Tag Archives: Collectibles

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.


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:


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