Adventure Awaits Travel posters jump-start travelers’ wanderlust

Adventure Awaits Travel posters jump-start travelers’ wanderlust

 The Royal Mail Lines Pacific Line took travelers to any number of South American countries. The cruise ship company’s life was short, operating only from 1932 to 1965. (Image courtesy of antikbar.co.uk)

 July 2024

Cover Story

Adventure Awaits

Travel posters jump-start travelers’ wanderlust

by Corbin Crable

It’s often said that planning a trip is just as fun as the trip itself, and travel posters have long given would-be travelers the chance to dream of faraway locations and awakened their thirst for adventure.

Not only glimpses of otherworldly locations, vintage travel posters specifically can be considered works of art, depicting soaring landscapes, wonderous works of architecture, everyday life of people in distant countries, scenes of serenity and tranquility that beckoned us with their vibrant colors and lively fonts.

Lithographic posters boost “explosion in pleasure travel”

We can trace travel posters’ history back to the late 19th century, when they weren’t so visually appealing – they still included pictures and visuals, but the travel posters of the 1890s were often crowded with text describing destinations in detail as well.

“At first, posters were crowded with information – a complexity of images, text and type-faces, but later developed into simplified, idealized and more graphic images of these new and exotic colonial lands,” according to an article on photography blog www.imagesofvenice.com.

In the early 1900s, technological advances of the previous decades were front and center as the posters became more visually appealing. This trend of a mixture of typography and art created the Golden Age of Travel, from the early 1900s to World War II.

Poster advertising travel to Japan

Poster Advertising Travel to Japan

This midcentury poster advertising travel to Japan highlights the cherry blossoms for which the country is so well known.
(Image courtesy of Etsy)

“The lithographic poster came into being just at the dawn of the explosion in pleasure travel and this new means of advertising, was ideally suited to educate and tempt the consumer,” the venice.com article reads. “Posters were first utilized in countries such as Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands during colonial times; for advertising large exhibitions, attended by both the trade and public.”

The big names in travel poster art included Adolfo Hohenstein of Italy, Emile Cardinaux of Swtizerland, and Hugo d’Alesi of Italy, who were among the first to combine stunning visual elements with bold, powerful text in their posters, created for travel companies to advertise themselves. Pasted up in public areas such as travel agencies, train stations, airports, and docks, they were a new way to help the travel industry promote destinations for a public hungry for adventure. Gillan notes that travel posters of the first half of the 20th century took inspiration from trends in design, among them Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionism, Cubism, and Modernism.

poster advertising a vacation in Paris

Poster advertising a vacation in Paris

Photography began to be used in travel posters in the mid-20th century, as in this poster advertising a vacation in Paris.
(Image courtesy of letitiamorris.com)

Taking to the skies

In the early 20th century, the relatively new method of travel – that of flight – captured the imaginations of a public eager to take to the skies. Unfortunately, until at least the end of the Great Depression, flying in an airplane was an activity only enjoyed by the wealthy and affluent.

“The very first commercial air flight took off on January 1st of 1914 from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Tampa, Florida,” writes Jesse Gillan of The Journal of Antiques in a 2017 article. “By the 1920s, Charles Lindbergh reached iconic celebrity status with his dream of crossing the Atlantic. Collectibles with his likeness and his plane The Spirit of St. Louis were sold across the United States and are still easy to find in most antique stores or on eBay. His transatlantic trip in 1927 proved to the world that air travel was a quick and safe option, opening new parts of the world to vacation exploration.”

Like numerous other industries, the travel industry saw a boost after the end of World War II in 1945. And, of course, the following Baby Boom beginning in 1946 brought with it larger families in newly-created suburbs with more disposable income.

poster advertising the White Star Line’s ill-fated RMS Titanic

Poster advertising the White Star Line’s ill-fated RMS Titanic

This poster advertising the White Star Line’s ill-fated RMS Titanic was released in 1911, only a year before the “unsinkable” ship sank in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean in April 1912. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

TWA poster

TWA poster

Kansas City’s historic fountains are front and center in this TWA poster from the 1970s. (Image courtesy of Etsy)

“Following the war, travel posters created in the late 1940s and 1950s opted for more serene and inspirational views of landscapes and cityscapes of potential destinations,” Gillan writes. “Many well-known artists got their start during this period by lending their art to publishers of travel posters. This period was a time for growth in the travel industry. Families were growing after the war and interest in space travel was afoot.”

The airplane is your canvas

The era of intercontinental travel accompanied the end of the war as well. Finally, travelers could enjoy journeys overseas that were convenient, comfortable, and reliable. Travel posters became more bold and colorful, too,

adventures in Europe is this Air France poster

Adventures in Europe is this Air France poster

Advertising colorful adventures in Europe is this Air France poster from 1960. (Image courtesy of letitiamorris.com)

“The decades from roughly 1960-1980 were the real heyday for travel agencies and advertising for extended trips,” Gillan notes. “This is when producers of travel posters and promotional ephemera began to use color photographic imagery with improved printing processes. Posters could now be created faster and in far greater quantities. The graphics changed, too, becoming bold and stylish, and reflecting the modern and psychedelic styles of the ‘60s and ‘70s.”

