Auction Finds Uncovering Relics of Our Past Wed, 24 May 2017 15:04:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Gone Fishin’ watercolor reminds me of my uncle Wed, 24 May 2017 14:59:47 +0000 Related posts:
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From as far back as I can remember, my uncle Arthur Lee has loved to go fishing. He’s a Southerner, and fishing in any creek or private pond or lake that was home to fish was in his blood.

He started fishing (and hunting) as a young man, taking his fishing pole to a creek in back of the family’s home. He would eventually find a better place that would remain his favorite spot into adulthood. His wife Dora Mae would go with him sometimes, but he mostly brought his catch home to her.

As long as he caught them, she’d clean them. And eat them. “As fast as I’d catch them, she’d eat them,” he says. “I’ll clean them all day as long as he catch them,” she adds.

fishing watercolor

Up-close view of the fishing watercolor.

She loved fried fish so much that once, she told me and some family members between chuckles, he brought a friend over to see the fish he’d caught that day, and they were gone. She had cleaned, cooked and eaten them.

I thought of my uncle recently when I saw a picture of a waiting-to-be-sold painting on an auction-house website. When the day came for the auction I eagerly sought out the painting. It was a watercolor of an old man in a straw hat sitting on a dock with a fishing pole in the water and a bucket of bait near his feet. That’s exactly how I pictured my uncle. I could not decipher the artist’s name in the lower left corner, but did see that the watercolor was painted in 1975.

For some people, fishing is as much an American pastime as baseball. I know that’s true in the South. I’ve even seen folks alongside bridges in Florida, their fishing rods over the side, them ignoring us drivers and the danger we posed to them standing or sitting so close to the highway.

In 2016, the Outdoor Industry Association cited fishing as the second most popular American pastime behind jogging for people over 25 years of age, and the fourth among those who were younger. Even people who wanted to be more active said fishing was among their top 10 choices.

full view fishing watercolor

A full view of the fishing watercolor.

Fishing has a history that dates back thousands of years, providing a bustling economy for some areas, and food and pleasure for many people. The beauty of fishing is its simplicity. You don’t need much to fish: a pole, some bait, a natural body of water, time and patience.

It has been a favorite sport of many of the country’s presidents: George Washington dropped his pole into the Potomac River near where he lived in Mount Vernon, VA. Jimmy Carter fished in a lake near his home in Plains, GA, where he once encountered a swamp rabbit. Franklin D. Roosevelt took fishing trips for his health. Grover Cleveland and Herbert Hoover wrote books about it nearly 60 years apart.

Ernest Hemingway was also an avid fisherman. His novel “The Old Man and the Sea” was said to have been inspired by the endless struggle to get his catch into the boat before the sharks got to it. It was first printed in Life magazine in 1952 before it was published as a book.

Roosevelt fishing

President Roosevelt on a fishing trip. Photo from the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

I understand the love and lure of fishing – when you get past getting up so early in the morning when folks swear the fish are more likely to bite. It seems so relaxing, stripping away the daily grind – just Mother Nature, you and the fish in a cat-and-mouse game.

There’s also a bond among fishermen and fisherwomen (just as there are among us auction-goers), because you all end up at the same fishing spot on the same days. My uncle would take his spinning reel and buckets of bait and minnows to his favorite spot. At one point, he went with a female neighbor who lived just behind him. Once, at a holiday meal, my aunt needled him about her, saying that she suspected that the woman was sweet on him. I suspect that she was just a good fishing partner, and my aunt knew that, too.

I don’t recall ever going fishing, but I’m sure I have often mentioned to my uncle that I’d like to join him (because of health reasons, he no longer goes fishing). I’m not sure if I have the patience, though, to sit out there in the hot sun waiting for fish to bite. My uncle, the old man in the watercolor and millions of others don’t seem to mind.

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Things that make me go “Wow!” and “Huh?” Mon, 22 May 2017 12:04:47 +0000 Related posts:
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Most of the time when I’m previewing items at auction – usually in the hour before the action starts – I amble through the aisles, stopping at a table here and there, picking up stuff or just moving one thing out of the way so I can get to another.

Sometimes, though, an item catches my eye, and I have no choice but to stop and examine it. That has happened to me quite a few times lately – the shape, the color, the whimsical nature of an item or its identity took hold of me.

And then I linger.

Today, I’d like to share with you some of the items I have come across lately at auction that were just plain lovely or were so mysterious and confounding that I had to find out what they were. See if you can figure out what effect each of these had on me: “Wow!” or “Huh?”

