Ralph Rucci’s Tour de Force Costumes for “Close to Chuck”

February 24th, 2014

Just had to share my overwhelmed response to designer Ralph Rucci’s costumes for the ballet “Close to Chuck”, which I saw performed at the Boston Ballet yesterday.

Choreographed by Jorma Elo to a musical “portrait” of disabled artist Chuck Close by his longtime friend, composer Philip Glass, it premiered at the ABT in New York seven years ago but has been tweaked since by Elo to better incorporate the costumes in the choreography (they apparently weren’t done until the last minute in 2007). Here is a picture of one of Rucci’s costumes from the ABT premiere; the dancer shown is Vivienne Wong:

The costumes combined a black leotard with illusion panels and a taffeta wrap skirt horizontally corded in leather, under one corner of which was a silkscreened (I assume) version of the Chuck Close self portrait used as a backdrop for the second part of the ballet. (The male dancers wore the skirt also, though minus the leotard!)

The beginning of the ballet used a black/white/grey backdrop identical to the luminous red one reproduced in miniature on the skirts, save for the colorway; both backdrops consisted of a grid of hundreds of tesserae-like squares that appeared to contain abstract or amorphous forms, but which “from a distance” crystallized into an image of the upper 2/3 of the artist’s face. I’m not sure whether the backdrops were a full (or partial) blowup or scale copy of a Close painting on canvas, or whether Close (who designed the sets for the ballet) created them specially for the occasion. Here’s a scene from the Boston Ballet production with a view of the red backdrop:

When the dancers raised the corners of their cage-like skirts to reveal (or, literally, to unwrap) the image underneath, the combination of  lustrous fabric and mosaicized image combined to shimmering effect, almost as if it were composed of sequins, which perfectly captured Close’s pixellated artistic technique.

Rucci’s brilliant costumes were not only an essential part of the set (because of the way they linked to the backdrop), but also of the ballet’s thematic content; they symbolically represented the physical limitations the paralyzed Close has had to transcend in order to keep creating his art. (After all, when’s the last time you saw ballet dancers perform in stiff, floor-length skirts?)

Rucci is a true artist (he’s actually an accomplished painter who exhibits his work and designs all the prints for his clothes). I’ve gasped in awe at garments of his on display in museums (where they are the very definition of “museum-worthy), but my admiration for him has just increased tenfold. Bravo!

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part IV

December 17th, 2013

For my winter vacation this year, I’d like to slip inside the December 1948 Ladies’ Home Journal and visit for awhile. The issue captures a seemingly idyllic moment in US history when the nation was really beginning to enjoy its post-WWII boom. It opens with an editorial by none other than First Lady of Journalism Dorothy Thompson on the importance of expanding and strengthening the economy as the only true protector of our national security. And it is a veritable feast for the eyes—page after page of gorgeously executed Christmas ads and features that make me want to buy everything, cook everything, sew everything it suggests.

I apologize for the awkward cropping of many of the pictures in this post; the LHJ was too wide and too long for my scanner bed, and there were a LOT of full page ads! But the images speak for themselves regardless…

Needless to say, there were a slew of appliance ads, beautifully illustrated to depict their knack for leading to domestic nirvana:

This Norman Rockwell-ish if rather quirky ad (which I think is much sadder than it means to be)  depicts the impact of Plymouth ownership on one family (or specifically, on one poor kid), without even bothering to flaunt that year’s Special De Luxe Coupe in it!

The pages are bursting with images of delectable looking Christmas hams and baked goods, whether homemade from the ingredient being hawked or store-bought in a final state, such as this Jane Parker fruitcake:

The magazine itself has a spread on Christmas entertaining, with menus (and recipes, in the back) for a party for 25, a breakfast, and a dinner:

One of the most artistically done ads is for Coke; I wonder what my young father, who at the time was in his early years as a Maspeth, NY Coke bottling plant manager, would have thought of it:

As far as the LHJ features, in addition to beauty advice:

and tips on the latest party frocks to sew (with patterns available for purchase, natch), LHJ did a spread with socialites and celebrities modelling the latest in hostess fashions, including one of Rosalind Russell in a ruby pink moire and green taffeta creation from Joseph Whitehead:

Coty’s attempt to garner a chunk of the Xmas market for its perfumes included both a letter from its president explaining the art of fragrance selection and, many pages later, a full page ad displaying the options to choose from (the model’s red gown is from Traina-Norell):

Here’s another perfume ad, from Bourjois (I remember my mother, a schoolteacher, regularly being given Evening in Paris as a holiday gift in the 1960s):

