Random finds during packing. Above, business card from a family trip.
Below, health votive from Greece.
Small 1920 notebook with maps, 26th Street Flea Market

matchbooks, 26th Street Flea Market
photo, Maine.
UPDATED: I am moving. This means everything comes off the walls and out of drawers and off the shelves—it's taken me a while to absorb the enormity of that. There is just so much stuff. I stop and think—well everything came in the door so everything can make it out. But much of this accumulation was just that-- a steady accrual, creeping in quietly, piece by piece. I've looked at this move as an opportunity to deaccession some things from The Collection: shells, old bottles, ceramics, mudlarking detritus, some wooden what-nots, a large cow head sign... But each shedding is a trial, almost every one produces a twinge of regret along with a brief little remembrance of where and when I acquired the item. The goal was to get rid of 1/4 of my flea market cache. It has been more like 1/10. Perhaps I will do further editing on unpacking.//
The passion for accumulation is upon us. We make “collections,” we fill our rooms, our walls, our tables, our desks, with things, things, things.

Many people never pass out of this phase. They never see a flower without wanting to pick it and put it in a vase, they never enjoy a book without wanting to own it, nor a picture without wanting to hang it on their walls. ... Their houses are filled with an undigested mass of things, like the terminal moraine where a glacier dumps at length everything it has picked up during its progress through the lands.

But to some of us a day comes when we begin to grow weary of things. We realize that we do not possess them; they possess us. Our books are a burden to us, our pictures have destroyed every restful wall-space, our china is a care, our photographs drive us mad ...We feel stifled with the sense of things, and our problem becomes, not how much we can accumulate, but how much we can do without. ... Such things as we cannot give away, and have not the courage to destroy, we stack in the garret, where they lie huddled in dim and dusty heaps, removed from our sight, to be sure, yet still faintly importunate...

—The Tyranny of Things, Elisabeth Morris (1917)
A friend noted:
Things. Recognized as once beloved. Now mostly just reminders of the excitement of their own discovery. Usually many layered time travel... to the time I found it, and further back, to the era the thing came from as well. So a perfect card of "Victory Hair Pins" takes me to both 1940 and 1987.
Recalling two eras was a wonderful observation. 

I still feel delighted by the specialness of the objects I have, but that delight is yoked to a sort of leaden duration of time in my possession. I feel I've "spent" the excitement of the piece by having it around so long. It needs to be discovered again. I have been putting things out in front of my house to be taken (in true Park Slope fashion) and have sold a couple things online. In a sense, by giving objects away or selling them I am reenergizing them— giving these finds a chance to delight anew.


Hysterically Entertaining

Hysterical yawning
Nouvelle Iconographie de la Salpêtrière by Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot.
Salpetriere was a major psychiatric hospital in Paris, a former dumping ground for women diagnosed as "hysterical"
Polaire, one of the most famous of the "epileptic" performers.
image from Polaire 1900
Cafe Concert performer Paulus is credited with bringing a frenetic, grimacing gesticulation to the stage in 1871.
He imitated "invalids and limping women." Another singer recalled, "The excited stamping of epileptic choreography" caught on.
In 1905, 21 American patients' seizures were filmed—called ”epilepsy biographs”— by the
American Mutoscope and Biograph company
documentary images, Nouvelle Iconographie de la Salpêtrière
by Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot
Edgar Degas, At the Cafe Concert: The Song of the Dog, 1875-77
Thérésa, a popular 19th century gommeuse
"idiot" comic Dranem, 1905

The maniacal British acrobatic troupe the Hanlon-Lees, c. 1878. Bibliotheque Nationale
 It is certain that today, primarily in cities, hysteria is the illness in vogue. It is everywhere."
— Dr. Paul-Max Simon, 1881

Progress and fashion have just given us a new way to go nuts. It replaces snobbery, the races and the occult... It’s neurasthenia. All the world has it my friends.—
the song “Neurasthenia,” 1906

A good half of the hit songs of [today] belong to the jiggling pit of Charcot...
they have gesticulatory hysteria—critic Georges Montorgeuil, 1896*

Polaire! The agitating and agitated Polaire! ...What a devilish mimic, what a coffee-grinder and what a belly-dancer!  ...Polaire skips, flutters, wriggles, arches from the hips, the back, the belly,
mimes every kind of shock, twists, coils, rears, twirls... trembling like a stuck wasp, miaows,
faints to what music and what words! The house, frozen with stupor, forgets to applaud.
—Jean Lorrain Decadent novelist and critic

