Gadgets, gizmos and thingums

Old, odd and unique. That could be an antique shop, the collection of postcards with this article, or the owner of a business. Actually, it describes all three.

All his life, Laddie Vana collected old things that interested him … mostly really strange objects. By the time he decided to retire at the youthful age of 49, he had a garage or two full of treasures. “Weird stuff just appeals to me,” claims Laddie.

For a while after retirement from IBM, he volunteered at senior centers but his passion remained “the hunt” to search out more and more junk – scratch that –  antiques. The time came when there wasn’t a choice. Lots of his cache had to be sold to make room for added collections. “I sold one item and I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to sell more,” he said.

The result became a shop on Clinton Street in Binghamton, N.Y., named Old, Odd and Unique. Laddie’s first inclination would be to sell only “guy gadgets” such as old cameras, tools, trunks, hunting and fishing items and rusty “what is it” things, and he does have a galaxy of gizmos. However, he has a knack for knowing what will sell and has something for everyone from lamps and jewelry, to photos, paintings, books, ephemera and war items. This is an antique store the way they were before the intervention of cyber space – wood floors, tin ceiling, lots of miscellaneous bins to rummage through and the distinctive smell of the past. The Internet can never match hands-on browsing with the odor of history wafting on vintage dust motes.

It doesn’t hurt that Laddie radiates charm and knowledge about all kinds of antiques and collectibles. He casts a wide net when searching for stock. A human skeleton previously used for ceremonies in a fraternal lodge was snapped up after only a few hours in the shop display window. Do you want a 1920s megaphone or a Chinese musical instrument called an er woo, or a radio from a WWII Japanese plane? He’s got at least one of each.
A graduate student from Columbia University, Nathaniel Bouman considered Laddie’s shop so intriguing that he used the store as background for several scenes in his film Blood of the Hog. Nat wrote and directed the short movie as part of his thesis in the MFA program. “My brother bought me a fantastic, portable phonograph and a small collection of 78s at the OOU. I went to the store myself and fell in love with the place. A set decorator could spend weeks and thousands of dollars creating a space with the same kind of atmosphere. This store is part of what inspired me to write the script we filmed on the site. There was an interesting shot pretty much anywhere we turned the camera,” claims Nat.

ship's compassAnother claim to fame for Old, Odd and Unique is the number of well-known people who make the store a destination whenever they are on the East Coast. The late Bo Diddley often stopped to peruse vintage musical instruments.

If all this isn’t enough to stimulate interest in finding your way to this shop redolent of another era … contained within the vintage walls is an artifact of great movie-making history. Reigning proudly in a neighboring annex is the prow of a boat used in the Spencer Tracy/ Kathryn Hepburn movie, The Keeper of the Flame made in 1942. Yes, just the prow, currently occupies a front window. A few more pieces of the same water craft languish in the back of the store waiting for a new owner with a very large, empty space to fill. The proud history of the boat, built in 1905, includes being commandeered for use as a launch during World War I.

Out of this picturesque jumble also came an unusual postcard series of World War II propaganda cartoons produced to encourage Americans to disparage and defeat the Axis. They are definitely designed to make a point, sometimes with a bayonet. The cards are in nearly mint condition and came with the original advertisement. Beware, this series of cards was printed in the days when it was still OK to ridicule enemies of America.

Old, Odd & Unique is located at 93 Clinton St., Binghamton, NY 13905. Visit for more information.