Friday, January 28, 2011

Vantine's Catalog (1917, 1919, 1920)

While lazily perusing my very favorite website yesterday afternoon, trawling for goodies with keywords like "catalogs" and "hats- fashion" in the American texts subheading, I came across an entry for a shipping exchange store with a sizable mail order division called Vantine's. Neverheardofhim? If you were looking for an exotic birthday gift in 1917 New York, you needed look no further than A.A. Vantine's import store, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 39th Street, in "the heart of the new shopping district and near to the theaters". That's down the street from Times Square, people!

According to, A.A. Vantine, the store's proprietor, was one of the first businessmen to import items from the Far East to stock his store, described in an advertisement as "the most interesting store in the world... a wondrous, ever changing exhibition of antiques and modern works of art from each nook and corner of Japan, China, Turkey, Persia, India, and the Holy Land". He ran this store at the same location from 1866 until his retirement in 1887. In the 1920's, the management fell into the improbable hands of a drug dealer with mob connections by the name of Arnold Rothstein, who used the business's trade based transportation lines to move product from Asia to America. He was killed in hotel room shooting in 1928. The gaps before and after this strange interlude are unknown to me, except that these catalogs were printed in the time between Vantine and Rothstein's respective stewardships.

What a lot of things you could buy, through mail order, in 1917-1920 America! You have to think about this being a time without the internet or television, in which most people's experience of Asia, if any at all, would be limited to *maybe* The Mikado, *maybe* Madame Butterfly. I can imagine Talullah Bankhead or Zelda Fitzgerald lounging around the house in one of these kimonos. Languidly, of course.

Note the yellow kimono'd girls weird, jazz age pose. Very Clara Bow.
And shoes! Do they have shoes!

Everything from dainty slippers to weird, fur covered, mini-mukluks. Which pair do you prefer?

Let's not get started on jewelry. I'm a sucker for any kind of jade or coral and these pieces look so crisp. I was interested in the Egyptian baubles, but those were unfortunately in black and white. See the composition of the simple beaded necklaces in every color to the left, though! I want one of each.
Writing paper, natch. I thought of a 1918 girl's commencement book I bought the year I actually graduated from high school, which had neatly listed "fancy writing paper" as one of the gifts the girl in question received.
Lamps and disembodied legs which have inspired later lamps. I like the shade on the coral one, but don't the others seem a little tacky for 1917-1920? I keep trying to think of what these items must've looked like to people at the time.

Gorgeous painted toys! Not particularly Asian looking to me, except maybe the bottom row, but very pretty. The "grotesque duck" in the middle of the page on the left is cracking me up. What....?

Toy kettles/jars on the left, real kettles/jars on the right. No one wants to get cookies out of a face that is both bald, mangled, and melting (center space, bottom row). I mean...I'm right.

Lingerie illustrations. Note the pretty, sloe-eyed girls, gazes askance, draped in demure, gauzy offerings.

These dolls walk! How...oddly creepy. Yet ingenious! I love the different poses they've give the toy dog on the right.
If you go to the Vantine's website, you can some really great postcards of the interior of the store, just covered in treasures hauled home from far-distant locales. There are also examples of some of the merchandise, which, while charming, looks a little better in these illustrations than in breathing life.
If you could walk into Vantine's as it was then, or better yet, still order these items by mail, what would you take home?
Much belated clothing post next...! I've been wearing some keepers. :)
See the original catalogs HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Weekend Finds (2)

What a weekend for estate sale and Goodwill finds! After a drought of many weeks, this past Saturday and Sunday was a veritable bonanza of items snapped up practically for the asking. Hallelu!

I went to an estate sale in Green Hills on Saturday, where I picked up the Brownie 8 projector seen above, nestled amongst my other vintage cameras in its new home ($15...first day price). I'll stop collecting vintage cameras and related equipment...oh, fifth of never. It's getting a little out of hand, but this one was too pretty to take a pass on.

The house was unusually full of vintage clothes-- one men's dressing gown, brightly colored and beautifully kept, had a hand-pinned (and penned) note attached to it by the antecedent who claimed the garment had been worn by a Judge in colonial America sometime around 1746...! I touched the robe, then the note, and recoiled as if bitten. 1746! Boggles the mind. An all white cotton women's dressing gown, baroquely embellished in all manner of lace frippery and pin tucks, probably from the turn of the century, was hanging in another alcove with a ghostly trio of similar, linen shirtwaist dresses. I honestly haven't seen any clothes items this old at an estate sale in all my ten plus years of going. The prices were fair, but astronomically out of my range, so I kept snooping, lugging the above projector (in its box, with the instructions and price tag!) along for the ride.

Above, Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book from the late 50's (same sale, $4), and a pair of bowling shoes that will save me from looking a mess at the bowling alley next time I'm inclined to go (Goodwill, $4). They look nice together, don't they?

The biggest score from that sale was a gorgeous 1940's, bejeweled, Veronica Lake-ish number on the second day, but it really warrants its own post. That, and I haven't taken pictures of it yet. Next time!!

Some pictures from a dog show in 1976, as well as an AKC Best-in-Show ribbon from a living estate sale in West Meade. I'm a sucker for one-of-a-kind personal ephemera, so this one had me at hello. "Do you show dogs?" the cashier asked me as I was trundling my quarry up to the sale table. "Uhhhh, no," I answered, feeling a little foolish, while nevertheless adamantly reminding myself of how good these framed pictures and ribbon would look at the end of my hallway... I need another framed picture like I need a hole in the head, and yet here we are. Look at the pup! Whole lotta hair going on there.

Goodwill in Hendersonville, why are so good to me? I found the grouping of "Forum International Stoneware", designed by Ben Siebel, on the right at an estate sale on the second day, several weeks ago, at the same sale that yielded my colonial curtains...the pair of pots were $4 for both, and the casserole was $3. I was kind of bummed I didn't have a fourth piece in white to balance out the two browns, UNTIL I found this. Which is a simply enormous version of the smaller dish. The set came with the main dish, a matching ceramic stand, and a wooden base for you to put a can of sterno or similar heat to keep items warm. This is essentially a giant, gorgeous chaffing dish set, in good condition, which MATCHES the original set to a tee. Thank you, thank you, Goodwill gods. $11.99.

Some Goodwill finds--Shoshtakovich, Bobby Vinton, and what looks like a Jaws-knockoff CHILDREN'S album. Because, really, why not. A "Home Alone" game for the Sega Genesis sang its siren's call to me, and I ended up taking it home. Note the "Holy Cow" photoshopped into the right hand side of the frame. Like "AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!" was not enough of a statement to make.

This is really the crowning glory of my finds this weekend, other than the Lake dress.

Um, promotional silk jacket from the 1984 release Rhinestone, featuring the immortal pairing of Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton? I just about let out a shriek when I realized what I was holding in the jackets section of the Goodwill up in Gallatin ($6.99). I thought it might be a baseball league jacket, owing to the glimpse of a shiny sleeve I saw from afar, or maybe, if I was lucky, even a poorly silk screened country band's promotional jacket. But I was so very wrong. Babu gamely donned the world's ultimate jacket (the western styling, down to the pearl snaps and green piping?) for the photo, but we might have to put it in a glass case and just display it. It's really too crazy/nice to wear.

I hated to spend more than $20 this weekend (usually my cut-off budget for sale snags), but I couldn't let some of the things I found go.

As if I hadn't been a bad enough pack rat, my friend Jules suprised me at her boyfriend's birthday party with a gift for me! And me alone! I was like, "Wait! It's James's birthday, not mine!" Jules then related to me the backstory of this PERFECT FONDUE POT, being that her grandfather passed away in 1982, whereupon her grandmother downsized to a smaller house and packed up everything extra in storage. Once a year, at Christmas, her grandmother pulls some non-heirloom, but definitely vintage item, out of storage to give to her grandchild. Who turned around and, out of the goodness of her heart, gave it to me!! The pot, though dusty, looks to be in excellent shape, and even came with a recipe book and a set of color-coordinated long forks! You better believe we'll be "fondue-ing" some "fondue-ables" with a quickness. Thanks, Jules! You're the first on my fondue party invite list. Also, you are way too nice to me. :) In the same vein, Matthew's mom gave me this late 70's, JC Penney brand wok, which is a delicious, kitchen-matching red, as she was decluttering her kitchen weekend before last. I always want to try Asian wok recipes at home, and have never had one. Thanks, Deb! A-cooking we will go, go, go, people.
Anyway, if you've gotten this far, thanks for looking! How was your luck this weekend? Is it something in the lunar cycle...did everybody make killer hauls? I'd love to know!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Introducing Fabric Collage (1969)

I was running paging slips yesterday for some rogue titles that had eluded the initial morning runs whennnnn... I came across a book that contains the above illustration. Wait a minute. Fabric collage? Check. Done by English schoolgirls? Check. Of Bonnie and Clyde? Oh, you'd better believe it! Note the waylaid officer of the law, sprawled to collage stage right. Note the featureless faces of the famed bandit couple, her cigar, his tommy gun. Really? We spent a lot of time doing still lives of sneakers in my middle school art class, but grisly tableaux of 30's gangsters in felt? Definitely a class on which I would have liked to have sat in.

