Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas vintage and found objects... One thing leads to another

This is going to be a unique blog post, because it's going to go full circle. From Christmas, to a 1930s radio, to an old newspaper (advertising a store that hasn't existed in some time), to an old Christmas radio show recorded at that very store and possibly heard on that 1930s radio. Follow all that? It all begins and ends with Christmas. That certainly wasn't the plan for this blog post, but one thing led to another in that order.

This chain of events begins with a trip to a local tree lighting. Santa was there to visit the kids. He rolled into town on the top of a firetruck.

A mysterious photo of Mrs. Claus:

I like the way the light hit her glasses there.

After the village was lit and Santa visited the kids, there were a few local businesses and shops to look at. The town visitor center had some pieces from the historical society out to show what an old living room would have looked like at Christmas. As far as I understood, these were all local pieces.

So starting here, way back in time... Well, you'll have to use your imagination. I'm sitting in a room full of vintage furnishings. The chair felt old. I'm going to go with the 1940s on that. There's the old radio, the vintage decorations on the tree, and the old phone sitting on a cribbage board table.

Funny enough, a man working there asked if I'd ever used a phone like this. I asked "A dial phone? Yeah..." The world has been moving so fast, that it seems possible that a person might not have used a rotary dial phone in their lifetime. Doesn't it seem like we've been using cell phones forever? But it wasn't actually that long ago that we were dialing phones and dealing with cords. That's not to say that I was in the habit of using a phone this old, though. ☺

It looks like one of those Halloween prop phones at Target, right?

Check out the big lights on this tree! Very vintage. And if you look underneath, there's a set of ornaments in a box.

Next to the tree was this old radio. I'd been hoping to find one to photograph, for a possible future project, so this was good timing. My first guess was that it was from the 40s.

Now I'm thinking it's even older than the 40s. I was just looking at a web site full of old Arvin radio pictures. Check out The Phantom Series. The Phantoms were made from 1937-38. What do you think? Do you think I may have been sitting next to a Phantom?

A close up view. It says "police/amateur" under the Arvin name and I'm wondering why. Maybe to show that it could be used in police work or by someone who just wanted to listen to the radio?

Now about that old piece of newspaper I found...

It blew over on the ground at the local dump. I saw it in my path when I turned around. I noticed it was old and picked it up without realizing quite how old it was. On the other side of the paper, there were cars with fins and that gave me a clue.

How about that "What a wonderful monotony"? You're sure not going to see that statement in any modern ads.

Other clues were the mention of Schuster's stores which haven't existed since the early 60s and this old brand of oil I'm not familiar with.

As far as the "Quick Flash" heating oils, I may not have heard of them, but with a quick search I saw that they are still in business locally. Although, now they're going by Quick Flash Heating and Cooling. You can see they were a member of the "Oil Heat Institute of Wisconsin" with that official seal.

And those old phone numbers! Check it out, two letters and five numbers. I remember talking with someone at our local historical society. She was showing me some old numbers and addresses that existed on the land where I now live and they looked a lot like this. I think there might have been just four numbers, though. That was new to me, but she said "Oh yeah, that's how they used to look when I was younger". Now we've got area codes in addition to more numbers. I guess because more people have phones and more unique numbers are needed?

Ah, here are some answers:

Why Did Old Phone Numbers Start with Letters?

One more clue to the age of this paper: "Radio-dispatched trucks"

And then there's this list of prices. I think these prices were for paints and primers if you wanted to fix up your own car.

And how about Send C.O.D.? That's something else you don't see anymore.

So given those clues, and the fact that Schuster's was bought by Gimbels in 1962, I'm going to guess this piece of paper is from somewhere between the 1950s-1962.

I was looking up some videos of Schuster's so I could see the store and share it with you guys and what should I find but a recording of an old Christmas radio show that was made in a local Schuster's!

Billie The Brownie Christmas Show 1954

Billie the Brownie was a big deal for kids around here in the 50s. He was introduced as a character in Milwaukee stores in 1927. In 1931, Schuster's bought 15 minutes of air time broadcasting Billy and his trip from Santa's workshop to Milwaukee. Billy the Brownie actually has his own web site:

Now here's something I just learned! Schuster's had a Christmas parade in Milwaukee before it merged into Gimbels. This article about it is worth reading:

Schuster's brings parade to town

Turns out that the Billie the Brownie you just heard became known first as a star of the parade. Even if you don't want to read about every street the parade traveled, (and if you're not from around here you probably won't care to) still look at the photos on that page. To think, that piece of newspaper I found was printed at a time when this parade was still going on. And kids could have listened to Billie the Brownie on that very radio I was pictured with above. After all, he started on his own radio show in 1931 and that radio is probably from 1937-38. Since that show was so popular with local kids and I was told that radio was from a local home, I'd say it's very possible Billy was heard on it at Christmas.

Isn't it interesting that an old piece of paper should blow over to me and prompt me to learn about some old Christmas traditions around here? It goes to show that it's worth paying attention to those little details around you. You never know what you might learn from them. I guess that paper knew the right person to approach, because I love finding old things and researching every detail I can find on them.

