Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Townshend Canary Diamond, 1800-1869

Click image to enlarge
The Townshend Canary Diamond
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here’s another jewel from the important collection of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend who donated his fine assortment of 154 gems to the V&A. This stone, like the others in the collection, has been mounted as ring—not for wear, but simply to display the stone. This is a truly fine specimen of a canary diamond. The yellow sparkler has been set into a gold ring and is surrounded by eight rose-cut diamonds of equally exquisite quality. 

The exceptional suite of diamonds from the Townshend Collection.

Figure of the Day: The Duesbury Canary, 1780-1785

Soft-Paste Porcelain
William Duesbury & Co., 1780-1785
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in soft-paste porcelain and painted with enamels, this figure of a canary perched on the stump of a tree is the work of William Duesbury & Co. and dates between 1780 and 1785. The work of the Duesbury Company is always quite fine. Take, for instance, the details here of the foliage and flowers. Surviving figures by the Duesbury factory are quite collectible and considered some of the most attractive porcelain works of the Eighteenth Century. 

Flashback: At the Music Hall: Goodbye Little Yellow Bird

This post first appeared on October 16, 2010.  I thought that it would be a nice companion to the day's posts.

Yellow Warbler
© Joseph Crisalli

The snow was very plentiful
And crumbs were very few
When a weather-beaten sparrow to a mansion window flew
Her eye fell on a golden cage
A sweet love song she heard
Sung by a pet canary there
A handsome yellow bird
He said to her, “Miss Sparrow, I’ve been struck by cupid’s arrow.
Will you share my cage with me?”
She looked up at his castle
With its ribbon and its tassel
And in plaintiff tones said she:
“Goodbye, little yellow bird, 
I’d rather brave the cold
On a leafless tree, 
Than a prisoner be,
In a cage of gold.”

British composer Clarence Wainwright Murphy, an extremely prolific creator of theatrical and music hall songs, teamed with lyricist W. Hargreave in 1903 to write Little Yellow Bird (also known as Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird). The song is a sentimental tale of the decision to choose freedom over love and a commentary on the classes.

Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane in
The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945
Turner Home Entertainment
The lyrics describe a scene of a poor sparrow who is tortured by the elements, but would prefer to shiver than to be trapped in an opulent cage. Little Yellow Bird was immensely popular in the music halls of England. It’s popularity led to its use in the 1938 film, Alf’s Button, and later in the stunning 1945 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the latter, a young Angela Lansbury sings Little Yellow Bird as sweet music gall girl Sybil Vane. This is Dorian’s first encounter with the girl and he quickly falls in love with her. Had Sybil taken the advice of the sparrow in her song and stayed out of that gilded cage, she might not have met the end that she did. Enjoy this clip from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Drawing of the Day: The Yellow-Breasted Chat and the Turk's Cap Lily, c. 1765

The Yellow-Breasted Chat and The Turk's Cap Lily, c. 1765
Mark Catesby
Purchased by King George III
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

From the Royal Collection, we have this handsome watercolor by Mark Catesby (1682-1749). Catesby created the painting of a small bird (known as a Yellow-Breasted Chat) with a Turk’s Cap Lily. To give emphasis to the bird, Catesby has only faintly sketched-in the plant with it’s maple-shaped leaves. 

The painting was created for one Thomas Cadell from whom it was purchased by King George III in 1768.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 99

Chapter 99: 
To Bits 

Robert looked up from his writing. He was seated on a stone bench under an arbor—heavy with vines which rustled gently in the breeze off of the moors. Brushing his wavy dark hair away from his eyes, he smiled when he saw Mr. Punch coming toward him, but the grin quickly turned to a look of alarm when he saw that Punch was frowning and rubbing his head.

Dog Toby, who was seated next to Robert upon the bench, jumped down and trotted to his master, wagging his tail slowly from side-to-side in an expression of concern.

“I’m all right, Dog Toby.” Mr. Punch said softly. “Ain’t no reason to worry.”

“What’s happened?” Robert asked, setting aside his lap desk and going to Punch’s side. He put his arm around his companion’s waist and guided him toward the bench, helping him to sit.

“Hit me head.” Punch smiled sheepishly.

“On what?”

“I was sittin’ under a table.” Mr. Punch answered.

“Let me see.” Robert said quickly, gently placing his hands on Punch’s head and parting the man’s shiny auburn hair. “You’ve given yourself quite a lump.”

“I know.” Mr. Punch answered.

Robert took Punch’s face in his hands and tilted his chin upward, gazing into Punch’s eyes.

“What ya doin’?” Punch asked.

“I’m making sure you’ve not been hurt.” Robert smiled.

“I hit me head all the time.” Punch shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“Dear Punch,” Robert began, releasing Punch’s face and sitting beside him. Dog Toby lay down at Punch’s feet. “You must be more careful with your cranium. Remember, your head isn’t made of wood. Julian’s head is bone and flesh. It can’t withstand the blows that a puppet head can.”

“I didn’t purposely hit me head.” Punch chuckled.

Robert grinned. “Well, I know that.” He shook his head. “And, just what drove you under a table?”

