Elizabeth continues her discussion on downsizing and how to get rid of the stuff you no long need. In this episode she talks about what to do with items you want to keep. She also gives advice about having a garage sale.
R.S. from Lompoc has a vintage Empire Trav'l-Toast Multi-Purpose Toaster, which plugs into a car's cigarette lighter and operates on 12 volts. Right on the yellow metal box (from which a sleeve to hold a slice of bread pops up), we read, "Make toast, toasted sandwiches, fruit tarts, frozen waffles and french toast" and "For vans, campers, cars, trucks, boats."
What an amazing, deadly, distracted-driver piece of 1970s technology. I am told that 12 volts handled poorly can cause some serious nerve damage!
Assuming people in 1970 fished inside the toaster for renegade toast, nerve damage might have been a possibility. And that would have been attempted while driving! If every object tells a story, this object tells us about the long lost art of the self-sufficient, impetuous family vacation on the American highway.
The unit was manufactured by The Metal Ware Corp., founded in 1920 in Two Rivers, Wis. The company, known for small kitchen appliances, is still in business today, with its specialty convection ovens marketed on QVC. The Metal Ware Co. is truly a remarkable industry, skating just one step ahead of market trends. The electronic travel gadget is one example of this corporation's habitual resourcefulness in the almost-kitsch American marketplace. Thus, this one object speaks of the lost art of the family vacation and the innocence of the American consumer around that yearly pilgrimage.
The story of this toaster is also the story of American capitalism at its most fortuitous. The Metal Ware Co. seems to have been in the right markets at the right times: In the 1920s, the company's profit jumped with the manufacture of a small, fully contained stove at 21 inches by 17 inches by 10 inches, perfect for single working people. In the 1920s, a national wave of industry in major American cities called for new single-occupancy domiciles — called the "apartment complex." Apartment dwellers needed small stoves, and Metal Ware provided.
In wartime (1941-45), the Metal Ware Co. used its serendipitous market savvy and was called upon to make small electric lanterns for GIs and small appliances for naval vessels.
After the war (1946-80), the American consumer market changed to home-based economies of scale. Metal Ware Co. marketed small kiddie electric irons and daughter-sized ironing boards, family electric popcorn units (think of the growing ubiquity of the family TV set), and ladies' portable home hair dryers. (I remember my mother's pink "Lady Aristette," a waist-strapped shell-shaped hair dryer, limited only by the length of the electric cord.)
In the 1970s, a new wave of home-related objects offered by Metal Ware capitalized on two new market trends: ground, canned coffee and family travel. When we think of travel today, we think of professional travel. But in the 1970s, travel often involved the family station wagon. Metal Ware Co. manufactured coffee "Kar'N Home Kits" — coffee makers adaptable enough for a car trip or a family hotel/motel stay.
R.S.'s little Trav'l-Toast unit is an example of the family vacation gear of the early 1970s, when fast food was not available on every dusty American highway. The Trav'l-Toast had cousins: the Empire Trav'l-Mate automatic coffee maker kit and the Empire Port-A-Fry, a 12-volt traveling frying pan. I can only imagine a gadget-head father driving the station wagon — Mom is making coffee, frying eggs and making toast beside him on the bench seat.
Well before Starbucks put coffee on every corner of American streets, Mom and Dad were grateful for a travel coffee kit. My dad operated one in the 1973 paneled Pontiac Catalina Safari with chrome luggage rack on the way to our family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Think of market confluence here: Toaster machines and coffee maker kits would not be possible without presliced bread and ground coffee, also a phenomenon of the American mid-century. One jump in technology engenders another marketing opportunity. In this amusing little Trav'l-Toast, we find a reminder of the self-sufficient American family vacation, Griswold-style. I wonder, however, how many baby brothers went up in smoke? Consider, also, the casualness of making coffee, frying eggs, and toasting bread in a car. In 1970, you couldn't be pulled over for texting (let alone no seat belts), and in that age of memorable family vacations (with at least four hungry kids lounging on the back floor of the station wagon), I doubt anyone would pull you over for making breakfast.
Its value is a mere $25, but what innocence and family dreams (and nightmares) this unit evokes!
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart continues her discussion on downsizing and how to get rid of the stuff you no long need. In this episode she talks about how to donate items to the correct organizations.
A.C. in Lompoc has a complete boxed "Brainstorm Beanie," circa 1954, marketed by the Jim Prentice Electric Toy Co. What makes this so special? The condition! Children's toys are not usually found unused in a pristine box after 63 years.
Although there's no date on the box, I found the date of production by searching vintage comic books. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, comic book publishers realized they had a powerful and willing mass market — boys — who would clip out an order form and send in money for a host of amazing (or so they appeared) toys and offers. Comic Favorites Inc. advertised the Brainstorm Beanie with such a mail order form in August of 1954 in a copy of "Jonesy #7."
