Friday, May 23, 2008

Smoke Filled Back Rooms

Quick, let’s get the leaders of the Democratic Party over here right now and put an end to this never ending primary process.

I may have been a little too aggressive with the heat gun. The whole house now has the distinct aroma of cooked paint and caramelized shellac. The important thing is, I got the paint off. Or at least most of it. You can totally see where the cabinets were at one time. Those whitish areas at the front of the opening mark the outline of the cabinets.

As I suspected, back in 1895 the room was faux grained oak and not pure shellac or paint. The graining was done after the cabinets were installed, so where the cabinets were never got the graining. Then later, when the 5.2 billion coats of paint were applied, the ungrained wood absorbed the paint and so it does not come off as easily or as well.

I think this faux grained golden oak effect was popular in this area. It seems to have mostly been used in the utilitarian rooms. I had it in my kitchen and butler’s pantry, and I know of another home about the same age that had it in the kitchen. I think paint was a rare commodity in these parts at the time, and maybe the additives used for graining made the shellac hold up more than just shellac alone. The durability would have been an added benefit in these rooms. At the same time though, graining was seen as passé for most critics in the 1890s. While popular in the first half of the century, it had really fallen out of favor by the 1890s. Frankly, I'm surprised it was used at all in this house. I think that is an also an indication of how far away from main stream America this area was at the time.

I know we did regular trade with Australia before the turn of the century, and shellac comes from Indonesia, which is right next door. If you think about it, it was probably easier to get goods from that part of the world than it was to get things from Back East. If you floated something down the Mississippi and put it on a ship, you then had to make the journey all the way around South America and back up the West Coast. This had to have added a lot to the cost of everyday, mass produced goods from from factories Back East. Those things that were readily available to most of the population were probably harder to come by, and more expensive for folks on the West Coast. You couldn't afford everything so you bought the necessities and then made due.

You’re not going to go without toilets and stoves produced in factories Back East, right, but you’re going to pay a premium for them. We also got a lot of “Factory Seconds”. The tile in the Oberon Saloon and the tile in the Vance Hotel were both marked “Seconds”. Also, my tub upstairs has what appears to be a problem with the finish. It looks like someone dropped a rag in the still molten enamel. I can just hear hear it now,

Worker Boy: “Sir, I screwed up the finish on this tub.”

Boss Man: “You’re fired! Get the hell out here. You there! Mark this down 20% and ship it to California. Those hicks will buy anything”

I don’t have an atlas in front of me, but I’m willing to bet that getting goods from Back East is about the same distance, if not longer, than sailing across the Pacific from Australia. Given that there was a short lived love affair among the intelligencia at the time with all things oriental, I’m sure that we got more than our fair share of East Asian goods at the time, and shellac was one of them. Why paint, when you can shellac for less.

Next up: Plaster

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