This past July, a fire broke-out in the historic St. John’s Lutheran Church on the grounds of Bonanzaville in West Fargo, North Dakota. Bonanzaville, a pioneer village with 12 acres, 43 historic buildings, 400,000 artifacts, “and millions of memories” is operated by the Cass County Historical Society. The church was not only a preserved historical building, but it still served as a place for many weddings. After the fire, pieces were salvaged from the church and they, along with hundreds of other items deaccessioned from the collections, were auctioned off to raise funds for the organization — including bringing in a new-but-old church to Bonanzaville.
Hubby and I attended the auction yesterday and stood among all the others in the cold morning air. (It was so cold, objects had frost on them!) We did purchase a number of things (Stay tuned here — and here — for more details!), but we didn’t purchase anything from the church. We did, however, take lots of photos. You can view them below. (Photos of other items from this auction can be seen here, here, here, here, and here.)
Some collections are easy to display for the holidays — and don’t require any additional trimmings either. In our space at Exit 55 Antiques, I’ve put the vintage cookie cutters in the ceramic basin of an antique washstand. It would be an awesome way to greet guests at the door, especially if you added some old wooden baby blocks spelling out “Welcome” or “Merry XMas” along the back shelf!
Besides cookie cutters, what would you display this way?
Not all dealers where happy with my championing of “Buy It Ratty and Leave It Alone.” I had recently been director of The Rhode Island Historical Society and curator of American decorative arts at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. When I lectured to Providence audiences I stressed the importance of condition, form, and surfaces, and before long a local dealer took me to task for diminishing the number of customers who had previously been happy to purchase refinished furniture. He changed his words, however, when he realized he could put an object with a good early surface directly into his showrooms, without the labor of cleaning off the paint, and charge more because it was “untouched.”
This lovely antique child’s chair came from the Hammett estate in Sheboygan, WI.
As the estate company folks noted, “The family was once listed as one of the 250 most important families in the USA. The grandfather was the vice president of Northern Furniture ..the family also owned the Hammet gift shop on the 4th floor of the then Security Bank Building downtown. They spent time in Italy buying for the store which was there from 1926-1940 The great grandfather raised Percheron horses.” This little chair, however, was locally made.
Sheboygan was once the Furniture Capital Of The World. Having lived there, I can tell you I’ve seen many lovely examples to prove such a large claim. But I’ve never seen a child’s chair like this. Not only is it covered and skirted in leather, but look at how finely it was made!
It bears it’s original maker’s label, proving the chair to be made by the American Chair Company of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
If you’ve spent any time talking with other collectors, antiquers, dealers, or folks who just enjoy watching the plethora of collecting shows, you’ve been hearing an increase in the term “mid-century modern.” Loosely applied, the term can mean anything made in the middle of the last, or 20th, century, usually 1940-1960. But more aptly, the term applies to a design aesthetic which embraces the marriage between function and form — with a simplicity of style born of the artistic and cultural movement of Modernism. And because of the “modern” in “mid-century modern”, the style dates back much further than the name implies.
Modernism is more than just an artistic style; it’s a cultural movement. The movement’s origins go far back as the 1880s, to Germany before the first World War. Despite, or perhaps because of, the prevailing conservatism, there was an increased interest in what the Germans considered the very American notion of usefulness — or, as Dennis Crockett phrased it in his book, German Post-Expressionism: The Art of the Great Disorder 1918-1924, the “predilection for functional work.”
This philosophy, called Neues Bauen or New Objectivity, was first or most notably employed in addressing the German housing crisis of the time. The physical design application of New Objectivity resulted in design innovations in architecture, in which the commercial need for cost-effective housing was met with a radically simplified yet dynamic functionalism, offering simplicity, health, and beauty for the occupants. This solidified the notion that mass-production was indeed reconcilable with individual artistic spirit — it meant affordability — and it was something the famous Bauhaus would build upon when it was founded by Walter Gropius in 1919.
