Three Rules for Collecting

I’ve always been a natural collector. If I find something I like, a part of my brain immediately lights up and says “maybe you should get another one!”. It’s just natural for me to be curious about objects and enjoy having them around me. To temper my instincts, I have made a concerted effort not to let my collections get too big, or too expensive. I frequently move things to better display everything, and try to know when it is time to say goodbye. If you are a collector, I offer three simple rules I’ve followed in my decades of collecting. With these rules I’ve been able to enjoy my collections and achieve balance in my space.

A small collection of vintage items, grouped by colour.

#1 – Set a Size Limit, then Follow the “One In, One Out” Rule: When you first get excited about something it can be easy to keep acquiring, especially if that item hits your sweet spot in terms of availability and price. For me recently, that item has been vintage McCoy planters. These beauties are found all over North America, but they’re still rare enough that they’re fun to spot. The small ones sell for around $20. They are lovely to me, and I use some of them to actually grow plants, so I can convince myself they’re even useful. With so many reasons to love them, what’s the harm in buying just one more?

The harm, simply, is that eventually I have too many. Hitting a wall with collection size is expected. Collections tend to fill the available space, but there are warning signs when it’s time to stop – You won’t appreciate the ones you have as you try to find a place for another new addition. You will stop being able to display them. You will hate having to dust them. You may look at them and worry about what else you could have done with the money. At this point, you can either sell the whole collection (dramatic but effective!) or you can decide how many is enough, and keep your collection at that number.

Once you’re at your limit, I’m a fan of the “one in, one out” rule because instead of a dead end to your collecting, you will now enter a period of refinement. For instance, now instead of buying three $20 McCoy planters, I will wait to buy a much nicer one for $60. Then I get rid of one of my lesser pieces by selling it so the collection takes up the same amount of space. I’m learning as I go, and investing in pieces that are special. This evolution is how great collections are made.

Most of my McCoy planters are displayed on this antique moveable staircase. The staircase is from a nunnery in Quebec.

#2 – Display Your Collections: Want a really simple way to tell if you enjoy a collection? Look around and see if the collection is on display or shoved away in a box somewhere. There are exceptions (temporary storage issues etc), but in general, if you should have a collection you will have it displayed. You will make space. It will make you happy to see it, because it will reflect an interest or affection you currently hold.

I love to display my collections, no matter how small. I have about a dozen Tiki mugs. One day, the dream is to have a full tiki bar, but for now it’s just a little collection I keep on the book shelf that makes me smile. Learning how to attractively display your collections will make your home more interesting and personal. The golden rule of display is “like with like”. Even three similar items look better displayed together. Aim for a triangle shape in your display (larger items in the back, smaller in front). Group your little collections and put them out where you can see them. Give them some love. Don’t be embarrassed or think that something has to be expensive or “impressive” to be out. Your home is your sanctuary, and if something makes you happy put it where you can see it.

My little selection of new and vintage Tiki mugs (hello Darth Vader!)

#3 – Beware of Nostalgia and Learn When to Let Go: You’re a growing person, so don’t expect all your collections to last. Beware of nostalgia that might make you hold onto an item you no longer actually enjoy. Ask yourself if you’re just keeping something because you’ve always kept it. Or if you have good memories of collecting something (I bought this with dear old dad!) and so parting with the item feels cruel. If this is the case my advice is to shrink the collection to your absolute favourite or most meaningful pieces. I recently had to do this with china inherited from my grandmothers. I didn’t want to keep full sets of dishes, but I did carefully go through the sets to keep a small sample. Then I mounted an assortment of plates on my kitchen wall. I see these plates every day and they mean something to me. This small display is a much better use of these items than having boxes of dishes forgotten in the basement.

Once a collection is no longer making you happy, it’s okay to get rid of it. Honest. You don’t have to feel like you wasted money or time or space. It served its purpose. My mother spent years collecting a full 100 antique biscuit barrels (yes, she kept count). She loved them, but then one day she decided enough was enough. She sold all but a few of her best ones. She moved on to collecting birds for her kitchen. Learn to embrace change and say goodbye to your items when it’s time to let them go.

Sometimes collections are small and silly, like this group of china dog figurines. I displayed them with a photo of Kurt Vonnegut because he liked dogs.

It takes effort to enforce these rules, but collecting is still a great source of joy for me. It’s just how I’m wired. There is a specific excitement in a new find, and the pride of displaying that makes my space comforting to me. By thinking critically, and only keeping what I want to display, I have things I love and room to breathe. Life keeps going, change is inevitable, and the good collector knows how to go with the flow. Happy collecting!

