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Posts from the “History” Category

A Brief History of American Craft

Posted on March 4, 2013


Editor’s Note: Dan Zubrzycki is a writer/consultant/jack-of-all-trades gentleman currently living in Philadelphia. He will be writing a series on the history of American craft for us over the next several weeks. You can see his most recent article for us about Frank & Oak by clicking here.

America itself was a work of craftsmanship.  Forged by ambitious idealists, tempered in it’s own flaws, it’s bolts, nails, and stitching are the uninhibited hopes and dreams of those that built the first rough-hewn cabins.  But the concept of craft has had a strange journey.  In this series of articles I’m going to give a bit of thought to craftsmanship in America – ranging from looking at historical contexts as well as modern attitudes and applications.

But first, I’d like to take a look at a brief overview of it’s history in the US.

America’s first colonists were craftsmen out of necessity.  A craftsman is distinguished from a tradesman for the quality of what they create.  Living on the frontier or in the nascent towns of early America, everything you produced had to be top of the line.  With general stores only capable of selling basic supplies, craftsmen contributed to society by providing top of the line supplies. As America matured and became increasingly industrial, craft returned to a place of luxury where it stayed through the Great Depression.

The culmination of industrialization in WWII created a ubiquity in ownership.  To be American was to own products similar to those everyone else owned. We sought to align ourselves with patriotism – and dissociate ourselves with communism – by buying products which branded themselves as American.So began the modern struggle between individualism and a corporate attempt to monetize.  Through the 60’s and 70’s, mass market producers battled minor revolutions.  A brief craft beer movement is crushed by Anheuser Busch, the music industry is officially capitalized, image based advertising is essentially invented.

The uneducated consumer is born.  Market research drives popular music and film, art is constructed, craft abandoned.  While ubiquity doesn’t quite hold sway as it did before, brand allegiance does.  While all hope seems lost, that darkness paves the path towards a craft revolution.

Then, moving into the 90’s, a spark is lit.  The children of the 70’s coming to age, the rise of the internet – but mass production starts to lose it’s appeal.  The concept of ethical consumerism not only arrives on the scene, but also gains massive support.  We’re now living in an era where adherence to large brands seems a faux pas, and a constant pursuit for the next niche is lauded.

This is the modern American craft scene – inhabited by passionate artisans, fueled by the democratization of the internet, and driven by savvy consumers.  Knowledge and skill  have replaced brand identity, which allows for us to feel unified by a common intellectual goal, to support passion over profit.  We’ll continue to follow this idea, and flesh out concepts proposed in this first article, weekly.

Notes from the Field: 3 Potato 4

Posted on September 25, 2011

I took a low key trip on Sunday with my friend Mark to check out a shop I’d heard about for a while in Manayunk, PA called 3 Potato 4. They specialize in vintage furnishings and random objects and have made quite a name for themselves in the process. Having been around since 2007, they’ve had plenty of time and done a good job of keeping the collection rolling. Most of the stuff they had, while amazing, was seriously out of our budget but I managed to pick up a commemorative pennant from the first lunar landing in 1969. The pennant is by no means rare, you can even find it for cheaper online but for a spur of the moment purchase in an unexpected location I was quite pleased. They open their doors to the public two days a month for their “Barn Sales” and are worth a look if you’re in Philadelphia. It’s an easy train ride to Manayunk if you’re just visiting but they also have most of their stock online. Happy hunting.

Next Barn Sale: Oct. 29th & 30th, 2011 10am-5pm

Location: 3 Potato 4. 376 Shurs Lane Bldg. A. Philadelphia, PA 19128 (267) 335-3633

Making Impressions: The Chandler & Price New Style Letterpress

Posted on July 11, 2011

Some of you are probably aware that recently I relocated to Los Angeles to take an internship with an unabashedly secretive film production company and being such the quirky company they are there’s a lot of vintage items, equipment, movie props, etc. Basically, if you’ve got a soul you could get lost in the amazingness of some of the stuff they’ve kept around.

One of the more striking items is the Chandler & Price New Style Letterpress dating from the early 1900’s on which the serials have been partially scrubbed which makes finding an exact year somewhat difficult. The press is entirely functional and is used frequently to print thank you cards, invitations, and stationary. I’ll be learning how to use this thing over the next few weeks so I’m pretty excited to report back on how that ends up. Click below to see the rest of the photographs and an abbreviated history of the letterpress manufacturer.

Etiquette: A Nostalgic Look

Posted on June 26, 2011

‘Etiquette’ by Emily Post is widely regarded as the original authority on… well, etiquette. The book runs the gambit of things such as how to introduce yourself and others, how to be a courteous motorist, how to host dinners, and how to throw frat parties the right way. We here at The American Classic have obtained a copy of the first printing of the 1942 edition printed during World War II. The anecdote at the beginning specifically states “This book is manufactured under wartime conditions in conformity with all government regulations controlling the use of paper and other materials”. Today we’ll examine a few pointers from the book. Click below to see the full post.

Inquiries & Responses vol. 02: John Mulhouse of ‘City of Dust’

Posted on June 1, 2011

This is the second in a series of interviews with people who have a keen interest in menswear, style, design, or generally cool stuff. Most of these people are doing something of great note that you should absolutely take a look at.

‘City of Dust’ is a blog chronicling, in the author’s words, “the lost and wondrous wreckage of America”. I found John Mulhouse’s page via Reddit, of all places, and was immediately fascinated with both his incredible photography and the stories he told to accompany his images. His ability to weave a vivid portrait of the bleaker parts of the American landscape is astounding and his documentation of seemingly unknown historical events is second to none. As long as I can remember, my friends and I have always explored abandoned places for some semblance of understanding as to what happened there and what tales lie behind the mysterious lost structures. We spoke in May 2011. Click below to view several of his beautiful photographs and to read the full interview.