This ad from Bretton watch bands offered a “Peewee” version of the “sweetheart” expansion bracelets so popular throughout the war:

The kiddie set above came in a lucite-look pocketbook; Pro-phy-lac-tic offered lucite (or “Jewelite”) dresser sets for both men and women:

Don’t know whether this Textron slip ad nods more to “A Christmas Carol” or to Salvador Dali:

Of course, there were ads for products to help with seasonal decor (and giftwrapping):

And ads for year round home goods, as well:

This Community silverplate ad couldn’t decide if it was holiday- or wedding-themed:

LHJ offered ideas for making your own gifts (more patterns to buy), from cloth blocks, dolls and stuffed animals for children:

to quilted satin slipper-and-pouch sets, or leopard velveteen belt-and-mitten sets, for adults and teens:

There was even a column on ideas for gifts kids, from tots to teens, could make/give to Mom:

And though there were no ads for liquor as the ideal gift, there was more than one that proposed sticking a carton of cigarettes under the tree:

However and whatever you celebrate this time of year, may it be filled with the calm and peace of a Victorian Christmas. And, among the delights 2014 holds in store for you, may at least one of them be vintage 1940s and tied up with an enormous bow!

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part III

December 16th, 2013

America’s postwar economic boom meant that by the late 1940s seasonal marketing had really elbowed its way into women’s magazines, taking up as much or even more space than the “regular” features–many of which were not just Christmas-themed but concerned with directing the American family’s shopper-in-chief on how best to transform the disposable dollars in her pocketbook into coveted, practical, and colorfully foil-wrapped parcels of domestic holiday joy.

Though Christmas-linked advertising didn’t really shift to bombardment mode till the December issues, the rollout did in fact get underway in November, just as it does today. Though most of the full page ads in the November 1949 issue of Harper’s Bazaar don’t promote their products as holiday gift options, the magazine itself organized pages upon pages of smaller ads into shopping guides or editorial features.

A 4 page color feature entitled “It’s a wonderful present if…” included cobra covered smoking accessories from Evans, 14K hatpins set with gemstones, and Lucien Lelong lipstick:

An 11 page black and white eponymous “Bazaar” spread had sections for men, children, and women. The “Men’s Bazaar” (which also included ads for cameras, coasters, and a sterling monogrammed pipe) had an ad for spectacular leather and silk suspenders from “Calvin Curtis, Cravateur”:

as well for an A. Sulka & Co. reading jacket:

I got a kick out of finding an ad for a leather tie travel case identical to one I have in the Waltham shop:

The “Children’s Bazaar” featured an ad for the FAO Schwartz catalog, and the ladies’“Christmas Bazaar” included these tempting possibilities:

A black and white spread entitled “60 Beautiful Ideas”,  devoted to the kinds of cosmetic and fragrance indulgences contemporary department stores pile sky-high near the near mall entrance this time of year, grouped its suggestions into price tiers; under $2, $4, $5, $10 and “exactly $10”.

Highlights included Charles of the Ritz perfume in a Christmas tree ornament, a Hattie Carnegie perfume burner complete with her “Golden Lotus” scent, a white faux fur pouch with John Frederics talcum powder inside, and an Evans fish compact with cultured pearl bubbles and ruby chip eye.

Unfortunately, the artist-rendered sketches aren’t very good resolution, so I’ll just show you this stocking from Elizabeth Arden, filled with various forms of her “Blue Grass” fragrance (it was in the “exactly $10” tier):

A predecessor to those really long advertising spreads you can barely distinguish from actual magazine copy, Lord & Taylor had a 20 page black and white “Christmas Is Here!” spread that included gift ideas for the whole family:

As I mentioned above, only a few of the full page ads (like the one for a “Christmas white” slip that opens this post) link explicitly to the holiday. But simply placing a full page ad for a luxury good in the November issue was savvy marketing in and of itself, as this was evidently a very good year to be a conspicuous consumer, and hence also to entrap one. The full page ads, which include some pretty heady brands, fall for the most part into 6 main categories: Sterling silver flatware; nylons/lingerie; fur (including Revillon & Maximilian); perfume (including Chanel No. 5 & Schiap’s latest, Zut); fine jewels (including Cartier & Harry Winston); and…everything else.

