Posts tagged Vintage
Desk Update that Gets a Little Personal

Remember our "family estate sale day" from a few months ago? I've always wanted a little writing desk like this, and they're really expensive in good shape. It was love at first sight with this quirky desk, and (since my hubby loves me), we decided to take it home as a project.

As per usual, we paid for it before we realized it wouldn't fit in my mom & dad's Prius. I have a terrible eye for what will fit in a car! We ended up swapping out cars for the Toyota Camry I drove in college - you can get anything in that car! (I moved to and from college in that beast so many times.)

Before I go further - I am not a DIY expert, but an enthusiastic amateur. This is a "learn from my mistakes" kind of project.

The desk was uneven, painted terrible colors, missing hardware, and terribly scratched up - but I had a very clear idea of how it could look. So we took it home and embarked on the process of refinishing. We started out by removing all the hardware and using a palm sander on the door and drawers. I really liked the way they were turning out, but it was a full afternoon of work just to do the easy parts. (This was the first "oh crap" moment.)


We don't have a garage or yard, so we commandeered the sidewalk for the bulk of the project, and did some of the work in the guest room with the windows open and the fan running.

The desk has so many different surfaces and small nooks, it would have been impossible to get all of it sanded evenly. (At least with my tools and skill level.) At this point, we sought the advice of Jenny Linquist, DIY queen. (We should have put that on her business cards!) Her suggestion was to use a chemical paint stripper. Thank goodness for Jenny - we'd have never thought of that! So, we picked up a can of Klean-Strip paint stripper to use on the desk itself. We did two rounds of "stripping" across two weekends, following up with a paint stripper after wash (not this one, but a similar product that our local Ace Hardware had.) While the paint stripper was 100% easier than palm sanding the whole thing, it was still a ton of work. The stripper is a weird, goopy gelatinous consistency, and has to be scraped off carefully to get all the paint off. (I bet our spam is going to go through the roof after using "stripper" and "stripping" in a post this many times!) Once all of the old paint/stain had finally been removed, we stained the desk (we were shooting for a teak color to coordinate with our coffee & side tables), and gave it a coat of polyurethane. The finishing touch was new hardware that we'd found at two different antique stores on the Olympic Peninsula.

This was not a quick Saturday afternoon project - which was kind of what I was expecting. I started the first round of stripping late in the day, and had my second "oh crap" moment when I realized how long it would take. (Hours.) I wanted to get the desk home, refinish it "real quick" and sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Working on this desk was pretty revealing for me. It showed a lot of things about my character that aren't particularly flattering. I am all about the "take the bull by the horns" moments, but the quiet, diligent, behind the scenes moments are hard for me. There were several moments during this project that I couldn't tell if I was making progress. I was cranky and filled with doubt that all the work would be worth it when we finished. My head ached, my arms hurt, and there wasn't a shortcut.

I am so happy with how the desk turned out. But the truth is, my expectations weren't in line with reality, and I didn't enjoy the process nearly as much as I could have. My heart was ugly along the way. I did the work kicking and screaming. It's funny how humbling projects like this can be. Every time I look at the desk, I am reminded that life is full of hard projects. I can either enjoy them, or be miserable. I was pretty miserable working on this one. But the beautiful thing is, I can choose to do things differently next time. Here's to many more uncharted journeys, and choosing joy along the way!

Constellation Collections: Miniatures

Slowly but surely over the last year, we've been collecting miniatures. It wasn't our intention to collect miniatures, but every time we see one, we kind of can't resist.

This old Pepsi crate is the perfect curio cabinet for our army of smalls! And now that there's a designated place in the studio for them, there's an excuse to pick up more when we see them! I don't know what it is... they just make me giggle!


A tiny mailbox, an itty bitty oil can... a duo of bitsy typewriters...


A shrimpy rubber chicken, a 'lil boot, impossibly small dice, diminutive bottles, a teeny dog...


