South of the Border…

I’ve never been to Mexico, but a long time ago I was drawn to some pottery figures that were made there.  I think it was around 1969 – 1970.

I liked visiting my sister’s friend’s apartment.  Jeanne’s place was decorated in the latest fashions with things like I had never seen.  Her furniture was warm wood tones, all smooth with rounded edges and solid, bold upholstery colors.  It was very different from any furniture I’d seen.  I didn’t know it then, but I believe it was the clean refreshing lines of Scandinavian furniture that were so attractive to me.  It was a stark contrast to the furniture that we had a home. My parents got new furniture in the mid 1960’s.  I believe the living room was Italian provincial and the dining room was French provincial.

At any rate, it was very “provincial”.

Our living room furniture was upholstered in sage green and gold brocade fabric – it was more subtle than it sounds.  As was the rage at that time, at least on our street – the sofa and chairs were fitted with custom-made clear plastic slip covers (to keep it nice).  This was wonderful in the summer when you wore shorts and had no air conditioning.

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Here is a nice view of the slipcovers at their finest… along with my parents and their first grandchild and happy me.

Anyway, back to Jeanne’s place…deep blues and greens dominated the color scheme including a stained glass light where the two colors alternated around the shade.  This hung over the glass-topped wrought iron table that was covered with a blue woven tablecloth.  There was also wonderful abstract painting done by her husband that featured a Siamese cat and picked up the same colors in a geometric, shadowy way. There were interesting pottery vases too.  I remember a design where the vase was full on the bottom and tapering to a very tiny opening – sometimes just enough for one long-stemmed flower to rise high above the base.  I’ve since learned they are called seed vessels, and the shape was designed with the tiny opening that allowed seeds to be dropped in, but no insects or rodents could get at them.  When it was time to plant the seeds, the pot would be broken to release the seeds.  I remember this being a popular vase shape in the late 1960’s early 1970s.  Dried flowers dyed with bright colors filled the pottery and the place was bright and airy.

Among all of this exotic decor, was a collection of owl figures.  There were different sizes and styles and it was a fascinating group.  I was very young and had probably just started amassing my collection of bone china animals.  I don’t even think I knew you could have a “collection”.  I studied the owls whenever I was at Jeanne’s place and cultivated an appreciation for the selection and display of this grouping.  Among those I remember were one or two made of colored alabaster that were basically round spheres with accents around the eyes that let you know they were owls.

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However, the ones I remember most were very smooth glazed pottery owls in earthy tones.  They were hand painted with highly stylized leaves and flowers and they had odd abstract faces that I found intriguing.  Maybe a year later, at a school bazaar I found a bird painted in the same manner.  It was like a dove or pigeon, very thick and heavy, with the same flowery, hand painted designs and large dark eyes.  It had a satin finish and the colors were shades of rosy browns and grays.  “Mexico” was painted on the bottom…I scooped up the exotic treasure.  I had this bird for years.  I never found any others and by the time I got to high school, many of my items were packed away.  This bird ended up being sold at a flea market when I was in college.  I always regretted letting it go and seem to have over corrected that problem.

Fast forward to the late 1990’s….I was in a local antique shop that is located in a mid-1800’s house.  On the third floor was what you could call the bargain section.  There I found a lovely pair of birds!  They were only $5 for the pair.  The coloring on one of them is much like the one I had years ago and it is a bird with a short tail.  The other is similar in form to my original – like a dove, but more of a terra-cotta color.  I was very pleased to find them since I never really forgot about the one I found so many years ago.

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Now there were three…dangerously teetering on the start of a collection.

It seems once I start encountering a certain number of things that I’m not familiar with, it’s time to research.  All that I knew about these whimsical pottery animals is that they were made in Mexico.  With the benefit of the internet, it didn’t take long to find out that they are referred to as Tonala pottery. Without going into too much history, this was a type of pottery that originated in the city of Tonala in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Tonala is located within the state of Jalisco where much of the pottery is produced.  There are urns, plates and many animal forms, which I love.

Large squirrel and a chipmunk…notice the nut the squirrel is holding.

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The pottery is still being produced today and despite how few I encountered early on, they are readily available.

Above is kind of graceful bird…lots of bird forms it seems.

The pieces I seem to be most drawn to are the vintage pieces with a finish referred to as burnished.  These are the ones with the muted earthy tones.

Below is the largest piece I own…it’s a duck or goose.  My Mom gave me the gourds a few years ago.  Originally they were an odd pinkish gray tone that matched the background color of the bird – I used them for eggs.  Now they’ve dried to a different tone, but she still keeps them.  The penny is for scale.

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A few more birds…

Fish, reptiles, amphibians etc…

Big fish and little fish…I love the face on the large fish!

Mr. Snake…

Turtle with a nodding head…

Frogs and toads…

A large snail…

Cats…

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Some of the painting details…I love this stuff!

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There are also pieces that are highly glazed or have brighter colors and I have some of those as well.

Green glazes on a large road runner and a bunny…

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This is a large highly decorative frog…a gift from Marge.

This is terra-cotta frog from Mexico in bright colors.

I’ve seen a good bit of this type…all black with etched designs.

