Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Git Along, Little Sticky Fingers

I've written here in the past about the popularity of cowboy and Western Americana items in the 1950s and 1960s.  I've seen everything from cowboy toys to greeting cards, lunch boxes to cameras, and everything in between at estate sales.  They're quite popular with collectors.

But until recently, I hadn't seen the cowboy motif as found on the vintage breakfast table.  Then, a couple of weeks ago at an estate sale for an elderly French couple (who immigrated to North America before World War II), I spotted these table napkin holders:

For some reason, they were in the bathroom of the couple's house, next to a rather nondescript soap dish.  But I think they must have originally been in the breakfast nook or on the dining room table.  One is in the shape of a pony wearing a Western saddle and bridle; the other is in the shape of a buckboard wagon, laden with supplies. 

The pony's face is quite detailed.

And the holders are reversible, so that a child (or adult) on either side of the table could see the image.  (Come to think of it, you could also use them to hold incoming or outgoing mail.)

In attempting to look up the history of cowboy-themed housewares, I discovered that many movie and TV cowboys were sponsored by breakfast food companies.  For example:

Tom Mix: Ralston Purina
Hopalong Cassidy: Post Grape-Nuts
Gene Autry:  Sparkies (Quaker puffed cereals)
Roy Rogers:  Mother's Oats (Quaker)
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans:  Post Cereals

Small cowboy-themed prizes (tiny horses and riders, rings, trading cards) could be found inside 0r outside the boxes of cereal.  

I also came across this blog post, which describes some of the ways movie and TV heroes of the 1950s and early 1960s had tie-ins with breakfast cereals:


My research also led me to lists of Movie, Radio and TV Cowboy "codes" -- words to live by, from the heroes of the fictional west.  The Roy Rogers Riders Club rules were:

Be neat and clean.

Be courteous and polite.

Always obey your parents.

Protect the weak and help them.

Be brave, but never take chances.

Study hard and learn all you can.

Be kind to animals and care for them.

Eat all your food and never waste any.

Love God and go to Sunday School regularly.

Always respect our flag and our country.

"Eat all your food and never waste any."  (And wipe your fingers and your mouth before you leave the table.)

More cowboy codes are available here:


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Short Notes: Vintage Tablecloths, Vol. 2

In honor of summer, I thought I would share some closeup pictures of the designs on some vintage tablecloths and matching napkins I recently found (and subsequently sold on eBay -- I can't keep everything....)   If your dining room or breakfast nook needs a spot of color, consider adding a vintage tablecloth and some napkins to your collection. 

Patriotic hibiscus.

Another patriotic theme, this time with roses.

This one looks like it's asking to be taken on a picnic. 

Set of four napkins and a bridge (or other small) tablecloth.

Closeup of a vintage cloth napkin.

Closeup of a vintage tablecloth border.

Three vintage tablecloths.


 There are lots of websites dedicated to vintage tablecloths.  Here are a couple:



Monday, July 22, 2013

Gentlemen Prefer

I enjoy finding old magazines at estate sales.  By looking through them, I discover not only how times and tastes have changed, but also how magazine editorial policies have evolved over the years.  The editors are concerned, of course, with providing information ("content") and selling ads.  They gear the content to what they think the readers (and potential buyers) are interested in.

So it was with great interest that I landed on a stack of mid-century Sports Illustrated magazines at a recent estate sale.  What has changed, over the years, in the magazine's content?  Let's look at one issue, from January 28, 1957.

The cover is pretty typical for an American sports magazine of any era: it features major team sports, sports overseas, and so on.  The inside of the magazine reveals that then, as now, even though women read SI, it's pretty much aimed at men.  You still see ads for cars.

And ads that draw a dotted line between sleek styling, powerful engines, and pretty girls.

One feature story commanded the center of the magazine the week of January 28, 1957.  The editors must have thought it was pretty important:

The New York Empire Cat Club Show.  No "swimsuit issue" here.  Real men like cats.

