Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mastery of Design: A Burmese Double Comb, Late Eighteenth Century

Burmese Double-Sided Comb
Late Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Burma around 1875, this double-sided, wooden comb is mounted with gold and inlaid with a trellis-work of un-faceted rubies and emeralds the traditional Burmese style. Such a comb would have been the stuff of a Burmese court lady's cosmetic box. These handy boxes were known as a “bi-it.” Aside from combs, they usually held, perfumes, a few tresses of hair (to augment a lady’s hair like a wig-let) and thanahka (powder).

This particular comb is believed to be of royal provenance. The very stringent laws of the Burmese court of Mandalay during the time of the Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885) restricted the use of precious gemstones to only royalty and courtiers.

Saturday Sparkle: The Baynes Locket, c. 1775

The Victoria & Albert Museum

A plait of hair from some long-gone beloved has been preserved in this locket since about 1775. In the Eighteenth Century, locks of hair went from being mementos that were hidden away to being the centerpieces of important jewels. Some jewels used the hair or strands of hair as part of the pattern or in a miniature painting. Hair was even used to make sentimental objects. 

This locket with its openwork gold bow, bequeathed to the V&A by Mrs. Isobel Baynes in 1950, was made in England in the late Eighteenth Century. A work of gold, it is set with pearls, emeralds and green pastes (likely replacements). The plait is protected by glass. On the reverse, a painted coronet surmounts a monogram. 

At the Music Hall: They Didn't Believe Me, 1914

Got the cutest little way,
Like to watch you all the day.
And it certainly seems fine,
Just to think that you'll be mine.
When I see your pretty smile,
Makes the living worth the while.
So I've got to run around,
Telling people what I've found.


And when I told them how beautiful you are,
They didn't believe me. They didn't believe me!
Your lips, your eyes, your cheeks, your hair,
Are in a class beyond compare,
You're the loviest girl that one could see!
And when I tell them,
And I cert'nly am goin' to tell them,
That I'm the man whose wife one day you'll be.
They'll never believe me. They'll never believe me.
That from this great big world you've chosen me!

Don't know how it happened quite,
May have been the summer night.
May have been, well, who can say.
Things just happen any way,
All I know is I said "yes!"
Hesitating more or less,
And you kissed me where I stood,
Just like any fellow would.


And when I told them how wonderful you are,
They didn't believe me. They didn't believe me!
Your lips, your eyes, your curly hair,
Are in a class beyond compare,
You're the lovliest thing that one could see!
And when I tell them,
And I cert'nly am goin' to tell them,
That I'm the girl whose boy one day you'll be.
They'll never believe me. They'll never believe me.
That from this great big world you've chosen me!

"They Didn't Believe Me" featured music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Herbert Reynolds. The popular song debuted in 1914 with the musical “The Girl from Utah” at the Knickerbocker Theatre. The American version of the show, based on a British original, added five songs by Kern and Reynolds. The musical was a hit and marked Kern’s first great success.

The song is unique in that it was one of the first to eschew the usual florid language of love songs in favor of modern musical ideals. Still sentimental, however, the song was a fitting favorite during the First World War and remains a popular standard to this day.

History's Runway: An Ancient Egyptian Wig

Human Hair Wig
Thebes, Egypt
18th Dynasty, 1550-1300 BC
The British Museum

Historians and archaeologists believe that most ancient Egyptians kept their hair cropped very short or shaved altogether as a means of combating the hot climate. Wigs were worn on special occasions. Historians have recorded that most artistic representations of ancient Egyptians depict the subject wearing a wig. At a point, even false beards were worn by men.

If that’s the case, then, one would think we’d have museums awash in Egyptian wigs. However, they are rather difficult to come by. This wig was found in a tomb in Thebes, and was, remarkably, in its original box. Still in excellent condition, this wig is constructed of human hair which has been pressed into a molded wax scalp. Hundreds of individual hairs were pressed into the wax. The upper layer of the wig is comprised of bleached human hair which has been curled. Each curl has been impregnated with wax so that it will hold its shape.

Since being brought into the collection of the British Museum, this hairpiece was studied by a prominent wigmaker who declared the coiffure to be just as sturdy and as masterfully made as any modern wig. No wonder it’s lasted as long as it has.

Gifts of Grandeur: The FIDELLE ET SECRET Locket, 1780

England, 1780
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Though locks of hair had long been kept within compartments in sentimental jewelry, by the Eighteenth Century, the use of hair as a medium took on new distinction. Instead of just being housed in a jewel, hair became a part of the design and was used to make complicated patterns, ornate motifs and even delicate images. Such pieces were meant to not only honor the memory of the deceased, but also to show an attachment to someone living. 

