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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Surrey with the fringe on top

If you suspect a theme of musicals in the titles of my posts, you are right. The previous post was a play on words linking my years as a high school stage crew geek with the subject Conrad Brooks. As I track the visitors to this blog I can sometimes see how they got here. If I wanted to go wild with Google analytics I could certainly see much more detail, but I really don't want to know what color shirt you were wearing when you decided to read my latest post. Look at the Feedjit box in the right hand margin of the blog and you may have already noticed what local server point you bounced off of to get to the Internet and thus my blog. What I see sometimes are the search terms that led random viewers here. The "Conrad" post has received the most random viewers from places like, Japan England, Australia etc. All because they typed in that line from "Bye, Bye, Birdie" and chose my blog for more information on the musical. I'm sorry if I have misled them, but I hope that maybe they were entertained for at least a few minutes.

So, if you think I am goading more musical lovers and random web-surfers with the title of this post, or maybe fans of the scene in "When Harry Met Sally" - well, you're half right. In truth, I really have a hunt-related story that justifies the title. The sale was a year ago across the street from Danbury Hospital, a small house in the process of being cleaned out by an estate sale service. In the living room near the cashier was a ledger. These can be interesting because they establish a an exact record of money paid in and out, usually for a business, and these entries often reveal clues and hints about what was happening at the time. The shame of estate sale services sometimes is that with no connection to the original owners half or all of the background info on an item is gone forever. I enjoy the attempt to reconstruct the story, and take a chance that something exciting happened, though this is rare. Ledgers tend to be dull (no offense to you accounting types out there). For all the ledgers I'd seen and passed up, there was something that drew me to this one, the size.

I could rewrite the scene for Crocodile Dundee: "Thaat's nawt a leeja....(flip) Now thaaats a leja!" That was my best Aussie phonetic translation, hope it worked. This was the mother of all ledgers, it looked like a book with a thyroid disorder and it weighs about 10lbs. This, of course, wasn't the only thing that attracted me, one quick glance and I saw the familiar distorted bumps from papers slid in the pages. "Umm. How much for the book?" I asked. ($5). Done! Because I am a novice cartoonist (see self portrait) anything with a lot of blank pages of high quality would interest me, but the book as a prop alone would look great on any desk. This ledger was special and in the last hour of the sale I am surprised it was still there. I may know nothing about antiques and everything about junk, but the real prize came when I discovered whose records were listed. (Envelope please)

The papers tucked inside were the ledger entries tested out on scratch sheets before being added officially into the record. What did they use for scratch sheets? Without them I wouldn't have known whose this was and the ledger would have been worthless (to me).

Several samples of company stationary, one from the latter half of the 19th century, and the other to begin the new century with both similar but unique designs. Also among the papers were several well used blotters that were left as if the accountant was planning to use them again soon. One of these blotters had an interesting ad on one side for a cocaine laced wine tonic called Vin Mariani. I learned a lot about the abuse of coca leaves in products in the late 19th century (you can too, if you click here). I ask again, how did someone (a dealer) not pick this up? Isn't a 110 year old ledger even just a little interesting? Or am I so blind that I would buy a banana peel if it was from 1890? (I would, but someone famous would have had to slip on it.) As I flipped through the 1000 or so pages (most of them blank) the first 20 have the typical information, "Received" on one side and "Expenditures" on the other. You can see some of the vendors they needed to build and repair "Surreys, Phaetons, and carts" but the more interesting section is the back 30 pages.

Listed are all the clients for the year and the work orders and work completed on each vehicle, including price, paint, lettering, and all. It seemed The Mutual Wagon and Carriage company was doing a booming business and they had a regular flow of the typical local businesses that used these items. Why, though, can I not find even brief mention of them anywhere on the internet? New York History..nothing. Wagon manufacturing history...nothing! I must be looking in the wrong place as this was no small shop. Notice the block plate print of the their building, (Click to enlarge) it's huge! I wish I had time to research all my finds so I could wrap them up in a nice neat package for the reader, but this is part of what led me to this blogging endeavor. Do you know anything about this company? If so... Chicks and Ducks and Geese better scurry...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

World's fair ...Life's not

This should have been an easy post to write. Unfortunately, no one told me that if you go away on vacation and break the (ir)regular cycle of publishing a blog, it is not easy to get on and start pedaling again. I have already experienced the dread of finishing a post only to erroneously erase it while adding one final element. When I went back to try and recapture the spirit or mood of the post *poof* it was gone, and so was the desire to find it. I have thought about creating these in a different location, but there is something I enjoy about where these posts come from: some days it's the frontal lobe, other days it's the occipital.

