Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More Mary Quant stationery, please

I knew that mod 1960s London designer Mary Quant was famous for her boyish shifts and rad Vidal Sassoon haircut. That she may or may not have been responsible for inventing the miniskirt and hot pants. But I did not know that she designed stationery until I found a box of it in somebody's garage here in San Antonio. The design is completely charming—a rainbow landscape rendered pointillist-style—but I had to wonder if this wasn't another one of those cases in which a designer loses the rights to his/her name and some taste-free opportunist starts churning out crap in China under the once-hallowed label (most recently the shoe design geniuses Sigerson Morrison come to mind as victims of this perfidy. Didn't it also happen to Halston and DVF and countless others?).

Anyway, it seems this stationery set is legit, based on what else I'm seeing out there on the internets. Also, according to her Wikipedia entry, Quant devoted the 1970s and 1980s to creating housewares and makeup—she even claims to have invented the duvet. Duvet, stationery, it's all comes from the same place, right? Quant is very much alive and kicking—I think Target should pay her a pot of money to collaborate with them (though after that mostly execrable partnership with Neiman Marcus last Christmas, maybe they're off that whole concept). Still, it seems the perfect match—and I want more of this stationery! It was a total bargain for a buck, but turned out there was only 11 envelopes and two sheets of writing paper (insert sad face here). We forget that once upon a time people actually used their stationery, to you know, write to their friends and stuff.

Quant with husband Alexander Plunket-Greene. Shot for Vogue in 1962 by Brian Duffy.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Estate sale discovery: Constance Bannister

I picked this book up at a sale a couple of years ago. I think I spent about ten seconds perusing the pictures before tossing it in a box to be sifted through at some future date. Well, the future date finally arrived and I was able to confirm what I already knew: I'm not a cute baby fetishist and never will be. You will never catch me with an Anne Geddes calendar or a baby doll collection (unless those babies are wooden and weird!). And though what passes for humor in Members of the P.T.A. by Constance Bannister is obviously dated, I'm reasonably certain I would not have found it funny had I been a mother of small children when it was published back in 1970.

But I also confirmed something I else I already knew—that you can make all sorts of interesting pop cultural-historical discoveries while shopping estate sales and library sales. This Constance Bannister was no one-hit-wonder novelty book author; she was an incredibly cool, ahead-of-her time woman with the kind of story that's ripe for a high-end biopic miniseries on one of the prestige networks (HBO, AMC, Showtime, are you listening?). Think Kate Winslet in the title role. Go to the website her daughter has created in her honor to check out a babelicious self-portrait of Ms. Bannister circa 1940. 

So Constance Bannister was a babealicious baby photographer; in the words of the headline for her New York Times obit—she died in 2005—she "photographed 100,000 babies." Her beginnings were inauspicious and reminiscent of more than one legendary country-western singer: She was born in 1913 in Ashland, Tennessee, one of 17 children. As a teenager, she moved to NYC to attend the School of Modern Photography. This was the 1930s, people—that took some serious pluck, don't you think? She moved to Palm Beach to work as a society photographer for the Associated Press. After a few years, she returned to NYC, where she opened a studio and photographed Broadway plays, ballets and the Ice Capades. Somewhere along the way she started photographing babies and pets.  In the ’40s and ’50s, the "Bannister Babies" became something of a phenomenon, appearing on the Perry Como Show, the Frank Sinatra show, Ernie Kovacs, etc. while Bannister was also shooting total midcentury eye-candy covers for Woman's Day, LOOK and McCall's. She published tons of books and had a syndicated comic strip. She was a bona-fide pinup during WWII. She married three times and adopted two daughters. She apparently photographed a baby Christopher Walken. Don't you want to know more about this unsung heroine? I know I do.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Keep. Out.

So many places where I could hang this sign—how will I ever decide??

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More things I didn't buy, including dolls, wigs and rebel flags

I didn't buy this doll because I only like weird dolls, preferably weird wooden dolls.

I didn't buy this wig because wigs are on my no-buy list, along with previously-owned undergarments and any hand-held gadget that vibrates.

I didn't buy these flags. I've got plenty of Old Glories to bring out for display on the appropriate holidays. As for the other, I don't think I have to explain.

Monday, April 22, 2013

How you say...?

