Under Cover in the Renaissance

It’s a beautiful day here in Salem, but I’m in lockdown in my study, more than halfway through the very last chapter of my book! I am taking a break to show you some early modern masks, just because they are so wonderful. There is no material culture in my book: it’s all about information culture. But some of the instructive information I am coming across refers to very mundane matters like personal and household hygiene: one of my very favorite books is all about how to remove spots and stains from both precious and mundane fabrics, with dyeing advice if they won’t come out. Out, damned spot! Out, I say! This was of course a huge problem, as I am not dealing with a disposable society. Cleanliness was increasingly important for health reasons as well: sixteenth-and seventeenth-century people were living through constant pandemics of plague and various poxes and fevers, and while they knew nothing about germ theory, they had associated disease and squalidness. When they went outside, into the pestilential air, they covered up for protection if they could afford to: with hats, hoods, gloves and fans and yes, even masks. Everyone is now familiar with the beaked plague masks of the later seventeenth century, but this was just one, rather dramatic, form of early modern masks, which were also worn for “disguising,” for protection against the weather, for festivity, and for fashion. The most elaborate of fashionable early modern masks for women, the vizard or visard, which covered the entire face except for the eyes, seems to have had Italian origins, like so many fashions then (and now): when they began appearing in England, many commentators, especially of the Puritan disposition, were not impressed. In his Anatomy of Abuses (1583), Phillip Stubbes wrote: When they use to ride abroad they have invisories or visors made of velvet, wherewith they cover all their faces, having holes made in them for their eyes, whereout they look. So that if a man, that know not their guise before, should chance to meet one of them, he would think he met a monster or a devil, for he can see no face, but two broad holes against her eyes with glasses in them. Nevertheless, the household accounts of Queen Elizabeth’s reign list vizards among her purchases, and a century later, these “visors” were fashionable apparel for women of some means, who would wear them out and about, particularly when attending the theater. Samuel Pepys was so struck by one vizard-wearing lady at a performance that he went right out and bought a mask for his (long-suffering) wife. There are several digital sources for early modern apparel: I chose the images below from a late sixteenth-century album of costumes in watercolor at the Morgan Library and the “Friendship Album” (Album Amicorum) of a German Soldier in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

An Album of Costumes, Morgan Library.

Album Amicorum, LACMA.

Wenceslaus Hollar’s engravings of English women clothed for every season from the mid-seventeenth century illustrate the bit more utilitarian masks worn by women of means during the winter: many more Hollar images are at the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto and the Rijksmuseum, where I obtained these images—there is a new “Rijkstudio” where you can get creative with collection items; no time for that now, but later……..

Wenceslaus Hollar at the Rijksmusum.


Stripped and Razed

I’m in the intense period of writing my book with a March 1 deadline looming, so posts are going to be very spotty over the next few weeks, but today, I needed a break from my ploughmen and practitioners. There’s a lost building in Salem with which I remain fascinated, one of several really. If I ever do write my Salem book, which I have titled “Dead History” in my mind, it will have one whole chapter on structures that were stripped of their amazing interior and exterior architectural detail, but remained standing for decades afterwards, often converted into unrecognizable commercial establishments which bore no resemblance to their glorious past. Then they were put out of their misery at some point in the twentieth century, that great century of destruction. Most, but not all, of these structures were on Essex Street, Salem’s main street from the seventeenth century, including the building I am spotlighting today, the Philip Saunders House, built in the mid-eighteenth century and demolished in 1965. Here’s a photograph of it from the early twentieth century—after it had been altered somewhat, with a lot more to come.

Sorry—I can’t attribute this photograph. I bought it on ebay several months ago, an unusual act for me (not buying on ebay, buying Salem photographs on ebay). Generally old Salem photographs for sale are just reprints of those freely available from their repositories, but the minute I saw this photograph I knew I hadn’t seen it before: this is 260 Essex Street, the Philip Saunders House. The two shops on its ground floor, The Salem Trimming Store and Mary E. Hayes, Hairdresser, were located there up until about 1920, and after that, a succession of shops until it was taken down by the City of Salem in 1965. In between, whoever was sourcing antiques for the Kennedy family purchased its spiral staircase and Georgian paneling, and transferred it to the main house of the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port just before the second World War. This happened to Salem houses constantly from about 1890 to 1950. The Saunders House was a unique three-story pre-revolutionary brick building, and there was resistance to its demolition from Historic Salem, Inc. and other organizations and individuals, but not enough, apparently. The preservationists of Salem had been putting our fires for some time in the 1960s, and it was about to get worse with the onslaught of urban renewal. You can almost hear the exhaustion in Elizabeth Reardon’s voice in the newspaper article below, and believe me, she was game.

