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Category Archives: Vintage

Look What I Found: Sing for America (1944)

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Early this year, I resolved to buy myself a fascinating older book full of nice illustrations, a la James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book or The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs, in an effort to expand my library within an affordable price range. Five months in, I’ve broken the $15-a-pop ceiling a few times and even bought some newer (yet beautifully illustrated) books. I thought vaguely of combining every monthly book into one long, huge post at the end of the year, but my sensible spouse encouraged me to write about them one at a time. Good thinking. So, I’m now presenting the acquisition for May — Sing for America, a patriotic 1944 songs-and-history volume with artwork by the great Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren.

Sing for America came out during a transitional period for Tenggren, when he was moving from traditional, fairy tale-inspired styles to a modern, color-saturated sensibility. This was a book meant for young people to appreciate America’s developing musical heritage, with Wheeler’s silly, fictionalized text alongside sheet music for songs like “My Old Kentucky Home.” A few of the illustrations delve into Politically Incorrect territory, but being Tenggren they are all fantastically done – with a stylized zest that conveys this Swedish immigrant’s fascination with Americana (the artist lived in the U.S. for twenty-plus years at this point, and would remain here until his death in 1970). Coming immediately after his stint as a concept artist for the Disney studios, one can see the Disney influence rubbing off on these pieces (along with the vintage Little Golden Books feel used on projects like Tenggren’s The Poky Little Puppy). In 127 pages, Tenggren contributes everything from lavish, beautifully composed full-pages in living color, to stylish, Deco-ish spot illustrations, to the whimsical endpapers with American children of various races and historical periods.

Sing for America was published by E. P. Dutton & Co. in 1944, apparently in a single edition. It’s out of print, but copies can be obtained pretty affordably at sites like AbeBooks.com.

"The Old Oaken Bucket"

“The Old Oaken Bucket”


"America the Beautiful"

“America the Beautiful”


"Jingle Bells"

“Jingle Bells”


"Sing for America" title page spread.

“Sing for America” title page spread.


"Home on the Range"

“Home on the Range”


"Sing for America" endpaper detail.

“Sing for America” endpaper detail.

I Got You (I Feel Good)


This is my new birthday tradition – starting a month before the big day (October 8th), I gift myself with a bunch of interesting music, movies and books. The results of this spree are pictured above, along with a few other gifts from family. I ended up getting a lot more books this year, which is wonderful. One of them, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé by Saint Etienne musician and writer Bob Stanley, has been on my radar since the author mentioned it on his Croydon Municipal blog last year. Although I’m just a few chapters in, so far it’s fantastic – a detailed, factual yet charmingly idiosyncratic history of Pop music from the ’50s to the dawn of the Napster era in the late ’90s. Stanley doesn’t subscribe to that hoary old Rock Canon thing that all the important music from that period came from white guys playing guitars – he understands that Pop at its essence is a democratic thing (payola and the whims of record labels and deejays played into it, too). Apparently this book was revised for the U.S. edition, nevertheless I’m enjoying Stanley’s insights into less-familiar musical styles such as Skiffle, which was the British take on Rockabilly.

The other book from this pile I’m currently reading is the 1971-72 volume of Fantagraphics’ chronological hardback reprints of Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts daily comics. Despite having the lamest-ever celebrity “introduction” (Kristin Chenoweth’s piece is pretty much a brief interview, and a shallow one at that), this volume’s strips are getting more focused (lots of Charlie Brown/Peppermint Patty interplay) and philosophical at this point. This one contains lots of strips with Sally fretting about school – some of my favorites! I’m also looking forward to Victoria Wilson’s giant-sized biography of Barbara Stanwyck, despite the frequent criticism that it needed editing down. This 1,044-page volume only covers the iconic actress’ life up through the year 1940! It looks tantalizing, and besides it should be a breeze compared to Moby Dick. Unless Miss Stanwyck did some whaling in her free time, I don’t see any other comparison between the two.

