Friday, June 22, 2012

Gorgeous souvenir bags from late-1950s Europe

For your viewing pleasure on this Friday, here are some colorful souvenir gift bags that my grand-grandmother, Greta, kept from a trip to Europe in the late 1950s.

Das Schneider-Werk

Schreib doch mal

"Hvad er en Ferie uden Bøger"

That's Danish for "What's a holiday without books?" -- which makes this my favorite envelope. Here are the front and back...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wanamaker Diary: Storing your furs, great old desks, witches and more

And now for some more fun stuff from The Wanamaker Diary from 1910:

Above: This is a full-page advertisement for the Wanamaker Dry Air Cold Storage Vault, which is described "up to date, scientific, capacious and unrivaled."

In addition to storing minks, the Wanamaker vault was open for the storage of mounted animal rugs.

And how did the Dry Air Cold Storage Vault work? According to an advertisement in the January 1911 edition of the Cold Storage and Ice Trade Journal, it was "five carloads" of Nonpareil Corkboard that did the trick at Wanamaker's and many other big department stores. Check out the picture in the advertisement. I see two full deer and a tiger skin among the animal carcasses.

* * *

The diary is filled with short news items and interesting articles, much like an almanac would be. Here are a couple of them:

A dispatch from Friedrichshafen, Germany, says that the directors of the Zeppelin Airship Arctic Expedition have decided to send to Spitzbergen in the summer of 1910 an advance party to prepare for the sending of an airship to the Pole. An improved Zeppelin airship will be ready for trial flights in January, 1911.1
Strange observances, surviving from pre-Christian days, mark the celebration of Easter throughout Sweden (writes our Stockholm correspondent).

During Holy Week, and particularly on Thursday night, witches are supposed by country folk to hold high revels. Thus people are careful to hide hay forks, rakes, shovels, and broomsticks, which might be stolen by witches for a nocturnal flight, and cattle-sheds are marked with crosses to frighten them away.

No smoke must issue from chimneys after sunset on Holy Thursday, as witches have the power to strike a house of which they can smell the fire, and all through the week firearms are discharged at random in the air.

Notwithstanding these precautions, hordes of witches are supposed to assemble for their unholy orgies, which last till late on Saturday. But woe to the witch who is belated on her flight home on Easter Sunday, for one ray of sunlight is sufficient to burst her like a bladder! -- London Mail.
* * *

Above: Oh, they don't build desks like they used to. In fact, they don't much build them at all any more. That's usually left up to us, after we purchase a huge box filled with 400 desk parts (almost always particle board) and a mysterious set of instructions. Then we have to put the damn thing together ourselves.

Not that I'm bitter.

Anyway, the desk in this Wanamaker advertisement is a beauty. The drawers are solid and deep, and it's filled with compartments and cubby-holes. The perfect desk!

The "Quartered Oak or Imitation Mahogany" desk cost $42 (the equivalent of about $970 today), while the "Genuine Mahogany" desk cost $60 (the equivalent of about $1,380 today). Bet they were worth every penny.

1. The Germans did not get to the North Pole in a zeppelin in 1911. In fact, it wasn't until Umberto Nobile's Norge in 1926 that an airship flew over the North Pole. The Germans didn't make it to the North Pole until Graf Zeppelin’s Arctic flight in 1931.

The General Dry Goods House at the Philadelphia Wanamaker's

I should have a new entry for the Wanamaker Series1 posted with the next 24 hours or so. In the meantime, to tide us over, here's a fabulous old advertising card for the famed Philadelphia department store.2 It's just slightly larger than a business card, measuring 3 inches wide by 2⅜ inches tall.

The front states: "A visit requested to the Grand Depot General Dry Goods House, 13th St. Philadelphia. John Wanamaker."

And here's the back of the card, which goes into more detail as it touts the hats, shoes, clothing, linens, hosiery, underwear and more that were available.

1. The Wanamaker Series is centered around all the great stuff I'm finding inside a battered copy of "The Wanamaker Diary" for 1910. Start here and then go through the first three installments.
2. I bought this card earlier this year at a New Oxford, Pennsylvania, antiques store. (But not the same store where I purchased "Famous Fairy Tales for Children," the slim 1930 volume that led me on a rambling tale involving laxatives, Littlestown and Ed Wood.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Smallest book on my shelf: Warren's Pocket History of Winchester

Looking for some light summer reading?

How about a book that's just two inches wide and two-and-a-half inches tall and is bound with a single (now rusted) staple. Can't get any lighter than that.

It's "Warren's Pocket History of Winchester." The book was published by Warren & Son, Ltd., and is a super-abridged edition of one of the Warren's Illustrated Guides.1

The original price was 3d (threepence). There's no publication date, but the "latest" date mentioned in the text is 1919. So the 1920s is certainly a reasonable guess for when this was issued.

For a tiny book, there is oodles of information packed into its 44 pages. First up is the history of Winchester Cathedral -- which dates to 1079. After a rundown of the building's dimensions, there is a four-page timeline that runs from 827 to 1912. Here's an excerpt:
From there, the book has brief information on the history of Winchester College, St. Cross Hospital, Winchester Castle, Hyde Abbey, The City Cross, and the oldest house in Winchester:
This interesting specimen of a mediæval town house dates from about the year 1450. Little is known of its history. It has been carefully restored in recent years, and is now one of the most interesting houses in the City."
After that, there's a timeline on Winchester city history and then the little book's largest section -- 20 pages on the city's artifacts and treasures (known as "The Corporation Plate"). It includes a good amount of details on the seals, rings, cups, spoons, maces, vases, medals and more that are part of the inventory.

As I said, it's a little book, but it's packed with info!

1. The full Winchester guide from Warren & Son cost 1s. 6d. The abridged edition cost 6d.
2. Note sure about this. The information on Egbert (pictured at right) doesn't really jibe with the history of the monarchy on Wikipedia.
3. That's probably off by a year. He died in 1042.
4. He's also known as William the Bastard.
5. "Rufus" would be William II of England (1056-1100), who reigned from 1087-1100 and "is commonly known as William Rufus, perhaps because of his red-faced appearance."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Great links: Prokudin-Gorskii's color photographs of Russia

Would you believe that this color photograph was taken in 1909?

It's a cropped-in portion of one of the amazing images captured by pioneering Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii1 when he made a visual record of his country in the early 20th century. Working with the support of Tsar Nicholas II, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled across Russia, mostly by train, from 1909 to 1912 and again in 1915 to complete his photographic surveys.

His images add a breathtaking color context to a place and period that, for most of us, is cast in mystery and shades of sepia and grey.

The United States Library of Congress purchased Prokudin-Gorskii's sprawling collection in 1948 for a few thousand dollars and now makes it easily available in the public domain. The Library's collection is organized online at "The Empire That Was Russia."

The exhibit includes an explanation of how color images were produced from Prokudin-Gorskii's glass-plate negatives. According to the Library, the photographer himself used the negatives "to produce positive glass slides for his illustrated lectures about the Russian Empire. Prokudin-Gorskii projected the slides through the red, green, and blue filters of a device known as a 'magic lantern' which superimposed the images onto a screen resulting in a full-color picture."

Pictured below is the full image of the three girls in colorful dresses offering up plates of food. The description of the 1909 photograph states: "Three young women offer berries to visitors to their izba, a traditional wooden house, in a rural area along the Sheksna River, near the town of Kirillov."

Here are three more stunning images, and their captions, from the Library of Congress' Prokudin-Gorskii archive:

Above: "General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911." The cathedral was constructed from 1802 to 1814.

(This has been one of my favorite shots since I was first made aware of the Prokudin-Gorskii photos by this article.)

Above: "Alternators made in Budapest, Hungary, in the power-generating hall of a hydroelectric station in Iolotan (Eloten)2, Turkmenistan, on the Murghab River, ca. 1910."

Above: "A group of Jewish children with a teacher in Samarkand, (in modern Uzbekistan), ca. 1910."

There are many amazing scenes and treasures to be found in these photos, which are now more than a century old. Check out the Library of Congress' website and start exploring!

1. Or Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky, as Wikipedia chooses to spell his name, using its own Russian language romanization guideline.
2. Or Ýolöten, as it is now spelled in English.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Phonic Talking Letters from 1941

Here's a nifty yard-sale find: A 1941 set of "Phonic Talking Letters" produced by Ideal School Supply Co. of Chicago. The system is copyrighted in the name of Edith E. Stephens. According to the instructions:
"The sounds of letters should be taught after pupils have begun to read by word and phrase memory. If they stop to think about sounds before acquiring the habit of quick eye-movement, they will likely become slow readers. Any person who knows a little English can learn the sounds taught by these cards, if they are taught to him by one who believes in the pupil's ability to learn. Without this faith in him, a pupil can learn little (and he will know whether his teacher believes he can learn)."
I don't know about the first part of that paragraph, with regard to teaching the sounds of letters after students have already started to read. But I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of needing teachers who believe in the student, and express that belief in their interactions.

Each Phonic Talking Letter is accompanied by a short story (on the reverse side) intended to help the student learn the sound associated with the letter. Here are a few of the cards -- which I chose for their interesting illustrations -- and accompanying stories.

"(11) One day Little Lady went swimming. She went under and got her mouth full of water. Then she caught onto her big ball. The ball held her up out of the water except for her legs. Whenever you see her holding onto the ball and with her legs below the 'water' line, you know she is trying to get the water out of her mouth, making a 'p-p-p-p' sound. Are you smart enough to make that sound without spitting? We shall see. Play you are Little Lady in the water."
So, to be clear, you learn about the P sound by pretending that you just nearly drowned.

