Cheque, please!

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I get a kick out of little details in things, which is why I often spend too much time on small prop details that likely won’t be noticed by anyone but myself. Today’s example? The certified cheque prop needed for Bygone Theatre’s upcoming production of His Girl Friday.

Really, it’s a pretty simple one, and since we’re seeing the cheque before it’s cashed, I’m not going to the trouble of embossing it, I did however want something from around the right date, and double-sided.

Since this show will be on a real stage, and not something that requires the same accuracy as was needed for shows like Rope, which practically happened in the audience’s lap, I just searched for 1930s or 1940s certified cheques and settled on one from 1933;

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I found this through a memorabilia site – it works great as it doesn’t have a big distracting logo, its from around the right time, the right place, and has the fun added detail of being signed by a Walter (it comes from our character, Walter Burns). Again, chances are none of these details will be seen on stage, but still fun to note. I did want it double-sided, so that took a very small amount of photoshopping, about 3 minutes worth.

I opened the image in photoshop, and then selected the general colour using the eye dropper tool. Then, I did a new “fill layer” (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Colour) so that I had a solidly coloured piece the same size as my cheque. The original image had a speckled appearance, so to do that I simply applied a filter (Filter > Filter Gallery > Reticulation).

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I chose the “reticulation” filter because, after browsing through a few like “film grain”and trying the “dust and scratches” one, I thought this looked the closest to what the front of the image looked like. So, voila! The back of my cheque.

I’m sure there are other (better?) ways to do this, but as I wanted to print quickly I just dragged both the front & back images into Word to print. I did 3 on a page (these will be for rehearsal, for the show I will of course have one for each performance, plus a couple back-ups), and since they are the same size just placed them in the same spots on 2 sheets.

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Then printed double-sided and there you go! Quick, easy, and I think certainly worth the few extra minutes to get something that isn’t white (and super-fake looking, imo) on one side.

All for now,

-E.

What Is It? A Guide to Some Key Vintage Terms

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When you’re interested in antiques but just getting started, the vast list of new terminology can seem a little daunting. Here’s a handy breakdown of some key vintage terms you’ll see if you are interested in vintage and antique collectibles (one on types of fabric, coming soon).

Composition

Commonly Found: in vintage & antique dolls, popular from 1870-1930s

What Is It?:
what it sounds like, a composition or “mix” of various materials, commonly sawdust and glue. Each company had their own “recipe” that would be kept secret, but other materials included glue, glycerin, zinc oxide and Japanese wax. This could be molded into shapes like heads and hands.

Why’d They Use It?: prior to the creation of the “composition doll”, most doll manufacturers used porcelain or bisque. The main problem with this was that the dolls were very fragile. Often heads were made of porcelain or bisque to obtain realistic features, while the body, arms, and legs were made of cloth. With the invention of composition, the limbs, and eventually torso, could be molded into a realistic form as well. All in all, it made for better looking, longer lasting, dolls.

How To Identify It: flaws are the easiest way to identify this type of material. If you don’t already have clues like manufacturer or production date, try looking for things like “crazing”, a series of fine cracks that tend to occur on the surface over time. If chips or cracks have occurred on your doll, you may be able to see a material underneath that looks somewhat like cardboard or particle board; this can be a clue to composition. Most composition dolls either have molded hair (eg. made of the same material, a solid “hair” that is part of the head) or wear a wig; if your doll has rooted hair (eg. the way Barbie does, with hair coming out of the scalp) it is likely plastic. For a detailed breakdown on how to identify composition dolls, read this article.

Bisque

Commonly Found: in antique dolls, popular from 1860-1900. Frequently made in Germany or France. When used to make modern dolls, they tend to be aimed only at the collector’s market.

What Is It?: essentially just unglazed porcelain. While porcelain or “china” dolls will have a glazed, glossy, look, bisque dolls have a matt, more life-like appearance.

Why’d They Use It?: porcelain dolls already had a following when companies began to manufacture bisque dolls. While made in essentially the same way, they  had a more realistic look than the white-faced, glossy porcelain dolls, and that appealed to more modern audiences.

How To Identify It: chances are you’ve seen and felt a porcelain doll before, and again, bisque is very similar. Unlike plastic, it will be completely solid and unbendable, and will be thinner and more delicate than most materials. A light test is the best way to identify it and to check for damage; shine a light through it (from the inside as well as out, if possible) and you should be able to see it glow. This will also light up and cracks, flaws or repairs. If you tap it, it will make a sort of “ring” sound (be gentle!), and you’ll find that porcelain and bisque will be very smooth and capable of fine detail. If you know the date or manufacturer of the doll, use this to find out for sure.

Chalkware

Commonly Found: inexpensive vintage figurines, carnival giveaways or small decor items. Sometimes called “carnivalware”. Popular in the 19th century, from 1910-1940 it evolved into primarily garish figures of pop culture icons and cartoonish animals sold at fairs.

What Is It?: molded plaster of paris or gypsum, often colourfully (and poorly) painted with watercolours or oil paints.

Why’d They Use It?: it was an inexpensive alternative to popular ceramic figures, like those made by Staffordshire.

How To Identify It?: early examples were often idyllic peasant figures or fruit. Look for shepherds, sleeping animals or nativity scenes. Pieces were hand-painted, sometimes in realistic detail, though later often looking rushed and inexact. Pieces are rarely glazed. Chalkware is hollow but will have a heavy base to keep the piece from tipping over. Look for mold lines; while the pieces would be fused together and then sanded before painting, gazing in through the bottom may allow you to see the seams. As well, most chalkware is marked with the design number, year, and copyright date, and may also have a company name inscribed. Chalkware is known to chip, crack and flake over time. The chalkware from the 1910s-40s is easy to identify by its gaudy appearance in addition to all the previous methods (really, just look at those!).