Here’s the issue’s lone Christmas-linked perfume ad, from Elizabeth Arden (1949 appears to have been a banner year for new fragrances; down the line, I’m going to have to do a blog post solely devoted to them):

And here’s a full-paged ad for Hudson’s “Sheer Witchery” nylons—possibly the most glamorous Christmas ad I’ve ever seen (I WANT that hostess robe!):

The last post in this series will share images from the December Ladies’ Home Journal from the previous year (1948), an issue overrun with the exact same marketing approach to Christmastime we know and love today, except… the ads (and the stuff they promote) are SO much better. Here’s the cover, to whet your appetite:

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part II

December 11th, 2013

Next stop: The twentieth century, or more precisely, 1923. The decade may not be roaring yet, but the economy has shifted to peacetime and if conspicuous consumption as we know lies safely in the future, according to the November 1923 Ladies Home Journal the wintry landscape is sprinkled here and there with prospective Christmas presents.

Perhaps a fur for milady to tuck under the “magic tree” this year?

For the newfangled appliance lover, how about a “table stove” (the ancestor of today’s toaster oven, it would seem)?

The most “useful” and “appropriate” gift out there—a  matched towel set from Martex:

Even the Fuller Brush man gets in on the Xmas fun…

“Thoughtful men & women are beginning earlier each year to plan the greetings they want to send at Christmastime”:

The thoughtful person who is also crafty can opt for making homemade cards; all they need (besides the transfers for the designs pictured below, sold by the Home Pattern Company) are: Manila wrapping paper, tinted coal paper, chamois board, parchment, India ink, and watercolor paints:

But that’s it for holiday-targeted advertising in the issue; I’m guessing retailers in 1923 tended to do their Xmas promotions in December back then, when folks still spent the day after Thanksgiving travelling home from Grandma’s instead of rising at cockcrow or earlier to queue outside a big box store.  (As I write this, an early 1930s December LHJ is speeding towards my mailbox, and I will certainly report back on how extensive a glut of Xmas ads it does or does not contain).

To sum up: From the perspective of someone who deplores mass production and consumption but also happens to be in retail, this issue is soothing as well as mind-boggling. So welcome to see a ladies’ magazine geared primarily to informative articles that have nothing to do with weight loss or cosmetic surgery and which gives pride of place to a story by Edith Wharton. But wow, the pages are jam-packed with missed opportunities to start emptying the nation’s holiday pocketbook!

This mouthwatering Jello ad, for instance, could easily have substituted poinsettias for the pink roses on the table, and framed the whole scene in holly:

And check out the lack of enterpreneurial spirit in these perfume ads, which substitute gorgeous graphics (and hyberbolic text) for today’s requisite stacks of wrapped presents and artfully strewn Christmas ornaments:

It’s one thing to know in the abstract that in days of yore the nation didn’t devolve into consumer frenzy this time of year, quite another to see the actual proof in black, white, and color!

Next post will share some holiday ads from the post-WWII period (and likely make you very sad you can’t buy what’s in them). Stay tuned…

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part I

December 9th, 2013

Between the rollout of the Christmas season before Halloween this year, the recurrent and surreal Black Friday Walmart stampedes, and the infuriating conversion of my favorite satellite radio station (“40s at 4”) into holiday Musak 24/7, I’m well past ready by now for a break from the insanity! So…how about joining me in a look at some images of kinder, gentler marketing (for better stuff, too) from Christmases past?

One trend I’ve noticed while thumbing through the November and December issues of vintage magazines is that a strong economy tends to coincide with a pile up of Christmas ads for extravagant items. But…that wasn’t always the case.

For instance, though the Gilded Age was well underway by the publication of the December 1884 Peterson’s Lady’s Magazine, the gentle businessfolk of the day appear not to have see Christmas as a golden goose. There is ample Christmas spirit in the issue (in the form of Christmas-themed illustrations, stories, poems, and “how to” articles), and the magazine even provided a colored tear out of “d’oyley” patterns (featuring plums, blackberries, strawberries, and cherries) as a Christmas gift to its readers:

Here’s a lovely engraving from the issue entitled “Christmas Roses”:

The issue includes an article with helpful suggestions for festive methods of giftgiving (in a stocking “a la Santa Claus”, under a “magic” aka Xmas tree, or in a “ship” made with nursery chairs, brown paper, and poles), as well as one on seasonal decor ideas (bulrushes make a nice alternative to mistletoe, and a home version of “artificial frost” can be made with white glass bottles broken under the garden roller)

But virtually the only Christmas ad in the publication is for greeting cards!

So… Christmas as heavy duty marketing onslaught seems to be a 20th century creation.  Stay tuned for my next post for more on its evolution!

