Saturday, May 11, 2013

Silly Plastichrome postcard of a potato in a toy tractor

This undated Plastichrome1 postcard shows a potato sitting on the back of a John Deere-like toy tractor.

The caption on the back states: "HOW WE GROW 'EM OUT HERE."

This is a silly exaggeration, of course. It appears that the world record for the heaviest/largest potato is actually held by Lebanese farmer Khalil Semhat, who unearthed a 24.9-pound spud in 2008. Huge, of course. But nothing you'd need a tractor to haul around.

The above postcard was found inside this Plastichrome souvenir pack. Other cards feature Mount Katahdin (northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail), Sunday River Covered Bridge and potato harvesting in Aroostook County.2

1. Two other Plastichrome postcards from the Farmers Market in Los Angeles were featured on Papergreat last month.
2. Sprawling Aroostook County is simply called "The County" in Maine. It has a total land area of about 6,800 square miles.

Happy 1,145th birthday to the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra

Wikipedia-hosted image of the frontispiece of Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra.
Original source: The International Dunhuang Project

In 1907, Hungarian-British archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein purchased an old scroll from a monk at the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas in Dunhuang, China. The sprawling network of caves, also known as the Mogao Caves, includes what has been called The Library Cave. That "room" — which had manuscripts stacked 10 feet high in places — was rediscovered in 1900 after having been walled up in the early 11th century.

The scroll is about 16 feet long and was created through woodblock printing.

A translation of the scroll's colophon states: "Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong."1

Scholars say the date referred to in the colophon is May 11, 868.

That's 1,145 years ago today.

The scroll, now restored and held in the British Library, is the oldest known surviving printed "book" with a publication date.

The scroll is a sūtra — a collection of aphorisms. Its Sanskrit title is Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, which, according to Wikipedia, translates loosely to "Vajra Cutter Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra."

In English, it is commonly and simply referred to as the Diamond Sūtra.

One of the translated aphorisms from the Diamond Sūtra, focusing on the concept of impermanence, states:2

"All composed things are like a dream,
a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning.
That is how to meditate on them,
that is how to observe them."

There is some small irony, of course, in the idea that a scroll containing verses about impermanence has survived for more than 11 centuries. It is nearly 600 years older than the first Gutenberg Bible!

1. Xiantong was the era name for Emperor Yizong of Tang.
2. This translation of the passage is from the Handful of Sand website.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reader comments: Porcine poetry, Pennsylvania and US invasions

Let's dive right into another fascinating and fabulous collection of reader comments...

"Piggy Pork: His Odyssey" by Thomas Yost Cooper:
Back in January, I linked to this 2011 post on a Facebook page about Hanover, Pennsylvania, history, and I recently received a couple of great responses. These two women remember Thomas Yost Cooper (1884-1967), the one-time city editor of The Evening Sun and sometimes poet.

Patricia Anderson Sullivan writes: "Mr. Cooper lived in a stone house right beside mine on Meade Avenue. My sister, Nancy, and I liked to 'visit' some of the older neighbors and he always welcomed us. He even let us roller skate on his driveway. I think he wrote more than one Piggy Pork book. They were sold at Croft's corner store on Hanover Street. I bought at least one of his books. I will always remember him."

Nancy Anderson Johnson writes: "He meticulously cultivated a variety of fruit trees and raspberries in his yard. He kept a white paper bag in his pocket with big gumdrops ... [that] he would share. I remember an kindly elderly gentleman; always seemed to be dressed in a suit."

Great details! Now I almost feel like I can picture Mr. Cooper. And all of this can help keep his memory alive, too.

* * *

Rupert Croft-Cooke observes Ruth Manning-Sanders with the circus: Wendyvee of Wendyvee's writes: "'I passed the Count with the monkey cart and his little cavalcade of ponies' ... is the best thing I can imagine writing."

I'll second that. Indeed, Croft-Cooke and Manning-Sanders had some incredible times, traveling with circus caravans in the first half of the 20th century.

* * *

1916 postcard from Norristown's State Hospital for Insane: There were numerous comments about this postcard in the last roundup of reader comments. To those, Stan Huskey, editor of The Times Herald, adds: "Only a few buildings at Norristown State Hospital are still in use. At this point there are probably about 200 patients left, mostly in buildings 50 and 51, where criminals suspected of having some type of psychological disorder are taken. The hospital was designed by the famous Wilson Brothers and Company, who designed such prestigious buildings as the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station in Washington D.C., where President Garfield was assassinated, as well as the main building for Drexel University."

* * *

Some ephemera within the Chemical Heritage Foundation museum: My wife, whose blogs include Our School at Home, writes: "I just have to second Chris's comments about how awesome this place was. I would recommend it as highly if not higher than anywhere we've gone to date in Pennsylvania (and I'm rather fond of my PA field trips!)"

