Month: February 2012

Tempest Storm

Tempest Storm, Burlesque Queen.

Happy birthday to one of burlesque’s most talented and inspiring performers: Tempest Storm. While there may be other women out there with gorgeous red hair, bountiful bosoms, and luscious legs, none can boast a career like hers. Over the last 60 years, Tempest Storm has packed theaters around the world. She’s posed for thousands of photos–some for Irving Klaw’s “Movie Star News” fetish catalog, others for more reputable publications, like LIFE. She’s graced the silver screen in films like Teaserama, Buxom Beautease and the documentary Behind the Burly Q. There couldn’t have been a better choice to headline the opening of the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

Her grace, grit, style, and savvy have served her well and inspired countless other women along the way. See her in action:

Cara Nome

Compact makers: Cara Nome

I have a collecting/reselling dilemma. While I collect compacts, I also resell them. When shopping for inventory, I usually have a pretty good idea of which pieces are for resale and which are for my own enjoyment. But sometimes, I change my mind. I’ll receive something in the mail and like it more than I expected. Other times, I’ll realize something complements a piece I already own, which increases the breadth and depth of my collection. Though I don’t place a huge emphasis on value, I realize that packaging and complementary information that place a piece in context can make items more collectible and valuable.

Cara Nome

Cara Nome compacts and vanity case

I purchased the Cara Nome case at the bottom of the photo intending to put it up for sale. Then I found a vanity case with the same motif. And then I stumbled across a matching powder compact. Even when I had just two pieces, I started waffling. Sell one and keep the other? Which should I keep? While I like compacts and vanity cases best, I also like other vintage cosmetic acessories and don’t have much in the way of eye makeup or lipstick holders. That would add breadth to my collection. But when I found the powder compact, I started questioning the wisdom of selling any of the three. They just look like they belong together.

Cara Nome began as a fragrance introduced by United Drug Company in 1918. There were several different United Drug Companies–one in New York and New Jersey and another in Boston, which aquired the New York/New Jersey company in 1916 (It’s amazing what you can find in old financial reports like Moody’s Analyses of Investments). United Drug manufactured drugs and cosmetics to sell in franchised stores operating under the Rexall banner. 

By Langlois

Hallmark "By Langlois" on the vanity case rouge compartment

While owned by Rexall, Cara Nome was also associated with Langlois of Boston, a name that appears on many Cara Nome compacts. Shari and Duska also belonged to Langlois, according to research by Nicole Soren for the show “The Art of Allure: Powder Compacts and Vanities of the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries” at the University of Arizona Art Museum. Check out the compacts in the show here: On auction sites, many sellers erroneously list the name as “Langlors.”

Cara Nome vanity case with spiderweb decoration

After starting research for this post, I remembered two other Cara Nome compacts in my collection. An ad reminded me of the spiderweb vanity case pictured here. this is a larger case, and again, bears both the Cara Nome logo and label on the signed puff and the Langlois name engraved into the lid to the powder well. The other piece is a vivid red plastic vanity case including rouge and lipstick: one of the few non-metal items in my collection.

Cara Nome vanity case

Kwin-N-Devilish lipstick and rouge

Cara Nome made a number of perfumes and powders as well, available at Rexall. This was clearly a drugstore brand, most likely more accessible to the everyday woman than some of the compacts made by contemporaries such as Elgin, Evans and Volupte. Despite this difference in price point, many of the Cara Nome cases still show attention to detail and careful styling. In fact, after evaluating these compacts for this blog post, my mind is made up–they belong in my collection. But have no fear–as I encounter more of these pieces, I’ll share the wealth. You’ll definitely see Cara Nome compacts and vanity cases for sale on in the coming months.

chrome cake dish

My mother’s visit in photos


Green depression glass juicer

When my mom arrived yesterday afternoon, she brought me a lovely green depression glass juicer she found in her attic.

We had sandwiches, then headed out for some antiquing. At our first stop, we evaluated some reference books on vintage jewelry. My mother has discovered a ton of jewelry in her attic, mostly Coro, and wants to know more about it. While she didn’t find a book that jumped out at her, I found one packed with photos of hats, handbags, compacts, belts, jewelery, sunglasses, and other accessories.


