Category Archives: Paper

Scraps of Salem History

Moving on from rocks to paper today, as it is time for a more ephemeral and less serious topic. I am by no means a serious collector, but I seek out and purchase ephemera pretty consistently, generally but not exclusively Salem items. Things have to appeal to me both aesthetically and historically, and I love unusual fonts and illustrations as well as things that are architectural or zoological. I have several folders of stuff, but certainly not boxes. Trade cards continue to be an ephemeral favorite, but I seem to be buying a lot of programs lately, as well as various “visitors’ guides” to Salem: these serve as my guide to the city’s changing identity over time. Is the emphasis on Witch City or “Old Salem” or the China Trade or the city of Hawthorne? Somehow it doesn’t seem possible for Salem to be all of these things simultaneously for the authors and editors of the guides in my collection, but the programs of the various historical “pageants” that occurred over the period from 1890 to 1930 reflect a more comprehensive (though wildly historically incorrect) approach. One of my favorite recent purchases is the program for a concert/pageant sponsored by Salem’s G.A.R. Post in 1895 entitled Historic Salem Illustrated. Representing Epochs in the History of Salem from the Time of its Settlement up to the Present Year with really cool illustrations of each “epoch” (“Indian”, Colonial, Revolutionary, Commercial, “Patriotic” (basically the Civil War), and “the Present or Electric Period”) by George Elmer Browne (1871-1946) who later emerged as an important Cape Ann/Provincetown artist. The historical vignettes, set to music, include “Chief Naumkeag welcoming the Puritans”, a tableau of Colonial punishments, and “The Blue and Gray of 1895”. What better way to tap into this particular historical perspective?

Salem Scraps GAR Programp

So here is a random sampling of some recent additions to my ephemera files, along with some things I haven’t featured before and some notes about why I like these scraps of paper and what I have learned from them, starting with some items I chose completely for their aesthetic qualities, and more particularly, their fonts: even though Salem: its Representative Businessmen and Points of Interest is from the “Electric Age” (1893) and the menu from the Calico Tea House (in the Hawthorne Hotel) is from the Atomic Age (1953) they have a similar aesthetic quality. On the menu in 1953: “Witch House Chicken”, “Derby Wharf Scrod”, and “Seven Gables Salad”. Still in the realm of color, a few trade cards from the first decade of the twentieth century (I think): the first is a very unusual view of the Custom House, and the second features cute rabbits. And how can you beat insects and architecture! A program for an Essex Institute “Social Evening” in 1868 at Hamilton Hall which featured all these creatures viewed under a microscope with musical interludes (LOVE this snail), followed by a program for the annual meeting of the members of the Salem Club in 1914 and a ticket (multiplied) to the 1952 Chestnut Street Day house tour which was held sporadically from the 1920s to the 1970s (it would be great to revive this event).

Salem Scraps in color

Salem Scrap 1910s PC Custom House

Salem Scraps TC Burnett

Program Final

Salem Scraps Snail

Salem Club 1914

Salem Scraps CSD 1952

It’s a lot easier to find things that our intended for an external audience–advertising and tourism pieces basically–than the entomological item above, or the G.A.R. or Salem Club programs. Salem really crafted and disseminated its image from at least the 1890s on and so there is a sea of promotional materials out there: brochures for walking, trolley and automobile tours, little pamphlets of photographic “glimpses” of Old Salem (besides postcards of which there are oceans). Witch City is nothing new, but it was definitely less all-encompassing a century ago, or fifty years ago, or at any time before the 1980s. One thing that you definitely notice when you look over older promotional materials is a consistent emphasis on Revolutionary Salem that is absent now. If you want to be a specialist collector, you could form a collection out of paper items created for the 1926 Salem Tercentenary alone, and at its center would be the Highlights in the History of Salem pamphlet published by the Salem Evening News, which has the perfect title for an ephemeral history.