How would you characterize them? Wow! or Huh?

zenith cobra-matic record player

1950s Zenith Cobra-Matic record player and radio. Note the tone arm, whose narrow end resembles the head of a snake, complete with tiny grooved eyes on each side. The bar that holds the records on the spindle widens at the end to resemble a cobra getting ready to strike. The phonograph is made of beautiful Bakelite.


wooden hat press

Wooden hat brim press. I’ve seen wooden blocks in the shape of a hat but never anything that held a hat. This press apparently helped a flat brim hat to keep its form. Someone liked it well enough to leave an absentee bid (the green sticker).


cake carrier

I had no idea what this was, and then I opened it and found what looked like a matching metal cake knife. The container is too flat for a layer cake but could work with a large flat cake or some other baked item that needed cutting.


horse whip holder

I had no idea what this was, either, until I read the tag: Horse whip holder.


pedal police car

Vintage black and white police pedal car.


pedal race car

Classic ride-on red race car.


wooden old west sheriff

Wooden painted Old West sheriff. Usually, I only see carved wooden statues of cigar-store Native Americans.


coal heater

When I saw this heater with all of its details, I thought of some fancy apartment or home, not a commoner’s house. This Bonnie Sunshine double heater was made by the Reading (PA) Stove Works in the late 1890s. It was one of several heaters described in a trade magazine back then as “beautifully presented to the eye.”


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Love spoken in a book written in language of flowers Wed, 17 May 2017 17:14:10 +0000 Related posts:
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It wasn’t the sort of old book I’d normally grab at auction. I’m usually looking for books with an African American theme, ones that tell the story of my history.

But the title of this little book, which I could hold easily in one hand, called out for my attention: “The Language of Flowers.” On its soiled and faded cover were purple pansies that looked as if they were hand-painted. So I ventured inside, where I saw a cleaner version of the flowers.

A note was inscribed on another inside page, along with a poem:

“To Mother, Wishing you many happy returns of the day – from Father, August 8th 1913.”

Cover from "Language of Flowers" book

The front cover of “The Language of Flowers” book that a husband created for his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary.

Flipping through the book, I found the names of flowers and what they represented, all arranged alphabetically. The first, “Abatina,” which I had never heard of (there are questions about whether it’s an actual flower), meant “fickleness.” Each page had a hand-painted border, and some were illustrated with flowers in bloom. The book contained 700 flowers, including 40 different types of roses, according to the inside jacket cover.

The book was created by a husband for his wife on their golden wedding anniversary, noted the cover message.

“Instead of buying her a brooch or bracelet, he hit upon the happy plan of writing and illustrating a little book for her called THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS, which has now been resurrected from some forgotten drawer and published in this facsimile edition – perfectly irresistible to any flower lover.”

Page from "Language of Flowers" book

Pages from “Language of Flowers” book with illustrations on both pages.

An heirloom, the book had been in the family for years. “Who Father is must remain a secret. All we know is that Mother and he celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on August 8, 1913 and that his initials were F.W.L.”

I suspect that the mystery had more to do with selling the book than anything else. The 32-page book was first published in 1968, with a copyright by Margaret Pinkston. This one was the third printing in 1973, published by Michael Joseph Ltd., London.

Flowers having a language of their own seems to go back pretty far: One site took the phenomenon back to the Middle East and Persia in the 15th century (where it later spread to England), and others to 18th-century France. By the 19th century, flowers were depicted as signifying love, and that idea seemed to ignite during the Victorian period in England. It was during this time that meanings were assigned to them. The language of flowers – also called floriography – was also very popular in the United States during the 19th century.

Page from "Language of Flowers" book

Pages from “Language of Flowers” book with single illustration.

Books were written about flowers as symbols, although there was some ambiguity about what specific flowers meant. The book at auction mentioned that Father used the traditional meanings of specific flowers and just made up others. The Victorian books were offered as prizes or gifts, most often to women.

The language of flowers was also used during the Victorian period to convey discreet messages of love and affection, as well as negative messages. Or flowers could send mixed messages depending on how they were arranged.

Father’s book served as the inspiration for a novel of the same name by Vanessa Diffenbaugh in 2011. She also wrote a Victorian flower dictionary to go with the novel of a woman – after spending her childhood in foster care – got a job arranging flowers in ways that were arresting.


A peony from my garden.

Kate Greenaway, a noted English writer and illustrator of children’s books, also illustrated a language of flowers book in 1884.

The wonderful little book at auction was great for this time of year when flowers are abloom everywhere. In my yard, the tulips are gone; left behind are faded and brown leaves, and useless stalks. They’ve been replaced by irises and peonies. I can’t wait for the yellow, red, rust and pink roses to bloom, along with the hydrangea and the indoor jasmine plant, which gave me one bloom a few months ago.

