Monday, July 27, 2015

Small Town Noir Update

Last September I posted an entry about the Scottish blogger Diarmid Mogg, who has an interesting specialty: He collects mid-century mug shots and their accompanying police reports from the town of New Castle, Pennsylvania, and then searches the online archives of New Castle's daily newspaper to learn more about the arrestees and their lives. He publishes the results of his research in his excellent blog, Small Town Noir.

I've stayed in touch with Mogg over the past year, and he got in touch the other day with some exciting news:

It might be possible that I’m about to get a Small Town Noir book published!

There’s a new-ish publisher called Unbound, which uses a sort of crowdfunding model to fund niche-interest books. (If you’re interested in learning more, there’s an article about them here.) Their head of publishing got very excited about Small Town Noir, and we’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign for the book. It will only work if around 900 people pledge to buy it, so please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested in a pretty depressing set of stories about unlucky everyday people. (A hard sell, I know! Perhaps it would be better if I presented it as “a fascinating collection of true-life stories behind 150 beautiful old mug shots from one small American town.”)

The short video on the book's campaign page does a great job of explaining the appeal of the project. Please check it out and consider pledging to purchase the book — it's a great project that deserves to be published.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Beautiful Photo I.D. Badge

Last year I wrote several times about old employee photo I.D. badges. That led to a very generous offer from PermaRec reader Karen Becker, who recently got in touch and offered to send me the I.D. badge shown above. It dates back to the late 1940s and belonged to a man named John Bobofchak, who was the husband of Karen's mother's aunt. I was extremely humbled by Karen's offer to share this family artifact with me — an offer that I happily accepted.

Karen provided some background on John Babofchak, as follows:

He lived at 3613 Cecelia Ave. in Cleveland, Ohio. He was married to Anna Tarnovsky. They had four children:

• George Bobofchak is about 92 and is living in Westlake, Ohio. His wife was Vicki (deceased March 20, 2008), and they had one son, John, who lives in Fairview Park, Ohio.

• Anne Agnes Gilak (nee Bobofchak) died on May 11, 2008, at the age of 81. She and her husband, Albert (deceased), had two children, Ron and Vickie.

• Edward Joseph Bobofchak died on Dec. 13, 2008, at the age of 76.

• Mildred M. Bobofchak, 77, is a retired schoolteacher living in Westlake, Ohio.

I was also curious about the White Sewing Machine Company, where John worked. It turns out to have been a fairly notable company (further info here) whose identity eventually became subsumed into the White-Westinghouse brand name.

I acquired a few old photo badges last year and received a few more as a birthday gift, but this one is by far the nicest and in the best shape, and it's also the first one in my small collection with the raised metallic lettering. Badges of this style tend to fetch over $100 on eBay, which is too pricey for me, so I probably would never have held one in my hand if Karen hadn't sent me this one. It's an inch and three-quarters in diameter and weighs half an ounce -- a very satisfying little object.

The badge's manufacturer is stamped onto the back (click to enlarge):

As it happens, I'm familiar with the Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass., because they used to manufacture another item that I collect: a particular style of beer tap heads (click to enlarge):

These tap heads, which are called "ball knobs," became popular in taverns across America in the 1940s. Much like the photo badges, they're very collectible and fairly pricey. The Robbins name typically appears on the rear-neck area (click to enlarge):

Robbins still exists today as a component of TharpeRobbins, a company specializing in employee-recognition awards. The original Robbins Company, which merged with Tharpe in 2007, apparently had a very colorful history that went way beyond producing employee photo badges and beer tap knobs. According to the company's corporate history page, Robbins also manufactured the medals for the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the official Lindbergh Medal commemorating Charles Lindbergh's trans-oceanic flight, medallions used on NASA space missions, and more.

All of which leads to a question: Did Robbins employees wear photo I.D. badges back in the 1940s? If so, Robbins presumably manufactured those, right? That's now my holy grail: a vintage employee badge with "Robbins" handsomely spelled out on the front and stamped into the back.

(Extra-special thanks to Karen Becker for entrusting me with John Bobofchak's badge.)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Another Lost Photo Album

Click to enlarge

I recently wrote about Robert Townley, the guy who found an old photo album floating in the Georgetown Canal. That entry struck a chord with PermaRec reader Josh Koonce, who just sent me the following note:

The Robert Townley piece inspired me to do something with two photo albums [shown above — PL] that I rescued from an evicted storage unit in Chicago about four years ago. At the time I was working for an online retailer who used a storage facility as warehouse space. Everyone knows how these storage auctions work these days, but often there is stuff left over after the auction that the buyer won't even take. It usually gets dumped. These albums were in that category.
Josh says the blue album contains about 75 photos, three funeral booklets, and a newspaper clipping; the one with the wood veneer cover contains about 130 photos. The photos appear to document the life of an African-American family, presumably from Chicago. Here's a small sampling:
#foundphoto #found #foundphotography #Chicago #selfstorage #nofilter #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage #bluedress #suit #formalwear #found #foundphoto #Chicago #selfstorage #nofilter #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage On reverse of print: "Dec 1976" #foundphotos #found #Chicago #photooftheday #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage #bluedress #suit #formalwear Banner Attendance Class? #found #foundphoto #Chicago #selfstorage #nofilter #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage #poloroid #instantcamera

Josh wants to find the family shown in the photos. "There is an address in one of the albums, and I drove by it, but the house appeared unoccupied," he says. "I searched the internet for the few names in the albums and didn't come up with much. There is also a church funeral bulletin in the blue album -- a lead I should probably follow up on."

For now, Josh is beginning to post the photos on Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter. If you recognize the family or have any leads, you can contact him via those accounts.