Finnish Beauties
These two kettles from different sales have different histories but both hail from a place Americans primarily associate with saunas: The Republic of Finland. A Nordic country which was, at times, either a part of Sweden or of Russia, Finland has the distinction of having fought against BOTH sides during World War II, keeping its independence from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Although a member of the United Nations and the European Union, on the world stage Finland is neutral. And it has repeatedly been ranked absolute highest on the annual World Happiness Report, so you could do worse.

The country is sparsely populated (only 5.6 million people) and 75% of the land is forest. There are more than 180,000 lakes. This copper kettle is from Finland’s agrarian past, it was designed for boiling water on wood-burning stoves that heated the farmsteads.

 

 

Simply remove one of the inset cast iron plates from your range top and settle the kettle into the round hole. The kettle’s low- set flange rests neatly on the circular edge of the opening, suspending the kettle’s bottom above the open flame – much more efficient than boiling water through a thick layer of cast iron! Very old kettles are often entirely copper but this one is newer and lined with tin. This is because we now know that copper is toxic and repeated uses of unlined copper vessels can result in a poisoning that causes diarrhea, headaches, even kidney failure! If you do have pure copper cooking pots, be careful how often you use them. Age has tarnished this kettle but it could be shined up nicely with commercial brass and copper polish or a mix of lemon juice and salt.

The smaller enameled turquoise kettle was made by Finel in the 1960s. The pattern is called “Lehvä” (twig).

Multiple entities were involved in this kettle’s creation. Founded as a sawmill in Järvenpää in 1834, the Wärtsilä Oyj Abp company converted to an ironworks in 1898. In the 1950s its subsidiary Arabia began making enamel kitchen wares under the trademark Finel. At first they hired foreign designers, but as the Scandinavian design movement took off many fine Finnish designers stepped up. Scandinavian design championed sleek, minimalist functionality and a color palette that might combine bright and dull colors in the same piece. It was the genesis of what we in America now call Midcentury Modern.

This kettle’s shape is by Kaj Gabriel Franck while the decoration is by Harry Molainen. Interior architect and designer Molainen studied at the Aalto University School of Arts and Design in Finland and taught architecture at Washington University in St. Louis in 1968.

 

Franck was a Swedish-speaking Finn, one of an ethnic minority that makes up less than 6% of the population. Finnish is rare among European languages in that it is not of Indo- European origin and so is very important to Finland’s national identity. Nevertheless, Franck designed for many companies and became artistic director of Arabia ceramics. He was also artistic director for the College of Applied Arts (now Aalto). In 1964 the King of Sweden awarded Franck the Prince Eugen Medal for outstanding artistic achievement, while today Design Forum Finland awards a yearly Kaj Franck Design Prize, so both sides of his heritage are proud to claim him.

 

Wärtsilä (including Arabia) is now owned by scissors maker Fiskars while Finel makes bath fittings, but we still have this kettle to remind us of the glory days of Scandinavian Design.

Want your own a glorious kettle? Visit QBO!

Pinup Girls for Calendars

Pinup Girls for Calenders

From a past Queen B sale comes this 1946 calendar, printed over 70 years ago as American servicemen (and women) returned home from World War II. Risqué art has been around forever, but the sexy yet wholesome “Pinup Girl” reached the height of popularity during the war when thousands of eager G.I.s bought calendars to stand in for girlfriends they left behind. Pinups were everywhere that men might be without women – locker rooms, barracks, machine shops, even on the noses of Air Force planes. Some of the ‘girls’ were famous actresses or singers, some were models, and some were fantasies invented by the artists. Their impossibly skin-tight clothes were also something of a fantasy as Spandex had not been invented yet.

King of the pinup artists was Vargas, or Varga, as he is called on this calendar. Vargas worked in a combination of watercolors and airbrush. His favorite model was his wife Anna Mae, who was also his business manager. This calendar published by men’s magazine Esquire represents Vargas at his finest but behind the scenes he was teetering on the cusp of a career-crippling fallout with one of his most profitable employers.

Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez was born in Peru in 1896, son of Peruvian photographer Max T. Vargas. As a young man Alberto went to Europe to study art. There he saw a cover for French magazine ‘La Vie Parisienne’ by Austrian artist Raphael Kirchner, Art Nouveau illustrator and creator of some of the earliest sexy girl pinup art. Mr. Vargas was inspired! In 1916 he moved to the U.S. to work for the Ziegfeld Follies in New York and Hollywood movie studios in California, all bursting with sexy girls. Although it is almost 90 years old, his dramatic 1933 pinup-style poster for ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ is still admired by some as the greatest movie poster of all time.

Following a bitter contract dispute, in 1940 Esquire Magazine hired Vargas to replace illustrator George Petty. His new contract by publisher David Smart had Vargas drop the S from the signature on his artwork, changing it to ‘A. Varga’. It was sadly common then for creatives with ‘ethnic-sounding’ names to be asked to change them to something more neutral so this might not have raised any red flags, but the end result was that Alberto Vargas did not own the Varga signature, Esquire did. In 6 years Vargas produced 180 paintings for them but gradually Esquire dropped his signature from published work and ‘Varga Girls’ morphed into ‘Esquire Girls’, even though Vargas was still painting them.

He took Esquire to court, claiming that pictures made by him were wrongfully published without being accredited to him. Note that he was not suing for money, just for his signature to appear on his art. Such a lawsuit today might have different results but back then Vargas lost and was not asked to fulfill the remainder of his 10-year contract.

For 12 long years he struggled. Finally in 1959 Playboy magazine began publishing his art. During the 16 years he worked for them he produced 152 original works and experienced an impressive comeback, showing in major exhibitions around the world. When his wife Anna Mae died in 1974 he retired, creating only a few select album covers after that.

Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez passed away in 1982. His original paintings still sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and his command of the airbrush is still so admired that there is a yearly ‘Vargas Award’ given out by Airbrush Action Magazine, and yes, the award is spelled V-A-R-G-A-S with an S (take THAT, Esquire!) Craving a sexy Vargas pinup of your very own? Why not visit QBO…

Blowtorch & Fire Grenade

This intriguing object (embossed “model no. 27”) was offered at our last Beehive sale. It is a BLOW TORCH, made on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries by Turner Brass Works in Sycamore Illinois, or possibly somewhat later in Chicago when their factory relocated. 

Turner Brass Works produced thousands of blow torches with multiple improvements over the years. Their 1905 catalog touts one as “A pint torch for general light work, constructed with our improved automatic brass pump in the tank. The burner is of heavy bronze, strong and durable. For electricians, painters, etc., we guarantee it to give perfect satisfaction.”

The torches used the same kerosene as household lamps from the 1800s. Since a kerosene flame is not hot enough to melt metal, the torches use a manual pump to pressurize the fuel chamber, forcing the flame into a much hotter jet that shoots straight from the nozzle. The brass button on the vertical stem is the pump, and the black knob on the horizontal stem off the back of the apparatus adjusts the volume and focus of the jet. Later models have a pressure relief cap and a gauge to warn if the tank is approaching a dangerous blow-out.

Turner Brass Works operated for almost 100 years and according to a 1925 issue of The True Republican it was “the world’s largest exclusive manufacturer of blow torches, fire pots and braziers.” The company was founded in 1871 by Edward S. Turner, who was bought out 18 years later by Harrison Rountree. An ardent capitalist and industrialist, the young Mr. Rountree was nevertheless also an enthusiastic member of the more artistic circles of high society and socialized with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, feminist author Kate Chopin, and L. Frank Baum, author of many children’s fantasy books. 

In fact, Roundtree financed of some of Baum’s early work, so the original sale of this little blowtorch helped bring the vast Wizard of Oz fantasy franchise to fruition. Another of Roundtree’s friends, Chicago artist Orlando Giannini, created the hand-standing gymnast that served as the Turner Brass Works’ logo, just barely visible here on the torch’s pressure pump.

It must be said that pressure alone is not enough to get these torches lit, the operator must also pre-heat the outside area around the nozzle with a splash of flaming fuel, so unlike many of the vintage tools we offer, we recommend leaving vintage blow torch use to the experts!

