Celebrate Our Storefront with this Guatemalan Tote Bag

Our Giveaway: Guatemalan Tote Bag

Time to celebrate . . who doesn’t love to give? We’re giving this beautiful Guatemalan tote bag to one lucky person. We will select one name randomly on Saturday, August 22.  Just leave a comment on our Facebook Page – what do you like best about this bag?

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Celebrate Our Storefront with this Guatemalan Tote Bag

Time to celebrate . . who doesn’t love to give? We’re giving this beautiful Guatemalan tote bag to one lucky person. We will select one name randomly on Saturday, August 22.  Just leave a comment on our Facebook Page – what do you like best about this bag?

Reading the Cover of the Book

There are books and then, there are covers or dust jackets for hardbound books.

I recently came across quite a few books published in the late 1940s with dust jackets intact. They are intriguing, interesting and nice to behold. Can we judge a book by its cover, maybe not. But we can quickly get an idea about the book. . . . see what you think. How much do we know judging from the covers?

MacKinley Cantor, Signal Thirty-Two


Dickens, Coal Miners and The Spirit of Christmas

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Illus. Arthur Rackman
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Illus. Arthur Rackman

Lately, I have wondered about the life of a miner. This comes as no surprise since Putnam and Speedwell occupies a house that was once a home for a miner and his family at Eclipse Company Town. The houses are cute; but they are small, it seems to me, for a family. I wonder about life without privacy and shared beds, even though I understand that family life was different for most of history. Thinking about the holidays has fueled my curiosity. My first stop on this journey was A Christmas Carol.

The classic work by Charles Dickens still stirs emotion if not a few tears.  The meaning of life is revealed to Scrooge in a series of glimpses into the lives of other people who do not possess his great wealth but enjoy happiness surrounded by family and friends.  The miner’s camp is one of the scenes, they are gathered together enjoying the Christmas festivities. The importance of the gathering is the sense of community shared by these men who “labour in the bowels of the earth.” As Dickens wrote, “So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.” The old man was sustained by the camaraderie in the coal town – as were other miners across the globe.

Garbutt Mine
Miners in Garbutt Mine, Glouster, Ohio

Many early academics and government officials missed the sense of community. Their studies stressed the squalor and poor health among the miners, while recent research and personal accounts emphasize that life in a coal camp “was not always drab” but rather “it could be fun.” (1) Elizabeth Ferguson Brown writes that, “The brightness of these homes comes from within.”(2)

Picnic Time
Picnic Time

I must admit that I had accepted the dismal portraits of coal mine towns and missed the light that comes form within. Along with Scrooge,  I recognized the generosity of spirit in the faces of miners and their families. The miner’s house that we occupy as tenants is not the same place; but, we will do our best to let the light shine – especially for the Holidays. Let the merriment begin!

 `What place is this,’ asked Scrooge. `A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,’ returned the Spirit. `But they know me. See.’ A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their children and their children’s children, and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a  Christmas song — it had been a very old song when he was a boy — and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits

Rare People and Rare Books


The film, Fading Gigilo opens with Woody Allen carefully tissue wrapping beautiful leather bound books. The camera pans to empty shelves. He is closing the bookstore first established by his grandfather. He laments,

This is the end of an era my friend, only rare people buy rare books.

Soon after that scene, I lost interest in the film; but, the statement about rare books made sense to me . . .

A while back, I stumbled upon web sites that sold books by color as objects to decorate mantels or accent bookshelves. Some of these websites will rent books for staging a room. Edith Wharton in her book, The Decoration of Houses wrote,

Those who really care for books are seldom content to restrict them to the library, for nothing adds more to the charm of a drawing-room than a well-designed bookcase: an expanse of beautiful bindings is as decorative as a fine tapestry.

The most beautiful rooms are often in libraries.

Main Reading Room, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Main Reading Room, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC

There are websites devoted to collecting photographs of those temples of the book. Some of the oldest and finest are in Paris. Some the best are in the United States. Books and manuscripts are treasures guarded by librarians who are truly the keepers of the keys! It is books that live long past currency, economies, politics, empires and even nations.

BNF, Site Richelieu, Paris


Rare people like rare books.

In a fairly recent article in The New York Times on travel to Paris, Richard Woodward wrote, “IN a city where braininess is sexy, the bibliothèques of Paris don’t suffer from the dowdy image problem that afflicts libraries in the United States.”

