Tintypes, The History Of Photography & Antique Painted Photographic Backgrounds

Have you ever thought about the painted backgrounds in antique and vintage photographs?

No?  Me neither.

Not until I read The Painted Backdrop: Behind the Sitter in American Tintype Photography, by Jim Linderman (with an essay by Kate Bloomquist), that is.

In fact, the story of and between 19th century painters and American photography really has never been told — or, I should say, “hasn’t been explored” until Linderman came along and looked into it via his collection of antique tintype photographs.

If you’re curious now, if you collect antique tintypes, are a collector of photographs and/or cameras, are an artist or have other interest in photographic history, I can’t recommend this book enough.

Technology, commerce, art, and culture collide at a crossroads, supposed “forward progress” exposing values, leaving the role of art and artists themselves as question marks…

My full review of the book is here — and my exclusive interview with the author is here.

Image credits: Jim Linderman

Using Antique Images & Vintage Graphics To Make Things Without Ruining Your Collectibles

If you’re like me and enjoy collecting and have a creative streak, you’ve probably faced the issue of balancing your delight in making things with your collector’s desire to keep the integrity of your antiques and vintage items. While this clash of interests often presents a quandary for all artsy folk who collect, my primary problem persists in the area of vintage graphics.

Kindness Of Strangers Altered Art Piece By Deanna Dahlsad

I love to make collages, make special scrapbook pages, and in general practice the paper altered arts —  but I’m extremely uncomfortable destroying antique books, vintage magazines and other old piece of ephemera. If a book or magazine is so damaged that it’s of no real value; fine, I can render the rest of it useful and beautiful once again with a paper project. But if the work is sound, no matter how filled with lovely images it is, I just can’t do harm. …Yet another part of my soul aches to use what’s right there, in reach. However, this digital age now puts an end to the majority of our concerns via the gift of the scanner.

In most cases, even the most delicate antique books and papers can be safely scanned. Not only does this offer collectors a virtual copy of the works, but, when scanned at a proper size (300 dpi or larger), this gives you a printable file. In just a few minutes you’ve preserved a copy of the image and created one you can now print (as many copies as you’d like) for use in collages, altered art paper projects, scrapbooking, and other projects.

What other projects, you ask? Well, now, thanks to all sorts of printers, gadgets, programs, and papers, you can transform your digital image files into patterns for cross stitch, needlepoint, and other needlework patterns; iron-on transfer papers to images to use on t-shirts, quilt squares, pillows and other fabric projects; LCD projector or DLP projector, opaque projector, and even slide projectors (though the lights often burn out before your project is done, resulting in problems lining up the image again) allow the image to be projected onto walls, canvas, etc. for painting murals and other larger decorating or art pieces — really, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

Once you get started, it’s hard to stop! And that’s why you can even buy files with vintage and antique images to download online; Etsy is a great place to look (I’ve just started selling some of my own there). And right now, you can enter Marty’s contest to win 150 pages of antique images from a 1914 New York Department Store catalog too. (Contest ends July 15, 2011.)

If you’re unsure where to start, there’s an online course you can take. While it focuses on paper art collage principals, it will help you get used to a lot of the basics. And there are places like Zazzle which do all the work, placing your images onto everything from posters, apparel and mugs, to greeting cards, iPod cases, and skateboards. You can make stuff just for you and your friends and family (at discounted prices) as well as sell stuff with your images to others. (I do it! This is my Zazzle shops with friends.)

The only note of caution I have is that if you decide to sell anything, you should know your intellectual property or copyright laws; items created for personal use fine.

So start flipping through your antique books, your vintage magazines, your postcards and other paper collectibles, with a creative eye… Who knows what images you can now safely use? It’s like having your cake and eating it too!

Image Credits: My own altered art piece made from antique and vintage images, used in my art collaborative project, Kindness Of Strangers, at Etsy & Zazzle.

Advice On Starting A Book Collection

Not everyone has to have a wonderfully fully registered private library with first editions in a specially designed humidity controlled room.

That’s my favorite bit of advice from Advice to New Book Collectors from Other Book Collectors (which continues in part two) over at Private Library.

