History Through Food

Eighteen months and a dozen estate sales later, here I am. There’s a backlog of material to share, including my first beaded 1920s purse, an accidental eelskin and a rolling wooden bar cart. However, today I’m going to introduce a new series of posts inspired by my husband’s desire to learn everything there is to know about regional American cuisine for R&D. A consistent effort has been made while perusing estate sales & flea markets to take a second look at books. Our collection of regional American cookbooks welcomed 3 new additions this weekend. Well, they’re not precisely “new”, but they are new to us and we are excited about the snapshot in time that they’ll provide. That brings me to the official introduction to this exploration of local palates, regional food systems and the historical context of the creation and propagation of certain recipes. Welcome to History Through Food.

In this series I’ll be looking beyond the copyright date to explore the content at face value while examining the historical climate surrounding that regional publishing. For instance, take a look at this cover-less copy of the American Women’s Voluntary Services Cookbook (c. 1942). A book for wartime living is as applicable today as it was 74 years ago.

A book for wartime living . . .

A book for wartime living . . .

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Made to Last: Hartmann Gibraltarized Wardrobe Trunk

An impromptu visit to Mom turned into a treasure hunt around local vintage haunts. My keen eye and interest for well-constructed and interesting pieces was cultivated from a young age by parents who took no care in dragging their offspring to auctions, boot sales, and bazaars. Perhaps this is why I feel perfectly comfortable navigating arcades, aisles, and rooms filled with dusty artifacts. But it was on one unseasonably warm February afternoon in Southern California that I happened to walk into one of the largest and most exciting finds I’ve had yet.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that I have found a prime example of a Hartmann Gibraltarized Panama Wardrobe Trunk from the 1920s like the one pictured in this trade book from 1922. Thanks to Google Books and their grand digitization efforts, I’ve been able to track down a handful of advertisements featured in periodicals. Such gems include:

The trunk I happened to stumble upon is a great example of a personalized trunk that could have been a gift for a graduation, birthday, or wedding. The exterior has the initials E.R. stamped in red. Though the original Yale lock is still intact, the keyhole was busted open some time ago.

Hartmann Gibraltarized Panama Trunk

Hartmann Gibraltarized Panama Trunk

 

The Yale lock bar for the interior drawers, pant hangers, shirt hangers, laundry bag, and shoe box are all in accompaniment.

Hartmann Gibraltarized Panama Wardrobe Trunk  interior

Hartmann Gibraltarized Panama Wardrobe Trunk interior

The trunk has seen some light wear in its 95 years. The rusting bolts, hinges, and corner brackets only add to its overall charm. Though the trunk is in overall decent repair, it is missing one drawer; and the H and A in the Hartmann cross logo on the side of the trunk have since flaked off due to handling. The rest of the label is cracked and barely adhered. I bet a kitten’s sneeze could dislodge it.

I’m in the process of rearranging my home office/bar (because, priorities) and eager to transform this well-maintained wardrobe trunk into an office supply organizer. Perhaps one day it’ll serve its duty during a move, but for now I’ll be perfectly content displaying this unique find while also having a non-traditional spot to stash stationary and stuff.

Have you found an interesting piece of luggage or a trunk and repurposed it in your home? I’d love to find out what other creative, vintage enthusiasts are doing with their wardrobe trunks. Please comment below or Tweet!

Suburban Treasures of the Post WWII Boom

On a sunny Saturday one winter afternoon, I found myself in the garden of a well-loved home in West Covina. Sitting on the end of a cul-de-sac and with the back of the property line facing the wash, this home was part of the post WWII building boom in Southern California. From 1950 to 1960 West Covina was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Not bad for a city that split off from Covina because it didn’t want a sewage farm built in the area.

The items from today’s estate sale haul speak precisely to the middle class sensibilities of that era. A set of red cloth bound books with gold lettering caught my eye as I made my way through the living room. There on a bookshelf sat a nine volume set of the Scribner Radio Music Library from 1946. The amazing gold microphone on the cover sealed the deal for me, but when I started to thumb through one of the volumes I realized that this was a wonderful way to take the pulse of a nation’s culture. Volume 6, Standard & Modern Dance Music, and volume 8, Favorite Songs of Every Character, are the most intriguing books to study at the moment. Though I lack a piano at home, I’m hoping that my brother, the pianist, will indulge me by playing a slice of the library’s repertoire.

As good timing would have it, I passed by a table of costume jewelry & watches on my way to set the Music Library aside for purchase. A gold case with bells shimmered and I couldn’t say no to the scallop design so I picked it up. I turned the case over to reveal the name Coty on the other side. Upon opening the case carefully to investigate I confirmed that I had indeed just found a compact. The exterior of the case is in fairly good condition, with minor wear to the gold tone and some light scratches. The top lid mirror is perfectly intact & in marvelous shape. There is some blush in the compact, as well as the remnants of some air-spun powder, but no sign of the applicators. The sleigh bells on the handle are securely fastened and ring delightfully. Clearly something so cute just had to come home with me.