I wish I were multilingual, but I am not. I have a decent handle on English, and I used to be pretty fluent in Latin (real Latin, not porcine Latin), but my high school German and high school Spanish are but dim memories. I still fantasize that a day will come when I continue my higher education and add a few languages to my repertoire. In the meantime, I buy old-school language records and vintage phrasebooks so I will be fully prepared should I suddenly have the opportunity to dash off to Europe.

These Berlitz books date from 1954. They're cute and spiral-bound and fit snugly in your hand. They also give you a good idea of what it must've been like to travel abroad in the Mad Men era. First-class, all the way! Following is just a random collection of phrases considered essential by the staff of the Berlitz School of Languages (under the direction of Robert Stumpen-Darrie and Charles F. Berlitz) for the American visiting Italy. Remove the quotes and I think it makes a pretty convincing bit of free verse:

"Give me a match please."
"Please send me the chambermaid."
"Some writing paper."
"I want these shoes shined."
"I need a secretary."
"I want cigarettes."
"I want one in rayon."
"What time is the next floor show?"
"May I have this dance?"
"Please ask the orchestra to play 'Torna a Sorrento.'"
"Have I time to buy a newspaper?"
"I think your sister is beautiful."
"Here is a picture of my wife."
"A face massage."
"I am nauseated."
"I cannot see."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Welcome to the dollhouse

You know how hard I try to avoid forming new collections, finding new things to obsess about. If anything, my recent foray into reselling has been about shedding old collections, but sometimes...sometimes a certain something speaks to you so you buy it and then you see another something similar and think, "Ah, of course, I'll be having that as well," and then other people start noticing the array of similar items in your house and they make a mental note, "Next time I see a ______, I will have to pick one up for her!" And you know, it snowballs. And snowballs beget avalanches (of stuff, cascading out of your closets). Lately I've been noticing a lot of new faces around here—weird, wooden faces—but I'm reasonably certain that I do not—repeat, DO NOT—collect weird wooden dolls. Nope, not me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

All tomorrow's parties

Coke Party invites by Buzza/Cardoza

When I was in NJ last month, I bought these old-school cocktail party invitations at one of my usual thrifting stops. I wonder if Hallmark makes an invite equivalent to this "Let's unwind" anymore, or if American Greetings still perceives a market for "Cocktails"... And does anyone still make invitations to, ahem, Coke Parties? Seriously, WTF. I'm going to give Buzza Cardozo the benefit of the doubt and assume that "coke" was being used as the generic for "soda" or "pop"—that rooster (cock?) is clearly a Coca-Cola bottle but did Coca-Cola really not care about trademark infringement? And did a "soda party" ever seem fun to anyone?

Anyway, these too can be filed under Soon-to-Be-Obsolete Ephemera, thanks to the rise of the evite.

Let's Unwind invites from Hallmark

Cocktails invites from American Greetings

Monday, April 15, 2013

Man's best friend: his psychedelic cat

Cat beats waif.

So I told you about how I accidentally gave this collectible Igor Pantuhoff waif painting to my younger daughter, who glommed on to it when she was around three years old. In the three years that have elapsed since she insisted it be hung on her wall, I've noticed that there's a decent market for these slightly sullen ’60s chicks and I've been plotting to get it back. But what could possibly be captivating enough to make her give up "wedding girl," as she's apparently been named, because she "looks like a pretty flower girl at a wedding"?

Waif for sale...

It turns out cats trump waifs; kittens defeat sex kittens. (In a perfect world they do, anyway.) I bought this trippy Cheshire cat–style needlepoint at the same sale where I scored the great Babe Rainbow, unsure if I would keep it or sell it. When I'm not sure about something, I tend to foolishly leave it on the dining room table where my magpie can find it and commence nagging me. It's no surprise she would covet this "Man's Best Friend" picture; she's already got a nice collection of vintage needlepoints going on and she's a cat person to the core. She's still not over the death of our sainted kitty Ace, who died well over a year ago. (And truth be told, neither am I—I still regard most cats as Not Ace, which isn't a healthy place to begin an adoption process. Just ask my dog Cupcake, a.k.a. Not Lola.) The kid recently penned an(other) autobiography, which started out the usual way (name, age, hair and eye color) but then immediately segued into "I have two dogs, two birds, five fish and one dead cat." Aww jeez, right?

