Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nostalgic for Nostalgia

We hadn't been out to the Barrie Antique Centre in while, so we went. By this I mean, I wanted to sit home reading & eating bon bons and P said we should go to Barrie. So we went.

I'd forgotten what a great collection of nostalgia they've got. We get used to seeing so much glass and china and shiny sparkly bits, it's refreshing to see such a good hoard of nostalgia and country store items spread over two large floors. And (most of) it's for sale.

Talk about being packed to the rafters. I love old signage and this place is just full of it. In a good way. Not only are the walls totally covered, there are signs and notices and ads hanging from the ceilings and lintels.

Wind-up toys, old tins? They've got 'em. Dry goods boxes? Yep. 1920s toilet paper? Don't ask.

Little stuff like matchbooks and milk bottle caps, to bigger things; I saw a treadle powered lathe while I was there.

There are a few reproductions mixed in, so if you're unsure of what you're looking at, ASK!

It's an easy drive from Toronto, under an hour if the traffic's good, and situated on Innisfill St., just minutes from the highway off ramp.

They don't have a website, but the email addy is

The address is: 272 Innisfil St. Barrie, Ontario. Call 705-726-1663.

So what did we get? P bought some shiny sparkly bits.

But strangely enough on the way home we happened to pass Vaughn Mills Mall where there just happens to be a Purdy's store and strangely enough again they seemed to have Purdy's English Toffee in stock.

Now I am sitting around reading and eating bon bons.

All's well that ends with jewelry and candy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Props for my Peeps

This is a follow-up to my previous post. Recently I was asked to define a "prop".

Prop is short for "property" as in property of the production.

Here's the poop. If an actor handles it
or it's mentioned specifically in the script, it's a prop .

If it's just sitting around looking pretty, it's set dressing or set dec(oration).

Sometimes there's cross-over.

We specialize in hand props, the smaller stuff. The stuff we hope you'll never notice. If a prop is not key (important) or not a hero (very loosely, one that's important enough for a close-up shot and/or to require multiples in case something goes wrong), we hope you'll be so absorbed in the story that you won't notice the stuff, unless of course, it's a key prop or a hero.

It's the job of the prop master and/or prop buyer to find this stuff and take care of it while it's on set.

Here's a scene:

The MAYOR rushes down the steps of City Hall into a throng of reporters. He trips and drops his briefcase which flies open spilling its contents. Flashbulbs go off. Mayhem ensues as he tries to retrieve the contents.

So what are the props needed? The only ones specifically mentioned in this set-up are: (1) briefcase, (2) contents of briefcase and (3) Flashbulbs.

(1) The briefcase has to be right for the period of the film, and right for the character of the MAYOR. Is it bright shiny new, or old and worn? Was it expensive or the economy model? Did he buy it for himself, was it a gift? (Remember: there are no small decisions in making a movie.) It needs to be a briefcase that will (or be rigged to) spill its contents when dropped.

(2) And what are these contents? Are they important to the story, have they been established in a previous scene, what do they reveal about the mayor? Brown bag lunch, kid's rubber ball, porn? Or is it just a bunch of papers that will look good when the wind blows them away?

(3) Are they really flash bulbs? If so, how many? Or modern electronic flashes? Presumably they're attached to cameras. How many of those? What kind? Do they actually have to flash, or will the flashes be an effect added in post-production?

What about the other stuff not mentioned in the script? Reporters with tape recorders, pads and pencils. Are there passers-by on the street? A woman carrying groceries perhaps? A man with a newspaper in one hand, umbrella in the other? A kid on a bike.

And that's without the set dressing: stuff like a newspaper box (empty or with papers (can we read headlines?) the garbage can, the signage and all the other stuff that's always there.

Let's stop now because my head hurts.

Pick your favorite movie, have another look at a favorite scene, ignore the story and have a look at the objects that the actors handle or are in the scene to dress it up.

An example:

In the photo above, a scene from Little Mosque on the Prairie, set in a pawn shop, there are only three props. The rest is set decoration or costume. Those three circles indicate the only things I handled in this scene. (Actually there is one more, but it's off camera.)

By the way, I didn't supply any of the props or set dec in that scene; they came from a competitor.

Some of the things we got called for this week, and didn't have, were:
angel's wings (costume)
trapper pelts
torpedo shells
giant martini glass
a spaceship
giant scales of justice
wagon wheels & tumbleweed,
electric chair,
airplane seats
and a pink limousine.