Bakelite

Commonly Found: vintage costume jewellery, radios, telephones, flatware handles, game pieces – you name it! If it’s made of plastic today, there’s a good chance it was one point made of Bakelite. See this site for a great breakdown of popular and highly collectible pieces.

What Is It?: an early plastic resin with the ability to withstand high temperatures. Invented in 1907 and popular until the 1950s, it is celebrated for its wide range of bright colours. Hard enough to cut and polish, carved Bakelite was popular as well. Most commonly solid, opaque colours, some translucent pieces were made as well and given names like “Root-Beer” and “Cherry Juice”.

Why’d They Use It?: as already mentioned it was extremely versatile, at least compared to the products available before it. It was originally used for industrial purposes due to its ability to withstand heat, and the fact that it was colourful and carve-able made it a popular choice for artists.

How To Identify It: there are many methods to identifying Bakelite, and once you’ve seen a few pieces you’ll find your eye being drawn to them right away. First off, check for seams; unless it is made of multiple colours, there shouldn’t be any visible. Hardware on something like a brooch should be embedded or riveted on, as opposed to glued. As with many of the items discussed, flaws can be the best way to identify the “real deal”. Chips should reveal the same colour underneath; if you see white, something’s not right. Carved pieces may have small chips along the edges that shows the tool that was used to create them. As I mentioned, Bakelite has a very distinctive look, a particular shine and smoothness to it. This is described very well in this blog. Unlike modern plastics, or other vintage materials like Lucite and Celluloid, Bakelite tends to be quite heavy. When you tap a couple pieces together, they make a distinctive, low-pitched “clack” sound. Finally, due to it being made partially out of formaldehyde, you can test Bakelite by smell. Give it a rub, or run it under some warm water and it should reveal its tell-tale, chemical scent. For more tips, and for info on how to clean and care for Bakelite, check out the Vavoom Vintage site.

Lucite

Commonly Found: 1950s costume jewellery, retro shoe heels, purses, lamps.

What Is It?: a clear acrylic plastic created in the 1930s, popular in the mid twentieth century, and still in use today.

Why’d They Use It?:  Lucite was less expensive to create than Bakelite, and more versatile than Celluloid, leading to it eventually dominating the market and making those earlier plastics obsolete. While it starts clear, it can be dyed a wide range of colours, and can be carved and polished, like Bakelite. Cabochons were made to imitate jewels, and bold costume jewelry was manufactured out of it throughout WWII. The material was also used to serve the war effort, being made into periscopes, windshields, and the noses of bomber planes.

How To Identify It: Lucite can look very similar to Bakelite, but goes for far less. Both these plastics are Thermoset, meaning you cannot melt it down to make something new after setting it. Many of the Bakelite tests can also reveal Lucite, however the key difference is the smell; Lucite is not made of Formaldehyde. It can be difficult to distinguish between modern and vintage Lucite, so be sure you have a good understanding of jewellery styles and colour trends; also note that most modern Lucite is solid, but opaque jewellery was available in its earlier days as well. Some vintage Lucite has a distinctive sheen, referred to as “moon glow”, and glitter inside it – referred to as “confetti Lucite” – was a popular vintage look as well. Contrasting coloured bits spread throughout the piece for a “granite” look is also a popular vintage sign, as is a coloured piece embedded in clear Lucite.

Celluloid

Commonly Found: small jewellery and decorative items from the mid 1800s to 1940s. On the backs of compact mirrors, vanity sets, razor handles, on vintage pins and holiday items.

What Is It?: a brand name type of plastic made of cellulose dinitrate blended with pigments, fillers, camphor, and alcohol to make a unique synthetic material; like “Kleenex”, it has been used to describe similar products by other companies. Sometimes referred to as “French Ivory”, although it is in no way like the real ivory that is derived from animals. Extremely flammable and prone to deterioration, products like Bakelite and eventually Lucite made it become obsolete.

Why’d They Use It?: while not the first man-made plastic, it was one of the firsts, created in 1867. The inventor, John Wesley Hyatt, created the substance when trying to win a contest. The company Phelan & Collander had promised $10,000 to anyone who could come up with a substitute for ivory, and while Hyatt did not win the prize, during his experimentation he noticed that camphor added to nitrocellulose, plasticized. Initially the substance was used for billiard balls and dental plates. The billiards, however, never really caught on due to the flammability of the material; Celluloid coated balls sometimes produced small explosions when they collided. The material was used to coat early movie film as well, and that sparked countless fires in projection rooms (this instability of the film, due to the nitrite, makes early film preservation difficult). Despite this obvious drawback, Celluloid was in many ways versatile, and was used to create inexpensive versions of items made from ivory or tortoise shell.

How To Identify It: while Celluloid may initially look like ivory, or tortoise shell, it is far lighter, and if you hold a light up to it, you are likely to be able to see through it. As with most items on this list, deterioration can help with identification; it may crumble, crack, or crystallize. Celluloid is very thin, much more so than other early plastics like Bakelite. It too can be identified through a “smell test” – rub it or run it under warm water (do NOT use a hot pin as, remember, early examples were flammable) – and you should be able to smell the camphor (eg. moth balls). Post 1927, the camphor was removed and the smell test will no longer be relevant.

Do you have any requests for other vintage, man-made materials? I’ll do a blog on natural materials and fabrics sometime soon. Leave your requests in the comments 🙂

 

 

 

 

Hey, It’s Not All Bad! 2016 In Review

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It’s becoming a bit of a tradition, doing a “year in review” post, so here goes one for a year most of us agree has been pretty shit; 2016.

Despite the awful things happening in the world, the ridiculous number of celebrities to pass before their time, 2016 has been good to me in a lot of ways. Here’s the highlights.