And what did people do back then when a house or shop fire broke out? The answer from another QBO sale: Harden’s brand Star Glass FIRE GRENADE, a liquid-filled bottle sealed with cork and cement. Although the earliest only held saltwater (which didn’t freeze in cold weather) more effective caustic chemicals were soon introduced. The first American patent was granted in 1863 with many following, so there are a wide variety of fire grenades, from 4″ to 8″ tall, in aqua, amber or clear, or rarely green or cobalt blue, with names like “Red Comet” and “Shur-Stop”. If a fire broke out in your home, you were meant to hurl the grenade at the flame’s base and flee before the fumes smothering the fire’s oxygen overcame you, too. So, they were not the greatest and it’s easy to see why they only lasted from 1870 to 1910, when the invention of brass & copper fire extinguishers rendered them obsolete.


If you collect fire grenades, remember: caustic, noxious, gaseous chemicals in fragile glass! Stay safe. We’ll see you soon.

Incredible Drawings for Long-gone Authors

His Don Quixote is still influential today, and his collaboration with journalist Blanchard Jerrold documenting London, poverty and all, impressed Vincent van Gogh. Doré never married. He lived with his mother until his death in 1883 and was working on new illustrations for Shakespeare until the end.

John Milton was born in England in 1608, a poet and civil servant who lived through civil war and religious upheavals. He married three times, outlived two of his wives, and outlived two of his five children. Described by biographer Samuel Johnson as “acrimonious and surly”, Milton was not shy with his opinions, even though his first works were published anonymously. Areopagitica, which does have his name on it, is a condemnation of censorship and is recognized as one of the most historically influential defenses of both freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

But his magnum opus is the passionate and cerebral Paradise Lost, an epic poem written in blank verse (with regular metrical but unrhymed lines). The first version, published in 1667, consists of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. The second edition, with minor revisions, is done in twelve books.

The poem tells of the Fall of Man, with Satan being cast out of Heaven, his subsequent temptation of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Its morally ambiguous interpretation of the fallen angel, and its depiction Adam as a knowing participant in his own downfall, (choosing to eat the apple of knowledge so he can remain with his already condemned love, Eve) made Paradise Lost controversial. And, recognized as one of the greatest works of English literature of all time.

Need a vintage Epic of your own? Visit QBO.

The Bane of Every Parents Existence– LEGOs

The bane of every parents existence — LEGOs

Of all the toys Queen B sells, the brightly-colored, hard plastic blocks known as Legos are among the most popular. The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. LEGO was founded out of desperation by Danish woodworker Ole Kirk Kristiansen when people stopped buying his furniture during the Great Depression. He managed to sell his mini wood furniture and ladder ‘salesmen’s samples’ as toys, so in 1932 his workshop switched over to just making wooden toys.

In 1947 the LEGO Group came across samples of “Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks” designed by Hilary Fisher Page. In what today looks like an act of industrial espionage (or at the least, copyright violation) the Kiddicraft blocks became the prototype for Lego blocks. In 1949 Lego purchased a plastic injection molding machine to make “Automatic Binding Bricks” and in 1953 renamed their toy Lego Mursten, or “Lego Bricks.”

The plastic bricks were not as popular as the wooden toy line was at first, but in 1960 a warehouse fire destroyed most of the company’s inventory of wooden toys and it was decided to focus on plastic. By then the time was right and by the end of that year, the Lego Group was employing more than 450 people. In 1961, Lego licensed Samsonite (maker of plastic luggage) to produce and sell Lego products in the U.S. and Canada.

Lego passed from father to son and is now owned by a grandchild. The company marches into the 21st century with a popular line of construction toys, as well as products and services including board games, retail stores, Lego video games, Lego films, Legoland theme parks, and Lego Serious Play consultant services. They are everywhere!

But Legos vast popularity among kids who don’t always pick up after themselves has also given them an unintended claim to fame; an endless supply of jokes re: the agony of stepping on one. There are so many Lego jokes you’d think that before their invention, a parent bringing their kid a glass of water in the middle of the night would be completely safe, right?

