Thursday, November 29, 2012

J. C. Ayer's — A Famous Cure-All

I was looking through my collection of 19th century trade cards and noticed that I had several issued by the J. C. Ayer Company.

Small wonder, for Ayer's was one of the most successful American patent medicines of the 1800s. As you can see by the reverse of this charming card for pills, the company made very wide claims (below).

Yes, this dinner pill will cure jaundice, numbness and headaches! As you can see in the next image, Ayer's Sarsaparilla is a remedy for so much more:

I'm not sure if there was much difference between Ayer's Sarsaparilla and Ayer's Cherry Pectoral.
Dr. James Cook Ayer (1818-1878) graduated from medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and rather than practice medicine, he spent his life in pharmaceutical chemistry. He established a factory in Lowell, Massachusetts, and through his very successful merchandising, amassed a fortune of more than $20,000,000.

Ayer's  medicines — which certainly have the ring of quackery — were in fact continually evolving formulas, to the extent that after the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, the J. C. Ayer Company was able to remain in business. In fact, the company continued selling medicines through the 1920s.
Dr. Ayer adopted the image of the lion as a symbol of health and strength, and his cemetery monument with a giant marble lion is now a Lowell landmark. To see what happens to the Ayer lion in winter, go here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Ingenious Sculptures of Paul Eppling

Paul Eppling is a St. Petersburg sculptor, well known in Florida for his metallic animals, usually made from auto parts. I've started this posting with one of his most dramatic pieces, the giant "Security Lizard" that sits atop St. Petersburg's police car garage.

To give you a sense of scale, that yellow rectangle is an auto license plate. One clever aspect of this sculpture is that the fly at the end of the lizard's tongue is actually a security light that illuminates the outside of the garage at night.

Photo by Sandy Klim, for AAA Going Places magazine
Paul Eppling was working in a metal shop in the 1970s when he first had the idea to fabricate an animal from metal parts and scraps. Since then he's welded hundreds of animals, big and small.

My friend Marg Radens was kind enough to host me on a tour of St. Petersburg's Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, where there are a number of Eppling creatures. Car bumpers are the perfect armor for this giant armadillo.

Here's a view of Marg to show you the scale. The armadillo's skin is comprised of thousands of sheet metal cut-outs. The armadillo's face looks rather fierce, but the live armadillo will curl into a ball when approached — I've watched it happen.

Elsewhere in the preserve is a smaller armadillo, accompanied by a sign not to climb him (I guess it's pretty tempting). Notice those wonderful ears! Some of Eppling's favorite scraps are from older farm implements because their parts have such graceful curves.

What do you suppose this fellow is? Perhaps a sloth, perhaps pure fiction. Again, the skin is made of many overlapping sheet metal cut-outs.

Two views of a tree creature, side and front

click to enlarge
A cormorant sits atop a shiny heron.

I'll end the Eppling tour by taking you to the beach community of Pass-a-Grille, where these two giant flies hang out on the side of an old building. Paul Eppling has incorporated blown glass into his more recent work, and this is a fine example.

Here I've rotated the photo to give you a view of the fly's body. The store owner named the alley in Paul Eppling's honor:


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Thanksgiving Afternoon's Collection

When I was much younger, I had a lovely 90-year-old neighbor named Ruth, with whom I became friendly. We visited often and had long conversations, and one day Ruth gave me a small stone box. She said it was jade.

I commented that it must have an interesting story, and Ruth — who had been a teacher — said that it had been given to her "fifty or sixty years ago" by a dean at her school (I remember thinking at the time how interesting that at Ruth's age, whole decades were merging together into single blocks of time.).

That same year, I traveled to Scottsbluff, Nebraska for a Thanksgiving family reunion. On Thanksgiving Day, the weather was unusually balmy, and so the family decided to hike up a mountain in a nearby state park. The Oregon Trail cut through the mountain, and one memorable detail was that one could still see the ruts made from pioneers' Conestoga wagons.

As we walked up the gravel path, I started noticing handsome green stones interspersed here and there. My brother told me that they were probably Wyoming Jade, and that enchanted me all the more. I told my young niece and nephew that I'd pay a dime for each gem that they'd find, and soon the three of us were engrossed in a fun treasure hunt.

I've since discovered that "Wyoming Jade" is actually a misnomer, and that the green pebbles are a lesser grade of the jade family, called "nephrite." But I still like to think of collecting jade treasure on Thanksgiving Day, and today the pebbles live quite appropriately in Ruth's box.

To all my blogging friends, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An Unusual Collection

One day many years ago, I walked into an antique store and saw a toy sewing machine that was covered with Art Deco decals. As I looked at it, the toy struck me as a sculptural work, almost with a Pop Art quality, and I bought it.

And so began yet another collection for the Ruffnerian Museum of Miscellany. The collection grew to a couple dozen, but is now down to 15. And today, I thought I'd share several toy sewing machines with you.

The gem of the collection is the American Gem. I've been told that this dates from the 1870s, though the stitch plate merely says "PAT APD. FOR."  It has very delicate flower decals and has survived in remarkable condition.

Amazingly, the original instructions for the American Gem have survived, and came with the machine.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge
It's important to note that these miniature machines were much more than toys! They were fully operational merchandising tools often made by the same companies that made machines for adults. They were intended not only to instruct children (girls) to use sewing machines, but also to accustom them to a particular brand.

Many of the machines have patent numbers stamped onto them, and that's an easy way to date them. This Smith & Egge machine received patents in 1895, 1897 and 1899. I've always been attracted to the Smith & Egge because it does in fact look like a patent model.

Many of the toy sewing machines were made in Germany, and below are details in a grouping from that country.

I am only the second owner of this 19th century miniature. I bought it from the estate of the original owner, so I know that it was treasured for a lifetime, as it still is.
Another collector of miniature sewing machines was the great costume designer, Edith Head. Here she is, shown with her own collection.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Distinctive Designs of Armando Testa

Armando Testa (1917-1992) was an Italian graphic designer and advertising man noted especially for his unmistakable and witty posters. The image above and the following two were designs that he made as gifts for friends.

In the 1930s, Testa worked as a typesetter and became familiar with the print medium. While still a teenager, he won a poster design competition and the result is acknowledged as Italy's the first abstract poster. Testa was thereafter always drawn to poster design and outdoor advertising.

It should be mentioned here that the art form of the poster is more common to Italy than other countries, and that many posters are therefore often competing for attention in the same proximity. Armando Testa's designs continually stood above the rest, and in 1956, he formed Studio Armando Testa with Francisco De Barberis, a marketing man. The studio became one of Italy's largest agencies, establishing branches throughout Europe and partnering with Benton & Bowles of the United States.

Baratti & Milano chocolates
The 1960 Olympics, Rome
Citterino salami
Testa's designs tended to have a strong graphic element against a white background. For a series of liquor ads, Testa created King Carpano, below, who toasted famous characters from history.

Carpano vermouth
Pirelli tires
poster for a plastics exhibition
an entertainment magazine
The last two images show how one good idea can spawn another.
Perhaps the hand images were from the same photoshoot.

All of the images shown above were from the January/February 1976 issue
of Communication Arts Magazine.

by Testa, from The Encyclopedia of Sublime Things  |