Along with four-leaf clovers, chimney sweepers, mushrooms, and horseshoes, pigs were the most common symbols of good luck for the New Year a century ago, and they appear on all sorts of greeting cards for that purpose. This is a tradition that is more continental than British, and more eastern European than western–although some of the most charming New Year’s pig postcards I have seen are French. The lucky pig does not seem to have taken hold in New England expressions–even those by the Polish-born Louis Prang–but in New York State (or more specifically, Saratoga Springs), smashing a peppermint variety heralds in the New Year. Traditional New Year’s Day fare from central Europe features pork as well, though this seems a bit contradictory to me–why would you want to eat your lucky charm? Best wishes to everyone for a joyful 2015: may we all be as happy as veritable pigs in clover!
The best pigs are from Vienna……Carl Josza, Raphael Kirchner (c. 1899-1900), and more Mela Koehler (c. 1910), from the Lauder Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Skiing (Swedish) and Skating (French) pigs, c. 1914-1915
German postcards from the Spehr collection, available here: all the symbols (minus mushrooms) from 1908, and a pig on top of the world in 1915.
I think I spent more time on wrapping my Christmas gifts this year than purchasing them: I rationalized this by incorporating presentation into the cumulative “thought” that counts! I became rather enchanted with several images of seasonal, botanical anthropomorphism and they kind of took over my holiday: I made cards to affix to many of my gifts and even some custom wrapping paper via Spoonflower. Despite intensive searching online and off, I can’t find the creators of these images: the children transformed into Christmas trees, mistletoe, and plum puddings were issued as holiday cards by the Courtauld Gallery a few years ago, and the little holly sprites come from a vintage Christmas postcard in my possession, but I have no idea where they poinsettia lady comes from–she’s one of those random, unidentified, Tumblr images. If anyone has any information about these plant people, please forward so I can give proper credit!
A 14th-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library contains the first illustration of mummers, costumed players or “guisers” performing occasionally out-of-doors in a merry band, for amusement and/or some form of compensation. These mummers, wearing masks of stag, rabbit, and horse heads, are in good company: accompanying them in the margins of this cycle of Alexandrian romances are knightly puppets, dancing monkeys, hunting hares, monks and nuns on piggyback, and monstrous men. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to associate their appearance with Christmas revelry in the text of the manuscript, but several centuries later the Jacobean playwright Ben Jonson did just that in his 1616 Christmas Masque, in which the progeny of Father Christmas personify and epitomize the main institutions of the season: “Mis-Rule, Caroll, Minc’d Pie, Gamboll, Post and Paire, New-Yeares-Gift, Mumming, Wassail, Offering, Babie-Cake”. And from that point on, mumming was an essential part of the Merry Old English Christmas, as described by a succession of English social “historians” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. From his American heritage perspective, the novelist Washington Irving (whose biography of Christopher Columbus laid the very solid foundation for the Flat Earth Myth), contributed to this association with his Bracebridge Hall sketches, first published in 1820. Mumming is part invention of tradition, part social commentary in the industrializing nineteenth century, both a sentimental look back to the way things were in a supposedly-simpler society and a controlled expression of seasonal “misrule” by the villagers or the workers for that society.
Bodleian MS Bodley 264, f. 21v: The Romance of Alexander in French verse, by Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop, 1338-44, with additional sections added in England c. 1400; Illustration from Old England, A Pictorial Museum, edited by Charles Knight (James Sangster & Co, c. 1845).
In the vast revival (or creation) of Merry Old Christmas that occurred over the nineteenth century, one book really stands out for me: Thomas Kibble Hervey’s The Book of Christmas: descriptive of the customs, ceremonies, traditions, superstitions, fun, feeling, and festivities of the Christmas Season (1836). This is really a delightful book, made more so by the original illustrations by Robert Seymour. Hervey presents mumming as traditional custom and folklore, in the company of Morris and sword dances, regional plays and London pantomimes, and Christmas caroling, and definitely de-emphasizes the misrule. And Seymour’s illustrations (which you can see almost in their entirely here) depict the Christmas that we all want to have. Their audience was perhaps interested in escaping the increasingly-complex world that was being created by industrialization and urbanization, but it is rampant Christmas commercialization that makes me want a Merry Old Christmas with mummers, whether it was real or not!
Hervey’s Book of Christmas (1836), with illustrations by Robert Seymour,University of St. Andrews Special Collections.
Modern Mummers (excluding those from Philadelphia–a whole other story!):
Mummers, 1952, Frank Ernst Eurich, Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries; Fritz Wegner commemorative stamp for the 1981 GB Folklore series.