I was eager to consult the book to find out the meanings of the flowers in my yard, the others that I adore and have planted in the past, and even the herbs I sometimes plant:

Iris – message

Peony – shame, bashfulness

Rose – decrease of love, jealousy (yellow); bashful, shame (deep red)

Hydrangea – a boaster, heartlessness

Tulip – declaration of love (red); hopeless love (yellow)

Foxglove – insincerity

Hellebore – scandal, calumny

Crocus – youthful gladness (spring)

Basil – hatred

Calla Ethiopica – magnificent beauty

Chrysanthemum – slighted love (yellow)

Coreopsis – always cheerful

Peach – your qualities like your charms

St. John’s Wort – animosity

White Jasmine – amiability

Page from "Language of Flowers" book

Pages from “Language of Flowers” book with borders.

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Sweet draw of a ’67 Mustang, ’68 Stingray & ’70 Cobra Mon, 15 May 2017 14:58:00 +0000 Related posts:
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When I walked through the door of the auction house, a group of men had already taken their places around the two cars to my left.

The shiny blue Mustang and white Corvette Stingray had seductively drawn them into their spaces. I easily breezed my way past the cars – so much so that I barely noticed the lemon-yellow Ford Torino Cobra to my right. Out of my eye, I saw a yellow blur but my mind was focused on finding other goodies in the auction house.

I didn’t think much more about the cars until I was near the door again, on my way out. All of the men had moved on to other spots in the auction house, so the cars were alone. That’s when I saw what the men had seen.

Ford Torino Cobra

The 1970 Ford Torino Cobra for sale at auction.

These were beautiful cars.

As I stood there admiring the Torino, an auction-goer walked up to stand near me. The highest bid so far on the Torino was at $20,000, he’d heard. “I’d have to mortgage my house to buy it,” he said, something he wasn’t willing to do. It was a hour before the cars were scheduled to be sold.

Car sales are a staple at most of the auctions I attend. I’ve seen plenty that I’d love to have, from BMWs to Mercedes and others at the lower end.

I would have gladly taken either of these three home, but I was not about to mortgage my home, either.

1970 Ford Torino Cobra interior

1970 Ford Torino Cobra interior.

As I stood looking at the bold yellow Cobra, another auction-goer walked up and started talking. He was convinced that this car was a GTO; it had a GT logo on the side. A MartiAutoWorks document accompanying the car described it as a 1970 Cobra 2-Door Sportsroof. He still wasn’t convinced, though, and sought the advice of another male auction-goer who assumed the auction house had gotten the description wrong.

The first auction-goer figured it was a Cobra built by the Shelby car company, but finally they both accepted that this was a Ford Torino Cobra. According to the documents, it was a 429 with an 8-cylinder engine, 17,000 miles, in original condition.

The Cobra, considered a muscle car because of its high performance, was among several updated Torino models in 1970. That year, the Torino was chosen as Motor Trend’s Car of the Year.

On the web, the car in great condition was selling for $21,000 up to $60,000. (I was not around when the cars sold at auction).

1967 Mustang handtop

1967 Mustang Hardtop at auction.

The Mustang brought back memories for one guy who remembered his girlfriend owning one in the 1960s. “Hers was a little different,” he recalled. This ’67 Mustang Hardtop (as identified on the documents) had 38,000 miles on it.

The ’67 hardtop came three years after the ’65 Mustang, the love of most any car enthusiast. First appearing in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, the Mustang was named for a fighter plane but its emblem was a horse. The 1965 car was stupendously popular – with a style as sleek as a mustang (the horse) racing – and everyone wanted one. It broke sales records its first year, and remains one of the most collectible cars.

With competition nipping at its heels, Ford came out in ’67 with the hardtop that had a style to call its own.

1967 Mustang hardtop interior

Interior of the Mustang Hardtop.

Who doesn’t love a Corvette? A cousin of mine bought a red one during one of his mid-life crises, something he’d wanted for years. He loved that car.

The one at auction was a 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible, 427, V-8 engine, with 81,000 miles. This car was redesigned in 1968.

Corvette Stingray

Corvette Stingray, with hood open for inspection.


Corvette StingrayThe clean red interior of the Corvette Stingray.

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US passport bears black woman’s 1892 call for freedom Wed, 10 May 2017 18:06:30 +0000 Related posts:
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Some friends and I will be taking a Mediterranean cruise later this year, so I had to make sure my passport was up to date. While flipping through it, I was reminded of a comment from a stamp collector I met during a “First-Day-of-Issue” dedication ceremony last year for the Richard Allen stamp.

