Thursday, July 31, 2008

Some REALLY Old Stuff at Ida Red's

Mike and Debbie Ausec, owners of Ida Red's Antiques in Aurora, OR have acquired a collection that goes beyond antiques or even antiquities, and into prehistoric: a collection of fossils from a prehistoric petrified forest in Florissant, Colorado, part of the estate of one of a close friend, Jack Baker, who died in 1995.

Jack Baker loved old stuff. Here he is with his Chrysler Airflow, purchased in 1936

Jack had turned his Pike Forest Fossil Beds into one of those roadside attractions so beloved of travelers in the mid-20th century. The most famous tourist to drop by was Walt Disney, who was so taken with the fossils, he bought a petrified tree trunk to display at Disneyland.

Disney's visit brought Jack his 15 minutes of fame, but also alerted the U.S. government, which appropriated the forest and turned it into the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in 1969. Jack was able to preserve his own personal collection of small fossils, and after his death Ida Red's purchased the lot. The bits and pieces of shale bear the fossilized remains of everything from a bug's eyelash to an entire fish skeleton, ferns and leaves in all their detail. Some items in the collection have been shellacked, following the custom of collectors in Jack's day, but others are just as he found them.

Fossils of a leaf and an entire fish, from Jack Baker's collection

Debbie Ausec mentioned the Florissant Fossil Beds collection yesterday when I spoke with her on the phone, and I thought for a silly moment she said "flourescent." As in, they glow in the dark? But no, that's just how the name is pronounced.

Because Mike's a mineral collector and old tool enthusiast, Ida Red's is a treasure trove of "guy stuff," with a large selection of old tools, minerals and curiosities such as the fossils.

Of historic and geological interest is Jack Baker's dismantled fireplace which was created from hand-polished, colorful pieces of fossilized wood Jack had collected on various trips through the West. Jack was so proud of the fireplace, once the showpiece of his gift shop, he had a picture postcard made of it, though the photo doesn't do it justice. Here are just a few of the pieces, now all boxed up and awaiting reassembly.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Girls' Night Out

Vintage buttons at the Cottage Jewel in Danville.
What's in your button jar? What can you do with it?

I have a stash of small found objects, bits and pieces that I haven't found a use for yet. I think now and then, "This would make a good necklace," or "Someday I'm going to use these to decorate the top of my jewelry box..." Instead of lamenting a broken china cup, I've begun to speculate how I can re-use pieces that are still beautiful with their hand-painted flowers and designs. I have jars and bowls of shells, sea glass, beads and broken baubles. I admire the frugality and ingeniousness of making something out of items others might consider useless.

Marcia Harmon, owner of the Cottage Jewel in Danville, shares my enthusiasm. In fact, she often holds workshops in her store every Thursday evening until 8pm. A sort of Girls' Night Out where people looking for ideas, tools and a few new skills gather and get creative. In June, for instance, they were introduced to bead embroidery and mosaics.

Other nights are devoted to showings of the work of local artists, such as jewelry maker Karen Rice. You can inspire yourself, adorn yourself... Or both! Sounds like more fun than Ladies' Night at the BoyToy Club, and you might have something to show for it in the morning besides a hangover.

Elegant one-of-a-kind beaded pendant by Karen Rice comes with its own display stand so it can be shown off for the unique work of art it is. See her selection at Cottage Jewel's store or website

Marcia is also the instigator of the new Heartland Danville Antiques & Art Faire, Labor Day Monday, Sept 1 at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley on Railroad Ave. Spaces are still available, she reports, and are going for the best prices around. Call for details, (925) 837-2664.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Three Bloggers from Niles

The homely pickle never looked so good as when enthroned in one of these spectacular ruby glass pickle castors, at Les Belles in Niles, CA

Fellow bloggers in the antique world are starting turn up one at a time, and I'm adding them to my bloglist. Today I hit the jackpot! Three in the same town, Fremont, California where an antique row is situated on Niles Boulevard, a historic railroad center.

This morning one of the owners of Les Belles called asking me to add her blog address to her listing in the new Collector's Guide we're working on now, and mentioned that two others in town are blogging too: My Friends and I, and Lealind's (one of the "friends" of My Friends).

A selection of pressed glass, milk glass, footed glass bowls, salt and peppers, and a pretty handpainted bowl at My Friends & I, a multi-dealer shop in Niles

Everything you need for an elegant, old-fashioned ice cream social, in Lealind's Gifts, a space at My Friends & I

Another link on each of these blogs takes you to the Niles Main Street Association, which is gearing up for their annual antique bash, the Niles Antique Faire and Flea Market, August 31.

