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Saturday, February 28, 2009

He was Fonda View-Master



If you grew up in the 70's, odds are you saw Henry Fonda's endorsement of The GAF View-Master viewer and disks (photo courtesy of www.viewmaster.co.uk). If you remember this, then you may also remember some comedian of that era doing a Henry Fonda impression and really exaggerating his pronunciation of GAF as, "GGGAAAAFFF". For those of you who grew up during the 80's or later, well, your time line for the progress of picture viewers goes something like this: Cave drawings>View-Master>Image viewer on an I-pod, or mp3 player. So, somewhere in the middle ages a company, possibly Sawyer, invented a hand-held slide viewer that could hold 7 images with a caption on a single disk. Oh, there were other viewers, but mainly the kind that you find for inspecting a single 35mm slide. The View-Master was really an updated version of the stereoscope.

I often see these disks and viewers at tag sales and get a little nostalgic for the one I had as a kid. In the 60's & 70's the company (or whom ever owned the rights to it) reinvented this toy by creating disks that featured scenes from Disney movies and television programs. In many cases these scenes were elaborately recreated by modelers with full back drops that allow the View Master photographers the ability to create the 3d effect with great depth of field. I remember the Flintstones disk I had and how they had captured the "barney-copter's" flight and froze it in mid air. This was impressive to a 10 year old. So, I look at these disks from time to time, just to see what's on them. I am not sure at which sale this one disk caught my attention:
Hmmm, rural Connecticut. This really tickled the urban archeologist in me. Local history courtesy of View-Master promoting the images as "7 more wonders of the world". What in Connecticut could possibly have stood out to the photo editors as comparable to the great pyramid of Giza?
Whoa! 3 locations in Western Connecticut! Kent Falls, Lover's Leap, and Candlewood Lake . With a copyright date of 1950 this means there may be an opportunity to compare the images on the disk side by side with the 3 locations now 59 years later. The challenge (or fun) will be trying to figure out where the photographer was standing when he/she took the pictures and how to get these to a size and resolution where visitors can appreciate them. Here is my best shot of the Candlewood Lake one (note the yellow flowers in the foreground):
Any guesses? Ugh! Me neither. Maybe from Mist Hill in New Milford as you look at the behemoth peninsula that becomes Indian Point? However, without subtracting 59 years of growth and development I may have to stand in someone's basement to find the right spot. I took the same close up of this disk section and flipped it because it has as good a shot of Lovers Leap (clicking on it will make it easier to see):
What I find fascinating in this shot is the huge land mass that occupies the middle of this northerly section of lake Lillinonah (which the Housatonic feeds in to). Look at this image which was loaned to me for this post by RichardRizzo from his blog: Minds Eye.Lovers Leap
Though taken in 1979 you can see that the land mass or island shown in the slide is gone. Where did it go? Erosion from the various draw downs over the years as this man made lake was managed over the years? That's my guess. Anyone who has visited the "leap" will tell you, if you happen to be out some day looking for something to do, check this park out. The restoration, which was completed in 2007 has created a nice parking area, preserved an old iron bridge and created marked trails to explore. You may just see me there, I'll be the one who keeps looking through the View-Master, then peering out, then looking through the View-Master until I'm sure I am standing in the right spot. Or, I may just be looking for the "barney-copter".

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You can't judge a book by its cover

Before you donate that old dictionary to Goodwill you might want to flip through the pages. It is amazing what has been tucked in the pages of books. It can be a good way to flatten out an old silver certificate, but don't let it slip your mind. Case in point:This patch looks as though it just came from the (where do patches come from?) patch factory? patchery? the loom? It looks as good as it does because it has been sitting squashed between the pages of a book for the past (take a deep breath) 40 years. How do I know this? Take a look what came with it:

I marked this as a"part 2" from the previous post because I thought the relationship between the mug and this invitation was funny, Tricky Dick funny. This is one cool item, Apollo 11 was the big one. Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon and his most important quote of the century, which he apparently flubbed by leaving out the "a" in "That's one small step for [a] man..."