Cleveland Public Library

Hmmm . . . not too sure about his conclusion. Rather than dowdy, I might say that going to the library is a habit. We learn habits. One of the most beautiful libraries that I know of is the old Carnegie Library in Chicago Heights. chihgtspl1I developed the habit of going to the library because of its location – directly next to the bus station. It was comfortable, there were chairs and there was always something to read . . . the children’s library smelled just like a library should. Not too long ago, I wanted to take my grandson to the Columbus Public Library. His refusal was adamant. He would, however, go to the bookstore that day. Thank goodness! On the other hand, there are some books that we cannot buy. And those books are rare – and increasingly available online. Google deserves all the credit – it was Google who first began digitizing the vast holdings of important libraries – many libraries fought their efforts. Would it not signal the end?

Not really. The Chicago Heights Public Library (ca. 1901) was demolished in 1974. The center of the city was no longer the center of town. As in so many other cities, community life had changed. But, that library was a place of memory. Ask anyone from Chicago Heights, older than say fifty years or so, about the library . . .  Here in Athens, there was recently a fire. The destruction of the buildings on Union Street brought many of us back to past memories

Photo of Union Street, Athens Ohio posted by Cliff
Photo of Union Street, Athens Ohio posted by Clif Kittle

. . . those buildings are places of memory.

Books as well. . . favorite books, books that change lives, books that were impossible, books we could not finish . . . Moby Dick, Hercules, Batman first came to us in books. But they live in our memory. Quite often, the first editions of those books are coveted because of their importance in our lives. My conclusion is that memories are collections that our minds keep. Books stir those memories, but they do not contain them. At the same time, it is rare that people collect rare books. That is a very  different question.

Books allow us to peek into the past. Like Edith Wharton’s book on Decoration. It is a good read. But digitized books rarely include the illustrations!  One of my favorite old books is The Landscape Gardening Book (ca. 1911) by Grace Taborwherein are set down the simple laws of beauty and utility which should guide the development of all grounds. Tabor’s classic work is available online – since this book provides insight on the importance of biodiversity, it comes as no surprise that a site dedicated to biodiversity has digitized her work.  And yet another But, what is a book on gardening without illustrations?

If you are around Athens, stop in and take a look at her book . . . any Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoon. On the other days, I am usually reading or writing in my favorite library in a place called home.

Books wrapped with Memories (Dedicated to Mériam)




The Gift: The Story of The Homer Laughlin Plate

Almost, thirty years ago, a package arrived postmarked from the Homer Laughlin Company, Newell, West Virginia quite unexpectedly. A few days before, we were at the International Housewares Exhibition in Chicago. It was a big deal, a really big deal. Now, as then, it was the biggest trade show in the country at one of the biggest exhibition halls in the world under one roof.  McCormick Place, a modernist structure designed by Gene Simmons, a student of Mies van der Rohe, is located on Lake Michigan. Sited as it was, the rebuilt McCormick place celebrated space perched on the coast with an unending vista of water and sky – the building occupies acres of land yet does not obstruct the view like a skyscraper while the interior remains open. Stepping into that place was a tad intimidating for a fledgling very small business owner but, how else to know what is happening?

Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate
Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate

One of the hundreds of exhibitors was The Homer Laughlin Company represented by a Mr. Wells. He was very generous with his time; he welcomed us into the booth heartily. As we spoke, the conversation turned to patterns. The new line of colorful Fiesta Ware was popular, but I gravitated toward a pure white plate with a deep rim, scalloped edge and classic ornamentation. It was very modern looking – but not. The plate was a part of the Best China Line i.e.. Restaurant Ware.

Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware
Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware

He asked, “Why would you want this plate?” Later informing me that he could not sell this plate to a retail outlet unless we could order large quantities. His warmth and kindliness made the bad news sound not so bad. Three days later, the plate arrived.

For many years, this plate was part of the lore of our family. . . the story was,  “a manager from Homer Laughlin sent this plate.” The plate packed a powerful message; generosity and kindness. This story remains one of the most important business lessons that I have learned. Over the years, the pleasant memory inspired a collection of white restaurant ware. It has been a sentimental journey from that memorable beginning.

Years later, I learned that the history of the Homer Laughlin Company was integral to understanding the history of Ohio River Pottery. As it turned out, Mr. Wells was not merely a manager or salesperson. His family owned and operated the Homer Laughlin Company.  The Wells family led an expansion of the pottery. By the end of the nineteenth century, five kilns produced white ware instead of the much maligned yellow ware produced throughout the nineteenth century.

