Family Drama: The Havilands of America, France and Germany

In the 1800’s there was an American family named the Havilands who owned a china shop in New York City. The family was made up of four brothers David, Edmond, Daniel, and Robert all who participated in the dishware business in one way or another whether it was through trading, importing, exporting or physical operation of the William Street storefront.

A 19th-century view of William Street where the Haviland’s worked. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection.

Selling dishes in New York City in the 19th century was a competitive business. China merchants were located all around town utilizing the bustling harbor to import dishes from faraway countries. The Haviland inventory came from England and France in the form of creamware…

Early 1800’s English creamware

that came off the Pearl Street docks just a few blocks from the Haviland’s shop. Constantly trying to improve their offerings and find lucrative ways to stay afloat while supplying the city with serving pieces, the Haviland’s also offered china repair services. Legend states that a broken teacup made of a beautiful white clay brought in by a customer, led one brother, David, to hunt down the source of this stunning bright, light material.

Portrait of David Haviland painted in 1848 by Fortin

The search for discovery led him all the way to Limoges, France where factories had been producing porcelain dishes made from local kaolin clay since the 1700’s. Beholding the beauty of this delicate but strong material the enterprising David picked up his wife and young son from America and moved to Limoges with plans of opening his own porcelain factory in order to send all of its creations back to America for sale.

David’s wife, Mary Miller Haviland

In France in the 1800’s, pottery manufacturing and pottery design were two separate businesses. First, the pottery was made in a factory then it was shipped to artisans who painted or applied decorative imagery to the blank pieces. David Haviland saw a faster, more efficient process. When he opened his china manufacturing plant in Limoges, he hired local artists to hand-paint colorful designs on his porcelain pieces in-factory, thus eliminating the extra steps of sending china blanks out to be finished.

David’s European business venture quickly set him apart from other local French potters. His faster production time allowed more shipments and greater volumes to be exported. Plus, his new oval shaped dishes, the artistic renderings of realistic-looking hand-painted flowers and the bright white glow of the porcelain material delighted American buyers. Quickly word spread and a prestigious reputation of fine china manufacturing followed. Havilland Limoges became the must-have item. Even U.S. presidents were smitten. An elegant, artistic brand bearing the Haviland name was established.

Haviland Limoges china circa 1870

Back in France, David’s two sons Charles and Theodore grew up in the family business. Both went on to make life-long careers of the industry, each adding their own unique style, design aesthetic and innovation to the Haviland brand. But even though the company enjoyed world-wide notoriety, staying at the top of their game was still a constant balancing act. Competition was fierce both inside the industry and inside the family.

Upon their dad’s death in 1879, Charles and Theodore couldn’t agree on similar ways to move the company forward so they broke it in two.  Both brothers, now operating at the helm of their own separate companies, incorporated the family name and waged a war against each other for top spot in the market.

Charles’s pottery mark on the left, Theodore’s pottery mark on the right, circa 1880’s/1890’s. Marks courtesy of Kovels.

The stable of original in-house French artists that their dad, David, had gathered and that had turned the Haviland dishes into beautiful works of art became pawns between the two son’s companies. There was in-fighting and backstabbing. The brothers competed with each other on all levels from design to pricing. When a set of Theodore Haviland China went on sale, Charles would reduce a similar set of his own even more. If Charles offered a 15 piece set of china for a certain price, Theodore would offer a 25 piece set for the same price. And so it went back and forth between the two.

Charles Haviland china plate on the left,. Theodore Haviland cup and saucer on the right.

Charles had a son named Jean, who was born in France and like his dad grew up in the china business. But unlike Charles’s childhood,  Jean didn’t grow up in the hard-work-pays-off environment experienced by his smart, industrious grandfather, David. Instead, Jean saw his dad, Charles, bear the exhausting burden of constantly competing in a business that relentlessly beat back. Brother warred against brother for ultimate superiority and control of the prestigious Haviland name.

Young Jean loved dishes just like his father and his grandfather but he didn’t see a place for himself amidst the family feuding. When Jean became of age, he moved to Germany, changed his name to John and opened up his own pottery factory in Bavaria under the name Johann Haviland.

Jean’s desire was to produce simple, affordable serving pieces and dish sets for everyday American households as well as strong, sturdy constant-use sets for hotels and restaurants. Even though his dishes bared the Haviland name, their simple designs and more economical price-point were seen as somehow inferior to the exquisite detail and artistic merit associated with David Haviland’s original dynasty.  Jean stayed in business only a few years before his company was bought by another pottery company. From there, the Johann Haviland brand changed ownership again and again until it was finally discontinued in the 1970’s.

Of the two warring brothers, Charles and Theodore,  and the fate of their warring companies, ultimate success was achieved by Theodore whose family line continued the Haviland tradition of fine quality craftsmanship and exquisite design that still continues today…

Jean Haviland’s pieces under the Johann Haviland brand might be snubbed today by serious Haviland collectors, but they still hold up in both form and function. The simple elegance of this Johann Haviland platter is effortless in design and ability. It matches everything, accommodates a plentiful array of food and contains the history of a man who dared to do things without the drama.

Perhaps there was a bitter taste in Jean’s mouth when he witnessed his family’s ultimate fight for prestige over passion.  Even though Jean who became John and then traded under the name Johann, knew all the formulas for success in order to produce high-quality dishware he did not succumb to the mercilessly competitive nature of his father and uncle, which seems like a character trait that would have made his grandfather David proud. Jean might not have put his personal mark on the china industry for as long as other family members but he did manage to break away from the feudal family climate and follow his own more peaceful rhythm.

Find the smartly stylish Johann Haviland platter listed in the shop here. It looks outstanding with every other dish in the shop so if you are looking for a grouping of serving pieces then this is your easy-breezy match-all mate.

 

Our Favorites: Five Wonderfully Whimsical Things about Julia Child (And A Recipe!)

Her old cookbooks teach us new tricks. Her methodical approach to food never fails us. Her infectious joie de vivre still inspires us. She may have passed away 13 years ago but the spirit of Julia Child is still very much alive and well here in the Vintage Kitchen.  Yesterday marked Julia Child’s 105th birthday.  In celebration, we’ve compiled a list of five whimsical things that we absolutely adore about this great lady.

1. The Photograph – December 1968, France

This is my most favorite picture of Julia Child. It was taken in December 1968 while she was staying at her summer house, La Pitchoune, in Plascassier, France. I love that she is laughing so hard she’s practically tumbling off the counter. I wonder what the situation was at the moment this image was captured. Was her husband, Paul, standing just out of frame telling a joke? Or maybe one of those crab claws just reached up and started playing tug-of-war with her fork. Or maybe it was Julia herself just hamming it up for the camera. Spontineanity ran wild in Julia’s kitchen and I have feeling there were many days in many kitchens around the world that witnessed a moment like this with the engaging lady laugher.

2. The TV Appearance – David Letterman

On December 22, 1986 Julia Child was scheduled to demonstrate how to cook with a blowtorch on the Late Night with David Letterman show. The segment starts out as planned but quickly goes awry and both Julia and David wring all the humor they can out of this unexpected situation. It’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants funny piece – both of them cleverly improvising with the comedy at hand.  Julia is famous for saying “No matter what happens in the kitchen, – never apologize.” You can see her sticking to that advice with aplomb here.

3. The Decorating Choice – La Oubliette

In Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, she describes moving into a French apartment that was already furnished.  It was full of old antiques that were musty, broken down and too small for her tall stature.  The shabby scene depressed her so much that she rounded up everything that she disliked in the apartment,  put them into a closet, and shut the door tight, never to encounter that stuff again. She named that closet La Oubliette or the Forgettery. Anything that displeased her from that point forward for the duration of the time that she and Paul lived there went into that closet.  Out of sight, out of mind.