Both Mrs. Reardon and other preservationists compared the Saunders House in Salem to the Ebenezer Hancock House in Boston, which was also threatened at the time, I think. But it survived: and when you look at it today you can’t help but think of what might have been in Salem.

The Ebenezer Hancock House (1767): in the mid 1970s, from a Boston Landmarks Commission Structures Report, and today.


Trial by Combat

Like most Americans, I am outraged by the pillaging of the Capitol on Wednesday by a mob incited by the President of the United States and his personal lawyer, once a serious figure, now a joke, who called for “Trial by Combat”. Tears and despair reigned on Wednesday and Thursday, but yesterday I was just mad: mad at so many things, but I think principally upset about the misuse of history by everyone on the wrong side of it. It’s really clear that there is massive ignorance of history in our country, enabling its constant exploitation. When you look at the scenes of the Capitol riots what do you see? Flags, so many flags: the Confederate flag was the most conspicuous, of course: we had never seen it in that building before. But there were several Revolutionary War flags as well, outrageously displayed in an ignorant attempt to establish some sort of equivalency or legitimacy. I’m used to the quasi-“medieval” emblems used by white supremacists, and I saw them on display as well: of course the Vikings never wore horned helmets—they are a Victorian creation—but these people don’t read so they don’t know. Anything medieval is just Game of Thrones fantasy to them, but how dare they use the “Appeal to Heaven” flag of the nascent U.S. Navy or the Gadsen “Don’t Treat on Me” flag.

A flag hangs between broken windows after President Donald Trump supporters tried to brake through police barriers outside the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

That casual reference to trial by combat, which was archaic in the sixteenth century at the very least! As it evolved into the duel, monarchs wanted a monopoly on warfare, and so it was disdained, not celebrated, as it was on Wednesday (by the cowardly “generals” who of course did not accompany their “army” to the Capitol). And we’re supposed to be more civilized? I hardly think so. Trial by combat is already depicted as “orderly” and idealized in the fifteenth century: it’s on its way out then, only to be resurrected in the twenty-first.

Trial by combat as depicted in two late medieval manuscripts (British Library MS Royal 15 E VI and Royal 14 D I) and a Victorian reimagining.

Maybe it’s because I’m writing about the Renaissance now and completely focused on its messaging, but I feel like we can only move forward by looking back. We’ve got to learn our history, our real history. I think I’m also a bit concerned about this now because the Liberal Arts are being challenged across our nation at institutions of higher education, particularly public ones like the one at which I teach. I’m worried we are going to be transformed into a vocational school by our administration with its “bold” plan: offering instruction primarily in social service rather than social science. We excel at teacher education in several fields (including history, of course) because that is our history, and nothing is more important than that now. How can we move forward if we don’t know where we’ve been?

Oh, and those “backward” medievals always distinguished between trial by combat and pillage: that’s what happened on Wednesday.

Pillaging, BL MS Royal 14 D I


My Favorite Penguins

Happy New Year! And my very best wishes to all for a better year than last! I’m a little bleary-eyed, having worked very hard over the holidays on grading and my forthcoming book, which is due at the publisher on March 1. And I’ve got to prep for next semester, which will include a brand new course on English legal history of all topics (yawn: a requirement for our department’s pre-legal concentration). So my posts are going to be a bit sporadic over the next few months but I did want to ring in the New Year with a post and give you all the heads up. Even after ten years, there’s still quite a few Salem topics I want to take on, and I’m hoping, like many of you I am sure, to travel at some point in 2021 so I should have some interesting posts after my big delivery date!

Normally I’m all about books on the blog this time of year: end-of-year best booklists, books I’m looking forward to reading, books for my courses. I’m so focused on my own book this year that I can’t really think about other people’s books during this particular January, except for very specialized academic books which I must include in my bibliography. Books for me are not just things to read however, they are objects which I like to have around, to dip into and just to look at. I love everything about book-objects: fonts, paper, cover design, illustrations, formats, colors. And my favorite books of all are Penguins: plain old orange-and-white paperbacks with yellowed pages and very pretty clothbound classics of more recent vintage and everything in between. I have evolving favorite series, and when I’m focused on a particular series I want to collect every volume possible: a couple years ago it was mid-century King Penguins and I remain very fond of them. People have given me gifts so I have quite a few now: I received “Compliments of the Season” this very Christmas.

