Friday, February 20, 2015

Mastery of Design: A Gold, Jade and Ruby Necklace, 1825

Gold, Jade, Rubies, Chrysoprase
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made just four years after the coronation of King George IV, this necklace of gold filigree with cannetille (fine gold work of thin or flattened wires in rosette patterns) and grainti (spirals and volutes of gold wire) decoration, is set with jade, chrysoprases and rubies and shows emerging resurgence of Gothic style which dominated the era for awhile.

The work of an unknown artist, this necklace most likely comes from France. It is curious to note that the earrings were not made at the same time as the necklace and, in fact, were not purposely made to match. These were purchased at a much later date and just coincidentally matched the necklace.

Unusual Artifacts: A Musical Automaton Hurdy Gurdy, 1875

Musical Automaton
Hurdy Gurdy
The Victoria & Albert Museum

At first glance, this odd item appears to be simply a wooden box adorned with figures of two monkey musicians. However, it’s much, much more than that.

By means of a handle at the back of the organ, a magical animation begins. The handle operates the Papier Mache and fabric monkey figures which were supplied by the Parisian maker Alexandre Theroude to a retailer of musical instruments, Thibouville Lamy. Together, they play eight different tunes. Upon being accepted into the Victoria & Albert Museum, the monkeys were given new clothes as their originals were in a sad state. The new clothes were made using the originals as a pattern and are as close in color and texture as was possible.

This item is illustrated in a Silber and Fleming catalogue which dates between 1876 and 1877. Similar examples were also for sale in upscale specialty shops and elegant department stores. Such a thing was not meant for children, but rather sold as a novelty for adults to enjoy.

Figure of the Day: John Liston as “Paul Pry,” 1820-29

John Liston as Paul Pry
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This Staffordshire figure, made in the 1820s, depicts John Liston (1776-1846), considered one of the leading comic actors of his day. The figurine shows Liston in character as “Paul Pry” in the play of the same name. This was one of the actor’s most famous roles and, therefore, this is one of several different figurines of Liston as Pry, the nosy and interfering star of the comic play by John Poole, which were produced in the 1820s—each modeled after contemporary engravings. 

Liston made the annoying character seem quite charming, somehow. The play enjoyed considerable success and, even, introduced several of the character’s catch-phrases into the popular vernacular. By 1825, people were quoting “Pry,’ with: “I hope I don't intrude,” “Just dropped in,” and “It's nothing to me,” with considerable gusto, and, soon, the name Paul Pry became a colloquial term for a busybody.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Balmoral Brooch, 1895

Commemorative Brooch
Collingwood & Co., 1895
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Still in its original presentation box, this commemorative brooch was given to the actress Winifred Dolan (1867-1958) by Queen Victoria following Dolan’s special command performance of R. C. Carton's play “Liberty Hall.” The play was performed at Balmoral Castle on September 16, 1895. In the play, Miss Dolan played the role of “Miss Hickson.” The brooch was made by Collingwood & Co. especially for the Queen. Collingwood created several such commemorative pieces which Queen Victoria gifted to visitors or special guests.

As was the style of the time, the jewel is designed as bar brooch featuring the arms of the Royal Victorian Order, enameled in red on a gold base with six imitation pearls. The presentation box of green leather is trimmed with gold and lined in beige satin and velvet. 

The Art of Play: Toy Silver Saucepan, Tea Set and Cover, 1720-1750

Toy Saucepan, Tea Set and Cover
Silver, Wooden Handles, Fabric
The Victoria & Albert Museum

For as long as there have been children, there have been toys. Children have always liked to play with miniature versions of the objects that they see their parents use every day. So, it was only natural that a child in the early Eighteenth Century would have a miniature saucepan and silver tea set to play with.

Crafted of silver and wood, this set features small versions of a traditional tea set in addition to a cozy, a saucepan and, oddly, a silver swan. Curiously, this set of objects was intended to be buried with their owner who passed away as a small child. It was taken from her casket before burial.

Print of the Day: Harlequin and Mother Goose, 1811

Click image to see original size.
"Harlequin and Mother Goose"
William West, 1811
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This print from 1811 was produced by William West (?-1854) and was meant to honor the popular play “Harlequin and Mother Goose” or “The Golden Egg” which debuted at Covent Garden Theatre on Christmas of 1806. The play marked the first major appearance of Joseph Grimaldi (Joey the Clown) who premiered his famed “Bang-Up” song.

William West became known as a publisher of prints and sheets depicting theatrical characters. He worked from the “Circulating Library” which was located on Exeter Street near the Strand. By the end of his career, West published over 140 play sheets at an unheard of rate of one every month. His works served to record the most successful plays and theatrical productions of the London stage for a period of 20 years. 

This print from “Mother Goose” was his first offering. Aside from Grimaldi, we also see “Mr Simmons” as “Mother Goose,” a Harlequin representing John Bologna,, and a figure of Mr. Punch with a saltbox and rolling pin. Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy, are also show on the lower left.

Ephemeral Beauty: Another Spooky McLaughlin's Paper Doll

The McLaughlin’s Coffee people wanted to capture the attention of their Nineteenth Century clientele and, so, they produced a series of paper dolls with detachable heads and swap-able bodies. We’ve looked at some from my collection before. 

After a century, many of them have donned a patina which gives them a rather spooky look which I find particularly charming. This one is, in my estimation, the spookiest of the lot.

On the reverse, she says the same thing that her scary sisters say:


.4 Baby Dolls.
..4 Girl Dolls.. 
...4 Boy Dolls... 
..4 Mamma Dolls.. 


One Doll in Every Package of 


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mastery of Design: A Gold and Baroque Pearl Bracelet, 1968

John Donald, 1968
Gold and Baroque Pearls
The Victoria & Albert Museum

When Princess Margaret wasn’t drinking or making people cry, she liked to shop for clothes and jewels. She had her favorite designers. Among her favorite jewelers was John Donald whom we’ve discussed previously regarding his Honeycomb Pendant

Donald John liked to play with natural shapes and create cutting-edge designs which were reminiscent of themes from everyday life. This bracelet of gold takes the form of a bird’s nest, set with baroque pearls of varying shades.

While this example from the V&A wasn’t made for Margaret Rose, she did have several bracelets by Donald and was a frequent visitor to his shop.

Unusual Artifacts: A Model of a Grocery Store, Circa 1870

Model Grocery Store
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen ELizabeth II

Click image to enlarge.

I hate going to the grocery store.  I loathe it.  Frankly, I dislike going most fundamental places.  I enjoy going places wherein there are pretty things, sparkly things, and only then when there aren't many people about.  Still, a fella's gotta eat.  

But, here's a grocery store to which I wouldn't mind going.  Were it full-sized...or, if I were a little, tiny person.  Hmmm...that would be interesting, momentarily.

We see here a model of a grocery store from unspecified origin and date.  Housed in The Royal Collection, the model is called, "Grocerie SPRATT Her Majesty."

It features a glazed door and windows through which are displaying miniature baskets, jars and bottles of food. Inside the model, a wooden counter precedes wooden drawers and metal jars which contain spices and groceries. 

The entire model is housed in a glass case.

To Serve and Project: The Diana Coral Spoon, 1530-40

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This outstanding spoon features a silver-gilt bowl and a handle which has been formed from a branch of red coral. The bowl of the spoon bears an unidentified shield of arms, a coronet (probably of a Duke), initials, and adornment with elaborate scrolling patterns. The gilt bottom of the handle is decorated with classical heads in low relief. These busts represent the goddess Diana, identified by a crescent moon, her symbol, above.

Most likely, this was once part of a set, but after nearly five hundred years, it’s impossible to tell whether it paired with a knife or fork, or whether it was part of an impressive cutlery set. According to the V&A, “a similar coral-handled spoon, together with a matching knife and fork, was purchased around 1579 by the Elector Augustus of Saxony, who had one of the largest-known collections of coral-handled cutlery.”

Coral was prized for its beauty, but it was also believed to possess protective properties, such as the power to ward off evil magic. In the Sixteenth Century, for coral to be used in cutlery shows not only the desire for something beautiful, but perhaps a wish to be protected from malevolent forces which might have poisoned the food.

Though most coral pieces were made in Italy, this spoon appears to have been made in Germany.

Painting of the Day: A Jack in Office, 1833

A Jack in Office
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1833
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Ha!  Early Nineteenth political humor (humour).  You see, when this painting was finished, a slang expression for a pompous government official was "a jack in office." And, that’s what this painting is called.  But, it's not a governmental, it's a doggie.  A Jack Russell Terrier!  Ha!  Oh, Edwin Landseer, you slay me with your canine antics.

All teasing aside, I do like this painting by the always wonderful Landseer and I think it's quite clever.  Completed in 1833, a critic at the time  described how "the well-fed and much caressed dog…keeps others from testing the food of which he has had too much." Sounds like a politician to me.

The painting was given to the V&A by John Sheepshanks in 1857

This is one of Sir Edwin's most clearly anthropomorphic treatments of human matters in canine terms.  A other critic said that the piece was "enormously popular, providing fable, parody, humour, and narrative in a single image." 

Sculptures of the Day: Biscuit Figures in the Sévres Style

Pair of Infants: One Drawing, One Reading
Dihl et Guerhard, Late Eighteenth Century
Hard-Pase Biscuit Porcelain
Acquired by Queen Mary, 1936-38
The Royal Collection
In the late Eighteenth Century, with the growing popularity of biscuit (parian), the porcelain makers at France’s Sévres introduced the trend of creating a pair of figures—one a female child who represents reading, the other a male representing drawing. This motif was frequently copied by other aspiring porcelain makers—both French and English--who were well on their way to perfecting their own parian figures. Such is the case of this pair of infants. Crafted in the late Eighteenth Century in the Sévres style by Dihl et Guérhard, this set is numbered on the reverse in black paint, “No. 1” and “No. 2.” Historians believe that the pair may have been sculpted to be included in a group on a large clock case that was never completed.

You’ll never guess how these ended up in the Royal Collection. Oh, okay. You guessed. Mary of Teck acquired the first one in 1936 and the second in 1938. How she managed to hunt down the the mate to the first one, I’ll never know. But, she did, and they’ve been in the Royal Collection ever since.

Ephemeral Beauty: Dr. Jacques German Worm Cakes

What have we here? A mother and child—they’re being visited by a fashionable lady who seems to be offering something to them. Soap, perhaps? Or is it a German Worm Cake? After all, they never fail.

Why would this healthy-looking young lady need worm cakes? She seems to be okay, maybe a little tired. Her ENORMOUS baby seems hearty enough. But, then…who can tell when worms might attack? They come from candy, you know? What? You didn’t know? Well, I didn’t either, but that’s what the reverse of the card tells us. Candy and good health bring worms. Poor health and over-eating brings worms. Water and air bring worms. Everything brings worms! Worms, worms, worms! You need vermifuge! You need it now! 

Read on and be afraid…

German Worm Cakes, 
The Most Efficient Remedy Discovered

     These Worm Cakes have had the most wonderful suc-
cess, and have proved to be the very best, safest and
most efficient Worm Remedy ever placed within reach of
the people. They are a safe medicine and easily admin-
istered, as children will readily take them, and their
efficiency is remarkable. Nearly all children are at some
time affected with worms, and worms in the system are
more dangerous than is generally supposed , as they de-
prive the children of the benefit of the food they eat,
thus reducing them to a constant state of emaciation and
debility, and also lay the foundation of many serious dis-
eases. The origin of worms in the human body is very
obscure. However, it is certain that children of scrof-
ulous tendency and generally depraved health are most
apt to be affected with them, although they are also
quite generally found in children who are in robust
health. Certain causes are well known to be exceedingly
favorable to their growth, such as excessive indulgence
in food, excessive indulgence in candy and confectionery,
impure water, etc. Worms are most abundant in moist
countries or during a long prevalence of warm, damp
weather. Children after weaning, are more frequently
affected than very young infants, and Convulsions or
Spasms are often caused by worms in the system. Be
sure to ask for Dr. Jacques’ German Worm Cakes.

                           Prepared by the
EMMERT PROPRIETARY CO.,    --    Chicago, Ill. 


Let's translate the above, shall we?

So, whether you’re strong or weak, whether you eat well or poorly, whether you’re a grown up or a baby…WORMS ARE GONNA GET YA. So, you might as well eat these German Worm Cakes. We don’t tell you what they are or what’s in them. Are they also made of worms? We’ll never tell. Just know that worms are going to get you and make your baby have spasms and be depraved. And, you’ll never know where they came from!

Object of the Day: Arlene Francis’ “No Time for Cooking,” 1961

The doyenne of early television, Arlene Francis, was involved in so many things—Broadway, film, lavish parties and mixing with the most elite of the elite. She was also, it seems, a fan of vacuum-packed meats as evidenced by her 1961 sort-of cookbook, No Time for Cooking.

Of course, more than a real cookbook, this was a multi-page ad for FlexVac of New Jersey who made their living sealing cold cuts and other perishable products into slick, plastic shrouds. They got themselves a star to sell their meat cozies, and they produced this book.

It’s rather bizarre. Taking into account that the worlds of cuisine and food styling have changed over the last sixty years, it’s still quite odd and quasi revolting. There are some perfectly normal things, like Eggs Benedict (which employs packaged ham to its fullest) and, then, there are…

Well, let’s look. Shall we?

“I’m Arlene Francis. Before I take my Lucy Ricardo dress to go see Dorothy Kilgallen, I like to bring her a basket full of vacuum-sealed meats. She loves the cold cuts, you know. I just know that she and I will be friends until we’re both really old. Here’s to Dorothy Kilgallen and here’s to my friends at FlexVac! I love packaged meat! How delightful.”

“This looks normal. Right? It’s breakfast. Nothing strange here at all. How delightful.”

“I love to eat pudding in my living room. Look! Someone made a pineapple totem poll! How delightful!” 

“Even artificial birds in whimsical cages love a good loaf. This loaf of an unidentifiable meat has been wrapped in fat! I love loaf! And these Long Island Iced Teas help it go down really smoothly.  How delightful!”

“Nothing says ‘Midnight in Manhattan’ like an elegant tureen filled with beans and carefully-arranged, dissected wieners. I’m sure my guests won’t recoil in horror when they see this. How delightful!”

“When my friends at FlexVac asked me to write this book, I jumped at the chance. Whatever did we do before we had the pleasures of vacuum-sealed meat? It’s delightful. Right?”

No time for cooking

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mastery of Design: A French Gold and Diamond "Aide-Mémoire," 19th C.

French, Nineteenth Century
The Hull-Grundy Gift to
The British Museum

Known as an "aide-mémoire", this notebook with hinged covers of blue enamel on a guilloche ground is decorated with applied four-color gold trophies of gardening implements on one side and doves, and bows and arrows on the other. 

Each trophy is entwined with a gold ribbon and an inscription in rose diamonds set in silver.

The piece is clasped with a sliding gold pencil.  The interior sports three ivory leaves, each containing writing in French from its original Nineteenth Century owner.  

Unusual Artifacts: A Pair of Men's Stockings, 1660-70

Linen Stockings for Men, 1660-1670
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Before the art of knitting became prevalent in England, in the Fifteenth Century, all hosiery products were made from woven fabrics--either linen or wool. However, even though by the beginning of the Seventeenth Century, knitted stockings were the most popular and convenient form of hose, but cut linen versions like the example that we see here were continued to be worn.

These linen stockings have been cut to follow the shape of the leg as closely as possible.  This was by design, to prevent sagging. Embroidered edgings in green silk jazz up the pair, giving a gentleman a chance to be a little jaunty.

These were made in England between 1660 and 1670.  

Print of the Day: Mr. Punch's Fancy Ball, 1844

Click image to enlarge.

Mr. Punch's Fancy Ball
Unknown Origins, 1844
The British Museum

The oversized comic scene shows traditional Punchinello characters gathered for a fancy ball and dance. The engraving is printed on two folding sheets and dates to 1844. We’re not sure who produced this wood engraving. Though the title is printed along the bottom, there’s no mention of artist, engraver or publisher. Even the date is not printed, but rather was added later in pencil.

Painting of the Day: A Design for an Inn Sign, 1700

Design for a Sign for The Crown Inn
The Victoria & Albert Museum

While, these days, we associate the look of a hanging sign with public houses (pubs), in the Eighteenth Century, in Britain, most businesses displayed them as a means of alerting customers to their location. The signs were designed with few, or often no, words and relied on colorful graphics and images which would have been easily comprehended by the public at large, most of whom could not read.

Not known for their subtlety, these signs left no question as to the name of the establishment. We can deduce that this design was intended to advertise The Crown Inn. This sketch shows a proposed look for the sig and includes preliminary pencil sketches of three different crowns, one of which is placed upon a cushion.

The sheet has also been “squared up” to ensure that the design could easily be reproduced on the larger wooden signboard.

This drawing is one of 35 further designs by the same anonymous hand which have been collected by the V&A. It was completed in oil, bodycolor and pencil on paper and shows a gold crown with fleur-de-lys, gems, ermine and red velvet. It was finished in London around 1750.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Cruikshank's "Punch and the Cat," 19th C.

