Category Archives: Paper

Salem Tokens, and my appreciation

Periodically, but continually, I get tokens from readers of my blog—scanned pictures or stories from old magazines, little pamphlets, scraps of Salem history—which I place in a file for safekeeping with the intent that I will devote one post to each item at some point. This file has grown pretty full, so I wanted to expose some of these items to the light of day. I’ve reserved some pieces for their own special posts, but I’m not sure I can contextualize all of these treasures so better just to get them out there as maybe someone else can! I’m so appreciative of all these gifts, and will be donating them to a public repository in due time, but for now I’m holding on to them, because I never know when inspiration will strike, or some other little piece of paper will come along to amplify something I already have. So here we go, perhaps the first of what may become a series of “tales from the files” posts, beginning with a lovely fundraising pamphlet issued by the Essex Institute in 1929, when its directors were seeking to raise the grand amount of $400,000. The focus is on preservation, accessibility, and “remembrance of things past” throughout the pamphlet, which features silhouettes of famous Salemites in the margins and highlights of the collections on every other page. I sense some emerging sentimentality around the old Essex Institute these days, with the prolonged absence of the Phillips Library: I’ve received several items in just the past few months.

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I have quite a collection of little books, souvenirs I suppose, including several of Fred Gannon’s compilations from the 1940s published by Salem Books Co., guidebooks such as the Streets & Homes in Old Salem, published from 1930 to 1953, and leather industry newsletters: I love the photograph of the old tanneries (on Goodhue Street???) which is in the Leather in Salem and Peabody newsletter below, sourced (of course) from the Essex Institute.

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Token Tannery

My own postcard collection has been supplemented by gifts from readers, encompassing cards from all eras, undivided and divided backs, dignified black-and-white and cheerful chromes, depicting mostly Salem buildings—people don’t send me witches, except for very close friends! Last but far from least, I have been privileged to receive quite a few family photographs–scans of course–including one of my very favorites below: some lovely ladies and the bride at a Ropes Family wedding in 1898.

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Salem Tokens Lucia Ropes Wedding Day 1890s


Nuts-and-Bolts Bankers

I love everything about this little pamphlet I picked up the other day commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Merchant’s National Bank of Salem in 1911: In the Year 1811. The graphics, the format, the paper, the fonts. The whole point of the pamphlet is to show how much changed from 1811 to 1911, and how integral the Merchants National Bank was to that change. Everything is so much better in the latter year, everything is so modern, and to illustrate this modernization, in both words and pictures, the pamphlet privileges the practical side of life over the big political events that shaped the century: transportation, heating, cooking, lighting, clothing, and commerce, of course. There is one sentence referencing the wars of the century, and presidents are referenced only by their age at the time of the incorporation of the bank. 

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There are several references to Salem’s notable architecture, but again, it’s really all about the bank, which showcases its new headquarters on Essex Street, “colonial in architecture and absolutely fire-proof in construction. The walls are of brick; roof and floors of concrete. There is nothing to burn; the city might be swept by a conflagration, and the building of the Merchants Bank would still stand”. Of course this strikes one as a very prescient statement, as Salem would  be “swept by a conflagration” in only three short years: the Great Salem Fire of 1914. The new bank building stood tall, but primarily because the fire did not reach downtown. Samuel McIntire is not mentioned in the pamphlet, despite the fact that 1811 was the year of his death.

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The new bank building on Essex Street, the Old Witch House, and a representative Salem porch.

I think the illustrator of most (certainly not all) of the charming sketches in the pamphlet are the work of Salem-born artist George Elmer Browne, based on the illustration of Salem’s first Eastern Railroad depot, which is attributed to Browne elsewhere. Everyone is familiar with the great Gothic Revival structure that was built in the 1840s and unceremoniously demolished in the 1950s, but this was its less imposing predecessor. Now that was a big change!

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Browne’s illustrations of the First E.R. Depot in Salem, in Francis B.C. Bradlee’s The Eastern Railroad: A Historical Account of Early Railroading in Eastern New England (1917) and the second depot in 1911-12 Report of the Salem Plans Commission.


