A Surprise on my Plate

Last month, I wrote a post called “Traveling Companions,” detailing a pewter pitcher and sugar bowl I’d found. You might remember I’d bought a pitcher and blown off the matching sugar bowl, but had a change of heart after I realized the importance of the set.

But there’s more to the story.

When I had gone back for the sugar bowl, it was sitting on a wonky, banged-up pewter plate. I knew darn well this wasn’t a set, but they were being sold as a pair for $20 and I really wanted that sugar bowl, so I bought this silvery odd couple, figuring I could quickly ditch the plate.

So what to do with one old plate, pockmarked and unshiny? I couldn’t eat off it: Pewter is a mix of a tin, copper and antimony (a silvery, hard, chemical), but used to be made using dangerous lead. I knew I shouldn’t polish it, as old pewter turns a dark gray, an effect called a patina, that collectors like. I researched it, but nothing was adding up right. It didn’t have any hallmarks, and at 7 inches, is smaller than most vintage pewter plates. I was stumped.

plate rim image

Click on this to see the hand-hammered rim up close.

After quite a bit of online noodling, I found a cool chart on the Pewter Society’s website, and suddenly I had my answers.

The plate is English pewter, which is commonly not marked. It has a raised area where there once was an owner’s mark, again, a common trait. This type of early pewter is called sadware, which refers to a plate, charger or saucer. “If you look on the back of the bouge you will normally see rows of small hammer marks. This hammering was done to strengthen the metal here.”

I flipped the plate over. Hammer marks. I looked at the style of the rim, then the chart, and back again. Holy crap, this plate is 300 years old, made around 1730. It’s uneven because it was hand made by some guy going tap, tap, tap.

Now I know what to do with my plate. I run my fingers across it. I connect with a long-gone pewterer, a disappeared place and vanished bread. There is nothing like the electrifying sensation of touching the past.

This is why I love vintage.




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How to Wear a Vintage Choker

Serpentine and sexy, this Kramer necklace is, I believe from around 1959, based on similar pieces in vintage ads of that time. I love how heavy it is, and how it’s held up incredibly well through the years.

vintage Kramer necklace

Kramer made jewelry from 1943 to about 1980.

But if you want to wear, not just admire, a vintage choker, it can be tricky. First off, people were much tinier in the past than they are today, so a vintage necklace may not fit a modern neck at all (always try vintage on before you commit). If you’re buying vintage online, Vintage Swank has a handy chart of old versus modern sizes so you can compare. Speaking of sizes, don’t believe that “Marilyn Monroe was a size 12″ baloney. I’m all for body pride and diversity but a 12 then is a 4 now. Sizes started at 8; there were no size 0s and 00s in the 1950s, even though the average woman back then had the kind of 25-inch waist today’s kale-juice-imbibers would kill for.

Luckily, this leaf-inspired necklace is adjustable, keeping it from being a literal choker. Yet even if you aren’t strangling in the name of fashion, this style can still be hard to pull off, because the initial impulse is to wear it with a pencil skirt. Which is fine if you’re in costume mode, but if not, here are three ways you can wear an old-school choker with contemporary clothes:

  1. Pair a choker with blue chambray shorts and a white, sleeveless V-neck top.
  2. Show it off while wearing a drapey dress in a hot tropical color, like tangerine.
  3. Keep it simple, yet surprising, by teaming the choker with a black bustier top and miniskirt.

On the other hand, you can throw caution to the wind. Wear a choker, a headpiece, earrings and heavy, early-’60s eye makeup. Who am I to stop you?

Cleopatra (1963)

In her choker, Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra looks positively plain Jane next to the lavish getup on Richard Burton.



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Never Take off the Sticker

I normally wouldn’t have bought this vintage vase, which I found in a junk shop in Monrovia. I prefer wackier ceramics—give me something covered in three-dimensional frogs, please. But check out the fabulous sticker. It’s made of metallic copper-toned foil, shaped like California and definitely original. Totally worth the $1.99.

West Coast Pottery

Without the sticker, I wouldn’t have been able to research much on this, since the bottom marking is only three slashes, not a name stamp.

The sticker, and oh, yeah, the vase, came from West Coast Pottery, which opened in 1940 in Burbank and closed by about 1950. Based on the mauve and turquoise glaze, common on the company’s designs from 1940 to 1945, I’d date my vase to the early 1940s. Some poor soul must have gotten this as a gift and not found it to their taste. “Oh, thanks, Myrtle! I’ll put it … in the back of this cabinet here.”

West Coast Pottery

Pink was a popular color in the 1940s. Surprisingly, California pottery production went up during World War II, due to the lack of availability of European imports.

One Kings Lane has a much fancier example of a vase by West Coast Pottery, and in the product description reports the company was owned by “respected ceramicists Lee and Bonnie Wollard. The company’s designs were frequently inspired by plant life and form.” Also, ladies in bonnets, judging by what else you can buy online.

The company operated during the Golden Age of California pottery, when the state’s  ceramicists were influenced by the bright colors and simple shapes they saw in Asian and Mexican art, design and culture. There were eventually more than 1,000 pottery companies in California, spread through the state. During World War II, production actually increased, because you couldn’t import things like tiles and artware from Europe. After World War II, when it was easier to get European imports, many California potteries went out of business.

There are two other reasons pottery was flourishing in California. One is an abundance of good clay soil. The other, as About.com so nicely puts it, “California has always attracted talented and ambitious artists and entrepreneurs.”

Amen to that.

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The Eisenberg Principle

These days, when most people hear Eisenberg, they think of actor Jesse Eisenberg, adorably neurotic in movies like “The Social Network.” Or Heisenberg, the smart man’s German theoretical physicist and the layman’s “Breaking Bad” alter ego for Walter White. But if you collect vintage jewelry, you hear “Eisenberg” and visions of rhinestones start sparkling through your brain.

