Antique Employee Badges Offer a Unique Glimpse into American Industry

It seems appropriate to be posting this in honor of Labor Day, which is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. A few years ago I picked of a mixed lot of vintage and antique ephemera at a Pace Auction. I sold most of the items – which ranged from political tie tacks to celluloid pinbacks, but held onto one piece for quite a while. Pictured above, this was a well-worn, but intriguing employee photo badge of a woman, circa 1940s from the M.H.R. Company. I’ve always been drawn to vintage photographs of random people and have collected a few over the years, including daguerreotypes in beautiful tooled leather cases. I love doing research, especially in the realm of Americana and defunct industries, so this type of collectible is a perfect fit for my sensibilities. These badges offer a glimpse into yesteryear – back to a time and place in America where workers sometimes toiled long and hard hours in poor conditions. I found out that these badges are highly collectible and most of them are well out of my price range. I wonder why they are so sought after – are others as fascinated by the visual qualities and historic aspects as I am? The finest examples sell for as much as $200 – while even poor, damaged badges sell for $25 and up. Since my interest is primarily historic, I don’t need to own any to fulfill my fascination with the companies’ history, so I sold mine. Alas, it only fetched about $20.00, likely due to the obscure company. While some have the names of the employees, most are random faces and employee ID numbers of workers who have grown old and passed away. Only surviving relatives would possibly know who they are, but nevertheless, they possess an intriguing aura. Here is a selection of…

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Reflections on RISD and Providence – The Good, The Sort of Bad, and The Beautiful

A few weeks ago, a young man from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) called me with a pitch about giving money to fund scholarships. He identified himself as a sophomore printmaking major and we had quite a nice chat. Unfortunately, I could not commit to giving anything to this worthy cause, due to my current financial circumstances. His call gave me the kick in the rear end to finally write this article – one that has been ruminating in the recesses of my brain for some time. In essence, I have come full circle since RISD and a brief explanation of how I got from there to here and back is required. I have exhibited my fine art over the years, but after a divorce in 1995, I found myself pretty much responsible for raising a then 7-year-old as a single mother. While I followed a career path in the non-profit sector that I did not anticipate, I discovered that it was indeed a good fit, in lieu of making a living from my fine art. This 18-year ride took me from a communications department administrative assistant and managing editor of newsletters – to national media relations director – to director of communications at a prestigious international medical association.

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Firing of Chicago Sun-Times Photographers Evokes a Torrent of Responses … Including Mine

The announcement on Thursday, May 30 from the Chicago Sun-Times that they fired/laid off all full-time photographers immediately evoked a torrent of responses from media outlets all over the country. I cannot help but wonder what the late Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert would say about this – I think I hear him grumbling from movie heaven. Among those fired was John H. White, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who blazed a trail for black photographers in the 1970s. I had the honor of meeting him at a Prevent Blindness America charity luncheon at Neiman Marcus in 2002, where he shot a few photos for the Sun-Times. For me, this announcement evoked a torrent of personal memories that started with an appreciation of documentary photography at the tender age of 11 – nurtured by a passionate interest in history and appreciation of visually powerful moments in time. When I was 12, my dad taught me how to develop black and white photos in a makeshift darkroom in our basement. I was immediately taken with the magic of pictures developing before my eyes in the chemical trays lined up on the rickety plywood shelving my dad had rigged up.

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