(Some Of) My Sagging Bookshelves

Maybe I love that comment so much because it took me so long to realize that I was a book collector. Sometimes bucking bookshelves aren’t enough of a sign. …To yourself. Not when you think there are “real collectors” with “real collections” out there.

Which is a problem a lot of collectors have; like having economic troubles and always saying that others have it worse, we collectors always figure someone does it better, has a better collection… So we belittle our own, or are intimidated out of even starting a collection.

That’s sad.

But with the help of the complied advice from other book collectors at Private Library, you shouldn’t be intimidated — you should be inspired! Go learn how to get started in book collecting and set your own bookshelves to sagging. *wink*

The author also has a nifty guide to questions that booksellers wish new collectors of books would ask, which includes lots of resources.

See also: My Best Book Collecting Guides.

Antique Memorial Book Of Victorian Mourning Hair Braids

At an estate sale I recently was lucky enough to get this little, unassuming, antique book… Plain brown boards, penciled notes and a math problem… A slim 6 and one-half inches 3 and one-half by inches.

Plain Brown Antique Book

 

It may not seem appealing to you — and that, likely, is how I managed to procure it. But hubby and I always look for old books; no matter how bland and boring their outsides are, the insides can be fabulous. And this is one of those fabulous ones. Inside, on the fragile old pages, are little Victorian hair braids — Victorian mourning pieces!

Trio Of Victorian Hair Braids In Book

There are only a few of them, each carefully glued in place, the fading script documenting the details. But holding the book in your hands is a magical sort of a moment. I find it as close to sacred as any experience I’ve had.

Antique Memorial Book With Victorian Mourning Braids & Victorian Hands

Some people find this creepy. Or just plain wrong. But Victorians didn’t pretend death wasn’t a part of life, yet they also took their mourning seriously. They had more than the short and simple funeral services we have today; they had many more rules of etiquette. And they had more rituals, most of which I think would be more comforting and that I find beautiful. Including mourning hair art.

Because hair is symbolic and it lasts forever, Victorians would save hair from the deceased loved one and make mementos they could keep forever. According to Godey’s Lady’s Book (circa 1950):

Hair is at once the most delicate and last of our materials and survives us like love. It is so light, so gentle, so escaping from the idea of death, that, with a lock of hair belonging to a child or friend we may almost look up to heaven and compare notes with angelic nature, may almost say, I have a piece of thee here, not unworthy of thy being now.

Sometimes it was jewelry they could wear. Other times it was incredible sculptures, like the one seen on Oddities. And sometimes the hair was simply and eloquently braided and placed in a memorial book like this.

Victorian Mourning Hair Art Memorial Book

Notice how the neat old script includes the name, age, and either the death or birth date of the lost person below their braid of hair.

In the above photo you’ll see the wispy curl of hair that has not been braided so much as decorated around… It is the only piece of hair not braided and glued in place, but rather it’s affixed to a small swatch of fabric and golden “stickers” surround it. The roughly inch long piece of hair was not long enough to braid… It belonged to a three month old baby.

[Everyone say, “Awwww…”]

I’ve not yet decided how long I’ll keep this beautiful memorial book…

Part of me wants to keep it forever.  But I also know I risk becoming obsessed with finding more, of building another collection… And this is a pricey category of collecting.

The Value In Collecting & Reading Antique & Vintage Publications

It’s funny how your perspective changes…

I first wrote/posted about this November 1953 issue of Silhouette Magazine in July of 2008 — but when preparing to list it for sale on eBay, I found myself thumbing through the vintage publication with completely different eyes. For you see, when I first posted those images and silly thoughts, it would be another four months before Things Your Grandmother Knew would be born. Now I’m spotting tips on cleaning corduroy in a very different light!

Funny how perspective changes… Not just the out-of-sight-out-of-mind of putting the vintage booklet away, but the way we look at things, what we take from them, what our intentions are in terms of use — and the blinders we put on ourselves even when our intentions are “good” and purposeful. Yes, adding another blog opened my eyes to see old information in a new light. But what else might I see with another blog (oh, no, I have enough!) or in another few years, as life shifts my purpose, my interests, my needs? How does the old stuff maintain the same yet live on with new purpose?

