Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Not so long ago, I noticed I was quickly filling my Flickr favorites file (say that five times fast) with gorgeous pictures of mid-century modern tableware from user modmodworld (aka Chris Gillespie).
He has such an amazing beautifully photographed collection. I had to know more. And I had to share it with you!
Chris is a graphic designer who lives in San Francisco. He's been collecting ceramics for 20 years. In his own words, "My tiny studio apartment is filled to the brim with vintage dinnerware. I store dinnerware items in inappropriate places, such as in the bathroom and under my couch. What's a boy to do? Everything I own is vintage modern, save for a few Ikea items, and all of my electronics."
Oh, I SO hear that.
In addition to collecting, Chris is a moderator at MODish, a fab networking site for vintage collectors (you can sign up to see his and others' collections).
Some words of wisdom from the master collector:
On starting young: "I started collecting when I was in high school in the late '80s. The whole 1950's thing was becoming prevalent in popular culture at that time I suppose, and I was thrift shopping regularly to supply myself with clothes from the 1950s-1960s. I sported a strictly vintage look then, complete with either a flat-top or pompadour. I was even a busboy at a popular 1950's diner, where I got the nickname Pee Wee (which haunts me to this day!).
Anyway, I started to notice all the cool housewares at the thrift shops. I'd find vintage tables, lamps, chairs, clocks, kitchen items.... and dinnerware, all for a song. By the time I was senior, my bedroom at home was completely mid-century modern.
So basically, what started as a high school boy thrift-shopping for clothes turned into a lifelong MCM housewares obsession.
And yes, I certainly do plan to continue collecting! It's been my main hobby since I was a teenager."
A MODish proposal: "By the time the Internet came around, I was well into my dinnerware obsession, having boxes upon boxes of the stuff. I didn't know anything about my wares at all other than what was stamped on the bottoms. I searched the websites by entering in the words on the bottoms of my dinnerware to find out more information. That is how I found MODish. The site was info only then, and not interactive as it is now. In 2007 the site became interactive, meaning you could register, post photos, and participate in the forums.
It's interesting to note that the website owner in Michael Pratt, author of three definitive books* on mid-century modern dinnerware. These three books are my bibles. It wasn't until I realized that Michael the author and Michael the guy on the website, were the same person, that I actually stopped being a MODish lurker and became a visible member. I began the ardent task of photographing my collection last year. I try to post a few photos a month."
Like-minded people: "Websites, such as Flickr, Facebook, and MODish, have connected me with other collectors of MCM. It's so fun to see their collections and share mine.
My local dealers are completely overpriced so I avoid California store purchases. Simply posting my collection online has made me many Internet friends who will alert me to an online store, auction, or even a personal sale, when they see a rare item I may want. All this just because they have seen something in my collection! A big bonus is that after 20 years, I now receive vintage dinnerware gifts from friends and family who have seen what I collect. Hooray for the Internet!"
Living with a collection: "Some items I use every day, but most are for display only. I rotate "everyday-use" sets, such as Franciscan Starburst, Royal China's Blue Heaven and Canonsburg Temporama, every few years. I only use items that I can replace easily. Any of these lines can easily be found on eBay if I break something. A lot of items in my collection are too rare or pricey to use, strictly objets d'art.
I don't sell items very often. I'd say the only exception is if I buy something in a "lot" that I already have, or don't need. I occasionally buy an item just to get the lid or other missing part. For example, I recently purchased a Franciscan Duet canister just for the lid, which is the exact same lid on Franciscan Starburst. I kept the lid and sold the canister base."
Tips for collecting: "Collect what you like! Don't worry about an item's value, if you like it, buy it. If you are buying something for resale, your absolute best friend is eBay. Do a search for completed auctions. An item's actual value is only what people are willing to pay, not what some book says.
Flea markets, as far away from urban areas as possible, still have the best prices (and they are the most fun for the dinnerware hunter!)."
And, once you have it, photographing that collection: "I have found that taking an item outside will give the best lighting if you don't have some fancy lighting set-up. You must also consider the background and the composition of the items in photo.
You will want your dinnerware to pop against it's background. Make it the star, not the items in the background! When in doubt, try an all-white foreground and background. What I do is use two pieces of white board: one on the floor, and the other propped up behind as the background. A white tabletop pushed against a white wall would work too. After your photo-shoot, cropping the photo in a pleasing way is essential. Crop out any distracting elements from the edges of the photo, while retaining some breathing room around the dinnerware objects."
* Michael Pratt's books are available here, here , and here.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom, Chris! And everyone, do yourselves a favor and take a look at his photostream. It was so hard not to include everything.