And, to give the story context, the following two pages were devoted to literature and art:

The two-page spread featured poems by T.S. Eliot (originally written in the 1930s) and illustrations by Andy Warhol (first published elsewhere in the 1950s).  Now there's a Jeopardy question for you:  What major publication featured the work of T.S. Eliot and Andy Warhol, in January 1957?

Warhol's "Green Sam," repurposed as "Macavity"
by Sports Illustrated.

Answer:  Sports Illustrated.

You can find copies of Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats everywhere.  I recommend the version illustrated by Edward Gorey.

Warhol published a book of cat drawings in 1954, called 25 Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy.  It was reprinted as Cats, Cats, Cats in 1994.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Avenger of Waterloo

Their names were Henriette and Auguste.  They originally came from France, but came to the US through Montreal and apparently lived most of their adult lives here.  They were alive during World War II, and when the war was over they returned to France to visit their cousins (the lady who owned the estate sale company told me).

One of the photographs in their collection caught my eye, so I bought it and brought it home.  It's a small snapshot inside a clear plastic sleeve, with a caption written in tiny script on a separate scrap of paper: "Longchamp avec mes amis et mes gosses" -- "Longchamp with my friends and my kids" and the date 1950 Avril.    

The Hippodrome de Longchamp is a racetrack outside Paris.  I'm not sure who the people are in the photograph, or how they were related to Henriette and Auguste.  They do look like they're enjoying themselves.  Maybe their horse won?

I think I recognize someone else in the photo, though -- the big guy in the background.  

That's the statue of Gladiateur, the legendary French race horse, at Longchamp.  Gladiateur won many major races in France and also in England, earning him the nickname "the avenger of Waterloo."  

The website Thoroughbred Heritage Portraits notes:

Gladiateur was a particularly large foal, with, it was reported by French writers, superb symmetry. A later English turf writer, possibly after he had trounced British horses on their own turf to take the English Triple Crown, described him as "a rough-looking, angular horse, without any quality." It was agreed he was tall: "amongst his Derby competitors, he stood out like a giant in the midst of pigmies." A later English turf writer said he had "strength, grace, sweetness and courage." 

I like that: Strength, grace, sweetness and courage.  Statues of us may never enhance famous race courses, but we humans would do well to try to show those characteristics too.

Here's a photograph of Gladiateur:

You can read more about him here:



Thursday, July 18, 2013


When I spotted it at the crowded estate sale, I greeted it like the old friend that it was.

"Plum!" I cried, removing it from the shelf.

The woman standing next to me gave me a disdainful look and sniffed.   She had observed that the item I held in my hand was not a piece of fruit at all.  It was a book. 

This book is titled "Something New" in the US.  In the UK, it's called "Something Fresh."  
It dates back to 1915. 
"Plum" was the nickname of the British author Pelham (say it quickly) Grenville Wodehouse ("wood-house" is close enough).  I first encountered his work indirectly, through Masterpiece Theatre on PBS, where TV versions of some of the Jeeves and Wooster stories were broadcast.  Then-host Alistair Cooke commented that Wodehouse (born 1881, died 1975) was considered by some to be the finest English-language writer of the 20th century.  But, Cooke observed, many scholars would never come right out and say so, because Wodehouse wrote funny stories, and that didn't seem -- well -- very scholarly.

It was one of those still evenings you get in the summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away.

I enjoy finding hardback copies of old books at estate sales.  Recently, I've found two by Wodehouse.  If you're not familiar with him, but enjoy a good old-fashioned story, well-told, I encourage you to find a copy of a Wodehouse book and dive in.

No blog post can even come close to doing justice to the massive collection of stories P.G. Wodehouse left behind.  To me, the beauty of Wodehouse's writing is his ability to select just the right string of words.  He builds layer upon layer of narrative and plot like a Dagwood sandwich, and then skewers it in place gently with something that makes you chuckle.  Or snort.  Or burst out laughing.  Wodehouse doesn't tell us that his character "appeared sad and disgusted."  Rather:

He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.