After reading that passage years ago and falling in love with that idea, I established my own Forgettery in whatever place we’ve lived in. Not all of our spaces have had the luxury of spare closets, but a cupboard or a drawer or a hidden shelf works just fine too.  Sometimes we use it not only for physical objects but also for words. There is something very gratifying about walking into your own Oubliette, saying out loud whatever injustice happened to you that day, and then walking out, shutting the door and leaving all that negativity and all those bad vibes closed in there instead of in you. Julia. She was a cook and a therapist all in one!

4. The Random Cambridge, MA Kitchen Comforts

This past May, we had the exciting experience of visiting Julia Child’s kitchen at the Museum of American History. I had seen pictures of it online before so I knew that I’d see the yellow tablecloth and her big restaurant stove and the pots and pans hanging from the pegboard, but what I didn’t realize I’d see was a host of everyday items that had nothing to do with the kitchen.

You know, those other errant household objects of daily life that just seem to migrate their way into the kitchen but have nothing to do with food or cooking? Things like keys, wallets, shoes, books, tape, paint cans, bags, notebooks, etc.? Julia’s kitchen was full of that sort of stuff too. A Rubix cube, a pile of papers, jars of pens and pencils, a calculator, some sort of glowing orb-like light, bird identification books, a signal mirror from World War II.   Julia was all about keeping things close by that she loved. She even had a junk drawer packed full of odds and ends. And a slew of giant, oversized cooking tool props that appeared in funny stories on her cooking show.  She wasn’t into staged or professionally decorated or aesthetically styled perfection. She was into comfort and function and fun entertaining in a casual environment. Even though Julia and Paul hired architect Robert Woods Kennedy to redesign the kitchen after they purchased the house,  all the decorating of their most favorite room was left up to them.  And it shows in the eclectic menagerie of items they collected and colors they loved.

5. The Book – Jessie Hartland

I recently discovered this fantastic children’s book Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child, at a local book sale. Written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland and published in 2012 it is technically considered a children’s book but really anyone of any age could easily appreciate and enjoy it. Jessie tells Julia’s life story in a vivacious arrangement of words and pictures that is so enchanting you’ll want to read it out-loud while imitating Julia’s voice.  It is such a sweet, good-natured and fun-loving approach to the life of this extraordinary culinary icon, you’ll feel like you’ve met Julia Child herself by the end of it.

On the last page of the book, Jessie shares her own adaptation of French crepes inspired by Julia’s recipe. Since it is Julia’s birthday week, and she shouldn’t be cooking for her own celebrations, we made Jessie’s version instead which turned out to be delicious. Julia would definitely approve.

The only ingredient differences in Jessie’s vs. Julia’s recipe is salt and water. Julia’s has a little of both and Jessie’s has none. And to be totally honest we like Jessie’s version better.

One of the things that Julia Child liked most about French cooking was that it was “careful cooking” meaning that you had to spend time with it and keep a thoughtful eye on the procedure of it. She treated all her recipes at first like mountains that needed to be climbed and then, once conquered, like friends that needed to be nurtured and shared and appreciated.  If you have never made crepes before, it may sound a little scary when it comes to flipping these thin style pancakes, but once you’ve conquered it, you’ve mastered this multi-functional breakfast/lunch/ dinner and dessert appropriate food like a champion.

The ingredients are very simple and straight forward. I used free range organic farm eggs, organic whole milk and organic butter in this recipe. Like Julia Child always says – the better quality your ingredients, the better your food will taste.  And if you store your eggs in the refrigerator let them warm up to room temperature before you use them.

Jessie’s Crepes

(makes 5-6 crepes, each about 6.5″ inches in diameter)

3 eggs

1 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

butter (about 1/8th cup)

In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk and whisk again. Add the flour and whisk one more time. Next Jessie recommends pouring the batter through a fine strainer into a glass measuring cup. I don’t have a strainer so I poured the mixture through cheese cloth wrapped around the fine side of a cheese grater. That worked just fine.

This step removes any large flour lumps and makes the batter silky smooth.  If you don’t have a glass measuring cup you can just strain the batter into a mixing bowl and scoop it with a soup ladle.

Melt 1 teaspoon of butter in a frying pan until it is hot (medium high temp) but not smoking. Whisk the batter one more time and then pour about 1/4 cup into the frying pan. Holding the handle twist and rotate the pan to make sure the batter evenly coats the entire bottom of the pan. Wait about 30 seconds (there should be no more loose or runny batter on the top of the crepe – if there still is cook it a little longer) and then, if you are feeling brave flip the crepe in the pan to cook the other side for about 15 seconds.

There are a couple of other options regarding flipping if you don’t want to toss your crepe up in the air.

Option #1: Carefully slide a spatula underneath the crepe and flip it to the other side.

Option #2:  My personal favorite –  use a cake frosting knife, and slide it under the pancake and quickly flip it.  The goal of all this cooking and flipping is two fold… don’t wait too long to flip it so that the bottom burns and don’t tear the crepe in the process of flipping. The first one might not make the table – and that’s okay – if it burns, or tears or winds up on the floor just start again with more butter and a new scoop of batter. Practice makes perfect. And one general rule of thumb – more butter is better than less butter when it comes to making sure the crepes don’t stick, so when in doubt add more not less. This is what your crepes should look like once they are ready…

Repeat this step until you have made all your crepes. You can keep them warm by placing each one on top of the other, stack-stile, on a plate covered with aluminum foil as each one comes out of the pan. Or covered in a dish in the oven on the lowest temperature setting.

Crepes are a foundation piece that can be served in a number of different ways for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. When we make ours for breakfast, we sprinkle powdered sugar on a warm crepe, roll it up and then top it with a mixture of seasonal fruit in the summer or a warm fruit compote in the fall and winter. But you can just about add anything you like to a crepe and it will be delicious.

One thing to keep in mind when serving crepes is that they contain no sugar so if you like them sweet don’t forget to add sugar or honey, maple syrup, chocolate sauce, whip cream or your own fruit medley.

French Crepes ala Jessie via Julia!

And of course, the very best companion for this festive French dish is a good book like Bon Appetit, which you can find here.

If you are a big fan of Julia, like us, please share your favorite things about her in the comment section below. We’d love to learn more about how she inspires you!

In the meantime cheers to the lady who keeps inspiring us to find the fun in the food! Happy Birthday Julia!

Three Cheers: The Vintage Kitchen Shop is Here!

It’s a very exciting day here in the Vintage Kitchen! We are happy to announce that the kitchen shop is now up and running! As an ever-evolving retail site, with new items added weekly, there will always be interesting things to see whenever you stop by and visit.

We are just getting started on this big adventure, so there is still lots more to add in terms of items and some quirks that still need to be sorted out but it’s really exciting to see this long-term goal come to fruition. We are also super happy to bring you a site full of history and interesting kitchen stories told through the time weathered patina of carefully curated vintage and antique items.

In the shop, you’ll find pieces that have gracefully withstood the test of time, classic beauties that never go out of style and rare, one-of-a-kind pieces that will give your cooking space unique personality. Tackling all the varied elements that make up the complete vintage kitchen you’ll find a wide assortment from cookbooks to cutlery, glasses to gadgets, pots to plates and everything in-between.

Besides a fun shopping experience, there is also a spot to sign up for our seasonal newsletter, a page to connect with us in regards to procurement for those hard to find items or bulk needs and a page to connect with us privately for any questions.

Access to the shop is offered in a few different places here on the blog – by clicking on the ad in the right-hand column, by clicking on the shop tab in the header, or by typing shopinthevintagekitchen.com into your web browser. The same goes for the shop side of things – there’s a blog tab on the storefront that sends you directly back here so you’ll never get lost between these two places!

Now that we have this major design project launched and underway we will be back to our weekly blogging schedule which, from time to time, will feature shop items with especially fascinating stories. Up next is a vintage Summer recipe that serves a crowd up to 18. Hope you are hungry!

Cheers to a wonderful weekend ahead and to new beginnings.

Happy shopping!

 

 

Lost In Translation No More: An Update on the Chinese Mug!

