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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You could tune a piano...but you couldn't tune a fish...until now.

Guest author Janice Vance returns with another story of her travels and the treasure that is out there for the taking.

A fish story: the two that didn’t get away and the one that did

Okay, I confess to liking fish. Not just to eat. I like cartoonish fish with goofy expressions in wild colors, maybe striped or polka-dotted, fish that remind me of summer and beach cottages, fish that make me smile when I look at them.

So when I found the two small greenish-blue ceramic fish in my local Thrift Mart, priced at a buck-fifty each, I grabbed them without really looking all that closely. There was a maroon one too, but he didn’t fit into my color scheme, so I left him behind. Bad decision, in hindsight.

My fish are the same aqua color you might see on a 1956 Buick, and these little guys have Attitude in the same way the butler Jeeves does: upturned nose, a no-nonsense, disapproving gaze. The dorsal fin is part of a lid that lifts off. I thought: how clever, inside this little critter you could store sugar packets, cotton balls, spare change, or anything you really wanted to hide, like your Rolex or great-grandmother’s diamonds, because no burglar worth his watch cap would give these fish a second look. In the Thrift Mart, they stuck out from the surrounding mugs, wicker baskets, picture frames, candle holders and lamps, but that’s only because I have a well developed fish-interceptor sense.

It wasn’t until I got the fish home that I flipped them over and looked at the bottoms. Yeah, I know, all serious antiques aficionados always check out the bottom of plates, figurines, and vases, looking for Really Important Manufacturers. Not me. I’m thinking of color and function. They either work in the d├ęcor, or they don’t come home with me.

The Really Important Manufacturer information on the bottom of the fish turned out to be “Made in California.” But the oddity was the “Chicken Of The Sea Tuna Baker-Salad Server” line just below it. We all grew up eating Chicken Of The Sea tuna. In fact, my mother served me so many Chicken Of The Sea tunafish sandwiches for school lunches I pretty much cannot look tunafish in the face even today. But I had no memory of ever seeing a Chicken Of The Sea Tuna-Baker-Salad Server when I was growing up.

To the internet I went. In among the links to various tuna recipes (flipped past those real fast!) I found a few sites by folks selling various retro and classic ceramic items. And there was my fish, along with this information: “Bauer Pottery made this individual... tuna fish baker as a promotion for Chicken of the Sea in the 1940s.” Apparently the fish were available in several colors: green, yellow, red, and burgundy. Originally they came with a metal stand that fit snugly around the fish’s bottom section. Mine have no stand, but whataya want for a buck fifty?
You can purchase one of these fish online for $48 to $59, plus shipping.

Well. I’ve been looking at my fish more respectfully now. Obviously there is a reason they have Attitude. They are Fish with a West Coast pedigree. Fish made by an actual serious Art Pottery. Fish that can be viewed as a nest egg, instead of simply a vessel to hold a nest egg. I’ll keep them safe and warm.

And you can bet I won’t be using them to serve tunafish. 

Thank you Janice, for giving me the night off to get an extra hour of sleep..maybe.

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