December 18, 2018 is USA National Re-Gifting day. Your personal stuff-whisper discloses RE-GIFTING protocol, along with ideas for foisting away last holiday’s seasons DOGS. Before you send out invitations to your White Elephant Exchange/Yankee Swap/Bad Santa/Ugly Sweater party, read the cautionary tales below.
Amusing tales from clients about the perils of re-gifting:
My Winner: Claudine writes me that her dad, an avid golfer, liked certain balls, tees, and clubs - and no others. Yet his family, for years, had gifted him all manner of golfing gear. Dad had a locked closet in the garage filed with sealed boxes of such golfing stuff. Claudine and her sister had enough one year; they found the key, re-wrapped all the sports gear (about 200 boxes), and stuck them under the tree for Dad. Dad didn't clue up until he unwrapped the fifth re-gifted box on Christmas morning.
My Second Place Choice: Joey writes that his mom, Mrs. Jones, helped him out with a new girlfriend’s gift with a $500 gift card given to Mrs. Jones a year previously from an expensive, trendy Montecito boutique. The styles were much too young for Mrs. Jones, she explained, but perhaps perfect for her son’s new flame. When the new flame purchased $500 of fashion, the clerk said, ‘Happy Holidays, Mrs. Jones!’ - Mom’s name was in the computer system. The girlfriend, overjoyed, took this as a proposal of marriage and rushed to the son’s office to accept.
Third Place: This is a personal story of my great-uncle who one Christmas gave each of us four siblings a hamster, a wheel in a cage, and pellets. By New Year’s Eve, each of the hamsters gave birth to a litter of 10-12 babies EACH. Combined, we now had about 50 hamsters. The eternal re-gift.
Fourth Place: Larry writes that one holiday season, he gave a valuable string of pearls to his longtime girlfriend, who dumped him right after Christmas. (She had the class to return the pearls.) Larry, undaunted, gave the pearls to his new girlfriend next Christmas. She dumped him New Year’s Eve. Larry hocked the pearls.
Honorable Mention: Jackie writes that her sister is a constant re-gifter. Last year Jackie received an opened bottle of perfume. The year before, a much-washed T-Shirt. The year before, “kiddy” style, dress-up jewelry. Not the least, all the gifts were wrapped in paper from the year before that her sister had ironed.sons DOGS, in this issue. Before you send out invitations to your White Elephant Exchange/Yankee Swap/Bad Santa/Ugly Sweater party, read the cautionary tales below.
A Typical Santa Barbara Problem: All of us are friendly with an artist. We often are gifted an original painting. Oftentimes, our décor is wrong for the gift. One client of mine tells her artist friend that her painting is at the framers, but it has been ‘at the framers’ now for 2 years…
And many of us deal with Depression era babies, who were re-gifters before the phrase was coined in the Seinfeld episode “Labelmaker.” My grandmother liked to give fruitcake from the church bazaar, not too bad, except it dated from the year before….
We know what we should not give: monogrammed objects, gift with last year’s cards INSIDE the box, used beauty items, handmade stuff, GPS navigation systems, CD’s, and Bluerays, but what CAN we re-gift without impunity? Should You Be Honest?
If you have a re-gifting party, it’s all out in the open. Here’s the protocol for one such party
December 18 is USA National Re-Gifting Day, and here are the rules:
Happy Re-Gifting Day December 18
JF sends me a ceramic framed clock from his grandfather’s house. What's the history of this flouncy, candy-box colored mantle clock?
Henry J. Davies of Brooklyn, a clockmaker and designer, joined an established clock-making firm in the 1870’s. Connecticut-based Ansonia originally began as a brass metal machine-tooling supplier. Davies invented a ceramic ornate shell covering the workings of a brass mechanical clock. This style took off. Most mantles in the 1880’s sported such a clock with pride.
Davies invited the famous Thomas Edison to Ansonia in 1886. Davies and Edison collaborated on a clock invention combined with a photograph. Although this invention never got off the ground, we know the market demanded elaborate ways to tell time. Sales thrived. Ansonia moved to a larger location in Brooklyn in 1879.
Typical of the safety of late 19th century factories, Ansonia’s New York factory burnt to the ground, at a loss of men and venue in 1880. Undaunted, Davies, now the company’s director, rebuilt on the same site in one year. This factory succeeded so well that by 1883 the company opened sales rooms in Chicago and London.
These overly elaborate clocks were the center of the home, in the center of the mantelpiece, in the heart of many late 19th century U.S. homes. High maintenance, they needed to be wound daily, their noisy ticking audible through the home. These clocks became a treasured gift, the cost equaling an average weekly paycheck. Everyone wanted a novelty Ansonia clock.