Salem Scraps 1896

Picture2

Picture1

Salem Scraps 1926


The Charm of Chimney Sweeps

It is somewhat difficult to comprehend how chimney sweeps–soot-covered, often very young boys who were virtually enslaved to climb up and down narrow flues, brush in hand–could be transformed into good luck charms in the later nineteenth century, but if you examine more than a handful of vintage New Year’s postcards, especially those from central and northern Europe, you will see them there, along with four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, mushrooms, pigs, and occasionally cats. Only in the British and American traditions do you see Father Time, and the infant new year, and numbers, and because Germany was so dominant in the greeting card industry at the turn of the last century their Schornsteinfeger turn up on cards made for those markets as well.  I understand the whole sweeping out the old year message, as well as the basic assurance of a clean chimney (especially now, with my new ones rising!) but that’s about all. The dissonance between the grim reality of one of the dirtiest jobs anywhere, anytime and its artistic representation on greeting cards from the 1880s onward is pretty glaring, as sweeps are depicted in elegant art nouveau compositions, as well as more commercial creations, as laughing, clean children of both genders. And then of course there is the sexy chimney sweep, again of either gender, with the masculine variety usually corrupting (dirtying) some naive chambermaid, and the feminine variety distinguished by her (lack of, form-fitting) dress. The only things that identify all these sweeps as such are their ever-present ladders and/or brushes.

Chimney Sweep Art Nouveau Card

Chimney Sweep MFA Card

Chimney Sweep Gnomes Card

Chimney Sweep MFA 1Card

Austrian New Year’s Postcards, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

As you can see from the images below, the angelic (whitewashed) little chimney sweeper sweeping in the New Year became a bit standardized in the 1910s and 1920s, and if the text message wasn’t enough, the addition of other good luck symbols–and even the very American champagne bottle–drove home the message. The very distinctive red-and-white-spotted “red fly” mushrooms (amanita muscaria) are ever-present on New Year’s postcards, even those that don’t feature chimney sweeps, and once again, I’m not precisely sure why. This species of mushroom is credited with both poisonous and hallucinogenic qualities, neither of which translate into good luck (or maybe it is good luck if you don’t eat them), but they were also used as insecticides in some parts of Europe I believe, so maybe there is another “clearing out” connection. Later in the twentieth century, both the chimney sweeps and the toadstools get a bit more abstract and a bit less cute, but they’re still there.

Chimney Sweeps Postcards

Chimney Sweep Skating Scenep

Chimney Sweep Estonian 1960 Playles Card

A Selection of New Year’s Postcards from the teens and 1920s available here; Skating scene sourced here; an Estonian card from the later 1950s from here.

The Lucky Chimney Sweep tradition varies quite a bit as you move westward in Europe: I couldn’t really find much of a trace in France and in Great Britain it is more associated with the occasion of weddings than the New Year. I have found several sweep motifs among the New Year’s postcards of Britain’s most prolific publisher, Raphael Tuck & Sons, but they were manufactured in Austria:  I imagine a somewhat confused British audience. Given all the horrific stories about the “climbing boys” in Britain, including the well-publicized death of a 12-year-old boy named George Brewster in 1875 which led to the passage of a Parliamentary bill prohibiting the use of such “apprentices” in the same year, it’s hard to see how chimney sweeps could be considered charmed or charming (even with the innocuous images below). John Leighton’s depiction of a shivering and suffering sweep (perhaps from the dreaded Chimney Sweeps’ cancer or “soot wart” though that generally appeared later in life) on a doctor’s doorstep, packaged with what can only be the sarcastic greeting A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, is a more realistic sign of the times.

Chimney Sweep Tuck

Chimney Sweep Cat Tuck

Raphael Tuck & Sons postcards at TuckDB; John Leighton’s Chimney Sweep, c. 1850, at Wellcome Library Images.


Salem as Source

I’ve been fascinated by architectural drawings for as long as I can remember; actually I do remember the moment I was “caught”: I was in the attic at York Harbor, in my adolescence or early teens, when I encountered some very fundamental sketches made by my uncle Jeff, an aspiring architect. I never really knew him, and he never realized his ambition, as he died in a car crash on the Cape just after his graduation, at age 21. He was always a mystery to me, so when I saw these sketches they seemed like a clue. They drew me in, literally, and over time my appreciation for architectural studies evolved, through total immersion into the Renaissance in college and graduate school, historic preservation work, old house ownership, and marriage to an architect. Since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how important Salem was to the burgeoning architectural profession in the later nineteenth century in general, and to the Colonial Revival movement in particular. The literary references are there, and the drawings, though mainly they are the work of New England architects. Just recently I’ve found a few more digital archives that contain sketches of Salem structures drawn by architects from other parts of the country. Today I am featuring the sketchbooks of two southern architects, William Martin Aiken and  Joseph Mordecai Hirschmann, who came to Salem for inspiration, forty years apart, in 1883 and 1923 respectively. William Martin Aiken was born in Charleston, South Carolina, but he studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked in Cincinnati and later Washington, D.C., as the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department. Joseph Mordecai Hirschmann was also a Charleston native, but spent most of his professional life working at the New York architectural firm of Walter and Gillette. Their professional papers, which include many drawings, are in the College of Charleston’s library and included in the Lowcountry Digital Library, a surprising sources for anything to do with Salem! But as institutions across the nation and around the globe digitize their collections, new sources of information pop up every single day.

