Tuesday 30 November 2010

Historic wooden car floated at auction

Historic wooden car floated at auction

Wood has long been used as part of automobile manufacturing, although these days it tends to be reserved for the dashboards of higher-end luxury cars. The exceptions to this rule are the likes of Morgan, who still use ash wood as part of the frame in their cars, Rolls-Royce - whose Phantom Drophead Coupe has teak decking as part of the roof-covering mechanism - and the bizarre Splinter concept from a couple of years ago. It's all a long way from the old Morris Minor Traveller of the 1960s, isn't it?

Long before that, though, wood was being used in abundance in car design. Wood was plentiful, surprisingly strong yet able to be made into various shapes and in any number of sizes. The nautical look was also popular in the first three decades of the twentieth century as car makers tried to create a link between the then-luxuries of motoring and sailing. Sea-faring terms like "boat-tail" and "skiff" were applied to vehicular offerings, such as this ultra-rare (only 5 made) 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Labourdette.

The car that features in this article, a 1932 Talbot, was originally just another normal saloon of standard Thirties design and didn't actually acquire its magnificently-built wooden body until the 1960s. Happily the chap who owned it obviously appreciated the Art Deco design of the period and found himself an immensely talented boat-builder to perform the actual transformation. What resulted is a unique piece of automotive design - even the likes of that Rolls skiff still used metal forward of the windscreen, whereas this Talbot's body is wood from the grille to the tail-light.

I find it hard to believe that such a beautifully skilled piece of construction is only estimated to make between £20,000 and £30,000 at auction (says the man who would struggle to afford a tenth of that right now!) and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it easily exceed the higher figure. Whoever ends up buying it, I hope he enjoys varnishing!


When I awoke this morning and pulled back the curtains this was the sight that met me. It was snowing heavily! It's eased up a bit now, bar the occasional flurry, but several hours of thick flakes falling has left about 2 inches on the ground. Lovely!

I still haven't grown up enough not to love snow(!). Not driving probably helps me keep that outlook (cars crawling along at little over walking pace through the sludge does not look like fun, I agree) and I also have a natural imperviousness to the cold so actually enjoy this kind of weather - it's the heat I can't deal with!

So out for a walk in the snow I went and, just like I mentioned with fog, it makes everything take on a whole new appearance. People out and about, even the older generations, seem happier as though the change of atmosphere and winter wonderland look lifts the spirits somehow. People were laughing and joking and making the best of it - no complaints or concerns like the media would have you believe.

One thing I really like about walking in the snow - footprints! There's something about leaving a mark of your progress - a really tangible, fun aspect of snow. I find all the different imprints fascinating; one can tell a lot from them - large men's shoes, small women's shoes (even heels!), heavy intricate treads of the thick boot or the smooth flatness of the unprepared and their trainers. I particularly enjoy seeing the various routes people take - who keeps to the path, who strays from the route taken by others - and also like to try and spot my own boot-prints from my outward journey as I make my way back.

Not sure for how long we're forecast snow in this neck of the woods, but as long as it doesn't get so bad that we end up properly snowed in, I don't mind it! Is it too early to predict a white Christmas?!

Sunday 28 November 2010

A fair (and freezing!) day out

Yesterday found me at the seaside town of Leigh-on-sea, which is a charming spot on the Thames Estuary and only a short train ride away from me. It boasts a larger-than-average selection of charity shops, antique dealers and craft stores as well as a preserved "Old Town", complete with traditional pub, sweet shop, museum/gallery and several excellent cafes/restaurants. You can also still see evidence of the area's once-thriving cockle-fishing industry and even buy a pint of cockles if you fancy it! Some time ago I discovered local vintage events organiser Betty Blue Eyes, who helps run a quarterly Handmade & Vintage Fair (left) in the town hall, so I thought I'd toddle along and check it out.

