Decorative Letters In 1880s-Era Good Housekeeping Magazine

Decorative letter T from 1886 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter W from 1889 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter W from 1886 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter S from 1886 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter O from 1886 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter W from 1886 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter H from 1886 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter F from 1886 Good Housekeeping Decorative letter T from 1886 Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping cover page May 15, 1886

Before magazine designers and editors could use lots of photos to enliven their pages, they needed other methods.  In the late 19th Century, Good Housekeeping used decorative initials at the start of each article. Unlike typical initials, these weren’t simply larger or more ornate, but were creative depictions of letters that related to the magazine’s themes, like a wisp of steam above a cup of tea that looks like a W, or a table that looks like a T.

I first ran across these while searching Google Books for drink recipes that use burdock and dandelion, and was reminded more recently when looking for vintage kale salad recipes (I found one in the July 24, 1886 issue of Good Housekeeping).

The gallery above has a few of the more creative initials that I found in the May 15, 1886 issue, as well as the W that I found earlier in an 1889 issue.

As printing technology changed and design decisions evolved, the thematic letters turned plain: 1903 issue has plain initials, but then in a 1909 issue they are mostly decorative (e.g., an I with botanical flourishes around it). The next issue I could find was 1922, which had plain initials.

References
All letters except the W above the cup of tea are from Good Housekeeping, May 15, 1886. The W above the cup of tea is from Good Housekeeping, August 17, 1889. (via Google Books)

Fish in Japanese Art: Hiroshige’s Woodblock Prints

Ise-ebi and Shiba-ebi by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Tobiuo and Ishimochi fish by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Hirame and Mebaru Fish with Cherry Blossoms by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Bora Fish with Camellia by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Medetai and sasaki bamboo by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Kurodai and Kodai Fish with Bamboo Shoots and Berries by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Aji Fish and Kuruma-ebi by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Fugu and Inada Fish by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Memorial portrait of Hiroshige
Memorial portrait of Hiroshige from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of my favorite genres of art is the 19th century Japanese landscape print, especially the works by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), who is best known as the creator of several series that showed famous scenes from around the nation, like “53 Stations of the Tokaido” and “Famous Views of the 60-Odd Provinces.”  The subjects of the prints in the series vary between the long and medium view — for example, a rainbow over a the sea, or travelers passing over a bridge.  So when I saw a series of Hiroshige fish prints appear in a Creative Commons CCSearch result, my curiosity was piqued.  What was the story behind the series?

It turns out that prints of animals, fish and plants were relatively rare:  in Hiroshige’s 40 year art career, he designed over 10,000 single sheet prints and several hundred book illustrations, with only around 500 having an animal or plant as the subject [the statistics are from Birds and Flowers, a book in the reference list below].

Tobiuo and Ishimochi fish by Hiroshige from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Tobiuo and Ishimochi Fish by Hiroshige

After reviewing a few books about Hiroshige at the local libraries, I found the answer to my question, and it turned out to be straightforward: a poetry guild called Kyokashi hired him to make ten fish illustrations to accompany their poems.  During the design and printing process the poets gave their poems to the woodblock carvers, who added the lettering to a block so it would appear on the final print. 

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Book Review: “Golden Gate” by Kevin Starr

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach
Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

The Golden Gate Bridge is a global icon, a triumph of engineering, and a work of art. In American terms, it was shaped by the City Beautiful movement, the Progressive Era, and the Great Depression. More mysteriously, the Bridge expresses those forces that science tells us constitute the dynamics of nature itself. Like the Parthenon, the Golden Gate Bridge seems Platonic in its perfection, as if the harmonies and resolutions of creation as understood by mathematics and abstract thought have been effortlessly materialized through engineering design.

That’s the opening to Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge, a concise examination of one of the wonders of the modern world by Kevin Starr (1940-2017). It’s a slim volume, less than 200 pages — a sharp contrast to Starr’s greatest legacy, his monumental 7-volume Americans and the California Dream — that takes an expansive and slightly non-traditional look at this magnificent structure and site. In eleven chapters with one word titles (“Icon,” “Site,” “Money”, etc.), Starr looks beyond concrete and steel to bigger topics like the geological formation of the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay, how the Golden Gate stayed hidden from the Spanish for years*, and its cultural and artistic meanings — the Bridge as an Icon, as a driver of local commerce, as a catalyst for metropolitan prosperity.

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Ornate Celery Vases Brought Style to an Unexciting Vegetable

Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1519 - DP241433 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1513 - ADA5473 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1511 - 187153 Celery Vase from Metropolitan Museum of Art - 9310 - DP206750 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 667481 - DP341335
The Seller of Celery by John Ingram - Metropolitan Museum of Art DP826283
“The Seller of Celery” by John Ingram (18th c.)

When I typed “celery” into the CC Search box to search a few museums’ public domain collections to illustrate my previous post on celery on restaurant menus, I was expecting one or two results, perhaps a still life. And so I was surprised when the search returned a bunch of objects called “celery vases” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It turns out that “celery vases” were a thing. And some of them are attractive works in glass or ceramic.

Celery was a popular vegetable in the 1800s and early 1900s — often served as an appetizer with other raw or pickled vegetables. And so the artisans of the era created appropriate dishes to hold the crisp green stalks. (I wonder: are potters and glass makers working feverishly on the ideal plates for avocado toast or bowls for kale salad?)

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Bring Zing to Your Posts with Public Domain or Creative Commons Images

Tacos for 89 cents from Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr Passenger Pigeons by Audubon 1840-1844 from NYPL digital collections Unswept floor mosaic from ancient Rome Heade - Hummingbird and passionflowers DT2080 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art "Her Bitter Awakening", book cover from the British Library Owl person drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 387 Winslow Homer Gulf Stream - from the Metropolitan Museum of Art DP140858 Hiroshige woodblock print - Fugu and Inada Fish, from the series Uozukushi DP123586 Cacao from Flore Medicale by Chaumeton et al, 1820.08 Banana, from Flora de Filipinas by F.M. Blanco, ca 1880

Main Reading Room at the U.S. Library of CongressSoon after I started blogging 10+ years ago, I learned about Creative Commons licenses, which some creators apply to their own work so it can be shared with certain restrictions (note that this blog is currently licensed with a CC BY-NC-SA 2.5, and my Flickr collection also has a CC license).  After figuring out the mechanics, I started using CC-licensed items to add visual elements to my blog posts (the first CC image I used was a lovely black and white photo of a crow in flight from Mark Lorch’s collection for my random musings about a Los Angeles street).  I continued to use Creative Commons art, mostly from Flickr, when I wanted a picture of a carrot, or a wheel of cheese, or something similarly relevant to my post.

As time went on, new collections of images appeared and I learned about existing collections, and started to use them as sources of the art for my blog. Eventually, however, my tastes changed slightly and I started being attracted to the ‘vintage’ material in the archives. I liked adding quirky or unusual images to my posts — instead of a picture of a finished dish that I was writing about, I’d include something from an old seed catalog or a fairy tale (as in my post about turnip pickles and turnip greens).

In the spirit of the Creative Commons, I’ll share a few of my favorite sources and list some of their good and bad characteristics:  Flickr Commons, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons CCSearch, and Google Books/Hathi Trust.

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Another Batch of Vintage Book Covers

"A Man's Man", book cover from the British Library

While browsing the amazing and often confounding Flickr Commons, I was entranced by a collection of late 19th century book covers from the British Library. The majority of the nearly 900 covers are “pulp novels,” but you’ll also find travel books, text books, and other miscellany. Last month I shared a batch of six vintage book covers, and this post has six more in the image gallery that have interesting art or a lurid title.  (Click any one of the images to expand the image and navigate through the collection.)

 

Image Credits
All book covers from the British Library’s Flickr Commons collection, in the Book Covers found by the community from the Mechanical Curator Collection. No known copyright restrictions.

The Cowboy Clan, or the Tigress of Texas
Dark Dashwood, the Desperate; or the Child of the Sun
Mad Tom’s Mission; or Crushing the Silver Scorpions
The Texas Tramp, or Solid Sam the Yankee Hercules
A Man’s Man
Cloven Hoof – The Demon Buffalo of the Border Vultures

More Sketches by W.M. Thackeray

Thackerayana has too many enchanting sketches to be limited to a single post of Thackeray sketches, so I’m highlighting ten more sketches (this time as a “slider,” instead of a tiled gallery).  In the gallery you’ll find struggles with umbrellas, fencing vegetables, dancers, and more.

Big hair, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 325
Big hair, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) – page 325

I want to highlight one of the sketches, which I call “big hair.”  To accompany the drawing, Thackerayana has a long quote from a publication called the ‘World’ on May 3, 1753, which I assume held the big hair sketch in its margins.  It’s a conversation between a father, mother and daughter about hair styling:

“But how do you like my pompon, papa?” continued my daughter; “Is it not a charming one? I think it is prettier than mamma’s.”

“It may, child, for anything that I know; because I do not know what part of all this frippery thy pompon is.” [said papa]

“It is this, papa,” replied the girl, putting up her hand to her head, and showing me in the middle of her hair a complication of shreds and rags of velvets, feathers, and ribands, stuck with false stones of a thousand colours, and placed awry.

“But what hast thou done to thy hair, child, and why is it blue? Is that painted, too, by the same eminent hand that coloured thy cheeks?”

“Indeed, papa,” answered the girl, “as I told you before, there is no painting in the case; but what gives my hair that bluish cast is the grey powder, which has always that effect on dark-coloured hair, and sets off the complexion wonderfully.”

“Grey powder, child!” said I, with some surprise; “grey hairs I knew were venerable; but till this moment I never knew they were genteel.”

“Extremely so, with some complexions,” said my wife; “but it does not suit with mine, and I never use it.”

Reference

Thackerayana: Notes and Anecdotes, illustrated by nearly six hundred sketches by William Makepeace Thackeray, depicting humorous incidents in his school life, and favourite scenes and characters in the books of his every-day reading, by Joseph Grego, published by Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly (London), 1875. Full text at Archive.org. No known copyright restrictions.

Vintage Book Covers from the British Library

"Seth Slocum, Railroad Surveyor, or The Secret of Sitting Bull", book cover from the British Library "The Skipper of the Seagull", book cover from the British Library "Lance and Lasso! or Adventures on the Pampas!", book cover from the British Library "Buffalo Bill - The Buckskin King, or the Amazon of the West", book cover from the British Library "Tiger Dick the Faro King, or The Cashier's Crime" from the British Library on Flickr Commons "Her Bitter Awakening", book cover from the British Library

"Seth Slocum, Railroad Surveyor, or The Secret of Sitting Bull", book cover from the British LibraryOn my journeys through the amazing Flickr Commons, one of the more exciting finds is a collection of late 19th century book covers from the British Library. The nearly 900 covers are primarily what we today call “pulp novels” written for the mass market, but there are also travel books, text books, and other miscellany.  In the image gallery in this post, I’ve included some of my favorites, covers with interesting art or a lurid title — “Her Bitter Awakening” is a special favorite right now.  (Click any one of the images to expand the image and navigate through the collection.)

I’d love to read “Seth Slocum, Railroad Surveyor, or the Secret of Sitting Bull” — how often do you see an adventure story about a surveyor, an important but not glamorous job? I suspect that the story is about a surveyor working in the western territories who gets mixed up in conflicts between settlers and Native Americans.  Unfortunately, the book is available as a PDF download and the text quality is rather poor, as the screenshot of two pages from the digitization below show.  It would not be easy to read this book on a computer or mobile device.  (But here’s something worth trying: use Acrobat Pro to extract the Seth Slocum part of the PDF as images, then use an image editor to sharpen the text.)

Pages from Seth Slocum, Railroad Surveyor, digitized by the British Library
Pages from Seth Slocum, Railroad Surveyor

 

Image Credits
All book covers from the British Library’s Flickr Commons collection, in the Book Covers found by the community from the Mechanical Curator Collection. No known copyright restrictions.

Her Bitter Awakening
Buffalo Bill – The Buckskin King, or the Amazon of the West
Lance and Lasso! or Adventures on the Pampas!
Seth Slocum, Railroad Surveyor, or The Secret of Sitting Bull
The Skipper of the Seagull
Tiger Dick the Faro King, or The Cashier’s Crime

Sketches by W.M. Thackeray, a Master of the Quick Sketch

Self portrait, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 492 Moon observer, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 211 Owl person drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 387 Flying witches, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 212 A reader, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 264 Faces, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 107 A Wayside Sketcher, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 473 Sitting for a portrait, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 432 Napper, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 194 Falling foul of the skirts, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 488 Self portrait, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 455

Rainy weather and stressed umbrellas, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 460 - BWhile searching for something or other in Flickr Commons, the wave of images included some attractive sketches of people struggling with umbrellas in a storm, elegantly attired dancers, and various other everyday happenings.  I soon discovered that they were from Thackerayana: Notes and Anecdotes, a book published in 1875. The book is tribute to William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), a writer known for the novels Vanity Fair and The Luck of Barry Lyndon (this was the foundation for Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film Barry Lyndon).

The 500+ page book highlights Thackeray’s skill as an artist — he was a master of caricature and the quick sketch — by pairing facsimiles of drawings found in the margins of books in his library with relevant writing (sometimes the text near his drawings, sometimes text relevant to the drawing).  His drawings can be charming and inventive, and the gallery above shows some of my favorites.  The images could make a fun coloring book.

[Click “Continue Reading” to see an image gallery.]

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19th Century Plant Paintings

Flore médicale, by François Pierre Chaumeton, Jean Louis Marie Poiret, and Jean Baptist Joseph Anne César Tyrbas de Chamberet. Published by Panckoucke, 1833 (on Google Books from various libraries).

426 hand-colored plates.  Illustrated by E. Panckoucke and P.J.F. Turpin.