Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Visit With Arthur Armour

      In the mid-eighties, my husband decided that I was so immersed in aluminum lore that we needed to visit the source of its beginning...Grove City, PA. We loaded the travel trailer and away we went on our first trailer east of the Mississippi river. Mid-October was a wonderful time to make the trip: the colors were vivid, fall decorations were everywhere (a trend that had not yet reached Texas) and I marveled at the different architectural styles of the North.                                                             
     We made our first visit to the home of Arthur Armour and were welcomed into the house that he and his bride moved into on their wedding day. It was a warm, pleasant home, made even more pleasant by the warmth of his welcome as he walked out to meet us.

     We had so much to talk about that my on-the-spot note taking was scanty and the Armour home was so filled with unique, sometimes one-of-a-kind, aluminum pieces that I could hardly absorb every thing at first.  To Mr. Armour’s great amusement, I kept jumping up and examining each new and unusual piece as I spotted them located around the living room.
     This room was warm with color: one wall was a deep burgundy, the carpeted floor was also red, both creating a colorful background for the various items collected during his life and the special aluminum pieces that were serving useful purposes throughout the room, many of which had been made for his own enjoyment.
     Firewood was laid in the fireplace behind aluminum andirons, each topped with a horse head. These horse heads were used in many spots throughout the home: on the fireplace tools, as part of a lighted clock, as a decorative touch in the wrought aluminum stair banisters, and even topping a weather vane on the roof.
     Horses were a favorite design for Armour; the Wild Horses shown on many trays of different shapes and the Pioneer scene on the 10 x 14 “ trays are a reflection of his love of horses.
  There was also a mobile of aluminum horses and a glass candy dish with an aluminum lid was topped with a wooden horse head.  There were many other aluminum items throughout the house: candleholders, and a lamp with an aluminum shade and an aluminum calendar holder, which he kept updated with current calendars.
     Despite his love of horses, he stated that his favorite pieces were those of the World Map and one titled Tree, a pastoral scene of a tree with a church in the background.
     He stated that he enjoyed his work so much that he didn’t think about it as work but he admitted that he was very surprised at the attention that was presently being brought to aluminum products.  He remembered as many details as he could but, having given it little thought other than it being a business that no longer existed, his memories were sometimes scanty. In later years, he remembered more details.
     I remember his statement that he did not want to be known or identified only for his work. He stressed that his interests were wide and varied.  “Everything is important to me,” he stated, “artifacts, art, people, music, everything.”
     As we said a good-by, I remarked that in the past as I viewed his work and his picture, I had felt a connection, almost as though I already knew him   
      He replied, “Maybe you did, maybe you did!”

Wild Horses

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cast Aluminum by Don Drum

     Years after the Palmer-Smith forge had ceased it’s  metal wares production, and about the time the demand for these goods had begun to decline, another artist and metal worker made his debut.
     Don Drum, the grandson of a blacksmith, the son of a welder,  grew up among metal workers. His catalog  states that in 1958 he pioneered the use of cast aluminum as an artistic medium..
     Of course, we are aware of the use of cast aluminum as added decoration in many of the Palmer-Smith items and as handles and knobs on the wares of many other companies, but Drum concentrated on wall hangings, trivets, and candle holders. He also made several styles of casseroles and trays. All of these were vastly different from those of Palmer-Smith, and in fact, apparently nothing like them had been seen before although Bruce Fox was in production at about the same time and made some items that could be considered very imaginative.
     The photos shown here are from a catalog of the eighties. One needs to imagine these pieces photographed with today's improved technology in both photographing and in printing.  Look at each closely to see the detail and you may find surprises. Drum apparently enjoyed producing designs of mythical figures, birds, and angels. 

wall hanging
wall hangong
wall hanging/angel

soup tureen
candle holder/bird
candle holder.
You guess at the design!
Christmas tree candle holder

As much as I've enjoyed showing the photos of some rather unusual styles of aluminum, and as much as I hate to leave so much information unpublished, its time to present some work done by repousse.   Shall we concentrate show a variety of companies?

If you have a favorite company please leave its name in the comment box.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Collection of Palmer-Smith Matchbox Holders

One reader, a long time collector, has shared the part of his matchbox collection that includes those made by Palmer-Smith.  I believe his entire matchbox collection numbers over 125 and he is still in the market for more. If you have any for sale please respond in the comment section.
In the group below,there are kitchen match size covers, coffee table size covers and  pocket size.