I have been meaning to write something about Recycling Centers. Not every town has one, because it is often tied to an area's plan for waste management. But during times when the season of treasure hunting thins out (I don't know when that is-I'm sure it's a 12-month season) it was suggested to me that I try the New Milford recycling center. Apparently there was a "free" table there and if you timed it right the treasure would come to you.

You really have to experience this to get the full effect. In New Milford you must park on the edge of the road outside the center and walk in a back gate while not getting run over by the residents who have stickers which permit them to deposit their various cast offs into the correct dumpster, or pile and scoot out. There is a dumpster for everything to be tossed: cardboard, papers, construction material, furniture, etc. and then there is the free table. Here the regulars converge (after parking outside) like seagulls following a fishing trawler, and as a car moves into position and begins to unload junk for the free table - in they come often helping the depositor pull the boxes from the car, stopping just short of climbing in themselves.

On numerous Saturdays, before my daughter was born, I was right there along with them; a colorful bunch in frumpy clothes, disheveled hair, often looking through boxes with wild eyes. I never stayed long, I didn't want to feel as desperate as they looked or acted. There are many emotions you experience in the process of sale'ing, greed, wonder, guilt, joy and a distinct curiosity to know what those other people are looking for and why. On this day my "aha!" moment came as I was looking through a pile of books. A random visitor puts a bag down on the table next to me and exclaims, "There's a project for ya." Although it seemed everyone needed a permit to drive in, just anybody could walk through the exit and drop something on the free table. I peeked inside the bag and noticed pieces of wood, thick glass and a couple of long bolts with no indication what it was, and before I could ask, he was gone. I took the stranger at his word and brought it home.

I was amazed at the condition and the completeness. It presented another mystery to solve - What was it? My best guess is a display case from the 20's or 30's. It stands about 9.5" tall by 14" wide and about 5" deep with a hinged back and grooves that would permit the glass partitions to accommodate items of varying widths. When I got it home I put it back together and made the conscious decision to clean it up some (I know. I know, sacrilege), but truthfully, there were no markings or patina and it's now the perfect display for some of the rocks and shells we have collected during vacations. Although the "seagulls" made me uncomfortable it was experiences like this that kept me interested. Another Saturday, I was looking through a box and someone (another random "freeloader") plopped down a bag of flatware and walked off. I looked through it noticed that one of the pieces was different from the rest ( I wanted to give readers a good look at the detail so the image is large, click on the image and stand back):
I have found a couple of style designs from researching '39 World's Fair collections this may have been sold as part of a full flatware set with the spoons as the centerpiece featuring a different building on each. How this one became separated from its brothers and sisters would make a good story. Yet another example that there is just too much in this world and no way to keep it all. The exchange from one hand to another continues from eBay, to collector, to tag sales, to collector, to recycling centers and so on, much like a conveyor belt.

As I have revealed in other posts my favorite pastime is reading, well, at least flipping through the pages of books to discover the items that were left for safe keeping and forgotten. It is hard to pick a favorite but this is in my top ten "finds" list. It happened, again, at the recycling center on yet another Saturday, and while nothing remarkable was coming in, I noticed among the books a large and sad looking edition of Webster's dictionary missing the boards (covers). My curiosity with books in general is to know how old it is. Upon realizing it is a 1930 edition I flip through the pages and out pops a letter (another large image, but it had to be if I wanted to offer the opportunity to read it - click to see).

I am absolutely amazed at how often I find that people during that time made carbon copies of their correspondence. All I can say is "thank you". If you took the time to read it, you saw that it is a very interesting request on usage for "was" and "were" though mainly to clarify another writer's use of the phrase "Many a mickle makes a muckle". I won't go into the meaning of the phrase, but the discovery of the letter was grand. I immediately thought, "I wonder if they ever replied?" Well ask a stupid question, because a little more searching gave me my answer.

Again, I have to thank the owner of the dictionary for using it as his personal filing cabinet, because it provided me with a gem of a father's day present for my dad who had retired after many years as an English teacher. He has since passed away but the display I created for him at the time was a living homage to his love of word play.

Note: Things have changed at the recycling center and time at the "free" table is supposedly limited and discouraged. It has been over a year since my last visit. I wonder where the seagulls have gone?