Friday, April 29, 2011

J. P. Morgan Meets the Duveens

I've been rereading an entertaining and absorbing book from 1952, Duveen, by S. N. Behrman. It's the biography of Joseph Duveen, later Lord Duveen, the son of an antiques trader, and one of the greatest art dealers of all time.

Joseph Duveen learned the antiques trade from his father, Joseph Joel Duveen, and from his uncle, Henry Duveen. Eventually he went on to specialize — with huge success — in selling Old Masters. In partnership with Bernard Berenson, who authenticated paintings, Duveen provided a steady stream of masterpieces to eager industrialists like Kress, Mellon, Hearst and Frick. What makes the book so entertaining is that Lord Duveen understood the personalities of American millionaires and catered to them, while also playing incredible mind games with them.

One of my favorite moments in art history is recounted early in the book, when J. P. Morgan (as cagey as they come) decided to test Joseph Joel Duveen. He had heard that the elder Duveen was an expert in Chinese ceramics, so he invited the Duveens for a visit. When Joseph Joel, Uncle Henry and the young Joseph Duveen arrived, J. P. Morgan showed them five Chinese ceramic beakers. He explained that three were priceless, and that two were fakes. "Tell me which ones are the fakes."

The elder Duveen studied the five ceramics, then raised his cane and with great force, smashed two of them! He explained that if he were mistaken, he'd of course reimburse Morgan for the loss. Duveen had been correct, and the astonished J. P. Morgan was both relieved and impressed.

And that was just part of the training for Joseph Duveen, later Lord Duveen.

Morgan went on to use the Duveens in many dealings.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tobacco Ephemera 5

While silks are not technically ephemera, they were among the many premiums distributed by early 20th century tobacco companies. I don't actively collect tobacco silks, but they occasionally show up in trade card collections. This silk and the two that follow were distributed by Nebo and Zira cigarettes, early brands of the American Tobacco Company. They date to circa 1910. King Ferdinand was one of a set of 10 called Rulers of the Balkans and Italy.

Queen Ester and Queen Louisa were part of a set of 15 call Famous Queens.

click to enlarge

Tobacco silks came in a variety of sizes and were popular with collectors, who often sewed them into quilts. This quilt is from, and similar tobacco quilts can be seen at that site, here. Also at are smaller quilts, perhaps table covers or wall decorations, that were made from the colorful yellow ribbons that were used to tie up bundles of cigars.

My thanks to

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tobacco Ephemera 4

The image above must have been shockingly racey and sexy when it was printed in the 1880s. No lady would have smoked in public then — or bared so much shoulder (gasp!). At 6", this die cut is larger than most trade cards.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tobacco Ephemera 3

click to enlarge any of these three
Horseshoe Cross Bar was a cut plug tobacco. (It appears that in the 1800s, just as today, cut plug was associated with sports!)

Much of my antique advertising collection is in the form of trade cards, and if you haven't had a chance to view my page on trade cards (in the sidebar), you can access it here.

Horseshoe Cross Bar issued trade cards that looked like the image above, though this example and the two images below are actually from packaging. When the Victorians were pasting trade cards into their albums, they often also included packaging scraps. And aren't we glad they did!

I want to note here that these colors have not in any way been enhanced. The Victorians did not used the 4-color printing process that we use today. So in these lithographed pieces, if a brilliant orange-red was desired, a brilliant orange-red ink was used.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tobacco Ephemera 2

Ephemera, as I've mentioned before, is paper memorabilia that was never intended to be saved. This is a wonderful example of ephemera — it's a paper packet that held three cheroots. Someone long, long ago liked the design enough that they set it aside, and if not for them, we wouldn't be looking at this great example of Victorian graphic design.

click to enlarge

Just what is a "cheroot?" It's a small cigar that's clipped at both ends. Because the ends don't taper, the cheroot is easier and faster to roll and therefore less expensive than finer cigars.

I wish I could reach out and share this in person! This packaging is printed with a gold ink that is quite reflective now; it must have absolutely glistened in 1886.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tobacco Ephemera 1

I thought that over the course of several postings, I'd share some tobacco ephemera from my advertising collection. This piece, which acts like a pocket, is made of very stiff paper, and it doesn't seem suited for holding loose tobacco or cigarettes.

click to enlarge
I think it was a neat little folder for holding cigarette rolling paper. Don't you love the leathery background? Perhaps it's meant to be alligator skin. Here's the back.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Chance Early-Morning Encounter

I begin almost every day before dawn by going outside to retrieve my newspaper, and to deliver my nextdoor neighbor's paper. This past Saturday, as I bent over to pick up the paper, I looked across the street and saw a coyote! I don't know which of us was more surprised.

Coyotes are not what one expects to see in Florida suburbia, but this coyote, or one like him, was seen in our neighborhood last year, too. Around that time, small neighborhood cats and dogs started mysteriously disappearing, and friends were reminded to keep their pets close, and on leashes.

When the coyote saw me, he darted through the neighbor's yard and into the area behind my house, seen above. Apparantly, he's been going great distances around our Pinellas County, which is surrounded by water. Every place he's been spotted has been near the water's edge.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The RMS Titanic, April 15, 1912

Today (April 15th) marks the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The story of how the "indestructible" ship hit an iceberg is well known. Some people say that J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the White Star Line, encouraged Captain Smith to increase speed through the ice flows in order to set a record Atlantic crossing, though that has never been proven. But many factors of negligence came into play, and 1,517 souls were lost when the world's largest passenger steamship sank on its maiden voyage. The last living survivor, Millvina Dean of England, who was nine weeks old at the time of the sinking, died in 2009 at the age of 97.

