Category Archives: Mid-Century

Enter the Sandbox: Dinky Toys Collection, ca. 1950s

Playground politics are not to be taken lightly. Attitude comes second only to the hardware a child packs. Whether challenging one’s competitor to a car race down the driveway or excavating the dirt hill of the schoolyard, one is expected to produce from one’s pocket a die-cast gem to rival all others.

In the pre-War era of the 1930s, when a kid chose to throw down, chances are their car or truck of choice was a Dinky toy.

The Frank Hornby firm Meccano was founded in 1901. Best known for its electric trains and metal erector construction sets, the company began selling Modelled Miniatures in 1933 to complement its O-scale railway sets. By the following year, these products had been rebranded Dinky Toys. Production of the die-cast models took place in Liverpool, England and Bobigny, France. Prior to halting manufacturing during the second World War, the company had in its repertoire a broad range of cars, trucks, military vehicles, aircraft, ships and earth-moving machines.

The pictured collection includes a selection of 1950s Dinky Toys and larger Dinky Supertoys. Examples such as the red Blaw Knox Bulldozer come compete with driver and movable levers to raise or lower the shovel, while the Nestlé delivery van possesses some of its original, and very rare, milk cans. The maroon Foden flatbed log-delivery truck retains its chain and post guards as well as all the wheels, including a spare located under the bed of the vehicle. The previous owner was adept enough to fashion four wooden stumps out of dowel to complete the picture.

Moderne Life Is Rubbish: Pair Of Deco Mid-Century Chairs, ca. 1940s

Brown leather. You’re an addiction that I do not wish to recover from…

Not surprisingly, I was immediately drawn to this set of (unattributed) chairs, not only because of the quality and richness of the leather, but because of the low, Deco Moderne style of the aluminum frame.

There’s always an outside chance that a piece looking this good is actually comfortable and by golly, these chairs really do the trick. Perfect for an afternoon nap…

Heavy Pedal: Columbia/ Pope Bicycle, ca. 1940s

Given the rise of cycling as an environmentally friendly mode of transport in major cities, it’s fascinating to look back at a time when cycling was perceived to be limited to those under the legal driving age and those seeking some carefree recreational fun.

The quality of American-built bicycles is something I’ve really begun to appreciate. Not only were they built to last, but as an investment they’re generally undervalued.

The Pope Manufacturing Company was started in 1877 and produced, among other things, motorcycles and automobiles. It later became the Columbia Mfg. Co. but at one time Pope was the foremost manufacturer of bikes in the U.S.

This women’s model dates to the late 1940s and has been very well preserved. Not only is there no rust on the frame, this bike still has many of its original components. The chain guard, leather sprung seat and even the battery-operated head lamp are intact and functioning. Better still, when this bicycle was acquired, it came with a photo (dated 1952) of the bike with its original owner.

Line Up, Single File: Tri-Level Office In-tray ca. 1930s


Three cheers for a paperless office and all, but extra points awarded for making your desk sing with a bit of character too. Even if you have no-one to hold all your calls, your memos arrive via email and you pay your bills online, it doesn’t mean you can’t bung a few magazines, thank you notes and holiday snaps into this tall (14″!), handsome in-tray. Dorset Finds isn’t preachy but isn’t it time you be the boss of you?

I love this piece’s versatility; Perfect for the office, on a coffee table or a bureau. The stained, wooden-framed trays are labeled with original gold leaf lettering and the aged brass hardware is in great shape.

Now, get back to work.

The Life Pursuit: Eames Time Life Executive Chair, ca. 1980s

I’m not sold on the notion of form before function. Sure, it needs to look impeccably cool, but if you can’t use it either because of its fragility – or the very thing that draws you to it in the first place – its beauty, I don’t know really want to know about it.

Case in point; the Eames Time Life or Executive chair, manufactured by Herman Miller. You’ve seen it caressing the cabooses of Don Draper and Michael Parkinson for years and you’ve seen it in high-end 20th Century design stores but it’s only when you sit in one that all the fuss makes sense.

This example is upholstered in subtle, less conspicuous light brown leather rather than classic yet severe, black. The aluminum, particularly around the 4-star base is excellent and the original casters and smooth tilt mechanism make for guaranteed comfort while sneaking a late afternoon cat nap.

