Tag Archives: Collectibles

Turnip Ghosts

There is a great quote from the prolific and eminently quotable British writer G. K Chesterton about ghosts–or really belief– in general which references turnip ghosts in particular: I am quite ready to believe that a number of ghosts were merely turnip ghosts, elaborately prepared to deceive the village idiot. This is from a column in the Illustrated London News in 1936: the assumption is that his audience would immediately understand the phrase “turnip ghost”, and as they were British, they probably did. An American audience would and does require some translation. A turnip ghost refers literally to a Jack o’lantern made out of a turnip (but I would also include turnip-headed scarecrows)–something out there in the fields that was not a real ghost but that could create fear–a bugaboo (the best word ever). Old World turnips predated New World pumpkins as the material of choice for All Hallows Eve Jack o’lanterns, and remained predominate for some time, both in the British Isles and on the Continent. And you can easily see why: turnips are scary.


Turnip Seed Packet Ghosted

Turnip Jack o’ lanterns from Work of Fiction (+directions); my own ghosted turnip seed packet.

The turnip-headed scarecrows are equally eerie: they turn up on Halloween postcards from the early twentieth century in both the United States and Europe, but are not exclusively tied to the holiday. Turnips just easily lend themselves towards anthropomorphic expressions.

Turnip Halloween Card

Turnip Head Howl's Moving Castle

Turnip Head Shakers

Vintage Halloween card, c. 1920; the Turnip-head scarecrow from  Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle; Vintage salt & pepper shakers available here.

I bought some turnips the other day–larger ones from a farm up north and smaller ones at our farmers market–with the intent to carve them into something scary, but I’m not sure I can do it–even with Martha Stewart’s assertive advice. They don’t have the soft insides of a pumpkin, and they are much more diminutive. I might chicken out and merely draw on them, because I’m not sure that I want to put in the time and effort: every single time I’ve carved out a pumpkin it has been stolen days before Halloween, and I’m sure my little turnip lanterns would be even more vulnerable!

Turnips 093

Martha Stewarts Turnips

My turnips and Martha’s creations: I might just settle for the turnips (and radishes) in a dish decoration, lower right. See a very scary traditional turnip Jack o’lantern here.

So Many Puddings, so Little Time

I am not cooking this Thanksgiving (fortunately), but that did not stop me from browsing through cookbooks old and new (which is of course much easier than cooking). My recent dip into the history of molasses exposed me to a world of puddings, and I would like to make a least one over the holidays. Puddings of the past seem so interesting and textural, much unlike the smooth packaged puddings we have today. Pudding has become a rather generic word for desert in British English, but in the past, there were clearly variant types of puddings–savory and sweet, boiled, steamed, moulded, drippings, blood, bread, fruit, pastry, custard–with a wealth of amazing names:  “Quaking Pudding”, “Hasty Pudding”, “Spotted Dick”, Cabinet, Bakewell, “Queen of Puddings”, Roly-Roly. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when the popular Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management was first published, the list of puddings had been whittled down some, but was still quite long.

Puddings and Pastry Beaton

Before the nineteenth century, puddings were both savory and sweet: the trend line is definitely towards the latter but it takes time. I’m looking through my neat little facsimile edition of The Second part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell (1597) and what puddings do I see? A pudding of “Calves Chaldron”, several recipes for that perennial Scottish favorite, Haggis pudding, a pudding of veal and spices, and a  “pudding in a pot” with mutton or veal. No sweets. I consulted Joseph Cooper’s The art of cookery refin’d and augmented containing an abstract of some rare and rich unpublished receipts of cookery (1654) to gauge pudding developments in the seventeenth century, and found a mix of savory and sweet: rice puddings and bread puddings, “white puddings” and “black (blood) puddings”, oatmeal pudding, French barley pudding, “a hasty pudding in a bagge” and shaking and quaking puddings. Haggis was hanging in there too. For the eighteenth century, I looked at two cookbooks and found a diverse array of pudding recipes. Henry Howard’s England’s Newest way in all sorts of Cookery, Pastry and all Pickles that are fit to be Used (1708) offers up Green Pudding, Calves’ Foot Pudding, Puddings in which to boil chickens and/or pigeons, and cabbage pudding (yuck), along with a “Good Pudding” that looks like a mix of sweet and savory, while A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery (1734) has recipes for apple, orange and lemon puddings, along with liver pudding (yuck, yuck) and the soon-to-be classic plumb pudding.

