Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Magic of Estate Sales

On Sunday, I had the great opportunity to see one of the best estate sales I've ever been to - it was located in Oostburg, WI (about 10 miles south of Sheboygan and 40 miles north of Milwaukee), a very quaint (read: wealthy) Dutch community that is partially nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan.  The particular house that held the sale had 110' of lakefront and beach.  It was just gorgeous.  It's for sale, if any of you care to shell out $625K (and about another $75K for redecorating)! 

And why does it need to be redecorated?  Because the couple who owned the place built it in 1955, first as their summer cottage and finally as their permanent residence upon retirement (the Gibson Girls - the company hosting the estate sale - were fonts of knowledge!).  The carpets are shag, the cabinets are that awesome pine that you see in older homes, and there's lots of paneling.  But I digress.

Upon entrance to the home, I immediately got that "ephemera high" that you all may have experienced at one time or another - this couple, who I'd guess to be in their late 80s - never threw anything away.  Nothing.  The very spacious garage/workshop was filled to the brim with their collections - pristine full newspapers from the 30s-70s; thousands of maps from their extensive (worldwide) travels; like-new brochures for paint/decorating from the late 50s; any kind of vintage sewing notion (patterns, etc.) you could dream of; tons of vintage cookbooks; antique and vintage Masonic Temple items; lots of United Nations paraphenalia; yearbooks ranging from 1938 (the couple) to 1964 (their kids, I assume); hundreds of books.....well, you get the idea.  And I went on the second-to-last day!  I can't imagine what I missed (and I try not to think about).

But the allure of estate sales goes further than the pure ephemera rush for me - it's also a chance to delve deep into strangers' lives and create a story about them.

I have no idea if this is even remotely correct, and that's not really the point, but here's my story about our couple:

Fred and Agnes Smith (not their real names), born in 1920 and 1922 respectively, met in high school.  They married in 1939, before the war.  Fred didn't enlist, as he was in college.  They had three kids - Johnny, Sally and Linda, born in 1940, 1943 and 1946.  In 1955, Fred was doing well enough at his job as a government worker in Milwaukee that he and Agnes could afford a little place on Lake Michigan and spend their Augusts there.  Agnes would sometimes take the kids herself while Fred was away on business, as he traveled extensively for his job.  He was also a Mason, which took up many nights.
Many happy memories were made at the summer home, which they knew would increase in value, so they decided to make it their permanent residence when Fred retired in 1979.  By then, they had a few grandkids, who also loved to visit Grandma and Grandpa and swim in the frigid lake.
By the late Aughts, however, it was apparent that even the minimal steps were becoming hazardous for Agnes (Fred had died back in '98).  At the age of 88, she decided, along with her children, that perhaps she should make the move to assisted living.  None of the children had much use for all of the "detritus" that their mom and dad kept all these years, so they decided to have an estate sale.

And we paperaholics are all the richer for it.  Thanks Fred and Agnes, for having the wherewithall to hold on to the important stuff that told the story of your life, however we strangers see it.

(Photo above is a small sampling of my estate sale finds - and can you believe I came away from the sale spending only $18??)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Vintage Poster Heaven!

I just had to talk about the incredible find in London - when they were remodeling the Notting Hill Underground station, they unearthed these unbelievably cool posters, which date from 1956-59.  Apparently they were in an old elevator passageway, and are not accessible to the public, according to Mike Ashworth, Design and Heritage Manager for the London Underground. 
I mean, wouldn't that be just the coolest thing?  You're just going about your day, like every other, and you suddenly realize that you've discovered a gold mine.  I would've felt like I was in a time warp!  I mean, check out how great all of the posters still look!  And they're all so colorful and have that fantastic mid-century clean-lined aesthetic.  They're so happy and fun. 
I've always loved these vintage posters - in fact, I've used some images of them in my artwork, which you can see here:


Many thanks to Grain Edit for posting this information originally and the links to the Flickr photos. Oh, and all of the photos (besides my artwork, of course) are credited to the London Underground.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cinderella Stamps

Although you may not have heard them defined as such, nearly everyone has seen a "Cinderella" stamp before - remember Easter and Christmas Seals?

I must admit - up until about three years ago, I didn't know what a Cinderella was either!  I was looking on ebay for different types of Easter Seals (mainly foreign) and that's when I kept hearing the term.  And then I kept looking - well, if you're a collector, you know where that gets you!  :D

I was amazed at all of the different type of "Cinderellas" out there!  I found a really nice lot on Etsy for really cheap, especially considering what I got (some in the lot are over 100 years old).  If you take a look to your left, you'll see some fun advertising stamps: Western States Cutlery & Mfg., McKinnon All-Steel Reels, and Matchless Light pilot ignition lighter are some of my favorites.

I think my favorite thing about these stamps is that they're totally unnecessary and only used for advertising. 

To me, this is pure design for design's sake.  If I had been a kid when these were around, I know for a fact that I would've steamed them off of the envelopes to which they were attached.  I remember doing that for the Boys Town stamps, so I certainly would've done it for these beauts!  It's a shame that we probably won't see anything like this ever again; printing is so expensive and with so many people using e-commerce (or whatever it's called this week), it just wouldn't be worth the cost.

There are other types of cinderellas as well; in fact, a cinderella is technically defined as any stamp that isn't issued by the government.  So that goes for political stamps, commemorative stamps, revenue stamps, old ration stamps - all kinds of fun stuff.

As I was doing research for this blog post, I discovered that there is a Cinderella Stamp Club in London which was founded in 1959.  Now for an ephemera geek such as myself, I think this would be a blast. I could also become a member of this club if I wanted to but it's 18 pounds a year, or about 40 bucks.  It's nice to know that it exists, though!

Below are some cards that I made with the help of some of these fantastic Cinderellas - if you happen to come across any in your searches, consider adding them to your collection!  They're really fun to work with in your art!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why we keep what we keep

I've been fortunate to do some traveling.  I've been to 26 of our lovely 50 states, and have been to the two most remote, Alaska and Hawaii.  I've been to Canada (only Ontario and B.C., though) ten times.  In college I was able to spend a month in Vienna, with side trips to Salzburg, Krems and Budapest.  And I have many, many souvenirs to show for it.

Maybe that's why I love collecting foreign invoices.  I totally understand why someone would keep these!  The invoices that I've chosen for the photo are some of my favorites, mainly because of their images, but I'm also very interested in US brands overseas.

Check out the Esso invoice!  That's a lot of color for a gasoline receipt!  I also love the Exxon tiger peeking out from the side.  It's fascinating to me that Finnish kids would have the same memories of that tiger as I do (although, to be fair, they discontinued that tiger when I was really young).  I also can appreciate the Sheraton invoice from Jerusalem and the TraveLodge from Adelaide, SA, Australia (in the group photo).  When I think of TraveLodge, I think of kitchy vintage motels on now-forgotten highways like Route 66.  Who knew that the Aussies had the same thing? 

Here's a little Chinglish for you - did you notice the "Ex chauge" misspelling on the exchange certificate?  Love that.  He got 417.13 Yuan for his $50.  And that was back in 1995!  Today, he would've gotten only $341.52.  Just goes to show you how weak our dollar is (or the strength of the Yuan!).

I also like devising stories to go with these now-forgotten souvenirs.  Were these trips for business, or pleasure?  Did these people go alone, with a tour, with their spouse or their kids?  Why did these particular places appeal to the trip-goers?  If it was recreational, did they plan these trips because of ancestry, or because they got a good deal?  Maybe the just enjoyed that particular ethnic food type, and wanted to learn more about that country.  Sometimes it's more fun when these questions aren't answered, except by me.

If this type of collection appeals to you, you can still get them for a song at various online shops.  I think the whole collection I've shown cost me less than four bucks.

Here is a collage that I made with some of my Grammie's Paris receipts - I was the fortunate recipient of all of her European souvenirs when she had to go into assisted living and rather than have them sit in a drawer somewhere, I thought I'd make art out of them, as an homage to her love of travel.  It's unfortunate that she doesn't remember any of her trips - she loved to travel so much, and she saw many corners of the globe.