A quick search online revealed this darling ad from Vogue’s November 1942 issue.

Coty compacts ad from Vogue.

Coty compacts ad from Vogue.

Finding a vintage Coty Sleigh Bells powder compact was a nice surprise. I think this will make a fantastic Mother’s Day gift as my Mom has been collecting compacts for ages. Most of her goodies were found while living in Ireland, but I have been known to find a treasure or two in the time since. 

The set of books and the lovely compact point to signs of a prosperous middle class that could afford a taste of the arts & leisure in their own home. That neighborhood maintains the same sensibility in present day, and I hope that whomever buys that house appreciates it’s young yet valuable history.

 

Gold & Intrigue Off South Carolina Coast

During the cool-off period after today’s lunch time walk, I found myself reading a story on NY Times about a sunken ship revisited after laying around, presumably in dispute, since its discovery more than 20 years ago. Around 60 ambrotypes lay still awaiting a preservation plan months after a recovery mission in April brought up bars of gold fetching upwards of $1.2 million (metal value only). The coinage found in the safe may fetch millions. Apparently the original finder of the wreckage became a fugitive in 2012 so clearly this vessel has a story that stretches beyond it’s sinking during a hurricane in 1857. Oh, if wood planks could talk.

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Personal Treasures: Celebrating Life Through Black and White Family Photographs

Timing is a funny thing. I was fortunate enough to spend last year’s birthday in Puerto Rico alongside my Grandmothers. Eight nights were spent divided among them and I savored each minute of it.

Around the time I booked my flight, I began the process of building my family tree and beginning the research process. Sometimes I forgot how many siblings my Grandmothers have! Both are from large families with kids born between the 1920s and 1930s. I have an obscene amount of second cousins.

As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to pay a surprise visit to my sweet Great Aunt Manuela & Tio Fernando. We had a giggle over a pretty photo of her & her sister (my Grandmother) when they were bachelorettes living in Santurce during the 1950s.

Familia Rivera Torres

I’m so glad we shared that moment. Titi Manuela passed away on Friday, July 11th and was laid to rest today. Sweet memories remain. I’m grateful that my Grandmother had albums intact and shared them with me to digitize. The personal photo archival project and family tree endeavor are ongoing and I look forward to sharing some of the discoveries along the way.

QEPD.

AER036

Have you started researching your Spanish colonial, Moorish, and/or Caribbean lineage? Let me know what familial adventures you’re embarking upon, whether its a family reunion or researching your family tree online.

How to Scratch the History Itch: Heatwave Edition

Its been noted by plenty that summers in Southern California’s valleys are not very conducive for outdoor activities. I consider poking around in garages during sales as such an activity (see previous Pro Tip post). Given that the past two weekends have required multiple costume changes due to the weather, its safe to say that peak activity hours have migrated into the cooler, evening hours. Not quite in sync with the usual sale schedule though. There is, however, a way to continue exploring different pockets of the LA Basin without braving the heat.

I recently learned (thanks, LA Curbed!) that the USGS has released a catalog of topographical maps that date back to when the topographical map program started in 1884. This is of special interest to me as I’ve joined in on a couple of orienteering events and I happen to call a 128 year old structure “home”. Last summer I began looking into the basic history about the neighborhood and the city founders. I found the original owner’s family’s name through a historical designation web site and have yet to pull any tax or land records. Though I have a lot of work yet to do, its quite lovely to gaze upon maps from another slice of time. That is especially so when you live in an area that has undergone such a radical transformation within a century.

Looks like I’ll be spending some quality time away from the blazing sun, looking at groovy maps while sipping on mojitos. Because, summer.

 

History Hunter: The Steamer Trunk from Eagle Rock

Through a couple of auction sites I’ve been able to piece this puzzle together a little further. There was in fact a company in Denver, Colorado that specialized in leather goods and trunks. The building still stands today.

To date I haven’t been able to find a photo of another trunk that’s the exact same as mine, but we aren’t far off. I’m glad I at least have the company sticker as a clue, but I wish my trunk had a travel label on it that indicated a voyage on some fine vessel, such as this one that traveled aboard the S. S. Empress of France”.

Though the building is of historical value, it finds itself vacant. You may also find of interest: Best Lost Denver Alley Sign 2010 and a photo of the A.E. Meek sign today.

This photo of one of their delivery vehicles is by far my favorite find from the research process.

 

A.E. Meek Trunk & Bag Co. Delivery Truck

A.E. Meek Trunk & Bag Co. Delivery Truck