Toasts and Toadstools

There are myriad good luck charms associated with the New Year, and I’ve featured many of them already, including the Scottish “First Footing” ritual and the pig and chimney sweep traditions of continental Europe. I really can’t speak to the southern traditions of eating Hoppin’ John and collard greens, and horseshoes and clover seem to be universally lucky at all times of the year, so I think I’m going to go with toadstools this particular New Year. Very prominently featured on the New Year’s postcards produced and disseminated in large quantities a century or so ago are red-and-white-capped toadstools scattered about—these are “red fly” mushrooms called Fliegenpilze in Germany (which produced most of these same postcards) and they are very lucky indeed. If you’ve ever seen one of these (the proper Latin name is amanita muscaria) out in the wild, you would understand why it is such a storied plant: it looks not quite real, wondrous, and is said to have both insecticide and hallucinogenic qualities. Despite the fact that one of my favorite King Penguin books classifies this mushroom as poisonous, it was apparently a stroke of luck to encounter one: in doing so you becomes a Glückspilz (literally a lucky mushroom; metaphorically a lucky person).  It is no wonder these ‘shrooms ended up in both Alice and Wonderland and on all those New Years’ postcards, and on this particular year, on the mantle in my front parlor: I am taking no chances with 2017!

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An assortment of New Year’s postcards from my own collection and the Digital Collections of the New York Public Library; the holly and the……..mushrooms on a Mela Koehler Christmas card from the Lauder Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Amanita muscaria in John Ramsbottom’s Poisonous Fungi (1945).

I was just down in Rhinebeck, New York for Christmas at my brother’s house, and I had about twenty minutes in one of my favorite stores anywhere: Paper Trail. There were mushrooms in the window, and the most beautiful toadstool/mushroom (I must admit that I don’t know the difference) ornaments. So inspired, I switched up my own mushrooms (+ some hourglasses–very subtle) for the deer on the front mantle almost as soon as I got home. I think I have a pig somewhere in the basement so I might pop him on there too. And a horseshoe.

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Memorial Markers

Look up: at many intersections of Salem streets, intensively but not exclusively in the center of the city, you will see bright black and gold markers with the names of veterans who sacrificed their lives in twentieth-century wars. I really don’t remember focusing on these plaques until late last spring, when all of the faded markers were replaced with new and shiny ones: just in time for Memorial Day, as I recall. Then suddenly they were very conspicuous to me–and hopefully to others. The markers are placed adjacent to the soldiers’ neighborhoods, so you can also ascertain the various ethnic neighborhoods of Salem in the last century, now not quite as distinct. They are as detailed as possible: name, rank, service, conflict, exact date and place of death: I immediately noticed how many young men died in the closing months of the Great War, just before Armistice Day.

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Squares of service in Salem, beginning with that dedicated to Private George C. Trask at the beginning of Chestnut Street. Nichols Square at Federal Street is dedicated to Captain Henry C. Nichols, who served in both world wars and Korea and was a “man about town” (and also the author of a popular little pamphlet titled Bewitched in Historic Salem). The distinct red marker designates veteran firefighter Raymond McSwiggin, killed in the line of duty in 1982. You can see a map of all of Salem’s Veterans’ Squares here: https://www.mapsonline.net/salemma/index.html.

 


What to do with my Stereoviews?

I’ve been a collector of sorts for much of my life but I never collected historic photographic images until I started this blog: I quickly realized their power to tell stories and provide context in this, our digital age. So I started buying some Salem images, mostly stereoviews, which were produced in vast quantities in the later nineteenth century. There were about six or seven major publishers of stereoviews here in Salem at that time, but I’ve focused almost all my collecting efforts on images associated with Frank Cousins, as either photographer or publisher. I just completed my collection of his sentimental “Salem in 1876” views, encompassing nearly every corner of central Salem. Now I’ve got a (shoe) box of stereoviews and I’m not quite sure what to do with them.

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Steroview Chestnut Street Cousins

Frank Cousins published views taken both up and down Chestnut Street and all over the city, documenting “Salem in 1876”.

Stereoviews are relatively easy to acquire, especially of a city like Salem which has been selling its image, in one way or another, for quite some time. They turn up online very frequently and I always find them at the larger flea markets and paper shows. My collection is pretty focused on Cousins, but it also has a few views that I have never seen anywhere else, including a great (though completely unattributed and undated) view of Front Street from Washington Street and a rather unusual (forested!) view of the South Church that stood across Chestnut Street from my house for nearly a century. This McIntire masterpiece burned down in 1803: I’m trying to gather as many images of it so I can glean its impact from every possible perspective. My verdant view is contrasted with a more typical image of the church, from the best source for digitized stereoviews: the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public Library (where you can make “stereogranimators”).

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(Stereo)view of Front Street, ?date, ?photographer); the South Church on Chestnut by Peabody & Tilton, c. 1875 and Guy & Brothers, c. 1884, Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

Obviously I have a predilection for streetscapes but I like some (not all; some are creepy) of the more intimate, “up close and personal” stereoviews too. I’ve seen quite a few of people just standing outside their houses, being captured for posterity. A double dose of daily life. I love this image of a Salem Willows summer cottage with its residents, all ready for summer. This is not mine, unfortunately, but from another great source of stereoviews: the Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Libraries.