Tarragon Theatre

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As I mentioned in my blog from this time last year, in January of 2016 I started working for Tarragon Theatre as the Assistant Producer; this has been my all time favourite job. The people at Tarragon are awesome, and I very quickly got to learn a lot. From doing CAEA contracts with Kesta, the Business Manager; mailings and social media marketing with Lauren, the Director of Communications; foundation & grant research with Leslie, Director of Development; workshops with students lead by Anne, Director of Education; and special projects grant writing with Richard, the Artistic Director, I’ve had a chance to do a little bit of everything and that has helped to confirm that, yes, I love everything about theatre. It’s been a hard year in a lot of ways and the staff have been very supportive, and I’m going to miss the place when my contract ends (soon). But I think I have now a good idea of what sort of training & experience I need to have a position there, and so I’m headed down that path in hopes of working there again someday!

New Apartment

For anyone thinking of moving to a new apartment a week before opening a show, I have one piece of advice; don’t. Despite it being insanely hectic, and taking a very long time to get organize and settled in, I’m very happy with my new home. It’s a lovely old building, built around 1910, and has a ton of vintage charm, which (surprise!) I love. Plus, I’m here with 4 of my favourite people; my bunny, Felicity, my budgies, Felix & Rooney, and my ever-supportive boyfriend, Conor (aka Coogle). Pretty great.

Wait Until Dark

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In April Bygone Theatre mounted a production of Wait Until Dark in the rehearsal hall at Tarragon Theatre. As happens with every show I direct, I got to meet a ton of funny, talented, and all-round awesome people. Also got to reconnect with Anthony Neary who I had worked with on Madeline Robin Known As Roxann a couple years back; he came out from Ottawa to set up some funky LED lights. We got to expand our Youth Outreach with this show by getting several teenage volunteers involved, which not only lessened my workload, but introduced all of us to some up-and-coming Toronto talents.

Directing with Richard Rose

This year I finally had a chance to take a class I have wanted to sign up for for YEARS; Directing with Richard Rose. I don’t have any formal theatre training and so I had wanted to add some things to my resume and get tips from a pro; for anyone looking for the same, I highly recommend this class. I haven’t had a chance to direct a show since taking the course, so we’ll see come His Girl Friday if his words of wisdom will improve my directing skills!

Vaudeville Revue

13581899_812129075590261_8621653151204502106_o(Most of) The Cast of Vaudeville Revue

Since I started Bygone back in late 2012, I have wanted to do a vaudeville show; in June 2016, I finally got the chance. Vaudeville Revue had a short run but we had an amazing variety of talent, and I’ve got another one planned for this season; hopefully this will grow into a yearly event. Everyone was not only talented but wonderfully positive. Despite not having the usual rehearsal process, I really witnessed bonding among performers backstage. That’s always one of my favourite parts of a show.

Tucked Away Antiques

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In August I decided to try and make some extra cash out of my second biggest passion (next to theatre); antiques. I have a ridiculous number of vintage & antique items at home – from shows, my own collections – and I always want to buy more. So I opened up an Etsy shop, Tucked Away Antiques, to feed my collecting addiction without making me go broke; it worked! It’s growing slowly, but it is growing, and I am making a profit. In the new year I hope to build it more and get it to a place where it can be a regular source of income.

Human Rights Hearing Against Theatre 20

This is meant to be a positive post, so I won’t go into this here. I’ll just say that the hard part is over, and that you can read more about it here.

Coming Up

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I’m already knee-deep in 2017 in a lot of ways. Work on Bygone’s next show, His Girl Friday, started a few months ago, and rehearsals will start in early January. I’ve signed up for online courses through Lynda, so I can brush up on my Adobe skills & Google Analytics, as well as learn how to use new programs like Quickbooks & Sage, and get some training on HTML & C++. Hopefully these skills will help me not just with Bygone, but any future work as a producer. I’ve got a bunch of things on the back-burner at the moment, and hopefully will have some more updates soon, though I won’t jinx it by mentioning them now.

All for now. Happy New Year!
– E.

Designing His Girl Friday, Part 1: Vintage Office Desks

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While His Girl Friday won’t open for another 4 months I’m already busy prepping things on the production side. The budgets are set, fundraising & marketing scheduled, so now I get a little time to spend on one of my favourite parts of putting together a show (and part of why I started Bygone in the first place); designing.

Anyone who’s seen a Bygone Theatre production knows that we always do things set in the 20th century, and while there are of course budgetary restraints that don’t make 100% accuracy possible, I do work hard to get an authentic period feel to our shows, both with props and costumes, and when possible, set.

His Girl Friday is set in 1940 and takes place primarily in a newspaper office, which means that I have to find a lot of period office supplies. The good thing is, since it’s an office (as opposed to, say, the house of a trendy socialite), I can play with the time period a bit; supplies from the 30s or even 20s could easily still be showing up, as long as they do have modern necessities like typewriters and phones. So let’s start with the most basic part of an office…

Desks

There’s a few key styles of desk you will come across if researching those from the first half of the twentieth century; secretary desks, rolltop desks, typewriter desks and tanker desk.

The secretary desk is the oldest style in this list, and despite its name, would not be very useful for most secretaries, as it forces the user to sit staring into a bookshelf, rather than outward towards visitors. The base is made with wide drawers which have above them a hinged desktop surface, allowing it to be opened when a writing surface is needed, or closed to save space and protect documents when it is not. The top half of the desk features a bookcase – sometimes with some drawers – often covered by glass. All-on-all the secretary is a tall, heavy piece of furniture with a shallow depth. Once again, not very practical for a modern office, certainly not a shared space.

The rolltop desk was a staple of the turn of the (20th) century office. First designed in the late 1800s, it became popular throughout the end of the Victorian era as it was quite easily mass produced. Its signature element is the roll down top, wooden slats on a tambour that allowed the user to cover the desktop and drawers. While practical for a small office with minimal correspondence, the desks grew out of favour as large elements such as the typewriter required more desk space, and the small drawers and compartments grew unusable due to an increased volume of paper (again, thanks to mass production).

 

One of the modern marvels becoming appearing in turn of the century offices was the typewriter (I’ll go into more details on those later), and with that came the necessity for a new type of desk. Just as you would today want to have a different desk for your computer than say, writing or sewing, workers then found they needed something not only lower (for ease of typing) but sturdier than the hinged tops commonly used before; typewriters were heavy and required hard pounding on the keys. In addition to that, early typewriters were finicky and expensive, so it was important to keep them covered and safe from dirt and dust. Many initially considered them an eyesore as well, so the cover had an aesthetic value too.

1946 saw the introduction of the Tanker Desk, a new form of the pedestal desk made of steel, with a sheet metal surface. These utilitarian style desks were popular in institutions such as schools and government offices, and have a distinctly retro feel. They remained popular until the 1970s, and are often sought after now for a “industrial” look. However, as I mentioned previously, this show is set in 1940, so these are a little too modern. Plus, they are expensive and heavy; not a great choice for a show.

So what to use? Before even doing any research I knew I preferred the look of wood desks to wooden, and I knew I would need some that could support a typewriter. This play also calls for a rolltop desk. Given that we have a budget to stick to, and keeping in mind how difficult these can be to move and store, my plan is to get a larger, slightly older desk for Walter Burns (the editor) to have in his private office, and to use a small typewriter desk for his secretary.

The reporters will likely share a large table with just their own phone and small work station, and the back of the office will have a few older desks set aside, including our necessary rolltop desk. I’ll post photos when we have them all purchased, but for now, here’s an idea of what I’m looking for;

All for now, more to come soon!
-E.

The Photo History Sleuth: My Part-Time Obsession – Part 1

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As anyone who knows me already is well aware, I am a huge fan of antiques and genealogy. Recently, I’ve decided to try and put those passions to use by opening Tucked Away Antiques, an Etsy shop where I can sell some of my finds in hopes of funding more treasure hunting.

Recently I acquired a lot of vintage cabinet cards from an auction, with the only information being that they came from the estate of the late “Clarence B. Kilmer, Saratoga Springs NY”. While I purchased these in hopes of making a profit, my curiosity got the better of me, and I’ve gotten to try to trace down information about the people in the photos. I always feel a pang of sadness when I’m rooting through a box of old photos and find some with labels that I don’t have the funds to buy; I always want to reunite interested family members with their lost photos, as I hold out hope that someone may do that for me some day. I’m still on the hunt for missing leaves of my tree.

So rather than just doing all this for interest, I thought I’d walk you through the process I use to identify people in photos. It can be a lengthy one, and of course, it’s not an exact science, but if you go through things logically and systematically, it really can be like a mystery, and I think every mystery is solvable. So first things first, who was Clarence B. Kilmer?

Estate Finds: Researching the Head of the Estate

The internet make this very simple for modern day sleuthers – chances are, you can google the name of the estate and come up with enough for a starting place. If you’re really stuck, things like Ancestry.com, or your local library (yes, they still exist) can be very helpful. Census records, newspapers, land records and more can tell you a surprising amount about a person, but to start off, let’s try with google.

The first thing that pops up when searching for Mr. Kilmer, is an article on a realty site about the Saratoga Centennial. A neat little history of this gorgeous house, once belong to Kilmer, is given.

Here’s what’s relative to us:

In 1904, the property was purchased by Clarence B. Kilmer, a trial lawyer who served as President of the Saratoga County Bar Association for 19 years. He was honored in 1947 for being a 50 year member, and also served as counsel to the Saratoga Racing Association.

A civic leader, Kilmer was Director of the Chamber of Commerce, and Chairman of the City Planning Commission’s subcommittee on taxation and finance.

Clarence Kilmer was an avid sports fan. He built the Geyser Road baseball park, and was instrumental in having the Brooklyn Dodgers come to Saratoga for an exhibition game. He was President of McGregor Links Golf Club, and an officer of the Saratoga Golf Club, where he once played 81 rounds in a single day.

Kilmer resided at 722 North Broadway until his death on August 29, 1961.

This is kind of a home run. Off the bat, we know he was a lawyer for 19 years by 1904 (gives us an idea of birth date), that he lived at 722 North Broadway (can compare this to census records and get a list of family members), and that he died August 29, 1961 (can search for obituaries or death certificates, again may help with family members). As well, being such a prominent member of the community means he was almost certainly photographed for books or newspaper articles, so if we have a photo we suspect is him, we can compare it to that. Step 1 is complete! Now let’s look a little closer at the photos to see if we can spot him.

Identifying Photos: Pictures With Names

You may think that a photo with a name written on it is a home run – surely you can identify anything labeled! Well, not always. In my own history hunting I’ve come across confusing photos that use nicknames instead of a given name, which can be misleading, especially if there are multiple people in the family with the same name. For example, a man might be named John, but be called “Jack” by his friends. He may also have a cousin, Jack, who has that as a given name. Differentiating may be difficult. In my case, I have a Great Great Grandmother name Phelma who I have seen referred to (on official documents like census records and birth or marriage certificates) as Phelma, Phelina, Lena, Charlotte and Lottie. She also had a daughter named Charlotte who occassionally went by Lottie. So, while these things can be slowly sorted out when you have dates and other info to compare it to, a simple photo with a first name is not so easy. But let’s look at what we have here.

A quick glance at the photos, and style of dress shown in them, lets me know that there are several generations present (I’ll go into more detail about style of dress and how to use that to date photos in a bit). From my initial google search, I also spotted an obituary for a Clarence B. Kilmer III, so I know not to assume anyone named Clarence here is the head of the household; we’ll need to date these photos to figure that out.

