Drifting, floating

Speaking of things that have washed ashore:

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These old glass fishermen’s floats were picked up on a family trip to the Maritimes in the early ’70s. Before plastic and styrofoam took over, these handmade glass bubbles were widely used to keep fishing nets afloat. They were often made of recycled glass. Many are bottle-green, but you’ll also find them in a rainbow of colours, like the ones above. From what I’ve read, glass floats originated in Norway in the 1840s and became popular world-wide, especially in Japan. The Japanese ones were made from sake bottles.

There are roughly three grades of floats if you’re a collector:
1) Authentic old ones that were used by fishermen.
2) Authentically made ones that were sold directly to gift shops. While they never saw action on the seas, they were made by the same glass makers who made the working ones, and they’re identical in form. Collectors call these “contemporaries”.
3) Reproductions. These are made from thinner glass that would likely shatter if used as floats. These started to appear in the early ’80s when the supply of the authentic and contemporary floats dwindled.

The bowl above is full of contemporaries. Back when we got them, they were a popular souvenir of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and were in every gift shop and lawn sale. When I returned to Nova Scotia several years later they were harder to find.

I have a few more hanging around picking up the light:

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I have a few authentic ones that I picked up that are made from recycled bottles. You can see the circles of the bottle bottoms beneath their rotting rope. They’re not as pretty as the contemporaries, but they have character:

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If you live near an ocean you may still come across the odd one that washes ashore after being adrift for many years. And supposedly there are large numbers of them somewhere in the North Pacific that have been stuck going around in circular currents for decades. I know all the man-made pollution in the oceans is a tragedy, but I can’t help thinking there’s something whimsical about all those pretty glass baubles spiralling around on the waves.

Ooh I just spotted another Nautically-themed item in one of these pictures that may get its own post eventually…

Kitschen Kitsch Day 2: You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato

I have not one, but two, sets of vintage salt and pepper shakers that are shaped like tomatoes.

This is because I already owned a teapot shaped like a tomato. And a matching tomato cream and sugar set. Now that I think about it, that tomato teapot was the actual beginning of my vintage kitchenware collection. I had a dark kitchen that needed brightening up, and that red was just the ticket. I quickly found out that, like the Japanese salt and pepper shakers, tomato-shaped items were everywhere in Retro Land. It’s actually called Tomato Ware. At some point in the 20th Century making ceramic items shaped like tomatoes became a world-wide phenomenon; the Tomato era actually stretches from 1920s to the 1970s, although the bulk seem to be 40s and 50s. Tomato tea pots. Tomato salt and pepper shakers. Tomato cookie jars. Tomato jam pots. I still haven’t found an explanation why.

I never actually used the tomato teapot, however, because I couldn’t get past the thought that the tea would come out tasting like tomato juice. Yes, that is about as logical as Tomato Ware collecting. But I guess a lot of people really, really like tomatoes.

Kitschen Kitsch

I have a confession. Those tacky vintage turkey salt and pepper shakers aren’t the oddest things in my kitchen. The turkeys have company. The turkeys were, in fact, the start of what people on ebay would call a “collection”…but what others might call “temporary insanity.” You see, once I bought the tacky turkeys, it just seemed, well, sort of normal to buy these.

I was at a flea* market when my normal taste went right out the window and I somehow thought it would be cute to have a pepper shaker named “Pepe.” (*I initially typed this as “flee.” Freudian?) I’m not sure if Salte and Pepe are supposed to be Mexican or Italian. They were made in Japan, by people who had most likely never been to either Mexico or Italy. Among other things, while Pepe is usually a male name, this Pepe seems to be the girl of the pair.

Japan has long been known for its porcelain and ceramic production. High quality Noritaki china is still coveted. But on the other hand, the country also produced a bewildering array of salt and pepper shakers, figurines and other kitschy items, primarily in the ’40s and ’50s. All my vintage salt and pepper shakers come from Japan. (Yes, I said “all”.  There are more. I know.)

After buying Salte and Pepe, I was shocked to learn that one of my friends (who shall remain nameless) had a huge collection of vintage salt and pepper shakers. He explained to me that the Made in Japan items were more collectible than non-stamped or North American ones (due to the Japanese reputation for quality porcelain), and those stamped “made in Occupied Japan” were more coveted still. Japan was occupied by the U.S. and its allies from 1945 to 1952. Americans boycotted Japanese products during the war, but the post-war “Occupied Japan” labels assured Americans that part of the proceeds from items made in the country of their former enemy would go toward war reparations.

(These shakers may make a full-on appearance later.)

I’ve been trying to figure out why salt and pepper shakers became collectible. More specifically, why I temporary got caught up in it (it was a long time ago—I promise). The best I can figure is that it has something to do with the sheer variety of them. Go on ebay or any collectible site and look up “vintage salt and pepper shakers.”  Hundreds of them. All different.  It’s like hockey cards. Once you have a few that are different, it becomes an obsession to find all the others that are unique from the ones you have. There’s always another out there that’s better than the one you just got. Luckily, I managed to stop before it became interventionable.

If there’s any interest, maybe I’ll pull out the rest. We can have Kitsch Week! Yay or Nay? Will you think less of me if you see what’s really hiding in my cupboard?

Score(s)!

Speaking of musicals…I was lucky to be gifted this week with some great vintage sheet music (thanks Jesse!). This was the first one that caught my eye.

First of all, it’s Elvis! Second, this is a beautiful song. I first heard “A Fool Such as I” sung by my friend Colonel Tom who sings a lovely, traditional country interpretation of it. It was actually recorded by Hank Snow before Presley rockabillied it up. Third, it has ukulele chords! My vintage banjolele has been fixed and restrung, and is rarin’ to go.