Although I awoke to a vista of heavy frost and freezing fog, with the mercury showing 2 below (otherwise known as "brass monkeys"), I decided to brave the elements and headed on out. A 1950s Chevy pick-up parked outside the venue boded well and the place was quite busy even at 10:30 on a freezing cold November morning! I have to be honest, from a chap's point of view there was definitely more handmade than vintage (as the ratio of women to men - and associated items - proved) but there were plenty of things that I'm sure some of my female readers would have liked, such as a lovely 1930s satin red gown, dozens of fur coats and stoles and vintage handbags aplenty, not to mention candlestick cake stands, knitted items and intricately decorated cakes. Local vintage caterers All The Tea & China of Southend provided these and other refreshments. Also on hand were local 1940s hair stylists Hair Raid Shelter, who were busy offering authentic dos for the ladies, all of whom seemed impressed and delighted and rightly so, for they were doing a great job at only £10 a time.

I did manage to find a couple of stalls selling menswear but it was sadly slim pickings and the only things that caught my eye were some wool jackets and fairisle jumpers, a few ties and a couple of 1950s 3-piece suits (a very reasonable £65 each, I thought, but we chaps have just as much trouble as the ladies finding vintage-wear to fit when we're pushing 6ft and 2/3rds of that is leg! Men before about 1965 all seem to have been midgets, from what I can see. Either of the suits on display would have left me looking as though I were back in short trousers!). I ended up leaving empty-handed but not too disappointed; it was a good day out despite the weather and it was great to see the people of Essex in so many numbers at such an event. The local Salvation Army's brass band was out in the town square playing Christmas carols as well, which lent a pleasant festive air to proceedings. Betty Blue Eyes also runs occasional tea dances at the Southend Naval & Military Club and I intend to get along to one as soon as I am able.

Going round the charity shops later I was delighted to find this perfectly-fitting, thick navy wool overcoat (above) for only £5! Not a vintage item per se but nevertheless a timeless design that's just the thing for these freezing temperatures. Winter, do your worst!

Thursday 25 November 2010

Lady Mairi Bury's stamp collection to fetch £2.6m at auction / Half a stamp sells for £221,000

Two postage stamp stories in one day is a pleasant surprise for us philatelists but to avoid overwhelming you, dear readers, with two consecutive posts on the same subject I shall condense them down into one.

Lady Mairi Bury's stamp collection to fetch £2.6m at auction

This main story is fascinating, and not just from a collectors point of view. Granted, her collection sounds fantastic and is certainly one of the best I have come across in my time; the cultural value of the letters, as well as the stamps themselves, must be immense. However it also seems that, by all accounts, Lady Mairi was an incredible character and I'm surprised not to have heard of her before this either in philatelic circles or elsewhere. She certainly lead an eventful life and sounds like the most positive definition of an eccentric.

It seems almost a pity to see such a remarkable collection - literally of a lifetime - broken up but the sheer variety, condition and rarity of so many of the items means this was always likely to happen. At least they will go towards enhancing the collections of others and be assured of a safe future

Half a stamp sells for £221,000

Not the Royal Mail's new postage pricing strategy, but a bizarre stamp (or should that be sta...?) from 19th Century Germany, which got round a supply problem by being cut in half before being issued(!). Such an oddity was bound to be of some value in itself, but a short production period (and likely little used because of the actual shortage of stamps) has led to a great amount of money changing hands for this example. This is yet another intriguing historical facet of postage stamps that keeps me interested in the pasttime and once again we see rarity value and a bidding war between collectors push the price up. I would not be in the least bit surprised if the new owner hails from the same area where this stamp was first issued. I hope he enjoys it!

Monday 22 November 2010

Awards time!

The lovely Jenny over at The Life and Times of a Vintage Obsessive has very kindly bestowed upon me and my unassuming little blog the "One Lovely Blog" award! Such wonderful recognition; thank you! Coming just after this blog's first anniversary it makes the last twelve months seem even more worthwhile.

