Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mastery of Design: A German Mother-of-Pearl and Jeweled Box, 1730-1740

German, 1730-1740
Mother-of-Pearl, Gold, Diamonds, Rubies, Hyacinth, Emeralds
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Germany for export to Austria between 1730 and 1740, this box was designed to hold small personal items. Such boxes were the pinnacle of opulence and were considered symbols of enormous wealth and social standing. 

This particular box is crafted from mother-of-pearl, mounted in piqué with gold, and set with brilliant-cut diamonds, rubies, emeralds, jacinth (hyacinth) and garnets. It was exported from Vienna to England in 1806 where it was quickly appreciated for its workmanship and reliance on organic design themes. 

The Art of Play: A German Portrait Doll of Queen Victoria as a Princess, 1835

German Wax Doll
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This unusual portrait doll with a solid wax head and outer limbs on a cloth body is said to represent Princess (later Queen) Victoria. She wears a long full-skirted dress of plain ivory-colored silk, with a corsage and head-dress. The doll's petticoat of plain ivory-colored silk is gathered a the waist, and has one vertical seam and a deep hem.

Though the doll is said to be a young Queen Victoria as a princess, it’s important to note that it looks nothing like her. Young Victoria was fair—blonde and blue-eyed—while the doll is dark. Since the doll was made in Germany in her honor, it is understandable that the German maker was not aware of the Princess’ actual coloring.

Unusual Artifacts: A German Gutterspout, c. 1600

C. 1600, German
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Sadly, gone are the days of decorative gutterspouts.  However, for centuries, artisans and builders seized every opportunity to add something beautiful or ornamental to almost every surface of a building. 

Elaborate and whimsical gutterspouts are characteristic of southern German blacksmith's work of the Seventeenth Century.  These often took the form of Grotesques or Gargoyles.  This example of iron is embossed and painted and depicts a devil's head with small wings sprouting at the sides.

Painting of the Day: A Miniature of an Elector, c. 1690

Germany, c. 1690-1695
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the German imperial court of the Seventeenth Century, the “Elector” was a German prince who was entitled to take part in the election of the emperor. Enamel miniatures of the elector, set in jeweled frames, would be worn by those who wished to show a loyalty to the prince. It was good politics if not good fashion.

Enamels like this one played an important role in court life. The image of the elector – a German prince entitled to take part in the election of the Emperor – is set into a jewelled frame so that the wearer, probably someone in his service, could demonstrate their relationship and loyalty to him.

Here, dating between 1690 and 1695, we see an enamel on gold miniature made by J.M. Khaetscher showing the Elector Prince of the era. He is depicted in armor adorned with red ribbons and he wears a long, curled blond wig—as one does when one is an Elector. The miniature is set into a silver gilt frame which has been studded with rose-cut diamonds. This hangs from a brooch in the shape of an Electoral crown which has been set with rose-cut diamonds and decorated with red enamel (now mostly missing).

It was made in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Sculpture of the Day: A German Ivory Bust, circa 1700

Ivory Bust
German, 1700-1725
Carl August van Lücke
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This unusual sculpture as well as its plinth are both carved from ivory. The plinth has been stained to create contrast between it and the bust. Carved from a single piece of ivory, this miniature sculpture is the work of German artist Carl August van Lücke, the Younger.

The figure is tenderly sculpted with a great attention to detail. The folds, bows and ruffs of her tight corsage have the look of fabric while her skin and hair mimic the textural appearance of the real thing.

Antique Image of the Day: The German Prince, 19th C.

The German Prince
Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

“The German Prince” was written by Albert Hall (Ha!) and  composed by Walter de Frece to be sung by Miss Vesta Tilley in the late Nineteenth Century.  Tilley would have performed the song in her trademark male apparel.  

Here, we see an original color song-sheet of “The German Prince” from the era.  The art is by H.G. Banks.  

Object of the Day: A Trade Card for Jas. S. Kirk & Co

Click Image to Mottle the Soap

When I noticed this trade card in a stack of ephemera I’d just bought, I thought it was attractive, if not wholly German. The more I studied it, however, the more curious I found it. The card depicts two little people (I can’t say with certainty that they’re children) holding German flags and dressed in the country’s colors. That’s fine and dandy. Let’s look a little further.

The card advertises for



In 1887, Procter & Gamble began cracking down on other soap makers who advertised Mottled German Soap, claiming that they were the first to copyright the idea. So, other companies had to use other arrangements of the words so as not to bother P&G. Hence, Kirk’s use of “Mottled German.” To be honest, I’m not sure what mottled German soap is, but I don’t know how pleasant it sounds.