“Baron Lensdown.” Punch sighed.

“Lensdown?” Robert frowned. “Was he here?”

“Yep.” Punch replied. “Came unannounced again. Wanted to tell me that his wife’s got friends here what she invited from London.”

“And, he wants to bring them to the ball.” Robert nodded. “Who are they?”

“Countess Hamish and Lady Constance.”

“Oh, isn’t that grand?” Robert scowled.

“I said he could bring ‘em. If I didn’t…”

“You don’t need to explain. The slight would have been more fuel on the fire of her hatred for me.”

“Sure would.”

“We’ll have to make the best of it, then.” Robert concluded. “I’m sure she’ll not wish to speak to me at all. I really should count my blessings. I imagine that the countess and her daughter will stay beside the Baroness Lensdown and, together, the three will criticize the whole affair.”

“I should think so.” Mr. Punch said.

“I’m terribly sorry that the baron upset you so much that you felt the need to hide under the table.”

“I don’t hide as much as I just find it comfortin’ to be under things.” Mr. Punch explained. “I took a figure with me to talk to.”

“Oh, well…that makes sense. Robert smiled.

“I broke it.” Mr. Punch whispered.

“That’s no tragedy.” Robert put his arm around Mr. Punch. “Which figure?”

“Little shepherd with his sheep and his doggy.” Mr. Punch sighed.

“I can’t say that I even remember it. Was it special?”

“Nah.” Punch shook his head. “Don’t even know who bought it. ‘Spose it were our pa. Were a Staffordshire piece. I’d reckon ‘bout ten or more years old.”

“Can it be repaired?”

“Possibly.” Punch shrugged again, he frowned.

“It’s not like you to worry about such things, my dear.” Robert said softly. “Are you concerned about it because you were talking to it? As if, perhaps, you hurt it?”

“No.” Punch shook his head. “I hadn’t even thought of that ‘til just now.”

“Ah.” Robert said quickly. “Well, don’t worry about it, then.”

“Do ya think I hurt it?”

“No.” Robert smiled. “Not all things are as sentient as you…”

Punch nodded.

“It’s not the figurine what’s worrying you. But, something is.”

Punch looked at Robert. “Yes.”

“Tell me.”

“I…remembered somethin’.”


“But, I can’t be sure it really happened.”

“Dear Punch, you are the keeper of the memories. If you recalled it, I’m sure it happened.”

“But, we can’t be sure. It might be somethin’ what Julian thought up. Not only do I remember what were real, sometimes I remember them things what Julian dreamed. Like when I remembered the design for the brooch. Like how I know all them things ‘bout jewels. Every so often, one of Julian’s thoughts comes up and…well, it’s like a vision.”

“Can you tell me what the vision was?”

“I were on the tower.” Mr. Punch said quietly. “And, there were two blokes. One was a fella with dark hair what was as long as his chin. He were dressed in a dark suit and had his back to me. The other bloke was a young man—fair with freckles and green eyes. He were hangin’ onto the crenellations—his body over the side of the tower. And, he were screamin’. His fingers was all bloody and his knuckles white from hangin’ on. The dark man were shoutin’ at him and then, he smashed the fair fella’s hands so that…”

“He fell?”

“Yes.” Mr. Punch gulped. “I rushed to the side and…I saw him. He were all broken to bits.”

“What happened then?”

“The dark man came up behind me and grabbed me throat and said ‘You saw nothing, Julian! Do you hear me?’”

Robert took a deep breath.

“See? Dunno if it happened or if it were one of Julian’s nightmares. But, I could almost feel the chill around me when I thought of it—like the cold breeze were in me hair and me clothes.”

“You’ve not thought of this before?” Robert asked.


Robert nodded.

“So, when I thought of it, I got scared and I jumped and hit me head and broke the little shepherd.”

“This happened after the Baron left?”

“Just after. I were sittin’ under the table and I were complain’ ‘bout the countess and her sharp-faced daughter and it just came into me head.”

Robert bit his lip and squinted.

“What ya thinkin’?” Punch asked.

“Dear Punch, I think that within you there are thousands of images and ideas which you must organize both for you and for Julian.”

“And, Guignol and Scaramouche and them others…” Punch sighed.

“And, for them, too.” Robert squeezed Punch. “I think you have a great task is categorizing all of those memories. I only wish that I could help you with them.”

“You do.” Punch smiled. “You let me talk ‘bout them.”

“But, I have no answers.” Robert sighed.

“Who does?” Punch grinned. “Nobody’s got answers when ya think of it.”

“That’s quite true.” Robert replied.

“Well, it’s come and gone, Chum. I s’pose I shouldn’t dwell on it.”

Robert was silent.

“Here, don’t let it worry you.”

“All things which concern you, concern me, my dear.”

“Look at this lovely day,” Mr. Punch said as brightly as he could. “Ain’t a day to waste on such things.”

Robert smiled.

“Let’s go for a walk.”

“I want you to rest.”

“I can rest while we walk.” Punch stood up.

“That’s not quite what I had in mind.” Robert shook his head.

“Come on, Chum. I’ll tell ya all ‘bout the costumes and all.”

