Writer’s Workshop: My Latest Purchase

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I can be pretty crazy at times. A few years ago, I wrote a post where I owned up to some of the things that scared me as a kid:

I was scared of plenty of things, even a few strange things: water heaters (especially in the bathroom); EBS tests; public restrooms maintained by the Lien Chemical Company (a successful and no longer existing restroom sanitation service based in the Chicago area, who cleaned most of the restrooms along US Route 66 and, it seemed, the world); fire drills; and a host of other seemingly-innocuous things and occurrences.

One of the ways that I’ve learned to cope with these fears is to find things that remind me of these things that scared me. For example, there are a host of videos on YouTube of Emergency Broadcast System tests, which I now watch pretty freely and are almost a comfort, reminding me of happy times gone by.

I was browsing around on eBay one day and happened to run across this:

It’s a catalog from Lien Chemical Company, whose trademark scared me as a kid. (We’ve never quite been able to figure out how it started; I think I figured out that I was in a restroom one day and a strange man came in and said things that made me feel as though he wanted to molest me, but that’s just conjecture.) I saw this catalog and felt the need to have it. Turns out that the company had quite an impressive range of products and services.

eBay has a feature where you can put certain keywords in and be alerted anytime someone has something you might be interested in. I decided that it might be fun to start collecting ephemera from Lien. So far, my collection consists of the catalog, several uniform patches, copies of a couple of patents they applied for, obituaries from several of their employees, and my most recent purchase, a pocket diary from 1959.

It didn’t look like much in the pictures on eBay, but I figured for ten bucks, shipping included, who’d be without?

I got the thing last week and it’s really kind of a cool little book.

Inside the front cover is an advertisement that features a rather snazzy looking gentleman who might or might not look like your Lien representative and a general list of things you can get from him. On the facing page is a list of the addresses for their main office and branches. Whenever I see an old address, I go out to Google Maps and see what’s there now. In the case of their Chicago location, it’s now a green space.

Flip over to the next page, and there’s a more detailed list of the stuff Lien sold, along with their guarantee, signed by C. B. Lien himself, and a page where you can put all kinds of personal information.

Then it gets interesting: the pages that follow, before you even get to the calendar part, have information about

  • the meaning of the names of the months of the year and days of the week
  • a list of the legal holidays and other observances and which states observe them
  • a list of wedding anniversaries (e.g. the 25th is the silver, 50th is gold, and 45th is the sapphire)
  • points of Constitutional law
  • the figures from the 1950 census
  • table of distances between major US cities
  • a list of states, their capitals, the year they were admitted to the Union, and rank in area (Alaska and Hawaii are missing, of course)
  • time zone differences
  • Roman and Arabic numerals
  • etc., etc., etc.

This little book belonged to someone who wrote a number of cryptic notes in the calendar and other pages. I tried to figure out what they meant, and about went nuts.

Anyway, that’s my most recent purchase, and yes, I’m strange…

30 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: My Latest Purchase

  1. That’s really cool! Pat picks up old auto manuals and ledgers and things that he finds at auctions and stuff and we sell them on ebay to people like you. 😉 My favorite are the old vintage magazines. They’re fascinating!

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    1. Many years ago, my grandfather gave us all his accumulated National Geographics, and I could sit for hours and look at the ads. To heck with topless natives… If any of them were still around (we threw them out, unfortunately), I’ll wager we could make a killing on them.

      I’ve seen people on eBay that cut the ads out of magazines and sell not the magazines, but the ads. Ads are probably a greater reflection of what life was like at a given point in history. I remember finding an ad for Teletype, and the address that was listed was right next door to a place I had worked. I would imagine it’s a real hit-or-miss proposition, but you might want to consider doing that if you have some magazines you can’t sell.

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    1. I was happy to find it, and even happier when I saw the book itself. There are about 30 pages of general information that I can see people needing to have at their fingertips in the days before the Internet. I would have liked to see more advertising, but I’m not sure this would have been the place for it.

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    1. Oh, there was more than that: conversion tables, compound interest tables, a page on how to caculate profit…

      They’ve been out of business since the late ’80’s, so my fears just sort of went away. They changed their logo, too…

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    1. I was happy to find it. Not just because of its connection to Lien but because of the general information at the front of the book. There was a time when people needed some of that information at their fingertips, before calculators and the Internet were even a thing.

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  2. Have to play catch up! We all have weird things we are scared of. I love the catalog and the artistic look of the man inside the cover..very 50s. When I watched Wuthering Heights with Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon, I totally freaked when you saw their ghosts walk to their special spot. I wouldn’t go to bed and was crying and screaming. My dad got angry and my mom had to calm me down

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  3. That’s a great find, John. I smiled a little at that Identification page. All the stuff we trained our coworkers not to share via the Internet, sitting on one page. Different times.

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  4. You might want to check out historicaerials.com. It’s a fun little site that allows you to put in an address (mostly major metro areas in the US) and see aerial maps over the years that you can overlay (think google satellite maps but from the past. If you put in the address of the Lein Chicago area office, you might see what was there before the green space.

    I found that site once and it sucked me in for hours as I put in every address I could think of to see how things looked decades ago.

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    1. I was kind of surprised at what I saw. I know they had a building out that way, because I’ve seen pictures of it. I’ll definitely check that website out, and probably spend a day or two looking stuff up. Thanks!

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    1. They merged or were bought by National Hygiene (another restroom service) sometime in the ’80’s, and I think things just sort of petered out from there. There’s an extermination service in Omaha, Nebraska that calls themselves Lien Pest Control which seems to have some connection with them, but I have to ask. The trademark registration on all their logos expired 30 or so years ago.

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  5. Never heard of the company (maybe they didn’t make it Down Under?) but I do love finding things that are fascinating little insights into history. Very cool!

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