During the mid-20th century, airlines hired more and more artists whose works wouldn’t only encourage intercontinental travel; some of them even became considered works of art. David Klein, an American artist commissioned by TWA, brought his abstract style to the airline’s posters, with one 1957 poster depicting New York City becoming a part of the permanent collection at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art, according to Gillan. This, he wrote, “contributed to the elevation of poster art to fine art.”

The art continued to spread, improve, and become produced in greater numbers. One airline, Braniff Airlines, even became known for commissioning painters to create works of art on the plane itself, “in effect providing flying advertisements. … You can find television ads from this time featuring Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali praising the flight in Braniff planes,” Gillan writes.

Braniff International Airways

Braniff International Airways

Braniff International Airways was famous for its team of artists who created engaging, colorful, fun posters beckoning travelers to a number of locations across the globe. This Braniff poster is from the 1950s. (Image courtesy of 1st Dibs)

poster advertising Victoria, Australia

Poster advertising Victoria, Australia

This poster advertising Victoria, Australia, was made in the 1950s. (Image courtesy of letitiamorris.com)

Today, the concept of travel poster as fine art endures, with some of the more rare posters from the first half of the 20th century fetching $50,000 or more at auction. Original posters from the 1960s onward are usually priced between $200 and $500 in very good condition.

“(Travel posters) are purchased by both collectors and individuals looking to capture the dream of new and faraway lands, where anyone can become an explorer and see sites unknown,” according to Gillan. “Purchasing one of these vintage posters brings that sense to your home or office every day.”

The Windy City of Chicago

The Windy City of Chicago

The Windy City of Chicago welcomes travelers to the 1933 World’s Fair in this Art Deco-style poster. (Image courtesy of allposters.com)

Privacy, please Outhouses were a part of daily lives in centuries past

Privacy, please Outhouses were a part of daily lives in centuries past

Outhouses usually were located 50 to 100 yards from the back of one’s home. (Image courtesy of Daniel Coronoa / Unsplash.com)

 June 2024

Cover Story

Privacy, please

Outhouses were a part of daily lives in centuries past

by Corbin Crable

We all take indoor plumbing for granted, and that includes in the bathroom. But before the advent of this technology, the outhouse gave us a place to “do our business,” as it were.

Toiletology.com, a blog that includes professional research, studies and reviews of toilets, also includes a history of outhouses, those small structures that include a hole in the floor that emptied into “a small tin or bucket that caught the waste; it had to be emptied daily by one lucky winner.”

A daily necessity

Outhouses – or “necessaries,’ as they were sometimes referred to — are only around 500 years old. Throughout their early history, they were found in both rural and urban areas. As urban areas’ populations increased and cities began to adopt indoor plumbing, however, outhouses posed a significant public health concern, and later in their history, they were mostly only found in the countryside.

Outhouses could be found not only here in America

Outhouses could be found not only here in America

Outhouses could be found not only here in America, but around the world, such as this outhouse in Belarus. (Image courtesy of Jana Shnipelson / Unsplash.com)

“Constructed of wood, they were easy to relocate if need be, and they were typically well built and painted for added durability,” according to Toiletology.com. “The interior hole in an outhouse was between three and six feet, and there might be more than one hole if the outhouse was catering to a family.”

If you’ve ever seen an outhouse, you might first notice either a moon- or a sun-shaped hole carved into the door. This wasn’t only included for decoration, Toiletology notes – the symbols denoted who could use the facility.

“This was common among American outhouses during the day and signified whether the structure was for men or women,” the blog reads. “A moon meant that it was a female-only outhouse, as the moon was a symbol of the Roman goddess Luna. The sun, which represented the Greek god Apollo, meant that it was a men’s outhouse.”

They went by many names besides ‘outhouse’ – privy, little house, back house, latrine, and water closet, just to name a few. Located roughly 50 to 100 yards away from the house, they were far enough away from one’s house that they afforded plenty of privacy, but close enough that one didn’t have to walk a great distance just to relieve himself or herself.

“Some owners camouflaged the structures with plantings of hollyhocks, trumpet vine, wisteria, and honeysuckle,” according to an article published in “Capper’s Farmer,” published by Topeka, KS-based Ogden Publications. “Sometimes the structures were placed near the family’s wood pile, so users, on their way back to the house, could pick up and carry in an armload of wood, so there would always be wood to feed the stove.”

The moon symbol carved into an outhouse door signaled it was for use by women

The moon symbol carved into an outhouse door signaled it was for use by women

The moon symbol carved into an outhouse door signaled it was for use by women, while a cutout of the sun designated the outhouse for use by men. (Image courtesy of Patti Klinge)

Hand me the sports section, would ya?

What about cleanup when you were finished using the outhouse? Forget about toilet paper, writes the late historian Thomas Webb.
“Before the availability of mass-produced toilet paper during the mid-1800s, people had to resort to using what was free and available, even if it didn’t provide the most effective or comfortable results,” Webb wrote, “Options included the Sears and Roebuck catalog, rocks, leaves, newspapers, grass, moss, animal fur, corn cobs, coconut husks, sticks, sand, and sea shells.”