Widely acknowledged as the the first academy for design in the world, the Bauhaus manifesto includes the declaration “to create a new unity of crafts, art and technology.” It was here students and artists would focus on the craftsmanship and the manufacture of works in a collaborative setting, “to produce a work that is not limited to its purely aesthetic meaning, but supports and even influences the transformation of social reality and thus shapes a new society.” And at this time, the transformation desired was a modern one of simplicity and functionality. (For more on the Bauhaus movement and the artists themselves, I highly recommend a book I’ve been reading The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism, by Nicholas Fox Weber. It’s fascinating!) Here is where mid-century modern truly begins.
Because the Bauhaus produced more than a mere decorative style, because it pushed the values and needs of a modern world, the school, the artists, and the works created would inspire many others throughout the (mainly Western) world. Spurred on by urban living and the rapid development of plastics and other materials, mid-century modernism became quite popular.
Furniture wasn’t the only thing affected by mid-century modernist design. Other functional household objects, such as clocks, radios, and lamps (this was the start of lava lamps!) were made — and are heavily collected today.
Housewares, kitchenalia, and decorative items also got the mid-century modern treatment. You’ll see lots of geometric yet sleek pottery and glassware with embossed patterns and lines of the mid-century mod design. While there still were the more traditional shapes and forms, some with more elaborate and fancy painted designs, made during this time too (Hey, not everyone hops on the trends!), the mid-century modern look is most readily identified by its design simplicity. The decorations seem to better fit the form and function of the piece. Look for pieces in solid colors with embossed designs which seem to flow along the lines of the piece rather than appear applied to it. And remember, one of the primary influences of the movement was purposefulness; meaning the design is wed to an item of purpose and function. When it comes to pieces of decorative turquoise California pottery, for example, there’s less usefulness and practicality than there is with a chair, lamp, or piece of refrigerator glass… However, the style is often represented in these pieces more decorative than functional items and collectors do like them.
Mid-century modern as a category of collecting dates from the 1930s through the mid-1960s. Because of the dates involved, mid-century modern overlaps, influences, and to some degree encapsulates designs from the Atomic Era, Space Age and Googie design, California Modernism, etc. These innovative and popular designs of the 20th century not only pioneered modern furniture and industrial design, but are now the iconic pieces we think of when we think of these decades.
Truly defining or identifying mid-century modern pieces may be difficult; but like Justice Potter said of pornography, you’ll know it when you see it.
Image Credits: (In order images appear.) Photo of Keck & Keck home, via; photos of the Bauhaus Haus am Horn kitchen, 1923, and containers designed by Theodor Bogler for the kitchen and the Josef Albers set of four stacking tables (1927), via; designers photo from Playboy, via; and photo of vintage mid-century modern Westinghouse beige pottery refrigerator-ware pitcher, via.
Lauren Roberts is a bookmark collector I met when we were both presenters at the first Bookmark Collectors Virtual Convention. I’ve admired her bookmark collection — and collecting habits — so much I’ve been waiting for us both to have the time to do a proper interview.
Lauren, besides being a collector and a blogger, what’s your daytime, meat & potatoes, gig?
I work as an administrator at a community college. It satisfies my urge to eat and live without worry, but my passion is with BiblioBuffet, books, cats, reading, and bookmarks.
When did you begin collecting bookmarks and why?
I fell into it purely by accident, which you can read about here, in my first On Marking Books column. About 45 minutes inland and south of Santa Barbara is a quaint town named Ojai (prounced “oh hi”). It is famous for the Ojai Resort, which is quite pricey and attracts a lot of out-of-towners, but it is even more famous as the home of Bart’s Books, which has been there since the mid-1960s.
The store has been modernized now–it even has a blog–but at the time of this discovery, around ten years ago, I’d guess, it was still owned by the old owner and there was no Internet page or even pricing. The store is actually an old home, and both its “yard” and the house are full of the kind of rickety old shelves you’d expect to find. Outdoors is where the cheaper books are even though they are still protected from the weather. You can sit on benches under trees and just read. They also have books they leave outside the gates so if you feel the need to browse at 2:00 am you can; just toss your money in a box.
