The Interrogator

The Interrogator
Sexy Dieselpunk Fascist Girl

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Phones: Western Electric 302 and Western Electric 500

Western Electric Model 302
Vintage telephones are an important visual element to a lot of pin-up type or retro style images and photos, and so having a few is not a bad idea, especially if you are a photographer. I have two presently and hope to add at least a couple more for variety. My first was a Western Electric 302 that I picked up at Mixx Authentik in St-Henri for $75.00. The second one is a Western Electric 500, the model that replaced the 302 in 1954. I picked this one up at a garage sale for $5.00, illustrating that:

A. Some vintage phones are much scarcer than others and therefore more expensive and;

How it looked like before I restored it.
B. That you can usually get things much cheaper in a garage sale than in any store, even a second-hand one as these are things people are eager to get rid of.

Both phones had some cosmetic issues like scratches and things and needed cleaning, which is understandable given their age. The 302 furthermore, was missing the dial center and the line cord was so brittle with age that it broke into pieces from handling. No matter. Collecting vintage phones is a hobby with people and just about any part you will ever need to restore a vintage phone model is available online. I use Old Phone Works in Kingston Ontario, which not only sells both original and newly made parts, but also fully restored (cosmetically and mechanically) vintage phones. 

The most common colour for vintage phones, especially ones manufactured before the 1960’s is black. This can be both a good and a bad thing. Good because cosmetic damage will usually be less apparent, and the colour can be worked effectively into most decors, bad because of the lack of variety. Again, if you’re willing to spend the right amount of money, Old PhoneWorks has phones that have been professionally refinished in a variety of colours.

Western Electric 302 with new dial center from Old Phone Works
The Model 302 was issued by Western Electric (or in Canada, Northern Electric) between 1936 and 1954. Prewar models had a metal shell, while models built during WWII and afterwards had shells made of thermoplastic. Mine is thermoplastic and I’m guessing that was probably made sometime before 1950 as the handset cord is a straight one as opposed to a coiled one. I like the lines on this phone quite a lot and even playing with the dial is lots of fun.  I’m familiar with rotary phones of course, as they were all around during my early childhood in the 1960’s. We didn’t get our first touchtone phone until 1968, though they were introduced in 1964. Most of the young women who model for me who have never done retro have unfortunately, never seen one before.  Fewer still have ever made a phone call with one, and are almost incredulous when I demonstrate how to dial a number.  I have to admit that I probably haven’t made a call with one myself since the 1970’s or so. If you are shooting photos, I think that the 302 is appropriate for anything set between 1936 and the end of the 1950’s. I doubt anyone can tell from a photo if the shell is metal or thermoplastic, and probably few people would know anyway.  The 500 which replaced it, is appropriate for anything from 1954 into the 1970’s.
The model 500 required less cleanup, and was complete, though I decided to replace the badly scratched plastic dial wheel with a brand new one from Old Phone Works. I purchased a few of them, since they are not expensive and I'm sure to be restoring more phones in the future. I also ordered spare dial-center cards. Incidentally, both the 302 and the 500 use and all the dial type phones by Western Electric use the same size dial-center cards.
My collection of vintage phones is in its infancy at this point, and there are a couple of other models that I'd like to own down the line, particularly an Automatic Electric Mod 40 and possibly a Western Electric Princess phone. All that's for the future however as I'm pretty well-served with the two phones I already have insofar as together, they cover period that I tend to emulate in photo.
I replaced the heavily scratched dial wheel and yellowed dial center card with new ones from Old Phone Works

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Vintage Cameras

Graflex Pacemaker Crown Graphic, manufactured from 1947-1974

Since I do a lot of photo shoots, I tend to need a lot of props. I have many sources for these and I'll discuss them all, but first it helps to break down the sort of props I use. In this post I'll discuss vintage cameras.

