|  |

A tisket, a tasket – the story of Easter baskets

March 2022

Feature Article

A tisket, a tasket – the story of Easter baskets

by Corbin Crable

 

Easter baskets

Easter baskets are synonymous with the annual holiday, but they’re much more than just chocolate, colorful eggs, and plastic blades of grass.

According to Southern Living, the origins of these displays can be traced back to the 17th century, when the Germans began to tell stories to their children about a hare who would lay eggs only for well-behaved children in a nest, made up in a basket or hat. In Easter lore, German Protestant parents referred to the magical egg-layer as the “Osterhase,” or “Easter Hare.” It was only appropriate that a hare was used in these tales since the animal is a symbol of the spring season.

Dutch immigrants brought the Osterhase tale with them to America, where the hare became more commonly known as the “Easter Bunny.” The Easter Bunny exploded in popularity during the Victorian Era, when its fluffy visage appeared on greeting cards, papier-mache eggs, and candy wrappers, among other items. The night before Easter, children were to set their Easter baskets out for the Easter Bunny to fill with goodies – much like the idea behind hanging a Christmas stocking out for Santa Claus to fill.

“They’re symbolic nests and are specifically used by children in modern Easter egg hunts to carry their prizes,” explains Krystal D’Costa in a 2017 article published in Scientific American. “Filled to the brim with eggs and other treasures, they are the epitome of birth and potential. The idea of the basket itself is also very old, so as a vehicle of transmission, it’s not hard to imagine that they were featured in Spring visitations throughout history; perhaps they were used to bear gifts or transport seedlings or simply to bring food to communal meals.”

mask Madri Gras

Colorful Sweets

Easter baskets filled with colorful sweets have been a standard during the holiday for hundreds of years. (Image courtesy of Chowhound)

Conversation Hearts

Tin Easter basket

Not all Easter baskets are made of wicker, straw or wood. Tin Easter baskets like this one, made by Chein & Co. and estimated to be worth $75-$100, were commonly sold in midcentury America.
(Image courtesy of Etsy)

 If you grew up in the mid-20th century onward, you’re likely familiar with all of the beloved staples you’d find in your Easter basket – Cadbury Crème Eggs (have they gotten smaller?), chocolate bunnies, malted milk balls, jelly beans, Jordan Almonds, candy buttons, and neon-colored, marshmallow Peeps. The favorite Easter candy of most Americans this year, according to a survey disbursed by RetailMeNot, is Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter Eggs.

Meant to only hold eggs and candy for the past few hundred years, in recent decades the Easter basket it has become customary to add any variety of toys and small gifts to baskets given to children on Easter Sunday.  

In recent years, the article notes, spending on Easter-related gifts has exceeded $680 million, and it only continues to become an industry whose growth continues – as do the cost of the items found in a basket.

In other words, Easter baskets aren’t just for candy any longer.

More recently, parents are viewing these baskets as a way to gift items to children they can use – school supplies, books, gift cards, even articles of clothing.

“Easter baskets have become an indicator of status and means as much as they are a part of the Easter tradition,” D’Costa writes.
And they’re not just for kids, either. Adults in recent years have begun trading baskets as well.

“Like so many Easter traditions, the Easter basket has come a generic event that is tenuously tied to Easter and the religious tones of the holiday,” according to D’Costa’s article. “This broad appeal further drives its marketability and opens the door for greater displays of status.”

Conversation Hearts

Woven wicker basket

This woven wicker basket and others like it are hand-made by an Amish family living in the Midwest. (Image courtesy of Amishbaskets.com)

Still, despite their growing appeal to adults, Easter baskets remain a special treat coveted by children the world over. At least one writer, Hope Yancey of Our State Magazine, says that she and her sister delighted in their quest to discover more treats hidden within the basket’s plastic grass.

“(My sister’s) best basket memory is the suspense of rifling through it and not knowing what would be in it. That, and the Cadbury Creme Eggs,” Yancey wrote in a 2014 column. “Even now, she proclaims them her all-time favorite candy, with their filling the color of egg albumen and yolk, surrounded by a milk chocolate shell. On occasion, we might receive sugar egg dioramas with miniature scenes of rabbits or ducks displayed inside. (Those, we enjoyed more as keepsakes than for consumption, and they lasted practically forever). Like hungry rabbits in search of a tender patch of clover to nibble, we pawed through the Easter grass to find forgotten items hiding in the depths of the baskets.”

