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.


  1. GREAT POST!!!!
    THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL I LOVE IT thankyouthankyouthankyou

  2. Beautiful images, thanks for sharing!

    On the cookie jar - very scary, possibly good for dieters ;)

  3. Ooh great pictures. I love all those shoes. But what is going on with style 400? They look like little wicker boxes for your feet!

  4. Lisa - What treasures you found!!! I'd love to go shopping here! Let's see...I'll take all of of the toy animals on wheels, especially the birds. And I'll take that pretty old rose kimono (pictured to the left of the yellow kimono) and a pair of pink or rose slippers to match!

    Thank you for telling us about your favorite website - it was new to me! I look forward to some lazy perusing of my own there too...
    - Susan

  5. omg. you know i'd kill for those shoes in real life.

  6. Hi Lisa… nice to meet you… thanks for your comments… I like your blog too…




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