I followed the obit to CBK III and learned quickly that he was the son of Clarence B. Kilmer, Jr. and Agatha Quintana Kilmer, and that he was born November 9, 1937. That date means that he won’t be featured in any of these photos, as they are mostly late Victorian, with a few that may be closer to WWI, so I can cross him out. It does let me know that his father was likely born in the early 1900s, and that could help identify him in photos. His mother’s maiden name may also be useful in identifying pictures that seem to not fit the rest.

The obit let me know his birthdate, which gives me an idea of his father’s birthdate. His mother’s maiden name may also be helpful. Older obituaries can be especially helpful as they tended to list a lot of the family, and can help link married women to their maiden names. Newer obits may prove less helpful because of today’s privacy concerns.

Now I come to a photo that I’ve found that is labeled C.B Kilmer. To determine which one he is, we need to try and date this:

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Labeled “C.B. Kilmer”

We’ll start with the other labels on it.

The photographer mark reads;

BAKER & RECORD
PHOTOGRAPHERS,
Ground Floor Gallery
448 BROADWAY
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

So, back to google!

Google Books lead me to a copy of the Photographic Times, Vl 11, which praises the studio and mentions how they have taken the likeness of many prominent residents. This volume was published in January 1881. Further searching brought me to volume 13 of the same publication, published in January of 1883, where it is reported that the studio has dissolved. So, this photo can’t be from any date more recent than the end of 1882. We know that C.B.K. Jr. had a son in 1937, and so this is clearly too old to be him; looks like we’ve got our patriarch, Clarence B. Kilmer.

A recent obit gives the birthdate of C.B.K. III, which helps us guess the approximate birthdate of his father, C.B.K. Jr., and a quick search of the photography studio that took the photo labeled Clarence B. Kilmer has confirmed the photo can’t be more recent than 1883.

A little over-complicated? Maybe. Frankly, one look at it and I was pretty certain this was our man, but these same methods can be used to identify more complex mysteries, and I suspect we’ll come back to them.

I’ll use this photo to compare to unidentified men, and see if we can’t find more of them. But for now, let’s stick with the labeled pictures, and move on to his wife.

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Labeled “Bessie Kilmer”

I have 3 photos labeled “Mrs. C.B.K.” and one that reads “Bessie Kilmer”. The one labeled Bessie has a date printed on it, 1890. I found this a little odd as the woman in this photo is older than in the other ones, and yet she is not described as “Mrs. C.B.K.”. It is common to find records, be it photos or otherwise, of married women that disregard not only their maiden name, but their first name as well; one of my distant relatives was recorded on her death certificate as “Mrs. Dix”! This leads me to suspect one of the following;

  1. Bessie Kilmer is the woman’s maiden name. Given the date of the photo this would likely mean she is the sister of C.B.K., though she could also be a cousin (less likely, I’ve already come across some labeled “Aunt So-and-so”, I would expect “cousin” to be added here).
  2. This is Mrs. C.B.K., but the photo was taken after the death of her husband, and so whoever labeled it found it more appropriate to record her actual name.
  3. This is Mrs. C.B.K., but the photo belonged to a more distant relative, who wanted the actual name recorded.

Personally, I’m strongly leaning towards option 1, but for the sake of exploration, let’s dig a little deeper.

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Labeled “Mrs. C.B.K.”

One of the Mrs. C.B.K. photos is taken by the same company, Baker & Record, listed previously; it can’t be more recent than 1882. The woman in the photo looks quite young, and while I’d advise against guessing ages to identify pictures (they dressed and aged very differently back then, it can be misleading), I’m confident in saying she is under 40, could easily be anywhere from age 20-35. This would mean she was born sometime after 1847, likely closer to 1860.

Now here is where it’s important to go back to records, and not rely on a photo for information like marriage dates; you may want to assume that this photo was taken when she was already Mrs. C.B.K., but it could just as easily have been labeled after her marriage, but taken before then. Comparing the Mr. & Mrs. C.B.K. photos by the same photography company, it’s not difficult to see that the lady looks considerably younger than the gentleman; she could have married a much older man, or, this may have been taken early in the company’s existence. So let’s go back to google to try and identify when the company was first started.

After about half an hour of searching I was unable to find a date of incorporation (this is certainly something that could be located with more effort, but it’s not a necessity, so I’m going to leave it for now). I did, however, find many things dated to 1871, and nothing attributed to them from an earlier date. So, let’s estimate that the company existed from 1871-1882, not an unreasonable guess since other searching has confirmed that the men had other studios and other partners.

Ok, so this is a lot. I know. And again, most of this, in this particular case, could be guessed by anyone with some experience with old photos and fashion, but I want to use this as a sort of “case study” for how to start going about a process like this. So, let’s recap what we’ve learned:

  • We started with a lot of photos that were said to be from the estate of “Clarence B. Kilmer, Saratoga Springs NY”
  • A Google search of the name lead me to a Saratoga Realty site that featured the late man’s residence, and told me that he was a lawyer residing at 722 North Broadway, Saratoga N.Y., and that he died in August of 1961
  • Further searching found an obituary that confirmed that there was also a C.B.K. Jr., and that he was born in 1937 and died in 2008; this means he won’t be in any of the pictures. From the obit I also learned that “he was the son of the late Clarence B. Kilmer, Jr. and Agatha Quintana Kilmer.” Sounds like that was the C.B.K. who died in 1961 – need to find his year of birth.
  • Google yields yet another obit, for the above mentioned C.B.K. Jr. It confirms that he was born March 5, 1875 and died August 29, 1961. It also tells us that he was the son of “the late Clarence B. and Bessie Kilmer”.
  • I have a photo labeled Clarence B. Kilmer, and after researching the photography studio know that it must have been taken prior to 1882; since the photo is of an adult, we know that it cannot be C.B.K. Jr, and so can assume it is his father.
  • The photo I have from 1890, labeled “Bessie Kilmer”, I originally thought could be a sister. However, after finding C.B.K. Jr.’s obit, I now believe it to be his mother, the wife of the original C.B.K.