My most recent Penguin obsession, however, is the Drop Caps series, a colorful collection of twenty-six classic hardbound books designed by Jessica Hische, lettering artist extraordinaire. I saw one in a bookshop this summer and suddenly had to have all of them, and I have collected quite a few in the past six months or so. They are very object-like: you can shelve them and stack them in all sorts of interesting combinations. This makes them the perfect Penguins for me now, as I don’t actually have time to read them. But I will soon.


Caroline Remond Putnam

Faithful readers of this blog will know that I am captivated by the Remonds, an African-American family of ten who lead exemplary lives of advocacy, activism and entrepreneurialism in Salem in the nineteenth-century, often centered around Hamilton Hall, the Federal reception hall right next door to my house. I feel very connected to them and I’m interested in everything they did. The parents, John and Nancy, clearly raised their children to be independent and assertive, and were both independent and assertive themselves. The most public, and therefore most well-known, Remonds were the abolitionist speakers Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker, and while I have the utmost admiration for them they have their historians, while their siblings do not. There are also no photographs (in the public realm anyway) of the other Remonds, so we don’t “see” them. So I’ve been collecting as much information as possible about the “invisible” Remonds, and I thought I would cap off my year of #salemsuffragesaturdays with a spotlight on the amazing life of the youngest member of this distinguished family, Caroline Remond Putnam (1826-1908).  She’s one of the most impressive women I have ever encountered. The closest I can get to her is her signature, sadly: on a petition against capital punishment signed when she was a teenager, on a letter addressed to Wendell Phillips sent from London (both from the digital collections of Harvard), on her passport application in 1865.

Even without an archive of personal papers to elucidate her life, it’s easy to see that Caroline was a very engaged woman: the advertisements for her businesses fill the pages of the Salem Register; her efforts towards abolition are referenced in successive issues of The Liberator. As the youngest Remond child, she had several examples to follow as every family member was busy: in business and in reform causes, or both. Her parents managed to enroll her older sister Sarah and Caroline in the Salem public schools, from which they were expelled for no cause other than their race, prompting the relocation of the family to Newport, Rhode Island. The Remonds returned to Salem when the girls’ schooling was complete, and to their several businesses. Caroline began working in hairdressing in partnership with several of her sisters, and on her own, and in the late 1840s she married Joseph H. Putnam of Boston, whose family was part of the African-American network of entrepreneur activists which extended to Philadelphia. Caroline never stopped working: as a personal hairstylist, as the owner of a Salem salon and wig factory called the Ladies Hair Work Salon with her sisters, and as the manufacturer of the popular “Mrs. Putnam’s Medicated Hair Tonic” for hair loss. She and Joseph had two children, Edmund and Victoria, but tragedy struck in 1859 when Caroline lost both her husband and her baby daughter within three months. Her reaction was to leave: she booked passage for Britain for herself and her young son Edmund to join her sister Sarah, and there are no indications that she planned to come back to the United States. But she did: back and forth across the Atlantic she went over the next 20 years or so, sometimes with a sister, often with Edmund. She came back because she had a lot to do: she had her businesses, and had assumed major leadership roles, chiefly in the realm of fundraising, for the American and Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Societies. After the Civil War she shifted her efforts towards the suffrage movement and the American, New England, and Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Associations, and was always recognized as a “well-known advocate” of the cause. Caroline clearly had many obligations in the United States, but she returned to Europe several times in the 1870s and eventually joined her sister Sarah in Italy (where she managed a hotel in Rome!) in the mid-1880s and then made a permanent move to England, where she died in 1908.

Abolition, Suffrage AND Pacifism: Caroline had big goals, and that characteristic Remond mix of activism and pragmatism regarding business matters.

It’s rather sad to see someone work so hard for the greater good in a country, and be so eager to leave it: after Frederick Douglass visited the Remond sisters (Caroline and Sarah, plus Maritcha) in Rome he reported that “they detest prejudice of color and say they would not live in the U. States, if you could or would give them America!” These sentiments were grounded in experience. Caroline experienced at least three cases of very public discrimination: she was with Sarah at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston in 1853 when they were ejected from their seats, on her first Atlantic crossing in 1859 she and her young son were barred from the first-class cabins in the Cunard liner Europa for which she had purchased tickets, and on a trip to New York City in 1870 her reservations for rooms at the Metropolitan Hotel were not honored. I’m sure these were just three public instances out of many more private ones. But still she pressed on, always trying to create a better world for herself, her family, her gender, her race, and pretty much everyone else.