Move Toward the Light: Industrial Factory Lamp, ca. 1930s

The hunt for the perfect articulating desk lamp seems to be an unending challenge. Just as well, it’s a labor of love! So many variations exist across many manufacturers that it can be tough making a choice.

This unmarked lamp, dating to the 1930s is likely a “Localite” manufactured by Fostoria of Ohio. What makes it special is the aged, spun aluminum shade and porcelain light socket. The flat steel base allows for easy placement on a wall, ceiling or desk. Definitely a contender, wouldn’t you say?

Be My Light, Be My Guide: Explosion-Proof Nautical Light, ca. 1950s

The power generated from the firing of 16 inch guns is nothing short of staggering. To put down an opposing ship the size of the Chrysler building, it needs to be, right? Ships, and more so their lighting systems, need to be strong as steel – if you’ll excuse the lame pun.

This ship light has been converted to use a household plug, is encased in thick glass, accented with brass screws and protected by a heavy-duty aluminum cage. Weighing in at over 30 lbs. and a towering 17 inches, this light means business, bitch. So don’t mess with it.

Where’s The Fire?: Pedal Car Fire Engine, ca. 1950s

What is it about these old pedal cars? Is it the heavy gauge steel construction? Is it the automotive styling from a time when each curve mattered? It’s tough to pinpoint but what’s clear is that they really speak to me.

It’s not too difficult to find vintage pedal cars in excellent condition and even  reproduction versions, made of lower quality metal, are aesthetically quite similar. My preference though, is the kind that has a history; seen a prang here and there and been well loved by its adolescent motorist.

This example is in the latter stages of its second coat of paint and still fightin’ fit. The pedals work, as do the steering wheel and the hood-mounted bell.

Clear a path. This one’s ready to roll…

The Drugs Don’t Work: Rexall Drugs Porcelain Enamel Sign, ca. 1940s

Rexall Drugs, perhaps best known for their “Rx” symbol which has since become synonymous with drug prescriptions, began in the early 20th Century and grew to incorporate 12,000 franchised stores before declining in the late 1970s.

This 6′ x 4′  double-sided sign, manufactured by the Ohio Thermometer Co. dates back to the 1940s, but given the gloss of the enamel, you’d never know it. Apart from a couple of chips here and there, it all looks well preserved. The original steel hooks are outreached, ready to hold this gem of advertising memorabilia up once again.

Sit On It: Eames Herman Miller Aluminum Lounge Chair, ca. 1958

The ubiquity of Charles and Ray Eames’ various chair designs is undeniable. Knocked off, licensed out, edited down and reimagined more times than any other furniture, there’s still nothing quite like the real deal.

Here is a very comfy, brown/orange upholstered Aluminum Lounge chair manufactured by Herman Miller in 1980. The fabric is clean, the aluminum arms and base possess all their sheen and the glides are intact.

Figure H: 6 Foot Metal Letter

It wasn’t so much a question of do i want it, but rather, where am I going to put it? New York apartments aren’t spatially forgiving – especially when it comes to losing footage to accommodate a 6-foot letter H – but this one needed to come home with me.

Originally this “H” hung on an exterior wall of a hotel – initially thought to be a lodgings called the Heartbreak Hotel – but regrettably it was found not to be the case. (I’m not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, so if you can keep a secret, so can I).

Sit On It: Plycraft “Mr. Chair” Jr., ca. 1963

A rising star in the mid-century furniture race is the “Mr. Chair” from Plycraft, designed by George Mulhauser.

This chair is most commonly found as a lounge chair and generally paired with an ottoman. The standard upholstery is a black Naugahyde (faux leather), which in many cases tends to crack and split with age. Unlike productions from Charles and Ray Eames, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, etc., who all designed with high-quality leather, this series from Plycraft was produced with greater prudence.

It’s the superb design and adept use of molded plywood that make this chair the classic you see today. These chairs walk the line, possessing both flowing, organic forms while retaining a masculine aesthetic.

This example of the Mr. Chair is all the more special because not only is it the “Jr.” version that acts more as an executive-style chair, rather than a lounge chair, but it’s covered in flawless black wool upholstery and retains its original casters.

Prices are increasing steadily for these chairs which can range from $200 to $1,200 depending on condition.