Laced thought out early accounts of the Pottery Industry, there are comments made by workers, observers and reporters. Most commentators noticed the mutual respect that owners shared with workers – mutual respect become one of the core values for the Homer Laughlin Company and the other potteries in East Liverpool. So, it was no accident that Mr. Wells sent the plate that he could sell.

The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)
The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)


Selling Pieces of the Past, II

Hard to believe that it has been one year since Putnam and Speedwell 
planted roots in Athens . . . a few thoughts about growing pains!


Our First Winter at Eclipse Company Town
Our First Winter at Eclipse Company Town

We rented the space at Eclipse Company Town, an old mining town, last November about ten days before Thanksgiving. I was thinking that we could whip it into shape by Thanksgiving. We missed the mark. No kidding! The stress was too much; it is not unusual to lose business partners. And I did soon after renting the new space. A start-up takes grit, determination and even sleepless nights that winnow out the weak.  I went on alone in the endeavor. I had confidence, energy, experience and a lot of spirit . . . enough to overcome this loss. Certainly, I was stunned but I looked at strengths . . .and perhaps foolishly, overlooked any weaknesses.

1. Finding vintage furnishings was not new to me. It had become a habit, you might say, to look for great old things for our great old homes that needed lots of work. Perhaps more importantly, we understood the value of reducing waste. McDonald’s began promoting Happy Meals to sell burgers to children . . .outraged Daddy would drive out to the landfill with our very young children in tow! I often wonder if the effect was akin to “the starving children in _____”  talk given by my father when liver was served. So vintage and antique bargains were one of my specialties – a natural fit for those of us that gravitated toward great old houses.

2. In a previous life, I owned a retail storefront borne from my love for pure soap that was hard to find in the old days . . . pure cotton accoutrements of all kinds and linens. My sisters and brothers worked hard and built a great enterprise that became too big for us to handle . . . I had an intimate understanding of  the danger of burn out. That storefront was huge 2500 square foot; and the new storefront was small and dry so it seemed just right. . .

3. Another plus, or so I believed was my experience with the Internet in my previous life. I relied on the internet for research, as in historical research. I believed that I lived in a golden age. The Internet was a BIG step for the democratization of knowledge connecting libraries and even archives. But at a desk in a research library or on a computer, the work is quiet and solitary most of the time.


If I understood my strengths, I also misunderstood a few deficits. The learning curve for Social Media and Social Marketing. Hmmmm . . .  this was a new  world with a steep learning curve!

In that other life, we built the business one person at a time and one day at a time – and time was slower. The internet was a boon to every entrepreneur on the block, right? Yes, but the process of learning took months not weeks nor days . . . At the beginning of this first year, I was not on Facebook, I did not Tweet nor did I blog – I am a very private person, I read history, I wrote, gardened and cooked like a madwoman and took long walks. Stepping onto this public platform was a venture like no other . . . but yet, since I overcame my fear of public speaking in large lecture halls with low light and Powerpoint, I believed that I was up to the challenge.

Thank heavens my daughter although incredibly busy with her venture and growing family came to my aid on many occasions. But still, there were many nights that I greeted the morning sun . . . WordPress is easy up to a point. . . Facebook was very difficult. Share? Follow? Friend? I looked at these words with an archaic mentality. . . still I do not know exactly how to tweet or exactly what to tweet. I rely on software that is on the Cloud . . .the big bunny cloud up there next to the giant hippo . . . Shopseen. A big help until I clicked buttons without understanding the danger of over-posting which of course led to unlikes which made me cry.  Alyssa, another daughter, helped ease the pain . .. “this is not the real world, Mom” . . . since she too has built a business online with her husband. Thank heavens too for Novak, who stood by with confort et aide as an expert in logistics.

The energy and determination soon dwindled. Sleepless nights are not good at my age.  Normally, I am quite healthy. Not this year . . . influenza and a fever that spiked at 104 degrees, an infection that ended with cellulitis on my face (very ugly) , DVT (get off your feet, they said) and last but not least, the wet winter and spring rain led to high levels of  mold/mildew at the storefront.  Oh and last but not least – the snow! Driving to town was nearly impossible at times. On one occasion, I had a hard time  finding the car buried under the snow for days! There were times, I could not make it to the store and worse yet, I had not hired anyone to  be there if and when I was not. Big mistakes . . . bought a 4WD truck and de-humidifier! I prioritized –  letting go of furniture restoration, home renovation and big landscaping projects. I sleep more, eat more and laugh more.  I wonder if my home will ever really be clean and tidy again! (Whew – talk about going public!)

It has been an amazing year of growth. The storefront at Eclipse is finally coming together . . . and selling online is coming along nicely  . . . but still need to find a few good people to help grow the business. There are many ways we can grow – and serve the community better.

I have met some really terrific people online and at the storefront at Eclipse. I am thrilled that I am once again doing history – now with two books outlined, research progressing and ready to start writing . . . God Willing and the Creek don’t Rise!  I am learning to take the time to do the little things that bring joy, health and happiness – and let go of the bumps along the way. You might say that this has been the worst of times and the best of times.

And last but not least,  thank you to every one who has helped along the way with patience, kindness and the incredible gift of friendship. It is hard to stumble  in the public arena; but, it would be impossible to recover without the kindness of others. 

Now, it might just be a good time to celebrate times past and the good times to come!




The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Hmmmm, I said, this looks like spam.

Quickly, I clicked log out and returned to my real work.

Later in the day, there was another notification from Etsy about a convo.

Hello Valerie,
I am gathering materials for a vintage Christmas photo shoot to be featured in Romantic Homes magazine.
Would it be possible to use your vintage set of dishes that…

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The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine
Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Hmmmm, I said, this looks like spam.

Quickly, I clicked log out and returned to my real work.

Later in the day, there was another notification from Etsy about a convo.

Hello Valerie,
I am gathering materials for a vintage Christmas photo shoot to be featured in Romantic Homes magazine.
Would it be possible to use your vintage set of dishes that feature a mouse?
They are the perfect colors and will complete our vintage holiday decorating guide.
Your shop will be credited and I will return them to you promptly.
Please let me know today as I am on deadline.
Thank you!
Sarah Jane O’Keefe

Well, I said, maybe this is legitimate. I texted my closest advisors for advise (my internet savvy children).

I paraphrase, The editor had asked that I send a set of china for a photo shoot for the Christmas issue.

Here is where it gets really funny – all of the opinions were all different of course but,

I was very surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the little project, the presence of Putnam and Speedwell

in a successful national magazine and the suggestion that a legal contract was needed, otherwise,

it simply would not happen.

Well, maybe I should just forget about it and text her that are not interested.

But, I thought, what if . . . ? So, I decided to take the chance, the leap of of faith, if you will, that we can trust –

even if we have not met face to face. So, immediately, I began researching the magazine (legitimate),

the story editor (found her byline in previous issues) and the address that she had sent. It all checked out.

No, I did not draw up a contract nor did I ask her to pay for the china . .  .but I did write on the packing list

the expected date of return. I figured, what the heck anyway – they are concerned about losing a few dishes?!?

Really! Then they really do not understand how many dishes there are in the barn!

The package arrived in a timely manner with the pink pastel mouse on a green Christmas wreath. . .Sarah Jane also included a note thanking me and remarked that the mouse was “just the right touch” . . .

The whole episode was quickly forgotten . . . at first, I refused to tell anyone – JINX. A few weeks ago, my daughter asked if I had any news and then suggested that I contact the editor. But, I did not follow her advise (a big mistake) . . . and I realized that I had really pushed it way back in my mind – as in nearly forgotten! I then re-listed the dishes on Etsy!


Late last Thursday, I noticed that there were lots and lots of people visiting putnamandspeedwell.com. And we had a lot of new orders – it was the weekend of the Halloween Block Party and a birthday party for my beautiful little nieces!  In the middle of the night, the cell phone  continued to vibrate and then, the familiar sound of a vintage cash register, CHA-CHING.

I was still clueless. I did not know how to account for the dramatic increase of visitors to the blog –

Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse
Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse

or on Etsy. One of the hot items was dinnerware decorated with a Christmas Mouse.

Here is the description on Etsy,

The design – a certain favorite for children of all ages –
incorporates a retro color palette that includes pink, peach
and green on a white background.


In a note to one buyer, Carol, I mentioned that the Christmas Mouse had quite an adventure – he travelled all the way to California for a photo shoot. So maybe, “your plates will appear in the magazine.” Carol replied, “I saw the set in Romantic Homes that’s why I looked at your Etsy site to see if you had any left. I was lucky!”  Mystery Solved!


And then a big whoop . . . . YAAAA HOOOO!   Cowabunga . . . YES!

Next stop . . . Little Professor. Of course, they had the issue in stock, found The Special Christmas Issue by Romantic Homes but then read the little blurb aloud:

Sweet Details . . . .This sweet set, featuring mice busily preparing for

Christmas, is from the Putnam & Speedwell Etsy Shop.


But still there is a mystery.

Notice that Sarah Jane nor I mention the name of this pattern!

Looking at the bottom of the plate, my hunch is that it was manufactured by Royal China.

The colors lead me to think that it was produced mid-century.

But still, I do not know the pattern name. So, we will offer a 25.00 gift certificate at Putnam and Speedwell.

That’s right.  If you know the name of this pattern, you can let me know with a comment.


Thank you Sarah Jane!  Carol, thanks for solving the mystery! Thank you Etsy. for making it easy to access a large, very large, audience.

Thanks also to my family . . .

(Mom, you need to sell on Etsy! Etsy?)


Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes
Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes

Vintage Fashion

IMG_6683I have been watching The Paradise on PBS; I admit that I began watching it as a fix. I missed that other series about Mr. Selfridge. Imagine, all the way from Marshall Field to London. The spirit of the age (the Zeitgeist) is palpable in both series – the optimism in modern science, technology, and industrialization influenced style, fashion and taste. The world, they believed, was a better place for all of humanity. And in many ways, their world view was well-founded on the evidence around them – electricity, communication, transportation and medicine. Their style was a visual display of modern luxury  – new luxuries like turning on a light past dark and reading!  It was a revolution.


Today, the marketplace is brimming with readily available and fashionable clothing; yet all too often, fine craftsmanship has disappeared – at an affordable price. Part of the appeal of vintage fashion is that we can enjoy beautiful materials and workmanship without breaking our budget. And, there is also social responsibility – vintage goods of all kinds are integral to a sustainable economic system. Whew! Having said all of that, vintage clothing is a part of history.

I enjoy the theater of dress – and the theater created by Mr. Selfridge and the ficitonal, Mr. Moray. I marvel at the clothing Ginger Rodgers wore as she danced away the night, Katherine Hepburn in pants that flowed like a skirt and followed every curve. And so on . . . like Ingrid Bergman, who looked beautiful no matter what she wore – and still looks beautiful behind a mink stole on a mannequin in a small, very small vintage store. Hmmm, that brings up fur and the bad wrap it has in today’s world (no pun intended)  . . . The allure of the forties was elegance. Growing up, there were women who attended church with a fur coat – my great aunt was one of them. It was Chicago. In Chicago, winter is cold – no matter what the temperature, the wind off the lake is cold. . . the antidote before the new man made ultra loft fillings was fur. Fur is warm . . . Last winter, I wore a vintage fur jacket and now, I do not think that I could give it up. I hate being cold when I am outside – and I like being out of doors.

When I run across beautiful things that are appealing and bring to mind an era of fashion then I can imagine that they would add personality, color and even usefulness in the present to a wardrobe. So it is with the sequined dress made in Italy with fine wool and hand sewn sequins that are 1/2 in diameter. I am not so good with a camera – capturing the play of light is difficult and so too, it is impossible to portray the fit. This dress is short enough and tight enough but not form fitting.  . . . actually it is perfect!


I am also quite taken with the pure all out eighties look of the long dress that takes off from the psychedelia of the seventiesIMG_5819. . . .look at the gold coins! Not the kind of dress to wear if you do not want to be noticed. . . . The colors are disco happy. Hard to imagine having a bad time wearing this dress. The detail in this dress is absolutely excellent – lined, the coins are hand applied as is the gold trim. I imagine that shimmery sandals would work well and still allow perfect comfort . . . my daughter, who knows so much more about fashion than I, suggested the fur stole. And of course, she is right – partly because, this dress seems to require an extraordinary occasion and a puffy coat, well, it would be out of sync . . . but a stole, like a mink stole would make it theater . . .

Lots and lots of new things in store that I hope to get online – lots of slip dresses, and new vintage imported from Austin,  reminiscent of my hippie past.


Athens County Fair

Things have changed since the first county fairs in Athens County. Until this century, after the Great Depression, most folks lived in rural areas. Not until the last quarter of the last century did we witness an exodus to the city – people left to find “good jobs.” The pendulum swings again, the “good jobs” have evaporated… . demographics shift again. But  people still gather at county fairs…

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