Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hawaiiana - Don Blanding’s Vagabond Notes - Vintage Stationery

Even though I’ve been around old stuff all my life, the part of my job that I like the best is that I am always learning something new.  Just when I think I can’t bear the sight of one more Tiffany lamp or when I walk into a little shop and it all looks painfully the same (Pyrex...Fire King…), I find a new category of stuff that I’m not familiar with.
I recently did a search on eBay for vintage Hawaiiana (it’s been six months since my last trip and I'm missing the islands) and found some items by Don Blanding.
Don Blanding at a book signing in Hawaii in the early 1950s, from the Honolulu Advertiser
Turns out I’m late to the Don Blanding party.  How have I not come across him before?  Blanding was a wildly popular poet and artist in the 1920’s, ’30’s and ‘40s.  Blanding had a special affinity for Hawaii, which makes me like him right there (you had me at Aloha, Don).

As a young man in the midwest, Blanding saw a play set in Hawaii and promptly hightailed it to paradise.  The First World War interrupted his island sojourn but enabled him to travel the world for a few years, after which he returned to Hawaii.  He worked for an advertising firm in Honolulu, where his poetical ads gained him some local renown.  Blanding had a knack for rhyming couplets.  His poetry was straightforward, easily understood and usually about a happy, pretty subject--a recipe for popularity at the time.
He compiled some of his poems about local Hawaiian life into the self-published Leaves from a Grass Hut in 1923.  Numerous books followed, the most successful of which was Vagabond’s House, first released in 1928.  His writing allowed Blanding to continue to travel, hang out in Hollywood and live what generally sounds like a pretty good life.  He continued to publish into the 1950s.
Two note cards from Vagabond Notes.  The images are separate pieces of paper, so the glue has darkened over time on some, as you see at the top corners of the image on the right.
Blanding’s drawings were generally done in silhouette, a very art deco style that was ubiquitous in the 1920s (I see a million silhouette-decorated objects at the Antiques Roadshow).  Dramatic ladies in profile, exotic landscapes and flowers were favorite subjects and he seems to have found a style that worked for him and stuck to it.
This design was used on a dinnerware pattern for Vernon Kilns
Blanding developed a brand.  He proselytized a beach-hopping vagabond lifestyle that was a mix between the glamorous and bohemian, which no doubt had appeal in the Depression era and war-torn ‘40s.   In addition to his many books, Blanding designed several dinnerware patterns for Vernon Kilns of California, fabric patterns for aloha shirts and lectured all over the country. Blanding’s book signings attracted crowds--indeed, it is hard to find one of his books without ‘Aloha, Don Blanding’ on the first page.
Blanding suggested the idea for Lei Day, now a state holiday in Hawaii celebrated on May 1
Just after World War II, Castle Greeting Cards of Los Angeles produced three sets of note cards featuring illustrations and text by Blanding:  Romance Notes, Desert Notes and Vagabond Notes, the last of which related to his popular book.  In Vagabond Notes, a number of the twelve cards in the set depict Hawaiian subjects and some are of vaguely exotic women.
My favorite, of course, is the house on the beach.
I’m looking for more Vagabond Notes, so I can have some to send to friends--I have to keep this set for me!   I love nice stationery, and these are vintage and Hawaiian, so they are checking lots of boxes.  I'm sure I'll have more on Blanding again soon. 

© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg

1 comment:

  1. Is it possible to get a photograph of the box and cards together to use in my book about Don Blanding? I would give you credit for the images or images. I'd appreciate any cooperation.