Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mastery of Design: A Magnificent “Cat’s Eye” and Diamond Ring, 1850

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made in London in 1850, this curious ring is set with an impressive chrysoberyl (Cat's Eye) with a border of brilliant-cut diamonds in a gold setting. The stone is so large that it is set on double shoulders—one set to support the weight of the stone and one set to fit the finger, though it’s doubtful that the ring was ever worn.

This ring is part of a collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet. We’ve looked at the Reverend Townsend’s rings before and they are certainly quite a magnificent collection. Townsend collected an assortment of extraordinary stones which he had mounted as rings. However, they were never intended to be worn. The settings served only to showcase the stones.

Painting of the Day: “Rat d’Egypte apellé en Arabe Gérbouh” Jerboa or Desert Rat

Watercolor Painting
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Here we see a strangely handsome watercolor of an Egyptian Jerboa eating a date. Jerboas are rodents quipped with powerful hind legs and very long tails for balance which are capable of leaping large distances to escape predators. *Shiver, gag.* These nocturnal desert dwellers are common in Egypt and enjoy arid conditions and feeding on plant material. Their name—Jerboa--is said to derive from Arabic words meaning “meaty thighs.” Charming.

The particular vermin depicted here is possibly a portrait of a pet. He has been lovingly painted holding a date in his tiny front paws. The artist is Jean-Baptiste Adanson who was a diplomat, antiquarian and draftsman, and brother of the naturalist Michel Adanson. He was the official French interpreter at various cities in Egypt and Syria, and the French consul in Egypt from 1775 until 1785. Throughout his life, Adanson amassed a large collection of his drawings of natural history, antiquities and views.

The Art of Play: A Soft Toy Cat, 1935

Mohair Cat, 1935
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Since today is the first of October, I thought I’d show a very Halloween-y German toy from the 1930s which also fits into our theme of the day of rats and rat-killers. This un-jointed black mohair plush cat is standing with an arched back and upright tail. His eyes are green and his nose is pink. The Halloween-i-ness of it is reinforced by the orange ribbon around his neck.

The fuzzy mouse catcher was made by the celebrated German toy manufacturer, Schuco in 1935.

At the Music Hall: The Ratcatcher’s Daughter

The Victoria & Albert Museum
In Westminster not long ago, There lived a Ratcatcher’s Daughter.
She was not born at Westminster,
But on t’other side of the water.
Her father killed rats and she sold sprats,
All round, and over the water,
And the gentlefolks, they all bought sprats,
Of the pretty Ratcatcher’s Daughter.

She wore no hat upon her head,
Nor cap, nor dandy bonnet,
Her hair of her head it hung down her neck,
Like a bunch of carrots upon it.
When she cried sprats in Westminster,
She had such a sweet loud voice, Sir,
You could hear her all down Parliament Street,
And as far as Charing Cross, Sir,

The rich and poor both far and near,
In matrimony sought her,
But at friends and foes she cocked her nose,
Did this pretty little Ratcatcher’s daughter.
For there was a man cried "Lily white Sand,"
Who in Cupid’s net had caught her,
And over head and ears in love,
Was the pretty little Ratcatcher’s daughter.

Now, "Lily white Sand" so ran in her head,
When coming down the Strand, oh,
She forgot that she’d got sprats on her head,
And cried "buy my lily white Sand oh!"
The folks, amazed, all thought her crazed,
All along the Strand, Oh,
To hear a girl with sprats on her head,
Cry, "buy my lily white Sand, oh!"

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter so ran in his head,
He didn’t know what he was arter,
Instead of crying "Lily white Sand,"
He cried "Do you want any Ratcatcher’s daughter."
His donkey cocked his ears and brayed,
Folks couldn’t tell what he was arter,
To hear a lily white sand man cry,
"Do you want any Ratcatcher’s daughter?"

Now they both agreed to married be,
Upon next Easter Sunday,
But the Ratcatcher’s daughter had a dream,
That she shouldn’t be alive next Monday,
To buy some sprats, once more she went,
And tumbled into the water,
Went down to the bottom, all covered with mud,
Did the pretty little Ratcatcher’s daughter.

When Lily white Sand he heard the news,
His eyes ran down with water,
Says he in love I’ll constant prove,
And, blow me if I live long arter,
So he cut his throat with a piece of glass,
And stabbed his donkey arter,
So there was an end of Lily white Sand,
His ass, and the Ratcatcher’s daughter!