Material girl that I am, my Christmas spirit starts to surface with the first parties, at which (I have to admit) I relish the setting and scenery almost as much as the company. While I am always very happy to see all of my friends on festive occasions, I love Christmas decorations, both for their own aesthetic, traditional and seasonal qualities as well as all for all the effort and creativity that goes into their display–and last week was most definitely one of display. I had to get my own house in order for a Christmas tea at the beginning of the week, and at the end came the Christmas Dance at Hamilton Hall, which always kicks my seasonal spirits into high gear. Each year the committee which organizes the Dance chooses a group of patronesses who host dinner parties before the festivities–and these parties are often just as major as the main event; speaking as a former patroness, I would say more so. Hosting 30 or 40 people for dinner while you’re in an evening gown is never easy, and so when we all finally get ushered into the Hall these women deserve the bows and curtseys that we give them! We were fortunate to attend a pre-Dance party at a beautiful c. 1795 gambrel-roofed house on Federal Street, at which our hostess (who had just finished putting up beautiful Waterhouse wallpapers) had enlisted her children to serve us our home-cooked dinner on (50!!!) Friendship dinner plates accompanied by silver and linen. Then off she want to stand in the line of patronesses, leaving us to enjoy her beautiful house until our own departures for the Hall. I don’t have too many pictures of the Dance itself, for two major reasons: 1) I like to dance myself, and 2) I just can’t get the light right–with the only camera small enough to fit into my evening purse. But let me assure you, it was a lovely night.
My Christmas Decorations: I’m big on bunnies this year, and deer as usual. The tree has a nice shape, but it’s dropping needles like crazy–I hope it makes it to New Year’s.
On Federal Street: this house has the most amazing details and scale. One of my favorite mantel displays any time of year, and great entry and dining room. Besides the mantel, the living room has a lovely chair rail detail.
At Hamilton Hall: the dance floor from below and above; my Hamilton Hall ornament next door.
Now (almost) fully in holiday entertaining mode, having (almost) left the semester behind me, I have been perusing old cookbooks in pursuit of a famous punch traditionally served at Hamilton Hall’s annual Christmas Dance. It’s a particularly potent rum punch, which led to a few horrible hangovers in my youth. Now I know how to handle it and have no fears of this weekend’s dance! I had my own little party a few days ago and hoped to serve it myself, but I didn’t find quite the right recipe, despite consulting the most obvious source, the 1947 Hamilton Hall Cook Book. I like this slim volume for several reasons: the shortness of its recipes, which are limited primarily to ingredients and very few processes, the odd names and ingredients (“Shrimp Wiggle”, “Maggi Essence”, “Veal Bewitched”, “Forced Meat Balls”, “Old Election Cake”), historical information embedded in the recipes, and the various topical features, primarily those on the Hall’s Rumford Roaster (which I wrote about in an earlier post) and one of its most famous resident caterers, Edward P. Cassell. The most amazing image in the little book is a portrait of Cassell in front of the Peirce-Nichols House, basket of “coveted invitations to an Assembly, a debutante ball or a wedding at which he was to be major-domo” in hand, taken by Salem photographer E.G. Merrill in 1907. It’s an iconic image of an iconic man: at this time, the cookbook proclaims, Cassell had been “a Salem institution for nearly half a century and Salem [was] justly proud of him.”
