May, 2017 marks the 35th year since I actively started collecting Art Deco items. Normally, I wouldn’t write a biographical post, but this is a something of a milestone. Looking back it seems I have always been collecting something and always drawn to things of the past. As a little boy I had Matchbox cars (what boy in the 1960’s didn’t).
Some Matchbox cars that I had in the 1960’s
But because I liked old cars better my parents started to get my the Matchbox Models of Yesteryear. Below are some of my favorites.
But the one I like the best was this one –
At the time it was the only Model of Yesteryear of a car from the 1930’s. So, as you can tell by reading this, by six years old my interest in the time period between the World Wars had started.
As the 1970’s started, so did my coin collecting. I never had a spectacular collection, but it did help earn me my sole Boy Scout merit badge. One of the requirements for the merit badge is to compile a set of coins from the year of your birth. This is normally a pretty easy task. In 1963 the mint still produced silver coins, by 1975 they were long out of circulation. Finding these coins proved a bit of a challenge for an 11 year-old.
I stopped collecting coins soon after I earned my merit badge. But before I started on my next big obsession, a book came into my life that would consciously and unconsciously influence my collecting interests to this day. I had already started collecting 1939 New York World’s Fair memorabilia by the mid-1970’s. My interest in the fair came from all the stories my family told about attending it. And with my general interest in the 1930’s I received as a gift the book Collecting Nostalgia by John Mebane (1972, Popular Library).
This book had chapters on furniture, lamps, Mickey Mouse, World’s Fair & Buck Rogers collectibles. In 1975 this was the book that every 11 year-old boy dreamed about . . . not! But I liked it and it had a chapter on Coca-Cola. And it sparked my six year collecting quest of Coke memorabilia. I started off small, I picked up a 1944 Coca-Cola bottle at the Englishtown Auction (a very large flea market in Englishtown, NJ) for 25 cents.
It wasn’t long after buying that first bottle that the collection started to build. Soon I was buying anything I could afford that had Coca-Cola on it. Cans and bottles from different countries, paper goods, pencils, pocket knives, cardboard cut outs, well you get the idea. And my family often bought items for me that were out of my 11 – 16 year old price range, such as early straight sided bottles, trays and a really nice 1930’s ice cooler, the type that would be in front of a store or gas station.
By 1979 my bedroom looked like a shrine for Coca-Cola. Beside the cooler taking up a corner of the room there were shelves with bottles, cans and glasses. Covering the walls were serving trays, signs and a large, illuminated clock, that made sleeping difficult, until the florescent light burned out.
While I have sold most of my Coca-Cola memorabilia, I have held onto the serving trays, they always go up in value. And if I come across any trays or early straight sided bottles at a good price, I can’t resist and I buy them. Old collecting habits die hard.
As the 1970’s turned into the 1980’s and my Coca-Cola collecting started to slow, my mother grew tired of seeing my Coke “museum”. Plus my bedroom needed a decoration update. It was 1973 when my parents decided on a decor for my bedroom. With the United States Bi-centennial only three years away everything went red, white and blue and colonial drums and eagles and my bedroom was no exception.
1982 from Coca-Cola to Art Deco
Not too far from where I lived I would go to Trash or Treasure, an antique store loaded with stuff and not neatly displayed. One needed to hunt around to find the treasure, but it was there, hiding. And one day in May of 1982, my mom noticed a pair of half circle, blue mirror end tables. Many years later I noticed December 21, 1939 stamped on the bottom. Blue glass tables would be popular for all of the 1940’s. They are considered Deco, even though that era came to an end by 1941. This would be the start of my Art Deco collection. $75.00 ($190.00 in 2017 money) was the price for the tables. They were in pretty good shape, but not perfect. But my mom saw this as a way out of the Coca-Cola museum and the now very dated Bi-centennial decor. She suggested I could turn the room into a little living room where I could entertain friends and watch old movies. The idea appealed to me, so we purchased the tables and in came the Deco and out went the Coke.
The airplane lamp is a late 1970’s reproduction that used the original mold. I became familiar with that lamp, thanks to the Collecting Nostalgia book. Another early Deco purchase was a late 1930’s lucite table lamp with original shade. The shade had condition issues so I had the frame recovered with a similar fabric in the late 1980’s.
The original 1982 room
The above photos taken with Kodak 110 Pocket Instamatic do not justice to the actual color of the room. The walls were a dove gray, with a wall paper border of light gray and white in a a pseudo 1980’s Deco pattern and the window blinds in a very pale gray. I had yet to learn how colorful the Art Deco period was.
As a celebration of my 35th anniversary of collecting Art Deco, my friends and I went to the Cooper Hewitt Museum in Manhattan for their exhibition – The Jazz Age American Style in the 1920’s.
This exhibition is wonderful and has on exhibition items I’ve only seen in books or on line. If you happen to be in New York City and love Art Deco don’t miss this show.