Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Get Clocked

This post is about how great things end up in the craziest places. Two years ago, in a tiny house where a couple had lived for decades on Detroit's far east side - a working class neighborhood during its best days - an estate sale listing with these pics shows up:

This was just around the corner from the spot where that guy was beaten by a mob after he accidentally hit a kid with his car. I am usually pretty comfortable traveling around Detroit, but this was all pretty recent and I'll admit I had reservations about even going to check this out.

I did go, of course. I guess the story is he liked modern, she liked crafting. Her love of crafting served me well, I got a huge box of some really exceptional homemade pushpin ornaments from the 70s that I ended up using for our holiday window later that year.

The clocks weren't cheap (although the best were gone by the time I got there). Why they weren't sent to auction as a collection is a mystery. But let me assure you, if there was ever a neighborhood I didn't expect to find an amazing collection of Howard Miller/George Nelson clocks, this was it. It just goes to show, you never know. You just never know.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Online advertising has really pulled the rug out from under magazine publishing, at least in its mass-distributed form. One of the byproducts of this has been the rise in popularity of the specialty magazine (or journal, or bookazine, or magbook or whatever). They tend to have a higher price point than your typical newsstand read, and they are beautifully printed and have great, specialized content. The idea isn't new however, and one of the greatest examples of the subscription magazine/journal is Eros, a groundbreaking magazine from the early 1960s.

First published in 1962, Eros was a magazine devoted to eroticism. It was geared toward intellectuals and in its four issue run covered a broad range of stories about sexuality in history, politics, arts and literature. Available only through mail order, it featured top talent, starting with a fantastic design by the legendary Herb Lubalin (even then a leading typographer and art director) who was engaged to help elevate the project above the era's popular notion of sexually-oriented publishing.

It featured great writing and photography, and highlights of the run include a controversial photo-essay on interracial love by Ralph Hattersley and Marilyn Monroe's final photoshoot by Bert Stern. But what really clinches the historical significance of Eros is that the publisher, Ralph Ginzburg, was indicted on obscenity charges after the fourth issue came out. It was a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court and helped define obscenity for a generation.

Publication ceased after the indictment (although Ginzberg would go on to publish other groundbreaking magazines like Fact and Avant Garde), but Eros, and its legal aftermath, is considered one of the key factors that helped launch the sexual revolution.

I've discovered issues of Eros a handful of times over the years, usually in liberal pockets like Ann Arbor (and a whole set once at an estate sale in Grosse Pointe where the home owners were definitely swingers). As you would expect, the contents are tame by today's standards, but it is smart without being stuffy, and often very funny. It's a beautifully-designed, interesting-to-read bona-fide cultural artifact, perfect for the coffee table of any liberal sophisticate. Or sophisticated libertine.

One of my favorite features: printing the hate mail they got after their subscription mailing.
The ones that were written on their return mail cards are printed on actual, perforated return-mail cards.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


I pick up a lot of vintage glassware. It goes with the gig.

Vintage Scandinavian glassware

Some of these are in constant rotation in my own household, some are in (or will go) in the shop, some I just pick up to use for a bit and resell online, because I can't just leave them behind.

Sometimes in photos the details aren't really discernible, glass being transparent and all. But all of these are handmade, the craftsmanship is noticeable when you hold it. After so many years of buying vintage glassware I can usually tell if something is worth getting just by picking it up, and as a matter of fact I've found some of my best glasses buying on a hunch.

If you do enjoy adult beverages it's worth it to pay attention to the delivery mechanism. When I say that using good glassware makes it better, just know that I speak from experience.

Hanging around the house today (from left to right):
"Linear" champagne & water glass, Rosenthal Studio-Line, Germany, 1963
"Canada" port & cordial glass, Per Lütken for Holmegaard, Denmark, 1955
"Ultima Thule" double old fashioned, old fashioned and extra large old fashioned, Tapio Wirkkala for iittala, Finland, 1968
"Varm/Kall" combo hot glögg/cordial glass, Lindau & Lindekrantz for Orrefors, Sweden, 1971 
"Skibsglas (Ship's Glass)" wine glass & cognac glass, Per Lütken for Holmegaard, Denmark, 1971
"Gaissa" double old fashioned, Tapio Wirkkala for iittala, Finland, 1973
"Kluk Kluk" decanter, an historic design repopularized by Holmegaard in the 1950s
"Princess" cognac glass, Bent Severin for Kastrup/Holmegaard, Denmark, 1957
"Aarne" cocktail glass, Göran Hongell for iittala, Finland, 1948
"No. 5" whiskey glass, Per Lütken for Holmegaard, Denmark, 1970
"Tsaikka" hot beverage glass, Timo Sarpaneva for iittala, Finland, 1957