Among the others I snagged:

  • “Unchained Melody” (1955): A beautiful tune…I didn’t know it came from a movie called Unchained. This also has ukulele chords (See? The Uke really was popular in the ‘50s.)
  • “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (1955): I don’t particularly like this song, but I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since one of my university classmates pointed out that every Emily Dickenson poem can be sung to it.
  • “Tiny Bubbles” (1966): Also, not a song I’m actually fond of, but it’s Don Ho! Right on the cover! I vaguely remember seeing Don Ho on TV, but I also have a childhood memory of seeing a drunk (or acting drunk) Dean Martin singing and hiccupping his way through this song. The sheet music that I have actually has Hawaiian lyrics as well as the English. It sounds way better as “Hua Li’l”. More ukulele!
  • “There Ought to be a Moonlight Saving Time” (1931): Fox Trot! 1930s style graphic of a mooney couple holding hands and sitting on the moon. Twoo Wuv. I really do love the music from the ‘30s, so I’m looking forward to hearing this one.
  • “Just a Cottage Small (By a Waterfall)” (1925). Never heard of it, but it’s also “with UKULELE accompaniment”. Big selling point in the ‘20s, as now. Plus, I love cottages.
  • “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (1908; this version, 1936). I am likely never to perform this song, “the official baseball song”, I’m told, even though it—yes—has ukulele chords. But this version was marketed as being from “M.G.M.’s Gay Technicolor Musical!” And the cover is graced with the disembodied heads of Esther Williams, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. I heart Gene Kelly.
  • “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”(1913). Again, never heard it before. This one is the only one without ukulele chords. But it has a great cover: A cowboy, with his horse; a waterfall (this might be a variation on the Cottage Small By a Waterfall); a lonely pining gal in a bonnet, gazing at the waterfall (thereby not noticing the handsome or creepy cowboy spying on her from afar). Plus, according to the cameo in the bottom corner, this song was made famous by a slightly crazed-looking woman named Edna Whistler, who has, sadly, fallen into obscurity. Some smart-ass has penciled in a couple of her teeth, to predictable effect. All I can find out about poor Edna is that she was a vaudeville performer, had a few minor roles on Broadway, and died in 1934…but she was apparently big enough in 1913 to be a selling feature on this sheet music.


Mrs. Malkin’s Purse

A few years ago I went in search of a vintage purse for a wedding I was attending. Hitting up my favourite haunts in Kensington Market, I decided on this little black silk-taffeta number:

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I found it in the same store where I later found my 1920s banjolele. I seem to have some kind of interesting vintage karma going on with that place.

The purse is vintage 1940s or 1950s, with a label that says “Styled by Du-val, Toronto, Canada.”  I’ve since found a few other purses online with “Styled by Du-val” labels, but their labels said either “Hong Kong” or “Japan.” I can’t find out anything about this company. Not that it matters…while I don’t know much about this find’s provinence as a vintage purse, I do know something about its previous owner.

When I got home I discovered that the small pocket in the lining was actually a double pocket, and deep in the second pocket were hidden a few surprises: a tiny clear lucite comb, two pennies (1941 American and 1951 Canadian), and two handwritten place cards from a long-ago fancy dinner, with the names of one Mrs. Malkin and her husband.

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I have a friend who’s last name is Malkin, who I hadn’t seen in a long time since he’d moved across the country. Mrs. Malkin’s place cards made me think of him. I wrote him to tell him that I may have just bought his grandmother’s purse. We don’t actually know if this Mrs. Malkin was any relation or not, but we both think it would be nifty if she was.

I think Mrs. Malkin was something of the sentimental sort. That dinner must have been special for her to keep the place cards, and it’s sweet that she kept not just hers but her husband’s as well. And the two pennies…

For some reason it never seemed that they were just random change that had fallen to the bottom of her purse, especially since they were in the inner pocket, and women would have kept their coins in a change purse. They felt like lucky pennies deliberately kept in the purse. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a lucky penny in a purse. There is a superstition that you should never give a purse or wallet as a gift without leaving a coin in it. It’s supposed to ensure that the purse will never be empty. My grandmother did this, and I still do it. Some of us also do this with purses we donate to charity, so it will be lucky for the new owner.

But here were two pennies, not one. And since the comb and place cards were still in the purse, I’m more inclined to think these were Mrs. Malkin’s lucky pennies, forgotten in the purse rather than deliberately left there. Why did Mrs. Malkin have two lucky pennies? Because I’d already found a love token made of two dimes, and two having symbolic significance for partnerships in many cultures, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to think that the two pennies somehow belonged, symbolically, with the two place cards…a penny for Mrs. Malkin and one for Mr. Malkin. Were the dates and countries of origin significant in any way? Sometimes they are, with lucky pennies.

All speculation, of course. I don’t know what Mrs. Malkin’s real story was…but it does seem like her purse is trying to tell one.

Challenge From My Younger Self

Does anyone remember puzzle rings?

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They’re just what they sound like. They’re rings, and they’re puzzles. They’re made of four intertwined metal pieces that, when assembled correctly, form a single ring. The ring stays put as long as it’s on your finger, but deconstructs when you remove it.

I had three puzzle rings (and somewhere, still do): a dainty, thin wire one; a more solid, smooth, silver one reminiscent of celtic tracery; and this big chunky one that felt kind of bad-ass. I bought this one in the Hobbies & Crafts building at the CNE. I was a wiz at assembling them, unlike some of my friends who couldn’t figure them out.

I wore them for a few years and then eventually retired them. As you can see, when I put them away I wrapped tape around the bases to hold them together. My younger self was pretty sure my older self would pull them out years hence and be too addle-brained to remember how to assemble them.

I’m thinking of throwing caution to the wind and taking the tape off. What do you think? I think I’ll take it to the polls: