I recently found a 1960 wholesale catalog from First Distributors at 4204 W. North Ave, Chicago at a garage sale. I have no idea how long they were in business, but I became fascinated with the pictures and ads in this quaint catalog. They sold practically everything and also had a showroom! It’s hard to tell from the catalog whether anyone could buy wholesale from First Distributors or whether it was intended for retailers – this is not explicitly stated. The catalog is reminiscent of Sears and Wards vintage catalogs, with less clothing and the added feature of wholesale pricing. They sold everything from lawn mowers to patio furniture, sporting goods to humidifiers, toys to scuba equipment, tires, jewelry, vitamins specifically for teenagers, lingerie, clothes, and yes, even the kitchen sink. In this catalog, they offered two nifty all-in-one refrigerator, range, and sink models – a great solution for tiny apartments! I thought it would be intriguing to select a few products from this catalog, circa 1960 and see how they compare to modern products, circa 2017.
As a lifelong lover of history and unique vintage goods, I often write about the past. On occasion, I discuss and analyze unusual objects that strike my fancy visually. The idea of interviewing a vintage shop owner never crossed my mind until I met the remarkable Carlos Pascoll, owner of Vintage Underground. The first Vintage Underground opened in 2007 at 1834 W. North Ave. in a 3,500 sq. foot basement space. I cannot speak firsthand about that location, however, the current store at 1507 N. Milwaukee Ave. is a fantasy come true. I was surrounded by so many beautiful, eclectic treasures I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! Trust me – you won’t find a more impressive, lovingly curated collection of vintage goodies anywhere. The spacious shop is filled with an amazing array of red-carpet worthy jewelry, as well as vintage cameras, hats, purses, clothing and unusual artwork. A big thank you to Carlos and Ellen Sax, Vintage Underground manager and partner extraordinaire for doing this interview.
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…
I consider myself an eBay pioneer, with a seller account going back to the e-commerce Stone Age – or January 1997, to be precise. In the beginning, eBay was a fantastic place to sell genuine antiques with provenance and vintage collectibles like footless Pez. In the last decade or so, things have drastically changed as the massive marketplace has become flooded with fake designer purses, huge lots of genuine Gillette blades that fell off a truck (wink-wink), and countless other new merchandise. While vintage and antique merchandise still can sell, it is a spin of the roulette wheel compared to the early days – with more than 700 million items listed on any given day. I have experienced my share of non-paying bidders, kooks, and insults and so have family members – providing amusement and provoking more than a few f-bombs. I have often wondered if people are compulsive bidders in the same way others are compulsive gamblers. My faith in humanity was restored about 11 years ago when I heard from the sister of a buyer who never paid for an antique purse. I’ve heard every story in the book, but this one was heartwarming and true. The buyer had been hit by a car and was in intensive care for two months. She was slowly recovering, and finally cognizant enough to tell her sister about outstanding commitments. It astonished me that despite facing rehab and what had to be horrific hospital bills, she cared enough to tell her sister to pay off eBay sellers!
My love of jewels, cabochons, beads, gemstones, rhinestones, vintage jewelry and other baubles goes way back to my early childhood. So it was with great anticipation and near glee, when I stumbled upon a terrific article heralding a wonderful hidden treasure trove of such things in NYC. The 17 Apart article prepared me to some degree, but when my friend Barb and I actually ventured into CJS Sales last month, we were dumbstruck. This was a dream come true for me – reminding me of my youth, but on a much grander scale. When my younger sister Janet and I were very little – probably 3 and 8 respectively, we had a secret stash of jewels in a little cardboard jigsaw puzzle box. We carried this beloved stash on outings, including when our mom traded in her massive light blue Chevy station wagon for a new car. Much to my dismay – Janet was really too young to panic – after we drove out in our new vehicle, I realized it had been left behind, hidden under the seat. Luckily, we were able to reclaim it and we had this box for at least another 5 years, adding to its content here and there.
It’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. That is what one of the many intriguing characters I met in NYC during my 10-day trip said about Chicago. I guess I feel the same way about NYC, but I have to say, it is easier to engage in discussion with people in the Big Apple. Everybody wants to tell you his or her story. This makes for great conversation and good memories, but is ever so fleeting. You could be talking to somebody really interesting on the subway … and a few seconds later, poof – they are gone without even a goodbye. John and Alfred How delighted I was upon returning from a day uptown on the first Monday of my stay, when my daughter said, “There’s John Lithgow with some other guy walking down the street in our direction.” Of course she always sees celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, who goes to her health club, but for me this was a treat. Turns out they were shooting scenes for Love is Strange starring Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei, who unfortunately was not in these scenes. This shoot literally took place half a block away from my daughter’s apartment. After we went back to her apartment, I dropped off my stuff and went back out to shoot pictures with the other gawkers gathered on Seventh Avenue. The actors seemed bemused by all of this and I got some good shots.
Jeff and I really got our fill of auctions a month ago when we attended a Pace Auction in Des Plaines – arriving at 10:30 and staying the entire day until every last lot was sold around 4:00 pm. I have been going to Pace Auctions since 1987 when I attended an auction they were conducting for an antique store going out of business on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I still have the pine dresser I purchased at that auction – it was a bit of a fixer upper but has served me well. Once upon a time, Pace held auctions every Monday night, but haven’t done so for years and now periodically have auctions on Saturdays. Jeff’s best Pace Auction tale goes back to 1999 when I took him to an auction and he purchased a huge lot of Star Trek Mego figures for just $45.00 and sold them for nearly $900.00 on eBay! When you are bidding, you have to factor in the 15 percent buyer’s premium and sales tax on top of the winning bid. An odd thing about auctions is that you have to be careful with gestures or the auctioneer will think you are bidding. Inevitably, my allergies kicked in around all that musty stuff and I started to itch. If I lifted my hand to scratch my head, it might be considered a bid, and I nearly did this a few times. This phenomenon has been parodied on a number of TV sitcoms over the years.
As a lifelong antique collector and fine artist, I appreciate objects that once belonged to strangers. I fully embrace the concept of recycling on many levels – environmental, global, financial, practical – and aesthetically. I have frequented estate sales for many years – mining the sales for treasures that I incorporate into my collage necklaces, mixed media works, to resell, and on occasion – to decorate my home. I love antiques for many reasons – they offer a glimpse into the past and sometimes reveal fascinating histories. I also appreciate the workmanship and fine materials employed by skilled craftsman of yesteryear. But I have to admit there is an inherently sad aspect to these sales and now that my elderly parents’ mortality looms on the near horizon, I am seeing possessions in a new light. My mother has been in poor health for a few years – several falls she suffered recently led to cleaning out years of accumulation at my parents’ house. There were a few treasures, but also a lot of junk – the kind of stuff that piles up over the years through entropy – after a dozen or so visits, I have made some progress.
Much has been written about the history of postcards and there are a plethora of websites, collector’s clubs, blogs, and books on the subject. The earliest known picture postcard dates back to 1840. It was a hand-painted design on a card, sent in London to the writer Theodore Hook with a penny black stamp. A rather eclectic postcard collection is among the many treasures I have accumulated over the years. Easy to store in one large shoe box, I take these out on occasion as inspiration for my collages. I have yet to sell any of this collection, but really have no attachment except for a few postcards that evoke long-lost personal memories. Some of these postcards date back to my youth – a few are vintage late 1890s-early 1900s. I have fond memories of riding my bike as a young teenager to Archie’s Coins in Edgebrook and buying a few really cool antique postcards for pennies. I also have an attachment to beautiful, early handcolored photographic postcards bought in 1979 at the Porte de Clignancourt in Paris – my first trip to Europe.
A few months ago I embarked on the rather difficult task of helping my elderly parents rid themselves of 53 years worth of amassed stuff in their home. A longtime art collector, my dad has a rather impressive collection that theoretically (depending on the fickle art market) will contribute to a very nice inheritance for my two sisters and I. However, it is not the art that has fueled my desire to analyze the psychology behind collecting. As the daughter of a psychoanalyst, it is very tempting to delve into this subject and learn WWFS in the process – that is, What Would Freud Say? I am guessing it is your mother’s fault, but we’ll see. In any case, in cleaning my parents’ home, I have uncovered a lifetime of junk and a few goodies, including: Rusty tools and hardware that is worthless Ancient papers that should have been shredded decades ago An old suburban bus schedule, circa 1964 A huge stockpile of Ace bandages, gauze pads, band-aids and other assorted first aid items that would make Clara Barton jealous A nearly full box of Tampax tampons circa 1950s that I actually sold on eBay Tons of traditional camera parts such as filters, meters, lens caps/hoods, film splicers, but it appears these have little value on the secondary market An Abercrombie & Fitch pocket warmer NIB, circa 1950s that I sold on eBay An old reel of metal/rubber weather-stripping, circa 1960s that I transformed into a funky art piece that is currently in the Crest Hardware Art Show A leather Hasselblad case for one of my dad’s classic Hasselblads sold long ago – I sold this on eBay to a European collector