The odds that two sixties' instructional manuals on non-paper-based collage work should catch my eye without any prior hunting and pecking for them seem small, but, as you'll see in this post, are not entirely unheard of. Introducing Fabric Collage, by Margaret Connor, was shelved two books down from a book I was actually looking for.

Inside, the book showcases the work Ms. Connor did with the "Needlecraft Department of a Leeds Secondary School". What a class! What a department! Ms. Connor's accomplishments include membership in the Embroider's Guild, several city exhibitions both with and without her pupils, and a collection of poetry (she is large, she contains multitudes). While the writing style can be saltine-cracker-dry, I have to give the lady her due in that she and these kids have created some ne-e-e-e-at fabric pictures.

First off, rock concerts. Popular subject for obvious reasons.

Probably the best illustration in the book. I mean, wait. These are monkeys...dressed as THE MONKEES. Doing some kind of deranged frug. Two pages of text are dedicated to describing the creative process involved in making this dream a reality. "An imaginative girl...suggested that a good picture might be made by portraying the Monkees (a pop group enjoying great publicity at that time), quite literally, as monkeys!" Ms. Connor goes on extol the virtues of this thirteen year old fabric maverick, slowly piecing together the components and making design decisions. "Contrary to the practice of the Monkees group who all dress the same in shows, these fabric monkeys were arrayed in different shirts." It's the little things that count.

In the same vein, this piece is called "Dance Hall". "Two girls, who were inseparable companions...wished to interpret a scene from the interior of the local dance hall...[The girls describe the outline of the piece, what's in it, etc] The writer secretly quailed at the thought of the girls trying to represent all this in fabrics, but respected their ability, and did not wish to dissuade them from the attempt." Yes, the whole book is written like this. I thought at first the authoress was "quailing" (a word I have GOT to use more often) at the rock-show setting, before realizing she was referring to the level of difficulty making all the separate components of the girls' vision come off. So maybe she hates the Merseybeat. Or maybe she's just into simple, straightforward design ethic. In either case, I think the girls in question acquitted themselves of their task admirably. The band looks great! The dance floor! What about the dance to the far right who appear to be wearing a bikini with a sheer net dress over it?! Daring, gals. Daring.

From the text: "An amusing picture called 'The Surprise Catch' [above] was created by two fourteen year old girls, and showed a surprised-looking mermaids with sequinned tail, being caught in a net by an equally surprised-looking fisherman!" True, true. I was surprised at the nearing PG-13 amount of nudity in this collage, but I so love the mermaid's Twiggy eyes and long hair that I'll put away my prudishness for now and enjoy her Dollybird looks.

Underwater scenes seem to be popular-- here's a pair of fish. Doesn't the pattern on the fabric for the lower one look kind of like scales?

What! What is happening here! Titled "Underwater Adventure", this piece has a skin diver stabbing what looks like a beluga whale/shark hybrid as his companion exits a sunken ship to the right. More like..."Underwater Horror Nightmare With Death". It took me a minute to realize that the item in his hand is indeed a knife, and he is doing violence upon the major marine life in front of him. Definitely one of the pages I wish was in color, this is what Ms. Connor would no doubt call an "imagination collage". Jeepers!

The comparitively safe subject matter of these pictures include a elven domestic scene and a trip to whatever the British equivalent of a state fair is. A carnival? A fete? I like that in the first picture, the elves keep an elf-sized snail as a pet. Nice to know the minute scale we're talking about here.

Ms. Connor's own work, seen here above and below, really does use incredible detail to get across the effect of the patterns in the design scheme. I love the city scape above and below, with is cooling towers and smoke stacks blowing breathy plumes of smoke into the skyline above the plaid accented buildings.

The picture below reminds me of William H. Johnson or other Harlem Renaissance painters' figural use of simple everyday life scenes of housework or play. The muslin background gives the picture an interesting texture, and can you see all the little labels piled up as the foundation? Killer.

I promise my next post will be less Girl Scout craft inspired...or will it? :)
Found a few trinkets this last weekend at estate sales and goodwills...will try after the weekend's haul to combine lots and share some pictures. Til then!


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