how many designs flower frogs come in. They can certainly make a fascinating collection. Many U.S. glass and pottery makers produced flower frogs in everything from simple round designs to elaborate figurals. Some firms even made the frog shaped like frogs. During my week at the Covered Bridge Festival I bought an unmarked pottery flower frog in the shape of a green frog for $5. Judging by other frog prices I've seen it seems to be a fairly reasonably priced collection category. Marked examples by Van Briggle or Rookwood or one of the well-known glass houses such as Cambridge will increase the price, but there is still plenty out there under $10.
At least you will know what the thing is if anyone ever calls you up and needs your help with a million dollars on the line.