Now that I've got it, I must do the following:

1. Accept the award. Post it on your blog with the name of the person who awarded it along with a link to their blog.
2. Send it on to 15 other bloggers that you have recently discovered.
3. Contact those bloggers and let them know they've been chosen.

So, without further ado, having accepted the award I now pass it on to the following 15 bloggers. I have to be honest, this award seems to have been going around a fair bit lately and it was a bit of a job to find fifteen of the blogs I'm following that didn't already have it, but I managed it! Here they are (messages to follow):

Blighty Boutique

English Rose Vintage Style

Lady Ginger

Old Lady Chic

Red Legs In Soho

Retro Chick

Straight Talking Mama

Tea With The Vintage Baroness

The Affected Provincial

The Frog's Eyebrows

The Hunt for Vintage

The Swing Of Things

Tuppence Ha'penny

Velvet & Old Laces

Welcome To Deluxeville

Congratulations all, and thanks again to Jenny. Toodle-pip!

Saturday 20 November 2010

Britain’s tea rooms are on the way back

Britain’s tea rooms are on the way back

The B.B.C. is running a wonderful series at the moment called Turn Back Time - The High Street, which I know many of my British-based readers have been watching as avidly as I. One of the shops is a traditional bakery which, in recent episodes, has also included a tea room. It was splendid to see how the public took to and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of using such an establishment and judging by the programme and now this article from my local 'paper, we could be on the verge of a tea room renaissance!

Of the two mentioned in the article I am only familiar with Squires in Rayleigh (above), which is as delightful as it looks; Louis & Oscar's Patisserie in Billericay has only recently opened - I will have to make a visit and sample its wares.

If Essex can embrace the tea-room (!) then there should be no difficulty in the whole country once again enjoying a cup of afternoon tea in the high street. It's a lovely treat to be able to take some time out from one's shopping and have a refreshing cuppa and is the direct (and welcome) antithesis to all the ghastly fast-food chains that seem all-pervading. Perhaps the balance is about to be redressed!

Friday 19 November 2010

A foggy day!


It's really closed in here; I haven't seen such a pea-souper for ages! So what better excuse to play some classic Fred Astaire? 

I love fog, it makes everything appear so different and other-worldly. Buildings become indistinct shapes and dark figures appear out of the gloom as if by magic, only to be swallowed up again just as quickly. Streetlamps take on a spectral glow as they light up the fog beneath them and headlights are dulled almost to the point of invisibility as cars crawl along the road. It's probably more fun being snug and warm inside looking out on it than it is to be in it, although I admit I do enjoy a good autumnal walk, wrapped up nice and warm, even in a fog. Rumour has it that some of us might even be in for some snow next week! I seem to be in the minority, but I love autumn/winter and this kind of weather so if it does snow, I shan't complain!

Barn-find Bugatti Type 38 makes seven times its estimate at auction

Barn-find Bugatti Type 38 makes seven times its estimate at auction

I do love these barn-find stories, but even so this one looks like it's going to take one helluva job to get it looking like it should (above) again! One can only assume that the winning bidder knows what he/she is doing and that they feel pretty sure of themselves in getting this Bugatti rebuilt cost-effectively. I suppose it's entirely possible to get it looking as good as new for £132,000 - at least there are some parts present (including the all-important chassis) and there are doubtless many Bugatti specialists out there who might be tempted to take on the restoration of it. New parts can be fabricated using old designs and the rarity value of this model (only 385 made between 1926 and 1927) means that it should be a worthwhile undertaking.

Of course it may be that the new owner wants to keep it as is, like the Type 22 from a few months ago - a sort of automotive artwork. Although by all accounts the Type 22 is not as valuable a model as the Type 38, so I expect in this case something more will be done. It may take a while, but with any luck this motley collection of parts will one day be a beautifully complete example of a rare pre-war Bugatti.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

One year, 156 posts and 38 followers later...

