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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Squished pennies, Safety Pins and Scenes from the 1939 World's Fair

We seemed to be obsessed with trinkets and mementos of the the places we've been or the things we own...Why is that? You may not be one of the "we" I am referring to, but I am. Not to the point of obsession, I don't have the keyring with a thousand things, other than keys on it.  The memento that never left my side was found on a set of keys someone had hidden in the backstage area of my high school auditorium. On it was a very unique safety pin. It amazed me because of its simple design: one piece of wire sharpened on one end and then wrapped and bent and twisted several times back on itself to complete this utilitarian product of early mechanized mass production...or so I believe. That pin stayed with me until just a few years ago (read: a looong time), and over the years saved my keys from the Atlantic clipped to my swim trunks through many a vacation. It finally succumbed to the salt water.  I've always wanted to see the machine that made it, or the human equivalent. That pin served me as well as a Swiss Army knife.

So, as I make my way around an estate sale, or any other kind of sale, I look for these kinds of things. Simple, unique, and still retain some of the "neat-o" factor.  A couple of months ago I found such a sale, in Danbury CT, on the western side of Candlewood Lake. Should have been a good dig, but I couldn't make a connection between the leftover junk and why I wanted any of it. Until I took a final look at the "Jewelry table."  This is often where the expensive items are left close to the Estate sale service employees to thwart those with light fingers.  Usually not my kind of stuff, but this time I saw a ring of keys.

The keys were unremarkable, but the flattened penny was gold - anything referring back to an early World's Fair is worth a second look. Blank on one side (not even the ghost imprint of the penny that was used!) On the reverse, the goddess Roma is perched above the colonnaded steps which featured a cascading waterfall. Inside were the products of Italy and, of course the opportunity to squish a penny as a memento. I wonder if it was like it is now - Did it cost a dollar to crank your own penny into a souvenir back then as well? There is more writing where the hole punch is, but it is too worn and missing for me to be sure. Probably the year, but there's something more.. Click here to see a similar penny on Ebay with a close-up on this area....I still can't make it out. Maybe you can?

In my research I did find someone's home movie IN COLOR of the 1939 world's fair. If you go to the 1:54 mark you will see the Italian Pavilion in all its glory...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Catsup King, Tomato Justice, or Tomato Rebellion?...You decide.

Sometimes, all it takes is an envelope to get me going (Click for a larger size).
I first fell for the graphics and the color representation of the can. Cartoon-ish and innocent, with the "pyramid" of soup flavors, yes, they even had mulligatawny!  I thought at first that this was a cute little vegetable packing company from the 30's, maybe Popeye got his spinach from this place. 
Nope, nothing small about this place! Railways, shipping and no less that 10,000 employees. I know I don't know everything about everything, but shouldn't this have sounded a little familiar? I had to find out more.
The first stop was the Maryland Online Encyclopedia which tells the story of this company. I can summarize by saying that it was an Oyster packing company bought in 1902 by Levi Phillips and a partner named Winterbottom and then expanded by another member of the Philips family, Albanus Philips. Don't think I'd be telling this story if they'd put Winterbottom's name on the can. They seem to know how to control the farmers, take advantage of the railways for raw vegetables in and product out. Then they gained the lucrative (I suppose) army contract to feed the troops for WWI and WWII and were the largest packagers of the famous "C" rations. Albanus was somewhat of a baron of industry and didn't pay his workers well, or provide benefits, other than all the canned food you could buy at the company store, maybe. There were some famous clashes between striking workers and the police and other state organizations who tried to make peace (not canned peace!) between the 2 sides.

In hunting for more information about this company I came across a biography of Walter Chysler, who became fast friends with Albanus Phillips (Note the company address on the envelope). Aside from hunting and carousing they also enjoyed friendly wagers.

(Pokety was a hunting lodge.estate owner by Mr. Chrysler)
All along I had been wondering why this envelope had been kept among this box of papers that has now stretched over several posts.  When I read the location of the lavish dinner that Chrysler had to hold (because he lost the "Tomato Justice" bet) at the Waldorf-Astoria, something clicked. I remembered seeing among the personal documents, an employee card.
It's a long shot. The ID card is from 1932, and the extravagant dinner at the Waldorf is 1935, and the envelope is from 1937. But seeing the occupation of the card holder it is possible to speculate that some connection likely existed between that famous dinner and the owner of the card and envelope.

The epilogue for the Philips company and its Baron of Catsup ends in the 1960's. In post WWII the Campbell's Soup company won over the consumer and the frozen food era signaled the end of many canned foods manufacturers. 
Note: No Ketchup was spilled during the creation of this post.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Matrimony!...It's time to face the music!

