Prior To Elf on The Shelf – Vintage Elves!

In 2004 The Elf on the Shelf was written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell over a cup of tea. It was a book about a seemingly old tradition of an elf sent from Santa who came to watch over children at Christmas time. The story describes how Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in people’s homes to watch over events and then report back to Santa. Basically to see who’s naughty? Who’s nice? And there’s one rule – you must not touch the elf on the shelf!

A variety of vintage 1950s, 1960s elves

Oh yeah, he’s naughty

Having a good old time!

Prior to the Elf on the shelf book there were already plenty of vintage Christmas elves watching over us and frankly they could care less about who’s naughty and who’s nice! As a matter of fact, many of these vintage elves have pretty naughty looks on their faces. They’re mischievous. They’re fun. They’re full of good Christmas cheer! Naughty? Nice? Don’t touch? Who cares! They just want to have fun!

Contemplating naughtiness


“I didn’t do it …”

You may have noticed that it is currently the middle of the summer and I’m writing about holiday elves! That’s because it’s Christmas in July in the Midtown Mercantile Mall. Come on in. It’s cool inside and we’re celebrating Christmas!  

Carol Fenn 7-2017

Christmas in July ~ Shiny Brite Ornaments

Ah Shiny Brite ornaments! We love you! I don’t know about you, but when I’m searching through a box of vintage and antique Christmas decorations, when I come across a Shiny Brite it makes my heart go pitty-pat!  

A lovely vintage box

An early ad

Ready to be decorated

In 1937, Max Eckardt established Shiny Brite. He had been importing and selling German ornaments for many years but he saw the writing on the wall with the upcoming war. Eckardt partnered with the American Corning Glass Company. They adapted their process for making light bulbs to mass producing clear glass ornaments, which were then shipped to Eckardt’s factories to be decorated by hand. Prior to this time most Christmas ornaments were indeed imported from Germany. The fact that Shiny Brite ornaments were an American-made product was stressed as a selling point during World War II, even featuring Uncle Sam on the box! In the first year they sold 250,000 ornaments! 

Shiny Brite table top tree

So pretty …

They made much more than glass ornaments

The accurate dating of Shiny Brites is often helped by studying the hook. The first Shiny Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop. Production during WWII necessitated the replacement of the metal cap with a cardboard tab. These cardboard hangers firmly place the date of manufacture of the ornament to the early 1940s. Later during WWII they came with paper caps with a loop of string. Also during the war there was no metallic paint used as decoration. Ornaments dating to this time have a non-silvered surface.

WWII ornament with paper cap

Early WWII clear bulbs with cardboard hooks

WWII non-silvered ornaments

Following the war, Shiny Brite introduced a line of ornaments with a metal hook that provided the user with two lengths of hanger. The long hook traveled through the center of the ornament and exited the bottom, where it attached to the bottom. This provided the “short” hanger. Unlatched from the bottom, the entire length of the hook was available, allowing the ornament to dangle at a greater distance from the tree limb to which it was attached. This arrangement was designed to allow the ornament to fill sparsely limbed areas of a natural tree. This feature was discontinued in 1960 when aluminum trees became popular.  

Glow in the dark Shiny Brites

In the early 1960s, the increased popularity of artificial trees seemed to coincide with the desire for unbreakable plastic ornaments to decorate them with. The Shiny Brite company closed its doors in 1962.  

Wreath made out of old Shiny Brites

Today Shiny Brites are very popular with collectors who not only decorate their trees but they make gorgeous wreaths with them. Some even take old damaged Shiny Brite boxes and make charming little Christmastime vignettes. How cute is that!  

Carol Fenn 7-2017

It’s The 4th! Celebrating Uncle Sam!

Since the early 1800s, Uncle Sam has been a popular symbol of the US government as well as a manifestation of patriotism. He’s even taken on some forms of environmental conservation. But how did this come about? 

Uncle Sam encouraging home gardens

… encouraging conservation of natural resources

Hand carved whirligig

It was in 1813 that the United States got its nickname, Uncle Sam. Popular lore says that the name is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson stamped his barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. government.

Christmas in July anyone?

The image of Uncle Sam that we recognize today was created by James Montgomery Flagg during World War I. This image more than any other has influenced the modern appearance of Uncle Sam: an elderly man with white hair and a goatee, wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band and striped trousers.