We’re Baaack!

September 2nd, 2013

Though I’m scrambling madly at this point to resurrect the shop in time for reopening it on Friday, I was blissfully, decadently, insanely well-rested for almost a month. And the restorative downtime (not to mention the divine cruise with DH!) gave me plenty of space in which to reflect on Cur.io’s “personality” and place in everything from my life to Greater Boston’s retail landscape.

I thought about how the shop’s boutique size defines it, and how, despite my starry-eyed dreams of a cavernous layout with multiple floors, full basement, and warehouse-sized storeroom, having renewed my lease at the Moody Street location means I must actually be okay with forever schlepping my surplus stock back and forth off site. Because the upside to operating out of a glorified closet is that it’s possible (even necessary) to maintain a detailed mental map of every nook and cranny in it, and to curate the contents really, really carefully.

The constant challenge is to effectively rotate and handpick pieces so the shop’s collection stays seasonally-cued, eye-catching, and the very best quality and condition possible. Cur.io may not have racks upon racks of options in a particular category (which frankly can overwhelm as easily as inspire), but we do offer a slew of unique standouts in a range of sizes and price points, designed to help our customers enhance and enrich their one-of-a-kind style.

The long and short of it, I guess, is that I’m finally past the “if we were bigger” fantasy. Cur.io’s compact size is exactly the point, and I’m full of renewed energy and ideas about how to realize our vision and goals within it.

A few of them:

–The $5-$10-$15 rack by the fitting rooms (introduced just before our vacation closing), where you’ll find inspirations for your wardrobe, all priced at fifteen dollars or under.

–The “Style Laboratory” manni, in the niche to the left of the white cubes wall display, which will feature ways to wear and accessorize both men and women’s vintage, and will hopefully inspire some experiments of your own. (NOTE: Though items in the front window aren’t available for sale while on display, garments on the “Style Laboratory” mannis can always be tried on and/or purchased on the spot).

–Frequent pictures, on our Facebook page, of new additions to the shop, along with information about them (ie designer or label history, era specifics, details of contruction, etc) which you may not “get” from seeing them on a hanger.

Anyway, Happy Labor Day, and hope to see you on Friday!

Let me take you on a… Sea Cruise!

August 2nd, 2013

Finally, three days into Cur.io Vintage’s summer vacation closing (we’ll reopen on Friday, September 6th), the Gordian knot of my personal life has been transformed into enough frantically tied loose ends for me to begin packing for next week’s cruise. That’s right—DH and I are going on a cruise! Yippee! (It’s in celebration of a milestone wedding anniversary, and I’m grinning from ear to ear as I write this).

How do I love cruising? Let me count (some of) the ways…

1) I love “at sea” days, when the ship is surrounded to the horizon by a sheet of dazzling turquoise (or sapphire, or olivine, or…) glass with shifting, lace-spewing peaks and ridges sculpted into it, and the enormous sky holds perfectly still so enormous sunlit clouds can glide through it like big ships. You want to hang onto moments like that forever, just like the little boy in this Graceline ad from 1961:

2) I love the evolutionary link between cruising today and vacationing in the Catskills half a century ago. Same “all inclusive” perks (the food! the shows! the Bingo!); same democratizing of luxury; and, in many cases, the same folks (or their children and children’s children) who headed to the Concord Hotel or Grossinger’s every July and August.

Here’s my elegant mother-in-law sunbathing in the Catskills in the late 60s (DH’s family spent summers at the Commodore Hotel, where for several years Rodney Dangerfield was a guest, though he performed elsewhere); isn’t it easy to transpose her magenta swimsuit and floral chaise lounge onto a salt-sprayed deck in the middle of the ocean?

3) Because my (now-deceased) parents were veteran cruisers who took us on our first voyage to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday, travelling by floating hotel feels like a well-rooted family tradition, during which I often feel their beloved presence.

(The noteworthy brackets to their mariners’ log are that my 22 year old father was a crewmember on the maiden voyage of the SS America in 1940, and that my mother sailed twice around the world as an elderly widow).

4) The food is AMAZING! Fine cuisine has always been part of the allure; here’s a menu from that SS America maiden voyage:

5) I love the alternation between the familiar and comfortable and the exotic, so beautifully captured by this 1953 ad for a South American cruise:

6) I love the formal “captain’s dinners”, which aren’t stuffy, dress-code-bound affairs at all, just an excuse to dress to the (in my case, vintage) nines and have some fun! And if some passengers elect to sport elegant or dapper attire 24/7, it adds terrific eye candy to the atmosphere onboard, much as the bathing beauty and awning-stripe-clad trio in this early 60s Chromspun ad once did:

I could go on and on, but you get my drift, and… I really do have to go and pack now! So I’ll leave you with this parting image (of our August shop window) and wish you a wonderful month, whereever life’s journey may transport you!

