Oct 28, 2011

Collecting Vintage Levi's

I was gifted my first pair of vintage Levis almost 10 years ago. I put them on, they fit like a glove, the made my bottom half look badass (literally.) I lived in them, and I never looked back. From then on I bought all my Levis from Slash in Berkeley. It's been around forever, a little nook below street level in Elmwood. You step down into a Levi collectors dream. Its floor to ceiling stacks of pants! The friendly staff assess your needs and pull from piles all the jeans you could imagine. You try them on right then and there, in the middle of the darkly lit store. I've never been disappointed there. For those of you who aren't in the East Bay, there is always Etsy, thrift stores and pop-ups

US Patent Number 139,121 started it all. Well, US Patent Number 139,121, a great idea and a partnership between Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. They developed the very first pair of men's work pants made of denim in the year 1873. Their 501 jeans were created in 1890 (in San Francisco)  and eventually went on to become one of the best selling items of clothing in history. 

In the 1950's and 1960's Levi's Jeans became popular with a variety of sub cultures. The popularity of jeans increased across the board and a number of other manufactures began producing similar products. By the 1990's the competition was fierce (especially with the overseas market). Though Levi Strauss holds the trademark for their signature pocket design. 

If you are interested in collecting vintage Levi's you should start with identification. This site offers some expert tips, as does this one. Also important in Levi's collecting is identifying a fake or impostor. Levis Strauss was involved in many lawsuits involving their patent style. Read here for help on impostor spotting. There are a plethora of titles regarding Levi's history, Levi Strauss himself, the history of blue jeans and denim; including "This Is a Pair of Levi's Jeans: The Official History of The Levi's Brand," which is a collectors item itself.

And last but not least I leave you with this....

All the Levi's items you see here are available for purchase on Etsy. Thank you Etsy sellers for the use of your beautiful photographs!

Oct 26, 2011

Collecting Cast Iron Mechanical Banks (and Still Banks)

Collecting mechanical banks is a big deal. Lots of money moves around during big, highly attended, auctions. There are collectors out there that have been accumulating banks for centuries. One of the larger and more acclaimed collections was auctioned off a few years ago, bringing in 7.7 million dollars!  
Mechanical banks became popular in the mid-century. Their original purpose was to get children interested in saving. 

If you are interested in collecting mechanical banks the best place to start would be the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, a super involved non-profit, with hundreds of members all devoted to the collection and preservation of mechanical banks. Their website offers a complete network for any collector-expert or novice. They meet yearly and even put out a triannual publication called the Mechanical Bank Journal. 

The Kidd's Toy Museum in Oregon is the temporary site of the Mechanical Bank Collectors Library archives. If you would like information from any of their many documents and books, contact them. Also, your local library should have a book or two on cast iron banks; mechanical or still. Asking your librarian to help you find them is a good idea. I found these titles available on Amazon: The Official Guide To Mechanical Banks, and  A Penny Saved: Still And Mechanical Banks.

Another element of mechanical bank collecting is obtaining mechanical bank trading cards. There are considered quite rare. Bruce T. Roberts penned "Mechanical Bank Trade Cards."

And here is the link to Dan Morphy's Mechanical Price Guide, with beautiful photographs and limited quantities it rings in around $125 a book.

There has been a lot of commentary about the images and offensive stereotypes in some of these antique banks. Below is a video from CBS Sunday Morning regarding such topic. It also shows a great variety of banks from the big Stekbeck auction!

Oct 25, 2011

Collecting Frozen Charlottes and Bisque Dolls

A handful of years ago, I was browsing the shelves at my most favorite natural history store "The Bone Room" (Albany, CA) when I noticed the very friendly sales girl unwrapping some peculiar broken dolls. My friend and I were immediately drawn in and the sales girl was so excited to tell us all about them. I bought two dolls after the girl explained that they had been excavated from a former bisque factory in Thuringia Germany. She told us that when it rained these old doll fragments would pop out of the moist ground after having been buried in the dirt for quite a while. I knew then that I had to have them.

Bisque dolls were popular between 1860 and 1900. They were favored because of their realistic looking features made of unglazed porcelain with a matte finish. These dolls were predominately made in Germany factories. The first dolls were made in the likeness of adults. After a few decades they were made to resemble children. The earlier ones referred to as "dolly-faced dolls." Many of these child-like dolls, produced between 1890-1930, were made in factories in Thurngia, Germany, the region rich in natural clay deposits used in the production.

