Several years ago, I had to do a self-intervention and delete my eBay user ID. See, I had this thing for old cameras. (Old cameras and hockey cards, neither of which got me anything other than more things to dust and store and pack and move from apartment to apartment in my gypsy-like quest to set as few roots down as possible.) And because I had this thing for old cameras, I would buy them. And then buy them some more. And just when you thought it was done, whoops, there was another box addressed to me, nestled in the arms of the friendly UPS man.
So now I’ve stopped collecting the antiquated cameras and started collecting shoes. Six of one, half-dozen of another.
Seems that I inherited that trait from my grandfather. (The camera-buying. Not the shoe-buying. To the best of my knowledge, he wasn’t terribly into sky-high stilettos. Neither was my grandmother, really.) We’ve found two cameras like this Kodak Duaflex III (an Argoflex 75), but this is the first older camera I’ve ever seen that had flash bulbs. We found an unused roll of 120 film, too. I might take my chances and try using it. I will also hunt out and buy a new roll or two or eight before this camera disappears from the estate. Have to assure potential buyers it works, right? Right.
Or, at least, that’s what I’ll tell myself until I fall in love with it and convince my mother that it truly belongs in my collection, where it would be cherished (and infrequently dusted).
Gold star if you can figure out what these three things are for. The handles are wood, the rest is metal, and we found them mixed in with some of the things from my great-grandmother’s apartment.
The modern-day equivalents plug in and have plastic handles (but still have the metal barrels).
Give up? From left, they’re a hair crimper, and two curling irons. They’re black from being heated and re-heated in a fire so many times.
I have little use for present-day curling irons and crimpers, and only use a hairdryer in the winter so I don’t show up at work with a head full of icicle’d-up hair, but it’s when we find things like this, things that are outdated and have outlived their usefulness simply because time changes things and changes the game, I hesitate between “keep because it’s so interesting” and “get rid of it; it’s rendered useless in this modern day.” Keeping it for sentimentality’s sake doesn’t do me any good and it negates any lessons I’ve learned about being a pack-rat over the course of this clean-out, but… getting rid of it - be it selling, donating, or throwing away - seems blasphemous in some way.
This entire process continues to be an emotional challenge in new and unexpected ways.
So, last weekend was significant in that we’ve finally finished opening boxes. The basement was the last area we hit (well, that my mom is responsible for. the corner where my grandfather’s tools and manly things are is my uncle’s domain), and it was filled with dishware, kitchen utensils, pots, pans, coffee mugs, coffee pots, and more glassware. While I’ve reached my limit of vintage goodies I can adopt, what I love about all this stuff is how solid it is. You pick up one of these fry pans to level at someone, and chances are huge that if they go down, they’re not getting back up. I also love how it’s proudly stamped with “MADE IN THE USA” on the bottom. That stamp isn’t something I see very often (or can afford very often).
I don’t know that I’ll be able to share it, but my favorite box we opened was the third-to-last one, where she kept every postcard and every letter he wrote her while they were courting and he was away (army), helping (I think) to build the Alaska Bridge in western Canada.
I am a woman of few regrets, but I really wish I’d taken the time to press for more details about their pasts. I’d tried a few times, but was always shut down- either because they couldn’t remember, or because the memories brought back things they didn’t want to talk about. I’ve learned so much about them over these past few months, and now I am just saddled with questions that will never have answers.
Promotional Star-Kist scale, circa 1972.
We’ve slowed our clean-out pace a bit over the past month because the holidays just demand so much more time, but that hasn’t stopped some of the fun discoveries. Yesterday was about breaking into a lockbox that contained my great-grandmother’s birth certificate, her marriage certificates (my paternal great-grandfather died shortly after my grandfather was born, at the tender age of 25. My great-grandmother remarried shortly after), my grandfather’s certificate of baptism, my step-great-grandfather’s citizenship papers, and all other kinds of intersting historical yellowed documents. And the discovery that, oh hey, my grandfather had three first names that were never used, that no one ever called him by, and weren’t known until we opened the lockbox. We also discovered that we have no idea what the cause of death was for my paternal great-grandfather. (War? Disease? Accident?) There’s a small possibility we’ll stumble across his death certificate in my great-grandmother’s items in the basement, and because of some of the things we’ve found in the unlikeliest of places, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we did.
