M.M. of Santa Barbara tortured me this week by sending not just one, but a group of dolls, all well-loved. M.M. explained that as an only child she played with her dolls when she was alone; and took them with her if she had a play-date -- in a little doll suitcase decorated with flower-bedecked bears and duckies. She owned a Tiny Tears, which, although it has no maker’s mark (typically found on dolls on the back of the neck), she has judged it to be a “real” Tiny Tears, and precious. So as a young girl, she asked for and received what she calls a “wannabe” Tiny Tears doll, which she allowed her friends to touch. The “real” Tiny Tears was for M.M. alone.
M.M. also owned a collection of Story Book Dolls, made from the 1930’s to the 40’s by the Nancy Ann Storybook Doll Company. M.M. says she couldn’t wait for the next Storybook doll to be delivered by the US Post mailman. Storybook Dolls were “characters:” each doll was different, and the company’s brochures, included in the blue, pink or red presentation box with white polka dots, enticed young girls to beg for the next doll in the series. These dolls stand around 5” tall, with bisque or plastic bodies; some bisque bodies had plastic arms, some had eyes that closed (sleep eyes), or painted eyes. Nancy Ann created 125 doll designs in defined series, an early and successful marketing ploy. The series are “Flower Girl,” in which we see “Black Eyed Susan,” “Storybook,” with such beauties as “Little Betty Blue,” “Around the World,” and “American Girl” (which includes Quaker Maid, Colonial Dame, Southern Bell and Western Miss), “Masquerade” (Gypsy), “Sports,” “Nursery Rhymes,” “Seasons,” and “Family” (such as Margie Ann in School Dress). M.M. has a “Scotch” doll with red hair in a tartan dress.
Nancy Ann Abbott began making dolls from her San Francisco apartment in 1936; she took a businessman as a partner, and by 1942 was grossing $1 million in sales. Faces were hand-painted by artists, especially employable during the war years, when the company flourished. The US Navy felt the dolls were good for morale, and sent them by convoy to Hawaii, where soldiers bought the dolls to send home to their daughters. Nancy Ann remained in charge of her successful company until she died in 1964, changing each character doll’s costume yearly; not each doll was labeled or marked with her maker’s mark. The top years for sales were in the 1950’s when Nancy Ann Abbott oversaw 12,000 dolls per day.
M.M. loves her dolls (as I can tell by the meticulous way she photographed them for me), still in their ducky-bear doll box, yet her favorite perhaps was her Tiny Tears dolls, both the original and her wannabe Tiny Tears doll. Tiny Tears was introduced in the 1950’s by American Character Dolls, shortly after this company noticed the popularity of dolls that wet themselves, such as “Betsy Wetsy” and “Dy-Dee” baby GIRL dolls. You gave the doll water through its slightly horrific pouty red lipped mouth, squished its stomach, and she peed. Tiny Tears improved on the location of the waterworks, moving holes to along side the eyes, so the doll would cry tears, but the company also retained the pee-feature. The doll also came with a little pipe, inserted into an open mouth and filled with bubble solution; squeezing her stomach, she blew a huge bubble unless you pressed the wrong part of the doll, which induced pee. Because most of these dolls were rubber, the water works and bubble-chemical combination usually ate away faces and rear ends, so a good condition “Tiny Tears” is rare today. Sears catalogues featured Tiny Tears doll clothes, whole layettes with the logo: “Tiny Tears Cries, Wets, Blows Bubbles” -- the worst characteristics of any small thing.
Finally, M.M. is trying to kill me for sure with her photo of “Wanda the Walking Wonder” doll, hard plastic, blue closing eyes, blonde wig, with white shoes that hide her WHEELS. That key in the doll’s right hip made the doll move its arms, head, and (horrors) legs enabling a mechanical system in her body to simulate walking. M.M. writes: “she’s seen better days, but still walks: needs a little assistance so she doesn’t fall over – typical of an aging gal.” The value of M.M.’s dolls is minimal because of their well-loved condition, as condition is the determinate of doll value.