The Music Halls were the gathering place of the lower classes. Adventurous aristocrats would sometimes venture to the Music Halls for some tawdry fun. But, for more middle-class and upper-class clientele, song and supper rooms and clubs opened in the 1830s. These more elegant venues served hot food and provided entertainment until the wee small hours of the morning. The clubs were rooms like The Coal Hole, off the Strand in London, and Evans’ Song and Supper Rooms in Covent Garden.

The star of Evans was a singer called Sam Cowell who was most famous for his song, “The Rat Catcher’s Daughter.” This song was so popular that fellow performer Charles Sloman, who was famous for improvising lines, wrote an extra two verses (seen above).

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 356

Stop crying, you little beasts,” Agnes Rittenhouse panted as she struggled into the cold night hair, the weight of two babies making angry pins rise in her straining, withered arms. She stumbled as her stick-like legs carried her behind one of the other handsome Royal Street residences.

She spotted an outbuilding—windows dark like sleeping eyes—and groaned as she went toward it. Ducking behind the building she leaned against the wall and slowly slid toward the wet ground, slumping as she supported the weight of Colin and Fuller on her lap.

“I said to stop crying.” The nanny hissed at the babies. “Boys are such little piggies!”

Placing the boys heavily on the ground she clawed her way back to her feet and peered into one of the windows of the building. It was empty—clearly used as storage. “Stay here,” She spat at the infants as she felt her way around to a rear door. Trying the handle, she was relieved to find it unlocked.

“This will do for now,” Agnes grinned. She looked at the boys. “Yes, it’ll do for now.”

At that very moment, at Dr. Biamenti’s Royal Street mansion, Marjani cringed as she heard Adrienne Halifax’s screams of horror. The clatter of footsteps on the stairs signaled the return of the Halifax’s.

Marjani looked up to see Robert and Cecil carrying Meridian down the stairs. Meridian groggily protested. “I can walk on my own feet. I’m so sorry. So sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Meridian.” Robert said gently—belying the look of agony on his face.

Marjani quickly turned to her granddaughter. “Honey, you stay with Mr. Punch. Ya hear? Grandmama’s gonna go help Meridian.”

“Is she dead like mama?” Columbia gulped.

“No, chil’, you hear her talkin’, don’t ya?” Marjani smiled.


“Then, she ain’t dead.”

“Good.” Columbia smiled. “But, Missus Adrienne, she’s cryin’.”

“She’s scared, honey.” Marjani said.

“Cuz o’ that ol’ lady?”

“Yes, honey.” Marjani said. “Now, you stay here and keep talkin’ to Mr. Punch. Remember, he can hear ya.”

With that, Marjani rushed toward Robert and Cecil.

“We’ve got her,” Cecil barked. “Try to comfort my wife.”

Marjani put her arms around Adrienne.

“It’ll be all right, Missus.” Marjani whispered.

“My boy!” Adrienne screamed. “This is my fault. My fault!”

“Ain’t no one’s fault. We’ll find your boy. We’ll find both them boys. That old bitch couldn’t have gotten far.”

Cecil emerged from the kitchen where he and Robert had brought Meridian.

“Stay here with my wife.” Cecil commanded. “I’m going to find my son and my…and Colin.”

“I’m coming with you!” Adrienne screamed.

“No.” Cecil shook his head.

“Don’t waste time!” Adrienne bellowed.

“Very well, come on.” Cecil took his wife by the arm.

Marjani took a deep breath and hurried into the kitchen.

“Will Meridian be all right?” Marjani asked.

“I’m fine. I’m fine.” Meridian murmured. “I don’t know how she done it. She must have hit me. I tried to stop her.”

“I know you did, Meridian.” Robert said, studying the woman for signs of injury. He looked up. “Any change in His Grace?”

“No.” Marjani shook her head. “I left Columbia with him. She’s talkin’ to him.”

Robert pressed a cool cloth against Meridian’s head. “I don’t know how much more we can endure.”

“You’d be surprised, Doctor.” Marjani said sweetly. “Just when you think your body’s gonna give out is when it’s at its strongest.”

“What about my mind?” Robert sighed.

“That, too.” Marjani replied.

“I only hope that His Grace—in his unconscious state—is somewhere more peaceful than this.”

“I hope so, too, Sir.” Marjani nodded.

Their wishes, however, went unanswered. Trapped in his own body, the Duke of Fallbridge watched as the image of his dead mother turned to face the image of his other personality.

