Tag Archives: Collectibles

Salem Etsy Picks for Summer

I haven’t done an Etsy post for a while, so I thought I would showcase some recent finds that are Salem-related or offered by Salem sellers. I was intrigued by my first item even before I realized it was set at the Salem train station (for lack of a better term); I have no idea what kind of search I was running, but it suddenly appeared!   The second item, an architectural print of the Colonial Revival “fireplace nook” in the dining room of the Caroline Emmerton House on Essex Street in Salem from the American Architect and Building News,  was featured in an earlier post entitled “Hand-drawn Houses” so it’s neat to see the Etsy listing. To fill my Salem basket I have added a Salem-made clock pendant, a pair of Daniel Low & Company vintage art nouveau butter knives, and a great old Essex Institute book on Salem ships.

11×14 Photographic print of Alternate Reality Train Station (8×10 also available) by Etsy seller remyphotographic.

Dining Room of Mrs. Emmerton, Salem, MA 1890 from Etsy seller stcroixarchitecture.

Antique Gold Steampunk Pendant by Etsy seller HeatherReidStudios.

Two Antique Sterling Butter SpreadersDaniel Low & Co. from Etsy seller RobertaGrove

1925 Old Time Ships of Salem from Etsy seller Frothingham Street

Cars at the Codman Estate

I went out to Historic New England’s Codman Estate in Lincoln, Massachusetts this weekend to view what must have been hundreds of antique automobiles parked in its surrounding fields.  As all of you in this area know, Sunday was a hot and bright day, and all that chrome seemed to make it hotter and brighter!  I liked the juxtaposition of the twentieth-century cars with the eighteenth-century house; the Codman house, alternatively known as “The Grange”, was built around 1740 but considerably altered in the 1790s, so that it looks like a proper (though a bit boxy) Salem Federal house to an amateur architectural historian such as myself.

I am sorry to disappoint antique automobile aficionados, but I arrived a bit late and wanted to take as many photographs as possible so I didn’t gather that much information about the cars.  This is really a shame, as their owners (all men, as far as I could tell) were extremely eager to tell onlookers all about them—both the history of the car and their history with the car.  I wish I had had more time to hear every car tale.  For the most part, except for a few Jaguars and MGs, this was an American car meet-up:  all models of Fords, Studebakers, Hudsons, Packards, Cadillacs. Lots of trucks!  I did see a few original Beetles, but the only older BMW was decidedly late for the party and turned away.

Not a great picture, but very representative of the day:  great variety and gleaming chrome.

I kept checking back, but I never saw this guy, only his legs.

  For some reason, I was particularly taken with all the trucks on display. Vintage trucks are so much more attractive than the behemoths on the road today! This early REO truck got a lot of attention (I liked its wheels).

Lots of big, LONG mid-century American cars, both convertibles and hard-tops.  The Thunderbirds seemed particularly numerous and beautiful, both inside and out.

My very favorite (despite Mr. Nader), the Corvair, and a perfect Packard.

More Salem Items on Etsy

I haven’t featured any Etsy items for a while, because most of the Salem-related items have been too kitschy and witchy.  I like to examine historical witchcraft memorabilia as a cultural phenomenon but I’m certainly not going to encourage its present production!  I always check the site weekly, because I think Etsy is such a great platform for creative entrepreneurs, and this past weekend I was able to assemble a solid selection of Salem items, including some offered by shop start-ups.

Salem Home by Etsy seller painterdawn.

 Vintage House of Seven Gables Souvenir Handkerchief from Etsy seller find4you.

 Reds in Salem, Massachusetts Original Oil Painting by Etsy seller Bumbleweedz.

 West India Goods Store Photograph by Etsy seller WednesdaySistersArts.

Circle of Bees Watercolor Painting by Salem Etsy seller unitedthread.

 Embroidered Picture of Crowninshield Wharf, Olde Salem by Etsy seller mockingbirdroad.

 Historic House Pillow-Crowninshield Bentley Salem by Etsy seller notwithoutmerit.

Bicycles Built for Everyone

While many European countries have had a consistent bicycle culture for a century or so, America’ s relationship with two-wheelers seems to run in cycles (pardon the pun).  I think we want to be a bicycling nation now, but this was certainly not the case twenty years ago and our national obsession with the automobile will never go away.  This weekend, instead of getting out on my bike (one of the few forms of exercise that I really enjoy) I read (or perused) two books on bicycles, both of which made a pretty strong visual case for the existence of a vibrant American bicycling culture at the turn of the last century.  Cyclopedia by William Fotheringham is an illustrated reference book about the history and trivia of bicycles, a pick-up-and-learn-all-sorts-of-little-things type of book, while Wheels of Change:  How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires along the Way)  by Sue Macy explores the interesting relationship between women’s’  liberation and bicycling, a connection that is easily supported by the print and popular culture of the period.