This enameled English gold locket from 1780 features a design in hair on ivory with a watercolor inscription under glass. The painted monogram—M.C.G.—is traced with hair and a delicate (and barely visible now) pattern is set behind  the motto “Faithful and Secret” in French--FIDELLE ET SECRET. The back of the piece is set with more hair.

Unusual Artifacts: A Band of Hair Lace, 1625-1675

Band of Hair Lace
Human hair and horse hair
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Though it seems strange and almost savage to modern eyes, for centuries, human hair (often that of a deceased person) was used to make delicate objects which served as a memorial or remembrance of a loved one.

Few of these pieces have survived over time. The few that do remain are usually from the Victorian era when this practice was quite popular. Every so often, an older piece of hair art is found. This particular piece of hair art takes the form of a band of lace which would have been worn as a bracelet.

The hair was delicately worked with needles. Here, we see blonde and brown hair entwined into an intricate pattern which is supported in bands at the top and bottom by stronger horsehair.

Seventeenth Century poet, John Donne wrote of the practice in his work, “The Relique.”
When my grave is broke up againe 
Some second ghest to entertaine ... 
And he that digs it, spies 
A bracelet of bright haire about the bone, 
Will he not let us alone 
And thinke that there a loving couple lies ...

Object of the Day: Barry's Tricopherous

Click on image to grow some hair.

Good news for the Victorian lady and gent with thinning hair. Not only thinning hair—heck, even bald folks can use this exciting product to grow long, lustrous locks. What is this boon to the hairless? Why, it’s Barry’s Tricopherous. Of course.

The “oldest, and the best, Tricopherous was established in 1801. This handsome trade card tells us that Barry’s lotion is “Guaranteed to restore the hair to bald heads, and to make it grow thick, long and soft.”

Though I doubt the product’s claims, I must admit that this is a gorgeous chromolithograph. This handsome couple, aside from being attired in the finest fashions of the 1870s, both have lovely heads of hair. I particularly like the lady’s fan and the intricate details on her gown.

Let’s see what the reverse tells us. I have a feeling it’s going to be very insistent.

Well, this is odd. They’re talking about the Venus de Medici. But, they’re not showing her. She’s nude, you know. No doubt, a long meeting was held to discuss this. Obviously, they concluded to show a contemporary woman with all her clothes on—and, of course, a healthy head of hair.

What are they telling us?


     What is most remarkable about
this exquisite statue is the natural
appearance of the hair. Knowing
that a lovely chevelure is the crown-
ing perfection of a woman’s beauty,
the artist gave particular attention
this feature. Every lady who
desires to add new luster to her
charms must study the artistic
arrangement of her hair. She will
be greatly assisted in effecting this
by using 
Barry’s Tricopherous.
The only preparation yet discovered
which preserves, beautifies and
adorns the hair; prevents it turning
gray and falling out, and makes it soft, silken and glossy.
     The celebrated 
Barry’s Tricopherous was just as much
thought of 50 and 75 years ago by the leading families
America, as it is to-day, and we can prove the truth of what
we assert, as we have still the original certificates in our

                                                          SAVANNAH, GA., June 11, 1865.

Dear Doctor:-- Your agents here having disposed of your
first consignment of the Barry’s Tricopherous within two
days after its arrival, myself and many of my friends are
unable to obtain a supply on the spot, and as we have now
been deprived of our favorite toilet article for over four years,
we feel rather impatient to renew our acquaintance with it.
Some of us think we have become gray for the want of it,
but perhaps it is only from the anxiety occasioned by the war.
At any rate, send us four gross, for which, please find the,
money enclosed. Forward by Adams and Co., directed to
George Dewitt Erwin, to be left at the Company’s office till
called for.

                                                         Yours, etc.,

                                                                           G.D. Irwin. 

Wow! It not only grows hair, but it makes gray hair colorful again! Sign me up! I’ve got plenty of hair, but the color, well… Will it make your hair any color you choose? How does it know?

Hmmm…maybe I won’t be able to get any. Though, the pesky Civil War is over—finally.

Ah, the American Civil War. Brother against brother, follicle against follicle.