“So, Mr. Punch,” The Duchess of Fallbridge grinned. “You’ve come to rescue my son again, have you?”

“Sure, I have,” Punch nodded. “I always done and so I always will.”

Punch looked up and smiled at Julian. “Hullo, master chum, who’s the gentleman?”

“The Prince Consort.” Julian replied in confusion.

“Coo!” Mr. Punch laughed. “Is he one of us, too?”

“No.” Julian replied. “He’s a hallucination.”

“Here, that’s good.” Punch nodded. He took a step backward and looked around. “Now, what else we got here? We got the crusty Duchess, the damned nanny, and look—little Julian. Here, I remember when you was real. What you doin’ in that bath tub?”

The vision of the child Julian shrugged.

“Well get out of it, then?” Mr. Punch said, walking to the tub and picking the child up.

“What are you doing?” The spectral nanny asked.

“Makin’ this stop once and for all.” Mr. Punch grumbled.

“Put him down!” The Duchess bellowed.

“No.” Punch squinted. “You go away.”

With that, the Duchess disappeared.

“You, too.” Punch spat at the nanny.

And, with that, he image disappeared, too.

Punch wrapped small Julian in a blanket. “There you go, wee master. Nice and cozy.”

Prince Albert laughed.

“What’s so funny, Bertie?” Punch narrowed his eyes.

“I…” The Prince began. “It’s simply that His Grace could have done that himself. This is, after all, his imagination.”

“Not entirely, it ain’t.” Punch shook his head. “It’s mine, too. It is.” Punch sighed. “I don’t know how it all works, I don’t. Only I know how it works better than me master does. See, I been takin’ care of all this for a long, long time.”

“Yes, you have.” Julian nodded.

“Now, listen, I’m gonna send the boy away for now.” Punch said calmly.

“Very well.” Julian nodded.

“And, the Prince, too.” Punch continued.

Julian looked over his shoulder to see that Prince Albert was also gone..

“Now.” Punch said, taking a deep breath and offering his hand to Julian. “Let’s have a chat, you and I.”

Julian took Mr. Punch’s hand. “As you wish.”

“I can ‘preciate what you’re thinkin’. Seems you want to know stuff. Maybe you’re ready. Maybe you ain’t. But, if we do this together, then, I ‘spose we’ll get through it.”

“I imagine we can.” Julian nodded.

“But, if anyone’s gonna lead you through all these memories and whatnot, it’s gonna be me and not some fool Prince what don’t have no idea what nothin’ is.”

Julian smiled.

“Sometimes, master chum, you make things much more complicated than they need to be.”

“I do.”

“Yep.” Punch chuckled. “Now, are you with me?”

“I am.”

“Good, then, let’s go.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-355? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, October 3, 2011 for Chapter 357 of Punch’s Cousin.

Card of the Day: The Imperial Crown of India

Seeing this crown makes me happy because it makes me think of Queen Mary and all the trouble she went through to make sure this crown was made. Now, as we know, Mary of Teck was a collector and she had a special weakness for gems. When her husband, King George V was crowned, they prepared to travel to India for the Delhu Durbar wherein they would ascend as Emperor and Empress. Mary, being also a stickler for detail and making sure that events were carried out properly, was determined that she and her husband be able to wear crowns at the Durbar. There was only one problem—the official crowns were forbidden by Royal Law to be removed from the United Kingdom. No matter how much Queen Mary protested, there was no way that those crowns were leaving England.

And, so, Queen Mary decided that new crowns needed to be made especially for the event so that the new Emperor and Empress of India would be appropriately attired. However, Parliament wasn’t too keen on paying for new crowns. Queen Mary said ostensibly, “Leave it to me.”

And, so, Queen Mary managed to get her friends to donate an array of magnificent gems for the cause. That means, basically, she shook her friends down and they had no choice but to agree. I like to picture Mary of Teck with a big velvet sack of jewels, plunking it down at Garrard’s (the Crown Jewelers) and saying, “make me some crowns.” But, I’m sure that’s not how it really happened. Either way, Mary got her crowns.

Garrard and Co. constructed the crown at the cost of £60,000 (£4,530,137 as of 2011) or $300,000 ($7,047,857 as of 2011). It is set with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, 6,100 diamonds, and one particularly fine ruby. As do the other British crowns, The Imperial Crown of India consists of a circlet topped by four crosses pattée and four fleurs-de-lis. It differs in that the arches on top, which join at a typical monde and cross, are not curved as the other crowns, but rather pointed in an Asiatic manner. Also, it is the only crown with eight arches instead of four—representing the difference between Emperor and King.

And, so, King George V and Queen Mary travelled to Delhi for the Durbar ceremonies. They wore their new crowns, but did not participate in a separate coronation since the Archbishop of Canterbury did not think it fitting for a Christian religious service to take place in a predominantly non-Christian country. Queen Mary nodded sympathetically when George V complained that the crown was too heavy and hurt his head. “Yes, dear.”

It’s important to note that the Imperial Crown of India is NOT part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom since it was made privately for Mary of Teck and George V. It lives with the Crown Jewels, but it does not belong to the U.K. and is privately owned by the Queen as a family legacy.

The crown has not been worn by any Sovereign since.

Object of the Day: A Beautiful Victorian Advertising Card

Advertising cards were quite commonplace in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. They would often feature attractive images on the front and, on the reverse, a plug for a product or company often accompanied by jokes or a short story.

So, let’s examine this one which I recently found. It’s a lovely Late Victorian/Edwardian scene of home life. A mother sits at the piano, urged by her children, “Say, Mamma, play us the old songs.” The children are poised with their toy instruments, ready to enjoy an evening at home.

Now, what would such a sweet and tender image advertise? Pianos? Toys? Clothing? Rugs? Candy?



That’s right. Rat poison. The reverse shows an ad for Slocum and Blaisdell’s “Rat’s Pat” Rat Poison. “Rat’s Pat for our Rats.”


Friday, September 30, 2011

Mastery of Design: A Turquoise, Ruby, Emerald and Pearl Brooch, 1830-1840

England, c. 1830
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum
I always like to cap the day’s posts with something sparkly. Today’s jewel is an ornament in the form of a Tudor rose created of gold, pavé-set with turquoises, rubies, emeralds and pearls. This was made in England for an aristocratic family between 1830 and 1840. Originally, this was the center ornament from a bracelet, but it was later altered into a brooch and fitted with a locket back.

Antique Image of the Day: Punch and Judy at Ilfracombe, Paul Martin, 1895

Punch and Judy at Ilfracombe, 1895
The Victoria and Albert Museum
I love these images of true Victorian Punch and Judy Shows. This photograph was taken at the beach at Ilfracombe (North Devon) in 1895 by Paul Martin.

Such images became popular around 1890 when it became possible to combine the gelatin dry-plate negative, which was fast and highly sensitive, with as the V&A puts it, an “inconspicuous device known as a 'detective' camera.” The detective camera allowed for a new type of candid snapshot since the camera was disguised as a leather box. A whole new kind of photography emerged—one that was not posed and staged as were the studio shots known to most people.

Paul Martin--a wood engraver by training—took hundreds of photographs on London streets and while on holiday at the seaside. Martin's work shows that at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, photography was no longer just the stuff of aristocratic amateurs and professional studios. Martin championed the idea that any person could record their own life and surroundings. Martin holds a special place in art history since he was one of the last wood engravers and one of the first photojournalists.

Sculpture of the Day: A Meissen Commedia dell’Arte Figure, c. 1740

Yesterday, we looked at a porcelain figure of Cupid as an organ grinder, but instead of an organ he was “grinding” a cat. Which sounds just awful, frankly. But, that’s what he was doing. I didn’t realize that the cranking of an animal’s tail as an instrument was such a common theme in hard-paste porcelain figurines. But, it seems that it is.

Here’s another one.

Enamel and Hard-paste Porcelain Figure
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see a hard-paste porcelain figure of Harlequin propped against a tree stump, looking both mischievous and wicked as he pulls the tail of a complaining pug dog as if cranking the handle of a hurdy-gurdy. The figure is painted in enamel and gilded.

This beautiful weirdness is the work of modeler Johann Joachim Kändler for the Meissen Porcelain Factory. In the 1740s. Kaendler, created a whole array of porcelain figures. The most popular of his designs were those which depicted characters from the Italian Opera and Commedia. These were especially popular in England where Commedia’s Pulcinella had given birth to Mr. Punch in the Seventeenth Century.

The figure with others from the group.

Friday Fun: Are You Being Served? The Punch and Judy Affair

I’ve never really watched “Are You Being Served?” except for bits and pieces of the show. Of course, it was wildly popular in the U.K. and, later, in the U.S. on PBS, but I never found myself terribly interested in it.

