Dec 24, 2011

Collecting Enamelware

It's Christmas eve and I'm in a cabin in the woods drinking tea and waiting for Santa to come. We've been doing a lot of cooking and eating these past few days. The cabin has always been where old plates and dishes come to retire. There are plenty of cast iron cast offs, mis-matched silverware and enameled dishes. Enamel wear works at the cabin but it also looks great displayed in collection! I think I might grab a piece or two and take them home with me to love them all year long, instead of just on long weekends. 

Enamelware first gained popularity around the same time it became readily available in mail-order catalogues and dry goods stores, this was around the end of the 19th Century. Items like biscuit cutters, ladles and baking tins were stamped out of thin sheets of iron or aluminium and then coated in enamel. It was much lighter than the kitchenware previously used and much less fragile than the very fashionable china ware was. The trend picked up quite quickly. 

Enamelware has gone by many names including; granitware, ironware and agatewear, though graniteware is the most recognized and collected by collectors. Here is a great article that touches on the hay-day of graniteware and talks a little about Granite City, IL-the hub of enamelware production. Enamelware was produced in red, blue, purple, brown, green, pink and white. There were patterns, speckles, shades designs, and mottles. French enamelware usually features a floral motif.

For collectors of enamelware some super finds include rare french patterns, purple, red and cobalt blue pieces and the well known Scandinavian designs of Grete Prytz Kittelsen-manufactured by Cathrineholm. Enamelware had a resurgence in the in the 1960's when some U.S. manufactures begin producing it again. Older pieces can be identified by smoothness of finish and handle material (wood vs. plastic). 

Enamelware lasts forever. Which means it has optimum opportunity to get filthy. Grimy enamelware should be washed clean with hot soapy water and a soft cloth.  Do not use anything sharp or scratchy-like steel wool, because enamel is actually made of glass and can be scratched or chipped. Instead, if you have a really tough stuck on something use oven cleaner (be sure to follow the directions printed on the bottle) and cover any handles or wooden pieces with plastic wrap before spraying. Brown deposits may come clean if you apply baking soda. Stubborn stains may benefit from a long (over night) soak in vinegar (1 part vinegar to 3 parts water). To stop the spread of rust apply cooking oil. If you plan on eating on vintage enamelware be sure that any bit that comes in to contact with food is not exposed. 

All of the enamelware pieces you see here are available for purchase on etsy. (last minute Christmas gift?) Thank you etsy sellers for the use of your great images.

Dec 20, 2011

Collecting Embroidered Sweaters

Minnesota is cold in the winter. It breaks my heart to have to put away my dresses at the end of the fall. At least my cardigans get to hang around and my sweaters come out of hiding. I love vintage clothing. I've definitely shared that before. Over the years I have accumulated a number of great embroidered sweaters and worn the love right out of them. I'm the girl who keeps on wearing a sweater even though it has no more elbows and an aged coffee stain on the front hidden behind a brooch. When vintage picking I always keep my eyes peeled for that next great sweater.....even on the sweatiest of summer days I've been known to add a piece to the ole stash.

The exact inception of embroidery is hard to pin point (pun intended). Let's just say that for as long as humans have been wearing clothes, they have been adorning them....with embroidery. (Embroidery refers to decorating fabric with  needle and a thread-or yarn etc.)  Many different cultures, spanning many centuries, have incorporated embroidery into their garments. Some of the earliest known examples have been dated to 3000 BC. This article at outlines embroidery through history and region. It would take many books to truly cover embroiderys impact over time. 

If you're looking to hear more of embroidery's past, check out some of these books; "Art of Embroidery: History of Style and Technique," or "Early American Embroidery Designs: An 1815 Manuscript Album With Over 190 Patterns." There is also the hard to find "Royal School of Needlework-Book of Needlework and Embroidery." Plus don't miss the dense (over 300 pages!) Reproduction of the early 1923 gem "Embroidery And Lace: Their Manufacture History From The Remotest Antiquity To The Present Day. A Handbook For Armatures, Collectors, And General Readers..." It's always a good idea to ask your librarian if they have any suggestions too! 

It's important to care for and preserve those pieces we really love. Though don't abandon them in your closet because of life's risks. If that's the case, pop that baby in a frame and call it "Art." Because it is.

Some helpful hints for cleaning your embroidered garments
  • Wash in mild detergent
  • Machine was in cold
  • Delicate wash cycle
  • Remove promptly after wash is completed
  • Never leave soaking in water, or in a wet pile
  • Never wring out anything with embroidery
  • Never rub out a stain
  • If you are unsure, hand wash
  • Lay Flat to Dry 

The lovely embroidered sweaters you see here are all available for purchase on Etsy. The woods are lovely dark and deep, lets wrap up in warm embroidered sweaters.

Dec 18, 2011

Collecting Taxidermy

From what I hear, collecting taxidermy is extremely addictive. A friend of mine had a collection that got so out of control, she said, that her home started to resemble a natural history museum. In order to slow down her accumulation she imposed a rule for herself-that she could, from then on, only collect albino animals!

Taxidermy is popular with many subcultures and has been around for quite along time. Because of this, the resources available for those interested in collecting taxidermy, or witnessing taxidermy collections are quite vast. 

During the Victorian era, taxidermy gained an unprecedented popularity. It was used frequently in great interior design, and a symbol of wealth. Victorian naturalists did not have binoculars or cameras. Often times their only method for identifying a species was to shoot it and examine it later. By the 18th century almost every town had it's only tannery and taxidermy set up. Customers could bring in animals and hides to literally have them "stuffed" with cloths and rags. By the 20th century taxidermists were considered artists-bringing life to the dead by posing and creating realistic settings to display their pieces in. 

Field Natural History Museum

Two interesting and well known taxidermists are Martha Maxwell and Walter Potter. Martha Maxwell is said to be the 1st woman naturalist who killed and stuffed and collected her specimens. She created natural environments to display her findings in. During her career she discovered a number of new species including (that which is named for her) The Maxwell Owl. Walter Potter, the most outstanding anthropomorphic taxidermist, spent the greater part of his career recreating famous nursery rhymes with taxidermied animals. Including "The Death And Burial Of Cockrobin," the highest grossing piece in his collection-which was broken up and sold in 2003. 

With taxidermy having a long history and passionate following there are great opportunity's to witness truly artistic and mind blowing pieces. There are many natural history museums all over the world, filled with dioramas, tableaus and menageries, waiting patiently for your patronage. Martha Stewart even recently revealed her taxidermy collection! You can find taxidermy in movies and t.v. shows (like Fox's sitcom "Scrubs" where the main character has a 'pet' taxidermeid dog). Taxidermy is on display and for sale in some wonderful and hip boutiques like San Francisco's Paxton Gate (Where I have been known to drop way too much money on plants I've never seen before). And of course, the Internet is an every flowing stream of taxidermy in all it's glory. One wonderful website being "Minnesota Association of Rouge Taxidermists," is dedicated to showcasing the work of modern taxidermy artists from Minnesota (props to my homeland!) and beyond. And also enjoy the humorous site "Crappy Taxidermy."

There are so many books about collecting taxidermy, beautiful, beautiful books. It's a collection all in itself. I found a good many of them on Amazon including  "Windows On Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of The American Museum of Natural History,"  and "Walter Potter and His Museum of Curious Taxidermy," and "The History of Taxidermy: Art, Science, and Bad Taste," plus the highly acclaimed "The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and The Cultures of Longing." Also check out "The Authentic Animal: The Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy," and "Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy."

Stay on after the jump for some alternative and vegetarian taxidermy examples! 

Dec 11, 2011

Collecting Ephemera of the Christmas Variety

I finally finished my Christmas cards. I have a million uncles and cousins and friends in other lands, all of whom are expecting a Christmas greeting. And not just any Christmas greeting, seeing that I have a 10 month old, it has to be an extra adorable Christmas greeting. Cross it off the 'to do' list cause it's done and done! Getting the stack of envelopes off to the post brought to mind a favorite holiday collection: paper Christmas ephemera. I've talked about my love affair with ephemera before. And the holidays offer us a free pass to get crazy with the ephemera hoarding via cards, postcards, wrapping paper, box labels, sheet music, die cuts, packages and so on!
One of the most sought after pieces in Christmas ephemera collecting is the greeting card, or most often greeting post card. The first commercially produced Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in 1843. These early English cards were not depicting religious and wintery images like the cards we know today, but favored flowers and and fairies instead. In 1875 greeting cards were introduced to the American market. Then the postcard hit the scene and changed everything, though by the 1920's cards with envelopes were coming back into style. 

If you are interested in Collecting Christmas postcards and greeting cards The Ephemera Society of America, as I've mentioned before, is a wonderful resource for budding and experienced collectors. The books "Christmas Cards," "Children's Greeting Cards: Collecting Vintage (Identification & Values), " and "The Yule Log" are available for purchase on The British Museum has obtained the wonderful Christmas card collection of Queen Mary and is available for viewing during the holiday season. 


Another marvelous thing I end up keeping after Santa's yearly visit is wrapping paper. Yes, I'm that person that carefully slips the gift out of it's trappings, folds the paper flat and stores it to use again. I have collected some of the greatest pieces of wrapping only to see them go as I hand them off to that special someone. Wrapping paper floats in and out of my life like snow. Although, if it was a particular pattern that I couldn't live with out, I'm sure it has ended up in my file cabinet-a mysterious and deep vortex who's innards have only briefly been explored. 

It is said that the wrapping paper we know and love slipped into the sales market on accident. According to the lore, the Hall brothers (pioneers of Hallmark) had sold out of their well known red, white, green and holly printed tissue paper. In a pinch they placed some fancy french envelope linings and they sold out too! They offered them again the next year and found they were just as popular-even with the increased price. That was in 1925, by the following decade they were selling papers rolled on tubes and shrink wrapped-the paper we are most familiar with today. 


Be sure and use Christmas as an excuse to hoard more than you normal would. It's what I do. 

Display your Holiday collections with pride! Everyone loves a good Christmas Collection. 


All of the great Christmas Ephemera you see here is available for sale on Etsy! It would make a great gift. Thank you Etsy sellers for the use of your photographs.

Dec 6, 2011

Collecting Christmas Deer

It's the most wonderful time of the year. I truly adore the holidays. It really brings out the collector in everyone. We patiently wait for Thanksgiving to pass to drag out our boxes of holiday decorations, memories, and collectibles. There are many Christmas things I keep from year to year, bird ornaments, music boxes and deer to name a few. 

Over the years I have had many deer come and go. Some of my favorites included a flocked deer wearing leg warmers (it was the 80's), a mother an child deer pair, and a beautiful white celluloid deer my mom gave just a few years ago. When I was living in Oakland, my roommate liked to decorate with deer all year long. She had a great set of brass deer on display. 
 The popularity of deer as a Christmas symbol comes from the reindeer we know as "Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixin, Comet, Cuipd, Donder and Blitzen." These are characters from the 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas." The poem, also known as "The Night Before Christmas," was written by Clement Clarke Moore. It is largely responsible for Santa Clause, his sleigh, his reindeer, the toys, and really the whole American idea of Santa and his part in the Christmas story.

Reindeer also know as Caribu, are wide spread in North America and also some Arctic regions. Though numerous in population, some subspecies are rare and in some instances extinct. In the story of Santa Clause and his mighty flying reindeer the deer are mythical or fantasy.

This year I will proudly display my deer and embrace Christmas, embrace nature, embrace poetry and embrace all those wonderful memories of Christmas past. 
All the deer you see here can be added to your collection, they are available on Etsy. Thank you Etsy sellers for the use of your grand photographs! 


Dec 2, 2011

Collecting Tonka Toys

I have a special place in my heart for Tonka toys. They were originally manufactured in my hometown. My grandfather, after taking a leave of absence from his position with the state of Minnesota, wanted to return to work, but there were no openings. In the mean time he took a job putting tires on toy trucks at the Mound Metalcraft factory. My mom tells me that he loved it. He worked mostly with women and enjoyed hearing them talk to each other all day. My grandmother regales me with tale of my dad and my uncles as little boys, driving their "Built To Last" Tonka Trucks off the docks into Lake Minnetonka. Needless to say, Tonka toys have were part of my life, even before I was alive!

Mound Metalcraft was founded in 1946. Their first products were metal tie racks and gardening equipment. Eventually they formed a union with Streater Industries, another local company, and they began producing metal toys. In 1947 they issued the #100 Tonka Steam Shovel and the #150 Crane and Clam. After that they were off! In 1955 they changed their name to "Tonka Toys," taking Tonka, a Souix word meaning "Big" and adding waves to their logo, some believe, to honor near by Lake Minnetonka.


Over time Tonka created new models and lines including Mighty Tonka, Tiny Tonka and Mini-Tonka. Millions of trucks were sold. They became a house hold name. In 1991 Hasbro acquired Tonka Toys and they are still manufactured today. (Though now in China). In 2001 Tonka Trucks were inducted into the "National Toy Hall Of Fame."

Tonka Toys were "Built Tough" and "Made To Last" which is a true statement. They are often found at yard sales, thrift stores and even hidden in the back of old barns. Pre 1970's pieces are the most desirable. If you are interested in collecting vintage Tonka Trucks the book "Collectors Guide To Tonka Trucks, 1947-1963" would be a helpful resource. As well as "How To Restore Classic Trucks, Tractors, and Airplanes."  If you are looking for information on suppliers, manufactures and parts, here is a great list of links.

If you are looking to bare witness to the worlds largest Tonka collection, two locations claim the title. The Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum in Bay City, Michigan reports that viewing their Tonka truck collection is a "once in a lifetime experience." And the Tonka truck collection at  Winifred Museum in Winifred, Montana is said to be a "delight to children of all ages."

All of the great (post 70's) Tonka Toys you see here are available for purchase at Etsy. Thank you Etsy sellers for the use of your stellar photographs!