T. has a fascinating painting that he found in his grandfather's attic. It resembles a valuable piece by Giorgio de Chirico of 1915 entitled "La pureté d'un rêve" (the purity of a dream). He sent me photos of the front, side and back of the painting to show how the canvas wraps around the wooden stretcher and the type of nails. I can see by these shots that his piece is, in fact, a painting and not a giclée (a reproduction). The line of paint on the side is uneven, which signals original brush strokes. If the piece was a giclée, we might see the color area ending in a sharp line. But we need more research as this could be an original copy.
T. also sent me a photo of the bottom of the painting that indicates it has been eaten away. Here again, I see the application of real paint, including the rippling of the paint surface, called craquelure, indicating stress. The canvas, once coated with semi-flexible oil paint, supports the even surface of the oil paint — that is, until the canvas comes into contact with, perhaps, a blunt instrument. You will then see a spider web of small cracks radiating from the center of the impact. This is hard to fake, and is a sign that the painting has traveled a bit and has some age.
Looking at the back of the painting, I see another good indication: "bleed" into the canvas support. In other words, in an aging painting, an appraiser would expect to see certain colors (such as white) bleeding through the canvas over time. This is because titanium and zinc pigments will bleed and yellow in oil-based enamel. A good question for T. to ask a professional restorer who has worked on paintings by de Chirico is how did this artist mix his white paint?
If T. finds the great de Chirico really did paint this work, he may be a lucky man. T. has done enough research to find the existence of a painting by the artist that looks similar; it was painted in 1915 and measures 25.6 x 19.7 inches. However, T.'s painting shows an autumn-colored tree, and the painting that is directly attributed to de Chirico bears a tree with green leaves. T. wonders if de Chirico was behind a dream series of paintings in seasons. This is worth the research. After all, that similar painting sold in 1997 at Sotheby's for $1.5 million.
De Chirico was an Italian artist known for his depictions of dreamlike town squares, as he had great fondness for metaphysical themes. He influenced the great Magritte and Breton, and indeed all surrealist painters.
Here is where this quest gets interesting: In 1919, de Chirico renounced surrealism, turning to classic ways of painting, such as realistic figure paintings, which did not find favor with his critics. However, in his later years, he copied his metaphysical paintings of an earlier time for the money.
De Chirico died in 1978, and his work is held in the great museums of the world: the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, the Tate in the U.K., the Guggenheim in Venice, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Just so T. knows, the most expensive de Chirico painting was sold at auction for more than $14 million.
What would I do if I were T.? I would send good photos to de Chirico's old residence in Rome, now a museum devoted to the artist and his life and writings: the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, located in de Chirico's former apartment, on the top three floors of the 17th century Palazzetto dei Borgognoni, in the Piazza di Spagna! The artist lived there for the last 30 years of his life with his wife, Isabella Pakszwer Far, who donated the premises in 1998. There, T. will find an archive, a library and knowledgeable scholars.
T., write to this foundation or, better yet, make a pilgrimage to the 1960s wing of this house museum, which holds the neo-metaphysical paintings of the last 10 years of the artist's life. If you are lucky, you might possess a painting of that period.
L.S. from Lompoc writes me a lovely card in which she stuck two photos of a clay Buddha purchased 25 years ago at an estate sale, a heavy thing at 16 inches. She wonders who and what this figure represents.
This is the Buddha Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, and although different Compassion Buddhas in this form have different names across cultures, the attributes remain the same, as well as the iconography of the clothing, stance and objects held. In Sanskrit, L.S.’s Buddha is called “Avalokiteshvara,” the lord who looks down on the world with compassion. Looks down, because his great power enables him to see suffering of humans and other beings in any of the six realms of existence. The realms in the Buddhist cosmology are realms of rebirth. He’s especially called upon by those in harm’s way, such as humans in a wreck or a fire. This Bodhisattva will hear a call in any of the six realms: in the three good realms- heavenly, demi-god, and human, and in the three evil realms – animal, ghostly, and hellish.
The Lotus Sutra says that an earnest call to this Bodhisattva will be heard and acted upon for one’s relief. The Huayen Sutra says that this Bodhisattva will appear in the guise and shape, profession and age of the one who calls for help. That’s how close this divinity is to humankind. If a child calls to him, he appears as a child in order to help.