My love of the designs and glazes in Mexican pottery is not limited to figures…

I went all out with a high power internet search and was amazed at all of the different types of animals available.  This fueled one of my fast paced collections which seem to happen frequently with the internet.  I generally stop once the items have filled the space that I have designated for them.  I love the unique quality of each piece – all painted by hand.

This is my favorite kind of collection when the pieces are very difference and yet still all related.  They look great together and I would get more if I could fit them.

All Things Royal…

With all the buzz around the British Royals lately, I thought it would be a fitting time to delve into the things I’ve collected relating to the royals.  Why I’m drawn to the British Monarchy, I can’t say.  I think originally it may have come from an interest in the Victorian era and discovering what that actually meant.  Queen Victoria had an incredibly long reign, however it was surpassed by her great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II who is now the longest-reigning British Monarch.  In addition to my interest in Queen Victoria, I also have an interest in Queen Elizabeth II.  She is so close in age to my Mom (they were born 6 months apart) and they witnessed all of the same historical events at the same age.  Naturally, their lives are completely different, but yet I think there are many similarities.  Both went from teens to young adults under the shadows and difficulties of WWII. I think this had a long lasting impact on how their lives would be shaped – forged with a serious sense of duty and keeping it together during hard times.

You could easily apply the British phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” to my Mom’s approach to life!Mom as the queen

My Mom, looking very much like a Queen – (photo courtesy of Celeste).

My “royal” collection is not as vast as some of my others, but none the less dear to me. Many facets mark the Victorian era – industry, culture, political change, etc. But looking at the Victorian Era from strictly a decorative point of view will show that it produced a treasure trove of designs. I love the clothing and jewelry from this timeframe.  I guess my first exposure was a trip to Cape May, NJ in 1976.

This place is like a time capsule…so many wonderfully preserved examples of Victorian architecture, full of “gingerbread” trim. I just liked the “feel” of the place and imaged what it would have been like in the late 1800’s.

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The Pink House…Cape May, NJ – photo c. 1980

The gift shops had a lot of Victorian themed items and I began to get obsessed…no surprise.  I don’t even think I made the connection to an English Monarch…it was just the time period.  I don’t have any of my items that I got from my obsessed Victorian era anymore…the souvenirs from Cape May, but I do remember them.

It was doll collecting that lead me to a good bit of what I have these days.  The earliest items that I have relate to Queen Victoria and Princess Charlotte.  My favorite dolls are made in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. Can I say too many times that I think things created during this era are the best?  Many items, even though they may have been just souvenirs were very high quality.  Some of the early items that I have relating to Queen Victoria are pictured below.

A woven silk portrait of Queen Victoria, very early in her reign – circa 1840.  It is commonly called a Stevengraph, which was a term applied to similar woven silks made by Thomas Stevens in England, however this one has French markings.  I haven’t been able to find another like it.  The reverse is just like a photo negative. It is the same structure and feel as a satin ribbon, but the woven details are incredible.

The two early engraved pictures below were actually in a box of old prints that my Mom once found “curbside”.  They aren’t in great condition, but they are very old.  One depicts and early portrait of Victoria and Albert, and the other shows views of their marriage  procession.

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I got this very tiny medal online.  The person selling it stated it was given to people that attended Victoria during her coronation.  I’m not sure that it’s true but it is an interesting piece, and the dates correspond to her birth on May 24, 1819, and the coronation on June 28, 1838.

Next is a medal that was made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 60 years of reign – 1837 to 1897.  She would continue to reign until her death in 1901.  It’s a nice looking medal with the ribbon still attached.

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The poured wax baby is part of my doll collection and dates to around 1860. Victoria and Albert had nine children and they were naturally a great source of interest for the people in England.  It seems the fascination with the Royals is nothing new.  With all of the attention to the babies, several English doll makers started producing wax dolls in the likeness of the royal children – blond hair and blue eyes were a standard in the dolls. These were very high quality with hair individually inserted into the wax head with hot needles.  They had glass eyes and were elaborately dressed in multi-layered outfits of the finest materials.  They were obviously well cared for to be made of wax and still survive.

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The bisque artist doll below, made for a doll convention is a portrait of the young Queen Victoria, holding one of her children.

The last of my early pieces are not related to Victoria, but to Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales.  One piece is a coin to commemorate her marriage to Prince Leopold on May, 2nd 1816.  The other is a large coin or medal commemorative piece made after she died during childbirth in 1817 at the age of 21.  She was the only child of George IV.  If she outlived her grandfather, George III and her father she would have been queen of England.  The prospect of her reign was seen as a positive and her death set off a tremendous period of mourning in England.

The next group of items that I have are related to the current monarch, Elizabeth II mostly when she was still a princess, along with her sister Margaret Rose.  By all accounts, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose enjoyed a normal childhood – that is as normal as could be expected for a member of the royalty.  They seemed to have a nice, fairly quiet family life.  However that was to change when her uncle, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallace Simpson.  This threw her father into the unexpected role of being the King of England and immediately made Elizabeth the next in line for the throne.  The princesses were very popular even before their father was the king and the family was the subject of many souvenir and commemorative items.

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The small cloth dolls were part of a large group depicting characters present during the coronation of King George in 1937. I have the King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses – Elizabeth and Margaret. These were made by a British company called Liberty of London and for such small creations, they have an amazing likeness to the people they were made to represent.  The range from about 5 inches to 9 inches.

