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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Marked Lumber

March 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 8 comments

Identifying early 20th Century kit homes can be a tricky business. For one thing, more than 30% of kit homes were customized when built, which makes identification even more challenging.

However, there is a quick and simple way to identify kit homes: Marked lumber.

If you find a mark (such as is shown below) on framing lumber in an early 1900s house, chances are good that you’ve found a kit house.

The marks themselves can tell you something about the kit home, too.

Sometimes.

Scroll on down to examine the wide variety of marks we’ve found on kit homes throughout the country.

And a special thanks to the many kit house researchers who contributed photos:

Rachel Shoemaker

Cindy Catanzaro

Ersela Jordan

Jeffrey N. Fritz

Doug Lewis

Andrew Mutch

B. Maura Townsend

Catarina Bannier

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Interested in learning more? Visit our group (”Sears Homes”) on Facebook!

To learn more about why the lumber in Sears Homes is so extraordinary, click here.

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Lumber was numbered with specific markings to help the novice homebuilder figure out how all those pieces and parts went together.

Lumber was numbered with specific markings to help the novice homebuilder figure out how all those pieces and parts went together (1928 catalog). The marked lumber, together with detailed blueprints and a 75-page instruction book, enabled "a man of average abilities" to build his own home. Or so Sears promised.

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Lumber

Sears marked their lumber with a letter and a three-digit number. Usually. The font is solid (not stenciled) and about 7/8" of an inch tall. The mark can be found near the end of the joist, and also on the butt end (typically not visible after construction).

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Lumber s

Sometimes you have to peak around a few obstacles to find the number. Sears marks had a method. "D" was used for 2x8s, "C" was for 2x6s, and 2x4s were marked with "A" or "B."

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Sometimes the marks were not entirely straight.

Sometimes the marks were not entirely straight. Photo is copyright 2013 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And sometimes, theyre not easy to see.

And sometimes, they're a little smudged or fuzzy. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Example

Here's a good example, because you can see the mark both on the butt end and also on the face of the 2x4. Plus, this photo shows how faded those numbers typically become with a little age. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the 2x4 shown above.

Close-up of the 2x4 shown above. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Er

Another typical example, showing how faded these marks become over time. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And dont forget to look up!

And don't forget to look up! Note how it's visible on the right, but not the left. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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Ready for a pop quiz? Wheres the mark?

Where's the mark? This is under a staircase, which, by the way, is a great spot for finding marked lumber. Another great spot is the plumbing access door (behind the tub/shower faucet).

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Did you find it?

Easy to miss, isn't it? And this is assuming bright lights, good vision and that there are no rats scampering around your feet. These marks are most often seen in basements, and the number of obstacles you're going to see in basements is staggering and distracting! Most basements are dimly lit and stuffed silly with all manner of trip hazards!

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close

An extreme close-up of the mark shown above between the two arrows. By the way, it was also very difficult to see when I took this photo, and it showed up better as a picture than it did in real life.

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Ersela took this photo and I thought it was a great photo. Shows those 2x4s stacked up

Ersela took this photo and I thought it was a great photo, demonstrating how the ends were stamped (and how they fade with time). Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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word word

My favorite marked lumber of all is this Vallonia staircase in Columbia, Illinois. The owners were so very proud of their Sears kit home that they purposefully turned the treads and risers wrong side out so that everyone could see that they'd built a kit home.

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Sometimes, youll be looking for a different kind of mark.

Sometimes, you'll be looking for a different kind of "mark." This board was nailed to the underside of the floorboards of a Sears Osborne (as seen in the basement). The Osborne's first owner and builder, H. K. Mohr, had saved a piece of wood from the original shipping crate. The house was in Sidney, Illinois but had been shipped into the train depot at Boncard, Illinois. These shipping creates, marked with the owner's name, were often saved. It's not uncommon to find that the old shipping crates were broken down and the lumber was re-used to build a coal bin or shelving. Notice this mark is stenciled, not solid (whereas the numbers are solid, not stenciled).

