Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.
Since I’ve rekindled my love for the 1950’s era, I’ve started to collect a few authentic ’50s things here and there. My favorite things to collect are vintage jewelry from that era and ceramic figurines. I don’t have much right now since most of my vintage jewelry is from the ’60s (the era of charm bracelets) but I’m always looking for more. I’m interested in collecting vintage 1950’s clothing, but that’s almost as tricky as it is pricey, especially online. (I will be writing a blog about that later) For now let’s list other things you can collect from the Nifty Fifties and what to look for when doing so.
If you want to go BIG, you can collect real, actual Juke Boxes, like my cousin does. But you need the space and the cash, both of which I have neither. It is something to consider though. My cousin has 13 vintage Juke Boxes. They are all beautiful and they are all filled with 45’s.
That brings me to a more practical idea. You could collect 45’s. If you have a turn table, there are still a ton of original 45’s out there that still play! I suggest you find a seller you can trust if you go on eBay or something similar. Even the oldest 45’s should not cost too much if they made tons of them. Huge hits like “Peggy Sue” for example, were made into so many copies that they are pretty easy to find at decent prices. However, if you want to collect authentic ’50s, you will want the actual 45 record from back in the day, rather than a copy offered later. (Most mega-hits were reissued later, by other record companies, for example, in the 1980’s.)
Another tip on collecting 45 singles is to know your artist’s label. Unless you want every song ever made, you will probably need to know what the label looks like. For example, Buddy Holly’s label was Coral (a division of Decca Records) It’s easy to spot the bright orange label and the thick black letters that say “CORAL”. But it’s not entirely that simple, since Buddy Holly with The Crickets were with Brunswick. (whose label was dark red) Although it might seem like this tip is obvious, when you’re standing in the hot sun at a Flea Market going through piles and piles of 45’s, it’s best to know off hand what you’re trying to spot.
A final note on 45’s: Many of them will have the name of the original owner scribbled on the label in pen or pencil. I honestly don’t know if this reduces the value (I’m guessing it does) But I find it charming. At a party, it was the only way that the teenie boppers of the day could determine whose copy was whose! So my advice is if you find an old 45 record with “Shirley” scribbled on it, don’t let that deter you from buying it.
There are also some (really cute!) vintage carry cases for 45s that make great collectibles and are fun to display, such as this “Rhythm Tote” that I purchased on etsy.
Photographs and Postcards
You can find tons of old photographs of regular folks from the ’50s. You can even find Kodachrome slides in COLOR! It’s amazing to look at the people from yesteryear in vivid color, especially if you’re used to only seeing the old photographs in black and white. Seeing colorful slides from the 1950’s is exciting- almost like taking a trip back in time. After all, the world was always in color, even if most pictures weren’t.
There are no limits to how many old postcards there are of places in the ’50s. Things that make collecting postcards fun are seeing the classic cars parked on the streets, the old signs of stores such as Woolworth’s and the local pharmacy. It’s even fun to see what the sender wrote and the 2 cent stamp and the post mark of the exact day your postcard was sent. Of course, postcards go back WAY farther than the 1950’s, but if the ’50s are your passion, there’s plenty to look for.
Oh, these are fun. Nothing is better for a good laugh than the old 1950’s advertisements. Everything being advertised was perfect, exciting, contributed to happiness, and of course, a great bargain. There were ads for food, beverages, clothing, household appliances, (like the ones featuring the way-too-happy housewives doing laundry), telephones, European vacations and cars. Last fall, I even saw a newspaper ad up for sale promoting The Crickets’ NEW single “Oh Boy!” (with “Not Fade Away” on the B-Side) The advertisement was dated November 4, 1957! I didn’t buy the ad, someone else did, and I’m kinda kicking myself now because it was a great price for something that rare.
Now. Remember that these ads were meant to be seen once and thrown away. Finding certain ones is a collector’s dream come true, depending on what you’re into. And best of all, most original advertisements are not all that expensive. They range from $7 to $20 from what I’ve seen. They are also usually in good condition for being 60+ years old, but expect some yellowing, particularly with newspaper ads.
The most important thing to remember when collecting advertisements is to make sure they are ORIGINALS and not reproduced copies. Make sure you know that before you bid or make a purchase. A good seller will make it clear if you’re buying something that came straight out of an original magazine or just a photocopy of one.
Figurines and Ceramics
This is one of my favorite categories, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. The 1950’s were a time when many items were being made in Japan. Many of these items were ceramic decorations for the home. There were several companies that made ceramic items such as Napco, Inarco and Lefton. One of the most popular collectibles from these companies are the Head Vases. With their charming details and whimsy, it’s no wonder people like them. I began my interest in Head Vases before my love for the 1950’s resurfaced. Most of the head vases are actually from the ’60s. If you want an actual head vase from the ’50s, the only way to positively identify it as such is if you buy one with the year stamped on the bottom. My blue lady head vase happens to be from 1956. (I also have a smaller lady vase stamped 1963) There were many of these made, so don’t pay astronomical prices for one no matter how much you love it. Also make sure the one you bid on/buy is in good condition. Common damage includes chips, particularly on the fingers and eyelashes. Many don’t have their original jewelry, but you can replace that. You will also be paying a good deal for shipping for something like that these days. So after all is said and done, I recommend that you don’t pay more than $35 for a common head vase (not including the shipping.)
