Wednesday 29 February 2012

The self-proclaimed last barnstormer in the United States

Self-proclaimed last barnstormer in the United States flies Imperial County skies

Last year I blogged about a pair of father and son pilots who had been flying around America in their 1943 Boeing Stearman biplane giving flips to old Air Forces pilots.  At the time I marvelled at the at the extent of the two fliers' travels, the adventuresome nature of their journey and the romanticism of the old barnstormers from the Twenties and Thirties.  Well, here's another magnificent man and his flying machine - and the last "full-time" barnstormer in the United States, apparently!

Unique Vintage Biplane Rides in the Desert Southwest

Whereas the Stearman chaps were on a personal journey across the country, offering flights in their newly-restored aeroplane along the way, this fellow does it for a living!  It's incredible to think that in 2012 America barnstormers still exist to offer flights to members of the public in the same aircraft that were plying the same trade 80 years ago.  Whilst we might now look upon such flights as a vintage attraction, it's worth bearing in mind that even today it will be some passengers' first flight in an aeroplane.  It is truly remarkable - and laudable - that someone is continuing the tradition, a tradition virtually unchanged from the 1920s.

A 1929 New Standard D-25, similar to the one flown by Mike Carpentiero

Once again the idea of flying where one will in a country the size of the United States is a source of wonderment to me, made all the more delightful by the time-honoured method and mode of transportation.  Distances of hundreds, or even thousands, of miles is almost inconceivable to a chap whose own country is barely 600 miles long and the huge expanse of country pilots like Mike Carpentiero fly over needs to be seen to be appreciated.  That he does it in an 82-year-old biplane, stopping at aerodromes along the way to take people up, makes it all the more nostalgic.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

My two penn'orth

On Sunday I went to my first antiques fair for, I am ashamed to say, three or four years (although that enforced absence was in no small part due to circumstances outside of my control) - the Runnymede Hall Antique & Collectors Fair in Benfleet, Essex.

Picture by Martin Hayhurst ©                                          Pictures of

It was nice to be back amongst some really rather nice vintage bits and bobs, items like classic rotary-dial telephones in varying age and condition, silverware (snuffboxes, cigarette/card cases, lighters etc.) 1930s cigarette cards, but mainly jewellery and china.  The event proved popular with a full car park and a large crowd attending; I spotted one or two vintage guys and gals amongst the throng.

What took me aback, though, and highlighted just how out of touch I have become with antiques fairs were the prices.  The last fair I went was before vintage and retro became fashionable again so prices were on the low side but on Sunday, with a few exceptions, most items started at double figures!  Granted there were quite a few examples of really sought-after names, like Clarice Cliff and Lalique - in fact there was a fair share of high-end stuff on display - but bargains were practically non-existent.  I was not altogether surprised, however, as my natural interest in vintage (and programmes like Antiques Road Trip or Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is) has meant that I've been aware of the rising price of antiques but to actually see it in the raw was still a bit of a shock.  I've been to a few antiques shops and arcades more recently where the prices have been less eye-popping, so perhaps there's a chance this was an aberration.

As a result I very nearly came away with nothing (which wouldn't have been the end of the world, I only went there for a look 'round and the off-chance of picking something up).  We'd wandered about, myself and my parents with whom I'd met up for the day and who pained me by commenting on practically every other item "we/ your grandparents used to have that, but gave it to the charity shop when we moved" and were getting ready to leave when I had one final rummage through a box of old pennies by the door.  Most were in such bad state that they were little more than scrap but I managed to find two rather unusual ones in good condition.

Dated 1935 and 1936 they consist of a Republic of Ireland 1d. coin and an old penny from the then Union of South Africa, which was still a British dominion at the time.  I've not got many pre-decimal coins from outside the British Isles, so they will be a welcome addition to my collection and for a paltry 20p I couldn't say no.  (Brief investigations on eBay show similar examples starting around the £1 mark, so not bad).  Around 5½ million 1935 Irish pennies were minted so they're by no means ultra-rare; the South African penny I'm less sure about.

Essex Vintage Fair

So that's literally my two penn'orth from my latest antiques fair experience(!).  There's another due to be held on the 1st April which I shall probably head along to as well.  It looks from the flyer as though it may be even bigger and better than Sunday's one; I shall look forward to finding out.

Monday 27 February 2012

Silence is golden for "The Artist"

I never doubted it for a minute, you know.  The Golden Globes hinted at it, the BAFTAs all but confirmed it and last night The Artist rose to the top of the pile and deservedly won five Oscars™ including Best Picture and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin, becoming the first silent film to win the top prize since Wings at the very first Oscars™ ceremony back in 1929.  Eighty-three years is a long time to wait (as long as 82-year-old Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, who should also be congratulated for his Best Supporting Actor award, which makes him the oldest recipient of one of those little statuettes)!

