As a byproduct of the popularity of science fiction movies, books, and games, an entire subculture has entrenched itself in our current culture. This avid following of all things science fiction is more commonly called “SF Fandom” and has some interesting roots.
In the Beginning
In the late 1800s, science fiction stories were first published in book form. Jules Verne is credited as the first to write what is considered “pure science fiction” where stories solely centered on technological, futuristic, fantastic, and alien or otherworldly content.
Sci-fi Fan Interest Grows
Science fiction started making more headway into the public eye in the early 1900s as magazines would sometimes run single stories or serialized versions of a story mixed into their normal content to capitalize on the growing interest in the topic. Magazines like Argosy, a children’s weekly publication, would publish stories with science fiction themes, but, as a whole, there were no genre-specific publications like we have available today.
Despite an influx of new science fiction stories being published in those early years by Argosy and other similar magazines, science fiction fans of all ages were looking for lots more material.
To meet the demand, the mid-1920s saw the explosion of what was called “pulp” magazines. These publications were typically issued monthly and featured short stories produced and illustrated mostly by fans but sometimes featured works by already established science fiction authors.
A well-known example is the 1926 pulp magazine Amazing Stories which featured only works of a true science fiction nature. Not commonly known is that Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Allen Poe all provided significant contributions with stories published in early copies of Amazing Stories while many authors found their first publishing success in the myriad of other pulp magazines.
Even More Fan Access
While this may seem strange now, science fiction fans reading Amazing Stories were encouraged to contact each other via a letter column included in the publication. Amazing Stories’ letter column provided the the names and addresses of its fans in print. Publishing such information meant fans could contact each other (and sometimes professional authors or artists) via mail to discuss characters, stories, and plots or to arrange for the swapping of magazine issues. This connection of like-minded science fiction buffs became the first organized type of fan club for the genre’s enthusiasts. Essentially, this was an early equivalent of social media helping to boost and share information on a beloved topic
A further outgrowth of the fan clubs was the creation of fanzines. Fanzines were typically amateur magazines often produced to provide further exploration of the genre via elaboration on story lines or to provide outlets for artistic contributions like character or scene illustrations. Additionally, fanzines afforded a platform for novice writers who hoped to join the ranks of professional science fiction authors.
An example of one of the earliest fanzines was The Comet, created in 1930 by Raymond Arthur Palmer who was a member of the Science Correspondence Club of Chicago.
After the introduction of The Comet, many other fanzines came as went as the creators often found keeping up with the publishing of them was too demanding of their time and sometimes too costly.
However, while short-lived, fanzines did make a significant mark on the genre with some of the most successful writers being Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Mithra series), and J.R.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings trilogy).
Today, science fiction fandom has taken on a life of its own. Some popular outlets include Sci-Fi conventions, themed events such as weddings or graduation parties, role playing games, and many others where attendees can hear or converse in fanspeak, a jargon used by die hard fans to communicate with each other about all things science fiction.
If you’re lucky, or maybe not, you’ve encountered somebody at a New Year’s Eve party dressed like “Baby New Year.”
Typically, you find it’s an adult male who’s donned an over-sized diaper and wearing a sash emblazoned with the year to come. This can make for lots of good fun for those who have already had a few libations (Moscow mule anybody?!). But did you ever think about why a baby is associated with the coming of a new year?
As it turns out, the association of a baby and a new calendar year goes way, way back. It can be traced to around 600 B.C. when the Greeks chose to use a baby to symbolize rebirth.
Through the years, images of Baby New Year have been used across posters, cards, invitations, books, calendars, advertising, and the like.
But one publication chose to feature Baby New Year in a very unique way.
The Saturday Evening Post, most commonly associated with covers featuring beautiful PG-rated illustrations by Norman Rockwell, placed very beautiful and yet somewhat thought-provoking images on its first cover of the year from 1907 until 1943. These covers featured the art of J.C. Leyendecker, predecessor and mentor to Rockwell, who was considered to be one of the preeminent American illustrators of the early 20th century.