I have several of these, all inherited from my late father who was a photographer and took it up seriously in the 1950's. The 1948 vintage Crown Graphic press camera seen in at the top of this post is one of them, though I had to do a bit of restoration to it in order to get it to look the part of a 1950's camera. My father had used it well into the 1970's and had
The solenoid had been removed from the lens board and mounting holes filled in.
replaced the flash-gun with it's magnesium bulbs with contemporary electronic flashes, so the solenoid was gone and I had to find myself a flash, solenoid and other parts on e-Bay. Fortunately, the Crown Graphic 4 x 5 is a popular camera among collectors and Graflex enthusiasts; there is a whole subculture of Graflex users out there, and I had no difficulty purchasing the parts I needed. I found a 50's vintage brushed aluminum flash on e-Bay along with the solenoid and the cable to connect them, and all the mounting hardware. I also bought three boxes of original flash bulbs, probably from 1960's stocks. They worked, incidentally.

This 50's vintage flash gun was easy to find, but earlier stainless steel ones are getting mighty scarce. 

Solenoid mounted on lens board of restored camera
One thing that is very hard to find however are the earlier stainless steel flash guns. The reason?  Because these are what were used in the Star Wars films to make the grips of lightsabers and Star Wars fans have been buying them up ever since to make their toys.

I don't want to offend Star Wars fans here, but lay the hell off these things. Camera collectors and photo buffs and retro photographers need these things a hell of a lot more than you do and make better use of them.

The fully restored Graflex is now one of my regular photo props.


Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex
Another camera that makes regular appearances in my retro photo sessions is my father's old 1950's vintage Rolleiflex, which I used to love when I was shooting film for it's light weight and small size and it's ability to handle medium format film. One advantage they have over the Graflex when shooting with a model is that they are much smaller and
1951 vintage Rolleiflex twin lens reflex.
much easier for the model to handle, particularly if they aren't used to handling old cameras. I only figured this out fairly recently, incidentally, though I should have known this all along. Unfortunately, my Rollei isn't as accessorized as my Graflex, which is a situation I must remedy at some point. But if Graflex parts can be obtained relatively inexpensively, the same seems seldom true of Rolleiflexes. Being German made, they were never cheap to begin with and even a leather camera strap can easily run $75.00 or more on e-Bay. Ouch! 

Model posing with the Rolleiflex. Unfortunately, the strap is a modern nylon one and I need to get an old leather one.

The final camera that I'm going to mention in this post is my father's old 8mm Elmo movie camera, again from the 1950's and seen here in this very retro looking Instagram pic I took with my iPhone. The clock-wound 8mm was superseded by the cartridge fed and battery powered Super-Eight in the 1960's  and these I suppose remained popular until video cameras became small enough to carry around on vacation and didn't require that you plonk down a year's salary for them.
1950's vintage Elmo 8mm movie camera.

I haven't yet used this one in a photo shoot and I lost the pistol grip for it years ago, but it's just one of the many things on my list of things to go looking for on e-Bay when I have the time and money.

The Fedora Hat

The pretty model is wearing my current Akubra Stylemaster, obtained by mail order from Del Monico Hatter, in Connecticut
It's hard to imagine if you were born anytime after the early to mid sixties, but prior to then it was customary for men and women to wear hats almost everywhere when leaving the house and there is
My Biltmore Fedora.
probably no civilian hat that screams retro more than the fedora. Sadly, most of the fedoras made today simply don't live up to those of decades past, though a couple of makers make excellent ones.  My current fedora is an Australian made Akubra Stylemaster and it is quite frankly the very best one I've ever owned.  Like a lot of other people, I find Akubras are extremely well made, fit well, and hold their shape well. They are also quite light compared to many others. My only complaint about Akubra fedoras is that they don't have enough different models for my taste and a limited selection of colours. I've previously owned a Stetson and before that a Biltmore, both bought from Miller Hats in Texas, but the Akubra, right around the same price as the others, beats the both hands down.

Wearing my Stetson, which I felt shrank after a time.
I have to admit that I've never owned a Borsalino and I do hope to have one one day however I still find the price prohibitive and the quality of the Akubra is excellent for a lot less money. I purchased this beauty online from Del Monico Hatter in Connecticut, whose service is excellent, though it is also available from David Morgan Hats.  Akubra incidentally, makes an Indiana Jones type fedora as part of their line, with a wider brim and taller crown than most fedoras sold today would have. Miller Hats does too, but I find the Akubras look more like the ones Harrison Ford wears in the films. 

Me and my Akubra Stylemaster
If you don't want to buy mail order (it's always a bit chancy with hats) and you live in Montreal, then Henri-Henri on St-Catherine's street is your best bet for finding a quality fedora here. It's a excellentstore and the service is great; I've bought hats there myself in the past though never a fedora but I find the prices high, perhaps because they are the only hatters left in the city. But like I like to say:

"A guy without a lid ain't worth talkin' about."

Mini-Bar in a Vintage Suitcase

Mini-bar built in in vintage suitcase from Carson Quality Luggage

Making a retro mini-bar from a vintage suitcase.

I used an LED flashlight underneath the tray to illuminate the glasses

I recently discovered through Pinterest that there were a lot of cool things that could be done with vintage luggage. I think I discovered this by looking up industrial d├ęcor, but often times this is very retro in its nature and so the two concepts tend to complement one another.  One of the favorite ways to repurpose vintage luggage it seems, is to convert them into mini-bars or drinks tables. As I’m a devout fan of quality hard liquor, this seemed an appropriate first project.

The ice bucket takes up a lot of real estate
By good luck there’s a little shop near the St-Henri  Metro called Mixx Authentik specializing in vintage items of all sorts from the 40’s to the 70’s or so and they usually have several suitcases there on any day of the week. The prices are reasonable (compared to other places I’ve seen) and can usually be bargained down a bit. A few weeks prior to this writing I came across a suitcase I really liked. The outside was not too beat up—nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a bit of shoe polish over the leather parts and the inside was immaculate. All of the lining was in place, with no tears or rips, and definitely no stinky-musty smell. The shop owner wanted $80.00 but I bargained down to $70.00.
Since the suitcase lining was in such good condition, I was loath to tear it out, even though the fabric divider posed a few problems given what I wanted to do. Instead, I devoted myself to figuring a way keep it intact and out of the way at the same time. Essentially, I rolled it up and got it to stay in place by wedging in a tight fitting piece of artboard to which I had glued a 1930’s map repro bought in a local art supply store using techniques learned from a book on how to make scrapbooks.

Little details matter
To hide the rolled up divider, I pinned a number of photos to a strip of wood and then suspended this from the suitcase latches. The photos were all printed on fine art photo paper using one of my Epson R3000 printers and care was taken that they were all the same height. Three of the photos were of my 3rd Montreal Field Battery (3BAM) friends in their WWII uniforms, and one was of a pinup photo I'd shot of a lovely young model in a sailor outfit several years ago.

Something had to go into the bottom part of the suitcase to provide a hard, flat surface to put the bottles and glasses down and shopping around a bit, I found a nice looking tray at Stokes which was just about the right width, though a bit short in depth, which worked out quite well anyway. I glued some wood slats to the bottom using Lepage Contact Cement. Once inside the suitcase, the space between the edge of the tray and the wall of the suitcase was just right depth to fit in standard soft drink cans and I use it to keep a ready supply of mixers to hand, with more below.

Before I'd added the lower trays  or the ice bucket
Next, I needed some sort of stand to put the suitcase on top of.  A friend who knew of my project volunteered an old director’s chair that had been sitting in her garage for years, waiting to be thrown out. I happily took it, knowing that if I couldn’t use it for this project, I’d find another. I began by taking the back off, which was easy as the poles jutting upwards from the armrests were held in place by easily removable screws. This left a bit of a problem with the armrests, the tops of which were curved but a solution was at hand from stuff lying around my apartment. In film photography days, I had bolted an old enlarger to a piece of wood and placed rubber mounting feet bought in a hardware store on the other side to make sure it wouldn’t slip. I’d long since removed the enlarger and this piece of wood was just lying around plain view. I decided to place it on the armrests to try it for fit, and happily, it was just about the right width and the rubber feet, quite by accident had the right height and placement as to allow the board to rest level on the curved armrests!

Finally, I placed a 1/72 scale plastic model of a Curtiss P-40 fighter-bomber to the top of the open lid of the suitcase. The P-40 was a classic WWII aircraft produced to the end of the war and used in several different theaters.

All in all, this was a very fun project, and to boot, many of the elements needed to complete the look or make it come together, came from stuff that was just lying around my apartment or my friend's garage.