My buys: Vintage Fashion Accessories and three compacts.

I also bought three compacts: one by Volupte, another by Cara Nome, and one with no maker’s mark but interior construction and details exactly like my mystery compact. The mate to my mystery compact has wonderful artwork of a butterfly on the lid. My original intent was to keep the butterfly and resell the other two pieces, but the Cara Nome presents a collecting dilemma I’ll discuss later this week: I seem to have accumulated a set.

One of the clerks at the shop offered my mother some good information about replacing stones in vintage jewelry. The rhinestones available now have flat backs, while the stones used in vintage pieces are faceted. The color also varies. To match color and appearance accurately, my mom should sacrifice one old piece of jewelry that’s beyond repair and use those stones to replace missing ones in other pieces.

This shop also had a gorgeous plastic cherry necklace. Sadly, I don’t have an extra $235 lying around. Lovely, but not a purchase I can justify at this point in life. The next shop we visited was more crowded. I saw a lady head vase I liked, but my mother rolled her eyes at it and pointed out that I’d already bought a bunch of things, so that may be a purchase for another day.

head vase

Lady head vase

cherry necklace

Cherry necklace.

When we finished poking around there, we headed to the liquor store where we sampled some ginger liqueur. Delicious! I may buy some next time Tim and I have a special event or extra space in our liquor cabinet.

Then we headed back to my house and I frosted the chocolate cake I baked in honor of my mother’s birthday. To keep the cake safe from inquisitive cats, I put it in my vintage chrome cake dish–a present my mother bought me years ago.  

chrome cake dish

chrome cake dish.

Then Tim and I made dinner for my mom: baked stuffed scallops, green beans sauteed with diced ham, cashews, and a teeny bit of duck fat, and a baby greens salad with blood orange vinaigrette. Tim did a wonderful job of making sure everything was on track and ready to serve at the same time. My mom enjoyed dinner. Afterwards, we had a vicious three-man game of Scrabble. The secret to beating my mother? Keep refilling her wine glass. We finished up with coffee and cake, then went to bed.


GE electric percolator.

This morning: a reason to break out my percolator. Tim’s making my mother a loaf of bread while we fuel up to start the day’s adventures.

The lost art of audio recording

The other night, Tim and I watched a fascinating show on PBS about George and Ira Gershwin. The show had some great interviews, but also included wonderful performances by current musicians. Both of us were enthralled. We started talking about how the concept of seeing live performances has changed dramatically. Recording technology has experienced an even more dramatic shift.

Thing you need to know: Tim records music. He did live sound in clubs for years, worked in several recording studios, and has a studio in our house at the moment.  The room people think should hold our master bedroom is Tim’s office. He’s got a recording console, numerous guitars, cables, a closet full of microphones,  and a bunch of gear covered in knobs, switches and blinking lights. I don’t touch anything. Our basement is full of amps.

Tim’s been working with one band for a while now. They finished mixing on Sunday and took the album to get mastered on Monday. Tim and Nick Z, his old college roommate and the record’s mastering engineer, talked about the trend toward super-engineered records…everything pitch-shifted and autotuned and reworked in the mix so that the final product sounds NOTHING like what the musicians originally performed. Tim and Nick prefer to work their magic live, finding the right mic placements or instrument adjustments to give bands the sounds they want. While they’re both certainly capable of ridiculous Protools shenanigans, Tim doesn’t feel good about that.

A tape machine in Nick's mastering space. Feels '70s to me.

Consider the origin of the verb record: “to set down in writing or the like, as for the purpose of preserving evidence.” Evidence. Archives. A snapshot of an actual event. Early musical recordings documented performances. The phonograph and the gramophone brought “records” or reproductions of those performances into living rooms around the country. The advent of microphones and advances in that technology throughout the 1920s had an impact on recording, as did the development of the amplifier. The ability to record different instruments to different tracks and then bring them together to create one song, the sum of its separate parts? New territory, but still documenting performances. Creating something entirely new with software and special effects–no longer capturing performances. Something else, then.