This, however, is delightful. In this episode, the department store staff joins forces to put on a show for the employees’ children. Their theme is a human Punch and Judy Show. And, I’m so impressed with the job they do. I know it’s a long clip, but watch until the end for a lovely surprise!

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 355

Iolanthe Evangeline staggered away from the Place Congo. Her tears met with the sharp winter wind from the River and stung her cheeks. She could feel the waxy makeup that coated her face dripping down her neck as she sobbed. Not daring to look at her hands, she knew that they were ruined. She could feel the blisters rising from the torch that Marie Laveau had thrust onto their smooth flesh.

“Papa,” Iolanthe howled as she walked. “You done got what you wanted. I’m burnin’ in Hell already.”

From her spot near the fire, Ulrika Rittenhouse watched Iolanthe stumble away.

“Giovanni,” Ulrika hissed to Charles’ brother who was seated near the spot where she’d been bound. “Marie’s done something to Iolanthe.”

“What do you care?” Giovanni chuckled. “You loathe the trollop.”

“I know, but…” Ulrika sighed.

“What’s this?” Giovanni smirked. “A moment of sympathy from my little beast?”

“No.” Ulrika coughed. “I…I only… Well, really, I just find it too delicious. But, it makes you wonder what she’ll do to us. Marie, I mean.”

“Not to fret,” Giovanni growled. “I shall protect you.”

“I count on it.” Ulrika winked. She glanced over her shoulder at Charles who, still tied up and bloody, was trying to bring Barbara Allen back to reality.

Barbara continued to babble as if she was still in fine velvet and gems at Fallbridge Hall.

“Your brother is loyal,” Ulrika whispered.

“He’s a fool.” Giovanni spat.

“I suppose.” Ulrika nodded. “But, it is a little touching. Yes?”

“No.” Giovanni growled. “It will be his downfall.”

Meanwhile, at the Royal Street House, Columbia ran down the front staircase, shrieking at the top of her lungs.

“Grandmama!” Grandmama!”

Marjani heard her granddaughter’s cries and turned to see the little girl rush into the parlor where she gasped upon seeing her friend, Mr. Punch/The Duke of Fallbridge sprawled out on the floor.

“Columbia, honey,” Marjani said quickly. “You shouldn’t be in here.”

“Is Mr. Punch sick like mama and papa were? Is he gonna die?” Columbia sobbed.

“No, honey. He just fell down. He’s gonna be just fine.” Marjani replied gently. “He’s just resting.” She lied.

“Did that lady push him, too?” Columbia hiccoughed.

“What lady?” Marjani asked.

“Is something wrong, Columbia?” Adrienne asked, standing up nervously.

“That mean old lady, she done pushed Meridian down and Meridian hit her head. She’s on the floor like Mr. Punch.”

“Miss Rittenhouse?” Adrienne gasped.

“I reckon.” Columbia nodded. “The gray lady.”

“She was in the nursery?” Adrienne shrieked. “Cecil!”

Cecil hurried to the stairs.

“She done took the babies. She said she’d kill me if…”

“Took the babies!” Adrienne screamed, running after her husband. “Cecil! Cecil! My God!”

“I come down as soon as she was gone. I was scared,” Columbia gulped. “Did I do bad?”

“No, honey,” Marjani took her granddaughter in her arms. “No. You done just fine.”

Robert clenched his fists in anger. “I knew letting that woman in this house was a bad idea! Damn it! Will you look after His Grace?” Robert asked as he followed his brother and sister-in-law.

“Course I will.” Marjani nodded.

“And, ring for Gerry!” Robert added over his shoulder.

“I will.” Marjani said.

Alone with her granddaughter, Marjani reached for the bell-pull and, then, took Columbia by the hand.

“Now, Columbia, honey, you come sit by Mr. Punch. Will you do that? Talk to him, honey. He can hear ya.”

“Mr. Punch,” Columbia sniffed. “Are you sleeping?”

Marjani turned away so Columbia couldn’t see her cry. “Tell him we need him.”

“We need ya Mr. Punch.” Columbia said sweetly. “You gotta play with me and Toby and make everyone smile like you do. And, the Duke, too.”

“You understand that Mr. Punch and the Duke are two different people even though the look just alike?” Marjani asked, still not looking at her granddaughter.

“Sure, I do, Grandmama.” Columbia replied. “You done tol’ me that God is God, but he’s also Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Well, ain’t it the same with Mr. Punch? If God can be three people, so can our friend.”

“That’s right, Child.” Marjani nodded with pride. “That’s right.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-354? If so, you can read them here.