Engraving depicting "Punch and the Cat"
George Cruikshank
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Some of the earliest, most accurate and famous drawings we have of the Nineteenth Century Punch & Judy shows in Britain are those created by the celebrated illustrator George Cruikshank (1792-1878).

Here, we see an engraving after one of Cruikshank’s renowned drawings.  The print crisply depicts not only the Punch & Judy performance, but also, the audience.  Here, we see Punch and the Cat in a booth in the upper center. Some Punch & Judy Professors in the Nineteenth Century used a cat in lieu of the Dog Toby.  At the time, many Punch & Judy men still employed real animals as Punch’s companion as opposed to puppet counterparts.  If a dog was unavailable, Mr. Punch was joined by a cat. 

This trimmed piece of paper has, on the reverse, part of a music score entitled “The Magistrate.” “Old G. Cruickshank” is inscribed in pencil on the upper left center.

Drawing of the Day: Punchinello with Dumpling or Fritter, c. 1796-1770

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this drawing of pen and brown ink has been accented with a sepia wash.  Beneath this, traces of the original sketch of pencil and black chalk can be seen.  

Dating to about 1796-1770, this is the work of a member of  the Circle of famed Italian artist  Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid).  Entitled "Punchinello with Dumpling or Fritter."  I think that's a lovely idea.

Tiepolo and his followers often depicted Punchinello in various situations, often showing multiple Punchinellos or whole families of them at a time.

Ephemeral Beauty: The Mollie Knitting Machine

In the Nineteenth Century, evenings were spent reading, engaged in conversation, playing games, enjoying artistic pursuits, and strapping your daughters into a knitting machine. Well, that’s the impression I get from this trade card.

The card was created for The Mollie Knitting Machine which claims to be “The Cheapest and Best Made.” By the was patented on August 10, 1886. The bottom tells us that we can buy this contraption somewhere in Missouri, in the past.

The chromolithograph, of course, has all the typical trademarks of such products—a happy kitten playing with a ball of yarn and…well, that’s about it. This pale-faced young lady’s cadaverous face is fixed in resolution to her fate as she, bound to her chair, is trapped within the Mollie Knitting Machine. There’s no escape for her. She knows it. So, she’ll just focus on her vaguely Arts and Crafts flower pattern and hope that, perhaps, the kitten will gnaw through the ropes which bind her into this nightmare of needlework.

$500 REWARD 

for any 
HAND-TUFTING MACHINE on the market at this
date (Sept. 15, 1887,) that can be worked by a child six years
old, with such precision, ease and rapidity, and making such
close solid stitches to the fabric, in working on curves, as can be
done with
Deal’s • Fabric • Tufter
(Pat. Aug. 10, 1886; Improved Aug. 25, 1886.) 
AUTOMATIC STITCHER AND FEEDERMakes Regular Stitches and Beautiful Work
          So Simple a Child can Operate it with Ease.
                    Beautiful in Finish. Perfect in Construction.
                              Durable in Use.

     Ladies delighted with it, and discarding the heavy, awk-
ward flat-handle and loose working crank-handle machines.
     Articles of handiwork – mementoes in years to come of the
loved ones of “Home, Sweet Home,” – made in a few hours
with this 

                    PIANO SPREADS, TIDIES,
                            STAIR CARPETS, LAP ROBES,
                                      HOODS, MITTENS,
                                              CAPS, SLIPPERS. ETC. 

One Hundred and Fifty Stitches Easily Made in a Minute.
Works Cotton and Woolen Rags, Ravelings and Yarn. We
guarantee every Tufter to be 
     Sent by mail to any address for $1.50. Carpet Yarn in
colors at 60 cents a pound. Beautiful patterns in stock. Ad-
justable hard-wood frames, 4 ft. by 6 ft., at 40 cents. Orders
by mail promptly attended to.

Well, thank God. Now, I can get my tidies made! I just have to let little Audra’s legs atrophy for it. This thing could do anything, it seems. Anything, I suppose, except give your daughter a healthful glow and a happy look in her eye. So, for $1.50, I can have all manner of fuzzy things in my house AND keep the female children from thriving.

Ah, but they did anyway. As you can see, one of them had the audacity to write on the card. On the front, in neat script, she wrote her name in pencil—“Lissa.” On the reverse, she wrote something which is now unreadable. I think it says, “Help me.”