Tag Archives: collecting

Button Collecting

When friend Liza asked if I wanted to go with her to see a button collection, there was no hesitation on my part. She said it was a great collection in a historic house, but nothing prepared me for what I was to see.

The collection belongs to Linda who does live in a fabulous Victorian house in a small town in north Georgia. Liza had met her on a tour of homes, and was invited back for a closer look at Linda’s stuff. And I say stuff because it’s not just buttons, but also antique and vintage sewing and knitting implements.I thought we would stay an hour or so, but Linda and her husband, Steve, were so gracious that one hour turned to four. And we still could have stayed longer.

These buttons were stored in an old dental case, which has lots of little drawers that once held dental tools. Now each drawer is packed full of buttons. All these plaid decorated ones came from the same estate.

Button collectors often make framed assemblages of buttons on a theme. Here are some of Linda’s dog buttons.

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but this cabinet was about ten feet high. It was custom built for a coin collector.  All the little drawers are full of buttons, with some of Linda’s yarn in the shelves beneath. Linda is a knitter, and she does beautiful work.

There were fancy wooden buttons…

buttons carved from nuts…

figural bakelite buttons…

sports themed buttons…

and plastic buttons.

These printed cloth nursery rhyme buttons are still on the original card.

Remember my post that told about the Muscatine, Iowa button industry?  Linda has a shell from there with the little blanks stamped out.

But it’s not just buttons. Linda also collects other sewing things, and has a wonderful grouping of pincushions and novelty tape measures.

This little sewing machine is a music box that plays “Buttons and Bows.”

Linda also has an enviable collection of antique ribbons and trims.

This trim is silk with silver metal bauble and embroidery.

Like any good button collector, Linda loves all sorts of miniatures. This is a hiking themed pin.

I loved this tiny terrier trimmed purse.

A knitter must also collect knitting aids. These string holders are by Holt Howard and are perfect for yarn.

I’m sorry this is so fuzzy, but I had to show it anyway. This is a silver yarn holder with a bracelet ring.  Beauty and function.

Thanks so much to Liza at Better Dresses Vintage for taking me along on this button adventure.

 

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Motoring Goggles

One of the questions I get asked most often is how do I know the age of an item, especially if it is not a fashion item with all sorts of clues. The short answer to that question is that I do a lot of research in the manner of studying catalogs and magazines from the past. So many times it just comes down to good luck in spotting an item for which I have been searching.

One thing I’ve had on my list of things to buy was a pair of motoring goggles. Back before cars had enclosed seating, the driver, and sometimes even passengers, wore goggles to protect the eyes from the dust and dirt of the road. Sometimes even dogs wore them.

These belonged to Bud, who accompanied Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker in 1903 on the first auto trek across the US.

Since seeing Bud’s goggles at the National Museum of American History several years ago, I’ve wanted to add a pair to my collection. The problem has been with identification. I’ve looked at hundreds of pairs online, but mainly what is being sold as motoring goggles are actually industrial goggles.  Starting out I did not know the difference myself, and it has been only through careful study of period photographs and drawings that I knew what I was actually looking at.

Still, when I ran across this pair recently, I wasn’t sure. I left them in the flea market stall where I spotted them, and then came to my senses, went back for them, and got lucky that they were still there.  Still, I had doubts. They looked so flimsy, almost as if they were a toy version of goggles. But they were adult sized, so I took a chance on them.

They are made from a leather piece with glass lenses set into aluminum frames. The outside of the leather is made sturdy by a wire encased in the binding. An elastic string holds the goggles on the face.

It wasn’t until after I took these photos that I decided to get out any catalogs that might have motoring goggles. I got lucky on the first place I consulted, a 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

Here are two of the ten styles of goggles Abercrombie & Fitch offered in the catalog. And while I did not find an exact match for my goggles, you can see how mine are a sort of cross between two of the styles in the catalog.  They are close enough that I have satisfied my own curiosity about these.

 

 

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Flea Marketing Rules

I first wrote this list ten years ago, and I’ve repeated it and updated it several times since then.  Since flea market season is upon us (I’m headed out early tomorrow for the big Liberty Antiques Market!!) I thought it would be a good time to remind myself of my own rules.

Every year I miss some good stuff at the first market just because I forget to follow my own rules.  I thought writing them out might make them stick, kind of like the teacher making you write “I must not chew gum” 100 times!

1.  Go prepared.  Many of these events are partially or entirely out-of-doors.  I keep my VFG totebag packed with a hat, lipgloss, hard candies, tissues and antibacterial lotion.  I usually throw in a snack and a bottle of water. Food is often of the junky variety, so a healthy snack that you bring along might be more to your liking.  Keep in mind that restroom facilities may be primitive (so stop at the closest fast food place before entering) and handwashing not possible.