For a look at some of what we do have go to;

And if you know anyone with an electric chair they're not using any more, you'll let me know, won't you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Everybody's an Expert

Everybody's an expert. Especially me.

This week I had a job as the antique consultant for a tv-movie being shot here by the Hallmark people. One of the key props is an antique box purchased by our heroine and given to a key character.

There are lots of keys in movie making.

In Making Movies, Sidney Lumet wrote that: "there are no small decisions in film making".

This is key. Movies don't just happen, they get made. And this mean decisions. Lots of decisions. Maybe even millions of decisions. And in spite of what many critics, both professional and armchair, seem to think, the people involved are a pretty bright bunch.

The basics of movie making, in no particular order, are these:

A movie begins with an idea.

The writer takes this idea, this fleeting notion of a concept, and puts it on paper. It ain't that easy. You try coming up with a hundred and twenty pages of pure gold. The writer has to make up a story, create a bunch of people, put words in their mouths, ideas in their heads and then has them do stuff. All of this is to make you want to know what happens next. And if you care about the people it's all happening to, even better. And if the words coming out of their mouths move you to tears, to laughter, to dark thoughts, there's the gold.

The producer finds the money to make this happen; puts together a team to make this happen. In other words, the producer finds a way to make all of this happen. In spite of all the producer credits you might see in a movie's credits, there's usually only one real PRODUCER.

The director is entrusted with the vision. The director has already seen this entire movie. In his head. Shot by shot.

The production designer's job is to make sure you can look at this thing for two hours; that nothing you see jars you back to reality and that everything you see on screen just looks right.

Everything in the movie must propel the story forward. We must want to know how the story ends and not get bogged down with nit picking: "Look, there's a watch on the chariot driver's wrist in ancient Rome."

And that was my job on this project.

Was this antique box (remember the box from the first paragraph) right for the story.
They weren't going to use an actual antique box. The movie box was being built by the props department, so the colour, shape, size and so on needed to be accurate. Because out in audience-land everybody's an expert, and these experts love to write letters. Sure, there are mistakes, glitches, anachronisms in almost every picture. There are even websites that point these things out. They're fun to spot, but movie makers work hard to avoid them; they do do the due diligence.

For my presentation for the producer, director, production designer, props department and the builder, I'd done my homework. I'd photographed and
photocopied lots of reference boxes and brought in a stack of books, all laid out on the conference table, opened to an appropriate page. With more pages ready underneath; lots of little yellow post-it's peeking out.

The props department, the people who had actually hired me to spout my expertise, had provided a number of antique boxes for people to handle, examine, pick up, smell, heft, turn over.

And they did.

In movie land, as in kindergarten, this is called "show & tell".

I showed and telled and I was grilled. This was a pretty astute group and the questions were the right kinds of questions to ask. Will the actress have trouble handling the size of the box? Which colors and designs would be historically accurate? What shapes are there to work with? What if we did this...? Could we do this instead...? Would it be wrong to...?

I was asked to justify my answers.

And since the box is discovered overpainted and will have to be stripped to its original state during the picture, the builder will have to make at least four identical boxes, three of them then painted and partially stripped, to correspond to the various stripping stages. And to allow for takes, mistakes and reshoots on one key scene, there should be at least four identical lids for box number two.

My prep for this meeting took about five hours. The meeting took another two. All for a box that's not the most important thing in the story.

No small decisions in movie making. I should know, I'm the expert.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Busman's Holiday

Usually we sell at the Sunday Market every...Sunday? But not today. We have a family function this afternoon, so took the day off. Instead, we went to the Sunday Market. Shopping. While I'd like to think that these are the crowds of paparazzi who follow me everywhere, they're not. The tour bus drivers like to stop in front of the Market for a photo op. Not of us but of the Gooderham Building aka the Flat Iron. We do get some benefit out of it, though, some of these people actually come in and shop.

And had they come in, early this am they might have seen:

Yes folks, you too can pick up a little money after school with this great fifteen foot banner: STRIPPERAMA 6 American beauties.

I would have bought it but I couldn't scrounge up fifteen feet of wall space at home.

Also seen were the Courage My Love gang, with Stewart, once again, wearing many hats and Cece, once again, thinking perhaps it's time her dad went to the farm for while.

And how often do two dealers show up wearing the same jewelry?

And what did I buy? I bought a license to sell opium. Cool. Everyone should have one. Cost me more than a buck, though.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

It's Fall, It's Hot Potato Time

Another Saturday, another antique show.