This card was quite well-received by the public and the design is the one which seems most often identified with the James Kirk Soap Company. It boldly went where no ther trade card went before.

Let’s look at the reverse. It wasn’t printed. However, there’s a curious stamp on it. Stamped in gold ink, we have an undecipherable name (Bill or Balls or something). And, then, “Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.” Hmmmm… Was this card once in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum? Unlikely. Was it owned by someone who worked for “The Met”? More likely. If anyone has any idea what that stamp might indicate, I’d be pleased to know.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Gifts of Grandeur: The Henry Wilson Comb, 1900

Henry Wilson, 1900
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This comb/hair ornament of silver has been neatly set with garnets along the head of the comb which is decorated with a pierced medallion of a crab--the symbol of the zodialogical sign Cancer.

This is the work of Henry Wilson whose jewelry is distinctive for its rich and unique color combinations and sculptural qualities. Wilson was a notable Arts and Crafts designer, and like many of his contemporaries, originally trained as an architect. 

Painting of the Day: Kate E. Gough's Punch and Judy Booth, 1870

1870 photograph, hand-colored, of an antique painting
Kate E. Gough
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see a photograph of an original painting. 

The photo dates to 1870 and has been hand-colored. Kate E. Gough photographed this antique painting of a Punch and Judy fit-up which was created sometime before 1870 by a now unknown artist.

The Art of Play: Punch and Judy Finger Puppets, circa 1970

Punch and Judy Finger Puppets, c. 1970
This and all related images from The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sandcastles, donkey rides, Punch and Judy - all part of a day at the British seaside. At its popular in Victorian times, the show still brings pleasure (and terror!) to thousands of children on our summer beaches. 

So reads the reverse of this toy which has newly been added to the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I was quite tickled to find this circa 1970 finger puppet set when searching for Punch and Judy related items. 

Let's take a look at this charming set, shall we?  These finger puppets came packed in a box which also doubles as a fit-up or theatre for their miniature puppet show.  The set was meant as a charming reminder of bygone, innocent summers...summers that maybe weren't so hot and miserable.  Sorry...I was distracted.

The printed box sports the traditional striped, gilded frame, theatrical draping and green skirting associated for centuries with a Punch and Judy booth.  A die-cut opening at the front affords a venue for the finger puppets.  

Inside, are Punch and his wife, Judy--both made of printed cotton with slightly padded fronts.  Punch is dressed in his usual red suit and dropping hat, trimmed in gold.  Of course, he carries his cudgel.  Judy dons the traditional white checkered dress and lace cap which we associate with Mrs. Punch.  And, of course, she's carrying, "the Baby."

Manufactured in Britain, the set was designed and made by Anne Wilkinson Designs.  It was produced through 1990.

Print of the Day: The National Punch and Judy Show, 1882

The National Punch & Judy Show
From "Truth," December, 1882
The Victoria & Albert Museum

From the George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive at the V&A, we see a double-sided cutting from the periodical “Truth.” In fact, it’s the “Christmas Number,” which was entitled “The National Punch and Judy Show.” The magazine was published on December 25, 1882.

Both sides of the cutting depict illustrations which are intended to “reproduce a series of the incidents which figured in the scenes profuse” of a Punch and Judy Show which the publication states was prepared at the wish of (Prime Minister) Mr. Gladstone.

The scenes feature caricatures of various contemporary political figures in the role of Punch, including Mr. William Gladstone himself. It uses these satirical scenes to comment on issues of the day such as the demand for Irish Home Rule, the fight for Civic Reform, the consequences of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, and the negotiations between the Russian Count Schouvaloff and the Marquis of Salisbury (then Conservative leader in the House of Lords and previously Foreign Secretary). Many political figures are depicted including: William Gladstone (1809-1898), the Marquis of Salisbury, Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, (1830 -1903) and Sir Stafford H. Northcote (1818 -1887).

A short verse accompanies each illustration, referring to the events depicted, and written in a form which parodies the style of operetta which was famously popularized by Gilbert and Sullivan. 

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 87

Chapter 87
A Fairy Story

If Jackson was surprised to see Lennie and the girls descend into the crypt he didn't show it. He simply turned to face them and bowed slightly to Lennie.

"I suppose, Lady Fallbridge, you've come to pay your respects to your mother, in her final resting place?"

"Never mind why I'm here, Jackson."  Lennie snapped.  "Why are you here?"

"For the same reason as you," he replied dryly.  "To honor your mother's memory."

