Saturday, October 13, 2012

Calling in Sick

Salon Des Cent
Hermann, 1895
The Victoria & Albert Museum

To be perfectly honest, I've had a nasty cold for a couple of weeks, and, on top of it, today, a migraine.  Normally, I'd just "keep calm and carry on" as always.  And, so, I sat down here to offer you today's posts.  But, the migraine...  I just can't do it.

If you've ever had a migraine, you know that looking at a computer monitor for hours at a time is an idea that is not appealing.  In further honesty, I've had difficulty just composing these past few sentences in a way that makes sense.  That's how bad I feel.

I'd like to apologize, but, I think it's best we take a couple of days off.   I almost never do this.  But, today, I feel I really have no choice.  

We'll be back on Monday with all new posts and chapters.  In the meantime, you can catch up on Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square in the Chapter Archive.  Also, there's...well, there's just a whole lot of stuff to look at on this web site.  For fun, you might just go to the "tag cloud" at the bottom of the page and click around.  You never know what you might find.

Next week's site should be a lot of fun.  I've got some nifty things in store for you.  So, we'll see you soon.  


Friday, October 12, 2012

Mastery of Design: A Portuguese Ruby Pendant, 18th C.

Portugal, Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This pendant shimmers with diamond sparks. The true stars of the show, however, are the rubies set in gold and silver openwork. Made in Portugal in the Eighteenth Century, this jewel was likely originally a brooch. A bow has been applied to the front of the suspension loop at a later date.

Friday Fun: Pulcinella e il Cane

Salvatore Gatto

We once again visit Mr. Punch’s Italian ancestor, Pulcinella, in this recent video of a live Pulcinella show performed in Italy. Entitled Pulcinella e il cane, we see the comic anti-hero behaving in a very Punch-like manner (complete with swazzle-enhanced voice) and interacting with a rather wide-mouthed canine. Unlike the British version of Mr. Punch, Pulcinella seems to have something of an antagonistic relationship with the dog. Whereas Mr. Punch and his doggy chum, Toby, usually got along well together (unless, of course, there are sausages to fight over), Pulcinella and the dog are having some difficulties. British Punch shows assign the role of the biting antagonist to the crocodile (also a fan of sausages). The crocodile is known to snap at Mr. Punch. Here, the dog and Pulcinella have a similar relationship.

What’s fascinating about this video, aside from seeing the roots of Mr. Punch, we also see behind the tent and get a glimpse of the puppeteer performing his art. Enjoy!

Unusual Artifacts: An Antique Collage, 18th-19th C.

Click on image to join the fun.Collage of Scraps
18th-19th C.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

While at first glance, this looks like a single chromolithograph, it’s actually a collage which was assembled in the early Nineteenth Century from late Eighteenth Century scraps and hand-colored lithograph pieces. 

The different elements have been put together to create a scene of children watching a Chinese puppet show. We don’t know who created this collage, but it’s a great representation of the sort of artistic activities which people did at home. I wish we did more of this sort of thing today. 

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...

For vigilance and courage true,
I've no superior, equals few:
Which makes me by the industrious priz'd,
But by the indolent despis'd;
Bold and alert I meet the foe,
In all engagements without valour show;
And if he proves too proud to yield,
One falls before we quite the field.


And, the answer is...


Didn't see that coming, did you?  Technically, the answer given in the 1828 book from which I steal these is "a cock," but we'll use rooster instead.  In that event, by sheer rhyming, Matt's cryptic and sensitive answer of "socks" is the closest.  Conceptually, a lot of you came close with answers related to keeping time.  Dashwood had several in fact.  And, of course, there's always Mighty Mouse and Gene's mother-in-law.  So, let's all say "Hey" to Angelo.  "Hey, Angelo."  And, carry on.  Everyone did a great job.  Thanks for playing and 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 163

Chapter 163: 
All the Better 

Standing there in the cellar of the Grange’s hunting cottage, looking at the sobbing woman who had just been introduced to him as his true long-lost sister, Mr. Punch began to feel quite annoyed.

He hadn’t wanted his first sister—Barbara. In fact, Mr. Punch was always quick to point out the fact that though he used Julian’s body, he wasn’t actually Julian, and, therefore, Barbara was really no relation to him. She’d been nothing but trouble for as long as Punch could remember. Frankly, as far as Punch was concerned, Barbara had only done two good things in her entire life—given birth to Colin and allowing Punch and Robert to take him as their son. Aside from that, Barbara had been nothing short of a true monster and, when they left her in America, Punch was quite glad to say farewell. Furthermore, he was more than pleased to claim that she was dead. He gave her as little thought as possible, and, for him, that was all he needed to do.