Oh...and here's the Venus de Medici--just because we're not scared of her stone nudity.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gifts of Grandeur: The Wells Crystal Box, 1700-1750

This small box and cover from the Victoria & Albert Museum is entirely crafted from rock crystal and set with rubies and emeralds in gold. The lid attaches to the box with silver mounts and hinges which are most likely a  later addition to the box.

A truly sumptuous piece like this would have been made within the Mughal  Empire around  first half of the 18th century, possibly for export or presentation.  This box was bequeathed to the Victoria & Albert Museum by Arthur Wells of Nottingham in 1882. Wells had purchased the box at the 1875 sale of the collection of Mughal hardstones amassed by one Colonel Charles Seton Guthrie.

Much of Colenol Guthrie's collection had already ended up in the museum, having been bought by the Indian Museum in 1868 and transferred to South Kensington in 1879.

Print of the Day: Brewtnall's "On the Road to Derby - The Punch and Judy Man," 1870

On the Road to Derby -- The Punch & Judy Man
E.F. Brewtnall, 1870
for the Illustrated London News
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The original drawing for this engraving entitled “On the Road to Derby – The Punch & Judy Man” was created by E.F. Brewtnall. The drawing was reproduced in 1870 in the Illustrated London News.

I find this to be a lovely and sensitive picture. Here, we see a Punch & Judy Professor seated, at work touching up the paint on the face of his handsome figure of Punch. Dog Toby sits nearby, supervising, while the Professor’s bottler assembles the fit-up.

I’m sure that you can guess that this is part of the V&A’s George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive.

Masterpiece of the Week: The Codman Judy, 1860

Judy Puppet
Circa 1860
The Museum of Liverpool

She may not be as old as Mr. Punch, and she may not have always been called “Judy” (she began in Britain as a character named “Joan”), but Judy is as much a part of the history of world culture as her illustrious husband.

This long-suffering, wooden-headed lady, can’t be considered the world’s best mother. She did marry Mr. Punch, after all, and leaves her baby in the care of her irresponsible mate, but she’s fiercely protective of her offspring and becomes quite enraged when her child is made into sausage—as one does.

This lovely puppet is one of the original pieces from the Codman Family. Codman’s is a family-operated theatre which has been a part of Liverpool, England culture since the 1860’s.

Still in excellent condition, this Judy is no worse for wear after thousands of beatings. With her pinched face and slight snarl, she’s still a formidable force after over a century.

Friday Fun: Antique Marionettes
As I’ve mentioned before, our Mr. Punch started his antics as a marionette until “professors” concluded that glove puppets were easier to transport and manipulate. Marionettes are quite complicated and it takes a skilled puppeteer to manage them gracefully. There’s a certain elegance about a marionette.

These antique puppets show some of the cleverness and artistry that went into Victorian stringed puppets. They’re rather lovely. As much as I love puppets, I have to say that the “Grand Turk” creeps me out just the tiniest bit. But, I love it nonetheless.

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 100

Chapter 100
A Certain Sort of Mind

"I don't like this, I don't."  Punch paced the floor in front of the fireplace in the bedchamber he shared with Robert.  "Too many risks.  We oughta just go on with what we'd planned."

"There are, dear Punch, risks inherent to that scenario as well."  Robert answered.  "Very real and very serious risks.  Perhaps we should try Gamilla's suggestion."

"You surprise me."  Punch raised his eyebrows.  "I...well, Chum, I thought you'd be the first, I would, to tut-tut such a thought and to call it stuff and nonsense.  You're the man of science.  It is we, me and Lennie and Gamilla and the rest, who are the one's what believe in magic and superstition.  I always been the first to trust in Gamilla's visions and such, but, you've been the one to look for other answers, you have.  But, this...this, what you're suggestin''s a weddin' of voodoo and Mesmer and a front-parlor séance."

"Dear Punch, you and I have seen the very same things together.  We have sat together with Marie Laveau.  We have witnessed the same strange visions.  We have experienced the same miracles.  I cannot deny that, at first, I was skeptical.  However, I also cannot deny that I've seen a vast array of amazing and inexplicable events.  Furthermore, Gamilla's visions have proven right more often than not.  I trust in her instincts."

"But..."  Punch shook his head.  "What she's suggestin' is too...extraordinary!  Mightn't it just waste time, Chum?  Mightn't just give the poison in Lennie's blood more time to grip her whole body and stop her heart from beatin'?  Hadn't we better use that time to replace Lennie's blood with me own, knowin' that by doin' so we have a real chance o' savin' her?"