This time it was up and at 'em early for the dawn opening of the Flamboro Antique Show held at the Aberfoyle Antique Market field.

A lovely day, with just a hint of autumn in the air, the dealers were set up and ready to sell, ready to deal, but I sensed that, like many of us, they were also there to move their dogs: things they'd been carting around a while. Sure it's the end of the season, but perhaps the end of an era as well. It's hot potato time, flip that piece as soon as possible; no more sitting on an item to try to get the best possible price.

Many long time dealers have a new perspective: fast turnover. So if you're shopping folks, now's the time to strike that deal.

Hard core collectors were out filling in gaps in their collections, and others were just picking up the odd knick knack or piece of furniture, making a day of it.

But there were also faces I didn't see: people that used to show up regularly at every single show, rain or shine.

Sad to say, but this show seems to be getting smaller every time, with quite a few empty dealer spots. The public turnout seemed to be strong enough, cars were still steadily arriving when we left around 10:30, but I couldn't get a sense of what, if anything, was selling. A big change from what it once was, perhaps reflective of the overall state of the industry.

The only thing I bought was another suitcase; I don't sell them, but they do get rented out to photographers and the movies. This one was well be-stickered, and it'll earn its keep.

Good thing I'm out of the potato business.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Toronto Vintage Clothing and Textile Show

A while back I mentioned the new date and location for the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show. Well things didn't quite work out with the date: it's still early March. In fact, can't get any earlier in March.

Date is: Saturday, March 1st, 2008.

Location is: the Conference Ballroom at the CNIB Centre on Bayview. Lots of parking and the bus stops right there.

More info as it becomes available.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Hundred Dollar Hamburger.

We're going to have to rethink this whole Odessa thing. The Odessa Antique Show opens for early admission at 2:00pm Saturday. That means we pay $20.00 each, rather than seven bucks a day later, so we can get in there and scoop all the good stuff. With gas and food and admission for two people we're looking at about $100 in the hole before we've spent penny one on antiques.

The show itself was okay but nothing outstanding, nothing worth driving and $100 for, other than a day in the country. That hundred bucks would have made the difference in a number of ebay purchases, so again I'm thinkin' why bother?

Then there's the attitude. Since many dealers were running around trying to shop at the other dealers, they didn't get their own set-ups open for the early admission shoppers. If you asked them when they were going to be open, the response was mañana, they'll be ready for Sunday's opening.

So why am I paying early admission?

A little background here. When we first started doing this about thirty years ago, there was no real early admission. A few collectors caught on to the notion that they could rent a space at a show, not bother putting anything in it, and then spend the whole time shopping before the general admission gates opened. Four people in one car could split the cost. It might even work out to be cheaper than general admission.

The show managers twigged to this and started selling early admission tickets for about the same price as a booth rental. This appealed to both collectors who were willing to pay the premium to get first pick, and to promoters willing to take in the extra money without booking potential no-shows: a lot of empty dealer spaces on the field look bad for everybody.

Dealers gained by having motivated shoppers in right off the top, but lost the early picking edge for themselves.
It's always been a delicate balance this buying/selling thing: most dealers start as collectors.

Nobody at age six said: I wanna be a dealer when I grow up. Okay, maybe the Keno Brothers did. But somewhere along the line the little cartoon light bulb went off over her head and the collector said: hey, I've got two of these apple peelers, I'll sell the yucky one at twice what I paid for it and that'll pay for the good one I'm keeping.

Thus is born the dealer.

But where do you serve your customers in all this? Are you keeping the best stuff for yourself? Are you doing all this running around for them or for you?

Again, I'm thinkin' why pay early admission if a third of the dealers aren't there to sell?

As for the stuff that was there, not great.
Many dealers though seem to be living in the mid 1990s when pricing was top dollar. Let's just say that the pricing on the field was, at best, optimistic. Maybe they are getting that kind of money for the merch, I don't know, but a couple of American shoppers visitors were overheard on a cell phone telling friends not to bother coming: too high prices, too low value.

I know I didn't buy anything except a hamburger, and not a particularly good burger at that.

But the sun was out and it was a lovely day in the country.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Welcome To The Monkey House

There's just something about a small town all coming together in the late summer, other than for a lynching, I mean.

