Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Picky Historian

I'm not picky about what types of history I study, although I do have my specialties; I meant that I enjoy learning about history by picking.

I'm a picker.

I'm one of those people you see on the side of the road, shoving an old chair into my car, or picking through a box of junk that has the word FREE scrawled on it in black Sharpie marker.

When we lived in Maryland I was in picker Heaven with the Crumpton auction  just a short drive away.

There were three fields of STUFF, awaiting the auctioneer as he drove through the aisles on his golf cart. many times, someone would purchase a 'lot', take what they wanted and just leave the rest to languish in the fields. So, a picker like me could really clean up. I'd go after most of the bidding was done, and just roam the fields, looking for all the wonderful treasures that were left behind.

This is a photo of the Crumpton auction I found online.

I found many beautiful, wonderful items that really evoke a sense of time and memories; a few of them I sold but most of them I kept, especially the ones that fed my love of history. I found this antique Singer sewing machine one time:

When I started researching it I found out that Isaac Singer, the inventor who improved the sewing machine designs of the early 19th century and founded the Singer Co., had parents who divorced.  .  .in 1821. That's one of the earliest divorces I'd ever heard of; divorce was not acceptable in society, nor to most courts of law at that time. It's not like I'm ever going to wrote a dissertation on Isaac Singer or the broken home he ran away from at the age of 11 to join a traveling stage show (pretty interesting guy, though, huh?) but this item prompted me to research something I'd never thought much about, and gave me a glimpse into history. 

I got to re-live this scenario just this week. I've had a pretty crappy week and it's been a struggle, but on Tuesday I was driving to pick up J from daycare and I passed by a home that had some stuff outside with the obligatory FREE scrawl on the cardboard. It was like a little gift! Of course, most people wouldn't see a box of old junk as a gift, but I get a thrill at imagining the possibilities inside. Of course I had to turn around and go check it out. I ended up packing a bunch of vintage dishes into my trunk. The ones that first caught my eye were these:

These dishes are mid-century transferware, and one of the sources I consulted said that the little splotches of color are done by hand. I guess that makes sense, because transferware is usually produced with a single color of ink- it made it easy to mass produce them with machines- a token to the increasing industrialization following WWII.

See? I found these cast-off plates on the side of the road, and with just minimal research I've learned about the process of transfer printing, and also put it into a greater context of US history.

The best part is this: This set of dishes has a fairy tale scenario depicted, and the design is called Royal Vista. I think they were destined to end up with me, a children's librarian/historian who has a love for vintage kitchen finds.

The other dishes from that box were also chok full of history: the first thing I noticed about them is the Syracuse China Co. insignia stamped on the bottom. I went to college and earned my master's in History in Oswego, NY, and I knew that the Oneida Silver Co. was founded in Oneida, NY, so it's not difficult to imagine that a china company would also have market in that region.

The dishes I picked up plain white with green markings denoting Loon Lake House. They're pretty heavy-duty too, definitely not fine china, but made to endure many, many uses. So it didn;t take long to figure out that they were made specifically for Loon lake House, a hotel in the Adirondacks that enjoyed the peak of its popularity around the turn of the century. Wealthy Americans, including three Presidents, would  travel up to the mountains, to escape the noise and smog of the cities.

This mug shows the same markings as my two new bowls

Unfortunately, the historic hotel burned to the ground in 1956, but it's kind of cool that I have a little piece of its history in my house.

Some of my other cool finds through the years: a steel penny, old photographs from many eras, including tin types, a vintage baby bassinet, more than a few dolls and stuffed animals, Limoges saucers, and a map of Disneyland which is copyrighted 1966- interesting because Pirates of the Caribbean is shown, but didn't officially open until 1967. 

Speaking of Disney.  .  .

Whenever I think about all my treasures, I can't help but channel my inner Ariel:

I should've been a mermaid.

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