Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mother Of Pearl Needlework Tools

One of the finest reference books in my library is An Illustrated History of Needlework Tools, by Gay Ann Rogers. I remember saving up to purchase it, after finding it in the library while researching a Shaker pincushion. The book is now out of print, but copies are available on the secondary marked.

Over the years, I've browsed through the book many times marveling at the intricate artistry of 19th century sewing implements. Photos of fitted boxes, beautifully crafted and filled with complete sets of tools underscore the importance of needlework in 19th century life.

Rogers writes: "The fitted needlework box was carefully made and exquisitely decorated because it was an integral part of the social life of privileged women the first half of the nineteenth century."

"...women often carried their elegantly fitted needlework boxes on visits to one another. The boxes furnished an endless source of conversation and amusement for those in need of something delightful to occupy their time. Implements would be admired as needlework and conversation went on together"

Tools were commonly made of ivory, silver and mother of pearl, combined with steel if the implement called for it. Beauty and function went hand in hand. By late in the 19th century, moderately priced mass produced kits with celluloid handles were available in the United States.

While celluloid sewing tools are easily found, and sterling thimbles and scissors come along regularly, I'd never found any of the mother of pearl tools that I've admired in photos. You can imagine my delight then, when this group came up for auction recently. There were silk winders, spools, pincushions, emeries, a tape measure, scissors and more. Each is a little work of art. (The little carved fish are often called silk winders, but it's likely that they originally were produced as game markers. Victorian ladies saw the potential for a handy place to store a prized bit a silk thread, and used them.)

Had I been wearing a monitor you would have seen my heart rate spike, as I realized that the entire group was being sold together, rather than piece by piece. The chant of the auctioneer was nearly drowned out by the pounding in my ears. Mercifully, the battle was brief and I emerged victorious. If I had been able to purchase nothing else that day, I still would have returned home happy. These items are simply beautiful...don't you agree?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nuclear Fallout Detector - Every Home Should Have One

*Note - In the interest of full disclosure: We currently have this item for sale and the following is the description in the listing. We are using it today because it's been a very busy weekend and we have nothing else to bring to the table. Besides, it's a rather fun item, in an odd sort of way!

Everyone should have one of these near the entrance to the fallout shelter so you can seal yourself in on a moment's notice! I'm, (sadly), old enough to have actually been in a fallout shelter as a very young child. Someone down the block built one and we had a brief tour. All I recall is that there was lots of concrete and it was rather dark and dismal.

This is the nu-klear Fallout Detector made by Minutemen Industries Inc, Chicago Ill. It's made of plastic and measures about 3 3/4" across and 2 1/2" tall. The directions on top instruct "Shake Gently Until Some Beads Float, Seek Shelter at Once if All Beads Drop, Remain In Shelter Until Some Beads Float". (Terrifying, don't you think?: "DAD, DAD...the beads all dropped!" "QUICK KIDS - GET TO THE SHELTER!!!")

I'm happy to report that shaking the device causes some of the beads to cling to the side of the sphere rather than falling like dead ducks; we are, for the moment safe from radiation here in the sunroom.

For further info on this gadget read this excellent article posted by Oak Ridge Associated Universities

Friday, August 21, 2009

RPPC Ships At Sea - Dating Real Photo Postcards

Real photo postcards, (RPPC), are great fun. I love to get out my loupe and see what details I can spot. Recently, some postcards of WWI era ships caught my eye. For those unfamiliar with RPPCs, a brief history: In 1903, Kodak came up with a camera that used postcard-size film, allowing pictures to be printed directly onto postcard backs. Photographers traveled and documented the people, buildings and events they ran across. Ordinary folks who owned a camera would snap all manner of photos of the family, the animals or the farm and have multiple copies printed to send to all the relatives.

Real photo postcards, also known as RPPC, became the Facebook of the day and were most popular up until the 1930s. It was a way to let your out of town relatives know what was going on in your life, see how much the kids had grown, or view the home you'd just built.

It's not uncommon to find RPPCs that were never mailed with no date stated. The good news is that it's fairly easy to verify a time frame for them, thanks to the stamp box. Many companies produced the paper that the cards were printed on. The mark on the back indicating where to place the stamp usually had the company name. The stamp box might be changed over time, and at the respected postcard site, there's a comprehensive list showing RPPC stamp boxes with the dates they were produced.

As a fan of "the ocean", Deadliest Catch, and most anything having to do with big water, I find these RPPCs of ships in heavy seas fascinating. Waves crash over the bow and some give such a true sense of the rolling deck that it nearly makes me queasy! I'm no student of naval history, but it's fairly easy to tell that these date from the WWI era. Just to verify, I headed over to Playle's.

The stamp box is from AZO. The center reads "Place Stamp Here" with "AZO" forming the square. In each corner is a triangle. On the top the triangles both point up, and on the bottom they both point down. Using Playle's reference , I can see that this stamp box was used by AZO from 1910-1930. History tells me that these lean toward the early side of that date range.

