Sunday, October 14, 2012

Old calendar page with a "Dombey and Son" theme

Here's a tattered calendar page for May and June of an unknown year...

The theme of the page is "Dombey and Son," a serialized novel published by Charles Dickens from 1846 to 1848.1

It measures about 9 inches wide by 7½ inches tall. The central illustration is of one of the characters in the novel — Captain Edward (Ned) Cuttle, a retired sea captain who has a hook for a right hand.

The quotations at the top and bottom of the page refer to the novel, too.

"When found make a note of" is a line from the novel and became the motto for Notes and Queries, a scholarly journal that was established in 1849 in London and still exists today.

The other quotation is: "When you see Ned Cuttle bite his nails, Wal'r, then you may know Ned Cuttle's aground."

A longer version of this passage by Dickens is as follows:

"Consequently, instead of putting on his coat and waistcoat with anything like the impetuosity that could alone have kept pace with Walter's mood, he declined to invest himself with those garments at all at present; and informed Walter that on such a serious matter, he must be allowed to 'bite his nails a bit'

"'It's an old habit of mine, Wal'r,' said the Captain, 'any time these fifty year. When you see Ned Cuttle bite his nails, Wal'r, then you may know that Ned Cuttle's aground.'

"Thereupon the Captain put his iron hook between his teeth, as if it were a hand; and with an air of wisdom and profundity that was the very concentration and sublimation of all philosophical reflection and grave inquiry, applied himself to the consideration of the subject in its various branches."
But a mystery remains: What year does this calendar page refer to? Coincidentally, May 1st is a Tuesday and June 1st is a Friday — the same as we have in 2012. But that's not necessarily enough information to help us nail down the year.

Then there's the text across the bottom:

The University of Virginia's website provides some good information about Nister. Here's an excerpt:
"Though primarily involved with his successful color-printing business, publisher and printer Ernest Nister (1842-1909) specialized in colored toy and movable picture books. Operating in both Nuremberg and London in the 1890s, this entrepreneur developed a distinctive style firmly lodged within nineteenth-century aesthetics. However, Nister's images outshine those of his contemporaries by epitomizing an exquisite, sentimental beauty. His artistic vision guides all the works regardless of pop-up mechanics and even of illustrator. In fact, we are uncertain to what extent Nister contributed his own illustrations to these books. In many cases, he imposed his own monogram on images in his imprint, dropping the artist's signature in the course of the production process."2

Based on all of this information, my best guess is that this page is from an 1888 calendar.

That fits the timeframe of Ernest Nister and E.P. Dutton. And 1888 included a May 1st that fell on a Tuesday.

Too bad I don't have the entire calendar!

1. The full title of the book is "Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation."
2. For more about Nister's creative children's books, see this page on the University of North Texas' website.

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