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

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Flying the ‘Freak’ Flag: Documentary Will Reveal Why You Should Care About Stamps

Chicago-based documentary filmmaker Mark Cwiakala grew up surrounded by stamps, yet, he never felt compelled to become a collector himself. However, eight years ago, he teamed with executive producer Jonathan Singer to go on a globetrotting journey to find out what exactly made stamps so irresistible to his grandfather and father, both well-respected philatelists. The younger Cwiakala and Singer, who head the film and … (continue reading)

Gloriously Grotesque 19th-Century Pipes

The meerschaum pipes carved in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century are among the most bizarre and improbable concoctions in decorative art. Some feature bowls made from the heads of historical figures like Napoleon while others sport the likenesses of literary characters such as Sir Dagonet, King Arthur’s much-abused jester (above). There are pipes based on nursery rhymes, others depicting … (continue reading)

Coveting The Craziest Cat-People Collectibles

The memes are endless—Grumpy Cat, Nyan Cat, Keyboard Cat, Maru, and all the Lolcats. Last year even witnessed the first ever Internet Cat Video Festival at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, with more than 10,000 people in attendance. Maybe it’s the culmination of living with domesticated kittens for thousands of years, or perhaps it’s due to an insidious epidemic of feline-hosted Toxoplasmosis. Regardless, we’re having a … (continue reading)

John Lennon’s Oddly Patronizing Letter to Eric Clapton Up For Auction

On December 18, 2012, almost 300 historic documents will be auctioned by Profiles in History in Calabasas Hills, just outside of Los Angeles. Almost buried amid the piles of letters penned by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Vincent Van Gogh, and Albert Einstein is an eight-page note written in 1971 by John Lennon to Eric Clapton, in which the former Beatle invites the former Cream guitarist … (continue reading)