Now, as an adult, Yancey wrote, she appreciates not just the basket’s contents, but also the time and care her mother took in making them special – something parents had been doing on behalf of the Easter Bunny for years.

“Their presentation, and the fact that our mother took the time to pull it all together, made the difference,” Yancey wrote. “Somehow, the end result was always something greater than the sum of its parts.”

Contact Corbin Crable at editor@discovervintage.com​

Masks bring touches of playfulness, color to Mardi Gras

March 2022

Feature Article

Masks bring touches of playfulness, color to Mardi Gras

by Corbin Crable

 

Mardi Gras celebrations

One of the most widely-recognized traditions of Mardi Gras celebrations – that of wearing masks and costumes during celebrations – is also one of the most collectible, as a peek around cyberspace will show.

Throughout the Fat Tuesday celebrations of the Carnival season that precede Lent, costumes can be found on the characters who wave to crowds that line the streets of New Orleans, that U.S. city, of course, with the largest Mardi Gras celebration in America (St. Louis, right here in the Midwest, claims to be the city with the second-largest celebration).

One scholar, Jasmine Freile-Ortiz, wrote in 2020 for Loyola University’s Documentary and Oral History Studio that these masks have become a cherished feature of Mardi Gras celebrations throughout the centuries.

“The Mardi Gras mask has rightfully earned its spot as one of the most notable parts of the holiday. These simple creations add such a unique and exciting element to the holiday and celebration,” Ortiz writes. “Masks and costumes give many the opportunity to freely express themselves and transform into another being while creating art that depicts the beautiful soul of New Orleans.”

The masks themselves have their roots in Renaissance-era Venice, Italy, where revelers could engage in forbidden vices during Mardi Gras, their identity unknown, thanks to their face covering,

mask Madri Gras

Madri Gras Mask

A face mask painted with red and blue accents, decorated with ribbon. (Image courtesy of Collectors Weekly)

Conversation Hearts

Four porcelain Mardi Gras masks

Four porcelain Mardi Gras masks in the style of jesters. (Image courtesy of Collectors Weekly)

Those masks manufactured in Venice are festooned with gold and silver embellishments in the Baroque style; they are intended to appear more comedic in nature. Other Venetian masks known as “Bauta” covered not just the upper half of one’s face, but the entire face. These masks usually had no mouth, but included a prominent brow and an elongated nose. This style of mask would usually be worn with a cape and tricorne-style hat.

A third style, the Colombiana, was a half-mask held up to the wearer’s eye level, usually affixed to a stick with ribbon; they also could simply be tied to one’s head. Meant to convey the wearer’s elevated social status and elegance, the Colombiana mask was usually decorated with jewels, gold and even feathers.

One style of mask that has made its way into pop culture in this current global pandemic era is the “medico della peste,” or plague doctor mask. With a curved beak that covered the nose and mouth, the mask was filled with fragrant items like dried flowers, cloves, and herbs thought to purify the air. The mask was invented in the 1600s by a French doctor who thought it would prevent physicians from catching the plague; in Mardi Gras celebrations, meanwhile, the plague doctor mask is meant to serve as a somber reminder of the revelers’ mortality.

Finally, a modern Venetian mask, simply referred to as the “volto” (“face”) mask, is crafted from porcelain, simply painted, with simple expressions on the mask’s sealed lips. This type of mask is able to be tied on with a ribbon.

Today’s masks used in Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans have taken the concept of these classic Venetian masks and expanded upon them to include portrayals of animals, angels, beasts, devils, and clowns, among other characters.

“Through this all, it is shown that masks are deeply personal. A Mardi Gras mask is not confined to any specific set of rules, colors, shapes, or accessories; it is simply confined to one’s own imagination and boldness,” Ortiz writes. “(People create) masks of all sorts, from simple, elegant masks, to masks depicting animals, to masks used to convey a message.” 

