Memorial Day

This coming Monday, on Memorial Day, Americans will honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.   

Here at the Midtown Mercantile Antique mall we honor those who serve on *every* Monday. Yes, every Monday is military Monday, when, in our humble way, we give military members and their dependents a 10 % store-wide discount.    
We offer our deepest gratitude for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families in the defense of our country and the preservation of our freedoms. 
To the survivors of those who perished in the defense of our country we are eternally grateful for their ultimate sacrifice.
Throughout the history of our country some lovely artwork has been produced in honor of Memorial Day.  I’ve picked some examples, most old, some new.  As you look at these I hope it brings to mind those who have sacrificed their lives so that we can have the freedom we have today.





Carol Fenn 5-2017

Authenticating Old Cast Iron Toys and Banks 

Even though the prices are down on a lot of antiques there are still some things that sell for a lot of money. Cast iron toys and banks are a good example of this. Excellent authentic pieces of cast iron can still sell for several thousand dollars at a good auction. With this in mind, it’s probably a good idea to know how to identify the good stuff! There are five things to look for:

Jonah and The Whale bank sold for $414,000

First, check the alignment. On modern reproductions the mold sections are often not properly aligned before they are locked together.

Swan chariot with original box

Second, check the seams. Look at how the separate pieces of cast iron fit together. The seams between pieces on most early cast iron toys are so tight that they might even be hard to find. On the new fakes, there are often large gaps.

Toy truck sold for more than $21,000

Bell toy

Third, check the surface. In early cast iron, the molds were formed from very fine sand. That light sandy texture can still be felt, but it is very fine and uniform. On newer pieces you will find areas with a coarse surface. 

Foot ball bank with original box

Fourth, look at the paint. Paint is one of the most important points to look at. It’s difficult (but not impossible) to fake the look of old paint. On old pieces the paint is thicker, the color is brighter, the surface is shiny and hard. 

Fantastic example of a cast iron bank

Fifth, look at the bolts. On an old piece the bolts will be so flush to the surface that you almost don’t see them. On a new piece, they will often stick out from the surface. And, if you see Phillips head screws – look no further! That’s a fake!

Carol Fenn 5-2017

Arizona’s Buffalo Soldiers in Art and Photos

“Buffalo Soldier” is the nickname given to the first African-American members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Buffalo Soldiers, usually mounted on horses, were common figures in Arizona near the U.S./Mexico border at the turn of the twentieth century. Henry Flipper, the first African-American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy was stationed at the barely tamed outpost of Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

Buffalo soldiers, Arizona c. 1890

Buffalo soldier in the ninth cavalry, 1890

Buffalo soldiers, Tombstone, AZ

Buffalo soldier

The ONLY World War I battle fought on American soil involved the Buffalo Soldiers! In August of 1918, armed Mexican troops were seen in Nogales, Sonora with several men thought to be advisors to the German military. It appeared that the Germans were planning an attack on Nogales, Arizona! On August 27, 1918, Buffalo soldiers briefly exchanged sniper fire across the international border. Yes, a skirmish, but this is considered to be the only World War I battle fought on American soil!

Fortunately there are a few old photographs of Buffalo soldiers and they have ALSO been dramatically and beautifully depicted in paintings, most notably by the famous American artist, Frederick Remington.  

For more information you can visit The Buffalo Soldier Museum, Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Carol Fenn 5-2017

Collecting “Mother” Motto Prints

In the early part of the twentieth century a popular gift was a framed motto print. Usually sentimental, sometimes funny, they were always charming. Some had a strong Art Deco design, others harkened back to the Victorian era. Some of the most popular mottos, then and now, are devoted to mothers.

These mottos are endearing, the text is ornate, the frames are lovely, and they make a stunning collection when grouped together. They can be hung in bathrooms, bedrooms, guest bedrooms, kitchens, really any room in the house. I’ve even seen tiny ones tucked into a Christmas tree.  

There were a few companies who made and sold these mottos. The Buzza company and P.F. Volland are the names you will see most often. 

