Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The History of...

Every collector has a deep appreciation for the history of the things they collect.  Some even take this appreciation to an obsessive level.

This article is a result of my own obsessive researching, with a twist.  I won't bore you with the details on the history or invention of the camera, nor the volumes of information I've gathered on English silver marks and the dating of pocket watches and tableware.  Instead, here are three of the more humorous (and sad) results of my research on antiques and collectibles.

Hope you enjoy... or cry.


Old Pint Beer Bottles

Beer is said to have been invented nearly 7,000 years ago in what today is Iran.  The first known recipe for beer, though, was discovered in a document that is only 3,900 years old.  This "document" is actually a poem honoring Ninkaski, the Sumerian patron goddess of... brewing.  When I was following this line of information, I did a thoughtless search on "gods" and "beer".  The result from had me in stitches.  "Porcelain God - Toilet, particularly as related to vomiting.  Usually combined with a worship-oriented verb to describe the act of vomiting into a toilet."

...Betty Crocker

vintage Betty Crocker recipes

Yes... I'm that guy.  I searched on Bing images for a picture of "Betty Crocker".  I just had to see what this sweet old lady, who had gathered family recipes from friends and neighbors, looked like.  What I found was that in over 80 years, "Betty" hadn't aged much, but had gone through some interesting changes... new haircuts sure... but a new nose and eyes?  Something was fishy.  Turns out that dear "Betty Crocker" is a corporate figment of our imagination.  In 1921, the Washburn Crosby Company (General Mills today) decided to create a name to answer consumer correspondence on their products.  "Betty" just sounded like an All-American dame and "Crocker" was given in honor of the director, William Crocker.  It wasn't until 1936, that they created a face to go with the increasingly famous name.  I did find out that an actress named Adelaide Cumming played "Betty Crocker" on TV shows and commercials from 1949 to 1964.  General Mills dropped Ms. Adelaide in 1964, because they were "looking for a more sophisticated image".  I think they dropped Ms. Adelaide due to her age - today, that would be a case for the EEOC.

...Circus Clowns

JoJo  Lewis "The Clown Cop"

Probably the research that made me laugh and cry the most was, appropriately, clowns.  Not really surprising.  Without writing a novel, and to honor the history of these clowns, I'll make it short.  If you want to learn more about either, go ahead and start that obsessive research yourself.

George Fox (1825 - 1877) was a pioneer in slapstick acts.  He performed as "Humpty Dumpty" on Broadway for more than a 1,000 performances.  Touted as the funniest man on Broadway, his career made him so successful that he was the highest paid actor of his time.  During his last performance, he was removed from the stage and committed to an insane asylum where he died after only three years... from lead poisoning... from his white-face makeup.  Ouch.

"Slivers" Oakley (1871 - 1916) earned over a $1,000 each week at the turn of the century, working for Barnum and Bailey as a one-man act.  Lobsters and basketball... (you can look it up).
Just a few years later, his career was destroyed by motion pictures.  With the introduction of Max Linder and Charlie Chaplin, no one remembered the iconic circus clown.  
By 1916, B&B offered him a reduced contract of just $75 a week to stay on with the circus.  
He committed suicide over the rejection of Vaudeville actress Viola Stoll.  She rejected his marriage proposal... from jail... where she was serving time for theft.... of Oakley's late wife's jewelry.

"Send in the clowns.  Don't bother, they're here..." - Well said Judy Collins.  Well said.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Today's Simple Weddings

The Vintage Wedding, Circa 1910
An original photograph
Many of today's weddings are casual yet elegant, rustic affairs. They are events with a natural, laid back style with simple planning and classic selections.

Where to start to create perfection? Vintage.

In place of a dress wear a pair of 1950's fitted slacks, and for his jacket trade it for a 70's classy tee and vest. Or, perhaps, a free-flowing, sheer skirt and peasant blouse of the 60's, and a long-sleeved, crisp, cotton shirt for him.

Wildflower Wedding Invitation:
Classic and Casual Meet Vintage
Create your invitations with soft, aged colors, natural fibers, almost informal, but formal. Personalization is key, so invite your guests with your own words along with the beautiful paper and enclosures.

The decor? Make sure it is sweet yet sophisticated, just a little old fashioned, and festive. Your wedding celebration is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so surround yourself and family and friends with only the best. You probably have a color theme, and keep it in mind when selecting items. And remember that casual decor often means "less is better", so allow your featured decorations to be noticed and admired, and not lost among "too much".

 What to look for, how to include unique features? Ah, it is your wedding so think of the usual and make it unusual. You want it to be natural and personal. A piece of elegant and simple jewelry is always a casual wedding "must". If no family jewelry is in your jewel box, find a vintage piece that will become an heirloom, and you'll be the first to wear it. For celebration trims and accents, consider narrow, long ribbons and open worked lace, large and light colored shells. Also, simply feathers, small flower petals in clear glass cups, and use pastel colors, miniature bows and small bells. Remember bird themes that always give a light and airy feeling, classic white pieces among the pastels, natural wood features, and natural fabrics for easy swags and accents. And petite bundles of herbs along with dainty flowers are wonderful, and use items with flowing lines, rounded corners, and don't forget the fruit and wine in honey colored baskets. All for a perfect, casual wedding.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Leave the Plastic on the Sofa

"They don't make them like they used to" is a popular comment with just about anyone over the age of thirty, but is absolutely abused by antique collectors, thrift pickers, and vintage gurus.  Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to be one of the first shoppers at an estate sale.  Although the sale opened to the public on Saturday, I was contacted by the company hosting the sale for a private viewing on Friday.  So, early on that Friday morning, I pulled up at the little duplex unit near the very back of a retirement community.  The first thing I noticed was how many plants surrounded the porch - it was like a small, tidy jungle with beautiful pottery that must have been cleaned on a regular basis.  The little home was immaculate.  It needed to be updated by today's standards, but it was certainly well kept.  And, yes, the sofa had the plastic cover still on it.