Back in April we posed  the question… how many people does it take to translate a mug? We were up to four at that point with two more possibilities waiting in the wings of email communication. The mug in question was a vintage 1950’s enamelware covered cup made by the Peacock Enamelware Factory in Tianjin, China.

Due to its rarity and the fact that the message written on it was in Chinese (possibly Mandarin), deciphering the Chinese characters enough to associate them with English words and meanings was dauntingly slow. But with a little luck and a lot of perseverance connecting with online translation sites, friends of friends, and Chinese language books we got to the following stage of interpretation… (the blank dashes represent words we had yet to figure out)

First ____  Makes ____       {related words/themes from this line include: living, livelihood, give rise too, birth, life}

Prize  {reward, given for victory}

Burning Culture 1st ____ ____ 2nd ____ _____  {collectivization, work, worker, skill, profession, individual}

Theories surrounding the literal translation of the mug ran the gamut from Communist propaganda to marketing slogans (Eat at Al’s!) to an award of some-sort (mainly because everyone agreed that the middle line definitely referenced a prize or award of some kind).

Two weeks ago, when Google translator sputtered out two words, pride and factory, before shutting down completely, I thought for sure we were on the right track of this mug bearing some sort of political campaign message for an impassioned Chinese factory worker.  I could see him in my mind, eating his lunch, drinking his tea all along silently communicating his political ideology through the slogan on his mug.

Wonderfully, a breakthrough came in the form of the Nashville Chinese School when a last ditch effort was made to reach out to yet another language school (the fourth during this search!) just after the July 4th holiday. In two days, Irene from NCS had the whole mystery solved.  And to think this jewel of school was sitting right under my nose all these months.

Irene provided the following translation…

Progressive Manufacture
Award
Blaze Company – #2 engendering department

As it turns out our little covered mug was an award! Not exactly as sensational as a piece of communist history, this mug announced a prize for a job well done by an innovative manufacturing department. It was someone’s proud acknowledgement of accomplishment. A midcentury metal (pun intended!) of achievement.  A smile and a handshake, which is by far a happier association than communism.

Looking back on my original ideas of the translation, I see that we weren’t really that far off. First and Makes easily falls in line with Progressive and Manufacture. Prize and Award are the same. Burning Culture coordinates with Blaze Company.  We even had the number 2 figured out. The only part that drew blanks was the engendering department (which means the idea department or innovation department or possibly where sales and marketing resides!).

Aha. In solving this mystery of history we’ve also been able to answer the question of the day. How many people does it take to translate a vintage mug?

NINE!

Nine people and three months and lots of imagination to solve the slogan on a 64 year old mug.  I learned so many things on this fun little journey – but most importantly I was reminded to check my neighborhood first. Had I contacted Irene at the Nashville Chinese School in the beginning, this would have been the miniest of mysteries solved so fast. But on the other hand I would have never jumped in feet first to the deep end of the Chinese language pool. Knowledge is power(fully) exciting. And for that I’m grateful.

Cheers or 干杯  ganBei (as I now know they say in Chinese!) to Irene and to Sing and the host of other helpers involved along the way. And most importantly cheers to our vintage mug, who now has a spirit and a story.

If you ever need any translation help yourself, or want to embark on an interesting new language journey contact Irene here.

As for our little trophy of a Chinese mug – find her in the Vintage Kitchen shop here. Her exotic appeal and around the world scavenger hunt make for a happy little storage system for tea or spices or kitchen items of all sorts.

 

 

 

 

The Colorful World of Collecting: A Vintage Tea Towel Interview

Martex Textile Champagne Tea Towel, 1950’s

Chances are you probably haven’t given much thought to your kitchen linens. You’ve got them tucked away in a drawer somewhere that you access only when you have a party, a holiday or a big giant spill to clean up. They sit in those drawers in an assortment of sizes from small to large. Place mats, tablecloths, towels, drink coasters, napkins, tray coverings either plain and functional or decorative and delicate. They are hand-me-downs your grandmother made back in 1920 or they are ones you bought last week on sale at Target. They are in pristine condition because you barely use them or they are spotted and shabby because that one celebration that one time was the wildest party of the year.

Kitchen Towel featuring Household Staples, 1940s

You haven’t thought about them much because they are always there – new and old and reliable. You use them to impress and inspire and make an impact on a bread basket or a tea tray or the handle of your oven. They sit under drinks and dessert plates,  line the cocktail cart and add some color to the picnic basket. You gift them and grab them in a last minute flurry of preparations and like any good coat of paint, they instantly brighten up the atmosphere, and you think to yourself… why don’t I use these more?

Main Street Table Cloth 1950s

Designed to sit pretty and decorate and then clean up afterwards,  kitchen cloths are the unsung heroes of cook spaces around the globe.  In today’s post we discuss the colorful world of mid-century kitchen linens with Cindy from Neatokeen, the internet’s best-kept vintage linen shop and discover her passion for mid-century tea towels. This is a bright and whimsical slice of the vintage kitchen that showcases the creative, quirky styles of the 1950’s and 1960’s that have evolved with charm and individuality to fit modern day appeal.

Iconic American chair designer Charles Eames  once said…”The details are not the details. They make the design.” This is particularly true of the bold graphics and jaunty sentiments of mid-century fabrics. Today, Cindy explains her favorites, what she looks for when stocking her shop and why these vintage kitchen helpers are still so compelling to our modern sense of style.

What are some common misconceptions about vintage linens? 

Linens were mass-produced in the mid-century and there is an assumption that they are plentiful and easy to find. If you look on Etsy and Ebay, that appears to be the case; however, it is extremely difficult to find them in excellent or mint condition. Most of them that saw heavy kitchen duty were relegated to the rag pile. Many linens that you see today are flawed with spots and holes. The real trick is to find those that were unused and stored away in a drawer or cupboard for 50 years. I am super picky about the linens I buy and probably pass by 99.9% of those I see. 

Do you have a favorite designer? 

It’s difficult to choose one! I will name my top three:

 

George Wright

 

Milvia

 

Tammis Keefe

I also have to give a shout-out to all of the uncredited artists and in-house designers who created amazing designs but were not able to sign their work.

Is there a type of linen or a specific company that you prize most and, if so, which and why? 

I began collecting all types of vintage linens: tablecloths, tea towels, napkins, handkerchiefs and table runners. Storage space for my collection was at a premium, so I had to make a difficult decision. I decided to hang onto my tea towels. I love the compact printed designs. I am particularly fond of the cheeky designs from the Dunmoy Linen Company and the detailed designs of the Ulster Company.

 

Dunmoy Linen Company, Flower Truck Delivery, 1960’s

 

Ulster Linen Company – Medieval Renaissance, 1960s

 

Tell us a little bit about caring for vintage linens. Do you have to store them differently or use special washing procedures? 

 

I learned early on that I was rubbish at removing spots in spite of the copious amount of stain removal advice and tips on the internet. This is what lead me to collect linens in near mint or perfect condition. I typically do not wash my linens and simply press them gently, if needed. I store them in a closet with open shelving covered by white cotton cloths. I know a lot of people store them in plastic bins, but I’m a bit skeptical of contact with plastic over time.

  

Which are the top three favorite items in your shop right now?

I love the London People towel – the characterization of 55 people and animals is charming. Another favorite is the “Wine & Spirits” towel by George Wright for the interesting composition and bold color choice. I really enjoy Hilary Knight’s angel towel. He was the illustrator of Eloise and I believe it’s the only towel he ever designed.

 

Wine & Spirits Series by George Wright, 1950s

 

Hilary Knight Christmas Angels, 1950

Why are vintage linens so appealing to people?

 They evoke a feeling of nostalgia and the printed designs can be gorgeous, whimsical, striking or even comical.

 

 

In your shop bio you mention that you sell to a wide variety of customers from gift-givers to celebrities to collectors. What is a fun buyer story that you can share?

 

I’m fiercely protective of my customer’s privacy, but I’ve sold linens to several movie and theater companies. They always need the items “yesterday” and have requested express shipping every time. In fact, the shipping has been a lot more expensive than the items themselves!

