Category Archives: Collecting

Looking at a Collection

Recently I was lucky enough to be asked to look through a collection of antique and vintage clothing and linens.  I was asked by an acquaintance of an acquaintance, so it shows how important making friends can be, even in the online world.  Anyway, the clothes were the property of a woman who had been in the home economics department of a local university.  She taught construction and pattern drafting.

Even though her interest in clothing and sewing was well-known, her family had no idea about the collection until after she died.  Quite a few large plastic tubs were found, all neatly labeled “Antique Clothing” or “Antique Linens.”  Her cousin, the administrator of the estate knew little about old clothing, and so that’s when I was called in.

Almost all the clothes were Victorian and Edwardian whites – lingerie pieces and white embroidered waists.  Much of the collection was of a very high quality with all the embroidery and laces made by hand.  Other pieces were more common, with little ornamentation and  cheaper laces.  There were chemises and nightgowns and dressing gowns and a few wonderful dresses like the one shown above.

There were vintage linens of all kinds, especially bridge tablecloths.  I love this windmill one.  That one blade moves to indicate the bid.

There was also a nice selection of vintage crafted handbags.  The collector may have used them for inspiration, as she was a contributor to quite a few craft books that were published by Lark Books and in their magazine Fiberarts.

A big mystery was this incredible jacket.  It is not embroidered, it is appliqued, and is all in wool felt.  I’d never seen anything like it and would sure appreciate being enlightened.

The collector’s interests also extended into textile making, and in the basement of her house a huge loom was set up.  You can also see a spinning wheel, a quilting frame and an embroidery stand.  As far as the family knew, she was not actively involved in activities that would actually use these tools.

But she did sew, and this folding cutting table was in her sewing studio.  That big drawer was full of vintage patterns, all neatly categorized.  After much thought, I decided to buy the table, as I’ve been cutting on a folding picnic table.  I’ll be reorganizing my sewing room and will show it later.

It was really a shame that the collector did not leave any information about her collection.  The cousin suspects that some of them were family pieces as they were tagged with a code that included the collector’s hometown.  Others still had price tags attached from where they had been purchased at an antiques store many years ago.  Perhaps she used them as examples in the classes she taught.  She may have used them for sewing inspiration.  As a lover of textiles, maybe she just appreciated them as lovely objects.

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Outdoor Sports and Pastimes, Peck & Snyder, 1886

I’ve tried limiting my collecting to 1914 and later, but I can’t turn down an opportunity to learn about older sportswear, and to occasionally to buy a piece.  I recently ran across an 1886 catalog by sporting goods company Peck & Snyder.  I didn’t know a thing about the company, but thanks to the internet I can tell you that  Andrew Peck and Irving Snyder opened their business in New York City shortly after the end of the American Civil War.  Their claim to fame is the introduction of the baseball card, which they first mass produced in 1869.

The catalog is quite large, and includes both sporting goods and  other amusements like magic lanterns and costumes for fancy dress balls.  Most of the products are geared toward men, and while there are things for women, one has to look for them.  What is most interesting is how women are portrayed in the catalog.  The illustration above is typical in that women engaged in leisure activities, even more active ones than lying in a hammock chair, are dressed as they would be for other, more formal activities.

I guess a lady never lifts her feet onto the hammock.  I’m just wondering how she kept from sliding out of it!

But it wasn’t just women who were wearing regular attire while exercising.  Note that the man on the bicycle movement machine is wearing a vest.  At least he is not having to wear a corset.

It might seem odd that there were exercise machines available for home use in 1886.  I imagine these were purchased by the very affluent.  I know that the Biltmore Estate in Asheville (built by one of the Vanderbilts) has a gym with all kinds of equipment.  That house was built in the 1890s.

The Biltmore House also has a two lane bowling alley.  Peck & Snyder sold balls and pins, though the Biltmore ones came from the Brunswick bowling company. Again, note the clothing, especially of the woman who is getting ready to roll her ball.

The catalog does have illustrations of women wearing proper gym attire.  Ironically, they do not sell it, though there are quite a few pages of men’s athletic clothing for sale.

Those shirts might look like the form of a woman, but they are men’s “quarter sleeve worsted shirts” meaning they were made from worsted wool.

Some of the shoes are unisex.  Here is a selection of tennis shoes.

Peck & Snyder included quite a few pages of skates, both roller and ice.  The bicycle craze was just getting started, so there were only two models, both with the big front wheel.

There were pages of wool, silk, and cotton stockings and tights, which seem to be for men.  I found this interesting because I recently found a very old pair of striped wool stockings that I felt had to have been a sports piece.

