Posts by Nigel Barnes
Lately I’ve had a bit of an obsession with battery jars. These interesting glass jars were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to hold ‘wet’ cell batteries. Battery technology at that time was limited to bits of metal submerged in a mild acidic or alkaline solution. The resulting chemical reaction created a mild electrical current, which was handily used to power telephone and telegraph equipment, and even to start early car motors. Glass was the cheapest and best material available to hold the battery and not be dissolved by the acid. Thus: the battery jar!
Battery advertisement from 1883
This one in particular caught my eye because of its unusually large size and the trapped air bubbles in the glass. I realized the soft etching on the interior of the jar from the acid would perfectly diffuse light, and I added a string of blue LED ‘fairy’ lights to create a lantern. Just nestle it in some garlands and pine cones to make a lovely and unusual glowing centerpiece for a holiday table! Cheers.
I just spotted a gorgeous brand new Aston Martin in the Helms Bakery parking lot, and while I was taking a couple of pictures of it, I happened to notice one of our new Rejuvenation catalogs on the passenger seat! There have been a lot of very curious people poking their heads into the store the last few days, and the excitement is definitely building up. The store is starting to look really great!
We’re in the final stages preparation. Stay tuned for more blog updates and be sure to stop by- we’ll be open on Saturday, September 17th!
This month, we have a salvage guest blogger: Trisha Anderson! Trish works in the salvage department of our Portland store, and also does lovely display work all over the store (“visual merchandising”, we call it). You can tell from her post below that she has an eye for hidden treasures…
In the Salvage Department we sometimes buy things that have obvious uses, and sometimes an object just works on you till you figure out a way to use it in a different way.
When this sweet handblown glass jar with the original decal came in, the message was clear and unambiguous. ‘Fill me with sangria’ was her siren song. I brought her home and she now rests in my refrigerator – saucily marinating a variety of citrus fruits and apples in a bath of red wine, brandy and sugar. Salut dear girl, salut.
We see the most beautiful door hardware – elegantly worked in metal with aged patinas. Sometimes people have done BAD THINGS to their hardware, and then we need to recycle them. It kills me. This was one of those items - a gorgeous door escutcheon. I simply couldn’t release it from my hand to the metal recycling bucket!
I attached 3 mid-century copper toned knobs to it so now my robes hang tidily, and I admire daily the beautiful workmanship of my re-purposed door escutcheon, rescued from oblivion.
One of my challenges as a salvage buyer is to find a really cool statement piece for our new store in Los Angeles. When I started looking, I was thinking we needed something really big, something with a great visual impact, and ideally something tied to California’s past. I was fortunate enough to find something that does all of those things and much more. It’s an incredible and very unusual item that has everyone here in Portland pretty excited, so I thought I’d let our blog readers get a peek at it too. Feast your eyes on this beast!
The California Grizzly!
It’s a 6-foot-tall and 12-foot-long bas-relief grizzly bear, made of fiberglass, and modeled on the grizzly from the California state flag. It has an incredibly rich surface, having been hand-painted many times throughout the years, and subsequently weathering in the salty sea air. I had some history on its origin, and I’ve done a little research as well. It’s one of a pair that were emblems originally mounted on each side of the funnel of a ship called the TS Golden Bear, a training ship of the California Maritime Academy (CMA). I contacted the archivist for the CMA, Larry Sanders, and he confirmed that their current training ship has bears like this mounted on its funnel. The academy only has one training ship at a time, and the current one is the TS Golden Bear III. Our bear comes from a ship which was originally the USS Mellena, which served as an attack cargo ship in the Pacific campaign of WWII. After the war, the ship was transferred to the CMA, where it became the first TS Golden Bear. The ship served the Academy with many voyages until 1971, when it was scrapped. The bear was salvaged by a gentleman who ended up mounting it on the side of his warehouse in the shipyards of Anacortes, Washington. It’s very likely this bear has been around the world several times.
The bear clearly represents the grizzly that is depicted on the California state flag, which has a rich history in itself. Apparently the bear on the flag is modeled after a specific bear, named ‘Monarch’, who sadly was the last wild grizzly captured in California.
- Flag of California
Where and when the bear was manufactured remains unclear. Mr. Sanders didn’t think the bears were commissioned by CMA originally; he thought they may have been salvaged by the Academy long ago (pre-1971) from an unknown defunct shipping line, and adapted for use on the Academy’s ships. If true, it would seem fitting to me. The essence of salvage is re-use, even when you’re talking about giant fiberglass bears.
Note the differences between this bear, mounted on the current TS Golden Bear III, and ours. The form of ours is more naturalistic, and facing the other direction. The mystery deepens...
Most of the time when we’re restoring antique lights, we try pretty hard to make sure we get things to be period authentic. When we have to replace parts, we first try to use antique parts that match existing ones. If the original part is just plain missing, the first thing we do is go to our archive of old lighting catalogs and look at similar fixtures from the same time period to find out what the ‘right’ part might be. We’ll sometimes go to great lengths for an accurate restoration - we might track down a hard-to-find set of matching oxidized-copper-finish antique GE light socket shells from 1905, or have missing brass parts re-cast and refinished to match the originals, or search through boxes and boxes of old brass tubing to find just the right reeded pattern. When all other options are exhausted, we’ll reluctantly use new parts, but we always make sure to let customers know what we’ve had to replace.
There are times, however, when I let myself be more creative. Like Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, I take old parts, reassemble them, and then add the magic of electricity in order to bring them to life. I’m the first to admit that this practice is nothing new, and that there are in fact a lot of folks doing it these days (search for ‘steampunk’ or industrial lamps on eBay if you don’t believe me). However, I like to think that my approach is a little better informed and more subtle than some. I don’t just weld hose bib handles onto a galvanized pipe, add a new socket, and call it an industrial lamp. The pieces I build are often inspired by finding an unusual part from a light fixture; a part that has a compelling aesthetic, but isn’t usable in a normal fixture restoration. For example, this fixture was all about the enormous cluster of 18 sockets from a mid-1930′s movie theater fixture.
- A stunning piece of industrial design that was never intended to be appreciated – it would originally have been entirely hidden inside a shade.
Other times, it’s as simple as finding an appropriate base for a lamp. Everyone’s seen the ubiquitous “spotlight-on-a-tripod” light fixture, but have you ever seen a teeny tiny one like this? It’s only about 14 inches tall – so cute!
- The details are important. Note the vintage cord-switch on the twisted cotton-covered wire.
Other times, the process is much more involved. In the example below, I came up with an elegant way to mount a C.1910 mirrored reflector from a photo enlarger onto the articulated extension arm from a dentist’s tool tray, using a ball joint from a damaged 1930′s shop lamp. With significant pieces, I try to preserve the integrity of the original antique elements as much as possible. Other than the wiring, only one small component on this lamp is a new fabrication, I didn’t physically alter any pieces, and it could all be disassembled at will. You never know: perhaps 100 years from now, a photo historian will want that reflector hood. If they found this lamp, they could just unbolt it – no harm done!
- Fully adjustable – it can extend, pivot, or swivel anywhere you want it.
If a particular component can’t be used for a true restoration, it might be sitting around in the workshop – er, mad scientist’s laboratory – for some time. It might eventually find a friend in another part – hey, these look cool together! – but they still don’t quite add up to a whole fixture. Then finally another oddball piece will come in that happens to be exactly the right thing to make it all work. I had the extending pulley arm for this fixture for a while before I found this wonderfully crusty black enamel shade to complement it. I added the weatherhead from an old streetlight and a Benjamin 3-bulb socket splitter to complete the effect.
This Frankenstein even has a pair of insulators on it's neck: ZZZzzzt!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse of my world. Of course, no tour would be complete without a peek behind the curtain at the gory details of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory itself, would it?
"Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos." - Mary Shelley