This is a can of coffee we found in the basement. There are no copyright dates on the can, so I can only guesstimate an age until I get a chance to do some light Googling. It’s unopened, and while I don’t think I’d brew or drink it, I think that can might be just the perfect size of awesome to hold some pens on my desk.
Look, I know that things that are all of 35 years old barely meet the requirements of having the label of “vintage” affixed as a descriptor, and I know that I should be less fascinated with those and more fascinated with say, things that are actually a piece of extinct Americana, and I certainly know I am one of the furthest things from an archeologist you’ll meet, but I cannot get over well-preserved some of the every day items we’re coming across are. And the part that fascinates me the most is that they’re so well-preserved mostly because they were forgotten about and the cupboard or cubbyhole I’ve unearthed them from became a time capsule.
Revlon lipstick, shade 574, in a metal tube. The lipstick looks like it was used maybe twice. There are no funky smells or weird-looking growths on it. I have no idea when they stopped manufacturing lipstick in metal tubes, as all I remember are solid plastic. This is a refillable tube; I have no idea if that makes a difference.
Just a glimpse of some of the things in the basement. Because my grandparents bought things like they were stocking a fall-out shelter, the basement is chock-full of little things like this. I find this kind of thing fascinating. My mother has gotten so used to my need to take pictures of finds like this that she doesn’t even roll her eyes (much) anymore.
The internet dates this at 1940-ish. I have no idea if that’s correct, but I do know there is not enough money in the world to get me to use this anywhere near my lady bits. Mostly because I am a klutz who shouldn’t have anything sharp near anything delicate, ever.
Imagine trying to buy this in your local Target, where everything is plastic and sanitized for your protection, made as cheaply as possible for the highest mark-up possible?
It’s when I try to rectify these old items with the present that my hair gets blown back the hardest.
Based on the sheer volume of curlers we’ve found (and are still finding), my grandmother liked to give herself home perms. And no home perming experience is complete without this Kenmore standing hairdryer. With a base made of solid metal, this piece easily weighs as much as your average seven-year-old.
It still works. I know I shouldn’t be surprised any more, but yet… I am.
Faux fur face veil. The top is shaped like a bow.
It’s when we find things like these that I miss the days of dressing up in Sunday’s best the most. This matches her waist-length fur coat that we found in storage upstairs. All it is missing is some cream elbow-length gloves and a double strand of pearls. And maybe a pair of wingtipped high heels…
My favorite finds of this weekend? Vintage party frocks that have come to live at my house. No pictures yet, as they are presently soaking in some Woolite in the bathtub. But when we free the dressmaker’s dummy in the basement (…yes. OH YES), I will post them. My best friend joked that between the treasures we’ve unearthed and the pictures we’ve found, I could probably -except for the shoes because we’re different sizes (she was a 9.5, I’m an 11)- replicate each outfit from the dress to the hairstyle to the accessorizing details, using the same tools and make-up compacts my grandmother used. And you know what? My friend is totally right. In other news, I will be trying that with whatever dresses are salvageable.
Anyways, the picture: this is the television my mom grew up watching. A Life magazine advertisement dates it to about 1955. It’s a Philco Custom 440. It turns on and makes sounds, but we were unable to tune it to any channels, partially because there were no rabbit ears handy, and also because there aren’t any analog channels any more. We’ve also managed to unearth the Philco Tuner/Phonograph radio they had (circa 1948), and if that baby works, I will find a way to bring it into my home, even if it means I have to sleep standing up.
A colleague mentioned that people take TVs like this and refurbish them with modern-day LCD/plasma/whatever screens. While I’d love to do this myself, I lack the financial backing, the know-how, and the time. If you or anyone you know would be interested in picking up and giving this TV a second life so it doesn’t get destroyed in an environmentally friendly way at the local dump, please let me know - xoxobertha (at) gmail.com.