At Pretty Funny Vintage, a charming Tarrytown shop that specializes in antiques, vintage finds and other “curious goods,” books are sold for more than just reading.
When you enter the shop – which fills two floors of a spacious 1890 Victorian perched on South Broadway – your eyes might dart to an impressive mantel anchored by a few editions with elaborately marbleized covers.
Owner Stephanie Leggio explains that those finds, of Italian origin and more than a century old, serve as a fitting “backdrop for antiques.”
A few steps away, a quartet of random titles bound in complementary shades of greens and yellows stands beside votive candleholders in the same hues.
“This we set up, as people like to buy ‘in color,’” Leggio says of the vignette.
Indeed, some of the books sold at Pretty Funny Vintage are used solely for decorative purposes, so that plays into how Leggio sources her merchandise. She hits the road every three weeks or so, visiting antiques centers and shops, fairs and markets up and down the Northeast from Pennsylvania to the famed antiques fields of Brimfield, Mass.
“We’re not looking for first editions. We’re looking for inexpensive books that add a focal point,” she says, noting that most books she carries fall into the $10 to $35 range.
But there’s another aspect to the books carried at Pretty Funny Vintage – and that’s where the fun really begins.
“The covers sell, because they’re perfect hostess gifts,” Leggio says.
Indeed, the titles of many of the books found at Pretty Funny help create memorable gifts – gifts often served with a helping of humor, wit and sass.
As with the nature of any vintage shop, the selection is ever changing. There are, though, some constants, such as books with proper names in their titles.
“If you have a friend named Peter and you give him a Peter book from the 1930s, he couldn’t be happier,” Leggio says. And it’s a gift, she adds, that’s “not going to be duplicated.”
For a couple moving into their first home, pick up “The New York Times Complete Manual of Home Repair” and they’ll see how things were done in 1966.
A new bride might like “1,001 Ways to Please Your Husband.” (It’s a cookbook, folks).
And for that sick friend, perhaps a fitting choice would be “Speaking of Operations.” Its cover shows a patient in bed, surrounded by oversize tools.
“Look, there’s saws,” Leggio says with a laugh. “Just what you want to see the night before the surgery.”
The books, clearly, work best for those with playful personalities.
“If you’re buying for a close friend, you know their issues,” Leggio says.
She and shop associate Mary Schnog take turns flipping through pages of a few books, which offer advice on everything from nutrition to exercise to grooming and etiquette.
Reading aloud phrases such as “Health and charm often go hand in hand” and “Thick soup makes an ideal luncheon choice” elicit the expected laughs.
More titles join the fun. There’s an edge of danger (“Smoke of the .45”) and a bit of mystery (“I Am Gazing Into My 8-Ball”), some romance (“Kindled Flame”) and a touch of naughtiness (“Overheard”). Some are just plain quirky, such as “Wild Animals I Have Known” and “Wild Oat.” (As Leggio says, “Just the one. That’s all you get”).
But she adds that the books themselves are more than just gags.
They also offer glimpses into earlier times, when a female author, she says, might go by the name “Mrs. Herbert Brown.” A volume called “Polite Society at Home and Abroad” offers woefully outdated commentary on travel, while books designed for young women in the 1950s and ’60s often are filled with advice on topics ranging from how to apply lipstick to how to flirt.
As Leggio sums up the advice, “Basically, any problem that became too tough: Just find yourself a fella.”
And sometimes, it’s just the illustration that catches her eye, such as the finely detailed picture of a handsome young man in uniform on the front of “A District Messenger.”
“This I bought because of the image. So beautiful,” she says.
Leggio stays away from the clichéd choices, such as the traditional “Dick and Jane” books that are both plentiful and often reproduced.
Instead, she sticks to offbeat originals, in good condition.
“It hasn’t become ‘a thing’ yet, which is kind of exciting,” she says, though admits it’s not easy to find titles that are both fitting and also pass that all-important “smell test.”
Even after 25 years of hunting and road trips that might yield only a handful of good books to bring back to the shop, Leggio’s enthusiasm hasn’t lagged.
“That’s why this is so thrilling to me,” she says. “You can go out and buy titles and genres that people never heard of.”
That is, of course, until they visit Pretty Funny Vintage.
Pretty Funny Vintage is at 80 S. Broadway in Tarrytown. Call (914) 631-3368 or visit home.prettyfunnyvintage.com.