While lazily perusing my very favorite website yesterday afternoon, trawling for goodies with keywords like "catalogs" and "hats- fashion" in the American texts subheading, I came across an entry for a shipping exchange store with a sizable mail order division called Vantine's. Neverheardofhim? If you were looking for an exotic birthday gift in 1917 New York, you needed look no further than A.A. Vantine's import store, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 39th Street, in "the heart of the new shopping district and near to the theaters". That's down the street from Times Square, people!
According to Vantines.net, A.A. Vantine, the store's proprietor, was one of the first businessmen to import items from the Far East to stock his store, described in an advertisement as "the most interesting store in the world... a wondrous, ever changing exhibition of antiques and modern works of art from each nook and corner of Japan, China, Turkey, Persia, India, and the Holy Land". He ran this store at the same location from 1866 until his retirement in 1887. In the 1920's, the management fell into the improbable hands of a drug dealer with mob connections by the name of Arnold Rothstein, who used the business's trade based transportation lines to move product from Asia to America. He was killed in hotel room shooting in 1928. The gaps before and after this strange interlude are unknown to me, except that these catalogs were printed in the time between Vantine and Rothstein's respective stewardships.
What a lot of things you could buy, through mail order, in 1917-1920 America! You have to think about this being a time without the internet or television, in which most people's experience of Asia, if any at all, would be limited to *maybe* The Mikado, *maybe* Madame Butterfly. I can imagine Talullah Bankhead or Zelda Fitzgerald lounging around the house in one of these kimonos. Languidly, of course.
Let's not get started on jewelry. I'm a sucker for any kind of jade or coral and these pieces look so crisp. I was interested in the Egyptian baubles, but those were unfortunately in black and white. See the composition of the simple beaded necklaces in every color to the left, though! I want one of each.