Because he has the power to remove temporal suffering, he holds out a string of prayer beads in one hand, and in the other, he often holds a willow branch, a water vessel, or a lotus blossom. Suffering, however, like all things of samsara is contained in the cycle of existence. The 8th century Indian Buddhist Master Padmasambhava, dear to Tibetans for the construction of the first Buddhist monastery at Samye, also known as Guru Rinpoche, said: “If you want to know your past life, look into your present condition; if you want to know your future life, look at your present actions,” as quoted in Sogyal Rinpoche’s 2009 book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
Yet this Bodhisattva is so alert to temporal human suffering that he shows discretion in acting out of compassion on a case-by-case basis, even though the distressed individual may have brought the suffering into being. The objects associated with him/her are emblematic of healing towards purity. Willow is said to be curative, water purifies, and the lotus is sacred. In Buddhist iconography, the Lotus is symbolic because, although it is rooted in mud, the flowers rise to the top on long stems, to blossom above the dark water of desire and attachment. The lotus petals repel these muddy droplets, symbolizing detachment. Thus, the lotus is an example of purity achieved. Buddhists think of the lotus as a symbol of pure thought, speech and mind.
In China, this deity is named Kuan Shih Yin, or Quan Yin. The word Yin implies “all sounds” because the deity can hear crying, moaning, tears and anguishing. Since China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907) most Quan Yin figures are portrayed as female, perhaps because of the feminine energy of watchful care. L.S.’s figure is androgynous, and could be either male or female, but because L.S.’s figure holds the prayer beads, called the Crystal Rosary, the odds are the figure is portrayed as a male Bodhisattva. If L.S.’s figure was created from the clay of the Putuo Mountain, an island near the city of Wingpo, in Zhejiang Province, it would be very special indeed, because this is a sacred space for the worship of Quan Yin.
Another form of Quan Yin represents her with eleven heads, 1000 hands and eyes located in her palms, symbolic of arms reached out in service and eyes that see all. In Tibet, a many-armed Avalokiteshvara is “Chenrezig” of the White Lotus.
L.S.’s sculpture stands in counterpoise; in art, this is called contrapposto, an Italian term for an asymmetrical stance in which the weight is on one foot, thus shoulder and arms twist off axis from hips and legs. This fluid contrapposto stance is seen as pliant, feminine and gracious. This stance portrays the feeling of movement, which in L.S.’s sculpture is echoed by the flowing draperies that swirl, with heavy beading and many layers. The figure’s headdress is anchored by a top knot from which flows ribbons.
This sculpture dates, stylistically to 1875, and is worth $700.
BI sends me a little silverplated model of an early 20th century bi-plane. She asked if it's worth keeping and polishing? I love all things aeronautic, since my brother won the International Glider Pilot’s award for the highest and longest flight some years ago.
In 1836, a hot air balloon broke records by flying 500 miles from London to Germany in less than 20 hours. As of the date 1783, no human had gazed down on the earth, and if a human tried, mythologically speaking, we failed. Consider Icarus, Mephistopheles, and the Valkyries. The great early photographer Felix Nadar took the first known aerial photograph from the basket of a hot air balloon over Paris in 1858. Poet and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery said: “the aeroplane will become a tool, like a plough.” After the first successful flight in the early 20th century, Le Corbusier wrote, from the Bauhaus, that flying would offer the modern world “a new standard of measurement” and thus it came to pass, including the standard of the destruction of cities such as Dresden and Hiroshima – by plane.
Thus I found BI’s little plane mentioned in the September 4, 1919 issue of Flight magazine of England. Notice the plaque proudly stating “Makers Rogers Bros. Farnham Royal Slough,” with the stamp 185. In this magazine the Rogers Brothers premiered their unique tribute to pilots who had grown attached to their WWI flying machines, offering scale models “made of metal, heavily silverplated and strong.” Although the models could be fitted with ashtrays, the Rogers would make any plane for you, if you kindly send drawings. In fact, here’s where the story gets interesting: BI writes me that she and her husband in 1958 had a friend who had mounted this little plane on the hood of his Rolls Royce, and gave this to BI’s husband when he sold his Rolls. In 1919, Mr. Rogers suggested to his clients that they use his model planes as mascots, on real scale planes and cars.
