Friday, December 27, 2013

A Roasting Pan Like Grandma's: Wagner Magnalite

I received a vintage roasting pan for Christmas from The Man of the House (who was also a beneficiary of the ham I baked therein).  

Yesterday I posted a photo of it on the Facebook page of Dusty Old Thing.  

This morning I awoke early to the notification system of my cell phone, a continuous tiny buzzing and fooping sound, telling me that Facebook was forwarding comments from other Dusty Old Thing readers about how much they love their old cookware.  Nearly 500 people (and counting) have chimed in on the subject of the Wagner Magnalite pan.

Guess I better put it on the blog too.....

The genesis of the story is as follows:  At Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law told me the story of one of her roasting pans.  It had come from the estate of her mother-in-law, who had purchased it new from a door-to-door salesman in the 1930s.  Grandma had always used it to cook pot roast, I learned.  

I do love to use old things to cook with.  My little kitchen is packed with RevereWare and Pyrex and Fire King, old cutlery and flatware.  

I looked on the bottom of the pan and saw the faded words  

Wagner Ware 

And below them


That sent me to the computer to look up the history of the company.  And what in the world is Magnalite?

The American Culinary website gives some of the history:

Matthew and Marvin Griswold first manufactured articles of light hardware but are credited with making the firm a leader in the manufacture of cast iron cookware. Roger Griswold foresaw electricity as an ideal heat source and developed the first complete electric commercial cookware line in Erie, Pennsylvania, USA.

Bernard and Milton Wagner first manufactured metal castings of light hardware for general stores and tin hollowware for government contract work. They are credited as the original and first to cast iron for cookware and holloware in Sidney, Ohio, USA and WagnerWare was born.

William and Louis Wagner joined the partnership and they built the first and most modern cookware manufacturing facility of the time. The Wagner brothers were pioneers and the first in America to cast aluminum and iron cookware. As sole manufacturers of WagnerWare, they won top honors at the Chicago, Nashville, Paris, Buffalo and St. Louis Exposition and further acknowledged at the Panama-Pacific International Expo. in San Francisco, California as the finest aluminum ware in the World.

Wagner created a chemistry of blended metal and named it Magnalite. They retain, John Gordon Rideout who along with Frank Lloyd Wright, were original Fellows of the Society of Design Engineers, and proponents of the design philosophy "form follows function." This unique vessel design and mission style handle gave birth to this respected American Classic.

A buyer's guide to Magnalite on eBay provides details on the metal itself:

Magnalite by Wagner was hand poured and cast in Sidney, Ohio (1934 - 1999). It is considered to be some of the finest American made cookware ever produced. Genuine Magnalite cookware is in high demand by collectors and daily users, alike.

From an Original Magnalite Care and Use Instructions Booklet...  "Magnalite [cookware] is made from aluminum and a special magnesium alloy which is an excellent heat conductor and reacts well to change in temperature, it is 'cast as thick as two silver dollars' and 'cooks food from all sides-it's like having an oven on top of your range (heat radiates from every part of Magnalite not from the bottom only).  Can be taken from refrigerator to the oven."

As long as I was on eBay, I noticed that there were several dozen Magnalite roasting pans for sale.  

And Christmas was coming!

That was enough for me.  I told "Santa" about his grandmother's pot roast pan and provided some directions about how he might acquire a similar one.   

By Christmas morning, a big box was under the tree.  I opened it and took my new, old pan to the kitchen.

The pan even had a trivet, on which to rest the roast.

By Christmas afternoon, the ham was on the trivet in the pan in the oven:

Christmas dinner was assured, with the promise of split pea and ham soup to come.

(Magnalite brand cookware is still being made, by the modern incarnation of the same company.  It is also being faked in a country overseas, so be careful if you decide you need to have one of these pans.)

The Dusty Old Thing website is here:

And the Facebook page is here:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What's Missing from Your Christmas?

If you haven't read my blog post "The Truth Behind Santa Claus," please take a couple of minutes to do so. 

It talks about the need for people to have hope in something yet to come, faith that there's something -- someone! -- loving and righteous that's larger than themselves, and the understanding that their choices have consequences (sometimes expressed as What Goes Around, Comes Around).  Cultures around the world hold these values, and even children understand these principles.

This post, below, follows those thoughts a little farther.  


A few months ago, I attended the estate sale of a local gentleman who had been an architect and artist.  The items for sale included many of his blueprints and renderings for homes and businesses, as well as a few of his set designs for stage productions.  

When I saw one of his set designs for a Christmas pageant, I noticed that something was missing from it that exemplifies what Christmas is really all about.  I plunked down my dollar and brought it home.  

Take a look at the architect's rendering, printed on a large piece of thin paper.  It has the bright light from the wonderful star, the little town, beautiful colors in the night sky.  It even has a rather ornate stable -- everything we need to know that this drawing is about Christmas.

What intrigued me, though, is not what the artist drew, but what he left out, or rather barely suggested in the picture.  He left an odd-shaped white space in the center of the Christmas drawing, with a few light pencil strokes to show that something, someone -- no, three someones -- are missing from the picture.  

The picture would only be complete when the actors took center stage in the Christmas pageant.

If you know the Christmas story that's presented in the ancient Scriptures, you know that the three people missing in the artist's work are Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Each character is essential for the Christmas story to be complete.  

Mary and Joseph had hope: they had something to look forward to.  All of her young life, Mary had heard the many prophecies that a Messiah, a Savior would someday come, not just for Israel but for the whole world.  But Mary never could have predicted it would come true in her lifetime, and through her own life.  

An angel appeared to Mary and told her that she, who'd never been with a man, would have a child, and that child would literally be the Son of God -- God with us -- that very Messiah that the ancient prophets foretold.  Mary also needed faith to trust, to believe that what the angel said was true and that God would sustain her through the very unusual circumstances that were about to happen.  Mary's choice to trust what the angel said, had consequences.

Joseph needed faith to trust in something inexplicable that was more powerful than himself.  Joseph was pledged to be Mary's husband.  When he found out she was pregnant and knew he wasn't the father of her child, he planned to quietly break off their relationship.  

But before Joseph could do so, he faced what was probably the biggest challenge of his spiritual life.  An angel visited him in a dream, and told him that the baby Mary was carrying was not the result of some other man's will, but a miracle.  God Himself had chosen to make an extraordinary entrance into this ordinary world by fulfilling all those prophecies -- right in the middle of Joseph's life.  Joseph made the choice to trust God, and stay with Mary and the baby.

(Note:  Why shouldn't God use extraordinary means to signal His own arrival on earth?  How else would we have known, except through the fulfillment of the prophecies and the miracle of the Incarnation, that Jesus was not just another little Jewish kid?  His birth was, after all, the start on earth of the one extraordinary life that changed the ordinary world for all of time.)

Jesus is the central figure in the blank spot in our Christmas story.  He exemplifies all three things we need for Christmas to be complete: hope, faith and the understanding that our choices have consequences.   

I'll turn to British author Elizabeth Goudge to describe Him, via her 1951 book God So Loved the World.  The Christmas story is excerpted in her 1967 work A Christmas Book.  (I found a copy of the latter, of course, at an estate sale.)

Here's the background, in Goudge's words:

This is the story of an almost unbelievable humbling, nothing less than the story of the life that God lived when he came down from heaven and lived upon earth as a man.... [In the person of Jesus] God lived and died for us men and for our salvation.  

The fact of this humility is so glorious that it is beyond human understanding, but the limitations of race and time and place put a sort of picture-frame about the glory, so that we can look at it without being blinded.  And we must look at it, because the picture in the frame is the most important thing in this world, or in any other.

To have a relationship with God, we need to have faith that He exists and that He loves us and is interested in having a relationship with us.  (Note: God is not interested in us having some form of "religion."  Any fool can do "religious" things and not have love for God and other people in her or his heart.)  This relationship gives us hope for our future with Him.

Man had forgotten what God looked like.  In the beginning God made man and loved him, and man looked up at God, and loved him also.... Man loved God of his own choice because God had given him free will.  Unless God had given man the gift of choice he would have been incapable of love, because it is the nature of love that it cannot be compelled, but must be freely given.

As Goudge illustrates, our choices have consequences:

But now man did the most dreadful thing that he has ever done in the whole course of his history.  He turned away from God and put himself in the centre instead of God.  He chose to love and serve himself instead of God, and for a man to think himself more worthy of attention than God is pride, the most detestable of all the sins and the root of all the others....