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Many tea, candy and biscuit tins like this one were made to commemorate the coronation or simply picture the popular family.

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The young Princess Elizabeth was a favorite of her Grandfather, George V. She visited him frequently and became popular with the press. At this early age, a German firm produced a bisque doll in her likeness. This doll was not authorized by her parents and they really didn’t approve of the doll. However bowing to the ever growing popularity of their child, they gave permission to an English toy maker – Chad Valley to create a doll in Elizabeth’s likeness. This is the very first version of the Royal dolls that Chad Valley made. It is a felt doll with glass eyes and had a very good likeness to the young princess, as you can see by the photos. She is even wearing the same dress. This version is not as easy to find as the later versions.

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The two dolls below made by Chad Valley show Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. The tags show us that the Elizabeth doll was made prior to her father becoming king and the Margaret rose doll was made after. These came in various sizes and were wearing outfits similar to those worn by the princesses.  They are 16 inches and 18 inches.

Some other items made around the popularity of the princesses

This paper doll set has many more outfits than what is pictured

Book about the family and their many dogs.

A friend visited England a few years ago, and brought me back this charm of the Gold State Coach. The coach was commissioned in 1760 and has been used at the coronation of every monarch since George IV, as well as other special ceremonies.

It is said to be very uncomfortable.

I also have a little coin purse stamped Buckingham Palace with a crown charm that I found on my own – not in England, although I’ve always wanted to go.

I can just imagine all of the royal items I would come back with!

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The English have produced mugs, plates and other pottery items commemorating the royals since the late 18th century. While I haven’t started collecting any of those 18th, 19th or 20th century pieces, I did start collecting these mugs commemorating the birth of the children of William and Kate. I got the mug when Prince George was born and then discovered the same type was issued for Princess Charlotte.

The mugs may not have been a wise idea for someone that is trying to slow down on collecting – I’ve just ordered the commemorative mug for Prince Louis.

I don’t think there is any danger of nine Royal babies again – I wouldn’t have space for all of the mugs!

 

 

Spring Memories Renewed…

I love Easter decorations, particularly vintage style Easter items.  The quantity of Easter décor that I have is second only to Christmas.  Like most of my collections that span decades, I may have had some items for years, but the collection expanded rapidly with the ability to purchase on the internet.

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Faux Chocolate Bunnies

We always had candy filled baskets on Easter.  I can still remember the smell of chocolate and the cellophane grass in the baskets.  I’m pretty sure the grass was used over and over for several years, so it did have an odor – not unpleasant, just distinct.  It seemed like the smell of chocolate lingered.  I also loved Easter outfits! This was a big deal – I’m not sure it’s still as major a clothing day as it used to be. We wore white gloves to church and you had to have some kind of hat or head covering. One of my wackiest outfits, circa 1966-67 included lime green fish net stockings – with a garter belt (both borrowed from an older sister).  Too funny considering I was five or six!   They were way too long and I wasn’t sure how to work the rubber and metal fasteners on the belt.  I remember coming downstairs and my Mom having a shocked look.  She checked how I had them on and I remember her laughing.  She adjusted everything folding them down to fit and let me wear them – I think I must have been insisting.  I don’t remember the dress, but I do remember those stockings.  It was just us kids that went to church – no parents and it was quite a few blocks away.  During the Easter season, we would stop at a famous Philadelphia bakery called Stock’s on the way home to get just a few Easter themed sugar cookies or a pineapple cheesecake. The cookies were shaped like rabbits or eggs with colored sugars on them – they seemed like such a special treat. While we no longer live walking distance, on special occasions our family will still go back to Stock’s Bakery to get one of the best pound cakes ever!

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Glass bird and nest dish
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Bird dish interior
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Old style stacking boxes from the 1980’s
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Bone china rabbit dishes from an estate sale – they were extremely dirty and I was surprised at just how nice the were once they were cleaned up!

When I was really little – pre-school, my Mom got me a small porcelain egg-shaped dish. It had deep red and small yellow rose decorations on the lid and I thought it was really beautiful. Naturally, I paid a good deal of attention to the dish, and porcelain and small kids don’t always mix. It was inevitable I guess that I broke it and I was pretty upset about it. I don’t know if it was that same Easter, or the next one but my Mom got me an even bigger porcelain egg dish. This one was covered all over with violets.

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I’ve had it a very long time, so it may have been a replacement for the first one. Needless to say, I was extremely careful with the new one even though it was much larger for small hands to hold.

It remains a treasured item to me.

Other early favorites were the little chenille chicks, rabbits and ducks that you could get around Easter. I only have one of my original ones, but have gotten more as the years went on at flea markets, etc.

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In the post from November 2017, I mentioned a 5 and 10 cent store and a card store that were favorites of mine. I still have a few early Easter items that were purchased in those stores in the late 1960’s.