A pint-sized ball of twine, a minuscule bible...


They're all just two darn cute.

Newbies Around the Shop

We've added some new "friends" to the shop recently, and are excited to show them off!

Jules of Stern & Faye recently sold the print farm and held an estate sale to share the pieces that wouldn't fit in her new studio with the letterpress community. While it was really sad to be visiting the farm for the last time, we were also really excited to buy a full cabinet of beautiful type and a slant-top work surface (among other goodies). You really can't beat a letterpress estate sale!


We're been busy reorganizing the shop and babying our new type, but we're working on a full catalog of print samples to show you - check back in for updates!


We recently drove by Alafair Antique & Estate Co. in SODO (always a fun spot to drop by on the way to the paper store) and picked up this charming metal cabinet for our print shop tools. It was another bittersweet purchase - Alafair has lost their lease, and will be closing soon. If you haven't ever stopped by their unique store, now's the time. Everything is 40-50% off!


The cabinet was originally dark brown (as you can see inside the door), but was painted a pastel pink at some point in its life. It's grimy and chipped, so it needs some love - but I can't decide whether or not to keep the pink. The knobs and tapered legs are so sweet and feminine, the pink kind of works. I'm a sucker for anything with wheels - you can use it anywhere!


While in Port Townsend for our anniversary trip, one of the little boutiques was selling some of their fixtures. We were really excited when we saw this quirky shelf for $15! It's perfect for our craft show display. It's a little bit shaky at the moment, but with some tweaking and paint, it will be ready to go! We'll be debuting it soon for the holiday show circuit! (Be prepared for a fun before & after reveal!)

Framed: 1934 Needlecraft Magazine Cover

We've been on a bit of an estate sale shopping spree lately. (Cheapest shopping spree ever, but still a spree.)

In the name of Constellation & Co. Vintage, we've been pairing lonely antique frames with unlikely ephemera to make beautiful framed art. It's been fun, and we've got more to come! The only downside is... we're having trouble parting with our creations.

This lovely damsel is from a 1934 issue of Needlecraft Magazine we discovered at an estate sale in our neighborhood. I'm in love with her blouse. Perfect summer fashion, straight from the 30's. I can't get over how lovely she is. More fun framed ephemera to come - but for now, this one is ours!

Vintage Finds: 'Prentice Rubber Type Set

While in Michigan last month, Brad and I picked up this 'Prentice Rubber Type Set at an antique store. As you see, at one point it cost 35 cents - we paid more than that, but not a whole lot more!

The antique stores in Michigan had totally different pricing than we're used to. Certain items (furniture, glassware, etc.) were priced quite high, but ephemera-type items (books, paper goods, and this beauty) were priced much lower than what you'd find in Seattle. (It was good news for us, of course!) I was so excited when we found this, and i'm thrilled to share it with you now!


This boxed set is designed as a child's educational toy, teaching the principals of setting type by hand. (Early in the 1900's this would have been a valuable life skill!) The set includes a full rubber alphabet (with extras), a wooden piece (for setting the type within and using at the stamp handle), an ink pad (with a rad lion on it), a pair of tiny tweezers, a tiny pad of paper, and a sheet of instructions. It's in perfect shape - the type has never been used, so it's not inky and dirty like most of the sets I found online. And the box itself is really lovely - bright colors and a lovely illustration. It's got a place of honor on our studio shelves right now.


This adorable toy is the "Superior Set No. 4000" made by the Superior Marking Equipment Co. (or SMECo.) in Chicago, Illinois. I haven't been able to find a ton of info about the set, but this site suggests it's from the 20's or 30's. Apparently SMECo. made toy printing presses as well, which I found slightly more info on. (You can check them out here and here.) My dad picked a similar toy press up at an antique store last year, and has been looking for the rest of the pieces ever since. I've yet to check if these pieces would work, but be assured - we'll try it!