July 4, 2013 Through a Black & White Lens

July 4th, 2013

Two of my grand passions—black and white photos and the 4th of July—have converged this morning (I’m the only one awake so far), as I peruse a batch of family photos from the 1920s through about 1940 while simultaneously weighing leisure and entertainment options for Independence Day 2013.

First up is this lovely image of three sisters, all in white frocks, lined up for a summer photo op. I find their descending age and height conga-line rendered poignant vs conventional by the charming uniqueness each subject brings to her pose: The bloomers and blunt bangs on the littlest, the quizzical smile and almost-wink of Middle Sister, the demure clasped hands and half bitten lip of the oldest.

Then, as I ponder whether the kayak rental at Hopkinton State Park will be open on a holiday, I marvel at the silvery, misty beauty of a shot of two children in a rowboat, their reflection in the water black and painterly while the double silhouette of a foothill on the other shore seems about to fade right off the print. I love the white collar on the little boy (the rower’s brother?), the way the girl’s wool bathing suit hugs her, and how her stockings seem plastered in place over her knees.

I might be wrong, but my guess is that the rider on this trike is the rowboat passenger in the picture above, a year or two later. I’ll have to scan some catalogs for examples of early 20th century kid’s clothing to verify, but in the meantime I’m basing my hunch and my circa date on the resemblance between the little faces (under a magnifying glass) and between the trike he’s riding and photos of mid/late 20s tubular steel frame tricycles with rubber tires at the amazing Tricycle Fetish site.

Today’s early-rising mercury reminds me of the brutally hot July 4th we spent at Fenway maybe 8 or 9 years ago, when “Nomah” was still around. People were buying scandalously overpriced bottles of water just to pour them over their heads. This young lady (I believe it’s Middle Sister, maybe 2 summers after her 3-in-a-row pose) looks to be infinitely cooler as she toe taps on home plate:

Finally, I’m not sure if this little flag-waver is kin to or an earlier incarnation of the rowing champ above (they definitely bear a resemblance), but she speaks for me in her wishes– Happy Independence Day!

Stray Fact File #2049: A. Sulka & Co.

June 26th, 2013

I’m hopelessly, helplessly, head-over-heels in love with researching the vintage goodies I find, and sometimes I think the sleuthing is at its most addictive (and fun!) when the designer or company or article of clothing or jewelry I’m looking into is either misunderstood, forgotten, or obscure. Sometimes, of course, a label is well-known, and then the rush comes from unearthing an unexpectedly cool bit of trivia about it.

Most recently, I had a grand time learning more about A. Sulka & Co., while prepping a late 1940s pair of herringbone tweed shorts from them to list in my online shop:

late 40s sulka shorts

I already knew the basics about Sulka, best known for its exclusive ties, like this 1940s Bemberg & silk beauty in the Met’s Costume Institute:

or this Art Deco moired silk bow tie with starry embroidery (from my archives):

Having investigated Sulka last year, when I sold the tie above, I was already aware that the company was cofounded in 1895 by a traveling salesman and a custom shirtmaker, and that by the time Amos Sulka passed away in 1946 it had acquired enough of a cachet to have European as well as US locations, not to mention A-listers like Winston Churchill and Clark Gable as customers.

But I didn’t know that:

–Sulka had designed a plaid flannel air raid suit in July of 1941 for the Duke of Kent. A snap to get into, thanks to its zipper front, it had outsized pockets, large enough for a sandwich and a thermos bottle, or a flashlight and good book. Then, six months later, the bracingly (and morale-boostingly) BOLD yet practical suit was put more widely into production:

sulka air raid suit
Nor did I know that:

–Amos Sulka’s photo in his New York Times obituary had to be run a second time, with a tie literally painted on it, because in the first edition his (white) tie didn’t show up against his (white) shirt. A columnist in the Burlington Daily Times News remarked the irony of such a fate befalling “a man who during his life made more money out of neckwear than anyone we can think of.”

OK, I admit that these desultory tidbits don’t exactly register on the Geiger scale; nonetheless, I find them immensely satisfying to know. Hope you enjoy mulling them over too!