"You had ample opportunity over the last month's to honor my mother's memory.  Yet, you chose a most peculiar method--trussing her up in a cupboard like some salted gammon to be cured for the winter."

"If you were a man," Jackson snarled, "I would strike you for that."

"And, if I were a man, I would forcibly remove you from my brother's estate.  Jackson, you've been dismissed of your duties and barred from this land.  What gall you have to be seen here.  Why on earth would you think you were welcome on the estate, let alone the family chapel--the family crypt--unless you were at some unwelcome business which meant harm to my family?"

"I mean no harm to you, Lady Fallbridge."  Jackson replied casually.  "You were never really a concern of mine--nor your mother's for that matter.  You were nothing to her.  This is, perhaps, why it was so easy for her to give you away to Johnny Donnan's sister."

Lennie inhaled.  "Girls, run back to the Hall and fetch His Grace and His Lordship before they leave for the vicarage.  Send them here to me at once."

"I don't like to leave you, M'Lady."  Violet whispered.

"I can handle myself with some feeble old man."  Lennie replied.  "Still, if you'd prefer, Violet, you may stay.  Ethel, Maude, please hurry!"

"Yes, Your Ladyship!"  Maude nodded, taking Ethel by the arm.  The two girls ran off, climbing the stairs as quickly as they could.

"Since you've given me no indication that you're going to leave on your own, Jackson, and since you've not taken my hints, I shall have to press upon my brother and His Lordship to ask you to do so."  Lennie continued.

"Your fey brother and his nancy have already told me to leave the estate.  And, yet, little woman, I remain.  I don't take orders from them.  They're not the masters here.  This land only has a mistress.  One.  And, it isn't you."

"Oh?"  Lennie laughed.  "Is it the woman you kept in your pantry?  That desiccated corpse that you carried back from America?  She may make pantomime spirit appearances from time to time, Jackson, but she has no more power than moonlight.  There's no authority in vapor.  The law sides with flesh and blood."

"Your law, perhaps."  Jackson replied.

Lennie smiled.  "I've obviously interrupted you in some task.  Have you come to gaze upon the leathery countenance of your beloved duchess?  I don't mean to retard you in your errand.  Carry on, if you wish.  You'll find I'm not squeamish.  I never knew the woman--though she gave me life.  I have no sentimental attachment to her, so if you'd like to look upon your preserves, be my guest--open the crate in which she's been housed and look upon her.  My maid and I shall wait her whilst the Duke and His Lordship are dispatched.  It's best that you have something to occupy you before you begin answering our questions."


"Yes." Lennie nodded.  "As to the whereabouts of my aunt, our cook's son and the footman called William."

"You think I have an answer to those questions?"  Jackson replied.

"I know that you do."  Lennie nodded.  "Yet, I won't ask you to repeat yourself.  You may save your lies or whatever it is that you'll tell us for when my brothers arrive.  Until then, by all means, amuse yourself.  Go ahead and look upon my mother's cured visage."

"I don't think I shall."  Jackson shook his head.

"You won't offend us."  Lennie continued.

Jackson stared at Lennie--stone-faced.

"In fact, Violet and I shall open the crate for you."  Lennie stepped forward.

"Miss Lennie..."  Violet whispered.  

"Violet, I've never known you to be squeamish.  The least we can do is help this decrepit creature take one last look at the husk of a woman he so worshipped."

"I don't think I should like to."  Violet said softly.

"Listen to you maid, Lady Fallbridge."  Jackson said cooly.

"Suddenly a gentleman?"  Lennie scoffed.

"You'd only waste your strength."  Jackson answered.  "The case is empty."

"I figured as much."  Lennie snapped.  "Where have you taken the body?"

Jackson remained silent.

"Don't make me ask you again."  Lennie warned.

"She isn't yours."

"Nor is she yours."  Lennie growled.  "Why are you in here, then?"

Jackson reached into his pocket and produced a glittering comb.  "This must have dropped off when we carried her..."  he trailed off.



"Cannot you accept that you've lost this battle, Jackson?"  Lennie asked.

"It is you, M'Lady, who have lost."  Jackson shook his head.  "At least, you should have a consolation prize."  He held out the comb.  "Take this, then.  It is rightfully yours, I think, as the only 'surviving' daughter."

Lennie held out her hand.

"Don't, Miss!"  Violet called out.

However, it was too late.  Jackson had already scratched the palm of Lennie's hand with the teeth of the comb.

"Your world, Lady Fallbridge, of late--it has been a fairy story.  Has it not?  Why shouldn't it end as one?"  Jackson laughed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-86 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 88.  