That was all Mr. Punch had ever wanted to know of sisters. But, it seemed due to Julian’s mother’s lusty ways, life had other plans for him. In walked Ellen Barrett. Or…Orpha Polk. Either way, Punch hadn’t been thrilled.

When Punch had thought that the woman he knew as Ellen Barrett was his illegitimate half-sister, the woman had already gone on a murderous spree, poisoned him, deceived him and his companion, threatened their child, stolen from them, harmed their friends and generally terrorized their household. So, after all that, Punch thought it most humane for everyone to kill her. For Punch, the problem was solved.

But, then, just an hour after dispatching the second unwanted “sister,” this new woman had appeared and claimed that she—not the dead one—was his illegitimate half-sister. To make matters worse, within moments of their introduction, she’d already insulted him, called him mad, shouted at his companion and dissolved into a weeping mess!

For a moment—just the briefest of moments—Punch considered grabbing a pot from the cupboard and clubbing this one, too. A faint smile crossed his lips as the idea came and went. However, for the sake of Robert and Colin, Punch concluded that it best not to kill two people on the same morning. Besides, his head-hitting days, he’d thought anyway, were past him and he was determined to be “a very, very good boy” as much as possible (unless it served the household in only the most positive way to be a very, very bad boy).

“Coo!” Punch moaned. “This ain’t no good at all. You gotta stop that cryin’, you do.”

This, of course, didn’t help anything.

“Listen, you.” Punch narrowed his eyes. “I ain’t a bad bloke. Sure, I talk in a way what ain’t befittin’ the Duke of Fallbridge. But, I ain’t actually the Duke of Fallbridge. Well, I am the Duke, I s’pose, inasmuch as Julian lets me be. I guess what I mean is that I aon’t Julian Molliner. This is his body, see. We share it. But, I ain’t really ‘im. I’m Mr. Punch, I am.” He paused to look at Violet. Of the staff, she’d been one of the last to be informed of his true nature. He smiled weakly.

“I already knew that, Your Grace.” Violet smiled back. “We all live in the same house, and, well, Your Grace, you can be rather loud at times. Besides, we’ve all heard Dr. Halifax refer to you as ‘Dear Punch.’”

“Oh!” Mr. Punch smiled. “And, here we thought we was bein’ clever.” He shrugged. “Now, see? You—Lennie, or whatever you like to be called. Ain’t nobody bothered by it. Why should you be? I’m a good boy. Julian, he don’t want to be the Duke. He wants to stay inside here.” He thumped his chest. “And rest. Me, I like to be alive and such. So, I live for ‘im. I got this man here what’s my companion. He’s a wonderful sort of bloke. Look at ‘im. Ain’t he fine lookin’? He’s even kinder than he is handsome. And, that’s sayin’ a lot. He’ll treat ya like he were your brother. He’s nicer than me, he is. He’s a doctor and all. So, you got two brothers, in a sense, right here.”

Lennie continued to sob.

“Now, sure, I hit folk over the head every so often. But, I can’t help that. That’s all part of bein’ a Mr. Punch. We Punchinellos is like that. It’s just how I protect me companion and our son. He’d be your nephew, you know. And our friends and such. And, to be sure, the only time I ever killed anyone was just tonight. And, she were a person what, I’m told, were real terrible to ya. So, you oughtn’t mind too much. Otherwise, I only manage to knock folk unconscious, it seems. Hmmm…maybe I’m not so good at it as I thought. So, see, you got no reason to be upset.”

“You don’t understand.” Lennie sniffed.

“Sure, I do. Listen, it must be awful bein’ a bastard…”

“Punch…” Robert whispered.

“No, no, it’s true, Chum.” Punch smiled. “It’s gotta be awful findin’ out you’re illegitimate. To learn you was the bastard…or whatever a lady bastard is…of a duchess and a stableman and that your whole life were just one lie after another.”

Lennie’s weeping grew louder.

However, Punch was undeterred. He continued. “To find out your brothers weren’t your brothers at all and that your ma and pa weren’t what ya thought. That’s gotta be somethin’ just terrible, it does. And, then, you learned that your real brother, the Duke of Fallbridge—that’s me now—is not what you’d thought he’d be. You’re scared and confused and you feel betrayed and such. I understand all that. But, ya gotta quit your cryin’ cuz you’re makin’ me annoyed and it’s messy and…well, it’s just not fit. So, you gotta stop cuz it ain’t helpin’ nothin’.”

Lennie wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands.

“If you really are Ellen Barrett,” Punch continued, “I oughtn’t come as such a shock to ya. Roger’s your…well, he’s your cousin. You’re used to him, yes?”

“Yes.” Lennie responded softly.