Jonesy (Marvin Jones), Carol Lynne, J.P. Barnaby and Weepy, high school friends, palled around and went on various adventures in the "Jonesy" series. The August 1954 issue featured a few other notable advertisements: "Now You Can Fly a Real Jet Plane," offered by Jetex F-102, and Charles Atlas' claim of fitness for the 97-pound weakling: "The Insult that Turned a Chump into a Champ." Brainstorm Beanie was in great company: Charles Atlas (aka Angelo Siciliano, 1882-1972) was arguably the most successful bodybuilder and ad man of his time, offering to send his "Dynamic Exercise Materials" to skinny young men across the U.S. Brainstorm Beanie, on the other hand, offered to "light up" a youngster's brilliant ideas. Apparently, the era of the manic inventor reached down into kids' kitsch, transforming a generation of boys into mad scientists.
The form of the Brainstorm Beanie was, of course, a beanie cap in blue velvet, labeled "Brainstorm Beanie" in embroidered letters over the forehead. Beanie caps became popular in the late 1940s due to the TV sock puppet kids' show "Time for Beany," which ran with great popularity for five years, later becoming a syndicated animated cartoon, "Beany and Cecil," where Capt. Horatio Huffenpuff's nephew, Beany Boy, palled around with Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. Of course, Beany Boy wore a flying propeller beanie, fast adopted by TV character Beaver Cleaver, and many college frat boys thereafter.
The first “propeller head” (today a term for technophiles) was worn by a science fiction writer in 1947 at a World Convention of sci-fi aficionados in Detroit: advertisers saw the potential and capitalized on boys’ fascinations with jet propellers, atomic energy, helicopter double blades, and finally electric power in toys. As in AC’s Brainstorm Beanie, sci-fi was transformed into low-end novelty. This itself was so uniquely American that the propeller beanie was featured at the Brussels World's Fair of 1958 at the US Pavilion in an exhibit called “How America Lives.” Imagine the shock as compared to the controversially serious Soviet Pavilion next-door.
The inventor of the Brainstorm Beanie, a beanie with a difference, however, was a mathematics student who became a lifelong games-maker. Jim Prentice was the Father of Electronic Baseball Games (named by collectors as such, worldwide); in fact, he was the actual father of The Electric Games Company, employing at its peak 200 employees in an 80K sq. ft. factory in Holyoke, MA.
Today it is difficult to imagine that the introduction of electricity to boy’s toys would be groundbreaking, but the inclusion of a battery (late 1930’s- mid 1950’s) created electro-mechanical action toys and games complete with flashing lights and moving parts. AC’s Brainstorm Beanie, likewise, has a flash-able red light at the crown of the beanie, controlled by one massive handheld container for a large battery cell, attached to the hat with an obvious cord.
What did Mr Prentice claim to be the benefits of wearing a flashing red light beanie, controllable at will? The box says it all; a boy can - and will "Light up an Idea, Send Secret Code, Be Safe on Dark Roads, Be the Center of Attention and Laffs” (sic), and “Many Other Uses”. What might those many other uses be? Synchronized thinking, perhaps?
Amazing, also, in these high-tech game days, that the simple use of a word “Electric” emblazoned on the box used as a marketing hook for scores of young men. Those young men saw ‘electric’ and ordered post-haste from the comic book ad: there’s no denying that sci fi was everywhere in the 1950’s, even on the top of Junior’s head.
The value, because of the almost new condition, and the iconic “back story” (provenance) of the Brainstorm Beanie is $200.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart talks about downsizing and how to get rid of the stuff you no long need. She explains her five pile method.
S.C., who works at a Ventura thrift store, sent me a photo of a mahogany box with paneled front and sides that is raised on turned legs with 'tipt' feet (the legs are lathed and taper to a fine point). The lid is hinged and can be lifted, and the top exterior is fitted with something warmer than wood, perhaps leather. The case piece is mortise and tenon joined, which means it is pre-1840 if it is American or pre-1820 if it is English.
Under the lid there's a white ceramic pot inside a commodious wooden platform. S.C., this is a toilet, circa the second quarter of the 19th century.
Although S.C.'s toilet does not flush, the technology was known to ancient civilizations such as the Indus Valley (2600-1900 BCE), which had sewers and flushing toilets. The Minoans of ancient Crete (2000-1500 BCE) had drainage systems and water toilets. The Roman goddess of the sewers was Cloacina, "The Cleanser," who watched as citizens perched over the Cloaca Maxima (Greatest Drain), the main trunk of the Roman sewer system. Regrettably, the Middle Ages saw a reversal in waste management.
Fast forward to 1596, when Joseph Harrington's novel idea of a flush cistern sadly languished; the idea was revisited and patented in 1775 by Alexander Cumming. Modern society continued to eliminate in a wooden box with a porcelain insert like S.C.'s until the late 19th century. One had either a water or an earth closet (with granulated clay), and if you were lucky and rich, you had servants for that sort of thing.
