Friday, July 12, 2013

The Skinny: Maxwell House

We recently listed some great vintage coasters in our Etsy shop:
In our shop! Here

Which got us thinking about the Maxwell House Hotel, so we decided to do a little digging. Maxwell House coffee, not surprisingly, was named after the Nashville hotel where it was first served. Built in the mid-1800s, the hotel cost half a million dollars (which is a serious chunk o' change for that time period). It had a colorful history, being used as a hospital, prison, and military housing during the Civil War. In April of 1867, the hotel played host to some other infamous guests:
Early Ku Klux Klan gear; From here

In fact, this was the first official national meeting of the KKK, and marked the beginning of the group's transition to political terrorism. Maxwell House coffee wasn't introduced to the hotel until 25 years later, so imagine a gathering of angry, politically passionate, un-caffeinated men....
Maxwell House Hotel, 1925;

The hotel itself, once finished, was the height of Nashville luxury. The building's five floors held a total of 240 rooms, renting at $4 per day (including food!), and featuring gas lighting, steam heat, and a bathing room for each floor. There was a restaurant downstairs (which would later have awesome coasters!), as well as a fancy mahogany and gilt lobby, separate ladies' and gentlemen's sitting rooms, a jewelry store (Calhoun's Jewelers) and the big Bs: Barbers, Bars, and a Ballroom.

Maxwell House Hotel ballroom;
Just out of curiosity, I went to and made use of their inflation calculator. It seems like $4 in the 1860s would have been an awful lot of money. According to the calculator, though, $4 in 1867 translates to around $65 today. I feel the need to write an irate letter to the Days Inn regarding the quality of their $65 experience....

Interior, Maxwell House Hotel;
The greatest popularity of the Maxwell House Hotel was from the 1890s through World War I. Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley slept there, as did Presidents Johnson, Hayes, Cleveland, Roosevelt, McKinley, Taft, and Wilson. In fact, legend has it that Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed a cup of Maxwell House coffee at breakfast one morning, and gleefully declared it "Good to the last drop!", which became the official slogan.
 I found it even more interesting that Cornelius Vanderbilt stayed at the hotel, because if a Vanderbilt stayed there, it must have been very fancy, indeed. Daily arrivals were published in the local newspaper.
March 6, 1879, "Yesterday's Arrivals"; From Here

Sadly, the hotel caught fire on Christmas in 1961 and was destroyed. I found a blog about the hotel fire that even includes a link to 8mm footage of the fire. If you want to see it, go here and scroll to the link at the end of the 3rd paragraph. The film owner granted permission to that blogger to post the footage, so I don't feel comfortable re-posting it here. It is in color, and shows the firefighters at work. The blog also features comments from Nashville residents who remember the fire when it happened, so if you're interested, just scroll to the bottom of the post.

Bad news for the hotel, but the good news for us is that we know that our coasters are 1961 or earlier. Memorabilia from the hotel is not easy to find, but here are a couple of items that I found online:
Hotel stationery from 1907; ebay
Post card; ebay

*Information obtained from: Wikipedia,, and

Thursday, July 11, 2013

On the Radar -- The Prints Make the Man

Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2013

OK, so it's a raining and dark outside, and I'm a day late on writing the blog.  I'd like to say that today's On the Radar post is not just an excuse to look at male models, but to be honest, it partly is.  I'm a little bit sleepy, a lot cozy in my bathrobe, and screw it, I just want to look at hot guys.

But there really is a trend here.  All the major designers seem to be embracing color and pattern in a big way, and these prints that they are coming up with are cray-cray.  I don't know any men personally that would wear these clothes, but they are fun to look at.  And well, so are the models.

Enjoy the round-up, because just for you, dear readers, I've slaved away looking at tons of pictures to find you my faves.  (It's such hard work, but alas, I must do it.)

Moschino, Fall/Winter 2013
Prada, Spring 2014
Dolce & Gabbana, Spring 2013
Givenchy, Spring 2014
Dolce & Gabbana, Fall/Winter 2013
Alexander McQueen, Fall/Winter 2013

Oh, and you're welcome for this one.  It's so very on trend...

Dolce & Gabbana, Spring 2014

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Junk Love: Enid Collins!

We Blackbirds have a lot of things in common. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I was looking through my old photo albums in search of a picture of my brother. I never did find the one I was after, but I did find a picture of myself in kindergarten, wearing my favorite dress and a purely angelic smile. I showed it to the other Blackbird, who stared at it for a few seconds and then got up and went into the next room. She dug through her own box of pics, and triumphantly pulled out her own kindergarten snapshot.

