Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What is that thing?

I stalk online auctions and hunt in thrift and antique stores to find the coolest stuff ever.  I used to keep it all for myself, but advancing age has forced me to re-evaluate that policy, and now I have the joy of offering most of it for sale in one of our two shops on Etsy.

I'm particularly fascinated by items that were once standard household equipment and now are utter mysteries to so many people.  It's a queer feeling when I remember some of these things being used in  my childhood, but I guess it's my fault for sticking around this long.

Chops Ice

I probably don't need to tell you that this is an ice pick, but many people have no idea what to call it.  At one time (long before I came on the scene) every family had several of these.  They were used to break chunks off the massive block of ice that was delivered to the house when ice blocks were the only form of refrigeration for food.  There are hundreds of them around these days, but few people know what they are.  I've seen them described as "needles," "stabbers," and "awls."  The most interesting ones have advertising on them, usually for an ice delivery company (as in this photo) or for the thing that needs ice, such as Coca Cola.  I've seen ice picks with advertising furniture companies, undertakers, and even heating companies, go figure.  It just made sense to advertise on something that was going to be looked at every day - at least in the warm months. And, while it's true that years ago everyone knew what an ice pick was, the last time I found one in an antique store, the checkout clerk looked at it and said "Oh, a pokey thing!"  Well, maybe.

Finds Phone Numbers

Back in the good old days of my childhood, each house had one telephone.  It was attached to the wall in the kitchen, and could only move as far as its twisted plastic coil of a handset cord would reach.  The phones were black.  They were big and boxy with a rotary dial.  Some affluent families called out a telephone technician and had another phone jack put in the master bedroom, where they installed a "princess" phone on a nightstand, but the same telephone mobility issues applied.  Somehow we soldiered on, despite our primitive technology.  

In those days, most families had telephone index units like the one pictured above next to the phone to hold numbers and addresses (used for writing actual paper letters).  If you wanted to call John Yarborough, you slid the tab down to Y and pressed the button.  The lid popped up and there was John's info, right next to Yellow Bird Pharmacy and Ricky Yates.  He was a boy I had a crush on.  I would never, ever call him - nice girls didn't call boys - but I wanted to pretend I might so I wrote his phone number there.  I digress.  

Once phones became cordless, let alone mobile, there was suddenly no need for these phone indexes.  Poof, they were outdated.  I happened to find two of them recently, in their original boxes, in utterly unused condition.  They're available now in our Fiona Dorothy shop:   phone index.  Once again, at the checkout, the clerk was confused.  "What are these?" she asked, looking at them in wonder.  

[Now I truly digress.  One of my major peeves is when checkout clerks comment on what I'm buying and ask questions.  It feels like an invasion of privacy somehow.  Their job is to be pleasant and scan my merchandise, and that's about it.  It feels especially gruesome at the grocery store.  "Is this any good?" I've had clerks ask me about a food product.  No, it's crap, but I hate myself so I make myself eat it.  It's a surreal experience whenever it happens, kind of like breaking the fourth wall in acting.  There's a barrier that's supposed to be there.  These days my response is always  "I don't know."  It's the most polite thing I can say, far preferable to my gut response, which is "What's it to you?" with a New York mafioso accent.]  

Squiggles Potatoes

A potato ricer.  I remember my mother squeezing this thing for all she was worth to extrude the squigglies of cooked potato.  In fact, these are still sold new, which makes it even more of a mystery that no one who sells these or auctions them has the least clue about their purpose.  I've seen them described as choppers, drainers, strainers, mashers, sieves, and even "a squeezer."  I have yet to see one described as a ricer.  Which means, of course, that none of these people has ever had riced potatoes. That's a shame, because they're very nice.  Potatoes in any form are superb.  Unless you add green peppers to them, in which case you are a tragically misguided and a danger in the kitchen, and you should never prepare food again.  Green peppers are Satan's poison.

Why it's called a "ricer" is anyone's guess.  It doesn't make potatoes look like rice, and if it did, who would want them?  Rice looks enough like rice, all on its own, to satisfy anyone.  

Fastens Buttons

See the listing.
And, finally, the biggest mystery of all:  the button hook.  In the days before zippers and Velcro, when people wore tight clothes and shoes that fastened with hundreds of tiny buttons, these hooks were everywhere.  They were carried in the pocket.  They were inserted into pockets and ladies' reticules, when reticules were all the rage.  Every bedroom in every household had at least one.  The standard button hook (shown at left, and available in our shop) was given free with shoe purchases.  Here was another opportunity for advertising, and many button hooks had store names stamped into them.  Today you can find solid silver button hooks, mother of pearl button hooks, etc.  They can get very fancy indeed.  

Still, few people know what they are.  They are described as ear cleaners (yecch), shoe hooks (true, but not the whole story), and mostly just as hooks.  One description was "fishing tool," which is ridiculous because we all know fish don't even wear clothes.  

Times change, and our household goods change with them.  One thing that doesn't change, however, is the silliness of a certain spousal unit.  The other day he asked me to take a picture of him with a bunch of yarn on his head.  He said, "Look, I'm Donald Trump!"  It's a decent likeness, don't you think?  If the Donald needs a stunt double during his campaign, I guess he'll know who to call.

Trump The Husband

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

There are enough sparkly unicorn T-shirts for everyone

Rumors are flying hard and fast about Amazon's new handmade category.  People are saying Amazon is "taking over" Etsy.  Apparently you have to fill out a form to even be considered as a seller!  Oooh wee!  Very exclusive, very elegant.  And yet not.  

I want to say right here that I am a big fan of Amazon.  They are absolutely superb at doing business in a businesslike way.  I'm not interested in the "you're killing the small book-seller" trope.  Maybe they are, or maybe someone was going to do it - Amazon or not - because so few people are reading actual books these days.  At any rate, Amazon could give up all its book sales and still be a megamondo retail giant.  Books are such a small part of what Amazon does.  

We buy a lot from Amazon.  Mostly recurring household items, but also things I just can't find anywhere else.  We are Prime members, so we get a good deal - and lots of good streaming videos, too!  I wouldn't say shipping is "free," as they advertise, because some of the cost is built into the item price.  But it is quick, and we haven't had anything go wrong yet.  Sometimes I place an order in the morning and get it the next day.  Who can complain about that?  

We also own Amazon stock.  Why?  Because they make money.  They make money because they know how to do business.  And that's a good investment. 

That being said, I think all this hoopla about Amazon taking over Etsy is a lot of stuffed muffins.  At least as far as the individual artisan is concerned, this rumor has no truth at all.  Amazon is big.  BIG BIG BIG.  (Add enough "BIGs" to circle the world three times.  Then double it.)  In order to sell on Amazon successfully, the seller has to have LOTS of merchandise.  There is just no point otherwise, because Amazon's up-front fees (waived through August, but around $40 per month after that) are nothing to sneeze at.  Compared to Etsy and other online selling venues, Amazon is a huge investment for a seller.  They take 12% of each sale - much more than Etsy. There are other costs.  

The only way to make real money as a seller on Amazon is to be part of their Prime program.  That means sending your handcrafted items to one of their large warehouses so they can fulfill customer orders lightning fast.  You will not only give up control of your shipping process, but you will pay hefty additional fees, because being part of the Prime program is not free by any means.  

In fact, although it's talking about wanting "artisinal" work (HATE that term), Amazon is catering directly to the same bought-it-in-China-but-we're-calling-it-handmade sellers that plague Etsy and other online venues. Which individual artisan has 50 or more of the exact same item to send to a warehouse?  Only sweat shop labor produces that kind of identical product volume.  And because Amazon is allowing people to have "employees" and "outside shops of 50 people or less [sic]," they are ensuring they will get the same mass-produced pseudo-handmade trash we have all come to hate.  

This is no mistake on Amazon's part.  They know what they're doing.  They're saying "artisan" out of one side of their mouths and "imported schlock" out the other side.  They want bulk, cheap items that can be called "handmade" by some stretch of a febrile imagination, in order to get the mass sales and markups that generate profit.  In many ways, this is good business.  But it has no relevance for the artist who crafts one intricate item at a time.  

As always, the more things change the more they remain the same. Amazon "handmade" will feature more plastic beads strung on elastic cord, and unicorn T-shirts with glitter. 

Amazon won't be taking away Etsy's business.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say there's enough bedazzled crap in the world for everyone.  Because there is.