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Vintage Halloween Beistle & Postcards

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I’m a fan of Halloween. Not so much the gross stuff but the spooky, kooky fun part. The carving pumpkins and handing out candy part. And especially the decorating part. It may come as no surprise that I have a soft spot for vintage Halloween decorations. Iconic images of black cats, pumpkins, owls and witches really speak to me during this season.

Last year I happily discovered the Vintage Beistle Halloween website. Beistle is the oldest and largest manufacturer of decorations and party goods in the United States. They’ve been producing seasonal decorations since 1900. Their older designs are mostly 3 dimensional “fan” decor, garland, and flat (sometimes jointed) illustrations. On their website you can buy reproductions of some of their best early images. I bought a set of these 1950s cat themed cutouts:

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Aren’t they great? Is the witch really small or is the cat really big? I love the mix of fun and fantasy in these old designs. Each cutout is about 9 inches long and on heavy card stock. I just prop them up on a book shelf and they make a lovely nostalgic display.

You don’t even have to buy reproductions to get Beistle products however. New stock is available from the company every year, and sometimes older stock gets mixed in with new designs. I found these large cutouts at one of those pop up Halloween stores a few years ago. They’re dated 1986 and I’m pretty sure I had the exact same ones in my grade school classrooms! Does anyone else remember that flaming skull?

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Beistle and other types of paper decorations are considered “ephemera” meaning they’re produced to be used for only a short time and then thrown out. They are inexpensive to buy and consequently stored without much care. Because of their temporary nature, antique and vintage paper decorations are hard to find in good condition. Rare designs are highly sought after and prized by collectors.

One thing I love about collecting paper ephemera is the easy storage. Being able to store decorations in envelopes is perfect for small living spaces. Over the years I’ve been tempted to buy larger items like jack-o-lanterns but I haven’t made the jump yet.

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Vintage Halloween decorations at Antique World

Along the same lines, antique and vintage postcards can provide a great variety of spooky images for just a little cost and space. Vintage Halloween postcards can be very strange (lots of pumpkin heads and devils), but they can also be surprisingly funny and sweet. Natural elements like animals and landscapes dominate, with less truly dark or morbid imagery. Quirky little rhymes are also common:

Antique and vintage Halloween decorations celebrate a time when Halloween was a night for a little danger but a lot of fun. Who wants gross when you can have mischievous cats and jolly pumpkins? Weird Halloween is the best Halloween, and the best Halloween is vintage.

Vernonware History and Marks

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I am a collector of Vernonware plaid dinnerware dishes. These bright, cheerful vintage pieces are our day to day dish set, and over the years I’ve learned a few things about the company. Although I’ve already written about my Vernonware, I received the following question from a reader. I thought it was a great jumping off point for further discussion on the marks and history of Vernon Kilns:

Hi! I inherited a Mid-Century house with furnishings, and found Vernonware that I remember using as a child in the 60’s. It is the Homespun pattern. The mark on the back has “Vernonware” in the ribbon, but I have seen some online that say “Homespun” in the ribbon. Is one Vernonware and the other Vernonware by Metlox?

Thanks for your question! Before I answer, let me just say that I am not a definitive expert on marks. I invite anyone who has something to add to please leave a comment. I’ve learned so much from the visitors to my blog! The comments have helped fill in a lot of history, and in turn help us all become better collectors.

So, with that caveat let me give you my opinion. I am almost certain that both variations on the mark originate with Vernonware and not with the later reissued Metlox line. I base this opinion on three things. Number one, I’ve seen Metlox Vernonware marks in books and online, and they have always contained the word “Metlox” in the mark. Number two, I have a small collection of Homespun that I believe dates to the 1940s. I inspected my pieces and even this small group alternated between saying “Vernonware” and “Homespun” in the banner. Number three, marks for Vernonware (and California pottery in general) are notoriously varied so it makes sense that you would see these differences among pieces.

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My collection of Vernonware “Homespun” pattern

That’s my short answer, but to further understand Vernonware marks we should start with a brief history of the company. Vernon Kilns was a creative studio that produced artistic as well as utilitarian pieces, and they used a wide variety of marks (or backstamps) over the years.  Some marks on their dinnerware contained the banner but some did not. Some had marks with no mention of Vernon Kilns, and some Vernonware isn’t marked at all! Sometimes, the only way to identify Vernonware is by the shape, style, or other feature.

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A few marks found on plaid Vernonware. The mark on left is very uncommon, and most plaids had some variation of the “ribbon” mark on right.

