Monday, June 14, 2010


Originally uploaded by Decrepit Telephone
So, once again, I let this place get dusty.

I'm horrible at keeping up at this.

I thought I'd shake things up and move to Tumblr, but then I thought better about it, and decided I'd live with the misspelled URL. It's "character." I'm familiar here, and I like this set-up most.

Maybe there will be some new posts here again. I've GOT things I want to write about, but I keep getting distracted. Sorry 'bout that.

Friday, February 19, 2010


S. F. Travis & Co. Hardware, down in Cocoa, Florida, is what I like to call a big funhouse.

It's three buildings and two floors and a good quarter block of tin ceilings, old fittings, a labarynth of narrow corridors and old shelves stocked with almost everything that you can imagine, and everything you can't find in your standard nation-wide chain hardware stores.

But, I don't really go there to shop (although, when I was there yesterday I did buy a stopper-plug for my bathroom sink, so that I can convert it into a rinsing tank for when I do my cyanotype prints.) Being a photographer who likes old things - I go there to take pictures.

Most stores, when you whip out a camera and take off your lens cap (There are very few stores I'd actually do that in, most just don't appeal to me.) will ask you to either put away the camera, or leave. The people at Travis see you with a camera, and they'll even suggest places around the store that have some neat, photogenic stuff in it. They've even hosted bevies of college photography students who comb through the old, well-worn, but well-loved labarynth for good shots. It's no wonder, as the possibilites there are endless, as there's just so many things to look at, which have all been there since the beginning

There are three structures comprising the complex, which (if I remember correctly) saw its first structure built in 1885. The majority of the largest structure (which is basically two buildings abutting one another) dates from 1907, which is stylistically confirmed by the art nouveau tulip motives that are visible on the second floor pressed tin cornices along the ceiling. The third, northern-most building, dates from approximately 1916 and is the last of the major structures to have been constructed on the site (I'm doing this from memory, so apologies if I get some dates mixed up, any information you know is incorrect I'll be happy to correct.)

Each building has its own individual staircase, and each building is connected to one another through various means. This is where the fun part comes in: in the summer months, you can traverse a sloping, slanted skybridge across the separation from the 1907 building to the the 1916 building which drops you right in front of what had been a freight elevator. The front of the second floor of this building has a plain tin ceiling painted in mellows colors that remind me of the cast-iron buildings of New York City. Down the stairway and out the rear of the building, across a narrow yard, you come to a covered area, which is the traffic hub of Travis's employees, the confluence of all walking traffic between the three buildings. Here, you'll see to your left a narrow hallway that is barely shoulder-width. It takes a hard right, over a grate into which rainwater drains from the gutter, and there is the pipe room. At the very end of the long, narrow outbuilding is where the original riverbank of the river was located, and where the complex was accessible to barges going up and down the river. The whole complex once sat directly on the riverfront of Cocoa.

But, that, along with many other things around Travis Hardware has changed. The river was filled in and now the riverbank is basically two blocks to the east from the rear of the property. All but one of the buildings directly in front of the store have either burned down or been demolished, and the hotel, bandstand, and numerable other businesses and storefronts have disappeared, since replaced by the east and westbound lanes of State Road 520.

Travis Hardware, however, has seen very little change, and that is very much evident when one enters it, and is very much a good thing. It has been in the same family since the company's founding in 1885, and they're almost always busy, something which I hope is indicative of the business, and its incredibly photogfenic complex of buildings, being around for a great deal longer.

So, go down there and have a look around. They're on the southeast corner of Delannoy Avenue (or State Hwy 515) and King Street (eastbound State Rd. 520) in downtown Cocoa. They're all very friendly, and will know exactly where something is if you're looking for something hardware-related. Take some pictures, and buy something, even. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grove Land

Grove Land
Originally uploaded by Decrepit Telephone
Citrus groves are a bit of an endangered species in my part of Florida, that part being Brevard County. What once was the proud capitol of the famed Indian River Orange is now the capitol of the zero-lot-clearance subdivision and the outdoor mall (a fancy name for semi-detached strip mall or something like that). The most beautiful and evocative vistas of the county were the groves that stood along the Indian River Lagoon, on bluffs that gently rolled down to the river. These have, in the past five years, have been cleared for gated communities of multi-million dollar homes.

Some people consider it progress, and nice for property values. It probably is. Others compliment the landscaping around the entrances to these places. I find it unappealing, and, quite frankly, depressing. I find it sad that a state with such a diverse regional flavors is losing its soul to the sprawl to the outdated theory of failed post-war urbanism (or suburbanism). I know that's a lot of big words to throw about, but, it's true. This state is becoming one large, homogenous subdivision.

And a great deal of that homogenous subdivision was built on thousands upon thousands of citrus groves.

