Long before Ritalin and stun guns there was “ the birdie”…

If you’re a parent you probably know exactly how hard it is to get and maintain the attention of toddlers and smaller children… no easy task that’s for certain. Now put yourself in the shoes of a 19th Century professional photographer and imagine how tough things could be to get a child to sit still, or as they say, sit and “watch the birdie”…. for those wondering where the expression “watch the birdie” comes from look no further than this little guy right here – his claim to fame is that he is one of those little birdies that kids were commanded to watch during photo shoots – made of pure brass, this little fellow comes with moveable parts (tail and beak) and a whistle.

This weekend we had an impromptu yard sale. We had a chance to meet a lot of great people and clear out some pieces. We also had the pleasure of meeting Erin, the Yard Sale Snoop. Erin’s written up a great post about our store. Thanks again to Erin, her son, and Kiko the cat.

The other day while up on the Hamilton Mountain I stopped for a quick oil change – the shop of choice was Concession Garage. Now for most people, hanging out in the garage sitting-room entails thumbing through a magazine or two to pass the time. For guys like me however, there are bigger fish to fry; even when I am not picking, I’m still picking. No matter where I am or what I am doing, my mind can’t help but take on that rat-like persona with an instinct for sniffing out the shiny stuff. As I looked around the room I couldn’t help but notice a perfect example of that shiny stuff sitting right there on the floor only inches from my feet… a beautiful, unique doorstop that was just calling my name… (read on to find out how things unfolded as I managed to pick my way through the entire garage).

Lately the weather has taken a turn for the worst; the last three days have been nothing but rain, rain and more rain. I’ll refrain from making any lame duck jokes but I will admit a few people in the office are entertaining the prospect of doing a rain dance in front of the shop. Hmmmmm, maybe not; we have a feeling our neighbours already think we’re a little left of center given all the oddities and curios in our shop. Despite the nasty weather we have high hopes of sunny spring days ahead and with that in mind we can’t wait to try out the new tricycles we’ve recently wheeled into the shop. Kids stuff you say? You might be surprised that tricycles were not originally built and designed for kids (read on).

When it comes to toys there’s no doubt that things certainly have changed a lot since I was a kid, and if you it take back one step further to my grandpa’s generation I’m thinking you just might be thrown in prison for selling the kind of toys he and his buddies played with. If you’re wondering what I am talking about take this little toy here that recently found its way into our shop – actually the gentlemen who brought it into the shop had the toy given to him by his older brother who was born at the turn of the century – he remembers his brother setting this one off and being the talk of the neighbourhood for being the boy that made the biggest bang on the block!

First produced in France, in around 1845, fine glass paperweights are to this day widely produced, collected, and appreciated as works of art. The most sought after pieces are produced by sole artisans usually in limited editions. When determining a value of any given piece there are a number of factors to consider. These include: workmanship, design, rarity, and of course condition. While many can be picked up for as little as a few dollars, some of the more desirable ones can fetch extremely high prices; the record to date is $258,500 once paid for an antique French weight.

Just before Christmas a woman came into the shop and was looking for that perfect gift for her son who was studying at the University of Ottawa – she told me he was a graphic design student and I in turn told her I had the perfect gift  – the item, a box of Cat’s Paw heels with the original graphic design on the outside of the box (price $20) – I told her the story about the origin of the design and she was immediately sold – she said it was a great little tale and she wanted to share the details of it with her son. As she was leaving the shop she told me she wouldn’t be able to spin the story with as much detail and interest as I had and asked if I might post the story on our website. I was more than happy to do so; the story went as follows:

Antique collecting is a hobby that can be gratifying on so many levels. For starters there’s the most apparent benefit; the prospect of making a few dollars (for some it’s a lot more than merely a few dollars); add to that the thrill and rush of the hunt (finding or hitting a pick that produces that super rare item you’ve been seeking for so many years) and of course there’s the opportunity to meet and socialize with various groups of like-minded collectors like ourselves. But aside from the aforementioned benefits, one of the things we really enjoy about collecting antiques is the lore and fascinating stories that are often associated with certain items we stumble across.

Case in point: Recently we found an old box or two of Cat’s Paw Rubber Heels (ca: 1930s). Seeing these heels reminded us of the days when people actually fixed things when they broke or wore out. And while the heels are by no means highly desirable or super rare – nor do they command large sums of money – they do however come with an interesting story; research tells us the Cat’s Paw logo, first used in 1904, was designed by famed German graphic designer Lucian Bernhard. Now for many, that name might not ring a bell, but as it turns out Bernhard just so happens to have a font named after him…appropriately named The Bernhard Font. And, to add a little more intrigue to our little story there’s another historical figure associated with these heels. History has it that while searching for the famed Amelia Earhart (American aviation pioneer and author) a pair of her shoes was found on the island of Nikomaroro; they were singularly identifiable by the Cat Paw Heel, the heel of choice by the renowned female pioneer!

Now who would of thought that a simple rubber heel would be connected to such an intriguing past?

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A few weeks after Christmas we received an email from the woman’s son in Ottawa and he very corrigibly thanked us for sharing the story with him. Given the fact that we receive many emails from former customers it came as no surprise that the young man took the time to email us – and of course we were grateful; what we didn’t expect however was another email that we received shortly thereafter. The second email, coming out of the blue, was very succinct and to the point. It read as follows: “Do you have a size ten in black?”

When I read the email I was stupefied and initially began to laugh and then as I began to reflect, I tried to imagine the person at the other end of the email; perhaps it was an elderly woman or gentleman who had grown up in the era when replacing a heel was common practice, a person who had come from a time, as I mentioned earlier, when people actually fixed things as opposed to merely tossing things out; perhaps it was a person who remembered their mother or father taking the time and tender care to replace a child’s set of heels… my natural curiosity was aroused and I was inclined to reply and ask if they were seriously looking to purchase a size ten, but then I thought, “Hmmmm, some things are best left to the imagination…”

 

By the way, I did reply to the inquiry and informed the person that we only had only one pair left; unfortunately, it was a size 6 in white.

The Riley House, formerly Bamberger’s Inn was built in 1826 and was a three story, sixteen-bedroom inn with six fireplaces. It was the largest inn west of York (Toronto). After Peter Bamberger died in 1848 his son-in-law, James Riley, became the proprietor and changed the name to Riley House.