 

Dinner Party Scene Tea Towel, 1950s

Rare 1950’s Mid-Century Modern Tablecloth

If you could invite any person to luncheon (living or dead) and serve them on one of the tea towels currently offered in your shop which would you choose and why?

I would invite my late father and serve him dinner on the amazing Calder-esque mobile tablecloth that is in my shop. We would talk about the abstract design and then we’d discuss the act of collecting. My dad was an inveterate collector of many things and I never collected anything while he was alive. I’m fairly certain the collecting gene was transferred to me when he passed away. I now completely understand his compulsion to find the next best thing, the perpetual upgrading of a collection and the quest for a holy grail. He would get a big kick out of my passion for linens.

Cindy with her dad in 1964

Were linens a prized possession in your family growing up?

 My mother sets a beautiful table and has some lovely lace tablecloths, but printed linens were something I discovered much later in life.

 

Matching Linen Placemat/Napkin Set – Red Cherry Design, 1950s

Would you prefer to see one of your vintage tea towels in active daily use or framed behind glass?

 

When I started selling my linens on Etsy, I was taken aback at what people did with perfectly good linens; however, I have really mellowed and now enjoy learning about the creative ways my linens are used. I’ve seen pillows, children’s clothing, tote bags, quilts and even copies printed on canvas. Most people buy them to collect or use and I’m happy they are being enjoyed and not languishing in a forgotten drawer. Framed behind glass is good too!

 

Which types of linens are your bestsellers? And what makes them a bestseller – is it fabric, color, graphic appeal, size, age etc.?

 

I’ve sold 99% of my tablecloths and hankies and steer away from buying more because there are so many sellers that carry them. I specialize in vintage tea towels which is a more unusual category. Tea towels are my bestsellers. I think the colors and graphic appeal of the designs are what attract people initially.

 

Floral Linen Tea Towel, 1950’s

Other than traditional serving/entertaining purposes, framing and gift wrapping have you come across any non-traditional ways in which we could use vintage linens in our modern-day lives?

 

I mentioned a few above, but the most inventive use of linens I’ve seen is a winged armchair upholstered with vintage souvenir tea towels from London. The effect is a feast for the eyes.

 

Alternate ways to use vintage tea towels (clockwise from top left): as an apron, windows curtains, framed wall art, market bag/tote, footstool cushions.

When you are sourcing your materials for your shop do you generally find them one at a time or do you uncover treasure troves of personal collections?

 

I usually find them one at a time or occasionally in pairs. I’ve actually never found a big collection of linens which is the stuff of my dreams; hence, the hunt continues. I look high and low from estate sales to flea markets, near and far from coast to coast and I will continue to seek linens as long as it remains fun!

 

Tammis Keefe Angel Tea Towel, 1950’s

One of the things I like about vintage linens is that each and every one seems so unique. I don’t think I’ve ever come across the same design twice (matching sets not included of course!).  Have you seen a lot of repeat patterns come through your shop?

 I primarily sell duplicates of towels that I have in my own collection. Some designs are relatively easy to source e.g. the Tammis Keefe angel towel is common, but there are several designs that I’ve run across exactly one time in my 12 years of collecting. Since I’ve been collecting a relatively long time, it’s become easy for me to tell if the design is rare or fairly commonplace.

 

Are there any types of vintage linens that don’t appeal to you and if so, why?

 

I like all types of linen, but I’m partial to printed linens. I steer clear of damask, lace and embroidered linens. There are plenty of experts in those categories. Also, I think floral linens are lovely, but my eye tends toward unusual or quirky designs. Thankfully, they are often the ones left behind.

 

Mother’s Apple Pie Ingredients, 1950’s

According to the school of thought that one thing always leads to another – have you discovered any new interests or passions (or collections!) that have stemmed as a direct result from your pursuit of seeking out vintage linens? 

 

Yes! I really like the kitschy mid-century graphics found on vintage wrapping paper and novelty fabrics. I felt myself slipping down the collecting rabbit hole again but was literally saved by Pinterest. I started “pinning” items to designated boards. Pinterest feels like having an organized collection but without spending a dime…brilliant!

 

Modernist Textile Fabric, 1960s

I don’t know about you dear readers, but I’d be fine following Cindy along on her trail of discovering vintage wrapping paper and more vintage fabrics. She has a wonderful eye for the lighthearted unusual – the fun side – of finding old artistic illustrations that still seem so relevant today. Perhaps in the future we’ll be lucky to see more along those avenues. In the meantime I hope this post encourages you to take a look at your own kitchen linen drawer and march all those retro patterns out into everyday use regardless of their age. Don’t save them for a special occasion or a holiday, give your kitchen space a happy exclamation point by incorporating your tea towels and tablecloths, napkins and tray liners into everyday life.  If you have yet to own any vintage kitchen linens, I hope this post inspires a new collection.

 

Vintage Bridge Score Pads from the 1920’s

In addition to decorating your own space, vintage kitchen linens also make great gifts. As we roll through the month of May with Mother’s Day and Memorial Day just around the corner, Cindy is offering readers of the blog an additional 20% off all orders using the coupon code VINTAGEKITCHEN.  In her shop you’ll also find delightfully interesting mid-century (and earlier!) collectibles and paper ephemera with fantastic retro graphic appeal like the art deco bridge score pad above.  Keep up with Cindy on Pinterest, Instagram and in her shop. You won’t regret any moment spent learning more about vintage linens.
 If you have any additional questions or comments for Cindy or thoughts on vintage linens themselves please post a message below.

 

This was the set design for Julia Child’s kitchen for the movie Julie and Julia. Notice the proud display of kitchen linens!

10 Vintage Kitchen Trends of 1956

Hotpoint Mobile Dishwasher, 1956

1956 was quite a year for iconic pop-culture. Elvis was singing about his blue suede shoes, Norma Jean officially changed her name to Marilyn, the Yankees won the World Series,  Bob Barker stepped out onto his first televised game show set and Grace Kelly married a real-life prince.

On the home front, the mid-1950’s kitchen was also going through some equally exciting and interesting design improvements in the convenience department. With more than 35% of women working outside the home by 1956 multi-tasking became “the” trend of new innovations promising both ease of use and the ability to conquer more than one job at a time. Some of these inventions were a bit quirky (like the oven insert that roasted meat like toast), some paved the way for modern mainstays that we use regularly today (the automatic Redi-Baker) and some (the mobile dishwasher) could totally make a comeback in our modern mini-home craze.

In today’s post we are heading back to the pastel wonderland of 1956 and all the mechanical marvels that hit the mid-century kitchen market with a flurry of magical appeal. Let’s look…

1. The Mobile Dishwasher

Hotpoint Mobile Dishwasher, 1956

Part cutting board, part dishwasher and all on rollers, this totally functional piece of kitchen equipment was meant to be wheeled around from prep counter to table and then back to the sink offering kitchen cleaner-uppers the ability to cut out some extra steps by loading dirty dishes right from the kitchen table. The new mid-1950’s concept of front loading baskets left room for a chopping board on top which was the ideal helper for any kitchen too tight on counter space. By throwing a cloth over the whole thing this handy appliance could even turn into a rolling hors d’oeuvres cart or impromptu bar area for entertaining, fulfilling three jobs in one – dishwasher, sous chef and butler. Completely functional, this seems like a piece of the vintage past that could definitely come gallivanting back into our world today, especially for city dwellers and tiny house lovers.

2. Separate Fridge and Freezer Units

Crosley Presents their Fresh and Frozen Food Centers with Shelveador Twins

About the width of a standard contemporary bookcase, the 1956 Shelvador (shelf-in-a-door!)  Fresh and Frozen Food Center Twins by Crosley had the ability to hold up to 450 lbs of food and contain fresh and frozen assorted perishables in two completely separate unattached units. One for cold products, one for frozen products. Pitched as the “most convenient food-keeping service ever designed,” owning Shelvador Twins meant less frequent trips to the supermarket thanks to their large storage capacity. It also meant more creative kitchen design.  Offering two units for room balance and a series of mix and match colors opened up  of bevy of options in the decorating department. Crosley’s were a matter of  convenience and creativity.