Which is why seeing these groves outside of LaBelle, in the southwestern-central part of the state was so reassuring. To see the thousands of acres of still functioning, maintained groves was comforting, confirming that Florida still has a great deal of its agricultural heart left that's still beating. For how long, I don't know, but I was happy to see it at least still around for a little longer.

But still, I wish my area still had them. They were pretty. And in the spring, when the acres and acres were blooming, it left the air heavy with the scent of citrus. It's heavenly. I just wish more people would be able to experience that.


I know it's been a while since I posted something here, but I've been busy and stuff - visiting family, that kind of thing. Well, relatively busy. But you get the idea.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Improvement in Parasols

Originally uploaded by Decrepit Telephone

My latest antiques buy was an eBay find, it was so unusual I had to bid on it, unsure if it was a parasol, as the seller thought, or if it was a hand held fire screen, similar to some ivory-handled examples I had seen about a year ago.

When it arrived, though, it became pretty clear that a fire-screen this was not. It's a parasol for sure. But it was very much unlike any other example I had seen.

Plus, it had a patent date on it. And that got me started on my research.

Innovation was a Victorian specialty. Nineteeenth century philanthropists, home-spun and ivy-league educated, believed it could bring about social reform. Those whose aspirations were less high-minded pursued innovation to seek fortune, or to make life more convenient.

The inventor as a hero reached its peak during the nineteenth century. While it was Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison who have become today’s household names of nineteenth century innovators, the everyday man was getting into the act as well.

The result of this is hundreds of thousands, if not millions of patents for every kind of object, apparatus and gadget. Most of these patents were placed in archives, and today are searchable online. This made things really easy for me.

The patent date on the turned, lightly colored wooden handle, was December 24th, 1867. A couple internet inquiries matched this date to a patent issued to a Cornelius St. John of Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Cornelius St. John has a number of patents on file. Not including the patent that he was issued for the design of this parasol, he was issued a patent for a lamp (Pat. No. 72242, Nov. 19th, 1867), a lamp burner (Pat. No. 75483, March 10th, 1868), and most unusually a device for self-teaching of the Harmonica (Pat No. 176124, 1876). By 1876, St. John had moved from Charlestown and had settled in Boston.

St. John appears to have been involved in some part with oil lamps during the late 1860s, as both patents for the lamp and lamp burner of 1867 and 1868 respectively indicate, as does his patent for the Improvement in Parasols (Pat. No. 72695) which indicates that the design of the folded canopy of the parasol is not unlike the paper lamp shades of a lamp. I’ve not yet been able to conclusively say what exactly St. John’s profession was at the end of the 1860s.

As the patent shows, the diminutive sunshade is opened by a metal ring which slides up and spreads the pleated canopy. This same ring holds the canopy closed when not in use. The canopy is a polished cotton material. I was surprised to find that the canopy was lined also with polished cotton. The outside is a brown and steel-blue, but looking in between the tight pleats toward the top of the canopy indicates that these stripes were originally azuline blue, of the extremely vivid, aniline dye variety.

So, it’s kind of neat. And in an odd coincidence, I was packing up the packing material leftover after I had unwrapped it, and noticed the return address. It came from Cold Spring, New York, where I spent a week in December of 2008 with a photographer friend of mine, and it came from the antique shop that my friend Jen and I went into one of the days on my visit, owned by an antique dealer who Jen took this portrait of. It put a smile on my face. I’m happy I helped support Cold Spring’s economy. Because I like Cold Spring.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Originally uploaded by Decrepit Telephone

I was shocked today when I was going through my archives and found that I hadn't posted this particular shot I had taken back when I went to Decatur Alabama back in September of 2008*. On the return leg of the trip, we stopped in Macon, Georgia. There, I found this large antebellum house named Overlook, sitting atop the hill. Standing on its wide verandah, it's not at all doubtful as to how the house got its name, as the view of the city from it is pretty impressive.

I had known about the house before, finding it (or, rather, its saracenic summer house) in John Maass's book The Victorian Home in America, the 1972 follow-up to his 1957 volume The Gingerbread Age: A Victorian View of America. (Maass's 1957 book is notable as being one of the first positive overviews of American nineteenth-century architecture and culture, after a half-century of retrospectives which had presented the American Victorian period in negative, scornful light.)

I was pleased, after some frustrating research (the building was renamed "Woodruff House" after it housed a private school/university in the 1960s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as such. This made researching the house as "Overlook" somewhat difficult.) to find that the house was still standing on its tall hill in central Georgia - but it was the summer house, with its wonderfully sinuous saracenic lines that I was concerned about the most. It was really special.

That was what was really wonderful about going to Macon, is being surprised. I was surprised that the summerhouse was still there - because normally these things go away. Really fast. Such is the nature of most nineteenth-century garden structures: they don't have a good survival rate.

But what this post is about - to bring it to a quick wrap-up, is that I am surprised this house, and its grounds don't get more attention than they do. Overlook has to be the finest, and largest of the antebellum houses surviving in Georgia. If it's not the largest, or finest, then it is among those largest and finest that do survive in Georgia, and the South in general. Yet there is very little about it online, or in print that I am aware of.

Overlook no longer should be overlooked. It deserves to be done justice by its loveliness.

* Even I was a bit guilty of not giving it its proper due - because it took me nearly two years to realize I had never posted a photo of the house. Which is a bit bad because I really like this (and by this photo, I refer to the one at the top of the blog post) shot of it. I used to be really into the yellow filter (not a photoshop filter, but the actual screw-onto-the lens filter that photoshop can never match the effect of) and this trip fell in the peak of my yellow-filter addiction. It has since waned drastically, but I still take it out and use it on occaasion, and I still like it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

And, I resurface

I finally resurface after a couple weeks of hiatus, but I had not abandoned this blog again! No, my hard drive on my laptop had died, so I was working off a surrogate for a few weeks - but things are back up and running and I have a posse of posts on the way over the next week or three. So, those who read this (although why I'm singling y'all out as those who don't read this probably don't even know of this blog) watch this space for more posts.

And my duh-of-the-day moment: I realized I had the title of this blog spelled wrong. There is no "tit" in "decrepitude" unless you're talking about old-lady boobs. Apologies for that joke - and the mental image created (gah!)

So if anybody noticed the misspelling, I'm really NOT an idiot, really I'm not.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brains and Buckwheat

Originally uploaded by Decrepit Telephone

Yesterday, in Cocoa, I found a bunch of old nineteenth century readers, arithmetic and grammar books. They were fifty-cents each, and I had a field day. Some of them are in okay condition, but most are extremely beat up.

Not that it matters to me all that much. I'm one of those collectors who, if I like it, I buy it, no matter what the condition is, so long as I like it enough. I really don't worry about making sure everything I buy is pristine, and I don't really care about what other people say about buying things in good condition. If I like it enough, I'm going to get it.

I don't understand people who's collecting interests are based on what's popular or what's selling well, unless they're a seller of antiques themselves. If I limited myself to whatever was popular, then three years ago, when I last knew what was popular in the collecting world, I'd be restricted to buying depression glass and vintage costume jewelry. There's nothing wrong with either of those things, and they're interesting in their own right, but I'd never buy rhinestone pin or depression glass just because I knew it was popular. (Now, if it was dirt cheap, and I knew it was a good piece and had the possibility of reselling it, I would consider it. Yes, I would.)

I do what the collector friends I know do, I buy what I like and I don't care how anyone else thinks about it.

Like these schoolbooks - while they're not exactly falling apart, they aren't exactly pristine. Some collectors would turn their nose up at them, and pay a hundred times more for a pristine, clean copy, but I wouldn't. It's because they're used and they're beat up that I love them. Because when they were used, the schoolkids who used them wrote little bits of graffitti, and did their work on the back blank pages and wrote notes and silly commentary in the margins. Some kept things they were handed under the desk in them, such as the one book in the stack I bought that has an intricately hand-drawn valentine from 1894 left in the first few pages, drawn on fragile unruled notepaper. (Unfortunately I forgot to photograph this today, and now that it's dreary and rainy here, there's not enough light to work with, so it will have to wait for its own blog entry.)

They're really a record, little snippets of these kids' lives - kids who have already grown up, possibly had their own kids and raised them, and then died. It's kind of odd to go through reading the lessons that taught children who have already grown up and used that knowledge and passed on.

Such as the list in the picture at the top of this entry - it's a list of legal weights per bushel that was written down the back pages of an 1870 arithetic book, by a young Charles Wunderlich in Newell Missouri. Brain seems to be the only odd thing on the list, other than the two different types of corn listed (which I guess one was used for livestock feeding and the other used for home-consumption, or livestock feeding of a different type.) By the successive inscriptions on the front pages, it seems this book migrated to Cape Girardeau, Missouri and was used at a school there until at least 1888, where dozens of other students used the book and left their own marks and scribblings in it, left to be rediscovered over a hundred years later. It's these things, these little tidbits of these kids lives, and of life in the nineteenth-century, that people miss out on when they demand clean, unblemished old things.

I like stuff like this too much to miss out on it.


I know I've missed a couple days, or weeks on the blog-posting, but things have been getting hectic with Christmas at my heels. I have relatives visiting from South Carolina at the moment, and thought while they were out shopping I'd use the alone time two do some photoshooting and blogging today. Hopefully, I can get back onto the blog-wagon more regularly when things quiet down here some.