Other photos of Mrs. C.B.K. remain, and of course the question is which one is she? In my next blog post, I’ll discuss identifying the dates of photos by the photographic method, as well as the fashion; that should help us to confirm who exactly the woman is. Once we have a few people absolutely identified, we can start the more complex process of comparing unlabeled photos for further identification.

Hope that rather lengthy post proves helpful! More to come.

-E.

 

Collecting Vintage Movie Posters

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I’ve always loved old movies and so it was only natural to get into movie posters once I started collecting and selling antiques. I love the graphics and it’s a really easy way to add some funky retro flair to your apartment.

If you’re getting into collecting, there’s a few key things you should know, especially before shelling out the big bucks. Here’s a simple breakdown of movie poster history, and what you should be looking for (and be wary of) if you’re looking to start collecting.

POSTER SIZE

Different sizes can tell you a lot about the age of the poster, as well as its value. Plus, if you’re looking for a particular size for your home, it’s handy to know the dimensions of these commonly used terms.

ONE SHEET (1sh)
The one sheet is the most common, and generally most collectible of American issue movie posters. Prior to 1985, most measured 27″ x 41″, while since then they tend to be slightly smaller, measuring 27″ x 40″. These are printed in a vertical format and were initially delivered to the theatre folded, often one vertical and three horizontal, sometimes with 3 vertical folds. These folds in vintage posters are expected, and not considered damage, generally do not take away from the value of the poster. Since the 1980s, posters have started being delivered rolled, so if you come across something that you think is vintage, but has absolutely no fold marks, proceed with caution. It’s more likely a reproduction.

INSERT
Another vertical format, these haven’t been issued since the 1980s. They measure 14″ x 36″ and are printed on thick stock paper, again delivered folded. They are often rarer than one sheets and quite popular due to their smaller size; personally, these have always been my favourite format. I have quite a few them currently listed for sale on my Etsy shop, Tucked Away Antiques.

HALF-SHEET
These 22″ x 28″ sized horizontal posters are rarer than either of those previously listed, and use of them was also discontinued in the 1980s. Once again, they were originally delivered to theatres folded (twice) but later ones were rolled.

40×60
No fancy name for this one, as you might have guessed they measured 40″ x 60″and are extremely rare compared to a one sheet. They were printed on heavy cardstock and because of this, are difficult to find in mint condition; they creased easily. These only existed for major motion pictures and were meant for display inside and outside of theatres. They were printed in much smaller quantities, adding to their value.

SUBWAY/TWO SHEET
This horizontal format measures 41″ x 54″ or 45″ x 60″ and is very popular and rare. They are printed on thicker paper than one sheets and were often issued as advance materials, for display in subways. Could be rolled or folded, less printed than previously mentioned formats, and due to size (about twice that of a one sheet) are scarce and desirable.

 

THREE SHEET
Likely the largest size any average collector would seek out is this 41″ x 81″ vertical poster. Designed to be pasted to small billboards these too were issued folded and stopped being produced in the 1970s. They are roughly three times the size of a one sheet, sometimes printed in multiple sections and make for a very bold statement. Once again, these are very rare compared to a one sheet.

WINDOW CARD
This smaller vertical format measures 14″ x 22″ and is printed on thick stock paper with a blank are on the top for venue info and show dates. Generally unfolded, because of their size. Since they were meant to be used by specific theatres, having handwritten info at the top, or having the top removed completely, is not generally considered damage, and does not lower the value of the poster. However, they do go for considerably less than any of the those listed above.

LOBBY CARD
Lobby cards are fairly easy to find in secondhand shops, and as they were often produced in a series of 8, you will find several versions for a film. They measure 11″ x 14″ and are generally horizontal, meant for, as the name says, display in a theatre lobby. Generally they are meant to depict all stars and represent the entire film, though scene cards will feature specific scenes from the film.

 

There are many other formats out there, but I stuck to the most common ones that you are more likely to encounter, and that the average person could find space for in their home. For a visual reference, here’s a handy chart from cinemamasterpieces.com.

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NATIONAL SCREEN SERVICE (NSS) NUMBERS

In the 1940s, the National Screen Service started a date and coding system to keep track of the materials passing through it. While there are some weird exceptions (which you can read about here) for the most part, it’s pretty east to figure out.

Say for example, you saw

52/189

You would know that the poster was issued in 1952, and that it was the 189th film coded by the NSS that year. Basically, the number before the dash is what we’re interested in.

Now say you have one like this

R-52/189

The “R” represents “re-release” and means that, while the image may be what was used in 1952, that particular poster was released later.

Another thing that can tip you off to a non-original print is the copyright date; while the NSS number is generally in the bottom right, you can often find the copyright on the left hand corner. If you’ve got a 1952 copyright, and a 53/119 NSS number, even without an “R”, you know it wasn’t printed when the film was first released. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in value. Sometimes films were issued overseas and then in America, giving them a different copyright & NSS number. In the 1970s the dash was eliminated, but the system otherwise stayed the same.

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There’s much more to be said about dating posters and determining value, but I’ll leave that to the experts. Check out this very comprehensive guide to learn more.

  • E.

Building Prop Food for Wait Until Dark – Part 1, Research

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I usually try to do posts throughout rehearsals and leading up to a show but this past month has been too busy. On top of my work at Tarragon and rehearsals for Wait Until Dark, I have been prepping for Vaudeville Revue, have run another Retro Radio Hour, and moved into a new apartment only 2 weeks before opening. Now that the dust has settled, I’d like to go back and highlight some of the work that went into the show, starting with one of my favourite things, prop food.

I’ve done a post on vintage labels before, a brief one that highlighted using public domain images and another with the focus on old liquor labels, but what I needed for WUD was a little different.