The genesis for my collage was seeing the image of four smokestacks in a magazine. The Titanic also had four smokestacks, but the fourth one never functioned — it was just for show. Interestingly enough, I found the headline after I had started making the collage.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Needlepoint Collaboration

I've always had a thing for the corner of Aubusson tapestries! Maybe it's because they remind me of old map cartouches. Anyway, when my mother suggested making a needlepoint pillow in my choice of design, I jumped at the offer, and I instantly had an idea.

I thought it would be fun to design a pillow that looked as though it were made from a tapestry remnant! Aubusson style was one inspiration; the work of William Morris was another. Below is a corner of Morris' Angeli Laudantes tapestry, woven in 1894.

William Morris Textiles  |  Linda Parry  |  Viking, 1983
At the time of the project, I had a delightful Rex rabbit, and he was a most satisfying pet. I decided to incorporate him into the needlepoint. Though they're barely discernible in the photo below, he had three spots on his right side. Wouldn't it be fun to represent your pet romping through medieval underbrush?

I painted a design on illustration board, which served as a color guide for my mother. I then had the painting transferred to needlepoint canvas at a copier center. Some copier centers don't want to take that responsibility, in part because the design has to register squarely with the lines of the canvas. The center I went to did a perfect job, and the resulting canvas looked like it came from a commercial kit.

And here's my mother's work of art. You can imagine what a wonderful surprise this was on Christmas Day! As you can see, I incorporated the date and my mother's initials into the design.

One final note of interest. My mother was in her 80s when she made this, and the retina had detached in one of her eyes. This was all stitched with the use of one good eye.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Saturday in Winter Park, Florida

This past Saturday, friends and I took a day trip to Winter Park, which is near Orlando, Florida. Winter Park is a lovely town, filled with parks and plantings.

Our first stop was the Morse Museum, which includes 250 art and architectural details from Laurelton Hall, Louis Comfort Tiffany's Long Island estate. My favorite part of the (permanent) exhibit was the recreation of the Daffodil Terrace. It features the large daffodil capitals above, made from concrete and glass. The daffodils were originally cast glass, but Tiffany wasn't satisfied with the look. So he revised the capitals and made them more natural by having each individual flower petal hand blown.

Park Avenue is the main street, filled with high-end shops and restaurants of every sort. We enjoyed the skirt hanging above, made from rolls of gift wrap.

Park Avenue is a busy street, filled with shoppers and tourists every day of the week. Look down a side street, though, and you'll see a quiet scene that could be European.

My favorite shop was painted with these Victorian motifs.

In the image below, the lamp is bronze, but the base behind it is trompe l'oeil.

We ended the day by visiting the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens. Albin Polasek (1879-1965) came to the United States from what is now the Czech Republic. He was the head of the sculpture department at the Art Institute of Chicago for 30 years, and a member of the National Academy of Design. He retired to a lovely house of his own design in Winter Park, and left it as a museum. The grounds wind down to the lake you see in this photo.


Monday, April 4, 2011

My Food Section Illustration

When I started working for the St. Petersburg Times, it was long enough ago that clip art was not pervasive, and I would actually create illustrations, as well as design ads. This illustration in acrylics was the cover for a multi-page tabloid of readers' favorite recipes.

I achieved an interesting texture by painting on a matte board that was pebbled to look like burlap. As you can see in the detail, I applied the acrylic paint thinly, like a watercolor, allowing the surface texture of the board to show through.

The title of the section was printed over the tan square at the top.

When I choose colors for a painting — any painting — I tend to think in terms of edible colors! I want a buttery yellow, a tomato red, or a crisp green. So I suppose painting food comes naturally.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Architecture 101, Anchor Building Blocks

A favorite possession of mine is an early 20th century set of Anchor Building Blocks. It comes in a wooden box with a very richly decorated lithograph cover.

Otto and Gustav Lilienthal originated Anchor Blocks in the late 1800s. They had the idea of making building blocks that were actually stone-like, and fabricated them from quartz sand, chalk and linseed oil. The colors of red, blue and cream were meant to approximate brick, slate and limestone. Friedrich A. Richter bought the rights to the product in 1880 and sold the sets under his name by 1895. From 1880 until his death in 1910, 40,000 sets of Richter's Anchor Stone Building Sets were sold.

Here's what remains of the bottom side of the wooden lid. While the packaging evokes 16th or 17th century German decoration, the accompanying booklet is in the Art Nouveau style.

The interior pages are delightfully illustrated with dozens of construction plans, from simple to highly elaborate. Budding architects could supplement their sets, and some sets were sold with thousands of pieces!

The back of the booklet advertises another Richter product, Meteor. Aspiring graphic designers could create images and patterns with colored marbles.

Anchor Blocks were produced through World War II as "stone," but under East German production, they were downgraded to plastic. In 1979, devotees of Anchor Blocks formed the Club of Anchor Friends. In 1995, with the help of the club, Dr. Georg Plenge restored the Anchor company under the name Anker Steinbaukasten GmbH. Today, authentic Anchor Blocks are sold at the KaDeWe department store in Berlin.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Extra-Terrestrial Hiding at Friend's House!

I regularly visit a friend who listens to an older Philips radio. Every time I've passed that radio, I've been a little disconcerted, like not being able to place a familiar face. But now I know! Those extra-terrestrials come up with the cleverest disguises!

 Happy April Fools!