Interior display room at the Buzza company

There is a definite joy and sweetness to motto prints. When I see one it always makes me smile. Some can be emotional and might bring a little tear to your eye but without some sadness, happiness is not as sweet. There are friendship mottos, “going home” mottos, ambition mottos, etc. Mottos devoted to fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, birds, dogs, etc. But probably the most common is the mother motto.  

You can find motto prints at estate sales, flea markets, yard sales, antique malls and online. Prices vary – generally from $20 – $75, with some going for a couple hundred. But watch out! Once you have one, you will want more!

Carol Fenn 5-2017

Collecting PoP-Up Books!

Pop-up books are so cool! From intricate antique versions to intricate versions made today, they are fascinating. Fairy tales, adventure stories, anatomical tomes, they have all been represented in these wonderful books.

Antique Little Red Riding Hood Pop-Up, 1890

As a child I remember having a pop-up book. As I slowly turned the page there was Little Red Riding Hood (and parts of the forest) magically rising from the page! Then further on, uh oh! The Big Bad Wolf! As an antique dealer I have owned and sold my fair share of wonderful vintage and antique pop-ups. From simple to intricate and amazingly delicate. Today printed book sales are down, with e-books replacing them. However, it is unlikely that this will affect pop-ups. That is because all pop up books are, and always have been, made by hand.


Pop-up books go back to the 13th century, but they became extremely popular in the late 19th century. Today, interest in the field continues to grow and the price paid for rare items is on the rise. In the last few years many have sold in the $250-$350 range. Some rare examples have sold for thousands.

This pop up is in booth #1966 for only $10

Right now in the Midtown Mercantile Merchants Antique Mall at 4443 E. Speedway there is a sweet little pop-up book. It’s in booth # 1966 and it’s only $10. Might be a nice way to start your collection!

Carol Fenn 5-2017

Collecting Wedding Cake Toppers

From the 1800’s Victorian era, well into the 1970s, virtually all wedding cakes had a bride and groom topper. In more recent decades, however, floral designs and sculpted icing have, sadly, pushed the little couple off the cake. But lately there’s been a resurgence of interest in old fashioned wedding customs. Hence the re-emergence of two little figures on the top of the cake. And some brides are not using new figures. They like the warmth and whimsy of the vintage ones.  

Contemporary cake with a vintage topper

Collectors, too, have fallen under the spell of these whimsical objects. There is an amazingly vast variety of styles, plus they look so charming and festive when grouped together. This is certainly an area of collecting where you can’t stop at just one!

Vintage wedding cake toppers were manufactured in large numbers in Germany, Japan, and the United States. Since most were stored as treasured keepsakes, many survive in good condition. Nineteenth century chalkware toppers are rare and often sell for several hundred dollars each. Mass produced pieces dating to the early to mid 1900s made of bisque, composition, and, later, plastic are the most plentiful. Prices range from $40 to $150. War time designs with soldier grooms start at about $100.

So, if you have a wedding in your future, or if you want to start or add to your collection why not come into the Midtown Mercantile Merchants Antique Mall in central Tucson at 4443 E. Speedway? With almost 100 dealers the search for a wedding cake topper just might be successful!  

Carol Fenn 4-2017

Gil Elvgren’s COWGIRL Pin-Ups

Gil Elvgren (March 15, 1914 – February 29, 1980) was an American painter of pin-up girls. He was best known for his pin-up paintings for Brown & Bigelow who produced commercial advertising, calendars, etc. 

An original Elvgren calendar

During World War II much of the nose art on military aircraft was inspired by Elvgren’s work.  

Nose art

Elvgren was associated with Brown & Bigelow from 1945 to 1972. He produced an average of twenty pin-ups a year. The women are in various costumes and in various humorous, or slightly risqué, poses. I think the cowgirls are some of his best!

But, you might ask, what exactly is a pin-up? A pin-up model is a model whose mass-produced pictures see wide appeal in popular culture. Pin-ups are intended for informal display, i.e. meant to be “pinned-up” on a wall. Pin-up models may be fashion models, or actors, or literally the girl next door. These pictures are also sometimes known as “cheesecake.” … And guess where this usage of the word cheesecake came from? It is reported that in 1912 James Kane, a photographer, was working for “The New York Journal.” One day Kane was taking photos of an attractive young woman when a breeze blew her skirt up. When more leg than usual came on display, Mr. Kane (who reputedly loved cheesecake) exclaimed, “Wow! This is better than cheesecake!”

