The twentieth-century American artist Walter Ernest Tittle (1883-1966) was sought after on both sides of the Atlantic for his etchings, illustrations, and contemporary portraits. Among his diverse works are magazine covers, presidential portraits, and a whole series of drypoint “international dignatories” rendered in the 1920s, but also two slim volumes—advertised as “gift books”— in which he merged both original and historical texts and images to create a “lost” world of colonial holidays: The First Nantucket Tea Party (1907) and Colonial Holidays (1910).
These books are gorgeous, even though the images inside are a bit…….overwrought. I’m willing to leaf past some of the colorful colonial “belles” just so I can see Tittle’s fonts and illuminations: everything works together. As its subtitle reveals, Colonial Holidays is a compilation of historical references to Christmas and other holidays, embedded in Tittle’s gilded pages. He wishes the Puritans were more joyous in their celebrations, but “time brings change” and William Pynchon’s diary reveals some holiday merrymaking in Salem during the Revolutionary War. The new Assembly Room seems to have been very busy during the extended Christmas season with concerts and dances; “the elders shake their heads with, What are we coming to?” And so many sleds in the streets of Salem!
Tory that he is, Pynchon is not interested in George Washington’s Christmas, but patriot that he is, Tittle shows us Mount Vernon at Christmas—-no Valley Forge for his illuminated pages, but rather Christmas with the President and Mrs. Washington in 1795 and another reference to 1799–though Washington would have just died so certainly that was no festive occasion. The First Nantucket Tea Party does not have a Christmas setting perse but is also all about Colonial festivity, on the particular occasion of the return of Captain Nathaniel Starbuck Jr. from his “late long” voyage to China supplied with a chest of Chinese tea. Everyone is very excited about the tea, but for me it’s all about the amazing font used throughout the text. Merry Christmas!
If there is one genre of history that has benefitted particularly and immensely from digitization, it is culinary history: cookbooks from all ages are readily available and I easily mined two collections of restaurant menus to come up with a portfolio of Thanksgiving feasts past, from 1883 to the 1950s. The New York Public Library’s Buttolph Collection includes nearly 19,000 menus, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas’s Digital Collections include a range of menus under the heading “The Art of Dining”. There are many more places to find menus online: a great list is here. I’m not really a foodie, so I was more interested in the evolving cover art than the food, but I have included several bills of fare below: you can find more by going to the sources. These are primarily menus from large hotel restaurants which seem to be concerned with offering their guests multiple choices and courses: turkey is always featured prominently but not exclusively! Last year’s little investigation of the holiday drink “Tom and Jerry” made me very excited to see frozen Tom and Jerry on the 1899 menu of Boston’s Quincy House, and it seems very clear that English plum pudding was a staple on fancy feasts for this most American of holidays until at least World War I.
Thanksgiving menus from all over the country and 1883 to 1958 (1883, 1898, 1898, 1999, 1905, 1905, 1906, 1914, 1929, 1955, 1957, 1958), from the Buttolph Collection of the New York Public Library and UNLV’s “Art of Dining” Collection.
I was working on two things concurrently yesterday and they merged (sort of): a presentation on emerging civic identity in Renaissance Florence for my grad class and a post on yet-another batch of Salem trade cards from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. A lot of time-traveling, but a common theme of projection. Actually the post was supposed to be about candy; I thought I might be able to parlay one lovely colonial trade card into a whole series of Salem-made confections for Valentine’s Day. But no, not enough chocolate and Salem gibraltars are not particularly romantic. So instead I just looked at the emblems on my run of cards and saw an emerging brand and identity for Salem: from a maritime center in the nineteenth century to Witch City in the twentieth, with a few horses interspersed among the ships and broomsticks. This is much too selective a sample to prove anything, but at the very least it illustrates two hypotheses I have about the development of “Witch City” as Salem’s primary civic identity: it came about because of commercial factors more than cultural (or historical) ones, and it really intensified in the 1890s, coincidentally with the commemoration of the bicentennial of the Witch Trials in 1892. Apart from ascribing any wider meaning to this ephemera, I just love to look at it; there’s something about the inclusion of such artistic images and lettering on such everyday items as trade cards and billheads that impresses me: if only our disposable, digital age was interested in leaving as lasting an impression.
A century and a half of Salem commercial ephemera: from seaport to Witch City.
The break between the fall and spring semesters used to be one of my favorite times of the year; now that I am Chair it won’t be quite as long or restful. When you’re a professor, you think about your courses a bit and write up the syllabi, but this January I’ll be doing transfer evaluations, a bit of scheduling, advising, meetings, correspondence, and planning for the semester to come. Woe is me! Nevertheless, there’s still time for some reading so I have assembled my year’s end list of books. I probably won’t get through all of these but they’ll sit by my bed all year long and put me to sleep (no slight to the book; I fall asleep almost instantaneously and very forcefully). As usual, it’s a list (exclusively) dominated by nonfiction, and the first two BIG books will probably take me through most of the year: the first volume of Victoria Wilson’s Barbara Stanwyck biography (I’m a huge Barbara Stanwyck fan) and the recently-updated Field Guide to American Houses. The latter probably won’t leave my bedside for years to come–in fact, I should probably buy two copies of the latter, one for my bedside and the other for the car.
Two popular histories/biographies of gilded-age people on either side of the Atlantic (and around the world): I see a lot of parallels between Prince Edward and Prince Charles (though not the playboy characterization).
Fauna and Flora, past, present, future:
I’m not really a cook or a foodie, but I do like reading about food: its production, its history, its role as a cultural force. Of all the food books that came out in this past year, these two titles appeal to me the most: one is quite specific and narrative in its approach, the other more general and historical:
What could possibly be more interesting than the story of punctation!!!??? and epistolary history (Simon Garfield is always on my list)?.