SS Savannah Sketch SS Rockland Chapel

Before he came to Salem, Aiken sketched houses in Savannah, and after: Rockland, Maine.

While in Salem, Aiken sketched the interior of the Pickman House on Essex Street, a famous Georgian house (then), now long gone, the first-period Narbonne House, also on Essex, a Derby Street door and an obviously early house which I can’t quite identify. The note reads “Temple Hardy”? Hardy Street? Help! (see what I mean about sketches being clues).

SS Pickman House

SS Narbonne House

SS 106 Derby SS Salem Hardy St

Where is/was this early Salem house?

His sketches indicate that Hirschmann wasn’t particularly interested in early architecture when he came to Salem: he went right to the McIntire District, where he sketched details: wrought iron fences, garden arches, classical columns. He was more of a note-taker than Aiken, and I particularly love his notation on the column sketch:  “very beautiful”.

SS Hirschmann Fences Sketch

SS Hirschmann Arch Chestnut Street Salem

SS Hirschmann Columns Sketch

The Architectural Sketches of William Martin Aiken and Joseph Mordecai Hirschmann, Lowcountry Digital Library.


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


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.

salem-mass

salem-mass3

salem-mass4

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.


Oyster Square

Time to return to the very basics of life:  food, and plumbing! Today I’m thinking about oysters, and up next I’ve got a special post on wooden water pipes. Oysters–their harvest, sale, and consumption–have always been big business in Salem: Wellfleet is hardly the only Massachusetts oyster town! At present we have three restaurants which feature oyster bars: the excellent Turners Seafood at the Lyceum, the oddly-named Village Tavern Grill & Oyster Bar, and the relatively new and very popular Sea Level Oyster Bar on Pickering Wharf. In the past, Salem probably had many more oyster establishments that were also actual oyster bars, as this particular commodity has evolved over time from a working man’s food to a bit more of a delicacy. Today, Salem’s many restaurants are spread out across its downtown, from the water to the train station, but in the past they were concentrated in the area around the Old Town Hall or Market House. Derby Square and Front Street today are still busy commercial spaces while an adjacent alley that served as an “Oyster Row” of sorts a century or more ago is now silent: yet Higginson Square still bears the signs of its purveying past.

Higginson Square

Higginson Square 2

Higginson Square 3

The large brick commercial buildings on the east side of Higginson Square were built between 1895 and 1915, replacing earlier, smaller structures that served as dining rooms, bars, and wholesale purveyors of oysters and other foodstuffs. Their surviving shop windows indicated that they were functioning as retail establishments in the twentieth century too, but I don’t think this remained a restaurant row. These building have Derby, rather than Higginson, Square addresses now, but the one adorned with the fire escape was the earlier site of the Remond residence/restaurant/and oyster operation at 5 Higginson Square operated by John and Nancy Remond, the parents of Salem’s pioneering African-American abolitionists Charles and Sarah. The spotlight is always on the Remond children (a new park named after them is in the works now) but I’ve always been more interested in their entrepreneurial parents, who operated several businesses in Salem. Surviving advertisements for Remond oysters (“Let them be roasted, stewed, or fried; Or any other way beside; You’ll be well served, or ill betide”) indicate that the North Shore was no longer viable oystering ground in the mid-nineteenth century, as John was bringing in large supplies of oysters from Wellfleet and New York, enough to operate a veritable wholesale monopoly in Salem.

Oyster Square Trade Card

Oyster Trade Card SSU 2

Oyster Trade Card SSU

Oyster Trade Card 2

Oyster Square Trade Card Lynn

Trade cards from the collection of Salem State University Archives and Special Collections and the Digital Commonwealth–I had to include the Lynn fish! The Remond businesses came a bit too early for these cards. Below–Salem’s 19th century Market Square, where oyster and other eating establishments were clustered. Higginson Square is marked in blue.