The instruction page reads:

Decide what you want to print first- for example, your name and address. Then break the rubber threads from the first letter of your name and insert the piece of type at the RIGHT side of the top line of your holder. Set the next letter to the left and so on, until the first name is complete. Then put in a piece of blank rubber called a "spacer" to keep the words from running together. Continue on with your last name. When your line is set, look at it to make sure that each letter has the margin of blank rubber (called a shoulder) at the bottom. If it is at the top, you have set the letter upside down. To print, tap the set-up holder carefully on the ink pad several times, then press it firmly on the top sheet of a stack of paper or cards. Presto! You're a printer.

Constellation Collections: Typewriters

Having a studio separate from our home has given us an excuse to collect all kinds of random things. In this new blog segment, I will show you photos of these collections, and tell you where they came from. Deal?

Shortly after we got married (when we were unemployed and broke), I was at Space Oddity (one of our favorite Seattle vintage shops) and fell in love with this low-profile typing beauty. And (because we were newlyweds and I was totally clueless) I splurged and brought her home. When Brad saw her, he was definitely confused. We were seriously broke, and I bought a typewriter. Good thing he loves me!


This sweetheart was a gift from a friend of ours. He brought her to our old studio when he helped us move our press the first time. Come to think of it, we should have given him a gift, not the other way around! That was a long night for everyone. Andy, we owe you one. She's a beauty, and weighs almost as much as the press! (Give or take a few hundred pounds.)


As much as I love typewriters, they take up a ton of space. So, when someone finds one (and inevitably tells me about it), I always say: "I'd love another, but I don't have the room." This Christmas (after hearing this several times) my mom, dad, and sister gave me this tiny typewriter. Their thinking? "There's room!" Good thing, because this little lady is a gem. Bonus? She sharpens pencils.

The Dream

The Dream is a series of 24 letterpress prints sized 5 1/2 inches square. Brad and I designed and printed this series in collaboration, using our collection of wood type and vintage printer's blocks, along with original linoleum carvings.

Each print is one of a kind - only one final print of each piece exists, and each one is signed and framed. It was one of the first major print projects we took on together, and we had so much fun dreaming them up (puns!) and putting them together.


The Dream debuted in March 2011 during first Thursday art walk in the gallery connected to our studio space. Each small piece makes a statement, and we really enjoyed watching the viewers take each one in.


The series' juxtaposition of imagery reflects on the pressures, stereotypes and expectations of the American Dream on modern families. Financial stability, property ownership, political figures, family relationships, and day to day life are juxtaposed with sarcasm to question their influence on our happiness and fulfillment.

Typically, we share new products individually in our online stores - but The Dream is meant to be viewed as a whole. Brad has been hard at work putting together a virtual gallery for The Dream series to live in. Through this online gallery, the remaining prints will be available for purchase, and the whole series will live there for posterity. Make sure to check it out, and let us know what you think!

619 Western

Constellation & Co. moved into the 619 Western Artist's building in January of 2011 - 101 years after the building was built in Pioneer Square.

619 was built in 1910 during an economic boom after the Alaskan gold rush. The building was used as a multipurpose warehouse and was the site of light manufacturing. Fishing nets, coffee beans and tavern punch cards are a few of the products that have been stored & made on the premises. In the late 1970's, the first artists moved their studios into the building. Currently, more than 100 artists have studios in all six stories of this historic building. For more information on 619's history, please visit the official 619 site.


The first Thursday of every month, the 619 Building is open for the Pioneer Square Art Walk which brings crowds of art lovers to the neighborhood. The 619 building has long been considered the epicenter of this monthly event, with the largest concentration of artists' studios and gallery spaces in one building.


Every month, hundreds of people make the long trek up the 6 flights of stairs to the top of the building. And (since January) when they get there, they find us! Our print shop is located on the 6th floor of the 619 Building. During art walk nights, we open our studio to the public, operate the presses, and share our knowledge of printing and it's history with anyone who's interested! These last 6 months have been an absolute joy. The 619 building has been home to our little family of presses, and has witnessed us produce lots of new work (the best yet!). It's been a new era for us, and we feel all kinds of mushy feelings about our time in the building.


