Private Stash: Frae Scotland

One of the reasons I like thrifting and finding small things is the ability to glimpse into the past. I was cleaning out a bookshelf and found this little pouch I purchased at a flea market ages ago for $0.50.

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Why did I purchase it? Who knows. But when I got home there was a little surprise waiting for me.

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A set of gift tags from someone named Irene. Apparently these were very important to the little girl who received them and she saved them for over fifty years.

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Even the customs declaration from Edinburgh! The weird thing is I found the lady who Irene was sending gifts to from the magic of the internet and she just celebrated her 85th birthday. I love these little reminders of how important people are to each other. Happy Friday everyone!

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A Case Study in Chairs

I don’t have much self control when it comes to awesome chairs. I don’t have anywhere to put more chairs. They’re everywhere in this house. In some cases there are even chairs sitting behind other chairs. Though I issued myself a clear and assertive “no more chairs, no exceptions” directive, it was pretty powerless against this chair:

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The chair, designed by Gerald McCabe and produced by Brown Saltman in the early 1960s, was not a design I had seen before. But I loved it. And I was able to trade two other chairs for it, so technically it means I’ve reduced my total number of chairs while gaining one awesome new one.

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Despite knowing the designer and manufacturer, there isn’t a lot of information out there about it and actual examples of the chair seem to be even more scarce. It has, however, made some notable and historic public appearances. A stationary version of the chair can be seen in photographs of Case Study House #21, the Bailey House, designed in 1958 by Pierre Koenig. Many furnishings in the home were custom designed for the project by Gerald McCabe and it’s very likely he originally designed this chair for the project as well.

McCabe chair as seen in the living room of the Bailey House.

McCabe chair as seen in the living room of the Bailey House.

The McCabe chair in yellow as seen in a period photo of the Bailey House.

The McCabe chair in yellow as seen in a period photo of the Bailey House.

The chair was also featured in California Design 6 (1960), an annual exhibition of modernist design held by the Pasadena Museum of Art. The chair was eventually marketed as part of the Silhouette group by Brown Saltman, but it’s unclear who actually produced the chair, how many versions were sold and how many actual examples even exist. Outside of photos of the Bailey House, I can’t find any examples of the stationary version of the chair ever being sold or even existing. It’s possible it never went into production. Additionally, examples of the rocking chair have two different styles of runners and arms. Unlike mine with sandwiched steel runners and sculpted arms, many examples have solid wood runners and slab-like arms. Early examples of the chair were produced by Areon & Erin, changes in design could be explained by a shift to manufacturing by Brown Saltman.

Alternate version of the chair with different runners and arms.

Alternate version of the chair with different runners and arms.

A period photo showing an example identical to mine.

A period photo showing an example identical to mine.

Regardless of provenance or rarity, I really just love the chair. It has unique but refined lines. It’s just a beautiful piece of furniture.

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And it doesn’t hurt that it’s surprisingly comfortable, too.

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Everything You Thought was Wright is Wrong.

On New Year’s Eve as I traveled to a party (read: eat Chinese food and watch The Big Lebowski) I, of course, stopped off at a thrift store. I had a coupon that expired January 1 and I wasn’t about to let it expire. During my initial sweep of the store I didn’t find much other than a couple coats and some smalls, but I decided to go back and check out a fairly simple blonde writing desk that I had passed over.

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Initially I dismissed it from a distance as a common student desk, possibly even institutional. But on closer inspection the design and detailing of this solid birch desk seemed a little finer than a campus housing fixture. Could this be a Russel Wright designed piece for Conant Ball?

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A quick check in the drawer and I had my answer. Conant Ball made nice pieces and I thought there was a pretty good chance this was designed by the famed Russel Wright, based on what I had encountered so far in the mid-century modern zeitgeist. Sold!

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Excited with my find, I decided to look it up and see what information I could dig up. Googling “Russel Wright Conant Ball desk” quickly yielded images of this very desk. Score! I also discovered that this was part of a line called Modernmates designed in 1947. That bit of information changed things. Despite rampant attribution of this line to Russel Wright, original Conant Ball catalogs reveal that all pieces in the Modernmates collection were designed by Leslie Diamond. In fact, the only documented pieces Wright ever designed for Conant Ball belonged to the much older American Modern collection (bearing the same name as his popular ceramics line) introduced in the mid 1930s.

Wright? Wrong. Leslie Diamond. Image via 1st Dibs

Wright? Wrong. Leslie Diamond. Image via 1st Dibs

Case in point, the chairs above are almost always attributed to Wright. In fact, these are currently listed on 1st Dibs as Wright pieces. As it turns out, they also belong to the Modernmates collection and were designed by, you guessed it, Leslie Diamond. As the publication below suggests, a lot of documentation exists to dispel any notions that these are Wright pieces.

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So, what do the real Wright pieces look like?

The real Wrights.

The real Wrights.

A little chunkier. The American Modern line came out around 1935 and while very modern for its time, it looks clunkier and more art deco or streamline moderne than the Modernmates pieces designed postwar—nearly a decade later.

So, why does such obvious misattribution proliferate? In this case it’s pretty easy to figure out. Someone wanted to attach a famous designer to a piece he didn’t design to increase its market value. In the world of mass produced modern furniture, original documentation can be next to non-existent so when people scour the internet to find information about their finds, they’ll grasp at any straw they can find. That misinformation spreads like wildfire and before you know it everyone believes that Wright designed every piece of Conant Ball furniture. In fact there’s at least one documented instance of a Wright historian mislabeling pieces. Bad information is like a noxious weed, once its seeds are blowing in the wind it’s next to impossible to contain it.

