Facts is Facts

Well, there’s no use denying it, fall is here for reals.  We still haven’t had a freeze yet, but things are turning at an alarming rate.  Witness my birch tree and burning bush:

golden-birch-leaves   burning-bush

I love the fall and wish it lasted for about five months of the year.  That would leave one month for winter around Christmas, and the rest can be spring and summer.  I would even support taking a month from summer, but I doubt that will happen with the way the climate is changing.

And now onto your regularly scheduled post …

This poor gnome had so many problems:

enormous-stuffed-gnome2    enormous-stuffed-gnome

He’s a fabric gnome so he will not work outside, which is the best place to keep your gnome collection.  In the second picture I tried to put him near a piece of baby furniture for size reference, but I can’t really tell how big that piece of furniture is!  The gnome was pretty near four feet tall—he was the first thing I saw from the car.  The worst problem was his price; they wanted $20 for him, but would take $15.  I’m pretty sure he laid there the whole darn day and is back up in the attic.  If he were made from a weather-resistant material, then I might have been interested in him for $10 because my neighbor likes to hide gnomes in my yard and payback’s a bitch.

Here’s another thing with size and price tag problems:

grapes-of-wrath  grapes-of-wrath2

Just imagine three feet of bad fake leaves and stone grapes gracing your dining room.  They wanted $39.99 for it as is.  I think that there were some broken or missing grapes and how on earth would you fix that?  I have no grapes carved from polished stone lying around the house, believe it or not.

We found this while rooting around in one of Goodwill’s 99¢ bins:

nothing-says-mom-like-a ... stocking

Wow, what about this says Christmas stocking?  If it isn’t a Christmas stocking, what the heck is it?  Poor Mom, can you imagine her face when she unwrapped this?  My go-to phrase for this situation is, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”  Truthful and discreet, usually.  It’s gotten me through years of awkward situations.

Let’s just take a deep breath and look at something cool:


So sorry about the picture.  We saw this rocking horse at an estate sale, and there was a big bright window behind the horse, and lots of people around.  I really liked its mane and tail, and wasn’t all that crazy about the price tag.  This is the estate sale group that we frequently visit their sales after lunch since their wares are wildly overpriced for the most part.  If I hadn’t been stuffed full of yummy Indian food, I would have taken a picture of the price tag.

Break time is over; time to get back on the job.  We had to laugh at these cookie cutters:


I have given up on this kind of cutters.  Even when greased up and floured, they refuse to release important parts of your cookie.  They always end up looking like Frankenstein’s monster, which is a particularly bad look for a Precious Moments anything.  I’m not even going to talk about the redundancy of Precious Moments sugar cookies.

We’re not sure what’s going on with these cups:


Only on the It’s a Small World ride would these qualify as soufflé cups.  They are about 5% bigger than the average pill cup used in hospitals and nursing homes.  The only things they have going for them are their happening colors, and the fact that it’s hard for a one-ounce soufflé to fall.

We saw these two at ARC:

why-are-these-in-a-locked-case?!Again, I’m sorry for the bad picture.  They were locked away on the top shelf of a case and I couldn’t get too close.  Sadly, the light reflected off the glass obnoxiously.  I think they are a pair of handmade scarecrows, not that I was willing to show in any interest in them by having the case unlocked.  Just like a clown, if I saw these two posed by the edge of a woods, I would run for my life; they’re just that creepy.  With all the unsettling things going on in the world, we do not need sinister scarecrows on the loose.

We were in a thrift store and found quite a few old patterns:

cute-old-pattern   fun-old-pattern

Love that the girls on the left got to be kicky and fun, while Mrs. Junior League was all buttoned up.  I think they would be fun Halloween costumes to make, if you were a seamstress.

Sadly we didn’t find any little boy’s patterns:

girls-and-their-dollies-patterns   dont-leave-the-guys-out-pattern

We loved that the little girls could have matching outfits for their dollies.  Those dresses are all pretty darn cute.  As opposed to the late 1960s and early ’70s fashions for men.  I just can’t get over how fugly that tie is; the combination of shirt and tie is almost lethal!  I’m not sure why we didn’t buy these, since the price was right.  Some days we fling quarters around, and some days we don’t. ( Kathy here, I did buy the little girls and dolly one, it is sitting on my desk as we speak )

Thanks for reading!  In your copious free time head over to our Facebook and/or Pinterest pages.  There are lots of things there that we don’t post over here.  Now get outside and kick some leaves around before it starts snowing.



