Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Chambers Rose Brooch, 1820-40

The Chambers Rose Brooch
The Victoria & Albert Museum

According to the V&A, “The diamonds in this brooch were said to have been taken from the turban of Tipu Sultan after his death at the battle of Seringapatam in 1799.” Well, that’s pretty snazzy.

Tipu Sultan was the ruler of the south Indian state of Mysore. He fought against the British as they extended their control in southern India. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan, Captain Cochrane, one of the British officers, it is said, divided the sultan’s turban jewels and had them set in pieces of jewelry which he gave to his daughters.

The brooch of gold, set with diamonds and turquoises, features a floral design of a rose, forget-me-not, an oakleaf and acorn motifs. In the “Language of Flowers” which was prominent at the time, the rose motif symbolizes love while the oak would signified strength and longevity.

Art historians believe this piece was originally made as a pendant. A strand of hair in a locket at the reverse, suggests that, at one point, the brooch was intended as a wedding gift. The gems are set in six rosettes each with a diamond in the centre and six turquoises surrounding it. The rosettes are placed on an openwork background of oak leaves and acorns, surrounding a circular plaque with a relief pattern of a rose and oak leaf. The piece is marked with a ram’s head in relief which indicates the warranty mark for Paris, 1819-38.

The diamonds, rumored to have been those from the turban ornament of Tipu Sultan, have been thoroughly examined and scrutinized. The V&A tells us:

“The diamonds have been examined and are Golconda diamonds. They are relatively small at approximately 0.2 carats and are all roughly polished into rose-cut forms. One has a large red inclusion, probably a garnet, visible under magnification. Red inclusions are considered unlucky in traditional Indian gemology…” 

When the brooch was given to the V&A in 1968, it came with a letter dated Feb 18th 1878 which says:

"My dear Agnes The accompanying brooch I herewith give you as a keepsake not only for its intrinsic value, but of its history - Coming to me as a Legacy through the Honble Mrs Cochrane, whose daughter was my charge for some years, & whose father the Honble Capt Cochrane an officer in the memorable battle of Seringapatam shared the jewels all of first class taken in the Turban of Tippo Said [sic] - Capt Cochrane had 3 valuable necklaces & 3 brooches made of the same, In India, for his three daughters! --The Brooch accompanying this, represents the Rose the Shamrock & the Thistle. The Brilliants being of the very first water. -- I should advise care in wearing the same the pin not being I consider safe. 
Should you at some future time be inclined to part with it, I would like you to consider it as a Heirloom to your eldest daughter. In such a fulfilment of my wish you have the power in future circumstances to decide . 
It pains me to use my hands with this attack of Rheumatism for which I make excuse in not writing all I wish. 
Your ever affecte Aunt 
E A Steinchcomb 
For Mrs Agnes Chambers, Norwood Park, Southwell, Notts." 

Painting of the Day: A Design for Berlin Woolwork, 1825-50

Design for Berlin Woolwork
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This watercolor design in pink, green, yellow, orange and red is an example of the sort of hand-painted templates which were created by young ladies who were preparing a piece of Berlin Woolwork. This particular design is for a wreath of roses.

Berlin woolwork is embroidery relies on thick wools worked on canvas by means of copying a colored chart known as a Berlin pattern. Popular during the Nineteenth Century, the technique derived its name from the wool that came from Merino sheep in Saxony which was taken to Gotha to be spun and then to Berlin to be dyed.

Drawing of the Day: Pugin's Carpet Design, 1846

Design for Carpet for the Throne at the House of Lords
Palace of Westminster
A.W.N. Pugin, 1847
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) will always be considered one of the Nineteenth Century’s most significant and influential architects, designers and theorists.  He is, perhaps, almost single-handedly responsible for the Gothic Revival.  Despite his many triumphs, Pugin will remain best remembered for his work on the Palace of Westminster.

This design by Pugin shows his concept for the carpet for the throne of the House of Lords Chamber. The rose, labeled white, is actually shown colored red as it was in the finished carpet which was in place for the opening of the House of Lords in 1847.   The carpet design in place remained unchanged until 1980.

At the Music Hall: My Love Is Like the Red, Red Rose.

"Where the Heart Is"
Screenprint on paper
The Victoria & Albert Museum
O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose

"My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" is one of the most enduring traditional British Songs. Written in 1794 by Robert Burns, the song is based on traditional Scottish poetry. Alternate titles are: “My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose” or “Red, Red Rose.” The lyrics were originally published as a poem.

Burns, in the last decade of his life, was preoccupied with preserving traditional Scottish songs for future generations—managing to preserve over 300 songs for posterity. Perhaps the most notable of the lot was "Auld Lang Syne.” During this period, Burns developed this song based on traditional sources. He gave the song to Scots singer Pietro Urbani who published it. While there’s some debate about the details of all of this, the simple fact is that Burns lifted the song from traditional Scots folk songs in an attempt to preserve it.

This piece has remained popular for centuries. It was a favorite at the music halls and in the theatres of Britain and the U.S. It even was used repeatedly in early film soundtracks, and is still performed to this day.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 70

Chapter 70: 
All the Truth 

Ach,” Mrs. North sputtered in her thick brogue as she studied Colin, “if I didn’t know better, I’d say the poor orphan child was a Molliner. Aye, but he looks just as His Grace done when he were a wee bern.”

“Well…” Gamilla said quickly, hoping to change the subject away from Colin’s parentage, “he ain’t an orphan no more. He’s got two daddies now.”

“Two daddies?” Mrs. North narrowed her eyes. “What a thing to say!”

Gamilla looked across the table at Gerard and Charles, hoping for some help with Mrs. North. But, the two men were engaged in a conversation with Finlay. Gamilla sniffed loudly, hoping to attract their attention, however, they were so absorbed in Finlay’s loud tales of his life at Grange Molliner that she knew there was no hope in getting them to break away.

Gamilla looked around the servants’ hall, wishing that she’s stayed in the nursery. She thought perhaps that the Duke might like some privacy while he prepared for his hike, and since the nursery was just off of his bedchamber, she decided that she’d take Colin to see Finlay, Mrs. North and the others who lived at the grange—with the Duke’s permission of course.

Mr. Speaight was not in the servants’ hall, but had taken to his room with a sick headache after already having a rather heated argument with Mrs. North about who would be planning the details of the next day’s picnic luncheon. Meanwhile, Mrs. Pepper was in the kitchen, slamming pots and pans about in an effort to prepare dinner. All the while, she complained bitterly about the lack of a decent kitchen maid, moaning that she missed Ethel and Jenny (a shock in and of itself) and passionately saying that the permanent cook at the grange—who resolutely refused to be of any service to this interloper—must, indeed, be completely mad or daft or both.

Gamilla’s only hope for a distraction from Mrs. North’s relentless gaze was to get the attention of the boys. She sniffed again.

“Aye, girl…” Mrs. North narrowed her eyes at a helpless Gamilla. “You’re not sick, then, are ya?”

“No.” Gamilla shook her head.

“Why, then, do you keep sniffin’?” Mrs. North continued.

“I’m just getting’ used to the air here, Mrs. North.” Gamilla smiled.

Mrs. North continued to stare. “Ain’t ne’er seen the likes of you before.”

Gamilla nodded.

“What’s your skin feel like?”

Gamilla widened her eyes in amazement at the question. “Like yours, I’d guess.” She answered, wishing she could add, “except younger and firmer.”

“But, it’s so dark.” Mrs. North squinted.

“I’m African.” Gamilla replied. She could see the old woman’s fingers twitch and feared that Mrs. North would begin to paw at her face.

Mrs. North nodded.

“The young master seems to like you.” Mrs. North smirked.

“Colin and I have known one another since he was first born.” Gamilla grinned. “We’re good friends.”

“Only, then, you’re not the governess?”

“No.” Gamilla answered. “You met Miss Barrett. She’s the young woman who…”

“I know.” Mrs. North snapped. “Somethin’ about that one…”

“She’s a very kind woman…” Gamilla continued.

“Why’s she not with the babe, then?” Mrs. North asked. “It’s her place. Isn’t it? Not yours. Yet, since you been here, I seen you with Master Colin more than I seen her.”

“Miss Barrett has just been getting settled. You know, she’s Scots? You like her, I’m sure.”

“Don’t you be tellin’ me what to think.” Mrs. North snapped. “So, Camilla…”

“Gamilla. With a ‘G,” Mrs. North.” Gamilla smiled.

“What sort of name is that?”

“African, Mrs. North.”

“Aye…” the woman shook her head. “I’ll never get used to it.” She grunted. “Whatever your name is, then. Tell me, His Grace—his letter said he’s been ill. He don’t look ill. Looks quite well, in fact.”

“His Grace done gotten much better over the last few days.” Gamilla explained. “We’re all very thankful.”

“Why, then, does he travel with his physician?” Mrs. North asked.

“Oh, it’s not because he’s ill, Mrs. North.”

“Why, then?”

“His Grace and Dr. Halifax always travel together. Ummm…” Gamilla paused.


“Dr. Halifax lives with His Grace.”


“Dr. Halifax lives at the townhouse in Belgrave Square.”

“Why?” Mrs. North squinted. “Is His Grace often that ill?”

“No.” Gamilla squirmed. “They’re friends, Mrs. North.”

The housekeeper was silent for a moment. Gamilla could tell that she was thinking. Finally, she sighed. “So, that’s how it is?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, Mrs. North.” Gamilla smiled politely.

“His Grace isn’t likely to take a wife, then?”

“Ah…no.” Gamilla shook her head. “He done got the family he wants already.”

“Is that how it is?”

“Ain’t our place to say how a man should be happy, Mrs. North.” Gamilla said firmly.

“Aye—you’re a shrewd one.” Mrs. North grinned. “I like ya. You got fire in yer blood!”

Gamilla nodded. “Oh…” She responded with slight confusion. “Good.”

“So, you speak of happiness? His Grace seems happier than I remember him.” Mrs. North muttered. “I’m glad of it. Even if it weren’t what I expected.”

“I believe he is a very happy gentleman.” Gamilla replied. “You…you’ve known him a long time, then.”

“Sure, but I have.” Mrs. North chuckled. “Since he was no bigger than this one here.” She looked at Colin again. “Are ya sure he ain’t really His Grace’s son? But, how could he be? Not with what you jus’ told me. You know…”

“He is adopted, Mrs. North.”

Mrs. North’s eyes widened. “Dear God in Heaven. He’s the child of Lady Barbara.”

Gamilla coughed nervously.

Finally, Gerard and Charles looked up from their conversation with Finlay.

“Everything all right there, Gamilla?” Charles asked.

“I…I…I’m jus’ talkin’ with Mrs. North, Charlie.” Gamilla snorted.

“Look at Colin,” Gerard smiled. “I think he likes it here.”

“Of course, he does!” Mrs. North sputtered.

Gamilla looked pleadingly at Mrs. North.

“Aye, but do the men know?” Mrs. North squinted.

“Know what, ma’am?” Charles asked politely.

“’Bout the parentage of the child?”

Finlay interjected. “Mrs. North—we shouldn’t be talkin’ ‘bout the masters.”

“Sure, but we should, Finlay Donnan! It’s ours to know what goes on in the main house so that we can protect the master from harm. If we don’t know all the truth, how are we to shield the master from what might come?”

“Gamilla,” Charles barked. “What did you tell her?”

“Nothin’!” Gamilla shook her head.

“Ah, the girl didn’t have to tell me nothin’! I can look at a babe and see if he’s a Molliner or not. I was in this house when the old master, bless his soul, was a boy. Don’t ya think I can see a Molliner face when it’s in front of me? Even if it is clouded with Fallbridge blood. Now, you tell me, Girl. Is this the child of Lady Barbara?”

All eyes turned to Gamilla.

She took a deep breath. “Mrs. North.”

“Gamilla.” Charles warned.


“Come on, then, Girl!” Mrs. North snarled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-69 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 71.

Antique Image of the Day: The Red and White Roses, 1865

The Red and White RosePhotograph by Julian Margaret Cameron, 1865
Image of Kate and Elizabeth Keown
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was the child of James Pattle, an official with the East India Company and a French aristocratic mother. Julia, along with her sisters, was celebrated for her beauty and charm. Ultimately, Julia was sent from Calcutta to England to receive a formal education. There, she became friends with many notables of the day, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Julia became a regular at the Freshwater estate on the Isle of Wight which became known as something of a haven for artists. At Freshwater, Julia became interested in photography.

At the age of forty-eight, Julia was given a camera by her daughter and son-in-law. As the V&A puts it, “The gift marks the beginning of what would quickly become her all- encompassing application to the "art" of photography. Setting up the coal store as a dark-room and the glass-enclosed chicken house as a studio, she began her single handed photographic investigations fervently, annotating a portrait study of Annie Philpot ‘my first success’ a month later in January 1864.”

Cameron’s photography was often smudged and out-of-focus. This drew harsh criticism during her lifetime, but modern scholars think these choices were intentional. Here’s an excellent example of Cameron’s work--a photograph of the sisters Kate and Elizabeth Keown from the shoulders up. Kate is the sister holding the roses. The image was taken in 1865 on the Isle of Wight.

Object of the Day: A Trade Card for German Yeast

Click Image Above to Enlarge

A blooming red rose—this image would have been the sort of thing which a Victorian lady would have eagerly collected for her book of cards and scraps. So, it was a pretty natural choice to use for a trade card geared to a largely (at the time) feminine population even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with the product being sold—yeast.

I’d wager that this card was picked from a catalog of stock designs to be used by the “German Yeast Company. Usually, when a card was printed—front and back—specifically for a company, the logo or motto of the concern was worked into the design.

Let’s take a look at the reverse. I’m sure it’s perfectly sensible copy.

Compliments of 

German Yeast Co. 


Ladies, if you wish a Yeast that will always 
be made of the best and purest of material, 
always give perfect satisfaction (satis- 
faction guaranteed or money 
refunded), ise the 

German Hop Yeast Cakes 


Once used and you will use no other. We re- 
main, Yours most respectfully, 


P.S.—One of these beautiful Cards with every 
5 cent package German Hop Yeast. 

Well, that’s not too outrageous. It’s just written like an awkward letter. I imagine the manager of this yeast concern sitting at his desk, his tongue sticking out slightly, in the manner of Tristan McManus. “Now,” he says to himself, “I need to address all the young ladies who want yeast. How do I go about it? Ah…yes, I shall write a letter.”

“Dear Yeast-needing Young Ladies…” and so on.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mastery of Design: A Swiss Garnet Necklace, 1800-1870

Choker of Garnet Beads
Swiss, 1800-1870
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Choker necklaces like the one pictured above were originally worn both in Austria and Switzerland for the practical purpose of hiding a goiter--a disfiguring disease caused by lack of iodine, a condition which was endemic in the high Alps.

Though the designs vary from valley to valley, usually, these chokers were constructed of loose chains of silver links, or beads of garnet or coral, sometimes, even, punctuated with plaques of delicate silver filigree. Traditionally, and for comfort, these necklaces were worn over a thin scarf of black silk. Such chokers were generally termed “Halsbätti” which literally means a rosary worn on the neck. This was because the beads resembled rosary beads, but I want to emphasize that these pieces never were assigned any religious meaning.

This example consists of six rows (originally seven) of faceted garnet beads (actually, they may be garnet-colored glass) with four rectangular plaques, each covered with filigree tracery. The two-part clasp is made of matching filigree, with rosette over the central hook. It was made in Schwyz, Switzerland between 1800 and 1870.

Image of the Day: A Professor and his Puppets, 1950

A Professor and his Puppets
The Victoria & Albert Museum

From the George Speaight Archive at the V&A, we have a photograph of a Punch & Judy Professor and his puppets which dates to between 1950 and 1960.  As I mentioned earlier today, the V&A’s Museum of Childhood will be hosting an exhibition of images of Professors and their puppets in the same spirit as this photo.

Friday Fun: Richard Coombs Punch & Judy

This new video from Chris van der Craats shows a bit of Professor Richard Coombs glorious Punch & Judy Show as performed at the Covent Garden May Fayre in 2012. Van der Craats, an excellent professor in his own right described Coombs as the perfect Punch & Judy Man, and, this is quite true. Coombs’ work is puppetry at its very best!  And those are some very handsome puppets.  Enjoy!

Mr. Punch's Puzzles: The Riddle of the Week

Once, again, Mr. Punch, with my help, is offering up a true Victorian riddle.  The first person to answer correctly--by posting in the comments--will receive public congratulations.  

So, here's this week's riddle.  We ask that you don't Google the answer.  Mr. Punch would not find that sporting at all.  Give it a shot and see what you can come up with.  Here we go... No cheating...

Sometimes I have sense, sometimes I have none;
Sometimes I offend, then you bid me begone;
Sometimes I am merry, sometimes I am sad;
Sometimes I am good, sometimes very bad;
However, to make me, I cost many brains,
Much labour, much thought, and a great deal of pains.


And, the answer is...


I think this was a fun one.  Sorry for all the words, Angelo.  Special mention goes to the answers of Darcy, Marsha and Shawn for creativity and to Dashwood, April and Sam P. for sheer silliness.  As always, many thanks to everyone who answered.  And, again, come back next friday for another of Mr. Punch's Puzzles.  

Mr. Punch wants you to always know “the way to do it,” so why not check out our “That’s the way to do it!” products which are available only at our online store?

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 69

Chapter 69: 
In Scotland

I got somethin’ for ya,” Mr. Punch smiled as he walked into Robert’s bedchamber. He set a parcel on the bed and walked over to hug his companion.

“I hope it’s a room adjoining yours.” Robert sighed.

“Don’t ya like this room?” Punch asked with wide-eyes.

“I do.” Robert nodded, “but it’s rather far away from you and Colin.”

“Sorry ‘bout that, Chum.” Punch replied. “The old place were built in pieces, it were. Like I said. Weren’t planned out too well. Certainly, ol’ Hiram Molliner weren’t too concerned ‘bout keeping a family in one place in the house.”

“Well, just know that I’ll be visiting quite a lot.” Robert laughed.

“I s’pected.” Punch giggled.

Robert looked around the room with its tall, leaded lancet windows, heavy stone mouldings, rich embroidered hangings and monumental mantelpiece supported on columns topped by capitals featuring the scowling faces of mythical beasties. “This room is larger than the house in which Cecil and I grew up.”

“I like them animals.” Punch narrowed his eyes. He walked over to the mantel. “Good day, angry lion-face…”

Robert watched with amusement as Punch tried to chat with the carvings. Mr. Punch gave up after a few minutes.

“Not too friendly,” Punch shrugged. “I got beasties in me own room, too. Thankfully, Colin doesn’t. I don’t think he’d care for ‘em too much bein’ jus’ a baby an’ such.”

“Has Colin settled in?” Robert asked.

“Sure,” Punch smiled broadly. “Mrs. North did such a fine job makin’ me ol’ dressin’ room into a nursery. Gamilla’s in there with him now.”

“Good.” Robert grinned. “And, the others?”

“Miss Barrett, Charlie, Gerry, Mrs. Pepper and Speaight are all out in the servants’ hall. Mrs. North said she’s show ‘em to their rooms and acquaint them with the estate.”

“I do hope they all get on.” Robert nodded.

“Me, too.” Punch mumbled. “Here…”

“What?” Robert smiled.

“I got ya somethin’!” Punch grunted.

“Oh, yes.” Robert shook his head. “I was distracted.”

“Open it.” Punch pointed to the parcel.

“What is it?” Robert picked up the package. “It feels like a good many things in one parcel.”

“Open it an’ see!” Punch moaned giddily. “What are you like, Chum? Give me a present and I tear into it. You’re so calm.”

“But…I don’t deserve a present.”

“Sure ya do!” Punch chirped.

“Your renewed health is the best gift I could ask for.” Robert replied. “And, then, this trip…”

“Open it!” Punch snorted.

Robert did as instructed, undoing the paper in which the gift had been wrapped and holding up—with considerable confusion—a plaid garment of red blue and gold.

“Do ya know what it is?” Punch tittered, clapping his hands together.

“I fear that I do.” Robert said slowly.

“It’s a kilt!” Punch exclaimed, jumping up and down and doing a little jig. “A kilt! Ha! I had it made for ya when we first talked ‘bout comin’ here all them weeks ago. It’s the Molliner tartan and all! All for you, Chum!”


“Put it on…” Punch continued happily.

“I wouldn’t know how…”

“Take off your breeches and put it on.” Punch smiled. “Look…it ain’t just a kilt. I got ya all you’ll need. Look—see that thing? It’s called a ‘sporran.’ It hangs from that chain ‘round your waist. You know—over your…well, you know. Stuff. And, then, there’s your kilt pin and a ghillie shirt to wear and them shoes—those are called ghillie brogues. And, look, there’s a wee knife and all. You’re to wear it in that sheath at the top of your hose. It’s called a ‘sgian dubh.’ Don’t know why you’d need a knife on your thigh, but, if ya do, there it is. I s’pose if you’ve got an extra big potato to eat or somethin’…oh! Or sausage! That makes sense.”

Robert nodded.

“Got one for me-self, too.” Punch grinned.

“Thank you.” Robert replied.

“Don’t ya like it?”

“Oh, I do.” Robert nodded. “Only…well, how am I to wear pants with this?”

“You ain’t!’ Punch whooped, jumping up and down again in another little jig. “That’s the best part, it is!”

“But, I’m a doctor from Wimbledon.”

“And, I’m a Duke from Yorkshire. And, most of the time a wild puppet-man from Belgravia. What’s your point, Chum? Fact is, you’re in Scotland. And, I want you to look it.”


“Oh, come on, Chum.” Punch groaned. “Ya got cute knees and all.”

“Have I?”

“Best knees I ever saw on a bloke.”

“How many blokes’ knees have you seen?”

“Aside from me-own?” Punch asked.


“Well…mostly just me own.” Punch sighed. “Now, listen, Robert, I got ya this and you’re gonna wear it. Un’erstan’?”

“Very well.” Robert rubbed Punch’s arm. “I thank you very much. I shall wear it with pride.”

“Damn right you will.” Punch laughed.

“Frankly, in order to keep you in this humor, I’ll do anything you ask.”

“Good!” Punch chirped. “Put on your kilt and I’ll go put mine on and I’ll show you ‘round the estate!”

“Can’t we tour in our breeches?”

“No!” Punch laughed. “You said you’d do whatever I want. That’s what I want.”

“It’s still a bit chilly, dear Punch.” Robert frowned slightly.

“You’ll get used to it.” Punch winked.

“I suppose I will.” Robert chuckled.

“Hurry, now!” Punch cheered, rushing toward the door to go to his own room. “I’ll see you in five minutes.”

“Anything you say, my dear.” Robert smiled. “Anything.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-68 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 70.

Print of the Day: A Punch and Judy Promotional Poster, c. 1990

Poster for an Exhibit of Punch and Judy Materials
Britain, c. 1990
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This late Twentieth-Century poster is entitled “Punch and Judy” and depicts the famously bickering puppet characters in the proscenium of a traditional fit-up which dates to circa 1900. The poster was printed in England for the Museum of London.

The Victorian booth here photographed features the traditional red and white striped cover with trimmings of green velvet. The elaborate proscenium is inscribed “Diev et Mon Droit”—the motto of the British Monarchy which means, literally, in French, “God and my right.” 

Mr. Punch is coming to the V&A...
Speaking of museum exhibits related to Punch and addition to the monumental George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive at the V&A, the V&A's Museum of Childhood, in honor of the year-long celebration of Mr. Punch's 350th birthday, will host an exhibit called "That's the Way to Do It!"  The exhibit opens July 14 and runs through December 9, 2012 and explores the origins of Punch from his roots in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte to his role in contemporary culture.  Additionally, the V&A launching, at the same time, an exhibition of portraits of Punch & Judy Professors.  The V&A describes the exhibit as...

Punch Professors in England is an exhibition of the photographer Tom Hunter's works, featuring contemporary Punch practitioners, known since Victorian times as ‘Professors', who for generations have brought the story of Punch and Judy to life with their wit and personality. Specially commissioned for Mr Punch’s birthday celebrations, the portraits show each Professor alongside their booth, expressing the highly individual approaches each of them have to their performance within essentially English settings.
If you're in the area during the exhibit, I would highly recommend a visit.  


Object of the Day: An Antique Mr. Punch

I don’t know too much about the provenance of this puppet. I purchased it recently. He’s quite handsome, yes? With his humpback and big red nose, he’s all Mr. Punch. I’ll let you figure out how and why he’s sitting in a large crystal punch bowl in my dining room.

His head is made of papier mache and the eye sockets are set with a glossy varnish which makes his eyes look like they’re glass. In fact, at first, I thought they were glass. Since his head is made of papier mache and since he is smaller than “regulation” Punch size, clearly, this puppet was not meant to be used in a professional show. There’s no way his head would have endured the requisite smacking that it would have taken. So, I’d say this was made for a child. He’s in very good shape, indicating that he was either very well loved and respected or not at all liked and, therefore ignored. There are no chips in his fragile head, and, the paint is still as bright as the day it was created.

His wee hands are made of leather and, around them, at the wrists, are the remains of buff-colored silk ruffs. Similar remains hang around his neck. His cap and body are constructed of blue silk adorned with red polka dots. This is the original silk. It is very fragile and is falling apart in places, but, oddly enough, it’s still brilliantly-colored. His hat is decorated with a row of milky-blue glass beads. All of them are in excellent condition. 

Now, this is just a guess, but I suspect he was made at home. This is not a professionally manufactured puppet. He seems to have been lovingly assembled and he’s so unusual looking that I’m fairly certain he was a one-off. If he wasn’t created in someone’s home, he was made by an independent toy-maker. I’d wager that he was quite expensive to create. His costume of silk and glass beads is not the typical corduroy, calico or felt of a normal puppet. Furthermore, there’s just something special about him. He’s not a typical toy. He was made in the same spirit as my professional Mr. Punch, and, I think that’s why I like him so much. Yes, he’s a little strange looking, but that make shim wonderful. I’d say he dates to the late Nineteenth Century.

And, so, he’s come all the way from England to Texas to join all the other old stuff I’ve had shipped from England to Texas. Wherever he’s from, he’s very welcome here and I can assure him that, for as long as I’m around, he’ll have a very cozy life—looking beautifully strange, and, not falling apart any further.

Happy Gotcha Day, Bertie!

Ten years ago today, a little white dog came into my house for the first time and, then, promptly took over.  And, I can't be happier that he did.  Adopting Bertie was one of the smartest things I ever did.  As far as I'm concerned, my Bertie deserves all the best that life can offer since that is what he offers me every day.

Sadly, there are thousands of dogs out there whose stories don't have such happy endings.  These dogs...and cats...and, other pets...deserve loving homes, too.  So, today, if there's room in your heart and your home to welcome a new pet, check out a local shelter or rescue organization.  There's a new lifelong friend waiting for you out there, someone who can offer you as many joyful years as Bertie has brought to me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Bertie at a Well

"That thing had better be filled with whipped cream."

Image: Girls at a Well, Jules Cornilliet, 1867, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

You could have some gratuitous Bertie Dog every day.  Just pop over to our online store to check out our exclusive Bertie Dog Designs.  

Mastery of Design: The David Thomas Topaz and Garnet Pendant, 1967

David Thomas, 1967
The Victoria & Albert Museum

As fashions changed in the 1960s, jewelry designers played with conventional and traditional forms to make unusual pieces which were meant to be wearable art. London was a center for such designers and David Thomas (born 1938) was among the leaders of this new approach to jewelry design.

Here we see an example of Thomas’ cutting-edge work. This pendant (can also be worn as a brooch) features a raised central cluster of irregular topaz crystals. From these, individually-applied gold wires radiate--some of these are adorned with a granular decoration. These are peppered with narrow, rectangular garnets.

Unfolding Pictures: The Triumph of Alexander Fan, 1670-1700

Hand Fan
Unknown Italian Maker
After a painting by LeBrun
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The vellum leaf of this Italian fan is painted with watercolors and illustrates the “Triumph of Alexander,” showing when Alexander the Great entered Babylon. Made between 1670 and 1700, the scene is taken from one of a set of five paintings which the famed painter Charles Le Brun created for French King Louis XIV.

The unknown fan painter has adapted the composition of the painting to cleverly fit the shape of the fan leaf—shifting some groups from the original to new positions for better balance. The ends of the ivory sticks are adorned with silver piqué work and both the sticks and guards are set with patterns of tiny silver nails. The guards are further decorated with mother-of-pearl. The reverse of the fan leaf is painted with flowers.

The Home Beautiful: The Argy-Rousseau Poppies Vase, 1924

The Poppies Vase
Gabriel Argy-Rousseau
France, 1924
The Victoria & Albert Museum

French glassmaker Gabriel Argy-Rousseau (1885-1953) found inspiration in the work of Henry Cros. Argy-Rouuseau followed in Cros’ innovative footsteps and worked in the medium of pâte de verre (glass paste). 

After Cros, Argy-Rousseau became the most prolific and successful artist utilizing this intricate and complicated technique. By the 1920s, his designs were highly sought-after due to his delicate design sensibilities and brilliant use of color. This vase, known in Argy-Rousseau’s catalogues as “The Poppies Vase” was first introduced in 1924 and quickly became a best-seller.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 68

Chapter 68: 
Grange Molliner 

There it is!” Punch pointed to a crenellated tower in the distance beyond a massive grove of trees.

Robert peered out of the carriage window as they approached Grange Molliner.

“Won’t be but ten more minutes before we’re there.” Mr. Punch grinned. He squeezed Colin who sat in his lap and took the baby’s little hand very gently between his left thumb and forefinger. “Look, my boy, there’s your grandfather’s house. You’re named for him. Remember?”

The child gurgled happily at the sound of Punch’s voice.

“Look!” Punch continued. “We’re getting’ closer, Chum. You can see it better now.”

“It’s beautiful!” Robert’s eyes widened as the rambling castle grew larger as they approached. “It’s tremendous.”

“Pretty big, it is.” Punch nodded gaily. “See—the part in the center there with the tall rusticated tower. That were built ‘round 1390. Some say that the land were given to the Molliners as a gift from King Robert II. What do ya think ‘o that, my Robert?”

Robert chuckled. “So, the Molliners have always had an association with the Crown?”

“To a degree.” Punch nodded. “Our mum were always tryin’ to make sure Sir Colin knew that the Fallbridges were better connected—bein’ truly titled and all. But, the fact is, while William IV were a…shall we say ‘supporter’…of the Duchess of Fallbridge, our ma weren’t so much of a favorite in Court by the time Her Majesty Victoria took the throne, and our pa were very much liked by both the Prince Consort and the Queen.”

“I had gathered that by the way Her Majesty spoke of your late mother.” Robert nodded.

“Odd to think she’s my mother, too.” Punch sighed. “Only been recently what I concluded that since she were Julian’s ma, she were mine, too. Still…we ain’t gonna worry ‘bout her now. The Duchess of Fallbridge didn’t much care for the Grange. This is a place what’s all ‘bout the Molliners like me and Colin. And, I reckon…you, too.”

“I?” Robert smiled. “I’m not a Molliner.”

“Well, maybe not. But, if we were two folk what were married, you would be. So, we might as well think of you as such.”

“I’d not thought of it that way, but I rather like the idea.” Robert answered affectionately. “So, your mother didn’t care for this estate?” Robert studied the sprawling house at the end of the long, dirt drive--with its turrets, ogival arches, lancet windows and gothic ornamentation. “I can’t imagine why. It’s very impressive.”

“I always thought so. But, no.” Punch shook his head. “She always complained that it was too cold and that it was uncomfortable. Fact is, she hated an’thin’ havin’ to do with our pa’s side of the family. Called all the Molliners’ red-haired lunatics.” Punch blushed for a moment. “Which, in a way, ain’t too far from the truth, I s’pose.”

“You’re no lunatic.” Robert shook his head.

“Others would disagree,” Punch giggled, “but, I’m glad you think so. Nevertheless, there were a few Molliners what coulda been called lunatics. But, the same could be said of the Fallbridge side of the family.”

“Did your mother ever come here?”

“Only once I recall.” Punch sighed. “She came here once with pa. I were very small. They left me with…” Punch shuddered for a moment. “Nanny Rittenhouse.”

Robert frowned at the mention of the cruel, old woman.

Mr. Punch took a deep breath. “I s’pose I should say they left Julian. That were ‘bout the time what I developed inside him. So, I remember it all pretty well, I do. The duchess were ill. Kept to her room for several weeks—this were good for Julian, in a way. And, good for me, too, I s’pose. Then, one day, our pa came into the nursery and told Julian that he were takin’ the duchess of Grange Molliner and that they’d not be back ‘til winter. That made Julian sad. But, Sir Colin reminded him that he had his puppet to keep him company. I remember that.” Punch paused thoughtfully for a moment. “I remember he said that ‘Mr. Punch will look after you’ and that ‘you needn’t fear anything as long as Punch is there to guard you with his cudgel.’ Ha…I reckon I took it very seriously, I did.”

“You certainly did.” Robert replied sweetly.

