Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Henry Wilson Choker, 1910

Necklace of Seed Pearls, Emeralds, Star Rubies, Moonstone and Enamel
Henry Wilson, ca. 1910
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The famed Arts and Crafts jeweler Henry Wilson's (1864-1934) was celebrated for its brilliant color combinations worked in stones and enamel as well as its natural sculptural qualities.  Wilson, after training as an architect, became interested in metalwork in the 1890s, and went on to teach at the Royal College of Art.   He later penned a practical manual “Silverwork and Jewellery” in 1903 wherein he encouraged his students to “feed his imagination on old work,” and incorporate historical themes.

This necklace is a great example of Wilson’s sensibilities.  Here, we see that the back as well as the front of the central pendant is decorated with enamel in the manner of Renaissance jewelry.  The necklace of gold is set with star rubies, emeralds, moonstones, emamel, seed pearls and pearl drops and adorned with an enameled plaque of a running stag.

The necklace was made by Wilson in Kent around 1910.

History's Runway: A Costume Design for Vesta Tilley, c.1908

Costume Design
Robert Crafter
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Dating to about 1908, this costume design by Robert Crafter was created for Vesta Tilley for an unidentified production. 

Miss Tilley is shown in male attire, but Crafter has feminized the outfit in order to showcase Miss Tilley’s feminine figure.  This was a departure for the star who, when dressed as a man, strove to truly look the part.  

Antique Image of the Day: The German Prince, 19th C.

The German Prince
Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

“The German Prince” was written by Albert Hall and  composed by Walter de Frece to be sung by Miss Vesta Tilley in the late Nineteenth Century.  Tilley would have performed the song in her trademark male apparel.  

Here, we see an original color song-sheet of “The German Prince” from the era.  The art is by H.G. Banks. 

At the Music Hall: The Seaside Smile

Miss Vesta Tilley (1864-1952) made her mark on the boards of London’s finest music halls.  Celebrated for her singing voice and beauty, Miss Tilley also remains considered  the greatest of the “male impersonators” on the music hall stage.  

Cross dressing has long been a comedic staple of British theatre with roots in pantomime.  It remains a popular comic device to this day, and Tilley was one of the pioneers in the theme of women dressing as men.

Tilley made her last appearance at the London Coliseum in May 1920.  Enjoy this clip of Miss Tilley singing one of her hits--"The Seaside Smile."

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 41

Chapter 41:
Gone to Ice

It’s still cold in here.  Feel like my blood has gone to ice.” Mr. Punch whispered to Robert, alone with his companion in the Red and Blue Chinese Luncheon Room of Buckingham Palace.  “I’ll say that Mr. Blore’s new East façade is a sight better than what it was, but I thought Prince Albert had solved the problems in the state rooms.”

“Clearly not,” Robert replied softly, also shivering.  “The smell is a bit overpowering, too.”
Mr. Punch frowned.  “I remember the first time I came here.”

“Oh?”  Robert whispered.

“Sure,” Punch nodded, letting his “Julian” voice fade for a moment since they were alone.  “It weren’t me, of course.  It were still Julian.  Only I remember this room being cold, then, too.  It were just when Mr. Cubitt were finishin’ the central quadrangle and Mr. Blore were plunderin’ Brighton Pavilion—draggin’ all them oriental fittin’s from over there to here.  I remember Julian thinkin’ that it were odd that Her Majesty would wish for anything what reminded her of George IV in this place, but here it is—this room.  It’s straight from Brighton, it is.”

“It doesn’t really match anything else.” