Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spotting New Jadeite

Since jadeite has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, pieces of new manufacture touted as vintage originals have been cropping up on eBay. Without the benefit of an in-person inspection or a lot of knowledge about jadeite, a new buyer can easily be duped into spending a lot of money for a new item, believing it to be a rare vintage piece. Today I came across a website that had some excellent information on reproduction and modern jadeite pieces.

"Sparke Plenty" is a lovely site showcasing all kinds of depression era glassware. Their jadeite "reproduction alert" page features photos and descriptions of jadeite pieces of new manufacture. Their information is good and it even identifies the origin of some of the "fantasy" or reproduction pieces. This is an excellent resource for anyone new to jadeite collecting, and a good read for anyone who has been wondering where all of these crazy jadeite pieces have been coming from.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Lucite Purses

Whenever I go out with one of my beloved lucite purses, I get comments and compliments. Lucite purses are striking, and quite frankly they are unlike anything that you can buy at the department store. Sadly, they just aren't terribly useful. Most are small, making it hard to stow keys and a wallet inside together. They are often pricey, so when I do use mine I often worry about cracking the lucite or damaging them somehow. These drawbacks haven't stopped me from acquiring quite a few lucite purses.

My most useful lucite purse is a Rialto model. Rialto Products, formerly known as Rialto Button and Wood, was a New York Company that became known for its lucite purses with heavily carved lids. The Rialto that I have sort of resembles an ice bucket, but it is large - it is one of just two lucite purses that I can actually fit my wallet into. Sadly, the clasp is broken so it doesn't close properly. Since the purse is tall, it is prone to tipping, which results in everything spilling out. This purse is my "beater" lucite purse, as I purchased it at a large discount due to its existing damage, so I don't mind if it gets banged around a bit. While a fine Rialto purse can run well into the hundreds of dollars today, they retailed for between $11.00 - $15.00 in the 1950's.

On the other end of the spectrum is my Majestic. My Majestic is a clear lucite purse with a tan basket weave embedded into the plastic. This purse was never used, and there is not a nick or scratch on it anywhere. In fact, it came with a pristine booklet touting the quality of Majestic products. I'm absolutely terrified to use this lovely purse, so it adorns a shelf.

In between, I have a number of other lucite lovelies. I have an unlabeled "picnic basket" style tortoise purse with a clear lid - there are usually about 5 of this particular model for sale on eBay at any given time.

I have a delicious carmel colored purse with broken handles - I'm hoping to find a mate for it that has pristine handles but a broken purse so that between the two of them I can have one nice carmel purse. I have a lovely gray purse with a delicate metal filigreed clasp - that one wins the "most useless purse" award because it is ridiculously tiny. My favorite is a gold-trimmed tortoise colored purse that I found in pristine shape at an antique store. That was the most I've paid for any lucite purse ($120) although I suspect it is worth more.

It isn't hard to see why these purses fell from fashion. They are striking, colorful, and they do turn heads, but at the end of the day, it is so much easier to cart your goods around in something more flexible and less prone to damage.

Want more information about vintage purses? Check out Bag Lady University, or see my review of BLU's site!

Who Loves Wall Pockets?

I love whimsical things. Whimsical, pretty things with no real useful purpose are particularly appealing to me. That's probably why I think wall pockets, or wall vases, are really neat.

I guess you have to give credit to the first person who looked at an unadorned wall and thought "hmm...this wall would be way more useful if it had a bird-shaped pocket on it," thus giving birth to something that looks like the picture above.

Perhaps I don't give wall pockets enough credit, though. Technically, being a pocket, they are marginally useful. You could put things in them, like flowers. I'd probably put spoons in one, although my spooner would get a little envious.

They really aren't meant to be utililtarian, of course, and that lass pictured above would look pretty funny with spoons sticking out of her head. A fine, well-placed wall pocket will just ad a nice vintage touch to the retro kitchen. A few dozen wall pockets on the kitchen well...well, that actually seems to be the norm in wall-pocket collecting. Apparently you can't have just one. I haven't descended into that madness quite yet. But I'll admit, I haven't met a wall pocket that I didn't like.

Where Have All the Snack Sets Gone?

Is there anything more elegant than serving coffee and dessert to your guests on a lovely snack set?

Snack sets appear to be one of those "must-haves" that disappeared into obscurity over time. I suspect very few brides would put a snack set on their wedding gift registries these days, and that's a shame. Snack sets are absolutely lovely.

I have been very fortunate to find some great snack sets for sale at Goodwill. I guess no one knows what to do with them anymore. However, I do have the story of "the one that got away."

I saw it at an antique store, complete in its original box: a pink and black snack set. It was beautiful, and pink and black are my favorite colors. I just couldn't stomach the $35.00 price tag though. And then, when I finally resolved to bite the bullet and pry open my pocketbook, it was gone.

Someone out there has my snack set.

I'm not bitter though, as I have 1.75 lovely snack sets now. One is complete - service for four on bone white plates with elegant rose filigree. The other is only service for three, but it was such a beautiful clear blue color that I couldn't resist it. I recently used them to serve key lime pie and coffee, and I have to say I think the lovely plates made the pie taste even better. Or maybe that was just me. I'm nuts about things like this.

Hall's Autumn Leaf

I love Halls Autum Leaf dishes. Who doesn't love those cream-colored bowls adorned with the colors of fall and trimmed with gold? I have memories of many a dinner served on the Autumn Leaf plates, drinking from Autumn Leaf teacups, and serving meals from the Autumn Leaf bowls.

Aside from the memories, the Autumn Leaf dishes are appealing because of their versatility. They are the dishes of choice for me in fall, of course. Thanksgiving dinner looks beautiful when served in Autumn Leaf on a table set with an orange table cloth. The bowls are heavy duty, well sized and durable. The covered casserole dishes are handy. And, I admit it, I'm biased - I just love this stuff.