Every year at this time we take a trip through what is amusingly referred to as "the country" by us city folk. We make our destinati
on the Annual Odessa Antique Show. It's normally a two hour highway drive from the city but we leave Toronto six hours early so that we can hit all the small town yard sales especially the annual town sale at Cramagh.

It's not that there are any great treasures to be found here. Now that everyone's a dealer, those finds are few and far between; but you can find some useful second-hand stuff, which you can later sell at your own yard sale after you discover that it's not really as useful as you'd hoped it might be.

It's just seems reassuring somehow to see townsfolk join in a greater community effort and it pays homage to the city held belief that small communities are the heart of this country; all coming together to help Jimmy Stewart in his hour of need.

I pause to wipe the tear from my cheek.

As I said, it's a common myth; country folk are just as human and miserable as the rest of us, but with better air and more grass to cut.

Aside from the large town sale in the park, there are many many others all along the highway: the legion hall; the library selling its discards; the big sale at the funeral home...hmm; the guy that lives in a church who has to move (the guy, not the church.)

I think that most small towns across North America have this kind of sale at this time of year, along with the Firehall BBQs, and Fall Fairs and all manner of harvest festivals.

I enjoy going, eating local foods, like Maple Leaf brand hot dogs and Maple Leaf brand bacon-on-a-bun and funnel cakes and Nanaimo bars.

I think a lot of city people go, some to dream of retiring to a small close knit community, others to remind themselves why they escaped rural life in the first place and that they're absolutely city folk.

I'm not sure what brings us, what draws us to these green acres and the life bucolic, but here we are just the same; on the outside looking in.

My best find was not something that's not terribly valuable, but there's a very important Fall Harvest Festival just around the corner. I'm sure I'll find a use for it.

Welcome to the monkey house.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mock Turtle

And speaking of rummage sales...

There's a news story out of Elmira New York:

It seems that Anita Lewis had a large rummage sale and some of the items were mostly the turtle collection of her husband's previous (late) wife.

Well, one of the turtles held the late wife's ashes.


A woman comes along and buys a large ceramic turtle from Lewis; what a lovely cookie jar this'll make, she thinks to herself, and pays the fifty cents.

Hubby Lewis wakes up, sees what's happened and all turtle-hell breaks loose.

They contact the local newspaper, the Star-Gazette of Elmira who then receives an anonymous tip and all's well that ends well at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop in the town of Horseheads, N.Y.

I can imagine the conversation that led up to that anonymous call:

Honeybunny, look what I bought at the rummage sale for fifty cents; ewww there's ashes in it! The lady said it came from a smoke free home, now I can't put it on ebay.

I don't think those are cigarette ashes, pumpkin.

Huh? OMG what do I do now?

Get rid of it.

But, I paid fifty cents for it.

Well lemme put the ol' thinking cap on. Okay, here's what we do. Donate it to the Sally Ann, take the tax write off, and call the paper anonymously to let them know where it is.

Are you sure?

Actually the seal was never broken so they didn't know what was inside, they just heard what happened and left a voice mail with the reporter.

You can get the whole story, with pix, straight from the turtle's mouth at Star-Gazette of Elmira.

I know Elmira, it's a lovely little town and we haven't been there in a while so maybe, we should take little trip. Who knows what might be found; gotta love those rummage sales.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Slowly, I Turned

It's Saturday, so naturally we were out a-sale-ing. It's also a holiday weekend with not a whole lot going on, so...slim pickings.

But one of the things we did find was a little Niagara Falls souvenir ashtray
. Okay, but not great. But there are plenty of NF collectors around. Tourists have been gawking at the Falls since forever; and dealers have been hawking the Falls for just as long.

When PZ and I got married in 1969 we couldn't make it to Woodstock, so naturally we did the next best thing: we waited 'til the middle of November and went to Niagara Falls. It was beautiful; the ho'frost was all frozen in the trees looking very winter wonderland and all, and oh yeah, the Falls was shut off. Did I mention that?

I know you saw that 1950s film about the kid who accidentally shuts off the Falls, (SPOILER: IT WAS A DREAM!) but this is the emmis.

To retard erosion, the US Corps of Engineers stopped the flow over American Falls for a little behind the scenes work and they remained dry until November 25, 1969.


(But this happens to us a lot: we go places, oh let's say... the Trevi Fountain, and... closed for maintenance.) Okay, back the blog...

Anyway, this ashtray is pretty early, late 19th century, I'm thinkin'.

How do I know?

Sorry, how do I think I know. I get asked this a lot during my lectures, so here's THE PROCESS:

Look at it.

