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Vintage Plumbing Fixtures; a Look Back

Looking through design books; trying out new crafts; inventing or replicating ideas have always been fun for Liz

A Very Old Company

In my possession is an antique catalog from a plumbing supply house that served San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, "since 1849," it boasts on the cover. The name of the company was Tay-Holbrook, and they carried everything from the pipes and fittings that ran up inside the walls to fancy decorative bathroom fixtures.

Obviously, this catalog, published in 1931, is older than I am by at least 17 years, and the company itself by a century. Look again at that date: 1849. The great California Gold Rush began the year before, in January of 1848. The Tay-Holbrook company's timing was spot-on to accommodate and grow with the boomtown conditions in San Francisco.

Included in their catalog were items you would not consider as plumbing, such as hot-air registers and furnace vents, electrical controls for furnaces of various types, metal sheeting, and metal-bending equipment.

Memories of Daydreams

A century and a few years later, I loved to loll about on the living room rug, staring at the color plates in the middle of the book, and imagining that "someday" I'd have an elegant bathroom just like any one of those depicted. The style is very Art-Deco, and has the elegance worthy of any mansion, with a touch of flamboyance. Some of it is downright gaudy..

My parents did not dissuade me from my daydreams. They either ignored my fanciful wanderings of imagination, or murmured an occasional "Mmm, hmm... yes, that's very pretty." Naturally, I had no idea then that these kinds of bathrooms were reserved for the extremely weatlhy set, requiring salaries such as those paid by Hollywood movie houses or illicitly gained by underworld crime bosses..

Some of the models were very impractical, indeed, are probably even outlawed by now, with the current rigid safety rules that have been imposed. I know the first model of sunken tub shown, with my luck I'd fall in, in the middle of the night and break my neck.

(Weren't our parents always threatening us with the danger of, "...breaking your fool neck!" ?)

Influences That Stay With Us

Sometimes the things we like as youngsters set the pattern for our adult tastes, whether or good or bad.  Art Deco is a classic design movement that is experiencing a resurgence these days, along with the Arts-and-Crafts designs of the likes of Stickley et al.  In my case, my fondness for these designs was a childish whim, and I believe it was merely the concept of having an elegant, spacious bathroom that appealed to me. 

While our house was a fairly typical San Francisco home, living quarters above the garage, it had a very compact bathroom.  Sure, I've seen some much smaller, but for the size of the house, the bathroom was small in proportion to the other rooms.

In those days, I guess, you were supposed to get in, do your business, and get out.  No luxurious lounging in a tub of bubbles for an hour.  No candles and champagne.  Ah, well.  No matter.  It was not to be.  I never got my fancy bathroom, and you know what?  It isn't among the important things on my current list of life's priorities.

As an adult, I don't really care for Art Deco design.  I'm much more a fan of clean, contemporary design with an edge of traditional...nothing too sparse and stark, please.

I hope you've enjoyed these snaps of the past, and dreams of what might have been.

Gone, It's All Gone

In attempting to seek out copyright information on the catalog I featured, I discovered that the copyright date is 1931, and the company no longer exists. I have searched Hoovers, CJR, Wikipedia, LexisNexis, Meta Filter, the SEC and whatever other sources regarding corporate ownerships I could find.

No record of this company (that I am able to find) exists whether as a stand-alone or as a purchased subsidiary of any other .

Therefore, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, if a company is bankrupt or out of business, and has not been bought by another, any copyrights no longer exist.

Furthermore, (also according to the U.S. Copyright Office), copyright extends to intellectual works, such as art, music, drama, and literature...including articles such as what we write here on Hub Pages,. No mention is made of product catalogs.

© 2011 Liz Elias

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Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 26, 2011:

Hello, Folsomev,

Thanks for your input. I think you are correct about the timing on Tay-Holbrook's demise.

I remember my dad having to replace the galvanized pipes in the house with copper at one point, and he went to a supply house called Perves (spelling??) Plumbing Supply, down on 10th street. That was in the 1960's when I was in high school. I helped him with that job. My dad was a machinist by trade, and could fix anything.

That year, it was the plumbing..a rude Father's Day surprise, when I went to the basement to get something, heard a funny noise, and announced, "Hey Dad! There's water squirting out of a pipe all over your lathe!" Not how he had planned to spend Father's Day!


Folsomev on September 26, 2011:

I remember Tay-Holbrook from the late 1950's or early 1960's in San Francisco. I think they went out of business about that time. They were a large wholesale supplier of heating and air conditioning equipment, as well as plumbing supplies and equipment, and they had several branches in California.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on March 29, 2011:

Thank you, plumbing, for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

plumbing on March 29, 2011:

Thanks for keeping us reminded of old style of plumbing fixtures by sharing detail information and pictures to understand more it's origin.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 08, 2011:

Thank you, Fossillady!

I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Old catalogs are fun! I remember having at one point a reproduction of an antique Sears-Roebuck catalog--talk about sticker shock! ;-)

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on February 08, 2011:

My husband was a collector of antiques and loved old catalogues. He especially adored art deco. Like the sunken bathtub. Interesting article friend!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 08, 2011:

Hi, rmcrayne!

Thank you very much! Yes, there does appear to be a European influence as well. Great observation!


rmcrayne from San Antonio Texas on February 07, 2011:

Great bathroom pictures. Very European looking some.

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