MINE: Porcelain Treasures + A Mirror

Yesterday I went on a high-stakes salvage adventure up to Albany. See, right now I’m looking really hard for nothing in particular so unfortunately it just had to be done.

I got a few things. You don’t drive an hour to simply turn away empty-handed. That would be unethical.

How stupid cute are these little porcelain bathroom sconces??? I’d guess they were made in the 1930s. I’m used to seeing sconces all the time that are similar to these, but I’m not really used to seeing that sweet bubbly rounded cloud-like shape on top. Precious! Naturally, every item in this store had price tags except all the things I bought (I don’t know why—it is just my way), so I was pleasantly surprised when the manager suggested $15 for the pair. Sold! They don’t have any sockets or wiring, but that’s easy enough to replace.

Where will these go? I don’t know, but I do know that $15 to have these two in my back pocket for some future bathroom renovation even if it isn’t my own makes me feel PREPARED.

By the way, they were super grody so I used my tried and true cleaning method of sticking ’em in the dishwasher. Thanks, Cascade!

Sometimes when it rains it pours, and yesterday’s theme was porcelain! ‘Tis what the thrifting higher being dictated. This is another porcelain light, also likely from the 1930s, also with no socket or wiring, also with no immediate function, but $5! You just gotta! I have a few lights very similar to this (including one I blogged about a while ago), and they just seem so handy for when you just need a little tasteful inconspicuous-but-still-special ceiling light.

I noticed later that it says “Alabax” on it, which I didn’t realize was actually a whole line of porcelain light fixtures produced by Pass & Seymour Inc. starting in the 1920s! I only knew it as the name of Schoolhouse Electric’s new production version, which I’ve used in a couple spaces over the years. IT’S ALL MAKING SENSE! The Schoolhouse versions are really lovely, and Rejuvenation has a few vintage ones available, and a nice write-up on their history.

More porcelain please, I do not have enough. Here we have a $1 plumbing escutcheon, sized for a 1 1/4″ pipe which is generally what’s used for a bathroom sink drain. I think this one will be for my downstairs powder room once I get around to it! It’s also just another good thing to have on hand because of COURSE when you really need one, they’re nowhere to be found.

ANDDDDD to round out the theme, I scrounged up 5 porcelain door knob escutcheons which match the door hardware in my house!! SEEE?!?!

It’s the little things! These have been super hard to find and of course break easily, so I’m missing a few around the house and unreasonably stoked to have a little stockpile to draw on as I inch along with restoring all the doors. At $2 a piece, they’re also by far the cheapest ones I’ve ever come across.

Amazingly, these literally came into the salvage place about an hour before I got there, and were still attached to the doors that the rad salvage guys had just pulled out of a DUMPSTER. Ugh, I mean, can you even? DOZENS of solid oak 1860s doors without a lick of paint on them and all the original hardware, in a goddamn dumpster. People are so infuriating. I’m so glad they got saved.

Anyway, salvage places usually remove all the hardware so they can store the doors more easily (and sell the hardware separately), so I offered to pitch in and take the escutcheons off myself and they gladly passed me a screwdriver! You can sort of see in the back of the group one that’s dis-assembled: there’s a round metal plate that screws into the door, and the porcelain part covers that and then a brass threaded piece screws into the metal plate and holds the porcelain part in place. Naturally these pieces always get separated from one another, so having FIVE complete sets is very exciting.

BTW, if you ever see those little white porcelain keyhole covers like the one on my door while out and about and they’re under like $10 a piece and you don’t buy them for me, we’re not friends. I’ll pay you back!!! They’re so elusive and so fragile.

Finally, this specimen. If you have more than two of something, it’s a collection, and therefore I collect mirrors like this. They have to be missing their frames (otherwise they’re just part of the mirror collection—I think of this more as a sub-collection, but it’s also been labeled “hoarding”), be an interesting shape, have beveled edges, and foil backing in vaguely this kind of disintegrating condition.

Right now they live in this totes-normal arrangement up in the den, but someday I’m sure I’ll do something else with them. It’s not like they’re creepy or anything.

Just don’t look directly at them or you’ll see your own death. K have a great weekend everyone!!!


61 Comments

  1. Wow! Fantastic haul. Are you up for sharing just which salvage place(s) you hit up? Impromise to keep my eyes peeled for the little porcelain keyhole covers. Thanks

    • Haha thank you KathieB! I went to Silver Fox Salvage and the Historic Albany Foundation Parts Warehouse. The latter is a non-profit and does a really exceptional job organizing things and has very reasonable prices. Love them! Let me know if you discover others!! :)

  2. ohh i want to go salvaging with you!
    such fun – and such good catches!

  3. Not.
    Jealous.
    At.
    All.

    Seriously, what amazing finds! Love the porcelain sconces, but the ceiling lamp is too fabulous! Also, big score on the plumbing escutcheons. It is these small details that go mostly unnoticed which really complete a space.

    And the mirror!? Delicious! I started collecting frameless mirrors myself a couple of years ago after seeing the shot of them collected together in this blog post (https://www.sfgirlbybay.com/2015/12/14/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall/).