I am the luckiest guy I know.  How many wives allow their husbands to sneak around their backs, log on to the computer, and attempt to carry on a relationship with the rest of the blogging world? As I near 180 posts, and thank all the people that have stopped by to ogle my foolish rants about other peoples stuff, the one person I have to really thank is my wife.  I have left her during the Oscars, at the top of the ninth inning during the play-offs, on the edge of her seat during "Rear Window," and out in the garden, while I send one more diatribe out in to the vast unknown 'net. God, I am such a heel, because here I am, at it again! Thanks, Honey! and a Special Thanks for 13 years of marriage (May 2nd).

So, maybe it's no wonder that I have an interest in other peoples documents of matrimony. This isn't the final post on the box of papers from the house on the peninsular corner/intersection of East Franklin St, and Main St. in Danbury, CT. More fun than other peoples mail, it's reading the forms and documents from long ago. The information that red tape generators of the world request are all too often revealing and potentially embarrassing. Maybe some of those blank form questions are there solely for the entertainment of the paper pushers.

You may need to squint to read some of the details from this form, but it does give a snapshot of Danbury at the start of a new century. There was a large Italian immigrant section of the city that I am only now learning about. I hope a reader will see this and be moved to guest author a post. In the meantime I have to draw out the naive question of the day: Did the groom marry his cousin, or his mother's cousin? Or maybe Lubova is just a common name in Italy.
  My next document for this post is a gem of a marriage certificate which although may be more decorative that official, it really is a work of art.  This was found at the tag sale that used to be held in the "off-season" at the old house located on the grounds for the Elephant's Trunk.  I bought it because of its age (1875) and it was local (Woodbury weds Roxbury):
The final document has nothing to do with marriage at all. Just a terse reminder that if you are going to sign up for music lessons you must pay your 50 cents each week. That you don't show up is, "...no economy to us."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

U.S. Citizenship?......you're gonna have to Behave!

Still digging through the same box of papers....it's really not that deep, but the it does have a depth of variety.  Most of the items are from the turn of the 19th century.  Here is a cool document from 1896:
Click for a larger size.  I would like to know more about the family, but I know the house where this came from and I am afraid they are long gone. I am surprised that this was not framed as a memento of the start of a new life, in a new country. Back when hope of a better life was escaping oppression, or just the conditions that would make you a senior citizen at 45. Of course, you couldn't just walk in the country, you had to agree to our conditions. One of my favorites:
If you've been in country for the past three years, and been a good boy...then maybe we'll let you stay. But wait! There's more! I realize that I haven't reviewed the citizenship documents for 2011, which may have similar language (doubt it, probably longer with more legalese). My second favorite clip is the one requsting said applicant renounce whomever they were "following." 
Not an unreasonable request, but just who would have referred to themselves as a "Potentate" and not suffered the snickering of the proletariat?
Coming Next Time:  You're a citizen! Now it's time to build a house and get married!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dr Hoxie! The King of Remedies!...is not a quack.

So, I found this box of old papers....stop me if you've heard this one before.  Yes, Superman has his kryptonite, Achilles had his heel, and I hope to go down in history as being felled by a box of paper. I can't explain my obsession with the past, maybe it is my desire to know it, so I don't repeat it?  Truthfully, I enjoy finding humor in everything around me. You may think that a useful trait, but it just means I spend a lot of time laughing at my own material. This is also the eternal quest for knowledge, or in my case, nocturnal.  As promised, this post is a continuation of the previous post where I began peeling away layer after layer of old paper to discover what had not been tossed in the trash bin a hundred and ten years ago (this eases my mind for all the times I've forgotten to take out the trash). What I found was a small collection of trade cards. 
These are 2 x 2.5 inches and the one on the right is my only clue as to their age. The backs are calendars with a little advertising that has been cropped by my scanner.

Unfortunately, they were part of someone's album and the glue does not want to come off.   This next set were larger.
 Trade cards were all the rage in the later 19th century.  Color lithography was the I-pad of its day in 1865. Interesting to look at, collect, yes even trade. Though I would guess that this is where the misconception of trading cards, and trade cards was born. You could trade trade cards, but these were trade cards because they advertised trades. Whew! Too many trades, I'm dizzy. These became popular by being tucked in products, handed out as gifts by businesses, or just left in small piles by the checkout.

  Their condition keeps them from being a major score for treasure. Though worth something, without the glue marks and stains, they would sell for $15 -$25 each. An ad for Dr. Hoxie is invaluable for the name alone. Hoxie is not a quack, but could he be a hoax? Only his tar & featherer knows...