“Well, after that, when they got back, the Duchess never returned here and would not even speak of the place.” Punch shrugged. He looked out of the carriage window. “Won’t be but a minute now.”

“1390 you said?” Robert asked, staring at the house.

“That’s right. The middle part anyway. There on the east, that section were added in 1662 by Sir Hiram Molliner, and, then, on the west, that and the orangerie were added in 1746 after the battle of Falkirk.” Punch whooped excitedly. “Coo! I dunno how I remember all that.” He laughed loudly, causing the child to look up at his father with clear amusement. “I just recall Sir Colin sayin’ it to Julian, I s’pose.”

“It’s nonetheless impressive.” Robert winked. He pointed out the window. “Looks as if we’re to be greeted.”

“Ah,” Punch nodded. “That’ll be Mrs. North waitin’ there in the black gown. She’s the housekeeper. Has been since our pa were a young man. Next to her with the ginger beard, I’m guessin’ is Johnny Donnan. He’s the groundsman. Them other few are maids and pages and such. I reckon the man on the end—in the handsome livery--is Finlay. He’s Johnny’s son and serves as footman. It’s a lean staff since no one lives here. But, I think Charles and Gerry will get on well with Finlay and I’m sure Gamilla will find friends amongst the other maids—least for the time we’re here. I fear Speaight and Mrs. North might have a bit of a tussle for power. I dunno the situation with the cook here, but I got no doubt that our Mrs. Pepper will dominate her within the first five minutes.”

“I’m sure of that.” Robert nodded. He looked up at Punch and gazed for a moment.

“What is it?” Punch smiled.

“Just seeing you sitting there with Colin on your lap and Dog Toby next to you…”

Punch nodded.

“Just a few days ago, I thought that…”

“I know.” Punch sighed.

“And, yet, here you are…bright-eyed with our son…about to introduce me to part of your family history…”

“Our family history…” Punch corrected him.

Robert inhaled deeply. “I’m very proud. I’m the proudest man in Scotland today.”

“Nah…” Punch winked. “Can’t be.”

“Why is this?”

“Because I already am.” Punch laughed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-67? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 69 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

Figure of the Day: Polito's Royal Menagerie, 1830

Polito's Royal Menagerie
Staffordshire, 1830
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Staffordshire circa 1830, this celebrated, exceptional mantelpiece ornament is considered the most elaborate of the early Nineteenth Century figural groups by the Staffordshire factory. This was the last hurrah of the figural groups before the concern focused on the less expensive flatbacks for which Staffordshire is now famous. The earthenware piece is made-up of castings from two separate moulds which have been assembled by a “repairer” before firing and adorned with painted and sponged enamels. The cost of producing such a piece prohibited further manufacture on a broad scale.

The group depicts the entrance of one of the famous travelling menageries of Stephen Polito, the self-styled “modern Noah.” The traveling show was called “Polito's Royal Menagerie of the Wonderful Birds and Beasts from Most Parts of the World.”

Object of the Day: A Trade Card for Ayer's Pills

Click above image to enlarge.

Dr. James Cook Ayer (1818-1878) of Lowell, Massachusetts was one of the wealthiest patent medicine makers in Nineteenth Century America. Ayer was famous for both his Sarsaparilla and his Cathartic Pills.

We’ve looked at several examples of American Victorian trade cards advertising for Ayer’s Sarsaparilla, but here’s one for Ayer’s Pills—clearly marketing them to young ladies.

The front of the card has a very attractive illustration of several healthy looking young girls and adolescent young ladies—all of whom look very healthy. They hold a banner which reads:


Sadly, the reverse of the card has been damaged. The card was once glued into an album. This is to be expected since these cards were collected for that purpose. Frankly, it’s rare to find one that isn’t ruined on the back. Since it was removed from the album, only part of the original text remains as you can see in the photo below. However, let’s see if we can’t piece some of it together.

It reads:


Charming group of smiling girls 
Bright and happy as the day, 
With your winsome eyes and curls, 
Always frolicksome and gay, -- 
Surely, surely never ache 
Did those lovely forms distress – 
Never physic did you take 
But the _________ens answered, “Yes!” 

Just like __________le, we 
Have our troubles and our ills 
But, we cure them, don’t you see? – 
With those sugar-coated pills. 
That’s the reason everywhere 
Through the country, they are famed, -- 
That the Pills of Doctor Ayer 
“Little Favorites” are named.” 

The popularity of Ayer’s Pulls has steadily increased 
________ demand for them exceeds that of all others 
________ which their purely vegetable components are 
____, their mildness and efficacy, their delicate sugar- 
coating, and adaptability to family use have made them 
Pills, par excellence. The People’s Medicine. 

Ayer’s Pills 

Created by Dr. J.C. Ayer & Co., Lowell, Mass. 

Sold by all Druggists and Dealers in Medicine 

Ayer’s Sarsaparilla Makes _________________ng.