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These are the earliest pieces – I believe the porcelain egg was a gift from my sister to my Mom

The white rabbit candy container was from the 5 & 10.  I think in the second year I had it, two holes were cut out of the bottom in order to tie him to an Easter bonnet that I made for a contest at school.  He was the main attraction on the bonnet. He has actually yellowed a bit from years in a “smoking” household (see January 2018).  The other item was the green flocked chick, which I love.  When I purchased him – I think in 1969, the card store had several other colors.  I was only able to get one and for some reason picked this green one. As time went on, I wished for the yellow one. No worries though…even though it was several decades later, I was able to find the other colors online.  Kind of a weird obsession, right?  Funny, but I’ve never seen another green chick.

Anyway, I still think they are awesome!

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I was also able to pick up another rabbit candy container. I also found them in pink and yellow, but they didn’t appeal to me the way the white one does. Having two helps to balance my display.

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I went on to add many more porcelain egg dishes to the collection along with some old blown glass eggs of various sizes.

More porcelain egg dishes…

In the bottom photo is a solid egg my sister gave to my Mom.  The cobalt blue egg is very old.

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I think the blown glass eggs started as substitutes for hen houses to encourage chickens to lay eggs. Many of them are chicken egg size, but they are several larger sizes.  Some have molded designs and were obviously made to be decorations.  Most were commercially painted probably in the late 19th early 20th century.  These are fairly easy to find, although sometimes that painted decoration has worn off.  Several years ago I found a woman selling some that belonged to her husband.

This was what she told me about them…

“These eggs were given to my husband, Arnie by his great-aunt Rose. She was an artist and a great cook. She had 1 son whose name was Arnold and he was killed in WWI at the age of 21 and my husband was named after him. They are from Toms River, NJ.  He got his first egg when he was born 1946 and his last egg when he graduated high school 1965. Some of them have already been given to our kids.”  

I liked having the provenance and purchased several with designs I liked best and display them in baskets at Easter, along with some earlier glass eggs.

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Here is a grouping of antique papier-mâché eggs made in Germany.  They have printed paper linings and Dresden paper lace trim.  They must have held wonderful treats.

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What would Easter be without Lefton chicks, ducks, lambs and bunnies?

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Baby chicks
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Cute group of ducklings
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Rabbit Planter
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Three sizes of rabbits
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The larger rabbits

Some other styles of chicks and bunnies from various makers…

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Glazed chicks and bunnies
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Cute chick and duck on half shell eggs

The items that companies like Lefton and Norleans put out in the 1950’s, and 1960’s were really nice I think. I have one original chick from when I was little and one lamb. I believe I had two chicks, but honestly don’t remember what happened to the other one. They were all purchased at the aforementioned “treasure chest” card store.  I have been able to amass quite a large number of these over the years. They turn up a lot at yard sales and flea markets, not to mention online. The most difficult to find and the most expensive were the largest set of white rabbits. They came in 3 sizes, which I learned from searching for them online. I was outbid several times on a large set and was finally able to get these I think because one has a repaired ear. It didn’t matter to me (my original chick has a repaired toe). There are brown rabbits too. I thought about adding some of those, but so far I haven’t gotten any (I am supposed to be trying to downsize after all).

Some more décor…hover on the photos for a description.

These home made early 1970’s craft eggs were a yard sale find…they are very nicely made of real eggs!

I also have a “soft” spot for vintage Easter plush animals – mostly rabbits.

There are some nice newer ones that look old and I like those too. I saw a white rabbit several years ago at an antique shop…nice with pink eyes. I fell in love with it, but when I saw the price I just couldn’t believe it so I didn’t get it.  I’ve never seen one quite like it again (and you know I’ve been looking).  Even when I see some similar they are always even more money – who knew? I think it would have been from the 1940’s or 50’s. Oh well, I’ve found some fun examples since, but as is my nature – that one still comes to mind.

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There is something really nice about bringing out all of the Easter items.

They cheer up the doldrums and winter gloom that comes after Christmas and are a sure sign that spring is one the way, even though it’s taking its time getting here this year.

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Large blow mold rabbit, white rabbit cut-out and crochet eggs from Celeste.

 Happy Spring!

 

White elephants and Toby Jugs…

I’ve gone to many flea markets, yard sales and thrift shops in my lifetime and picked up many items along the way.  Starting as early as 4th grade, I can remember the schools and churches would host some kind of sale or bazaar.  They would sell crafts, plants and baked goods but my favorite table was called the white elephant table.  I didn’t know what that meant, but I always knew where to head first.

A quick internet search has this definition…a possession unwanted by the owner but difficult to dispose of.  The phrase actually has ties back to the 18th century and real white elephants, but the one I listed seems to best fit the items at the bazaar table.  I always thought the neatest stuff was on the white elephant table! I can actually remember the first item I got at the first bazaar I attended – I think it was 1968 based on the school I was attending at the time.  It was a white porcelain perfume bottle with a brass atomizer attached and I even remember it was 5 cents!  There were flowers on the sides of the bottle.  When I unscrewed the top, the bottle was empty, but there was still the scent of a faraway perfume.  I thought that was really neat and it conjured up exotic and romantic images in my mind about the former owner of the perfume bottle and that she had an elaborate vanity full of decorative bottles, powders, etc.  Even though it lessened with time, the scent stayed for years.  I don’t think I have it anymore, but I did hold onto if for a long time.  Who knows though, it may turn up!

I don’t know what it is about a certain item will make me start “collecting” them.