Well, the pet head count remains unchanged but at least she's got that awesome psychedelic cat on her wall now, hanging where Igor's waif used to be. She did drive a hard bargain though: To sweeten the deal, I had to throw in another vintage needlepoint depicting the Tree of Life. Meanwhile, the "wedding girl" is back languishing in my closet (not on the dining room table!), awaiting her fate.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Paperback of the week: Mad's Dave Berg Looks at Things

I spent a lot of time reading my brother's Mad magazines growing up and my favorite artist was always Dave Berg, who did "The lighter side of..." comix. Despite the warm-and-fuzzy feelings I have for the venerable publication, however, I almost never buy the Mad mags and paperbacks that I see on my rounds. They haven't increased much in value over the years, for one thing, and god knows if I had wanted them, my hoarder-turned-minimalist brother would've gladly passed on his collection rather than slowly selling them off for small change on half.com. But I don't think I need them in my life; it's enough that my elder daughter has all of his Archie Digests (thankfully, none of the Richie Riches). And at some point I expect I will reach a crossroads with my Ripley's Believe It or Not collection...

That said, when I saw this 1967 Signet edition of Mad's Dave Berg Looks at Things, I couldn't pass it up—my favorite Mad man on my favorite topic? Come on! Sadly, this book doesn't really live up to its glorious cover. There are a few strips devoted to actual things—mostly with regard to the greedy materialism of children and wives, the whole keeping-up-with-the-Joneses compulsion—but the rest tackle more typical Berg-ian subjects (bratty teenagers, surprise parties, office politics, pets, class wars, damn hippies). But the cover totally makes it worth my while. Look at those things! Exactly the retro stuff I scavenge at the sales! The reel-to-reel, the Brownie camera, the soda siphon, the vintage kitchenware—it's like an etsy shoppe exploded all over the poor Dave Berg alter ego. Love it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What the children got: Garfield, candles, fuzzy bear pins

Feed me

In lieu of posting More things I didn't buy this week, I'm bringing you another installment of What the children got. Another way of putting it might be: "More things I wouldn't have bought had I not had my children with me."

Exhibit A: Garfield. I've nothing against the crusty curmudgeon cat; in fact, I was a huge fan myself back in the day. For much of my youth, the first thing I saw in the morning upon awakening was the classic "Have a Nice Day" poster with a typically misanthropic Garfield twist (he's chomping the yellow smiley face). And, I mean, if I saw that poster at a sale and it wasn't all moldy or torn, I'd snap it up. Actually, I'm feeling an itch in my fingers right now to start a new tab and commence googling said poster. My daughters would love it!

But, no! I won't. Garfield is one of those quasi-collectibles that is just ubiquitous. Like Beanie Babies. If I were to start supporting their Garfield habit, we would be overrun. But my main issue with having been bribed into purchasing this Garfield in exchange for (grudging) cooperation at an estate sale is that I've got an oft-broken rule against buying stuffies. They're just gross. Even the spanking-clean, like-new-with-tags never-been-played with variety you see artfully arranged on some sad old person's bed. I ran this guy through the dryer, pointlessly. The dryer doesn't kill bedbugs—it doesn't even kill lice!

A girl's candle is her castle

The younger daughter insisted on my buying this castle candle. I'm a hater of stinky candles, but this is the sort of candle she'll never want to burn because then the beautiful castle would melt. In other words, it's the kind of candle I can get behind.


The elder daughter made me buy this groovy mushroom candle, which I like even better because (a) it's smaller and (b) it's a mushroom. She's been raised thrifting, so I suppose it's inevitable that she'd acquire a taste for au courant toadstools (and owls).

Anybody wanna buy a pin?

Confession: No one made me buy this fuzzy bear pin display. My kids weren't even with me when I spied this atrocity! I thought Instagramming it would quell my desire to pay $1 for it—sometimes that really works. Since I signed up last year, Instagram has saved me a ton of money. But in this case, it wasn't enough. I knew my kids would love to hawk fuzzy bear pins in one of their faux stores. And now I'm stuck with it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Object lesson: Why I bought these random wooden blobs

What am I?