2. But don’t take stuff you don’t need. If the fair is in a field, a rolling cart is pretty much useless unless it has very large wheels.  Leave your big and full-to-bursting handbag at home, and carry a small bag with just the essentials.  I have a little wrist bag that holds just my cash, cards and cell phone.  I attach it to my totebag so I won’t accidentally drop it.  Do not bring along family members or friends who will slow you down and whine about being bored.

3. Take cash. Many vendors will take a check, but few take credit or debit cards, and they don’t give the best deals if they have to pay bank fees.  Most big flea markets do have an atm, so credit cards can be handy.  Try to have a stash of small bills for cheap purchases.

4. Dress comfortably. For now and the fall, layers are great.  The mornings are cool, but the afternoons hot.  And wear comfortable walking shoes that you are not afraid to get dirty! If it has been rainy and the event is out of doors, take a pair of rubber boots.

5. Identify yourself. With your clothing, I mean.  I carry a Vintage Fashion Guild tote that has a  logo that identifies me as a person who is interested in fashion items.  I also often wear a Scottie dog pin, as I also collect Scottie items.  Dealers notice these things, and will offer you things you might have overlooked.

6.  Buy it when you see it.  I don’t care how big it is, I don’t care that your arms are full, I don’t care that the vendor is very busy and you are in a big hurry.  If you spot something that you intend to buy, do NOT leave the booth without buying it.  If you do, one of the following will happen – You will forget about the item until you are half way home.  You will go back to the booth just in time to see another buyer happily paying for YOUR item.  You will forget where the booth is and spend hours searching for it a second time, but never finding it.  Trust me on this one.  If I had time I’d tell you about the 1920s velvet cape with a Paris label, but it always makes me cry.

7.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Most dealers will give you at least 10%, and if it is near the end of the show, often they will offer quite a bit more. But be nice and not demanding.  Please, don’t be greedy.  If the price is $1, just pay it!  If you pull a pristine Pucci scarf out of a box of ratty old linens, please give the guy his $2 asking price.  It’s good Karma.

8.  Ask dealers if they have what you are seeking. If you find a dealer who seems to have a lot of vintage clothing, or whatever you want, ask if he or she has more.  Chances are they do, and chances are you’ll be going to other fairs where that dealer will be selling.

9. Carry some of your business cards and give them to anyone who might have leads on what you are looking for.  Even if you are not in a “business”, you need business cards if you collect or blog.

10.  Inspect items carefully.  I’ve been known to get so carried away with a find that I neglected to give it a good going-over. This can lead to heartbreak when you get home and realize half of the 1920s Vogue bargain magazine was used to make paper dolls.

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Currently Reading: All the Best Rubbish by Ivor Noël Hume

When I was a freshman in college I discovered history.  I’d always liked reading about the past, but for the first time I became really excited about it.  I was all ready to major in American literature when I was thrown into the core program at my small, public university.  All freshmen were required to take a year of “humanities” classes which consisted of history, sociology, literature and writing.  My teacher of the first term was a history professor, and he approached the curriculum through the study of history, incorporating the literature of the era along with other social studies.  I was hooked.

It wasn’t enough that I was studying history in class, so I went in search of other things to fuel my interest.  I can’t remember how I came to pick up this book by historical archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume, but I suspect it was a happy accident from repeated browsing at the newly opened B. Dalton bookstore in Asheville.  But however I came to own the book, I quickly fell under the spell of the “Pleasures and Perils” of collecting.  For a while my greatest ambition in life was to go mud-larking on the banks of the Thames, as the author made it sound so appealing.

But my life took a different turn, and instead of becoming a mud-larker, I became a teacher.  And I had not picked up this book for thirty-five years.

Recently I was moving furniture around and in doing so was moving books to a new bookcase.  I ran across my much-loved copy of All the Best Rubbish, and was reminded of what it had meant to me all those years ago.  As a result, I put it in the reading queue.

To my surprise, the book seems to have had a lasting influence on my collecting.  Ivor Noël Hume is not only a renowned archaeologist, he is also a collector, and the book, while it tells much about his job at Colonial Williamsburg, is mainly about the things he found over the years and what he learned from them.  The main take-away is this: The most expensive artifacts are not always the most valuable in terms of history.  Simple, everyday objects are most often the ones that can teach us the most about the past.  And while Noël Hume’s examples were often ceramics and glass, the same can be said for clothing.

Collecting only the best and rarest may be satisfying to the egotist or to the person needing aesthetic stimuli to get him through the misery of life in a world of mediocrity, but it does nothing for anyone wanting to know what it was like to live in other centuries.

Another valuable lesson is that value is subjective, and is more often than not, based on opinion.  Something that is thought to be ugly becomes less so when there are lots of dollar signs attached to the item.

Even though this book was published over forty years ago, so much of it will strike a chord with modern collectors:

The collector…has the residue of a lifetime for research and the acquisition of keys to doors beyond which lie journeys, adventures, and dramas that are not uniquely his own.

After all, it it not just the owning of objects, but the history that we can learn from these objects that is important.