  4. “It’s not like they’re creepy or anything” indeed. That sub-collection looks like something an evil magician would have tucked into a corner of his mansion, each holding the trapped soul of somebody who crossed him.
    Or maybe that’s just me.

  5. If I had any money in the world at all I would give it to you to make my house beautiful.

  6. Candyman, candyman, candyman.

    I love these and I want them on my doors. Gimme.

  7. I have a whole collection of old mirrors, too! My DH is getting used to never seeing a true representation of his face in a mirror…

  8. You find the most amazing things! And grr……………doesn’t it just about kill you when people throw away every blasted thing that gives a home character? You can’t get amazing doors like that anymore without spending big bucks for custom. What are people thinking??!

    • I don’t get this either. Even if YOU don’t want them, I feel like there are better ways of getting rid of them than putting them in the trash? Like eBay? Or a salvage shop? Or something? People will PAY for those. (Was touring an 1890s house here I really wanted and the seller offered me the claw foot tub. IF ONLY I had had somewhere to put it… sigh)

      • It’s so frustrating! These doors were coming out of some kind of old academy that’s being turned into condos, and it’s also kind of sad that nobody deemed them worth reusing there. Those condos don’t need any interior doors?? Luckily someone had the good sense to call the foundation as they were being ripped out so they could go grab them. I can’t blame demolition workers just doing their jobs, but it seems like there should be some kind of permitting requirement to allow the city’s (non-profit!!) salvage place to go in and rescue stuff BEFORE it all ends up in the trash.

    • When buildings are being converted by contractors, a lot of them don’t care at all about character, only profit. They will do anything to improve their bottom line and that includes ripping out all the perfectly good old fixtures,a nd often lying about their condition, in order to be able to charge for it. And often they work for developers whose only concern is the bottom line, so it is easier to rip out then preserve character. See this happening all over Manhattan, imagine it must be the case everywhere. Predatory capitalism in action.

  9. With no point of reference, I thought that the first photo might be some kind of fancy urinal. Relieved (ha) to learn they are sconces.

  10. Love those sconces! So cute! About how tall are they? I though at first they were really tiny, but then the picture with the plumbing escutcheon threw me off. Hope to see you use these in your own house, they are super cute!
    And the doors thrown away thing, yikes. I went to an open house once, in a lovely old century home with original windows in great condition, and MY HUSBAND started talking about how you’d have to replace the old windows, OF COURSE. I about lost it, and started in on a lecture (learned from you!) about how fantastic old wood windows are. The realtor was staring at me like I’d lost my mind. We didn’t buy the house, and I am too afraid to drive by, now, because I know someone got in that house and put in replacements.

    • They’re about 6″!

      Oh man, I hear ya. There are some houses in town that have recently gotten some truly painfully bad replacements, and it makes me want to avoid those streets! But hey, you tried!!

  11. Nice porcelain score! Be still my heart!
    By the way, It’s good to have you posting more regularly again! I’ve missed your wit and humor.

  12. Well I’m just about wetting my pants with all the April goodness from you. Thank you!! I can not believe the dumpster door thing. I find that incomprehensible. Thank goodness for the salvage people.

  13. This is good content. It validates my love of looking in construction dumpsters and keeping everything forever.

  14. this is 100% the content i am here for. look at those cute little porcelain guys.

  15. Yeah, do you mind sharing the salvage place in Albany? Nice find on the doorknob porcelain escutcheons and Alabax light! I used white porcelain knobs in our house, and one presently boasts a superglued escutcheon—I dropped it while installing it.

  16. You make me laugh!

  17. Great finds Daniel! I’ll be on the lookout for porcelain keyholes. Mirrors can be resilvered, I realize that takes them out of the antique category and moves them into functional, but sometimes that’s the right idea. Thanks for all the posts lately.

  18. I was just about to settle down with a fresh cup of tea and treat myself to your laundry room post when I saw this newer one. TWO unread posts! I feel as if I’ve won something cool. Maybe not the lottery but definitely a daily jackpot. Thank you, Daniel, and happy Friday (4/20) to us all.

  19. Oh my stars, the fourth mirror from the left in the last photo has a face on it, aaaaaaah. Daniel, love, that’s creepy.
    Doors in the dumpster would make me crazy too. WHY, why, WHY would anyone throw that away. At the very least, sell them to someone.

  20. Your mirror collection made me gasp with envy and your writing made me chuckle out loud. You’ve got a real gift for writing. Take our money g*ddamn it and write a book :)

  21. I don’t know whether to be thrilled or horrified that you brought those tiny porcelain keyhole covers to my attention because I instantly, psychotically love them. I want a thousand. And then I would have nowhere to put even one, so I would have to mail all of them to you.
    DANIEL, I’m in TORONTO, the only places we have old cool things are at hipster reclamation spots for a gazillion dollars, or occasionally at a garage sale!
    Doors in the dumpster is just evil.
    Your mirrors are beautiful. A+ Would Sacrifice My Soul By Gazing Into.

  22. I am living for that vintage mirror collection

  23. Your excitement is contagious. So happy for you! Your bathroom and doors will look really good. It’s making mr forget (kind of forget) about the bathtub!

