Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Years!

Here's wishing you a great 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Funnies - Special Edition: Happy National Card Playing Day

The House Beautiful
Life Magazine, January 14, 1892

The Funnies - Coals to Newcastle (1914)

Coals to Newcastle
Life Magazine, December 3, 1914

I think this cartoon deserves a bit of an explainer. The saying "coals to Newcastle" means doing something foolish or embarking on an enterprise that's believed to be doomed to failure. The saying took a turn in the 1900's (possibly near the time of this cartoon's printing) when Timothy Dexter was convinced by fellow entrepreneurs who were secretly plotting to ruin him, that he should sail a shipment of coal to Newcastle, England, the historic center of British coal production. Dexter scored a victory when his shipment just happened to land in the middle of a British miner's strike.

So, it's possible to read our beautiful young subject hardly needs mistletoe, and at the same time she's guaranteed it'll work on whatever suitor she's got in mind!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Christmas List - Paris Suspenders

I've always had a soft spot for suspenders. It's my love of all things 20's and 30's, I think. That and growing up in the 80's when they had a resurgence. I've got a half dozen pairs and no pants with buttons to accommodate them.

The references to conserving rubber is an interesting one. The war years were rationing years and nothing escaped the ration board's roving eye.

$1.50 a pair too? You definitely got a lot more for a dollar back in the 40's!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night...well, a good day and a good night, but you get the picture.

A Little Christmas Music - Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1935)

I know that I've aired this classic in my Christmas Music series before, but no song sets the mood for December 24 like Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. And, if you ask me, nobody does this particular tune like Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra. Here's a 1935 Victor recording of the band swinging out with reindeer, peppermint sticks, and all that jolly stuff!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas List - Master Magician Kit

Learn to produce sparrows from a flaming charcoal grill! Okay, so maybe it's a brazier, all I can say is I guarantee there isn't one in the Master Magician Kit. I'm also guessing the card tricks aren't all that elaborate or astounding and that your friends probably wouldn't be perplexed or amazed. The best bet is that half the pieces would be damaged or lost within a month, about three weeks after you got utterly bored with the whole magic thing.

The Master Magician Kit really was just a premium for purchasing a subscription to Open Road for Boys, a magazine dedicated to promoting outdoor activities to young boys. The magazine's run was from 1919 into the 1950's. I wonder if anyone told them stage magic isn't really an outdoor activity?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Solstice to All...

This came to me through the auspices of the wonderful Jim Moon the author of the The Moon Lens blog and broadcaster of the podcast by the same name.

The Christmas List - Hoosier Cabinets

The name was the first thing to draw me to Hoosier Cabinets. I mean I'm a Hoosier so what's not to like about something that bears your name? It's like a New Yorker not liking Manhattans or an Ohioan not liking buckeyes. Okay, so the sexism of the time is reprehensible, but you'll see that across every ad from about 1980 back and probably plenty of today's ads as well. Occasionally I see an old Hoosier kitchen Step Saver in an antique store. It was the technological marvel of its day. A home organizer/work station for the busy home maker complete with reminder dials to help plan shopping forays and grocery orders and built in sifting and grinding equipment to boot.

There was a time when, after a hard day's work, you'd come home to the soft glow of lamplight and a low fire burning on the hearth. You'd step inside, take off your slicker and goulashes and hang your hat on the hall tree and then make your way to the kitchen, following the scent of bread and meat - the smell of home and hearth. You'd sit down at the table and talk. Talk through the day's events, the news, and what Mrs. Brown the next door neighbor was up to. No pinging smart phones, no email from the boss, no watching TV, just you and the one you love sharing good food in the safety and warmth of your home. I know it borders on maudlin, but it's my daydream.

I tried to locate the old factory site, but it's apparently been lost to time. Jackson street doesn't even seem to exist in Newcastle Indiana any longer. Time, tide, and city planning wait for no one, I guess.

What to Expect for Mom and Dad...

For those of you with kids, don't say you haven't been warned of what the morning holds...

Christmas Morning
These tired parents went to bed at three A.M. It is now six.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Christmas List - Ampro Projector

Okay hipsters, you've gone through your ironic bicycle and typewriter phases now it's time for your ironic video phase. The Ampro 8mm projector is the way granddad did it. Go out and find yourself an old, hand-held 8mm camera and source some film from eastern Europe or China and you're ready for a genuine low-def evening of fun!

The Funnies - The Dinner of the Toy Soldiers (1900)

Life Magazine, December 1, 1900

Sunday, December 20, 2015

(Not) the Christmas List - Ovaltine

Can't see this ad without hearing Ralphie's disappointment after finally receiving his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder badge and unscrambling his first message.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Christmas List - Paul Jones (Sort Of)

Not so sure about adding a bottle of Paul Jones blended whiskey to my Christmas list, but man dig the mid-century office desk and chairs! I definitely would like to see this set under my tree!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Christmas List - Skin Bracer

I'm guessing that the four years reference points to the men coming home from World War II, since this ad ran in 1945. I added this one to the Christmas List for memory's sake. I remember my dad having a bottle of Mennen Skin Bracer and a bottle of Hai Karate under the bathroom sink. Never used either of them. Dad wasn't a cologne type guy, not so far as I ever knew. Memories are treasures, though, and mine involves Skin Bracer being one of the first colognes I ever tried. Didn't do much except make me smell like I'd just had a good dose of disinfectant poured over my head. Oh well, that probably was an improvement over 12-year-old-boy stench.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Christmas List - Royal Portable Typewriter

Before hipster irony, carrying a portable typewriter was simply how you did word processing. Your dictionary came from Webster, your thesauruses from Funk and Wagnalls, and your research from Encyclopedia Britannica and the way your ideas for a term paper got recorded was on clean white paper via the impact of little, hammer-like letters. Well, enough of the old coot routine.

Nothing to see by the typical 50's hyperbole and stereotypes here. Brad's a sports star, Susan's an English major (because she's not going to ever need skills that will make her employable as anything more than a school teacher, you know), mom's into education, pop's on a business trip, and twirly-mustache granddad is just a crazy coot writing letters to Washington that would get him sent up on terrorism charges nowadays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

(Not On) The Christmas List - Fruitcake

Ah, the horror that is fruitcake. It's probably not fair for me to complain about a cake made of fruit, because I really don't like any desert made of fruit. I'd much rather have ice cream or plain old chocolate cake than a fancy preserved fruit laced ring of foam rubber that's best used as a door stop or cudgel. S and W makes a holiday, not a happy holiday...just a holiday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Christmas List - Encyclopedia Britanica

The original reference, in days before the internet and Wiki-whatever, was a good set of encyclopedias. They were a luxury item, something that said you'd made it into the intellectual set. You were the sort of person who needed to look up the salient facts about gutta percha or the mean income of the average citizen of Lesotho. Yes, the world was at your fingers, as soon as you could figure out where Junior put the D volume.

My mother forever was picking up stray encyclopedias at garage sales and thrift shops. We had about three incomplete sets and all of them seemed to be missing the one book you needed when doing a report for school. All the more excuse to put off homework until later!

Gibson Christmas Cards

Until 1999 Gibson was the biggest competitor to American Greetings, forty seven years earlier their pop-up Santa campaign wasn't winning any fans. In my book, Santa ranks second to clowns in terms of scary costumed people.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Christmas List - One Pound of Baby Ruth Bars

1928 ad from the Curtiss Candy Company of Chicago, then owner of a couple of famous candies: the Baby Ruth Bar and the Butterfinger Bar. This particular ad, along with the first coupon I've ever found, ran in Boys Life in December of that year and featured an illustration of a candy that looks a lot more like the cross-section of a brain than anything I'd want to find in my stocking on Christmas morning. But it does come in a new one pound box - one pound of candied brains...

The Funnies - Christmas Him (1914)

A Christmas Him
Life Magazine, December 3, 1914

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas List - Micronauts

Before the marketing geniuses at Kenner got hold of the Star Wars franchise and issued action figures for all characters, major and minor, there was a time when toys weren't spin-offs. Okay, I'll admit that's a lie. Since time immemorial there always have been spin-off toys. Whether you were talking about Buck Rogers or Roy Rogers somebody somewhere was making cheap knockoff guns, space ships, and the equivalent of action figures for the prepubescent consumer. In 1976 the toy-de-jour took the form of Micronauts.

Micronauts was the American name for the metal and plastic miniature action figures produced by the Japanese company, Takara. They were space men, or cyborgs, or time travelers, or I'm really not sure what. To be honest, their back story never was clear to me. I just knew that they were cool and I wanted them all. What did I like about them? Well, they were heavy. Yeah, that is a weird reason, but I was nine. If you look at the picture to the left, everything that's silver is made of metal. The plastic bodies were of a fairly heavy gauge too, making each tiny figure hefty and remarkably durable for a children's toy. My brother and I used to set them up on our dresser, creating a kind of shooting gallery. We'd use rubber bands to pick the little guys off, something my parents who paid for our targets never really appreciated. But, that's the purpose of being a child, isn't it? Gradually edging your parents toward the precipice of insanity and then giving them that last shove?