Goudge describes what God did, to shore up our faith and give us hope:

...The great love of God chose to do two things: to show himself to man all over again in his eternal beauty, and to lift up the great weight of sin that kept man a prisoner and carry it away, that man might be free to rise up and turn from self to God, and to serve and love him as he used to do in the beginning.

God, in the person of Jesus Christ, also made choices:

And the way of God's choice was the way of this humbling.  He came down to earth and lived as a man among men, that they might see and hear and touch eternal beauty, and he took upon himself the dreadful suffering and death that are the result of sin, though he himself was sinless, and in this way lifted the load and carried it away.

This great showing-forth and deliverance God accomplished for us in the person of his Son, who is one with him, the Word of God, the brightness of the everlasting light and the image of his goodness....  The suffering and death endured for us by him are the suffering and death of God.

But he has still left to us the power of choice.  We need not look at him and love him unless we want to.  We need not turn from ourselves to him unless we choose.  But if we have once looked at him, even though we have seen him only dimply, we find we cannot do anything else but try our very hardest to put him in the centre of our lives.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Hankie (or Two) for Christmas

I often find vintage handkerchiefs at estate sales.  I thought it would be fun to show you some of the ones I've found in the last few months that have Christmas designs on them.  

Bradford Santa and His Reindeer Set

In keeping with the season, I thought I would post photos of this vintage 1950s Christmas tabletop (or under-the-tree) decoration:  

A set of Bradford Santa Claus and His Reindeer, in their original box.  I found them at the estate sale of a 101-year-old man.

A quick online search showed me that Bradford made several different versions of Jolly Old St. Nick and his business associates.  

The reindeer came in a variety of styles, numbers and colors including white, silver, brown and metallic green.   

My set includes white (albino?) reindeer, a metallic red Santa and a metallic green sleigh, still in their original box and with their original red ribbon reins.

Santa was supposed to have a Christmas tree, but it's missing from the set.  The previous owner lost the original tree and substituted a green plastic frond of some kind -- perhaps a decoration from an aquarium?  From a distance it's close enough to a tree, so I kept it.

You can see that the set is a decent size, next to a 12" ruler.

Bradford Novelty Company was a family-owned business that operated in Pennsylvania for about 50 years, then closed in 2006.  They made decorations for other holidays, but were best-known for their Christmas items.

Like so many other mid-century companies, they are no more, but many of their lovely old Christmas ornaments are still available, at online auction sites and of course, if you're lucky, at estate and yard sales.  

You can see an assortment of photos of their work by looking at Google Images for "Bradford Vintage Christmas" or a similar search.


This blog has some photos and information about Bradford: 

The Truth Behind Santa Claus

This image of Santa Claus on some old Christmas gift wrap I found at an estate sale earlier this year, makes me think about how we talk to kids about Christmas.

I was recently given the unenviable task of explaining the truth about Santa Claus to a young gentleman of about 10. (Some of his relatives have kept the legend of Santa alive for him.)  The request that I explain about Santa came from the young man's father, who feared that his son, who was old enough to know the truth, still believed the fable.  We had gone to see "Santa" at a local Christmas light display the night before.

"So," I asked the young man, "did you enjoy seeing Santa last night and telling him what you want for Christmas?" 

"Yes," the young man replied.

"Yeah, that guy was a pretty good Santa," I observed.

The young man's brow furrowed a bit.  "What do you mean?" he asked darkly.

"Well, do you still believe there's a Santa Claus?" (I tried to be matter-of-fact, almost casual about the question.)

The young man looked at me cautiously, his mouth open just a little.  "Why did you say 'still believe'?"  

I looked back at him over the top of my glasses for a long three seconds.

"You're kidding," he said flatly.

I didn't blink.  I could see the wheels turning.  Obviously this was not a new concept to him.

"So -- Santa Claus is really just a legend, a tall tale?" he asked, maintaining eye contact and genuinely curious.


"Oh!"  The wheels continued to turn as he contemplated this new truth.

"Maybe it will help to think about it this way," I told him.  "When you're a little kid, you need to have hope.  That means you need to have something to look forward to, like Christmas presents!"

The young man nodded.  "Okay..."