Betty D. Sessions started collecting stamps 30 years ago, and attends first-day ceremonies around the country. She mentioned a commemorative postage stamp featuring educator Anna Julia Cooper that was released in Washington, DC, in 2009.

“Look at your passport, page 25, you’ll see her words,” Sessions told me. And so I did.

There on page 26 and 27 was a quote by Cooper, along with images of the Statue of Liberty and a close-up of the stone tablet she holds in her hand with the date July 4, 1776, in roman numerals.

US passport, Anna Julia Cooper quote

US passport showing the Anna Julia Cooper quote on page 26-27.

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

Hers was not the only quote. Each page of the passport bore one from names I was more familiar with, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. There were also excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version.

It’s been about 10 years since I renewed my passport – and taken a foreign trip – so I’m sure that I likely saw those quotes before but thought nothing of them. Now, I wondered if they had always been there, even in my earlier passport from 1998. I checked and they were not.

So I was not only curious about Cooper but about the then- “new” design of the passport.

Anna Julia Cooper

Anna Julia Cooper. Photo from the Anna Julia Cooper Society website.

Anna Julia Cooper

Cooper was born in slavery in Raleigh, NC, in 1858, and went on to become an author, educator, public speaker and activist. Her advocacy for females – and black women in particular – began early on when she objected to the preferential treatment given to male ministerial students at a school that trained black teachers. At Oberlin College, she objected to taking courses specifically designed for “ladies.” She earned bachelors and master’s degrees in the 1880s. She was said to be the first African American woman to obtain a PhD, earning it at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1924.

While living in the nation’s capital, she founded the Colored Women’s League of Washington in 1892, and helped start a YWCA chapter for black women because the white organization refused to admit them. Cooper was a teacher and principal at one of the first high school preparatory schools for black children in Washington, and spoke out often for the rights of women and African Americans both here and abroad.

She read a paper – and spoke – on the progress of black women at a women’s conference during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Seven years later, she presented a paper on the “Negro Problem” at the first Pan African conference in London.

Anna Julia Cooper

A photo of Anna Julia Cooper from her book “A Voice from the South.”

I speak for the colored women of the South, because it is there that the millions of blacks in this country have watered the soil with blood and tears, and it is there too that the colored woman of America has made her characteristic history and there her destiny is evolving,” she said at the women’s conference.

Cooper wrote a book titled “A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South,” published in 1892. The passport quote is from the book, about the importance of listening to black women and what they had to contribute to the country.

“It is not the intelligent woman vs. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman vs. the black, the brown, and the red, – -it is not even the cause of woman vs. man. Nay, ’tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice. It would be subversive of every human interest that the cry of one-half the human family be stifled,” she also wrote.

Cooper died in 1964 in Washington. The U.S. Postal Service commissioned a stamp in her honor in 2009. Wake Forest University in North Carolina has opened the Julia Cooper Center on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.

US passport

Lyrics from “The Star Spangled Banner” on the inside cover of the US passport, along with image of Francis Scott Key, who was inspired to write the song after seeing the flag flying over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

U.S. passport

The passport was redesigned in 2007 and contained the quotes. The last redesign was 1993. Another is coming late this year or early next year with new safety features. That passport will have a data chip, and will use the same type of engravings and ink as paper money.

The 2007 redesign was called “American Icon,” and the inside cover page bears some lines from “The Star Spangled Banner,” along with a drawing of Francis Scott Key looking out at the flag. A State Department passport official said at the time that the idea was to present an American story that was more inclusive.

The 2007 design grew out of a committee of reps from the State Department and the Government Printing Office, with final approval of the icon theme by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.




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Little story books that fit in a child’s hands Mon, 08 May 2017 11:46:23 +0000 Related posts:
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I could hold the books quite easily in my open hand, they were that small. They were obviously made for children based on their tininess and the familiar characters on the covers:

The Three Pigs

The Gingerbread Boy

Little Red Riding Hood

Beauty and the Beast

It was as if the publisher was telling kids, “These were made special for your little hands.” To be honest, I was drawn to them for their size, too, which was their most appealable state. It wasn’t easy trying to thumb through the books with my oversized hands, though. I did so very carefully to keep from tearing the pages.

little books

A group of little books by author Thornton W. Burgess and published by John H. Eggers Co.

Several of the books were written by author Thornton W. Burgess. The one titled “The Discontent of Peter Rabbit” was published first in 1914 and later in 1922 by the John H. Eggers Co., and I figured the rest of the Burgess books were from the same time period.