Next time you run across an undated real photo postcard, give it a closer look. Note the details; any clothing, signs, or vehicles which will help establish the time period. If you get stuck or just want to verify your hunch, head on over to Playle's to find the stamp box. Enjoy the photos!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Falling In Love With the Library

Holding Mom's hand, I walked up the steps and into the most wonderful building I'd ever seen. Wood floors, high ceilings, and books everywhere. I must have been about six years old when Mom took me into the public library for the first time. It was amazing to learn that I could get all the books I wanted, whenever I wanted, for FREE!
That first visit to the library was the start of hundreds more over the next ten years. I loved the children's section in the cool, dark basement, and read every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew ever written.
Growing up in a small farm town, I was a child of the most "old-fashioned" parents in town. (At least I thought so.) In my elementary years we had no TV and never went anywhere for fun. Reading was my escape. I learned that life could be different. There were towns with skating rinks, huge department stores with escalators, drive-ins, boardwalks and endless possibilities for fun. I knew that when I was grown I would not stay in Willows.
Browsing eBay a few years ago, I saw a postcard of the Willows Library and purchased it. The library was built in 1910 and the postcard is from that era. In my memory, the library was a huge building; the photo shows the reality! Today, the public library is in a more modern building, and the old library site is used as a museum. It's good to know that a building that holds such great memories for me has been preserved to showcase the heritage of a small town.

A Little Racy Friday Fun - CanCan Girl

These little coasters are headed for Etsy, but I figured they were worth a stop here to share a smile with you first. These would have been considered quite risque in their day, but decades later seem rather tame. Wishing you all a wonderful 'old' weekend!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Re-Post Mr. Melvin Miller's Marvelous Gardenscape

**This entry was originally posted last summer. I was thinking today that I need to get some annuals planted and remembered how much I enjoyed seeing Mr Miller's gardens.  
 Whizzing down busy Hwy 50 near Bristol, Wisconsin, my attention was diverted by a line of cars parked along the shoulder. Every good treasure hunter knows that a lot of cars can be an indicator of a sale, and so I slowed down to check it out. Sure enough, at the end of the driveway was a "rummage sale" sign.

The Riverport Chorus of the Sweet Adelines were holding a fund-raising rummage at the home of one of their members. As I walked up the driveway I was captivated by the landscape. Outbuildings sported white paint and were trimmed in the cheeriest red. Lush foilage surrounded the buildings and red pots were hung from the white siding. Everywhere I turned was another beautiful feature.

After finding a few items to purchase, I asked if I could take some snapshots. One of the Sweet Adelines, directed me to the hostess of the sale, Mrs. Miller. She readily gave permission and pointed out her husband. I spent a few pleasant minutes chatting with him. Mr. Miller is the type of person you think of when you hear the word "Grandpa". Friendly, unpretentious and happy to answer questions, he told me that he's spent the past eight years transforming the property into what it is today. He spends each morning watering and maintaining his plants, strictly for the enjoyment of himself and his family.

There are gardeners everywhere who toil as Mr. Miller does, not to impress others, but simply because they enjoy the process as well as the results. As I left the sale that day, I knew that the real treasure I'd found wasn't what I had purchased, but the opportunity to meet Mr. Miller and enjoy his handiwork.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Garden Ornaments - Two Favorites

We are always on the hunt for fun things to offer our customers. While gathering items for our booth at the Elkhorn Antique Flea Market this Sunday, we ran across two garden statues that we picked up earlier this summer.

This cherubic little guy holding a dolphin is probably at least 100 years old, and shows his age. The dolphin was a symbol of resurrection used by the early Christians. It's been used by many cultures and religions since then, usually denoting positive qualities. The details and proportions are 'just right'. Notice the shells around the base. This piece would fit equally well in a classic or cottage garden.

The little mid-century elf, on the other hand, is pure kitsch. He's cartoonish rather than classic. You'll never find anything like this in the gardens of Biltmore, and yet there's something endearing about him. He'll make you smile.

These two little statues have little in common and yet illustrate the fact that gardens are very personal. Whether you prefer a well-manicured formal garden, a hodge-podge of plants that you love, or an easy-going cottage garden, it will be different than any other. Ornament it however you like! Kitsch or classy, you'll never be wrong.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Old World Wisconsin - A Slice of History

You can travel back in time. At Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Wisconsin, the past is alive. The 600 acre site was opened in 1976 and is comprised of more than sixty historic Wisconsin structures. Each was carefully dismantled, moved and reconstructed precisely as they had been originally built, in an appropriate setting. Gardens are planted each year with heirloom plants and tended with 19th century implements. You'll find chickens wandering the yards and oxen at work in the fields.

This is the country's largest museum of rural life. Settlers of the time are represented in various villages including Danish, Finnish, German, Polish, "Yankee" and African-American. Walking into each building you'll find the authentically costumed "residents" cooking on wood stoves, making soap, sewing, washing clothes and going about daily life.

We took our 5 & 6 year old granddaughters to visit last week, and made our first stop at St. Peter's church. Kari sang along as the organist played 'Amazing Grace' on the pump organ.

We watched the blacksmith make an S hook and then wandered into the Thomas General Store.
The girls enjoyed lifting the lids to see what was in each bin. They found flour, cornmeal, rice and more.

At Four Mile Inn, the innkeeper's wife modestly explained the many layers she was wearing, and revealed her bustle so the girls could see exactly what that was! In the Peterson Farmhouse, we spotted a chamberpot. Kelli was horrified to learn that as the youngest child, she would be expected to empty it in the morning, while Kari fetched water from the pump. Our last stop of the day was the Raspberry Schoolhouse, where the girls attended class and enjoyed writing on the slates.

If you've never been to Old World Wisconsin, we encourage you to make a visit. The site is open from June 15th thru October 31st each year, and special events & workshops are offered throughout the season. If you love history, antiques, or just being out in a beautiful setting, you will enjoy it! The entire site reflects the spirit of our early settlers, stated aptly in a motto on the schoolhouse chalkboard: American ends in "I can" not "I can't".