  24. One of my joys in life-Salvage Places! You scored. Thank goodness the salvagers knew where to salvage the doors in the dumpster.
    I’ve had much filthy fun pulling apart salvageable pieces of about to be torn down houses (with permission of course). Wear gloves and a mask. Thanks for sharing your finds.

    • My friend might get hired to renovate a big building in town and the owner seems dead-set on demoing EVERYTHING inside (immediately puts me on high alert, but I don’t know the condition of the place so trying not to rush to judgment). I’ve made him promise to let me come in first and salvage pick!! We shall see…

      It was such a close call with the doors—the shitty thing is that the developers had it all worked out with the Historic Albany Foundation, and then only told them THE DAY OF that they could come RIGHT THEN and get all the doors, or they’d be buried in a dumpster and then a landfill forever. Thank goodness for groovy salvage folks—they dropped everything, closed up the shop, had to rent a truck, and got them in time!!

  25. Great finds and great post. I wish you could earn a decent living from blogging because yours is the best! Keep posting cos it’s happy days for us readers when you do xx

  26. Fabulous finds. And I love those mirrors!

  27. I love how the mirrors look on that shelf in the den!

    • I know new pieces can look jarring without the little imperfections of period items, but this seems like a good resource?

      http://zangra.com/en/p/porcelain-keyhole-covers

      Other porcelain goodies, too. Apologies if it’s already been mentioned.

      Also had luck w/ amazon.co.uk, cheap keyhole escutcheons and other bits and bobs for mortised-in locks (including the locks themselves), but porcelain escutcheons i’ve only seen inconsistently. Porcelain knobs in abundance, though.

      Sorry again if I’m redundant/totally stating the obvious.

      • Don’t apologize Justin, thank you!! Those are so cute but kinda the wrong shape for me. I’d buy new production ones in a hot second if they matched, though!

  28. Love a good theme for house shopping. And when dealing in old houses, you have to pick those things up when you see them. Because when you really need them later you are subject to limited availability and crazy prices. (i.e. why didn’t I buy that matching cut glass door knob set that was $20 when I know that easily available reproductions are easily $80)

    RE: the missing socket/wiring in the porcelain ceiling light. I’m going to hazard a guess that it never had any wiring. What I mean is that in the early 20th century when this light was likely manufactured, it was common for simple porcelain sockets (about 2″ in diameter) to be attached directly to the plaster (no silly fixture boxes required), and the shade could be installed over top. Wire comes out of 1/2″ hole in ceiling and attaches to socket screwed to ceiling right next to it.

    My hall, bathroom and kitchen all have this type of light. From the outside, it looks just like the Thurman flush mount from Rejuvenation but with a fluted glass shade. But all it is is the brass part (empty inside) and the glass shade. Luckily they fit over top the contemporary basic single bulb sockets that cover a standard ceiling box which we put in when the wiring was updated.

    The guy that did our wire update was really excited that he was able to get all but one of the new ceiling boxes in the exact same spot as the existing fixtures and at first I thought, “well, how hard is that, they’re all in the center of the room.” but then I realized that the existing fixtures were installed literally anywhere the builder wanted with no restriction of ceiling joist location since they only required a 1/2″ hole and the fixture or socket could be screwed directly to the plaster/lath.

  29. Um, your mirror collection is ABSOLUTELY KILLER.

  30. I have an old frame-less mirror on my mantel, but now it looks pathetic without a collection of old timey mirror friends. Now I know what to thrift for.

  31. Daniel! I haven’t looked at your blog in like forever – well since the wee one went over the bridge :(
    I love love love these porcelain pieces, especially the doorknobs! (If you don’t mind I’m going to copy them for my dollhouse). I am not going to read the rest now, I’ll keep that treat for tomorrow morning’s breakfast in bed. I can hardly wait :)
    It’s nice to be back

  32. All up to date now, I forgot how much I love reading your stories. Daniel, I was very moved by your ‘I Went Away’ post. It raised many emotions and I have so many things I want to say but I will just stick with – you’re in good company, hang in there and be kind to yourself, always. You deserve it, you are one of the good guys.
    Love
    Luna

  33. Ooo were you at Fox’s?!?! Just drove past it on my way to a birthday party this weekend! Looks like some serious thrifting there!

  34. My dad’s a total patina nerd too – I once offered to clean the rust off and seal the back gate and he was truly horrified that I would suggest such a thing. “What?!? That’s PATINA!” OH ok sorry dad didn’t know you were going for “abandoned graveyard”, cool beans.

  35. Have you been to Brimfield? I was just there on Mother’s day for a Mother/Daughter shopping trip and it was heaven for old house parts. On the last day the vendors are trying to pack up and get the heck out of dodge, so deals can be scored. I found a bin with ceramic knob and key covers, thought of you, thought about buying them, and realized ours is a totally one sided friendship since you have no idea who i am!

    Anyway, point of the story, Brimfield last day, if you’ve got the time to go through the miles of tents, might provide you with pieces you need :D

  36. Hoping for a new post {no pressure}. Hope you are enjoying some time off. How is the kitchen going…

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