In theory, and practice, this is the heart of recycling. But had I recycled this vintage booklet (either in the practical paper way or in an artistic one, using it for an altered art product or something), the content itself likely would have been lost.

As a collector and a reader, I’m often amazed at the power old periodicals and books have. Good fiction remains good fiction. And the non-fiction still teaches us things. Sure, some of it’s frightfully funny — or just plain frightful. Old medical and science texts, obviously spring to mind. So do the works which expose the woefully ignorant in terms of cultural issues, such as gender, race, etc.

But even when the information is hopelessly outdated or just plain hopeless, reading old works gives us great insights into how things really were at that time. And let me tell you, not a whole lot has changed. Humans still desire the same things, buy and sell with the same motivation, and whatever styles have faded to black have zoomed back into fashion too. More or less. The cultural or political pendulum swings back and forth. What’s gone around, comes around. Especially history we are doomed to repeat for having overlooked the earlier lessons.

Antique and vintage publications are too often overlooked themselves. Even by collectors. At appraisal fairs and on the television shows, experts continue to tell us “Old books, newspapers, and magazines have no value,” except in very rare cases. Perhaps that’s true in terms of the market price evaluation — but that’s merely a reflection of a lack of buyer interest. And the few who are buying old magazines and books often do so not for the written content, but for the cover art, the illustrations inside. (I personally feel they should just buy poster reprints and stop cutting up my precious bound babies!) Even those who buy firsts and other rare works seem to value the objects, but not the contents themselves.

It seems rather messed-up to me. You should buy an old book, magazine or newspaper for the same reasons you’d buy a new one: because of the story it tells, the information it provides — because you want to read it. And maybe even reread a few of them because your opinion may change over time.

If you really don’t want it, pass it along to one who does. We’re out there, really we are!

Vintage Standard Doll Co. Catalog Pages

I don’t only dig through stacks of old magazines and papers; I go through them, page by page. How else would I find this page listing Virginia Lakin publications? (More scans from that booklet here.)

Found inside this 1977 Standard Doll Co. catalog, along with this page of Kate Greenaway postcards, miniature patterns, dollhouse items, etc..

Vintage catalogs are great ways to help date and identify what you have — and identify other items you need for your collection. *wink*

Vintage Birthday Greetings From Goldilocks & The Three Bears

This vintage greeting card has birthday wishes from Goldilocks and Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear, aka The Three Bears.

Along with the cute illustrations (there are even three bowls of porridge on the back!), this card opens to reveal a four-page storybook!

The story is, naturally, of Goldilocks And The Three Bears.

The back of the card only bears the stock number (565) and Made in U.S.A., but the back of the little story-booklet (also marked 565 and made in the U.S.A., so it’s surely its original mate) says the copyright belongs to A.G.C.C., 1949.

A.G.C.C. made several versions of these greeting cards for children with nursery rhyme story inserts — a great way to begin collecting vintage greeting cards!

Now in our Etsy shop.

Collecting Children’s Books: Lessons In Rabbit & Skunk

Rabbit and Skunk and the Scary Rock, by Carla Stevens (illustrations by Robert Kraus) is one of my fondest childhood reading memories. Of course, I had completely forgotten about this book until I spotted it at one of those church rummage sales where you pay $2 for whatever you can fit into a paper bag. But the instant I saw that cover, it all flooded back — and I neatly snatched it up and put it in my bag.

I was so excited by the find that I was shocked to discover that neither hubby nor the kids had ever heard of what I consider to be a childhood classic! Apparently it’s been out of print for a number of years now. *sigh* (But you can still find cheap copies at at eBay.)

Remembering reading about Rabbit and Skunk and their fright over the scary talking rock is far more delicious than reading it now; sometimes you really can’t go home again. *deep sigh*

But then collecting children’s books isn’t about reading and rereading them — at least not alone by yourself. No, collecting children’s books is about literally holding-on to those precious literary memories, about the tangible connection to those fragile and magical moments of those early joys of reading… We get to hold in our hands again those things we still hold dear in our hearts.