In addition to being found online on auction sites as full-sized versions, smaller versions of every style of mask also can be found, as a brooch, earrings, or as a wall decoration in your home. Let these items express your colorful personality and imagination during this Mardi Gras season.

Source: Collectors Weekly

 

Contact Corbin Crable at editor@discovervintage.com​

Conversation Hearts tell story of a divisive candy

February 2022

Feature Article

Conversation Hearts tell story of a divisive candy

by Corbin Crable

 

Valentine’s Day candy

If you had to think of the most iconic Valentine’s Day candy, it’s likely that those chalky, pastel-colored conversation hearts would come to mind – and their history is richer than the contents of a Whitman’s Sampler.
And if you think the candies taste similar to NECCO Wafers, that’s because they were actually invented by NECCO in 1866. The makeup of the candy is simple – just corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, and coloring, baked into a dough and then flattened and cut into small heart shapes with cute sayings painted on.

A sweet cure for what ails you

The precursor to conversation hearts were lozenges sold in apothecaries across the country. They were administered for a variety of ailments – even bad breath. The American public enjoyed them because they were so sweet – the fact that they were sold as a cure-all almost seemed like a secondary benefit.

The booming lozenge industry benefitted from the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, which saw steam-powered machinery able to mass-produce everyday items at a faster rate than workers ever could by hand. In 1847, one Massachusetts pharmacist, Oliver Chase, had the idea of inventing a machine that would produce the hard-to-make lozenges at a rapid pace. Oliver’s machine rolled out, flattened, and cut the dough into small disc shapes. Today, historians consider Oliver’s invention to be the very first candy-making machine.

 

Necco

Necco Wafers

NECCO, the company that made NECCO Wafers as well as Conversation Hearts, filed for bankruptcy in 2018. The company that bought NECCO, Spangler, eventually began making the candies, but only a portion of the candies contained the small messages to which buyers were accustomed. (Image courtesy of NPR)

Chase and his brother Silas set their focus on the confectionary industry, and their business, Chase & Co., merged with several other companies to form the New England Confectionary Company – or NECCO.

Now that the process of actually producing the lozenges had been made easier, the Chase brothers decided to market the small discs as candies instead of medicine, and they wanted the ability to print small sayings on them as well. Another Chase brother, Daniel, invented a machine that would make this goal a reality – his machine could press sayings onto the candies using a red dye.

Conversation Hearts

Conversation Hearts

Conversation Hearts were given their popular heart shape in 1902. (Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash )

My heart belongs to you

Next came the idea of a different shape. The earliest lozenges resembled the marshmallows you might later find in Lucky Charms cereal – horseshoes, clovers, and the like. But with the rise of popularity in the Valentine’s Day holiday in the early 20th century, the Chase brothers decided that the candy should be marketed for the special holiday. In 1902, the candy began to be produced only in the shape of a heart.

The candies, which became known as “conversation hearts,” proved to be an immediate hit. Early sayings that were pressed onto the candies included, “Please be considerate” and “Marry Me.” Larger versions of the candy hearts even bore the lengthier message, “Please send a lock of your hair by return mail” (during the Victorian era, hair relics were a popular declaration of love as well as a memento of a deceased loved one, kept by bereaved family members).

Though the taste and texture have remained largely the same over the years, the candy’s messages have kept up with the times. Since the 1990s, around 60 messages have found their way onto the candies, including “LOL” and other such acronyms synonymous with the Digital Age. Other, older sayings that have become dated are removed from the list regularly.

 

Falling out of favor

The contemporary popularity of the candy, however, has proven to be divisive, with just as many critics as fans these days.

“Why do we need chalky, dusty, and tasteless candy for a day about love?” blogger Sarah Perchikoff wrote in 2020. “Surely, there are better ways to say ‘Love You’ or ‘Be Mine’ than on a gross, heart-shaped candy. We can do better, right?”

Although NECCO went bankrupt in 2018, the company that bought NECCO, Spangler, has taken up the mantle of producing and selling the tiny candies – and business, it would seem, is on the decline.