What we came to know as Vernonware started as a company called “Poxon China”. Poxon China was founded in 1912 by a young English ceramist named George J.W. Poxon in the city of Vernon, California. Mr. Poxon must have had clay in his blood because that “W” in his name stood for Wade. Wade as in the famous Wade English pottery. Marks from 1912 – 1931 will usually either say “Poxon China” or “Vernon China”.

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Early Veron Kilns, via the book “Collectible Vernon Kilns”

In 1931, the company changed ownership to Faye G. Bennison, and under his leadership the company flourished and was now officially called “Vernon Kilns”. Marks from 1931 to 1958 can vary in actual wording, but most included the words “Vernon Potteries” “Vernonware” or “Vernon Kilns”. Many marks also included the name of the pattern, “California” and sometimes “Made in U.S.A”. Vernon Kilns employed some wonderful designers for their art ware (usually decorative pieces like figures and vases) and these may have a mark that includes the artist’s name. Many of these specialty marks will also say Vernon Kilns, although it is important to note that some do not.

Sadly, after many successful years Vernon Kilns stopped production in 1958. Soon after Metlox Pottery, from nearby Manhattan Beach California, bought their molds and after modifying some shapes, produced some of the Vernonware designs for a short time. The marks I have seen from this relatively small run say “Vernonware by Metlox” on the mark.

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The Vernon Kilns Staff, 1937. Photo via the book “California Pottery”

The takeaway from this little history lesson? Vernonware marks are inconsistent and changed many times through the years. To further complicate things, there were marks that made no mention of Vernon, and authentic pieces that had no marks of any kind. There is also evidence that Vernon Kilns produced pottery for other companies before they closed production in 1958. These pieces are identified by shape because the patterns and marks are not identified with Vernon Kilns at all.

Collectors often prize the “hidden gems” more than the obvious suspects. Serious collectors of Vernonware as well as other California pottery learn to identify by shape, pattern and quality as much as mark. If you are interested in improving your identification skills, I recommend adding the following books to your reference library. I have certainly found them to be useful and interesting. Happy collecting!

Collectible Vernon Kilns by Maxine Feek Nelson (Second Edition) – The most comprehensive identification and value guide I’ve found. It contains the history of the company, advertisements, and photographs of all the various lines and specialty items. A great reference for the Vernon Kilns collector.

California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism by Bill Stern – As the title suggests, this book takes a larger look at all the major California potteries and trends. This is a written history of California pottery, interspersed with beautiful photographs of exemplary work.

Antique Signs for The Kitchen

antiquesigncollageKitchens are funny rooms. They’re designed for utility, but they’re also given a special place as the “heart” of the home. They’re hospitable spaces, so it makes sense that even modern kitchens benefit from a lived-in element. Decorators have been injecting rustic details like corbels and chalk boards into kitchen design for a while, but I think one of the most interesting objects you can add to your kitchen is an antique or vintage sign.

The best old signs to use in the kitchen relate directly to food. It’s a little on the nose but it works! Consider a painted wood sign. Collectivator seller Colin Paul Antiques has hand painted signs from a farmer’s fruit stand. One that sold quickly simply said “Delicious” – referring to the type of apple – but what a perfectly suited word for the kitchen!

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Signs saying “Carrots” and “Sauerkraut” are still available.

Also for sale are a series of handmade cursive script signs from a 1960s era grocery store. The font is mid century vintage, and with an assortment of words you can find something that really suits your taste (see what I did there?). Depending on your style you can find wood signs that work in vintage, country, or rustic “shabby chic” styled kitchens.

While wood signs have always been popular, they were not very durable for outdoor use. By the end of the 19th century, signs started being mass produced in full colour porcelain and tin. Porcelain and tin signs are associated with national brands but they were also produced for smaller, local companies. Bisback Antiques, for instance, is offering a great 1950s ROE Feeds tin sign. Tin signs often have vibrant graphics that really stand out on a wall, not to mention their nostalgic appeal.dscn1058

 

One thing to note with wood and tin signs is the proliferation of reproductions. Homey “family” messages on faux aged wood and reprinted tin signs are in decor shops everywhere. In general, these signs are sold as new and I don’t really have a problem with them, but they usually strike me as a poor imitation. I still think it’s worth the effort and money to buy the real thing. Old signs have a story. They are cultural and commercial artifacts. I also find the chips in the paint, the dents in the tin, and even the marks from where the sign was mounted add to the visual appeal.