When I first researched and posted about the early 20th century cabaret performer Polaire, I came across the description gommeuse epileptique. Lazily, I relied on Google translate to elucidate. It spit forth "gummy epileptic" which didnt help much, so I was amused and left it at that. It wasnt until a recent commenter tipped me off to a wonderful book that explained that peculiar phrase and revealed that "epilectic singers" were an entire genre of entertainment in late 19th and early 20th century France. Why the French Love Jerry Lewis: From Cabaret to Early Cinemaby Rae Beth Gordon is not so much about Jerry Lewis as it is a fascinating interdisciplinary study of the intersection of early French mass entertainment and psychiatric pathology. I especially love 'rogue' scholarship which brings together unlikely academic bedfellows and Gordon doe not disappoint. She juggles mesmerism, somnabulism, music hall entertainment, high brow/low brow divide in culture, Darwin, Nordau's theory of degeneration, "savages", Georges Melies’ films, and mental illness. All this before she even gets to Jerry Lewis.

The book discusses a particular kind of performance which first appeared in the music halls of France in the 1870s and 80s. It was a comedic style characterized by frenetic movements, tics, facial grimaces, and other bizarre behavior that, Gordon asserts, mimicked various nervous disorders such as hysteria, epilepsy, and Tourette's Syndrome beginning to get coverage in the popular press. It was just at this time that modern psychiatry and neurological study were emerging. Hysteria and later neurasthenia were the focus of professional and public attention alike. Jean-Martin Charcot, dubbed the Napoleon of Neuroses, was instrumental in the popularization (or “vulgarization”) of hysteria. The foremost French neurologist of his day and a professor of anatomical pathology, Charcot used photography for the classification and diagnosis of hysteria and published the widely circulated Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière (1876-80) and the New Iconography of the Salpetriere (1888—1918). Referring to the Salpetriere, a hospital
in the middle of Paris which confined 4000 women as incurable or insane, Charcot stated he was "in possession of a kind of museum of living pathology whose holdings were virtually inexhaustible.” He opened the doors of that museum to Paris and put on demonstrations, allowing the spectacle of illness to seep into into the public psyche and vernacular. (It is also of interest that a noted experimental psychologist, Alfred Binet, wrote for the Grand Guignol Theater—which deserves a post of its own.)

The French public was fascinated and entertained by watching
pathology as spectacle in both the (medical) amphitheater and at the theater. (After all, it was only a step removed from the earlier, well-established bourgeois pass time of touring insane asylums.) For the high brow—Flaubert, Maupassant, the Goncourt brothers, Huysmans, and Jarry all published works relating to hysteria or neurasthenia— to the lowest common thrill-seeker these nervous diseases and the shocks of psychiatric treatment became short hand for the notion of “modernity,” a motif later picked up by Dada and the Surrealists.//

It seems to me that in America anything similar to this style would be black entertainment—ragtime, cakewalks, jazz—and the dance crazes of the teens—the Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot. Although Gordon doesnt discuss her, the book explains why the French would go wild for Josephine Baker.

*Songs such as “Too Nervous,” “Tata's Tic,” “La Parisienne Epileptique,” and “I’m a Neurasthenic.”


Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

photo by keridiana chez 
2 photos above by keridiana chez
A few friends and I made a trip up to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery near White Plains. The first cemetery of its kind in the US, Hartsdale, also called The Peaceable Kingdom, was established in 1896 by a New York City veterinarian. Its five acres are home to 80,000 pets (rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and a lion cub among the vast numbers of cats and dogs) and quite a few humans as well. The rambling, hilly terrain is packed with so many tiny stories: laconic grave markers, floridly effusive epitaphs, bronze and granite bombast, the kitschy pathos of makeshift memorials, the discomfit of shared graves—owner and beloved friends. What really impressed itself upon me was how fervent and true the sentiments were. Unlike human cemeteries, where the epitaphs are often stilted and tradition-bound, laced with religious boilerplate, Hartsdale was filled with colorful outpourings of love, of yearning and grief, of disbelief and the hope that “gone” was not forever.
The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks, 1826


King Charles's Head, Caesar's Wife, and Shared Knowledge

In reading 19th century primary sources—diaries, poetry, essays, etc—I'm struck by how allusive the writing is. References to Milton, Chaucer, biblical parables, mythology, ancient historical figures, military history, and of course Latin and Greek phrases are frequent and typically without explanation. There was a seemingly vast store of what was considered common, shared knowledge. This knowledge was expected of all those who had attained a certain level of education and who shared a particular socio-economic status. I wonder, how much of that is left? Judging by me—a supposedly well-educated member of a certain class— not that much.

