Saturday, June 13, 2015

Echte Wagner advertising card featuring Die Heinzelmännchen

This old advertising card, featuring a group of Heinzelmännchen (brownies or house gnomes) fleeing a house, is just one in a long series of collectible cards published by German company Echte Wagner in the first half of the 20th century. Echte Wagner made margarine, and it made a lot of trade cards. The one shown here is the sixth card in the eighth series of the third album. So, yes, there were many. If you do a Google Image search for Echte Wagner cards, you'll see what I mean. Pictured at right is the cover of the second Echte Wagner album.

There were hundreds of Echte Wagner trading cards, and they were focused on numerous topics, including folklore, transportation, outer space and more.

According to one poster in a forum on
"The Wagner company issued several albums of cards between the wars. Some cards are Liebig-sized, others are smaller. Generally they were in sets of 6 like Liebig although they are usually referred to by the album number. ... The so-called Kaufmannsbilder, which you could translate as merchants cards, i.e. trade cards, were very common in Germany pre-ww1. Larger companies produced their own. Smaller companies could have their names printed on 'generic' cards. Individual retailers could buy blank cards and apply their rubber stamp to them. ...

Wagner issued:
1928 Album 1 180 cards
1929 Album 2 216 cards
1931 Album 3 216 cards
1932 Album 4 "Aus Forst und Flur" 240 cards
1932 Album 5 "Wilde Tiere in ihrer Heimat" 240 cards
1932 Wagner's Märchenbuch 24 cards

They also issued some albums post-war in 1951
Schelme und Narren 96 cards
Deutsches Denken und Schaffen 96 cards
Wer lacht mit, lustiges Sprichwörterbuch 144 cards
Abenteurer und Entdecker 1 96 cards
Abenteurer und Entdecker 2 96 card"
So, this Die Heinzelmännchen card was just one of 216 published in 1931.

There's a short story on the back of the card, in German. The title is Die Heinzelmännchen kommen nicht wieder, which translates to "The brownies will not come back."

According to Wikipedia:
"The Heinzelmännchen are a race of creatures appearing in a tale connected with the city of Cologne in Germany. The little house gnomes are said to have done all the work of the citizens of Cologne during the night, so that the inhabitants of Cologne could be very lazy during the day. According to the legend, this went on until a tailor's wife got so curious to see the gnomes that she scattered peas onto the floor of the workshop to make the gnomes slip and fall. The gnomes, being infuriated, disappeared and never returned. From that time on, the citizens of Cologne had to do all their work by themselves."
So that's clearly what has happened in the illustration on this card, as the woman has spread peas all over the floor, bringing an end to the good times for Cologne.

Friday, June 12, 2015

More stuff from my grandmother's 1978 trip to Spain

Back on May 25, I had a quickie post featuring one of my grandmother's photos from her 1978 trip to Spain. Here are a couple more items of ephemera related to that trip thirty-seven years ago.

First up is some letterhead from "Hotel De Los Reyes Catolicos" in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. This is actually Hostal dos Reis Católicos, a 15th century edifice that was once a hospital and is now a luxury hotel that features a restaurant in what was once the hospital morgue.

In her hard-to-decipher handwriting, my grandmother refers to herself in the third person and states:
"Helen stayed here — Spain — refurbished hospital — (run by monks [?]) — during Queen Isabella & King Ferdinand time — (end of [?] pilgrimage)"
Here is the hotel's current website, if you're planning a trip. The hotel notes that its restaurant offers "dishes created using fish and seafood from the rias of Galicia, beef and vegetables paired with traditional cheeses such as O Cebreiro, and exquisite desserts like filloas (crêpes) filled with apple compote and crème brûlée or traditional tarta de Santiago (almond cake)"

Meanwhile, here's another snapshot from my grandmother's trip. A guy on the donkey. Nicely framed shot, too. I'm guessing it was taken from the back window of the tour bus.

Friday mélange: Spaceship York, Love & Mercy, and a black butterfly

An assortment of news, updates and quick thoughts on this Friday morning...

Encourage good movies: We pretty much get the movies that we deserve, which is why most multiplexes are filled with Jurassic World, Spy, San Andreas1, Tomorrowland, Entourage and their brethren at the moment.

But there are high-quality movies out there, even in the summer, and they need our support if we want more of them in the future. Love & Mercy, the story of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, is, by most reviews, one of those movies. (And it has a gorgeous poster, to boot.) A.O. Scott of The New York Times provides just one of the ebullient reviews, explaining why this isn't your standard music biopic.

Here's the movie's trailer...

And, yes, they had me at "God Only Knows," which Sir Paul McCartney has called his favorite song. Here, by the way, are two cover versions you might like...

But I digress. If you're at all interested in the subject matter, go see Bill Pohlad's Love & Mercy. So we can get more smart movies like it.

* * *

In early May, I wrote about "Spaceship York," an community art project sending hopes, dreams and ephemera into outer space. Last week, the project culminated with its launch, which was termed "awesome" and "amazing" by spectators. Here's the video, from the York Daily Record/Sunday News...

* * *

Last week I received a wonderful postcard and Writing Challenge through Postcrossing. Esther from the Netherlands mailed me a postcard featuring a South American black/grey butterfly called Asterope optima. Her note stated:
"What if this beautiful butterfly would be a dark wizard or bad witch? I saw the postcard and thought of a new fairytale about a mysterious butterfly luring people deeper and deeper into the woods. Maybe you can write about it on your blog."
Challenge accepted! I'm working on a fairy tale2 about the black butterfly and will post it here when it's finished. Here's hoping I can channel my inner Ruth Manning-Sanders.

1. Full disclosure: Ashar and I saw and enjoyed this throwback to Irwin Allen disaster movies. I mean, who's going to say no to The Rock? But the main point about also supporting quality movies still stands.
2. Ashar is serving as a creative consultant.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP, Sir Christopher Lee, champion of literature

He was Dracula and Dooku. He was Saruman and Scaramanga.

But actor Christopher Lee, whose death Sunday at age 93 was announced today, was much more than just fangs, blood and bad guys.

“Please don’t describe me in your article as a ‘horror legend,’" he asked a reporter for The Telegraph in 2011.

So, setting aside the cinematic creatures of the night, here are some bookish things you might not have known about Christopher Lee:

1. He was fully or partially fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Russian, Greek, and Mandarin Chinese.1

2. Lee once met educator and ghost-story author M.R. James (1862-1936). The Book of Ghost Stories, an early 1980s volume dedicated to James' works, includes a short tribute to James, penned by Lee. An excerpt:
"Although Mr. James is often mentioned in the same breath as those other famous writers of the supernatural, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, he was, in my opinion, the greatest of them all. He was certainly the most erudite, and his literary style was quite the purest. ... I must just add that for me Dr. James's work is the equivalent in cinematic terms with the films of the French director, Claude Chabrol, who is a also a master of atmospheric invocation, creating situations apparently so ordinary yet by the slightest twist making them frighten you to death!"2

3. There are conflicting accounts about the true size of Lee's home library. (One disputed statistic that gained steamed online in recent years was that he had 12,000 occult books. That seems unlikely.) But, numbers aside, there is little doubt he was an avid reader and book collector.

4. Lee once met J.R.R. Tolkien and was a serious fan and scholar of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It has been reported that he "was such a mammoth Tolkien fan that he re-read the fantasy books every year without fail." In a 2010 interview with Lawrence French of Cinefantastique, Lee said:
"I still think THE LORD OF THE RINGS is the greatest literary achievement in my lifetime. Like so many other people, I couldn’t wait for the second, and then the third book. Nothing like it had ever been written. Other authors like T. H. White and Lewis Carroll invented imaginary worlds, but Tolkien not only invented an imaginary world, he invented imaginary races, which you can easily believe in. And he created very long appendices with all the family trees and the names of the previous Kings and so-forth. It’s quite incredible, really, the scholarship and imagination that went into the writing of it. And what is even more remarkable is that Tolkien, who was a professor of philology, invented new languages."

5. Another author Lee admired was Dennis Wheatley.3 Lee helped bring Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out to the screen in 1968, and it was one of the biggest critical successes in the storied time that Lee and Hammer Films worked together. (Lee, by the way, was the hero for once in that movie adaptation.)

6. Lee shared the same birthday (May 27) and a friendship with Vincent Price, another horror icon who had so many interests beyond vampires and ghouls. Price published books about cooking and antiques, and Lee had a music career that spanned opera and heavy metal, with some history of Charlemagne woven in.

* * *

Finally, here's a photo of Lee in one of his last major roles, as kindly and generous bookshop owner Monsieur Labisse in Martin Scorsese's 2011 film Hugo.

1. Meanwhile, I can count to 20 in Spanish and to three in Japanese.
2. In 2000, BBC presented a four-episode mini-series, Ghost Stories for Christmas, in which Lee portrays James and reads ghost stories to a group of rapt students.
3. Some fun connections: Wheatley had a series of World War II thrillers, featuring a character named Gregory Sallust, that served as an inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond series. Meanwhile, Lee was related, in a way, to Fleming. Lee's mother's second husband was Harcourt George St-Croix Rose, who was Fleming's uncle. That made Lee and Fleming step-cousins.