"(3) Little Man and Little Lady have many pets. They have this big cat who is always angry. See his big tail is always curled up high above his head! He says 'f-f-f-f.' Play angry cat. Put your hands out from your head like his big ears and say 'f-f-f-f.'"

"(10) Mother made the children a doughnut with a face, and raisin eyes. The hole in the middle was his round, open mouth. He surprised them and grew in the hot grease until he was as large as the pan. When mother took him out, he was so glad to cool off that he said, 'Ahh ...!' (As a sigh of relief.)
  • 1. 'Ah ...!' was all he ever learned to say excepting
  • 2. 'Oh,' which is his name.
1. Come out of the hot pan 'Mr. Doughnut.' (Children say 'Ahh ...!')
2. What is your name, sir? (Children say 'Oh.')"
I guess that all makes sense. But it seems there might have been a better way to teach those two sounds than with a creepy talking doughnut.

Drowning, angry cats and doughnuts with faces. Learning is fun!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weekend postcards: Who's going to the beach this summer?

If you're going by the solstice1, it's not summer until later this week. But, clearly, summertime is here, as Mungo Jerry would certainly agree.

Are you hitting the beach this summer? If so, where?

To get everyone in the sand-and-surf mood, here are some old postcards of beaches from around the world. (Click on any of them for a larger image.)

Above: This is an aerial view of Playa Icacos, a beach in Acapulco, Mexico.2 The Paisajes Turisticos ("Tourist Landscapes") postcard required a $1.60 airmail stamp when it was mailed, but I cannot make out the date on the postmark. The short note reads:
No bridge players here. Condo is lovely.

Above: This unusually shaped postcard features Riviera dei Fiori ("The Flowers' Coast") in Diano Marina, Italy.

Riviera dei Fiori is part of the greater Italian Riviera. Its name comes from the important flower-growing industry centered within Sanremo and Ventimiglia.

The postcard was published by Millecolor Omniafoto Torino.

Above: This postcard shows Paradise Beach, on Paradise Island3 in the Bahamas.

Paradise Island is now home to the ridiculously lavish Atlantis Paradise Island resort and waterpark, which opened in 1998.

The postcard was printed by Transcolor Corp. of New York.

Above: This last postcard features a secluded beach in Porto Cristo, a small town on the east coast of Majorca.4

Majorca has been a major tourist destination since the 1950s. In addition to its beach, Porto Cristo sports a pair of caves -- Coves del Drach and Coves dels Hams -- that draw tourists. If I could take the family to any of these four beaches this summer, I think it would be this one.

The credit line for this postcard states: "Fotografias de A. CAMPAÑÁ y J. PUIG-FERRÁN - Color directo de EKTACHROME"

1. Joan and I got into a heated debate about this. I think we need a better definition of summer. One that includes all of June. If President Obama or Mr. Romney wants to make this a plank in his campaign, there's an opportunity to win my vote.
2. Acapulco is nearly due west of Monte Albán. But there's no easy way to get there by car. The fastest route, which takes you north, then east, then south, is 500 miles long and takes more than nine hours.
3. Amusingly, Paradise Island was known as Hog Island until 1959.
4. Majorca (also known as Mallorca, as it was labeled on this postcard) is one of the Balearic Islands. The islands are an autonomous community and a province of Spain.

Weekend postcard: Monte Albán ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico

This undated Tarjeta Postal features the Monte Albán1 ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico. Monte Albán, which had its heyday from (very) roughly 500 BC to 500 AD, was the center of the Zapotec2 civilization.

The city was constructed on a ridge about 1,300 feet above a series of valleys (containing lesser Zapotec cities) in what is now southern Mexico. It is visible from anywhere in the central Valley of Oaxaca and thus was never a "lost" city, like Machu Picchu.

Structures at Monte Albán include:

Today's postcard was never used. On the front are the notations B-142 and A.C.M. The caption on the front states: "El observatorio y edificio central: Ruinas de Monte Alban. Oaxaca, Oax. Mexico."

So I don't have an exact date for when this photo was taken and when the postcard was published. My best guess would be the early 1950s. Perhaps the car pictured in the corner of the postcard can help us date it. Do any car enthusiasts out there know the make and model of this vehicle?

Finally, here are then-and-now shots of Monte Albán from the same angle, using today's postcard and the a 2006 panorama photo from Wikipedia.

1. It's not clear where the name Monte Albán derives from, and the ancient Zapotec name of the city is not known. According to Wikipedia,"tentative suggestions regarding [Monte Albán's] origin range from a presumed corruption of a native Zapotec name such as “Danibaan” (Sacred Hill) to a colonial-era reference to a Spanish soldier by the name Montalbán or to the Alban Hills of Italy."
2. According to Wikipedia: "The name Zapotec is an exonym coming from Nahuatl tzapotēcah (singular tzapotēcatl), which means 'inhabitants of the place of sapote [a term for several soft, edible fruits].'"