"The Artist" paints golden picture at Oscars

I don't mean to sound like a cracked record but I make no apologies for singing the praises of The Artist loud and long.  This may well be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence and it should be made the most of, particularly by those of us interested in vintage and classic films.  Hopefully it will introduce a whole new audience to the wonders of the old black-and-white silents.

Oscars 2012: The Artist's win reminds us to protect our film heritage

I went and saw it at the cinema again last week, the first time I've seen the same film twice since 1995, and it was as wonderful as the initial viewing.  I may yet see it a third time, although showings at my local picture house are down to two an evening now.  At the risk of repeating myself, it absolutely warrants viewing on a big screen.  I was surprised but pleased to see the auditoria packed on both occasions I attended although it has to be said that my presence undoubtedly lowered the average age of the audience by a good few years(!).  Still it was great to see such popularity and enjoyment, especially in my neck of the woods - be it curiosity or out-and-out appreciation this is one silent film that has the public talking!


As an aside, I just bought [via download] the wonderful (and award-winning) soundtrack today, so I can now go about my business with a little bit of black-and-white movie magic music as accompaniment.  Although it's dashed difficult to live out a silent film, with all the noise things make!

The release date for the DVD has also just been announced.  Mark the 7th of May in your diaries, as that's when this little gem makes it on to a distinctly un-vintage format!

Thursday 23 February 2012

Train complaint letter from 1912 recalls 'sparks in face danger'

Train complaint letter from 1912 recalls 'sparks in face danger'

A quaint incident is recalled in this article about a letter of complaint to a railway company one hundred years ago, recently discovered at the National Railway Museum.

We've all likely had cause to complain about our railway service and every other day local and national news seems to feature stories of delay and incident, but this letter reminds us to spare a thought for railway passengers of the late 19th and early 20th Century, when rail travel was sometimes still a rather crude affair.  Right up until the early 1900s some train companies crammed third class passengers into open-top carriages with hard bench seats and the locomotives, as in this particular case, were often basic and open to spit flame and embers onto the more unfortunate travellers.


By the 1920s the likes of "Gazelle" (above) had - on passenger services at least - given way to the lovely steam locomotives we know and appreciate today, but this remarkable piece of social history shows how hit-and-miss things could be in the years beforehand.  I'm sure the letter will be an excellent edition to the museum's collection.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Music, Murder and The Mrs Bradley Mysteries

All images courtesy of Fanpop
Like a few of my fellow vintage bloggers I have been thoroughly enjoying the recent re-runs of the [sadly short-lived] B.B.C. series from the late '90s, The Mrs Bradley Mysteries starring Dame Diana Rigg, a few episodes of which have found their way on to B.B.C. Four (Wednesdays, 9p.m.).

Dame Diana plays society divorcée Adela Bradley, an amateur criminologist (with a penchant for the psychological) who is ably assisted by her loyal chauffeur George Moody (Neil Dudgeon).  Both roles are expertly essayed, and supporting cast members include Peter Davison, David Tennant and Meera Syal.  It's a wonderful feast for fans of the 1920s with period cars, fashions, music and scenery galore.  Author Gladys Mitchell's stories have been very well adapted for the screen.

It's only a pity, then, that the series was so under-appreciated - to the extent that it never made it past one series.  The 90-minute pilot and four hour-long episodes are all that exist of this excellent programme.

At the time it was first aired I was not as fully immersed in vintage as I am now, so was not able to appreciate it properly, but with these latest showings I have been able to really enjoy this series.  So much so, in fact, that I've bought the 2-disc DVD set.  Now I can enjoy the adventures of Mrs Bradley to my heart's content!  The B.B.C. broadcasts are available on iPlayer, of course, and the pilot Speedy Death plus the second episode Death at the Opera (which was the one starring David Tennant) are both available on YouTube.

At the same time as my rediscovery of The Mrs Bradley Mysteries I also felt the desire to introduce a little more of 1920s/'30s British bandleader Ambrose & His Orchestra into my daily soundtrack (his version of Happy Days Are Here Again remains one of my top 10 songs) so I set about looking for CDs.  In no short order two (one a double-disc set) have made it into my music collection.