The market today does not favor these former beauties. The late Victorian taste for ornate Rococo ornaments in pastel colors is not in vogue. Yet Ansonia in 1886 had 225 different models, all sugary-looking, painted on ceramic shells in confectioner’s colors.
So successful was the Ansonia Clock Company that the grandson of one of the founders, William Earle Dodge Stokes, was eyeing a block in New York on which to build New York’s first air-conditioned hotel, the Ansonia, at 2107 Broadway. Stokes inherited money from his grandfather’s clocks, as well as granddad’s copper mine investments from the 1850’s.
Stokes envisioned the Ansonia Hotel in the elaborate style of Ansonia clocks. The hotel was earmarked for 17-stories in limestone with Beaux Arts style turrets and columns, lavish and Parisian in flavor. Stokes himself was as notorious as his hotel. Two mistresses quarreled with him, both shot him in the legs. He solved this relationship problem by marrying a teenage girl.
The architect for the Ansonia was the French architect Paul E. Duboy, hired in 1897; Stokes and Duboy opened the hotel, which cost $3 million, in 1904. At 550,000 sq. ft., it held 1,400 rooms, 300 suites, ballrooms, a Louis XIV dining room, as well as the world’s largest swimming pool.
JF will be amused that his grandfather’s clock, overblown and unfashionable as it is today, was the standard for decorative art of the late 19th century. If JF has a long look at this grandfather’s clock, he can see the Belle Epoch, or Beaux Arts era, in miniature. Swirling lines, sugary colors, rococo (French 18th century) styling that was also the grand high-class architecture of the day. The Ansonia featured a curated art collection, only outdone by the Grand Fountain that featured nine large seals. Stokes own pet was Nanki-Poo, his personal pig. Hotel’s guests had breakfast procured by the hotel’s rooftop 500 live chickens. Stokes’ wife filed for divorce after he moved 47 chickens into their apartment.
Today, the hotel built by clocks is a high-priced luxury condominium complex, after a turbulent history. The 1919 World Series was “fixed” there. Babe Ruth wandered the halls in his bathrobe, running into his neighbors Enrico Caruso, Toscanini, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff.
In the 1970’s, the hotel was operated as a “bathhouse” and discotheque; the cabaret there saw young Bette Midler (Bathhouse Betty) and her pianist, Barry Manilow, perform. The hotel was falling into disrepair and subsequently disrepute. Signs of its former glory disappeared, including the dome that recalled an Ansonia clock, until the hotel was declared an historic protected property.
JF will never look at his grandfather’s clock in quite the same light since it served for the inspiration behind the art of an era in which the very privileged, at the clock’s namesake hotel, dined in French splendor while the hotel’s maids refreshed towels, linens, soaps, and stationery three times a day. The value of his clock? $200.
D.K. scoured the town because she’s having family to her new condo for the holidays and she has no dining furniture at all. She shot me a picture of a large dining piece found in a local thrift store, asked if it indeed was cheap at the price of $300. She can make her Christmas Eve buffet work with a long folding table draped with a red tablecloth as long as she has something for serving. She wants something to set off her plates of Christmas cookies and somewhere to light her grandmother’s pair of antique silver candelabra.
D.K., what you have sent me is undoubtedly good quality. It will never fall apart and you will have it all your life, even if your tastes change. You’ll have plenty of storage: there’s two cabinets for china, one long drawer for table linens, and two smaller drawers for silver flatware. The top raised cornice is backed by a mirror that has been replaced from its original, which was more than likely from about 1890. The mirror does not have the telltale ripples of the older mirror-glass, yet the smoother more modern mirror will still reflect the light of those antique candelabra.
The piece is solid oak, with barley-twist columns, flanking each side and echoed in supports for the top cornice. Each cabinet to the base is centered by a griffin cartouche, beloved of the Renaissance Revival period of the late 19th century, and laced with relief arabesques.
$300 is about right, but you can get it for less: you’ll pay for it to be moved, as these beasts weight a ton. The mirror will need to be unscrewed from the back to move it safely. Replacing the mirror will cost more than $300! You’ll search for a replacement bronze bail handle for the drawer.
The oak is in the no-veneer tradition of the American Gold Oak Period, which precedes the more expensive, collectible Craftsman Period.
D.K. asks, “what is it?” She’s undoubtedly young and hasn’t seen many sideboards. “Boards” is the old word for a surface where one dined, harkening back to the medieval manor house tradition of moveable furniture in great rooms, when the servants placed boards upon a pair of trestles. Terms like “room and board” and “chairman of the board” derive from this antique word “board,” to lay a table.
Since a dining table was not a fixture, a medieval dining room needed one sturdy fixed piece of furniture to hold the heavy dishes of communal food during the meal, to be cleared to show the collection of serving pieces. In the medieval days, the sideboard was therefore a status symbol. The English called them “court cupboards:” most had a raised high cabinet surmounting a pair of enormous turned legs. The point was to elevate the wealthy host’s collection of silver and rare Delft or Chinese Export porcelain, usually blue and white.
The French had a version of a sideboard, called a dressoir, from which we get our term dresser. The French dresser was indeed dressed with the host’s rare silver pieces and porcelain, ranging upward on shelves growing higher as the years increased the holdings of the house.
By the 18th century, the famous English furniture-maker Thomas Sheraton suggested, in his 1803 book The Cabinet-maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, or, The Cabinet Director that English families would benefit from a sideboard, for privacy. Privacy? Yes, the meal could be laid ahead by the servants. Sheraton’s book was presubscribed by 600 cabinet shops in 1800, and the Neoclassical thin-legged, elegant bow-shaped sideboard became ‘de rigueur.’ One of the subscribers was the New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe, who designed a substantial version for New York mansions. Sideboards featured in the aristocratic descriptions in the novels of Henry James, when the elegant family trails down to breakfast laid on the sideboard to start their idle day.
Today, the market doesn’t care for sideboards, we don’t serve in the way, nor do we show off our silver, china and crystal. No longer do we have dining knick-knacks on display showing how well we eat, like those cut crystal bowls. So sideboards are passé.
D.K., my advice is to offer the thrift store $200, and then hire three men and a truck to get it up your stairs. Once it is in your condo, set with those candelabra for the holidays, you'll be glad you invested in the ancient tradition of having a sideboard in your dining room.
At an estate sale about 20 years ago in Santa Barbara SS’s husband found himself drawn to a little waif with big eyes and great body. And he bought her. She is a chalkware midcentury lamp, about 20” tall: the figure is a young Renaissance troubadour in a brocade short coat and gold pantaloons. She is shod in curled toed boots. Her short-cropped hair frames am impish face with fashionably full pale pink pouty lips. She has a come-hither look in her exotic tilted eyes. She stands holding a pole topped by a glass light globe.
This lamp represents a huge fad which came and went in the early 1950’s, because of a unique combination of art and kitsch. And the fad was based in the conservative 1950’s in a desire for the highly exotic, combined with a sex- charged female form, executed in oil on canvas, or oil on velvet. Not what your mom was allowed to look like in the 1950’s, but exotic and showing some flesh. (Exotic, as in the expression ‘exotic’ dancer.)
The fad for foreign sexy ladies meant clothes were painted in only minimally. Thus in the 1950’s a lighting fad was born: the exotic, kitschy, sexy figural lamp. These often were created in male –female pairs: the Balinese couple, the Zulu couple, the Spanish couple, the list includes any exotic pairing possible, and what has lasted till today is usually the sexy female of the pairs, of course. The males of the pairs weren't as sexy as the ladies. The lamps were cast in in a plaster of Paris that was named chalkware and were painted in the fashionable colors of the 1950’s, and the paint jobs included great makeup and lip treatments. The figure was secondary to the lamp’s function, of course.
A hugely popular early 1950’s trend in portrait painting, heads and busts of sexy, exotic women, with their beguiling eyes inspired these lamps. The man who made the style world famous was born in an obscure village in Siberia in 1903, Vladimir Grigoryevich Tetchikoff. His family had fled the Russia Revolution and settled in China, where Vladimir discovered both exotic women and the theater. One of his first jobs was as scenic painter for the Harbin Russian Opera House. The growing community of Russians in China was dubbed the Shanghai Russians. Tretchikoff married a fellow Shanghai Russian and moved as an artist in an ad agency in Singapore, were he became famous for his portraits of gorgeous Malay women.
During WWII, he joined the British Ministry of Information as an artist. Escaping the end of the war in 1942, on board a British vessel bound for South Africa, he was bombed, and barely survived with a handful of other escapees. Rowing from island to island, they finally settled on Jakarta, where he was picked up and jailed by the Japanese, who realized his potential as an artist. He painted the ladies of Jakarta, and was allowed to keep those images.
The Japanese released him in 1946. He then sailed for South Africa, he published a book of his exotic women, which spawned shows in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and finally London, where Harrods picked him up. His shows outstripped Picasso openings.
Of course, the style for full figured exotic females flowed down to the decorative arts, and lamps caught on due to the success of Tetchikoff’s “Chinese Girl,” the portrait in 1952 of an Asian beauty with distinctive blue green skin. One of the most iconic images of the mid-20th century, reproduced in millions of framed prints. In 2013 the original “Chinese Girl” painting sold for over $1 million to a South African Billionaire. Like the other iconic artist of kitsch of the mid-20th century, Margaret Keane, famous for her big-eyed waifs, everyone who liked pop kitsch loved Tetchikoff’s sexy exotic females.
Manufacturer of interior decorative arts heeded the call and took up on the success of Tetchikoff’s exotic females, and a genre was born, the “lady” lamp. Lamp designers such as Lyndall Hart, Marlbro, and Plastart rushed to outdo each other in poses and costumes. Historic costumes, ethnic costumes, clothed or half clothed, these lamps were hot. The most desired of all were those figures based on Tetchikoff’s paintings.
As anything kitsch or midcentury modern, today the market has a committed and determined collectors. SS’s husband’s lamp would sell for $600, but if SS had found the little troubadour’s male partner, the pair would have sold for $1500.
BB from the Mesa sends me a gigantic (28” x 16” x 18”) carved Ch’an Chu, the legendary Chinese three-legged frog of wealth, carved in jadeite. The stone appears to be similar in color and execution to sculptures found at the Guangzhou Jade Factory and Market in China today, and I suspect it's not antique. BB bought the piece, they told her was Russian jade, at an auction years ago. Not only is the frog typical of images of the Chinese mythical magic money frog, but the myth behind the icon is steeped in Chinese lore involving the boundary crossing frog/toad, the female energy of the moon, water, riches, and their cosmic protection. If you don’t believe that a magic frog can ward off your debts and pay off your bills, read on.
No one knows just how old this symbol is, but a few Chinese myths help tell the story. Anuran (frog-toad family) creatures can live on land or water, notorious as powerful jumpers over obstacles. The frog/toad is identified with female (Yin) energy through the moon, and anyone who has heard the chorus of frogs upon the full moon will attest to the link. The goddess of the moon, Ch’ang O, chasing after the medicine for immortality, left her house and husband, and followed the white tablet of the moon. She achieved her moon-place and immortality, and has left her seal and sign imprinted on the moon’s surface in the shape of a toad/frog. Ch’ang O exemplifies the Ying principle: her husband (when finally immortal) is the sun, the Yang. When they reconcile, and he joins her monthly, the moon is at its most perfect, and the frogs sing the loudest in the silvery glow.
In another myth involving a frog/toad, the ancient alchemist–sage, Liu-hai (10th century) is said to have fished a three-legged toad from a well, who then gave him eternal life: Liu-hai carries this toad immortally on his back with a string of eggs and coins. In another myth of the frog, the Danwu Dragon Boat festival of the Chinese mid-summer homeopathically invokes five poisonous creatures for protection against maladies of the hot summer, such as scorpions, snakes, bees, spiders and toads. So this frog/toad creature protects, reflects the moon, (and silver and water), can surmount obstacles (with an extra leg, that’s even easier), and yet is both fierce and docile, humble and incredibly important (to the bio-system). And can guard us towards abundance and ease.
BB’s money-frog jade sculpture sits atop a pile of coins with square hole centers, I- Ching coins, which ward off evil and disease. He holds a string in his mouth from which hangs threaded I Ching coins; these coins on his back are etched with a bird-dragon motif. The bumps on his back sometimes bear seven gemstones in the shape of a heavenly constellation, reflecting the cosmic energy in all things. If the cosmic breath blows your way, prosperity and protection of riches will follow. He stays there to make sure this happens.
BB’s frog image bears a relationship in Feng Shui, the use of certain material things influences Chi, or cosmic energy, to operate favorably. As that energy is the building block of the cosmos, a human creature can manipulate objects to enhance ultimate energy flow. In the jadeite frog’s case, he harmonizes his owner’s home to protect wealth. Some Ch’an Chu frogs not only sit on money, but some sit on boat or egg shaped ingots, supported on a shaped mirror called a Bagwa divided into eight parts. This Bagwa was created in the cosmos on the back of a huge water creature to ward off bad energy. Thus, the money frog holds his money on top of the Bagwa to protect it from negative flow. The money frog often holds a single coin in its mouth, looking straight ahead with red eyes and a fierce expression. Although BB’s sculpture isn't antique, the story it tells is ancient, and its imagery is mythical. Whatever riches the Ch’an Chu protects for BB, I wonder if he has been potently successful?
The market value for BB’s money frog is mainly its considerable weight in jade, the best child of the semi-precious family ‘jadeite’. Does this Ch’an Chu beckon wealth for BB? BB, a smaller version recently sold in Great Britain for $1,200. I estimate your money frog to be worth $3,000-$4,000.
SL sends me an adorable Back Forest Clock, acquired on a German tourist trip. When SL purchased this little iconic Chalet Clock in 1960, what began in the 17th century as a cottage industry in Germany had become the mass produced hallmark, the horological symbol of Northern Europe. It's because of the ubiquity of Cuckoo Clocks that SL’s clock isn't worth much. But the idea of a mechanized clock with a singing bird sounding its little song in the dark German Forests of the 17th century is fascinating.
SL’s is a “farm” or “chalet” clock, most associated with Switzerland, in the shape of an alpine house complete with water wheel, little windows, and that distinctive sliding snow-style roof line. Yes, the tiptop of SL’s clock has that little cuckoo door, and that little cuckoo is attached to a little bellows that play the distinctive major or minor third of the bird’s call. I've also seen the door of such a clock to open to a rotating wheel of dancing bears, or an angel with a trumpet.
The Black Forest is, well, a real forest, and from these timber stands, as early as 1640, locals supplemented their income with woodcarving of all kinds. The tradition centered upon clock making in the late 18th century at a Benedictine Monastery near Waldau. These first clocks were essentially just a dial with open mechanisms showing through the sides of the clock face, propelled by a stone weight. These clocks, called “Wag on the Wall” were notable in the Black Forest regions because everything inside and outside of the clock was carved from birch or oak. Everything. By the late 18th century 500 clockmakers worked on these clocks with their dials, spindles, escapements, all made of wood. This differs from SL’s 1960 version with its inner workings made of metal.
By the late 19th century, the Black Forest tradition of wooden clock making spread to other heavily forested regions in Northern Europe. Switzerland, the Tyrol, and Upper Bavaria all became places from which to bring back a clock. These mountain forests were inhospitable farming area, but great for colonies of wood carvers.
Innovations, such as flute pipes to sing for the bird, or full music boxes to play the hour, or, at the most extravagant, little interior organs, characterized the Black Forest Clock from 1850-1900. Artisans fashioned small versions of German Train Stations with tiny trains running in and out of the cuckoo’s door. The most innovative clocks were housed in a must-see destination, the Furtwangen Clock Museum, holding some of the Benedictine clocks from the 17th century as well.
SL, you write me that you're tired of having the little cuckoo sing the hours through the night. I have good news, should you want to upgrade. Today, you can purchase a quartz and battery powered cuckoo clock, as far from the original as possible, with plastic interior mechanisms, not at all hand carved wooden workings. However, you can program the digital cuckoo to ‘shut up’ between 11 pm and 7 am! You'll still see a cuckoo in that newfangled clock, but he'll be much more agile, dancing and flying, that is, if you want to spend a little more. Instead of the bellows producing his call, the cuckoo’s song, as a digital playback, can be varied and modulated. Where your clock has those distinctive iron pinecones, one cone for the workings, one for the cuckoo, the new quartz clock has fake weights. You don't need weights with a battery-operated clock.
SL, if you're enamored of all things cuckoo, please look into the Guinness World Record largest existing cuckoo clock. Perhaps book a ticket to visit the Elbe Uhren Park in Triberg-Schonach. You and the kids can wander inside the world’s largest Black Forest Cuckoo Clock. It weighs 6 tons, the cuckoo weights 330 pounds, (keep the kids away when that beast pops out), and the pendulum that powers the clock is 26 feet long. Tours are every half hour. That big clock is the main draw of the clock related theme park, created by brothers Ewald and Ralf Eble, along with 1000 square meters of other great clocks. Of course they offer plenty of cuckoo clocks for sale, should you decide to go digital. The value of your clock from the 1960’s? $400.
D.P. from St. Louis sends me a Macau porcelain set consisting of two vases, a dish and a bowl that she purchased in 1993 for $113. The set is highly decorated, painted with most delicate lifelike peonies. In Chinese culture peonies signify richness, opulence, beauty, honor, and high social status, also a metaphor for female beauty, spring and reproduction. The flower is given for 12th wedding anniversaries. Pictured in full bloom, the peony symbolizes peace. D.P. is one of the few people who have shown me something of value, saying, “This has so many memories I would NEVER sell it.”
Notice the delicate pale enameling and light touch to the floral design. The bottom reads “Not for Food Use/May Poison Food/For Decorative Use Only.” There’s a chop mark with Chinese pictographs and a paper label that reads Macau.
The history of Macau-ware is a short but politically turbulent one, as is the history of any object that reflected traditional cultural values during China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. These pieces were produced during the Cultural Revolution of the 3rd quarter of the 20th century, during the years of the People’s Republic of China, not a good time to create something of exclusive beauty harking back to the good old dynastic days. Traditional porcelain decoration and trade moved from mainland China to either Hong Kong or Macau, both capitalist economies, away from the Chinese mainland. Macau, which has its own money, the Macanese pataca, Macanese passports, flag and legal system, was a haven of sorts during the “Cultural Revolution” for art that was based on a traditional past, because under Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China (1966-76) capitalization and traditional Chinese culture were to be obliterated. Thus, the distance between Macau and the mainland was not geographical but political in the last quarter of the 20th century. These pieces are unique because the mark is not ‘Hong Kong’, Guangdong Province of China, but ‘Macau’, a small peninsula of 11.6 square miles, the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
These pieces reflect tradition, high culture and elegance with their decorative peonies and classic Chinese shapes, yet with a Western flavor, perhaps due to the long influence of colonization. The Portugal settlement of Macau dates to 1557. Until 1999, Macau was one of Portugal’s last surviving colonies. Portuguese is an official language along with Cantonese. Macau’s respect for historical culture extends to the written language: while Simplified Chinese Characters are used on mainland China, the Traditional Chinese characters have been in continuous use as the Macanese standard for centuries.
Thus, when still under Portuguese influence, D.P.’s pieces were produced between 1970-90. I found this date by referring to Gotheborg.com, the invaluable online tool based on the donation in 2000 of a huge collection of “markings” gathered by Karl-Hans Schneider, of Euskirchen, Germany. Jan-Erik Nilsson authored the description of Macau marks including photos of Macau “chops” (boxed pictographs). D.P.’s chop says “Da Qing Tungzhi Nian Zhi Great Qing Tungzhi (1862-74) Period Made.” This, however, does not mean the porcelains date from the 3rd quarter 19th century, but are made in that period style of the Qing Dynasty. The colors are consistent with elegant Macau style 1970’s enamels, as well as the health admonition that states “Decorative Purposes, not for food.” This is also a dating tool because in the 1970’s concerns were raised about the health aspects of certain porcelain glazes.
Interestingly, the term “Period Made,” which is perhaps meant to be intentionally misleading was, in some more honest porcelain houses, replaced with a “Fang” character, which means to “imitate.” D.P.’s pieces imitate the Qing Dynasty style reintroduced in relative safely after the Cultural Revolution ended in the mid 1970’s, because, in the Cultural Revolution’s People’s Republic of China (1966-76) cultural, historical knowledge was viewed as leading to social divisiveness.
Think of the posters, songs and uniforms of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: imagery was a propagandist tool in a nation with a high illiteracy rate. D.P.’s porcelains are a quiet reminder that tradition and historicism in art and form lived on through a revolution that was anti-intellectual and high-culture adverse. The value of the set is $600.
J sends me a family gift, a helmet, given to her husband when he was on big business for a small Korean start-up in the 1980’s. Today, that start-up is a multibillion-dollar Korean enterprise. Asian business-people are known to show respect with meaningful gifts to compatriots, and this particular gift is filled with metaphor.
Hats, headgear, helmets of all kinds Asian denote rank. For example, a gat is a traditional wide brimmed hat worn with traditional hanbok (clothing) during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Lower officials wore a Jegwan of gold cloth, or if in mourning, a white cloth. Government officials wore a Samo with extended earflaps.
Hats like J’s, called by the Japanese name “Kabuto,” were found in Koran tombs before the 5th century. The style made its way to Japan and topped the heads of the rising Samurai class. These were combat helmets, worn as a symbol of honor in China, Japan, and Korea.
The height of the Kabuto is said to be those of the 17th century: heavy, protective, and filled with symbolism, they represented a sign of prowess on the battlefield. We begin to understand the relationship between this gift and the combative world of male-dominated big business. J’s helmet, however, is a symbolic Kabuto, made of delicate silks and paper. The back neckguard imitates chain link mail. The workmanship of the mail determined rank, riveted mail for mounted soldiers, interlaced for foot soldiers. The lowest soldiers wore a simple Hatchi, an unadorned helmet.
Kabuto, along with the German Stahlhem, inspired the headgear of Star War’s Darth Vader. His flat back neck guard mirrored the chainmail covering called Shikoro.
To give such a gift to a fellow businessman, a fellow warrior, fighting in the rough world of business, suggested a hearty level of respect given to a brother in arms. To honor J’s husband in the 1980’s, a future highly successful businessman, a young Korean “road warrior,” (to use a phrase I hear to describe a hungry young business-person), offered J’s husband this gift. It has taken J 30 years to ask – why this hat? What did this gift mean?
By the Edo period (17th century), Kabuto use visual language to distinguish a warrior’s family, rank, ferocity, as well as a warrior’s spirit guide. These symbols located at the sides of the head, the back, and the front. Crests, created in papier mache, adorned the front to represent a warrior’s family clan. The crest, called a datemono or tatemono, is represented on J’s helmet as a little lion at the front between the eyes. If these symbols were rendered in a futuristic, mythic, or surreal fashion, they often reached far above the forehead. This type of strange helmet is called an Eboshi Kabuto.
