Friday, February 15, 2019

Dissecting a Valentine

Sounds rather macabre the day after the holiday devoted to love, doesn’t it? But I was recently reminded that I have a wonderful late nineteenth century/early twentieth century Valentine courtesy of the great-great aunt who left me her postcard collection, and I wanted to share.

Here it is in all its glory:

A few things to note:

  • It’s built in layers of paper. Each layer isn’t as thick as card stock, but definitely thicker than typical stationery. They are mounted on accordion hinges of the same sort of stock. Alas, everything is pretty flat after nearly a hundred years in a photo album, but you can see where this was once a rather impressive three-dimensional anthem to love.
  • The pieces surrounding the center cherub are made from different materials. The red ribbon is silk, the white a kind of cross-grain fabric. The gilding appears to have been hand-applied. And some of the white lace is fabric bric-a-brac.
  • Nothing on the back or front indicates who created it or where.
  • Inside is a lovely poem promising life-long devotion, but no signature. I don’t know whether my great-great aunt received it from someone she loved or bought it and never sent it. Oh, the story possibilities!

All in all, it’s about 11 inches tall and 8 inches wide, and I don’t think the colors have faded much with time. Any lady would have been pleased to receive it. I am quite delighted my great-great aunt thought to leave it for me.

And now you! Happy belated Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Chairs That Go Bump in the Night: Gothic Furniture, Part 3

Time to show you the last few delicious prints of Gothic furniture from my collection of prints from Ackermann’s Repository! Part 1 can be viewed here and Part 2 here... and here we go!

These Gothic Chairs give off a shabby chic vibe, don’t they?  According to the accompanying text (after a bit of pontificating about the nature and usefulness of chairs), “There are but few specimens of the furniture of the sixteenth century, remaining; those which once belonged to Cardinal Wolsey and a few others, now in the possession of his Majesty, are the only ones known to be extant; and even these are far from being pure in their details. They are executed in ebony, with ivory occasionally introduced in the heads of the figures, animals, &c. They are totally unfit for imitation, being clumsy in their design and very heavy. The use of chairs was hardly known to our ancestors, stools and benches being generally substituted in their place: so that in designing them for modern use, we must greatly deviate from their original character.”  All of which says, “we are totally making these designs up!” as far as I’m concerned...but they’re still a lot of fun. The chair at right in particular looks like the style of chair already in common fashion, with some Olde Gothicke decoration added in. (December 1826)

A similar confession accompanies the description of this Gothic Bookcase (exact date not known, but it was published in the first half of 1827). It reads, “The library now constitutes one of the principal apartments in the country-seats of our noblemen and gentlemen. No style can be better adapted for its decoration than that of the middle ages, which possesses a sedate and grave character, that incites the mind to study and reflection. The rays passing through its variegated casements cast a religious light upon the venerable tomes on either side, the beautiful arrangements of its parts combining to produce an impressive grandeur in the whole design. Every thing proclaims it an apartment consecrated to learning. All mansions, however, are not sufficiently capacious to admit of devoting a whole apartment to this purpose: bookcases have therefore been resorted to, which form a most excellent substitute; as, while fulfilling the purpose of a library, they form handsome pieces of furniture, which can be well applied in filling up recesses and other inequalities in a room.” So again, not so much a gothic bookcase as a bookcase in the gothic style...but no matter what, I wouldn’t mind a few of long as I kept them on the bottom floor of my house!

Alas, I do not have the accompanying text for our last print from the July 1827 Ackermann’s Repository. It is labeled “Gothic Furniture” but is clearly a card table.  I love the areas for equally Gothic candlesticks at the table’s corners, the tracery on the table’s apron, and the legs modeled to look like cathedral windows—rather an amusing juxtaposition for a gaming table!

I hope you enjoyed our look at Ackermann’s ever-inventive Gothic furniture styles. Any favorite pieces?

