Tag Archives: Collectibles

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.


The Folly Cove Designers

This past weekend I made a major score when I encountered a long-sought item:  a placemat depicting Chestnut Street  in Salem made by Louise Kenyon of the Folly Cove Designers in the 1950s or early 1960s.  Though it is in rather shabby condition, I snapped it right up, as I have long wanted a piece of Folly Cove and now I have one depicting my own street!

The Folly Cove Designers were a collective of textile artisans working in the Lanesville section of Gloucester, Massachusetts from the 1940s through the 1960s.  Inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement and founded by illustrator Virginia Burton Demetrios, the designers carved their own linoleum blocks and produced linens, clothing, and upholstery fabric for their own houses and also for sale.  There was a strong educational mission connected to what essentially became a guild:  aspiring Folly Cove Designers completed coursework (designed by Demetrios, apparently as innovative an educator as she was an illustrator and designer) as well as a “masterpiece” (a term that originated in the medieval craft guilds), which, if it met with the approval of a jury made up of revolving members of Folly Cove, was produced and offered for sale under the trademark of the Designers.

After Virginia Burton Demetrios’s death in 1969, the guild dissolved, but one of the earliest Folly Cove designers, Sara Elizabeth (Halloran) continued the block printing tradition in Lanesville until her death in 2009.  The Sara Elizabeth Shop is still open for business, selling old and new Folly Cove designs on fabric and paper at both their shop and their website, which is also a good source for Folly Cove history and the block printing process.

The printing process:  as demonstrated in a 1945 Life article (“Yankee printers get National Recognition”), as well as by the still-working Acorn press at the Sara Elizabeth Shop.  Below, Virginia Burton Demetrios and her students/designers from the Life article.  The piece in the center (by Demetrios) is called Diploma, because it was given to a new designer, framed, after they had sold their first block print. Note the foot-stomping (or stamping) phase of the production process.

My Chestnut Street print is not really representative of a Folly Cove design, though the guild was indeed made up of individual designers with individual visions.  Still, there are a lot of floral and naturalistic themes, and some very whimsical images, particularly of animals.  The concentrated Finnish population in mid-twentieth century Lanesville might have asserted a Scandinavian influence on the prints (though they are far from Marimekko!), as several members of this community became Folly Cove designers.  On the other hand, some of the patterns look positively Elizabethan to me.  The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester has a very strong Folly Cove collection, including sample books and archival materials as well as textiles (in fact, the Museum recently purchased the block which produced my print).  You do run across Folly Cove products in antique shops and at auctions in our area as well:  Blackwood/March Auctioneers in Essex always seem to have lots.  Essex antiques dealer Andrew Spindler currently has several Folly Cove patterns available in his 1stdibs shop, including one of my favorites, Gossips, and some pillows covered in a perennial favorite, Lazy Daisies.

A few more of my favorite Folly Cove prints:  two designs by Zoe Eleftherio and Elizabeth Jarrabind’s Turtles, and (to set the scene) a Maurice Prendergast painting of Folly Cove from 1910-15.


Robinson Crusoe Style

I love little plates.  I have stacks and stacks of old and new desert plates, salad plates, appetizer plates, saucers, and plates which seem to have absolutely no purpose beyond decoration.  I hang them on the wall, I display them on mantels and bookcases, and then they go back into the stacks when I realize that there are just too many plates around. One of the few categories–or actually sub-categories–of plates that remain constantly on view are my Staffordshire “Robinson Crusoe” children’s plates, dating from the mid-nineteenth century.  Somehow they just manage to keep looking good to me, or maybe it’s because I don’t go into the third-floor bedroom in which they are displayed very often.

Children’s plates were produced in large numbers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and are consequently a relatively easy thing to collect (Best Books:  Noel Riley’s 2-volume Gifts for Good Children. A History of Children’s China, 1790-1890). I have some which feature Benjamin Franklin maxims, domestic scenes, free trade slogans, animals, and the alphabet,but the Robinson Crusoe plates are my favorite even though they are in far from perfect condition:  they are octagonal, transfer-printed (rather sloppily), and then “painted” with rather abstract strokes, as if the children themselves “colored” them, and most of them have a hairline fracture or two.

