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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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.

 

Hidden Treasures in the Attic: the Vintage Metal Cabinet

Tucked away in the corner of a far flung A-framed room, walls donning seafaring paper, sat an unassuming cabinet. Lets be honest though, it was the blue velvet jacket and red tartan pants on the wardrobe rack that completely distracted me. Either way, after making our way through a storybook home for the ages, the mister spotted a green metal cabinet with art deco details that speaks to modern sensibilities. The wheels on the bottom are made out of wood. There are no tags or stamps to speak of on the cabinet, but from a very basic search I gather that this is a piece of mid century office furniture. Though the rounded top and art deco design on the front speak to another time, the mass-fabrication & distribution of such an item lands in a more modern time frame.

Here is a similar cabinet to the one we found recently:

acorn cabinet

The cabinet that we found doesn’t have a top handle though, and it looks most closely akin to this cabinet that is part of a TOTALLY RAD fold out desk that’s for sale on ebay right now. I’m seriously considering the idea of putting together a pop-up office consisting of this desk, my Seminole camping chair, and my Chromebook. Come to think of it, this is exactly why I bought a new car with a hatchback. Oh the possibilities! But, I digress . . .

Once I gather more info on it’s background, I’ll share a photo of a dusted off cabinet we found. Well, that’s if I haven’t taken it to the office & turned it into a bar on wheels.

What would you do with a versatile piece of mid century office furniture on wheels? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

When Neglected Bookshelves Reveal Treasures

Well-read homes require more time to pore over shelves, nooks, and crannies. This home in the foothills had an old book collection tucked away in a slim closet. At first it was the stack of old law books that caught my eye, but then I found it peculiar that all these giant books were on top of a modestly sized leather bound text with engraved details. I had to remove the large volumes in batches in order to retrieve the gem, and it turned out to be totally worth it.

As someone that enjoys learning about local history, I was thrilled to find a textbook that once belonged to a student of Washington & Jefferson college in 1875. This volume of Willson’s Outlines of History is in decent shape. The edges of the spine’s leather binding are worn and the bottom is a little flaky, but the pages are in excellent condition. There are 12 hand painted maps in the textbook. TWELVE! Its an incredible time capsule.

Willson's Outlines of History, 1875

Willson’s Outlines of History, 1875

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A student of Washington & Jefferson College.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to the small book on the very bottom of a stack, but I’m glad that I took the time to dig it out. Now to research how best to preserve a book from the 19th century!

Remembering the Greatest Generation

Yesterday was a day was filled with reflective moments. I popped in and out of this live stream of the 70th D-Day Anniversary celebrations.

So many sacrificed so much. And I was reminded of that fact while hearing the stories of four American soldiers that were well enough to make the trip back to Normandy. Truly powerful stuff. You can watch the full episode here.

Earlier this year I happened upon a birding book from 1902. When I opened the cover I found a yellowing piece of paper tucked against the crease. Based on the outlines that pamphlet left on the inside of the cover and title page, I imagine the thing had been left untouched in there for a significant amount of time. That little piece of paper happened to be a rubber & gasoline rationing pamphlet from 1942.

I have yet to scan this document, but here are some rough shots. Also of note, the cover of the pamphlet has an illustration of a Japanese soldier by Edmund Duffy. That’s for a later time as I need to research how best to preserve this piece of American WWII ephemera.

Rationing pamphlet, Office of Price Administration, 1942

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Rationing pamphlet with illustrations by Edmund Duffy, 1942

 

 

 

Pro Tip: Always check the garage

Garages get a bad rap. Between the spiders, the weird smells, and their generally unkempt nature, some folks that visit estate sales don’t even step foot into garages. But if you’re a treasure hunter like me, you know that there’s no more unexpected of a place to find a cool collectible than a garage.

While I was at work one Friday afternoon, the mister decided to take advantage of his day off and visit an estate sale in Eagle Rock. I had forwarded the description of the sale to him and he found the mention of vintage tools very enticing. So off he went with $20 in his pocket. The afternoon goes by rather quietly until I receive a text message that declares that I will soil myself upon setting eyes on his discovery. Alright, mister. I am officially intrigued.

I’m thankful for the warning because I almost lost it when I saw what was in the middle of our bedroom. A steamer trunk from the late 19th century!

Steamer trunk by A.E. Meek Trunk and Bag Company.

Steamer trunk by A.E. Meek Trunk and Bag Company.

Look at that label! A.E. Meek Trunk and Bag Company.

Look at that label! A.E. Meek Trunk and Bag Company.

This could possibly be one of the coolest coffee tables ever as there are four canvas-lined wooden shelves that go inside of the trunk. The metal hardware is spectacular. We’re missing the key though, so some sleuthing will need to be done. The entire trunk is reinforced with wood slats and the corners have a metal wrap. From the looks of things, this trunk was made for the rough & tumble stagecoach rides.

The exterior has the general wear & tear one would expect for a travel trunk that has survived for around 125 years. The lid has a couple of drops of (presumably) white paint, which I imagine came from the years it spent tucked away in a garage. I can’t help but wonder if the owner of the house had family that came to California from Colorado decades after the Gold Rush. Oh, if only that trunk could talk!

If it weren’t for the mister’s eagle eye and the brilliant timing we wouldn’t have found this timeless piece of Americana. I can’t wait to have this as the centerpiece of our living room once we’ve dusted off the exterior & figured out a table top solution.

The more I think of it, the more I wonder if a slab of acrylic with rounded edges is the way to go. We definitely don’t want to harm the surface by adhering a permanent bond to to it. If anyone has any tips or recs on how to convert a steamer trunk into a coffee table, please leave a comment below!

 

 

From Bedtime to Sink Skirt: How to Upcycle Vintage Sheets

At an estate sale in Pasadena a year or two back, I was fortunate to find some brightly colored sheets in impeccable shape. When I moved into my latest apartment I planned on transforming those sheets into a shower curtain for our claw-foot tub.

Sheets

Line dried vintage sheets.

Well, practicality took over and we opted not to do that. Instead, we shifted our focus to the naked area beneath the small sink in the bathroom. It had recently been transformed into a storage area for our emergency water and was now home to two 5-gallon jugs. Not the prettiest sight while you’re sitting on the porcelain throne.

My dear friend’s Mom was kind enough to lend her sewing skills one summer afternoon and created a lovely skirt to cover my jugs. I am much happier with the view.

Sink Skirt

The finished product, a dandy sink skirt.

Now on to create something with the striped sheet!