Vintage Record Collection

What I noticed as I was browsing through the home and trying to find an undiscovered bargain, was this - every little thing in every little room was functional, clean, and cared for.  There were no electrical chargers laying about, no scuffed up end tables, no lamps with broken shades, nothing that wasn't pretty much in perfect condition.  I found a camera from 1954 that still had it's original instructions and cardboard box.  I found pens and pencils from the last seven decades that still wrote perfectly, although they might have a piece of tape holding on the eraser or the ink might have been replaced.  I even found a pair of Reebok sneakers from the early 80's in good enough condition to return them to any store today for a refund.

Vintage Camera

And, then I said it (out loud, but mainly to myself)  "They don't make them like they used to".
An older man, looked to be in his mid-80's, who I hadn't noticed and must have walked in behind me, tapped me on the shoulder. Startled a little, I recovered quickly and then, repeated myself a little louder to him.
He said, with a hint of a northern accent, "Yes they do, we just don't take care of them like we used to".

Vintage Typewriter

Looking around, I realized he was right.  There wasn't anything in the craftsmanship of these items that is really all that much better than what we might buy in better stores today.  Sure... a point and click camera might not hold up as well as the 1954 Kodak I found, but a nice Nikon from a camera store probably would.  A cheap pen from the dollar store might not last, but better ones would.  A pair of loafers from a discount factory shoe warehouse vs. a nice pair of sneakers from any of the top brands... we can go on and on, but the key difference is in how we take care of it.  The camera was important enough to save the box and instructions.  The pens and pencils were important enough to keep, care, and maker repairs on.  And yes, the sofa was important enough to its owner to keep the plastic on it.

I thanked the older man, who turned out to live next door to the home, for his insight and told him he was absolutely right.  Maybe I learned a lesson.  The next sofa I buy, I'll keep the plastic on, or at least take better care of it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Goodbye Bay, Hello Tsy!

A good friend pointed out an article on the AntiqueTrader website to me this morning.  The article, titled "Online sellers finding new level of satisfaction with Etsy", is about vintage sellers who have decided to make the move from eBay to Etsy.  

Laura Milera, of 'metroretrovintage', is quoted in the article as saying 
“It’s all part of the charm of buying and selling in what is by and large, a close-knit and well rounded community. Where ‘speed of sale’ and moving product quickly is more of the norm on eBay – on Etsy, shop owners can pretty much set a reasonable price for their items, and then wait for the right buyers to come along.”

Click to see more at metroretrovintage
I made this same switch early in 2011, following frustrations with fees, seller protection, and professionalism on eBay.  What I've found on Etsy is a group of artisans, crafters, and collectors who genuinely are passionate about what they do.  As Laura said, it is a close-knit community, and there is a balance of professionalism and service that you expect to see in a market of small quaint shops.  

So... the article got me thinking.  What if we were to take these two site and turn them into real live venues, here's my vision of what the two might honestly advertise to both sellers and buyers:

The eBay Flea Market - 

{to the sellers}
  Come sell at the world's largest flea market and auction, one day or every day!  Sell anything from the trash in your attic to mass produced products made by the little kids in China.  No rules, no regulations.  Booth cost is between $5 and $75 up front and another $20 to $3,000 on the back end.  You'll also need to pay for additional fees associated with your table decor, location, and the moon phase.  A full set of pricing algorithms are available in the vendor services kiosk

{to the shoppers}
  Come buy at the world's largest flea market and auction.  We have over 50,000,000 booths set up, so you're bound to find something you like.  Maybe. You'll find a large variety of high priced items, or you can take advantage of the auction format and really score a deal.  No need to register ahead of time; just show up in the last three seconds and bid higher than the standing bid.  We apologize in advance for the smog that may make the merchandise difficult to see.  

The shoppes at Etsy Village - 

{to the sellers}
  Come set up shop in our countryside retreat / urban market, where we offer affordable rent and a calm setting.  Please remember that shops must reflect handmade, craft supply, or true vintage products.  We do ask that you pay a small portion to stock your inventory, and please know that there are local taxes (3.5%) to pay upon sale.  Thank you and we hope you have great successes in your future.  If you should have any questions, please visit any one of our Visitors Bureau, where a staff member will be ready to help you.

{to the shoppers}
  Come visit the premiere countryside shopping / urban market venue.  We have around 500,000 shops for you to browse through, housing everything from artwork to clothing to crafting goodies to antiques.  Shop owners are ready to answer any questions you may have, and may even offer you their expertise in opening your own shop here in Etsy Village.   

Anyway, that's how I think they'd be.  Maybe I'm just biased.

See for yourself:

Tracy's Shop
Kate's Shop
Chris's Shop