Monthly Archives: December 2015

What I Want Now: King Penguins

Today I have an entry in my very occasional series of What I Want Now: things I am craving at this very minute. Generally these things fall into two categories: items that I have just discovered and want instantly and items that I have known about for a while but suddenly must have. Today I am thinking about collectible “King Penguin” books, an illustrated hardcover series that Penguin published between 1939 and 1959, including 76 titles. I have four and now want more. These are slim volumes with striking covers: like another series which I admire and collect, Britain in Pictures, it was the aesthetic quality of these books that first captured my attention rather than their content. They look great on a shelf, and in multiples, so I really need more, now. I bought my four volumes in a brick-and-mortar store that is no more, so I think I’ll have to expand my collection from online sources but I’m a bit hesitant as condition is everything with these books: not only do they have beautiful covers, they have lovely spines, and this is the part of the book that gets the most wear and tear. Yet despite my trepidation, I will press on, and if anyone out there reading this wants to help, I have Crown Jewels, Elizabethan Miniatures, Some British Moths, and Flowers of Marsh and Stream in my possession and really want Animals in Staffordshire Pottery, the two (edible and poisonous) mushroom books, both of which have amazing covers, A Book of Toys (with toy penguins on the cover), Spiders, The Bayeux Tapestry, The English Tradition in Design, A Book of Scripts, Tulipomania, and just for the season, Compliments of the Season.

King Penguin Elizabeth Miniatures

King Penguin Flowers Marsh and Stream

King Penguin Mushrooms Covers

King Penguin Toys Cover

King Penguin Spiders Cover

King Penguin Scripts Cover

King Penguin Ballet Illustration

King Penguin Military Uniforms Illustration

King Penguin Tulipomania Cover

King Penguin Compliments Cover

King Penguin titles I have and want, and illustrations from Janet Leeper’s English Ballet and James Laver’s British Military Uniforms. The best source for learning all about collectible Penguin titles is here. Oh, and this one too, please: for $92, I assume its spine its perfect.

King Penguin Life Cover

Christmas in Salem 2015

The venerable Christmas in Salem house tour, the major fundraiser of Historic Salem, Inc., returned to the McIntire District this year and featured homes and public buildings decorated around the theme of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. There were some absolutely amazing houses open this year, and a huge turnout, due both to the perennial appeal of Chestnut and Federal Streets as well as the unseasonably warm weather–people didn’t seem to mind waiting in line. Unlike past years, I don’t have a lot of interior shots for you this year, as I was scolded very nearly every time I took my camera out: photographs are not allowed in the houses!  Having had several houses on this tour over the years, I can certainly understand the homeowners’ desire for privacy and security, but as official photographers and magazines and Salem Access Television were allowed to shoot, it does seem like a somewhat contradictory policy. In any case, I think you’ll get some sense of the spirit of the event from the exterior views, and I’ll tell you what you missed, in no particular order: 1) a dining room dressed up like a Tiffany box, complete with a Tiffany-ornamented tree; 2) TWO amazing conservatories, one which featured camellias, the particular favorite of Yankee bluebloods in the nineteenth century; 3) THREE period dollhouses: small, medium and large; 4) FOUR public buildings (the Phillips House, Hamilton Hall, the “Witch House”, and the Ropes Mansion–I was scolded here too, but there are plenty of pictures of these exteriors both here and elsewhere on the web; 5) I can’t make the numbers work anymore so I will simply say–a Rumford Roaster which I had never seen before! 6) the most beautiful study I have ever seen, with wooden swags adorning the windows; 7) a particularly clever, and aesthetically pleasing, device for hiding the television; 8) all different kinds of pantries; 9) lots of beautiful china patterns, including a nice collection of pink lustre which seemed to be the inspiration for an entire room; 10) many beautiful decorations tied to the theme of the tour–I especially liked the pears.

Christmas in Salem 2015 156

Christmas in Salem 2015 109

Nichols House Collage

Christmas in Salem 2015 099

Christmas in Salem 2015 118

Christmas in Salem 2015 142

Christmas in Salem 2 Chestnut

Christmas in Salem 2015 162

Our greeter at the Ropes Mansion and lots of decorated doors on Chestnut and Federal streets—sorry I can’t show you inside!  The doorway of #37 Chestnut, the Nichols-Shattuck House, was included in Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture, Volume I: Fifty Salem Doorways in 1912 and is often referred to as a “Coffin door”, because it has an extra panel that (supposedly) can be opened to accommodate coffins. All the architectural historians whom I consulted, however, say this is mythology. The rear of #37 shows the evolution of the house and the conservatory addition on the right. Exceptional “China coin” cast iron railing added to #2 Chestnut in the 1880s; lines and crowds on a 6o-degree day yesterday.

This has nothing to do with the tour, but I was out and about so much this past weekend that I also really noticed something that everyone in Salem has been talking about for the past month or so: the inescapable sight of our new HUGE trash and recycling barrels. A new trash pick-up regimen went into effect just after Halloween, and we were all given these large toters which are hefty and awkward–we’re all struggling with a place to put them–I know I am! So a lot of people are just leaving them on the street–or near it. Unfortunately, many of the streets of Salem are black and blue (plastic).