Or grumpy:  

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

A Wodehouse character feels trepidation:

Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to speak French.

Or triumph:

She looked at me like someone who has just solved the crossword puzzle with a shrewd ‘Emu’ in the top right hand corner.

His characters make astute observations about one another:

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say 'when.'

She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel.

Writers who struggle to find just the right descriptive phrase might do well to abandon their thesaurus and study Wodehouse instead.  A dog, in the hands of Wodehouse, doesn't merely growl:

The Aberdeen terrier gave me an unpleasant look and said something under his breath in Gaelic.

The best tribute to Wodehouse I've ever read is by British national treasure (and actor) Stephen Fry:  http://www.pgwodehousebooks.com/fry.htm  Fry gives his thoughts on why P.G. Wodehouse was a great author and, significantly, why we still need his stories.

I found this copy of a Wodehouse book at a "boot sale" (yard sale) in London.
If you're not familiar with Wodehouse yet, you might start by reading a collection of his short stories about Mr. Mulliner.  Mr. Mulliner frequents a pub called the Anglers' Rest.  Most of the other patrons of the pub are what they drink:  the Gin-and-Ginger-Ale, the Draught Stout, the Lemon Squash, the Small Bass.  Mr. Mulliner eavesdrops on their conversation, hijacks it, and recounts a story about one of his family members.  The other patrons of the pub always listen, and the story is always worth it:

...People who enjoyed a merely superficial acquaintance with my nephew Archibald (said Mr. Mulliner) were accustomed to set him down as just an ordinary pinheaded young man.  It was only when they came to know him better that they discovered their mistake.  Then they realized that his pinheadedness, so far from being ordinary, was exceptional.  Even at the Drones Club, where the average intellect is not high, it was often said of Archibald that, had his brain been constructed of silk, he would have been hard put to it to find sufficient material to make a canary a pair of cami-knickers....

If you're up for a longer work, try The Luck of the Bodkins, Carry On, Jeeves (one of the famous Jeeves and Wooster stories), or Summer Lightning (which takes place at Blandings Castle, home of Lord Emsworth, his dysfunctional but mostly-loving family, the castle's staff, and Emsworth's  prize-winning pet pig, The Empress of Blandings).

The Guardian (UK) newspaper states:

Recommended works

Wodehouse published over a hundred books, most of which are still in print. Among the best Jeeves and Wooster novels and collections are The Code of the Woosters and Joy in the Morning, while the finest Emsworth books include Summer Lightning and Heavy Weather. Two early novels worth exploring are Mike and Psmith in the City, while Ukridge and Uncle Fred in the Springtime features another of Wodehouse's best-loved characters, Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge (pronounced Fanshawe Ewkridge). For an airbrushed but nonetheless fascinating glimpse of the man himself see the autobiographical Performing Flea and Over Seventy.

(The Guardian's observation about Ukridge is a good example of why Wodehouse is often funnier in print than when he is adapted for radio, TV or film.)

I think the best way to experience P.G. Wodehouse's genius is to find a used hardback copy of one of his works.  Set aside some time, relax and enjoy the experience.  If you can't find a good old hardback copy, a paperback will do.  

A paperback edition of three of the "Blandings Castle" stories, found at an estate sale.

Free online copies of Wodehouse's books and short stories abound online.  Project Gutenberg has many:

Wodehouse's stories have been adapted countless times for film, radio and television, including  a recent BBC production, Blandings, which we've yet to see in the US.  Episodes of Jeeves and Wooster, produced by Granada Television and starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, are all over the Internet.  Here's one:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Short Notes: Vintage Tablecloth, Vol. 1

It's interesting to go to estate sales and see the things people have treasured.  Often, I find vintage textiles like this Startex (brand) tablecloth.  Its design shows a variety of collectible items -- a horse figurine, bowls, lamps, vases, bowls, even a duck decoy.