The Rogers Tabloid Series included the Avro, the B.E., the Blackburn Kangaroo, the Bristol Scout (Fighter, and Mono), the D.H., the F.E., the Handley Page, the Henry and Maurice Forman, the Martinsyde F., The Nieuport 27, the R.E., the S.P.A.D., the Short, the Vickers Vimy, and the Sopwith Pup, Carmel, Strutter, Triplane, Snipe, and Dolphin.
Mr. Rogers the inventor of these toys for former pilots (perhaps the first aeronautical boy-toys), was formerly in construction with the aeronautics firms of Bleriot, Fairey, Martinsyde, Sopwith, and Whitehead.
The growth in flight enthusiasts was, in the early 20th century remarkable, considering Rogers was engaged in making model planes of WWI only 16 years after Orville and Wilbur’s successful flight. In fact, this December, we celebrate the 115-year anniversary of the Kitty Hawk success.
You might ask why a British model toy plane maker was the first to pioneer such boy-toys. In 1910, The Smithsonian refused to display Orville Wright's successful 1903 plane. Apparently, the U.S. aeronautical engineering community questioned whose shoulders the Wright brothers stood upon to calculate THEIR engineering of the first plane. Thus, Orville sent his original 1903 machine to the British National Museum, specifically the Science Museum of London. Later, the Smithsonian instead showed the alleged first “man-carrying” machine, the Langley, also of 1903, re-engineered and flown by Glenn H. Curtiss in 1914. This was, at the time, a huge controversy, throwing into question the moniker of THE “pioneer” of aeronautical flight. Britain witnessed American ingenuity in flight before the U.S. could, and the British Aeronautic industry didn’t look back.
BI, although your little model of a Sopwith Camel 1919, holds this entire narrative, I wasn't able to find a value for such a one as sold. However, I was able to find a vintage Biplane trophy replica 1908 Flyer’s Club Loving Cup in silverplate offered for $500. In fact, BI’s plane had been living in her garage, when recently her son discovered it, and asked for it, as he has just become a commercial pilot. He’ll keep your little plane, and polish it, lovingly! Not only that Rogers would be thrilled with both the growth of aeronautics since he made the first airplane silver-plated boy-toy in 1919, 16 years after the Wright Brothers famous flight, and your son’s great achievement as a pilot of those huge planes Mr Rogers may never have imagined,
E.E. sends me a huge Oceanic tribal mask from Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River area. This would scare anyone with its awesome energy. E.E. tells me her husband won't have it hanging in their home. He doesn't want to come upon it as he raids the fridge at 2 AM, she says. The mask is painted on light wood, the face with extensive shell inlay under hair composed of straggly tail feathers. Although the face is anthropomorphic, just how much of the human is in this piece and how much of the animal spirit world?
Some of these Sepik River masks range from a few inches to quite a few feet, and could be worn in any location over the body, and in fact, some were not used by human dancers at all. Masks could grace special musical instruments, and head the bows of favorite canoes, or blessed personal lucky charms.
The mask, although presently owned by a woman, was more than likely never handled by a woman in its own culture. Only men who were initiated, and knew exactly what the mask stood for, could handle, wear and dance the spirit of the mask. In fact, when the mask was not in use during the dance, only a select few males knew where the shaman stored this sacred item.
This type of material culture is Oceanic or Melanesian: perhaps no other mask-making culture has so many different and widely produced masks as the New Guinean culture.
The valuation question: is E.E.’s mask made for ritual purposes or did the natives make it to sell to tourists? A large variety of Papua New Guinean masks were made for ritual, and made for tourists, but never for BOTH. Only the ones made for the purposes of ritual ceremony are the really valuable ones.
The question is – how can E.E. tell? Besides picking up the energy of the mask, experts look for certain characteristics of ceremonial use. One of the most interesting of those features is evidence of a ‘bite-stick’. Take, for example, the Sepik masks that have riffled pierced crenellations lining the sides of the face of the masks. These holes were meant to thread a stick, and the stick was meant to hold the human face to the back of the mask face with the teeth of the wearer.
Another indication of ceremonial use is more subtle: that is, the expression of the mask. Power and menace should shine through the simplicity of the mask, and certain features, such as eyes or lips or ears should be exaggerated to that end. Remember, throngs of people saw these creatures as wearers danced by, constantly moving.
Not only wood is used as the base medium of New Guinea masks. On some, a deep natural red pigment covers the mask. Others are packed with shells that are set in some kind of sacrificial amalgam material. The area of shells, like those on E.E.’s mask, are segmented in areas around the chin and in bands. Very few masks feature women’s faces except the mosquito masks; many of these were produced, because of their novelty, for tourists.
A few peoples of the Sepik River wove basketry masks in elaborate swirls, and some of these were worn as hats. Some of the basket masks are so detailed as to be other-worldly, with huge protuberances of eye sockets and lips. Each region around the long river had a distinctive feature to their masks, for example, the full-body rattan masks from the Papua Gulf, and the conical shaped embrasure masks covered with tapa cloth, painted in shades of red, white and black, the favored colors of Sepik masks.
The masks are part of a complete dancing costume composed of raffia and fibers with plenty of swirling capacity. Huge circular eyes, 3-4 feet tall surmount Baining masks. Each region celebrated something distinctive in its people, such as masks with huge pierced ears, or elaborate Mohawk hair crests.
E.E.’s mask is large and so detailed with shells; I suspect that if it had been ceremonially danced, it may not have come down to us in this kind of perfect condition, because the same mask was danced numerous times in ritual. Also, the protein base of shells and tall feathers tend to be eaten after a good period of use and years. Thus, I am not sure E.E.’s mask is old enough to have been used ceremonially, although today, the Sepik culture still dances its masks. I place the value in the $600-700 range.
J.E. has three American Indian baskets, one at 13" diameters, the other at 7", and the smallest at 4". Her family passed these down from her great uncle, who was a well-known California antique dealer, active in the 1940s. Back then, the pickings were excellent.
I find researching the origins of these treasured pieces of cultural anthropology a challenge. We can take a few clues from what we know about J.E.'s uncle's "picking" style. He collected objects for his shop from all over California. He picked in the Fresno area as well as Carmel and Mendocino. This is an important bit of information.
But even then, these pieces are hard to place in relation to a tribe.
Unlike many other old objects, these objects have a meaning beyond their important cultural identity. If they, at one time, contained acorns or held water, they also contained a unique way of life, for which J.E. is respectful. She asked me about cleaning these. If she can dab them with slices of white bread, that's about as far as I would go. Yes, the bread will gather up some of the grime.
The first peoples of California used baskets, which were generally preferred to the rarer pottery forms. Baskets were constructed out of many things, but here we see cedar bark, pine needles and yucca root. The middle-sized basket is waterproof, and may have held one small meal of acorn mash heated with hot rocks. Accurately identifying the natives who made this one is tricky, because if it is from the Central Valley, the natives' cultural heritage was, in some significant ways, shared. This unique style of living was called a "moiety" system, meaning cultural identity was linked. The style of making and designing basketry was therefore also linked, with some recognizable tendencies, however, which experts have spent lifetimes figuring out.
I suspect the middle-sized basket to be Yokuts/Western Mono, or even Pima or Pomo, originating from a grouping of dozens of territorial groups of natives in the San Joaquin Valley.
From the Central Valley, trade relations with other peoples, sometimes hundreds of miles away, were healthy and robust. The maker of the middle-sized basket might have traded with the "Tokya" (literally, westerners), namely, the Costanoan, Salinan and Chumash tribes.
The location of each Central Valley village was originally ordained by Eagle, who, as first chief, placed a man and a woman in a certain place, creating an emotional connection with "home." This connection, however, did not exclude other people with blood ties. A good example, referring to the Yokuts, is that all cousins were referred to as brother and sister in the same place. Even third cousins. One did not consider even that distant relation "marriage material." Contrast that with late 19th century European royalty who intermarried cousins repeatedly.