Rabbit and Skunk and the Scary Rock, for those unfamiliar, was published by Scholastic Book Services, so it was a very early reading experience for me. I remember reading and rereading it, the repetition more than that soothing familiarity children seek, but a mastery of the adventure — with each read I could take myself out there and bring myself back again. All by myself! No longer was I held hostage to the schedules and preferences of others; no longer was I stuck to the confines of my room, my house, my world — I could go anywhere, do anything!

And, just as Rabbit and Skunk discovered, big scary things aren’t always what they seem. You just have to muddle through to the end, that’s all.

Thinking of this reminded me of another childhood favorite: The Monster at the End of this Book.

By the time this book came out, I was way past both Sesame Street and Little Golden Books — but I had younger cousins, and they love-loveloved it when I read them the story of silly Grover’s fear of a monster. How could he be afraid of a monster at the end of the book when (spoiler alert!) he is, of course, a monster himself!

One of the reasons I enjoyed reading this book over and over to my younger cousins was because of its similarity to Rabbit and Skunk’s adventure. There’s the silliness, of course, but primarily the books address fear. My understanding of the concept of fear was, as a young reader, closely tied to the fear of reaching the end. The anxiety of “What would they find?!” was sort of a high… And the resolution rather a come-down. Not specifically because it wasn’t terrifying enough or was anti-climactic in anyway, but because all that good stuff was at an end. (In some ways, that hasn’t changed; I still loath for a good book to end.)

I was then left with a choice, do I read it again or select another adventure? (Never was the choice not to read.) What if the new adventure isn’t as good as the old one? …But, if I read the old one again, what might I be missing? Staying in the middle of a great read, looking forward to the miles to go, is always my favorite place to be.

This confusing pull surrounding endings — even those with new beginnings — is what I find myself struggling with each New Year’s Eve.  If I might be allowed a cynical moment here, I suspect most of us feel that way and that’s why drinking alcohol and partying have become de rigueur; we just are too uncomfortable with “Goodbye.” And facing a “Hello,” even after a bad year, is to wonder if we wouldn’t really be better off sticking with the old one…

But, as this year is about to end, I must remind myself of Rabbit, Skunk, Grover, and reading books taught me. Be brave. Big scary things aren’t always what they seem. Whatever you’re going through, it’s better when you have a friend to share it with. You just have to muddle through to the end, that’s all. And then look forward to the next adventure.

After all, you can’t prevent this New Year from arriving anymore than Grover could prevent the end of the book. So you might as well embrace it. Happy New Year, one and all!

Celebrating The Wishbone (In Old Illustration)

‘Tis the season for fabulous holiday meals featuring turkey, and this antique illustration shows the longevity of breaking the wishbone.

This illustration, captioned “If Their Wishes Came True,” was scanned from my copy of Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song & Story (Illustrated by America’s Greatest Artists).

I’ve only a partial cover of my copy of Caricature; but at a mere $6, I’m not disheartened, for it’s full of fabulous art, quips, and stories. It’s like a time capsule, really. And it’s not just me being sentimental.

Near as I can tell (for there’s no copyright or publication date), this antique book contains “the best of” Leslie-Judge Company publications, such as Leslie’s Weekly and Judge Magazine.

This specific illustration showing a couple breaking the wishbone is credited; copyright, Judge, New York, 1915. However as the corner is torn, I cannot make out the artist’s name.  I’m hoping a more experienced illustration collector can tell us more about who the artist was or may have been… Please post a comment if you’ve any information!

From Bull Cook To Bull Crap With George Leonard Herter

At an estate sale on Friday I grabbed this book, thinking it would have some interesting recipes and tips for my vintage home ec blog. It was $5, which I’ll admit is a bit more than I typically pay for a book I know nothing about… Oddly, there was no table of contents to assist me in my evaluation, but the title was intriguing: Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices.

Turns out, it was a fabulous find!

Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, is the first of a number of books by Geoerge Leonard Herter (some available as modern reprints). In fact, Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices itself would later have three volumes; something I discovered via a trip later that day to a local antique mall, where all three volumes could be found (even later editions, in golden boards; each at $19.95).

While I haven’t tested any of the recipes (and there’s more than a few I will probably never ever try!), I can personally attest to the incredible array of topics covered in this vintage book.