I thought it was pretty, so I brought it home.  Unfortunately it doesn't fit any of the tables in my house, so I'll list it on eBay and see if anyone else wants to use it to brighten their home (or their crafts project).  

Hope you enjoyed seeing the pictures!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

From Gift Wrap to Outer Space

The colorful gift wrap with the freesia floral motif on a black background was inside a box with a bunch of other wrapping paper at the estate sale.

No one had ever used this paper.

In fact, the tag was still on it.

The tag read:
Hy-Sil Mfg. Co. 
Revere, Mass.

I'd heard of gift wrap makers like Hallmark and Norcross before, but not Hy-Sil.  So I went online and discovered that the company had a 100-year history.   

A Revere, Massachusetts local newspaper article claimed that Hy-Sil popularized gift wrapping paper before the start of World War I.


Three families, who comprised the Hy-Sil owners, began manufacturing leather post cards in Boston in 1903, and soon after introduced the world to gift-wrapping paper. When their business took off, they opened their Revere factory in 1912....

The Atlantic magazine claims, however, that Hallmark was responsible for making gift wrap available in America:  


Regardless of which company introduced gift wrapping paper to gift-givers in the 20th century, Hy-Sil had a powerful impact, locally and globally.  Beyond globally, really.  The local paper continues:

The company employed thousands of Revere and Chelsea residents, both full and part time. They made paper products and even invented some groundbreaking materials. Richard Silverman (the ‘Sil’ in Hy-Sil) actually invented Mylar – the silvery material that many character balloons are made of. That material was not only used for balloons, but also was used by NASA astronauts in space. It is used in countless products today.

Among the other innovations developed at the Revere factory were tinsel ribbon, metalized ribbons and wrapping foil. It also was the first American manufacturer to develop a process for depositing metal under vacuum conditions onto plastic films – a process that was used in the making of gift wrap but soon realized its own worth for use in solar window films.

Hy-Sil eventually became part of American Greetings, but the name stayed on as a party supply store until a few months ago, when the doors finally closed.

From leather postcards to lovely gift wrapping paper to tinted windows to outer space. That's a good long legacy.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Short Notes: Easy Care Frillies

I've written before about the fun of finding vintage handkerchiefs (hankies) at estate sales.  Most of them have been lovingly used, cleaned, pressed and put away in a top dresser drawer.  

But some hankies were apparently so precious -- or so decorative as to not be functional -- that they were never even removed from their original gift box.  

Here's a set of three such hankies that I found at a recent estate sale.  They probably date to the 1950s.

The little white flowers are flocked.

The hankies were carefully and elaborately folded and pinned to a piece of paper inside the gift box.  And the cleaning instructions were easy to follow:

If you missed my previous post about finding a huge collection of vintage hankies, it's here:


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Vintage Artificial Flowers

When I attend estate sales, the vintage clothing ladies are almost always there too.  I have to admire them.  They are professionals.  Some of them supply designs to the entertainment industry; others resell to upscale clients, to whom everything old is new again (and worth paying for). 

The vintage clothing ladies always wear lovely and exotic clothes, in contrast to the rest of us who think of an estate sale as an opportunity to connect with a lot of dust and dress accordingly.  The VCLs arrive early to get the best place in line.  When the sale opens, they move through the house with deliberate speed, heading for the bedrooms.  They sort through closets, racks and piles of old clothing, seeking poodle skirts, designer labels from the 1950s, pleats and silks and blouses with big polka dots.  They are simultaneously polite and fiercely competitive.

Sometimes the VCLs' concentration on clothing causes them to overlook smaller items tucked away in a box on the closet floor or in a dresser drawer, like these hat flowers that I snagged.  

Most of the flowers have a c-clasp pin on the underside, so the flower can be attached to the band or the brim of the hat.  Others could be attached using a long straight pin with a faux pearl top.  The pin allowed the flower to be worn on more than one hat, or alternately attached to the lapel of a coat.