A key piece to the set was a fridge, and knowing it would have to be open a lot, I wanted it to be stocked full of vintage goodies. As well, there is a point in the show where the characters have emptied everything out searching for something, and I need some things to make a mess with – seeing a kitchen as half of the set, I figured food and cleaning supplies as the way to go.

As often happens I planned more props than I actually had time for, but as these are relatively easy to make I may just make this one of my evening hobbies, maybe build a faux cereal box while the BF is watching football or something. At any rate, here’s a few tips if you’re looking to do some retro prop making of your own.

1. Decide on a decade

I’m a little odd. I often pick an exact date for my show and go to great lengths to make sure that everything in it is VERY period accurate – it goes without saying that this is not necessary, simply narrowing down a decade (or part of a decade) is enough to give the feel of the period, and what’s more important than knowing the EXACT date you’re looking for is knowing what’s characteristic of that time.

See the Rice Krispies packages above, ranging from 1928-1984,  the key change is the introduction of the elves and addition of bolder, brighter colours that would be more attractive to children. The image on the far left is from 1928, and the font-only package existed only a few years, as the elves were created in the early 1930s. However, if you were dressing a set for a play in the 30s, or if you were looking to dress an adult’s kitchen, you may want to use that style box a bit past when it was really used, as it immediately reads as old and has a great no-nonsense, grownup style. In the same vein, if you wanted to create a family kitchen, you would likely look for some “children’s cereal” and source some boxes with a fun cartoon character, like the third one above from 1965.

2. Narrow down a style & colour scheme, OR decide on the types of products your characters would buy

Another important decision in regards to your props is whether they are there to just enhance the look of the set, or if they are meant to add to the story or character. If, for example, you were going for something stylized and wanted a wholly monochromatic set, you could search for period packaging to fit your colour scheme.

Google makes this very easy. Go to images, search tools and you will see a dropdown for colour; the images above show what comes up for “retro packaging” with no search filters, and then with selected colours. Makes for a very easy starting point.

Of course, no one’s cupboards are really all colour-matching, and so if you are going for realism you will want to think more about the products themselves. Does your character buy only the best? Maybe they want a discount brand, or something in bulk. Do they clean with just water and vinegar or do they have all the latest cleaning supplies, one for everything that could possibly need to be disinfected? Give it some thought and you will make for a very authentic and interesting set.

3. Search for hi-res images, or simple designs

If you are looking to print off labels you find online, you want to be sure you have a high quality image, otherwise you will end up with something blurry or pixelated and that will distract from, rather than enhance your set.

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Check out sites like Etsy for hi-res scans of old labels, and browse for Flickr accounts by collectors as well. I have yet to find a really good, comprehensive collection of labels by decade, but I feel like there is one out there, and if not, I think I need to make one. Some companies that have been around a long time, like Hershey’s, have a history on their website, and that can be a good resource as well.

If you are unable to find enough high quality labels, look for a simple design that you can edit easily in photoshop. The labels above use complex design and typography, and would be difficult to replicate without some pretty serious artistic skill. However, many packages use simple colours and fonts, and with a few minutes of editing can be made into something passable, if not something very authentic. That is in part why I chose Dreft as one of my packages; greta retro colour, very simple design.

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4. Source forms

After you’ve decided on the labels you want, you need to find the forms to build them on. Existing cereal or granola boxes are an easy start, and you can always edit your label in photoshop to match the dimensions (like I did). Alternatively, you could build one yourself and finally use your grade-school geometry training, but honestly I think that takes more time than it’s worth. When looking for something like beer bottles remember that the shape used to be different, shorter and wider, and while it’s unlikely audiences will look at a bottle and say, hey! that’s not the right shape for that decade! when it is right, people do tend to notice. I managed to find something called “Vita Malt” (sounds yummy, eh?) that had just the right shape, AND the right dollar store price.

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5. Remember the magic of theatre

While I always aim for film-quality props, the magic of theatre is that you are generally far from the audience and under bright lights, two things that help to blur some details and let you get away with less-than-perfect props onstage. Found a great old label but it’s scanned from a crumpled original? No worries. Throw it in photoshop and paint out the details, fix only the logo and no one will notice if it’s missing some extra info. Want to alter the colours slightly to better match your set? Go for it. Up the saturation & contrast, adjust the hue, go crazy, no one is going to notice the change but they will notice the final effect.

After you’ve found your forms & your labels, you’re ready to build, a fairly simple process but there’s a couple important things to remember if you want to really nail the look – I’ll go over these next time. For now, goodnight.

-E.

Propnomicon – Vintage Telegrams

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While scanning the web for some vintage mail labels (making props for Wait Until Dark) I came across Propnomicon, a great resource for building some creepy props. They have a ton of posts on telegrams, and even though that pre-dates what I’m looking for, I loved them so much I thought I’d share. Enjoy.

-E.

Toronto’s Heritage Apartments

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Anyone who knows me well knows that, after theatre & vintage things, my third biggest obsession/passion is real estate. Particularly heritage buildings. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in 11 (going on 12) different places in the past decade. Or maybe it’s the idea of living in a place that is an antique itself, something that surrounds me in the vintage style I love. Whatever the reason, I have spent far too much time not just wandering neighbourhoods here in Toronto & in New York, dreaming about the antique doorknobs and lighting fixtures I could collect to adorn these places, but I have now spent WAY too much time documenting some of the best heritage apartments in Toronto.

I was surprised when I searched and could not find a site or blog dedicated to listing exclusively heritage buildings. I could find the odd apartment by using search terms like “art deco”, “Victorian” or “character”, but it was a painfully slow and inconsistent process. So here, for all you apartment-hunting, vintage-obsessed Torontonians, is a list of some of the best rentals the city has to offer.