Now say you want to have an authentic sign, but you want to start at a lower price point. In this case, a great thing to look for is antique and vintage shipping crate labels. Sometimes they will be framed, but often they will not. Unlike the unique painted wood signs, shipping labels were mass printed. The extras you find still have vibrant images of landscapes and appetizing produce that work beautifully in a kitchen. They are a fairly common item and usually cost only between $10 – $100.daisymills

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Daisy Mills” and “Surety Apples” labels for sale.

I bought a “Zenith” shipping label at the Pickering Markets for $20. I love the apple and how it represents a Canadian company. My friend found framed shipping labels at a local group shop for similar prices. There are so many labels out there that can really add interest to your kitchen without breaking the bank. zenithapples

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Whether the sign is on wood, tin or paper, as with any collectible there is room to grow in rarity and price. Signs can truly be works of art. They can be one of a kind. In the upper end, antique signs can easily cost thousands of dollars. Take a look at this gorgeous 1920s general store sign from J.C. Miller Antiques . It ticks all the boxes – colour, content, and beautifully weathered age. gstoreantiquesignVintage and antique signs are sought after by decorators looking for that one amazing piece, or collectors who have a space on the wall (and isn’t there always room for just one more?). With a little effort, you can find an a sign that speaks to you. Whatever your style or budget, old signs and kitchens are a match made in heaven.

The Roadshow Antiques South Market

collectivatorrasouthThis summer we took a sunny drive to nearby Pickering Markets for the first time. This large building is situated just east of Toronto off highway 401, and encompasses a farmer’s market, flea market, food court and antique market. There’s plenty of free parking and multiple entrances so it’s easy to navigate. We didn’t spend much time in the flea market but headed straight to the antique section that anchors one end of the building. This is home to the Roadshow Antiques South location. It’s a smaller sister market to the Roadshow Antiques North market in Innisfil Ontario. I’ve never been to the other location, but based on the website it appears quite similar.

The Roadshow Antiques market is sectioned off into aisles and most of the booths are filled with items. I’d say only 5 – 10% of the booths were either unoccupied or very under stocked. The staff were friendly and I had a few people ask me if I needed help finding anything. It was also easy to simply roam the booths without feeling watched or rushed. For convenience the front cash has cubbies so they can hold your items while you browse.

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In terms of general quality of stock, I’d say it’s a mixed bag. I had no problem finding cool vintage items at fair prices, and a truly great selection of Pez (more on that later). However if you’re looking for strictly older antiques or furniture you may be disappointed. This market weighs more towards collectibles and nostalgia of vintage (or newer) age. There were a few booths featuring vintage jewelry and fashion accessories, toys and advertising. Some dealers specialized in popular collectibles like cameras and records. There was some good antique and vintage furniture scattered throughout, but the emphasis was on smalls.

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The Roadshow Antiques market is not going to wow you with every booth, but with over 150 dealers it has something for almost everyone. If you’re looking for classic collectible items like bottles, tins or china you’re in luck. Of particular interest to me were a few stalls full of classic vintage kitchenware. There was diner styled plates, glasses, cake stands, and Pyrex at good prices. I even found a small Tiki display and picked up a new mug for my collection. Speaking of Tiki, if you’re the type of person who finds kitcsh irresistible, there were plenty of “bad art” paintings, cutesy 1950s figurines and odd decor to catch your eye.

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Finally, as I mentioned above, there was Pez. So much Pez. I was in the last aisle of the market, ready to pay and leave, when I turned to see a towering Peter Pez display filled with older dispensers. I literally gasped like a Southern lady with the vapors. If you’re a Pez collector this is a GREAT place to go. The Pez dealer, Darlene, was there and we had a lovely conversation about her collection (some of which can be found on her website Pezopedia). She also sells Lego minifigs, Hot Wheel cars and other collectible toys.

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In the end, I think most people would enjoy checking out the deals at the Roadshow Antiques market. Many of the booths had sales on all regularly priced items, and I imagine stock gets replenished quite often. The rest of the mall offers a food court (the Italian and Mexican food was good), a large section of discounted toiletries and clothes, as well as a great British booth with cheap tea and crisps. We enjoyed spending a few hours comfortably browsing and we left with a bag of interesting items. I look forward to visiting the Pickering Markets again.

Midsummer Antique and Vintage Show

It’s hard to believe we’re already almost through August, but before summer ends I wanted to offer some thoughts and coverage of the Midsummer Antique and Vintage Show in Orillia, Ontario. The show was on July 26th – one day only – and it was the fist annual show in this location from Gadsden promotions. From what I saw, this is a show that should be back for years to come. I certainly enjoyed my walk around the grounds.