Monday, April 18, 2016

Den Permanente

A couple weeks ago I came across some simple teak bar boards. I grabbed them because vintage barware does well in the store, and frankly a nice bar board is a great find under any circumstances, new or vintage. Each had a price sticker from a store unknown to me called “Den Permanente.” I figured they were import items, usually a solid selection, and moved on.

Obviously once I was home I did some digging on Den Permanente. Information online was surprisingly limited, but what I did find left me with one question: Why, after nearly 20 years of researching mid-century design, and after all the Danish Modern furniture and housewares I've bought and sold, did I know nothing about the greatest Danish design store that ever existed?

Den Permanente was a store in Copenhagen that existed from the 1930s to the 1980s. It was really more than a store, it was a collective of designers and artisans who created a venue to promote the best in modern Danish design. And for many years it was the pre-eminent source for the finest Danish modern furniture, home accessories, lighting, jewelry, textiles and other crafts in the world.

Den Permanente Copenhagen 1972 JCRA Archive Photo
Den Permanente, 1972 (photo: JC Raulston Arboretum archive)

The idea of a permanent display of Danish design came in 1929 from Kay Bojesen, the Danish silversmith and designer today best known for his wooden toy monkey, but not as an exhibit centered on sales. It was developed into a commercial endeavor in 1931 by Christian Grauballe, the director of Holmegaard Glassworks, who brought together a group of prominent Danish craftspeople to select the board for the “Permanent Exhibition of Danish Arts,” or Den Permanente.

Products were chosen in what we would call a juried manner (although in Europe they call it a censorship process, a name I personally enjoy enormously). To be able to show, a producer must first submit their designs to the censorship committee, who decides if they are acceptable for inclusion. Those product recommendations then move to the managing board who vote for or against the designs. If accepted, membership to Den Permanente is granted, and the new member, whether industrial producer or craftsperson, now has one vote toward electing the board in the future. But throughout their membership, every single item to be displayed is approved by the board.

Den Permanente started as a 7800 sf space in a second floor exhibition space in the Versterport office building opposide the Central Railway Station. 126 exhibitors were originally shown in the space. The store moved around a bit – to the ground floor in 1937, to a different spot in 1940, out altogether when the Nazis took occupation of the building in 1944 – before finally settling in a two-story space facing Vesterbrogade, the main shopping street in the Vesterbro district.

Here is an excellent and detailed history of Den Permanente written by its director in 1965, and below is a French video clip from 1961 with some interior shots (click the "fiche media" icon to view the video on the site if you want subtitles.)

Den Permanente became a go-to spot for American tourists as the US economy expanded and modernism made its way into American homes following World War II. In May 1955, a time when  Danish Modern furnishings and housewares were really coming into vogue in the US, the Sunday New York Times detailed quite extensively the types of items you would find. The first floor was devoted to furniture – other than Fritz Hansen's factory-made pieces all of it the handmade teak and rosewood beauty that fetches such high prices today – and ceramics. Upstairs (“the staircase itself is a masterpiece of Danish architecture”) was bronze, silver, linens, lighting, jewelry and leather goods, as well as a selection of elevated souvenirs. There was also a section devoted to contemporary paintings, sculpture and posters, “again, the masters are displayed alongside the unknowns.”

Den Permanente, 1963, wsg Georg Jensen

You have to imagine what a revelation walking into a place like this must have been, at a time when most cities had maybe just a store or two that specialized in modern design, and you barely had color photos in magazines let alone the internet for all your design porn. In 1971 the Chicago Tribune's Traveler's Guide advised, “Plan to spend at least two hours of your shopping time in Den Permanente.”