I was in the former living room when I saw the old olive-colored book on books (which I adore). I sat down in the chair with the book to look it over. When I pulled the cover, it automatically fell open to the chapter titled “Baldness and Intellectuality.” Marking the beginning of that chapter was a bookmark made of hair, golden brown, male by the length of it. I was utterly charmed and remain so.
You can see the book and bookmark in my antique coffee table.
Being a reader and book lover, the transition to bookmark collector seems rather natural. But readers are usually selective; they won’t just read anything. Is it the same with your bookmark collecting? Do your bookmarks reflect what you read in terms of subject matter? What do you focus on in terms of collecting bookmarks in terms of themes?
It’s true that I am fussy about my library. I love nonfiction and literature that is older than I am, especially classical literature. (I’m not at all interested in modern fiction.) When I began to collect bookmarks I went after vintage ones.
I would browse eBay a couple of times a day looking for pieces that just stood out to me in the same way I browse bookshelves looking for books that appeal. eBay was so great when I started; it has, unfortunately, gone downhill in its attempt to move beyond the collector into retailing. But then sellers would often be selling what they found in attics and such.
Bookmarks are much more popular now than five years ago when they were one of the tiniest niche markets around. You really had very little competition. Now, it’s larger though not large by other collections. The unusual ones that I like often go for hundreds now. I can’t afford those. So my buying has tapered off, I am sorry to say. But not my interest.
My bookmarks don’t reflect my reading interests since, as I said, I like and collect vintage and antique ones. I can’t think of any subject I won’t collect a bookmark about, though religion is something I tend to avoid. I also avoid most modern ones since they aren’t particularly attractive. I am not out to build a large collection but one that is meaningful to me. Every piece in it is special.
What are some of the themes?
I didn’t set out to collect in any niches, but from the beginning was attracted to vintage and antique ones. I occasionally found and find a modern one I like but really, it’s the older ones that fascinate me more because the quality of the work that went into them. Even companies that used them as advertising for washing machines or watches or hotels or whatever used die-cut designs, thick paper, elegant graphic design, and attempted to make them beautiful pieces that people would keep and use for a long time instead of today’s cheaply made, “just sell it” ones like those that authors give away. I guess you could say my interest lies in bookmarks up to about the 1950s or early 1960s, about the time I was born.
Some of themes I have are food, books, home, WWI, WWII, political, book festivals, clothing and accessories, places, travel, library, metal, fabric, worlds’ fairs, exhibitions, ivory, wood, pianos, sewing, music, garden, beauty, shoes, education, smoking, and many more.
Even though bookmarks take up less space than most other collectibles, a person (unfortunately) has to limit, pick and choose, what will become part of their collection. What collecting standards do you have?
I have to love it! That may not seem like a standard but it is. I do not buy it unless I fall in love with it — and, fortunately, I am by nature a minimalist rather than a hoarder. I don’t collect books just to have books. I have done weeding to get rid of books that I had little interest in and by the time I came to bookmarks I had no trouble passing up ones that did not interest me. Plus, now that I have probably around 1,300 of them I can bypass those when I see them, which is rare anyway.
When I began collecting I stored them in an open box. When the bookmarks topped the box and threatened to topple over, I got a bigger box. Then another bigger box. After that, I realized I needed to store them.
I looked around online a lot, but eventually settled on these archival boxes with three rings inside for archival page inserts. The bookmarks were sorted into large categories (food), then if necessary into sub-categories (candy, cereals, meats, milk, soft drinks, alcohol, etc.). I tried to put more or less relevant categories together in one binder–like home and food–but found I had too many in those two categories to fit into one binder. At the moment I have seven binders and the coffee table. The latter is where I have all the three-dimensional ones, regardless of their theme, plus some of the more unusual two-dimensional ones.
What things have you learned from collecting bookmarks?
How much history and story can be in one of those little things! That’s the most amazing part of bookmarks to me. When I began collecting and later writing about them I really had no idea how much they could hold. You could build an entire year’s worth of education just on bookmarks. Seriously.