A common spirit animal, the deer, was represented by massive high arched horns, the Kuwagata. We see a small suggestion of Kuwagata on J’s decorative helmet. The deer in Asian mythology is a solar symbol, as well as a symbol that reflects a nomadic culture, a being that connects the earth and the sky. Horns often suggest the missing solar disk held by the two horns.
Kabuto had cheek protectors in the form of wing-like curling ‘ears’ called Fukigaeshi. J’s Kabuto’s ears are made of pierced paper over silk, a nod to the carved wood, metal or bone found on 17th century Kabuto. Fur and feathers often decorated these Kabuto: when mounted, a fully armored and helmeted warrior must have seemed a formidable nightmare.
A small hole at the top of the Kabuto, as we see on J’s helmet, was the seat of the God of War, Hachiman. If the warrior wore a topknot, this hole was functional as well. Designed to echo the design and patterns of the warrior’s armor and cloak, the Kabuto was attached to the body armor by a gleaming rope of silk, elaborately knotted, called a Shinobi-no-o, essentially a strap and a chin guard.
This gift was ‘made-to-order for J’s husband by his Korean compatriot in business, I believe, because this is not a mass produced object. I can therefore only guess at the value, and I am guessing $2,000. J’s family displays it in a Lucite box. Now they know why it holds such meaning. J’s husband, over the years, has followed the growing and now huge profit of his colleague’s business with much interest.
If you are a fan of Kabuto, you may order a baseball cap in this style online!
S.S. from Santa Barbara sends me photos of an Arts & Crafts style table lamp with green slag-glass and patinated cast iron that bears no maker’s mark. It has either been rewired, or it's a copy. Some old lamps retain their original silk cords. Does it date from the first quarter of the 20th century, which would make it valuable, or is it a copy, which we all have seen, from the 1980’s, when Victorian style decorations became the rage? S.S. asks for more information about this type of lighting, once quite revolutionary, both in its containment of the NEW electric bulb, and in the use of colored glass.
Hard to think of this style as revolutionary as we see so many stained glass lamps today. My mom’s kitchen in Illinois had a stained glass Victorian style chandelier with fruit and flowers in ugly colors made from some kind of plastic, hanging over the fake wood Formica table and the green vinyl chairs. The difference in value between a 1980’s stained glass lamp and a 1900’s original can be $10,000 or more. Although we think of the style as Victorian, it's NOT: stained glass lamps developed with the Art Nouveau style and then merged into the more severe geometric style of Arts & Crafts.
The method of making pressed opaque glass for lampshades, like most ‘artistic’ design discoveries for the modern market, was due to a technological accident. Slag glass, which is the correct name of this early style of lampshade, looks different from stained glass. Stained glass is either opaquely, uniformly colored, OR, the color is streaked with white. Slag glass looks like marble, uneven and swirly. In fact, some of the early names of slag glass tell this story: colors were marketed as “blackberries and cream,” "purple (or blue) malachite,” or “lemon yellow giallo.” Slag glass looks like tortoiseshell, sliced thin, or malachite, with those naturally occurring swirls.
The accident that led to slag glass was the freak combination of two early 20th century industrial processes, which occurred in the late 19th century in Gateshead, England, when the young son of a glassmaker threw a bit of detritus from his other job into a vat of molten glass. He pitched in ‘slag,’ which is the stone waste matter that separates from metal during the smelting or refining of ore. At first, the resultant product was used on church windows for accent elements because it could so well imitate marble or stone. The firm of Sowerby patented a recipe for purple malachite in 1878, and experimented with the new development of table lighting growing popular in rich people’s homes for those newfangled light bulbs, putting this slag glass in shades. Each color that developed after purple called for more chemical experimentation; for example, Sowerby’s ‘blue nugget’ called for cadmium to be thrown into the molten glass in 1883.
Entrepreneurs in America discovered the popularity of English slag glass lamps: a factory named Akro Agate produced its own version, a name that references cut agate. Big named glass companies jumped on the craze, and the most expensive slag glass lamps were produced by Tiffany, Roycroft or Steuben. A fine maker’s-marked shade from one of those firms will sell at auction for over $20,000.
Bradley and Hubbard in Connecticut in the first quarter of the 20th century was known for leaded glass geometry in which slag glass was fitted into spreading shades of rich color. Handel in Connecticut was known (1901-25) for dome shades with bottom borders of leaded glass fitted floral petals. Tiffany Studios during this period in New York is perhaps the best-known maker today: the moniker “Tiffany Lamp” is ubiquitous for leaded glass lamps, and I hear the term used for all kinds of stained glass lighting. Yet a ‘good’ (untouched) and valuable leaded slag glass Tiffany Studios lamp will bear, generally, two markings, one on its shade and one to its bronze patinated base, “Tiffany Studios NY.”
