Book of “household hints” is as seamless as time
  • Nuit De Noel perfume bottle & its lasting sweet smell
  • 1939 Coke “Springboard Girl” tray
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    Auction Finds

    Do you keep old household products?

    Looking at the items on the tray at the auction house, I felt like I had stepped back 50 years. They were products we all use – many still in their boxes, well-preserved. Some were products I recognized and others were lost in their own history.

    An over-sized box of Kleenex tissues. Mennen baby powder. Little Miss Pixie bath crystals. Deoderant cream. Dills cough syrup. Ben Gay. Alka Seltzer in the glass tube. Maxwell House Coffee. Over-sized bars of Ivory soap. McCormick spices. Morton salt. Lydia Pinkham Vegetable Compound in its original sealed package. Lilacs and Roses talc powder.

    There was also a pharmacist’s bottle of pink liquid labeled “Hydrochloric acid.” Scary.

    This tray of household items included some to help us feel better.

    I was struck by the sheer number of items and their apparent age. I’m used to seeing a box here and there of vintage tins and other household items, but I couldn’t remember seeing so many in one auction. I had been to estate auctions of people who vended for a living, but these did not have the feel of products for sale. An auctioneer told me that they came from the same house and, no, the owner was not an antiques dealer, shop owner or flea-market seller. These products were purchased from a store to be used by the owner who apparently forgot about them.

    Products come and go, and I’m sure these were replaced with newer and better stuff. So why weren’t these old ones tossed when their effectiveness evaporated years ago. Seeing the five or so trays got me to wondering why someone would just keep them and where.

    The products do tell us a lot of about who we were, our ailments and the medicines we took for them, the ways we tried to keep clean, the foods we ate and the drinks we consumed. They are a treasure trove of information about how we lived. I always find the look back fascinating.

    An over-sized box of Kleenex tissues was among the items on one tray.

    I was probably the only one at the auction who was being nostalgic. Most of these folks sell for a living, and they saw the dollars they could get from selling separately each of the 20 or so items per tray. I found the Mennen baby powder tin selling for $59 on one site and sold on eBay for $10. The Lilacs talc powder tin sold for up to $15 on eBay.

    I was especially curious about the Lydia Pinkham bottle because of the background of its namesake. Pinkham was a marketer of medicinal women’s products in the 19th century, and her empty bottles were being offered on eBay (but they weren’t selling). A sealed unopened bottle of her vegetable compound would fare better, I’m sure. I also found on the web a woman who collects Pinkham bottles.

    These vintage products were pretty popular at auction. Bidding on the trays was a competitive back-and-forth, with one buyer getting most of them for about $30 each.

    A tray of vintage household items sold at auction.

    With all of this, I got to wondering about the stuff I buy. I could not imagine my family finding products in my pantry that I bought 20 or so years ago. But would they? I decided to check for forgotten products. This is what I found:

    A bottle of red Italian wine that was left behind by the previous owner of my house – 10 years ago.

    Old jars of cooking spices that have likely lost their fervor. Some folks say you should discard them after six months, others say you can keep whole spices for three years and ground for a year. You can check the freshness at the McCormick website.

    A product called egg-replacer that I got from Whole Foods because I don’t do whole eggs for dishes requiring them. That was before I discovered Egg Beaters.

    A bottle of honey that I bought before I discovered agave to sweeten food.

    A small cute jar of honey that I got at a travel show as an advertisement for the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont.

    A box of Swanson chicken broth that I’ll never use because it has 24% sodium. It’s good ‘til 2012.

    A box of oatmeal I bought one day when I was thinking healthy. I could still use it to make oatmeal cookies.

    A bag of artisan decaffeinated hazel nut coffee that I’ll never brew.

    The worst: an almost-empty box of 4C bread crumbs with an expiration date of May 27, 2006.

    Some of the household items from my pantry.

    What do you have that could turn up in an archaeological dig of your kitchen cabinets or pantry?




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