James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam has been used over the years to encourage Americans to plant Victory gardens, join the military, buy American-made products, perform patriotic acts, etc.

Buy American!

Vintage pattern

Well-known figure that he is, Uncle Sam has been carved into folk art figures, used on mechanical banks, toys, noisemakers, puzzles, and of course, appropriately on the 4th of July, you might even find him prominently displayed on fireworks!  

Uncle Sam fireworks

Antique cast iron bank


It might be fun to come into the Midtown Mall at 4443 E Speedway in Tucson, AZ and go on a treasure hunt for some Uncle Sam antiques and collectibles. Come on in! It’s cool inside!

Carol Fenn 7-2017

Let’s Go To The Drive In!

Back in the day this was one of the best parts of childhood. Dusk is approaching. The whole family gets piled into the Ford Galaxy, Chevy pickup, etc. and off you go. As you approach the theater you see the bigger-than-you-can-possibly-imagine neon sign of a cowboy on a bucking bronco. After paying by the carload you drive into the huge dirt lot with little hills and speakers on stands. After parking on one of those little hills it’s important to check the speaker immediately cuz you need to be sure that it works. Yep, it does! Now the kids are off to the skeezy snack bar for some popcorn and soda. It’s getting darker. Once everybody is situated in the car the movie comes on. Heaven.

A beautiful early drive in

The skeezy snack bar

Arizona got off to a late start in the outdoor drive in business. At the end of the 1940’s, there were only five drive ins operating in the entire state. But by the late 1950’s, during their heyday, there were about 50. Since that time, the number of operating drive-ins in the state has steadily declined. 



There isn’t a lot of information about the old drive in theaters in Tucson. I suppose we’d need to ask a movie-loving Tucson native if we wanted all of the info. But as far as I can tell the names of the drive ins here in the Old Pueblo were: The Apache, The Fiesta, The Prince, The 22nd Street Drive-in, The Midway, The Rodeo, and The Cactus, also known as The De-Anza. 

The Sunland, Calif. drive in my family went to

There is a group of people here in Tucson who are doing their best to get a drive in re-established. Let’s hope they do. Just leave out the skeezy snack bar!

Carol Fenn 6-2017

Mythological GRIFFINS In The Mall!

So I went in the Midtown MM Antique mall at 4443 E Speedway and look at what I found! The owners just brought it in today and I have to say it is one of the most beautiful pieces of antique furniture I’ve ever seen. 

Antique tiger oak buffet

This antique buffet is much more than just a buffet. It features exceptional tiger oak. It’s perfectly made. It’s in excellent condition. And holding up the two front corners are a pair of marvelously hand carved griffins.


The griffin is a fascinating mythical creature whose roots reach from western Europe to the Eastern edges of India. In any mythology, he is portrayed as a mix between an eagle and a lion. He is a kingly mythical creature who commands deep respect.  Griffin mythology reads a lot like dragon mythology in that griffins were thought to be very wise and wily characters who spent a good deal of time seeking out and guarding gold and treasures.   

Fireplace fender – detail

Some historians have guessed at a possible origin of griffin mythology: There have been several fossil findings of the pentaceratops – a dinosaur from the Cretaceous period – that were located near known gold veins. These findings may have been influential in the ancient belief in griffins. The pentaceratops had a beaked face with a four-legged body. Anyone digging for gold in an area with these bones would find a creature whose bones looked very much like what one would imagine a griffin’s bones to look like. From there, it’s not hard to figure out why people would imagine a griffin looking as it does and being known for digging for and hoarding gold.

Griffin bookends

Finally, the buffet was sold by Captain William Gadsby of Portland, Oregon. Mr. Gadsby was of English birth and lineage. He was born January 18, 1859, in Birmingham, England, where the family name has long been associated with mercantile enterprises. He joined the British army. He was stationed in Ireland and India and eventually settled in Oregon where he went into the furniture business, becoming quite revered in the Portland community.

The beautiful advertisements for this circa 1900 Portland furniture business have an obvious arts and crafts influence, which was popular at the time.

So come on into the mall and check out this stunning piece of furniture. It is a sight to see.

Griffin statuary


Carol Fenn 6-2017

Snowcones – A “Cool” History Dating Back To 1850

Prior to the 1850s, there were no snowcones. Imagine that! But, it is believed that they had their birth around this time in Baltimore, Maryland. Thanks to the industrial revolution, ice had become commercially available. (Prior to this if you wanted ice it had to be cut off of a frozen river or lake – not great for eating – yuck). Ice houses in New York sold man-made ice to the southern states. To get it there they would send a big horse-drawn wagon with a huge block of ice south. 