And here I am, still blogging merrily away! Yes, today is exactly one year to the day that I set myself up in this little corner of the Interweb. I believe it is customary to have some sort of giveaway competition to mark blogiversaries and the like, but I shall have to crave forgiveness and postpone such an event for now. To be honest this anniversary sort of sneaked up on me and beyond a celebratory post I was somewhat unprepared(!). Maybe when (or if!) I reach another milestone such as 50 followers, or a special occasion like Christmas, I'll organise something (if I can work out how!).

If you'd have asked me a year ago whether I thought this blog would last, or where it would lead to, I wouldn't have been able to say for sure. In fact, I have to admit that during some of the dark early days my hand hovered over the "Delete Blog" button on more than one occasion(!). However I persevered and, without wishing to sound immodest, have become rather proud of my own small creation, the manner in which it has grown and evolved over the last twelve months and the pleasure it has given me in that time. Of course, compared to some of the vintage (and other) blogs I've discovered since entering blogdom my humble effort pales in comparison, but without it I would never have found those sites or the wonderfully like-minded folk behind them and for that I am truly grateful.

I'm just as grateful to the thirty-eight people so far who have found the topics I post, and the blurb I write underneath, interesting enough to warrant following. I'd like to thank each and every one of you for that and your comments, which are always welcome - it reassures me to know that I'm not just wittering on to myself here! Special mention should also go to Red Legs in Soho, whose blog spurred me to start my own. Thanks to Blogger Stats I'm also amazed by the number of visitors who stop by and where they're from - if it's to be believed I've had readers from as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Russia and India - not to mention such unusual places as Aruba, South Korea, the UAE and Nigeria. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined my ramblings and interests finding an audience in such locations! The Internet certainly does make the world a smaller place...

Right, that's enough prattling from me on this subject. Normal service will be resumed shortly and I hope you will all continue to join me in my vintage-inspired rummage through the news, for another year and more!

Monday 15 November 2010

Signed Logie Baird book donated to Edinburgh shop

Signed Logie Baird book donated to Edinburgh shop

This is one of those stories that when you read it you wish it had happened to you (and wonder how the previous owner could have come to part with it!). A book about arguably the most influential invention of the 20th Century, signed by the inventor himself, ending up in a branch of Oxfam!

Of course it is really splendid news that it will end up benefiting the charity by being auctioned, maybe for as much as £1,000, and from a philanthropic point of view it's a far better outcome than it languishing undiscovered on the shop's bookshelves. Worse still it could have been snaffled by some unscrupulous dealer type who then sells it on and pockets the money for himself. Or is that fair game? I know I said at the beginning that I'd have loved to have found it myself but I'd like to think that had I done so and then realised it's value - both in monetary and cultural terms - I'd have done just as the shop owner did.

I know it's a thrill when we charity shoppers find a valuable item for an absolute steal, but I think this is such a special occurrence which goes far beyond normal considerations. If you found something on this scale, what would you do?

Thursday 11 November 2010

Model of new Routemaster London bus unveiled

Model of new Routemaster London bus unveiled

A few months ago I blogged the news that the winning design for the new London Routemaster bus had been chosen and now I'm pleased to see that a full-size mock-up has been built prior to the vehicle's introduction in 2012. I think it looks even better in the metal (well, wood really for this model - although it wouldn't be a bad idea to feature some in the interior, eh what?) but then to be frank after those godawful bendy monstrosities anything's an improvement. Still, my high hopes for this 21st Century Routemaster have been given another boost from reading this story.

Say what you like about Mayor Boris Johnson's politics and persona, but I'm heartened to note that he can see the real benefits of combining nostalgia with modern technology, reusing and perhaps improving on tried-and-tested features and taking them into the 2010s and beyond. I look forward to two years from now when - barring delays - I will able to travel around London on these new buses. That's not something I could ever say about the previous Routemaster "replacements"!