Is that a significant gaff? No. I think it represents mankind truthfully. We're imperfect, and our ability to accomplish all that we have despite our imperfections probably has the martians scratching their green heads. I think it would have been better if Neil had tripped and landed on his head before stepping on the Moon, "That's one embarrassing header for a man, but still one smooth recovery for mankind." Anyway, back to this find. Here are all three pieces:
The addition of the envelope makes this complete. If you click on the image you may be able to see the cancellation better. There is a story here: I suppose even an invitation from the President with an official Apollo 11 patch inside isn't enough to impress the guy who was head of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He probably looked at the patch and said "Pftttt! Big Deal! I have the Spirit of St Louis hanging from my ceiling!" I am going to write a book someday and it will be titled, "The History of Bookmarks" It's a guaranteed success, once you pick it up you might never put it down. How would you know where you left off? (wow, that was bad.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Houston, We Have a Republican!

It ain't me. This blog vows not to align itself with any political party or faction (what the hell is a faction?) and subject its handful of readers to the blathering of liberal or conservative claptrap. Sounds like a campaign promise to me.

So, what's with all the republican talk, you're wondering?
I don't actually plan to dumpster dive, it may be better described as a Grime of Opportunity. There's no shame in it, but depending on the kind of dumpster and what your present economic status has you diving for...well, this can put you in a different sub-set of urban archeologist entirely. There are those who are not afraid to hang around the Office Max dumpster looking for treasure, but that's not for me.
It was on top of a full dumpster that I found this mug, so there was no diving involved, but had this been deeper, yes, I would have dived. Although it was in pieces: Broken handle, and the cup in 2 or 3 sections, it still caught my eye. Finding all the parts, I carefully lifted it out and placed it on the floor of my car where it wouldn't degrade further. A little glass cleaner and some epoxy later, it now holds all the pens on my desk.


This piece of Republican memorabilia took a beating and was not that hard to put back together. Hmmm.... Doesn't that sound familiar?

Coming in part 2 of this post:

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: Strategy for Survival...Glowing! Radiant! A Story brighter than a thousand suns!

No. I haven't lost my mind. I've just misplaced it. When I commented jokingly in my last post about something with a radioactive symbol possibly deterring me, and then confessed that, no, it wouldn't stop me. It jogged my memory over something that had such a symbol and I wondered if I still had possession of it. Foolish question, ME? Throw something out? I am not a pack rat, I can find value in almost anything, but I am fairly selective. I also don't want to raise the ire of my wife, who's job it is to keep my head out of the clouds and my feet on the ground (the two are mutually exclusive - welcome to my world). Selective squirrel that I am, I went looking for the two things I still had from a Bridgewater tag sale.



If you want, you can be the first to correct me that the symbol on the book is not one warning of radiation, but of civil defense. Close enough, though. I am sure I saw this book and the color alone caused me to read the label. It's a color best described as "Cold-War Yellow" true caution. Written in 1963 it is a compendium of facts and information about what could be in store for 303 target cities in the US should a thermonuclear war occur and how a strong civil defense plan is the only solution.

Just ask the Bendix Corporation. Worried about whether you should emerge from the fallout shelter you've built to spec in the backyard? Don't guess! Know for sure with this:

The condition of the kit is unfortunate. It had been sitting in a dampened basement for years, but no so dampened that the contents were rusting or smelly. Just the box is stained and has lost its shape and can't be restored to display quality. But I knew when I saw it that I had to have it. I love the cover and its manufacturer's decision to lead with the word "Family" for the title. Maybe there was a version for pets, or neighbors, or maybe this was counter to the competitor's product which might have been "Personal Radiation Measurement Kit". I guess "family" indicates that during the threat of nuclear attack you won't take the panic level to the "Every Man For Himself!!" stage and you fully plan to let the whole clan into the bunker.

The basic operation of this kit allows you to carry 2 meters that will tell you : 1) if radiation is present, and 2) what level of radiation you have received. The charger allows the testers to be reset. It all works (as best as I can tell) and the addition of the Grant's Department store battery is a nice period touch. I picked this up because I can never pass up scientific equipment and I like to ponder the anachronism that these items represent. Would this sell today at Target? What were these folks thinking? What was it like to have to buy something like this from Woolworth's right next to the picnic baskets and barbecue grills?

Today, it's economic collapse, yesterday it was nuclear annihilation - I should have invested in fear years ago because that is a stock that keeps paying high dividends (thus endeth the socio-political sermon for today).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't take any wooden nickels..Nooo...Take the big metal one!!