Card of the Day: The Royal Orbs

The Sovereign's Orb is depicted at the bottom.
Here’s some more of the Coronation Regalia as depicted by the Churchman Cigarette Company’s 1935 Silver Jubilee series of cards. This card depicts the two orbs in the Crown Jewels of Britain.

Of the two orbs, the most famous and frequently used is the one known as The Sovereign's Orb, which was made by Sir Robert Vyner for King Charles II. It is distinctive for the large amethyst, which is cut in facets which supports the cross patée. Six inches in diameter, it is outlined by fine pearls and sparkling gems set in borders of white and red enamel. The adornment includes large rubies, sapphires, and emeralds alternately, each surrounded by diamonds.

The Sovereign's Orb as it is today.
Crown Copyright
Image Courtesy of the Official Web Site of the British Monarchy
The cross above the large amethyst is punctuated in the center on one side by an emerald, and on the other a sapphire and is outlined by rows of diamonds. Three large diamonds dot the each arm. Between the base of the cross and the amethyst, a collar of small diamonds has been set and at the end of each of the upper arms of the cross, a large pearl has been placed.

The Orb is a religious symbol representing the Monarch's role as Defender of the Faith and as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As part of the Coronation Ceremony, the Archbishop of Canterbury places the Orb in the Monarch's right hand. Later, the Orb is then placed on the altar, where it remains throughout the conclusion of the Coronation. At the end of the ceremony, the Monarch holds the Orb in the left hand, with the Sceptre with the Cross in the right hand, and the Imperial State Crown upon his or her head.

H.M. Queen Elizabeth II upon her Coronation in 1953.
She holds the Sovereign's Orb, the Sceptre with the Cross and wears
the Imperial State Crown.
Crown Copyright
Image Courtesy of the British Monarchy.

Object of the Day: An Antique Scrap

I recently stumbled across a whole slew of Victorian scraps at a Dallas antique mall. Someone obviously had taken the time to preserve these. They were all neatly cut out and mounted on cards of various colors. The subjects ranged from lots of images of cats to children and other bucolic pictures. I picked a few that I particularly liked. This is one of them.

Now, aside from being a Victorian scrap, I’m not quite sure what this is. Clearly, it depicts a child in some sort of traditional dress. The child holds a pot of some sort. I’d guess it’s a depiction of a Dutch child, but I could be off on that.

I was attracted to the colors—those lovely Victorian colors: blues and corals. I also like the idea of someone—long ago—taking the time to make sure this wasn’t lost. So, in keeping with that idea, I brought it home to see that it survived for several more generations.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Westie Formerly Known as Toby

"I'm still waiting for my sausages."
Today’s Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture comes upon the request of one of our regular readers, “Bertie Fan,” who, upon seeing Landseer’s painting, “Comical Dogs,” wondered what Bertie might look like in a similar fashion. So, instead of placing Bertie in a famous work of art, this week, I’ve styled him as the “Dog Toby” from the Punch & Judy tradition. Of note is the fact that before I adopted Bertie, many years ago, he was called “Toby,” but he and I decided that he needed a new name. My inspiration for the Toby outfit comes from a puppet of the “Dog Toby” made by the talented Chris van der Craats.

Chris van der Craats' Dog Toby

Sculpture of the Day: Cupid, the Organ Grinder, 1750-55

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Here, we have a figure of Cupid as an organ-grinder. He is sitting on a tree-trunk, and his green trousers are slipping down in the back. A fan of the nudity, is Cupid.

What’s particularly peculiar is that he’s using a cat as an organ. I don’t know why. Cranking a cat by the tail will produce a noise. But, not one you'd want to hear.

But, this is certainly very Rococo. And, it’s also quite German. It was made in Berlin of hard-paste porcelain painted in enamels, between 1750 and 1755 by Wegely's porcelain factory. It bears Wegely’s mark—a “W” in under-glaze blue at the back of the pedestal

Painting of the Day: The Portrait of Zoe Ionides, 1881

Zoe Ionides
George Frederick Watts, 1881
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Here we see a half-length, nearly full face portrait of a little girl with her hands hanging by her sides. She wears a red hat, a dark maroon dress, and a fur around her neck. This painting by George Frederick Watts was bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1900. However, Mr. Ionides stipulated in his will that this, along with nineteen other family portraits, should stay in the family until the death of his wife, Agathonike. Mrs. Ionides died in 1920 when the paintings were received by the V&A.