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Am I less excited about my piece now that I know it wasn’t the brainchild of a famous designer? Not really. It’s still a fantastic example from the early days of mid-century modern design. The form is pure, the lines are clean and the quality is high. I don’t know what else you could want? My favorite feature of the whole desk is what made me take a second look and ultimately convinced me to buy it in the first place—that cleverly disguised pencil drawer. It doesn’t matter who designed it because, as a design element, that’s solid. At the end of the day the integrity of the design is all that should matter. Wright has nothing on Diamond in my book.

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A Look Back at Christmas

The holidays are a reflective time. It’s hard not to get caught up in thinking about all the years that have passed and what they meant. One gift I received this year in particular had me thinking specifically about old holiday photos.

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This sweet vintage Kodak dark room timer. I love it and it’s actually something I’ve been wanting since college when I used the same exact model in a photography class. Boy, photography AND a clock—it’s as if the universe didn’t want to take any chances that I might possibly miss its suggestion that I look through some old photos of Christmas past. Message received. Break out the photos!

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“Four Generations” photo, Christmas 1960. My mom, her mother, her grandmother and even Barbie all sporting matching looks sewn by my grandma.

Of all the old photos I looked through with my family, these photos of my mom’s family from the early 1960s were my favorites.

Christmas 1960. My mom with her holiday loot.

Christmas 1960. My mom with her holiday loot.

It’s always great to see photos of people you’ve only ever known in their adult forms as children, but I also like seeing the things that were special to them and what their environments were really like.

Christmas 1960. My uncle and his loot.

Christmas 1960. My uncle and his loot.

My grandma with her haul. I can't exactly what that coffee set beside her is, but it looks pretty sweet.

My grandma with her haul. Must have been a big year for aprons. I can’t exactly see what that coffee set beside her is, but it looks pretty sweet.

I think my mom was shocked to see how small and sparse the "big flocked tree" from her childhood memories was in reality.

I think my mom was shocked to see how small and sparse the “big flocked tree” from her childhood memories was in reality.

When I first started collecting vintage Christmas decorations (which was at a pretty young age), my mom always told me about the aluminum tree they had when she was little and how pretty it was with all blue ornaments. Although that tree was long gone before I even existed, it served as inspiration for my first aluminum tree which I decorated with all cobalt blue ornaments.

More matchy matchy with gold brocade and mink trim. My grandma made one for Barbie too, but she evidently didn't make it to the shoot.

More matchy matchy with gold brocade and mink trim. My grandma made one for Barbie too, but she evidently didn’t make it to the shoot.

I would make a crack about getting a toaster and an ironing board for Christmas, but honestly I probably would have thought they were pretty cool at that age too.

I would make a crack about getting a toaster and an ironing board for Christmas, but honestly I probably would have thought they were pretty cool at that age too.

You need the guns because, judging by their faces, Santa and the teddy bear are pretty menacing and that lazy hound isn't going to save you.

You need the guns because, judging by their faces, Santa and the creepy teddy bear are up to no good and that lazy hound isn’t going to save you.

Santa clearly stepped up his game the next year. A taffy puller? Amazing.

Santa clearly stepped up his game the next year. A taffy puller? Amazing.

But in the end, it’s the toys you want to see. There’s just something about them that, even as an adult, just makes you want to rip them out of their boxes and go crazy.

My mom still has this sewing machine. I always thought it was pretty cool, even if it was intended to reinforce gender stereotypes.

My mom still has this sewing machine. I always thought it was pretty cool, even if it was intended to reinforce gender stereotypes.

This look back made me think a little about the toys I loved as a kid and how those things are rapidly becoming vintage in their own right. Cut to the mid-1980s.

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That’s me on the right, clutching my Pound Puppy and a Fob puppet while chattering away to whatever Teddy Ruxpin was talking about (and I have NO idea why the orange Fob is on my hand because everyone knows the purple one was mine). Teddy was one of my favorite toys growing up. His books and stories were often just a starting point for my little mind to wander off deep into imaginary lands. It’s hard for me to believe that Teddy and his friends are now in their 30s just like me. Perhaps he’s dealing with back pain and rogue nose hairs too? I’ll never know because 10 years after this picture was taken I decided to purge these things from my teenage bedroom, despite my mom knowingly asking, “Are you really sure you want to sell that?” Who wants your little kid toys hanging around when you’re all grown up? As it turns out, in another 10 years I did. I really did.

After hearing me casually say how “Teddy was such a cool toy when you think about it,” and “I kind of wish I’d kept him,” my mom decided to bring my childhood magic back (with the help of eBay). A few years ago I unwrapped all of this at Christmas.

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Of all the things that pass through our hands in our lives, why is it that toys are so important to us no matter how old we get? I think it’s because they’re the things that influenced us most in our formative years. We cut our teeth on them (both literally and figuratively) and they often played a bigger role in making us who we are than we probably ever give them credit for. It’s tempting to say that toys are really all about consumerism and material lust, but at the end of the day our toys were beloved for the escapism and fantasy they gave us, not as items of value or status. And when you consider that, it really doesn’t matter how Mattel ever marketed Barbie or how many banana seat bikes Schwinn moved in the fourth quarter of 1963. All that matters is the lifetime of joy they gave the kids who played with them.

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Happy Holidays!

I picked up this tree topper angel this past Saturday at Salvation Army for under $1.00. I have never put anything on top of my aluminum tree but this is so light-weight it works and looks darling. She is in wonderful condition with burlap clothing and wings and topped with a mercury glass halo.

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We wish you a very merry Christmas! See you next year.

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