The middle-sized basket, with a continuous geometric design, of Central Valley origin, is coiled into a bowl form. Because of the relatively pale condition of the undyed grass, accented with devil's claw in black, I put the bowl perhaps around 1920. The thickness of the coil indicates a three-rod support under the grass wrapping. The value of this is $400.
The smaller one, perhaps a gift basket, is tightly woven and also Central Valley in origin, perhaps Pomo, late 19th or early 20th century, with a running symbol of lightning radiating from its center. This fine little piece is worth $600.
The largest basket, however, is Southwest, in the form called "wedding tray," usually a treasured post-nuptial housewarming gift of great size. This is a large piece, and older than the other two baskets, with a linear zigzag that tells an interesting story. American Indian baskets, across the culture, often respect the great creator by allowing that the work of human hands is never perfect. Therefore, if you see a continuous design, you will often see a break in that design, a "spirit break," an opening in the flow. The value of this basket, because of its imperfect rim, with rodent gnawings, is $750. In this type of object, the value of even a damaged example will continue to increase in meaning and cost, because of the cultural history that these represent.
SJ sends me photos of a lovely little architecturally scalloped wooden tea caddy, picturing a monochromatic scene of lovers. This is a technique called “en grisaille,” painted with black, white and tones of gray. Because of the gray tones, the figures mimic sculpture, creating a three-dimensional effect. This realistic modeling in painting that is meant to mimic another medium is called trompe l’oeil (fool the eye).
Painting en grisaille was most desirable in the late 18th to early 19th centuries, the age of Chinese Export Porcelain, because Chinese artists who painted on porcelain for the European market referenced the Western classical style of the era, hearkening back to Greek and Roman sculpture. Artists found Monochromatic painting in black and gray on white porcelain easier to fire, and cheaper to produce. The English at that time saw the world in black and white in the popular engravings and etchings of the late 18th to early 20th century. So SJ’s box references black and white printmaking techniques as well as those techniques used to paint Chinese porcelain.
I can date SJ’s tea caddy by the shapes that follows the furniture styles of the century. An earlier style would echo the classical straight lines and formal massing of early Georgian furniture. The second quarter 18th century shape is Rococo in the decorative arts; the bombe form predominates. By the mid-18th century, a lighter classicism takes hold of both furniture and the decorative arts, imported from France: this is the date of the subject box.
SJ’s box in its palette en grisaille also mimics the most popular medium of tea caddies – sterling silver. Not until the 19th century do we find those heavier, less graceful wooden tea boxes with zinc-lined compartments. Many of these zinc-lined boxes were crafted in dark mahogany in a sepulchral (coffin-like) shape. Almost all box collectors have such a dreary looking 19th century tea caddy.
I put a high value on SJ’s box because of its early mid 18th century date, because of its masterful en grisaille paintings, and because the three tole boxes which are still inside. Famous European watering holes are mentioned on the sides of the box, another valuable feature – because quality water determined quality tea, and in the mid 18th century perfect fresh spring water was hard to come by. This reference makes this box historically valuable.
The form is typical of the period for a tea caddy. The name caddy is taken from the Malay word “Kati,” a unit of weight for measuring tea. The earliest tea caddies were silver, made for the wealthy under the reign of George I (1714-27). Tea was a commodity, a rarity, and heavily taxed. By the middle of the 18th century, the tax rate for tea was 119 percent. Little decorated boxes held precious tealeaves, and these boxes were steadfastly locked. The major suspects for such thefts were the household staff, especially chambermaids.
The interior of SJ’s box is also painted en grisaille, divided into three sections into which fit three tin (tole) boxes fitted with little round lids. One box contained your favorite tealeaves, and if the box contained a glass or silver bowl, that held sugar (a commodity), and one other box contained perhaps a professional tea-blender’s mix of teas for guests. Thomas Twining, a name tea-drinkers will recognize today, was mixing for George I. If Mr. Twining’s tea was too expensive, you ordered Hyson (green) tea for one container and Bohey (black) tea for the other. In fact, if you have an old English tea caddy, look for the initials H & B on the tops of the lids, which stands for the types of tea.