What do we see?

If we look closely we can see that the image is transferware: this is a process out of mid 19th century England. A
copper plate is engraved with the scene then used to print said scene on a piece of tissue which transfers the wet ink to your piece of china. Pop 'er into the kiln and you're done.

Okay so now we know it's no earlier than mid 19th century.

Next we look at the illustration again and in the corner, I spy with my little eye, a little boat.

And, Indiana Jones like, I make a leap of faith and guess that it's the Maid of the Mist which has, in all its various incarnations, been getting tourists all wet down there since as early as 1846, but due to money troubles and the War of Northern Aggression, really did not get going until around 1893.

And that's when tourism is really getting off the ground, and into the water, so to speak. What a coincidence.

Next, flip the thing over.
What do we see?

A whole lot of nothing; at least no trade or maker's marks or country of origin. Why is this important?

Because in 1890-'91 the McKinley Tariff Act required goods coming into the US to be marked with their country of origin.

(On Sept. 5, 1901,
President McKinley addressed the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, N.Y., advocating commercial reciprocity among nations. The next day he was shot down by an anarchist and died. This is in Buffalo, just steps from Niagara Falls....Coincidence, I think not.)

Okay but what if it was made in USA? would it still need a mark? Nope.

So what do we know?

We know, maybe, it's pre 1891. Maybe not.

But probably somewhere in the 1890s. Maybe.

That's a whole lotta maybe's. Nothin' for sure, just a lot of educated guessing. And that's the process, kids, that's how we do it.

Do not look behind the screen.

Oh, as for today's blog title, there was once an old vaudeville routine which involved the trigger phrase "NIAGARA FALLS."

Niagara Falls? Slowly I turned...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hannibal and Honey

After watching Hannibal about sixty two times -- I didn't like it at first, but it's, ahh, grown on me, and really liking Mason Verger's little pied à terre, we decided to take a small detour off the interstate and head for Asheville NC and the film's location site: the Biltmore Estate. And I don't know why, but watching Hannibal always makes me hungry. Curious.

But the house! It's big. Really, really, BIG! Picture the biggest house you would build if you won the $500,000,000 Powerball lottery. Okay, got that image in your mind? It's bigger!

I'd be happy with the driver's apartment over the garage.

And still in Vanderbilt Family private hands. In fact, I believe it's the largest house still in private hands in America. There's a hefty admission price (from about $30-60 depending on day & season), even with my senior's discount. I love America: in Canada, I have to wait years before claiming any sort of senior's discount; In America, I just flash that AARP card (which you can get at fifty) and away we go. But it is magnificent.

And there's a shuttle bus that takes you from the various parking lots up to the house. I love saying that: there's a shuttle bus that takes you up to the house.

Anyway, after the tour, we drove into Asheville for breakfast.

Now, I'd read Holley Bishop's book Robbing the Bees about the art of well, robbing the bees. A biography of honey, she says. This book was right up my alley, and believe you me, it's a very tight alley (I have issues). I love social histories. I've read the various histories of Cod, Salt and Sushi. What fun. Much of Bishop's research was spent at the Smiley Apiaries in Northern Florida and they have a specialty: Tupelo Honey.

Smiley's is also the setting for Peter Fonda's film Ulee's Gold. He got an Oscar® nod for that one and Van Morrison sings "Tupelo Honey" over the closing credits.

But Smiley's in the Florida panhandle is just a wee bit
out of our way, but right here, in downtown Asheville, is our destination: (insert fanfare here)The Tupelo Honey Cafe, where they serve (and sell) Smiley's Tupelo Honey.

Go figure. What a coincidence.

So we had brunch: Petunia's Pain Perdu, a chalah french toast with almonds and edible flowers; and the sweet potato pancakes.

In France (and Asheville) they don't call it French toast, they call it a Burger Royale pain perdu.

And naturally we drizzled Tupelo honey over everything.

And so I bought a case of the stuff.

Not just for us you understand, but we have poor, sickly, needy friends who are diabetic and are forbidden honey; but now some doctors for some patients will allow them to have Tupelo Honey because of its low sucrose levels.

What lucky friends!

It also doesn't solidify, so you never have to do the whole double boiler thing. And oh joy of joys, you can order this stuff by mail from Smiley's or try for another brand: Savannah Bee Company's Tupelo Honey.

But that was all a while ago, and now we're down to the last half bottle. Hmm...

Road trip!