Friday, February 8, 2019

Don’t Try This at Home—Glass-Blowing as a Profession

Glass-blowing is a big deal around my neck of the woods. Tacoma just to the north of us is home to the Glass Museum, one of the only working glass-blowing museums on the West Coast. It began as a way to honor Tacoma native, internationally renowned blown-glass artist Dale Chihuly. And you can reach it from the Washington State History Museum via the Bridge of Glass, a structure housing dozens of pieces of blown glass, with end posts boasting huge blue-green pillows of the stuff.

Somehow, I doubt the glass-blowers of the Regency period had such an illustrious and beautiful setting.

According to the Book of English Trades from 1811, glass-makers only worked in the cold months. The high heat of their furnaces would have been unbearable otherwise. These furnaces were made of giant cones of brick, about two-stories tall, with several openings. The ingredients—flint or sand, salt, and metal oxides—went in one opening; fuel in the form of wood or coal in another. The metal oxides were for color. Leave them out, and you had clear glass. Add a little lead, and you had very clear glass (the famed English lead crystal was developed in that way). Iron or copper oxide yielded green glass, cobalt oxide blue, and a sprinkle of gold a beautiful red.

Once the ingredients fused together in a runny molten mass, a glass-maker would scoop some out with a hollow tube about two and a half feet long. The glass-maker rolled the mass on an iron plate to smooth it, then began blowing into the tube to form a bubble. Blowing and turning both increased the size of the bubble and shaped it. The result would generally be some form of vessel—a bowl, a cup, a lamp cover. But the bubble could also be blown and rotated quickly to form a large disk several feet across. Where the glass-blower cut off the disk from the pipe left a little nipple. These plates would be used to create the panes for windows like those below.

The art was not for the faint of heart. Burns were common, and clothing or gloves might catch fire. But the beauty created is still amazing, whether you live in Regency London, or modern-day Pierce County.

Pictures of glass from the Museum of Glass and Bridge of Glass by Kira Picabo.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Keeping Warm...With a Good Book

The discovery of polar vortices may be a modern event, but cold weather has always been a matter to contend with. I will contend, however, that cold weather has seldom been braved as stylishly as here:

This stunning number is “The Polish Robe and Hat. An entirely new design for the Kensington Garden Walking Dress in March 1807.”  The description reads:

No. 1 – Walking Dress. A Polish Robe of purple velvet, flowing open in front, rounded gradually from the bottom towards the lapels, which are continued across the back. A chemisette of the same, with high full collar; the whole trimmed entirely round with the red fox, mole, leopard spot, or grey squirrel. A rich cord and tassel fastened in the center of the back, which occasionally confines the robe. The back and skirt cut in one; and the sleeve nearly to fit the arm. Polish cap of the same material, trimmed round the edge, and across the crown, with correspondent skin; a cord and tassels suspended in irregular lengths from the right side of the crown. York tan gloves; and primrose, or purple shoes.

Wow! The hat—the swinging cords—the purple—what’s not to love about this ensemble? It just looks sooooo cozy in an over-the-top sort of way; I’m sure this outfit would turn heads when worn on a stroll in Kensington Garden.

But since wearing a cozy purple velvet pelisse in Kensington Garden is not something most of us can do this winter, I’ve got another idea that might keep you warm—because there’s nothing better to do on a cold, blustery day than curl up and read!

Barnes and Noble is running their first #NOOKBOOKBASH--a special offer of over two hundred books, many of them first-in-series, ranging from romance to science fiction to mysteries and thrillers—all FREE with a special coupon code...and if you like what you read, there’s another coupon for getting the next-in-series books for 25% off.  You don’t need to own a NOOK device to read—you can download the free NOOK app to your computer, phone, or tablet and read 'em there.

Here’s how it works:

1: Visit on your desktop or device (coupons cannot be redeemed on a NOOK device or inside the NOOK app) and snap up your next favorite reads.
2: Add featured ebook(s) to the cart
3: When you’re done shopping, view your shopping cart
4: Apply Coupon Code NOOKBASHFREE below the Order Summary.
5. Complete check out. Your new books will automatically appear in your NOOK library.
6. And hey presto! You’ve got books! There are no limits—you can get as many of the offered books as you want!

To get the next-in-series book, check out the Second Book list on the same page, and at checkout, use coupon NOOKBASH25 to get 25% off those titles. The only tricky bit is that you can’t use both coupons in one transaction, so get your free books first and check out for any sequels separately.