Many years ago – sometime in the early 1970’s, I picked up two miniatures at a flea market. One was a little plaster or chalk ware tree log with a bird nest molded in it.  On top were two small robins mounted to the log with springs, so they moved.  Along with that was a tiny Toby jug.  Both of these pieces were marked “Made in England”.

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For some reason, I was fascinated with things made in England.  It didn’t matter what they were.  We had a set of metal figures – a marching band that went with our train set. They were made in England.  All of the other figures with the trains were marked Japan. I thought it was unusual to find items marked England, so they piqued my curiosity.  I have to wonder why I was reading where things were made when I was little, but I was! I’ve gotten off track a bit, so back to the Toby jug.
I don’t know if I’d ever seen a Toby jug at the time, or knew what they were called.  I seem to remember my Mom telling me it was called a toby jug.  You couldn’t just look them up on the internet in those days.  Over time, I stumbled on a second one in my travels.  Maybe it was the chance encounter with another one that triggered the collecting (I’ve never come across another one of the bird on the branch figures).  So, a collection was started.

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Found separately, but make a nice pair
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Typical seated figures
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The one in the center is a cook!
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Colonial couple

They didn’t turn up that often, so it was a slow collection. I added a more in the early 2000’s when my Mom and I started going to better antique shows.

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With a quarter to show the scale
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This little guy has the Hummel mark and is marked Germany
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The green jacket is the original and the burgundy jacket is another English version – both are marked “Devonmoor – Made in England”
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Unusual brass jug with turquoise enamel lining…measures and inch and three-quarters
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I just love her!  She’s just an inch and a half
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The two and a quarter-inch stocky jug is made in England
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Sometimes I end up with a duplicate

They are for the most part, fairly inexpensive and I put a $10 price limit on them, although most of them are generally less. Eventually I did look at them on the internet, but I told my Mom, I just want to add these as I find them in my travels, not “speed collect” them.  My Mom would pick them up too if she found them and she got me a nice little jug that is made in England. It looks like is says “Kelsboro Ware” on the bottom and the character’s name is Georgie.

 

I did break the rule once and purchased  two very small jugs online (also made in England). They were different from any I’d seen. The character looked like Punch of Punch and Judy with his long nose and pointed chin – they are marked Denton China.

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These are the jugs marked Denton

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Some of them are pairs with a man and woman in matching attire.

 

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Not exactly a pair…but these ladies are similar – different handle positions though
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These are a true pair

 

Since they are so small (the tiniest are about 1 1/4″), most of them fit into the small compartments of a printer’s drawer. These drawers originally held blocks for typesetting and they became a popular repurposed item in the 1970’s, used for displaying miniature items. My brother-in-law, gave me two of them, which I had no problem filling! I still have both shelves hanging in the house. One has most of the things I’ve had in it since the late 1970’s and the other has been taken over with tiny Toby jugs and other small figures.

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Even though many of my tiny Toby jugs are made in Japan, the first one is more closely associated with the early (larger) versions.  Originally, I believe they were made in England in the 1700’s, by pottery makers in Staffordshire.  They depicted faces or sitting figures of jovial, portly gentlemen and were used in taverns as mugs or pitchers for beer. I like the image of a raucous 18th century tavern with the colorful character jugs in use.  I have a bit of a fascination for old taverns and the discussions about the American Revolution must have taken place in the establishments in and around my home town of Philadelphia.  I still haven’t figured out why that one little jug from so long ago attracted me, but I still love the unexpected surprise of finding a tiny jug, and found one in a thrift shop just a few months ago.

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These really could have gone in last month too!

Queen Elizabeth…a more recent find

This one is bit larger at around three inches

Now that I can search them on the internet, I’ve discovered that I also love the original large early versions from England, but space and budget keep me from acquiring any of those.  There are a few that are bigger, and I did break down and get a reproduction large Toby Jug modeled after a dog…couldn’t resist. It is shown here with a George Washington jug which says on the bottom it’s a souvenir of Mount Vernon.

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Except for actually drinking an ale from one, the tiny Toby jugs are the perfect fit!

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Norman…

I’ve always had a fondness for turtles and frogs. We had box turtles as pets when we were growing up. I think at one point there were 12 or 13 of them and they lived in the yard of our first house.

In 1970 I found a toad, brought him home and named him Norman.

I’m pretty sure the name choice was influenced by Norman Greenbaum and his song, “Spirit in the Sky” – I liked it then and I like it now.

Lg Plush

Norman the toad adapted fairly well to life as a pet.  He wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy, but I didn’t have the pet options available to be choosy at that point, since we were not permitted to have traditional pets like a cat or dog.  Norman was welcomed however, and my Dad made him a pretty cool habitat with a built-in pond and a nicely fitted screen lid…all top shelf (my Dad was a good craftsman – very meticulous).  Anyway, I can’t remember exactly how long I had Norman but it was for a year give or take a month – summer to summer.

Initially, I fed him flies.  Frogs & toads eat moving insects, so you had to have a pretty light touch to swat a fly, but not completely kill it and most of the time, I was not successful.  Since I was generally overzealous with the swatting, I decided to try gently blowing on the deceased fly to make it move.  Norman fell for this – the slightest movement was enough to make his curled, lightning fast tongue zap up the fly.  Not sure why, but one day I rolled up a small piece of chocolate cake from of one of my favorite snacks, a Drake’s Devil Dog and made that move as well – Norman ate it.  This opened up many new menu options.  As it turned out, Norman wasn’t that picky…he would eat just about anything, within reason, that moved I did try to feed him good things – not just cake.  His diet didn’t seem to be doing him any harm, he seemed to be a healthy toad.

(Please, let it be noted that I don’t condone or recommend taking animals from the wild anymore, or feeding cake to amphibians. Norman’s survival was clearly the exception).

I asked my Mom to crochet him a harness for walks outside.  She did her best to make something with two loops that went around his front legs and attached to a long yarn chain that I could hold to “walk” him.  She later told me she watched me, patiently trying to get him to walk with the harness.  She said just one hop and he would be out of the harness, but that I would put it on over and over again only to have the same result.  This was out on the sidewalk in front of our house!  I wish I could ask my Mom now if she was at all concerned at this point….I know I would have been. 

Norman tried to hibernate like any toad would come the fall, attempting to burrow into the shallow soil of his habitat.  I’m sure the temperature and other conditions were not conducive to hibernation.  He was living in the house at the time and in addition to the other conditions, I just wouldn’t give him the peace to enter in to this long seasonal sleep…he was my pet.  Norman actually survived all of this “love” and lived to see the next spring, where it was decided – at the strong urging of my parents, that once the weather warmed up, I should release him back to the ”wild” with the rest of the toads.

So, that summer on a trip to Washington’s Crossing Park, I took my lumpy, cool skinned pet to what I felt was a fairly secluded spot near the river and said my good-byes.  Norman had been a good companion.

When I decided to include Norman in this, I knew I had to locate the only existing picture of him and post it, even though it is really a laughable picture (of me) – I figured I’d take the hit for Norman.  The picture was hard to locate – I find I lose more things as I get older.  My brother actually had the picture for a while, along with some of the old family photos.  I got it back from him a few years ago, then I misplaced it.  Anyway, I finally found it again.  On the back, I had carefully titled the picture – Me and Norman, and included my full name, address and the date of the instant photo.

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Once I saw the date, I knew my parents weren’t making habitats and harnesses for a toad that summer, and that the photo was taken just prior to Norman’s liberation.  I must have wanted to have a picture so I could remember him.  It was dated June 22, 1971 and just five days later, my older brother would die unexpectedly at the age of 20.  My brother’s passing had a major impact on the entire family.  It was as if you were traveling along on a train and suddenly somebody throws the switch and boom – you are on a different track with the change being almost too fast for the machine to handle and you are afraid it will derail.  I sometimes wonder what the ride would have been like on the first track.  Seeing the date on the photo really brought back a lot of the memories that I didn’t expect.

But back to Norman…he is likely the reason I’ve collected frog items over the years (it seems there are less toad things than frog things, but I never got that technical).

Frogs and toads have never lost their appeal and I felt really lucky a few summers ago to have some green tree frogs take up residence around the back of our house.  I tried not to bother them as much as I bothered Norman, but I did take a lot pictures of them!

I still can’t resist a frog that appeals to me in some way. There seems to be no particular set of standards when it comes to collecting frogs, they can be anything “froggy”. Plush toys, ceramic items, jewelry, tableware and much more – this is a collection that continues to grow.

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Love this guy!
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Glass frogs

Some Christmas frogs…

Many frogs are just whimsical. like these Frog Footmen from Alice in Wonderland…

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Or this group of shell musicians!

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Happy coin purse!

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Funny frog doll…

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Key wound jumping from (from 3rd grade) and a frog clicker…

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Still more…

 

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Frogs from around the house gathered for a picture – Tonala pottery, glazed pottery, and more.

 

Click pictures below for descriptions…

Frog themed jewelry…

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Yes, still more!

Sun catchers

Click photos for descriptions below.

This one is a really neat leather artist-made frog from the 1980’s

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Some porcelain figures and trinket boxes…

I’ve had this for a long time…purchased from a mail-order catalog late 1980’s or early 1990’s.  It’s a Majolica styled glaze on a toad house!  Supposedly you can put these outside and toads will live in them.  This one has been indoors.

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I love these crazy figures, found in an antique shop!

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I can say with authority, that there are a lot of frog items available.

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Norman has certainly inspired a vast collection, spanning decades!

Proving I can collect almost anything…

For me, this is about as unlikely a collection as possible – matchbooks. Unlikely because I’ve always hated being around cigarette smoke. When we finally got a car my Dad would drive us places on weekends for fishing or picnics. This was all new territory since the only car we had previously was way before I was born. Both of my parents would be puffing away in the closed car – ugh. My Dad was a scary driver, so I can’t blame my Mom for nervous smoking…many a day she had a white knuckle grip on the dashboard. It’s no wonder that I got car sick. Upon arrival to these much anticipated outings, I was always in rough shape – dizzy, nauseous, and frustrated that I didn’t feel better. We made very few trips to the NJ shore points because my Dad wasn’t a huge fan of the beach. When we did go, it was never to one of the resort type of places with rides or a boardwalk. It was usually a spot more geared toward fishing or crabbing. It was fine though, because I loved the sun and the air and the smells at the coast.

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Mostly, we used to go to Washington’s Crossing State Park. Again, Dad liked fishing and the Delaware River in that area was a great resource. He preferred this setting to the shore areas. Back then, there were sections of I-95 that were not finished and he used to take the back roads – it took forever to get there. When we did finally arrive I would have to lay down in the fresh air for about an hour until I felt better. My Mom started giving me Dramamine for these trips. The pill would knock me out for the ride, but they would have to wake me up when we got there and it would take what seemed like hours for the drowsy feeling to go away – I hated that too. I just wanted to enjoy the destination once we arrived, but there was always a delay so that I could normalize. Mercifully on the way home, I was usually tired from the events of the day, and would fall asleep. Later the interstate was opened all the way through and it shaved a good bit of time off of the trip. In spite of the fact that I was sick every time we arrived, I loved it there and still do. We continue to have a family outing at least once a year if possible (I no longer get car sick).

But it wasn’t just being trapped in the car with smoke I hated – everyone smoked everywhere. Ornate ashtrays and fancy lighters adorned coffee tables. There was just no escaping the smoke – inside or out. I remember in the late 1960’s my sister started smoking cigarettes called Eve. They had really pretty floral packaging and even had flowers on the filters! The tag line was – farewell to the ugly cigarette. What marketing! Flower printed filters, even used ones really did dress up an astray full of cigarette butts.

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Funny, but cigars never had the same effect. My friend Bobby’s father – Benny, was a very nice man. He would give us $1 for candy. This purchased a LOT of candy since most of the money went towards penny candy. It drove the store clerk crazy when we showed up to make our selections – over a hundred pieces of penny candy (some were 2 or 3 for a penny), each carefully chosen – no random grabbing by the person behind the counter! As I remember it, Benny was in the “junk” trade, which looking back reminds me of the shows on TV now about “pickers”. He always had awesome stuff that and we were allowed to play with it! There was almost a full set of those heavy diner dishes with the green stripe around the edge – we played restaurant with those. There were also some cool clocks. One that was gold washed metal and had large figure of a standing horse with an ornate western saddle. The other one was a brick look fireplace with logs inside. When you plugged it in, the flame area lit up and something in there turned to make it look like flickering flames – I loved that one. But back to Benny…he smoked cigars and I never minded the smell of them. Maybe it was just by association – the cigars equaled Benny, and Benny equaled all of the fun stuff.
In an odd turn, when I was going to college in Philadelphia, they would hand out sample packs of cigarettes on the street. I was only 16 when I started college, and a bit awkward and out of place, but that was the norm for all of my school years. This was the very late 1970’s and to my utter amazement, the students were smoking in the classroom. Well, in an effort to fit in or maybe feel older, or just experience what seemed like bold freedom, I accepted a few packs of these free cigarettes – “Newport”, to be exact. It was late September and the weather in Philadelphia can still be quite mild. I remember “lighting up” right in the afternoon class on a warm and sunny day. I was wearing a great sweater and vest set that my Mom crocheted for me, along with a long floral print peasant skirt and high heeled lace up boots. So there I was, smoking, wearing an awesome outfit – AND I knew all the moves of an experienced smoker from years of forced observation. I felt really cool – for about five minutes. Then that old familiar, ill feeling started to wash over me…the heat, the smoke, the dizziness (menthol cigarettes did not help). First and last time I ever had a cigarette, however I’ve been known to enjoy an occasional cigar, and even ended up as a cigar buyer for one of my employers, but that’s another story.

And finally, here’s where the matches come in.

The cigarette marketing carried over to matches. Establishments would have customized matchbooks that you would grab for free, I guess with hopes you would think of the place until the book was used up or advertise it to someone else if they borrowed the matches.

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I think I started picking these up in the late 70’s and would grab them from restaurants or bars whenever possible. I wasn’t using them, I either liked the cover or I just wanted a memento of the place.

 

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Cherry Hill, NJ landmarks no longer there…

 

 

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Atlantic City, NJ in better times

 

Eventually, when smoking in public places fell from favor, so did providing branded matches to customers. There was a period where matches were still available, but custom books were being replaced by plain white books. I guess the expense of printing up special books wasn’t paying off…maybe some still do, but I haven’t seen any in my travels. I know people used to have personalized matchbooks printed for weddings too. I haven’t been to a wedding in a while, but I can’t imagine this is much of a trend anymore.

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I always thought to get one of those frames with rods running across that are made to display matchbooks, but I never did. They are just in a wooden box in the basement and will hopefully never meet a spark – in fact, I think I’ll put them in a metal tin. Many of the places don’t exist anymore and just going through the matches is a trip down memory lane. Imagine how many I would have if they were still available to grab on your way out!

So many paths to explore…

Collecting, for me has been a long and winding road.  One thing leads to another, interests change, things fade away and then sometimes come back again – with a renewed enthusiasm.