I wish I could find the correct rum punch recipe and I wish I knew more about Mr. Cassell. He was the second African-American resident to cater to the crowds at Hamilton Hall, succeeding John Remond, the patriarch of the well-known Abolitionist family and quite the entrepreneur himself. Despite his more recent vintage, Cassell seems much more mysterious than Remond, although I haven’t really taken the time to dig into his life and work. The long history of service provided by African-Americans to the denizens of Salem, in and around Hamilton Hall, needs more attention, I think, along with the cumulative experience of African-Americans in Salem. I do know that at the commemorative exercises held in recognition of the 250th anniversary of John Endecott’s landing in Salem in 1878, the tables were laid by Mr. Edward Cassell, the well-known caterer, and were handsomely decorated with a choice display of flowers, arranged beautifully in large bouquets, and a small one at each plate, with a neatly designed carte de menu, memento of the celebration and that the lunch embraced more than a score of dishes, substantial and elegant”, that he was famous for his ice-cream figures (mostly animals) and savory salads, that his Ropes Street home burned to the ground in the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and that he died in the following year. But that’s about it. As to the punch: no rum variety in the Hamilton Hall Cook Book, but there is an interesting recipe for “1858 Mulled Wine” involving lots of boiled wine thickened with egg yolks and topped with frothy egg whites which looks to me far older than 1858. This is the forerunner of egg nog, called caudell in the medieval era and caudle later. This popular drink, like its cousin posset, was enjoyed at Christmas and all winter long, and inspired the creation of bowls, spoons, and cups for just that purpose–like the charming late 17th century cup made by John Coney, which later came into the possession of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
The juxtaposition of crowded academic and social calendars at this time of year always makes me a bit grumpy. I try to contain (or hide) my scrooge-like sentiments, but I’m generally too tired to make that much of an effort, and consequently they pop out periodically. This year I am taking comfort in a book that I received from a thoughtful friend last year: The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, a 1993 collaboration between iconic illustrator Edward Gorey and John Updike. These terrors (a too heavily-laden Christmas tree, the threat of electrocution from all the electronic games under said tree, fears of not giving enough, not receiving enough, and returning all the stuff you did receive) are not quite my terrors (fatigue, rampant commercialism, over-consumption of food, drink, and stuff) but I like the overall sentiment, or lack thereof. And then there are the illustrations. “Christmas” and “Gorey” are not words that naturally go together, but he had tread that terrain previously–with a series of not-too-macabre Christmas cards for the Albondaconi Press and other publishers from the 1970s on–and the success of Terrors inspired a second holiday book: The Haunted Tea-Cosy. A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for ChristmasDispirited (1997), a parody of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. All very merry images, in that distinctly Gorey style.
First editions of Edward Gorey’s Twelve Terrors and The Haunted Tea-Cosy & Albondacani Press Christmas cards, Swann Auction Galleries; Gorey Christmas Cards, The Gorey Store/ Charitable Trust.
We are used to queens, princesses, duchesses and first ladies being scrutinized for their sartorial splendor (or lack thereof), but this is really nothing new: public women, deemed so by their proximity to power or in some cases their own power, have always been subject to the fashion police. Queen Elizabeth’s projected image seldom escaped the notice of her contemporaries, and so too did that of her successor’s wife, Anne of Denmark, who was born on this day in 1574. When I first started studying English history I formed a perception of the Queen Consort of James I as sort of an English version of Marie Antoinette, concerned more with her dresses, jewels, and court life than her subjects. This was the historical view, formed by generations of historians who no doubt (at first) disliked Anne’s conversion to Catholicism, and easily perceived her clear delight in the staging of elaborate masques at court during a time of intensifying scornful Puritanism. And then there are her portraits, projecting an image of a lady that was not particularly beautiful, but certainly very well-dressed, all the way up until her death in 1619.
After she became Queen of England in 1603, Anne was able to dip into the Great Wardrobe of her husband’s predecessor as well as the caskets of royal jewels, but she also fashioned her own style by acquiring lots of new things: consequently you see an evolution from the “stiffer” Elizabethan style to a more elegant Jacobean appearance, so well illustrated by this last hunting portrait. But this transition came at great cost, noted by contemporaries and historians alike: in her article “Text and Textiles: Self-Presentation among the Elite in Renaissance England”, Jane Stevenson observes that “Against Elizabeth’s Great Wardrobe expenses of £9,535 in the last four years of her reign, we may set expenses of £36,377 annually for the first five years of James’s reign (a figure which does not include Queen Anne’s bills, though it does include clothes for [their sons] Henry and Charles). Towards the end of her life, Anne of Denmark had a wardrobe grant of £8,000 a year; additional, presumably, to what she chose to spend out of her general income, which was considerable.” James actually spent more than his wife on clothes, though she might have spent more on jewels: there is ample indication that she saw herself as a patron of the arts and collector, so this might have been rationalized as a national contribution rather than a personal extravagance. After all, upon his succession to the English throne, her husband proclaimed the crown jewels to be “individually and inseparably for ever annexed to the kingdome of this realme”. Whether for queen or realm, one great source–in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum– that gives us an insight into Jacobean style is the “Book of Jewels” of Dutch jeweler Arnold Lulls, a catalog of styles he presented to Anne, who clearly loved her brooches.
Queen Anne and her brooches, including one similar to the sacred “IHS” Christogram pictured in the Lulls book.
