The English writer and historian Thomas Carlyle, (1795-1881) once said “The Present is the living sum-total of the whole Past”.
He also said “Everywhere the human soul stands between a hemisphere of light and another of darkness; on the confines of two everlasting hostile empires, Necessity and Freewill”.
One place that is more about light than darkness is RETRORIGINAL, a very original shop in Valencia with a very international outlook, and on whose blog that first quote by Carlyle appears, rather surprisingly, as the shop sells vintage paraphenalia steeped in nostalgia, especially Americana nostalgia, with not a history book to be seen.
Retroriginal is the brainchild of Jorge Gresa and Sergio Prieto, two childhood friends who both studied at San José de Calasanz (Padres Escolapios) in Calle Micer Mascó, Valencia.
Jorge’s passion for collecting memorabilia has earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the 2,017 items of Coca Cola promotional material that he has picked up on his world travels. After graduating in Law, he worked not only for Coca Cola, but also in Cascais (Portugal) and Naas (Irlanda) for multinationals such as Play By Play Toys & Novelties Europe and Frigoglass SAIC. At Frioglass he once again coincided with his friend Sergio, who had graduated as an economist.
Their shared interest in fifties and sixties design encouraged them to chance an entrepreneurial venture, and together they opened a bar, the Pemberton, named after the inventor of Coca Cola, in the historical street of Calle del Mar, in a building that would later become the popular restaurant Burdeos in Love and has since become an upmarket Hamburger restaurant.
Their spacious shop is a genuine trip down memory lane, tastefully arranged and designed so as not to produce claustrophobia, but to highlight the objects collected over many years as a labour of love that has since become a business.
Here you can find those discrete objects of desire that have haunted your dreams and drawn you American (and Spanish) Graffitti.
For example you can find a hand-held fan like the one used in the film Blade Runner, or a fireman’s hose to unravel during those quiet moments when only unravelling will do. There are also petrol pumps straight out of 1950s petrol stations and table footballs (also known, I am assured as foosball, fussball, futsal, kicker, or biliardino). And pinball machines, should you suffer from such a subtle wrist. In fact the owners of Retroriginal are collaborating in the first Valencian Community Pinball and Space Invaders Tournament, being held between 14-19 of January 2014 in Calle Tapineria.
The shop, which holds about 70% of the total collection, is not only filled with articles for sale; there is also a great demand to rent their material for period films and TV series, such as the Spanish Television series about the Spanish Nobel Prize winner Ramón Y Cajal.
Time stands still, or at least passes slowly in the shop as you keep discovering new gems tucked away and I happily spent over an hour listening to Jorge and Sergio recall the individual story of each of the objects, such as the old fridge, whose purchase involved driving at midnight up a lonely mountain road to an abandoned 19th century inn with increasingly worrying fantasies about a Texas Chain Saw Massacre scenario.
As well as selling genuine objects in mint condition, they also take some old pieces and give them a new life and purpose. An old airplane tale has been converted into a lamp, while an airline drinks trolley has been grounded as a cocktail cabinet.
Of course not all of the objects they have been offered found their way into the shop; a Spanish Civil war anti-aircraft gun was politely refused due to doubts about the convenience or the legality of possessing such a weapon.
Although possessing all items great and small, cheap and dear, it is the large objects that inevitably first grab your attention, such as the cinema camera in the entrance (12,500€), plucked from a cineam in León, or the studio spotlight (1,550€), which was once used to light up the stars at the Culver Studios in Culver City California.
If you are wondering, the cheapest item is an embossed tin cigarette paper holder at 3€.
Most of the material on display is for publicity and promotional purposes, as are most of the many thermometers adorning the wall, or the inevitably bulging Michelin Man, or the Dunhill’s ashtray with the red polar bear. Yes, you heard that correctly; red.
There are telephones like the ones you see in the old cowboy films, where they really did use to ‘hang up’ the phones, or dispensing machines for Coca Cola and for other products such as bubblegum.
There is an example of the first mouse ever marketed by Apple, a shoeshine sign from La Rambla of Barcelona and an illuminated Phillips sign from the Gran Via of Madrid. There’s a Cuban Coca Cola sign, pierced by a revolutionary bullet, and Mickey Mouse and Goofy telephones, and the first poster produced by the Iberia airline.
I could go on, and I think I will; there are advertisements for Persil washing powder, light boards from old driving schools for teaching would-be drivers how the car lights work. There are lift buttons, taxi meters, Cadburys chocolate machines, switchboards, and, inevitably an alligator’s head.
All in all, a great place to spend some time and remember the way we were, and with the drive and ambition that Jorge and Sergio clearly have, plans are already being laid to set up a shop on the Costa Blanca and to go on-line.
Somebody once said that the past is a foreign country, but in Retroriginal, the past is where they feel at home, and where you will too if you visit their shop in Avenida Alfahuir, 30.