“Well, then, I’m nothin’ compared to that. For Pete’s sake, I’m a treat compared to Roger. All I want is to hug me chum and play with me Colin and Dog Toby and draw pictures and talk to our friends and look at pretty things and put on me puppet shows. I don’t go tearin’ ‘round causin’ chaos like Roger. And before you get all upset ‘bout Roger, don’t think I’m makin’ my fun at his expense. I ain’t. Roger’s got troubles and I aim to help him as does Dr. Halifax. Who do ya think has been keepin’ him in his flat with a nurse all this time?”


“Sure.” Punch smiled.

“We do intend to see that Roger has the best of care,” Robert nodded.

“Well, Lennie?” Punch raised his eyebrows. “Here you are with all these people, and many more in the big house, what love me and know I’m not gonna hurt no one. Maybe you don’t know me, but you can get to, if you like. Don’t mean you can’t love the folk what you thought were your brothers. They’re still kin to ya. Just means you got more folk to look out for ya. And, if you don’t like us, you can walk away. But, first, let us make sure you’re safe. I ain’t had such good experience with sisters so far, so I ain’t too keen on it neither, but you don’t see me carryin’ on. I wanna see what good can come of this. If it turns out there’s none, we can go our own way. And, if you aim to hurt my family, I’ll make ya pay for it. But, if we’re gonna all try to be nice to one another, well, maybe we can undo a little o’ the awful things what that woman what stole your name’s done.”

“You’re correct,” Lennie gulped.

“I know.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“I apologize.” Lennie smiled slightly.

“Well, that’s fine. Now, let’s get out of here before Johnny Donnan comes in to make more trouble. We’ll get this all nice and sorted out, we will.”

“I’m beginning to think we will.” Lennie nodded.

“Sure.” Mr. Punch said. “Believe me, we seen worse than this.”

“We have.” Robert nodded.

“How awful.” Lennie mumbled.

“Ah—you get used to it.” Mr. Punch laughed. “Just makes the good times all the better.” 

Did you miss Chapters 1-162 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 164. 

Painting of the Day: A Chinese Puppet Show, c. 1790

Click on image to stand on a coffee table.
Souvenir Watercolor Painting
Guangzhou, China, c. 1790
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted in Guangzhou, China, around 1790, this painting is just one of a set of 100 which show various tradesmen from Canton engaged in their work. The set was made for export to the U.K. where, at the time, a growing interest in Asian culture was becoming prevalent.

This particular scene depicts a traveling puppeteer at work. Unlike the fit-ups to which we’re accustomed, here, the puppeteer himself becomes the fit-up. Look closely. You can see that the puppet theatre sits on the performer’s shoulders. He raises his arms above his head to work the puppets and a colorful cloth conceals his body—tied at the ankles.

Being no stranger to the mechanics of puppeteering, I confess that I don’t think I’d like to work this way. First of all, it’d be rather a bitch to get yourself set-up for a show, but, worse still, is how to get out of it afterwards. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. The only people in attendance are an old man and a child contortionist. And, who carries the coffee table?

Object of the Day: A McLaughlin’s Coffee Paper Doll, c. 1890

"One of us.  One of us.  One of us.  One of us.  One of us."

Click on image to see what puts the fourth X in McLaughlin's XXXX Coffee.

This spoooooooky young lady with her glasses and her Audra Lindley curls is happily whipping up a little snack for you. Oh, and, her head comes off.

Thankfully for her, her arms are attached to her head. But, curiously, not to her frying pan.

Clearly, she’s a paper doll. She was part of a pretty clever ad campaign from the late Nineteenth Century for McLaughlin’s XXXX Coffee. I wonder what gave it the extra “x.” It must be because of the detachable head.


McLaughlin’s had sixteen little, flat doll bodies with detachable heads which it offered as a premium. The idea was that you could swap their little heads around and put them in different outfits which folded over the heads. Most heads had arms, too, so that the figures could “hold” things and make flapjacks or something. The reverse of each was printed with some variation of the following--odd, random, incomplete ellipses and all:


.4 Baby Dolls.
..4 Girl Dolls.. 
...4 Boy Dolls... 
..4 Mamma Dolls.. 


One Doll in Every Package of 


What? No Papa Dolls? Hmph.

Since I’m told that I can dress and undress them as I please, I’d best get busy…  Just don't be surprised if you see some paper dolls in the next few days dressed like Wayland Flowers and Madame.  Or...Shirley Jones.  Or...Dick Gautier.  You know, the greats...

Because that's what I please.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Waiting with Bertie

“I trust this makes you Gilligan.”

Image: “Waiting for the Skipper,” 1871, Edwin Bale (1838-1923), watercolor, Dixon Bequest to the Victoria & Albert Museum

You know you want to have a Bertie Dog mug, tee-shirt, tote bag or water bottle. You know you do. So, take a look at our online store. 