Looking around for inspiration for our family Christmas card, which I desperately would like to evolve from the traditional “here we are in front of some natural (maritime or snowy) backdrop”, I have become quite taken–like many before me, and no doubt after–with the whimsical illustrations of Mela Koehler (1885-1960). Koehler was a conspicuous member of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop), an artistic collaboration for artists, artisans, designers and architects inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the Workshop became incredibly influential due to the fact that it emphasized both the artistic and the entrepreneurial: marketing was clearly a priority and the postcards produced by its members were the primary marketing tool. Mela Koehler created about 150 postcards for the Workshop: typically fantasy fashion images which served not as advertisements for actual clothes but as inspiration for women to experiment with their own attire. Add a tree or some holly, or a muff (clearly her favorite accessory), and you have a winter/Christmas postcard, offered up just at the moment that these merry missives were taking off. Original Koehler postcards are quite valuable, but most seem to have been acquired by Leonard Lauder as part of his massive collection (commenced when he was 6 years old), which has been generously donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The MFA featured an exhibition of a sample of the Lauder postcards last year, and many have been digitized, fortunately for us and for posterity–because as artistic as these little cards are, they are still (or were), in essence, ephemera.
I found this past weekend’s annual Christmas in Salem house tour to be rather eccentric as compared with previous years: centered on Lafayette Street and its side streets, it included both Colonial Revival houses that were built in the decade after the Great Salem Fire of 1914 and Victorian houses located just outside the conflagration zone. The focus on the Fire was more implicit than explicit–except for one house which featured a mantle of Christmas decorations made out of Fire devastation scenes! I did visit the Gove House of my last post, which has been subdivided into condominiums which feature original architectural details: lots of woodwork, beautiful doors and windows, and an amazing coffered ceiling and conservatory in one unit. Every single home on this year’s tour had a distinctive personality, presented as much by its architecture as the collections and creations of its owners, which were featured quite prominently. There were three homes open on Fairfield Street, the most distinguished post-Fire street, including one that was decorated by a group of very tasteful ladies (including, I must unabashedly add, myself), for two very tasteful owners. So of course, from a completely biased perspective, this house was my favorite!
Six Fairfield Street a few years after it was built in 1915 (from Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture of Salem) and yesterday.
The first floor of the Gove House on Lafayette Street.
The colorful exterior of Seven Linden Street, built in 1855.
Nine Linden Street: where the Gove family’s servants lived in the later 19th century. The tile around this fireplace has a subtle Greek key design which you can’t quite make out in the photograph.
Sparkling Five Fairfield Street, built, solidly, in 1915.
This weekend’s (35th) annual Christmas in Salem house tour is centered on South Salem and the neighborhoods along Lafayette Street which were rebuilt after the catastrophic Great Salem Fire of 1914. This seems like a very appropriate architectural focus for this commemorative year, and the tour poster really conjures up the era as well. All the tour information can be found here; it’s too late to buy advance tickets but they will be available on Saturday and Sunday at the tour headquarters, the Saltonstall School on Lafayette Street. Christmas in Salem is the most important annual fundraising event for Historic Salem, Inc., Salem’s venerable preservation organization which was formed in the 1940s to save the 17th century Corwin House (now unfortunately called the “Witch House”) from destruction. Generally the tour focuses on the downtown neighborhoods and Salem’s colonial and federal architecture, but occasionally it ventures out to the more outlying sections of town, including North Salem, the Willows, and now South Salem.
I’m looking forward to the tour because it will feature several (predominately Colonial Revival) homes on Fairfield Street, which I’ve featured on this blog several times. Now we get to go inside! Just after the fire, the property owners of this street commissioned the most renown Boston-area architects to rebuild their homes, with pretty impressive results. I have served as a tour guide for Christmas in Salem for many years, and I’m still not sure whether the majority of tour (ists? -goers?) are enchanted more by the architecture or the decorations, but for me it’s definitely the former. I walk to work along Lafayette Street two or three times a week, and there are several houses along my route that I examine in detail as I walk by–one of which is also on the tour. This is the William H. Gove house, an imposing Queen Anne mansion that survived the 1914 conflagration. Built by Salem attorney William H. Gove (who entered his profession through an apprenticeship, then went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School) in 1888, this mansion really dominates the streetscape and has a myriad of details that capture my attention every time I walk by. It was transformed into condominiums several years ago, and a ground-floor unit is on the tour. I know that Gove was a successful and wealthy man, but I can’t help wondering if some of his wife’s family fortune went into the construction of this house, as his mother-in-law was the one and only Lydia Pinkham, whose famous over-the-counter herbal remedy, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, made her the most successful female entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. Perhaps Mr. Gove would not be pleased with this suggestion.
The William H. Gove House (1888) today, in 1984 & 1918; Trade Card for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, 1880s, Baker Library, Harvard University; Lafayette Street facades.