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Cat Food for Thought is a cute little volume given by my brother and sister-in-law. Those who remember the zippy vintage packaging collected in the authors’ Meet Mr. Product (2003) and Ad Boy (2009) will find the same thing here, with a twist. This and the companion book Dog Food for Thought presents more vintage pet food designs alongside various clever quips about dogs and cats. (Since Christopher also gave some vintage animation cels from a ’70s Good Mews commercial, this will heretofore be officially known as my cat food birthday.)

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The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design is another one that I’d been anticipating for awhile. Todd Polson had a dual purpose in mind when putting this book together. It’s both a visually sumptuous tribute to the background artist and designer behind innumerable classic Warner Bros. cartoons and a handy tutorial for artists and animators seeking practical advice on color theory, composition and movement. Not only is the instructional aspect clearly presented and quite handy (I could definitely use the help on color – and Noble was a master at it), the biographical info and copious reproductions of Noble’s beautiful layouts make it a wonderful tribute. Shown stripped of their usual context with Bugs Bunny and/or Daffy Duck overlaid on top, one can truly see that this stuff is art.

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I also made sure to get myself a great vintage illustrated book – last year it was James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book with art by Alice and Martin Provensen; this year, it’s The Abelard Folk Song Book, a 1958 sheet music and history collection featuring the whimsical art of Abner Graboff. This Ward Jenkins blog entry from 2009 shed some light on this overlooked illustrator, along with several examples of his work. It was actually Ward’s detective work that inspired me to look out for his books! I’m happy to finally have an example of his art in my library.

There’s more. Christopher gave me this neat brochure produced by American Cyanamid, in which a prototypical ’50s housewife character named Mrs. Holliday demonstrates the benefits of Formica, Melmac and other completely unnatural substances. It’s all pretty funny, yet the art of Mrs. Holliday and her family are beautiful examples of the modern, cartoony look so popular back then. I really need to scan all of them (the artist is uncredited, unfortunately), but hopefully this one photo will suffice. C. also surprised me with a copy of Automotive Quarterly, a hardback publication geared towards vintage auto enthusiasts. We already saw this particular 1975 volume at the auto museum in San Diego – the cover story is an illustrated essay speculating on the future of car design from our favorite futuristic concept designer, Syd Mead! I’m gonna have to get the scanner out for this one, too.

I like birthdays.

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James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book


Love at first sight? This Brain Pickings blog post celebrates 1948’s James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book, the collaboration between chef and simple foods advocate James Beard and legendary children’s book illustrators Alice and Martin Provensen. The fanciful artwork in that post prompted another episode where I had to get my own copy (and, since I hadn’t owned anything else done by the beloved Provensens, it was a no-brainer).

The book certainly wasn’t a disappointment. With just about every one of its 300 pages containing artwork of some kind, this must have been a major undertaking for the Provensens. I’m talking huge – several full-color artworks on full pages and spreads, along with a few hundred smaller drawings that cleverly use black with a single color (over 400 illustrations in all, according to the title page). Similar in spirit to Charley Harper’s work on the Betty Crocker Dinner for Two Cook Book, the Provensen’s delightful whimsy makes every page sing. I photographed just a few of the highlights for this post and dropped them in my Flickr Cool Vintage Illustration set (click on the photos for a better look).

Aside from the terrific art, Fireside benefits from the timeless recipes and advice of James Beard (1903-1985), a proponent of fresh cooking and non-processed ingredients in American cuisine. This book must have filled a huge need for people in the post-World War II era eager to return to simple, elegant dining.

Simon and Shuster has frequently kept James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book in print over the years, renaming it The Fireside Cookbook in 1982. The current edition adds a new introduction, but it appears to have the wonderful art reproduced in black and white (why??). Vintage copies are still obtainable at a decent price, however (my copy is an eighth hardback printing). Click here to purchase at Amazon.com.

So Much To See… So Much To Do

TWA Airlines customer information folder front, circa 1958.