The portrait shows Zoe Ionides (1877- 1973) who was the seventh of eight children of Constantine Alexander Ionides and his wife, Agathonike. George Frederick Watts, a life-long friend of Constantine, painted over fifty members of the Ionides family over five generations. Watts had studied under the sculptor William Behnes and entered the R.A schools in 1835. He went to Florence until 1847, where he found the patronage of Lady Holland. The painter was determined to devote himself to depicting grand, universal themes such as Faith; Hope; Charity; Love and Life; and Love and Death. However, he is best remembered as a portrait painter.

Unusual Artifacts: A Gold and Jeweled Toothpick, 1580

Gold Toothpick with enamel, rubies and a diamond.
Germany?, 1580
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This is not the kind of toothpick you’d find in a dispenser in a diner. Irritating people would call this, an “extreme toothpick.”

But it is a toothpick. A gold toothpick, but a toothpick nonetheless. The handle depicts a nude female figure of Lucretia, adorned with flowing bands enameled in blue and red, and with garters of red enamel just below each knee.

Her head is surmounted by a loop from which the toothpick might be suspended on a cord or ribbon. Lucretia (a legendary figure from Roman history) sits upon a scroll which has been enameled in green on the front, and in blue and black on the reverse. The toothpick’s sickle-shaped blade is engraved and was prepared for the application of enamel, however most of what was there has been lost. Only black enamel remains. The ornamentation between the handle and the blade is enameled in blue, red, white and green. The toothpick is set with two rubies and one diamond--all table-cut. You know, like most toothpicks.

This was made in 1580 and probably in Germany. The Sixteenth Century saw a resurgence of elaborately decorated toothpicks such as those that had been, at the time, recently discovered in ancient ruins.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 354

Iolanthe, Iolanthe, Iolanthe,” Marie Laveau clucked her tongue. “I gotta say, Woman, I am disappointed in ya.”

“Please, spare me your Holy Mother routine.” Iolanthe growled, struggling against the fabric which Marie’s men had used to bind her hands.

“Ain’t I?” Marie grinned. “Ain’t I the Holy Mother?”

“Ha!” Iolanthe Evangeline spat. “You’re about as holy as I.”

“Now, now.” Marie scowled. “Ain’t it true? I got a life inside me. Didn’t get there by no earthly way.”

“Didn’t it?” Iolanthe chortled. “This whole spectacle is for the benefit of your faithful followers, Marie. That child got there the same way your other fourteen did, and the same way all o’ mine did.”

“Only one of yours lived, Honey.” Marie barked.

“I only let one of mine live.” Iolanthe snarled.

“And, look what that got ya. Some kind of monster.”

“I may be bound, Marie Laveau, but if you say another word about my son, I’ll kill ya!” Iolanthe shouted.

“I ain’t scared.” Marie laughed. “Now, Woman, I thought you and I had finally reached an understandin’. I thought you done come back to me and that we was ready to put our bad blood behind us. Then, I come to find that you and your flame-haired white accomplice gotta help the Duke’s servant get to him. Now, what you want to go an associate with folk like that for. Honey, stick with your own kind.”

“I’m not like you, Marie.”

“Honey, you’re an octoroon. Your skin may be light, but inside, you’re just like me. And, don’t we got the same beliefs? Ain’t we both united in our power?”

Iolanthe didn’t respond.

“Oh, Woman, you’re only makin’ things worse for yourself. Now, why’d you have to go an’ cross me, Honey?”

“Marie, I didn’t cross you. I just have different interests.” Iolanthe smiled.

“I understand.” Marie narrowed her eyes. “Raise up your hands.”


“I want to untie you.” Marie smiled.

Iolanthe hesitantly raised her bound arms in front of herself.

Her screams of agony cut through the chaotic din in the Place Congo.

Meanwhile, at the Royal Street mansion, Meridian lay on the floor as Agnes Rittenhouse chortled above her.

“Never underestimate a nanny, my dear.” Agnes giggled to the unconscious woman. “We may be small, but we’re mighty.”

She turned her attention to Columbia who cowered in the corner of the nursery.

“Do you want me to do the same to you, little girl?” Agnes asked.

“No.” Columbia whispered.

“Then, you’re going to hold your tongue until I leave here. Do you understand?”

“I do.” Columbia trembled.

“Which one of these babies is my Lady’s?” Agnes asked Columbia.

“I dunno.” Columbia shivered. “Who’s your lady?”

“My Lady! My Lady!” Agnes belched impatiently.