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How to: Remove Paper Ephemera From Scrapbooks

We decided to share something a little different this week, and if our readers find this useful, we may do some more tutorials down the road.  First off, we have to make a confession about the amount of paper “this and thats” that find their way into our respective homes.  We both love old cards, postcards, Valentines, prints, Victorian “scraps” ads, cards—you name it and we probably have some.  But, one of our favorite things is old scrapbooks.  You never know what cool things you are going to find in them.  So, OK, we are going to assume that you have this same problem.  You found a terrific print in one of those scrapbooks, and you want to make a card, frame it, or otherwise use it free from the surrounding book.  In this tutorial I will show you how to remove your prize safely, so it can be used again.

Before we start, though, I want to give a great big HUGE warning.  Do not attempt this on anything that is “priceless”.  If it means the world to you, take it to an expert.  Also, this is not recommended for photographs, and you might want to think twice about letters.  If you have some question about the printing being able to stand up to water, do a test in one corner to be sure.  Most old prints are very stable and able to take this.  Removing a good rag paper print from an old acidic book will keep the print from further yellowing.  This method will only work with the old water-soluble glues.  Most scrapbooks from the ’60s and earlier will be no problem.

So here is our scrapbook:

scrap-book-coverThis one is actually an old teacher planning book that someone pasted stuff into.  Mostly cute magazine pix, like the one shown.  We are going to destroy the book while removing the pix, but there is not much here to save.  If you want to save the book, you will have to remove the pictures using a cloth soaked in water, and that is a lot more complicated.  Let’s start the easy way.

First off, gather your materials:

materialsYou will need:

  • A plastic bin large enough for your page.  You can use a pan, just something to hold water, but not that story you told your hubby about where all the paper stuff keeps coming from.  That story leaks like a sieve!
  • Paper towels
  • An old cloth towel or rag
  • Two sheets of glass or plexiglass
  • Your scrap book
  • And a supply of patience.  Not a lot, but it does take some.

Here is the page I choose out of the book:

scrap-book-pageThis one will net me two cute prints.  Sometimes, if there is stuff on the back, you can get a whole lot off at once.  For us, right now, just a twofer.

Fill your bin with an inch or two of water:

water-binDon’t overfill it; you need a bit of room to work, as well as minimizing the mess when you trip on your way to the sink to dump it.  (Don’t ask!)

Now take your page and gently submerge it:

page-in-waterMake sure the water covers all of the picture.  If there is paper from the book itself hanging out of the water, that is fine, just make sure the whole picture is down and stays down.  It might take a minute of gently pushing it back in, till it wants to stay.

Here is where the patience comes in.  Walk Away.  Go make yourself a cup of coffee, call your talkative aunt, whatever it takes to leave it alone for a half an hour or so.  It can take more or less time, and you will figure out how much, if you are doing several things from the same book.  Depends on the scrapper’s predilection for glue, and the type used; just don’t rush it.

Come back and take a look:

coming-looseIf you are lucky, you will notice that the paper has floated free.  Otherwise, gently try a corner.  If it still seems sort of stuck, then go find another relative to chat with.  You can peel things up, but the paper has much less strength when wet.  You run the risk of tearing your picture, so just take it easy.

Once you have your item freed from the backing, turn it over and delicately rub off any excess glue:

clean-off-glueYou can tell if there is still some on the back by the slight slimy feeling.  Just rub very gently with your fingers till that is gone.  (If this only worked with used car salesmen!)  This is why you need room to work in your tub.

Now, lift the item from the water and lay it out on your cloth towel.  If the item seems likely to tear, you can slip one of your pieces of glass into the tub and slide your picture onto it like this:

remove-from-water-bathOnce the items are removed from the tub, blot as much water as you can with the towel.  Make sure the pictures remain on a flat firm surface to avoid distorting or tearing the paper.  For more fragile items blot right on the glass.  Remove and discard the scrapbook page.  (Don’t forget to do the items on the back if there are some!)  You can reuse your water, as long as it doesn’t look too gluey; just replace as needed, if you are doing a lot.