Fortunately for us frugal collectors (that's a nice way of calling myself a cheapskate), the Autumn Leaf dishes generally haven't reached that level of feverish desire that other dishes have. While some of the less common pieces fetch high prices, your standard bowls, plates and cups can be found without putting out a ton of money. In fact, the entirety of my Autumn Leaf collection has come from Goodwill (3 bowl set - $2.99 per bowl; 4 dinner plates - 99 cents each; 4 cups and saucers - 49 cents each) and Craigslist (Two 3 bowl sets, a pitcher, and two covered casseroles for $25.00). (Hmm, perhaps this whole post is a thinly-veiled excuse to brag about my Autumn Leaf finds. I admit it - I lucked out with those deals!).

Autumn Leaf has its own appeal for the more spendy collector as well. Limited edition items, many of which are rather odd (I've seen playing cards and business card holders in the Autumn Leaf pattern) are out there for those who want to lay down the bucks. There is even a National Autumn Leaf Collectors Club, complete with newsletters and yearly conventions. I'll stick with the basics, myself, but when that winning lottery ticket finds its way to me, I'm going to have my whole kitchen done in Autumn Leaf. I'm hooked.

Spotting the "Fakelites"

I love having an arm full of lovely, warm butterscotch bakelite bracelets. I coordinate outfits just to go with my bangles. When I bought my bakelite bracelets, I knew very little about that fantastic plastic, but I did notice that some of my bracelets had a tiny pinhole burned into it. What's with the pinhole?

Bakelite jewelry is very desired by collectors, and its appearance is often imitated by lesser materials. In an effort to establish that an item is "real" bakelite, some collectors will perform what is called the "hot pin test" on their bakelite items. The hot pin test involves taking an oven-hot pin and pressing the tip into the bakelite item. Since bakelite is thermoset, it cannot be remolded with heat. Thus, a hot pin will not penetrate real bakelite. That means my two "holey" bracelets aren't real bakelite. I call them my fakelites.

Sadly, the obvious problem with the hot pin test is that if your item is bakelite, it is now bakelite with a nasty burn coloration on it, and if it isn't bakelite the damage can range from a hole, like my bracelets, to a complete meltdown.

There are alternative methods to testing bakelite, and these methods are far less destructive. Please consider some of these if you feel you need to test the authenticity of a piece.

The smell test. Heated bakelite will release an odor. Heating bakelite may be as simple as running your hand vigorously over the surface. Hot water may do the trick as well. Mmm...smell that carbolic acid? You've got bakelite!

The sound test. Clacking two bakelite pieces together creates a very distinct sound. The sound is deeper, fuller than acrylic or lucite. When you hear it, you'll know it.

The Forumula 409 test. More reliable to the untrained nose/ear than the above test, the Formula 409 test involves cleaning your bakelite piece, and then touching it with a q-tip doused in 409. If the q-tip yellows, your piece is genuine. People have reported similar results using Scrubbing Bubbles in place of Formula 409.

Of course, all of these tests require you to have the piece in hand. If you are buying on eBay, you don't have these luxuries. When in doubt, ask your seller if the bakelite has been tested, and if so, by what method.

Or, if you are like me, you can just enjoy your beautiful piece of jewelry, even if it is merely a fakelite.

Selfish Reasons for my Victory Garden

Here is my confession: my interest in the green movement, in recycling, and in environmental causes is generally very limited. My Victory Garden has nothing to do with saving the planet or reducing waste. I have a thousand reasons for planting my garden, most of which are very selfish. And that's okay.

1. I am planting a garden because when my sandwich needs a tomato, I want that tomato to be ridiculously fresh and conveniently located just a few steps from my kitchen door.

2. I am planting a garden because even though I am an urban dweller, I grew up in the country and a garden gives me a comforting link back to my roots .

3. I am planting a garden because lettuce from the grocery store smells like chemicals, even after I wash it.

4. I am planting a garden because when my dinner guests compliment my chili on a cold winter night, I want to tell them that the tomatoes came from our garden, lovingly canned by yours truly.

5. I am planting a garden because my mom had a huge garden, with row upon row of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, green onions, and she trimmed it with beautiful marigolds.

6. I am planting a garden because the price of a can of green beans actually shocks me.

7. I am planting a garden because frozen vegetables look so sad and wrinkly.

8. I am planting a garden because I am a cheapskate at the grocery store, but I still demand quality.

9. I am planting a garden because I like knowing where my food has been before it reaches my table.

10. I am planting a garden because sometimes you just need a little bit of lettuce, but I abhor wasting vegetables that I paid good money for at the grocery.

11. I am planting a garden because I see other people touching the fresh produce at the market a little too much, and then putting it back.

12. I am planting a garden because I want the thrill of victory when the garden is full of life, and the agony of defeat when plants fail to make an appearance above ground.

13. I am planting a garden because I want to feel like I am accomplishing something, even if it is a small something.

14. I am planting a garden because if - should I be blessed with my mom's green thumb - I too end up with a ridiculous amount of tomatoes or peppers or green onions, the farmer's market is full of friendly folks and right down the street.

15. I am planting a garden because if I spend a little more time outdoors, I may get a tan.

16. I am planting a garden because my husband is just as excited about the garden as I am, and I love working on things with him.

17. I am planting a garden because vegetables are more beautiful than grass, and I am nothing if not utilitarian.

18. I am planting a garden because then I can grow mint, which I never remember to pick up at the store, and fresh mint means mint juleps.

19. I am planting a garden because, in my mind, gardening requires a cute, wide-brimmed straw hat trimmed with a ribbon.

20. I am planting a garden because a vegetable garden makes a house into a home.