Feel free to pass this on to your friends—and the offer is good through February 28, 2019, so you have plenty of time to browse. My own Skin Deep is on offer there—go have a look, and stay warm with a good book!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Football, 19th Century Style

I am told there is a substantial match of some sort happening this Sunday. The male members associated with my household are all agog. The younger male members decided to gift their father a large-screen TV and a sound bar in preparation (his birthday is on the same day). They will be coming on Saturday to install it and stay on Sunday, just to be sure it works, you see. But football matches were no stranger to the nineteenth century, even if they were a different sort of sport.

Some of the most infamous football matches in England happened on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. In one version of the sport, goals were placed at least a mile apart. Some towns even set up monuments to indicate the location of the goal. Two groups of any number of men squared off in the middle between the goals. There are anecdotal accounts of women playing as well. These opposing groups had some sort of connection. Merchants might match up against gentry, country dwellers against city dwellers, one town against another, or one guild against another. Some unlucky soul threw up a round ball of stuffed leather about the size of an inflated pig’s bladder and ran for his life while the two sides converged. The objective was to throw, kick, roll, or otherwise get the ball through the opposing team’s goal. Teams of up to 1,000 were not uncommon, and sides did not have to be equal. Any land between the goals was far game for the playing field, including church yards and cemeteries. 

In another version of the sport, popular in Cornwall and Devon, a much smaller ball the size of an orange, made from apple wood and coated with silver was fought over. The objective was to carry it by force or sleight of hand over the Parish boundary or through a particular goal. Teams were also huge and crossed town and country. At least one scholar of the sport asserts that the game was played by “gentlemen,” although another asserts that the gentry and aristocracy merely provided the silver ball and allowed their estates to be used as goals. A mayor or official generally started the match by throwing out the ball.  Games lasted approximately four hours. Sometimes the person holding the ball at the end would win a small prize, such as the silver ball itself. 

These were free-for-alls, wild pell-mell pursuits. They were so energetic that, according to the International Federation of Association Football, a number of monarchs attempted to outlaw the sport in parts of England from the 1300s through the 1600s. Says the FIFA website:

“Primitive football was more disorganised, more violent, more spontaneous and usually played by an indefinite number of players. Frequently, games took the form of a heated contest between whole villages - through streets and squares, across fields, hedges, fences and streams. Kicking was allowed, as in fact was almost everything else. Sometimes kicking the ball was out of the question due to the size and weight of the sphere being used—in such cases, kicking was instead limited to taking out opponents.”

I certainly hope the Superbowl teams will have more decorum. I’m not sure my family will. Think of me on Sunday. I’ll be the only one attempting to read around the sound of cheering.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

For the Birds...

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows that I’m—well, a bit of a bird nut.

How bird-nutty am I? I’ve got multiple bird-feeders strung up around my house, have a small pair of binoculars on my writing desk in the spring and fall to keep an eye on what migrating feathery friend might be hanging out in the crab-apple tree by my office window, and of course, maintain a list of birds we’ve seen anywhere around the house. Favorite visitors? Eastern bluebirds—just saw one yesterday on one of the suet feeders—cedar waxwings, flocks of wild turkeys, a tiny sharp-shinned hawk that we often see in winter watching the bird-feeders hopefully (they, ahem, like to eat smaller birds), and of course, the feisty ruby-throated hummingbirds that arrive as soon as my bleeding-hearts start to bloom. When I’m outside I talk to the chickadees; I do a good chickadee whistle, and can always bring at least one over to investigate.

It’s not just me; I’ve managed to infect my entire family with my rampant aviphilia. So I was hardly surprised when my husband announced a few weeks back, “I’m going to build an owl house.”

“That’s nice, dear,” I said.