Looking back, I realize the reason for their frustration. Due to their construction techniques and the fact they were imports from Japan, Micronauts were expensive, and my father was paying for them out of a less than ample salary. The cost (and the fact we used them for target practice) meant that my brother and I never had more than two or three Micronauts compared to the hundreds of Star Wars figures that littered the width and breadth of our childhood. Now, forty years later, I find myself longing for the days of these little guys. They're a bridge back to another time and Christmas mornings gone by.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas List - Four Roses

Nothing like a good shindig at holiday time and this looks like the real deal. Silver, candles, pecans, and eggnog from a whopping punch bowl. Not exactly sure why Mr. Ritzy is dishing up a fresh cup when there are no less than 11 filled and waiting, but oh well. You do have to admire his spiffy dress - cravat, white carnation, just the right amount of sleeve peeking from under that tailored suit jacket. Yes, just the sort of party I'd like to crash.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas List - Guinness

I've never heard a beer referred to as "racy". A book, yes. A movie, definitely. But not a beer. Apparently raciness isn't a quality we seek in our alcoholic refreshments any more. It apparently meant something different to the '30's consumer. I am a fan of the idea that the perfect post workout recovery drink is a stout. Then again it looks like being willing to help the misses with a mountain of packages instead of making her schlep them up the stairs alone qualifies as a workout to the '30's mind. I'm also surprised that the ad agency left chicken off the list of meals Guinness isn't a fitting accompaniment for - you've got steak, you've got lobster, you've got oysters, and then...cheese dishes? At least it makes a good nightcap if you accidentally had chicken for dinner.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas List - Heinz

I don't think anyone is really waiting on a Christmas delivery from Ketchup Claus. What, with his basket of odd, unwanted canned goods like Heinz Cucumber Pickle (not more than one, mind you), Date Pudding, Currant Jelly, and a jumbo jug of Cider Vinegar to brighten things up. The guy in the "blaze of glory" flame seems to be defusing some kind of landmine. Yes, I think I'm leaving Heinz off my Christmas list.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas List - Tangerines

Tangey-Claus? The Florida Citrus Commission was working hard to link their product with Christmas when they thought up Santa constructed of tangerines. Some would say they might have been indulging in some (at the time) illegal hooch too. Whatever the case, the three-pack novelty showed up in newspapers promoting Florida tangerines as an acceptable yuletide gift, but the link between citrus and Santa runs a little deeper than a consortium's sales gimmick.

Tangerines have long been a Christmas stocking staple, so much that one of the tangerine's monikers is the "Christmas Orange". A key reason for this is that the tangerine's peak harvest season syncs up with Christmas and in a drab season of winter and cold, a gift that carries the color and scent of sunshine also has the power to bring a smile, but I'm always forced to think of poverty when I see rows of tangerines in the store.

I've heard (second hand) stories of the bad old days, when the Great Depression scoured the country and making enough to support a family was hard enough without the harsh light of shining Christmas mornings and the sparkling expectation of dewy-eyed children. Back then a tangerine in your stocking might have been the only gift you got, and a luxury item at that. It makes me look askance at the culture of excess I grew up with.

So this year I might just be putting a tangerine or two in the stockings of my loved ones. The sun in a sock, what more could you want?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Christmas List - Socks

From 1939, a few socks I wouldn't mind finding under the tree this year!

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Funnies - All the Little Santas (1914)

Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and the Little Santa Clauses
Life Magazine, December 3, 1914

Sunday, December 6, 2015

(NOT on) The Christmas List - General Electric Vacuum

I'm sure there's a woman who would love to get a stove, refrigerator, vacuum, radio, or alarm clock for Christmas. I'm also sure that, if I got any of these for my wife, she'd brain me.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Phillip Morris Monkey and His Knee Breaker

I've always thought the Phillip Morris boy resembles the monkey that clings to every hard-core smoker's back, I think this is the first time I've seen him pictured with knee-breaker Santa, though. Less holiday spirit has never appeared in a Christmas ad.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Murray and Lanman's Florida Water (1904)

Here's an interesting ad for a company that's still in business today and a product they're still producing! Murray and Lanman (now Lanman & Kemp-Barclay & Co.) started out in 1808 in New York, NY though they've moved to New Jersey since. They produced an assortment of beauty aids, everything from hair tonic to soap as well as the oddly named Florida Water. Put simply, Florida water is the American equivalent of Eau de Cologne with an emphasis on sweet orange, lavender, and clove. According to Wiki the name is a reference to the Fountain of Youth though, as too often is true, they provide no citation for this dubious sounding statement.

The ad is a little creepy, especially with all the color robbed from it by the scanning process. Santa, descending by rope from his Santa Claus zeppelin to deliver crates of cologne to the residents of some country home. You can almost see his revulsion in his face, "Jeesh, these people reek! Send down another three cases, Giggles, four won't be enough!" I also find the ad copy a little less than convincing. "An acceptable gift at all Seasons but especially appropriate as a Christmas Box". Acceptable? I don't want acceptable gifts. I want spectacular gifts, thoughtful gifts, marvelous gifts, not ones I'll look at and think "well, it doesn't offend me." Also the term "Toilet Perfume" is a little off-putting. When I hear "toilet perfume", I'm thinking it's an euphemism, not a gift.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Texcel Tape (1949)

Want to feel old? Dig into the magazine archives and find something that you remember. Not as in, "oh yeah, I've seen that ad before." No, a product you remember from your own life. Now, to be honest, I'm not sure if it was Texcel tape that I remember, but it was some type of Christmas-decorated tape. The little aluminum dispenser dwelled in the box where my mother stored wrapping paper and bows and I saw it each time I sequestered myself in the bedroom to wrap gifts.

The ad's from a  November 28,1949 issue of Life Magazine features the requisite, pre-fifties freckle-faced kid and wasp-waisted mom dressed in evening wear and a pearl necklace to wrap the family's gifts. Notice the package for Dad? Doubtless a carton of Camels.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Christmas List - Motorola Record Changer

Hipster culture has helped foment the resurrection of the vinyl recording. My youth started out with albums, with their artwork and detailed liner notes encouraging me to buy a lot of really crappy music. My first album was The Village People, a Christmas present from my grandmother. Soon after I got a second hand portable RCA player and started exploring the stacks of records my mother had brought home when she worked as a clerk at G. C. Murphy's in downtown Indianapolis. Long before my disco disk Christmas, Americans were eating up recordings of every sort and players and albums became a staple on holiday wish-lists.

In 1939 when this ad for a little, portable Motorola with the advanced feature of an automatic record changer. My parents had a console RCA unit equipped with a similar changer. It consisted of an L-shaped arm that held disks in place until the right moment when the play arm would retract and the next record would fall onto the turntable. Not bad for 50's tech.

A part of me misses the vinyl era, but not enough to want to go back. I've got no room for the stacks of disks, no desire to pay a premium for music, and no patience for the often finicky nature of disks and needles. But I still can appreciate the 30's kitsch ad artwork and the somewhat angry looking Santa!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Little Christmas Music - Say it with Carols (1931)

I thought I'd kick off this year's Christmas Music series with an artist many of us here in the US may think of as obscure. Billy Mayerl made his name in the UK as a pianist and composer of novelty and music hall tunes, penning over 300 pieces in his career with his best known being Marigold (1927). Though he'd been instructed in the piano from an early age, Mayerl's style formed when he encountered American ragtime music while attending Trinity College. When he tried his hand at what the religiously conservative Trinity considered a bawdy and doubtless too African-American, syncopated style he was threatened with expulsion from the college. This censure delayed the release of Billy's composition The Jazz Master, and the launch of his career, for a decade.

Free from the confines of Trinity, Mayerl joined a Southampton hotel band in 1921 and during this time recorded an estimated 37 piano rolls of popular tunes during the early 20's and eventually joined the Savoy Havana Band in London which led to his celebrity.

Billy married his childhood sweetheart and his fame skyrocketed as he became the first to perform Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in London. Soon he was launching a correspondence course from rented offices on Oxford Street. Through the 30's his fame grew and in 1940 Billy gave a Royal Command Performance which led to his wartime radio show, Music While You Work. The program had been conceived as a way to encourage increased wartime factory production but, due to Billy's popularity and talent, it outlasted World War II by two decades. Ten months after signing off for the final time, Billy Mayerl was dead from a heart attack.

The 1931 tune Say it with Carols is characteristic of Billy's early work. A piano tour de force showing his ability to rag-up traditional material with syncopated vim and vigor. So let's gather in the soft glow of the radio, the weather's rotten, but the fire's warm and the music's good. Tis the season to take a little comfort with your fellow man, after all.