Here’s something new from my Ephemera Flickr set… various take-home paper items made by now-defunct Trans World Airlines in the 1950s. These carry a lot of the kitsch and charm of vintage travel items, from back when people actually dressed up to fly (long, long ago). My favorite piece is the TWA charge card application with cartoon illustration of that archetypical ’50s Man reclining with a bevy of stewardesses tending to his needs, along with a bizarrely placed house cat. It’s the only way to fly. These items were collected by Christopher and are currently up for auction on eBay.

Having Wonderful Time

Vintage postcard of Fantasyland in Disneyland, circa 1960.

Today I’m looking at artifacts from The Happiest Place On Earthâ„¢. As my first trip there in seven years plus six months approaches, I’m pretty excited. Last month, we went to a local paper memorabilia collectors’ show – and in anticipation, I scoured the dealers’ supply of vintage Disneyland postcards for stuff to add to my collection. Mostly I just look for interesting images of bygone attractions, meaning basically not-so-rare items like the Fantasyland one pictured above. There were several I wanted, but I ultimately ended up with the ones pictured here for under $20 – including the rarity seen at the end of this entry.

Chorus girls high kickin’ it at the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Most Disneyland postcards have some sense of the bustling activity of tourists at the park, but I kinda like how this one captures a laid-back dress rehearsal (or maybe it’s just a poorly attended performance). For this next trip, I’m planning to check out places like the G.H.R. that I wouldn’t normally seek out. Since this is one of the few spots in the park basically unchanged since the ’50s, I’m looking forward to checking it out (really, this postcard might look exactly the same photographed today in the same spot).

And now, a view that the Disney Co. suits have casually ruined! The two Mary Blair tile murals in Tomorrowland were among my favorite things in Disneyland as a child – riding the Peoplemover, craning to see all the details and colors in the tiles. Good times. I think Walt Disney understood that things like this, although they didn’t have a “spacey” feel that totally adhered to the tomorrow theme, accurately captured the optimism of the future. As for what they have there now, I don’t particularly care.

The entrance of Adventureland, captured at or around the time Disneyland first opened in 1955. The early D-land card have that sparse look, along with shoddier printing that accentuated the pink/magenta side of the color spectrum. This one was a little more pricey, but I’m so happy I bought it to go along with the early view of the Main Street horse-drawn carriage already in the postcard collection. At first I thought they changed this entrance somehow since then, but I think it’s the mature tropical foliage that has subsequently grown around the structure that makes it different looking.

A lot of Disneyland postcards have a standardized layout on the reverse side, but sometimes one finds a neat graphic like the Tinkerbell below, which was on the Fantasyland card at the top of this entry. What a cute way to say “wish you were here.”

Cock A Doodle Doo!

John Alcorn “Birds & Beasts” illustration, 1966.

Browsing my contacts’ uploads at Pinterest, I was taken by some sweet, eye-catching art from illustrator John Alcorn. The imagery came from a 1966 book, The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs (which I tracked down – thank you, eBay). As someone who loves art inspired by that funky, stylish Push Pin Studios aesthetic, this volume was a winner. The 192-page book is a simple concept, presenting sheet music for classic kiddie singalongs such as “There Was An Old Lady” and “Did You Ever See A Lassie?” The retro display fonts and Alcorn’s inventive artwork complement the songs in a cute, very ’60s-patchwork kinda way.

Alcorn’s folksy, whimsical art made him a very active man in the ’60s and ’70s – his art graces the fabulous packaging for Eve cigarettes, for one. The Fireside project must have been a huge endeavor for him; just about every page is packed with drawings printed in hot pink, mustard gold and burnt orange. The sampling of pages pictured here nicely represent the book’s art, and yet I might break out the scanner and put some more on my flickr account. There’s a veritable bushel-full of wild, fun, inspirational imagery in here, which makes me happy I bought it.

The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs.

“Mules”

“The Animal Song”

“Good Morning and Good Night”

“All Through The Night”

“Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!”

“The World Turned Upside Down”