Puddings New Way Howard

Puddings Savoury

The eighteenth century does seem to be the golden age of puddings, which were so important that they even became political. I found a Salem pudding story in the charming little book written by Marianne Cabot Silsbee, A Half-Century in Salem (1887): apparently the city’s Federalists and Democrats were divided not only in their politics but also their pudding-eating habits, with the former eating their pudding before the main courses, the latter after. Puddings were perfect symbols for satire and caricature across the Atlantic, as the plum(b) pudding came to be both quintessentially British and Christmas in the nineteenth century. It in this century that my favorite pudding (besides “Hasty Pudding”, which is transformed into “Indian Pudding” in America with the substitution of corn meal for oats) emerges:  “Tipsy Pudding”, better known as Trifle. That’s pretty common now, so I want to go for something old/new in my own pudding experiments: I think I might try out the “Amber Pudding” (which is very old) and “Hedgehog Pudding” recipes in the wonder book of Victorian puddings, Puddings and Pastries à La Mode (1893) by a certain Mrs. DeSalis. Because right after Thanksgiving, it’s pudding time.


Pudding Time Cruikshank

All Cookbook images: British Library; Puddings & Pastry here;  George Cruikshank, “Pudding Time”, Plate 6 from Illustrations of Time (1827), British Museum.

What I Want Now: Green Men on Plates & Paper

The acquisitive instinct in me has been kicking in lately, which I think is a good thing. I’ve been working very hard for the past year or so, and focusing on more material things gives my mind a rest. It’s really all about the search: I don’t have to buy, I can just look (really)!  Looking around, I get little short-lived obsessions, and right now I’m very focused on the creations of the prolific artistic partnership of Kahn/Selesnick, whose work spans decades and genres and explores a myriad of alternative historical and futuristic themes in ways that are both conceptually and visually panoramic. Be prepared to be submerged into other worlds if you check out their website or those of any of the galleries that showcase their work, most of which is way beyond my ability to acquire except, perhaps, for a few of their Green Men. When I was browsing around the online shop of the Morbid Anatomy Museum (which has quite an eclectic collection, let me assure you), I became immediately fixated on the Kahn/Selesnick calendar plates, which feature a different Green Man for each month, and then I was off on a mission in search of more.

Green Man November

Green Man November 2

Green Man December

Green Man December 2

I think I can swing one or two plates (of course I want them all) but the Green Man photographs are a bit too dear for me. I would love a few of the amazing hand-colored “souvenir” playing cards from Kahn & Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt (a fictitious independent city-state located on a Baltic iceberg in the 1920s) series, but they seem to be long sold out, so I suppose my only paper option is a seed pack designed by the dynamic duo for Hudson Valley Seed Library. I can frame it!

on a flowering path_d

Green Man Garden Suburb

PicMonkey Collage


Kahn/ Selesnick “On a Flowering Path” and “The Green God” photographs @ the Carrie Haddad Gallery; Eisbergfreistadt playing cards at the Kahn/Selesnick online store; and sunflower seed pack at Hudson Valley Seed Library. More Green Men.




Scary Vegetables

In honor of Halloween and the ongoing harvest season, as well as my continuous fascination with anthropomorphism, today I have a portfolio of images which I have labeled “scary vegetables”, some of which are scary because of the human-like characteristics assigned to them (in both the mandrake and pumpkin-head traditions) and others which are simply scary. I’ve featured this topic before, but this variation is a bit more creepy and much more focused on vegetables in general and root vegetables in particular. There’s nothing particularly modern about these images: the aforementioned mandrake with its humanoid roots was a medieval forerunner, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s whimsical portraits definitely made plants-in-human-form the embodiment of grotesque in the Renaissance and influenced surrealistic expressions centuries later. Some plants are scary just on their own–especially their roots–but others require a bit of artistic embellishment. I’m not quite sure why Diego Rivera’s radishes are so very menacing, but they certainly are!

Scary Plants Blood Root p

Scary Vegetables Kirby

PicMonkey Collage

Scary Turnipp

Scary Vegetables diegorivera_1947

Scary Vegetables Etsy Dewey

Scary Vegetables Horner

Sources of Scary Vegetables:  Bloodroot from Bigelow’s American Medical Botany, 1817; Turnip, Radish & Parsnip “Roots” from Kirbys Wonderful and eccentric museum; or, Magazine of Remarkable Characters, 1820; C.J. Grant colored lithographs/”advertisements” for Morrison’s vegetable pills, 1831, Wellcome Library; an old postcard from my collection, c. 1910-30?; Diego Rivera’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1947, Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City; “Tragedy 29: Turnip Seeds” print by BenjaminDewey;”Look Pa” print by CathyHorner.




Trading Tokens

I’m not sure when I last posted on trade cards, but it was definitely a while ago. This blog is getting to the point where it needs an index, I fear. I’m always on a rather random hunt for interesting examples of advertising ephemera: I like Salem-related items, but they have to be special in some way. There are just too many stock items out there–plump children, scary clowns, kittens, flowers. So many cards were produced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century (before they gave way to magazine illustrations) that millions survive, preserved as tokens of trade and little windows into the contemporary commercial landscape. Harder to find are cards with interesting shapes, and metamorphic cards, examples of Victorian special effects achieved by holding the card in question to the light, or folding it a certain way. The latter are getting pricey; one (a very rare example of cross-dressers)  recently sold on ebay for $150. Here are a few of my recent purchases, and cards which caught my eye: corsets and Frank Cousins, one of my favorite Salem entrepreneurs, are an impossible combination for me to resist, as are horseshoes, Kate Greenaway-esque little girls (an exception to my no children rule) and anything apothecary-related. The amazing die-cut trade cards of a butterfly and what looks like a cracker or biscuit to me but is supposed to be a cake of soap manufactured by Enoch Morgan & Sons, are from Harvard Business School’s Baker Library (which is currently featuring an exhibition entitled The Art of American Advertising, 1865-1910) and the metamorphic card of Uncle Sam drinking coffee is from the Miami University Library’s Victorian Trade Card Collection.