Den Permanente, 1972, wsg Bjorn Wiinblad
Den Permanente, 1972 (photos: JC Raulston Arboretum archive)

Den Permanente had a busy export component, first developed so international shoppers at the store could send their purchases home, then evolving into a wholesale business of its own. By the 1960s "Den Permanente" was a Danish brand listed alongside Georg Jensen, Dansk, Copco and others in US design store advertisements. A nice result of this was the printing of annual catalogs, which I am sure has served many an auction house researcher well.

Den Permanente, 1972 catalog

It's hard to believe today, but enthusiasm for Danish Modern design had waned by the 1980s. Everything goes through that fashion cycle, of course, but by then it had been copied and cheapened (search “Danish Modern” on Craigslist). Tastes had turned to lighter woods and, according to a New York Times pieces from 1980 entitled “The Melancholy Fate of Danish Modern Style,” the counterculture of the 60s and 70s had rebelled against everything establishment and Danish Modern was nothing if not established good taste. If it wasn't shocking or new, it was for suburban squares. (This same article wisely predicted “Like the Victoriana in the attic, it will all be discovered again.”)

Leather wastebaskets from Den Permanente in the upcoming
Scandinavian Design auction at Wright, est. $3000 - $5000.

Den Permanente as a cooperative ended in 1981. Instead of closing it was purchased from its 250 owners and incorporated by a Japanese exporter who was a fan of the store, but by 1989 it was gone for good. A travel writer for the Los Angeles Times wrote of her discovery that the store had closed, “I felt as if I had returned home to find my family missing--and the furniture gone as well. “

If you have a little bit of life behind you then you've probably felt the sadness of discovering a favorite store has closed. It's maybe even more acute now that the internet provides such stiff competition for bricks and mortar retailers and unique shopping experiences are so few and far between. I'm not sure why there isn't more digital love for Den Permanente, except perhaps for the fact that anyone who shopped there probably never jumped on the blogging bandwagon. But it seems like it deserves the treatment the Boston store Design Research got (in this excellent book), at the very least.

Digging around for information on this reminded me how every once in a while the great part of finding vintage stuff isn't just what you find, but what you learn. This was a pretty satisfying end result from a couple small pieces of teak.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Feeling Cordial

Doing some spring reorganizing this week and came across one of my favorite drink styling photos ever.

Playboy Host and Bar Book cover photo

It has served as an inspiration on several occasions, including as part of the invitation to a cocktail party I held at my swank Lafayette Towers apartment during the 2008 election cycle and the subsequent piece I did for Detroit Public Radio about partisan politics and the healing power of disco.

Taken from the wonderful 1971 "Playboy Host & Bar Book," a still-excellent beginner to intermediate resource for any party-giver.

Playboy Host and Bar Book

Monday, March 14, 2016

Speaking Into Your Existence

Apparently it really works.

A short time ago I mentioned how a guy I know on social media posts that he is speaking into his existence, the net effect being that he will maintain a positive attitude and have a week of good things. Having a bad run at thrifting myself, I tried to speak into my existence for, among other things, some of Ulla Procope's Ruska dinnerware for Arabia but it didn't work.

Yes, well ...

Arabia Ruska Demitasse/Espresso Cups

Arabia Ruska After Dinner Coffee Cup

Less than two weeks later, a set of Ruska demitasse cups, at a generally lackluster thrift. Not even an odd number of cups, or partially damaged. Maybe not the motherlode, but thanks for getting back to me, Existence.

By the way, this lovely set is now in the shop and you should pick it up.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

And Now Ladies & Gentlemen, Here's Grace

Grace Jones was having a rather good year in 1985. She was in a James Bond film, back when that mattered. And she released the concept album Slave to the Rhythm, one of her most successful commercial releases. And shortly before that, in the July issue of Playboy, she appeared with her lover at the time Dolph Lundgren in a series of photographs by Helmut Newton.

Grace Jones Playboy 1985 by Helmut Newton

Grace Jones Playboy 1985 by Helmut Newton

Grace Jones Playboy 1985 by Helmut Newton

Grace Jones Playboy 1985 by Helmut Newton

The wonderful thing about Grace Jones is that, in hindsight, she seems somewhat ubiquitous, but in reality she was a relatively underground celebrity (as 80s celebrities go). Maybe that's why she is still so enjoyable today.