Frozen Charlotte is a term to describe a particular china or bisque doll. These dolls were moulded in one solid piece-essentially "frozen" in one place. The theory goes that their name was derived from the poem "Young Charlotte" by Seba Smith, a sad Victorian story of a young girl freezing to death. 

To this day enthusiasts and collectors are still excavating dolls and doll pieces from the old factory sites in Thurngia. 

If you are interested collecting bisque dolls and Frozen Charlottes I suggest asking your local librarian for directions to the antique and collection section. A good library should have a few books on doll collecting. Amazon.com com offers a few helpful titles; China, Parian & Bisque German Dolls, A Pictorial Reference Guide To German Chinas, and In The Palm Of One's Hands: Small Bisque Dolls, 1877-1920. If you are wondering about values, check a Blue Book Doll book, Amazon has those too. 

Oct 20, 2011

Collecting Vintage Bathing Suits

I love to swim. I grew up on the lakes, 10,000 lakes to be exact! Swimming has always been a part of my existence. It is getting a little cold in the season to be swimming in the lakes. But I do have a healthy regimen of frequent lap swimming at the local Y. Recently the suit dryer ate a chunk-the left strap to be exact-out of my suit. (Really, use at your own risk!). I went on an Internet search to find a new "sport" swim suit. In doing my research, I came across a plethora of beautiful vintage bathing suits that would be perfect for lounging on the beach on a summers day, drinking an Arnie Palmer and finishing the Times Crossword. It sparked my interest in the idea of collecting vintage bathing suits.

In the 18th century women were wearing "bathing garments" made of wool to protect the skin from the sun and to keep a woman modest. Sea bathing was quite popular and the wool also added warmth. The swim suits of this era were made to cover arms and legs. Any additional exposure would result in strict legal punishment. Women were known to sew rocks into their suits to prevent them from riding up in the water. These suits were not practical or comfortable. As time went on mixed gender sea bathing/swimming became more acceptable and bathing suits became easier to move in. 

By the end of the 19th century beaches were covered with droves of sand dwellers, surf swimmers, and sea bathers. The bulky Victorian styled suits were becoming obsolete. Less fabric was being used and more of the figure was exposed. Although there were still lines of overexposure drawn in the sand (pun intended). Annette Kellerman, the "underwater ballerina," was arrested for indecent exposure-her one piece neck to ankle bodysuit was too revealing. She than marketed a line of bathing suits which were considered outrageous and the subject of many censorship debates. It changed bathing suits forever.

After that swim suit shapes began to shrink. The arms became shorter then disappeared. The legs began to receded past the knees and up the thighs. And the collar shrunk down from around the neck to the top of the bosom. The fabrics changed from dark and droopy to lighter colors and fun patterns. 

The first Bikini was introduced after World War II. They were named after Bikini Atoll, a nuclear weapons test site, for their explosive effect on the viewer! Through the 1950's it was popular for the bikini bottom to come up over the navel. After the 1960's the bikini got smaller and smaller until it covered little more than the genitals. 

If you are interested in collecting vintage bathing suits I suggest reading this article in Collectors Weekly; An Interview with Vintage Swimwear Collector Pam Fierro. Pam answers absolutely any question any one could have about vintage bathing suits: dating, designers, preservation and more! She also has a wonderful blog "GlamourSplash" dedicated to vintage swimwear and a website where she sells pieces from her own collection.

Available from Amazon are these titles referencing bathing suits and swimwear history; "Vintage Swimwear" by Sarah Kennedy, "Making Waves,"  and "Splash, A History of Swimwear" by Richard Martin. (I also found these fun coffee table books: "Naughty Victorians & Edwardians: Early Images of Bathing Beauties" and "Bathing Beauties of The Roaring Twenties." And here is a helpful essay from Antiques Roadshow on buying and preserving vintage clothing.

One final thought.....hang the suit or wear it?

Oct 15, 2011

Collecting Pie Birds

This is my favoirte time of year. I love the holidays. Thanksgiving is creeping up behind Halloween. All the smells, atumunal gatherings to bring inside, family, and FOOD. My mind is bubbling over with Thanksgiving side ideas...brusses, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pie. PIE. 

