Monday, September 23, 2013

This week in bloggery

This week, I'm hanging out over at my pal Burgin's blog, celebrating a few of my more recent vintage kid book finds. Well, some of them are recent, like Tomi Ungerer's The Sorcerer's Apprentice (pictured above, and I'm just noticing that the sorcerer looks just like I do when I score an excellent book at an estate sale or library sale). I got Elissa Jane Karg's incredible How to Be a Nonconformist (below) last spring at a library sale. What a great book that is! Check it out here. And later this week, I dare to attempt to describe the weird wonderfulness and wonderful weirdness of Dare Wright. I've been sitting on this first edition copy of The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson for a few years now, and that's long enough! Time to move on.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of everyone's holiday shopping needs, I've been working my way through the stacks and listing as many books as I can over at the etsy shoppe. In honor of Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves, that obviously includes lots of children's books, but I also have scored copies of Scavullo Women and Better Homes and Gardens Treasures from Throwaways, the subjects of two of my most popular posts. Now they can be yours at very reasonable prices! Woo-hoo!

Now for sale at the etsy shoppe

Now for sale at the etsy shoppe

Monday, September 16, 2013

More things I didn't buy, starting with wine bricks and ending with Teletubbies

I didn't buy these wine bricks for $3 apiece, but I totally would have if I could've come up with any reasonable place to put them on my ramshackle estate. I'd never heard of wine bricks, but I think it's a pretty brilliant idea. If you have someplace to put them. I saw this massive wine honeycomb at a very unusual midcentury house; the kind that always gets called "Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired" cuz they don't how else to explain it. In this case, the real estate jargon was actually kind of accurate.

I didn't buy any of this amateur art, made by a particularly prolific amateur artist, even though it made me sad to see it unwanted by the family (rule #37—that is never a good reason to buy anything!).

I did not buy this cute Swedish holiday wall hanging because it had an unpleasant brown stain on it, about the size of a quarter. In hindsight, I should've bought it and tried to actually implement the advice in one of my many Heloise books.

I didn't buy this terrifying Teletubbie head, and I'm pretty sure I don't have to explain why.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On Dansk ice buckets, butter churns and what I learned from the Kovels

If you are a very serious student of midcentury design, this item needs no introduction. For the uninitiated: It's a teak ice bucket designed by Jens Quistgaard for Dansk around 1950. A solid, heavy, wonderful object that reminds me of Vikings (which I believe was the intention) but also of a bull's head, or maybe a goat's head, or some horned creature (Satan?). In other word, it's more than a mere receptacle for ice, not that I could imagine ever putting actual ice in it.

So if you're a hardcore midcentury person—a completist, like the homeowners featured in the pages of Atomic Ranch magazine—this is also the sort of object that you would pursue single-mindedly, cost be damned, for your Danish modern sideboard. That's not my trip; I don't like to pay top dollar for anything, and I'd rather spend years on a quest than pull the trigger on ebay or etsy or rubylane or firstdibs. My patience was rewarded several months ago when I spied the telltale teak "horns" in the corner of an image in an online preview for a nearby estate sale. Somehow I managed to restrain myself from going to what looked like a promisingly eclectic sale (not an art teacher this time but one of those "world traveler" types) on the first day when there would be no discount. On day 2, I arrived not long after the doors opened (i.e., right after I'd dropped the kids off at school) and made a beeline for the corner where I was pretty sure I'd find the bucket if no one had snapped it up on the first day, and, lo, there it stood, at the discounted price of $30.

When I removed the lid to make sure the inside was that trademark orangey red, I found a note, written on the backside of a page from a 2002 desk calendar. I scanned the note below:

Apparently the previous owner of this ice bucket was, like me, a fan of Flea Market Finds with the Kovels, a great show that aired on HGTV back in the early 2000s and featured the First Couple of Collectibles mixing it up with dealers and collectors at flea markets across the country. Dang, that was good TV! Frank Kovel would sign off every show with words of wisdom to the effect that if you see something and you like it, BUY IT. Cuz if you don't, you'll end up regretting it. Words to live by, even though they might eventually cause some space issues in your house. 

Well, I followed Frank's advice and bought the Dansk ice bucket, which the woman running the estate sale thought was some kind of butter churn (apparently she had not bothered to remove the lid, where she would have found the deceased's helpful note). I also bought the "Black Couroc Bucket with the birds" for five bucks, which I resold in my antique mall stall for $25. Contrary to what the previous owner had hoped, Couroc is definitely collectible but doesn't fetch the big bucks, like Jens Quistgaard for Dansk. But I very much respect the spirit in which that note was written—the thrill of discovery that something you own has a far greater value than you'd imagined, that it's desired by others but you're the one who's got it and you're not selling it. I get that. Which is why her note remains inside my ice bucket, instead of ice.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New discovery: Woodstock Handmade Houses

I'd never heard of Woodstock Handmade Houses, written by Robert Haney and David Ballantine and photographed by Jonathan Elliott, until I liberated it from the clearance shelf at my local Half Price Books (ha! love that I can still make scores there). It is funny to find a relic from upstate New York here in San Antonio, but it's not like I'm the first New Yorker to relocate to this godforesaken place, and doubtless not the last. Anyway, this book is light on words, heavy on spectacular photos, but here's the first lines from the introduction:
When the American dream still seemed a good trip, about seventy years ago, some nonconformists got together to explore a different lifestyle up in Woodstock, where the Catskill mountains start getting tall. They were mostly artists, craftsmen, tinkerers and thinkers. In those days they got labeled: Bohemians. Today, perhaps they'd be tagged freaks. Their first shelters were sometimes just a hunk of oilcloth or a free flop in a farmer's barn. But when they really started to build they went heavy on imagination, light on money.