The first four covers by Leyendecker were general in theme but in 1910, this changed. From then on, each cover featured Baby New Year in a way that was reflective of the mood of the United States at the time. For example, the 1912 Saturday Evening Post cover features Baby New Year holding a sign that states “Votes for Women” as a way of depicting the nation’s interest in the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1934, Baby New Year is seen looking like a business man, wearing a bowler while closely watching a stock ticker tape - hopefully to see a positive upswing as a result from the recently approved National Recovery Act which was designed to regulate industry for fair wages and control prices in an effort to stimulate economic recovery.
Most provocative though are the four covers released in the 1940s. Though the United States was at peace when the decade began, there was concern over tensions abroad and a growing concern about the possibility of U.S involvement.
Donned in military gear and surrounded by symbols of “the enemies,” Baby New Year was portrayed in a way that was not as gentle as it once was depicted. Forthright references to the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy were included and Baby New Year was used to convey deep, dark, and fearful messages.
While the artistry of Leyendecker's covers is beautiful, it's amazing that Baby New Year, a character that was once simply a sweet iconic figure with a cherubic face, symbolic of hope and rebirth, would change over the years to become a messenger of something as tough and distasteful as a world war.
Everyone had their favorite television shows in the 60s and 70s. Thing was, we didn't have access to binge watching and seeing the shows over and over like kids today can. We had to sit down at a certain time each week to catch our favorite show and if we missed it, maybe we could catch the episode as a rerun - months later...if we were lucky.
So, how else could we get our fix? Good 'ole board games - and it turns out there were tons of them made in the 1970s.
A recent search online turned up some pretty weird games that are still hanging around some 40+ yerars after they were first sold.
Let's take a look!
Leave it to Beaver | Rocket to the Moon Space Game
Yeah - you read that right. "Leave it to Beaver" and "Space Game" together in one title. This was a board game made in 1959 that had two players flip a small rocket shaped "die" then move their small marker chip around a board as they explored space. I think Eddie, Lumpy, and even kind, well-mannered Wally would have been laughing themselves silly at the idea of this game, especially since I don't recall any time that Beaver ever talked about playing a spaceman or the like.
The Love Boat | World Cruise Game
Tell me you don't hear the voice of Jack Jones singing the theme song at the mere mention of this show, especially this part which everyone seems to know:
"The Love Boat soon will be making another run
The Love Boat promises something for everyone
Set a course for adventure
Your mind on a new romance"
The game follows on the same basic theme of the show by having different players assuming the roles of the ship guest (played by famous celebrities on the show) each of who has certain traits. These traits come into play as the cruise ship travels to different ports of call, and players use them to gain advantages over the others. In essence, this is a strategy game and has little to do with the TV show except the branding and some of the graphic on the game pieces. But that's okay - it gets us singing that great tune and wistfully dreaming again.
Barnabas Collins | Dark Shadows Game
Based on a soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971, this game has a video advertisement that gets the kid whipped up in me. I just watched it for the first time and thought the game looked so cool!
Who wouldn't want a game that comes with a vampire, a stake (watch our for it!), and even glow in the dark teeth!! Seriously Milton Bradley Company - you had me at the cool coffin shot.
Lost in Space Game
Like the popular show from the 70s, the object of this game is to travel through space to unknown planets, explore, and not get killed.
Unlike the TV show, this game has only a board, player tokens, and a spinner to work with. Hazards of various types are printed on the board.
All I can say is that Lost in Space doesn't work for me without the Robot, of course. And Dr. Smith. Poor, pathetic, whimpering Dr. Smith.
Starsky & Hutch | Detective Game
This game from 1977 was based on the hit series about two Bay City police detectives that ran on ABC TV from 1975 through 1979. The show starred Paul Michael Glaser as David Starsky and David Soul as Kenneth "Hutch" Hutchinson. And who could forget their bad ass red Ford Gran Torino with the white stripe, a car that, to this day, many of us who love muscle cars still lust over.
In the game, the two cops are once again chasing after the bad guys but without the car, Starsky's cardigan, and the ever-present chance that Hutch might break out a rendition of his #1 Billboard song, it's just not the same.
Ben Casey M.D. Game
Aaaaah, Ben Casey. Who's mom didn't have a wild crush on this guy? The show, known for its opening titles, which consisted of a hand drawing the symbols "♂, ♀, ✳, †, ∞" on a chalkboard representing "man, woman, birth, death, and infinity, starred Vince Edwards as the handsome, idealistic neurosurgeon working at County General Hospital. The 1961 board game based on the show is pretty simple - roll a die, move from room to room in a hospital, collect "symptom" cards, then make a successful diagnosis. Leaves plenty of time for chasing after that dreamboat doctor the game is named after now, doesn't it.
Got Any You Want to Ad to the List?
Let me know if you have any old favorites you'd like to see included.
If you were a kid in the 60s or 70s, there’s a really good chance that your mom was leaving the house at least once a week to go to a ceramics class. Ceramics was really popular back then and there were little shops set up where women went to get away from the house and kids, get creative, and bring home something decorative for the house. Maybe there was even a little wine involved.
These shops offered up plain white porcelain molded figures to pick from and then mom would spend her evenings painting it however she wanted. Based on some of the color combos and painting tactics I’ve seen on these pieces in thrift stores, I think there’s even more fuel for the argument that wine may have been involved! Once the painting was done, the item was fired and it was on its way home to a new place of honor on the dining room table, mantle, or wherever else she felt it would look good.
We had quite the assortment of hand-painted ceramic goods in our home. There was the huge cornucopia (or horn-o-plenty, the alternative name that always seemed to put my brother into fits of giggles when it was said aloud) that was on display at our Thanksgiving table every year.
A tower of fruit and some other weird stuff in a footed urn turn up in our living room.
There was a really glossy red and black speckled owl whose head could be removed (sorry - I can't seem to find a picture quite like ours). My dad stored his pennies in that thing and would pay me one penny for every two bags of garbage I took out to the trash can. I guess child labor laws were looser then. We also had the big cabbage soup tureen with a dish like a giant leaf under it.
There were tons of these things. Even a porcelain Christmas tree that had plastic lights that actually lit up when it was plugged in. I loved that thing but at some point, my mom chucked it in the trash. She went through this crazy phase in the early 80s where she wanted nothing. She used to actually say "I want to live like Ghandi. I want to have nothing and be able to dust without lifting anything up." Strange comment but good advice, I always thought.
Retro Christmas and Ceramic Trees
About ten years ago when I started picking up retro Christmas decorations, I’d see those trees all the time in thrift stores. I resisted getting any for many years though I’m not sure why. Eventually, I ended up forking over maybe all of three dollars and got quite a nice ceramic tree. Mine was green with the colored lights and had some white paint on the tips of the boughs that was meant to represent snow. Kind of the ceramic version of a flocked Christmas tree.
Popularity in ceramic figures hasn’t been there for the most part from what I can tell. However, in case you’ve missed the posts all over the place in the past few days, these things are suddenly highly sought after now. Brand new ones are being made by several manufacturers and sold in stores and online for roughly $50 or less. But the vintage ones, the ones truly dating back to being “homemade” in that they are hand-painted and often “signed” on the bottom by somebody’s mom – WOW!
I’ve seen prices in the hundreds for just one. It’s funny how for so many years my friends have turned up their noses at my love of mid-century kitsch stuff and now the world is taking notice - driving up the prices for everybody else. For those of us who got this type of design long before it was cool, well, we’re grinning from ear to ear right about now.
If the ceramic Christmas trees see a lot of success in demand, then maybe, just maybe the cornucopia will be going for big bucks by next year’s Thanksgiving. Better run out and get one now!