In many rural areas, indoor plumbing and indoor toilets were unavailable as late as the 1930s and 1940s. Outhouse users, however, had unlikely friends in President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. President Roosevelt founded the Work Projects Administration, an entity whose purpose was to replace rural outhouses that had fallen into disrepair.

“With three workers and $5, the Administration could construct a new outhouse in 20 hours. These new and improved outhouses included proper ventilation, privacy, and flooring too,” according to Toiletology. “The Work Projects Administration successfully completed two million outhouses during its run. The First Lady’s commitment to the cause led to outhouses earning the nickname ‘The Eleanor’” (By the postwar period in America, the outhouse mostly fell out of use, replaced even in rural areas by indoor toilets).

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt were known for their support of the renovation of outhouses throughout FDR’s 12 years in the White House. (Image courtesy of The March of Dimes)

vintage postcard.

Vintage Postcard

Although not everyone has fond memories of outhouses, there is sometimes humor to be found in them, such as this vintage postcard. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

Thank goodness for the gongfarmers

Speaking of unique names, the poor soul who had the unenviable task of emptying the outhouse bucket each day was referred to as a “gongfarmer.” Though they were well-paid, the job, as one could imagine, wasn’t just wholly unglamorous but also could be dangerous (one gongfarmer in the 14th century fell into an outhouse pit and drowned in human waste).

Although most outhouses were only one story tall, there have been a handful of two-story outhouses in existence. These were usually built to accommodate the two-story apartment buildings next to it. One of them was located in Illinois, according to Toiletology.

“The second-story apartments sat above a general store and the outhouse made it more convenient for employees and tenants to have access,” the blog reads. “The upstairs portion of the outhouse was built a little further back so that its contents didn’t spill into the bottom floor.”

Outhouse memories: Some good, but mostly bad

In a 2014 column published in Louisville, Kentucky’s The Courier-Journal, columnist David Strange wrote that despite their faults, outhouses hold a certain “rustic charm.”

“I remember birds singing as their feet tapped a dance on the sheet metal roof; occasional rain drops and falling acorns making their own drumbeat on that same roof; breezes gently blowing off the nearby cattle fields as the cows mooed their contented bass accompaniment off in the distance,” Strange wrote. “I even remember listening to the elder men tell fascinating stories as they stood outside, chatting with one another, waiting their turn or just enjoying the fellowship and the day.”

Still others who remember using outhouses share memories that clearly illustrate why they’re best remembered only as a necessity of a time gone by.

“For kids, the outhouse was horrific in the summer. Wasps infiltrated the outhouse every year, building honeycombed hotels seemingly overnight. The heat of the day made the outhouse even more aromatic than usual,” columnist Mary Garrison Leech wrote in The Canton Daily Ledger in 2022. “The walls of our outhouse were planks of tired wood, with splintery gaps here and there. Peeking eyes could watch us if they dared to brave the elements and atmosphere, but that usually wasn’t a problem. The mosquitos, however, had no qualms about sneaking through the cracks to pay us a toll call. Some of the worst itchy bites I ever had were in places I never thought a mosquito could find.”

Not everyone, however, would rather keep outhouses relegated to the past; indeed, conservation efforts exist by a few dedicated individuals, the most notable in Clarinda, Iowa, by Teresa Minard, a retired schoolteacher, fondly nicknamed “the Outhouse Lady” by the locals. Minard noted in a 2014 USA Today article that some historical organizations such as The Iowa Barn Foundation are interested in maintaining the few remaining outhouses in the interests of history.

But most of the people with whom she speaks don’t see outhouses as relics to be preserved.

“(People) like to reminisce,” Minard said, “but they don’t want to go back to that era.”

Toiletology’s blog article seems to agree – when it comes to outhouses, the pull of nostalgia is strong. “While society has moved on to more upscale portable toilets and public restrooms,” it reads, “there is something nostalgic about finding an outhouse out in the country.”

 

An old outhouse becomes new again

An old outhouse becomes new again

An old outhouse becomes new again with the addition of some paint and a few embellishments – perfect for glamping or an outdoor party. (Image courtesy of Pinterest)

porta potty

The modern outhouse

The modern outhouse we find at most outdoor events. (Image courtesy of PortyPottyDogs)

“outhouse on wheels”

“Outhouse on Wheels”

This “outhouse on wheels” from the 1930s was a precursor to the Porta-Potty. It was used for farm workers. (Image courtesy
of Pinterest)

little creativity (and a mind for puns, too)

Little creativity (and a mind for puns, too)

Not every outhouse has to be dull and drab. Sometimes all you need is a little creativity (and a mind for puns, too). (Image courtesy of Cottage Life)

Two of a kind Salt and pepper shakers make inexpensive, colorful collectibles

Two of a kind Salt and pepper shakers make inexpensive, colorful collectibles

 These shakers have their original cobalt blue glass liners with silverplated frames and lids. (Image courtesy of Antiques and Teacups)

 May 2024

Cover Story

Two of a kind

Salt and pepper shakers make inexpensive, colorful collectibles

by Corbin Crable

It’s one of the great culinary pairings of all time. There’s tomato and basil. Bacon and eggs. Pizza and beer.

