"What Do I Collect?"

Smack Dab In The Middle: Design Trends Of The Mid-20th Century

September 25, 2020

“Boy, you sure have a lot of stuff!”
Looking around our apartment, I had to agree with my first-time visitor. There was a lot of stuff. On walls. On shelves. In cabinets, beside cabinets, and under cabinets. Stuff accenting every available space. Sure, it was all artfully arranged, and frequently dusted, but still, a lot of stuff. Seeing it through my visitor’s eyes, I couldn’t help feeling a bit woozy.
Worse yet, this first-time visitor wasn’t just anybody. This was a handyman, here to install a new shelf for, even more stuff.
I trotted out my time-honored excuse: “Well you see, I write articles about things people collect, so I end up collecting a lot of those things myself.”
“Wow! You must write a ton of articles.” And with a final look around, the handyman went about his business.
Actually, I do write a lot of articles. But I don’t collect everything I write about. No room for vintage washing machines. No garages for classic autos. Not enough ceiling space to hang marionettes, no cupboard spacious enough to store Carnival glass, no drawers roomy enough to hold hundreds of Christmas tree pins.
But nonetheless, plenty of stuff. And, since this is my birthday month, when (hopefully) even more stuff will come my way, the time seemed right to answer a question I get asked more often than you’d think: “So, what do you collect?” Here it goes.
Mid-Century Ceramics
The clean lines and vivid colors of ceramics from the 1940s and ’50s continue to fascinate collectors. Our hearth is packed with stylized servers by Marc Bellaire, but I’m particularly partial to figurals. In that imaginative lineup: Betty Harrington (Ceramic Arts Studio), Hedi Schoop, Betty Lou Nichols, Joy Thompson, Marwal, Elzac, and Copa de Oro. Thankfully, they don’t take up much room.
Higgins Glass
I was lucky enough to become friends with, and write extensively about, pioneer glass artisans Michael and Frances Higgins. But even if I didn’t know them from Adam, I’d still be awestruck by their plates, bowls, sculptures, and oh-so-many-more examples of fused glass artistry.
You name it, I’ve (probably) got it. Ceramics. Magazines. Cards, record albums, and sheet music. Unpacking is a chore, but once completed, holiday décor evokes a seasonal spirit even the Grinch would find irresistible.
Moss Lamps
Ever since I wrote a book about them, these oh-so-nifty Plexiglas ’50s lamps, with their enormous shades, light-up bases, and revolving figurines have taken over the apartment. Over the top? Sure. But what a great conversation-starter (or stopper).
Paper Goods
I’ve got bins full of vintage magazines, from TV Guides to Superman comics. They share quarters with World War II “homefront” memorabilia (patriotic sheet music, ration cards, “Golden Age of Radio” publications, and the like). Oh, and old greeting cards. Wondering what get-well cards, anniversary cards, and birthday cards looked like in the not-so-distant past? Just ask, and I’ll pull out the binders stacked under the bed.
Yes, vinyl records, a whole wall filled with them. Faves include Broadway cast albums, “cool” recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, and “personality” releases. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Mae West unleash her rock-and-roll interpretations.
Vogue Picture Records
These 78s, with their eye-catching poster-art illustrations (a different one on each side) were manufactured for just two years during the late 1940s. Only 75 Vogue variations were released. I’m missing four. Wish me luck.
This And That
A collecting grab bag based on things dear to my heart: Siamese cat figurines (What can I say? We have a Siamese cat); musician figurines (atop the piano, natch); Wizard of Oz mementos (“There’s no place like home!”); bendable fabric dolls (When you pose them for photos they don’t argue with you), and on and on.
What’s that? The new shelf is ready? Time to fill ’er up! As the saying goes, “It isn’t hoarding if your stuff is really cool.”
Photo Associate: Hank Kuhlmann.
All photos by Donald-Brian Johnson, except where noted.

Donald-Brian Johnson is the co-author of numerous books on design and collectibles, including “Postwar Pop,” a collection of his columns. When his Oct. 9 birthday rolls around, he looks forward to acquiring more “stuff.” Please address inquiries (or birthday greetings) to: donaldbrian@msn.com.

Donald-Brian Johnson

Donald-Brian Johnson

Donald-Brian Johnson is a nationwide columnist, and the co-author of numerous Schiffer books on design and collectibles. His most recent, "Postwar Pop," is a collection of his columns.


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