This is the story of what happens when I find out there's going to be an estate sale in my very favorite midcentury neighborhood. When I pull up to the house on the day of the sale and see that it's not only my favorite 'hood but one of those adorable atomic ranches that hasn't been meddled with by owners who just want to "modernize a little." When I know in my bones that this is going to be a fantastic sale and I am going to make some serious scores. YES.

How quickly ecstatic anticipation turns to disappointment. Maybe all the good stuff has been sold or none of it was really that good in the first place. What's left might be okay but it's the first day of the sale so it's wicked overpriced. I circle the rooms again and again, methodically turning over objects for their marks, rifling through kitchen cupboards, poking through closets one more time, scanning the spines on the bookshelves yet again, till finally I settle on buying two sort-of-interesting lumps of wood because maybe they are some midcentury sculptural objet but more likely they came from somebody's iguana tank.

The hissing sound you hear is one of deflated expectations.

Lesson learned: Don't feel obligated to buy stuff just because in the reality you conjured based on the estate sale ad, the stuff was awesome. The stuff isn't awesome, unless you happen to own a pet shop.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

More things I didn't buy: previously owned canned goods, nail clippers and Ferragamos

I didn't buy these Sun Vista black beans because I'm strictly a Goya girl. Also, $1 for a can of previously owned beans seems a little steep, right?

I didn't buy this pile of old nail clippers because (a) that's gross and (b) I've got my own pile of nail clippers—though not this many. Then again, I'm undoubtedly younger than the person who owned these, so I guess there's still time to accumulate more.

I didn't buy this pair of vintage Ferragamo peep toes because (a) they were size 6 1/2 and I'm an 8, and (b) they were a little grody. I love the box though.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Match game

The 21 Club

I promise this will be the last post in which I gas on about the odd poignancy of other people's matchbook collections. The collections that belonged to the unrepentant smokers, the older generation, the ones whose estates are being sold off object by object to junkers/thrifters/dealers/pickers/collectors/bottom-feeders, whatever you want to call us/them. Few types of ephemera give you a sense of the (late) person the way matches do—matches are like the digital trail you leave on Facebook or foursquare, but you know, tangible and cute and not an invasion of privacy. The person who collected matches was a person who got around, maybe even globetrotted, smoking and drinking and dining and dancing their way through life. Hell, they probably used cigarette holders! Who were these people? And don't they seem like they would've been fun to hang out with?

Yaffa Cafe

But I try not to buy other people's matchbooks—dust magnets!—especially now that I've rediscovered my own. Last week I shared some relics from places in NYC that no longer exist—here are some from much-loved establishments that are still standing. Though in the case of Yaffa Cafe, I had to google to make sure (if Life Cafe has been shuttered, how is it that Yaffa continues to survive?). I don't think I set foot in the place past my 23rd birthday, but I did love it fiercely for a while there. The food was crap, but that twinkling back garden just epitomized the boho East Village setting I'd been imagining myself in all through my teen years.


I wasn't sure about Docks either—a very slick noisy yuppie ’90s place—could it still be around? Apparently so. When we lived on the Upper West Side back in the day, good restaurants were few and far between and dang if Docks didn't have the best oysters. We used to celebrate birthdays there. One time we were wedged into a corner table by the window facing Broadway, and Oliver Platt was with a date at the table adjacent to ours. The whole time Lindsay and I just kept staring at each other and trying not to laugh and communicating telepathically "Look, it's Oliver Platt. We are dining next to Oliver Platt." Why do I even remember that? Why will Docks, a place we ate at dozens of times, be forever associated with Oliver Platt (who at the time was starring in a very terrible version of The Three Musketeers)? That's the kind of story other people's matchbook collections will never really tell. You might be able to draw a few accurate conclusions about their lives—about where they traveled and how old they were and whether they liked Chinese food the most or Mexican—but the good stuff, the details, the Oliver Platts, well, that stuff just gets lost.


Is it morbid to ponder your own future estate sale—especially on the day after a quasi-milestone birthday...? Perhaps. But I do it all the time, not just around birthdays. What will my legacy be? What's the story my stuff will tell? What does my matchbook collection say about me? Here lies a person who lived hard in NYC for a pair of decades, who went on a lot of expense account lunches and late-night dinners and continued to smoke even when she knew better. Of course this is assuming my matchbook collection will ever be up for sale. I can easily imagine one of my pack-rat children hanging on to it.

The King Cole Bar



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