Thus, the box itself mirrors the ceremony created culturally around the drinking of tea through the 18th and 19th centuries, something, which our less gracious era has commoditized in a much different way into the very lucrative coffeehouse business of the 21st century: you can take tea speedily on every corner of a large metropolitan city.
Thus, SJ’s box, although smaller than today’s jewelry box, contains social history (the first tea was taken in England in the very late 17th century and did not catch on for years), as well as cultural history. You will notice that the top’s central motif is a young lady holding out a bird in a cage to a young lover. This is a painterly metaphor: a bird in a cage symbolized married love! The value of SJ’s box is $2,500.
PS sends me an old theater program from Treasure Island’s California Auditorium of 1940: Clifford C. Fischer’s Folies Bergere, showing a gorgeous “doll” with a strategically placed feather boa, pearls, black hat, red shoes, and nothing else.
I read that this Parisian production, premiering at the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940), “grew legs” and remained in the San Francisco area, so popular was the Folies Bergere, known for generations from its music-hall home in Paris at 32 rue Richer, 9th Arrondissement, open for burlesque business since 1869.
The Golden Gate International Exposition was a singular World’s Fair, celebrating San Francisco in honor of the city’s two new bridges, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (1936) and the Golden Gate Bridge (1937). That special island, Treasure Island, was created artificially and attached to Yorba Buena Island, near the Oakland and San Francisco spans of the new Bay Bridge. Massive piles of landfill went into the 385 acres island. Because the Fair was literally in the water, the subtitle of the exposition was “Pageant of Pacifica, Goddess of the Pacific Ocean.” Therefore, females were definitely a theme of this world’s fair.
Take, for example, Sally Rand’s wildly famous Fair show, “Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch,” (not Dude Ranch), her “nudies” beckoning behind semi-disclosing fence posts. Her show, aptly, was held on the “Gayway,” a 40-acre midway embracing the Fair’s amusement zone. If you wanted to keep your kids away from the “nudies,” you could shuffle them off to the “Gayway” racetrack, featuring monkeys taught to drive cars.
The Folies Bergere’s impresario directed the burlesque girls, featured in PS’s program, in a two and a half hour show of “talent,” including a cast of 120 beauties, “the world’s most gorgeous girls.” These “girls” included Malica, “a saucy little dancer,” Jean Devereaux, the spinning ballerina, Ardelty, the “daring” trapeze artist; and Rollo and Verna Pickert, who tap-danced on stilts, as we read in the Sausalito News. All this in very scant costumes.
The Folies Bergere became one of the 1939-40 Fair’s most popular shows. The Oakland Tribune, on July 30, 1939, covering the show on the night of its closing, writes, it had “nothing short of a phenomenal (run), which was interrupted,” and (usually) “an interrupted run spells failure. Once the attendance is broken, the public looses its white heat and apathy sets in. The Folies Bergere proves the exception to the rule.”
Clifford C. Fischer, the impresario, continues The Oakland Tribune, will henceforward be “faced with the problem of outdoing himself.” The Folies played at the Fair for 15 weeks, averaging $27,000 per week, for an astounding box office of $400,000. How payrates have changed, but not for burlesque. The Screen Actors Guild says a major performer or guest star will be paid a day rate between $3000 and $6200, depending on the genre of the show. Stripped: More Stories from Exotic Dancers by Bernadette Barton says this ‘genre’ of performer receives on the average between $500 and $3 a performance. Even at this, the Folies dancers in 1940 did not do as well. As much as things have change in this genre of performance, things remain the same.
The show featured extravagant costumes, huge sets, and very little clothing. The original Folies Bergere, in Paris, trademarked this eroticism in a famous performance in 1926 by Josephine Baker, who danced in a string of artificial bananas only.
Clifford C. Fischer carried on the erotic tradition at the Folies Bergere of 1939 at the Broadway Theater in NY, and the Folies Bergere of 1944 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The tradition continued until March 2009, at the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, closing after 50 years of titillating entertainment.