Eisenberg, sometimes marked Eisenberg Ice, was born of the 1930s, when a women’s clothing manufacturer realized so many people were swiping the costume jewelry off the company’s clothing displays, they might as well go into the costume jewelry business.


A classic example of Eisenberg. The mark and the bow design lead me to think 1940s.

I acquired this brooch at the Wiki Wiki One Day Collectibles & Hawaiiana Show at the Blaisdell. I spotted it about 10 feet away as an Eisenberg but figured I couldn’t afford it. I almost didn’t ask, but was pleasantly surprised that a digit seemed to be missing off the price.  Then I was worried: Is it a fake? But the mark seems legit. There’s no copyright symbol, so it’s pre 1955, and it has two numbers next to the mark, which early Eisenberg has. That was how the stone setter left his mark. I’d guess this piece is from about 1942 to 1945.

The moral of that story? Never be afraid to ask to see a piece or inquire about the price.

For more on collecting Eisenberg jewelry, Collector’s Weekly has some great information.

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Traveling Companions

It’s funny how collections start, isn’t it? You buy one antique syrup pitcher and suddenly a collection of pitchers springs up around it, and you find yourself a COP (Collector of Pitchers).

I found this nice little antique pewter creamer at a thrift shop, and was drawn by its floral motif. “This looks Art Nouveau,” I thought to myself. I debated bringing home the sugar bowl that sat next to it, but I was trying to have some self control. “Leave it, Kathryn. You collect pitchers, not sugar bowls. Someone else can enjoy that.”

Reunited and it feels so good...

Reunited and it feels so good…

I took home Mr. Pitcher, and researched the mark. Gerhardi & Co. of Lündensheid, Germany. “Primarily known for Art Nouveau cast pewter works in the early 20th century.” I felt smug for having guessed right on the era, but now I was plagued with a nagging sense.

I’d separated a couple who had been traveling together since 1905. The pitcher and creamer had served on the same tables, been wrapped in newspaper and moved to a new country, somehow made it to California holding hands. I’d found them in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, at the Council Thrift Shops. These pieces may well have been moved by someone fleeing Europe prior to World War II. I felt terrible for Ms. Sugar, now alone and scared.

I rushed back and was so relieved when the sugar bowl was still there. Further research has suggested they may have been designed by Albert Reimann or Josef Maria Olbrich. Here’s a photo of Olbrich with a nice Pharrell-esque hat on.


German designer Joseph Maria Olbrich.

German designer Josef Maria Olbrich.

The pitcher and creamer are cleaned up, per the instructions I found from the very helpful Pewter Society. The only problem?

Now I may have to start collecting sugar bowls.

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Perfume: The Sweet Smell of Nada

In the 1960s and ’70s, solid perfumes were trendy. This gold-toned elephant perfume locket pendant, discovered at the Venice Art & Collectibles, is a perfect example. Can’t you just see it swinging around while a lady does the hustle?

When I opened the pendant, it had inside the original solid Max Factor fragrance, a waxy hunk of Hypnotique. This fragrance, introduced in 1958 but now discontinued, probably smelled wonderful 35 years ago. But unlike Jessica Lange, this perfume had not aged well. It was actually pretty stinky. The top notes had long evaporated, the middle notes had rebelled and the leftover base was heavy and intense.

Elephant thumb

I bought it anyway, being a fan of elephant motifs. The Hindu god Ganesh is represented by an elephant, and I like that he is seen as a remover of obstacles.

But I had one obstacle left: What to do with a glob of Watergate-era stink? I found a solution. I put on some thick rubber gloves and poured boiling water over it until it dissolved. Then I wiped out the molten residue with paper towels. I placed a few coffee beans into the cavity of the locket for a few months, changing them out once in a while. Voila! A necklace that smells like … nothing. Perfect.






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Choked Up at an Estate Sale

I got this choker at an estate sale in the Hollywood Hills. I love the fancy clasp, which gives it a little posh factor on an otherwise straightforward beaded style.

Estate sales give me mixed emotions. On one hand, they are a perfectly legal way to snoop through a home and ransack the belongings. You just stroll in the front door and start digging through someone’s stacks of muffin tins, their piles of scarves and their heaps of incomplete board games. It’s like being a tightwad burglar.


On the East Coast, you might find an estate sale in a barn, which seems chic in an L.L. Bean kind of way. Here in Los Angeles, I go to the fantastic mid-century homes in the Hills, or the stately faux Tudors up on Orange Grove. Many of them haven’t been remodeled, so they are like time capsules, and I’ve also seen some stunning views of Los Angeles I couldn’t have gotten any other way.

On the other hand, estate sales are generally overpriced. You might have to stand in line to get in. And then there’s that death thing. Most often, an estate sale is held after the second spouse, usually the wife, has passed away. You see a lot of medical equipment in these homes, signs of a life that was in decline. But I’m a hopeful type, and I like to get to know the family and their story via their stuff. Their belongings tell you the whole tale: Where the family traveled, how many kids they had and in what era they grew up, what they read and watched, what they did as hobbies, what they liked to eat for dinner. It’s not as creepy as it sounds.

One of the best explorations I’ve had in LA was on a rainy day, at an estate sale. It was so cool and wet, I felt like I was in a different country. I spent hours in the house, and I could tell the family was well-read, Jewish, one of the couple was in the television industry, and that they had two daughters, just like me. One of them loved horses. Just like one of my girls. It’s funny, the things that connect us. The objects, and the stories, so plain to see even for perfect strangers.

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