Vintage Tid Bits: Celebrating the Small Things


I’d been planning to do an outfit shoot/photo safari today but sadly the weather was gloomy and I have been feeling ill the past couple of days. It’s April and still only in the 40s here in Chicago– it’s been chilly and damp (it’s raining right now). To walk the 2 blocks to the coffee shop I had to pull on tights & a wool coat. So sad.

Since the weather wasn’t cooperating I decided to scan some vintage tid bits, the seemingly insignificant items that turn up in desk drawers, kitchen cabinets and in the basements of estate sales. Most of these items were meant to be ephemeral, either they were used up or thrown away after their original use. It’s probably no surprise that my favorite movie is Amelie, like the main character I have always taken pleasure in the ‘small things’ whether it be a 1960s swizzle stick or the loopy handwriting inside a 1930s autograph book. While these items may not have much monetary value and have been regulated to someone’s junk drawer for decades, I’m happy to rescue them and add them to my collections.
The first scan in this post are of two AMAZING 1970s ornaments found in the attic of a mostly picked over estate sale. I’ve been digging giraffes lately and look at this one– it’s PINK and its spots are made of tiny pearls and pink sequins. The eskimo is even more intricate, look at that yard trim! It also has a tiny fish made out of a mirror-like material dangling from its hand. Thank you crazy 1970s crafter that made these, they will take a place of honor on my future Christmas tree.


A toy that has never gone out of style, the classic Crayola crayon. I actually found these at an antique store, I imagine they came from the estate of a teacher. Not sure how old they are, possibly 1950s?

Swizzle sticks from the 1960s. I have a ridiculous amount of these, every estate sale basement has at least a few. If Mad Men is to be believed, Don Draper actually came up for the idea of these. The LA Times actually ran a fun and informative article on the topic that included some glamorous photos of vintage swizzle sticks in action. If you don’t know what these are, they are made of plastic and were meant to stir your cocktail (kind of like a coffee stirrer). They come in a variety of whimsical shapes and were used as advertisements at bars, lounges and restaurants. When people traveled they often kept the swizzle stick as a souvenir– the seahorse stick above is from Bermuda!

No surprise here, bird lithograph prints, they are printed on a raised white cardboard and resemble illustrations from natural history books. I’d like to frame these and add them to the collection of natural prints above my couch.

The most intricate tooled leather purse I’ve ever come across– it’s from the 1940s, is painted on the front and has a black leather strap on the back to be used as a clutch. It was most likely made in Mexico.

I’m always on the lookout for Chicago memorabilia, especially items pre-1950s. Surprisingly I found this set of 3 postcards in a tiny junk shop in Indiana. Can you imagine going to that railroad fair in 1949?? Sounds like a swell afternoon to me.
Text from the back of the image: “The world’s fastest run by a railroad train was made by the Broadway Limited of the Pennsylvania Railroad on Monday, June 12, 1905, when it ran 127.1 miles an hour between AY tower and Elida, Ohio. The Broadway Limited was pulled by coal-burning steam Locomotive 7002, and although many swift runs have been made in recent years by steam, electric and diesel locomotives, none has equaled the 127.1 mile-an-hour record run established in 1905. At the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1949, Locomotive 7002 stands on a section of P.B.R. standard railroad with rails weighing 155-pounds to the yard–heaviest in the world.”
I thought there was a good probability that this building if not the store still existed in Chinatown today. Alas when I typed the address into google maps there was no building there, just the red line El stop and an intersection. The shop was named “Chee Wo Tong Co. The Chinese Emporium” and was located at 149-155 W Cermak Rd at Wentworth Ave. They describe themselves as “Importers of choice art objects, fine silks, distinctive gifts and unusual novelties. Visitors welcome at any time. Open daily from 9 A.M. to 11 P.M.” They also list a very old telephone number/exchange: “VICtory 1973”.

Sadly this rad hotel was also bulldozed at some point, odd because I thought I’d see the sign somewhere around the city. The buildings there now look like they were constructed in the ’80s or ’90s.
The Hotel Chicagoan was at 67 W. Madison St. On the back of the card it says “Chicago’s newest hotel in the heart of the Loop…450 rooms–all with private bath–combination shower and tub…Circulating filtered ice water. You will enjoy our ultra modern rooms of to-morrow…Rates from $4.00 single and $6.00 double” “Chicago’s Newest and Most Fireproof Hotel”. (Told you we were paranoid about fires here!)