We didn't meet until much, much later, but I think it's pretty clear that our friendship was preordained. (In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that I hated her when we met. It was our love of junk that bridged that gap, after I discovered how many collections we had in common. Or, it was her winning personality. Yeah, that was it.) Anyway, despite our similarities, we also have a lot of differences. I am a perpetual t-shirt and jeans kind of girl. She is, too, except for her tendency to wear dresses a lot. She also has a collection of vintage purses. This means that whenever we are going anywhere out of the ordinary, it involves choosing the perfect thing to wear and the perfect purse. I know, this is not a novel idea. It just gives me an excuse to roll my eyes on a fairly regular basis.

But, I have a dark secret. I used to be girly. In the era of that kindergarten picture, I was a dress girl most of the time. I especially loved stripes and rainbow colors. And, I had a pretty large purse collection of my own. And my purse always had to coordinate with my outfit. How else was I supposed to transport my fruity chapstick, handful of pennies, and pink plastic compact mirror? I hit a definite turning point a few years later (oh, the trauma of the Great Pageant Incident!), when I abandoned my beauty regime and fancy things in favor of comfort clothes with pockets. I still carry chapstick, and sometimes pennies, but always in a pocket.

However, I still love vintage purses. I don't buy them for myself, because I would never use them, but I appreciate their fabulousness. If I need to live vicariously, I buy one as a present for the other Blackbird. And, at the top of my wish list (for her, of course) is a vintage Enid Collins. Anything with classic 1960s metallic accents and brightly colored jewel critters appeals to my inner rainbow child. So, allow me to proceed with the wish list. (What makes it even better is that if I asked the other Blackbird to select pictures of Enid Collins purses without any guidance from myself, she would probably end up with this same collection of photos. Like I said, our friendship was preordained.) I want to put a chapstick in every single one!

Skunk purse; Etsy

Glitter Bugs purse; Etsy

Cable car purse; Etsy

Enid Collins zipper clutch; Etsy

Sagittarius purse, sold on Etsy


Taurus purse

Elephant purse, sold on Etsy

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Skinny -- Paul Himmel

Grand Central Terminal, NYC, 1947

Paul Himmel, an American fashion and documentary photographer, was born in 1914 in New Haven, Connecticut.  His parents were Ukranian immigrants.  They moved to Coney Island in 1922, and opened the country's first vegetarian restaurant.   

As a teenager, Himmel taught himself about photography.  But he went to school for science, and began teaching in 1932.  It wasn't his calling, though, and he then studied graphic journalism at the New School with Harper's Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch in the late 1940s (Brodovitch worked there from 1938-58).  

Himmel's portrait of Bassman

It was his relationship with Lillian Bassman, the love of his life, that most affected Himmel, though.  He met her in 1923, married her in 1935, and exhibited his first work in 1939 -- photos taken while on a trip to Mexico with her.  Bassman was also a fashion photographer, and is very well known in her own right.  They were married over 73 years.

He started to work as a professional photographer in 1945, and by 1947 he was working steadily as a fashion photographer for Bazaar and Vogue.  He was one of the very few who worked for both magazines.  Unfortunately, all his negatives from this time have been destroyed.

Bassman and Himmel, 2003

By the 1950s, bored with the commercialism of his fashion work, Himmel started his own art projects.  He looked to the human form for inspiration, focusing on people who used their bodies in their own work, like ballet dancers, circus performers, and boxers.  He experimented with grain structure in his negatives and prints, using a series of silhouetted and elongated forms abbreviated almost to the point of abstraction.  His photos are high-contrast, emphasizing the design and patterns contained in the image.

ballet in action, 1954

He published a book, ballet in action, in 1954.  It had an extensive foreword, written by George Balanchine, the lead choreographer of the New York City Ballet.  In 1955, some of his images were included in a show curated by Edward Steichen, called "The Family of Man" for MOMA.

ballet in action, 1954

Himmel took his last photograph in 1967, and by 1969, he became disenchanted with photography and retrained as a psychotherapist. He worked in psychotherapy for more than 25 years.  An exhibition at the New York Galleries, by Howard Greenberg and James Danzinger, in 1996 reintroduced his work; it was an instant success, and a new book of his work was published.

Abstract Nudes, 1954

Paul Himmel died February 8, 2009.

*Info from, and Wikipedia