Previously, I mentioned my friend Lee.  I loved going to her house – everyone one was happy and laughing, and frankly this kind of family interaction was foreign – except maybe on TV.  Although I never met her, Lee’s grandmother was an incredibly talented woman.  Actually Lee is too – more genetics. What I remember most are the things that Lee’s grandmother carved from wood. There was a beautiful intricately carved lidded box, like a jewelry or dresser box and a large wall carving of an American eagle. There were other things too – not only that her Grandmother made, but things that belonged to her that seemed to make an impression on me.  There was a necklace with dark reddish-brown faceted beads – I can’t remember if it was garnet or amber, and a celluloid Japanese themed diorama in a clam shell.  I loved the shell piece and it comes back again much later in life to take on a prominent role (more about that at another time). Getting back to Lee’s grandmother and the wood carvings… she made a wonderful wooden village that would be set up at Christmas.  I can’t remember how many buildings it had, but there were a lot!  All different, carved and painted like ornate chalets and other buildings.  There was a clock tower in the town center along with people and animals and trees. There was a frozen pond and even a magnificent copy of Independence Hall. Among the many pieces that made up this village were a few little bisque babies in snow suits.

I fell in love with them. 

I had never seen anything like them before – tumbling and sliding snow-covered figures. Lee told me they were snow babies. These early versions were the inspiration for the still popular line of Snow Babies made by Dept. 56, which were introduced in the late 1980’s. Initially I was a bit snobbish about the newer ones but it wasn’t long before I came to appreciate them as well made tributes to the originals.

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Snow Babies by Dept. 56 and Homco

I must have been talking about snow babies a lot at home since several months later, a letter came in the mail from my Aunt in Texas. I didn’t really know her, but my Dad must have mentioned all of this in talking with his sister. In the letter were pages from a magazine called Spinning Wheel. It was a publication dedicated to antiques and this particular issue had an article about snow babies. In short, what I learned is that they were made around the turn of the 1900’s in Germany, and they were originally used as cake decorations.  Japan introduced a version later in the first quarter of the century. The article showed many of the poses and sizes that they came in – some with sleds or skis, snowballs or companion polar bears or penguins.  I was completely captivated by them.

Naturally, I wished I could have one, but where in the world would I ever find one.

 

These are Dept. 56 mini pewter snow babies

Well, as it turned out there were several other pages of the Spinning Wheel magazine included with the article, and in those days all of the magazines had line ads in the back where you could write for catalogs or purchase items. There was a very small ad – just a couple of lines from a lady who advertised antique dolls. It mentioned a few varieties of dolls, and in the ad – there it was, a snow baby! You could send an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) to the address she had listed and she would send you a listing of what was for sale.  Before the internet, everything took so long, but the anticipation was nice in a way.  Now everything is almost instant gratification and collections grow very quickly…believe me, I know.  So maybe a week or so after you sent your SASE, your list would arrive. There weren’t any photos, but you could call and make arrangements to purchase the item on the list based on the description.  Later on, the dealer starting sending a Polaroid photo of any items you were interested in, or there were dark and grainy photocopied pictures of the items printed on the list. Well, I got my first snow baby and no photo was required to seal this deal!  With the help of my Dad, we purchased the little figure sight unseen. Upon arrival, it did not disappoint. I loved the little figure on its belly in a snow-covered suit.

I couldn’t believe that I had a snow baby of my own!

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My first snow baby – just about one inch long!

The thing about all of that waiting in those days was, I had time to look over the rest of the dealer’s list.  Naturally some of the items were very pricey, so I just looked at the price points. There was a listing that would have been affordable. It was a bisque kewpie type figure with original clothing. We ordered it – again, sight unseen. It’s amazing to me that this was a practice back then. Anyway, she arrived and she was delightful. The dealer included a note with some provenance which stated the doll was used as a wedding favor in 1928. She had a pink silk dress and a wire framed hat covered with pink tulle fabric and a flower accent. Her molded hair was in the style of a 1920’s wave and she had large side glancing eyes. She was just a treasure to me. The silk dress and tulle hat of this little lady eventually just disintegrated. The wire form of her skirt and hat were still present and I did my best to replicate her dress in the early 2000’s.

The snow baby and the list of dolls eventually led me down the path of doll collecting. I think I was about 13 at the time and I’ve been collecting dolls ever since. Antique snow babies proved to be elusive and pricey over the years. Even though I tried to add more to my collection, I was basically unsuccessful. I received two as gifts – the one with the black seal and another version of a baby on its belly.

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A gift from Jeanne
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A gift from Givvie

I found two more at flea markets.  One is a cute snowman, and the other is an older girl sliding down a wall.  In reality, she is considered a no-snow.  Same theme, but no crystalized snow was attached. I didn’t realize this at the time and thought somehow her snow was removed. She also had a broken foot, so she was very affordable. I purchased her and made a foot out of clay and painted it to closely match her existing foot. And since I thought her snow was missing, I crushed an old tea cup to crumbles and glued them on her – yep, I was intense.

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Snowman
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Altered “no-snow”

So these five figures made up the total of my collection for many years.

Finally, just a few years ago a small group of antique snow babies showed up on an online auction and I was able to get the entire group for less than you might expect to pay for one. The internet wiped out years of searching all in one swoop (it is both a blessing and a curse). They are not all perfect, but they have the great look that I remember from so many years ago.

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Fun in the snow!
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Jointed snow baby…I love these.
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This is how I first remember them!

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I thought it was about time to see how they would actually look on top of a cake!