Look, if you can get over the social stigma of picking through other peoples stuff (legally), then it shouldn't be a great leap to look through that box of free stuff sitting off to the side. Truthfully, the free pile is a bit of mystery. Until someone writes a book of etiquette for the tag, garage, moving, estate sale proprietor (and don't forget the companion guide: "Art of the Haggle - the ethical treatment of other people's stuff until you buy it") things like free boxes will remain a mystery. Most of the items in these catch-all's are not worth even a first look: the ubiquitous clay pot with a chip, kitchen utensils that belong anywhere but near a kitchen, and supperware containers with tops that will never allow them to burp with satisfaction.

But then, aren't these free boxes the very representation of the sales they accompany? Why do I venture into to some of these disasters? I have been to enough of them to know that the karma (read: smell) is so bad you know that the home suffered through some bad Ju-Ju at one time or another. For the same reason a skeleton wouldn't stop one of Bluebeard's men from digging for the buried treasure chest, nor would I hesitate for any reason in passing up my next sale. Though the discovery of human remains would probably be my breaking point, that and something with a radio-active symbol on it (no, I guess neither are true. I would call the cops, and keep digging.)

I digress, a few weeks ago, again at a time when the sales have all but run dry, did my partner and I (5 years old, all hands no restraint) took a chance on an estate sale in Danbury. This could have been morbid, because the home was next to a funeral home on White Street, but if you've read this far, well, you know we parked the car and walked in. Four rooms on the main floor of a very old and very smelly house. I was waiting for my daughter to exclaim the obvious, but she can show restraint, I guess. There was nothing there until we reached a small room off the kitchen, guarded (more like attended) by an overweight man who said nothing (surreal, like Fellini-surreal). In a cardboard box were 6 or 7 decks of cards, which deserved a quick look but normally don't interest me. They were old and common but one pack of cards was different:


Although in questionable condition and possibly not complete (something to be aware of when purchasing games, toys, or puzzles) I recognized something that was clearly a game and with a bit of political commentary included. I removed one of the cards to see what they looked like:



1919! This was cool! The whole box of cards had been marked at $5 but in this economy even that much can be considered an unnecessary expense. So, we walked around the four rooms, making sure we'd seen it all, and finally paid $1 for the deck and walked out. I couldn't resist another peek in the box and was further delighted to find this:
Although delicate, a full set of directions was really unexpected for a piece that was 90 years old.

O.K. back to the the point of the post: The Free Pile. On the porch were a couple of boxes for the taking. Each one looked scarier that the next and the contents were grungy, but a few pocket book novels WWII editions caught my eye (dog eared by dog faces, I thought,) but I dug and dug and came up with the coin up top. I still don't know what it is made of, but the dings and dents indicate a soft metal. I have seen a similar one on Ebay, which is often a good research point for the seller's description. This time the seller had little to offer in the way of how this item came to be, but the reverse was as cool as the front:



The card game/puzzle turned out to be complete. I haven't found the "Puzzl" man who created it anywhere in my research, but that was not the point. You can't take anything for granted no matter what the sale looks like. You never know what you might miss.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ancestors for sale!


Maybe you've seen this sign in an antique shop or at a flea market: "Buy some new ancestors". This is followed by a great many portrait photos from the late 19 century in to the 20th. These photos all capture a moment in time when a still image of yourself or a loved one was comparable to one of today's "must have" technologies. I find them interesting but without some explanation, the where, when, why, and who, it is really just frustrating guesswork or research. Take the two relatively small images that were in the envelope that has now generated 3 posts:

Meet Cornelius and Elizabeth Van Winkle Post. They look successful and established but I can't find anything more about them. If I pick up pictures like these it is usually with the hope that they might be somebody famous. With names like that you would hope that they might be well known or accomplished at something. As far as I can tell neither made their mark on society. But there is more information, look at the back of one of the cards:

There were four photos and on the back of each was the same information for the photographer and each one had a tax stamp. One clearly showing the date of 1865. On each someone had cleverly written the name of the person pictured, typically, you find nothing but the photographer's name and address. There is not a great story in these images, I hope that someone will see them and say,"Hey! There's your great,great Uncle Cornelius." If that turns out to be you, just let me know what happened to this couple.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Envelope...please

This is part 2 of a post I started last time regarding an envelope from 1889 which contained several different types of memorabilia. Here is a cool stamp that I reprinted from yesterdays post: I can't decide if I like it more for its depiction of Pocahontas (Is it true that Mel Gibson wouldn't come out of his trailer during the voice over work on Disney's version until they re-designed Miss P into something he could find attractive?) or for the ability of my Sony Mavica to shoot macro with such detail. Click to see the larger image.