"I've thought exactly the same thing.  Still, there's merit in what Gamilla says.  We cannot be sure what it was on that teeth of that comb.  Gamilla's assessment that it was some sort of sleeping tonic wherein she's susceptible to some sort of internal spiritual or mental manipulation."

"The battle with my mother?"

"We know her spirit roams these halls.  We've seen the chaos that it's caused."

"Well, yes, we have.  But, if it's a sleeping tonic, then, Lennie will awaken--like when Fern gave me that sleepin' tonic when we were at home.  Sure, she gave me too much, but I time.  I was sick after for awhile, but..."  Punch paused.  "Or is that not what you mean?"

 "I'm not sure exactly what I mean."  Robert answered honestly.  "Perhaps it was the residue of some sort of powerful tincture that put her in a death-like state..."

"Are there such things?"

"There are..."  Robert nodded.  "Chemists have toyed with them since antiquity.  The notion of a 'living death,' was quite a popular idea in the sixteenth century.  Just look at the work of Shakespeare.  Juliet, for example."

Punch looked around the room.  "So, just about the time this house was built, that's what folk were thinkin' 'bout."

"Not exclusively."  Robert answered.  "However, the idea would have interested a certain sort of mind."

"Someone like Jackson or my mother."


"Pity they wasn't around with Queen Elizabeth and fat Henry.  Though, given Jackson's dusty, brittle looks, we can't be sure.  Horrid little ghoul."  Punch threw up his hands.  "I don't say you're not correct, Chum. We already seen that Jackson has an interest in all manner o' strange chemistry what with how he preserved my mother's body and so on."  He frowned slightly,  "Also...well..."

"What is it, my dear?"

"Oh, I was just recallin' somethin' what Julian 'ad forgotten, is all--about how Pauline liked to experiment with different herbs.  She'd have Mrs. Foster bring 'er all sorts o' herbs and flowers and she'd boil 'em down into a kind o' tea.  Sometimes she'd make...she'd make Julian drink 'em.  Sometimes he'd get terrible sick, he would."

Robert put his hand on his stomach.  "I'm so sorry.  I cannot express just how much I loathe that woman.  I detested her in life, and I despise her even more in death."

"She's just as destructive in both states, it seems."  Punch shrugged.  "She hated you, too.  Knowin' that made me happy.  All the folk she fancied were just as hideous and wicked as she.  So, knowin' she hated you pleased me because it was just one more thing to show me how wonderful you are."

"Dear Punch..."  Robert smiled.  He sighed, shaking his head.  "Nonetheless, sometimes I am physically sickened by the thought of what and Julian endured in this house at the hands of that monster and her minions.  Sadly, testing out her herbal brews is the least of what she did to you."

"It is."  Punch nodded slowly...his eyes wandered across the room as he remembered.  "She grew tired of it, she did.  Bored.  I think it bored her--herbs and medicines and such.  It wasn't bloody enough.  I remember Jackson taking all those little bottles and things away and packing them up all nice and neat.  Bottles and flasks, tins and jars, all labeled--all smellin' strange.  I'm sure they're all still here in this house--preserved along with all her other stuff, along with her, in fact.  Who knows?  Jackson probably used some of it to preserve her.  Auntie Morgana says they used to give her somethin' what made her groggy and sleepy.  Who can say?  It all may 'ave been the same tinctures Pauline made all them years ago.  Who can say what was on the teeth o' that comb?"

"So, it is possible that what Gamilla's saying could be true."  Robert continued.

"Oh, sure, it is.  I got no doubt o' that.  I ain't sayin' that.  It ain't that I don't trust Gamilla, Chum.  Ya know I do.  Just as much as I do you and Lennie, even.  Part o' what bothers me is that she's suggestin' that she put herself in...what's it?  Oh...some kind o' trance. she can somehow get into Lennie's thoughts.  Well, that can't be safe for her--not bein' with child as she is.  I can't risk another life of someone we love.  And, with her, it's two folk.  Gerard'd never forgive us if somethin' happened.  He'd be ruined, he would.  At least if we were to go ahead with the transfusion, it's me what's riskin' me own life, not Gamilla's nor her baby's nor anyone else's."

"I don't want you to risk your life either.  Our son doesn't deserve that."  Robert said.

"None o' us deserve any of this!"  Punch answered.

"There's less risk to Gamilla than there is to you."  Robert responded.  

Punch scratched his head, and ran his fingers trough his thick auburn hair.  "I s'pose discussin' it further's only gonna waste more time."