Women’s gym outfits like the one above are very hard to find, but there is one in the up-coming Karen Augusta sale.  I wonder how one did jumping jacks with all those layers?

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Comparing Details as an Aid to Dating Vintage Clothing

Collecting sportswear has a particular challenge in that it does not always follow the fashion of the era.  This is especially true in something like riding breeches that were made for a particular purpose, and thus had to be functional.  Sometimes the collector has to look beyond fashion to come up with a reasonable date for an object.

I have three pairs of riding breeches and jodhpurs.  In order to put them in their correct time period, I have to rely on the details and construction techniques.  I’m not an expert in the history of riding pants, but using what I do know about fabrics, construction, and fashion, I was able to put a date on each pair.

The oldest pair I have is the pair above.  These jodphurs have the full thighs that you would expect to see before stretch fabrics came into use.  The fabric is a sturdy cotton twill.

These pants close using buttons on both sides of the hips.  The buttons are of a type that I commonly see on clothing from the 1910s and 1920s.

The insides of the knees is reinforced with an extra layer of twill fabric.

To keep the pants legs from riding up, there is lacing on the outside of each leg.

These jodphurs actually came with a matching coat which had this label.  The Emporium was in business from 1896 until 1996, which does not help, but the style of the label certainly does.  My best guess for this pair is 1917-1925.

The second pair of jodphurs are also made from cotton twill.  The shape is very similar to the first pair.

These have a hip button closure as well as two leather buckles.  The buttons are plastic, and are a type commonly seen in the 1930s and 40s.

The inside knees are reinforced with fine suede leather.

The bottoms of the legs are not as tight as the earlier pair.  They are held in place by suede straps that button to the hems.

Some of the seams are finished by a type of overlock stitch that is sometimes seen on sportswear from the 1920s through the 40s.  There is not a label present, but I’m pretty sure these are from the 1930s.  Any later and a zipper would be used.  These could be early 40s, but not into the war years due to the use of leather.

My last pair is made from a stretch fabric, a blend of cotton and nylon.  Due to the stretch, the hips and thighs could be cut slimmer and still be comfortable for the rider.

The pants close at the hip with a metal zipper.  Note the loops for a belt.

The inside of the knees is reinforced with leather which was attached by the use of a zig-zag sewing stitch.

The bottoms of the legs open by metal zippers.

Best of all is the label, which told me the fiber content.  It also reveals that these were made in Japan, and there is an RN number.  The number does not tell when a garment was made, but because the RN system was first used in 1952, it can’t be older that that date.  A look at the RN data base does reveal that this number belonged to the Miller Harness Company, which had a store located on East 24th Street in New York.  According to an obituary of one of the owners, Jackie Kennedy was a customer.  I can see her wearing these breeches, and I’m quite sure these are from the 1960s.

I used to be determined to narrow down the exact dating of things, but often it just is not possible.  And when it comes to sports styles that were worn over a period of years, it is often just as useful to know the general dating.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

 

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Aunt Hannah’s Knit Stockings

I love surprises, especially when they concern a vintage item I’ve bought.  An example is this pair of vintage cotton hand knit stockings.  They came from the same estate as the gym shirt I wrote about last week. and they appear to have never been worn.

I was examining these, getting ready to research the style and such when I felt something crunch inside one of the stockings.  I gently put my hand in it and pulled out a scrap of paper.

“Aunt Hannah knit these.”  Usually when I buy a piece of vintage I have no information at all about who was the maker or the wearer.  And while the note gives only a name and relationship, it does at least somewhat humanize the stockings.  Someone cared enough about Aunt Hannah to document her work, though I’d have loved a last name and date to go along with it.

It is my guess that these were made in that short period of time, the 1910s, when skirts were slowly inching upward and women were wanting nicer stockings since they could be seen.  But since the pattern stops at mid-calf, the skirts that was to be worn with these could not have been more than five or six inches from the floor. The top of the stocking comes to just below the knee, and would have been held up with garters.

They look short, but the size of the foot indicates that they were not made for a child.  Perhaps they were made for a young woman or teen whose skirts were short, but not too short for the era.

Such skill!  Knitters always make it look so easy, but Aunt Hannah had to have had a very fine hand and very tiny needles.

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Catalina Official All America Board of Football Sweater Vest, 1940s

If it were up to me, this label would read “Bored of Football” but then if everyone were like me there’d not be lots of old athletic sweaters to covet.  I’ll admit, I bought this mainly because I thought the label added a lot to the story.