horse head

daisy swirl

    Thanks to Charlie for sending those great photos of a few of his matchbox covers, and also, to all those in the past who have sent information and/or pictures. Many of those will continue to be posted here.
    It would have been so much better to have grouped these in their proper categories of kitchen, coffee table or pocket size. Naturally, there are pattern repeats in the various styles so all of the pictures that were sent were not reproduced here. These shown here have dashed around all over the page and it will be interesting to see where they settle in when I click the publish button Hoping to solve some of the things that are causing the most problems in publishing the Aluminist, I have signed on to a 4-week Blog Triage with daily assignments. This is a jump into the unknown, but you may be able to follow along as I do my homework.
    Today the assignment is about the type of readers I would like to visit the Aluminist  and give some thought to their location and even their ages. I think we learned many years ago that we are located "all over"...but did you know that there are readers to this blog from many countries other than the U.S? Being so scattered has always presented a problem in having shows or meetings. Sharing through the Aluminist has been our answer. We also come in all ages although those of us who met through attendance at the shows are now some twenty years older. How can it be!
    In creating the blog, Aluminist, as a substitute for the older version of the bimonthly newsletter of past years, I have been attempting to cope with several problems in this new media.  Although the present readers are mainly collectors of many years experience, there are also new collectors to the field. 
    This collecting field welcoms the interest of these new collectors, for not only is it a pleasure to meet others with our collecting interest but it could be beneficial in other ways. Many of our long-time collectors have collected since the 1960s and after fifty years their changing life styles are forcing them to downsize or dispose of their collections and would welcome an opportunity to place place a few of their beloved pieces with a new group of collectors. In addition, collectors who are new to this arena, will often often find more unique pieces for sale by some of our long-time collectors. Attracting the attention of a new collector or one who might become interested is a problem I have not yet seriously considered.
       My readers of the old paper version appear to be pleased with the blog although they very seldom take advantage of the comment section.   The problem is that so many of us are computer challenged and many of my older collectors cannot do this.  In addition to this handicap, the wording of some of the “gadgets” on Blogspot seems to confuse many, although I have given limited instructions.
     The Aluminist blog is filled with photos and brief historical information. However hard I work at getting an attractive layout of the pictures accompanied with appropriate remarks, when the material is published, it is often scattered in an unattractive and senseless manner. This does not appear to bother the readers but it does disturb me. That is another area that is a work in progress.
    My challenges appear to be: attracting attention of collectors scattered across the nation, and getting active participation from viewers, plus controlling the appearance of my blog.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Palmer-Smith - his unique styles

       His motifs were often simple, his material was top-notch, his finished products were flawless. His products did not always please everyone and today many collectors find those simple motifs not to their taste. However that simplicity of design that exists in so many of Palmer-Smith's candle holders is a feature that makes them sought after and cherished by collectors of today.

However, occasionally the designs    
were so unusual that their appeal
was limited. This candelabrum with its fanciful porpoises  could fall into that category. The ball design was incorporated into each. This design was also used as a holder for a punch bowl. It looked great...unusual, but attractive.
Arthur Palmer's association with Wendell August began in 1932 but by 1935 he moved on to start his own company making metal wares. It was a common belief that the company's name was a combination of his own and his mother's maiden name.
       With the Palmer-Smith company, the Wendell August Forge, and Arthur Armour all located in Grove City, PA, and each employing from 12 to  25 or 30 workers, the hammered aluminum gift ware business became an important part of its economy. A number of the employees left their original employers and started their own business and a few examples of their work will be in future Aluminists.
     Browsing through old catalogues of any of these companies is an interesting experience. An old catalogue of Arthur Palmer's is extremely so. In his six years of production, he developed over 50 motifs (57 I believe) and used them on products ranging from bracelets to large center piece sets that are far from the plain designs we are so familiar with.  AND  they were not priced for the poor man! As Arthur Armour once told me, "The saying that aluminum pieces were the poor man's silver, was not completely accurate." The candle sticks (as they were called in the ad) were $75 for the pair, the bowl was $30. The design was called Regency. 

At an early show,
a holder similar to that onthe left was priced at $350. At that price most                                                                                      collectors simply looked and wished.

              The set on the right with the parrots                          
 perched inside the rings, created quiet a stir
  when they were first discovered. I expect that finding a matching pair today would do the same.

      Below left, is a wall sconce which I believe was of the Regency design. The top design is mostly hidden. It could possibly be wheat.
 there is no stopping place in listing the wares of the various companies! Palmer-Smith made a variety of punch bowls: an item that took a considerable amount of skill to complete without cracking or splitting in the shaping process. The bowl shown above has the lily motif around it inside edge.

            Notice that most of this company's motifs were not
 created by hammering, but by the intaglio
method of incising a design into the metal. To achieve the designs desired, small special tools were designed and used to either stamp or cut the designated  design into the metal. Incidentally,  keep in mind that Arthur Palmer was a man of ideas: his strength was not in art or design, but in getting fresh ideas to be used in the company's products. He had employees to apply his ideas!

Below. right,  This tray was very unusual and although
it appears to be slightly concave in the photo,
it was a flat piece with a shape similar to that
of a police badge Tiny bunnies formed feet
and the top had larger bunnies.

This company apparently was one of a few or perhaps the only one who made picture frames. A smoking set consisting of a divided cigarette box, a matchbox holder and an ash tray were also available with the applied gun. The backs of Palmer-Smith frames were beautifully constructed and some were decorated with various motifs.
A reader sent the photos below., right  Note the old advertisement displayed in the frame.