And then there are two condiments that bring out the flavors in all of these and more: Salt and pepper, found together in shakers at nearly every table you see.

Once, only for the rich…

It wasn’t until the 17th century that salt and pepper found their respective mate at the kitchen table. Before that, salt was kept in a small bowl called a salt cellar and used with a small spoon. Native to India, black peppercorns were usually ground up in grinders at the table. Both seasonings were expensive to import before the 1600s, so the consumption of both was considered to be a symbol of wealth, especially in Europe, where they became more popular with time. Asian countries, meanwhile, used their own condiments to generate salty and peppery flavors – namely, soy sauce and crushed red pepper (Interestingly enough, Vietnam is the world’s top producer of black pepper today). We have a French chef, Francois Pierre LaVarenne, royal chef to King Louis XIV, to thank for first thinking to pair salt and pepper (the king had a reputation as a picky eater, and LaVarenne found that adding salt and pepper to his food made those dishes acceptable to the monarch).

 

“The pairing was a smash hit because pepper was the only spice that complemented salt and didn’t dominate the taste,” according to a 2021 article on All Recipes’ website.

 

these shakers are made of jadeite

These shakers are made of jadeite

Though most salt and pepper shakers were metal and ceramic beginning in the 1920s, these shakers are made of jadeite, a dense mineral usually emerald green in color. (Image courtesy of Replacements Ltd.)

Ruth Handler, inventor of the Barbie doll

Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club

If you collect salt and pepper shakers, consider joining the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club. You can find them on Facebook and at www.saltandpepperclub.com. (Image courtesy of Facebook)

…Now for all

Salt and pepper prices dropped dramatically during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century as the cost to ship the seasonings lowered. Now, the spices weren’t only for the rich and affluent – they became affordable for the everyday family.

Salt and pepper shakers themselves were invented during the Victorian era, created by the same inventor of the Mason Jar, American tinsmith John Mason. In 1858, he designed small jars with screw-top lids that featured holes in the top, so diners would be able to shake their seasonings right onto their food.

“Mason’s salt shaker was a container with a tin cap that had several holes punched through the top; however, his shaker was short-lived,” writes Lindsey Schier of The Des Moines County Historical Society. “Salt absorbs moisture and has a tendency to clump. This meant it did not flow freely out of the holes in Mason’s shaker.”

Even in those early years during the late 19th century and well into the 20th, salt and pepper shakers came in a variety of designs, making them highly collectible.

“In the 19th century, Staffordshire Potteries produced salt-and-pepper shakers as parts of cruet sets. Many of these were novelty characters with pink cheeks and big hats,” according to Collectors Weekly. “In the 1900s, with the advent of movies, shakers with character heads in the shapes of stars like Laurel and Hardy were popular—later, Staffordshire firms made more respectful sets bearing the stern images of famous cricket players either bowling or up to bat.”

newer sushi shakers

Newer Sushi Shakers

These newer sushi shakers are some of the more recent units made in Japan by the Pacific Giftware Co. (Image courtesy of Facebook)

cozy kitten shakers

Cozy kitten shakers

This pair of cozy kitten shakers was manufactured by Holt Howard in 1958. (Image courtesy of eBay)

Trinkets to buy when traveling

 

In the early 20th century, The Morton Salt Co. added magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent, to the salt they marketed and sold. This made the popular seasonings easily shakable.

“Morton’s addition led to the use of salt shakers, but they did not really take off in popularity until the 1920s for a reason you might not expect,” Schier writes. “The rise in the automobile played a role in the increased sales of salt shakers and made them collectible items. Travel, whether for work or leisure, increased with the introduction of the automobile. With this increase came a rise in the souvenir industry.”

Now, the small, colorful, ceramic items were even more collectible. Due to their size, they didn’t cost much to ship as well. Schier writes that during the 1920s and ‘30s, Japan produced the greatest number of units – until the Second World War, of course. After the end of the war, makers of salt and pepper shakers began to branch out from ceramics and make the collectibles from other materials.

these shakers are made of jadeite

Grape looking glass shakers

These glass shakers, designed to look like grapes hanging off a vine, were made in the 1960s. (Image courtesy of eBay)

“Wood, silver, baser metals, and glass or a combination of these materials were all used to create salt shakers,” she writes. “As with most products, shakers ranged from the most basic, mass-produced such as those used in many restaurants, to the more unique and hand-crafted to something in between.”