Once you have blotted the paper and gotten the worst of the moisture off, it is time to lay it out to dry.  The paper will curl and wrinkle if you just leave it on the table, so the idea is to keep it as flat as possible while drying.  Failing a local elephant to sit on it, we will just make a press by laying out one sheet of glass, a piece of paper towel, and your print:

making-layersThen add another piece of paper towel and the last sheet of glass:

final-layersThis method takes a while, as not a lot of air gets through there, so the towels need to be changed a couple times a day for a few days depending on your humidity.  I just leave the paper towels out to dry and just keep switching them back in, so as not to use a whole roll of towels and mess up my carbon footprint.  You can also use cloth; just don’t make it too thick, or you will have wrinkles.

As an alternate quickie method on a hot day, you can lay your items out on a screen or your oh-so-handy mesh patio table, then just lay one piece of glass on top of them:

alternate-dryingOn a 90 degree day they dry in no time flat, so this works really well when you have a lot to do.

And here are your two freed pictures ready to go on and be useful again:

resultsIf you were impatient and got them out before they completely dried, and they wrinkled or curled just a little, they can be lightly pressed with a warm iron.  Just don’t get it too hot, or you can turn a whole page yellow!

Hope you enjoyed this, and found it useful.  If so, pass it along to someone who might also find it useful, pin it, or bookmark it for future reference.  Let us know how it works for you, and if you have any questions, let us know in the comments or feel free to email us.




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Autumn’s the Mellow Time

I’m going to continue with the current trend of shorter posts.  If we’re talking about something we’re super excited about, however, all bets are off!  I’m slow getting started writing a post in a timely manner, with the beautiful weather we are having.  Who knows how long it will last?  Our typical first frost comes about September 15th, but I’m still harvesting tomatoes and basil from my garden.

As long as the weather keeps cooperating, we’ll be going to garage sales where we see lots of stuff like this:


We aren’t sure that’s a win!  Here’s a table of mostly bad—look at all of those plastic picture frames, and awfully bad—looking at you, crochet doll!  I rather like the teapot, but that’s small consolation for having to look at that wretched collection of crap!  It’s rare that I’m happy when a picture has so much glare; my camera just said, “You’re welcome”.

Okay, I’m back after mixing a gin and tonic; hopefully that will make me a little less b*tchy.

Before the drink does its thing, though, I need to talk about this picture:


The only thing worse than ugly crocheted afghans would be ugly crocheted clowns!  It’s just as easy to make something pretty, so why don’t they?  I also don’t understand why all of those thrifty, use-up-all-of-the-leftover yarn and the ’70s themed throws won’t go away?  You never see them in the checkout lane at thrift stores or garage sales.  Maybe they need to be relegated to moving blankets and dog beds so we don’t have to think about them any more!

This display made us laugh:

neat-tie-display   neat-tie-display

The sign below says, “Tie One On  $2.99 each”.  It seems a shame to ruin the cool display by pulling a tie out of the middle.  Also, from our observation, it’s hard to sell a tie for $1, let alone nearly three times that.

We just can’t help it:

he-cannisters-are-much-better-than-the-desk   hmm-these-cannisters

The pink and black 1950s canisters are so much cuter than the 1970s wood-look bunch, although the fake wood canisters have a cool shape.  I do have to admit that we’ve seen MUCH worse ’70s canisters (think orange mushrooms and avocado green ceramics) so these don’t raise much vitriol.  We just prefer the 1950s decor of our grandmothers, to the 1970s decor we grew up with.  Sorry, Mom!

Owls had a resurgence in popularity a few years back.  This is the first time we’ve seen one used this way:


I can’t think that it would make a terribly convenient drawer pull; I would hit my hand on it all the time.  It would be easy to find in the dark, though, if this were a bedside stand.  You would think that it would be paired with a snazzier piece of furniture with a little color or an interesting design.  It’s a bad sign when the hardware is the most interesting thing about a stand.