When I sit down to research a bookmark for an upcoming column I use both the library and the Internet. And I don’t look at just one site. Wikipedia is often where I start since it gives an overview–not always accurate–plus, more importantly, sources and links. I am also fortunate to be an excellent researcher, Googling various words and phrases to find numerous links. I will go far beyond the first page of results–once I even went to page 93!–to find information. Alas, there have been a few times when I have had to abandon a particular bookmark because I couldn’t get enough information to write about it.
But several times now, I think, I have been contacted by people who saw my columns and wrote. One was a family member who corrected a bit of misinformation about the Buster Brown shoe line. Another was searching for old family records. The latest was a descendant of a family that did steel engraving; she was enthralled to find the two bookmarks I wrote about–gorgeous pieces–and said that if I ever wanted to sell them she definitely wanted to buy them. But they are not for sale.
I think sometimes about offering talks at schools or groups about bookmarks. And I am only sort of sorry that museums and important libraries do not yet recognize their importance; their willful ignorance helps me stay in the market.
(I hope this interview and your blogging doesn’t ruin that, Lauren!)
Andrea Porter, an honors graduate from Fashion Institute of Technology, spent over 14 years working in the textile business until one day she found herself in need of a new coffee table. Unhappy with the current options available in today’s commercial design world, she decided to look into the past and created a coffee table out of an old rusted gear she’d previously found at a flea market. When the newly repurposed piece came home from the local welder and friends began to express interest in having their own, gears began to turn in Porter’s mind… Now, with the help of her sister, Ameri Spurgin, Porter cranks out repurposed items from the past into new functional pieces of home decor via Arms and Barnes.
The company’s name honors the sisters’ childhood nicknames while the company itself honors the American past in (re)purpose and motto, “Finding the beauty and potential in things forgotten.”
Old industrial, factory and farming items (such as iron fence pieces, old gears, thrasher wheels), architectural pieces (like scrolled window grates, register vents, fire place covers) and even more domesticated pieces (cast iron cookware and the wooden harness of weaving looms, for example) now find themselves converted into practical, conversational, chic tables for your home.
When I first heard about HGTV’s Cash and Cari, I got a little excited thinking this show might focus more on decorative collectibles, plus offer a splash of do-it-yourself (DIY) home decor creativity. While the show has all that potential, I really was disappointed.
Cash and Cari (Cari is not pronounced like “carry,” but like “car” with an “e” on the end, so it’s not quite the pun your eyes expect) follows the work of “estate sale guru” Cari Cucksey of Michigan’s RePurpose Estate Services.
If you like watching how to set up an estate or rummage sale, then maybe you’ll like this. However, for me, the show lost points when it dropped a standard part of the collectible shows format: the visit with the expert or in depth look at a few items. I realize this part of the show’s time was given to the DIY component — and that was something I was looking forward to; but in this particular episode this segment infuriated me.
In this debut episode, Cari purchases an older used bench for $40 and has a staff member give it “an impressive makeover.” The makeover consisted of repainting the bench, removing the older upholstered seat, and replacing it with new fabric — sewing a decorative throw pillow to match. However, the new “upholstery” job was terrible.
The fabric was staple-gunned in place and the staples hidden from view by hot-glue-gunning some sort of open-weave rick-rack lace over it. Use of a glue gun on the seat of a bench in place is anything but quality. (The dried glue will be lumpy, visible, and likely to peel away if the object has any use whatsoever ; it’s not appropriate for furniture or seating or anything besides the purely decorative.) Anything but quality and certainly not worth, in my opinion, the $300 they proposed to sell it for. Normally I don’t like to argue the price someone gets for something; different location alone can create marked price differentials. But this bench was really a shoddy DIY job and not fit for an audience of antiques and vintage collectibles fans.
Collectors of antiques are looking for quality.
Plus, the item was to be sold at “the shop,” and it kind of makes you wonder how the bench will be presented there… As an antique or vintage piece, or as a quickly made home decor piece? It’s the sort of thing an experienced collector wouldn’t be fooled by, but it’s also the sort of thing, like reproductions offered for sale, that most collectors want to know are properly represented so that no one feels tricked. No mention of this — after such a cheap makeover, weakens Cari’s credibility.