Salem 1851


Scholarship and Shopping

Few moments are more exciting for me than when my intellectual and material endeavors merge, and believe me, they are fleeting! One happened this past Saturday. I had been struggling with two pieces that I am writing for publication on Frank Cousins, Salem’s turn-of-the last century architectural photographer, and a passionate advocate for all thing Colonial. I know a lot about Cousins, and I have a lot to say about him (because no one else has said anything), but I am not a trained 1) American Historian; 2) Architectural Historian; or 3) Art Historian, so that is why I was struggling: could I place him in his proper context? It’s one thing to refer to his “imaginary walks through Salem” and lectures on “Old Architectural Salem” and quite another to assess his contributions to American architectural history and the Preservation movement. I had finished one piece and was thoroughly blocked on the other, when I decided to go over to the first ever (and hopefully not last) “Vintage Market” on Derby Square. I just love the idea of an antiques market in Salem, which has such a long tradition in this trade, and even though I appreciate our farmers’ market, I would rather buy things than vegetables in Derby Square! So off I went, and there was some great stuff: baskets, bottles, buttons, snowshoes, pottery, tins, bottles, and prints, lots and lots of prints, including an old box full of Frank Cousins prints. These were not the original albumen images, mind you, but large reprints made for resale at a mid-century Salem gift shop according to the man who sold them to me, who happens to run his own Salem tours. I bought quite a few, took them home, spread them out on the floor of my study, and waited for inspiration to strike. It took a while (more than a moment to tell the truth), but eventually I finished my article. I think there are two lessons here: 1) if you’re writing about someone who expresses himself visually, you must consider these expressions and 2) shopping always helps.

Close-up: offerings at the First Annual (?) Vintage Market on Derby Square in Salem, and my catch of Cousins photographs.

Shopping in September 031

Shopping in September 016

Shopping in September 032

Shopping in September 015

Shopping in September 026

Shopping in September 027

Collectibles Collages Salem Vintage Market

Shopping in September 042

Shopping in September 047


The Cartography of Entanglement

Today’s post is a perfect example of how my mind works and why looming deadlines force me out of my home office and into my university one, or to the library, or anywhere but home. I was very quietly reading a great book about English migration in the seventeenth century, in preparation for my upcoming graduate class, when my mind started to wander to maps: first to maps of the Atlantic world, then to maps of the early modern world, then to nineteenth-century imperial maps, then to allegorical maps, then to propaganda maps, then to maps which had spider motifs. This wandering started with the title of the book, The Web of Empire, but it was definitely prolonged by my materialistic instincts, as I have finally ejected my husband’s saltwater aquarium from the lovely little room that I used to call my “map room”, and will again. This room was very damaged by leaks from ice dams this past winter, and has been recently been re-papered and -plastered, so I’m in redecoration mode. I had several old maps and globes in there, but even before our fierce February they were threatened by the vapors emanating from that old aquarium, so now that it is out of there the maps are going back in–and I want more. I’m a huge fan of allegorical and pictorial maps (see here and here and here), so I thought, why not spiders? They’re not quite as obvious a metaphor for world domination as the octopus, but a close second.

Web of Empire Games

I started my search for arachnophobic maps with the early nineteenth century and Napoleon: Thomas Rowlandson had very famously portrayed the little general as “the Corsican Spider” and I figured some contemporary cartographer would be inspired to create a vision of Europe caught in his web. No luck, and nothing from the Victorians either, although one of Lillian Lancaster Tennant’s whimsical maps depicts the old legend of Robert the Bruce and his inspiring spider. This is hardly the arachnophobia I was expecting, or looking for: it will take the ferocious World War I–and the polarizing imperial strategies of the rest of the twentieth century–to produce those kind of images.

Napoleon as Spider

Web Map Scotland Barrons

Thomas Rowlandson’s The Corsican Spider. In his Web. (1808), Royal Collection Trust; Bonaparte with a spider web as a medal, having devoured Russia (1814), Jonathan Potter, Ltd.; Map of Scotland from Stories of Old (1912) by Lillian Lancaster Tennant, Barron Maps.