This also made us laugh:


Nothing like a three-foot lamp with a six-inch shade.  I’m sure this is the work of a “helpful” shopper, but this thrift store never seems to set foot in the basement.  They must toss things down the stairs and “helpful” shoppers set things up.  It’s one of the craziest display areas we’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something.

We look at tools because we actually use them from time to time:


I don’t ever recall seeing wrenches this large before.  You can get an idea about their size by comparing them to the pipe wrenches in the foreground.  If you could heft the things, you sure would get some amazing leverage.  They might also be useful as self-defense; if you were carrying one of these babies down a street, I’m sure people would cross the street to avoid you.

Saw this sign at a thrift store:


Every now and then, joining the circus sounds a lot more restful than our lives!  B.H. points out that it’s easier to run away now that we own cars.

I think Kathy has the tutorial ready to roll for next week.  If not, we have lots more bad, so-bad-it’s good, and plain old good to show you.  If you have a topic you would like us to write about, leave a comment or email us.


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Just One Sale

I carefully plan out each Friday’s pile of garage sales with my trusty Craig’s List and my ridiculous knowledge of our town, aided by a trip to map quest now and then.  OK, I really am not that careful, but just jot down what looks good, and we take a gander.  Some days we find one sale that is so good, that we just don’t care about anything else.  This sale wasn’t it.  It was the mother load for photos though.  We might have taken even more, but it was pretty dark in the house, and seriously, we really didn’t want to damage our readers forever.

This family owned a local Mexican restaurant for years.  Apparently, when it closed down, they felt the need to bring it all home.  Take these for instance:

old-awful-seventies-picturesMaybe semi-harmless in a restaurant setting, especially if you have had a couple of stiff margaritas to make them palatable, but in your home.  Eh, not so much.  I can’t remember if they were real wood or not, and I am not sure why it matters, unless it was a thought in the back of my mind towards adding them to a camp fire.  Burn conquistador, burn.  This might be a time when the Inquisition would be a blessing.

We think these must have been behind the bar:

more-dark-wood-wall-art-only-20-bucks-eachThank goodness these WERE real wood, so not available to chop off the head of unreasonable customers.  They even brought the extra paint home to lay a coat on the basement walls.  It was all we could do to get it light enough to shoot these.  It was sort of like descending into Hades, but we braved it thinking there had to be something good down there.  No such luck

After rising from hell, we discovered these upstairs:

ginormous-harliquin-wall-artginormous-harliquin-wall-art-40-bucks                                                                                                                                                                       About all we could say on their behalf, was OMG they are huge!  I don’t suppose these ruined the appetites of anyone.  Must have saved the best stuff for home.

Even the patio furniture matched the general awfulness of the whole mess:

patio-furnitureI am not sure that new cushions would help. I am going to put my pessimism down to general crabiness of the day.  I mean take a gander at the stuff on the wall.  Now imagine an entire house filled with just that quality and style of stuff.  And I am talking a HUGE house.

This owl and pussycat would be right at home there, but I am pretty sure we didn’t see them on that day:

the-owl-and-the-pussycat-went-to-seaIt was pretty funny, we tried to like things there, we truly did, but we left with a terrified feeling knowing that much of that stuff was going back out to infect other people’s homes with bad taste.  If you are ever faced with a sale like that, just back away, and then take off running.  There has to be another sale out there!

I am going to leave you with a couple of fun things, just to wipe the aftertaste out of your mouth, so here we go.  I know these are crazy, but we both thought they were actually sort of cute.  They just tickled our funny bone.  Not enough to bring them home, but enough to get a smile from each of us.  Those are candles on their heads, and they are paper mache, which seems like a tactical error, but apparently, the previous owner was smart enough to hide the matches.

candle-holdersAnd lastly just wanted to share one of the lovely planters in one of our town squares.  This is close to the place where we have lunch every week, and our town does such a good job with them:

downtown-flowersWe are living in denial that we are past the average date of our first frost, and winter is coming.  The only good part is, we might just avoid another sale like the one above.  Oh wait, estate sales happen all winter.  Wish us luck!