An editorial cartoon from the June 19, 1895 edition of Puck magazine links the many varieties of the “new woman” (wearing pantaloons!) with bicycles, and a poster advertisement for the New York Ledger from a couple of years later features a woman wearing even shorter bloomers.  It appears that the bicycle aided the progress of dress reform, at the very least.

Actually the famous bicycless (?) Elsa von Blumen was one of the first ladies to blaze this trail, winning races against horses and other women racers on her high-wheel bicycle in the 1880s and marketing photographs of herself in full bicycle dress.  Bicycle racing of all forms seems to have been extremely popular in the two decades on either side of the turn of the twentieth century:  women against women, women against horses, men against men.

Elsa von Blumen in 1889

A very alliterative advertisement for the "Racycle"

The replacement of the high-wheel (penny-farthing) bicycle by the modern “safety” bicycle intensified interest in two-wheelers in general and racing in particular.  Bicycle clubs were very common and there was a brief window of opportunity just after the turn of the century  for bicycles to become the primary means of transportation, particularly in urban areas.  Advertisements and other forms of ephemera were very prevalent; Americans just seemed to like the image  of the bicycle, as the last poster below indicates.

Bicycle Races in 1895, Library of Congress

Library of Congress

After about 1910 or 1920, with the increase in the production of automobiles and the consequential decrease in price, bicycles seem to have lost their appeal as an adult form of transportation.  The advertising of that era onwards clearly indicates that bicycles were now marketed primarily to children.  Here in Salem, Parker Brothers took advantage of the emerging juvenile market by turning out bicyle-themed books and games.

No matter what product or service they were selling, late nineteenth -and early twentieth-century trade cards often featured children, as well as cute and fuzzy little animals.  Add a bicycle motif and you have an even more adorable image, if that’s possible.  The J & P Coats Thread Company’s bunny and kitten cards below, have always been among the most popular cards with ephemera collectors.

Back to the Future:  Britain’s “Tweed Run” movement (a crusade against bike shorts founded in 2009) spawns American’s “Tweed Ride” movement:

The Key to……..

This was a week of keys; I lost a key (temporarily), got a new key, and seemed to be perpetually teaching about Renaissance popes who asserted their power visually by wielding big keys (to the kingdom of heaven, of course) in an age of questioning authority.  I have always liked keys, both their material existence and their symbolism.  They represent access, understanding, the revelation of secrets, possession. When I moved into my house a decade ago I found a big box of skeleton keys in the basement, far more keys that I have doors.  So I strung them up on ribbons which I hang from hooks on my back stair landing.  Of course, everyone who passes by thinks I have a key fetish so I have collected even more keys over the years.

Fifteenth-century popes seem to be in the possession of an ever-present key, symbol of their possession of jurisdiction over salvation, bequeathed to them by St. Peter.  Here are images from two mid-fifteenth century illuminated manuscripts in the British Library showing popes and their big keys:

Jumping forward into the modern era, keys have lost their religious symbolism and taken on all sorts of associations.  Here they appear on tarot cigarette cards, in illustrations from a mid-century text called Robbery as a Science (with instructions on how to pick a lock, very useful for potential burglars!) on an abolitionist envelope, in a political cartoon entitled “the key to the situation” featuring President Grover Cleveland (all from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery), and in the titles of  two popular genres of twentieth-century entertainment:  sheet music and a Clark Gable film from 1950 (Library of Congress Digital Collections).

The keys to the city custom has a history all its own, dating back to when medieval cities were independent entities that extended the “freedom of the city” to special visitors.  There are lots of references and images of early modern kings like Louis XIV entering, claiming, and receiving keys to cities (like Strasbourg below, in 1681) but obviously the modern custom represents recognition rather than possession.  Below Louis, we have presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower receiving the keys to the city of Rock Island, Illinois from its mayor Melvin McKay in 1952 (Time-Life Photographs) and a very recent photograph from the Wall Street Journal of Ralph Lauren with his newly acquired key to the city of New York.

Below are some neat keys that I’ve had my eye on for a while:  a porcelain set made in Japan, a “steampunk clockwork magic key” textile border, and USB flashdrives, “the key to love, success and all your photos, files, and music”.  What better key for our age?

Playing Cards Present and Past

Look at these jokers! I virtually stumbled upon the playing cards of Utrecht art student Felix Blommestijn, and was immediately charmed and curious about this genre of ephemeral art.  Playing cards are very ancient, but it turns out that jokers are a fairly recent (later nineteenth century) American addition to the pack.  To me, these cards look both very modern and very old, my favorite aesthetic.