Daniel Defoe mined several true tales, most prominently that of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who was marooned on a remote island off Chile (now called Robinson Crusoe Island) from 1704 to 1709  to come up with his elemental castaway story, Robinson Crusoe, in 1719, and the flood of texts, prints, plates and plays thereafter testify to its continuing popularity well into the twentieth century.  According to the digital exhibition at the Lilly Library of Indiana University, the book has never been out of print.  The title page from the Lilly collection is below, with my favorite edition, published in 1900 with illustrations by Louis and Frederick Rhead.

Editions of Robinson Crusoe published specifically for children seem to have the best illustrations.  To make the story more accessible, sometimes Crusoe is transformed into a boy, and there was even a “little Miss Robinson Crusoe” in the 1920s.  From the vast collection of historical children’s literature at the University of Florida, here’s a few of my favorite images:  a rather ominous empty Robinson Crusoe suit from the title page of an 1845 English edition, the cover of an 1896 American edition illustrated by Walter Paget, and several pages from a Willy Pogany 1914 edition.

Robinson Crusoe shows up not only in books but also on all sorts of prints:  he’s an early cartoon-strip character, an advertising device, and the subject of all sorts of dramatic presentations.  He even shows up on wallpaper, back in the nineteenth century, and more recently on a Christopher Moore design for Lee Jofa.

1809 print by B. Tabart & Company and 1894 program for Robinson Crusoe play at the Drury Lane Theater, London, Victoria & Albert Museum; Advertisement for Fancy Dress Costumes, including the “Miss Robinson Crusoe”, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Robinson Crusoe wallpapers from the Victoria & Albert Museum (circa 1875) and Christopher Moore/Lee Jofa.

And for the final touch (and also from the Victoria & Albert), a pair of “Robinson Crusoe” sunglasses manufactured by Oliver Goldsmith Eyewear in 1962, and apparently quite popular for a time.  So there you are; certainly very few characters can make the leap from plates to sunglasses.


Christmas Shopping in Salem

I wrapped up most of my Christmas shopping this past weekend, right here in Salem.  I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that a few years ago; the retail situation has improved considerably.  About the only type of person for whom you couldn’t find a gift in Salem shops is an outdoorsy man, and I have two of those on my list so I might have to break my self-imposed rule of shopping local.  I really would love to be the sort of crafty person who makes lovely gifts for family and friends, but I know that’s never going to happen; I’m a college professor, this time of year means finals and papers as well as shopping and entertaining, so I have no time (and little skill, really, unless endless amounts of time are available) to make gifts.  The best I can do is search out creative upcycled gifts and shop local.

Shopping local is no hardship:  you walk along festive streets to nicely-decorated and -edited shops, browse and purchase, perhaps pop in for a drink or coffee, and then shop some more.  No traffic, no crowds, no malls, no generic gifts.  Walk, shop, drink.

Here are some of the shops and their wares I visited on Sunday, and some trends I spotted, which might transcend my local focus.

Urban Elements , 83 Washington Street, just a few buildings down from Salem City Hall

Urban Elements is a large store full of great furniture and large things, but small things too.  There are several walls of decorative items for the home, including kitchenware, bookends, ceramics, interesting little metal statues (bicycles and gears—very steampunk), pillows and throws, and signs.

Scrubs, Roost, & the Beehive, 230 Essex Street and 38-40 Front Street

Scrubs, Roost, and the Beehive are a family of shops offering all things for the bath (Scrubs), home furnishings and gifts (Roost), and cards, games and novelty items (the Beehive).  The Beehive is the store for Secret Santa and Yankee Swap gifts, trust me.  There is a strong focus on local products in all three shops, and particularly in Roost, I always see things that I never see anywhere else.  Below, Santa bathing in the window of Scrubs, sock monkeys at the Beehive and gifts for the home (bicycle motifs:  a strong trend) at Roost.

Sidewalks and storefronts along the way: Witch City Consignment & Thrift, Mud Puddle Toys, the award-winning window at Paxton, and planters, pails and buoys at Olde Naumkeag Antiques.