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Another lumber

You should also keep your eyes peeled for marks with blue grease pencil. This says "2089" and "Rose" (how apropos). This was found in the basement of a Sears Magnolia, and the first family's name was Rose. The Magnolia was also known as Model #2089 (hence the mark above). In the dark, dank basement, this mark was nearly impossible to see. The photo above was enhanced to make that old blue grease pencil easier to see. You'll going to have look long and hard to find some of these marks.

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And how did that blue grease pencil get there? When the kit homes were bundled and ready for shipment, mill workers would grab their blue grease pencil and walk up to the large pile of framing members and hastily scribble both the model number (#2089 in this case) and family name (”Rose”) on a beam. It was a way to be extra certain that the right house went to the right people.

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This isnt a mark per se, but its something else to be on the look out for.

This isn't a "mark" per se, but it's something else to be on the look out for. Shipping labels are often found on the back of millwork (baseboards, window trim, molding), and in most cases, they don't say "Sears" but have a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, Chicago. Sears was located at the corner of Homan Avenue and Arthington Street in downtown Chicago. In later years, they created a brand name of hardware and plumbing supplies known as "Homart." This was a combination of their two street names.

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In later years, Sears changed they way they did their marks.

In later years, Sears changed they way they did their marks. Jeffrey N. Fritz send me these photos of marked lumber found in his late 1930s Sears kit home. At first, I didn't know what to think. I'd never seen marks like this in a Sears House, but based on some other research he'd shared with me, there was little doubt that this was a late 1930s Sears kit home. By the way, Jeffrey if you're reading this, please send me an email or leave a comment! I can't find your email address! :) Photo is copyright 2010 Jeffrey N. Fritz and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the marked lumber Jeffrey found in his Sears House.

Close-up of the marked lumber Jeffrey found in his Sears House. Photo is copyright 2010 Jeffrey N. Fritz and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Aladdin was another kit home company and, like Sears, they sold kit homes out of a mail-order catalog. Aladdin (based in Bay City, MI) sold about 75,000 kit homes, which was *about* 5,000 more than Sears sold.

Aladdin was another kit home company and, like Sears, they sold kit homes out of a mail-order catalog. Aladdin (based in Bay City, MI) sold about 75,000 kit homes, which was *about* 5,000 more than Sears sold. Here's a piece of wood - probably off a shipping crate - found in an Aladdin house ("The Colonial") in Oklahoma. According to Rachel Shoemaker, the folks in town had assumed that this was a Sears kit home for many years. Sadly, the name "Aladdin" has largely been forgotten. To too many people, kit home = Sears home. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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Heres another example of marked lumber that Rachel found in Oklahoma.

Here's another example of marked lumber that Rachel found in that "Colonial" (model name) in Oklahoma. This one borders on being artwork! Either that, or the Aladdin Stamper that day was pretty well sloshed. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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Another example of a mark in blue grease pencil. Rach

Yet another example of marked lumber found in the *same* Aladdin Colonial in Oklahoma. You can also see a bit of blue grease pencil scribbled in the upper left hand corner. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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I found this mark on an old Aladdin Brentwood in Roanoke Rapids.

I found this mark on an old Aladdin Brentwood in Roanoke Rapids, NC. It was very faint, but still legible. So this represents three distinct types of lettering on Aladdin kit homes. The first one shown above is stenciled, with capital letters. The second one is solid (no breaks in the lettering) and is all caps. The example from my Brentwood is first letter capitalized, with the rest lower case, and solid (no stencil).

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Cindy

Cindy Catanzaro found this in an Aladdin kit home. It's all caps, and stenciled (as is shown in the first Aladdin example above). Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And heres another surprise from Sears.

And Cindy found this mark in an Aladdin kit home (The Stratford). It's yet a fourth type of marking: Numbers separated by a dash. And here's where it gets even more confusing. I've seen identical markings in mid-1930s Sears Homes. Same format, same font, a couple numbers separated by a single dash. So for a time, apparently Sears and Aladdin used the same marks. Not to be confused with Gordon Van Tine/Wardway, which were several numbers, separated by a dash. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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B. Maury Townsend found this blue grease pencil mark in her Aladdin Sherman (1912).

B. Maura Townsend found this blue grease pencil mark in her Aladdin Sherman (1912). It''d be great if we could break the "code." Is it a hand-written part number? That's the most-likely answer. Photo is copyright 2013 B. Maura Townsend and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Im sorry to say I dont have an example of a GVT/Wardway marked lumber, but this graphic from the 1929 catalog gives you an idea of what to look for.

I'm sorry to say I don't have a real-life example of a Gordon Van Tine/Wardway marked lumber, but this graphic from the 1929 catalog gives you an idea of what to look for. I've also seen just the numbers (no letter) separated by hyphens.

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And this expanded view of the same image shows they also stamped *words* on some of the lumber.

And this expanded view of the same image shows that Gordon Van Tine/Wardway also stamped *words* on some of the lumber.

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Agorn

Here's an example of blue grease pencil marks found in a Gordon Van Tine kit home in Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and Doug Lewis and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This is also from a Gordon Van Tine/Montgomery Ward kit house.

This is also from a Gordon Van Tine/Montgomery Ward kit house. Again, it was from the original shipping crate that contained some of those 12,000 pieces and parts. If you find an old plank like this nailed to the old coal bin or used for a shelf, it might well be a kit home. This house was sold to Mathias Ringer of Quinter, Kansas and shipped into Beloit.

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To read  more about the kit home that Mathias Ringer bought, click here.

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Catarina discovered this mark on The Cheltenham, made by Lewis Manfuacturing (yet aother kit home company).

Catarina discovered this mark on The Cheltenham, made by Lewis Manufacturing (yet another kit home company). Is it a part number or a model number? Most likely, it's a model number and yet in the Lewis Homes catalog, no part numbers are listed for the Cheltenham. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Do you have photos of marked lumber to share? Please leave a comment below!

Want to learn more about Sears kit homes? Click here.

Click here to read the next fascinating blog.

Rachel Shoemaker has a blog of her own. Click here to read that.

You can check out Catarina’s blog here.

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A Rare Bird: The Sears Vallonia in Original Condition

April 9th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

There’s a Sears Vallonia in Washington, DC that’s on the market - kind of - but according to local Realtors, they’re having a tough time getting inside the house to show it. I thought I’d help them out by providing a few interior photos of a *real* Vallonia!

These are amongst my favorite photos (slides, actually), because they show a 1928-built Sears Vallonia in original condition - as of 2001. That’s when Rebecca Hunter and I had a chance to tour the inside of this remarkable house in Columbia, Illinois.

As of 2001, one of the home’s original owners and builders (yep, that’s right), had passed on a couple years prior.

Sadly, I’ve forgotten the name of the original homeowner, but she and her husband built the house in 1928, and years after the husband passed on, his widow lived there until her death. When we saw the house, not only was it in original condition, but it was in beautiful shape - as the pictures will show.

So if those folks in DC want to know what their Vallonia looks like on the inside, they can just scroll on down to see the interior of the Vallonia in Columbia, Illinois.

If you want to buy a Sears Vallonia in DC (or any Sears House), click here.

To learn more about kit homes in DC, click here.

From the 1925 Sears Modern Homes Catalog: The Vallonia

From the 1925 Sears Modern Homes Catalog: The Vallonia

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Check out the interiors, as shown in the 1928 catalog.

Check out the interiors, as shown in the 1928 catalog.

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Close-up of the original Vallonia bathroom

Close-up of the original Vallonia bathroom

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And here it is, as of 2001. Notice the floor tile, which is probably original to the house.

And here it is, as of 2001. Notice the floor tile, which is probably original to the house. I wish I'd gotten a photo of that medicine chest! But these are the original plumbing fixtures. And see what a good match they are to the 1928 image above!!

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The bath

And the Vallonia bath tub

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The original

And the original "pedestal" tub.

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The kitchen, as seen in 1928.

The kitchen, as seen in 1928.

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And heres the kitchen in 2001.

And here's the kitchen in 2001. The sink is a spot-on match.

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The original dining room.

The original dining room.

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The dining room in the Columbia Vallonia

The dining room in the Columbia Vallonia

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And original light fixtures throughout.

And original light fixtures throughout.