Speaking of found objects, how about this box from Aldi? How cool is this? 

They had exactly one bottle of this wine left. It's usually sold out instantly. I guess people just buy out a bunch of bottles at once as gifts. So that and the box were lucky finds. I'm trying to decide if it should be left as-is to hold some Christmas stuff or if I should cut it up and Mod Podge the scene to something. You can't tell here, but the box is about a foot tall and entirely covered in that illustration. I could even frame it!

Hope all your Christmas plans are coming along. I hope to have some photos up soon from The Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit I've blogged about before. It has been dressed up for Christmas. I took an overwhelming amount of photos, so we'll see how I sift through those. I think you guys are going to like how the place looks for Christmas!


  1. All fun stuff you found, Justine.
    In my childhood I lived in a small town. I think we only used 5 numbers and there were party lines, so you had to wait until the other person hung up. Which was annoying, because some people were on the damned thing for hours. Boy how time has changed all that!

    1. Lorelei ~ Thanks! That's interesting that you had the five numbers. I wonder how long those were a thing, or if maybe some people are even still using them? You look too young to have had a five digit number, but then I'm only judging that by how long they were around here. As I think about it, some house addresses I've sent to out in the country are far different from what I'm used to as well. (With a letter or two in front of a few numbers or with "Rural Route" in the address)

      I've heard about party lines and the first thing that comes to my mind is, wouldn't people listen in? My mom has told me similar stories about dealing with party lines and waiting for people to get off the phone. That's all she remembers, the annoyance of waiting. But I bet there were people sitting there, listening in for hours! I imagine people would be careful with what they said in case someone was listening in.

      Yeah, times have changed big time! Now with people of all ages on their individual phones chatting and texting from wherever they want. The thought of having to share a line is just... wow. People would have a hard time adjusting to that if they had to go back in time!

  2. I don't know anything about old radios but I'm curious if the police/amateur is describing the frequencies. Like if you were to tune to the left, you may hear police chatter and to the right would be ham radio operators or something?

    I looked in the old phone number thing years ago because you'd hear it mentioned in old radio shows. I'm completely fascinated by it!

    1. Dex ~ Ah, I bet you're right. After reading your comment, I did a little search for information about amateur radios. There's far too much here for me to summarize, but you might be interested:

      Amateur Radio Wiki Page

      I just learned why "Ham Radio" is called that. Ouch!

      I bet if I read more of those old ads about the "Phantom" radios, I could find out for sure. But what you suggested is making the most sense to me. I'm wondering why people would want to listen into the police, but that's kind of funny for me to say considering the comment I made about party lines (above). Why would I think that people would want to listen into regular gossip but not police talk? Heck, you might hear the details about some exciting crime before it hit the news! Thinking about this is making me want to look up some stories about police radios from back in the day. I bet there are some out there.

      Oh, that's interesting. You know I like listening to the old time radio too. I can't think of a time I heard the old phone numbers, though. That's not to say I didn't, maybe I just didn't take note of it. Do you remember which shows you were listening to? I bet a lot of the old crime shows would have numbers mentioned in the script.

    2. As an aside, when I was in grade school, our phone numbers were still only 5 digits.

      I knew plenty of people when I was growing up that had police scanners in their homes so I guess that's an evolution of the radio. I would guess in the "early days" things weren't sophisticated enough for the police to use a frequency that wasn't picked up by a consumer radio. I know we used to have a radio that would pick up local TV channels.

      I don't recall which radio show it might have been (though I did listen to a lot of The Shadow) but it could also have been an older TV show or cartoon. For some reason the prefix Klondike sticks in my memory.

    3. Dex ~ Like what I said to Lorelei, I thought you were too young for the five digit numbers! I might have to adjust my thinking on that one. It would seem they were in use longer than I thought.

      Is that right? Did any of the people you knew with police scanners hear any good dish or top secret info? Yeah, I'm thinking the police didn't like people listening in, but maybe they didn't care? Oh that's cool! So you could sort of get the TV at any time, just with no pictures. For some shows, that wouldn't matter all that much.

      I listen to The Shadow a lot too. That's one of the better old shows. You ask anybody who listens to old time radio what they listen to, and you'll hear The Shadow. Yeah! Klondike number blah blah blah... Fill in the three blanks for the blahs with some numbers. Umm... that's on the tip of my tongue.

      I had to look it up and the first thing that came up was the "Mr. Plow" episode of The Simpsons! I bet that's it! At least for me. "Mr. Plow, that's my name, that name again is Mr. Plow" Just try and get that out of your head. ;)

      On the off chance you haven't seen it...

      Mr. Plow Commercial

  3. Hi Justine
    thank you for the wonderful Christmas mix.
    I new have a blog on wordpress

    1. DJ Trish ~ You're welcome. :) I know you play music for the kids, and this is some good Christmas party music. Just try and sit still while listening to it! OK, I'll give your new blog a look.