“You sure you’re well enough?”

“Never better.” Punch winked.

“As you wish.” Robert rose. “Come, Toby.”

As the terrier, the doctor and the Duke wandered toward the clearing, a dark-haired man stood atop the central tower and watched their progress.

Did you miss Chapters 1-98? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 100 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

Painting of the Day: A View of Snow Hill, Windsor Great Park, 1799

Click image to enlarge.
View of Snow Hill, Windsor Great Park
Benjamin West, 1799
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Benjamin West (1738-1820) is notable as the first American-born artist to gain international renown. He famously was appointed as Historical Painter to King George III and was granted the position of the second President of the Royal Academy.

West was decidedly ambitious and, in many ways, ruthless in his pursuit of prestige. Later in life, both he and his work became affected by a melodramatic grandiosity which was both charming and repulsive.

Upon his death, he left behind a legacy of nearly 750 paintings of which only about thirty were landscapes. Therefore, this canvas from 1799 is particularly special. Entitled, “A View of Snow Hill, Windsor Great Park” depicts West himself, at the left, sketching. He is joined by his friend and companion, James Dyer, a former soldier in the Horse Guards who would later become a life model at the Royal Academy Schools. Furthermore, Dyer served as West's valet for fifty years. This painting is one of a group of seven views in and around Windsor which were created by West. West rented a house in Windsor, circa 1780, in large part because he had been commissioned for a series of paintings in the Royal Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Object of the Day, Caption Contest: Snow Day

Click image to enlarge.

Two tragic Victorian children stand in the snow—bundled in their uncomfortable clothes. The smaller of the two is more morose than the girl. He looks dazed and worried. The hold curious weapons…or jingle bells…or something. The only color in their bleak world comes from a Spartan holly bush and a few sad birds. The girl extends an empty hand. Is she teasing the birds? Is she trying to get them to believe she has food? Something is afoot. 

And, so, let’s end the week with another caption contest. This was a trade card. It’s one of the many stock cards which were produced to be printed on the reverse for any number of products. Who would choose this as the face of their advertising campaign? What sort of product would want to be associated with maudlin children and hungry, freezing birds? I leave it to you to decide.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Newman Pendant, c. 1890

Mrs. Philip Newman, c. 1890
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Mrs. Philip (Charlotte) Newman (active: 1870-1910) was studied under the acclaimed British jeweler John Brogden and was quickly recognized for her exceptional Classical and Renaissance revival style jewels. Her work was featured prominently at the International Exhibitions in Paris in 1867 and 1878 where she was awarded a médaille d'honneur for her collaboration with Brogden. Upon Brogden’s death, Newman took over his craftsmen and workshop to open her own business. 

This pendant cross of gold and enamel, set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and half-pearls is indicative of Newman’s style and excellent work. The pendant was made in Brogden’s workshop in London around 1890. It is marked on the reverse with her signature—“Mrs. N.” in a rectangle.

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.  Yes, it's another long one.  Here we go... No cheating...

How many hundreds for my sake have died?
What frauds and villanies have not been tri'd?
And all the grandeur which my race adorns,
Is like the rose beset with thorns;
Nay when possess'd, such the enjoyments are,
I to my owners trouble bring, and care.
E'en those, by whom I am so highly priz'd,
If good, are hated; and if bad, despis'd:
Thus, twixt the plague of getting me, and losing.
By some I'm thought not worth a wise man's choosing

And, the answer is...

The Crown.

Still, I wouldn't mind having one.  Great answers from everyone today!  In fact, I can't really single anyone out because they were all so good.  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 onl

Friday Fun: Mr. Punch and the Devil

Drawings by George Cruikshank, 1828

This video clip from 2012’s May Fayre and Mr. Punch’s 350th birthday was filmed by Australia’s Chris van der Craats. I’m not sure who the professor is, but he has given us a wonderful recreation of one of George Cruikshank’s famous 1820s illustrations of Mr. Punch. In this scene, Punch is defeating the Devil. That’s the way to do it!

Mr. Punch in the Arts: The Puppet Suite, 1927

The Billy Mayerl Society

Written by the famed pianist Billy Mayerl, “The Puppets Suite” was published in 1927 and consists of three movements which encapsulate the joyful spirit of a “Punch and Judy” show.

The first movement is called “Golliwog.” The term is out-of-favor today and is generally thought to be a derisive term, however, for decades it simply referred to an African man. Such a character appears in the Punch and Judy tradition in the form of “Jim Crow” who acted as a footman to Mr. Punch.

The second movement is entitled “Judy.” This bluesy section reflect Judy’s position as Punch’s put-upon wide.

And, finally, there’s “Punch.” This section is considered a “masterpiece of brio.” A complicated piece, it is only successfully played when approached with the right speed and attack. This recording allows us to hear the Suite as it should be played—by Billy Mayerl himself.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 98

Chapter 98: 
Always Breaks in Two 

Baron,” Mr. Punch said as politely as he could, making sure to affect Julian’s voice and mannerisms. “How unexpected.”

The baron rose as the Duke of Fallbridge entered the handsome, pine-paneled library of Grange Molliner.

“My apologies for coming unannounced again.” Baron Lensdown answered stiffly.

“How might I help you today, Baron?” Punch asked formally.

“Where is your…”

“Dr. Halifax?” Punch interrupted.

“Yes.” Lensdown replied.

“Dr. Halifax is working.”

“Oh? Is someone ill? Has your governess taken a turn for the worse?”

“Not at all.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Dr. Halifax is writing a book. I had some business which required my attention this morning, so I suggested he take to the veranda with his writing while the sun was warm.”

“What is the subject of the book?”

Mr. Punch sniffed. “It’s…well…the book is regarding Dr. Halifax’s research on the manner in which individuals identify themselves.”

“I don’t understand.” Lensdown sighed.

“For example,” Punch explained. “Most men have one set demeanor. Certainly, we all behave differently in various circumstances and with different people. However, overall, the way in which a man reacts and performs is consistent. Still, some have more than one identity. More than one personality, if you will. These individual personas are, somehow, independent and fully-formed, yet they must share one body. Dr. Halifax is investigating this phenomenon.”

“Fascinating.” Lensdown said dryly. “As a theory… But, surely such men don’t really exist.”

“I believe that they do, Baron.” Mr. Punch smiled. “Now,” he sat down. “How may I help you today?”

“I’ve come about your kind invitation to the ball.”

“Ah, yes.” Punch nodded, still speaking as Julian. “I hope that you and the baroness will still be able to attend.”

“Well, yes.” The baron began. “However, yesterday I failed to mention one detail.”

“What’s that?”

“I’d completely forgotten that when we departed my wife invited some friends to join us during our holiday here. They only just arrived this morning.”

“That must be very enjoyable for the baroness.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“Yes. Gertrude likes them. They shall keep her occupied.”

“So, you’re wondering if you might bring your guests to the ball?” Mr. Punch asked.


“I don’t see why that would be a problem.” Mr. Punch answered. “If you will, please, tell me their names so that I might update our guest list.”

“The Countess Hamish and Lady Constance Hamish.” The baron replied without emotion. “I think you know them.”

Punch took a deep breath. “I do.”

“I hope that will not be inconvenient.”

“Not at all,” Punch shook his head.

“I understand that there had previously been a trifle skirmish between your Dr. Halifax and the Countess.”

“A minor disagreement.” Mr. Punch waved a hand. “Nothing of consequence. You know how people gossip. I’m sure it’s been terribly exaggerated.”

“I’m sure.” The baron responded.

“Dr. Halifax and I will be very pleased to welcome the countess and Lady Constance to our home.” Mr. Punch rose. “I will ensure that invitations are brought to them by messenger this afternoon, and, if you will, inform them how very glad that we are that they will be able to join us, I’d be most appreciative..”

“I shall.” The baroness nodded, standing up again.

“I don’t mean to be abrupt, but if there’s nothing else, Baron, I do have much which requires my attention.”

“Good morning, Your Grace.” The baron bowed slightly.

“Good morning, Baron.” Punch nodded. “I’ll just ring for…”

“No.” The baron shook his head. “I can see myself out.”

“Very well.” Punch replied. He watched as Baron Lensdown left the room.

Alone finally, Punch could feel his false smile melting into a frown. He walked over to the corner of the library, grabbing a small porcelain figurine from a nearby table on the way.

Crawling on his hands and knees, Punch crawled under the ornate writing desk in the room’s corner. Lying on his stomach under the desk, he placed the sculpture in front of himself and leaned on his elbows.

“Bugger!” He grumbled to the figurine—a pink-cheeked shepherd boy with a cheerful white sheep and gray and black spotted dog. “Gonna bring those witches into me house, he is.” He shook his head. “Bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger.” He snorted, adding. “And, damn!”

“We’ll just ignore them, we will.” He continued. “We’ll greet them all warm like, and, then, we’ll ignore them. That’s the way to do it.”

“Still,” he growled. “Bugger.”

Punch lowered his head, resting his cheek on his hands. He shut his eyes. “Wish I was out in the field like you, Shepherd Boy, with the sheep, and Colin and my Robert and Dog Toby—where there ain’t no countesses nor hatchet-faced girls nor stiff, odd barons.”

He sighed. “Or up in the tower where…”

Suddenly, a strange image passed behind Punch’s eyes. He saw a young man screaming, begging, pleading, grasping—his fingers scraped raw on the stone. And, then…the fall!

“Oh!” Punch shot up—hitting his head on the underside of the table. “Oh—me head.” He tried to lie down again, but lost his balance. Quickly, he extended one arm to support himself, and, in his effort, upset the figurine—breaking it in half on the cold, wooden floor.

“Bugger…” Punch mumbled as he closed his eyes again. “Always breaks in two, it does.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-97 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 99.

The Art of Play: Schichtl Marionettes Flower Seller, c. 1900

Trick Puppet
Wizard from Kasperle
The Schichtl Marionette Company, Germany, c. 1910
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Germany around 1910, this marionette is part of a group from the Schichtl Marionette Company. He’s part of the “Kasperle” tradition and is, at first glance, the character of “The Wizard.” But, there’s more than meets the eye. He’s a “trick puppet.” He can transform from the wizard into a dwarfish flower seller.

The puppet features a carved and painted wooden face with glass eyes, wooden hands, leather-clad feeties, a horsehair moustache, beard and wig.

While the wizard, he carries a wand, wears a long cream silk crepe robe with a silk collar. Appliqué black felt and velvet magical symbols adorn the silk robe while skull and crossbone motifs decorate his conical silk hat.

Concealed under the silk robe, is the flower-seller. This dwarf puppet wears a white cotton shirt, green and yellow belt and braces, red cotton knee-length breeches and tan stockings. The flower seller holds a metal lamp in his right hand and a wooden bucket of silk flowers on his head—as one does. 

Objects of the Day: A Set of German "Kasperle" Puppets

Because a thirty-eight year old man needs more puppet heads. That’s why. Oh, you didn’t ask. Nevertheless…

Remember this vintage puppet head which I saved from a warehouse in Britain? Well, because I think things with heads should have bodies, my parents were kind enough to give him a trunk.

So, of course, I needed more. They recently gifted me with this set of 1950s-era puppets from Germany. The set is complete, but in poor shape. The heads are in superb condition, but most of their wee puppet bodies are gone and what little remains stinks to the end of time of cigarette smoke.

Is it Mr. Punch? Is it Judy? Nope. Close, but no. We have here, Punch’s German (and Austrian) cousin Kasperle (also spelled Kasperl or Kasper, depending on the region). Kasperle, like Mr. Punch, developed from the Commedia dell’Arte character of Pulcinella. Kasperle was a slightly later adaptation, coming about in the mid Nineteenth Century. He looks quite a bit like Mr. Punch, but lacks our hero’s chin and exaggerated hump. 

Kasperle, is not married. Where Mr. Punch has Judy (until he whacks her), Kasperle is a single fellow. He does have a lady friend. She’s called Gretel. Gretel differs from Judy in almost every way. Whereas Judy antagonizes Mr. Punch for the most part and, in the end, feels his wrath, Gretel is Kasperle’s good friend and companion. Together, they fight evil (the Devil specifically) and authority—working as a team to outsmart their enemies. Our Mr. Punch is more independent and, with the exception of Dog Toby and occasionally Joey the Clown, is alone in his battle. But, we don’t have a Gretel in this set.

Who do we have?

Well, of course, there’s Kasperle with his crimson cap. He a little less grotesque than Mr. Punch, and, honestly, just a bit goofy looking.

Then, we have “The Grandmother.” Kasperle lives with his grandmother. She’s the one with the lavender bonnet. The grandmother character is the voice of reason and calm. She encourages Kasperle to fight the Devil and the crocodile, and when he wins, he returns home and Grandma gives him sausages. 

We have the Wizard. I wasn’t quite sure who this character was at first since he’s just a head with a scary beard. At first, equating the set to Punch and Judy terms, I concluded he was the Doctor. But, then, after awhile—without knowing for real—that he was a wizard. As it turns out, I was correct. The Wizard is a traditional part of the Kasperle plays. He’s a character of infinite power, but only uses said power for good. He is patient and kind with Kasperle and is given to overdramatic displays. 

On the other hand (ha!), we have the Witch. The Witch is Kasperle’s enemy. She casts spells on the other characters, usually turning them into chickens. Furthermore, she seems motivated by a desire to steal the Grandmother’s cake. That’s terrible! 

And, of course, we have the Devil. He’s exactly what he seems. 

Overall, Kasperle plays seem to be more sedate than Punch and Judy plays. There’s some slapsticking here and there, but it’s not the wild free-for-all that one gets with Punchinello. These days, these puppets are mostly used to retell fairy tales.

You may wonder what will happen to these heads and their remaining bits of body. Well, they’re going to get a new life and new bodies thanks to my mother and father. The heads have been cleaned (they’re in excellent shape) and new bodies and costumes are being constructed as we speak. They’re going to be quite smart looking! I will make sure to share the finished puppets with you.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Bertie Speaks

“I loved you in those Marx Brothers movies.” 

Image: Madame Roubiliac, 1760, François Xavier Vispré (1725-1794), The Victoria & Albert Museum. 

You, too, could have a cup of tea with Bertie. Or, you could wear his picture proudly. Visit our online store to see our range of Gratuitous Bertie Dog products.

Mastery of Design: The Georges Bissinger Brooch, 1878

Cameo Pendant-Brooch
Georges Bissinger
French, c. 1870
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A layered agate cameo, set in gold and accentuated by diamonds, this jewel is signed by Georges Bissinger (died before 1921), a gem engraver of German birth. Bissinger was celebrated for his carving which was inspired by French and English Royal portraits and examples of Italian jewels dating to the Sixteenth Century.

Bissinger famously copied one-hundred twelve gems from examples in the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris. These copies, each made in precious materials were identical to the originals in every way. He exhibited the group to great acclaim at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878.

This pendant-brooch is among that lot and is one of the first that Bissinger copied from the set in the Cabinet des Médailles. The cameo portrait depicts a bacchante. It is believed that Bissinger finished the jewel in 1870. Bissinger was known to use only the finest jewels and that passion is evident in this piece with its exquisite rose-colored agate and flawless, brilliant-cut diamonds.

Unfolding Pictures: The Georges Barbier Fan, 1912

Hand Fan
Georges Barbier and Madame Paquin
French, 1911
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Georges Barbier (1882-1932), a celebrated Parisian fashion illustrator of the early Twentieth Century, collaborated with the most avant-garde fashion designers in France at the time. Barbier worked with such famous names as Paul Poiret and Madame Paquin (1869-1936) whose elaborate oriental costumes for the Ballets Russes tremendously influenced fashion in the 1910s.

Madame Paquin and Barbier worked together to design a series of fans on that Eastern theme. This decorated fan of printed and hand-colored paper and hand-painted silk is an example of the collaboration. Looking ahead to the designs which would dominate the Art Deco ideals of the 1920s, the fan features sticks and guards of bone which have been adorned with painted grapes and butterflies. Tassels of mulit-colored silks hanf from the gold rivet. A woman is also depicted. She wears a headdress which is identical to one which was designed by Madame Paquin. When folded, this fan, made in 1911, displays a zig-zag pattern betwe
en the guards.  

Print of the Day: Mrs. Nisbett as Zarah, c. 1842

Mrs. Nisbett as "Zarah"
T.H. Jones
The Harry Beard Collection at:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This hand-colored engraving, based on a drawing by T.H. Jones, depicts mid-Nineteenth Century actress Mrs. Nisbett in the title role of Zarah, as performed at the Queens Theatre around 1842. The actress is show in her famous costume of an off-the-shoulder white blouse beneath a three-quarter-length green, spiral-patterned gown in the sack-back style which is worn over a scarlet petticoat with a black-edged hem. Her green bloomers are scandalously visible as are her strapped sandals.

Heavy, gold jewelry defines the costume—dangling earrings, an impressive belt, rings and bracelets. A scarf of crimson and black comprises her headdress.

A caption below the image reads:

“(Zarah) Hark to the cry of their days - already have they opened on the scent of blood."

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 97

Chapter 97: 
Fancy Dress 

Mornin’, Sir.” Ethel smiled.

“Good morning, Ethel.” Mr. Punch nodded, speaking as Julian. “Good morning, Jenny.”

Jenny blushed and looked at her shoes.

“Do come and sit across from me, please.” Mr. Punch continued.

“In here, Your Grace?” Ethel asked, looking around the palatial parlor with its pine paneling and massive maple gothic furnishing carved with hunt scenes.

“Well, certainly.”

Hesitantly, Ethel and Jenny walked across the parlor toward the two plushly upholstered chairs which stood in front of the Duke’s handsome desk.

“You may sit.” Mr. Punch nodded

They did as instructed.

Smiling, Mr. Punch began, “I’ve had some very nice discussions this morning with some of the others about their ideas for their fancy dress.”

Ethel and Jenny nodded blankly.

“Have you given any thought to what you’d like to wear?”

Ethel started to speak, but, stopped herself.

“Go on, Ethel.” Mr. Punch said with as much friendly encouragement as Julian’s voice would allow.

“Well, Your Grace.” Ethel smiled sheepishly. “I always dreamt of som’thin’.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s foolish.”

“I’m sure it isn’t. Remember, a fancy dress ball is a time to enact your fantasies. It’s a time to be what you normally cannot.”

“I’d like to be a princess, Sir.” Ethel replied softly.

“A princess?”

“Oh, it’s foolish.” Ethel blushed.

“Not at all.” Mr. Punch shook his head. He quickly began to sketch on the wide piece of paper in front of him. “What’s your favorite color?”

“I do like rose, Sir.” Ethel said, trying to look over the impressive bronze desk set—adorned with figures of stags—which sat between them.

Mr. Punch reached for a stick of pink pastel.

After a few moments, He raised the page from the desk and offered it to Ethel. The drawing showed a young woman with a face much like Ethel’s in a lovely Eighteenth Century sack-back gown of rose silk—trimmed with lace, ruffles and a fringe of cream and black passementerie.

“Oh!” Ethel squealed.

“Something like this?” Mr. Punch smiled.

“Sir!” Ethel chirped. “I…”

“Do you approve?”

“Very much.” Ethel nodded. “But, how…”

“After we’re finished, I will send Finlay to the tailor with all of our sketches and they will produce the costumes for us.”

“I don’t know what to say, Your Grace.” Ethel tittered.

“I hope it pleases you.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Now, as for your hair, Gamilla will help you dress your hair. She used to dress my sister-in-law’s hair and does a very nice job of it.”

“Your sister-in-law, Sir?” Ethel asked.

“Oh.” Mr. Punch paused. “I suppose she’s not actually that. Adrienne Halifax…Dr. Halifax’s brother’s wife. Gamilla was her maid.”

“I understand, Sir.” Ethel nodded.

“Furthermore,” Punch continued. “I’d like to loan you something to complete your ensemble.”


“I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I had a sister, Lady Barbara, who is now…gone. However, I noticed the other day, in her former bed chamber, that the last time she was here she left behind some of her jewels. There’s a fine necklace of aquamarines and paste in silver. And, there’s a lovely chalcedony and chrysoprase hair ornament which, I think, would look quite smart on you. You’re welcome to borrow them for the evening provided that you’ll take good care of them.”

“I couldn’t, Sir. I’d be scared.” Ethel shook her head. “What if I were to lose them?”

“Nonsense.” Mr. Punch waved his hand. “I trust you. Mrs. Pepper will be dressed as Queen Charlotte and I’ve also decided to loan her some of the jewels which once belonged to one of the late Duchesses of Fallbridge. I’m sure these items will be quite safe with you.”

“I never…” Ethel began, her voice catching in her throat. “I never knew anyone so kind before, Your Grace.”

“If I am kind,” Punch smiled. “It is because all of you show me, my companion and my son such kindness.”

Ethel wiped away a tear. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

“As for you, Jenny…” Mr. Punch grinned. “Have you thought of what you’d like to wear?”

“Oh, Sir. I couldn’t think of nothin’.” Jenny whispered.

“No matter.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Tell me. Are you enjoying your visit to Grange Molliner?”

“Oh, yes, Your Grace.” Jenny replied, becoming more animated. “I slept like a tot. The room what Mrs. North give us is so comfortable and fine.”

“Have you had a chance to see any of the estate this mornin’?” Mr. Punch asked, slipping a little and letting his natural speaking voice intrude upon the end of the sentence. He winced for a moment and mentally chided himself to be more careful. Still, Jenny didn’t seem to notice.

“Yes, Sir.” Jenny nodded. “Mrs. Pepper said that we could go for a walk as long as we were back to see you in time. So, Ethel and me—we walked out around a bit.”

“And, what did you see?”

“All them flowers, Sir.” Jenny smiled. “I liked them special. I wanted to pick some.”

“You may, if you like. You can ask Mrs. North for a vase so you may keep some in your room.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Jenny grinned. “See, I was lookin’ at ‘em up close cuz I thought maybe we could decorate the cake with sugar flowers. Mrs. Pepper, she says we’re gonna start on the grand cake this afternoon so it’ll be ready for the ball. She never let me help her with a cake before and I’m terrible thrilled. It’s gonna be butterscotch.”

“I know.” Mr. Punch smiled. “What else did you see that you liked?”

“The horses, Sir.” Jenny replied thoughtfully. “So big and beautiful, they are. Sweet, too. They let me pet them.”

“That’s right,” Mr. Punch nodded. “Even at home, you like the horses. I’ve seen you go with Vi to the mews to see the horses when Mr. Hutchinson is grooming them.”

“I love the horses, Sir.” Jenny nodded.

“I like them, too. They look like very tall dogs to me.”

Jenny and Ethel giggled, thinking that the Duke was joking.

Punch, again, silently reminded himself to be more careful.

“What is it that you like about the horses?” He asked.

“They’re sweet and smart and soft, but strong.” Jenny replied. “When I was a girl, my uncle had a horse and he’d let me ride.”

“You enjoyed that?”

“Yes. I liked to pretend that I was a lady or even Joan of Arc.”

“Ah.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Perhaps you’d like to dress as Joan of Arc for the ball.” He began to sketch.


“I don’t see why not.” Punch nodded, not looking up from his drawing. “I’m sure we could make something like this…” He held up the drawing for Jenny to see. “We can supplement it with bits and pieces from the armory.”

Jenny gasped happily. “Do you think I could?”

“I think, most assuredly, that you must.” Mr. Punch said firmly.

“Oh, thank you, Your Grace.”

“Very well, then.” Punch said finally. “I think we’ve gotten that settled.”

“What will you be, Your Grace?” Ethel asked.

“Dr. Halifax and I won’t be wearing fancy dress.” Punch shook his head.

“Why not, Sir?” Ethel asked.

Punch paused. “I think, really, because we want all of you to be the focus of the ball. The night is yours, not ours. The celebration is for you, our guests of honor.”

Both Ethel and Jenny grinned.

Punch was about to speak again when Finlay entered the parlor.

Mr. Punch looked up. “Yes, Finlay?”

“The Baron Lensdown is here to see you, Sir.” Finlay answered formally.

“He’s not expected.”

“No, Sir.” Finlay bowed.

“Have you told him that I’m otherwise occupied?”

“I have, Your Grace.”

“Well, then, he should be on his way.”

“He insists upon seeing you, Your Grace.” Finlay answered.

Mr. Punch took a deep breath. Forcing himself to smile he looked to the girls. “Ethel, Jenny, thank you so much for taking this time with me this morning.”

“No, Your Grace. We should thank you.” Ethel replied.

“And, so, you just have. I hope you enjoy the rest of our morning and, Jenny, you must tell me later how the preparations for the Grange Molliner cake are progressing.”

Jenny nodded. “I will, Your Grace.”

“Now, then, if you’ll excuse me.” He rose. The girls followed his lead.

Punch looked toward Finlay. “Please lead the baron to the Hunt Room. I shall receive him there.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-96? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 98 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

History's Runway: A Silk and Velvet Sack-Back Gown and Petticoat, 1774-1890

Sack-Back Gown
Made in Scotland, 1774-1775
Altered between 1880 and 1890
The Victoria & Albert Museum

As we know, a sack-back gown, the predominant style of women’s fashions of the Eighteenth Century, is created from a single piece of fabric pleated and stitched at the back of the neck, creating an open front. The style evolved from a sort of loose negligee which was worn privately. By the 1770s, the fashion had become a more formal type of dress meant to be worn in public at important events, the opera, the theatre and at stylish dinner parties.

What sets this sack-back apart is the use of velvet. At the time, these gowns were made of woven fabrics which were printed after the weaving process. Here, the textile of silk has been combined with velvet—a technique unique to France--which created a fabric with vertical bands of ivory and pink silk alternating with stripes of floral chiné velvet. Records with the dress report that the textile cost a shocking 36 shillings a yard. The gown and petticoat are constructed of about 17 yards. Today, the fabric alone would have cost approximately £2,200—over $3400 U.S. 

While the fabric was imported from France, the gown itself was constructed in Scotland. The original garment was made between 1774 and 1775. Alterations were made to the gown between 1880 and 1890 when it was used as a costume for fancy dress parties. The ensemble was, for many years, part of the Castle Howard Costume Collection before being sold by Sotheby’s to the V&A. 

Object of the Day, Caption Contest: An Odd Double-Sided Chromolithograph

Click image to enlarge.

Hmmmm…this is weird. It’s not a trade card. Its paper is thin and glossy and printed with an illustration on both sides. It’s not a scrap, certainly. It was not cut from a magazine since the odds of the image being centered in the same spot on two sides of a page are quite slim. So, what is it?

This chromolithograph depicts two scenes. One shows a well-dressed, if not wild-eyed, gent holding a package of the unfortunately named Sapolio—a brand of soap which was quite popular between 1883 and 1908. Sapolio is notable for its aggressive advertising campaigns. By 1908, they’d run out of steam with their advertising. When their interesting ads stopped, people stopped buying the product and it died (it was recently resurrected with modest success in Peru and Chile). The man in the scene has swept back a dramatic drapery to remove a life-sized statue. Is he going to clean her with his bar of soap? Has he cleaned her? Is he going to clean himself in front of her? Was she a polychrome sculpture which has been stripped of any and all pigment by being scrubbed with what I can only assume was a fairly harsh cleanser?

Let’s see what’s on the reverse. 

Click image to enlarge.

The other side shows a lad in a kilt with his mum. He’s drinking precariously from a large bottle. He’s upset a bowl and is mother is concerned by it. Or maybe she’s concerned because there’s a fox carved into her over-mantle. Maybe the kid’s a drunk and he’s fallen off the wagon. I trust he’s not drinking Sapolio. In fact, I can’t see any relationship between the two images. Yet, they’re created in the same style by, presumably, the same artist.

Could this be an ad for Sapolio? A portion of an ad? Or is it an image for something else which employed the use of the Sapolio brand since, for awhile, the name was synonymous with soap in general.

So, once again, I turn to you. It’s another caption contest. What do you think this was for? What’s going on in these scenes? Are they at all related? What would the tagline be? I always enjoy seeing your clever answers! Let’s see what you’ve got.  Post your answers in the comments.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mastery of Design: Bonbonnière with a view of Balmoral Castle, 1907

 Bonbonnière of gold, enamel and Diamonds
Henrik Emanuel Wigström, 1907
Showing the "Balmoral Side"
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Fabergé's brilliant workmaster Henrik Emanuel Wigström (1862-1923) created this bonbonnière of gold, enamel and rose-cut diamonds in 1907. With its lovely views of Balmoral and Windsor Castles, the wee candy box was destined to be a part of the Royal Collection, and, naturally, that’s where it ended up.

The bonbonnière was purchased by Sir Ernest Cassel from Fabergé's London branch, on November 4, 1907 for £81 5s. Sir Ernest presented the box to his friend Sir Philip Sassoon who held onto it for quite some time.

Now, it would be very easy to suggest that Queen Mary spied the box in Sassoon’s collection and suggested in her particular way that the object really should, since it does depict Balmoral and Windsor, belong in the Royal Collection. It would be easy to do so because it’s true. Sassoon’s records indicate that as early as 1908, the Princess of Wales (after 1910, Queen Mary) admired the object, noting that it was the first work by Wigström that she’d ever seen depicting one of the Royal residences. She kept at it for decades, I would guess though I have no proof of it. 

Nevertheless, we do know for certain that Sir Philip presented the bonbonnière to Queen Mary for her birthday on May 26, 1934. No doubt, Her Majesty was quite pleased. Queen Mary displayed the bonbonnière with great pride and marveled at its enameled views of Balmoral Castle on one side and Windsor Castle on the other as well as the edge of the box which is set with enameled roses and leaves interspersed with diamond-set crosses.

The Windsor Castle side
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II