Ice wagon

The route to Florida would pass right through Baltimore where kids would run up to the wagon and ask for a small scraping of ice. Before long, mothers started to make flavoring in anticipation of their children receiving some ice. The first flavor the women made is still a Baltimore favorite: egg custard. Egg custard was an easy flavor to make as the only ingredients were eggs, vanilla, and sugar. In Baltimore today, a favorite is some ice with a dollop of marshmallow syrup on top. Sounds good doesn’t it?

Ice related collectibles

By the 1870s, snowcones had evolved to where they were being sold on street corners. At this time they were known as snowballs.  

The snowball’s popularity had risen to the degree that in the warm summer months, theaters would sell snowballs to keep their patrons cool. Because of this association with the theater, snowballs were soon thought of as an upper-class commodity. Signs in theaters instructing patrons to finish their snowballs before coming in for the second act are the earliest tangible evidence of these cool treats. In the theaters in Baltimore during this time hand shavers were used to shave the ice. 

Over the years we have found many ways to make crushed or shaved ice with many different tools. Shavers, crushers, etc!  

Mid century modern ice crusher

In Hawaii they have big vintage shaved ice machines made out of cast iron. Their shaved ices tend to be flavored with local fruits like pineapple, coconut, and guava.  

Hawaiian shaved ice machine

Most of the smaller tools are collectible today and they can, of course, still be used to make a snowcone. Fire up the vintage ice crusher and pull out the marshmallow syrup! Who’s ready for a snowcone!

If you didn’t have this, your friend did!

In the Midtown mall we’ve been known to serve snowcones. We hope to have them again in the near future. Now you can not only enjoy this cool treat, but you know it’s history as well!

Carol Fenn 6-2017

That Wild Wild Car in the Midtown Mall!

In 1995 there was a short lived series on TV called, “Legend.” It has been said, if “The Wild, Wild West” and “Maverick” had a child, it would have been “Legend.” The science fiction western, set in 1876, was based on Ernest Pratt and his adventures as “Legend.” 

The car and the stars

This smart, funny, and exciting show only lasted for 11 episodes but there are legions of fans who still love the show, discuss it on social media, watch it on DVD, and wish it would come back.


Richard Dean Anderson stars as Ernest Pratt, a gambling, hard-drinking writer who has created a dashing literary hero, Nicodemus Legend. Legend is the main character in a wild series of dime novels set in the dangerous untamed West. Pratt has created Legend in his own image, and all the novels are written in the first person. Because of this, many of his 1870s readers believe that Ernest Pratt is indeed Nicodemus Legend. The irony is that while Pratt himself is something of a lost soul, he has created in Legend a romantic hero who embodies all the optimism and creative spirit of America in the 1870s.

Legend’s vehicle in the Midtown Mall

Legend’s sidekick, Bartok, creates steampunk-like inventions that spring from his visionary mind. All of these inventions are fascinating and many are well ahead of their time. Legend’s audience was treated to such creations as the first All-Terrain Vehicle, which Bartok has named the “Bartok Steam-Powered Town and Country Quadrovelocipede.”

You can’t get more steampunk than this!

 … And guess what? That vehicle, the exact one used in the series is right here in the Midtown Mall! And it’s for sale for only $11,000.  How exciting to be able to see, and have the chance to buy, this beloved piece of television history! It’s made to look like a steam powered vehicle but it’s actually built on a Volkswagen engine. It has an automatic transmission and power brakes. The wooden wheels were made by the Amish in Pennsylvania. And, guess what else? The series was filmed right here in Tucson.

Amish-made wheels

So come on in and check out this great one-of-a-kind automobile. We’ll see you in the mall! 4443 E. Speedway, Tucson, AZ

Carol Fenn 6-2017

The Colorful History of PYREX

In 1915, chemists at Corning Glass Works in Corning, New York, developed a special glass that they branded as “Pyrex.” It could take extreme temperature changes. This made it ideal for scientific experiments, railroad lamps, and, of course, cooking.

Early advertising

It is clean!