Plastic shakers were introduced in the 1950s, but by the mid-20th century, there were several designs from which you could choose.
“Several trends were simultaneously in play. The first was toward a clean, white, sanitary look. That spawned square salt-and-pepper shakers made of milk glass and capped by threaded, metal lids in black, silver, Mandarin red, and Delft blue,” according to Collectors Weekly. “The painted designs on the sides of these milk glass shakers tended to be plain and simple—a Dutch boy or girl, a windmill, a black Scottie dog, flowers. Most lids were punctured with as few as one hole for pepper and multiple holes for salt, but some had dots forming the letters ‘S’ or ‘P’ drilled into their tops, lest there be any confusion about the contents inside.”

“A slice of Americana”

No matter what they’re made of or how rare some might be, you’ll probably find them at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, TN. Started by archaeologist and shaker collector Andrea Ludden in 2002, the museum holds more than 20,000 salt and pepper shakers. Ludden’s collection, which also includes more than 1,500 pepper mills from around the world, continued to grow so large over the years following the museum’s opening that she opened a second location in Spain.

“Our mother was adamant about showcasing how you can trace history in salt and pepper shakers,” her daughter Andrea, who acts as administrator for the museum along with her brother, Alex, told USA Today in 2017 “She loved the idea of telling a story through them.”

Barbie Fashionista line included differently abled doll

Flag salt and pepper shakers for every occasion

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, TN, has salt and pepper shakers for every occasion. This cute set will look perfect on your picnic table this summer. (Image courtesy of Facebook)

kissing shakers

Kissing shakers

These kissing shakers, done in the Hummel style, were produced in the 1950s by Napco, another giant in the industry. (Image courtesy of eBay)

Collectors also have a place to belong at the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club Convention, which draws hundreds of collectors from all around the world and features names from familiar makers such as Fiesta, McCoy, and Napco. This year’s convention is coming up, July 11-13 in Canton, Ohio.

“They’re insane but very welcoming, really a slice of Americana,” event organizer Barbara Cummings joked in a 2015 article published in The Washington Post. “Great people, just the salt of the earth.

 

 Not just for salt and pepper

 

Vintage salt and pepper shakers will bear a manufacturer’s mark on the bottom; most of them were made in the United States or Japan, according to online antique dealer 1st Dibs. And as far as value, their monetary value is based on rarity, condition, the materials from which they are made (such as high-quality metals). Shakers are sold throughout a wide price range, according to americasantiquemall.com, from a few dollars to thousands (one set of mixed metal shakers from Tiffany and Co. sold at auction for nearly $7,000 in 2013, according to the Smithsonian Institute).

 

Surprisingly enough, there are even uses for these trinkets beyond merely acting as vessels for these two common seasonings. They can act as miniature vases, seed dispensers, or even pin cushions.

 

Whatever your reason for collecting them or whatever your use, such collections show no signs of waning popularity.

 

 

“Some people are crazy about salt and pepper shakers,” notes the blog It’s All Our Vault. “I can sort of see why: they’re tiny and usually pretty inexpensive. They make great gifts to give and receive. And they come in a million sizes and shapes. You can collect these things for your entire life and still not have a complete collection.”

Andrea Ludden, founder of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Andrea Ludden, founder of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Andrea Ludden, founder of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, shows off some of her collection. The museum, the only one of its kind in the United States, is located in Tennessee. (Image courtesy of The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum)

What a doll! Barbie continues to inspire after all these years

What a doll! Barbie continues to inspire after all these years

Barbie, seen here in her original design, made her debut at the North American International Toy Show in 1959. (Image courtesy of Flatiron Nomad)

Apr 2024

Cover Story

What a doll!

Barbie continues to inspire after all these years

by Corbin Crable

Ruth Handler had seen it her entire life.

The dolls she and countless other women had played with as children were almost always baby dolls. Not so much toys as preparations for a life of motherhood, the dolls were a girl’s introduction to the limited roles available to a woman of centuries past. Wife. Mother. Nurturer. Caretaker.

It was postwar America, and Handler wanted to show girls that they had other paths in life they could choose as the world around them changed and grew. She watched as her daughter played with paper dolls, imbuing them with her own hopes and dreams, and Handler realized a large gap in the growing toy market existed for the girls who wanted more choices for their future – scientist, world traveler, artist, businesswoman, maybe even president. So, in 1959, she introduced a new doll to that market.

Her name was Barbie.

Ruth Handler, inventor of the Barbie doll

Ruth Handler, inventor of the Barbie doll

Ruth Handler, inventor of the Barbie doll, poses with her creation on the doll’s 40th anniversary in 1999. (Image courtesy of Agence-France Presse)

A doll for modern times

Barbie’s inspiration came from a German doll named Lilli, which Handler purchased on a European trip in 1956. Handler brought the doll back to the United States and, with the help of a local inventor, redesigned the doll, naming it ‘Barbie’ after her own daughter Barbara. Toy company Mattel, co-founded by Handler’s husband, would go on to market and release the doll.

Handler’s creation made her big debut on March 9, 1959, in New York City (her boyfriend Ken would be introduced two years later, in 1961). Wearing a black-and-white zebra print swimsuit and ponytail, Barbie was originally available to purchase as a blonde or brunette.