The Christmas Head Vases tend to go for more as they are more popular. But this does not mean that they are super rare. I have a small 3.5″ one marked 1958, that I paid only $15.50 for. There are a lot of Christmas ceramic items, including plant vases with full-bodied figures, figurines that spell out “NOEL”, and salt and pepper shakers. All this stuff was made in Japan, but what it lacks in quality it makes up for in kitschy charm. Special Note: Be aware of reproduction head vases. They are not “fakes”, but rather, reproductions of the same design. When buying a head vase, make certain it’s vintage and not a reproduction. Unless, of course, you don’t mind a reproduction piece.
Another popular ceramic collectible of the 1950’s era are the Holt Howard household items. Holt Howard made adorable cats, mice and even elves into salt and pepper shakers, cheese dishes, napkin rings, candle holders and yarn dispensers. Again, if you want 1950’s, make sure you look at the year on the bottom of the item. Many of the Holt Howard items were produced in the 1960’s and beyond. I want to note that even if your Holt Howard items are not in perfect mint condition, as long as it displays well, they can be a fantastic collectibles. My salt and pepper shakers do not have the insides, but it doesn’t matter because they look so cute on my bureau. Holt Howard items are popular, and though there seem to have been many made, they do fetch a decent penny. Do some research to get the best prices.
Then there is Hull Pottery which is famous for its Corky the Pig banks. Every kid in the 1950’s had a Corky the Pig Bank. (Well, maybe not every kid, but it seemed like it would be a common Birthday gift.) About 10 years ago, Corky the Pig banks were a huge rage on eBay. I paid over $60 for mine. But as with all collectibles, the trends rise and fall, and I see the common-colored Corkys going for around $30 these days (not including today’s astronomical shipping costs) However, Corky’s smaller counterpart, the dime bank, seems to still be going for more as far less of them were made. My dime bank (pictured in front on the left below) is not a Hull, since I didn’t want to pay $110 for one, so I settled for a cheaper look-a-like.
Corky banks are engraved on the bottom, usually 1957. They came in a variety of colors with pink and blue being the most common. The most sought-after colors seems to be the “bulls eye” color markings and the ones with the gold ears. There is also the very rare “Tawny Ridge Tan” color that still fetches over $100 at auction. Basically, to me, Corky is just plain cute in any color and as long as he’s in good condition and has his trade mark cork nose, he makes a fantastic addition to any 1950s era collection.
There are many advertising items you can collect from the ’50s. Companies began pasting their information on common household items as far back at the 1930’s and gave them away as promos. Pens, pencils, screwdrivers, bottle openers, ink blotters, calendars, thermometers can all be found as promo items in the ’50s. The company, products, town, etc… that these items are printed with is entirely up to you. One thing to look for though, is the phone number. Assuming the item you are collecting is not a calendar, there might not be an obvious way to date it to the 1950’s. However, this can be done by checking the phone number. In the 1950’s, the phone numbers were not 7 digits (or 10, including the area code) like they are today. They were often an odd combo of letters and numbers such as “FA-6178” or something like that. So be advised that if the item in question has a modern day 7 digit phone number on it, it is most certainly post 1950’s.
Jewelry and Accessories
I’m planning on writing an entire entry (at least one entry!) on 1950’s accessories. My first ’50s collection was that of vintage jewelry (although much of my collection dates to the ’60s as well). Mainly the way I determine whether my vintage jewelry is from the 1950’s is by advertisements and books. The Collecting Costume Jewelry books by Julia C. Carroll are a fantastic series for reference. Big photos and illustrations include ads and close-up examples of vintage jewelry. The books also show you the differences in costume jewelry styles through the decades, starting with the 1930’s.
Classic 1950’s jewelry was plastic and kitschy. They liked plastic quite a bit, and were just learning all the cool things you can do with it. Fortunately, there were companies that cranked out low-quality costume jewelry making it affordable and easy to find even 60+ years later. When buying, always look at the condition first, and don’t pay big prices for common pieces. I, personally, enjoy being able to wear a vintage necklace that literally came straight outta the ’50s even if it’s not super quality or worth very much. Collector’s items don’t have to be “worth a lot” to be fun!
Other items that are “technically” jewelry because they were worn (although they can fall under other categories) are political buttons, school pins and charms or souvenir jewelry. I LOVE the Class of 1958 charm bracelet, which is part of my large charm bracelet collection. Can’t you just picture a proud girl in her Senior Year wearing that bracelet as she planned her upcoming wedding? An interesting note is that the late ’50s charm bracelets were actually precursors to the immense popularity of charm bracelets that ended up being a fashion staple in the 1960s.
Accessories to collect can include gloves (although it’s fairly impossible to determine whether a pair of women’s every day gloves came from the 1950’s or 1960’s) hats, cat-eye glasses purses and wallets. The cat eye glasses seem popular now, but remember there were a lot of them, so don’t go nuts paying a mint for one pair. Of course, it depends on the type and condition, but for something that so many people wore everyday, the aluminum frame cat-eyes are a common item.
One day I was looking at vintage wallets online and I noticed that wallets from the 1950s did not have multiple slots for credit cards. Reason being, they did not have credit cards in the 1950’s. So if you see a wallet that’s being sold as “1950s” with credit card slots, be advised that it actually came from later.
Well I could go on and on, but for now that’s the entry. I will be writing much more about 1950s collectibles and accessories in future blogs, so please stay tuned!
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