Yes, I watch a lott of the collectibles shows, and I did consider how potential “burn out” might be coloring my thoughts about Cash and Cari; but I don’t think that’s it (see my post about Oddities).
Where Cash and Cari suffers is a lack of focus on what makes the other shows great (personalities and drama of “cast,” information segments, &/or presentation of values of items) and a complete fumbling of the potentially fabulous DIY segment.
In trying to be kind, I wished HGTV had, as many of the other networks have, given us more than one episode to watch so that I could see if another episode could make me a fan… But then I realized HGTV thought this episode was strong enough to be the series lean-in and if that was their best foot forward, I don’t think I’ll watch another episode.
One of the great things about collecting old photographs are the things in the photos — not only the objects and persons the photographer intended you to focus on, but the little extras which make the scene. Like in this vintage photo of Alice White.
Clearly designed to promote the movie star, but (as pretty as the Ms White is, as cute as her little white dog is) I’m drooling over the rather eclectic mix of furnishings in the frame.
Revel in the mix of patterns and textures, including the walls, the upholstery, the lace tablecloth, and the wicker Ms White sits on.
Check out the pretty mirror in her hand (more objects from the vanity set appear to be on the table — a table covered in a lace cloth, with suggestive legs beneath it, making me wonder just how wonderful that old round table is!). I just wish the mirror wasn’t preventing us from seeing more of that dress…
But it’s that fabulous art deco lamp which has me sitting-up pretty and panting, begging like her canine companion. Look at that final, the base, and that shade! All those spheres!
Dean and Valerie Ferber know a thing or two about shopping around. The previous owners of the Ferbers’ cottage-style home in Hales Corners had an antique bread table. It gave the antique-loving Ferbers an idea. They hunted flea markets, antique shops, estate sales. At one antiques mall, they spotted the perfect piece: a woodworker’s bench. But at $1,100, it was too pricey.
Then, on the way to another store, they stopped at an auction and found a bench covered with paint and equipped with two vises. Where others might have seen a mess, the Ferbers saw potential. But first they had to win it.
Bidding started near the price of that first bench they’d seen, but there were no takers. The price dropped to $500, then $250, then $100. Finally, Dean Ferber raised his auction paddle. The auctioneer asked for $125, and a man in front held up his hand. Dean Ferber bid $150 – and the 1880s work bench was theirs.
“And all Wifey could say was ‘How are we going to load that thing?'”
With some help, they got it into their van and were off.
My parents had to clean & restore the old workbench — but as you can see, it was totally worth it!
It’s beautiful and functional — and loaded with memories…
Most holidays and celebrations, our family members can be found gathered around the new kitchen island from the old workbench serving as a buffet table.
My daughter used to love to play with the pots and pans stored on racks beneath it. (In my mind’s eye, I still see her chubby toddler legs sticking out from beneath the table — but I mercifully don’t hear the clanging.)
My son still likes to play with his toy cars on it, rolling the cars down the “ramped” sides of the trough (where the silver tray is seen in the photo) trying to push them up fast enough to jump the ramp at the other side — without getting busted. (Challenging indeed!)
This is no longer an old junky piece — or even a piece of furniture; it’s a member of the family.
In many ways, magazines haven’t changed much — but that just means that a lot of the information in vintage magazines remains as valuable as it once was. Today’s example comes from the November 1957 issue of Good Housekeeping; it’s an article on “How to Recognize 10 Chests.”
The article gives tips on identifying 10 basic styles of antique and vintage bureaus by noting the specific marks in style, finish and ornamentation of each. The 10 basic styles of chests in this article are:
French Provincial chest
Captain’s military chest
French Empire chest
Early American chest
Louis XV chest or commode
Contemporary chest (circa 1950’s, of course!)
(Click the image for a large, readable, scan.)
If you’re interested, I’ve also “digitally clipped” the following from the same issue: