A Promising (and Eye-Opening) Start to the Estate Sale Season in CT

Notwithstanding the unseasonably cold temperatures here in New England (at this writing in late March, highs expected in the 30sF), there are signs of spring. For one, there’s been a sudden spike in the number of listings for estate sales, which warms the hearts of vintage lovers and flea market scavengers like me. It’s the time of year when people start clearing out their attics and closets in preparation for a move or to wrestle control over their growing piles of stuff. There are always plenty of other people who feel they don’t have enough stuff and will swoop in to take it off their hands. Going to estate and yard sales make you appreciate the wisdom of  the old saying, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ I see this dynamic playing out all the time and heartily approve of it as a form of recycling.

Last weekend I mapped out several sales I wanted to check out on Friday and Saturday and they ran the gamut in terms of appeal. I live in Connecticut in a region dotted with quaint villages and incredibly scenic landscapes. Town welcome signs proudly proclaim their establishment in the 1600s and, after driving through a string of these, I start to think of those founded later, say the 1800s, as modern upstarts. On a typical drive, I pass by impossibly idyllic farmsteads bordered by stacked stone walls and white picket fences, with cows grazing happily in the pastures. As I follow the turns to the next sale dictated by Google Maps, I’m expected to drive up to a sprawling estate with lots of treasures inside.

However, there’s another side to country living and it isn’t as pretty. I looked around confusedly when the familiar Google Maps voice said, “You’ve arrived,” then noticed a small single-lane street with a few cars positioned along the edge. I parked a short distance away and walked toward a “house” where a few people were coming and going. It was really more of a shack with a few steps leading up to a one-room affair. Inside, stuff was piled and thrown everywhere and some people were picking through the dirt and grime in hope of finding something precious or valuable. One older woman lifted a colored glass bottle in the air, effusing, “My mother used to have all sorts of these but she threw them out” (for good reason I expect).  I’m all for scavenging but I draw the line at the risk of contracting airborne diseases or coming upon dead rodents in my search. It was the sort of place that should be wrapped in warning tape and condemned by the health department. Yet, the woman running the sale noted happily that she would be there all week bringing in more stuff from some unknown nearby stash. My husband doesn’t usually come with me to these sales but he happened to this time and I found him standing outside with his arms folded and a stern look on his face that said, “what are we doing here?” Needless to say, we left empty handed.

Happily, very few sales turn out that way. Most are located in longtime family homes that are being cleared out by relatives or estate sale pros. That’s not to say they are lavish estates. In fact, they are often modest looking bungalows or split levels but they’re stuffed with interesting treasures that the owners have accumulated over time. One sale was at a midcentury-style split level, the home of a recently deceased elderly couple who were enthusiastic collectors of southwest-style and Native American art. Another was at a lovely two-story colonial filled with nostalgic pieces from the early to mid 1900s. The owners were involved in the dairy industry and had these wonderful old wooden milk crates (which I didn’t buy because of the price, but will probably regret). I also passed on an antique sewing machine and a beautiful ceramic stove/oven with warming cabinets (too big). But I found some great old books, jewelry, and purses.

Below are some my finds from these particular outings (photos link to listings in my Etsy shop). All in all, a satisfying (and edifying) first couple of weeks of estate sale hunting!

luxart library classics
I love these miniature classics from the 1920s by Little Luxart Library. They’re part of a bigger set but I like the titles I found, including: Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge; Speeches and Letters by George Washington; and Barrack-Room Ballads by Rudyard Kipling.

andersen studio ceramics
A set of ceramic stoneware vases by Andersen Design Studio, founded by the late Weston and Brenda Andersen in 1952, in Boothbay, Maine.
Continuing my fascination with vintage cameras, I picked up some Kodak Brownies. The Baby Brownie, which already sold (pictured above), was so cute. And I’m amazed at the condition of this No. 2 box camera from the 1910s.
Antique gold-filled wire rim spectacles made by American Optical in the 1930s.
A lovely Florentine leather compact from the 1950s, in pristine condition!
A 1960s hand-tooled leather cigarette case with the Aztec calendar etched on the back.

 

 

 

Fun Ideas for Creating Vintage Shelf Displays

I love seeing how people use antiques to create cool vintage displays in their homes. Possessions that have outlived their original purpose or been replaced by modern materials and sleeker designs–such as wooden printer trays or midcentury suitcases–are being repurposed as vintage decor to wonderful effect. Nostalgic items like vintage cameras and old kitchen utensils are being called back into service as art. I love the idea of upcycling these treasures, which might otherwise be relegated to a dusty storage space or thrown away.

The wooden printer tray is something that I’ve used in my own home. We found one at my mother-in-law’s house years ago and she gave it to my youngest son–a toddler at the time–to use in his room. Over the years, he’s filled up the odd-shaped compartments with tiny art objects found during family trips or at flea markets. Now 17, he still displays it on his wall and it’s like a snapshot of experiences and interests that he’s had over the years. Maybe someday he’ll pass it along to his own children.

vintage decor
A few of the tiny collectibles in my son’s printer’s tray display.

 

vintage shelf display
Another vintage display created with an old printer’s tray, featured on the blog Building 25.

Other Display Ideas

Vintage cameras have become very collectible in recent years. Some are used as working cameras by photography enthusiasts while others are purchased solely for display. A variety of attractive mid-century models can be had for between $25-$50 on Etsy, although they can range up to several hundred dollars depending on the style, manufacturer, and condition. Some come with weathered leather cases which really adds to their vintage appeal.

Vintage cameras can be integrated into an eclectic display or arranged as a collection of various makers and styles.

vintage cameras
Vintage Kodak and Agfa cameras listed recently in my Etsy shop.

 

Vintage camera display
A display of vintage cameras, found on Pinterest.
Vintage camera display
Great idea for organizing a vintage camera collection. Found on PetaPixel.

Old suitcases are also highly desirable as decor these days. Stack them or turn them into makeshift side tables or be really creative and use them as shelves, as one Etsy shop owner demonstrates below. Other ideas for cool vintage shelf displays include:

  • Classic hardcover books. You can pick these up cheaply at your local library’s used book sale (and support your library and the same time).
  • Antique mirrors and picture frames.
  • Old kitchen utensils, such as cutting boards, standalone graters, wooden spoons, pitchers, and food scales.
  • Vintage pottery pieces
  • Antique or colored glassware
  • Vintage Jewelry
  • Old black and white photos

Below are some fun ideas that I found around the web. Hope they provide some inspiration for your own vintage decorating!

vintage suitcases
Vintage suitcases made into shelves. Sold by Vintage Baubles n Bits on Etsy.
Antique dresser mirrors are perfect for displaying vintage jewelry collections.
Some vintage watches from my Etsy shop.
vintage shelf display
A vintage shelf display featuring antique scales, cutting boards and other kitchen tools. Found on Remodelalcoholic.
A pretty jewelry display created with vintage glass bottles, from the blog Something Created Everyday.

1950s Fashion: Decade of the Plastic Handbag

The Lucite Craze: Geometric Gems

The Lucite handbag is one of the most iconic fashion accessories of the 1950s. Collectors Weekly describes them as “geometric gems” that looked like “portable jewel boxes turned inside out.” The cylindrical or box-shaped purses came in a variety of colors and inventive designs. Some, for example, doubled as compacts or jewel boxes. Many were adorned with glitter, rhinestones, or elaborate carvings.

The Lucite bag fell out of popular favor in the 1960s, along with the introduction of vinyl, a more versatile and cheaper alternative. Little did the designers of the day suspect that the “fad” was far from over! Following is a brief overview of some of the most famous designers of the popular and enduring Lucite bag.

 Wilardy Originals began in New York in 1946, the brainchild of Charles William Hardy and his son William Hammond Hardy. Charles was a mathematics wiz and a crack businessman, according to his grandson, Billy Hardy, while William was the artistic visionary. Will ran the business from the 1960s to the 1980s, during which time he designed his now-famous Lucite handbags.

Vintage Handbags
Vanity purses laminated with colored or gold glitter, such as these examples from Wilardy, were popular throughout the 1950s.

Vanity purses laminated with colored or gold glitter, such as these examples from Wilardy, were popular throughout the 1950s. (CollectorsWeekly).

It’s interesting to hear Billy’s story of w hat it was like growing up in this entrepreneurial and artistic family. Following is an excerpt from “Wilardy History” on Wilardy Original’s web site:

 “My father’s concept of “summer camp” was to bring me to the factory and show me how the business was run. The din of the factory was something to be experienced: the whine of the table saws and routers reducing raw material from large sheets into smaller parts; the gasp of vacuum pumps shaping heated plastic into various shapes; the clack of various hydraulic presses stamping out parts; the treadmill-like churning of huge sanding belts being sprayed and lubricated with water; the gentle rhythmic ticking of the riveters attaching hinges, clasps, and handles; and the lapping of the wheels of buffing machines, as every scratch was slowly removed to produce the finished product. The smell of the glues and solvents used to fuse together the plastic joints, the gassing off of the plastics from the friction of cutting tools, and even the tape used to box and ship the product added to the experience.”

1950s Handbags by Willardy Originals (from the company's website).
1950s Handbags by Wilardy Originals (from the company’s website).

Billy Hardy didn’t see his friends’ mothers with these purses and couldn’t understand where all the interest was coming from. But he soon realized they were something special:

“What I didn’t realize was that these were very exclusive items costing plenty at the time. These lucite purses were being sold in Hollywood, Miami, Paris, London, and Fifth Avenue in New York.”

 

Vintage handbags
Will’s Brother-in-law with a Wilardy Original purse display.
vintage handbags
A Wilardy accordian style bag.

Other Famous Makers 

Llewellyn. Llewellyn Bley made elaborately styled handbags that commanded high prices in the 1950s, despite being made of plastic, says Collectors Weekly. Llewellyn known for his innovative designs in Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles. One of his most famous creations was the Beehive, which featured three brass bees on its lid. Llewellyn was a master of making hard plastic appear soft, with sides that appear to be pleated or fanned. The Conestoga Wagon purse, for example, looks like a duffle bag with twisted handles.

Llewellyn was known for its carved Lucite bags, as well as ones like this one made from shell, a hard plastic material composed of cellulose acetate. (Source: CollectorsWeekly).
Llewellyn was known for its carved Lucite bags, as well as ones like this one made from shell, a hard plastic material composed of cellulose acetate. (Source: CollectorsWeekly)

Charles S. Kahn. This Florida designer produced bags in shapes of hat boxes, barrels, drums, and cylinders in a variety of bright, flashy colors and finishes. According to a feature on vintage bags in a 2007 issue of Country Living, plastic handbags designed by Kahn are often identifiable by a distinctive clasp featuring three metal balls and a paper label placed inside the purse below the hinge of the lid. Plastic purses in bright colors like red, aqua, emerald green, and pink are among the most rare and valuable for collectors, according to the article. Design, color, trim, and condition are the most important factors to consider because cracks, crazing, or warping cannot be repaired.

Charles Kahn purse
A Charles H. Kahn purse that was featured in Country Living. It was valued at approx. $900 back in 2007 when the article was written.

Myles Originals, by Artistic Display Company, was the first lucite bag maker in Miami, according to brief history by Bag Lady University, and were popular among affluent resort vacationers to Florida after WWII. The company introduced a composite material called Lamoplex–sheets of plastic with materials like metal strips laminated between–to create a crushed-crayons effect.

myles original bag
A Myles Originals “sports bag” with Lamoplex top and removable compact inside (from Bag Lady University.)
From Bag Lady University: This bag in black and gray is illustrated on page 22 of "Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear," by Kate Dooner. A green example sold online for $178 in 2005.
From Bag Lady University: This bag in black and gray is illustrated on page 22 of “Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear,” by Kate Dooner. A green example sold online for $178 in 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Resources

Looking for more details on vintage bags? Here are some websites that I’ve found helpful:

Wilardy Originals. The web site for the 1950s designer of Lucite handbags features vintage photos, catalogs, and a history of the company.

Guides from Yoogi’s Closet, luxury goods reseller.

PurseBlog: An active blog with links to guides on buying new and vintage designer bags.

The Hermes Birkin Authenticity Guide: 5 Tips to ensure the Birkin You’re Buying is real.

Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear, by Kate E. Dooner. Beautiful photos of over 300 classic plastic handbags. Available on Amazon.

Bag Lady University: A companion site to the vintage bag seller, Bag Lady Emporium, that features great information on the makers and history of vintage bags and jewelry.

Women Who Wore Hats: Pulling Off the Vintage Look

audrey hepburn hat

Stylish hats are back in style for women who like a vintage look.  But it’s hard for some of us pull off the looks that women achieved in the early decades of the 1900s. Back then, hats were part of everyday styles, whether at the office, nightclub, or Sunday church. Looking back at some pictures from that era … Read more