And so that brings us to probably the most famous spider map:  “L’Entente Cordiale, 1915”. This propaganda map represents the German perspective on World War I, with Britain portrayed as a giant spider literally eating France while the US is entangled in its web in the background and an unfettered German eagle overlooks the scene. This is a mockery of the alliance made between France and Britain  in the previous year, which clearly did not aid/save France. I found several other British spiders in various collections of German propaganda from the Great War, including the map below from (of all places) neutral Sweden, and the “Europa 1915-1916” map which depicts the insect extending its legs across the Channel while Germany is (quite literally) steamrolling the Russian bear: this view conforms to the German rationalization that it was Britain that had woven a web of empire, spanning the globe.

Lentente Cordiale LOC Bordered

Swedish Propaganda Poster 1918 CUL

Europa 19151916 IWM

l’Entente Cordiale, 1915, Library of Congress; England Världens lyckliggörare, 1918, War Reserve Collection, Cambridge University Library. (I’m not entirely certain that this Swedish poster is not depicting an English octopus: there is no web, but it does look quite furry); Europa 1915-1916, Imperial War Museum.

The spider allegory is unleashed in the 1930s and 1940s: Nazi Germany produced many anti-Semitic and anti-Communist pamphlets and posters (and combinations thereof) employing the spider, and then we see all the participants portraying the enemy in arachnidian ways once the war began. The U.S.S.R. is portrayed as a menacing spider by both the Germans and the Americans in the space of five years, and then of course Hitler/Germany becomes the most menacing spider of all. I’m including a well-shared image of “The American Spider” which is dated 1943 because it’s a perfect fit for this post, but I’m not sure of the source: tumblr-and reddit-land never credits! I’ve searched all the usual repositories and come up with nothing, but I would love to know about more about this particular spider map.

Bolshevik Spider 1935 Hoover Institute

Spider Russia Cold War

Nazi Spider Map 1943

Spider Map US WWII

Germany struggles to keep Europe free from Bolshevism, 1935, Hoover Institute, Stanford University; The Russian Spider Sits atop the World and Watches for more Victims, Los Angeles Times, January 7, 1940 (during the brief German-Russian alliance), Barry Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc.; One by One his Legs will be Broken, 1941, Imperial War Museum; The American Spider, 1943, source–Vichy France?

The spider need not be so malevolent. Another map from this era, published by Ernest Dudley Chase, one of the most prolific and creative pictorial cartographers of the mid-twentieth century based right here in Massachusetts, features a spider web as a sort of overcast underworld. Following in the wake of “A New Yorker’s Idea of the United States of America” and “A Bostonian’s Idea of the United States of America”, Chase’s “The United States as viewed by California (Very Unofficial) Distorted and Drawn by Ernest Dudley Chase”, contrasts a distorted two-thirds of interwoven America with a very sunny, happy California. I’ve included a quote from another of Chase’s maps for parity’s sake. And because our own twenty-first century view of the web is quite different from that of the previous century, I’m ending with this great “Age of Internet Empires” map from the Oxford Internet Institute. I could go on–rail transportation maps are often called “spider maps”–but I think I’ve been entangled enough!

Ernest Dudley Chase

Ernest Dudley Chase Map NE

Age_of_Internet_Empires_final

Ernest Dudley Chase maps, Boston Public Library Leventhal Map Center; “Age of Internet Empires Map”, Oxford Internet Institute.


The Puffy Sleeve Artist

Every August features an Americana focus in the antiques world, and auctions and shows present their best items made in America. I made a shopping list while browsing through next week’s Americana auction at Skinner: rainbow spatterware, a nineteenth-century wooden bucket with “good girl” painted on it, cherry card tables, and an amazing schoolgirl map of the world. I don’t need any of these things but a girl can dream! There are some great silhouettes in this auction as well, including several by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist”, an anonymous favorite of collectors. I was rather surprised by the low estimate placed on this lady with the blue dress: $600-$800. Two years ago, another silhouette by the same artist fetched $6600 in a Skinner Auction, and another Puffy Sleeve Artist creation sold for $8750 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.

Puffy Sleeve Artist Skinner Americana Auction

Puffy Sleeve Artist Skinner 2013

Puffy Sleeve Artist Christies 2012 Auction

 Two silhouettes by the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” at Skinner Auctions:  a necklaced lady in a blue dress (upcoming here) and Henrietta Wakefield Wearing a Red Gown and Holding a Fan, both c. 1830-31; another red-gowned Puffy Sleeve silhouette of the same vintage, Christies.