Christmas in Salem Trashcan Collage

I’ll link to interior shots as soon as they are up! 12/11/12 postcript: here’s the link to the official photographer’s interior images, which you can buy, of course:

Krampus Cards

Krampus, that dark monstrous creature, cloven-hoofed, horned, hairy, and long-tongued, the antithesis of Saint Nicholas but also his companion, somehow did not make it across the pond with Old St. Nick’s descendant, Santa Claus–actually, he didn’t even make it across the English Channel. I’m not sure why not, except for the fact that he is a repulsive creature, who constrains mischievous children in his basket and carries them off to somewhere bad. So who wants him? Well apparently we do now, with the new Krampus film opening tonight and Krampusnacht festivals on the rise both in the old world (especially his native Austria, Switzerland and Germany) and the new on December 5th, the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas. He’s big in Los Angeles now, and Philadelphia, and also apparently Salem: can you imagine a better environment for Krampus than modern Salem?

Krampusnacht Austria

Saint Nicholas and Krampas

Krampus in the drawing room 1812-13

Krampuses getting reading for Krampusnacht in Stubaital, Austria, 2013, photograph by Sean Gallup/Getty Images; St. Nicholas bearing gifts and Krampus carting children away, two cards from the Christmas pictures by Raschka series by Raphael Kirchner, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Krampus sneaking into the drawing room behind St. Nicholas, from The Journal of Carl Baumann written 1813-25 by Franz Paumgarrten.

In his latest incarnation, Krampus seems a lot scarier now than he did a century or so ago, when he appeared regularly on Krampuscarten, holiday postcards issued in much of central and eastern Europe. He’s always been a beast, but he was a comical and/or polite one (almost knocking on the parlor door above!) at that time. His origins are somewhat obscure: his appearance mirrors the pagan or Neo-Pagan horned god but also the Christian devil. He seems like the embodiment of assimilated and dualistic Christianity to me, chained to remind everyone that as demonic as he may be, he is still under the command of God. According to all the “sources”, which cite one another but never the primary source, he becomes the companion of St. Nicholas at some point in the seventeenth century, and with the “invention of Christmas” and all of its “traditions” in the nineteenth century he assumes a major role in the festivities. Given his alpine origins, the most creative Krampuscarten are those created in Austria, in particular by the artists working for the Wiener Werkstätte before the First World War. These art nouveau Krampuses are a bit more stylized and whimsical than many of their more generic postcard counterparts, and they tangle with adults as well as children. Once men in Krampus masks begin to appear at the doors of their sweethearts on interwar cards, you know the Krampus has lost his sway.

Krampus and St. Nicholas WW 3

Krampus Koehler MFA

Krampuscarten by Wiener Werstätte artists Mela Koehler (1911), Arnold Nechanksy (1912) from the Neue Galerie and Josef Diveky (1909), Jutta Sika (1912) and Dora Suppantschitsch (1907), Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Appendix: A “Krampus versus Kringle” window at the Gulu-Gulu Cafe here in Salem snapped by my friend Lance Eaton—he’s going to put it on his own blog, but I’ve got it up first!

Krampus versus Kringle Eaton

A Closer Look: Salem 1854

I’m following up on a post from a couple of years ago on urban “bird’s eye” maps from the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, which included a lithograph map of Salem from 1854 published by Endicott & Company and the Smith Brothers and based on an original aquatint by British born American artist John William Hill (1812-1879). I was impressed by this map at the time, but I didn’t really do it justice. Here’s what I said:  Here is a map that defies categorization:  it’s part panorama, part rendering.  The detail, perhaps a bit idealized, is amazing, especially if you view it with a zoom feature.  Yet the people are stick figures; it’s all about buildings and streets. Thanks to some close cropping by the folks at Princeton University’s Graphic Arts Collection blog, I now want to revise that view: Hill’s view of Salem in 1854 is far more humanistic than I thought. Now I’m more impressed than ever by this amazing artist, whose skills are on flagrant display in this map, and others. It’s that combination of aerial perspective and architectural detail that draws me in, very evident in the close-ups provided by Princeton.




Lithograph map of Salem, Mass., 1854 by J. H. Colen after John William Hill (1812-1879). Published by the Smith Brothers, 59 Beekman Street, New York. Graphic Arts Collection, Firestone Library, Princeton University.

Yes, the people are still a bit stickish and it is certainly an idealistic impression, but the material world on display still draws you (at least me) in: 6 over 6 window panes, 8 over 8 window panes, dormers, chimneys, laundry on the line. This is a city that seems to be in transition in its orientation, from water to land, as a lot of effort seems to have been spent on those wide (clean! far more clean than they would have been in actuality) streets, home to a few stray carriages now but later to be clogged with cars. Hill’s depiction of Charleston from a few years earlier displays the alternate water-to-land perspective. Moving out of the realm of street view maps (but still encompassing people) is his beautiful watercolor of Boston Harbor, from the same era and the same collection at Princeton, and the stunning New York from Brooklyn Heights, which was issued in several variant genres in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Hill Charleston 1851

Hill Boston Harbor 1853

Hill NY from Brooklyn Heights 1850s

Bennett Hill Brooklyn Heights

John William Hill’s Charleston, 1851 (hand-colored lithograph, Historic Charleston Collection); Boston, 1853, Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University, and New York from Brooklyn Heights, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on deposit at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Aquatint with engraving and etching of the latter by William James Bennett, 1837, New York Public Library.

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