And there are still so many places to explore! One of the first-time Pennsylvania field trips we are hoping to make this summer is to visit Cherry Springs State Park, one of the top dark-sky preserves in the United States.

* * *

EndoPest and EndoWeed make gardening MORE FUN! Anonymous writes: "Hey! My Grandma used that stuff to get the Japanese beetles off of her roses! (It didn't work.)"

* * *

Zita Spangler: From St. John's Reformed to Rolling Green Park: Of this 2011 post, Richard Snyder writes: "In 1945 through 1955 my family lived two blocks away from the main entrance to Rolling Green Park. Every summer my sister and I had season tickets to the swimming pool, and we walked there from our home, in bare feet on the hot dusty dirt roads. ... Every Fourth of July we watched the Park fireworks from a field beside our house. In the winter we walked on the frozen pond. ... Every day during school season we walked thru the lower end of the park on our way to the school. I was little and never got to ride the big roller coaster. Surprisingly enough our name is Snyder, and here we lived in Snyder County."

* * *

Why you never write the name of the person you love in your textbook: Anonymous writes: "Since books were expensive, in many schools children shared desks and books. I am imagining the two girls writing notes to each other in the book since they probably would get in trouble for talking while they were supposed to be reading."

* * *

World War I propaganda fiction: "At the Defense of Pittsburgh": Bart Ingraldi, who authors the ephemera blog, adds this historical context: "This series of books may be more historically accurate than one would think. They have a strong similarity to Kaiser Wilhelm's Operational Plan 3, drawn up in 1903. It was the planned invasion of New York and Boston by the Imperial German Navy. The plan was shelved in 1906 when the Germany realized it didn't have the resources to succeed."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How a gentleman should properly pose himself in a fake setting

This is a standard 19th century cabinet card — a thin portrait photograph mounted on heavy card stock measuring 4¼ by 6½ inches.

The card was produced by the New York Gallery, which was located at 411 North Sixth Street in Reading, Pennsylvania.1

There is no indication who this man is. But he makes a valiant attempt at not looking too silly while standing in the midst of an obviously fake setting. It appears that everything from the props department was thrown into the frame: a flat piece of fence, a tree, an ornate "stone" wall and a painted backdrop featuring an house that's not really in proportion with anything else.

Perhaps his serious look has something to do with how much he's paying for this portrait. According to one secondhand source I came across, cabinet cards cost about 50 cents apiece. Assuming that's true and assuming this portrait dates to around 1890, that would be the equivalent of $12 to $13 today.

Anyway, the good news is that by the time I was ready for my first school portraits, many decades after this gentleman posed for his, we were long past the age of silly props and fake backdrops.

Oh, wait...

Never mind.

1. There's an interesting story involving Reading's Grimshaw Silk Mill, the New York Gallery, a deadly tornado and a commemorative cabinet card. You can find it about 3/4 of the way down this history page on the Grimshaw Origins and History website.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Vintage ink blotter for Shafer's Flowers of Coraopolis

Margaret C. Shafer had you covered 24/7 in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, in the mid-20th century. This old ink blotter highlights the "Night Calls" number at Shafer's Flowers, among other things.

In case you had an emergency need for flowers at 2 a.m., of course.

The ink blotter features the Mercury-powered logo for FTD from back when the company was still Florists' Telegraph Delivery. (It changed to Florists' Transworld Delivery sometime in the mid 1960s, if you're scoring at home.)

And the blotter itself was printed by Brown & Bigelow, a company from St. Paul, Minnesota, was that was founded in 1896 and is still around, churning out quality promotional products for customers. Clearly, I should ask them to produce some Papergreat ink blotters. If they still even make ink blotters.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why you never write the name of the person you love in your textbook

Because some dorfy blogger might tell the whole world about it 130 years later.

In paging through a battered copy of "Monroe's Fourth Reader,"1 which was published in 1872, I came across a few pages that feature the writing of a long-ago schoolgirl.

Here's a look at the title page...

Joan and I deciphered this together and this is what we came up with:

Miss Stella M. Gross
Mechanicsburg Pa.
Sits with
Miss Carrie E. Donson
Mechanicsburg Pa.
in the year

But the back of the textbook is where the true secret is revealed.

Here's the last page of the book...

We think the wraparound pencil-writing states:

Stella Gross is in love with Jim McCormic.

On the following page, which is the inside back cover, is this statement:

Stella Gross is in love still With Jim McCormic.

Of course, we're counting on both (1) Joan and I having deciphered Stella's cursive writing correctly and (2) Stella having known the correct spelling of Jim's last name.

Wouldn't it be great to find out how the lives of Stella, Carrie and Jim turned out?

1. The textbook was written by Lewis B. Monroe, the dean of the Boston University School of Oratory. It was published out of Philadelphia by Cowperthwait & Co. The first section of the textbook teaches the sounds of the English language with the help of the illustrated boy pictured at right. The short reading lessons in the book's second section include:

  • Audubon and His Pictures
  • The Lost Penknife
  • The Merry Autumn Days
  • A Dog Saving a Ship
  • The Nail-Maker
  • Underground Travels (by C.L. Matteaux)
  • The King and the Goose-Herd
  • The Poor Tavern-Keeper
  • The Gunpowder-Harvest
  • Thanksgiving Dinner at Plumfield (by Louisa May Alcott)
The third section is poetry and the final section is "Dialogues and Concert Readings," including a piece titled "The Money Panic."

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Postcrossing card from Pushkino: "hear the croaking of the frogs"

Here is the final entry of this week's series on the postcards I've received from around the globe through Postcrossing.

Sender: Katya in Pushkino, Russia

Message: "Hello Chris! My name is Katya and I live in Pushkino. Pushkino it is little town next to Moscow. Here cozy, quiet and calm compared to Moscow. My house is near the river and in the summer hear the croaking of frogs. I love fairy tale. Alice in the wonderland my favorite fairy tale. With Best wishes."

It sounds like a wonderful place to live!

Pushkino is a very common name for towns and villages in Russia. Perhaps it is like Greenville or Springfield in the United States. Just within the Moscow Oblast, there are seven locations named Pushkino, according to Wikipedia. So I don't know for sure which one is the bucolic location featuring Katya's river and croaking frogs.

The postcard illustration is by Russian artist Elena Bazanova. You can see more of her fabulous illustrations from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" here.

Finally, Katya's postcard features the Russian Ryazan Kremlin stamp, which was issued on October 1, 2009.

World War I propaganda fiction:
"At the Defense of Pittsburgh"

This is the cover of the 1916 hardcover "At the Defense of Pittsburgh, or The Struggle to Save America's 'Fighting Steel' Supply." In the genre of early 20th century juvenile fiction, it stands out as a notable and intriguing series.

It was written by chemist/author Harrie Irving Hancock (1866?-1922) and published by Henry Altemus Company of Philadelphia.1

The book is the third title in 1916's four-volume "Conquest of the United States" series by Hancock and Altemus. All four books had the same paste-down illustration on the cover. The titles are:

  • Invasion of the United States
  • In the Battle for New York
  • At the Defense of Pittsburgh
  • Making the Last Stand for Old Glory

Elizabeth S. Frank published an article in 1997 titled "Advocating War Preparedness: H. Irving Hancock's Conquest of the United States Series." The abstract nicely sums up the series:
"The Conquest of the United States Series is a propaganda piece for the war preparedness movement, which preceded America's entry into World War I. Written in 1916 by popular juvenile author, H. Irving Hancock, the series follows the boys of Gridley in their fight against the 1920 invasion of the United States by Germany. From the shores of Massachusetts until the final victory outside of Pittsburgh in 1921, the series incorporates most of the arguments popular in the war preparedness movement. The assertion was that the United States was not ready to fight a modern war in terms of personnel, military equipment, or national will."
So, Hancock's series could be called propaganda fiction or even "retroactive alternate history" — something that an author such as Harry Turtledove might write. But the best label for this type of series is invasion literature, a genre that had its peak between 1871 and 1914 and is thought to have influenced public attitudes toward various conflicts.

Here is more about the series, from Wikipedia:
"Hancock's four-book series ... depicted a fictional invasion of the USA by Germany in 1920-21 — reflecting, and to some degree helping to intensify, the shift of American public opinion toward getting involved in The First World War. ... This kind of books were credited — by some politicians at the time and by historians and researchers later — with intensifying bellicose public attitudes in various countries and contributing to escalation and war. ...

"[In the series] the Germans ... launch a surprise attack in 1920, capture Boston despite heroic resistance by 'Uncle Sam's boys', overrun all of New England and New York and reach as far as Pittsburgh — but are at last are gloriously crushed by fresh American forces. ...

"Hancock's plot has a basic implausibility in that it assumes either an overwhelming German victory over the British, giving them mastery of the seas, or a British 'friendly neutrality' and a free hand to invade America. Further, it assumes the German Navy to be capable of utterly defeating the US Navy, followed by ferrying no less than a million German troops across the Atlantic and keeping them supplied for years-long hard fighting. The experience of the first two years of the actual war, at the time of writing, already conclusively proved the Kaiserliche Marine manifestly incapable of anything remotely of the kind."

Dale Cozort gives more details about the series on his Alternate History website, and sums it up with these insights: "The broad outline of the war is so much like what actually happened between Germany and Russia 25 or so years later in World War II that it's almost uncanny. The Germans win battle after battle but the opposition moves industry out of their reach, builds up overwhelming superiority in manpower and strategic mobility, then cuts off the cream of the German army. Sounds a lot like Eastern Front World War II up through Stalingrad."

1. Henry Altemus Company has been mentioned a couple other times on Papergreat, most notably in "American flag history, compliments of Leinbach & Bro. in Reading" on July 4, 2011.