When Postcards Made Every Town Seem Glamorous, From Asbury Park to Zanesville

From the 1930s through the 1950s, tourists taking their first road trips in their newfangled automobiles would frequently stop along the way to pick up a few colorful postcards to mail to the folks back home. The most popular form of eat-your-heart-out greeting was the large-letter postcard, which had been around since the first part of the 20th century but whose heyday was during what we know … (continue reading)

These People Love to Collect Radioactive Glass. Are They Nuts?

For many glass collectors, the only color that matters is Vaseline. That’s the catch-all word describing pressed, pattern, and blown glass in shades ranging from canary yellow to avocado green. Vaseline glass gets its oddly urinous color from radioactive uranium, which causes it to glow under a black light. Everyone who collects Vaseline glass knows it’s got uranium in it, which means everyone who comes in … (continue reading)

The Waiting Game: What It Really Takes to Get on ‘Antiques Roadshow’

At the Convention Center in Santa Clara, California, ticket holders waiting to get into “Antiques Roadshow” stand into a long line folded onto itself like a dense square. The hopefuls are toting their most prized possessions—a vase lovingly wrapped in a towel and riding in a laundry basket on a wagon; a carousel deer with real antlers and a chunk missing from its head; a 4-foot-tall painting … (continue reading)

Skeletons in Our Closets: Will the Private Market for Dinosaur Bones Destroy Us All?

When it comes to collecting, there’s old, and then there’s old. We’re not talking Mid-Century Modern old, or Victorian old, or Colonial American old, or even ancient Chinese or Egyptian old. No, we’re talking prehistory old, from the Pleistocene (11,000 to 2.5 million years ago), to the Cretaceous (66 to 145 million years ago), to the Permian (250 to 300 million years ago).

“If you were … (continue reading)

Medicinal Soft Drinks and Coca-Cola Fiends: The Toxic History of Soda Pop

Soda’s reputation has fallen a bit flat lately: The all-American beverage most recently made headlines due to an FDA investigation of a potential carcinogen, commonly called “caramel coloring,” used in many soft-drink recipes. This bit of drama follows other recent stories that paint an unflattering picture of the soda industry, including New York’s attempt to ban super-sized drinks, the eviction of soda machines from many public schools, and … (continue reading)

Beer Money and Babe Ruth: Why the Yankees Triumphed During Prohibition

Baseball season is upon us, so naturally our thoughts turn to beer. Yes beer, the social lubricant that transforms even the most taciturn fans into long-lost brothers and sisters—when it isn’t serving as the catalyst for countless post-game brawls in countless parking lots and bars.

“Ruth responded to the writer’s hyperbole by swatting a three-run homer.”
We all have our beer-and-baseball stories, whether it’s the salving … (continue reading)

Awkward! 28 Cringe-Worthy Vintage Product Endorsements

There’s a moment in your typical advertising brainstorm when the people charged with wrestling the creative elements to the ground cry uncle, settling on a clumsy compromise for the sake of getting on with the really important business—billing their clients. Or so these advertisements fronted by some rather improbable pitchmen and women would suggest. Is a clown really going to convince us to buy tires for our cars? Did … (continue reading)

Good, Clean Fun: This Rock Star Parties Hard (with Hot Wheels and Wacky Packs)

Dave Schools is not your typical Hot Wheels collector. Certainly, his passion for toy cars was not why I called him up last fall, when I was writing a story about a new book called “Poster Children,” which covers 25 years of concert posters produced by the band Schools co-founded, … (continue reading)

Losing Ourselves in Holiday Windows

As the deadline approaches for ordering last-minute gifts online, most of us must finish our Christmas shopping the analog way—walking into stores and picking things out by hand. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with an old-fashioned department store, you might get a glimpse of their fantastic holiday displays, packed full of animated elves and artfully piled gifts. But in most places, such scenes … (continue reading)

Will the Real Santa Claus Please Stand Up?

We always think of Santa Claus as an incredibly old man—positively ancient—but the fact is, he’s exactly 150-years-old, born in 1863. Indeed, we might be thinking of Santa’s predecessor St. Nicholas, who is far older, believed to have been a Turkish Greek bishop in the 300s. But the first European winter gift-bringer is even more of a geezer, going back to ancient Germanic paganism … (continue reading)

Guts and Gumption: Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Wore Their Hearts on Their Helmets

Like the soldiers who fought in World War II, most of the men and women who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War in the ’60s and ’70s were remarkably young, between the ages of 18 and 25. Those who volunteered to man the primary aircraft of the war, the helicopter, put their lives at a risk every day they were on tour. As a … (continue reading)

Where Have the Carousel Animals Gone? Antique Merry-Go-Rounds Fight Extinction

Try to call up a childhood memory of riding the merry-go-round: the lights, the mirrors, the band organ playing circus tunes. Do you remember what the horse you rode looked like, how well its musculature was delineated, or what was carved behind the saddle? Can you visualize the art on the structure itself, such as gargoyles and paintings of landscapes?

“The carousel carvers really let their chisels … (continue reading)

Murder and Mayhem in Miniature: The Lurid Side of Staffordshire Figurines

For most of us, ceramic figurines conjure sentimental images straight out of children’s books, tame kitsch at its worst. But once upon a time, these little sculptures had an edge. The subjects that graced Staffordshire pottery more than 200 years ago weren’t for the fainthearted: Imagine giving grandma a figurine that mocked discriminatory marriage laws or portrayed a gruesome series of animal attacks. Welcome to the world of … (continue reading)

Collectors on a Mission: When Americans Saw the World Through Evangelists’ Eyes

At the World Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the three shrunken heads from the Jivaro tribes in Peru and Ecuador—with their shriveled, leathery skin, and sometimes threads strewn from their mouths—were the showstoppers. While the museum held life-size sculptures of headhunters, Thai orchestra instruments, several paintings by Gustave Doré, giant elephant tusks, and artifacts from ancient Chinese dynasties, it was the shrunken-head display that drew crowds. Adults and schoolchildren … (continue reading)

World’s Smallest Museum Finds the Wonder in Everyday Objects