Another relatively recent addition to the standard card deck is the jack, which replaced the earlier knave. Knaves seem a little bit more intriguing to me, and there were all different kinds of them, depending on which country or “master” produced the cards.  Below are 15th and  early 16th century German knaves of the hares and acorns (Victoria & Albert Museum), followed by more familiar knaves of diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades from the early modern era:

Master of the PW, Cologne c. 1500

Early 17th Century Knave of Diamonds, Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum


Early 18th Century Knave of Hearts, Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum


A Knave of Clubs card from the era of the Scientific Revolution, Parsons Collection, NYPL Digital Gallery

Knave of Spades, c. 1827, Victoria & Albert Museum

 Once we get into the mid-nineteenth century, chromolithography, industrialization, and consumer demand combined to create infinite varieties of playing cards, many of which were marketed in series of collectible cigarette cards like the “beauties” below.  


Another development from the mid-nineteenth century were “dedicated deck” card games, and Salem’s own W. and S.B. Ives Company issued the first popular proprietary game in 1843,  Dr. Busby.  The Ives Brothers had a successful (multi-generational) printing, publishing, and stationary business in Salem and developed games as a sideline, but I think the sideline became the most profitable part of their business.  In addition to Dr. Busby, they also issued the first American board game in 1843, The Mansion of Happiness, and less than a decade later they came out with the very collectible tie-in card game to the recently-published abolitionist novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (which is no surprise, as Mrs. William Ives was the President of the very active Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society at the time).  In 1887 the Ives Company was sold to Parker Brother of Salem, and its games began reaching an even larger market.

Dr. Busby 1843 game box and Dr. Busby card; Uncle Tom’s Cabin cards from the University of Virginia’s Multimedia Archive:  Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture.

Even with industrialization, playing cards continued to be hand-produced as an art form rather than merely merchandise, just as they are today.  One of the most charming examples of vernacular production is the “Nursery Rhymes” suite, produced around 1880 by an unknown maker.  The Jack of Hearts is pictured below, just after he stole the tarts.



A Succession of Souvenir Plates

Apparently our British cousins across the Atlantic are not entirely pleased with the official royal wedding china issued in advance of the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton, provoking the production of unofficial alternatives like the plate below, one of several offered by London-based KK Outlet:

This got me thinking about souvenir or commemorative china in general, and plates in particular.  Actually I was inspired by an earlier post on Frank Cousins and his wares to look closer at Salem souvenir plates, but it seems sensible to take a longer (and broader) view.  As they are with so many advertising innovations, I assumed that the Victorians were the pioneering producers of commemorative china, but if we examine the genre in terms of  its most basic purpose—remembrance—we can go back further, to at least the Renaissance.  Italian Renaissance maiolica potters regularly produced domestic pottery to commemorate family events, generally betrothals and births, as these two examples (Urbino, 1530 & 1540)  from the huge majolica collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum illustrate:

Moving forward several centuries we have two amazing examples (also from the V & A)  of European commemorative china commissioned from China, reminders that Europeans had their “China Trade” well before Salem merchants established their Asian trading connections.  Both plates are from the mid-eighteenth century; the first commemorates the arrival of a Dutch East India Company ship in Chinese waters, the second marks the Jacobite Uprising in Scotland in 1745 (Strange Kilts!  Actually the wearing of all tartan kilts was banned by the British government—until 1782—in retaliation for this rebellion).

As we move into the nineteenth century, souvenir china is transformed from bespoke to retail trade because of changing conditions in both supply and demand, converging in the foundation of a “mass market”.  Still mining the vast collection of the Victoria & Albert, I’ve come up with several Victorian and  Edwardian souvenir plates, capturing such iconic British images as the great Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, and the Bard.

This last Shakespeare plate dates from 1904, and is similar in color, style, period and origin to the Salem souvenir plates below, which represent a very small sample of English plates produced for the American market prior to World War One.  The Boston firm Jones, McDuffee & Stratton had a virtual monopoly on importing the popular Wedgwood blue-and-white transferware decorated with “historic” American scenes (listing 78 designs in their 1910 catalogue and as many as 300 patterns overall), and so their Salem competitor Daniel Low & Company turned to smaller Staffordshire potteries for the production of their designs.  With the earlier success of their witch spoon, it was only natural that they would now offer “Salem Witch” plates.

Fortunately there is another Salem image that has appeared in ceramic form over the past two centuries:  that of the famous Salem East Indiaman Friendship, which made 17 global voyages before its capture by the British in the War of 1812.  Just a few years later (1820), the beautiful Chinese Export Friendship platter below might have been commissioned by some sentimental Salem merchant, and just last year, it was auctioned off by Sotheby’s with an estimate of $6000-$8000 (and a realized price of over $53,000!)    It contrasts quite sharply with the last plate, from a line produced by Wedgwood around 1977, which is widely available on the second-hand collectibles market for around $40.


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