Another little embossed leather purse, this one is quite small and is meant for coins. As you can tell from the front it was a souvenir from Mexico, I like the little cactus carved into it.

Never used birthday candles, they were found in a box of plastic birthday cake picks in the shape of pink sparrows. The pack on the left was issued as a premium from an insurance company in 1965 and the pack on the right is from 1961!
Little known fact about me, I collect classic pin ups. Usually they are pretty expensive so I don’t get a chance to buy them very often. I picked up this beauty at a small antique shop in Evanston. I particularly enjoy when a glamorous lady is advertising something mundane, like this cafeteria card. Again notice the old telephone exchanges on this card; I checked google maps and neither of these cafeterias are still around– one was replaced by a parking garage and the other is a modern glass building.

Paper ephemera like scrapbooks, photo albums, yearbooks and this autograph book are dear to me. I especially like looking at people’s handwriting and the ‘old fashioned’ names. The owner of this particular book was named Fern and names that appear throughout the book are Zelda, Ginger, Hester, Betty, Helen, Gladys and Alberta.

Most of the entries were written in pencil so they were too faint to scan. The above page is just visible, it was from Fern’s teacher. A lot of the signatures are accompanied by little ditties, reminds me of signing yearbooks back in jr high.

Vintage cards are always so clever, I like their use of 3-D materials and cutouts. These three wedding cards are from 1940 and were found at an estate sale. The cards above and below actually have little tin metal rings attached to the front! Sadly the glue has damaged the first card but the orchids are so pretty I bought it anyways.



If/when I ever get married I’d like to make wedding invitations with vintage graphics. The above couple actually reminds me of my friend Tory and her beau Ryan. She has pretty dark curly hair and he has red hair. I should send this to her!

The inside of the card is dated in the best possible way– the mention of the bungalow home and the idea of baking a pie for your sweetheart. I also wish my handwriting looked like that typeface!

What little things do you collect?


Comments 0

  1. This is just my kind of post, thanks so much for sharing all these lovely things. Much as I'd love to have a home full of antiques or midcentury furniture, luckily I'm just as happy finding things like vintage birthday candles as I am chairs. My absolute favourite find of yours has to be the Christmas decorations though – I would have snapped those up in a second, as I love making my own from felt. Loving the swizzle sticks too, I remember being fascinated by my mum's as a child and wanting them in my lemonade.

    Also, my regular posts tend to be about little things I've picked up from here and there. My most recent favourite is a Midwinter pie blackbird, who's currently residing in a pot of flowers in my garden. I collect 1960s bubble base bud vases, which are small and easily found in charity shops here in London for about £1 a piece.

  2. What lovely little items! Of course I really like the ones with the Chicago connection the best.

    We collect vintage swizzle sticks, too. One of my favorites has a tiki at the top and says "Sheraton Chicago Kon Tiki Ports" on it. I've looked it up before and some of the ephemera from it was (not surprisingly) amazing. If only it still existed today!

  3. So much amazingness in one post! I have a little embossed coin purse like that from the Philippines that has my first and middle name on it, I currently use it as a sort of wallet right now!

    Also, the ornaments are the best. My friend decorated her tree all with colorful vintage ornaments like the ones you have and it made me vow to start collecting them! Beats the ones they were selling at Anthropologie for like $20 a pop any day 😉

  4. This post is perfect for us hoarders who forget to admire the little things…i went into my studio directly after reading this and went through my drawers to say hello to items so long forgotten:)

    I also found some hat pins and thought of you, I am a big fan of them since I wear a lot of hats! I strongly recommend finding some on your thriftaholic adventures!

    xo, Strawberry Moth

  5. You are the queen of amazing vintage finds and treasures. My favorite are always signed books and cards. I love having a piece of history, and the added notes set the context for the item's story. I once found a signed book from the mid 1800s. The book is about marriage and the mother wrote the most endearing note to her son. She gave him the book for his wedding some thirty years after she received the book. Have a great weekend!

  6. cool treasures! thanks for sharing…one time i found someone else's collection at an estate sale and had to keep it for myself. it was hotel stationary from hotels all over the world they had stayed at. hundreds of countries from the 60's-80's. it was pretty amazing!!

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