Though Handler enjoyed the fact that Barbie’s appearance distinctly mirrored that of an adult, test audiences appeared concerned about the prominence of her breasts. Who, critics asked, would want to play with a doll that has breasts? Still, despite those reservations, Mattel shipped the doll to toy stores and department stores — selling an estimated 350,000 units in its first year of release alone and shutting those critics down.

Mattel has even created Barbie dolls in the likeness of figures from pop culture and history

Mattel has even created Barbie dolls in the likeness of figures from pop culture and history

Mattel has even created Barbie dolls in the likeness of figures from pop culture and history, including Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, and Katherine Johnson, released as part of the Barbie Inspiring Women Collection. (Image courtesy of Mattel)

In her early years, Barbie underwent several minor changes to her appearance. Most notably, in 1971, her eyes were adjusted to look forward instead of sideways, as the original doll appeared.

 

Barbie has had more than 250 careers

Barbie has had more than 250 careers

Barbie has had more than 250 careers throughout the decades, with astronaut being one of the earlier ones.
This doll was released in 1965. (Image courtesy of Mattel)

Changes within Mattel rocked the company as well. Ruth Handler and her husband Elliot both resigned from Mattel in 1975, in the middle of investigations that uncovered fraudulent financial reports filed by the couple. Ruth Handler pleaded no contest to the charges of fraudulent financial reporting and was fined $57,000 (the equivalent of $260,000 today) and sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service. She died in 2002 at the age of 85.

Barbie the media darling

In addition to being pioneering for the dreams she inspired in young girls, Barbie was also groundbreaking in her use of the relatively new medium of television to market herself to the public. It would be a strategy copied by dolls, action figures, and other toys throughout the rest of the century.

Barbie Fashionista line included differently abled doll

Barbie Fashionista line included differently abled doll

Some dolls in the Barbie Fashionista line included differently abled doll, including one that came with a wheelchair and ramp. (Image courtesy of eBay)

Ken Barbie’s boyfriend

Ken Barbie’s boyfriend

Who could forget Ken? Barbie’s boyfriend was created in 1961. (Image courtesy of eBay

Besides loyal boyfriend Ken, other characters have been added to Barbie’s world in the doll’s history, including best friend Midge, her trio of sisters Skipper, Stacie, and Chelsea. In more recent decades, Barbie’s friends have become more racially diverse, too, with Mattel releasing Hispanic and African-American dolls such as Teresa and Christie, respectively. Not only has her circle of family and friends grown over the years – so has her physical world, including the Barbie Dream House and other playsets that reflect Barbie at work and at leisure. How would she get from one of those locations to the next? Why, her pink Cadillac convertible, of course, also made available at toy stores the world over. Her menagerie of pets is just as impressive, with more than 40 of them throughout her history, from domesticated fluffy friends like cats and dogs to more exotic animals such as lion cubs, zebras, and pandas.

 

She can do it all

 

 

Just as diverse as her list of pets and friends are the types of jobs Barbie has been given over the years, including astronaut, doctor, flight attendant, businesswoman, and even president, showing the young girls who play in her world that they, too, can be anything.

“Our brand represents female empowerment,” Richard Dickson, Mattel COO, said in a 2015 Time magazine cover story. “It’s about choices. Barbie had careers at a time when women were restricted to being just housewives.”

Barbie would go on to appear not just in TV advertisements but in programming, too, as Mattel expanded Barbie’s reach into an entire media franchise – there were syndicated TV specials, direct-to-video releases, and, in recent years, film series released on streaming services – and, of course, the 2023 critically acclaimed live-action film directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

 

Barbie and body image

 

Barbie hasn’t existed without controversy, of course, most notably for what her critics say is promotion of an unrealistic body image. In the Time article, Evelyn Mazzocco, head of the Barbie brand for Mattel, says she “routinely receives hate mail and death threats over Barbie’s body.”

As Barbie sales dwindle in the first two decades of the 21st century, one might argue that Barbie is no longer involved in the discussion about what cultural influences contribute to poor body image in girls. Time counters that would be an incorrect assumption.

“A 2006 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that girls exposed to Barbie at a young age expressed greater concern with being thin, compared with those exposed to other dolls,” the article states.

And literature disseminated by an eating disorder group at Chapman University gives dimensions for Barbie if she were a real woman: she’d be 5’9”, have a 39” bust, an 18” waist, 33” hips, and a size 3 shoe. She would weigh 110 pounds.

lamilly doll based on the body measurements of an average 19-year-old

Lamilly Doll based on the body measurements of an average 19-year-old

In 2014, an artist and researcher, Nicholas Lamm, created a fashion doll based on the body measurements of an average 19-year-old woman, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Lamilly” was shorter than Barbie and has a wider waist, legs, and neck, as well as normal-sized feet. (Image courtesy of Parade)

The first African-American Barbie doll

The first African-American Barbie doll

The first African-American Barbie doll was released in 1967, with the more popular character Christie, seen here, released the following year. (Image courtesy of Mattel)

Mattel has tried to counter that data by releasing versions of Barbie with more curves and a more realistic body type – dolls that look more Christina Hendricks and Kim Kardashian than Kate Moss.