I had the goods. Lots and lots of them. I started collecting retro Christmas decorations years before the recent trend towards mid-century decor was a trend. I'm weird like that. I get on a kick about a good ten years before everybody else. So, starting sometime back in the last decade, I started hounding thrift stores, yard sales, and EBay, looking for weird and cute vintage goods to put out at Christmas time. This is one of the first things that got my attention - a really kitschy plastic and flock fireplace of sorts with the word Noel emblazoned above Santa's head, The materials, textures, and odd-sizing of the Santa, deer, lightpost, and the rest just made me delighted for some weird reason!
Fortunately for me the prices were beyond reasonable since nobody else really had an interest in this stuff. It seemed like lots of stuff dating from the 40s through the 70s was showing up en masse. Likely a bunch of people a generation or two older than me were dying off and their kids who were cleaning out their homes just saw these items as pure crap - excuse my French.
I was able to add to my collection quickly during the first couple of years. Things like glass ornaments, figurines, toys, and even old Christmas cards were up for grabs and came home with me.
In particular though, I sought old light strands and the old bulbs that went with those. To me, nothing is more soothing than the warm, fuzzy glow those lights cast off. Especially when you crawled under the tree and looked straight up into it - one of my favorite things to do each year.
Finding those lights was tough. They weren't being reproduced yet and getting originals that still worked or weren't jammed into a light socket was a challenge. But I pursued. Sometimes I'd find just a couple scattered in with a bunch of other things. Sometimes I'd find several boxes. But most times, they were attached to strings that wouldn't light up when plugged in. Even so, I'd buy the whole thing for a buck or two on the off chance that the bulbs still worked.
One of the interesting things I noticed was that there were differences in the colors of the bulbs based on the years they were made. Older bulbs are easy to identify - they have a rounder or squared tip and the colors are more gentle in nature. These are also better coated so they produce a different kind of glow than newer ones.
In this photo you can see differences in the blue bulbs. Those that are lighter have the more rounded end as well as being lighter in color to begin with. Those are the older bulbs. Also, the yellow ones are old, so much so that original vintage Christmas bulbs of this color are really hard to come by. Even white ones are different. Again, the coating is partly to play as it creates a much warmer light than today's mini-bulbs.
In the end, I acquired plenty of working bulbs and used the original strings until brand new versions started showing up in stores. I figured these were safer.
I also set out to find things like wire brush wreaths, old tree-toppers angels, plastic flower or bells woven into garland, and handmade decorations. I really loved those since I recall making some of the same things when I was a kid and I know and appreciate the effort put into their creation.
By the year 2014 I had amassed a huge collection. Box after box of items were jammed into a section of my basement. That year I put these items on display around the house, but the best part was in the old Billy bookcases from Ikea that I had.
These were 6.5 feet tall and had glass doors running the entire height. In essence, each shelf became its own shadowbox. I strung lights through each shelf then added items from the collection. It was amazing! I had friend and neighbors come over just to check out the display.
Here are some shots of each shelf - not well photographed, but you can get the idea of how they looked well enough.
Jump ahead to the very next year - one that I had very much looked forward to with new ways to showcase my vintage Christmas collection. In October, I split with my spouse (that was actually a good thing) and in doing so, it meant I was going to need to move out of my home - one that had 20+ years of accumulated stuff, including my extensive Christmas retro goods.
Timing being as it was, I realized that I could sell it, but I had to move quickly since as they say "the season is upon us." Ideally, I wish I had time to list the items on Ebay so I could get a better price on them (values had skyrocketed on many things by then) but that wasn't realistic. So, out went the ads on Facebook and in came the replies - like buzzards on fresh roadkill.
I managed to liquidate nearly the entire collection in just three days. It was crazy, and gut wrenching to see the items I'd worked too hard to gather getting dispersed like that. But, as much as I wish I still had these things, I know somebody else is enjoying them, and that in some small way I've helped to keep the spirit of kooky old Christmas decorations alive.