3. Ultra-Organized Food Bins

Crosley was the company that first pioneered the idea of installing functional storage compartments in the doors of refrigerators and freezers back in the 1930’s, but their idea was so practical that all the major food storage manufacturers immediately began incorporating the compartment concept into their own designs as well.

In order to set everyone apart, individuality came to the design teams of all these manufacturers in the form of  unique arrangements within the compartmentalized cold cabinet. When the 1956 version of the Fabulous Foodarama by Kelvinator was unveiled it was the ultimate organizer’s dream. Offering a bevy of bins, boxes, trays and baskets it was like the Taj-Mahal of efficient food-keeping systems focusing on the nitty gritty details of good design.

Bacon, eggs and juice went into the Breakfast Bar section on the upper right side of the door. Waxed papers went into a non-refrigerated dispenser located in the freezer, ice cream got its own gallon-sized compartment specially regulated to keep it at the ideal consistency and bananas flew off the counter and into a room temperature bin just below the freezer papers. Separate spaces for vegetables, cheese, canned fruit and ice cube trays were all designated as well making the Foodarama distinct in its ability to put that there and this here.

4. Toaster-Like Cooking Devices

Gibson, who manufactured air conditioners, refrigerators freezers and electric ranges had a wonderful marketing team (or perhaps it was the design team) that came up with all sorts of colorful names to call the unique details of their stove-tops and ovens. The Thermatic Kookall, the Tel-O-Matic Light Source and the Verti-Broiler are just three examples that dazzled potential range buyers but mostly they were glitzy names for ordinary features that other popular ranges came with too.  Until the exclusive Gibson Verti-Brolier was born.

Inspired by the close heating elements of the common, everyday toaster the Verti-Broiler turned the meat industry on its side (literally) buy taking the same directional cooking concept as a slice of bread but exchanging it with a slice of beef. With the pronounced ability “to seal in savory juices in seconds” this proposed method was supposed to cut cooking time in half making it a helpful necessity for busy working men and women. In a future post we are going to experiment with this cooking method (steak on the vertical)  to see what happens. Stay tuned for more on that this summer.

5. Linen-Like Paper Napkins

It may seem a bit difficult nowadays to get excited about a paper napkin – but in 1956 they were indeed a source of novelty among meal planners. By giving women a plausible, non-guilty excuse for setting aside their traditional cloth napkins, these paper cousins eliminated the need for excess laundering and large linen closets. Thanks to the 1956 invention of the Scotkin – Scott Paper Company’s introduction of the super strong and absorbent 2-ply paper napkin, these elegant yet disposable damask designed napkins boosted all the beauty of linen without all the upkeep.  No more washing, starching, and ironing needed with a Scotkin – just use and toss out. They were available in two sizes – dinner and family and were destined to become an ever-useful staple paving the way for similar products still on the market today.

6. Washable Wall Canvas

Wall-Tex Washable Wall Canvas

The Columbus Coated Fabrics Corporation began introducing washable wall canvases in the early 1950’s but by 1956 they were hitting their stride and gaining such popularity that dozens of new designs were being unveiled each year under the Wall-Tex brand. Prized for their easy ability to wipe off grease, dirt and drawings (as seen above!) this durable wallpaper-like covering sped up housecleaning and allowed for a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere when it came to looking after the messy effects of energetic kids, pets and cooks.  Hung with paste just like traditional wallpaper, Wall-Tex canvases were baked with a layer of plasti-chrome that produced smooth, easy-to-clean surfaces ideal for kitchens,  bathrooms and play areas. Columbus Coated Fabrics Corporation and the Wall-Tex brand went out of business in 2001 but recently peel and stick wallpaper has come back into fashion again so perhaps we will head down the highway of washable wall canvases yet again.

8. Under the Sink Storage

Kitchen cabinetry first debuted in the 1930’s, and was improving by functionality and appearance with each decade. If you wanted to keep pace with all the latest interior design trends in 1956 you would have most definitely upgraded your kitchen sink. Out went the old leggy farmhouse trough style…

…and in came the organized cabinets and drawers…

Popular Youngstown brand (the leader in mid-century cabinetry) hid the plumbing, added sleek steel drainboards, a garbage disposal and pull out drawers and shelving. Deluxe models even included two sinks, pull out cutting boards and a cutlery drawer transforming the ordinary sink into an extraordinary piece of furniture.

9. Mini Tabletop Ovens

A pre-cursor to our counter-top toaster ovens, the Knapp-Monarch Automatic Electric Redi-Baker was the mini oven you needed to bake small portions right at the kitchen table. As a cost-saving device you no longer needed to heat up the big main kitchen oven in order to enjoy single serving items like breakfast sausages or biscuits, and as a convenience measure you could tote it anywhere around the house as long as you had an available electric outlet. This essentially took baking out of the kitchen and into other rooms of your choosing or even to the patio. While a great idea at the time, the Redi-Baker was in competition with a lot of other emerging small appliances eventually becoming overshadowed by bigger, more well known brands.  It was out of the market altogether within the decade.

10. Built-in Big Pots

In the traditional place of four burners on a stove-top Frigidaire Electric Ranges introduced a new concept in cooking equipment with their 1956 unveiling of the Imperial Range… a built in Thermizer. Essentially it was like a big pot sunk into the stove that could be used to boil, roast, fry or slow-cook an assorted number of dishes from soups and sauces to pot roast, dumplings, desserts,  and even popcorn. With a removable 6 quart pot that fit inside the well of the Thermizer  you could even use it to sterilize canning jars, steam vegetables and bake small pies or individual sized desserts.  A true novelty in the productivity department, it helped cut down on the expense of heating large ovens for small projects while also giving home cooks the ability to prepare and pre-plan large meals effortlessly.

Italian designer Mossimo Vignelli (1931-2014) believed that good design was a language not a style. It is easy to forget that all the bells and whistles on what we consider to be normal kitchen equipment (fridge, freezer, stove, dishwasher, sink, cabinets, etc.) first started out as novelties and innovations. They were all experiments destined to stick or stink.

We’ve come a long way from the caveman days of cooking over open fires in the wild but in the 61 years that have passed between 1956 and today it is interesting to note that we are still requiring the the same sets of demands from our ideal kitchens – time saving shortcuts, multi-tasking equipment and maximum storage.  We are still a society juggling time. We are still a society talking about the most effective ways to produce a product and fulfill a specific need. And ultimately we are still trying to sort out our most efficient eating and cooking habits. Mossimo is right.  The good bones of functional kitchen design began to form fifty years ago but the conversation isn’t over yet and the language is still being translated.  Everyday ahead gets us one smidge closer to improving the landscape we learned about yesterday.

Would you like to see any of these vintage kitchen trends embrace our modern spaces today? If so, post a comment below!

In the meantime, cheers to past designers who  made their marks and to future innovators who sustain them!

Where Are They Now? 29 Historic Houses 60 Years Later…

historichouse_collage2

Coming home for the holidays in this 1950’s era post means coming home to some of the finest examples of American architecture ever presented in the United States. Richard Platt, the architecture and garden editor of Ladies Home Journal from the 1930’s- 1960’s, spent his entire 30+ year career studying the anatomy of our country’s great homes from the modest barn beginnings of 1600’s New England to the Gatsby worthy mansions of late 19th century Rhode Island.

He and his wife Dorothy compiled the most noteworthy examples in their 1956 coffee table travel book A Guide to Early American Homes and invited readers to see for themselves, in person, the true majesty and ingenuity of  American home design. Over 900 houses appeared in the guide in total, and while many were museums already open to the public, a great number were private residences in which Richard and Dorothy managed to secure appointments for readers to tour on their own schedule.