Just to give you a taste of what these stores have to offer, I'm sharing photos from their blogs, but click on over for a better look at their selection. What a great way to preview a store, and see if your tastes coincide!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Leafing Through Online Antique Magazines

What have I done for you lately, dear Reader? Have you taken a look at the prodigious list of periodical links I've created for you?

Some of these links will take you to actual stories in the current edition or archives of certain magazines. Others withhold everything except info on how to subscribe for hardcopies. But I found one that actually gives you the entire magazine in glossy color: "Modernism Magazine." If you're a fan of Art Deco and the other movements that occurred in connection with it, throughout the US and Europe, and want to see how design today has been informed by it all, this is the magazine for you. It's free, beautifully designed and right there at the click of a link button (which says "View Online Edition"). What's not to like?

Kovels also provides page after page of up-to-date information every month, either free or at nominal cost for an upgraded subscription.

Another publication that uploads its entire content online is Cochran's Collector's Guide, accessible at the left of this home page. There you'll find 200 pages of maps, information on stores' specialties, contact info and plenty more, updated annually.

Now, if only other pubs would do the same... Maybe they'd lose a little in hardcopy sales, but they'd gain hugely in worldwide readership, and their advertisers would be very satisfied with the additional exposure. Maybe some trees would be saved, too.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Thrill of the Hunt

Ever meet a world-class collector? I met one the other day over the telephone and I'm still pondering what drives this woman. Must be the thrill of the hunt.

She and her husband reside in a very affluent community on the California coast, so we can assume they have the resources to do what they like. And what they like is to travel and shop for antiques. Ten weeks of the year! They start in California, and after they've done a tour there they hop a plane and fly over to Europe, presumably for the street markets and shops and such. When they get home, they turn on their computers and go shopping on eBay!

They don't have a store, don't sell at shows, don't have space in a mall. Maybe they're furnishing a big, empty 36-room house, who knows? She collects linens and textiles, while he buys antique toys.

"Linens and toys," I commented, "must be fairly easy to transport home. Not breakable, usually. You can pack the toys in the linens. Good choices." But no, he doesn't always go for the little toys. Once he picked up a whole train set, and not the small scale, either. Each car was 36 inches long! Even in the sort of mega-SUV I imagine they drive, it must have been a major challenge to pack it all in.

At the moment they're getting ready for a tour of Southern California and the Mrs. was requesting I mail her a copy of our 2008 Collector's Guide. "We always take the Guide with us on our trips," she insisted. "It's essential for planning ahead where we'll be stopping."

We don't normally mail out individual books for free anymore. At more than $2 a copy in postage, it's become prohibitive. And then we have to find someone headed for the States, since we don't rely on the Mexican mail system (even the electric and water companies don't do that!) Instead, we upload the entire edition on the Internet, so if collectors don't have the hardcopy book, they can go to the Table of Contents, select the region they'll be visiting and print out the desired pages with their maps.

But in this unique case, I decided to make an exception.

You could call it my "Collector of the Year Award."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Worth the Wait

Worth waiting for...The Antiquarian in Duncans Mills is only open Thursday through Monday, like many small-town shops.

I'm often asked, why do antique stores keep such odd, limited hours? It's not unusual to see small-town stores that are only open weekends, or one weekend a month, or only by appointment. Often stores seem to be keeping bankers' hours, not opening until 11 am.

We're not talking about the big malls and collectives, with plenty of dealers to keep regular hours, but the mom-and-pop shops with only one or two people available to keep the doors open.

Today a fellow blogger at Diary of a Mad Antiquer expressed the reason better than I ever could:
"People often ask why I am only open 4 days a week and my unuttered response is 'you think this stuff just MAGICALLY appears?'"
Store owners are regularly away replenishing stock at estate sales, homes where large antiques are for sale, shows, closeouts of other stores, rummage sales, yard, attic and garage sales... Their stock is one-of-a-kind merchandise, usually vetted personally by the dealer. They don't have the luxury of sitting at their desks ordering by the gross from a catalogue.

Or they're show dealers and it's a big show weekend. Another explanation is that they have day jobs during the week to supplement their income because their shops are more a labor of love than a big money-makers.

Antique store owners live a feast-to-famine life, either having lots of sales (which means they have to scramble to build up their merchandise again), or going days without sales (which starts them wondering how long they'll be in business). Under the circumstances, it's amazing so many stores have been in business for decades.

Some stores enlist the help of antique pickers like Ed Welch, who wrote about his work in the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. But reliable pickers who know what they're doing are few and far between. (Looks like a fun job, though if you like to travel--and maybe drive a hybrid.)

It's always a good idea, if you're traveling any distance to visit a particular shop, to call first and confirm hours. And if you pass an interesting store during regular business hours and you're disappointed it's not open, cut them some slack. The dealer might just be out there finding that perfect treasure for you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An Ephemeral Kind of Day

Drifting from blog to blog today to see what's up lately, I came across a couple on the subject of ephemera, which is my kind of collectible.

Here's the most precious piece of ephemera in my collection: a portrait of my dad, Henry Buys, at age six, taken in Holland just before his family immigrated to Iowa.

Paper is a very practical item to collect, for klutzes who travel a lot and live in small houses. It's usually unbreakable, portable, easy to share images of it over the Internet. Photographs are probably my favorite, though old documents and letters can also stir my emotions. And those vivid old postcards, like the postcard book you can see at the Thrift Shop Romantic's blog today.

At the ephemera blog, the proprietor is celebrating a birthday, which caught my eye because I mine was Friday. Don't ask which one, I don't go there anymore unless I have to. Nothing extraordinary happened, just a lazy kind of day with my mate, running into people I hadn't seen for a while. A serendipitous kind of day.

From there I wandered over to the Ephemera Society blog, where I found an article by Arthur Groten about poster stamps, tiny versions of promotional posters with stickum on the back, just like stamps but a whole different version of philately. I'm not sure they'd be a valuable investment as postage stamps can be, but talk about a portable collectible!

Ken Prag, a San Francisco ephemera dealer whose displays can be found at many antique shows, sent me this postcard of a town that brings back fond memories for me: Point Arena, California. Until two years ago, I lived 15 minutes away from Point Arena and had several friends living there. I'd love to show them this street scene from more than a hundred years ago, when it was a booming logging town, bigger than it is today.

I'm guessing this upbeat Uncle Sam postcard was available for sale to servicemen at the PX during World War II, maybe even WWI! to send back home to their families.

Ken also has an impressive collection of stereopticon views, timetables, passes, old stock certificates and other documents, a few of which are shown on his web page. If you're looking for a particular type of ephemera, he may have it or know how to locate it. Inquire at

Another thing I like about ephemera is the wide range of items you can specialize in, from the goofy to the sublime. Imagine, for instance, collecting air sickness bags from airlines!

Ephemera gets its name from the fact that it wasn't originally intended to be preserved. There's something delightfully perverse about saving something that wasn't meant to be saved, don't you think?

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Vicarious Visit to the Ultimate Expo

Tom McCall Waterfront Park on the Willamette River Photo from Welcome to Portland website

On my short list of places to go some summer is Portland, OR which seems from what I've read to be a very progressive and beautiful city, with enough antique stores in town and the surrounding area to keep me happily investigating for at least a week. Take a look at the shops listed in the Guide, just as an example (click on Contents, above, select Portland and follow the arrows from page to page).

I never visited Portland in summer, though decades ago I lived on a farm outside Eugene for about a year. Yet I know a lot of people in the Portland area now, since Cochran's Collector's Guide has been covering the Northwest for five years. And the dealers there all report that the Palmer-Wirfs Expo this weekend is the biggest thing happening in Portland all summer. If your mind is on antiques, anyway.
" was a real thrill to have a chance to shop there," says Barbara Crews in an article on antique shows on the website.

This morning I came across Cindy Dockins, the Queen of Tarte, exhibiting at this year's Expo, and just from the photos on her blog of her truck loaded with merchandise it should be a very enticing display, with lots of vintage touches that are French, feminine and funky. If you're lucky enough to get to the Expo, be sure to look for her at Space 161.

If you have some special treasure you've been wanting to have evaluated, you can bring it to the Expo. For $5 each, you can present your items to one of five appraisers in the Evaluation and Identification Booth, who can give you informed opinions on everything from fine art to machinery, glass to costume jewelry.

If you can't make it this weekend, mark your calendar for October 25-26, when the next Expo will be held.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Low-Tech Cherry Pitting

Queen Anne cherries ready for harvest

It's cherry harvesting time in the Northwest, and on her farm in Aloha, OR my friend Sue Keith has a few cherry trees--bing, Queen Anne... She's been busy with the help of her husband John, putting up fruit for the winter. And since quite a few old-fashioned cherry pitters come through her shop, Susantiques, she gets a little mechanical help, too. Monday they canned 28 jars of bing cherries, and yesterday they processed 14 quart jars and made four cherry crisps, the same way housewives did it fifty years ago. Sue, who still lives in the farmhouse where she grew up, has become expert at putting food by over the years.