S.S.’s lamp is solid and geometric and yet is a middle-class early 20th century parlor version of a more expensive lamp, because the cast iron lies on top of the slag glass, and is not fitted into the leaded geometry, as we see in the expert work of Tiffany Studios lamps of this period. At one time it would have had an interior light bulb that accented the base, and would show off the fact that your home was electrified. It's worth $400.
RP sends me a Hammond typewriter, circa 1905, a mechanical writing device with a keyboard. The history of the typewriter is vital to understanding how we think about words and machines. How did the manual keyboard become ubiquitous?
The keyboard is our number one interface with everyday machines in our lives, yet in the history of mechanical writing, keyboards were not inevitable. The birth of the keyboard owes its debt to the invention of the typewriter, the prototypical mechanical writing machine.
Historians at the Science Museum of London say some form of “typewriter” was invented 52 times in the 19th century. Only about a half of these inventions involved a keyboard. The other form was built around an index. No one person is credited with the invention because many minds and hands contributed to its developmental stage.
The index form is a manually maneuverable ball with character/letters, transferring writing to paper without the horizontal span of hands. The index used a piston to turn the ball. Keyboard inventors adapted a salient feature of the index machines; the circumference of a rotating ball necessitated the grouping together of most used characters/letters. The QWERTY keyboard adopted the expediency of oft-used letters in a group; certain fingers on a spread human hand were stronger, better equipped for predominating character/letters.
The nature of invention does not occur in a straight line built upon one concept. The typewriter was patented as early as 1714, yet the world saw little practical use for automatic writing until as late as 1870, when typewriters began to be used in commerce. These early typewriters did not transfer the character to the paper in print at point of impact: termed “blind typing,” the typist had to “develop” the paper later to see print.
The inventors of the first popular keyboard machine (1867), Sholes, Gidden, and Soule (inventor, mechanic and printer respectively) were so disappointed in sales that they sold their patent. The first producer, the Remington Company, manufactured sewing machines. The Remington typewriters controlled carriage return with a sewing machine style footpad.
The triumph of the keyboard was slow: the Danish Index (writing ball) invented in 1865 by The Reverend Malling-Hansen was still in use in 1909. This index machine was the first to attain writing speeds faster than a professional scribe at 30 words per minute. By 1910, typists and telegraphers could achieve 130 worlds per minute.
Three small countries and two preachers (one mentioned above) ushered in the mechanical “word.” Various permutations in mechanical writing aimed to help the blind and partially sighted to write and see a uniform typeface in real time. In Brazil, Father Francisco Joao de Azevado created a homemade wooden machine with strike-able levers made of table knives in 1861. The “strike” feature wouldn't have been necessary if not for the previous invention in 1808 by Pellegrino Turri in Italy, a keyboard machine adapted to make a carbon copy.
Index machine inventors were at work on speed. William Austin Burt’s “typo-writer” (1829) used a dial with solenoids: his machine created clear characters in many fonts, possible with a changeable index, answering the problem of uniformity so important to legal documents. Uniformity did not depend on the pressure of a finger. The Science Museum of London claims Burt’s invention was the first typewriter documented. A feature of this machine was the lack of inter-meshed typebars (remember those?).
The contest between keyboards vs. index dominance in writing machines was won by 1910; typewriters were standardized with keyboards, designed to be used on desks. A testimony to technology, 36 years later, ENIAC, the first binary computer, was born, using punch cards “read” by teletype, necessitating the computer-keyboard marriage. Look down at your computer attached to a keyboard: now you know how that marriage occurred.
On the heels of the early adoption of keyboards for computing, typewriter inventors turned to a hybrid of index and keyboard technology to maintain a market share: the 1961 Selectric was born, using a manual, electrified keyboard, with an interchangeable index ball. Changing fonts was as easy as changing balls. Selectrics in colors such as burnt red, Pepto-Bismol pink, and moss green, were about to be eclipsed by the PC, operated by the 19th century QWERTY keyboard.
The keyboard, a vestige of an age when manual finger pressure controlled for uniformity, is as fated for oblivion as was the Selectric. Alternatives to keyboards have presented throughout the history of the printed word: the AI of the future may not include the QWERTY keyboard, a reminder of a machine-to-human-musculature meld. Is the next frontier for mechanically produced words a mind-machine meld?
The typewriter, named beautifully in Italian in 1808 as the “scribe-harpsichord,” enabled eyes to see the page via struck keys. Keyboards may be going the way of the harpsichord. The value of this wonderful machine? $1,000 and rising….
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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