Friday, January 29, 2016


I’ve got five old mail order catalogues—one from Montgomery Ward, one from Charles Williams Stores, and three from Sears, Roebuck & Company—the oldest from 1902, the newest from 1938.
          I use them all the time for reference. They’ve all got fabulous illustrations, current prices; they transport me back in time.

          The other day, I was looking at kitchen equipment (pots, pans, utensils, gadgets, soap dishes, dishracks, etc.) to get a more accurate sense of a late 1920s kitchen -- and was surprised to see bird cages smack in the middle of the kraut cutters, sausage stuffers, and food choppers.

Bird cages? I thought. Bird cages in the kitchen equipment section?
What’s with that?

So I checked four catalogues: two Sears, the Charles Williams and the Montgomery Ward…all of them have bird cages in the kitchen section!

The 1930 Sears catalogue has three floor cages in with the Sanitary Kitchen Cans and the mop wringers: the Singever, the Aristocrat and the Duplex. The Singever (don’t you love that name?) has a spring-mounted perch for some simulated tree branch action; the Duplex can be used as a floor-mounted or a table-top cage.
Prices run from $3.98 to $5.35.

 Montgomery Ward’s 1929 catalogue tucks the bird cages in with the canning and bottling supplies, washboards and washtubs.
One cage, the Sturdy Footed Cage, comes in three colors: all bright brass with either red trim, green trim or blue trim!
And has “perches, swings, unbreakable cups, tassel and wire mesh seedguard…”
The cage is $2.75; the stand is an additional $2.65.

Last, but by no means least, Charles Williams Stores comes in with a selection of cages beneath the fruit and vegetable presses, the potato mashers and the waffle irons: A fancy white enameled cage with colored lining; a “handsomely japanned” with two perches, swing and two feed cups; a new style “oblong” cage with or without guard.

Anyway, back to the conundrum: Why were all the cages in the kitchen sections of the mail order catalogues?

When I looked in the 1930 Sears catalogue, I found the answer: an oblong block of display art featuring a housewife wiping her dishes; a bird cage (with canary) suspended in the kitchen window.
“The Canary Bird,” the copy reads. “Our Ever Cheerful Companion”

Of course!

The kitchen: the warmest room in the house and the center of activity! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016


I’ve got lots of old family photographs—they’re in boxes, folders, old clasp envelopes; some are even pasted neatly in leather-covered photograph albums, thanks (mostly) to my paternal grandmother, who was an Organizer of the Highest Order.
Sometimes the Sepia Saturday prompt photo sends me scurrying off in search of a specific photo; those are easy blogs to write and post.
          But sometimes my response is not so specific; sometimes I chew on the topic for days, trying to figure out what, exactly, in the prompt photo is gnawing at me, scratching for my attention.

I needed four days, but I figured it out, finally.
It’s the model sailboat…

…consider, please, the Good Ship Venus, shown here in East Boothbay, Maine in the very early 1900s.
This was the boat the Gould boys—the brothers Gardner, Richard, Allen, Prescott and Howard—sailed during their summer vacations, during the dog days of August away from the stifling heat of Boston and in the cool waters of Linekin Bay.

I’ve got several photos of Venus, each with two or three boys on board, but none taken close enough to distinguish individual faces…I’m pretty sure one is my great uncle Allen—something about the cut of his hair, the shape of his head—but I can’t be certain.

But the boat itself is very much like the model in the Sepia Saturday prompt! It’s similarly proportioned, has the same lovely lines, the same rigging.

Just a little bigger.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nothing to wear but clothes...

Nothing to wear but clothes
To keep one from going nude.
          --Benjamin Franklin King, The Pessimist

Nothing to wear, indeed!
          Just look at these 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. clothes for young boys: Wash suits of linen, sateen and chambray; striped and boxed waists (shirts) of linen lawn, percale, India and French linen…a veritable shopper’s delight of fashion!

Sailor suits were all the rage, and here’s a spiffy blue and white Pencil Striped Percale Wash Suit, made from an “extra heavy narrow blue and white striped percale,” with large sailor collar of blue sateen and a “white duck shield and monogram in the center.”
All this for 75 cents.

Or here’s another sailor suit, with a large collar “trimmed with a neat pattern of insertion” and a “cord effect pique shield.” The cuffs of the waist and pants (at the knees) have white pearl buttons and shaped sleeves. “A most handsome summer suit,” it reads.
          This one’s selling for $1.00.

Some of these suits were made from “crash,” a cheaper fabric made from undyed yarns. Linen was used for the warp yarn, while the jute was woven in for filler – these suits were coarser, rougher; they probably itched like fury!
Suits of this crash fabric were, however, much cheaper—an entire suit might sell for only 35 cents.

Older boys had more sophisticated choices—a military style cut that was a step up from the sailor motif. “One of the handsomest white waists you can possibly get no matter what price you pay,” reads the copy for this white linen lawn waist. It had a Bedford cord effect, and was “trimmed with heavy ball pearl buttons and double cuffs.”
          A steal at $1.00.

But here’s my favorite waist (and my favorite model): a Little Lord Fauntleroy number made from white lawn (linen) with “large sailor collar, neatly embroidered” and double cuffs.
          I can’t believe any self-respecting boy would ever parade around in this number…it’s flouncy and fluffy and totally inappropriate for a game of Fox and Chase, or Base Ball, or Halley Over, or Hoops…
          …but it’s only 50 cents.

I think I’d rather go naked.