Last month (September 2008) we paid tribute to the One Book/One Denver program by highlighting objects in our collection that might have been found in the NY apartment of Nick and Nora Charles, the protagonists of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. While choosing those art deco objects from our extensive collection, it was necessary to omit some great pieces that simply would not have fit into the Charles’ lifestyle. They did not cook for themselves, nor did they take care of their own home. Theirs was a high-end cosmopolitan existence. Now, we think it might be fun to peek inside an average American home of the 1930s:
Breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Mom fixed fresh-squeezed orange juice, waffles and coddled eggs, with tea for her and coffee for Dad – “The Bomb” Juice Extractor (c. 1935) from the Vitasphere Mfg. Co. Tacoma, WA, was said to purr as it pulverized pulp at 5000 rpms.”The Bomb” refers to the shape, which resembles an artillery shell.
She could make two big Belgian waffles at once in the Twin-O-Matic Waffle Iron (Manning-Bowman & Co., Meriden, CT). This time-saving whiz was designed by Karl Ratliff for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Mom kept an eye on her egg as it cooked in the clear glass Eierkocher (Egg Cooker) designed in 1934 by the Bauhaus designer, Wilhem Wagenfeld (1900–1990). Unlike many other Bauhaus teachers, Wagenfeld stayed and worked in Germany during Hitler’s Third Reich. His unwillingness to join the Nazi party however landed him at the front during the war and he subsequently spent time in a Russian POW camp, where it can be presumed that neither eggs nor prisoners were coddled.
Mom served this wholesome fare on Susie Cooper (1902–1995) Dishes (Crown Works, Burslem). Her set contained a teapot for her English breakfast tea and a coffee pot for Dad’s Chase and Sandborne, both in the popular Kestral pattern. Cooper was an English designer who began her career as a young ‘paintress’ at A.E. Gray Pottery and eventually went on to establish her own very successful company.
After the breakfast dishes were done and the family cleared out for the day, it was time to pull out the Electrolux Vacuum Cleaner Model 30 (1937) designed by Lurelle Guild (1898–1986). This streamlined powerhouse was the envy of the neighborhood and helped make short work of keeping the family nest tidy.
Later in the afternoon, with her housework done, Mom could retrieve the latest issue of McCall’s magazine from the McKay Craft Magazine Rack (c. 1934) designed by John Waring Carpenter* (1885–1961) and enjoy a few minutes to herself before starting dinner.
The Chase Electric Snack Server (Chase Brass & Copper Co., Waterbury, CT) cost $12.50 when it hit the market in 1934. It could keep three one-quart Pyrex dishes warm or piping hot – just right for holding her consommé, creamed chicken and peas & carrots at the perfect temperature while she baked the potatoes in her new Top-O-Stove Potato Cookers (c. 1938) from the Na-Mac Products Corp. in Los Angeles, CA.
After supper, Mom and Dad would likely gather the youngsters in front of the Sparton 558 SLED Radio (1937) designed by Walter Dorwin Teague (1883–1960) to listen to their favorite show before bedtime. On one particular October evening in 1938, seventy years ago this month, the show might have been Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre. Through a series of unfortunate decisions and coincidences, that performance still lives in infamy as Welles terrorized the nation with H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.
*It was brought to our attention by a kind reader that our former attribution to Warren McArthur of the McKay Craft Magazine Rack mentioned in our last blog was incorrect. The correct designer was, of course, John Waring Carpenter.