Sunday 7 November 2010

Family's fridge is still going after 63 years

Family's fridge is still going after 63 years

There seems to have been a spate of "oldest appliance" stories in the news lately but this one should certainly take some beating! It's become something of a cliche to say that "they don't make 'em like they used to" but in this instance it's well worth saying. I'd like to see what modern electrical appliances would last long enough to be able to still be used on a daily basis in 2073; these days you're lucky if the thing lasts beyond 5 years. Today's throwaway culture has a lot to answer for!

Although I can't imagine that the manufacturers of the fridge had envisioned their product lasting for more than six decades it says something for the quality and build of electrical devices from the mid-20th Century, not to mention the pride and assurance that the makers had in the designs.

I'm sure that the materials used back then had something to do with it; solid woods, metals (and Bakelite, of course!) always lend objects a more sturdy, durable feel than flimsy plastics and MDF. The bonus is they look more stylish and impressive too.

The Ashley family's fridge is a refreshing reminder of long-lost engineering skill and here's hoping it lasts for another 63 years, and more.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Jetman performs new aerial stunt

Jetman performs new aerial stunt

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, aka Jetman, has once again caught my attention with the testing of a refined version of his jet-pack wing. I admire M. Rossy immensely, for having the ability to create such a fantastic device (particularly so considering previous attempts at jet-packs, which barely get the user off the ground) and the skill and nerve to fly the thing at all. In these times of health and safety and reams of paperwork M. Rossy and his invention are something to marvel at in much the same way as people followed the exploits of Lindbergh, Earhart and Johnson in the '20s and '30s, I'd like to think. Long may he continue to thrill us aeronautical-minded chaps with his jet-pack designs.

To add a bit of a vintage theme to this post I'm going to use this story as an opportunity to include some clips of my other favourite "rocketmen" (albeit fictional, alas!) from down the years. I should warn you that these are classic examples of or homages to dodgy mid-fifties B-movies so if that's not your kind of thing best stop reading now!

To start us off is the 1949 Republic serial King Of The Rocketmen which introduces us to the idea of a jetpack-powered flying man in the character of Jeff King. Our hero is a scientist who, with the help of a colleague, uses an "atomic powered rocket flying suit" and sundry other inventions to battle the evil Dr Vulcan:

Three years later and Jeff "Rocketman" King has given way to Commando Cody (still, however, in the same Rocketman suit) whose first appearance was in the 12-part serial Radar Men From The Moon. In this series, the first part of which you can see below, our intrepid flying man foils evil moon ruler Retik's plan to invade the Earth!

Then, in the same year, came the brilliantly-titled Zombies Of The Stratosphere (perhaps nowadays best known for being the first film of Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy) and another change of name - now the Rocketman is Larry Martin, but who in every other respect is exactly the same as Commando Cody. This time Earth is menaced by malevolent Martians, whose devious plan is to set off an H-bomb to blow the Earth out of its orbit and put their planet in its place!

Next, and somewhat confusingly, comes the 1953 serial Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe which is a prequel to Radar Men From The Moon and reintroduces the character of Commando Cody. Unlike the previous Rocketman adventures each episode was an individual story in itself (although there was still a chronological order to them), as the villainous alien The Ruler attempts to take over the Earth. I can't find a clip or trailer for this one so instead I'll include this hilarious over-dub, Commando Cody and the Hatless Planet, which affectionately yet effectively sends up the series and '50 B-movies in general using clips from the serials:

For the next 30 years fictional Rocketmen became rather thin on the ground but then in 1982 the late Dave Stevens, illustrator and comics artist, came up with the character of The Rocketeer in homage to the Rocketman/Commando Cody serials and other sci-fi/fantasy films of the '30s. Rocketeer stories appeared sporadically between 1982 and 1995 and are now collated in the recently launched The Rocketeer: The Complete Collection graphic novel. However the high point came in 1991 when Disney released the film The Rocketeer:

This is by far and away one of my favourite films ever, although sadly it didn't perform well at the box office (it was unfortunately released at the same time as some piece of nonsense called Terminator 2) and the subsequent planned sequel was cancelled. I'm pleased to see that it is on Youtube in 11 parts and it is also readily available on DVD (which of course I have). Perhaps the 1990s was the wrong time for a '30s-style adventure film but now what with the sudden explosion of interest in vintage and M. Rossy's jet pack flights, perhaps we will see a Rocketman on our screens again soon...