The Disposition of a Directress

Well I have to admit that I’m feeling pleased with myself this week as I have finished a challenging on-line semester of four courses while writing a book, my blog has reached its 10th anniversary, and I’m wrapping up my #SalemSuffrage Saturdays! Pardon my boasting, but sometimes you must indulge yourself. I’m really proud of the blog: I think that there is a lot here; I’ve certainly learned a lot while writing it, and that was my primary reason for starting it in the first place. Salem’s history is so deep; I don’t know if anyone can really scratch the bottom, and it is also wide-ranging, consisting of much, much more than the Witch Trials and the China Trade. Certainly this year’s focus on women’s lives has underscored that point, with its artists and authors, abolitionists and suffragists, physicians and shopkeepers, students and teachers. It’s been a bit challenging trying to draw out the details of some of these women’s lives in this particular year, but I’ve learned to be creative as Salem’s primary historical repository has been out-of-town and off-line for most of this blog’s life. Nevertheless there are holes and gaps and lots of work to be done to put together a cohesive and comprehensive history of Salem women’s lives. Before I end this year’s deep dive, I wanted to offer up something about women’s charitable roles in Salem: this is a topic with great continuity, as Salem women continue to be extremely active in charitable institutions, some of which are still extant after decades, or as in the case of the Salem Female Charitable Society, centuries. This is also a HUGE topic: the roles which Salem women played in institutions such as the Salem Children’s Friend Society, the Seaman’s Widows and Orphan Association, the Woman’s Friend Society (still with us), and the Salem Woman’s Club, just to name a few, were a really important part of civic life in Salem. For the most part, it’s only possible to write about this form of women’s work on very general terms, but we can get a bit more personal about the founder of Salem’s first woman’s charity, the Salem Female Charitable Society (SFCS), because of the remarkable obituary written by her friend, Mrs. James King. I’ve NEVER read so long an obituary of a woman in this era, much less written by a woman. Lucretia Ward Osgood must have been an extraordinary woman.

I love this, particularly the line she had the happy faculty, while she derived pleasure from the company and converse of others, to make them unusually pleased with her, and happy in themselves. Who doesn’t want that faculty? Yes, she was a good mother and Christian but we get some insights into her personality as well, which was obviously charming. These antebellum charitable societies get criticized later on for not lifting the poor up very far—essentially for training servants—but this is not the time nor the place to get into that. Lucretia and her fellow society ladies put themselves out there, got organized, dispensed charity, and impressed contemporaries like the Reverend Thomas Barnard, who spoke at their first anniversary in 1803: Ye, my female friends, feel her Spirit! In all the forms of society ye make your publick appearance: With your Directresses, Managers, and Members: With your Governess, and the Children of your affectionate charge! When ye first formed, I will confess to you, I, with many others whose judgement I respected, felt averse to your society. We thought Charity might be better ordered. But upon a deliberate view of your Constitution, I change my opinion. In the following year, the Salem Female Charitable Society was formally incorporated by Massachusetts law, and it remains so.

 


Christmas Suffragist Style

A great friend gave me the lovely gift of a Suffragist ornament the other day: I prominently placed it on my tree and went out to look for more. We were going to have no ornaments this year, just lights (actually, I didn’t even want a tree, or lights, but my husband did), and there is no way I was not going to put that lady on my tree and she needed company. It seems appropriate to go out of this year the same way I went in, in the company of Suffragists. I’m sorry that the ladies did not get their due in this challenging year, but I certainly learned a lot about the Suffragists in general and Salem women in particular on all these #SalemSuffrageSaturdays: two more to go! One thing I learned about the Suffrage movement in general, in both the United States and Britain, is how sophisticated it was in terms of visual messaging: the colors, the images, the products. Everything they produced or inspired still looks good.

Suffragist Christmas Ornaments (+ Joan of Arc, a very important Suffragist symbol herself) fron the Peabody Essex Museum Shop and RosieCentral .

 

Christmas cards from the Museum of London and the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection (a great resource!)

 

Tea Towels from the Radical Tea Towel Co.