The Midsummer Antique Show in Orillia

Orillia Ontario is a few hours north of Toronto and the drive is pretty easy (and scenic) along the highways. The show was at the Orillia Fairgrounds, and we pulled up to the show field at around 11:00am.  There was tonnes of field parking, rows of outdoor booths, an open area for the food trucks, and a building with more dealers, a snack bar, and washrooms. All in all, the show was a nice manageable size with around 70 dealers. There weren’t many places to sit, but the building and tents did offer a reprieve from the sun. There was a lot of space between aisles and sections so you could move at your own pace.

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When we arrived in the late morning there was a busy feel to the place. Lots of people walking the aisles and having those intense, quiet conversations about potential purchases. I can’t walk onto a field show without getting flashbacks from my childhood. I remember driving out with my parents while the sun was still down, arriving at a field still damp with dew, setting up, and starting a long and often very hot day. I wasn’t buying or selling in those days, of course, but I know from experience that these shows are hard work. It’s always gratifying to see crowds and know the sellers have a good chance at sales.

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As far as stock was concerned, the Orillia show had a fair selection of large furniture, primitives and art, with more selection in vintage collectibles, antique smalls, and textiles. The quality was solid across all stock types. It was a good mix for the general antique or vintage enthusiast. Some dealers were very specialized so you could find, say, a booth full of pressed glass or postcards, but most dealers had mixed offerings in their particular style. If you were looking for something to catch your eye, you could probably find it on that field.

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Hello handsome!

So after all that, did I find something to buy? You bet! I actually found too much to buy. I have a soft spot for vintage McCoy planters and I found multiple dealers with McCoy I just had to bring home. There were also a few antique smalls (including a set of lawn bowling bowls for Anson), but our most exciting purchase was a metal table with four chairs. We have a small backyard so we can’t do large outdoor furniture. We both really liked the size and the style of the set on first look. I was immediately drawn to curved legs, and I liked that the metal would be easy to maintain and store over the winter. All in all, I think it’s quite a charming little set and I’m happy we pulled the trigger on a more expensive purchase. I’m also very happy that the show organizers provided someone to move the table and load it into our Nissan Versa. Very appreciated help!

Our new backyard set! Love those curved legs and pedestal :)

Our new backyard set!

The Midsummer show was a success for me as a buyer, and for me as a Canadian looking to spend a precious summer day outside. You can’t beat looking at interesting items under sunny skies (bring a hat though, that sun is hot). I hope we can make the trip up to Orillia next year. This is a great addition to the summer show calendar.

The Old Book and Paper Show

On Sunday, March 29th I had the pleasure of attending The Old Book & Paper Show. Billed as Toronto’s biggest one day “vintage print-fest”, this show is dedicated exclusively to books, postcards, posters, photographs and all types of old ephemera. It takes place twice a year (March and November) in an interesting part of the city along St. Clair west.

Artscape Wychwood Barns

The show is set up in a long hallway in the Wychwood Barns building (originally a streetcar repair barn from the 1910s). Tall ceilings and bright windows flood the space with light. We arrived about a half hour after the show opened at 10am, and the room was packed. If there is something in particular you are looking for, you should get there early. One seller told me the serious collectors wait outside to enter as soon as the doors open. If you’re more of a curious looky-loo, you might find it easier to browse a little later when the crowd dies down.

Interior Artscape Wychwood Barns

When we first entered I didn’t think it would take too long to see all the booths but we ended up staying for almost three hours. What I didn’t realize was just how many individual items were crammed into every square inch of space! Vintage advertisements, postcards and magazines filled file boxes. These were often organized by topic but once you started it was easy to keep flipping through. Then there were the art prints and large format photographs ready for framing. Historical images of Toronto, Canada and the world. Postcards of tropical paradises. Vintage fashion magazines and pulp fiction novels. Rare and valuable first edition books alongside travel brochures, sports cards and comics. The show is very well named because literally everything old and paper was represented.

Interior Wychwood Barns

Vintage paper ephemera

Boxes of vintage postcards

Antique and vintage photographs

As you may expect in a professional show like this, the dealers had their specialties and knew their stock. If you had a specific item you were looking for they could always help. If you were just interested in a topic or time period they could also steer you in the right direction. Most were also willing to cut a price on multiple purchases, and I found the prices on the whole quite reasonable.