But here comes the really sad part. Due to structural problems that coincide with the construction of a traffic tunnel directly underneath the building, all of 619's artists will be evicted in March of 2012. UPDATE: We were notified today that the building will now be vacated on October 1st (in two months), and that art walk will no longer be allowed to take place in the building. We're still trying to get solid details on what's going on, but this is really sad news. And really stressful for us - it's not an easy process to find a new location and relocate a 1,000 lb. printing press - and now we have only 2 months to figure it out and do it.  You can read a story about our October 1st eviction here. You can read news stories about the tunnel issue here, here, and here. It's still unclear about what will happen to the building once we're all out (the current options include restructuring or demolition), but 619's days of housing artists are more than likely over.


In honor of 619 and our time there, we've designed and printed this commemorative print, showing the six flights of stairs and our Chandler & Price platen press in its place at the top of them. There's something right about our presses being brought to 619. They're from the same era and have seen all of the same history. It's unlikely that our printing presses are the first that the building has seen - and it feels right for 619 to be home to them now. We'll be staying in the building until at least December (when our lease is up) ???. We have high hopes for our next location, and are making lots of exciting plans (like having a real window to the outside world and more than 150 sq. ft.!), but we will always remember 619 as the first place Constellation could really call home.

Our commemorative print was designed by in Adobe Illustrator (after lots of odd looking pencil sketches), carved into a large linoleum block and printed on our Chandler & Price proof press. The Stairs print is available for purchase on our Etsy store, as well as at our studio during first Thursday art walks. :(

This blog entry was written last week and updated on 7/20.

Vintage Finds: Monopoly!

A few weeks ago, we picked up this amazing vintage Monopoly game at an estate sale. We didn't know much about it at the time, but we knew it was cool!

According to Hasbro, Monopoly was invented in 1934, when a man named Charles B. Darrow showed what he called the Monopoly game to the executives at Parker Brothers. At the time, Parker Brothers rejected the game due to "52 design errors." Undaunted, Darrow and a friend (who was a printer!) sold 5,000 handmade sets of the Monopoly game to a Philadelphia department store. As demand for the game grew, Darrow couldn't keep up with all the orders and came back to talk to Parker Brothers again. This time, they accepted. In its first year (1935) the Monopoly game was the best-selling game in America. Over its 76 year history, an estimated 500 million people have played Monopoly!


After doing some research, we've discovered that this particular Monopoly set was being produced from 1936-1939, and was the first version of the "Popular Edition." (Find out how we established that info here.) It's in great shape for being 72+ years old!


It's all there... game board, 2 sets of instructions, chance and community chest cards, the deeds to properties, lots of the iconic Monopoly money, 2 sets of dice, metal play pieces (the thimble, top hat, shoe, battleship, car, handbag, and 2 irons!), and wooden houses & hotels with "Grand Hotel" engraved on them.


It's amazing to think about how many generations of families have played Monopoly using this set.


We were really impressed by how tangible everything in the set is - the game pieces are metal, the houses and hotels are made of wood. The craftsmanship isn't what we're used to from board games today. What's especially exciting (for me in particular) is knowing that the cards and money were produced using the same kind of printing presses that we use! Our 1921 Chandler & Price press would have been only around 15 years old when this set was produced! And it's so interesting to realize how little Monopoly has changed in design since 1936 - goes to show you that good design is timeless!


There's something special about Monopoly. Everyone plays it as a kid. And even though few games are actually finished, we keep playing. It's nostalgic for us - and it's been nostalgic for a lot of people, for a very long time.

This vintage monopoly set has been sold.

Public Service Announcement

The letterpress revival has been thriving in Seattle for some time - but there are definitely parts of the country that haven't experienced it.

Recently, my family took a road trip through the south, on an antiquing expedition. After asking around in lots of small towns about printing presses and printer's blocks, my family was given the number of a gentleman who was a retired printer. They called him up and asked about his printing supplies, and specifically his collection of wood type. The gentleman was shocked that anyone would be interested in letterpress things - and told them that he threw away his large collection of wood type years ago!

It breaks my heart to think about all of that history and craftsmanship thrown out with the trash. Here's a public service announcement: If you or anyone you know (uncles, grandparents, elderly friends) were a printer and have wood type, printing presses, or printer's blocks - PLEASE contact me, and I will purchase them from you, or find someone who will. These items are valuable and important - historically, and monetarily. Please don't throw them away!

Meet the Presses: Annabelle

Annabelle is a Chicago Printing Press No. 11, made by the Sigwalt Company in the late 1800’s & early 1900’s. These presses were built on exactly the same principals as the large presses of the same era that we use to produce all of our products - this one is just miniaturized!

(For example: our Chandler & Price press weighs 1,200 pounds, and this press weighs 8 pounds!) This particular style of press was often used by schools, offices, pharmacists, churches and hobbyists in the way a label maker or desktop computer would be used today. This size & style of press originally sold for $12.00, complete with type, ink, rollers, tweezers, paper, and more!


In case you didn't catch it the first time - this press is tiny! The photo above shows one of our business cards held in her grippers.


Our little Sigwalt was found in an antique store in Selma, North Carolina. Selma is a very small town (Wikipedia lists their population as just over 7,000), which most people probably don't get a chance to stop at. My parents & sister recently took a road trip through the south, and stopped in at Selma's antique stores. While they were there, they found lots of letterpress goodies - wonderful printer's blocks, and this beauty of a press.


My sister (who is 11 and awesome) named her Annabelle, and she made the long trek from Florida in a box my dad custom made for her.


Side Note: My family and I have always been close, but since Brad and I moved to Seattle, we've lived really far away. It can be so hard sometimes, living 3,000 miles from the people we love. We love our city, our friends here, and the life that we've built - but there's nothing like family. My parents have owned their own business for 25 years, and they are such a big part of why I wanted to start Constellation. The do it yourself spirit - the sense of integrity in business - the never give up work ethic - I learned these things from them. In the last few years, it has been such a joy to share all i've learned about letterpress with my family. They have been amazing - supporting us in every way possible as we pursue Constellation. And they've learned a lot too - which they've practically put to use in searching out and finding printer's blocks for us - and now, a press! We really can never thank them enough.


Our new addition made her debut at our Urban Craft Uprising booth. It was the perfect tool to show everyone who stopped by how the printing process works on a small scale. It was such a joy to see kids' eyes light up when they saw her work! We have lots of tiny prints planned for our new friend, which we'll share with you soon!


For more information about Sigwalt presses, you can read the original instruction manual for the Chicago presses online (which is where I got a lot of additional info about this particular press). A great article on the Sigwalt company history can be found here.

Vintage Finds: Games!

We like games, and we're not ashamed to admit it. (We either never grew up or we're old before our time!)

We picked up several games at a garage sale recently for a dollar apiece. Surprisingly, all the pieces are there (or so we think). We've yet to play them, but are excited to give them a try!

Pit is a card game based on agricultural stock trading.

Pit is a card game based on agricultural stock trading.


This is Everybody's Picture Puzzle. The image is "Romantic Venice." (This isn't a garage sale find, but arrived with the Brownie from Michigan.)

Meet the Presses: Jefferson

A few months ago, we walked into a very dark and cluttered antique store in Tacoma, WA. In true American Pickers fashion, we looked high & low, under things & over things, sifting through boxes and piles of unnameable old things.

After some searching, Brad moved a pile of bicycle wheels aside and found something that made us both gasp. In that odd place, we found an 1880's era Galley Proof Press by the Chandler & Price company (the same company that made our large platen press).

The price was a bit steep, so we walked away from the shop without the press that day. And we both thought about the press... sitting there unused, rusting... for two weeks. We did some research, had a lot of conversations, and eventually returned to the shop to buy the press. It was a tough negotiation - the gentleman really didn't want to sell the press. But we really wanted to buy the press. And at long last, Jefferson (his new name - everything needs a name!) came back to Seattle with us.


Jefferson's new home in our shop.

An illustration of the press from the era.

An illustration of the press from the era.

Some info on the use of a proof press:

To obtain a proof on a galley press, the galley containing the type is placed on the flat bed, the type is inked with a brayer, a sheet of paper is placed on the type, and the roller is run over the face of the type. - Frank S. Henry's Printing for School and Shop, 1917


While these types of presses were initially intended for creating proofs (for checking spelling, etc. - a.k.a. proofreading), we will be using the press for creating posters & art prints. This past weekend, Jefferson had his inaugural run! We did small runs of 2 posters (one designed by us, and one by our good friend Josh Power), specifically designed to maximize the printing area of 25" x 9.5". The designs were carved into large linoleum blocks, hand inked and printed on various paper stocks.


It took some time to figure out the optimal amount of packing, ink, and pressure was required - each press is a new adventure, and has it's own requirements and quirks.


We had a ton of fun printing on Jefferson this weekend, and will definitely be doing lots more projects on him in the future. The posters we printed on Jefferson will be debuting this weekend at the Urban Craft Uprising, with a sneak peek tonight at the First Thursday Art Walk. Come see them, and us!

Vintage Finds: Brownie Hawkeye

We were pleased to find this little beauty our our doorstep a few weeks ago from Brad's grandparents' home in Michigan. It's in great shape and came complete with flash, bulbs, and manual. (And believe it or not, they had two! We are honored to have been given one.)

Fun branding for the "Midget Flasholder."

Fun branding for the "Midget Flasholder."


The viewfinder is a crazy contraption. You don't put your eye right up to, but look through from about a foot away. It's amazing how clear the image looks!


The graphic design for the manual is stellar. Simple shapes, bright colors, and good type never go out of style.

Vintage Finds: Eyeglass Frames

These fabulous eyeglass frames came in the mail from Brad's grandparents' home in Michigan. His grandmother likely wore them in the 50's.

I'm not nearly hipster enough to wear them, but they are so charming and have won a place in our home. I really like things that are instant collections - perhaps i'll frame them in a column like this and enjoy them on the wall.

We've got a soft spot for all things vintage. We've been searching and collecting more and more lately, and we've decided to share our finds with you! This "Vintage Finds" series will feature photos and info on the best things we pick up.

These are a few of our favorite resources online and in Seattle:

Garage sales & estate sales are one of our favorite Saturday morning dates. We use and craigslist to find options, and we typically pick the ones that list antiques or vintage items. We don't buy a lot of furniture (we're currently in a tiny apartment and a tiny studio), but pick up a lot of small items for props & inspiration.

Antique stores are hit or miss. Our favorites tend to have lots of paper goods and low prices. Two of the best are near our studio in Pioneer Square: Seattle Antiques Market is huge, is always getting new things in, and has great prices. Fairlook Antiques has more paper and photos than you can possible look through in one visit.

Salvage shops are fun for big pieces. We're strapped for space, so we don't tend to buy a lot at them. However, they're super fun for inspiration and you can find some really unusual items if you're willing to keep coming back. The two we have in Seattle (that I know of) are Earthwise and Second Use, and they're both great.

If you've got favorite spots, let us know! We're always looking for new ideas.

Also, if you're looking for a specific vintage item, let us know! We're considering adding some vintage items to our etsy store & physical store and would be happy to keep an eye out for what you're after.

Lastly: If you haven't already, make sure to check out American Pickers. It is so fun to see the places they visit and the things they find. It totally inspires us to get out and "pick" as well.