 


Dress UP Salem

Maybe you’ve seen this week’s New Yorker cover: a woman in her apartment on her computer, presumably in a Zoom meeting. She’s wearing a lovely blouse, earrings, and lipstick and her hair looks great, so all “above” is perfect. But below, out of sight of the computer screen, is another matter: she is wearing gym shorts and slippers, there is scattered paper everywhere, along with Amazon boxes, drinking vessels, and two cats. And she’s drinking a cocktail. That, dear readers, is me in the fall of 2020, teaching four courses while writing a book, with a new kitten running all around. Next week classes will end and I’m just about finished with a particularly difficult chapter: then I’m going to put on a skirt and tights and real shoes. This sad state of sartorial affairs has depressed me, as generally in December I’m thinking about what I’m going to wear to the Hamilton Hall Christmas Dance and other holiday events: obviously not happening this year. We’re also fortunate in Salem to see attendees of the Commonwealth Vintage Dancer’s Fezziwig’s Ball walking through the streets to Old Town Hall: again, not this year. So I’ve mustered up some historic Salem dresses and some new-old dresses in historic Salem settings to get myself in the holiday mood, material girl that I am.

My favorite Salem dress ever is Sarah Ellen Derby Roger’s wedding dress, in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. I looked for something similar with Salem provenance, and found this lovely pale pink gown with amazing sleeves. I also found the wonderful blog of historical clothing maker Quinn Burgess, The Quintessential Clothes Pen. Since Quinn has attended several events in Salem wearing her own creations, I thought you would like to see some period clothes in situ, at Hamilton Hall and Old Town Hall. Her dresses below are designs from 1812-1813, about a decade earlier than Sarah’s wedding dress and its more muted cousin.

Sarah Ellen Derby Roger’s Wedding Dress, made in Salem from materials from India,1827, Peabody Essex Museum (Gift of Jeannie Dupee, 1979); Pale pink silk gown, Charles A. Whitaker Auctions. Quinn Burgess at Hamilton Hall and with her friends at Fezziwig’s Ball in Old Town Hall–an annual event sponsored by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers. Photo credits: L. Stern (white and red dresses at Hamilton Hall) and James Sabino (The Festive Ladies at Old Town Hall).

Let’s go forward a bit to the middle of the nineteenth century, not really my favorite period for design, but the ladies below make it look good! I came across this Civil War photograph of Marianne Cabot Devereaux Silsbee, author of A Half Century in Salem (1886) in her photograph album at the Phillips Library in Rowley. Despite the volume, I imagine this must be a day dress, but I found a very colorful chartreuse and purple ballgown from a Salem family in the archives of Whitaker’s auctions in Philadelphia. I always thought I liked that color combination, but now I’m not so sure: I think I prefer Quinn’s more subtle gown—hardly a “little” black dress–indeed Quinn tells me it is blue!

Marianne C.D. Silsbee, Phillips Library PHA 58; Civil War Era silk ballgown from a Salem family, Charles A. Whitaker Auctions; Quinn Burgess in a navy c. 1860 dress at Hamilton Hall (photographer credit: Emma Forrest).

And speaking of little black dresses, I’m going to jump forward a century to show you one from a Salem purveyor: a Mollie Parnis dress from the Mayflower Vintage shop on Etsy. Gorgeous. I’m not sure I’d wear this to the Christmas Dance, as I prefer more of a ballgown for that occasion, but (if I could fit into it), I’d find someplace to wear it. I’m looking forward to the moment when I can even think about what dress I might wear, where.

Mollie Parnis dress from Mayflower Vintage.

 

Highlights from Charles A. Whitaker Auctions.

More of Quinn Burgess’s work can be found at: The Quintessential Clothes Pen; www.quinnmburgess.com; Twitter (@thequinnpen) and Instagram (@thequinnpen).

You can see more period dances and dancers at vintagedancers.org +upcoming events.


The Dance Will Go On!