A booth at the show
Being the nerd that I am, I made a bee line to some boxes of mid century “Amazing Stories” and sci-fi pulp. I was just as interested in these books for their kitchy covers as for the stories. $5 bought me a paperback with a title story called “The Girl Who Hated Air”. Not a very promising read, but I think the astronaut cover is worth the money. I also spent time at the postcard sellers finding some more cheerful Alfred Mainzer cat postcards.

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Booth with magazines

Anson found a few sets of small black and white photos of Niagara Falls and Stanley Park in Vancouver. These little sets were sold to tourists in the 1940s and 1950s as additional photos to use in home albums. They were sort of the precursor to the postcard books you can buy today, but higher quality. The photos are crisp and clear and often well composed. They are quite charming and historical mementos of Canada’s natural beauty.

Vintage tourist photos of Stanley Park

Our purchses from the show

In the end we had a bag full of curiosities, books, photographs and postcards. I doubt we spent over $100 but we found some great little gems that will find a place in our home. I saw many serious collectors at the show, but not too many younger casual buyers. This is a shame. Gift stores sell reproduction images that cash in on the vintage charm of old ads, or the artistic appeal of black and white photography. Here was a place to buy all of that, and more, in an authentic form. There was also a great selection of books on specific and hard to find topics in art, music and history. From high brow to low brow, and all the prices between the two, there was truly something for everyone. I look forward to visiting the show again in the fall.

Graceland

Graceland Living RoomI’ve been back in Toronto for a while now, but I still had to share the photos and impressions I got from visiting Graceland. Yes – Memphis Tennessee, home of Elvis Presley Graceland. I’m not going to discuss his music, his legend, or his death. I just want to talk about his house and specifically the interior design. Graceland is like a 1970s fever dream of shag carpet, monkey statues and indoor waterfalls. I loved it.

Elvis (along with his girlfriends and family) really went for it in home decor. They had money to spend and they spent it. Ridiculously. But even with the white carpets and mirrored walls there is a coziness to Graceland. There’s hospitality in Graceland, and there is definitely fun in Graceland. You can imagine a little Lisa Marie running down the stairs to the basement rec room, or out to the stables to ride her pony. It’s a slice of perfectly preserved American dream circa 1977. If you are interested in vintage decor or kitsch and you find yourself in Tennessee you need to visit.

Let’s take a look!

GLext1The exterior.  Very symmetrical and pleasant. Looks like a dollhouse. Note the smaller size of the home. It’s a mansion, sure, but not a monster home like so many nowadays. There is a charming scale to the interior you might not expect.

Graceland living roomThe first room to the right of the front door is the living room (also pictured at the top of this post with those amazing peacock windows). This couch was something like twelve feet long. White shag carpet, white couch, white TV. This wasn’t the place you plopped down with a glass of red wine. This was fancy guest space. Of all the rooms I saw in Graceland this was the most dramatic and feminine. It was completely impractical and I liked it.

Graceland dining roomThere were a lot of “antiqued” mirrors in Graceland, like the dining room table surface. Patterned mirrors are actually making a comeback. Elvis remains a trend setter!

Graceland KitchenThe Graceland kitchen. As I said in my post about this fabulous vintage design book, you can tell that people did drugs in the 1970s because they put carpeting in their kitchens. Fun fact – the kitchen wasn’t open to the public until 1995, because the last resident of Graceland, Elvis’ aunt Delta, used it until her death in 1993.

Graceland basement rec roomThe basement TV room. All yellow and black and white. The lightening bolt was a symbol Elvis loved and used late in his career. The monkey statue was unexplained but obviously horrifying. Anyone need a pillow?

GLrr2The other side of the TV room showcasing three TVs so Elvis could watch all three (at the time) national networks. And no, this is not where Elvis pulled out a gun and shot out a TV because it had Robert Goulet on it. That happened in Vegas (of course). Not pictured is a wet bar on the other side of the room decorated with Murano glass clowns.

Graceland pool roomThe Billiards room! I swear my camera could not focus properly on this room. It could be because the furniture was wearing wall camouflage.

GLptr1Why did we ever stop doing this to our ceilings? My flat white ceiling looks so boring now.

GLportrait2Why hello hot young Elvis. I like the mirror cutout (notice the “antiqued” effect) that follows the line of the staircase. I love the pirate shirt.

GLjr3Do you like Tiki? Do you like wood tones mixed with darker wood tones? Then let me introduce you to the FABULOUS Jungle Room. This is what I’m going to be aiming for as I collect my tiki stuff. One day I’ll get there.

GLcouchjrThe term “lurid kitch” gets thrown around so often, it starts to lose meaning. Then you see a Polynesian inspired, fake fur covered couch with dragon arms and you understand.