So, we think owls are awesome. They’re fascinating creatures; their feathers have evolved so that they can fly pretty much silently (kind of important when you’re a night-time predator), and they can turn their heads through 270°—that’s three-quarters of a circle (a necessity, because they can’t move their eyes to track moving objects.) We listen at night for owls in the woods around our house (the record is three different owl species calling in one evening.) I’m personally predisposed to like them because they’re the emblem of my college (Athena and her owls, of course.) My husband is predisposed to like them because they eat squirrels and chipmunks—with which we are, unfortunately, well-supplied (I’ve asked the sharp-shinned hawk to step up and polish off a few chipmunks, but he hasn't obliged.)

The owl call we hear most often around these parts is that of the barred owl, so DH did some research on the type of nesting boxes that barred owls like, and came up with a hybrid design from a couple of different websites. He built it out of exterior grade plywood (it's a little over two feet high) stained to keep it from rotting, roofed it with leftover shingles, and installed a hinged bottom to make cleaning it out easier between tenants. Then he filled the bottom with wood shavings and some hay, and hung it in a tree out in the woods behind our house last weekend, about 12 feet up.

I'm not expecting guests quite yet; barred owls usually start nesting in March, but male barred owls are already scouting the woods, looking for likely nesting sites which they will claim and try to entice a lady barred owl to move in to. We'll be watching, though; evidently, the males decorate the areas around their nests with the corpses of prey to show females that they’re good daddy material, because nothing says “I love you” like a dead squirrel or two.

We’ll keep you posted! I made DH promise that if we get owls to nest in it this year, he will put in a webcam in next year, because owls tend to come back to the same nesting place year after year. How cool would that be?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Standing in No One’s Shadow

I have written about Ezra Meeker before. He’s something of a hero in my neck of the woods, or at least he was when I was a girl. So I was delighted recently to learn that he wasn’t the only exceptional person in the family. His wife Eliza Meeker deserves as much recognition.

Eliza Jane Sumner Meeker was born in 1833. She and Ezra were childhood sweethearts in Indiana, their parents’ farms being located nearby. Where Ezra appears to have been the visionary, Eliza was the practical one. Ezra told her he wanted to be a farmer, and she agreed to marry him when she was only 18 so long as he agreed to own the land. That proved difficult for the young couple, who had little money. In less than a year, they decided to head west for Oregon Territory. A tiny woman just over four feet tall, she carefully prepared and packed their food for the trip. Unlike many on the Oregon trail, they never ran out, and nothing spoiled in their six-month journey. And Eliza started out the trip with an infant only 7 weeks old.

Ezra was nothing if not mobile. The couple settled first in St. Helens, Oregon, but staked their first claim across the Columbia River in what would become Kalama. But Ezra wanted more, better, and so they headed north, settling on McNeil Island across from the town of Steilacoom. Still not good enough. He sold their claim, which would eventually become the site of the McNeil Island Correctional Facility. He bought land in the south end of Tacoma, what is called the Fern Hill area today but went by the charming name of Swamp Place back then. Eliza managed the garden and orchard he put in. Still not enough. He had the brilliant idea of growing hops for beer, choosing a claim in the Puyallup Valley. And he made a fortune.

That was enough for Eliza. She asked for half the proceeds of the sale of their last land claim and used the money to build herself and their six children a house, in her name. Not just any house. The Meeker Mansion, which still stands today, cost an astronomical $26,000 then and took 3 years to build. Eliza allowed an Italian painter to live with them for a year while he painted the murals on the ceilings. The house was wired for electricity long before Puyallup had any. Eliza even picked out and arranged for the furniture to be shipped, some all the way from Europe. The year the house was finished, in 1890, she donated their old cabin and land for a city park and served as the first “first lady” of Puyallup when Ezra became the first mayor.

While Ezra was busy running things, Eliza championed the first Puyallup library and was an avid supporter of the suffragette movement. She even attended national meetings. Then a blight went through the hop fields, and they lost everything. Ezra decided to seek his fortune in the Yukon. Eliza had a better idea. She dried 30,000 pounds of vegetables, which Ezra took north to sell in Dawson City. To protect her beloved mansion from being sold to pay their debts, she sold it instead to her daughter Caroline and husband, with the provision that she and Ezra be allowed to reside in the house until their deaths.

Eliza died in 1909, leaving behind a family and a legacy that would not be soon forgotten.