You may notice that the stamp is clearly stuck to something. That is what is left of a shredded fractional note. There were 2 in this envelope and fortunately the other one looked like this: A little folded but not bad. I have determined that this front/back represent the first issue of paper coins.




This next piece I need help with: This is connected somehow with either the envelope or Paterson, N.J. I can't find any address records to verify where this piece originates from. It feels and looks like parchment and the fact that it refers to shillings yet has a New York address makes me wonder if it isn't really old. Looks like there's going to be a Part 3 to this post. Big things really do come in small packages. Here is another tease for part 3:


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

44 cents to mail a letter! It used to be 2 cents!



Having only a couple of flea markets to chose from in this area (one year round, and one seasonal) pickens can get mighty slim for an Urban Archeologist, especially when there are no estate sales or major digs to be found. Fleas are really a last resort, most of them are swarming with dealers, or knock-off new merchandise hawkers. What the heck would I want with a new pair of Ray-Brans? No thank you, booth renter of unknown ethnic origin.

Most of the dealers are folks who closed down their antique and consignment shoppes for the day to rent a booth to display top shelf antiques. Their prices tags usually reveal their other occupation. Only very few of the dealers are the ones who perform the whole-house, whole-attic, or whole-garage kind of services during the week so they can stock their regular booth locations on the weekend.

So, for the 10 or so transits I make during the odd Sundays I visit the flea, do I ever come across something good. But, I guess that's what this obsession is all about. How many sweeps of the Atlantic did Ballard make before he found the Titanic?

This envelope contained more than I can put in one post, but after so many sweeps of so many dealers it was nice to dig through the bottom of a box and pull out this letter. I didn't look through it, I knew it was old and by the thickness I knew there was a variety of items within. I just handed it to the dealer and in my best poker face I asked, "How much?" His response after taking a peek, "Ehh, 2 bucks." Sold! The receipt alone to me was great. $3 dollars for a husk mattress? I wonder if it was a Serta or a Simmons (HA!)I am sure the new owner brought it back in a week because it sags in the middle. Some things never change!

My next post will reveal more treasure from this old envelope.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tip #1 - Look for what's NOT for sale

If you hit as many sales as I do you are probably confronted with all types of folks running them. The helpers, the followers, the disinterested, the surly. I will be relating stories of each of these types and more in future posts, for now I want to focus on "the helper". This is the person who, as soon as you are within range pops the question, "What are you looking for?"

"HuH?"

What am I looking for? What is this, Walmart? Yes, can you point me to the section with the 100 year old incandescent light bulbs that still have Edison's fingerprints on them? Maybe they would be right next to Einstein's trash bin, you know the one with the crumpled up papers that read E=mc3 - E=mc - E=mo5. What am I looking for! I am looking for treasure. Do you have any?

The trick in hunting is to not looking for anything in particular, because you don't want to limit your focus or attention to a single thing. I am trying to look with such objectivity that I won't miss that which is disguised by it's surroundings.

In the purest sense I am not looking for what is for sale I am trying to look at everything, in the hopes that, should I see something I want, it will be for sale. Sometimes there's so much clutter, if there's a gem in there my brain can't sort through it all with out missing something. I often need to make numerous passes in order to see it all. I also need to look in less than obvious places.

The little can opener you see in the picture was this kind of find. It wasn't laid out on a table with a price tag tied to a string through the hole. No, this was found on an old piece of property inside a barn. You've seen these sales. they open up the house, barns, and sheds and let the hunters and diggers "have at it!" I scoured through this barn looking in every nook and cranny and sure enough hanging from a nail was this inauspicious can opener. When I read the one side I knew I had hit pay dirt:
Stanley Steamer?! That put this piece around 1917.