There is no contest for me: my favorite Salem event has always been the Christmas Dance at Hamilton Hall: I have never missed it in all the years I’ve lived in Salem, even in the one year I had to go alone. Last year I was in terrible pain from sciatica, but I still hobbled over there and stayed for as long as possible. It’s just that important to me. Anything related to Hamilton Hall is a women’s history topic, very appropriate for my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts, as women have worked in the Hall, danced in the Hall, held fairs and other fundraising events in the Hall for a variety of causes, and supported the Hall in myriad ways for its two+ centuries. Women continue to support the Hall through two major fundraising events which date to the period right after World War II, when the Hall was in dire need of repairs: the annual Christmas (now Holiday) Dance and Lecture Series, traditionally held on Thursday mornings in February and March. I served as President of the Hall for six years, and on its board before and after, so I know how very, very important the funds from these events are: when we received the checks from the Dance Committee (all ladies) and the Ladies’ Committee which runs the Lecture Series, we breathed a sign of relief. The Hall was built by subscription, and incorporated only in 1986: at that time it had a very small endowment, and it still does: events have always supported it, making an event-less 2020 a very precarious time. But as always has been the case, the ladies rose to the occasion: the Lecture Series will be virtual, increasing accessibility for many people as it always sold out in a week or so, as will the Holiday “Dance”, with some very special patronesses.

I’m so happy about this invitation and event! It combines two endeavors which are very important to me: the preservation of the Hall and its traditions and the showcasing of some remarkable women of Salem who have not received the attention they deserve. There’s a long tradition of naming patronesses for dances at the Hall; these hostesses ensured the success of everything from military balls to debutante assemblies. When the Christmas Dance began, patronesses (and now patrons) became as integral to its popularity as the famous bourbon punch (which I am now realizing that I’ve referred to as rum punch in posts past. What can I say? It always knocked me out). I was a patroness about ten years ago and it was not only an honor but also great fun: waiters with silver trays of champagne kept coming over and people bow and curtsy to you—what could be better? When the chair of the Dance Committee notified me that this year’s dance would go on virtually with patronesses from the past , I was thrilled: what a perfect way to recognize the Suffrage Centennial in this challenging year! I was happy to put forth some candidates, but the ladies of the Dance Committee made their choices, and it was all their idea. I’m just thrilled to see Margery, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah (Symonds), Nancy, Louise, Clarissa and Sarah (Sherman) get their Salem due! Especially Nancy, whom I think of whenever I step inside the Hall, toiling away in the hot downstairs kitchen on the Rumford Roaster, while everyone was dancing in the ballroom upstairs.

Post-war Patronesses in a photo belonging to my friend Becky Putnam: staring directly into the camera, while in a perfect curtsy, third from the left, is her lovely mother Rosamond Putnam; Debutantes in 1969 in curtsy—-sorry for the quality but I wanted you to see the extended-front-leg curtsy which I found difficult to do when I was a patroness—they do too, although they really had to go low! My two favorite Hamilton Hall dresses: left is vintage Ceil Chapman from the late 1950s which I wore in 2004; right is from 2017. For some reason I cannot find a photo of myself as a patroness–if anyone has one, let me know! Even though there will be no dance IN the Hall this year, it is still as dressed up for Historic Salem’s virtual Christmas in Salem tour. Here is Jetsan, who belongs to current Hall president Michael Selbst, exhausted from his decorating efforts. 

Hamilton Hall Holiday Dance link: a video will be uploaded for ticket-holders on December 19 featuring the patronesses and dance history. To the Ladies!


The Mayflower Magazine

Happy Thanksgiving! Those of you who have followed the blog for a while know that I’m a big fan of graphic design and typography, especially from the earlier part of the last century. I love fonts from the entire era of print actually, and script as well now that I think about it, and paper: so when it all comes together in an integrated design, I’m pretty impressed. It’s been such a weighty few months, with the pandemic, and the election, and hours and hours of writing for me everyday: I think I’m going to get a bit lighter for the next month or so, to lift my spirits and yours! I’m beginning with this very festive magazine/catalogue from the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, titled The Mayflower. It has nothing to do with the ship Mayflower, or Plymouth, or the Pilgrims: it’s all about flowers—and the most robust lettering and chromolithography I have ever seen.

The covers might be somewhat sedate (except for this last one above), but as soon as you delve inside: wow! color—so vibrant you need sunglasses. The magazine was an advertisement for the big botanical business of John Lewis Childs, one of several garden entrepreneurs of this era and the first to establish a mail-order seed business. He created an entire town on Long Island named for his product: Floral Park. The Mayflower was published from 1885 to 1906, offering gardening tips and seed packets to an international audience as well as 2 or 3 colored plates in each issue. Childs also issued seasonal seed catalogs with the same combination of flourishing lettering and vibrant plates of perfect plants, or perhaps I should say too-perfect plants.

The Mayflower magazine covers from Magazineart.org (a great website!); many more Childs seed catalogs at the Smithsonian.


%d bloggers like this: