Monday, September 5, 2011

The Moral of the Story

Who doesn't love curling up with a great book? Or, sitting, turning the pages of a picture book, telling it's secrets to a wide eyed child, who is listening with rapt anticipation. Sharing books with a young reader can be one of the most pleasurable experiences any adult might know. The title one chooses to read will surely set the mood. Which book will it be? Something with a little danger maybe or, one with a happy ending? Should it be a book that was intentionally written for children? How about a book that was written by a child, such as Jane Austin or Lewis Caroll? Their early writings were meant to entertain their siblings 

The history of children’s literature can be traced back to the 15th Century starting with Thomas Malory and the Tales of Robin Hood in 1450. In the 17th Century, the first picture book, Orbis Pictus, was published and illustrated by Jan Amos Komensky in Czechoslovakia. Charles Perrault (1628-1703) of France was the father of the fairy tale. His stories may sound a little familiar to you: Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Cinderella. Most of these authors did not originally intend their books for children rather, they were written for adult readers. What would Walt do?

Publisher John Newbery, came along in the 18th Century with what is considered the beginning of pleasure reading. He is considered the originator of the children's book and he marketed his books specifically to children. He sold his A Pretty Pocket-Book with a ball for the boys and a pincushion for the girls. It was the first ABC book touted as "instruction with delight".

At the turn of the 19th Century, The Brother’s Grimm wrote Snow White, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel (1812). Later that century we have Hans Christian Andersen who gave us The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, and The Snow Queen among othersLewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland; Johanna Spyri: Heidi; Carlo Collodi: The Adventures of Pinocchio; Robert Lewis Stevenson: Treasure Island; and Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book round off the 1800’s with their contributions. Each a wonderful read for all ages.

The 20th Century brought the likes of L. Frank Baum, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, J.M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, Dr. Suess, Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling. A choice by any of these authors would surely delight. There is no clear definition of children's literature, but sharing any of these classics with a young person for the first time would be its own reward. 

The Kindle and other such electronic devices do not hold the same charm as a leather bound tome with full color pages, its true. The next generation will experience reading differently than the curling up with a book but, that doesn't have to be a scary ending. We can hand down our mother's cloth pages or our grandfather's first edition of Winnie-the-Pooh. The story is in the telling. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Where'd You Hide the Body

Just imagine sitting around the kitchen table sipping iced tea with a neighbor while listening to the sound of children playing in the backyard. Suddenly, the doorbell rings. The kids come clambering in, racing toward the direction of the sounding chime. The screen door slams behind them as each tries to be the first to open the front door. Naturally big brother wins. He flings the door open... and there stands... Billy Graham?! "Hi kids, is your Mom home"? Little sister, sounding very disappointed, shouts out, "Maaom, the Fuller Brush Man is here".

Yes, my friends, Billy Graham was a member of that iconic door to door salesmen coterie who would hock their wares to housewives in rural America. He and others like Dick Clark, Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Godfrey, and even Dennis Quaid and Paul Reubens wore out some shoe leather selling "...the best products of their kind in the world”. 

The company slogan; Make it work! Make it last! Guarantee it! has stood the test of time. Since 1906, when a young entrepreneur named Alfred C. Fuller, began his business selling unique custom-made brushes, the Fuller Brush Company, has always been welcome everywhere. Retailing a collection of private label home and business care, car care, and personal care products, this 106 year old unconventional company is still in operation today.

It goes without saying, that by its nature, references to the occupation have been countless in popular culture. One of my favorite old time Disney classic cartoons has to be the Three Pigs starring in Silly Symphonies. You know the one where the big bad wolf disguises himself as a Fuller Brush salesman? I think the Wolf won an Oscar for that performance.  We find mentions on stage, in The Best Little Whore House in Texas, in various cartoons and movies, in books; De quoi t'ennuies-tu Eveline? by Gabrielle Roy and many a song including James McCurdy's Fuller Brush Man from his album Where'd You Hide the Body.

I wonder what it would have been like to listen to the Reverend Graham's sale pitch? I can just hear Dick Clark, " We are about to begin the count down of the top ten items I have here in my case". Or Joe, "You would really hit a home run with this one!" How about Pee Wee Herman? I know you are, but what am I? Hehhehheh, hehhehheh... 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crofting in the Summer Sun

Salt, lemon juice, and lying in the sun…  Ahhh, the perfect recipe for... oh no, wait, something is missing.  Where's the tequila?  No, hmm, I guess we are not having margaritas?  Oh right, I was going to talk about cleaning vintage tablecloths.

From the wonderful Kitschy heavy cotton "Lunch Cloths" to the most pristine whites, table linens of the Depression Era could be purchased for a mere pittance.  Spending only a dollar or two, it was a great way for housewives to liven up their kitchens and raise the family's spirits.   

Today, the garish holiday themed patterns, large floral prints, and any one of the 50 States tablecloths (especially if found with the paper tag in place) are a collectors dream and could cost as much as two or three hundred dollars.  A true collector would not dream of putting one of these finds on the table, but, for many of us, these colorful cloths tucked away in our servers are like time capsules from our childhoods.  

There may be fond memories of helping set the table for dinner or spreading one on the picnic table for a summer supper outside on the patio. We may remember our Mother, Grandmother, or Aunt chastising cousin Tommy for knocking over the cranberry sauce while teasing the girls or clicking their tongues when Uncle Harry, after "just one more little sip", knocked over the best crystal goblet leaving the red wine in a puddle on Santa's face.  

These Victory Women wasted no time at the end of the meal "clearing up", food wrapped and put away, dishes washed, dried and placed in the cupboards, and the tablecloth left to soak in the hottest possible water.  With that, the blemished fabric could wait until the next day when they would agitate it gently with their hands so not to damage the threads (no need to knead, and they would never wring!).

Knowing that the best bleach is the most natural one, they employed the safest and most effective way of cleaning their textiles by using a centuries old method. A process that had been passed down to them through the generations.  A little lemon juice mixed with salt on the stubborn stains, a clear rinse in extra hot water and then outside to lie stretched flat on the ground where sunlight combined with the water and grass would brighten and remove any stain naturally.  Some refer to this age old technique as "crofting" or "grass bleaching".  

What could be greener?  You simply lay clean, damp linens out on a green, grassy lawn on a sunny day.  A natural bleaching action occurs with the combination of sunlight, water, and grass that will whiten and remove stains.  Make certain that you sun both sides equally and sprits with water periodically if necessary.  Colorfast dyes were not used until after 1935 so you may want to test a spot first.  When completely dry, use an acid free tissue to wrap it in before you stow it away for next time.

So, go get that wonderful, bright red, hibiscus tablecloth, with the flamingos on it, that your Mother got from your Great Aunt Mary's Cousin Fred's Wife and don’t be afraid to use it. And, let's see now, with the left over ingredients, you could always make yourself a margarita.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chatelaine Magic

Often we think of a Chatelaine as the keeper of the castle. The woman in charge of the keys to a very large house.  I picture a bone thin matron dressed all in black. Her hair is pulled tight in a chignon. She is wearing hightop button down leather shoes that, one can hear echoing, slapping against the wooden floor boards, from anywhere in the house. As she goes from room to room making the place secure she will be especially careful to lock that squeaky attic door. Who knows what is lurking up there?

Sometime in the early eighteenth century, the term Chatelaine changed slightly and came to refer to the ornament that the lady of the house would wear on her belt. It consisted of a set of short chains of varying lengths that could dangle keys, but now; a small pair of scissors, a thimble, a magnifying glass, or whatever tool she may need in her duties of the day would be there as well. In this scenario, I envision a much more refined woman with lots of happy children about.

Depending on the means of the gentlewoman, it could be made of pinchbeck (an early imitation gold named for its inventor), silver, or real gold. Some were very elaborate in their design and were decorated with enamel, precious gems, or inlaid with agate. What a pleasure it must have been to own one of these fancy utilitarian accessories. 