Robert nodded.

"You already got your mind made up, then?"  Punch asked.

"I do."  Robert replied.  "I'd like it, however, if we were in agreement."

Punch inhaled.  "We are."  He sighed and turned away, walking toward the corner of tall, diamond-paned windows.  He looked out, studying the courtyard below.  "I wish I knew where Auntie Morgana and Georgie were, too."

"We have every man on the estate looking for them by now."  Robert said.  "And for William...and..."


"I haven't had a chance to tell you yet."

"Oh, no..."  Punch's shoulders sagged as he turned around.

"Matthew's valet--Perkins."  Robert answered.  "Matthew noticed that he'd gone missing.  He mentioned it to Gerard.  When I was about to come in here to see you,, I overheard Gerard say something to Charles.  I had Charles inquire downstairs.  Perkins is nowhere to be found."

"You know Gregory must know somethin' about all o' this!"  Punch declared.

"He insists that he does not."  Robert answered.  "I don't believe him.  Yet, he has an alibi.  Someone or other can account for his whereabouts all morning.  There are several people downstairs who claim they've seen him at each point in the day and that he's not been out of sight."

"The whole lot o' them are frightened of him."  Punch shook his head.

"I have no doubt."  Robert walked over and took Punch's hand.  "I am worried for Morgana and Georgie, too.  For William and Perkins as well, but especially for Georgie and your aunt.  We shall find them before any harm come them.  But, first..."

"First we must rescue Lennie."  Punch nodded.

"Just know, my dear Punch, that she will survive this."  Robert said softly.

"How can you be so sure?"  Punch asked.  "Is it 'cause you're a doctor?"

"No, it's because I know this family.  She is your sister.  She's very much like you."

"We got different fathers."  Punch mumbled sadly.

"That doesn't matter."  Robert smiled.  "Who your parents were, in this case, doesn't matter.  What matters is what you both became.  That's the part that both of you share--the part of you which survives.  Just like you, she will not only survive this, she'll emerge stronger than ever."

"Oh, Chum, I hope you're right."

"I know that I am.  I insist upon it."  Robert put his arm around his companion as the left the room.

Did you miss Chapters 1-99 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday Chapter 101.  

Unusual Artifacts: An Early Nineteenth-Century Wooden Puppet Head

Wooden Head of Mr. Punch
Victoria & Albert Museum
History of Puppetry in Britain

Of course, we know that Mr. Punch has been entertaining people in his various forms for centuries. Since his arrival in England, his appearance has remained fairly consistent despite minor nuances between puppets.

This wooden head, long detached from its cloth body, shows us an early Nineteenth-Century incarnation of our beloved Mr. Punch. With his hooked nose and chin, he looks very much like his many puppet brothers. The head was created for the Codman Family who were Punch & Judy Men for four generations. A cherished family heirloom, the head was presented to another great Punch Professor—Percy Press I—in 1946 as a gift from Richard Codman, Senior. With his bright eyes and knowing smile, this gleeful figure represents a proud puppet ancestry and serves as a model for his descendants.

Object of the Day: A Die-Cut Card of Mr. Punch Performing for Doggies

Mr. Punch’s influence on all media has endured for centuries. His image has become associated with England, and London, in particular. Many Victorian artists employed Punch’s hooked visage to immediately put the viewer in mind of London squares. A frequent subject of Victorian postcards and ephemera, Mr. Punch was often shown in whimsical situations.

In that spirit, here is a charming cut-out card from my collection. I find this particularly delightful inasmuch as it portrays two subjects which are quite dear to me—Mr. Punch, and dogs. Here, an audience of canines—some of whom sport jaunty bows—clamor to get a look at Mr. Punch, mimicking a typical London scene of the time, but replacing the usual humans with dogs. I love that Punch even has a canine “bottler”—the fellow who would beat the drum and collect coins from the audience. For some reason, the bottler is wearing a coat and hat even though he’s a dog and despite the fact that the other dogs are nude. Curious and typically Victorian.
Of course, Mr. Punch seems quite pleased (I know) with his audience and delightedly waggles his slapstick in their direction with that wonderful, mad look in his eyes. Long live the art of puppetry, and long may it have dogs to enjoy it!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Rock Star

"She has moves like Jagger."

Image: Princess Amelia (1783-1810), Creator: Peter Edward Stroehling (1768-c. 1826), Creation Date: Inscribed 1807, Materials: Oil on copper, Provenance: Painted for George IV.

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 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.