The image above shows part of a test my mother took in about 1951. It was the Language Arts section of the supervisory license for New York City. In other words this was part of what was expected of those hoping to become a New York City public school principal.

Of a total of 75, there were about 46 I could eke by with, and several more that I'd heard of but was vague about. Here are a few of the 18 or so of which I had no definitive knowledge, along with my first association:
Areopagus "Areopagitica". But what was that? Milton? What?
Golconda sounds vaguely decadent, like it might be around the corner from Gomorrah.
Barmecide feast  killing something? No, I've got nothing. 
Caesar's wife —Great Caesar's Ghost! Never heard this and it's really quite useful...
King Charles's Head perhaps some jolly English Protectorate gallows humor? (I especially liked learning this one)
Ananias   Nothing.
piling Pelion on Ossa  Complete news to me, this belongs with other Sisyphaean labors
Savoyard—  no idea --the French Revolution or Paris Commune?
to come a cropper —Again, never heard this and it's quite useful, rather like a dusty, antiquated "epic fail"
Ephebic Oath I should have known this but I didnt. I really came a cropper.

[Now I'm going to make a pitch for the invaluable Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, first published in 1870. I picked it up by chance for $2.50 at a book sale on Shelter Island and wrote about it in an early post. It is one of the most quirky, varied, fascinating and delightful repositories of knowledge, both eminently useful and absurdly obscure.]


Loaded Guns

A Derringer engraved with Aesthetic Movement ornament by Otto Carter
Images from The Handy Book of Artistic Printing
 Aesthetic ornament came out of the British design reform movement of the early to mid-19th century. Aesthetic design is eclectic, features exotic motifs (especially Japanese), and geometricized natural elements. Later in the century "artistic" became the shorthand, often commercial shorthand, for any design even remotely Aesthetic.
These are specimens of artistic printing—commercial letterpress printing's foray into Aestheticism

Recently, my business partner Doug received a phone call from a man in Abilene, Texas, named Otto Carter. Carter had stumbled upon our book, The Handy Book of Artistic Printing, in his online research for ornament. After finding us through our ornament style guide on the Vectorian site (Vectorian offers collections of historical ornament in clean digital vector form) he became a big fan of Handy and of Aesthetic ornament in particular. So much so, he wanted us to know, he was using it in his work engraving guns. Yes engraving guns. Carter also works on other "bro"-centric items, like knives, vapor e-cigarettes, motorcycle parts, even golf clubs—virtually everything I know nothing about—but his concentration appears to be guns. While I dont agree with gun culture and hunting, which Carter also embraces, I got over that fairly quickly in the name of design*. I was so taken with the fact that we'd made a dent in this completely foreign niche industry I decided to find out a little more about Otto Carter and custom-engraved guns.

First I must tell you Carter is damn good at what he does, which is to work metal by hand with a graver. No machine templates, no laser etching, this is all hand work. Carter has a background in art and specialized in decorative sign making and gold leafing for many years. In 2002 he took a week-long course in engraving and found an entirely new calling. It was slow going at first, "Engraving has a huge learning curve," he said, "I don't care if you're Michaelangelo, your work in the beginning is not going to look good." Well past that stage now, his gun commissions—working, shooting, guns— each take about 2 weeks on average to complete and cost several thousand dollars. Each is virtually encased in ornament.

"I have always been a student of style," Carter says, "and sort of bounce from one to the other.” On his site traditional scroll work, tribal and quasi-Celtic geometrics, Renaissance Revival foliage, religious scenes, even Aztec motifs are all in evidence. “I also did a lot of pin-striping on cars and motorcycles,” he explained, “and was really influenced by the Kounter Kulture types like Ed Big Daddy Roth.... So some of my engraving has a lowbrow look to it.” (I'm assuming he's referring to the odd skull and crossbones hidden amidst the gems). "The planets aligned" when he tried out Aesthetic ornamentation on an e-cig and then a derringer. “When people see the derringer they react to it like nothing else.” A derringer, I found out, is a remarkably cool, vintage-looking "palm pistol." The erroneous spelling of 19th century arms manufacturer Henry Deringer's name has come to stand for any small pocket pistol. Put artistic ornament on the derringer and you've automatically got a piece straight from Gangs of New York.