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The bedroom

The living room - as seen in 1928.

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And the bedroom.

And the bedroom.

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The folks in Columbia loved their Sears Homes so much, they turned the risers and treads wrong-side-out, so people would always remember, theirs was a Sears kit home.

The folks in Columbia loved their Sears Homes so much, they turned the risers and treads wrong-side-out (with numbers exposed), so people would always remember, theirs was a Sears kit home. Each riser and tread - all the way up - showed the marked lumber.

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The Sears Vallonia

The Sears Vallonia

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And here it is in 2001.

And here it is in 2001.

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Side by side comparison

Side by side comparison

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To learn more about kit homes, click here.

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The Sears Homes in Washington, DC

March 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 10 comments

As of last month, more than 260,000 people have visited this website. As a result, more and more folks are sending me beautiful pictures of the Sears Homes in their neighborhood, and one of those people is Catarina Bannier, a Realtor in the DC area. (Visit her website here.)

Every house featured below was found and photographed by Catarina.

If you have a bundle of beautiful Sears Homes in your city, please send me your photos. Just leave a comment below (with your email, which will not be publicly visible), and I’ll contact you!

To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

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First, my favorite house: The Sears Preston.

First, my favorite house in this bundle: The Sears Preston. The Preston was featured on the cover of "Houses by Mail," and yet it's a rare bird in the world of Sears Homes.

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And here it is in Washington, DC.

And here it is in Washington, DC, complete with its original shutters. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Westly was a perennial favorite for Sears.

The Sears Westly was a perennial favorite for Sears (1919 catalog).

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This Westly is in shockingly beautiful condition.

This Westly is in wonderfully original condition. Even the original siding (shakes and clapboard) have survived several decades worth of pesky vinyl siding salesmen. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Fullerton is a beautiful and classic foursquare (1925 catalog).

The Sears Fullerton is a beautiful and classic foursquare (1925 catalog).

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Fullerton

Even though the vinyl siding salesmen have "had their way" with this grand old house, you can still see the classic lines of the Fullerton. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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In addition to Sears, there were other companies that sold kit homes in the early 1900s, including Lewis Homes. They were based in Bay City, Michigan. Catarina has found several Lewis Homes in the DC area.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies that sold kit homes in the early 1900s, including "Lewis Homes." They were based in Bay City, Michigan. Catarina has found several Lewis Homes in the DC area.

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The Ardmore is an easy-to-recognize kit home because of its many unique architectural features.

The Ardmore is an easy-to-recognize kit home because of its many unique architectural features. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Barrington was probably one of their Top 20 most popular homes (1928 catalog).

The Sears Barrington was probably one of their "Top 20" most popular homes (1928 catalog).

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Barrington

This Barrington in DC looks much like it did when built in the late 1920s. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And one of my favorites, the Sears Alhambra.

And one of my favorites, the Sears Alhambra.

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Ive seen hundreds of Alhambras throughout the country but I have never seen one painted orange! Doesnt look too bad!

I've seen hundreds of Alhambras throughout the country but I have never seen one painted orange! Doesn't look too bad! It's a nice orange - kind of a "Popsicle Orange." And the house is in beautiful condition. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And another Lewis Home, the Cheltenham (1922 catalog).

And another Lewis Home, the Cheltenham (1922 catalog).

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This Lewis Cheltenham in DC is in beautiful condition.

I have recurring dreams about a big beautiful 1920s Dutch Colonial that someone has left to me in their will. I'm a sap for a beautiful Dutch Colonial and the Cheltenham is one of the prettiest ones I've ever seen. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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On the rear cover of the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, they listed a few of the Sears Modern Homes Sales Offices in the country. They placed these Sears Modern Homes Stores in communities were sales of kit homes were already quite strong, and once these stores were in place, sales (not surprisingly) became even stronger.

In the 1930s, Sears listed the location of their "Sears Modern Homes Sales Offices." They placed these "Sears Modern Homes Stores" in communities were sales of kit homes were already quite strong, and once these stores were in place, sales (not surprisingly) became even stronger. In DC, the Sears Modern Homes Sales Office was on Bladensburg Road.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, visit here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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