As you can see, this sweater is official, of what though, I’m not entirely sure.  Googling brought up some vague references to a Board of Football helping to select the All American college players for each year.  Unfortunately, I soon got bored with the search and decided to just focus on the sweater.

Athletic letter sweaters are a fairly commonly found item.  Unfortunately, the moths often find them first, as I’ve found many that were nibbled beyond repair. There is a reason these are so common, as the letter sweater was a standard trophy for not only high school and college football players, but also for cheerleaders, basketball players, track runners and even band members.

Older athletic sweaters, before the mid 1930s or so, tend to be pullovers.  My 1936 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog has both pullovers and cardigans, for both men and women.  They are called warm-up pullovers and coats.  Later athletic sweaters, from the late 1950s or so, are often made from acrylic yarn.

 

It’s such a nice hefty knit.  My color here is wrong though.  The real color is what you see in the top photo.  I obviously have not mastered the art of color balance.

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Selling Vintage

For several years before I retired, I had a plan.  I was going to sell vintage clothing online to make a few extra bucks and to productively spend my time.  And for a while, around two years, that’s exactly what I did.  The problem was that I really did not enjoy selling.  What I wanted to do was collect and write about fashion and textile history.

So I gave up the etsy store and began spending my time researching and writing, care taking and mending.  And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

A while back I mentioned that one of the things I love about Instagram is that almost everything posted there is for sale. The problem is that I post photos of my vintage collection and finds there, and it’s quite often that someone asks if the item is for sale.  I somehow feel like I should not be teasing people showing off some of the great things I’ve found over the past twenty-five or so years of collecting.

Even here on The Vintage Traveler, I get emails all the time asking if an item I posted about is for sale.  As you have probably guessed, my answer is almost always “No,” but there are times that I have agreed to sell an item to a reader.  I have one rule that determines whether or not the item changes hands – the prospective buyer has to want the item more than I do.

I know what it is like to really want something for my collection.  I’ve written plenty of those almost begging emails myself, so I pretty much know how to judge item desire in others.

If you see something here or on Instagram that you feel you can’t live without, it never hurts to ask.  But you have to convince me that you need it more than I do, and that you will take good care of it.  And be prepared to hear, “No.”

See that cute little cat skirt?  I pulled it out of the Goodwill bins and posted a photo on Instagram.  The skirt was felt with the kittens sort of embossed onto it, and contrary to what my photo might lead you to believe, was in pretty rough shape.  The kittens were fading and peeling, and there were holes in the felt.  The skirt was for a little girl.  Still, I put it in my shopping cart to make a decision about it later.

Finally, I decided that I really had no need for it so I put it back in a bin.  Very quickly, one of the three shoppers that had been stalking me, hoping I’d discard it swooped in to get it.  That was good because I hated the thought of those kittens in a bale of rags.

By the time I got home and checked my messages, two people had already asked about the skirt.  I felt really bad about having to tell them that I didn’t even buy it!  I think my days of leaving something this great in the Goodwill are over, especially if it has a kitten on it.

I’m in the process of going through my vintage sewing patterns and books, and I’ve decided that I really do need to sell some.  So starting in November I’ll reopen the old Fuzzylizzie Vintage etsy shop for a few months to offer them.  There will probably be some fabric as well.  I’ll be sure to announce the opening when it happens.

And seriously, if you sell vintage, you need to be on Instagram.  Just don’t make it entirely about what you are selling.

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The Eveready Sportsman’s Hand Book, Circa 1914

Never judge a booklet by its cover, I say.  Attracted by the woman in her middy dress, I opened this up to find some great illustrations of sportswomen, not men.

Eveready traces their roots to 1896, but the company was not called Eveready until 1914.  They had obtained the patent for the flashlight which they produced along with the batteries to power them.

Click to enlarge

This little promotional booklet really does have hints for the sportsperson, but the best parts are the illustrations along with poems that describe each scenario.  The “girl” in each is holding and using her Eveready to help her in her quest for sport and health.  Note that the Sight-Seeing Girl seems to be in charge of the tour of the ancient ruins.

 

The Motor Boat Girl needs no headlamp as long as she has her Eveready handy.

The Hunting Girl is not afraid because she is fully equipped with her flashlight. Of course toting a firearm might add to the secure feeling as well.

Night fishing, anyone?

And of course The Camping Girl is in charge of the cooking pot.

The Motoring Girl is most useful when holding the Eveready for the man who can fix her motorcar. And note the hint of Motoring Girl’s reckless driving!

 

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