The Peabody Essex Museum ShopYou can find things for practically anyone at the large PEM Shop on Essex Street (except, of course, for the outdoorsy man), including jewelry, all sorts of things for the home, throws and scarves, books, and art.  I particularly liked “Marthablox”, the little photographic box prints produced by local photographer Martha Everson.

Pamplemousse, 185 Essex Street

Part gift shop and part gourmet food and wine shop, Pamplemousse also carries a lot of local items, including a large selection of the great candles from Witch City Wicks that I featured in an earlier post.  There are lots of kitchen items here, both practical and decorative, and German winter wines that you can heat up for the coldest days–and mead.  As you can see below, Pamplemousse always carries seasonal items as well.

[TIME FOR A DRINK]

Sophia‘s, 105 Essex Street

Further down (or up) Essex Street, across from the Hawthorne Hotel, is Sophia’s (pronounced SophEYEa’s, after Mrs. Nathaniel Hawthorne), a gem-like boutique with an emphasis on the romantic and the whimsical.  Here there are Sid Dickens’ “memory blocks”, Diptyque candles, perfumes and paper, jewelry, and hand-created hats, among lots of other indulgent items.  Below, silhouettes and a silver tureen full of watch parts, the makings of steampunk (a strong aesthetic in Salem) jewelry.

J Mode, 17 Front Street & Treasures over Time, 139 Washington Street

Back to Front Street, the center of Salem shopping, to go clothes shopping at J Mode.  This is a beautiful store with some of my favorite brands:  Tracy Reese dresses, tops by Three Dots and Velvet. Not inexpensive, but the emphasis is on quality and service.  The same can be said for Treasures over Time, a very interesting shop around the corner on Washington Street.  The shop represents the joint interests and expertise of a married gemologist and numismatician (coin dealer–I looked it up), so there is beautiful jewelry here, as well as collectible coins, minerals, and geological items.  A great shop for boys and women, and probably the best bet for those pesky outdoorsy men on my list as well.

A rack of Three Dots at J Mode, one of several jewelry cases at Treasures over Time

Addendum:  I forgot to mention that on this coming Friday evening, December 16, there will be a special shopping Open House Night, in which over 50 Salem shops downtown will be participating.


Trade Cards, Take Two

I’ve made a few additions to my trade card collection over the summer, and found some nice early examples in various archives.  So it seemed like time for another post, as my last one on these early business cards was months ago.  So many of these cards were produced in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that you can easily get lost in a sea of paper if you are thinking about starting a collection, so it’s best to narrow down your interests–by location, businesses, images, era, etc..I am always on the lookout for Salem cards, of course, as well as drums, horseshoes, elephants and anything to do with upholstery and upholsterers.

I found a few cards for Frank Cousins, my favorite turn-of-the-century Salem entrepreneur/photographer, this summer, including drum and horseshoe images.  Very exciting.  These both date from the 1890s; I particularly like the Who is Frank Cousins? tagline–it seems quite modern.

Some more Salem items.  Early trade cards are impossible to find (they are ephemeral after all) so the best place to look for them is in the collections of historical museums and libraries.  The two cards below, from the first decade of the nineteenth century, represent two businesses that were flourishing in Salem’s golden age of prosperity. As you can see the first card (from Mystic Seaport) is showing its age, while that of Jabez Baldwin, a prosperous silversmith and clockmaker (from the American Antiquarian Society), still looks pretty good.

Much more attainable cards include these two colored cards from the end of the nineteenth century.  I have no idea why strange-looking–even scary–clowns were good for business but they pop up quite often on trade cards.  These are not images I collect but I can’t seem to avoid them.

I can find lots of clowns, but very few upholstery trade cards, which is what I’m really looking for.  I love this great eighteenth-century example from the Victoria & Albert Museum:  what a great image and historical source.  A century before photography, it’s an (albeit idealistic) window into Christopher Gibson’s London upholstery shop, with both customers and craftsmen present.  Below the Gibson card  is a much less interesting one for the Boston upholsterers Copp & Pear from the later nineteenth century and the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.  No Salem upholsterers yet.

There’s another clown in this last card, but at least he is accompanied by two elephants!  There’s quite a few trade cards with elephant images (owing to the popularity of Jumbo, I think), but like this one, they’re all for national businesses and brands.  I’d really like to find a local, less-standardized example.


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