The Journey Begins With $3

A few years ago, when still living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I found three pretty pieces at a rummage sale.

Vintage Cinema Premium Ceramics

They were only $3 total, so I took them, happily, as they would be perfect for my garden themed dinning room. A few days later, I sat at my computer, trying to research the maker marks. With no luck. But I was still happy with my $3 bargain.

The one piece, a reamer, with a hideous & frightening clown face, I thought would make a nice flower frog. So I put plenty of water in it, and put fresh flowers in it – the stems through the holes where the juice would flow into the base. But I quickly discovered that the glaze was cheap, and the water, slowly-but-surely, leaked through. I removed the flowers to another container, and promptly turned the hideous, frightening clown face to the wall, and just the left the set there as simple objects of decoration. Vintage, yes, but not part of any of my 'collections.'

Vintage Cinema Premium Reamer

A few months later, while touring a local antique shop, I stopped at a huge case – there, standing tall in the back, a matching piece! This was a sugar or coffee canister, made of the same pottery & inexpensive glaze in the same colors. I asked the gentleman to remove it from the case so that I might se it. Everything was the same: from the piece's texture, to the unknown maker marks on the bottom.

The price was $19.99 -- too steep, so I passed. The gentleman, wishing for a sale, of course, began to tell me about the piece, saying it was a promotional giveaway from the old movie theater in town. I was puzzled, because prior to this, my idea of cinema tie-ins were all film based. Jar-Jar Binks cups, Star Trek visors, tee-shirts, even the old items such as lobby cards, photo cards etc, either had film titles or the likeness of the film stars themselves. Pieces of cheap kitchenware? It sounded more like an old grocery store premium, or even a gas station ploy, than a promotion from a theater. But he insisted. He said it was quite common 'then.'

I didn't want to argue, so in my head, I decided this was another peculiar 'Sheboygan thing,' and didn't think about it again for years...

Recently I read & reviewed the book “Movie-Struck Girls: Women & Motion Picture Culture After the Nickelodeon,” by Shelley Stamp. There, right in the introduction, the author discusses these early movie souvenirs, but again, these were all objects bearing the likeness of the stars: postcards, calendars, satin pillow tops, spoons etc.

Then, in chapter one, Stamp offers more information as to how these early cinemas lured women into the movies – including tie-ins with local stores. It becomes clear that in the cinema's pursuit of female patrons, they pandered to the female 'desire to shop,' and some other references to women's needs. In a way, it made sense, & I was imagining that all of this was in 'the big cities.' After all, we are talking about a relatively new industry, and this is the early 1900's – the teens – who had money & the clout for such things? Even now, movies are released on the coasts, in big cities first. Some films are even limited to such places.

But then, on page 19:

“Some enterprising exhibitors even went so far as to stage promotional stunts in department stores, deliberately confusing retail space with diegetic screen space. In order to publicize Universal's serial, Lucille Love, Girl of Mystery, owners of the Idle Hour Theatre in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, commandeered a local department store, then hired a “handsome young society woman” to appear there one afternoon each week wearing a mask. Customers were then invited to guess her identity.”


In 1914, Sheboygan was 'big time?!' Big enough to do such a promotional event?! Big enough to have made a publication that survived all these years for Stamp to find out about it?! (And how did Sheboygan have a “handsome young society woman,” let alone a 'theatre?!!')

But now my interest moved from strong interest, to intrigue... I eagerly devoured the book. I learned not only about the captivating history of marketing to women, the missing chronicle of the early days of film, the fascinating details of the suffragettes & early feminism battles; I learned that $19.99 was a fair price for that piece in the antique shop. Next time I get back there, if they still have it...

I also learned that my $3 bargain is likely to end up costing me a lot more. More than the $19.99 too. For now I have another new passion.

Article by Pop_Tart

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