Monday, October 10, 2011

Thrifting Rural: Historic Route 66

After a discussion this past week on Twitter about the potential ins and outs of thrifting along old Route 66, I decided to make a go of it and hit a small section in central Illinois about an hour from home. Opinions varied about whether it would be a success or not: on one hand Route 66 is well traveled and could be over-picked; on the other hand it used to be well traveled and great pieces from the mid-twentieth century (the decades I am interested in) could be scattered along it ... especially in the less populated areas where fewer people are buying stuff up.

Before I even left town, however, I stumbled into an estate sale that was pretty poorly managed. Pricing was wacky, stuff was dirty, and the place stunk. Literally. That all played to my advantage, though, when I found this Eva Zeisel mixing bowl! Zeisel's 1947 Town and Country line for Red Wing is unmarked, so every once in a while I can find a piece or two being sold where the owners don't realize they have a seminal piece of modernist pottery. This was one such case.

Three dollars lighter in my wallet, and I was back on the road to Historic Route 66 through Lincoln, Illinois.

My first stop was at the Pink Shutter, a small church based nonprofit thrift that has been the source of some surprisingly good finds for me in the past, including a very rare Ray Eames "Sea Things" tray from 1954.

My stop this time around wasn't quite so spectacular, but I did buy a book with a cover designed by George Giusti (left). I also left a Milton Glaser designed LP behind (right). Both are nice pieces of mid-century graphic design, which I personally collect as well as sell out of my shop, New Documents.

After paying for my new book, I headed around the corner to Mission Mart, a much larger regional non-profit thrift shop chain benefitting a homeless shelter in central Illinois.

Unfortunately Mission Mart was a total strikeout for me, although I did pass up this tattered Alex Steinweiss record. An interesting design, for certain, but the condition left a lot to be desired. After stopping for a great lunch at one of the local mom-and-pop restaurants (tip: when thrifting in rural areas, look for restaurants where the farmers are all eating!), I headed off to my next stop.

New Beginnings thrift shop that supports a local women's ministry called "The Genesis Project," and is about two blocks from the main square downtown. I've only had limited successes at New Beginnings in the past ... the most notable being a few pieces for my wife's collection of scarves by Vera Neumann.

This visit was much better than my previous trips, though! The highlight being this lithograph from 1940 in the American Regionalist style! This is exactly the type of thing I dream about finding when thrifting in rural towns! Artist like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton worked in these little towns in the Midwest USA, along with hundreds of other artists searching for their own style in reaction to the Modernism of the coasts. They painted a rich history of the region in their work, and this piece specifically gives us a better idea of what life was like in the area when Route 66 was still new. Plus it proves that you can still find great art in thrift shops! I'm continuing to research the artist, as I am having a difficult time deciphering his signature. It's a wonderful piece of agrarian art, though, and put the proverbial cherry on top of my trip down a very small segment of historic Route 66.

So as I was heading back home I decided to make an impromptu stop at a small thrift shop in Clinton Illinois that typically doesn't produce anything interesting for me. This time, however, they had opened their warehouse as a sales floor! Eureka! This is a pickers' dream!

Hidden in the piles and piles of merchandise was a small shell-shaped aluminum platter from the 1940s, designed by Lurelle Guild for Kensington (left). I left it behind, but after about an hour of scouring through the detritus I did pick up three fantastic early Modernist records from the late 1940s designed by Alex Steinweiss (right top), George Maas (right middle), and Romano-Ross (right bottom).

It was a great day!


  1. Great post - I'd been thinking of trying to do a Route 66 thrifting trip on the section near us. Would be FAR from rural though, and I'm not sure how many of the thrifts are still on it. Though I know at least 2 that I visit monthly are on there. If you go farther east on 66 near us, I think the thrifting may get better.

  2. I love this idea. Sadly the part of Route 66 closest to me is right in the heart of Hollywood and they're no thrift stores on it.

    Love the bowl!

  3. YAY glad the trip worked out well for you, I was intensely curious about what you might find. I went apple picking in Indiana yesterday and had to hit a few thrifts down there too, sadly the 2 stores we stopped in were the worst Good Wills I've been to, EVER. A disappointment but that's always the fun/gamble of vintage shopping.

  4. Good story telling, Scott. Actually riveting for a fellow picker. ;-)

  5. Maybe you should hit the Lincoln Highway and National Road

  6. Where are they, bopfish? I'm not familiar.

  7. I love thrift trips like this, and I'd love to hit up those thrifts!

  8. Sincere mixing bowl love... that orange color is gorgeous too!



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