Antique Image of the Day: A Photo of a “Punch and Toby” Show, 1860

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Taken in 1860 by an unknown photographer, this image gives us a rare glimpse of a “Punch & Judy” show of the mid-Victorian period as performed on the streets of London. 

To be more accurate, this show is labeled as a “Punch and Toby” show which chronicles the adventures of Mr. Punch and his dog either before marrying Judy or after murdering her. The crowd in attendance seems quite engrossed. Though not pictured here, by this point in history, the Dog Toby would have been portrayed by a puppet rather than a live dog as was the practice in earlier incarnations of the show.

This is likely half of a stereograph.

Object of the Day: A Victorian Trade Card with Mr. Punch

This handsome trade card was found awhile ago at a local antique store. My mother, father, Bertie and I (well, not so much Bertie—he just sort of watched) sorted through several bins of antique and vintage scraps and cards in search of interesting finds, and this one popped up.  

On the reverse, it’s an advertisement for a hotel in Ohio.  The ad is actually very hard to see since it’s been damaged after having been glued into a scrapbook a century ago and then, recently ripped out of said scrap book by the seller.  I must confess that I have mixed feelings about this.  I, personally, would not have had the heart to tear apart  a Victorian scrapbook.  However, I understand why it was done—so that the individual parts could be sold to people like me who were in the market for specific things.  

You can see why I wanted this trade card.  There’s Mr. Punch.  He’s seated on the lap of a young girl who seems quite taken with him.  He’s not in his usual red ensemble, but, instead wears a handsome striped cap and suit of cerulean.

This image—not only the pose, but the costume of the girl—reminds me of apair of photographs in the V&A—“Joy and Grief” which shows a similar scene. Which came first—who knows?  They’re very close in age, and pinning a exact year on the card is impossible since the reverse is unreadable.  

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Nevertheless, just the sight of it pleases me.  Look at Punch’s face.  He looks so kind, and not at all as if he’s thinking about hitting that girl with a stick.  No, no, there’s not a trace of plotting in his expression at all.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Peek-a-boo

"You can try all you want to keep me away, but I smell cookies over there."

Image:  La Nanna (Pavonia)Creator: Frederick Leighton (1830-96), 1st Baron Leighton of Stretton (artist), Creation Date: Signed and dated 1859, Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: King Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom (1841-1910), when Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (1841-63), Provenance: Purchased from the artist by George de Monbrison; from whom acquired by King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, 1859.

Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection via The Royal Collection Trust.  The original image is courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

To learn more about this Italian-themed masterpiece , visit the entry for this painting in the online catalog of the Royal Collection Trust.

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.

Treat of the Week: Braciola and a Lovely Plum Galette

This weekend was excellent from the standpoint of food.  It was a feast of foods with difficult to spell names.

Bertie and I went to visit my parents and we all enjoyed a magnificent feast.  The meal began with my mother’s homemade braciola (pronounced brah-jole) and polenta.  We haven’t had this in quite some time, so I was particularly happy about it.  Braciola (sometimes inaccurately spelled braciole) is an Italian dish wherein a tender beef roulade is filled with cheeses, herbs (and sometimes spinach and pine nuts).  It’s smothered in a magnificent, tomato sauce.  

Polenta is a dense paste of cornmeal which has been boiled (usually in stock).  Sometimes this is served as it is, but often, it is formed into patties or into a loaf which is sliced and either fried or baked.  I love my mother’s polenta.  She takes the slices and bakes them topped with fresh herbs.  This was served with the same amazing sauce in which the braciola and fresh mozzarella.

A beautiful salad of watercress, fresh greens, pears, dried cherries and gorgonzola with a lovely, savory dressing added a cool counterpoint to the spice of the meal.

For dessert we enjoyed a gorgeous plum galette which glistened like a wide stomacher of amethysts.

A galette is a French pastry with rolled, crusty edges.  You can think of it as a flat-bottomed bag which is filled with fruit.  Or—you could just call it a tart.

I love these rustic tarts with their delicate, rolled crusts.  I adore the uneven way that they cover the filling.   Here, my mother has dusted the crust with cinnamon and sugar—giving it a spicy sweetness and a delicious texture which complements the buttery crust and tender plums perfectly. 

The plums have been carefully sliced and arranged—leaving the skins on.  The flavors of the meat of the fruit and the skin blend perfectly, combined with the other ingredients, to create a beautiful symphony of taste.

I do tend to get carried away when I talk about desserts.  I just get so excited.

My mother served this rustic tart with fresh, stiffly whipped cream into which she infused some creme de cassis, giving it a pink-ish hue.