GLjr1That brick wall with the red light? Fountain. That green shag carpet? All over the ceiling. What’s under the window just out of frame? More monkey statues. Apparently this room was decorated by Elvis after an “epic shopping spree”. VERY EPIC.

GLext2Back outside. The stables and rolling hills were behind me and this was the view of the back of the house. Graceland had won us over. By this point my husband and I felt our three hour drive from Nashville was worth it. Later we would go the the historic Sun Studio and be even happier we made the trip. Don’t miss either destination if you’re in Memphis.

There is a lot more to Graceland I didn’t cover. A few random photos:

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To paraphrase the Paul Simon song, for reasons I can’t explain there was some part of me that wanted to see Graceland. And I am very happy I did.

A Brief History of Tiki

Vintage Postcard of Don the Beachcomber's

Summer is in full swing around here (you’re ignoring those “back to school” commercials right? Good). The tropical climate always makes me think of the bamboo bars and Polynesian themed decor of Tiki. Tiki today is sometimes confused with inflatable palm trees and plastic coconuts, but this is not real Tiki. Real Tiki isn’t plastic, and real Tiki is vintage. Technically a sub-set of the Modernest movement (lasting from the 1930s to the 1970s), Tiki was more than a style – it was a uniquely American pop culture form. It can be found in food, clothing, music and architecture of the mid 20th century. Tiki has a history, and it can be serious stuff for the vintage collector.

Tiki culture as we know it began in 1934 with the opening of Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood (that’s a postcard image of the dining room above). A world traveller, Don took elements of real South Pacific locations – Tiki statues, lush tropical vegetation, bamboo furniture – and created a fantasy of simplified tropical splendour. It was not authentic of any one place or society, so it became known as “Tiki”. Three years later, Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, adopted a similar Tiki theme for his restaurant in Oakland California. Born of the restaurant industry, Tiki was originally symbolized by dark wood toned decor, Asian (usually Cantonese) inspired food and an escalating competition for extravagant rum based drinks.

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Tiki culture spread inland from California and was fuelled by an interest in travel. When soldiers returned home from WW II, they brought stories and souvenirs from the South Pacific. In the 1940s and 1950s, the expanding middle class could afford trips to far away destinations. For the first time, suburbanites were looking at places like Tahiti and planning their next vacation under the sun. Popular books and movies of the time featured exotic beaches and locations. Even the possibility of Hawaiian statehood drove interest in the tropical lifestyle, and Americans fell in love with their romanticized version of a “Tiki” culture.

Thus Tiki was more than masks and rattan furniture; it was a byproduct of American wealth and growth in the mid twentieth century. At its height of popularity, Tiki architectural form (A line roofs, wood panelling, interior gardens) cropped up on all types of buildings – churches, shops, hotels, even tract row housing. Is it any wonder that once Hawaii did finally become a state in 1959 Tiki had begun to wear out its welcome? As is always the case, kids didn’t appreciate the same “square” things their parents enjoyed. Tiki began to be seen as a symbol of decadence and cultural ignorance. As the 1960s progressed the younger generation rejected Tiki and by the 1980s almost all the biggest and best examples of Tiki style had been replaced.

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We are currently experiencing a resurgence of Tiki culture, thanks in part to our interest (finally!) in fancy cocktails, but it begs the question: What does Tiki mean now? Tiki was always a form of cultural appropriation. A real “tiki” for instance, is a type of wooden carving representing the first man. The Maori used tiki statues to mark sacred land. Tiki culture used those same forms to hold fruity drinks. Tiki was an invention to bring in business, without deep understanding of the societies it represented. On the other hand, Tiki was also always a fantasy. It was a hodge-podge of influences, put together to resemble a tropical dream. I’m not an expert (I wasn’t even born until after Tiki stopped being cool) but it’s easy to believe that in the confines of 1950s America people wanted an escape. Not everyone could afford to travel, but most could afford a Singapore Sling in a bamboo covered bar. It was a version of paradise everyone could reach, and it still is today. It’s up to you, but I prefer to remember and enjoy Tiki in this context.

I’m new to collecting, but here are some of the pieces in my vintage Tiki barware:

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If you want to put a little Tiki into your home, you can easily start small. Vintage tiki barware, artwork and postcards can be found online and in shops. Tiki mugs (ceramic and sometimes branded like mine from the “Hawaiin Inn”) were often sold as souvenirs and are probably the most popular type of Tiki collectible. If you want to enjoy the full Tiki experience, Tiki bars are popping up once again in urban centres, including here in Toronto. While some complain that the modern revival of Tiki isn’t “primitive” enough, I personally don’t mind a little glamour with my Mai Tais. For me, Tiki is about being in a fantasy tropical paradise, even if it’s the middle of winter and there’s no beach in sight. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play some Yma Sumac, mix up something with rum, and pretend my backyard is a white sand beach.