Trade Card Salem Corset

Trade Card Salem Corset back

Salem Trade Card Bates Publisher

Salem Trade Card Bates Publisher 2

PicMonkey Collage

Trade Card Stickneyp

Trade Card Sewing Maching Butterfly

Trade Card Biscuit

Trade Card Soap

Trade Card Uncle Sam

The Pied Piper

The Catholic liturgical calendar reveals that today is the day of the martyred saints John and Paul, the day on which (in 1284) several late medieval sources report that a man wearing a multicolored cloak strode into the small town of Hamelin (Hameln) in lower Saxony, and upon the request of the townspeople, took up his pipe and played a tune that lured all of their troublesome rats out of town and to their deaths. The piper returned for his payment, and when rebuffed, went away and then returned yet again, this time wearing the dark green cloak of a hunter.  He picked up his pipe again, and played a tune that lured Hamelin’s children–130 children in all–away, never to return.  And so the piper got his revenge, and a community lost its children for failing to pay its debt.

Engraving by Henry Marsh after John La Farge, 1868, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; 1930 Hameln postcard, Casas-Rodriguez Collection.

Such a dark story, and a source of puzzlement ever since its rediscovery and publication by the Grimm Brothers in the  nineteenth century.  Actually it never really disappeared; there seem to have been variant “rat-catcher” stories in circulation all over central Europe, and even in Scotland.  But the Grimms spread the tale far and wide, and Robert Browning’s 1844 poem made it even more popular.  Given the prominent role played by RATS in the narrative, it is an easy connection between the loss of the children and the momentous mortality of the Black Death, but the chronology doesn’t work:  the story dates to almost a century before the arrival of the plague in Europe.  In any case, the earliest references to the Pied Piper don’t even mention rats; they first appear in the sixteenth-century Zimmern Chronicle. The other references from that century, a time not only of periodic plague but also religious wars and witch hunts, seem to be transforming the piper into either the Devil or the grim reaper, leading the children in a “dance of death”.

The haunting Dance of Death at the end of Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal.

Robert Browning’s poem, based on the version of the Pied Piper contained in Nicholas Wanley’s six-volume Wonders of  the Little World; or, A General History of Man (1677), somehow presents alighterversion of the story while still maintaining all the dismal details. I think this is because of all the colorful illustrations in the many Browning editions:  by Kate Greenaway (1888), Hope Dunlap (1910), and Margaret Tarrant (1912), among others.  Browning also has a similar “tribe” of people resurfacing in far-east Transylvania, a reference to Ostsiedlung, the eastward migration of the Germans in the high middle ages, a more likely basis for the Pied Piper tale.

As is always the case, folklore serves up useful metaphors to the present, for both social and political commentary. The first half of the twentieth century used the piper for a variety of messages: in two very timely (and different!)  American images, he is leading a pack of criminal and/or radical European immigrants across the sea and a group of children gardeners after World War I, while in Germany, he is a leftist devil, leading the fledgling German republic Into the Abyss.

Anti-immigration and US School Garden Army posters (1909 & 1919), Library of Congress, and “Into the Abyss” poster by Theo Matejko (1919), Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Slippers and Slipware

It’s perhaps a bit early–though not too early considering our warm spring– but the lady’s slippers have arrived in my garden.  Late last week I took a walk through the woods and encountered the pink variety (sorry, no camera!) and this weekend out popped my yellow variety ( Cypripedium parviflorum or Cypripedium calceolus, there seems to be an ongoing debate about classification):  they always take my breath away the first time I turn the corner and see them.

I must say I do prefer the yellow variety; the pink ones look a little fleshy close up, with the flower resembling a lung more than a slipper!  Thanks to the journal function of writing a blog, I checked in on my lady’s slippers last year to find that I had seven slippers, while this year I have eleven, including one stem that has two flowers on it!  Words fail to contain my excitement.  Here is a shot from early this morning, after last night’s thunderstorm (during which I had to restrain myself from going outside to put an umbrella over them):  they survived, but are looking a bit put upon.

I was looking around to see how artists have been inspired by the Lady’s Slipper in the past and the present and found that ceramics seem to be the preferred medium for depicting this particular flower, which was once so common, and now relatively rare. My favorite discoveries were a beautiful piece of Staffordshire creamware from the late eighteenth century in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, a Whately jug from the mid-nineteenth century, and a lovely little vase by Michael Stanley Pottery.


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