Sherlock Holmes & the Case of the Sterling Whatsis (or The Old Mail Order Catalog Saw Everything)

November 10th, 2012

A stumpy little sterling “key”, more flat-sided than even a hardware store blank, it was attached by a 4” loop of chain to a skinny canister that looked like a blunt-tipped silver rifle bullet. It came in an auction box lot of  hair accessories (assorted hat pins, a celluloid hair comb with paste stones, etc), but didn’t seem coiffure-related. In fact, it didn’t seem to fit any known category, species, or pigeonhole I’d ever encountered.

Was it the symbolic key to a very minor city? A souvenir of a vampire hunt? A handy place to keep one’s smelling salts (the cylindrical canister had a lid that plugged into it)? A trinket? A trifle? A thingumbob?

I leafed through my reference books, googled endlessly with no sense of direction whatsoever, and posted a pic for the good folk at the Vintage Fashion Guild to comment on. Opinions ranged: A needle case? Watch key? Snuff box? Cocaine container with attached dipping “spoon”? Hmmm…

I considered all these possible angles, googled with renewed energy, and…finally yawned and fell asleep. A month of being stumped is about all I can take.

A few more months went by, and at last I woke up, the sterling whatsis having faded from memory like a bad dream about missing a test in high school. Over my cup of morning tea, I thumbed through a 1943 May & Halas mail order catalog I’d recently received, fascinated by the glimpse it provided of wartime consumer and material culture.

The pages were chockablock with everything from rhinestone-set lapel watches to self-revising globes that anticipated changed borders at the end of the war (those were literally the first and last items in the catalog).

Before taking you on a virtual tour of the catalog, let me stop to share what I learned about the Chicago-based May and Halas company behind it. Turned out it was just one project among many for its dynamo of a president, George Halas,

who in addition to founding the Chicago Bears and coaching them for 40 seasons had co-founded the NFL in the 1920s (don’t pelt me with pigskins when I admit I just learned this yesterday). Halas, who served in the Navy in both WWI and WWII, had a (very) brief baseball career of his own before becoming a sports legend, business tycoon, and general whirling dervish of activity. In addition to his (primarily wholesale) mail order company, he owned a retail store which specialized in jewelry and sporting goods, a real estate office, and a laundry called the White Bear. No wonder he told the Racine Journal Times in 1940 that he typically slept only four hours a night.

As for the 1943 catalog: It was full of nostalgia- and lust-inducing items which opened a window on domesticity in WWII-era America.

There were lucite dresser sets, for men as well as women, and umbrellas with celanese covers and pyralin handles:

A patriotic angle informed everything from luggage to strollers to wallets:

Romantic jewelry was big during the war; there were pages and pages of matched “True” brand wedding rings and engagement rings (with design names like “Adoration”, “Miss America” and “Le Secret”) for all those sweethearts back at home waiting to become brides:

But turned out the KW spammy term “sweetheart bracelet” is of modern coinage:

As long as we’re on the topic of semantics: Men still wore watch chains, and called them “waldemars”:

The latest in everything was offered, from modern style furniture:

to canister vacuums:

to a new-fangled record changer that finally cut down on the number of scratches your favorite 78 rpms were exposed to:

Before Botox and the tanning salon came the face pampering massage device and the sun lamp:

Before the Nautilus home gym came the grip developer and jump rope:

If I was a little boy in 1943, I would have begged the living daylights out of my folks for a functional toy printing press:

but would been lucky to get a toy electric range (also functional), destined to either burn down the house or teach me to cook:

If I wanted to wrap myself in a fur that, while not exactly cheap, at least acknowledged that my pocketbook had a shallower-than-usual bottom, I might go for a Persian paw or Hudson seal (dyed muskrat) economy model:

And if I was racking my brain trying to think up a decent Christmas gift for my honey, I’d skip the trip to Things Remembered at the mall and just order a desktop clock-and-cigarette dispenser from May & Halas:

Or, looking for something more portable, I might opt for this sterling license holder-key ring combo (much handier IMO than the coin-shaped pocket knife pictured next to it):

Whoa! wait a minute… That thingumbob is ringing a very loud bell for me! Isn’t that the mystery object I abandoned all hope of identifying at the beginning of this post? (Guess the reason neither I nor my vintage fashion colleagues even remotely considered “license holder” as an option had to do with the way laminated scraps of paper resist being rolled up and stuffed into skinny cylinders …)

In any event: Case solved! with the lesson to be learned that even if browsing vintage catalogs is dangerously addictive, it’s never, ever a waste of time.