Not so. From another QBO sale we have a popular kid’s toy from the 1900s still made today, Jacks. AKA jackstones, knuckle-bones, snobs, astragalus, tali, dibs, or five-stones, Jacks is a contest among several players in which the ball is bounced once and then a successively larger number of Jacks is scooped up in one palm at each turn. Different throws have imaginative names like “riding the elephant”, “peas in the pod”, “horses in the stable”, and “frogs in the well”.

Versions of the game are found worldwide. The earliest dates to around 5000 B.C. and was played with real knucklebones of hooved animals, which are irregular, knobby shapes. Which leaves one to wonder, ‘why the spiky Jacks sold today?’ Current Jacks resemblance to caltrops cannot be ignored when your foot finds one in the dark! For those unfamiliar, caltrops are ancient spiked military devices scattered around a perimeter or across a road to stop incoming soldiers, chariots, or in modern times, tanks. The name “caltrop” is derived from the Old English calcatrippe (heel-trap), and the French chausse-trape (shoe-trap). The WWII caltrops pictured were called ‘Czech Hedgehogs’. There’s a reason those Jacks have real stopping power!

Fortunately, Queen B also sells plenty of the best defense against both Jacks and Legos, which would be – slippers! Maybe a pair like these fuzzy pink pigs here. See you soon.

Knives Without Practicality

Knives Without Practicality

If you found this curiosity in the kitchen area at a Queen B sale, you might think you’d come across something from an old fairytale; a 9″ knife made of pressed, sharpened glass. And it is from the past, just not the ancient past; it was made in the late 1930s or 40s.

The Cryst-o-lite knife hardly seems practical, but there were competing brands such as the New Vitex Glas Knife that made it into the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Pre-internet and pre-Amazon, World’s Fairs were a combo of trade show, amusement park and the United Nations, where countries and companies competed to show off their best stuff, such as fancy, futuristic ‘crystal’ knives.

The Vitex Glas Knife was presented in a box sporting the fair’s logo, with the slogan “Always Sharp, Sanitary, Stainless”, much like this knife’s box copy “Always clean, always sharp, perfect for slicing.” The emphasis on the glass knife’s clean qualities is due to metal blades at the time being made of carbon steel, which the acid in many foods will badly stain. The process of developing stainless steel had begun 100 years prior but in the 30s and 40s many households still used knives that could stain and rust. The eternally clean glass knife had modern appeal.

Produced by companies that made pressed glass table wares, glass knives come in the many of same colors as other Depression Glass: clear, pink, purple, and more rarely, uranium green or ice blue. Their handles can be plain or decorated with starbursts, diamonds, or flowers like this one. Like any pressed glass, these knives are breakable. According to the manufacturers they should only be used with a wooden cutting board, and please stick to cutting citrus fruits, tomatoes, meringue pies, cakes, and molded Jellos; no T-bone steaks!

And in case you’re wondering, yes – in spite of their fragility, glass blades can draw blood!

Which shouldn’t be a surprise considering that flaked glass blades have been used for hundreds of thousands of years. These obsidian arrowheads from another QBO sale are from the ancient past – examples of the earliest cutting edge known to humans. Long before we could smelt metals, humans gathered naturally occurring obsidian glass from the slopes of volcanos and worked it into tools. Obsidian blades have been tested and proven sharper than modern scalpels, as they would have to be to slice through mammoth hide. Scandinavian fairytales tell of a Mountain of Glass, and the Game of Thrones saga featured sword blades made of ‘Dragon Glass’ – fantastical references to the place volcanic glass holds in human history.

The newest glass blades were invented in Japan in 1997. Made of zirconium oxide, they are marketed as ‘ceramic knives’ and can be black, or white like this one from a Beehive sale. Blades are produced by sintering; dry- pressing powdered zirconia and alumina into a mold at 300 tons of pressure and firing at a scorching 2000 degrees centigrade. They are then sharpened with ground diamond dust. Ceramic knives are touted as noncorrosive and exceptionally hard so they stay sharp longer than steel. But they can also shatter if handled roughly and can only be used on soft foods, same as the old-timey glass knives. They are not popular with professional chefs but have many fans among home cooks.

It takes an expert to restore an obsidian or ceramic blade, but depression glass knives can be sharpened at home with the same diamond files used on lapidary stones or fish hooks. This file is from the garage at (where else?) a QBO estate sale. See you soon.