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When I saw my sister Sarah’s post about her new coffee pot (gorgeous!) I initially posted a long comment on some of the hazards of buying vintage housewears.

Sarah runs a charming blog all about food, fashion, fun and living in Toronto called Jazzy Beginnings (’cause her last name is Begin and she’s a Jazz singer – get it!)  Check it out because it is awesome!

Due to the crankiness of WordPress my (rather long) comment was unfortunately lost to cyberspace.  Later, Sarah and I got into a discussion about some of the issues with collecting and when she asked me to do a guest post, I said I would be delighted.  I’ve posted it here for all my fans to see too:

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I love vintage, and I think I have ever since I was a kid.  I remember fondly going to antique fairs at the Markham fair grounds with my parents and always wanting to buy a pair of antique spectacles.  I was there when my mother bought her antique kitchen table (the one whose leaf popped up once at dinner and almost knocked toddler Sarah on the floor).  I also remember her stripping and refinishing the most amazing kitchen hutch that came with a clever glass canister for holding and measuring out flour.  Some awful person had painted it white then left it at the side of the road for garbage collection.  Can you imagine!

We usually think of vintage items as having been much better made, and lasting forever.  This isn’t untrue; after all, if they wore out quickly we wouldn’t be collecting them today.  But not all vintage things that have lasted were made to today’s standards.  Remember when women used to use white lead to make their faces fairer?  There’s a reason we don’t do this any more.

Here are a few things to watch out for when you’re buying vintage:

Vintage Electronics.

Vintage electronics can be so cool!  I’ve bought and sold a variety of items, including some great blow dryers and lamps.  Here are some things to remember:

1) Always carefully inspect any electronics for exposed wiring, cracks in the casing, etc. You do not want to be touching a live wire if you plug it in!

2) Always test the item on a GFI outlet or power bar so that if it overloads, it is contained.

3) If in doubt, don’t use it and cut off the plug so nobody else can.  Electrical appliances, even new ones, can start fires and I don’t think you want to have a discussion with your insurance company about how cool your new blow dryer is/was.

4) Consider having it rewired.  This isn’t really practical with most electronics, but is very very easy to do with a great vintage lamp.  Buy a lamp kit at your local hardware store and you’re all set.

Melamine Dishwear!

Melamine is one of the first things people think of when you talk about vintage housewares.  After all, nothing is quite so quintessentially cool as a great melamine place setting. What is melamine, you ask?  Well, it’s a plastic-like material made from melamine resin, also known as melamine formaldehyde.  It was primarily manufactured from the 1950s to the 1970s but fell out of favour as more user-friendly plastics became available.  You can find plates, bowls, cups and saucers, serving dishes, serving dishes… the list is practically endless.

Melamine dishwear is relatively inexpensive and comes in a rainbow of colours from powder blue to salmon pink and sunshine yellow. It also comes in a variety of patterns, though these haven’t quite stood up to wear as well as their more plain counterparts.  You can collect a whole matching set, or mix and match to your heart’s content. A simple etsy or ebay search will give you dozens of results, and your local thrift store will likely have some as well.

Personally, I love the stuff and I have a bunch in my collection, but it’s not always the most practical dishwear to actually use.

Here are some tips about collecting and caring for vintage melamine:

1) Don’t get it hot!  Do not put it down on a hot stove and do not ever put it in the microwave.  Not only will it be damaged by the heat, but melamine contains formaldehyde.  You do not want this leaching into your food!

2) Do not put it in your dishwasher -you will damage it.  Gently wash in warm soapy water and never use abrasive cleaners because they will scratch.  This is the main reason why my daily-use dishes are ceramic.

3) Look out for imposters.  Melamine is still being produced, sometimes even by the same companies as in the 1950s and 60s (e.g. by Pfaltzgraff).  You can even find melamine at your local dollar store.  Vintage melamine is generally heavier than the new stuff and has a definite “vintage” look to it, in shape and colour.  The vintage stuff was better made, too, and it is generally pretty easy to tell the difference between old and new.

For more  info on caring for melamine, check out this great article:  “Melamine: A Relic of Yesterday (with a Caveat for Today)”

And here’s an interesting tidbit of information: Mr Clean Magic Erasers, those fantastic little cleaning sponges, are made from melamine foam!  The more you know!

Happy Collecting!

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About Me:

Ellen, a crafty homemaker with two kids and a penchant for correcting other people's grammar.

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