Googling, I could find very little information about Eggers or his company, but I did find that he created a number of little books of his own, published by the Sage Allen and Co. in 1916 and 1917. He apparently also wrote a series on bird-watching in 1941, published by yet another company, the Samuel Lowe Co.

Most of the little books released by Eggers’ company were Burgess’ works, many of which were published during the era of World War I and after. In a 1922 ad in Printers Ink Monthly, the company promoted its “booklets” and touted its relationship with Burgess:

“Friendly little booklets no bigger than your thumb, others larger. They build good-will out of all proportion to their size and cost. We have exclusive booklet publication rights of Thornton W. Burgess stories with illustrations by Harrison Cady and much other high-power material. We originate and specialize in ideas and unique lines.”

little books

The name of the publisher, John H. Eggers, along with information about the author.

Burgess was a major children’s book author, newspaper columnist, radio personality and conservationist. Over more than 50 years, he wrote more than 170 books and 15,000 newspaper articles. Here’s a list of his books, some of which were called Quaddy books, a name he gave the animals he created in his forests and meadows.

Eggers seemed to have been one of the major publishers of little books. In the ad, the company dubbed itself “The House of Little Books,” and was based in Times Square in New York. I found books ranging in sizes near 3″, the cutoff for those considered miniatures. I did find one at 3 1/8″, and another two times as large. The books at auction were near the 3″ size. Around 1932, the Whitman Publishing Co. began releasing its Big Little Book Series, but these were a bit larger (4″ tall) with many more pages (up to 400).

Little books were not the only things the Eggers company published. I found two World War I propaganda posters credited to it: a 1917 recruitment poster seeking 25,000 student nurses by artist Milton Bancroft and a men-at-war poster titled “Nothing stops these men: let nothing stop you” by artist Howard Giles.

little books

Little books with familiar characters and titles.

Some companies apparently used little books as giveaways to customers. One being sold on eBay bore an ad for Butter-Nut Milk Bread from 1922. It was written and illustrated by Grace Drayton, creator of the Campbell Soup Kids, who wrote several little books. Eggers himself created an Aladdin book as a premium for S&H Green Stamps in 1916.

Eggers published some of Thornton’s books for the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper in 1922. They came with this inscription on the back cover: “A New Bed Time Story similar to this one appears every evening in The Bulletin, Philadelphia.”

Another of Egger’s little books was Burgess’ Peter Rabbit, the name of a character that had already appeared in a book by the British writer Beatrix Potter in 1900. Burgess was enamored with the story of the rabbit, which he read to his son, and a decade later, created his own version with the same name in the book “’Old Mother West Wind,” along with other characters that would appear in subsequent books. There is some debate about whether he purloined Potter’s character.

Little books

An image inside “Little Red Riding Hood.”

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Butterflies as wall art & not specimens Wed, 03 May 2017 14:24:57 +0000 Related posts:
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The bright metal butterflies had their own space on walls that normally held paintings and other artwork at the auction house. There were so many of the large and colorful butterflies – some with cutouts and others solid – that they needed a giant field of flowers to flutter about in.

As I continued my walkthrough before the auction began, I came upon another grouping of metal butterflies on trays on a table farther away. One tray held a small book titled “World of Butterflies,” and I wondered if this was someone’s collection. When I first saw the butterflies, I assumed they had come from a retail store. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

Googling, I found lots of sites selling metal butterflies as wall art. But most of us – especially those who grew up in rural areas – can recall chasing after Monarch and real butterflies with nets or trying to grasp them in our bare hands as they alighted on flowers. That was the fun innocence of children – just as learning in school how a fat disgusting caterpillar can turn into a beautiful butterfly (in a shrouded process that ain’t pretty).

metal butterflies

A tray of metal butterflies, along with a book on the subject.

There are others who see this as a serious undertaking, the lepidopterists – people who collect real butterflies and moths as specimens for scientific study (and I’m sure there are those who collect just as a hobby). British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was big butterfly collector. He had plans to build a butterfly house and garden on his property for breeding and enjoying in 1939, but World War II interrupted. They were later constructed in 1946, and refurbished and opened to the public in 2010.

Collecting butterfly specimens as a hobby was a respectable endeavor in the early half of the 20th century. Not anymore it seems, maybe because there are fewer butterflies or so many of us live in cities that we don’t see as many anymore. I grew up in a rural area, and I do remember butterflies in the summer, a lot of them. Whenever I see a butterfly these days in my urban backyard, I’m thrilled (maybe I should plant a butterfly bush, although I’ve learned that they are invasive). I see lots of bees, though.