It took Spangler a little more than a year to get its footing as far as production of the conversation hearts goes – the company didn’t produce or sell them at all in 2019, but competitor Brach’s did. Even after the 2019 shortage, consumers found that Spangler’s version of the candy not only looked different from its original counterpart – the candies looked different, too, with only a small percentage bearing pressed-on messages (the machine that pressed the messages onto the candies required repair, which wasn’t exactly high on the company’s budgetary priorities). After years of the industry churning out an average of 19 million pounds of the candies each year, sales of conversation hearts were down industrywide by about 24% in 2021.

Before the company folded, even NECCO itself seemed to admit that the candy’s best days were behind it, and that it now was bought due in large part to nostalgia. “Our main market is in classrooms – kids, teachers, and moms,” the company’s marketing director admitted in a 2011 interview.

“Be Mine”? For candy conversation hearts these days, fewer consumers are responding to that plea in the affirmative.

Source: The Huffington Post

Contact Corbin Crable at editor@discovervintage.com​

Power up: Video game consoles remain beloved collectibles for Generation X

JANUARY 2022

Feature ARTIcle

Power up: Video game consoles remain beloved collectibles for Generation X

by Corbin Crable

 

Though the technology had been around since the 1950s, the ‘Me’ Decade of the 1970s finally saw video game consoles introduced to American households, and Generation X – those born between 1965 and 1980 – had found an addictive new pastime, much to their parents’ chagrin.

The precursors to video games were created in the 1950s by British inventors – the very first game, called OXO, was simply a game of tic-tac-toe, played on an analog computer and oscilloscope screen. Professor A.S. Douglas created the game for his doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge.

In the early 1960s, the evolution of video games moved to space as the Cold War’s space race between the U.S. and Russia heated up. Again, an academic made the next great contribution to the relatively new invention – a professor at MIT developed Spacewar, a space-combat game developed for the PDP (Programmed-Data-Processor), a computer used mostly at colleges.

It would be nearly several years later that the smaller, multi-player game consoles that we recognize today hit stores. Technology developer Ralph Baer of Sanders Associates licensed his own version, referred to simply as “the Brown Box” and later as “The Odyssey,” to Magnavox in 1967. Baer is often referred to as “the Father of Video Games,” according to History.com.

The first electronic game company name you’re likely to recognize – Atari – took its inspiration for its classic game Pong (which hit store shelves in 1975) from one of Magnavox’s original 28 games. The electronics giant took Atari to court for copyright infringement. Atari eventually settled out of court, while Magnavox would go on to file many more similar lawsuits over the course of the next two decades.

None of this mattered to video game enthusiasts of the 1970s, however, as Pong became a pop culture icon and the Atari brand enjoyed a great deal of growth throughout the mid- and late 1970s. For older members of Generation X, the Atari consoles would mark their first foray into the escapist world of video games.

“I was born at the perfect time to grow up as games grew up,” writes blogger Carolyn Petit of Game Spot, “and (Atari) is where my love of gaming began.”

At the same time, the industry in general marked many milestones in the invention and release of games and products recognizable even to younger players today. Those include the release of Space Invaders, Donkey Kong (released by Nintendo), and the U.S. release of the popular Japanese game Pac-Man.

The oversaturation of video games led to a major North American market crash in the early; 1980s, leading to several video game companies filing for bankruptcy. The crash lasted only until 1985, when Japan’s Nintendo Entertain-ment System (NES) came to the U.S., offering improved sound, colors and graphics.

The original NES console was an immediate hit and remains so, Petit writes.

“Even those who aren’t old enough to remember these games from their heyday understand what Nintendo is, since it’s a force that has continued to loom large in gaming in the decades since,” she writes.

 

Nintendo Entertainment system

The game Super Mario Bros. became synonymous with the original Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980s. (Image courtesy of Legends of Localization)

 

Nintendo’s continued power to create feelings of longing and nostalgia in Generation Xers remains strong to this day, she adds.

“Talk to people about games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, and they still light up with excitement, appreciating the tremendous importance of these games in the grand scheme of gaming’s evolution as a medium,” Petit says.

Nintendo followed its original console up with the first hand-held console, the Game Boy, in 1989.