We have a nice tutorial coming up in the next couple of weeks, and there is still plenty of thrift store, and garage sale craziness to keep us writing.  Like it is ever going to stop.  Don’t forget to check out the extras on Facebook, and we have lots of fun things pinned over on Pinterest too, so if you need a fix, head on over there!



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More From The Summer Scrap Heap

We’re still writing about our summer finds, but out the window it looks more like fall.  The temperatures are mild, so people are still having garage sales—yay!  I’m glad that we will have a little bit of extra stored up for when garage sale season is over.

One side effect of writing this blog is that we get some interesting email from people under the misapprehension that we know what we’re talking about.  Or, that we have memories of things that we photographed three years ago.  I always answer the email admitting our general ignorance, but I can’t help but feel that we are failing our readers.  We usually tell you what we know about a subject when we write a post, and then we edit in our readers’ comments when they have some knowledge to share.  This week, it was someone who had just bought a vintage washing machine.  A Google search led him to us, since we have taken a few pictures of washers.  We feel for you all, and you can still email us; maybe we’ll know something (doubtful), or maybe we can direct you to a more knowledgeable source (more likely).

I wish that we didn’t have ANY knowledge of this:

Lacey Basket Front   Lacey Basket

The amount of lace, ribbon, and foofles on this might be enough for a whole other wedding.  I say wedding because what other event brings out the secret Victorian urges of mothers, planners, and female participants?  I have been guilty of lacy excesses during the ’90s, but I had the decency to burn them in a barrel!

This brass and enamel thingie might have been right at home in the above wedding:

Strange Enamel and Brass thingie

We like enamel, and even painted metal, if it’s tasteful and attractive.  The biggest problem with this thingie is the bird.  It’s not the right scale, unless the flowers are Audrey II, and, really, the flowers are enough—what does that soaring brass bird add?  I think this would be better with the gentle application of wire cutters.

The first two things have lowered my spirits.  Let’s look at something cute:

Sweet little Miss February

I looked it up and this little birthday statue has it right; violets are February’s birth flower, honest to Google!  She is sweet as a lump of sugar.  The only February birthday in my family is my sister’s, and this isn’t her thing.  We always smile at these little Napco or Josefesque birthday figurines wherever we find them.

I kind of liked this box of hanging lights:

Woven Globe Hanging Lights

The whole box was $5, and if you didn’t like the colors, I’m sure you could dye them somehow.  If you had a beachy-themed patio, or garden room, these would be fun.

If we still have time after garage sales, we’ve been heading over to Goodwill’s 99¢ room.  Imagine our surprise when they posted some rules:


Now I want to call the 99¢ room Fight Club.  You cannot imagine the chaos when new bins are wheeled into the room.  The employee has to yell at people to get out of the way and not try to grab things out of the five-foot tall cardboard boxes of donations until they are off the forklift and against the wall.  People practically climb over each other to be the first one into the box.  Kathy and I stay way on the other side of the room for our personal safety.  It’s not worth a black eye to get first crack.  The funny thing is that we usually find a ton of stuff there (here’s a pic from Facebook) without all the pushing and shoving.  In fact, it’s kind of dangerous to be the first (or even second or third) to stick your hands in a pile of stuff.  We’ve found fish hooks, unsheathed knives, and broken glass mixed up in goods before.  Plus, why would you risk your life for a jacket like this:


I titled this picture:  Halloween called and they want their sports jacket back.  We saw the matching rust-colored polyester pants a couple of bins down.  Here’s a costume all ready to roll.  All you need to do is add a porn ’stache and a fat tie with a contrasting pattern and you could be a leading man from the ’70s.  B.H. points out that Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati wore a similar jacket.

I feel like we’ve tortured you enough, so let’s end on a good note:


If we had room in our houses for rocking chairs, one or both of us would have snatched these up.  They were so cool and reasonably priced; someone got a bargain.  This is our kind of garage sale find.

Thanks for reading.  We’re going to write a couple of how-to posts and publish them; we don’t have all the details worked out, but be on the look out for them.