In today’s picture post, we are catching up with a few dozen of these old houses to see what has been going on with them since 1956. With our tricky economy, the recent trend towards downsizing and deep budget cuts slicing through the hearts of our cultural resources how have these century old houses fared over the past six decades?  Let’s look…

(The black and white photos are Richard and Dorothy’s taken in the mid-1950’s, the color photographs are recent present day images). 

1. 1704 House

1704 House

Built in 1704. Located in West Chester, PA. In 1956 it was house museum available to tour for $0.50. Today it is still a museum although admission prices have increased to $5.00.

2. Longfellow House

Longfellow House

Longfellow House – Built in 1759. Located in  Cambridge, MA. Previously managed by the Longfellow Memorial Trust, this house has recently been renamed renamed Longfellow House – Washington Headquarter’s and  is now owned and operated by the National Park Service. It used cost $0.30 to tour the house in the 1950’s. Today it is free!

3. Col. Jeremiah Lee Mansion

Jeremiah Lee

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion – Built in 1768. Located in Marblehead, MA. Continued to be operated by the Marblehead Museum since the 1950’s (previously known as the Marblehead Historical Society) the mansion is still open for tours in warm weather months. Admission prices changed from $0.50 in the 1950’s to $10 today.

4. Josiah Coffin House

house3_josiah

The Josiah Coffin House – Built in 1723. Located in Nantucket, MA.  In the 1950’s it was a private residence. Still owned by the same family, today it is available for weekly vacation rentals priced between $5,500-$6,000/per week.

5. Sanford House

Sanford House

Sanford House – Built in 1847. Located in Grand Rapids, MI .  In the 1950’s it was a private residence most noted for its exterior Doric columns and fine Greek Revival craftsmanship. Today the house is helping people internally as a drug and alcohol treatment center for women.

6. Headley Inn

headleyinn

Headley Inn – Built in 1802. Located in Zanesville, OH. Originally this house served as a tavern and inn in the early 1800’s. By the 1950’s it operated as a seasonal 9-5 restaurant. Today it is back in business, newly opened as a bed & breakfast.

7. Field House

Field House

Field House – Built in 1807. Located in Belfast, ME. Originally a private residence, this house contains over 7,000 sqf. It has changed physical house numbers on High Street since the 1950’s and for a time between then and now operated as a hotel. It was recently on the market for $395,000.00

8. The Mansion of Eleazar Arnold

Arnold House

Now known as the Arnold House – Built in 1687. Located in Lincoln, RI. This rare example of early Rhode Island architecture featuring a massive wall fireplace once served as a tavern. In the 1950’s it was available to tour for $0.25. Now it is managed by Historic New England and is open year round with an $8.00 admission fee.

9. Dell House

Dell House

Dell House- Built 1800. Located in Nantucket, MA. This sea captain’s house was a private residence in the 1950’s painted yellow with white trim. In the 2000’s this house, still private, underwent extensive renovation and remodeling.

10. Harlow-Holmes House

Harlow Holmes

Harlow-Holmes House – Built in 1649.  Located in Plymouth, MA. In the 1950’s the ninth generation of the Holmes family lived here surrounded by antiques that dated back centuries in the family’s heirloom collection, including the original Captain’s table from the Mayflower. At some point between the 1950’s and now the house was added onto in the back. See more photos here. 

11. Callendar House

Callendar House

Callendar House – Built in 1794. Located in Tivoli, NY. A private residence in the 1950’s, this  grand house including 35 acres, outbuildings and river views, just sold recently, continuing the grand tradition of private ownership. For more pictures click here.

12. Moffatt-Ladd House

Moffatt Ladd

Moffatt-Ladd House – Built in 1763. Located in Portsmouth, NH. Since 1912, this Georgian – style house museum has been open to the public during seasonal hours. Once the home of William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence it used to be $0.50 to tour the house, now it is $7.00.

13. Ocean Born Mary House

Ocean Born Mary House

Ocean Born Mary House – Built in 1760. Located in Henniker, NH. Part of pirate folklore this house has been associated with a colorful heritage that still captivates sea storytellers to this day. Always a private residence, it was open for tours by the owner for $0.25  a person in the 1950’s.  Today it remains private with no tour options, however people caught up in the legend of Ocean Born Mary still drive by the house. Read more about the legend here…

14. Lady Pepperrell Mansion

Lady Pepperrell

Lady Pepperrell – Built in 1760. Located in Kittery Point, ME. In the 1950’s, this elegant Georgian house was open for tours by The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Now it is a private home, still retaining all the original features (at least on the front facade!)

15. Dutton House

Dutton House

Dutton House – Built in 1782 . Located in Shelburne Village, VT. Throughout its colorful life, this house has been an inn, a tavern, a museum and mixed use office space. Since the 1950’s it has been part of a museum collection of historic buildings comprising a typical Vermont village of the 19th century. In 1956 admission was $1.75, today it is $24.00.

16. General Nathanael Greene House

Nathanael Greene house

Nathanael Greene House – Built in 1770.  Located in Coventry RI. In the hands of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Nathanael Greene Homestead Association since the 1920’s, this house was built and designed by Nathanel – one of George Washington’s most trusted general’s. Recently the Association held a fundraiser to build a replica barn on the property that was torn down in the 19th century. The house is open for tours and special events.

17. Bonnet Hill Farm

Bonnet Hill

Bonnet Hill Farm – Built in 1670. Located in Darien, CT. Originally built in Stamford, CT this stately farmhouse house was moved in the 1940’s to Darien after private owners rescued it from its then shabby circumstance serving as a glue factory.  In the 1950’s it was painted pumpkin with white trim and was available for tour by appointment only. Today it has again undergone extensive renovation and remodel including additions and expansions and is now a private residence.

18. Webb House

Webb House

Webb House – Built in 1752. Located in Wethersfield, CT. Operating as a museum since the 1950’s, the Webb House recently got an exterior makeover in the form of a fresh coat of paint – in red – which brings the house back to it’s original color.

19. Thompson House

Thompson House

Thompson House – Built in 1709. Located in East Setauket, NY. By the 1950’s Thompson House had been faithfully restored by its owners and then passed on to the care of a Trust ensuring that everyone has the chance to see and appreciate the splendid salt box style architecture of this 300 year old structure.

20. Dey Mansion

Dey Mansion

Dey Mansion – Built in 1740. Located in Wayne, NJ. Property owner Dirck Dey worked alongside his slaves and various craftsmen  in the mid-18th century to erect this eight room manor house. In the 1950’s, it was renovated to serve as  a house museum with utmost attention being paid to each historic detail to make it as authentic as possible. Tours were available then for $0.35, today they are $5.00.

21. Powel House

Powel House

Powel House – Built in 1765. Located in Philadelphia, PA. Under the care of the Philadelphia  Society for the Preservation of Landmarks since the 1930’s, this handsome city house museum welcomes visitors and special events. Other than the tourism plaque out front the exterior is virtually unchanged since the Pratt’s visited in the 1950’s.

22. Upsala

Upsala

Upsala – Built in 1798. Located in Philadelphia, PA. in the 1950’s you could tour this beauty as it evolved through renovation and restoration projects for just $0.10. Today you can buy the whole house for $499,000. That’s right, dear readers Upsala is for sale! Now is your chance to buy a 218 year old architectural  gem. Find more info here. 

23. Keith House

Keith House

Keith House – Built in 1722. Located in Horsham, PA. Now a part of Graeme Park Historic Site, the Keith House in the 1950’s was a private residence, but today it is owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and open for tours throughout the year. As the last surviving residence of a Colonial Pennsylvania Governor, it’s historical importance is significant.

24. Thompson Neely

Thompson Neely

Thompson Neely – Built in 1701. Located in Washington Crossing, PA, this pre-revolutionary house was available for tours in the 1950’s and continues to be offered today. Just before crossing the Delaware, George Washington held a meeting here, and reenactments of the event are held each year on Thompson-Neely grounds on Christmas Day.