“I don’t understand.” Columbia cried.

“Useless!” Agnes spat. “I’ll just have to take both of them.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-353? If so, you can read them here.

Card of the Day: The Sword of State and the Sword of Mercy

Let’s continue our look at the “stuff” that’s used in the British Coronations—properly called “Regalia”—via the Churchman Cigarette Company’s 1935 Silver Jubilee card series. This one, the thirty-third, shows two of the swords which are kept in the Jewel House at the Tower of London and which are used in the coronation ceremony. These are the Sword of State and the Sword of Mercy.

Sword of
There are, actually, five swords now kept in the Tower. The largest of these is the Sword of State, This large ceremonial weapon has a blade of about thirty-two inches long. The grip and the pommel are fashioned of gilt metal. The grip bears designs of the portcullis, fleur-de-lis, and harp. The pommel is adorned with the thistle, orb, and other Monarch-like emblems. The sword’s scabbard itself is lined with crimson velvet and decorated with gilt metal plates bearing designs of a similar nature to the swords itself, in high relief.

Sword of Mercy
The next sword is the strangest of the lot. It is known as the "Curtana," or the "Sword of Mercy,” and is thought to be the sword of Edward the Confessor. What’s curious about it is its blunted point which is meant to represent the quality of mercy of the sovereign. According to the mythological history of the weapon, the point of the sword was broken off by an angel to prevent a wrongful killing. I don’t know about all that, but, the symbolism does make sense.

Object of the Day: An Antique Organ Grinder Card

It should come as no surprise to anyone that, as an antique collector, historian, puppetry enthusiast and quasi-spooky guy, I have a soft spot for grotesquery. I mean, presently, I’m sitting across from a rather large Mr. Punch puppet who grins at me all day. So, I do enjoy things that are not traditionally beautiful.
I suppose that’s why I was drawn to this little Victorian card which we found at a local antique shop. It has been mounted on cardboard, so I have no idea what the reverse says, but the front shows a rather grotesque couple with large, stylized, puppet-y heads. The man is an organ grinder and instead of a monkey, he has a child (presumably his own) who collects money for the family. Musical notes and words at the lower right corner hint at the song that he plays.

I just love it. The colors are perfectly Victorian—that brilliant blue and the coral red. The stylized background suggests Italy, but it could double for any major European city. I think it’s odd and wonderful and disturbing and beautiful all at once.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mastery of Design: The Spanish Lion Ring Brooch, 1300-1500

Ring Brooch
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made to be worn either as a ring or a brooch, this unusual jewel comes from Spain and dates somewhere between 1300 and 1500.

A masterpiece of gold, ruby, and onyx, the ring is formed of a gold branch which has been naturalistically chased and engraved, and adorned with broad leaves, each of which curls downward into a volute. Between each set of volutes, a ruby has been set.

At the center, an onyx cameo is set, depicting shows a lion mauling another animal. Fun! The case of the roundel is edged with scrolls and open-back rubies. Only the base of the pin remains, but is evidence that the jewel was multifunctional.

History’s Runway: The Coromandel Coast Gown, 1780

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Just think for a moment. This gown is two-hundred thirty-one years old. An open dress of Indian cotton chintz fabric from 1780 is painted and block-printed with gold spots. The gown has a fitted back with a raised waist seam at the rear of the bodice.

The front of the boned bodice is pointed and closes centrally by a drawstring which passes through the neckline. The half length sleeves are lined with white cotton. The skirt is constructed from three panels of fabric measuring 45 inches selvedge to selvedge. Cotton ties at the back of the bodice would have secured a bustle.

Designed to be worn over a petticoat of silk or matching chintz fabric, this gown was the height of fashion in the Netherlands in the late Eighteenth Century.

Sculpture of the Day: A Lion After Landseer, 1874

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Among the most famous public sculptures in Britain are the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer. Those celebrated lions have inspired multiple works of art including this handsome paperweight of blue pressed glass.

The lion was created through a new technique of press-molding glass with the aid of a hand-operated machine. This technique—developed originally in the U.S. in the 1820s--made the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century the beginning of true mass production of pressed glass in the U.K..

This beautiful piece heralds from John Derbyshire's Regent Flint Glass Works at Salford, Manchester. The concern was not long-lived, however, during its few years of production it manufactured some of the most sought-after paperweights in Britain. The best known of the collection is this lion. Others which were inspired by Landseer also proved to be big sellers. These included based on the master’s paintings of a greyhound and a collie.