Tim and his recordist friends hunt down tube gear: the difference in sound and feel makes their efforts worthwhile. It’s richer, deeper, warmer. Another aspect of recording I love as a non-recordist: the language. They talk about tones and songs being muddy, bright, crunchy, spacious. “I wanted to get some room in the mix.” “That guitar sounds nice and warm.” It’s a very sensual language, words the rest of us rarely associate with sounds.

New Alliance, Nick’s home base and one of the studios where Tim used to work, offers a fantastic juxtaposition of the old and the new. A new Mac sits next to an old tape machine. Artwork blending antique photos into construction debris overlooks state-of-the-art outboard gear. I love the contrasts. But music and recording are changing, and the idea that a record captures a particular performance is no longer a given. The kids want something different.

My vintage roots: Aunty Doll

The sisters and their mom

From left: Adeline, Mim, Mary, Eleanor, Norma, Evelyn, Alice, Doris.

As I may have mentioned before, my grandmother was the youngest of seven sisters. She was born in 1922. Her father died just a few years later, leaving a widow with seven children under the age of 14 to fend for herself during the Great Depression. While that sounds like a recipe for disaster, the outcome proves otherwise. The girls came together at an early age to keep the family solvent. When the state wanted to place some of the girls in foster homes, my great grandmother brought home piece work from factories–all the sisters pitched in and the family earned enough money so they could stay together under one roof.

My grandmother and her sisters remained close for the rest of their lives. When she retired, my grandmother had a rotation. Mondays she spent time with Eleanor, Tuesdays she went shopping with Evelyn, Wednesday nights she went to bingo with a different sibling, Saturdays the sisters all played Pinochle at Alice’s house. These women laid the foundation for my vintage aesthetic.

They also all had odd nicknames. Doris, Eleanor, Mary, Adeline, Alice, Evelyn and Norma were Aunty Cootie, Peachy, Fatty, Red, Ki-yi, Doll, and Peppy.  (I just found out about Cootie and Fatty recently. Aunty Dee and Aunty Mary sensibly preferred their own names.)

Aunty Doll

Aunty Doll and Uncle Ed’s wedding.

Today would have been my Aunty Doll’s birthday. Evelyn was closest in age to my grandmother, possibly closest in other ways as well. My grandmother was Aunty Doll’s maid of honor–the photo here is one of my favorites. Seeing my grandmother and one of my favorite aunts both look so pretty,  so happy, so free makes me glow.

Aunty Doll was my mother’s godmother; her first name became my mother’s middle name.

Norma and Evelyn gallivanted together all the time. They made an interesting pair. My Aunty Doll came across as conservative and ladylike. She’s the first person I knew who wore a skirt and blouse every day, or possibly a sweater set. I don’t think I ever saw her go bare-legged, even in the summer. My grandmother was a bit more relaxed, a bit more mischievous. When one of our cats set a live mouse loose in the house, Aunty Doll was the one standing on a chair shrieking while my grandmother laughed and directed my mother in the fine art of mouse-catching.

Aunty Doll kept her small house immaculately clean and doted on her husband, Edward. They travelled together, mostly bus trips with other retired folks. Aunty Doll knew I collected rocks and brought me back something from each of her trips.

I loved her little kitchen with its crackle-top chrome edged table. I loved her piano and the photos all over the house. I loved how effectively she used her space: though the house was small, it never felt crowded. I loved that she sent cards for my birthday, Christmas, Easter, and my wedding anniversary, always signed “Love and prayers, Aunty Doll and Uncle Ed.” A few years before she died, she had surgery to clear blocked artieries in her leg. Despite the fact that this 80+ year-old woman had 90+ stitches, she demanded the hospital release her early because “I only left Edward dinners for three days.”

She loved tap dancing. When she passed away last year,  her family gathered at a local restaurant after the service to talk about her life and share our memories. I brought the wedding photo included here–her sons were surprised. They had never seen that photo before. They were also surprised that on the day she died, I drove two and a half hours to say goodbye and let her know how much she’d influenced me. When Aunty Doll’s sons offered me her tap shoes, I was honored. They sit on top of a book shelf in my office where I see them every day: a reminder of her energy, style, and grace.

The Avon addiction.

