The Ice Wagon Cometh

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There is something faintly exotic about them, like painted gypsy caravans or those circus carts of fifty years ago that delighted the heart and eye. Yet they were the most humble of vehicles, wagons to carry the ice which kept our grandparents’ meat and eggs from spoiling in the summer’s heat. The firm that built them, the Knickerbocker Ice Company of Philadelphia, announced in its catalogue for 1890-91 that because the ice wagon was the best advertisement for the dealer, “we take great pains in painting and lettering it to attract attention on the street.” What a nice, old-fashioned phrase “to take pains” is, and, as we look at their colors—the orange and red, the yellow and blue and green—we are reminded again of how once even utilitarian things were lovely. The refrigerator ice tray is convenient, but is it art?