I've taken the train through Utica, New York and this dry goods establishment may have been amazing, but hardly one of the "real" attractions of the city. Though, in 1890, a place that sells carpet and sacks of rice? It must have been the Costco of its day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Take care of your "Sen's" and the Yens will take care of themselves

A few weeks back I hit the kind of estate sale that was truly a "dig." Lots of old paper and books, on lots of dusty shelves, inside room after room of a 110 year-old basement. I had the pleasure of just taking my time poking in every corner, looking at everything. It all seemed to have value, well, not all of it. I settled for a few good magazines, and one that seemed to cover all the entertainment of the day in 1916, including Stage, Screen, and Vaudeville:
This seems to cater to the fan of entertainment as much as it does to the purveyor of motion picture houses. I will post some of the pages in an upcoming article.  Meanwhile, let me continue digging through this ancient basement.  In a box that was suspiciously new (how long have they been brewing Bud Light?) there was a small stack of papers, old, odd, and likely moved from another holder and then never inspected. I took a look and then thought up a price, and then crossed my fingers.  This day the person running the basement portion of the sale was looking to clear the stuff out and let me have my small heap for $5.  Even if worthless, I had what I wanted: a dig in a box and at the bottom, I found the golden ticket!

I guessed Japanese yen and hoped I had found something rare. It looked rare enough. A quick check of Wikipedia and I knew I was looking at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, through the first Torii (great gate). A few more searches and I knew it was from approximately 1942-44. This is where i should have stopped, because the problem with researching treasure is that the more you know about something the lower in value it descends. The last stop was an auction site that lists the note between $70-$100....but in un-circulated condition! This was also not a 50 Yen note at all, but a "Sen" note. Sen notes are comparable in value to the Yen as the "penny" is to the dollar. So, I don't even have a whole Yen here, I have half.  Like with most paper items, the poorer the condition the less you should pay for it. Unless you like how it looks, or came about it in the way that I did, then, to me, it's priceless. Not mention, easy to store, fun to hold, and examine.  Like the magazine above, I will reveal more from this box at a later date.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Post Card from the other side of the tracks

This is part of the collection of post cards I found at a Redding Estate sale last fall. They are all worth posting, but this one was unique.

All these cards involved correspondence involving a resident of my town and all were from the beginning of the 20th century. There were over 50 cards in the collection but only 2 of them had special attributes.
The "new" Bridgeport rail road station was new in 1905 because the old one had burned down a few years earlier.  The unique aspect of this card was the lines of glitter some card manufacture employee took pains to lay down carefully to highlight different areas of the image. Take a look at the faux tilt-shift image I took to enhance it.
If you've never seen a tilt shift image, well, this is as close as I can get for now, but Tilt Shift has the ability to make a miniature scene look real and a wide angle live scene look like a miniature. Just search the term "Tilt Shift" in Google Images and you will get an eye full.  My image of the RR gets close, and actually does make it pop out somewhat. 

Next stop, more Estate Sale finds. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Fun Night Out in 1855? That took some Brass

Well, maybe one Brass Ball.  How did some of the items I found survive this long? I don't know. I'm only glad they did. I have found and keep things much longer that their condition dictated simply because the date was visible. This invitation (which may be better viewed if you click on it) has a heavily embossed design around the edges that really has no right being in the good condition it's in.  Another pile of old papers, and this piece popped out.  
I contacted the Corning, NY historical society hoping to get some kind of back-story to share with you. They were nice enough to confirm that "Yes." I am in the right city in 1855, but details on this group will have to wait until they can dig deeper. I may research the names of the "Managers" (What did they manage... other than the floor?) but would only expect to find several streets named after these earlier settlers in Corning. My family and I often spend time in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and have actually been to the Glass Museum there. It is worth the trip. If we go again, I'll walk up to the Historical society with  invitation in hand, and donate this artifact for their collection. It's safer with them.  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

We now pause for this Prison Break!!! (Found Photos)

There may be no way to properly set this post up.  A box of old papers can turn up all sorts of mysteries. Every now and then there are photos with little or no explanation. I can usually make something up because without anyone to verify or confirm - who's to know? I would, of course, provide a disclaimer with my story, so as not to unintentionally change the images' history, but it sure is tempting...
There should be enough of a description here to lead a good detective to a full explanation and background. I am stumped. It's likely that the numbers were assigned on a prison-specific basis, before a state or national registry was created. Cell 12 and 26 Company sounds more like a military facility, however, the officer is referred  to as a "block" officer, to little to go on there. This wasn't the only set of evidence pictures -
Apparently this prison was full of opportunities for the inmates...to escape.  My guess is that by now the place is empty.