My mother’s discovery of a large cache of vintage Avon goodies in her attic started me on my compact collecting adventures. Today is my mom’s birthday–though our schedules don’t permit us to see each other today, we’re hoping to connect next weekend. Some celebratory baking, some vicious Scrabble competition, maybe some antiquing…all kinds of stuff to look forward to.

Like my mother, Avon is older than you might think. (That’s a compliment, Ma.)

One of the world’s best-known cosmetics brands was originally established in 1886 as the California Perfume Company. CPC launched the Avon product line in 1928; the company was renamed Avon in October 1939. Founder David H. McConnell actively recruited female sales representatives at a time when few women worked outside the home. From 1886 through World War II, being an Avon Lady gave thousands of women unprecedented financial independence.

Rosalind Russell, Claudette Colbert, and Loretta Young all appeared in Avon ad campaigns. Avon’s website has a fantastic section dedicated to the company’s history: the interactive timeline can be helpful in dating your vintage Avon products.

Avon cold cream, powder, rouges and lipstick from the 1940s

When my mother showed me the finds in her attic, my inner research geek kicked into overdrive. I had to know more. Fortunately, Avon’s highly collectible value helped me out. I found books solely devoted to Avon and was able to date my collection to the 1940s and ’50s. The little blue rouge container holds a color called Radiant made between 1936 and 1942. The round metal rouges with the bamboo motif dated between 1941-1948; the matching powder was available in 1942, ’43, and ’46-’49.

Avon lipsticks

Leading Lady, Coral, Crimson Beauty, Radiant

And then–the lipstick. Glorious shades I’ve been trying to recapture for over a decade. Colors like Leading Lady, Crimson Beauty, Coral and Radiant. Pagoda Red makes me swoon. Such ripe, lush, rich delicious names and hues. Not sure which shade suits best? Not a problem–Avon armed their sales reps with extensive sample collections and selling tools. The box below bears the instructions, “In helping a prospective customer to select the most becoming Avon Lipstick shade, refer to the ‘Lipstick Color Chart’ in your Catalog.” I keep hoping my mother will stumble across one of those catalogs in a drawer some day.  

Avon lipstick samples

A box of Avon lipstick samples.

In a previous blog post, I shared some lipstick tips from the 1947 Avon Counselor, a publication designed to help Avon Ladies hone their skills and spread beauty across the nation. Your Avon Lady knew how to properly cleanse skin, apply primer or powder, and change the shape of your face with rouge. Best of all, she was willing to bring her wisdom to you–no need for a trip into town.

Avon innovations have earned the company long-lasting recognition world-wide. Their early cosmetics and marketing materials were attractive and effective. The California Perfume Company’s forward-thinking business model ensured that Avon introduced many women to the wonders of make-up. Though the compacts from the 1940s and 1950s are my personal favorites, the company produced some nice designs well into the 1970s.

I’ve noticed that Avon doesn’t get much play in most of my vintage compact books and I think that’s a shame. Roselyn Gerson devotes some attention to the perfume cases and lipsticks in her Vintage & Contemporary Purse Accessories Guide, but Avon makes infrequent appearances in most other books dedicated to compacts. I’d urge you to seek out some early 20th century Avon to see if these pieces appeal to you.

Rayon dress ad, 1942

The magic of rayon

Rayon dress ad, 1942
An ad for a rayon dress: Life Magazine, September 28, 1942

Where would we be today without rayon? What makes this particular fabric so special? Most vintage lovers know that rayon grew in popularity during the 1940s when natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and silk were crucial to support the war effort.

What I didn’t know: Rayon is the world’s oldest manufactured fiber. The French developed rayon during the 1880s. It’s made out of cellulose. The stuff you learned about in junior high school science class–plant cell walls. So it’s not really synthetic, but it’s not entirely natural, either. Interesting.

When Dupont Chemicals started producing rayon in the 1920s, it became ubiquitous, according to the folks at WiseGeek. But WWII definitely took that popularity to new heights–rayon wasn’t just affordable and versatile: in some cases, it was the only thing available.

The ad pictured here offers great insight into the wartime mindset. Leaner silhouettes using less fabric were the new norm. In some ways, the 1940s revisited the thrift of the Great Depression. Note the tips on how to protect dresses and keep them wearable season after season.

Does your vintage-flavored wardrobe include rayon?