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“View at Juniper Point, Salem Neck, Mass.”, n.d., Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries (the original Willows cottages were built for Lowell residents who wanted to summer on the coast).

So again, what to do with those stereoviews that I do possess? Ultimately I will leave them all to the Salem State University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, because what Salem needs is a Center for Salem History there, as the Peabody Essex Museum ceased its historical-society function long ago. But in the meantime, I’d like to find a more clever and creative way to preserve and display them. I’d like to get them out of the box! I guess I could frame them in some interesting combinations and create a gallery wall, but that’s about the extent of my creativity. Brass floating frames? Display them with a special “twinscope” at hand like this cool exhibit from just last year, Syracuse in 3-D (1860-1910)? I’m open to suggestions, because I do think there is something very engaging–both aesthetically and historically– about images in multiples. As evidence, I give you this beautiful invitation to the Pickering House’s annual garden party by Salem artist Racket Shreve, paired with Cousins’ stereoview, of course.

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Scene from the interactive “Syracuse in 3-D” exhibit by Colleen Woolpert (+ more here); Racket Shreve’s quatre-Pickering House invitation; Frank Cousins’ “Salem in 1876” stereoview of the Pickering House.


Lincoln’s Laboratory

I’ve been digging around in bins and folders for scraps of paper for as long as I can remember, and I do recall one item that caught my attention years ago: it was an envelope with a still-bright print of Abraham Lincoln depicted as some sort of wizardly chemist, an alchemist, I also recall thinking, in the midst of a rather wordy laboratory. It had a sticker marked $5 on it which struck me as quite steep at that time. Now I see that this same envelope fetched $2600 at a recent auction! The envelope, produced by the Salem stationery and publishing firm of G.M. Whipple and A.A. Smith (1860-1875), has become a highly-coveted example of Civil War propaganda, and I clearly missed out.

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Whipple and Smith were not only showing their colors; they were marketing a relatively new product: the envelope itself. Before 1851 U.S. postage was charged by the sheet, so people simply folded their letters with sealing wax and mailed them off. In that year a flat postage rate was introduced for mail under a half-ounce and traveling less than 3,000 miles, so protective “covers” were introduced, which became patriotic covers a decade later. More than 10,000 embellished envelopes were produced in the North during the Civil War, much less in the South. They became collectible items even during that time, as many survive unaddressed—like the one I saw some time ago and those below. I can see why the “Union Alchemist” envelope is coveted today: its image and message is a bit more intricate than the majority of pro-Union covers I have seen–many featuring Jefferson Davis swinging from a rope (actually he is there, in the upper left-hand corner, in a specimen jar, next to General Beauregard).

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Lincoln is writing prescriptions in a laboratory full of his distillations, including pure refined national elixir of liberty and metallic soap for erasing stains..for the southern market; he is not only the Great Emancipator (and the Great Distiller) but also the renowned rebel exterminator. It’s such a great image and item: what was I thinking years ago when I passed it by? I’ve found quite a few more in auction and historical archives, but none available, for $5 or $500: this is definitely one that got away, but I did catch a Salem octopus!

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Whipple & Smith’s “Lincoln’s Laboratory or the Union Alchemist” covers, from Hake’s Americana & Collectibles, The Helfand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The John A. McAllister Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia, Cowan’s Auctions, PBA Galleries, and the Bangor Historical Society.


Playing Card Personas

I love the look of playing cards: the traditional suits, their predecessors (roses, crowns, rings, bells, leaves, hares, acorns…I could go on), and their endless variations and adaptations over the centuries. It is one thing to transform a card into something else entirely, or replace the familiar figures with new entities, scenes or characters (events of the English Civil War, generals during the American Civil War, the non-standard Kings and Queens of every European country, the “dedicated decks” of Salem’s own Parker Brothers), but quite another to bequeath personality to the stiff standardized Kings and Queens of the traditional deck. That artistic feat is impressive to me: so I fell for one of Felix Blommestijn’s cards a few years back, and a collage of Elmo Hood caught my eye immediately when it came across my Instagram feed last week. Now I see that his playing card creations have gone viral over the past few years, but they were quite a discovery for me.The collages are very dear, the prints affordable but apparently sold out everywhere, and I can see why: Hood’s kings, queens and jacks are immediately recognizable, but they are also active (or reactive). Quite the card trick!

Elmo Hood Broken Queen 2014

Elmo Hood Queen and King

Elmo Hood PlayingCard Print

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Elmo Hood Two Kings

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@Elmo Hood collages and prints: “Broken Queen”, “Queen of Hearts/Suicide King”, “Loyal”;  “Most Young Kings get their Heads cut off”; “Diamond Heist”; “Cards were Harmed in the Making of this Art”.  More here and here.


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