Along with recipes for corning liquid, Norwegian Fried Ham, and Fish Tongues Scandinavian, Herter gives you the real history of the Martini, informs you which foods the Virgin Mary was fond of (creamed spinach), instructs you on how to dress a turtle and broil tiger’s feet, and tells you what you must know in case of a hydrogen bomb attack. It’s rather as the author promises right on the first page:

I will start with meats, fish, eggs, soups and sauces, sandwiches, vegetables, the art of French frying, desserts, how to dress game, how to properly sharpen a knife, how to make wines and beer, how to make French soap and also what to do in case of hydrogen or cobalt bomb attack, keeping as much in alphabetical order as possible.

But what makes this book so engaging — or, as Paul Collins calls it in The New York Times, “one of the greatest oddball masterpieces in this or any other language” — is its author. Collins describes George Leonard Herter as “a  surly sage, gun-toting Minnesotan and All-American crank” –which translates easily enough to “old coot,” a breed I am particularly fond of.

Herter was the heir to Herter’s, Inc., an outdoor sporting goods business founded in 1893 located in Waseca, Minnesota. (The company closed decades ago; but the brand lives on via Cabela’s — and hunters and sportsmen are avoid collectors of vintage Herter’s items.)

It’s not quite clear if Herter’s authorship was simply a genius marketing move, or if he just had more he was desperate to say — even after writing thousands of product descriptions and essays for the company’s catalogs, like this 1974 “How to Buy an Outdoor Knife” essay, whi to promote Herter’s Improved Bowie Knife:

An outdoor knife must be made for service–not show. Your life may depend on it. Real outdoor people realize that so-called sportsmen or outdoor knives have long been made for sale, not for use. The movies and television show their characters wearing fancy sheath knives. Knife makers advertised them and drugstore outdoorsmen bought them. [insert a picture that looks something like a Marble Woodcraft or an old Western fixed blade here] Nothing marks a man to be a tenderfoot more than these showy useless knives.

Ahh, classic Herter.

But whatever the case, savvy marketing or the need to “talk,” Herter was prolific and opinionated in his writings.

Most of Herter’s books were, at least in title, based upon the sporting goods business and the outdoorsman’s life — even with a few giant steps into the domestic world.  However, his book How To Live With A Bitch is not — I repeat NOT, about a female hunting dog. (If you cannot find a copy listed among Herter’s works at eBay, check Amazon for this elusive gem.)

So, what begins with a $5 bargain (for a hardcover copy of a 1961 third printing), leads to more fascinating fun than I can barely stand — but wait! There’s more!

I found this book on Friday morning at an estate sale, spotted the three volumes at an antique mall later that afternoon,  and then I even managed to snatch another copy (1963, sixth printing) for $6 at an auction on Saturday! This makes me very hopeful that more Herter books will fall into my hands — and I’m thrilled to do more of the collector’s kind of hunting.

Further reading:

A review of Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter at Neglected Books.

Reminiscing about Herter’s at Topix.

Image credits:

Photo of George Herter, by Peter Marcus (1966) via the NY Times article by Paul Collins.

Vintage photo of Herter’s Inc. via Waseca Alums.

Learning From Vintage Ephemera About The Condition Of Collectibles

I know folks like to think I rationalize my compulsion for vintage booklets and magazines, but I think there’s gold in them-there old pages!

Today’s example comes from 367 Prize Winning Household Hints From The Armour Radio Show Hint Hunt, circa 1940s, a booklet from the daily CBS radio show. Included in this vintage booklet are some tips on books, magazines and phonograph records which might just be of use to the collector.

The advice regarding magazines is “to have each member of the family initial the cover of a magazine as they finish reading it so you will know when the magazine may be discarded.”

This, my fellow ephemera collectors, might explain the seemingly random multiple initials on vintage magazine covers.

Now for you book collectors; the tip for preventing “library mold” is to sprinkle oil of lavender, sparingly, throughout the book case.

While I doubt the scent would last very long, if persons practiced such things, it might account for oil spots on vintage book covers and pages.

The last tip is regarding records: “Warped phonograph records can be straightened for playing by placing the records on any flat surface in a warm room and weighing them down with heavy books.”