Mastery of Design: The Joicey Brooch, c. 1830

Europe, 1820-1830
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Joicey. Joicey Brooch. Say it aloud, please. Say it in a variety of dialects. See? Fun, right?

The brooch’s name comes from the man who donated it to the V&A—a Mr. John George Joicey who bequeathed the piece in 1919.

A nifty work of gold with grainti decoration, the brooch was made in Western Europe around 1820-1830. And, it looks it. Some pieces of jewelry (and maybe it’s just to me, because I spend a lot of time looking at jewelry from many different eras) just seem to epitomize the time period in which they were made. This one just screams 1820-1830. It was a time period during which gold work was heavy and intricate with a nod to historical styles. Often chased, applied with volutes and scrolls and grainti, the gold work tended to emulate ancient Roman jewels. Furthermore, gemstones were often foiled to give more fire the simple cuts which were then-dominant.

This brooch, for example, is set with garnets and aquamarines. The latter are foiled in a bluish-green to enhance their color and fire.

Now, there’s a bit of an issue with the sparking green centerpiece. It’s paste. Since the other stones are the real deal, it’s a safe bet that the large center stone was once as well. Chances are, the center stone was removed for use in another piece, was lost, or damaged. Either way, it’s been replaced with paste. 

Nevertheless, it’s still quite pretty.  At some point in the Nineteenth Century, it served time as a pendant.

Unusual Artifacts: A Deceptive Glass, 1820-1830

Deceptive Glass or "Lick"
Britain, 1820-1830
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Long before people expected outrageously large servings, consumers were content with, in some cases, just a satisfying taste of a favorite treat. Take, for example, ice cream. In the early Nineteenth Century, ice cream and ices—especially those served at the seaside as a cooling treat—were not offered up in giant scoops, but were sold as a “lick.”

With the advent of new “ice cream making machines,” these frozen novelties were quite en vogue. But, people didn’t really want a whole bowlful. Instead, they wanted just enough to cool them off and give them a nice taste in their mouths. And, so, glasses such as this one—called “licks” or “deceptive glasses”—were commonly used by vendors at the beach and at fairgrounds.

While the glass looks as if it’s a normal drinking vessel, it’s not. It is, in fact, almost entirely solid glass. There’s only a modest indentation in the bowl which allows for a smear of ice cream to be applied by the vendor. This smear would be licked off and the glass returned to the vendor who would, in most cases not washing it first, apply another smear and sell it to the next customer.

The lick is constructed of solid leaded glass and makes for a rather attractive, sparklingly clear artifact. The vessel was made by hand and probably took two people at once to construct. 

Print of the Day: Southend, Seaside Excursions, 1925

Southend:  Seaside Excursions
Herrick, 1925
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Frederick Charles Herrick (1887-1970) designed this poster in 1925 for the Underground Electric Railways Co. of London, Ltd. Printed by Baynard Press, the chromolithograph depicts a woman in a blue bathing costume and orange swim cap as she readies herself for a day at the seaside with her friends who seem to like to wave. The dark background serves to set off the type: “Southend: Seaside Excursions.” Meant to entice post-Great War tourists, the poster was designed to advertise inexpensive train fare to seaside destinations—still considered a suitable spot for a one-day holiday.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 162

Chapter 162:
To See You Die 

Finlay groaned as he opened his eyes. He tried to stand, but quickly realized that his hands and feet had been bound.

“Well, well…” Ethel chirped with vicious glee. “Look who’s back with us, then. So, Finlay, who’s the big, strong man now?”

“Release me.” Finlay moaned. “I’m hurt.”

“Pity that,” Mrs. Pepper snapped, walking toward the man who lay on the floor. “Are ya hurt, then?”

“My head,” Finlay complained. “It’s throbbing.”

“Are ya that hurt, then?” Mrs. Pepper asked. “That hurt? Hurt so ya can feel it in your feet. That hurt?”

“Mercy, please.” Finlay pleaded, looking around the room. He could feel the hatred radiating from the eyes of Mrs. Pepper, Ethel, Jenny, Gamilla and Georgie. His eyes brushed across the slumbering body of Gerard who lay, recovering, in the Duke’s bed, and, then, to Mr. Speaight who was slumped in a chair in the corner with his head in his hands.

“Did you show mercy when you held a knife to my son’s throat?” Mrs. Pepper asked.

“Or, when you poisoned me?” Speaight lifted his head, coughing.

“Or in stabbing our Gerard?” Gamilla growled.

“Or taking the life of Mrs. North?” Jenny snapped.

“I wasn’t alone in any of it. Ellen made me do it.” Finlay moaned.

“Did she, then?” Ethel scowled. “Well, she’s dead now, the witch. Does that mean you’re not gonna do no wrong no more?”

“No.” Finlay said quickly. “I’m free now. Free of her. Just let me go and I’ll help you.”