As an amateur fan of Tiki, I found the following sites really helpful:

Tiki Central – Forums with everything Tiki. These people know A LOT about tiki culture.
Modernist Architecture: Tiki Modern
– Amazing photographs of Tiki architecture.
Tiki Culture – Well written dissection of Tiki culture in the past and today. Also has a handy “this is NOT Tiki” list.
Behind the Scenes at the Enchanted Tiki Room (youtube video) – A short behind the scenes look at the room of computers needed to make those audio-animatronic birds sing, shot when the attraction first opened. One guy in the comments section calls the Tiki Room an “insidious early 60s nightmare”, so there’s also that.

The Leslieville Flea

Last Sunday was a lovely early fall day – perfect for shunning indoor chores and going for a stroll. We decided to check out a small vintage show near where we live – the Leslieville Flea. Leslieville is a hip neighbourhood along Queen street in Toronto, full of funky businesses and some of our favourite restaurants. The Leslieville Flea is open 10am – 4pm, on the 3rd Sunday of every month from June to October.

The Leslieville Flea

The Leslieville Flea operates behind The Duke.

I was curious about “the flea” (not sure if that’s the official nickname but it sounds cool) because it represents a growing movement in the whole antiques industry – what I call the melting pot vintage space. In these usually urban spaces the emphasis is on a style rather than traditional definitions of antiques or vintage. It’s a place where mass produced mid century design is sold alongside rustic antiques, and salvaged items can be mixed with brand new artisan crafts. There are clothing dealers and nostalgia items. There is glorious glorious kitsch. It’s a place I think many new collectors feel comfortable in because it’s reasonably priced ($15 – $50 for many items) and the sellers are friendly. It is in variety similar to a normal flea market but taken up many notches on the “ratio of stuff I actually want to buy” scale. You will probably not find early painted 19th century furniture, but you also won’t see boxes of random tupperware lids.

We had a great time touring the three rows of booths and looking at the stock.  Although not a large show, we saw everything from classic Canadiana like antique snowshoes, to 1980s toys, to large pieces of furniture like vintage Canada Post mail sorters (displayed as a possible wine rack). You could spend a lot of money on high quality collectibles or a little money on something easy to carry home. Some of it felt like it had a “hipster markup” on the price, but most things were very reasonable. The dealers were happy to tell you about the items, and honest enough to admit when they didn’t know something. Most importantly, we found a bunch of stuff to buy! The trip was a complete success and I would gladly visit again.

The dealers were also very social media savvy and encouraged me to take photographs, so here be a bunch of pictures!

vintage fan

Anson is about to grab that vintage fan from Coco & Bear. It still works! I love how the design makes absolutely no attempt to stop wayward fingers from whirling blades.

Bakelite

A gorgeous selection of Bakelite from Lucky Patina. They also sell vintage brass jewelry.

Chinese Checkers Board

Anson finds a 1950s Chinese Checkers board. Is this the start of a new collection?

Vintage Pennants

Vintage felt pennants from Bragg & Bee. I had to buy that one on top.

buttons

Put a bird on it. A bowlful of cute and kitschy buttons!

clothes

A good selection of vintage clothes for the vintage clothes horse (or human) from MaPtiteChouette

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I’m not sure what that wheel does, but it looks exciting.

Custom signs

Signs made out of reclaimed lumber and licence plates available from Fair Judy’s.

Terrariums

Beautiful terrariums from crown flora studio

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With all my purchases and ready to head home.

Special “not so fast!” coda: We bought a few things I didn’t photograph until later:

terrarium and jars

A bit of beach in a bottle. Blue tinted Crown jars for a friend.

Kitschy mushroom needlepoint

My kitschy toadstool needlepoint. The frame is good, and the mushrooms are very mushroomy. A small piece to inject some cozy into a corner of the house.

Arcade marquees

Plexiglass Marquees from old “Growl” and “Circus Charlie” arcade machines. Cool things to put on a wall and way easier to collect and display than the actual machines.

Growl Marquee

I picked out this Growl marquee based purely on the image. The lions and text are great. Apparently the game’s plot is about a man saving wild animals from evil poachers. A very special added bonus is that it looks like the hero isn’t wearing pants.

Until next time, Leslieville!