*for this list, I stayed away from old buildings (eg. factories) converted into apartments as well as houses turned duplex/triplex and any that have become condos available for sale rather than lease. Here you will find low and mid-rise rentals that have always been residential apartments.

Fleetwood Apartments
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Built: 1939
Neighbourhood: Deer Park
Address: 64 St. Clair Ave. W
While I’ve read stuff that suggests the Fleetwood is as wonderfully Deco on the inside as it is out, I haven’t been able to find pictures to support that. Still, given how many times its been featured in real estate articles I’m inclined to believe this one is a gem.

Benlamond Suites
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Built: c.1909
Neighbourhood: Beaches
Address: 47 Benlamond Ave.
I couldn’t find the exact date for this building but another home just a few doors down was built in 1909, so I think it’s safe to say it’s from around the same time. The outside of this place really doesn’t do it justice; check out that wood paneling.

Epitome Apartments (originally Mid Maples)
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Built: 1913
Neighbourhood: Between Kensington Market & Baldwin Village
Address: 160 Huron St.
My first bachelor apartment was in the cramped basement of this building, in something clearly not meant to be lived in; no vents, pipes along the walls, constant blasting heat. It certainly wasn’t glamourous but I did love the outside of the building and the location (just off-campus). After a year I moved upstairs with my then-boyfriend into the main floor apartment you can see from the front of the building, on the right. It wasn’t big enough for two people really, but I did still find it somewhat charming. That was back in 2009-2010. Now the building has been revamped and is much more modern inside, and I suspect considerably more expensive. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting heritage building, and one with a somewhat unique history.

The Maitlands
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Year Built: 1900
Neighbourhood: The Village
Address: 32 Maitland Ave.
This classic luxury low-rise shows up on all of the city’s blogs about the best heritage rentals. While the suites maintain their original hardwood floors and leaded windows, the apartments have been well maintained and feature modern kitchens and bathrooms.

Broadview Mansions
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Year Built: 1927
Neighbourhood: Riverdale
Address: 569 Broadview Ave.
Another building that has had quite a few upgrades the mansions have at least maintained their deco charm on the outside.

Kew Beach Mansions
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Year Built: 1929
Neighbourhood: Beaches
Address: 2163 Queen St. E
I’m not sure what company manages this building now, I had trouble finding information on it and I’m not sure what it looks like on the inside. But that front door alone is enough to warrant it being on this list.

Claxton Manor
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Year Built: unknown
Neighbourhood:
Address: 1592 Bathurst
The inside is sadly not as lavish as some on this list; no beautiful oak trim or built-in bookshelves. However, I’m really digging the cute retro bathroom. I was unable to find the date for when this was built, but I’m going to guess it was mid-late 20s.
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Mallory Gardens
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Year Built: 1931
Neighbourhood: Deer Park
Address: 8 Mallory Gardens
The outside of this building might not be terribly impressive, but the suites have maintained their charm by keeping the original built-in shelves & deco tile in the kitchen& bathroom. I wish I could find better photos; I’ve been in one of these and the pics don’t do it justice.

 

Grenadier Mansions
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Year Built: unknown
Neighbourhood: High Park (Swansea)
Address: 1942-1956 Bloor Street West
The rental site looks almost as though it hasn’t been updated since these were built, with some very cluttered & dated photos that are used for every sized apartment. But look behind the mess and you do see some nice details like fireplaces and wood trim. Not sure when these were built, likely sometime between 1920-1950 when the area was being built up.

Heath Park
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Year Built: unknown
Neighbourhood: Cedervale
Address: 22 Tichester Rd.
Another Trivest building means more poorly photographed interiors, but there does seem to be some original trim and tile. I’m always suspicious of buildings that give incentives like “free tv!” to lure in renters, especially when it’s one as central and affordable as this, but I am easily swayed by vintage charm.

North Gate
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Year Built: Unknown
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 1532 Bathurst
Trivest again! Very similar to the last few, I suspect all of these were built in the 1920s or 30s.

Clarendon
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Year Built: 1927
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 2 Clarendon Ave.
Whereas most updated heritage apartments have included modern elements, especially in the kitchens and bathrooms, this luxury residence has preserved the classic styles of the era in which is was built. The lobby is drool worthy and I can’t tell you how much I love that 20s style sink.

Claridge Apartments
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Year Built: 1929
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 1 Clarendon Ave.
Another stunning Forest Hill heritage building the Claridge is very similar to the Clarendon listed above.

Mount Pleasant Suites
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Year Built: 1927
Neighbourhood: Mount Pleasant
Address: 649-667 Mount Pleasant Rd
This one is unique on the list as the apartments are all above stores. Not many photos to be found, but apparently some still have their original clawfoot bathtubs!

Du Maurier Apartments1325799431_070918DuMaurier005

Year Built: 1930s
Neighbourhood:
Address: 5 Du Maurier Boulevard
This building boasts about it’s 30s styled lobby, high ceilings and tall baseboards. While the apartments are updated, there are still hints of vintage charm in those elements.

 

Mayfair Mansions
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Year Built: 1931
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 398 Avenue Rd.
The exterior and common areas of the building have far more of a vintage look than the individual suites, still, the leaded windows are a cute touch.

Am I missing some? Leave links in the comments.

  • E.

Vintage Style Icons

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Today while wasting time on Pinterest I got to thinking about the problems with so many of the “style boards” you find on there; they are very obviously not made for Canadian winters. For those of us that love vintage looks, it can be especially disheartening to browse through gorgeous outfits knowing that you couldn’t stand them for more than about 30 seconds outside; those pretty dresses don’t keep you warm.

So I decided to throw together a few style boards of my own, all inspired by Golden Age actresses but made for us Canadians, with pants instead of dresses and all prices in CAD. More to come, enjoy!

Style Icon - Katharine HepburnStyle Icon - Marilyn MonroeStyle Icon -Audrey Hepburn