The most laborious part of the job is pitting the cherries. The jar with the strange-looking red lid is the gadget she used on the latest batch. Here she shows how she pits a Bing cherry.

Out in her storage barn she has unearthed a few more "high-tech" cherry pitters that need some rehabilitation. Next year they should speed up the process even more. One of them will pit four cherries at once.

"I call this one my 'four-banger'" she says. "You can see how it turns as you turn the handle. "All you need to do is drop cherries in the holes with the left hand, turn the handle with the right, and the cherries are brought around to a chute, and the pits go down, lower, to their own chute, and into a bowl." The manufacturer's name, embossed on the gizmo, is New Standard.

Another type of pitter, made by Enterprise, only pits one cherry at a time, but Sue admires the ingenuity of the design.

"It has a bowl to put the cherries in and they roll down and as you turn the handle, the plunger pushes out the pit, the pit goes down the smaller chute to the front, and the flipper above all of this comes around, with the turn of the handle, and pushes out the cherry into a waiting bowl. I really like this one...the way they thought this through, to get the cherry out of the way for the next one. With each turn of the handle, the process starts all over again! They were really thinking, to make something like these pitters."

This one, made by New Standard Hardware Works, looks similar but works a little differently: "cherries being in the funnel-like chute, landing one at a time in an indention. The pit goes out the same way, into a bowl under the hole, and the cherry is suppose to roll down a smaller chute to the back, and into another bowl."

The more complex the machine the more maintenance it requires, even in the case of cherry pitters. The simplest one, with the jar, was ready to use. The other two need cleaning and oiling, and there's a leather bit to be replaced. "The leather piece is put in the hole where the plunger goes through. It is just a small square with an X cut in it, that lets the plunger put the pit through, but will not let the pit come back up with the cherry."

TA-DA! the result, glowing like jewels in the Keith pantry.

"Only thing I like better than these, is my peach peeler," says Sue. "I thought for the longest time it was an apple peeler, but one day, after getting my copy of "300 years of old Kitchen Collectibles" I found a picture identifying it as a peach peeler..."

"It never did work on apples," she adds, "and I could have damaged it! It has seven wheels, or gears, that turn others, and it is just fun to watch!"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lo Maximo! Over the Top!

My friend Gary, who has been immersed in it since its beginnings, has concluded with a disgusted shake of his head that "The Internet is loaded with junk!" Having just spent a couple of days digging through the junk and jewels for some choice blogs for my linklist, I have to agree that much of it is either:
  • impossible to wade through because the sites are too busy with slapped-together graphics, the type is too tiny (four point! who's going to read that?) or too large, and there are too many crudely done flash animations and unrelated litter, or
  • nothing but text, sometimes without even paragraph breaks, for pity's sake! Or,
  • so blatantly dedicated to a single agenda, i.e. making money, that it neglects the principles of being entertaining, appealing to the eye and (hopefully) informative, or
  • assaulting the ear with raucous music, or
  • all of the above. With such a combination the visitor hits the back arrow button as fast as possible!
So it's good to see we can use some positive reinforcement, such as an award, to point out blogs that have achieved higher standards. As an example, Arte y Pico, an art-related blog, has created a special award, which we are invited to bestow on art and craft blogs, following these guidelines:
  1. Pick 5 blogs that you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also contribution to the blogging community, no matter what language.

  2. Each award has to have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog.

  3. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that presented him/her with the award.

  4. The award winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link to "Arte y Pico" so everyone will know the origin of the award.
And here's the award. Muy bonita, si?
So who is Arte y Pico and what does she do? A doll artist from Uruguay, she works in recycled materials. So, her awards will be going to craftspeople, artists, perhaps a few decorators. Perhaps anyone who just does a tasteful and valuable blog about aesthetic topics.

We're not all artists, but most of us know what we like, what makes our hearts beat faster and our pupils dilate: a pleasingly-arranged page with beautifully-detailed photos, harmonious color, easily-read type, judicious use of spell-check. My point is that artists and craftspeople aren't the only ones who create beauty; I've seen some exquisite blogs on the subject of antiques and décor.

When you visit
Arte y Pico you'll find much of it in Spanish, but there's English, too so don't be daunted if your español is poquito or none. Her award title, in English:

"...translates into a wonderful phrase in Mexico, “lo maximo.” LOL! It will never find its counterpart in English, but if it HAD to, it would be something like, Wow. The Best Art. Over the top."

So now I'm inspired to do some delving in the coming week and bestow the first annual Cochran's El Maximo awards to five antique blogs. In the process, I'll learn a lot more about what's appealing, what's genuinely valuable and what entertains, cybernetically-speaking.

Who do I think I am, presuming to hand out awards? My credentials may not be impeccable, but I've been in journalism 37 years, edited and published Cochran's Antiques and Collectibles monthly for 11 years, and have now been co-publishing Cochran's Collector's Guide for 20 years. Will that do?

I'm inviting you to spread the wealth, too. Following the guidelines above, you may choose five antique blogs you believe deserve the accolade "EL MAXIMO!" Send your list to me and I'll pass them on to my readers. And it would be only right to list them, on your own blog
as well, if you have one.

While we're all looking for the most deserving blogs, my partner Jim, the graphic artist in the family, is doing some delving of his own, looking into a new banner design for this blog. For a theme, we're thinking along the lines of Art Deco, maybe with a sleek 1920s Rolls Royce in the background. Hmmm, did they make Rolls in the 20s?

Oh, and I'd better ask him to come up with a design for the Cochran's award, too! He's going to be a busy guy.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Bloglist To Reckon With

My bloglist at right is growing by leaps and bounds as I discover other bloggers who are interested in antiques and collectibles. Many, I have to warn you, have an agenda: they want to sell you something. But hey, when did we ever shrink from shopping?

I did find one blog, with the unlikely name Dumpdiggers, that offers a lot more than items for sale. Rob Campbell, a self-described Canadian "relic hunter," is only 31, but he has the heart of a seeker and loves to chronicle and share his research. On his blog is a Swicki (new term to me) that led me to a whole mob of other relic hunters, all of whom have their own fascinating stories to tell. Oh, and some people with stuff to sell.

Another link, Nancy Matson's "Workin' It," led me to an informative interview with an antique dealer, Michelle Staley, of My Granny's Attic. Michelle has stuff to sell, but also some research information to share that can help us become more informed and smarter collectors. For an example, see her Forum page for a feature on "Blown Three-Mold Glass and Lily Pad Glass," an article on how to clean silver using sour milk (!), how to identify Roman coins, and a Q&A section called Ask Amelia.

And another blogger who likes to research and "ain't selling a thing" is Chris Proudlove in the UK, who's written on everything from advertising antiques to whimsies. Visit Write Antiques when you have plenty of time to get acquainted.

I'm greedy for stories, how-to tips and such. And I'm greedy for more links, too. I do visit each of these, not wanting to inflict long-expired blogs or egregiously excessive sales pitches on you, dear reader.

Antique or Born Yesterday?

Red coral amulet bracelet from Tibet, at Traders City

I got a call this morning from a lady in Santa Rosa, CA, who told me about a "fabulous" collection of oriental jewelry she was trying to get evaluated. It had belonged to the aunt of a friend of hers, now in a nursing home, who used to do extensive traveling in the Far East.

"I've taken it around to the local shops, and everyone wants it, but they all want me to name a price," says the caller, who doesn't have a clue what any of it's worth.

Hmmm, the Far East, huh? A red light went on in my head. By far the biggest, most authentic-looking supply of fakes in the world comes from those crafty reproduction factories in the Far East. And I suspect that, with its huge Asian population, the West Coast has more than its share of this beautiful but bogus bling.

Yet I know there are experts out there willing and able to open the can of worms associated with oriental jewelry, and I wanted to help this lady connect with someone reliable. Preferably more than one authority.

I also wanted to give her a quick answer, so I recommended Googling "jewelry appraisals." I also urged her to photograph the collection in good light, so she could supply photos not only to local experts but perhaps someone at a distance who might have a better idea of its value.

I urged her to get written estimates if possible. When she's got some numbers, she can go back to those dealers and hopefully negotiate from a position of strength.

Part of the problem is the distinction between "antique" and "vintage." The word "antique" is bandied about far too often, while the word "vintage" feels safer -- the silver bracelet your mom got for Christmas when she was sixteen would be considered "vintage." Unless I see a piece in a museum, I tend to cringe in disbelief when I hear the word "antique" linked to jewelry.

P.S. I added a couple of vintage costume jewelry blogs to my bloglist at right, so you can delve further into the subject.