Friday 5 November 2010

6023 King Edward II train to be launched at Didcot

6023 King Edward II train to be launched at Didcot

A bit of welcome news now in the form of another restored steam locomotive, this time the Great Western Railway 6000 King Class engine 6023 King Edward II.

Consigned to the scrapheap (left) in the early 1960s following the introduction of diesel locomotives this engine has undergone years of restoration and thanks to the efforts of many a group of enthusiasts will soon be hauling passengers again.

That this particular engine was considered the "the biggest 'no hoper'" in the scrapyard just goes to show how much devotion there is to these old machines and the skills and dedication shown by those involved in getting to back to its former glory.

Once again another important (not to mention stylish!) piece of British railway history has been given a new lease of life and shortly will be transporting people not just up and down the Mid-Norfolk and Didcot lines but also back in time to the '20s and '30s, providing a valuable insight into train travel of 80 years ago.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Morgan confirms Super Sports three-wheeler

Morgan Super Sports three-wheeler

Exactly one month ago I blogged the wonderful news that the British car company Morgan planned to reintroduce its classic 3-wheeler design for the 21st Century. Now further details have emerged of the new 2011 Super Sports and I'm delighted to see that they have kept it true to the original. Of course a few compromises have had to be made for modern driving, such as the provision of roll-over hoops but by and large it looks just like the Morgans of the '20s and early '30s and is all the better for it. Even the engine, although an American Harley-Davidson design, can claim to have links to the original motorcycle engines from the likes of JAP, Matchless and Anzani that were used in the original Super Sports (below) and which were also V-twins.

The combination of a modern, compact fuel efficient engine with decent power levels combined with a car that weighs a mere 500 kilograms should make for thrilling yet economical driving. Morgan are to be applauded for sticking with this simple approach to motoring, one that boldly flies in the face of modern car design where everything is bulkier and busier and which instead harks back to earlier, leaner times that other car makers are only just beginning to cotton on to.

I like the "get-in-and-drive simplicity and reliability" mentioned in the article and Morgan's sensible idea to keep things basic. I'm also pleased to see that the price is likely to be a more reasonable £25,000 and not the frankly ridiculous £46,000 that was bandied about to begin with. It may be a tiny niche but this may well be the best way to experience motoring as it was 80-odd years ago without all the attendant worries and shortcomings of a classic car. Time to start saving up those pennies!

Monday 1 November 2010

Home linked to P G Wodehouse's Blandings Castle up for sale

Home linked to P G Wodehouse's Blandings Castle up for sale

P. G. Wodehouse is one of my favourite authors and although I have to admit that I gravitate more towards the Jeeves stories I was still interested in this article about Apley House in Shropshire, which some Wodehousians believe served as the inspiration for Blandings Castle - the setting of one of Plum's other great series.

Now comes the news that, following recent renovation it is now for sale for the princely sum of £1¾ million pounds(!). As the former president of the UK Wodehouse society is quoted as saying in the article - "for fans of Wodehouse wanting to imitate the life of an aristocrat, this house would do very well indeed". Quite! Although less of the "imitating" and more "living", eh what?! Of course, a million-and-some oncers is far outside your humble scribe's purse so I suppose I shall just have to carry on being like Bertie Wooster where I am now.

Of course, if money were no object my ideal house would undoubtedly be Sir Edwin Lutyens' turn-of-the-century masterpiece Marsh Court, in my ancestral county of Hampshire (below). It only went for about £11,000,000 a couple of years ago...


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