Since this show was so popular, PS’s program is not all that rare, and therefore not all that valuable, worth $25 in good condition. We needed some nudity at just about that time, when the world was facing WWII. And when it comes to World’s Fair memorabilia, the market is hot, because the supply is dwindling. My prediction is that PS will have a valuable piece in 25 years, because printed paper ephemera fades, is destroyed. Furthermore, this type of art form is becoming obsolete in the world of computer printing. The artist of the “doll” portrait on the cover, Irving Sinclair (18895-1969), was a well know San Francisco artist, whose portraits included Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, and the 1920’s celebrities of Fox West Coast Theatres, not just those pin-up girls of burlesque!
C.B. sends me a photo of what appears to be a contemporary wall-mounted wooden sculpture. A further look shows its title is “Leader Clothes Dryer Pat’d July 4, 1899, GEM Mfg. Co. North Girard, PA.” This Zen-like minimalist appearing thing of beauty expands to form a tree from whose branches one can dry clothes indoors.
The history of washing and drying clothes is a snapshot of a ritual that was once a communal activity with room for socializing. European woodcuts from the 14th to the 16th century show groups of women with washing bats and boards gathered together at a river’s edge, or holding each other up to stomp clothes in a wooden tub. Women hold “possers” if they could afford better than a tree-stick to slap the dirt out of clothes.
On washing week, which was not all that frequent, women filled bucking vats with lye. Lye is a detergent of alkaline concoctions, but essentially is water silted through ashes from a wood fire. Where you lived determined your lye: seaweed ash in Spain, cherry in the Appalachians, potato plants for “weed ash” in Ireland. Some recipes call for urine to be run through the ash. This special sauce was called “chamber” lye because it “came from” bedroom chamber pots: this was perfect for stains and pre-soaking.
Adding boiled animal fat, our foremothers made black soap, known for its brownish color, but before washing with this soap, linens were pre-soaked in those bucking vats, the women continually re-heating water that passed through an ash-covered cloth for up to 18-hours. In fact the tradition of washing on Monday began because the process could take a week, between lye pre-soaks, rinses, soaping, more rinses, all interspersed with having to boil water over an open flame, let alone time for a fine day for line drying. Meaning all work had to be accomplished, in a pious household, before Sunday, and clothes had to be finished and folded before the Sabbath.
Here’s where C.B.’s object came in handy. If the weather was not conducive to drying, a system needed to be in place for room drying. Therefore, this wooden drying rack, which could be folded conveniently, was invented in the mid-19th century. At that time, Americans and Britons washed clothes twice a month, Germans once a month, and the French every three months. The wealthy families washed less because they prided themselves on full wardrobes and full linen closets. No one did his or her own washing, as it was so time consuming and laborious. Even middle-class families were visited by professional washerwomen, who spent almost a week at the house to accomplish the task, which included pre-soaking, washing, drying, sprinkling, mangling, ironing, and airing. If the week was overcast, C.B.’s little tool came in handy. City dwellers used CB’s tool as well during the early 20th century as more workers worked in cities, and apartments allowed no spacious open lawns for drying clothes. In fact, a century before, certain villages in England and American had designated open grass fields for this purpose.
Other domestic washing related paraphernalia includes mushroom-shaped linen smoothers (before the invention of flatirons) called slickenstones. Screw presses flattened large tablecloths, or in Scandinavian long flat boards were pressed down onto cloth using elbow grease; in England, “beetles” were used to pummel the wrinkles out of linen. By the mid-19th century, the mangle, with two hot rollers, was used for ‘flat work’ such as sheets, tablecloths, and wide full skirts.
About the date of C.B.’s indoor dryer tool invention, a detachable handle for heated flat irons was also invented, but a laundress still needed at least two heatable iron pieces, treated concurrently, to finish a blouse. These “sad irons” (sad meaning solid or weighty) had no thermostat, had to be polished, greased and stored well, so an experienced iron-woman was a sought-after servant. In India, a ‘press-wallah’ used an iron that contained hot coals to solve the re-heating problem, ‘wallah’ being an honorific that conveys the expertise achieved in a line of work.
A few years later than C.B.’s tool patent date, the electric iron was invented, but still fabric had to be dried in the air until J. Ross Moore of North Dakota developed the designs for an electrically operated automatic clothes dryer in 1938. Which means C.B.’s tool might well have been in use for 40 years to dry laundry indoors. Collectors for these will pay $150 for it.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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