Since we’re in Tucson, where cowgirls are “home on the range,” I thought it would be fun to feature some of Elvgren’s “cheesecake” cowgirls.   Saddle up!

Carol Fenn 4-2017

Collecting Old TUCSON Postcards

Collecting postcards is the third largest hobby after collecting stamps and money (collectible coins and bills – not just “money” lol … although some members of our society seem to be doing just that!) This can be a very rewarding pastime that can be undertaken absolutely anywhere in the world. Even Queen Victoria is thought to have had her own postcard collection, so it’s certainly a hobby that has an excellent pedigree behind it.

The old train station in downtown Tucson

Downtown Tucson in the old days

Older days

Much older days

And downtown Tucson in the really really old days

Today I’m going to focus on collecting “Tucson” postcards. It’s so interesting to collect local ephemera like this. You can learn history. You might be amused. And you will learn about interesting local sites that may or may not exist anymore. I know, when I come across an interesting old card it sends me to Google to find out more!  

Some cards can be funny and or risqué

Don’t forget about the Tucson rodeo postcards!

And the crazy cactus postcards

The Spanish Trail Motel

When you come in the Midtown Mercantile Merchants mall (4443 E. Speedway) there are almost 100 dealers. Makes for a fun afternoon, looking through each space, hunting for that elusive Tucson postcard. When you find one, it feels great! (And here’s an insider tip: booth #115 might just have quite a few postcards to look through.)

Booth #115 on the showroom floor. These would be a lot of fun to search through

Who knew that Tucson had a famous root beer place?

Who knew that Steinfeld’s was this big!

I always wanted to see the famous diving girl’s pool. Here it is!

Once you have your postcards, don’t just keep them in a drawer. Display them as art. This way you and your friends can enjoy them every day.

A great way to display your postcards

Enjoy your search!

Carol Fenn 4-2017

Easter Bunny Photos – Charming to Terrifying!

Easter bunny photos can be so sweet. Pretty girls, cute kids, chocolate treats, even Debbie Reynolds! But then we get to the dark side. For some reason, sitting on the lap of a big scary rabbit has never quite caught on with the children.  

Debbie Reynolds

Pretty girl, Easter bunny. Sweet. Not scary. Yet.

A little odd. But cute.

While waiting his turn, the Easter bunny was plotting against Superman

The Little Rascals. Petey the dog says, “where are my bunny ears?”

“Just don’t look him in the eye and maybe he’ll go away”

“Mom?” “Dad?”

Mmmm … two delicious little children …

“Now one more time. Why is it that you enjoy terrifying little children?”

Uh oh! They’re multiplying … like … like … um … Like rabbits!


Mom!! He’s wearing my bib!

Drunk on the same fermented juice?

He’s giving this one a head start

If the bunny threatens you, just give us a thumbs up …

Bunnies love shoulder meat. It’s so tender.

Little Donald’s face froze like that

Mom. Dad. You’re kiddin’ me right?

Watch those paws Mr. Bunny

She’s gonna be hard to catch in those roller blades …

Happy Easter one and all!

Carol Fenn 4-2017

Collecting EASTER Toys

All year long it’s fun to come into the Midtown Mercantile Merchants Mall at 4443 E. Speedway and search for fun, funny, cute, sweet, vintage Easter toys, candy containers, etc. They make a very happy permanent collection in your home. Then when Easter week rolls around you’ve got all these adorable things to make a joyful Easter display!  

Easter display

Candy containers and nodders

Pop-up bunny!

Don’t forget about the stuffies!

Of all the areas of collecting I think Easter toys and related items might be the most fun. I mean really? How can you not smile at these things?

Lollipop holders. So cute!

Don’t forget the lambies

Candy containers

Many of them are made of delicate materials, like cardboard or early celluloid plastic.  These should be handled with care to preserve them for future generations.

Vintage celluloid

Fisher-Price also made a nice variety of Easter baskets and toys.

One of the Fisher Price toys

Happy Easter and happy hunting!
Carol Fenn 4-2017