A pie bird, also known as a pie vent, pie whistle, pie funnle or pie chimney, is a hallow ceramic instrument used to allow steam to escape from a baking pie. When fruit filled pies are cooking, they have the potential, if filled enough, to bubble over, making the worst kind of mess all over your oven's insides. Pie birds were created to aid in the baking process of good pies. 

Traditonally the pie funnel was in the shape of a bird. The pedestal, wide to fit into the pie innards and the bird, hollow to allow steam to rise through the device. Pie birds come in many other forms, including but not limited to; elephants, roosters, farmers, sailor girls, aunt Jemmimas, and the elusive Pillsbury Dough Boy. 

If you are interested in collecting pie birds, there is a pie bird convention. (Though I couldn't find any informaiton past 2004.) These two posts offered helpful information as far as manufactures and a more extensive history: Favourite Collectables and Antique Trader.  Amazon.com had these two books available; "Collecting Stuart Bass Pie Funnels", and "Four & Twenty Blackbirds, Vol. 1: Pie Birds, A Pictorial Identification and Value Guide."

A poccet full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie. 

When the pie was opened, 
The birds began to sing; 
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before a king?

Instant Collection

Oct 12, 2011

Collecting View Masters

Every kid, young and old, has played with a View Master. The simple toy takes no battery's, no charger, no power source, only a reel and a pair of eyes. The iconic toy finds its way into garage sales, ebay auctions and etsy pages...making the job of collecting View Masters fun and accessible. 

A View Master is a device for viewing 3-D photographic reels. View Masters are most commonly seen as children's toys, but have also been used as tourist paraphernalia (for viewing sight seeing images) and used by the United States military-who purchased 100,000 viewers + near 6 million disks between 1942 and 1945. 
The first View Master was introduced at New York Worlds Fair (1939). It was the brain child of an organ maker and a photographer, William Gruber and Harold Graves, with help of Sawyer's Photo Services. Gruber and Graves had created devices for viewing stereoscopic images. The pair came up with the idea to use Kodachrome film (RIP) which really took their idea to a new level. In 1939 they officially formed a partnership and created their first View Master.

An early View Master model, "A" was round and made from Kodak tenite plastic. It opened like a clam shell and cost about $1.50. Over the years View Master went threw many evolutions. A notable model was the "Talking View Master." 

If you are interested in collecting View Masters a good place to start is the National Stereoscopic Association. If you are curious about modern View Masters, the Official View Master sit, via Fisher Price would be helpful. Amazon.Com has two useful books; "Stereo Views: An Illustrated History & Price Guide."  and "Collectible View-Master: An Illustrated Reference and Value Guide.

Two incredibly helpful websites for identifying and dating your View Masters and Reels are  View Masters & Tru View Collectors Association (for machines), and The Brooks View Master List (a comprehensive list of every reel ever made).

If you are interested in creating your own View Master reels, there are a few ways of going about it.  If you can find the discontinued film, and a Personal Stereo Camera, you could shoot your own. (Though you would have to also come across a cutter, a mount, and most likely develop and print them yourself too).  This company says they can make you custom reels out of any visual format. (They also sell View Masters in bulk). And Melangerie Inc. will make you the most beautiful personalized View Master wedding invitations. (as seen above).

 Be sure to play this one! You won't be sorry.

Oct 11, 2011

Collecting Rubber Bands

Who collected the most rubber bands to make the biggest rubber band ball in the world? And where is it? These are the kinds of things I wonder about.

According to Wikipedia, Joel Waul holds the Guinness World Record for the largest rubber band ball. It weighs in at 9,400 lbs and is over 8 feet tall. It was purchased by Ripleys Believe It Or Not.

The previous record holders were Steve Milton and John Bain

One last item regarding big balls: In my rubber band ball research I found a most hilarious stream of comments on the wonderful website "Roadside America." (Which if you are not familiar is a great resource for all the wacky and weird roadside attractions worth seeing across America.) The stream starts around 2000 with an entry about a corner store owner in the Mission in S.F. who was constructing a rubber band ball in his shop. Two pages chronicle visitors interactions with this rubber band ball builder over a 10 year period. It is a good read. Starting with "We stumbled upon the rubber band ball (covered up with blankets and an american flag) while trying to buy beer..."

Oct 8, 2011

Collecting Needles?

What the hell is this? 

I found this gem at a garage sale today. What could it be? The little slide opens up to vials of needles. I have some ideas in my head about it's purpose, but if anyone knows its exact use, please tell us.