They were both mine - new, from a well-known South American-inspired online trading emporium - for a little less than £5.  The Mrs Bradley DVDs were the same.  So for less than a tenner I have a new pile of Twenties goodness to enjoy.  What always gets me about this sort of thing - and perhaps you've noticed this as well - is that most media related to vintage, as much as it is available at all, is either heinously expensive/ completely unavailable (memories of the aforementioned retailer having books/CDs/DVDs for sale "new and used" starting at ridiculous figures like £50 spring to mind) or dirt cheap like my latest purchases.  It has often been a source of puzzlement to me that such items, which can appear so similar in genre, are only ever rarer than hens' teeth or practically being given away (more of the latter, I say!).  And, of course, it goes without saying that finding such items in your local high street shops is a once-in-a-blue-moon experience, such as when I found a copy of the 1935 version of The 39 Steps in the DVD section of Woolworths for £4.93 (?!) or an Elsie Carlilse CD in my local Sainsburys for 99p.

Oh well, perhaps another mystery for Mrs Bradley to solve, eh?

Monday 13 February 2012

The award-winning Artist

Silence is golden as The Artist scoops 7 BAFTAs

This is just to acknowledge and congratulate The Artist on its winning seven BAFTA awards in London last night, including Best Film and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin.  They are all thoroughly well-deserved, every one, and all those involved should be justly proud.  The Oscars™ await, I feel sure.

Silent movie The Artist dominates 65th Baftas

If you haven't seen The Artist yet - what's the matter with you?!  Hurry up; it won't be in cinemas for much longer!  The BAFTA buzz and the Oscar™ hype might keep it out there for a little longer, but already showings are starting to lessen.  If you're still unsure, or have been living under a rock for the past two months and don't know what it's all about - here's my review of it from last month.  It deserves, nay needs, to be seen on the big screen so please do so if you can.

The success of The Artsist in the face of such strong opposition this year should be celebrated by the vintage community and shows that the silent film is by no means a dead genre.  In this modern age it is wonderful to see such an old-fashioned film taken to heart so well.  Perhaps it is the lean times we find ourselves in, perhaps it is the beginnings of a rebellion against sensory-assaulting CGI and 3D but whatever it is I am happy to see it celebrated by its peers, and more than glad to be able to say I saw it on the big screen.

Friday 10 February 2012

The family business expands

Back at the end of 2010 I took the liberty of telling you all about a vintage eBay store run by my aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh.  Of interest to all nostalgia aficionados, it is a full-time job for them both now as they continue to travel around Pennsylvania visiting estate sales and clearance auctions uncovering rare and unusual items - items that are available to buy!  All sorts of things, much like this blog a selection of interesting ephemera - including books, clothes, hats, jewellery and everything else in between, all usually with a story to tell.

Well now I am pleased to announce that VintageRoyalTreasure (there are no monarchical connexions, I'm afraid - Royal just happens to be my uncle's name!) has opened on Etsy!  And in keeping with Etsy's status as the doyen of the online vintage shopping scene, some of their best finds will feature in their shop.  You can see an example of some of their stock above and I have put a little widget on the left of this blog which will take you through to their Etsy shop (as well as the one for their eBay store, which can still be found at the bottom of this blog).

It's still early days for them in the world of Etsy but already they have some spiffing items up so do pop over and have a look if you want.  If any of you with a greater knowledge of Etsy, or even a shop of your own, would care to proffer any advice that I could pass on then by all means please leave a comment below - it would be greatly appreciated, I'm sure!  Thanks for reading and I hope you like it!

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Cary Grant - Style Icon

Second in the style icon stakes after Fred Astaire must surely be Mr Archie Leach - a.k.a Cary Grant.

All images courtesy of Doctor Macro.

While Fred Astaire was the epitome of elegance, Cary Grant runs him close but was also able to display a characteristic that was out of Astaire's reach - ruggedness.  Grant was not only at home in a well-tailored suit, evening wear or the casual look, but also more rough-and-ready clothes - which he still managed to make look good.  Of course this also allowed him to play a wide range of parts, from society playboy through city executive to tough pilot, yet still he remained stylish throughout.

In evening wear he may not have been able to quite match the effortless sophistication of Fred Astaire but he was very natural, which allowed him to pull off the stylish look by appearing at ease with his dress and surroundings.

It could be argued that few people looked better in a standard lounge- or three-piece suit, which is further testament to his leading man image and wonderfully self-assured attitude.  This look transcended to his life off-camera as well, as we shall see in a moment.

Thanks to his handsomeness and general physique Cary Grant could also carry off (no pun intended!) more dashing clothing.  Although often just a costume even then garments were not just thrown together but designed to give the ideal look.  Having said that, of course, he couldn't get away with everything(!):

Off-screen Grant kept up with the fashions of the day in much the same way as Astaire and other contemporary actors did.  Looking just as suave and stylish as he did in front of the camera, Cary Grant wore suits in a beautifully debonair manner.

The naturalness that was so evident on screen is just as visible in public, and it is splendid to see such easiness, such dignity.  I said earlier that he was not quite able to match Astaire's effortlessness but by Jove!, he wasn't far off.