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Estate Sale Craziness

Fall is trying to sneak its way into Colorado’s back door.  We both love fall, but it means a decline in garage sales.  So far, we are hanging in there, but it is only a matter of time before we come to rely strictly on the thrift stores and the occasional estate sale.  Sigh … a happy/sad time of year.  Oh, well, you can cheer up, because a couple of weeks ago, we hit an estate sale that was the mother lode of bad photos for the year!  You have no idea how elated we were.  Gosh, we are easy to please.

Some items were fun.  Take this adorable little stand mixer:

Adorable little standing mixer setCute as a button, and I bet it still works like a champ.  It was amazing how well these old appliances were built.  I love my big ole Kitchenaide, but if I didn’t have one, this would fill the bill.

And some items were not so fun:

Country Club Ash TrayAre you kidding me?  Bad ceramics and smoking seemed to go hand in hand.  I have a hard time believing any self-respecting country club let this past the front door.  Maybe it was the booby prize for shooting the most double bogeys in a round?  (I just noticed, this might have been a Goodwill find, but it would have fit right in with the estate sale, so we will just pretend.)

This closetful, I know, came from the sale:

Pegnoirs of every colorThese were ALL peignoir sets.  Every color of the rainbow and then some.  We were pretty sure this gal had a major shopping addiction (We should talk!) as she had more than one of just about everything.  We wonder if she rotated these on a daily basis, or let lover-boy choose which color he wanted tonight!  We often wonder just how much of this stuff really gets sold, and if it doesn’t where does it go?  We sometimes see some things at the thrifts that we recognize, but not all of it.  It must go live with the lost socks from my dryer.

Again, we sort of liked this funky patio set:

Cool old patio setWith the right color cushions and the right mid-century modern house, it would look very festive.  Just ready for those outdoor bar-b-ques and dry martinis.  The plastic cactus in a pot on the table DOES have to go, however.  For gosh sakes, why do you need fake cactus?  How hard is it to grow a real one?  Even most folks with black thumbs can handle that one.

We were worried about this sock monkey cowboy:

Yippee Eye Oh Kay Yay

Who is going to take something that homely and give him a good home?  I find many sock monkeys a little on the creepy side at the best of times, and this one is right up there.  He is not improved by the western outfit either.  I am just going to give this one a “she probably worked hard on it” and give it a rest.  [Deb here:  I know Kathy will roll her eyes, but I thought he was pretty funny and I almost bought him for a friend.]

This next item pretty much takes the prize:

HIdeous clock and wall decor2I think this is going to have to go right up there with some of the worst things we have ever seen.  The lights didn’t work anymore (drat); although I had a strong urge to take it home and rewire it just so I could see it in action, I resisted.  While chortling and attempting to get a photo of this (it was in a dark basement; we are glad it had been festering down there instead of hanging in the living room), we attracted the attention of one of the ladies working the sale who was so kind as to hold it up to the light so we could get a better photo.  She was chuckling right along with us, and totally understood the need for a photo and not to buy it!  We also wondered what was supposed to go in the little basket holders down at the bottom.  Here they are a bit closer, so you can see better:

HIdeous clock and wall decor

I guess some pink plastic roses would look right at home, and hey, how could they make it any worse?  Glad to see the crystal drops on the lamps show up better in this photo.  You wouldn’t want to miss those.  Wonder if it came with red velvet for the background as well?  OK, I have to stop.

Same sale produced this super-duty blender cover:

Vintage Blender CoverShe seems a bit too cheerful, just because she covered her blender.  The only reason I can think of, is she was hiding the pitcher of margaritas she just mixed, so she could have them all to herself.  I have decided in my mind that this is just what the lady of the house looked like, as she stood in front of her closet contemplating her peignoirs.

This last item really had us puzzling:

The littlest angelWe found it at Goodwill in the record area, and just assumed it was a record cover, but on opening it, we found this:

The Littlest Angel3It seemed like a fancy program, and while we were pondering who the littlest angel was, the guy beside us came up with the boy who played Jody on Family Affair.  OK, we got that, now what else?

Looking on the back cover we see:

The Littlest Angel2A whole plethora of well known actors of the time, including Fred Gwynne, Cab Calloway, and Connie Stevens.  It was originally aired on TV as a Hallmark Hall of Fame show.  Somehow, we missed it, but it won awards and everything.  What do we know?  We are still not sure where the program came from, but we learned something new, I guess.