25. Matthews House

Matthews House

Matthews House – Built in 1829. Located in Painseville, OH.  Rescued and restored by Lake Erie College, this federal style Greek Revival house had just been moved to campus a few years before Richard and Dorothy Pratt visited in the 1950’s. Today it stands proudly among the faculty and administration buildings serving as academic offices and a guest house for visiting alumni.

26. Mead Hall

Mead Hall

Mead Hall – Built in 1833. Located in Madison, NJ. Also in the hands of academic caretakers, Mead Hall is located on the campus of Drew University. In the 1950’s the brick was painted white and the building was used for social functions as well as offices. Tragedy struck in 1989 when a fire destroyed the roof, attic and second story of the house. Now fully renovated and rebuilt, Mead Hall once again stands at the heart of campus and serves as classroom space and faculty offices.

27. Octagon House

Octogon House

Octagon House – Built in 1854. Located in Watertown, WI. In the 1950’s, this house was open daily for $0.40 tours given by the Watertown Historical Society. The narrow exterior balconies were removed in the 1920’s for safety purposes but the Historical Society had always wanted to bring them back to secure the original design aesthetic of the building. In 2006 an anonymous donation made that possible and the balconies were added again. The house, one of only about 3,000 of its shape in the country is open seasonally for tours ($9.00/per person).

28. Varnum House

Varnum House

Varnum House – Built in 1773. Located in East Greenwich, RI. In the late 1930’s the Varnum Continentals, a local non-profit, purchased the Varnum House and restored it as a  museum open to the public. In the 1950’s it was painted white but has since received a fresh colorful makeover of yellow and green shades. Inside, the museum is full of period appropriate furniture and antiques ranging from the 1700’s to the 1900’s and offers tours by appointment.

29. Woodside

Woodside

Woodside – Built in 1838. Located in Rochester, NY. Serving as headquarters for the Rochester Historical Society from 1941 to 2016, this house recently sold to private owners. Over the course of 70 years the Society outgrew the space of this three-story mansion and weren’t able to keep up with structural repairs. New owners are currently renovating and restoring it for use as a private family home.

You’ll notice that other than the fire at Mead Hall, tragedy has eluded these remarkable buildings from our nation’s history. None were torn down or abandoned, burnt to ashes or left to deconstruct on their own. It’s wonderful to know that despite changing economic times and shifting design aesthetics these beautiful old houses are still being cared for by understanding hands. Perhaps with this same level of care and commitment, passion and resourcefulness, fortitude and perseverance they’ll be able to survive another 100, 200 or 300 years. If luck remains on their side they’ll be able to ensure that the story of our country can continue on in a touchable, tangible way for generations to come.

It is said of people that buy old houses, that they are not owners, but instead, stewards.  Not of ships or of planes or of trains as the original definition suggests,  but stewards instead of houses and history and the humble human spirit who built the heart that beat our country. Cheers to old houses and to the humans who love them!

Do you have a favorite among this batch of houses? If so, share your likes in the comment section below. Ms. Jeannie’s favorites are #2, #4, and #13!

 

 

The Briefly Extensive History of a Creative Couch

couch1

Sometime between the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, a couch was born in Forsyth, Georgia. In a pretty shade of green – a hue laying somewhere between celery and olive – this tufted beauty began her early life as a sales piece in Cawthorn Store for Homes, one of Forsyth’s local midcentury furniture stores.

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She sat on the showroom floor with a bevy of other age- appropriate furniture that was meant to awe and inspire the home decorator just like the goal of this vintage 1970s Levitz ad…

1970sad

But her destiny was not to be bought, enjoyed and then eventually discarded. There was no rubble heap in store for our green girl. This couch had vagabond stories to tell deep within her bones which is why at some point in her maturing life, our fair couch left the confines of her small city and headed out on the open road, eventually migrating five counties north to Athens, GA where she took up residence in a vintage clothing shop giving rest to weary tryer-on-ers. The clothing shop was above a grocery, The Daily Co-Op…

dailyco-op

in a historic building owned and renovated by R.E.M.’s lead singer Michael Stipe. There she stayed for quite some time until this past June, when the vintage clothing shop was packing up to move locations. In a wonderful moment of serendipity, Ms. Jeannie happened upon this couch for free just days before moving to Nashville.

While loading all 7′ feet of her into the moving truck, a piece of paper fell out from underneath the tufted section…

couch5

It was a 1930’s paper postcard from Nurnberg, Germany.  While the card was never mailed there was a detailed message hand-written in fountain pen ink on the back. It read…

couch6

“As you look at this card the house to the left on the corner was bilt in the 18th century. And on the rite is the first wall that was bilt around the city. At the time, it had not many houses. Later they bilt more on the outside of the wall and then they bilt another wall around it. All of this is broken down now.”

The house that our postcard writer is referring to…

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is that of 15th century German artist Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)

durer9

Albrecht’s self portrait completed in 1500 at the age of 28.

who was an influential German renaissance painter and a prolific artist of landscapes, portraits and religious iconography throughout his career. These are some of Ms. Jeannie’s favorite Durer paintings…

durer_collage

The postcard was not signed so there is no telling who it belonged to or how it wound up in the couch but it does add a fun little piece of story that strings together a collection of creative spirits across quite an extensive number of years. From the initial mid-19th century furniture maker to the 1990’s famous musician to the contemporary vintage shop keeper to the 16th century German renaissance painter to the 1930’s postcard writer to the present day antique lover that is Ms. Jeannie, this one couch has managed to connect six artistic people across four centuries.  Not often are such associations all wrapped up in one piece of furniture!

couch4

As with all vintage items, the beauty of this couch lies deep in the fact that she’s lived a mysterious life, well-worn and adventurous. Her interior stuffing is made from hog hair, and her wood frame shows a few knicks and scratches. Spots of threadbare fabric on one seat cushion match some shabby fray on both of the arm rests, but these imperfections add more dignity than distraction.  Eventually when the fabric can hold up to time no more, she’ll be reupholstered in smooth black leather, but until that day occurs she’ll reside as-is in the land of Ms. Jeannie.  Adorned with some handmade boho pillows (a new sewing project!) and a pup who thinks she is heaven, this vintage couch seems happy to build up a new layer of history here in Music City. Time has only yet to tell what other kindred-creatives will leave their impressions upon her!

Cheers to making new friends for your furniture!

 

A Book By Its Cover

destinybay

It is not often that Ms. Jeannie will tell you to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Destiny Bay, a vintage fiction novel recently listed in her shop, she wholeheartedly recommends it. In an on-going conversation about book collections and what fuels them, we’ve talked about book batches centered around a favorite author (F. Scott Fitzgerald!) or a common theme (Africa!). Today’s post is all about the first impressions that draw us in and keep us going – the face of the book.  A book’s aesthetic is often one of the key motivations in amassing a collection. Some people collect books with eye-catching covers for their color arrangement…

bookcollection2

or for their stunning graphic layout and design…

Book covers from the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's

Book covers from the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s

Collections can be built around books from a specific time period, like this antique collection…

This is an antique collection with gorgeous decorated book spines.

This is an antique collection with gorgeous decorated book spines.

or for the artist behind the image like these contemporary book covers designed by Chip Kidd…

chipkidd_collage

In the case of Destiny Bay, there are a lot of things going for it in the pretty presentation department. By far, it is one of the most attractive books that has ever come across Ms. Jeannie’s bookshelves.

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From its whimsical illustration, complimentary color palette and stylish graphics this edition of Destiny Bay fires on all cylinders in the book cover department.

The story, originally published in 1925 by Irish American writer Donn Bryne, centers around the MacFarlane family of Ulster County, Ireland and combines romance, comedy and tragedy. The story is set against the sweeping Irish countryside with its beautiful topography, exiting horse race tracks, and idyllic country estates and features an eccentric cast of characters including blind Aunt Jenepher, gypsy Lady Clontarf, butler James Carabine and red-blooded Uncle Valentino to name a few. Combining the themes and characters of the book  California artist Frank McIntosh (1901-1985) illustrated a cover that symbolizes the bright green landscape of Ireland and the colorful personalities of the family.