But, Time says, it simply might be too late for that.

“As much as Mattel has tried to market her as a feminist, Barbie’s famous figure has always overshadowed her business outfits. At her core, she’s just a body, not a character, a canvas upon which society can project its anxieties about body image,” the article states.

“’Barbie has all this baggage,’ says Jess Weiner, a branding expert and consultant who has worked with Dove, Disney and Mattel to create empowering messaging for girls. ‘Her status as an empowered woman has been lost.’”

 

 

Keeping up with the times

 

With the 21st century has also come more competitors hoping to dethrone Barbie from her status as a cultural icon – toys such as Bratz and dolls created for beloved animated films such as “Frozen,” just to name two.

Throughout all of the doll’s 65 years, Mattel has worked to strike the delicate balance between keeping Barbie relevant in ever-changing times while keeping her timeless and classic. In addition to giving her careers that reflect technological advances, such as computer programmer, the company has attempted to make visible introduce more racially diverse characters (African-American dolls had altered facial features, hair texture, and skin tone), characters who are presented as differently abled, and even one doll presented as pregnant (critics charged that the doll promoted teen pregnancy, even though the character was marketed as being married).

Mattel released a line of Barbie dolls last year

Mattel released a line of Barbie dolls last year

Mattel released a line of Barbie dolls last year to coincide with the opening of “The Barbie Movie” starring Margot Robbie in the title role. (Image courtesy of Mattel)

Though the original Barbie doll sold for $3 in 1959, its value today is in the thousands – at one auction, a mint-condition original doll still in its box went for $3,500. The doll remains highly collectible, with Mattel estimating that there are more than 10,000 avid collectors in the world, 90 percent of them women, with an average age of 40, and who purchase 20 or more dolls each year.

Through her success and controversy, Barbie’s status as a cultural icon endures, writes Julian Adams in a 2023 editorial published on ResearchLive.com.

“Cultural icons create emotional connections with people, which in turn, influence our beliefs, values, emotions and ultimately behaviour,” Adams explains. “Cultural icons define specific aspects of society at a given point in time. Barbie is one such icon – whether you love or loath her, she has left an indelible mark on society.”

Landing Among the Stars  NASA collectibles enjoy resurgence in popularity

Landing Among the Stars NASA collectibles enjoy resurgence in popularity

The NASA logo, also referred to as “the meatball,” was designed by a NASA employee in 1959, the year after the organization was founded.

Mar 2024

Cover Story

​Landing Among the Stars

NASA collectibles enjoy resurgence in popularity

by Corbin Crable

Americans will be looking to the sky next year as the second phase of NASA’s Artemis II program takes its first crewed test flight of the program’s Orion spacecraft. The program is designed to eventually land a crew on the Moon twice by 2029. The last crewed mission to the Moon was conducted in December 1972.

NASA’s return to the Moon after more than 50 years has led to a renewed interest in all things related to space – that awe-inspiring, vast expanse that holds immeasurable possibilities for humankind and has sparked questions about our place in the universe for millennia.

NASA itself – that’s the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — was established in 1958. Members of the Baby Boomer generation and even some early Generation Xers will remember President John F. Kennedy’s pledge in 1962 that Americans would eventually land on the Moon by the end of that decade. The president’s promise would become NASA’s crowning achievement on July 20, 1969, in an event watched by revelers across the globe. In the years both before and since, the genre of science fiction has inundated pop culture, from comics like “Flash Gordon” to beloved TV series and films such as “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.”

original “Star Trek” TV program

Original “Star Trek” TV program

The cast of the original “Star Trek” TV program witnesses the rollout of the spacecraft Enterprise in 1976. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Turns out, NASA’s space travels are highly collectible, too, with some items from the institution’s history fetching hundreds to thousands at auction. These items currently listed on eBay, Etsy, and antique auction house websites are sure to amaze any space case or dreamer with their head in the clouds:

NASA Apollo-era SCAPE helmet

This helmet was designed for handling of toxic fuel, worn by those transporting dangerously volatile and corrosive fuel to and from the Kennedy Space Center. This helmet still has its “property of NASA” tag attached to the helmet’s interior. “SCAPE” stands for “Self-Contained Atmospheric Protection Ensemble.” The helmet is being sold on eBay for $2,500.

Also being sold on eBay for an affordable $98 is a collection of ephemera related to the space shuttle Enterprise, built in 1976 to conduct atmospheric test flights. A 1975 booklet describing the shuttle’s mission, its use/operation, and its limitations; another booklet containing diagrams and the ship’s specs is included, as is a third booklet outlining future projects and equipment testing plans. Although the craft originally was named Constitution, Trekkies likely are aware of a campaign in which hundreds of thousands of “Star Trek” fans asked U.S. President Gerald Ford to rename the ship after the popular space craft from the beloved television show. The campaign worked, with Ford asking NASA leadership to change the name. The cast of the original “Star Trek” TV show, along with creator Gene Roddenberry, were on hand during the rollout of the Enterprise in Palmdale, California, on Sept. 17, 1976.