Well, it’s time to get back to those fall chores, the painting is not going to do itself, and soon it will be time to put the garden to bed, and then spend the winter … looking for more estate sales!




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Not-So-Weird Collection: Silhouettes

I have had a love affair with silhouettes since my childhood.  When I was somewhere between five and seven, and my parents had silhouettes cut of me and my two sisters.  The artist had us sit in profile to him, and he cut quickly with a small pair of scissors.  Here is my silhouette:

My silhouette

So, I’ve collected silhouettes for a long time, but never really known much about them.  For instance, silhouettes have been around for a long, long time.  There are examples of silhouettes in Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Pliny the Elder told a story about a woman tracing her lover’s shadow on a wall to remember him by before he left on a long trip.  Her father, a Greek potter, saw the silhouette on the wall, loved it, and started using it to decorate his pottery.  However factual this story is, there is a style of pottery with black decorations dating from 700 BCE.  This style of pottery decoration is called Black-figure pottery, but the figures have details etched into the black paint which traditional silhouettes don’t.

Silhouettes, originally called shadow portraits, became popular again in the early to mid 18th century.  Several accounts relate the rise in popularity to a conjunction of three things:  the excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii and the finding of ancient pottery, the study of physiognomy (the belief that a person’s character is related to their features), and the rise of scrapbooking in (depending on who you believe) German or English royal courts.  I think there were people cutting shadow portraits before these three things, but they weren’t a fad, yet.

These shadow portraits supposedly started being called silhouettes after Etienne de Silhouette when he was appointed King Louis XV’s controller general in 1759.  He tried to rein in the king’s extravagance (Good luck with that!) and so became associated with everything cheap or miserly.  Silhouettes were inexpensive portraits that almost anyone could afford as opposed to oil portraits that were only available to the rich.

The art became mechanized early on using a physiognomy mechanical device like this:


This picture, Drawing a Silhouette by Johann Rudolph Schellenberg, 1740-1806, shows how silhouettes could be drawn quickly and then the image could be enlarged, shrunk, or copied using a pantograph.  There was quite a rivalry between folks who cut silhouettes free-hand, and those who used machines.  I’ve also seen pictures showing a large piece of fabric hanging between the artist and the model, with a candle throwing a shadow as a method of tracing a profile.

Silhouettes could also be reverse-painted on glass against a light background.  Sometimes these painted silhouettes are difficult to distinguish at a glance from the black paper cutouts.  There are also hollow-cuts which are silhouettes cut out of light-colored paper and placed upon a dark background.  I have examples of all three below.

Another fun fact: Hans Christian Anderson was a paper cutter as well as a writer.  He used to cut paper while telling tales to friends and their children.  At the end of the story, he would unfold the paper to show the picture he had cut.

The rage for silhouettes was significantly diminished by the emergence of photography.  They didn’t disappear altogether, and silhouettes went in and out of fashion all during the 20th century.

I should say,  before starting, that I’m sorry for the askew or reflective pictures.  Many of my silhouettes are attached to a large window screen which is screwed to a wall.  It would be more work than I’m willing to do, to get better, still not good, pictures of art under glass.  Also, since I shop mostly at thrift store, garage and estate sales, I don’t pay more than $10 for my silhouettes, and usually it’s a good deal less.  I don’t think they have a lot of value either; I just like them.

First up are some paper black-shape silhouettes:

Pair Black Paper cut silhouettes

I think these are what people typically think of when they hear the word silhouette.  They both are modern interpretations of 18th or 19th century examples.  In the beginning of the 20th century, people started copying older silhouettes just for fun or for forgeries.  While these look new to me, some of the earlier ones are very difficult for people to detect.

More black-paper silhouettes:

Black cut silhouette of regency couple in curicle  1950s couple silhouettes

These two pictures represent two periods of the silhouette fad.  Left-most is an image depicting the early 19th century, when silhouettes were reaching the crest of their popularity wave.  This is a modern silhouette of an old subject; I’m not able to guess just when it was cut.  The pair of portraits are signed in 1951, so we know when they were cut.  I really like how the artist made the man’s tie, and the lady’s corsage and hat.  It gives these two personality, in my book.