Like so many stylish men and women over the years, much of Cary Grant's sophistication is due to body language.  Here was a man who not only appreciated a good suit but also knew just how to make it look good on him.  As with Astaire's grace, it is something that all the fine clothing in the world can't give you.  One could practice, and dress like Cary Grant, but never quite get the nuances that he had in abundance.  Just take a look at this(!):

Even dressed casually to relax Cary Grant remains stylish, but he was able to take the look in a slightly different direction to Astaire.  Even more so than with Fred's sports jackets, cravats and cardigans Grant's look is perhaps still even more attainable today.

Perhaps it is the woeful standard of "casual wear" today that makes a simple pullover and slacks look stylish, but in actual fact such a look is ridiculously easy to obtain.  The addition of a cravat or the variation of jumper simply adds to outfit.

The fact that I have found so many more pictures of Cary Grant sporting different looks is proof of his versatility as an actor and his ability to mix disparate styles of clothing so successfully.  It's only fitting that I finish with this fantastic selection of clips of the man in action in some of his best films.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Flying in a '20s Snow Bird

All images courtesy of

Last year when the snow came and caused travel chaos I recalled a 1920s solution to snow-covered roads - the Ford Model T snowmobile conversion.

This year when the snow came and caused travel chaos (d'you think there might be a pattern emerging here, Britain...?) I was once again reminded of this novel and effective vehicle - or rather this time its successor, the Model A snowmobile.

In the same way the the standard A improved upon the T, so the newer snowmobile conversion continued to be refined and updated.  Companies such as Arps offered conversions like the "Snow Bird" (top) for the likes of farmers, rural doctors, the U.S. Mail and anyone else who frequently travelled through heavy snowfall.

As the Model A was not built in as large a number as the T, and as conversion kits remained expensive, there are actually fewer A snowmobiles left than there are Ts.  If you look at the video clip in last year's post you'll notice only one or two As compared to a dozen or so Ts.  Still, I'll bet the closed-cab A was slightly warmer than the open/convertible T!

Nevertheless provided one is wrapped up properly a Ford snowmobile is still for my money the best way to beat the snow.  As the country is once again brought to a standstill I sit indoors looking out on a crisp white mantle and imagine zooming along in a "Snow Bird":

Saturday 4 February 2012

Severn Valley Railway celebrates 150th anniversary

Severn Valley Railway celebrates 150th anniversary

A little article from the B.B.C. here marking 150 years since the opening of the Severn Valley line which ran from Kidderminster to Shrewsbury.

Today the line is home to the Severn Valley Railway, one of the most popular and frequently-travelled heritage lines in the country, with both steam and diesel-electric locomotives running between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth.  Both the railway and the nearby Kidderminster Railway Museum have been putting on events to celebrate this milestone and it looks like the SVR will continue to be around for many years to come.

After the Beeching Cuts of the early 1960s so many branch lines were closed, so it is wonderful to see one of them prove to be so successful today, attracting tourists and vintage/railway enthusiasts from near and far.

The work of the SVR and the Kidderminster Railway Museum in helping to keep these splendid trains running is to be applauded and the period detail displayed at the stations is delightful.  It is my hope that one day I shall be able to experience a journey on the line myself.  Until then, Happy Birthday SVR!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Otto von Bismarck's voice among restored Edison recordings

Otto von Bismarck brought back to life thanks to Thomas Edison recording 

A fantastic rare find in America here of a previously-lost recording of 19th Century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck.  One of those "unlabelled box" discoveries that so often yield amazing items, other cylinders contain music by Chopin and various German and Hungarian performers of the time - a veritable treasure trove of sound recordings from 1889 allowing us to hear for the first time the voices of people from over 100 years ago.

Otto von Bismarck voice recording released

Field Marshal Helmut von Moltke, also recorded
Quite surprisingly the existence of the box was known as long ago as 1957, but the contents had remained unknown until now.  The huge cultural importance of early Edison cylinders has just been given another boost by this find - the then new-fangled technology of sound recording meant that so much speech and music was documented for posterity and I have no doubt that there are other such cylinders and early recordings still waiting to be found to give us further insight into the 19th and early 20th Century.  What else lays undiscovered in the Thomas Edison National Park, I wonder?

Bismarck’s Voice Among Restored Edison Recordings

German historians are naturally elated by this unearthing, as well they should be, but it is a remarkable event for historians everywhere.  The great thing about it is that as sound recordings they can no doubt be digitised, stored and disseminated the world over thanks to modern technology.  One wonders if our own audio formats will last as long, and whether they will be found and listened to in the 22nd Century, and be of as much interest?


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