A helmet used to transport toxic fuel

A helmet used to transport toxic fuel

A helmet used to transport toxic fuel, this item is Apollo-era item is being sold for $2,500 on eBay. Image courtesy of eBay

plaque commemorating the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing

Plaque commemorating the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing

An original plaque commemorating the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. (Image courtesy of eBay)

The crew of the ill-fated Challenger

The crew of the ill-fated Challenger

The crew of the ill-fated Challenger STS 51-L appears in a 1986 promotional photo on this signed, commemorative postcard. Science teacher, Christa McAuliffe (back row, second from left) was to be the first civilian in space. (Image courtesy of psacard.com)

 

If you’re willing to pony up $1,100 on eBay, you can be the owner of an authentic and original Apollo 11 commemorative plaque only given to NASA families and employees associated with the 1969 mission. The original plaque also comes with a replica plaque that the astronauts placed and left on the Moon during the first lunar landing.

An original photo from a NASA photographer documents the launch of the Apollo 13 spacecraft, currently selling for $1,500. The spaceflight in April 1970 was nearly a deadly one for the crew, which had to abandon its mission to land on the Moon after an oxygen tank in the craft’s service module ruptured, crippling its electrical and life-support system. The crew instead looped around the Moon, re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, and touched down safely, thanks to the help of the flight’s Mission Control crew, who worked tirelessly to bring the astronauts home alive as the craft’s oxygen and electrical resources dwindled by the hour. The story of the perilous Apollo 13 mission was told in a 1995 film directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as mission commander Jim Lovell.

Collectibles bearing the signature of the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, can be found on Historyforsale.com. At the time of her flight on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, the 33-year-old Ride also became the youngest American astronaut in space. Photos, letters, and press releases signed by Ride are listed on the site at prices between $140 and $500.

New NASA-themed items

New NASA-themed items

New NASA-themed items like this metal lunch box will delight the next generation of space enthusiasts. (Image courtesy of Amazon.com)

ventilation garment, worn by astronauts

Ventilation garment, worn by astronauts

This ventilation garment, worn by astronauts to ensure a cool body temperature during space missions, is being sold for nearly $8,000 on Etsy. (Image courtesy of Etsy

 

A rare piece of memorabilia for the serious collector is an Apollo-era NASA space shuttle cooled and ventilation garment, going for nearly $8,000 on Etsy. Also called a “spaghetti suit” due to the network of water transport tubing interwoven throughout the suit, this item was worn by astronauts in order to maintain a comfortable body temperature during their spacewalks. According to the product description provided by the seller, “Cold water flowing through the tubing drew heat away from the astronaut’s body, returning to the suit’s primary life support system, where it was cooled in a heat exchanger before being recirculated.”

Also on Etsy, one of the many products made in anticipation of the 1969 moon mission – a metal piggy bank depicting the original Apollo shuttle orbiting the moon. Made in 1968 by the John Wright Co., only 500 units were made, making it especially coveted among collectors. The piggy bank can be yours for $167. Throughout most the 20th century, the John Wright Co. was known for its production of cast iron toys and novelties until the 1980s, when cast iron toys declined in popularity; the company then shifted its focus to producing hardware.

A warning to collectors

 

Supposed samples of moon rocks can be found on auction sites everywhere. Encased in resin, they are proudly listed as being genuine, but they usually are sold for as little as $10. According to NASA, the Apollo missions collected more than 2,000 samples, some of which are on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Original samples collected during lunar missions are considered priceless. Moon rocks can be determined to be genuine through radiometric testing, and actual moon rocks are exceedingly rare; according to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, those tiny pieces being hawked by eager merchants on auction sites are likely nothing more than fragments of petrified wood.

 

NASA’s own online shop reveals that demand for collectibles related to space is only growing. Currently, it lists several collectibles related to its Artemis I mission for sale, with Artemis II items sure not be coming up in the coming year. For more information, visit www.nasa.gov.

This moon rock fragment

This moon rock fragment

This moon rock fragment is on display at a Houston, Texas, museum. (Image courtesy of The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Museum)

spacesuit, on display at Science City in Kansas City, MO

Spacesuit, on display at Science City in Kansas City, MO

This spacesuit, on display at Science City in Kansas City, MO, was made for and worn by Donn Eisele, senior pilot of the Apollo 7 mission in October 1986. (Image courtesy of Patti Klinge)

1968 cast iron piggy bank commemorating NASA’a Apollo 11

1968 cast iron piggy bank commemorating NASA’a Apollo 11

A 1968 cast iron piggy bank commemorating NASA’a Apollo 11 mission, which would launch the following year. (Image courtesy of Etsy)

The Apollo 13 shuttle in 1970 liftoff

The Apollo 13 shuttle in 1970 liftoff

This photo captures the liftoff of the Apollo 13 shuttle in 1970; the shuttle’s crew members were forced to abandon their mission when their oxygen and electrical systems became compromised. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Alan Shepard moon shot statue

Alan Shepard moon shot

Alan Shepard moon shot replica statue. (Image courtesy of entertainmentearth.com)