Here are a couple of unframed animal silhouettes:

Deer with flowers silhouette   Deer with flowers silhouette 2

People are so darned amazing at cutting pictures with X-Acto knives, tiny scissors, or other tools that I’m not sure if they are machine cut or hand cut.  I really liked them and that’s all that really matters to me.

Here are two more paper cut silhouettes:

Silhouette angel  Black cut silhouette of girl and bird

I think the angel was bought with the intention of making it into a Christmas card.  She is totally adorable with her birdy friend.  The girl on the right is dated 1948 and it’s hard to say where I got her.  I like that these silhouettes have two different techniques going on.  The mix of solid and line silhouette makes each of these charming in its own way.

Here are my two hollow-cut silhouettes:

Hollow cut couple 2

It’s easiest to see on the male.  The cutting is done of the white paper and then a piece of black paper is slid underneath.  The frames are older on these two pictures, but they certainly aren’t 19th century silhouettes, despite their subjects.

Far and away, the biggest part of my collection are reverse-painted silhouettes:

1800s couple pink background   Black paper cut silhouette civil war era woman

This is also an old technique, and really not any easier than cutting the image from paper, in my book.  The amount of detail in this kind of silhouettes is amazing.

Painted silhouette getting mail  silhouette Regency couple

If I get these pictures in bright light, I can often cause a shadow underneath.  I guess the paper could be stuck to the glass, but so far, they’ve all been reverse paintings.

Silhouettes can come in a wide variety of sizes and subjects.  It’s not all 18th and 19th century courting and portraits:

Painted silhouette pianoforte   Painted Silhouette kids with bubbles3

These little 4×6 inch silhouettes were probably made somewhere in the 1920s to ’30s.  The kids blowing bubbles might be my favorite silhouette of them all.  The young lady at the piano looks very 1920s to me with her cloche hat, but maybe it’s just Jeeves in the background.

And then there are painted silhouettes with foil accents:

Smith Frederick painted silhouette   Painted Silhouette Asian Tea Ceremony

The left picture is signed Smith Frederick and was made in the 1930s for Reliance Co.  It features the traditional 19th century woman.  The small silhouette on the right is completely different—perhaps a geisha practicing her music and drinking tea.  I think it could be from between 1920s to the ’40s because of the frame.  I wish more of these pictures were signed and dated!

There is a different kind of reverse painting that’s on curved glass with scenes beneath:

Painted Silhouette with curved glass2  Painted Silhouette curved glass5

They often came in pairs, but I have singles, too.  I’m not sure if they lost their friend, or this was how they were made:

Painted Silhouette with curved glass  Painted Silhouette Curved glass7

Some of these pictures were made by Benton Glass in the 1930s and ’40s; I’ve only seen these curved-glass silhouettes with these metal frames.  On the internet, there are pictures of Benton Glass silhouettes with a stripped metal frame.  Of course, when something is popular, people copied them ruthlessly.  Who knows, maybe the plain metal frames are the copy?  The pictures in my collection are either 5×4 inches or 8×6 inches.

The fabric arts also featured silhouettes:

Embroidered Chinese couple2   Cross stitch ladies having tea

Both of these pictures are cross stitch.  The two ladies on the right was done by B.H.’s Great Aunt Bea; it has a very 1920s feel to it.  I’m not sure when the Asian couple to the left were done, but the frame is considerably newer.  I’m sure I bought the pair on the left just because they were silhouettes.  My lovely S.I.L., Dorothy, gave me Aunt Bea’s picture.

One last silhouette to show you:

Hanky box

This is my hanky box and it’s a no-brainer to go into my collection.  Box, check, hankies, check, and silhouette, check; how could  I resist?  I took it apart and put a piece of black velvet behind it to make the silhouette show up.  The original piece was in tatters.

Thanks for stopping in to check out my silhouettes and the little I know about them.  Right after I finish all my button books, I’m starting one on the art of the silhouette, and will correct any mistakes I’ve made.  If you are a silhouette aficionado please share with us all.  I will go back and include informational comments in the post so that we can all learn.



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