While some may frown on catching and preserving butterflies as inhumane, a butterfly caretaker at a Florida museum with 10 million specimens wrote on that we should embrace it. Preserved butterflies allow us to learn more about those that are still alive, he noted. He also mentioned that since Victorian times, the butterfly net has been the primary way to catch them.

metal butterflies

A stack of metal butterflies.

We seem to always have had a love affair with all species of butterflies (more than 17,500 worldwide, 750 in United States) in all of their colors and patterns. Butterfly wings were used in Victorian jewelry, artists painted them on pottery, glassware and lamps, and ashtrays and candleholders were made in their shape.

At auction, this was not the first butterfly grouping I had come across. Several years ago, another auction house sold a collection of Taiwanese specimens, from a country that was known for years as the Butterfly Kingdom. By the mid-20th century, it was a major exporter of butterfly-wing specimens, which were harvested by people who collected them to be sold or who processed the wings in factories.

Most of the butterflies at auction were large and were made to be wall decorations or as part of an ensemble. Take a look:

metal butterflies

A tray of metal butterflies.


metal butterflies

Two entirely different metal butterflies.


metal butterflies

A very colorful metal butterfly.


metal butterflies

One of these sets comes with its own flower branch.


metal butterflies

Another colorful metal butterfly – in a design that I’m sure is not natural.



metal butterflies

Small metal butterflies.


metal butterflies

Metal butterflies with cutouts.

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Washtubs stand in for planter & summer cooler Mon, 01 May 2017 10:09:29 +0000 Related posts:
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The first time I saw the washtubs at auction, I was struck by their utilitarianism. They were galvanized metal with black numbers painted on them and black legs holding them up. The auction house had sat them conspicuously on white bedroom furniture with dark marble tops.

The second time, at this same auction house but a month later, several washtub stands – which looked suspiciously like the other ones – had been placed out front in the early Sunday-morning sun with other garden equipment.

Either way, they made a statement.

washtub stands

Washtub stands at auction. The numbers presumably represent the sizes.

They all had the same style of lettering and numbers printed in black, the same type of brown bands at the top and bottom, and black metal legs that bore scratches. Interestingly, I saw some just like them last week at the Renninger’s antiques and collectors market, held three times a year in Kutztown, PA.

When I saw the washtub stands at auction the first time, I thought they’d make great planters for a yard. The second time I thought they’d be good for beer, wine or soft drinks at an outdoor party.

What do you think of them? And how would you use them?

washtub stands

Mid-sized washtub stands with the number 2.


This three-shelf plamter

This three-shelf planter was a good mate for the washtub stands.

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Whimsical 1912 tire treads to fit your political party or job Wed, 26 Apr 2017 16:19:13 +0000 Related posts:
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I knew I needed new tires because my handyman had already done the penny test on the tread of the Michelins that had come on the used Mazda 6 I had bought in 2014. It was two years old then, and the tires were still in good shape.

He told me that I had enough tread to make it to the spring, and that’s what I was hoping for. I did not want to buy new tires in the dead of winter.

But now, my mechanic was giving me a veiled warning: Had I brought the car in for inspection at the end of the month, it wouldn’t have passed. So I took his warning to heart, did my research and found that April was the best time to buy tires to replace the Michelins, which had done well at 72,000 miles.

tire treads

Michelin suggested these tire treads to its competitors.

Coincidentally, I was cataloging some magazines, papers and documents from my auction visits over the years, and was thumbing through the April 11, 1912, Life magazine when I came across Michelin tires again. Car tires back then were the shape of bicycle tires, and didn’t seem to be much larger or sturdier. How on earth they held up the heavy Locomobile or Overland or Speedwell or Peerless cars advertised in the magazine was a mystery.

What I found intriguing about the Michelin tire ad was the suggested tread designs on several “non-skid” tires. One design had the heads of donkeys “For the Democrat,” elephants “For the Republican,” palettes “For the Artist,” dollar signs “For the Capitalist,” musical staffs “For the Musician” and several others.

“These tires would be easy to sell, though they wouldn’t prevent skidding … . Think of the advertising value of a trail in the road indicating your vocation,” the ad said. “These distinctive treads would not prevent a sale if a republican, for example, wished to sell his car to a democrat, or vice versa. Just drive a few hundred miles and the designs will disappear as all-rubber non-skid designs do. These designs are not copyrighted – all manufacturers are welcome to adopt them.”

Tire treads

Both pages of the Michelin at in the April 11, 1912, Life magazine.

When I first saw the tread patterns, I thought “Neat.” Then after reading the text, I realized that it was all tongue-in-cheek, a joke by Michelin to sell its own “Not fancy but durable” non-skid tires, which were shown on the opposite page. Michelin offered two types of tread – one steel-studded leather tread (a 1912 ad in AAA magazine showed an up-close view of the steel rivets) or a “plain, fair-priced rubber tread that lasts – not an expensive fancy tread that wears off, leaving nothing but the recollection of its high cost.”

Automobiles were a new thing in the early years of the 20th century, and only the wealthy could afford them. A 1913 Peerless 38-Six Touring car was advertised in the Life magazine at $4,200. A Stoddard-Dayton Saybrook for $2,800. An open-top Locomobile for $3,500 to $4,800 (and more if you wanted a closed car). Ford had been among those selling high-end cars, too, with its Model K advertised in a 1907 Life magazine for $2,800. Then came the more affordable Model T, which was selling for $590 in 1912.

Tire treads

Suggested tire treads for the Democrat and Republican.

Back then, most streets were not paved, so those whimsical treads would have left an impression in the dirt roads. Tires were notorious for skidding on both dirt roads and paved streets, injuring passengers and damaging cars (compounded by the lack of stop signs, stop lights, speed limits and other safety features). Tire manufacturers began to develop non-skid tires, and came up with a tread form aimed at preventing skidding.

Raised patterns were molded into tires. Embedding small spikes into tires was also used and had been around for a while, but these wore out quickly because the spikes damaged the tires. Also, the colors of tires started changing around 1912, from a light to black.

The first tires were wooden ones wrapped in iron for durability. Then in the 1880s, Carl (name is spelled with “C” and “K” on different websites) Benz of Germany invented the first electric car that ran on pneumatic tires made from metal wrapped in rubber and filled with air. He was not the first, though; Robert Thomson had the same idea for a pneumatic tire 40 years earlier but nothing much came of it.

Tire treads

Suggested tire tread patterns for several occupations.

John Dunlop of Ireland created the first practical pneumatic tire with a rubber tube that provided traction on the road. It was made for bicycles, though, which had become a favorite mode of travel in the late 1900s. As cars got heavier and needed more traction and stronger tires, manufacturers started putting tread on tires around 1905.

Michelin patented the first removable pneumatic bicycle tire and provided them for a cyclist in the world’s first long-distance bike race in France in 1891. The company was also the first to use these same types of tires on cars, putting them on “The Éclair” that it commissioned for a French road race four years later.

As for tires for my car, I went through sticker shock when I saw the prices – especially for Michelins, even with a $70 discount by the manufacturer. So, I waited until April and finally bought Continental tires – highly rated by Consumer Reports – just as a friend had done for her 2012 Mazda 6. So far, my new tires are riding pretty smoothly.

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Ashtrays bespeak a different era for Howard Johnson’s Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:44:41 +0000 Related posts:
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I don’t have any young memories of eating a vanilla ice cream cone from the 28 flavors at Howard Johnson’s. My family could never afford to eat there or drop by for a bite on travels we never took.

Even if we could, the Howard Johnson’s of the 1960s would never have let us come through its welcoming doors with the “Simon and the Pieman” logo, take a seat and order its infamous fried clams or a “frankfort.”

My auction buddy Janet, who like me was born African American, does have memories of stops at Hojo’s with her parents – but for takeout.

Howard Johnson's restaurants

Howard Johnson ashtrays and matchbook at auction.

“Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, my family took regular car trips to escape the crowded city and see something new,” she says. “Sometimes on weekends, we’d take a ride to upstate New York or Long Island, where the landscape was lush, the houses bigger and there were far fewer people. A special treat was to stop at Howard Johnson’s for ice cream cones. My brothers and I were young, elementary school age, but we always knew the orange building with its blue sign out front. It was like a beacon.”

At auction recently, that beacon beckoned me. But it was in the form of ashtrays and a matchbook with the Howard Johnson’s name and two logos, the boy and the pieman and the boy with a lamplighter. They represented a time when cigarettes were ubiquitous, an ashtray stood at the ready, and matches were placed in bowls near the cash register.

These were relics from an era when Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors of ice cream – “I could have had butter pecan or even coffee (very grown up),” Janet said, “but I still ordered vanilla, my favorite” – its clams and its frankfurters ruled the restaurant landscape.

Howard Johnson's restaurants

Howard Johnson’s ad shows a family on way to the restaurant. This was the type of family the restaurants welcomed. Photo from

Howard Johnson’s was founded when cars were owned by the few who could afford them but took off when those same vehicles became cheap enough so most people could buy one. The chain also peaked when people started traveling in those cars to see more of the country – just as Janet’s family.

Howard Deering Johnson was the brains behind Howard Johnson’s, which started out as a soda fountain in a neighborhood in Quincy, MA, outside Boston, in 1925. By the 1970s, there were 1,000 of the full-service restaurants, which were the most popular in the country. At one point in the 1960s, a new restaurant was said to be opened every nine days.

Today, the last of those restaurants are up for sale, in Lake George, NY. Too much competition and a lot more choices pushed the chain into extinction.

That was not the case when Johnson opened his soda fountain. He wanted to boost sales so he needed to find a way to make his ice cream tastier. He decided to add more butterfat and better ingredients. It worked, and people kept coming back. His ice cream was so popular that he opened another store in downtown Quincy, and thought about how he could expand even more.

Howard Johnson's restaurants

Ashtray and matchbook show the two Howard Johnson’s logos.

Then the depression hit, and his business like others stalled. But he didn’t stop thinking: He persuaded a businessman to open an ice cream stand on Cape Cod – his first venture into franchising – and even that one took off. Johnson supplied the name and the products, and the franchiser sold the food. It would become the norm for all of the subsequent establishments.

In 1930, artist John Eagles Alcott created the “Simon and the Pieman” logo presumably from an old nursery rhyme that began “Simple Simon met a pieman, going to the fair; says Simple Simon to the pieman, ‘Let me taste your ware.'” (The logo with the lamplighter would appear in Hojo advertising and on weathervanes in the 1950s, around the time the first Howard Johnson motor lodge was opened, in Savannah, GA.)

World War II slowed down the company again, but it again survived. The 1960s and 1970s were considered its best years. The 1960s were around the time that my friend Janet was cruising the highway with her family to escape Brooklyn.

A Howard Johnson's restaurant postcard. Photo from

A Howard Johnson’s restaurant postcard. Photo from

Ironically, her’s was the type of family that Howard Johnson’s sought through its clean cookie-cutter restaurants with good affordable food. The restaurants could be found in several states, at service stations on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes (Johnson got exclusive contracts when the turnpikes were built) and alongside Howard Johnson’s hotels.

The restaurants were standardized. Johnson developed a “Howard Johnson Bible” that all restaurants had to use to maintain uniformity, from food to dress (waitresses wore uniforms originally designed by Christian Dior) to the look of the place.

He got the idea for his trademark clams from a company in Ipswich, MA that removed the bellies from its clams. So Johnson enlisted the owners to supply their “tender-sweet fried clams” to all of his restaurants.

Howard Johnson's restaurants

Howard Johnson’s ad promoting its ice cream flavors. Photo from

All of Howard Johnson’s new dishes were tested at commissaries before being served at the restaurants. During the 1960s, he added a little French to his menu by hiring two little-known chefs who would become famous: Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin, who started out as a line cook at a restaurant in Queens, NY, and then tested recipes at one of the commissaries.

While Howard Johnson’s advertised itself as a wholesome family-friendly restaurant, it was far from it. African Americans could take out but not eat in. “It wasn’t until years later, at my first job in Rhode Island,” Janet said, “that I actually sat down and ate in a Hojos.” That was in the 1970s.

During the 1960s, the restaurants were the site of protests by African Americans who wanted to sit down for their clams and ice cream. Agitation from blacks was seemingly on the minds of Howard Johnson’s franchisees at their meeting in 1957. They were told by a Cornell University law school professor to use “courtesy and tact” in denying service to African Americans, telling them that they wouldn’t mind serving them but for those local laws against it.

Howard Johnson's restaurants

A protest outside a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Durham, NC, in 1962. Photo from

That same year, a Howard Johnson’s refusal in Dover, DE, to serve the finance minister of Ghana led to a public apology from President Eisenhower. The incident also became a joke told by African American comedian Nipsey Russell: “But I’m the delegate from Ghana,” the diplomat said. “Well, you ain’t Ghana eat here,” the waitress said.

Howard Johnson’s became a target in 1962 during the “Freedom Highways” protests in five states from Virginia to Florida. Some of the Hojos were said to open their doors to everyone pretty quickly, but some franchisees did not, including in Durham, NC. There, 500 people demonstrated against Hojo’s segregationist policies, along with the conviction on trespassing charges of protesters during a previous demonstration.

Some sat inside waiting to be served and others rallied in the parking lot, outlasting beatings and arrests. They did this for a year before the restaurant changed its policies.

Hojo’s history is not much different from others during that time, but the ashtrays and matchbook were a reminder of that part of its legacy.

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