Almost all American women (and men) stopped wearing hats during the 1960s.  Online opinions as to why, vary.  Some say that the changing times gave people the choice to dress casually.  Relaxation of dress codes in churches meant that women no longer had to have their heads covered at worship.  Other experts say that when Americans moved to the suburbs and drove cars -- instead of living in the city and taking public transit -- the interior of the automobile gave them less headroom, and consequently less hatroom, than the train or bus.

You still see women wearing hats from time to time, and nowhere better than at church.  Time magazine's website has a photo essay based on the recent book Crowns, by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry: http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1874131,00.html

Collectors Weekly gives the history of hats with flowers during the 1950s:  http://www.collectorsweekly.com/hats/womens-1950s-hats

The Hat Museum in Oregon showcases chapeaux:  http://www.thehatmuseum.com/

Maddeningly, while I was writing this post, the song "Artificial Flowers" popped into my head.  It's from Tenderloin, a 1960 Broadway musical about a preacher campaigning to clean up a New York red-light district in the 1890s.  "Artificial Flowers" was written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock (who would later create the music for Fiddler on the Roof).  

This is what the song sounded like on Broadway:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8ha_OL1SHA   (Those lyrics would have been real tear-jerkers at the turn of the 20th Century.)

But you may be more familiar with the version that's running around inside my head today, which Bobby Darin swingingly recorded.  Here's a live version of the tune:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDK_R9JVQgc

Friday, July 5, 2013

Short Notes: Dear Deer

I see a lot of animal collectibles at estate sales.  Few, however, are as appealing as this little Steiff fawn.  It came from the estate of "Dr. Owl" and his son.

The German company Steiff first started making toys in 1880.   Steiff is most famous for its teddy bears, but it made many other animals too, including deer.  

This little guy is about 4 1/2 inches tall and dates from the late 1950s.  It's easy to think of the children in the Oulie family patting it softly, perhaps putting under the tree at Christmastime, setting it back on a shelf or placing it in a toy box for the rest of the year.

If you missed my previous blog post on "Dr. Owl," it's here:  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Covered Glass Dish

I knew this was coming.  I knew that, sooner or later this summer (probably sooner), our neighbors -- who have enabled far too many zucchini plants to grow in their garden -- would sneak up to our house in the wee small hours of the morning and leave a brown paper bag on our front doorstep.

(I do understand why the neighbors shared their overabundance.  You have to pick zucchini when it's ripe and still tender.  Otherwise it just keeps growing and you end up with something that looks like you could sell to a baseball team to use in batting practice.)

So, what to do with too many free zucchini?  Cook, of course.  It was a great opportunity to use the Anchor Hocking covered glass baking dish I found at an estate sale last year.

I often see ads for Anchor Hocking glass containers in magazines from the 1950s.  

The Hocking Glass Company was founded in 1905, and merged with the AnchorCap and Closure Corporations in 1937.  It's still in business today (although owned by some other company, I think).  I often see examples of their vintage glass at estate sales.  Some of the most popular are the deep red transparent Royal Ruby and gorgeous emerald transparent Forest Green glass, as well as oven-proof glass with the name Fire-King.

My covered glass baking dish is about 9 inches square and has a matching lid -- perfect for keeping things fresh after they're cooked.  Rather than making a zucchini casserole or regular zucchini bread, I decided to try The Southern Lady Cooks' recipe for chocolate zucchini cake.  It came out quite well. Here's a link to the recipe if you want to try it.  


To serve, I recruited the help of the lovely old cake plates my friends Peggy and Jane gave me, from their mom's estate:

I got out the sterling silver cake server I found for $3 at an estate sale, and two forks from the Orphan Flatware collection (remember them?):

Just add vanilla ice cream; instant dessert.


If you don't remember the Orphan Flatware, their story is here:  http://estatesalechronicles.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-orphan-flatware.html

One of my vintage tablecloths appears in the background of the pictures of dessert here.  That reminds me that, sometime soon, I'll have to share some pictures of more of the vintage tablecloths I've found.