I found these photos from my last trip to the SF Antique & Design Mall. It’s a hand-painted iron worker’s mask. I didn’t get in close enough to snap better pictures, but it’s an awesome example of the crude embellishments that probably added a touch of wit and personality to their otherwise technical and mundane work.
While I wasn’t able to look inside to see if there were any additional information regarding the history of the piece, the 493 carefully painted on the side might leave some clues. Poking around on Google, I found that there is a Trade Union in De Moines, Iowa called Iron Workers Local 493. Relevant? Perhaps. Now to find someone named “Ernie.”
UPDATE: Since writing this post, I couldn’t shake my overwhelming desire to own this piece of history. I was enthralled with it’s beady eyes, menacing grimace, and crude almost primitive design. The more I looked at photos, the more I began to see the striking similarities to the hand-painted decorations of World War II fighter planes (and often the bombs themselves).
I traveled across town to the Antique Mall and headed straight back to the booth where I first saw the mask. After bringing the mask to the counter, the cashier seemed perplexed as to what I saw in it. He peeled off a little sticker the seller had placed on the lens which stated that this “welders” mask was a piece of San Francisco history, dating to the 1940s. Upon closer inspection, on the inside of the mask I uncovered “Ernie’s” full name: Ernest Francis Samuelson No-39-493.
Using online research tools, I found out that Erniest F. Samuelson died in San Francisco on June 27th, 1998 at the age of 90. This information conflicts with my previous hypothesis that he belonged to a union based in Iowa. I suppose I will need an obituary to confirm that this is indeed the man behind the mask.