By the early 1800's, the gents picked up on the trend and would use their chatelaines to carry monocles, small writing tablets, mechanical pencils, and good luck charms. 

It would have been a definite fashion statement for any gentleman enjoying a day at the races. A must really, to keep track of favorite horses, race results, etc.

Pictured here, this extraordinary circa mid to late 1800's chatelaine pendant has a secret. It is a highly detailed sterling silver racing horse's head with beautiful European cut rubies for his eyes. As it is, the charm measures about one and one half inches long. The secret he holds is magic. That is, a Magic Pencil.  A retractable, telescoping pencil that measures two and one half inches extended. This outstanding artifact with it's perfectly working mechanical mechanism is most certainly a rare find. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wonderful Findings

As a purveyor of good junque, I am always on the look out for estate sales, auctions, antique malls, etc. Back when I had my bricks and mortar store, folks used to bring me boxes of "stuff" that they felt may be worth something to someone(else). Things that they no longer had a need or want, but the items were just too interesting to throw in the trash. Often times, as in this case, there were some wonderful bits and pieces to be had.

This particular box contained an odd set, if you will, of wonderful findings that belonged to only one man. Now that I have an on-line store, as a rule, when I list items the descriptions are, well..."just the facts ma'am". You know, age, size, condition, etc. Sometimes I will add bits of information from the experts as to a company's history or an artist's bio but, this entry somehow called for a story.

Although the real story is unknown to me, I have some wonderful ideas of how these circa 1880 - 1910 cufflinks stayed together as a set. My scenario is a romantic one and very elaborate and maybe a little like film noir. I imagine a stylish Hollywood crime drama involving a mysterious scoundrel bachelor.

Each of the cufflinks is of high quality in its craftsmanship and design. Rubies, Amber, Czech Glass, Gold, Rolled Gold, Steel, Mother of Pearl, and Brass are just some of the fine ingredients making up the tangible part of this story. The gentleman that owned these must have had a great sense of fashion. My guess is he was also very handsome and he would have been a man of means. Or, maybe they were gifts from his best girl. 

The fact is that there is only one of each remaining. Smart in his look, as he must have been, careless was he in his demeanor, I would venture. Where, oh where were the mates lost? Many a gay evening of theatre, parties, and clubbing, or were they given away to a young lady? Do you think he kept the remaining because of a romantic attachment, or was he tight fisted and upset because they were expensive. Did he hope or expect to find the missing link one day?

I hope to find a new home for these in the way of a crafter or collector, or, just as with me, an inspiration for imagination. They are too wonderful to just dispose of but can no longer function as originally intended.

There are six, all together and all are around the same average size. Only one has a makers mark. Double C's surrounded by overlapping diamond shapes. Most scream Art Nouveau. A fire breathing dragon and a sleek steel Greyhound, one a little more traditional, but all are very elegant. Each is in excellent antique condition with their original patina intact.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independence Day 2011

The great Socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, ‎"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." 
I think I may have once agreed with Mr. Shaw, but lately, I no longer believe there is dread in taking responsibility. I think most Americans want not only to take responsibility, but they also want to put in the work. 
An old friend recently reminded me of real patriotism when he told me a story of his father who had served in 'MacArthur's army and fought at Luzon, New Guinea. He, like a lot of other veterans of that era, never talked much about the war. Those who were able came back from it, went to work, and built this country into the greatest nation in history'. My friend's father 'spent the last months of his tour in a hospital in Tokyo with malaria and hepatitus, and he was never really healthy thereafter -- he lived on will and determination. He was awarded two bronze stars with oak clusters, but he never said what for'.
America will go back to work. Let's just hope that it is sooner rather than later. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Another new beginning.

How lucky we are to be living in a world of change. Life should always surprise us. I hope my new blog will be about change, hope, art, and wonder. A positive perspective from a layman point of view. I am not an artist or philosopher, just a regular gad about who likes to chat and finds beauty in all things.