Well, as you can see, it’s pretty easy to tell that these silhouettes were made by the same artist, even for a laywoman such as I (although this last lady looks a bit full-blown). It seems odd that we can’t identify the artist by more than his (or her) most distinctive motif: whoever it was was quite prolific and 1830 wasn’t that long ago (in historical perspective). Donna-Belle Garvin of the New Hampshire Historical Society has made a case for John Hosley Whitcomb (1806-49) a deaf-mute artist from Hancock, New Hampshire (“Family Reunited:  A Tale of Two Auctions,” New Hampshire Historical Society Newsletter Volume 29, Spring 1991), and the attributed artist of a pair of attributed hollow-cut silhouettes of gentlemen sold just a few days ago in a Willis Henry auction. If the “Puffy Sleeve Artist” was indeed Whitcomb, he appears to have exercised a more restrained style with his gentlemen: the ladies look a bit more distinctive, whimsical, and even modern in their abstraction. Whoever he or she was, my favorite examples of the Puffy Sleeve Artist’s work are those examples in which these women are holding books, identifying them by both age and initials, and something other than their puffy sleeves.

Puffy Sleeve Artist Wh

Puffy Sleeve Artist Pink

Puffy Sleeve Artist Christies Auction 2007

Puffy Sleeve Artist Northeast Auctions

A John Hosley Whitcomb silhouette and “Puffy Sleeve Artist” silhouette from last weekend’s Willis Henry auction; Puffy Sleeve Artist silhouettes dated 1831 and 1830 from Christies and Northeast Auctions.

Appendix 8/5/15:  Silhouette expert Peggy McClard (her extremely informative website is here) has informed me that the lady in pink above is not by the Puffy Sleeve Artist, and also that he has recently been identified as the western Massachusetts “profile cutter” Ezra Wood by Michael and Suzanne Payne (see the Magazine Antiques, July/August 2014).


American Girls

Countless cards were inserted in countless packs of cigarettes for decades starting in the later nineteenth century, for product (to avoid crushing the cigarettes inside), advertising, and revenue purposes (encouraging the formation of collections) and consequently cigarette cards form a huge category of ephemera. This is not really my category, but I do find some of the collections to be really interesting expressions of their era. A case in point are the several series of “State Girls” or “State Belles” offered by various publishers in the first decade of the twentieth century: the girls (or young women) are portrayed in a way that supposedly characterized their state, accompanied by other state symbols, and sometimes situated in representative settings. I became acquainted with these particular cards, which I have seen in both cigarette and postcard forms, through a flea market discovery of a Massachusetts girl, wearing academic dress while standing out on some North Shore rocky coast. This find occurred just several days after I received my Ph.D., and so this girl had a particular appeal to me: here I am, I thought, Scholar Girl, a Bay State Belle!

MA Girls Collage

As you can see, not all Massachusetts girls walked around in academic gowns, books in hand. The Raphael Tuck (on the rocks), Langsdorf (schoolmarmish) and National Art Company (sans glasses) girls do, but not those on the Platinachrome Company’s “alphabet” cards, which focus more on the letter and the state seal and flower, or the Fatima Turkish Cigarettes cards, which are all about the elaborate hats which adorn the heads of rather indistinct state girls. The ladies from all 45-48 states (depending on when these cards were published, and sometimes including the District of Columbia) get more detailed characterizations on some cards while on others they are simply idealized lovely-but-generic belles. Miss Pennsylvania is portrayed in colonial dress, armed with a musket and adorned with a tricorner hat, on the National Art Co. and Langsdorf cards below, while the “Keystone Belle” stands before the bustling factories of what I presume is Pittsburgh on the Tuck Card: the past and the present. Not yet quite a golden girl, Miss California is identified with her steamship and her oranges. The “Lone Star Girl” of Texas has her bluebonnets, and the “Opera Belle” of New York comes equipped with a skyscraper. There are girls equipped with fishing poles (Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and Maine), swords (Maryland), paddles (Virginia), riding crops (New Jersey) and locomotives (Illinois), but the majority of young women are pictured with farming equipment or produce, a reflection of our then still-agrarian nation. A 21st century update on these cartophilic characterizations would be quite interesting.

PA State Girl Collage

State Girls CA collage

State Girls TX Collage

State Girls NY Collage

(Just click on the collages to enlarge)


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