Many of my clients present me with lovely floral decorated bowls with one handle and tell me that although it is old, it has always been their family's favorite popcorn bowl. Old chamber pots were finely decorated and treasured as an invaluable piece of the family's hygiene for years. And when the wood boxes that housed them decayed, the bowl remained for a new life after plumbing, although how the popcorn feels about this we can only surmise.
S.C.'s toilet was the latest in waste management until 1884, when the first pedestalled toilet — made of porcelain — was invented.
Indeed, inside toilets in the late 19th and early 20th century were a design-build luxury, and until 1890, American toilet paper rolls had not been thought of. In Europe, rolled toilet paper did not exist until 1928, one year before my mother was born. If you were around before those momentous dates, you would have saved a newspaper for a more personal use after finishing it. Because folks were accustomed to saving newsprint for future use, the first "toilet paper" was about the size and shape of a newspaper.
If you were not lucky enough to have a plumbed toilet in your home in 1892, you could have visited a public lav in London, thanks to John Nevil Maskelyne, who patented the penny lock. When you tell your boss that you have to leave the meeting to "spend a penny," you can thank John Nevil Maskelyne.
Because most homes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries had such thunder boxes as S.C.'s, not surprisingly, they are not valuable in the antiques market. As the craze for indoor plumbing took hold in the early 1900s, people were quick to ditch their old commodes. But not all of them. When I see them used, proudly, as an article of furniture today, I sometimes see a potted plant, and am told they are plant holders.
They are not. They are simply old heads. (By the way, a "head" was a toilet on a ship, a plank that ran outwards of the bow hanging over the water; the "head" of the ship.)
S.C.'s thunder box and porcelain chamber pot, although amusing and old as far as potties go (1840), is worth $200.
D from Lompoc has a print of a royal regatta procession through the waters of Venice, Italy, his favorite city, by Alessandro dell Via. The title is "Veduta del Tempio/della Salute/in Venetia/Dedictato/All'Eccellenza del S. Marchese."
D brought the piece into my office to examine. We know what the print is about — an event in 1688 — but the paper looks relatively new. It is, indeed, "laid" paper — paper made even today in the old style, by hand, screened in a tight sieve. If D were to take the piece out of the frame, we could possibly see a watermark and research the maker of the paper. Pressmarks of the copper plate are evident.
D's print may have been "pressed" in the mid-20th century, when the style of the 1940s was high-end "Italian" art paired with Italian provincial. Many homes featured Piranesi prints, restruck. D wondered, "Is not a print contemporary with its era?"
My answer is no, a print is not always contemporary with its era. In some cases the print could be a restrike from the mid-20th century. If the plate from which the print was struck is still in a collection, and the copper plate is in good shape, the print can be restruck, especially if the plate is not owned by an estate.
Perhaps a museum owns the plate and the museum has authorized a restrike in the 20th century. Perhaps the owner of the plate has created new prints off the old plate. Finally, a new plate can be created from the existing old print. This is technologically possible today because a computer can analyze the print itself and a computer can etch (in negative) the lines of the old print into a new copper plate. Finally, a computer can take a digital photo of the print and reproduce it on paper, but in this case, no pressmarks will be seen. D's print has "pressmarks," the slight pressure indentions made when the paper is forced upon the plate.
Why this makes a difference is in the value. If the print is original to the 17th century, it's worth $8,000. If the print is a 20th century restrike from the original plate, the print is worth $400 to $500. If it is a photomechanical reproduction on laid paper, it's worth $175.
Finally, prints describing magnificent scenes of royal happenings in the 17th century had lavish titles, set into a box into one of the top corners. This was done for two reasons: one, because the piece was commissioned by a nobleman who wanted his name on the piece, and, two, the print was not made to be hung (as they are today) but viewed in a series to tell a story (of a procession, or a life, or an event). Such narrative prints were proudly displayed in leather-embossed portfolios. D's print was one of a series of scenes of Venice that involved regattas that included the noble marcheses of the day. If you remember your Venetian nautical history, the size of your boat mattered! (Think "The Merchant of Venice").
The last element of proof of age is the most difficult: this is the size of the paper upon which the print was originally struck in the 17th century. When we appraise prints, we state two sizes — the size the image occupies and the size of the paper sheet. D's print was struck in two versions: one with the marchese's name in a frame top left, and one without the frame and name. Look at auction records of prints in this same edition (same image, from the same date) that give both the site size and the sheet size. Yes, sheets have been trimmed over the years; find the largest and you can assume that is the sheet size.
D's print is framed, and he is not sure he wants to harm a frame job that cost him plenty.
When curiosity overwhelms D, he will dismount the piece, look for a watermark, look at the back of the print to see if the inks have bled (old inks tend to be less even) and measure the sheet size. Judging from the color of the paper, unless D's print was housed in an acid-free portfolio out of the air and light for more than 300 years (which is possible), it may be a 20th century restrike. The value of that is $400 to $500.
Mid Century Modern is a HOT style these days. For example this Mid century oil painting of a young girl by Igor Pantuhoff may be worth more than you think.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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