I asked why he thought the Aesthetic ornament seemed to be so popular. “I think people like it because it is full of surprises. It is rich with unexpected elements. Traditional scroll work is rhythmical and predictable. Also, all the unique cuts of the Aesthetic motifs lend themselves so well to chisel work. It is truly the engravers style.” Which is apt since the ornament in artistic printing was all cast or carved in metal to begin with. “Right now I'm doing a traditional scroll piece and I'm not very excited about it.” he lamented. “I'm hooked on Victorian!”

Watch a wonderful little video on Carter created by an e-cig company.
All gun images © Otto Carter
Renaissance Revival foliate scroll work
tribal-Celtic geometricized scroll work

*(I couldnt quite get over the gun he engraved for Rick Perry)


Sexiest Men (no longer) Alive (UPDATE)

Baron von Richthofen, c 1917
80 direct hits. Need I say more?
Early aviator Harry Atwood, c 1910
Not exactly my type but flyboy's got something, too.

 Reverand Rollin Heber Neale, 1850
That is one nasty preacherman.
William Sydney Mount, 1853
A dastardly lout, a cad, a rogue. Tell me more.
Julius Caesar
Proving that sexy is ageless even at 2000+. Vici indeed.
Walter Sickert, about 1918
Walter Sickert is bad news in the best possible way.
Commander in Armor, Anthony van Dyck, c. 1625
Long lush hair, beautiful features, armor. Winning!
Vsevolod Garshin, Ilya Repin, 1884
Ok he seems like a mess but you know you'd want to help him edit his work, get him some new clothes and cook for him.
Adrien Brody would play him in the movie.
Theodore Gericault, Horace Vernet, 1822-23
He painted severed limbs, ship wrecks and the insane and he had tuberculosis. Quite a handful. Then again he looked like this.

Three Men and a Boy, le Nain brothers, 1647-8
Dark, sketchy, satiny long-haired fellows—lets have a beer and discuss.

self portrait?, Michael Sweerts, 1656
Sensitive, moony, he'd leave you love notes and give back rubs. They dont all have to be bad boys.
Portrait of a man against flames, Isaac Oliver, about 1600
The flames, the shirt down to there, the jewelry, this guy is almost too showy for his own good.
Were women throwing their farthingales and drawers at him?
first cousins, the future Tsar Nicholas and King George V
Sporting fellows if ever there were! Double date!
Albert of Belgium, about 1917
Impeccably turned out for trench warfare; he can carry me to safety anytime.
Anton Chekhov, 1890s
Weasly, but then again...
a tailor, Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1565-70
Turbulence beneath the calm, no mere shopkeeper, he.
The heart of an artist strains beneath that finicky, micro-slashed doublet.

I see Jeremy Irons in the movie.

William Hogarth, Louis-François Roubiliac, c 1740
Hogarth is more of a runner-up but I do love this bust. 
He's got a laddish humor and pugilistic intensity that wouldnt be out of place in a Guy Ritchie film.
NEW! Daniel Trembly MacDougal (1865-1958), botanist and tree ring expert.
He'd go to the green market to get you flowers and fill you in on the taxonomical nomenclature

UPDATE! We have a new historical dead boyfriend! Thanks to Mia:
A lady could do worse than Daniel Trembly MacDougal!
MacDougal (1865-1958) began working at the New York Botanical Garden in 1899 as Director of the Laboratories and was promoted in 1904 to an Assistant Directorship. He was recognized as the leading American authority on desert ecology and one of the earliest botanists to research chlorophyll. He is also known as the inventor of the MacDougal dendrograph, an instrument used for recording changes in the volume of tree trunks.
I've been collecting them on and off, images of men that seem incredibly appealing to me despite the century or two (or several) that might separate us. It started with that photo of Chekhov. Something about the greatcoat and the reed slim cane and that cocky, short man sensibility...  You may remember the electrifying Reverend Neale and the darkly dangerous Mr. William Sydney Mount from my Sartorialist, 1850s Edition post.

This is merely a trifling survey and part of on-going research... A good Regency-era Romantic is a must and I am certainly forgetting some entrancing 18th century fellow so please do let me know who should be on this list.

Where is William Powell you might ask? Or Kurt Cobain? or any number of too-recent, too-recognized, or too-well-publicized men who could surely otherwise be on a list of Sexiest Dead Men? Well, this is an inexact science but I'd say they need to have been in their sexy heyday the better part of a century ago to make it to my list.

PS: Someone asked why I skipped Lord Byron. I have to report that his reputation always seemed more attractive to me than he did.


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