If you have read this blog before you know I save something for dramatic purposes. Upon turning the opener over I got a better surprise. Look at that phone number: Ask the operator for 137 and ring it 4 times.
Finding a piece of local history or memorabilia is a true high. The Arcade Machine Works had been located in what is, or was, "The Maxx". A New Milford Youth Agency building refurbished to provide kids with their own location to hang on Railroad Street. It had been several businesses between the machine works and the Maxx but to me it was like looking into a time machine. Moral: When they ask, "What are you looking for?" just tell them, "I'll know it when I find it." The cost of a slice of New Milford history? 50 cents.

There's no money, like old money, like no money I know


Everything about it is appealing. I have found some cool old paper over the years, but Currency or "official" documents are by far the most interesting. I wonder, "Who used this money?" "How many hands did this pass through?" and "How did it end up here?"
These bills were found at an estate sale in December 2008. How did I find them, when most estate sales have been descended upon by more hardy diggers than I? Well, to find that out you will have to sign on as a "follower" of this blog.

Are they authentic? I am not sure, but I have found the reproduction currency sets that sell at museums. Those could fool anybody, but the difference is the quality of the paper and the ink. The suspicious aspect with these are the randomness of the samples. It was as though they were one of these repro "sets". The only thing that I can find in my research to confirm their authenticity is the color of the ink used to sign the notes:brown. Had they been signed in black they would have been fake. They are all very thin and worn especially the Mechanics S&L note. More questions need to be answered. Look at the reverse side of this same note:What do the "TWO" and "Three" indicate? They seem to be partial light prints of other notes running perpendicular to the original. There is definitely more to learn.

The final note in this group is something I have found before Fractional Currency paper coins. My best explanation is that these were issue by the Post Office in the post Civil War era in a time when precious metals for coins were scarce. These could be found in small denominations.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wasn't Franklin Against the Stamp Act?


I'm not a philatelist, I've never even been to Pennsylvania, but I can't resist an old stamp when I see one. The image is a little dark because I'm still perfecting the art of macro-photography. I am into old paper and I don't care what it looks like or where it is, but if it has a date on it, I'm all over it. This was actually a pair of stamps that were affixed and canceled in 1908 on a unique envelope that was as translucent as onion skin.Most of the old envelopes I normally see have had the stamp unceremoniously torn from it. To me, the two are more interesting as a set and add provenance to a likely worthless stamp. Sorry Ben even at 100 years you are only worth a few pennies more than your face value. Then again, I am not ready to sell.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The trouble with being Ernest....for openers.

I picked this up many years ago at the Elephant's trunk in New Milford, CT. At first, I couldn't really remember why. I don't collect letter openers. Sometimes I will pick an item up because it might make a good joke gift, but I don't usually buy things this random.


Then I turned it over and I remembered why I couldn't resist.

Ernest Burbank could have done anything with his life, but during one period he was a door-to-door salesman for the Fuller Brush company. Is this even a real name? If I were an author looking for a character to build a story around, after picking this up, I would be inspired to create a world around how this letter opener came to be.

Little did Ernest's parents know, that when they named him, they may have sentenced him to a life of door to door sales. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, what a name!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Got a Match? .... Don't answer that!

I don't want to spend too much time reflecting on the contents of someone's basement, but if you have one, or your parents had one, well, maybe you'll understand.

I was always fascinated by the odd things my parents kept down there. What was it all, and where did it come from?

This intrigued me growing up, and I often snooped through my parents basement storage trying to uncover the past. I liked the treasure hunt and the detective work. What would I find?

A friend, though possibly better described as an "enabler", permitted me to venture through the basement of a home he and his wife were clearing out as a favor to a family. The owners had either passed away, or been moved to a hospice and had left behind a lifetime of "stuff". The family had taken everything of value to them, and my friends offered to toss and tidy the rest in preparation for a sale.

I came with my partner; my 5-year old daughter. She has been my companion on many a "dig" and though sometimes easily bored and distracted, she usually is the one to come away with a pile of treasure.

This time we both scored. Her pile consisted of a few utensils and decorations for her play kitchen, and me, an old wooden tool box filled with odds and ends. One of the items was a match box cover/protector advertising a Bridgeport business; the age is unknown.

The matchbox was still tucked inside it, though I didn't think to remove it from the cover until a few weeks later. It was a find within a find. The box is made of wood, very delicate but the overall condition was very good and still workable, though no matches. I am still researching the age of this as well.