Given the temperature it takes to melt vinyl records — and that this advice was given in the 40s, when records certainly weren’t made of that flimsy vinyl of the 70′ or 80s, I imagine that everyone in the house sat around in their undies sweating while mom or dad un-warped the family’s records.  But that’s just me romanticizing the past *wink*

Jessie Lee Had Great Penmanship, But…

The inscription on the first page of this vintage children’s book reads, “This Little Golden Book Belongs To: Jessie Lee.”

Only this vintage copy of Peter Rabbit Proves a Friend, like its friend, a copy of Young Flash The Deer (which, incidentally, does not have a similar inscription by the previous owner) is by Platt & Munk Co.

Poor Platt & Munk, still competing with Little Golden Books for recognition after all these years.

Tamar Stone On Collecting The Perfectly Imperfect

During one of my many conversations with Tamar Stone (on everything from the vintage inspiration for her corset and bed books to her collecting habits), the artist shared this bit on collecting imperfect things:

I like old tools, folk art, things are hand made but not perfect.

I once bought a piece of wood with string wrapped around it — it seemed to perfect as an object — and I knew I could never create that type of thing, but the person who made it did it for practical purposes and I just thought it was great… Of course, my husband just rolled his eyes.

in-flagrante-collecto-caught-in-the-act-of-collectingOh, speaking of that kind of collecting, do you know the book In Flagrante Collecto (Caught in the Act of Collecting), by Marilynn Gelfman Karp?

Put it on your wish list! It’s amazing — beautiful to look at, wonderfully written, and the collections in it are from things like bird nests to old paper ephemera.

What’s In A Name? (Seeing Straight About Book Collecting)

jennifer-jean-the-cross-eyed-queenAs I said, I don’t sell too much online anymore (I’m too busy blabbing about the stuff I find to list much), but recently I did sell this copy of Jennifer Jean, The Cross-Eyed Queen (by Phyllis Naylor, illustrated by Harold K. Lamson, © 1967; this was the Third Printing, 1970, Lerner Publications Company).

It’s the educational story of little Jennifer, who has pretty green eyes but begins having some troubles with her vision that causes her first to squint, then become cross-eyed…

The other children tease her.

Her parents take her to the eye doctor; first she must wear an eye patch, then glasses.

The other children continue to tease her.

jennifer-jean-rag-doll-eye-patch-illustration

Until everything is set straight all ends well.

When I bought the book and listed it for sale, I told the story of how it reminded me of my cousin Tina’s plight. But this isn’t the story of Tina, or any of my own memories, really. It’s the story of the book’s new owner — or at least what I gather about the purchased vintage book.

Sometimes buyers will tell you why they simply had to have something; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I dare to ask… But in the case of a cross-eyed girl item, it just seemed too impolite. And it probably wasn’t necessary either — for Jennifer Jean was shipped to another Jennifer (middle name unknown).

In my decades of selling old books, one of the most common themes for collecting books I’ve encountered is the namesake connection.

rip-darcy-adventurer-vintage-bookMoms & dads who buy books containing their children’s names in the titles is a-parent-ly quite popular; I’ve sold two copies of Rip Darcy Adventurer, by Jack O’Brien to parents of children named Darcy — not to terrier lovers, as I had anticipated. The first copy went to a new father of a baby girl who was collecting books with her name in the title so that one day, when she was older, he could present her with a grand collection of all books Darcy. The second copy went to a mom desperately trying to keep her young son, Darcy, interested in reading.

Some people collect books for the delight of finding their name in the author’s name. My father snags copies of Edna Ferber works because Ferber isn’t a very common name — and there’s the hometown connection of Milwaukee. (When I was growing up, we’d refer to the author as Auntie Edna, even though she’s no relation. That joke bombs now because very few people remember Edna, even though she was a literal literary Giant in her time.)

So I probably shouldn’t ever have been surprised that people collect books for their names. In fact, it seems to be a far more popular reason for collecting books than first editions. But then again, that’s just anecdotal evidence based on my experiences, and I don’t find many first editions to sell.

Yet I do still wonder if buyer-Jennifer’s middle name is Jean. *wink*