I know that they’re trendy now and have been for some time, but I’ve been an elephant afficionado since I was a little girl, so I have many, many elephants that run the range from extreme tackiness to quite elegant. I’ve had to edit my collection of elephants down rather dramatically to avoid their takeover of the house, so most of them are in boxes in the basement now (I could not, of course, get rid of them!) I think that I should forgo future pachyderm purchases, unless they are of the ephemeral variety and don’t take up much room. Nevertheless, I am always looking…and several very different and unattainable elephants have caught my eye over the past few weeks, renewing my appreciation for those in my own house at the same time.
Three great elephants: a “change packet” (a kind of ephemera I didn’t even know existed! nineteenth-century shopkeepers would give you your change back in these cute little paper packets, which provided them with another avenue for advertising) from the Graphics Arts Collection at the Princeton University Library, the mechanical elephant of the Machines of the Isle of Nantes, which can carry around up to 49 people for 45 minutes, and an elephant embroidered by Mary, Queen of Scots about 1570 from the collection of the Victoria & Alfred Museum in London.
I like this last embroidery panel because it indicates that the Queen had access to the first great Renaissance zoological work, Conrad Gessner’s Historiae Animalium (1551-1558). Mary’s elephant clearly seems to be based on the image in Volume One of Gessner, and I like to think of the plotting Queen and her ladies leafing through the tome for inspiration.
Elephants in my house: a few of my favorite elephants, still upstairs, beginning with the wallpaper in my first-floor powder room. I can’t remember what the maker or pattern is.
The little guy below is my very favorite elephant: I have no idea what he is made of or how old he is. He was in a box with some other little elephants–all cast iron–which I bought for a $1.00, but he is not cast iron but rather a hard plaster-like material.
A recent purchase from an antiques shop in Maine: this guy seems to be made of old college pennants. I have no idea what to do with him, so he just sits on a chair in the guest bedroom.
A sixteenth-century book illustration: I purchased it after it was already cut out, but I still feel guilty.
Moneypenny, one with the elephant garden seat.