“Ah, Finlay,” Georgie shook his head. “We ain’t gonna let you go.”

“Nah.” Mrs. Pepper grinned.

“What will you do with me?” Finlay asked.

“Dunno.” Georgie shrugged. “What do ya think we should do with ‘im, Mum?”

“Well, then.” Mrs. Pepper smiled. Her eyes twinkled with devious glee. “There’s that fine, great cookin’ pot in the kitchens.”

“Oh, Mrs. Pepper.” Jenny shook her head. “He’d never fit in there.”

“He would so. If we chop ‘im up all nice and fine.” Mrs. Pepper grinned.

“Too much work.” Jenny wrinkled her nose.

“Cor, there’s that nice cauldron in the scullery.” Ethel suggested.

“Still too small.” Jenny shook her head.

“What of the laundry tub?” George Pepper suggested.

“That might work. I could season ‘im up all fine. Maybe a curry.”

“Oh, nice.” Ethel smiled. “Or a stew?”

Finlay yowled.

“Oh, now, we’re makin’ the poor boy suffer more.” Mrs. Pepper sighed. “Ain’t right to tease ‘im so.” She knelt down. “We ain’t gonna cook ya.”

“No.” George clucked his tongue. “He’d be too tough to eat.”

“Maybe we’ll just drown ya.” Ethel winked.

“Or cut your throat like ya’d do to my boy.” Mrs. Pepper frowned.

“Here,” Ethel piped up. “Didn’t folk pull men apart with horses? Ya know…back when this castle were built. Weren’t that what they did to vermin like this one?”

“Yes, it is, girl.” Mrs. Pepper nodded. She laughed, delighted with their torture of the man. She knew—as did the others—that they’d not harm a soul. However, Finlay earned the teasing and each of them enjoyed watching the fear rise in his eyes.

Everyone, that is, except Gamilla. She didn’t smile once during their verbal assault of the footman. To her, the idea of drowning the man seemed sensible and just. He had—whether directly or not—harmed her Gerard. He’d also instilled in her the kind of fear that she’d thought long past her, the sort of terror which she’d felt as a slave and vowed to never feel again.

“Where I come from,” Gamilla growled, rising from Gerard’s bedside and walking forward. “We got a way of dealin’ with scum like this one.”

“Do tell,” Ethel smiled.

Gamilla knelt at Finlay’s side. “I don’t mean to scare ya, Finlay.”

“No.” Finlay whispered.

“No.” Gamilla shook her head. “I mean to see ya die.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-161 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 163.

History's Runway: A Seaside Dress, 1872

Seaside Day Dress
England, c. 1872
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Inspired by the classic sailor suit, this day dress was made in the early 1870s as a sporting outfit to be worn for a day at the seaside—walking or boating. Constructed of easily-laundered (by Victorian standards) cotton, the outfit is meant to be practical without sacrificing style.

A hip-length jacket with a square collar is finished in scarf ends. The overskirt boasts patch pockets with another pocket in the seam. A stitched bow adorns the belt. Unlined, the ensemble would have been ideal for a warm day.  Bone buttons offer a charming contrast to the combination of medium blue and ecru stripes and the rich, deep blue of the finish-work.

It was made in the United Kingdom, likely in London. Few such example of sporting outfits of this period remain. Though the materials were durable, these types of ensembles were more quickly consumed due to the nature of their use.

You'll see that, as was the style of the time, this was worn with a bustle beneath the dress.  The skirts are shorter than would have been acceptable for city-wear, but this served to keep the hem from dragging in the sand.  

Object of the Day, Caption Contest: At the Seaside

Click on image to be beside the sea.

Published in the late Nineteenth Century by Chas. Shield & Sons of Gold Street in New York City, this chromolithograph was printed, but never used by anyone as a proper trade card. Therefore, it remains unusually crisp and bright—saved from the stress of over-printing and commercial distribution. This is the sort of card which was purchased for a catalog and probably handed out as a premium or free gift with purchase. Likely, it was immediately spirited away and placed in an album where it was protected from sunlight and oily fingers for over a century.

It depicts a tender scene of a young couple snuggling beneath an umbrella. Well, tender to most people. To me, beaches don’t make me think romantic thoughts. They’re my idea of hell—close to angry waters filled with all manner of waste—both natural and otherwise—corpses of assorted species, vicious creatures and potential demise. Not to mention the sand—squishy, clinging, abrasive sand, the smell of salty decay and the sting of cruel winds. So, to me, this is a scene of two people huddling together to save their lives, their clothes soaking in moisture from the porous mess beneath them. They’re cold. They’re frightened. Before them, ships carry people off into the perilous waters. The only comfort they have comes from the color of their umbrella, a nod to Mr. Punch—the only bright spot on the sea.

But, that’s just me. Admittedly, I’m not right—in a host of ways.

I just think this is the perfect opportunity for a caption contest. You know how it works.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Townshend Cryptocrystalline Quartz, 1825

Golden Chalcedony Ring
The Townshend Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This nifty gem is cryptocrystalline quartz. This natural phenomenon occurs when quartz forms as a mass of microscopically small crystals. It’s also known as “microcrystalline quartz,” but I like cryptocrystalline better since it sounds spoooooooooooky.

This family of quartz includes many different gemstones such as chalcedony, agate, carnelian, jasper and sard. The colors of the stones vary slightly depending on the occurrence of different impurities such as iron, manganese and chrome.

This ring is one of the 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncey Hare Townshend. Like the others in the collection it was mounted in a gold setting for display purposes only. The Gothic-style gold setting dates to about 1825. So, what exactly is this stone? Well, guess what. It’s a rare example of chalcedony that isn’t the typical blue-gray color that we think of. Oddly enough, just the other day, I was having a conversation with my father about chalcedony and if it was possible for it to be any other color. I declared that I didn’t think it possible. But, I wasn’t sure, so I went digging for answers and this is the result. If, during formation, iron manganese or chrome in peculiar amounts is introduced to a cryptocrystalline gem, the color can be altered. This is a very, very rare event. But, it can happen. The result, in this case, from an introduction of iron is a chalcedony with a golden hue.

Drawing of the Day: House in Amberley Grove, Sydenham, 1942

House in Amberley Grove, Sydenham
Barbara Jones, 1942
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This watercolor from 1942 is the work of Barbara Jones who was one of the many artists employed during the Second World War as part of Queen Mary’s “Recording Britain” incentive which was meant to keep native artists working during the war.

Jones shows us a view of a home in Amberley Grove in Sydenham, England—a gorgeous example of the sort of eccentric, dreamy homes built in England during the Nineteenth Century during a curious and spectacular period wherein a variety of historic architectural styles were revived and all used at once. This delightfully odd home combined medieval and Gothic visual motifs straight out of fairytales with wholly Victorian design ideals. It was built in 1867 by a now unknown astronomer.

The “Recording Britain” program was founded in 1940 by the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime (a division of the Ministry of Labour and National Service). Lasting through 1943, the program kept artists employed and busy, creating lasting artistic impressions of Britain during the war. This not only served to give us a record of those poor buildings a nd landscapes that would inevitably be lost during the war, but also gives us a look into the creative mindset of the period. 

History's Runway: The Iris Comb, 1820

Berlin Iron Comb
Prussia or Germany, 1820
The Victoria & Albert Museum

“Berlin Iron,” in jewelry terms refers to this sort of lacy, black adornment which was first produced by the Prussian Royal Iron Foundaries around 1805. This type of jewelry became a symbol of the Prussian wars against France’s Napoleon Bonaparte when ladies would donate their gold jewelry to the cause and be given an iron piece in return.

While the practice remained predominately Prussian, during the French occupation of Berlin, the technique was learned and brought to France. In Germany, only a woman of the highest social rank would have worn Berlin Iron and, so, the work was associated with the upper echelon. A comb such as this one from about 1820 with its cameo of the goddess Iris is an ideal example of the delicacy of the work. Since iron tends to be a brittle substance which is also highly susceptible to rust, few example of this early Nineteenth Century art survive in such perfect condition. The pieces were often made in a Gothic Revival or Neoclassical style.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Louis Wièse Bracelet, c. 1890

Click on image to see larger size.
Carnelian Intalgio Bracelet
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In 1880, Louis Wièse (1852-1923) took control of the family firm from his father, Jules Wièse, an award-winning jeweller and goldsmith. Louis, unlike his father, was a historicist and modeled his jewelry in the Renaissance, Gothic Revival and Neoclassical styles.

This gold bracelet with carnelian intaglios is an prime example of Louis’ work. Wièse has cleverly included a length of chain which allows the bracelet to be extended to a length suitable for most to also wear it as a choker. The bracelet dates to about 1890.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 161

Chapter 161: 
Of Little Comfort 

Before we do anythin’ else, we gotta get the three o’ ya outta here.” Mr. Punch said quickly. “Come with us and we’ll go back to the Grange.”

“Your Grace,” Lennie interrupted. “Perhaps you and your…”

“Oh.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Dr. Robert Henry Halifax, my companion, this is…well, I’m told she’s my sister—Ellen.”

Robert nodded.

“Please, call me Lennie.”

“That’ll make things a wee bit less confusin’,” Mr. Punch smiled. “’Til we get ever’thin’ straightened out.”

“That’s just it,” Lennie said. “I think you should take Charles and, ummm…”

“Violet!” Vi snapped.

“Yes, of course.” Lennie said quietly. “I think you should take them back to the main house.”

“And, you.”

“No. I’d best stay here. Should Ellen…” She paused. “It’s odd to say it. When did it become more natural to call her by my own name? I’ve not felt like I’ve been “Ellen” in quite some time. I’ve been Orpha, I’ve been Lennie.” She shrugged. “Nonetheless, I think it best that Ellen not return to find me missing. Not only will she be enraged with me, it will only serve to have her wish to further extend her ire to you.”

“Ain’t gonna be a problem.” Mr. Punch replied. He could feel Violet staring at him. “You’re not used to hearin’ me talk like this, Vi.”

“I like it, Sir.” Violet nodded. “But, what do you mean that Ellen is no longer a problem?”

“I killed her.” Mr. Punch smiled.

Lennie gasped and staggered backward.

“We think.” Robert added.

“You did, Sir?” Violet clapped her hands. “I know it’s wicked to be ‘appy ‘bout someone bein’ dead, but…”

“I know.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“Doctor,” Charles began. “You said that, you think…you think she’s dead?”

“His Grace is very certain that Ellen is dead. However, until we see her laid out, we can’t be entirely sure.”

“True,” Charles sighed.

“You…you’re all speaking of this so casually?” Lennie yelped. “The Duke has killed a woman—thinking she was his sister—and you’re all so matter-of-fact?”

“Well,” Mr. Punch began. “Don’t mean I don’t feel awful bad ‘bout it. But, the fact is, she were terrible to all of us. I killed her cuz she threatened me family.”

“But, you thought she was your sister!”

“I’d have killed Barbara, too, if I had to. If it meant protectin’ Robert and Colin. Colin’s our son, by the way. Or even if it meant protectin’ Charles or Vi or any of our chums. And, I knew for a fact Barbara were me sister. Wasn’t too sure ‘bout Ellen. Seems I were right to have doubts, too, since it weren’t true.”

“What does this mean for me?” Lennie stepped backward again. “You are mad! The rumors are true.”

“I ain’t mad.” Punch said quickly. “Not in the way you mean.”

“It’s not as if he’s gone about killing random people.” Charles muttered.

“His Grace just wants to take care of us.” Violet added.

“Lennie, you’ll find that His Grace is very generous.” Robert said. “I’ve been with the Duke as his companion for quite some time now and I find him to be highly gentle and loyal.”

“As long as he doesn’t feel threatened!” Lennie hissed. “And, why…why does he speak like this? Why does he speak in this rough manner? That’s not the way a Duke speaks, especially one that’s a favorite of the Crown.”

“Her Majesty likes when I talk like this.” Mr. Punch smiled.

“It’s true.” Robert nodded.

“You’re all mad!” Lennie howled. “If you cannot see that there’s something dreadfully wrong with this man, you’re all as mad as he is. This…this is my family? This!”

“Listen, Lennie, you ain’t showin’ us that you’re too stable yourself, honey.” Mr. Punch sighed. “Just settle down and we’ll go back to the Grange and talk ‘bout all this.”

“I wouldn’t go anywhere with you! Any of you! You condemn Orpha…or Ellen or… But, you’re all as demented as she is…was.”

“Miss, you’re defendin’ a woman what stole your name and ruined your reputation? A woman what left ya locked in a cellar to die and took over your life?” Violet asked.

“At least she had been my friend for years beforehand.” Lennie sobbed.

“Poor thing is all confused.” Mr. Punch whispered to Robert. He shook his head. “Carryin’ on like this, I’m sure she’s got Fallbridge blood in her. Only other two folk I ever saw what could make such a fuss were Barbara and our ma.”

Robert inhaled, nodding. “This is the truth.”

“Your Grace,” Violet urged. “Johnny Donnan’s gonna come back here and when he does, he’s gonna be awful angry to see ya here. Let’s please leave.”

“I agree.” Charles nodded.

“We can’t leave this girl here.” Mr. Punch shook his head.

“I didn’t think so either,” Charles replied. “But…” he pointed to her. “Look at her.”

“Coo, she is a mess.” Punch nodded. “But, I can’t leave her here to die. She’s me sister.”

“You already killed one woman you thought was your sister.” Lennie said through her tears.

“But…” Punch spoke up. “I already ‘xplained that now, I did. Weren’t killin’ just for sport, it weren’t. Can’t think of any reason I’d kill you. So, don’t worry. Not yet.”

“That’s, perhaps, of little comfort, Dear Punch.” Robert whispered to his companion.

“Bugger.” Punch muttered. He frowned and scratched his nose. “Well, I don’t know what else to say. Lennie, you can stay here if you want. But, your real pa, Johnny’s gonna come for ya. And, if you’re scared o’ me, you’ll be terrible scared o’ him. At least if you come back with us, you’ll be safe. Well, ‘cept that there might be a murderer in the house still. But, we got a nice baby and a dog and Mrs. Pepper will give ya tea and biscuits. That’s always nice. Oh! And, I got puppets—two of ‘em. I’ll make ‘em dance for ya!”

Lennie sank to the floor, now sobbing uncontrollably.

“Well, I thought most folks like puppets.” Punch whispered.

“Leave her, Sir.” Violet pleaded.

Punch looked to Robert. “Can’t ya do somethin’ doctor-y?”

“Perhaps,” Robert nodded.

Did you miss Chapters 1-160 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 162.

The Home Beautiful: The Soane Side Table, 1805

Side Table
Sir John Soane
c. 1805
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This side table, made around 1805, is part of a monumental suite of unconventional Gothic furnishings from the grand, two-story library of Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, England. The suite was comprised of this table and its pair and a massive octagonal center table. These were matched with carved ebony chairs from India.

In 1848, mired in debt, the Duke of Buckingham was forced to sell the contents of Stowe House. The sale lasted for forty days and garnered the attention of England’s elite, including Queen Victoria & Prince Albert. The pair of side tables and en suite center table were purchased by the same buyer and remained in his family until 1972 upon which time the center table was offered to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.

The suite was made in London, designed by Sir John Soane (1753-1837). They are constructed of ebonized mahogany and ivory. The set was made specifically for Stowe’s Gothic Revival Library and was commissioned by the 1st Marquess of Buckingham (1753-1813) who dictated that the design of the room should follow the look of the screen of the tomb of Henry VII at Westminster Abbey. 

Object of the Day: A Double-sided Stereograph

Click on image to be novel.

Made to be viewed in a stereoscope, a popular novelty of the Nineteenth Century, these cards feature side-by-side, off-set pictures which, when seen through the viewer, would appear as a 3-D image. A number of companies produced such cards and viewers. Every so often, as in this case, the stereographs were hand-colored.

I’m not sure who published this stereograph. There’s no mark whatsoever. What’s unusual about it is that it’s two sided. Prior to seeing these few which were recently added to my collection, I’d not come across other two-sided stereographs. Usually, this would have been prohibitive because of the intention curve given to most cards in order to produce the 3-D effect. Images on the back would have curved the wrong way and made a distorted image. However, this card is flat, allowing for a double-sided image. Since I don’t actually have a stereoscope, I can’t see how the flatness alters the dimension of the final image. 

The card boasts off-set images of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral on one side and Spain’s Court of the Fishes at The Alhambra on the other. Such architectural images were popular themes for stereographs as they provided opportunities for visual depth.

You can click on this one, too.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Gaillard Parasol Handle, c. 1900

Parasol Fittings
Gaillard, 1900
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The work of Parisian maker Lucien Gaillard, we see here fittings from a parasol. Made around 1900, the parasol’s handle is made of carved and bleached horn which has been set with pearls and small rubies in gold settings. The other fittings, tips for the spokes, are made of carved tortoiseshell.

Drawing of the Day: Comelli's 'Blacksmith, Grocer, Boatman and Yokel,' 1907

Blacksmith, Grover, Boatman and Yokel
from "Babes in the Wood."
Attilio Comelli, 1907
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The famed costume designer Attilio Comelli, (1858 -1925) was the designer in residence at the Royal Opera House in London from the 1880s until his death. He was also called upon to create costumes for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, from time to time during this period. This original drawing by Comelli dates to 1907 and was created during one of his visits to the Theatre Royal.

The design, titled “Blacksmith, Grocer, Boatman and Yokel,” was created for the 1907 production of “Babes in the Wood.” Four watercolor sketches show designs for costumes for different characters. Comelli’s attention to detail is apparent as he indicates not only the details of each costume but also the footwear and accessories for each. He even makes suggestions for the wigs and makeup.

Unusual Artifacts: Return from Market, 1928

Click on image to get snowed.
"Return from Market"
Pietre Dure
Italy, 1928
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This pietre dure (or pietra dura, if you prefer) scene of hardstone and marbles depicts a monk with two elderly men and a young woman. They’re accompanied by a group of animals as they journey home from market in a snowstorm.

Made in 1928 in Florence Italy—long known for its elegant works of pietre dure—the piece shows the enduring beauty of this technique. Each stone has been carefully chosen to create movement and texture in the scene. The veins of the marbles and the crystals of the other hardstones have been set in such a way as to emulate the look of a painter’s brushstrokes.

The work is attributed to Mario Montelatici, a well-known master of pietre dure in his own right and the son of the famed Giovanni Montelatici whose workshop in the Via Amolfo in Florence produced many an award-winning work. The piece is composed of white and bardiglio marble, onyx, gabbro and albarese. It is set in a gilt wood frame.