"You need to have faith, to believe in someone bigger than yourself, who brings the presents.  And you also need to know that your choices have consequences: If you don't behave, your Mom and Dad tell you, Santa won't bring you any toys.  It's important that you learn all those things when you're a little kid, and the legend of Santa Claus helps little kids understand."

The young man digested this information.  He nodded again.

"But now that you're older," I continued, "you can understand the truth.  You have hope -- you can still look forward to Christmas!  And you have faith, that someone bigger than you will give you gifts.  And now you know that all those great Christmas presents -- as well as those consequences for your choices -- didn't come from Santa Claus.  They came from your Dad, who loves you very much."

A thoughtful silence ensued.

"And really," I concluded, "what would you rather have?  What's better?  A once-a-year visit from some old guy in a funny suit, who lives far away?  Or knowing that the gifts really come from your Daddy, who is with you all the time, and loves you, and will keep giving you Christmas presents year after year?"

The silence continued, but the young man's eyes began to twinkle as he watched me.

"I guarantee you," I said, "that a few days from now, you're going to have a whole lot of presents under your Christmas tree.  From your Daddy, and from your Mom, and even some from me."

The young man thought for another moment.  Then he smiled. 

(Whew.  You owe me one, Daddy.)

Vintage Christmas Tags and Stickers

I also like finding old Christmas tags at estate sales.  Here are some from my Found-In-2013 collection.

An original design by Peggy Sheppard, "Angel Trumpeter" -- from information on the back of the card.  
It's also marked "A California Artists Miniature."

Another California Artists gift tag, "Baby's First Christmas" by Alice Daly.

Another design by Ms. Daly.

Lots of old Christmas stickers!

Three blank Christmas gift tags.

By Ralph Hulett, a gift tag design labeled "Coming Around Again."
I like the reindeer peering over the sides of the seats on the Ferris wheel.

What would Christmas be, with the traditional caveat?

A lovely old sticker, shown many times its original size.

63 Brilliant Ideas for Christmas

How do you decorate the outside of your house for Christmas?  Have you ever decorated a building or a street during the holidays?

I often spot old appliance manuals at estate sales, but I've never seen anything else quite like this Christmas decoration manual for small business owners (and/or their electrical contractors), which I picked up at a sale earlier this year.  

It's a manual published by Westinghouse Electric, and it gives basic instructions for decorating the exteriors of buildings for Christmas.  (Westinghouse used to make all kinds of light bulbs.)

I'm not quite sure how old it is.  Westinghouse adopted the marketing phrase "You can be sure...if it's Westinghouse" in 1954, so the manual probably dates to the mid-1950s or early 1960s.   

Here are scans of a few pages.  As I look at them, I have a mental picture of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in It's a Wonderful Life, running through the streets of Bedford Falls in the snow, shouting:

"Merry Christmas, movie house!  Merry Christmas, emporium!  Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!"

The film It's a Wonderful Life predates the catalog, but the sentiment is still a good one.

Kitty and Puppy Christmas #3

Almost every estate sale I attend offers vintage (and sometimes newer) Christmas stuff for sale.  

I keep finding cute images of cats and dogs among the old cards and gift wrap.  Perhaps I find them because I look for them -- or because they are ubiquitous.

I wonder why our pets are such a part of an old-fashioned Christmas?  Is it because, in real life, cats and dogs (and kittens and puppies) are part of the family and pets can't resist getting personally involved in Christmas?

As long as they're inexpensive enough, I can't resist bringing these images home, making scans of them and sharing them with my readers.   


Saturday, December 21, 2013

More Vintage Christmas Catalog Images, or The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

A few days ago, I posted some pages from a 1956 Western Auto Christmas catalog that I found at an estate sale.  At the same sale were some other catalogs.  I didn't scan all those pages, but there are enough to give us another glimpse back at a mid-century Christmas.

The W.T. Grant chain of variety stores was founded in 1906 by William Thomas Grant.  The chain filed for bankruptcy in 1976.  Twenty years earlier, though, its Christmas catalog showed a variety of gift items for the whole family.

At the same estate sale were two more Christmas catalogs from 1956:  Toylane (probably a generic catalog that the individual variety store could stamp its name upon) and ToyTime from May Co. in Southern California.  

There was no question in the mind of the child looking through the day's mail, what sort of treasures waited  inside these catalogs.