The decade of the ‘80s ended as a “console war” between Nintendo and newcomer Sega, which released the Genesis in 1989n as a response to Nintendo’s NES. Nintendo responded in 1991 by releasing its Super Nintendo NES, and with it, improved graphics, sound and richer games. In general.

Concerns over the ever-increasing violence in video games reached a fevered pitch in the 1990s, with an eventual organization called the Entertainment Software Rating Board being convened to rate the violence and adult situations in video games so parents could make a better-educated decision when purchasing games for their children. Even those in the political realm joined in the fight against video-game violence, with Second Lady Tipper Gore, wife of Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore, leading the very public charge for a rating system.

As the new century approached, games on CD instead of cartridge were released, and video game consumers demanded better bang for their buck, Sega raced to best entertainment giant Sony as it sought to break out into the market.

Giant strides in computer technology made these more aggressive moves. Eventually, Sony’s Playstation would win the format war, with a price tag of $100 less than Sega’s Saturn console, which was released that same year. In response, Nintendo released its 64-bit system, Nintendo 64.

Fast forward to today, and the Playstation and its many iterations remain the gold standard in the video game industry. However, those who were there in gaming’s early days know that for them, there is no time like the past.
“Playing retro games,” Chris Schranck, a 33-year-old gamer who grew up playing Super Mario Bros. in Missouri, tells Wired, “you’re happy to be feeling like a kid again. As an adult, you have all these responsibilities and anxieties, and if you can just find a way to forget about that, even just for 15 minutes, it can help. I think if you can find something, anything, that can help you feel good, that’s a good thing. Retro games evoke these happy memories. Being a kid, opening up that new game or console on Christmas. How it looks, the beautiful pixel art. It’s the nostalgia, and remembering being young again.”

 

Handmade and from the Heart

December 2021

Feature Article

Handmade and from the Heart

by Corbin Crable

 

Main Street in Greenwood, MO, is bustling today, a cold Saturday morning in mid-November, with the chatter of antique shoppers slicing through the chilly air as they head into the Greenwood Mercantile, one of several antique stores open during the town’s annual Holiday Handmade Market.

Fabric Gnome Dolls

A vendor called Gnome Crossing sold pre-made fabric gnome dolls. If you wanted to add a personal touch to your festive holiday decor, Gnome Crossing also sells kits that allow the buyer to make a gnome themselves, adding a much more personal touch to the finished product.

Locals and visitors alike came out for the annual event along which coincided with the Holiday Open House in the historic Antique District. Hundreds of shoppers found unique holiday gifts that didn’t break the bank and that their loved ones will treasure. Vendors selling everything from handmade jewelry, bath and beauty products, clothing and accessories, candles, jams, jellies, and salsas set up shop to greet shoppers, while outside, visitors browsed the multiple antique and vintage stores in search of the perfect gift to give an older, used item a brand-new life.

Decorated Autoharp

Vendors at the Holiday Handmade Market took great care to decorate their spaces with quirky, creative designs, such as this autoharp, found at an accessories table. Though it wasn’t for sale, many shoppers had passed by, asking for its price, the owner says.

Brad and Max

A big hit at the Holiday Hand-made Market was Nathan Begnaud and his family, representing Madison Street Leather. Begnaud, of Lee’s Summit, MO, said he began crafting leather goods such as belts, tote bags, wallets, card holders and dog bow ties in order to help pay for open-heart surgery for his son, Max, 6.

Dog Bow Ties

Participating merchants in this year’s Holiday Open House and Handmade Market included the Greenwood Vintage Market, the Greenwood Mercantile, As Time Goes By, Big Creek Antiques, and The Porch Swing.

 

rack of costumes

You don’t have to spend a lot of money for your child to enjoy the look of his or her favorite characters, such as Captain America or Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.” The costumes were among dozens from Oak Leaf Creations.

The event serves as a reminder to those searching for holiday gifts that Christmas does not need to be expensive, and giving a thoughtful gift that took time, creativity and dedication to craft will always be a much-appreciated and thoughtful gesture.

Local merchants with customer

The Holiday Handmade Market gave local merchants an opportunity to meet and greet locals and visitors in search of a thoughtful, creative Christmas gift for a loved one.

Contact Corbin Crable at editor@discovervintage.com​