Let me say up front that while I admire the houses-yurts-forts-domes-secret hideouts featured in this book, I don't think I'd want to live in one. I'm intimately familiar with New York winters and these singular domiciles don't seem to come equipped with many of the basic amenities. But, holy crap, aren't they incredible? I mean, call it outsider art, hippie homesteads, freecycled, upcycled, the original green design, whatever. Some rose out of the ruins of old schoolhouses, churches or barns; others appear to have sprouted from the trees. 

According to the introduction, both authors had built and resided in their own handmade houses. I wonder if they're still standing? Or if any of these houses remain? The book was published in 1974 so who knows? I'd like to assign some intrepid reporter to go find out, please.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My kind of estate sale

Two Fridays ago, I went to my ideal estate sale. It had all the ingredients: unrehabilitated (i.e., smelly), overstuffed, shag-rugged midcentury house belonging to (dearly departed) art teacher. I've addressed this topic in a previous post but I'll reiterate: Yes, I feel like the lowest bottom-feeder when I trawl the classifieds for the estates of artists and art teachers—but I can't help that they always have the best stuff!

The first clue that you've stumbled upon my ideal estate sale is in the photo above; the house must have a built-in stereo/PA system, preferably in the kitchen. (I still nurse regrets about the House that Got Away nine years ago, which featured just such a hi-fi—the controls were housed in a built-in desk in the center of the kitchen. I love my ramshackle ranch, but, alas, she does lack a built-in sound system.) 

Still, it's not like you can buy the sounds system, so let's move on to the craft room. Is the existence of a craft room a good sign? Why yes, yes it is—especially when it features a wall of shelves groaning under the weight of vintage decorating, crafting and art books. I scored books for myself and I scored books for the etsy shoppe, including doubles of some great books I've featured on this very blog, which I'll be selling soon. 

This lady had a ton of diet and exercise books, including Jane Fonda and Heavyhands and all that kind of thing from the glory days of aerobics. Mostly I resisted, but I had to get this ’70s gem from Family Circle,  How to Stay Pretty & Trim (hint: it takes lots of Jell-o salads!).

I bought a pile of crafty books. As you know, I'm no crafter so these will probably get listed on etsy. Then again, they are so very pretty...

And I'm not sure I've seen more Sunset Books in one place as I did here. As you also know, I have a bit of a Sunset Book obsession so not one could go unpurchased. But now I face the conundrum of what to sell because I like to hoard the various editions of each title. So, for example, while I have Cabins and Beach Houses (sixth printing, May 1959), I did not have (till now) Cabins and Vacation Houses (seventh printing, May 1970), which means I've gotta keep both, right? (Another awesome thing about this estate sale is that the homeowners appear to have actually used their Sunset Books to build shelves, furniture, weird cabinets—all the stuff I enjoy looking at but would never attempt to make.)

And just to clarify: This family's library was not confined strictly to crafting and DIYing and decorating and other artsy stuff. Makeshift shelves and DIY bookcases filled every room and were grouped by theme: theater arts in one of the bedrooms, psychology in the living room, classic lit in the den. I bought this 1950 Perma Giant edition of Emile Zola's Nana cuz the silhouette illustrations by some genius named Fred A. Mayer are absolutely amazing. I'm thinking about buying another copy online (they're quite cheap) and pulling the pages out for framing, but since dissembling books makes me feel like a monster I'll probably never do it. 

When previewing this sale online, my kids were excited to see enough textiles to fill one of those punnily named sewing stores (we patronize one called Yarnivore). The older daughter has recently taken up finger-kintting, which I don't understand, but basically she makes very long chains that end up stuck between sofa cushions So both kids put in orders for specific colors of yarn, which I ended up totally having to fight for in the apparently very popular sewing room (yes, there was a sewing room, separate from the craft room). Why so crowded? It seemed that a search party had been sent to this sale by one of our local cults, possibly Yearning for Zion. Not that I'm any kind of expert on our local cults. 

I'm making this assumption because the party consisted of one stern, Amish-looking gentleman bossing around several meek women of varying ages, all of whom wore hand-sewn, floor-length dresses, Little House on the Prairie–style. Perhaps they were just odd, and had made their sartorial choices of their own free will. Perhaps. Since they seemed to be focused on furnishing their compound and dressing their family—as opposed to buying old books to hoard or resell—we didn't really throw elbows, but I gotta say the action was pretty hot in the sewing room. I barely got out of there alive, with just a few technicolor skeins tucked under my arm. But that's what made this my ideal estate sale—driving away with a car full of stuff, and a story to tell.
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