The stylized dust jacket via font and graphics are a nod towards art deco  – the 1920’s style that was popular when the book first debuted.  The colors are a compliment in opposites with bright spring greens and tangerine oranges each elegantly outlined in black ink. An overall dramatic and glamorous aesthetic that always seems to be in vogue no matter what the decade!

McIntosh built quite a career utilizing the sleek lines and sophisticated detailings that became so iconic of his work. He came of age in the 1920’s which no doubt left quite an impression on him and he carried that passion throughout his design career.  Taking him from California all the way around the world to Paris and back again, he traveled in both commercial art circles and fine art circles.  These are three of his beautiful covers for Asia Magazine…

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We know from Destiny Bay, he was also a book designer and most of his work in the publishing world carried the same delicate disposition…

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A robust career in advertising and freelance illustration left time to exhibit independently as well and kept his title of working artist relevant throughout most of the 20th century. Examples of his work in popular poster form are all so highly collectible now…

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That makes Mr. Frank McIntosh a superstar in Ms. Jeannie’s world! His books look stunning on a shelf and his posters look equally amazing next to the shelf! So go ahead dear readers appreciate Destiny Bay for face value, and in doing so you’ll be pleased to discover that the story is equally beautiful as well! A gem of vintage book collecting all wrapped up in pretty package! Find the book here.

Open up more discussion on why you like to collect books by adding your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

 

Pinkie and Blue, The Two Thomas’ and The Couple That Never Was…

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She stands poised and serene on the sea rocks underneath a blustery sky. He stands confident and bold like a fashionable Fauntleroy against a golden grey garden. At first glance…they  are similar in subject, stance and appearance. They are similar in color palette, context and composition… in attitude and affluence. But their sameness doesn’t stop there. Embedded beneath the patina of paint and brushstroke runs a strange series of coincidences and ironies that bind both painters and subjects together in an unusual web of wonder.

If you walk into just about any antique shop today, you’ll most undoubtedly see the 18th century images of Pinkie and The Blue Boy reproduced in an assortment of different ways. Most commonly they peek out from behind matching frames of varying ages and styles like this…

Two Large Framed Prints of Pinkie and The Blue Boy from Happy Go Vintage

Two Large Framed Prints of Pinkie and The Blue Boy from Happy Go Vintage

but they also appear on a variety of creative endeavors from ceramic vases to needlepoint pillows from coffee mugs to calendars and most collectibles in-between.

As two of the art world’s most commonly printed masterpieces, they are almost always presented as a pair… a portrait of teenagers on the cusp of an adult world. A nod to young love, first love, new love and a symbol of tenderness, confidence, potential and optimism.

But you can’t always judge a painting by its presentation. Pinkie and The Blue Boy as a couple are the result of time-worn perception and assumption. Painted by two different artists in two different decades Pinkie and Blue were never meant to be together.

It wasn’t until the 1920’s, roughly 150 years after they were painted, that this romantic perception took hold thanks to American railroad tycoon and enthusiastic art collector Henry Edwards Huntington. Purchased in England during the American heyday of British portraiture, Huntington brought these two paintings across the ocean to California where he placed them in his library opposite one another. 

Henry Edwards Huntington

Henry Edwards Huntington

The general public was then invited to come and take a look. From that moment forward Pinkie and The Blue Boy became associated as a couple forever linked by free association. 

But oddly enough had Pinkie and Blue met in real-life and lived during the same time frame, they most likely could have been an actual real couple. They had so many similarities in common that relating to each other would have been as breezy as their painted backgrounds.

The linking of back stories between not only Pinkie and Blue but also their painters and collector is equally strong. Here are five people entwined in a strange sort of web that is made of parallels in all directions.

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Let’s look at the links….

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PINKIE & BLUE: Personal Lives

Painted somewhere around 1770 by famed British artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) The Blue Boy, is thought to be the commissioned portrait of Jonathan Buttall…who came from a wealthy English iron-trading family.

Jonathan Buttall

Jonathan Buttall

At the time the portrait was completed Jonathan was about 18 years old.  His father had died two years earlier leaving Jonathan to run the retail iron business and attend to the massive fortune it procured.

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Pinkie, the nickname of Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton sat for her portrait with equally esteemed English artist Thomas Lawrence in 1794. At the time of the painting she was eleven years old, and also without a father, who had abandoned her family several years earlier.

Like Jonathan, Sarah also came from wealthy stock.  The Moultons made their fortune in the lucrative business of exporting rum and sugar from Jamaica. At the time of this portrait Pinkie was two years into a stay in England – a dramatic move for educational purposes from her home country of Jamaica. Just like Jonathan adjusting to a new business environment Pinkie was adjusting to a new living environment. They were both wealthy, young, fatherless and undergoing challenging transitions.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN JONATHAN & THOMAS LAWRENCE: Debt

Although affable and kind-hearted, Jonathan did not turn out to have quite the same knack for financial business savvy that his father possessed. After two decades Jonathan was so loaded down in debt he was forced to file bankruptcy and auction off his belongings including his own portrait.

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Thomas Lawrence (the painter of Pinkie) was one of the most popular portrait artists of his day and a favorite of the royal courts. He worked constantly and consistently but to the puzzlement of those around him was always in debt. Throughout his career he continually relied on financial support from benefactors and loans from his friends and left little fortune when he died.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN JONATHAN AND THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH: Music

Gainsborough at the time of the commissioning was looking to break into the theatrical art set of creative London. He appreciated their cultured manner, their love of music and drama and their acceptance of artistic endeavors. But in order to fall in seamlessly with this crowd he felt he had to step up his game as far as skill-level and painting technique. So he studied the style that he most admired, Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck.

Gainsborough's evolution of style: (left to right) Before studying Van Dyck, sketching like Van Dyck, Painting like van Dyck

Gainsborough’s evolution of style: (left to right) Before studying Van Dyck, Sketching like Van Dyck, Painting like Van Dyck

When Gainsborough met and became friends with the Buttall family he took a particular interest in young Jonathan who enjoyed a similar love of music. Gainsborough introduced his refined painting style modeled after Van Dyck’s work in his portrait of Jonathan, which became one of England’s most treasured paintings and Gainsborough’s most notable work.   Gainsborough treasured his friendship with Jonathan for the rest of his life.

 

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH & THOMAS LAWRENCE: The Royal Academy of Arts

Aside from the obvious facts that they were both portrait artists, both named Thomas and both incredibly talented, the two Thomas’ were also big-time supporters of their trade. Separated by a generation in age,  Thomas Gainsborough, the elder of the two was a founding member in The Royal Academy of Arts which opened in London in 1768 as an exhibition venue and educational support center for artists. Thomas Lawrence became its 4th president in 1820. Lawrence was an admirer of Gainsborough’s work but is uncertain if the two ever met.

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The Royal Academy of Arts in London. Photo by Davis Landscape Architecture.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PINKIE AND THOMAS LAWRENCE: Early Death

Tragically, Pinkie never made it to adulthood. She died a year after her portrait was painted possibly from complications of an upper respiratory infection.  Her painter,  Thomas Lawrence also died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 60.

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THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THEM ALL: Love

In all its varied forms from the passions of collecting to the comfort of friendship, to the dedication of career and to the lofty assumptions of amorous awakenings, Pinkie and The Blue Boy connected not only these five people but also millions of people around the world with one word: love.

Art is wonderful in uniting individuals, spawning ideas, energizing imaginations and recording place and time. Antique paintings like Pinkie and The Blue Boy serve not only as an intimate proof of two young lives lived centuries ago but they also serve as a playground for creative thought, intuitive whimsy and a universal need to understand and draw connections. And even though their association is not entirely based in accuracy, the fact that they were blended together in the 1920’s and remain blended together today is a wonderful example of our human race’s need to connect and associate. Sometimes making up a story is more unifying than defining an actual reality. That’s the beauty of art. That’s the beauty of Pinkie and the Blue Boy.

Interested in learning about more vintage art? Check out these two art history books here.