Corning’s first line of clear Pyrex ovenware came out in 1915, featuring casseroles, custard cups, a bread pan, pie plates, etc. On this early Pyrex the word “Pyrex” can usually be found on the base. Pyrex was very popular with homemakers who’d previously cooked in metal pans and earthenware. Now they could bake, serve, and store their food in the same attractive dish! Also, as you can see from the old ads, there was a strong emphasis on the fact that, after use, it would get so “clean.”

Collectors today love the colorful Pyrex products that were produced from 1947 until the late 1960s. These new Pyrex products were made out of opal or white glass, sprayed with a bright color, and sometimes printed with an attractive pattern.

A collection

Pyrex just for Tucson?

The original nesting bowls are among the most beloved of the vintage Pyrex. The very first, and most popular set, is the solid “#400 Multicolored Mixing Bowls.” It includes a 4-quart yellow bowl, a 2.5-quart green bowl, a 1.25-quart red bowl, and a half-quart blue bowl.


In 1957, the #300 nesting bowl sets were introduced. These only had the three smaller bowls. In 1967 Pyrex introduced the very popular “New Dot” pattern. These are white glass with three rows of dots in a single color. It is a 3 bowl nesting set, and each bowl had its own dot color: orange, red, and blue. A fourth 4-quart bowl with green dots was introduced in 1969. It is the most valuable of the set.

Cinderella bowls

Cinderella bowls with pouring handles came out in 1958. Casseroles were made in similar colors. Many were offered as promotional items or Christmas specials. Others were a part of huge kitchenware sets, so that homemakers could fill their kitchens with matching Pyrex patterns.

The Jetson’s would love this!

In 1956, 2 quart Jetson-like casseroles on stands (with candle warmers) came out. My mother had something similar to this to go with our Jetson-like kitchen. I wish I had it today. The dish and the kitchen LOL

Some collect by color

There’s a lot more to talk about when it comes to vintage Pyrex. Refrigerator sets, measuring cups, later Pyrex, and all the different patterns, etc. Perhaps we’ll discuss these things later. Stay tuned! … and come on in to the mall. Our merchants usually have some vintage Pyrex!

Carol Fenn 6-2017

~Fiesta Red ~ Radioactive? Orange?

Homer Laughlin’s vintage Fiesta red dinnerware? Is it really radioactive? And is it really red? I’ll answer the second question first. Collectors of early Fiesta know that Fiesta Red (some call it radioactive red) is not really red. Not “fire engine” red or “barn” red. Nope. It’s orange/red. With the emphasis on the orange. Why it was called red instead of orange is something of a mystery.  

Yes, this is red

And this is red!

And this is orange

“Fiesta red” – looks more orange than red, right?

As to it being radioactive, on March 16, 2011, the Homer Laughlin Company posted this statement on its website, in response to a Good Morning America broadcast about radioactivity in the home:

“Included in the Good Morning America report was a product that has not been sold in the market for nearly 40 years, Antique/Vintage Fiesta dinnerware. The anchor narrating the segment passes a radiation measuring tool over several products including the Antique/Vintage Fiesta plate that was produced nearly 70 years ago. The narrator also stated that it was taken off the market because when people heard about the uranium in the glaze, they did not want to buy the product. In fact, The Homer Laughlin China Company stopped manufacturing all Fiestaware in 1972 because of low sales. The product that was used within the segment has been discontinued and has not been available for close to 40 years time. Fiesta today is frequently tested by federally licensed independent laboratories and is lead free, microwave/dishwasher safe, oven proof and made in the USA. . . .
Prior to World War II, it was common practice for manufacturers of ceramic dinnerware to use uranium oxide in color glazes. The Homer Laughlin China Company was no exception, using this material in the original “Fiesta Red” glaze, among others.
In 1943, the U.S. Government stopped all civilian use of uranium oxide because available supplies were needed for the war effort. Homer Laughlin stopped producing the red glaze color at that time and for that reason. Nonetheless, this interruption in production is believed to be the source of the rumor that Fiesta’s red glaze was removed from the market because it was radioactive. In truth, the red glaze emitted far less radiation than some other consumer products. Following the lifting of wartime restrictions, Homer Laughlin again began producing the red glaze in the 1950s, using a depleted grade of uranium oxide.
Homer Laughlin stopped all use of depleted uranium oxide in 1972 and it is not used in Fiesta Dinnerware which is produced today.”

The general recommendation today is to enjoy displaying your Fiesta red but don’t eat off of it and don’t put it under your pillow 🙂

Carol Fenn 6-2017

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