UPDATE:

I could not resist adding a photo of this 18th century engraving, as the woman on the left and I share a name.  My grandmother was Elizabeth Adams (but was called Lizzie) and I was named for her, being Sharon Elizabeth Adams. I never knew the original Lizzie as she died the year before my birth, but by all accounts she was a kind and generous woman, with not a trace of larceny in her heart!

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Waist Management: A History of Unmentionables

The Fashion History Museum has a newly opened exhibition at the  Peel Art Gallery Museum in Brampton, Ontario,  Waist Management  It’s all about how undergarments have been used to help women achieve a fashionable silhouette, something that is apparent in just one photo from the display.

A while back I wrote about selling items from my collection and how I’d do it only if I were convinced that the person wanting an item wanted it more than I.  The truth is I’ve also been known to actually give things away if I know someone needs it.

Back in the very early days of Ebay I was smart enough (actually that would be lucky enough) to buy a bit of the lingerie line that Emilio Pucci designed for Formfit Rogers.  At the time it was considered to be a poor alternative to the wonderful silk jersey vintage Puccis that were already getting nice ending prices on the auction site, but the lingerie was cheap and so I bought a few miscellaneous pieces.

After the onslaught of fast fashion made of tissue paper thin poly, the thin nylon Formfit Puccis soared in price.  They were seen not only as wearable clothing, but gained deserved respect as a part of fashion history.

Several months ago I was mindlessly browsing the site I love to hate, Pinterest, and noticed that the Fashion History Museum had begun posting parts of the collection.  In their lingerie section was a Pucci Formfit Rogers matching bra and girdle.  I was pretty sure I had a matching piece, and a quick look through my catalog revealed that I did have a matching robe.

I emailed Jonathan at the museum to ask if he would like to have my piece for the museum’s collection, and of course he did.  I sent it off along with another donation and an ad that showed that this design dates to 1969.

I was delighted to get the photo in my inbox last night.  Knowing that something I had accumulated is now being used to educate others about fashion history is a great feeling.

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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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Currently Reading: Vintage Fashion and Couture

I bought this book in a moment of weakness.  I had sworn off any more books aimed at the vintage market, but after seeing some of the pages from this one, I let my guard down.

First, it has to be said that Kerry Taylor is a professional in the vintage business.  After running the Costume and Textiles division at Sotheby’s, she went on to establish her own auction house that specializes in clothing and textiles.  She’s handled thousands of old garments, and has seen works come through her business that most of us see only in museums.  Kerry Taylor knows vintage clothing.

But that aside, her book is like most other books on collecting vintage clothing.  It tries to be both history and sales guide, and it ends up failing at both.

It was this type of page that made me order the book.  Kerry picked out influential designers from each decade, and then showed typical garments, and even details and labels.   The Delphos dress on the right is quite commonly seen, but the stenciled velvet coat and jacket are not, and it is great having them illustrated in the book.  Had all the pages lived up to this quality, the book would be a real treasure.

In this page on Jeanne Lanvin, we are shown two dresses, including an example of her famous robe de style.  I know you can’t read it, but on each of the pages the last paragraph or two is about the market for that designer.  This information is very valuable, especially for people who can afford to buy at that level of collecting.

And while I’m not a fan of Martin Margiela, I did like the section showing and explaining his work.

Taylor also has sections illustrating style “icons.”  This one is, of course, Audrey Hepburn.  We’d know that dress anywhere, which is a problem.  Many of the photographs in the book are so commonly seen as to be nonessential.  Why show a photo of Hepburn in this dress, when most people have seen it many times?

Another example is this photo of Coco Chanel.  This section was, however, saved by the inclusion of the early Chanel labels.

But my biggest problem with the vintage photos is this particular one showing Dior’s famous Bar suit of 1947.  This photo has become almost synonymous with the suit, even though it was taken in 1957.  There is quite a bit wrong with this photo, as Jonathan Walford has explained.  Seriously, fashion publishers, it is time to retire this photo.

Unfortunately, there are also quite a few factual errors in the book.  The first one I noticed was in the Lanvin information.  Taylor wrote that Antonio Castillo was the designer at Lanvin from 1963, when actually he was there from 1950 through 1963.  In writing about Schiaparelli, Taylor declares that there does not seem to be a surviving example of her skeleton dress of 1938, when in fact, there is one in Taylor’s own city, at the Victoria and Albert.   Taylor also changes history by putting the Woodstock festival in 1968 instead of 69.

After catching the first error, I had to make myself stop looking for others.  The temptation was to sit with a fashion encyclopedia at hand and fact-check the entire book.  Since the book is somewhat UK-centric, I have no idea about so many of the labels she discussed, but I know I’d never quote this book without double-checking elsewhere.  In short, it is pretty much useless as a reference.

It makes me wish that Taylor had just stuck to what she knew, and that is the vintage market.  There was so much potential that just did not materialize.

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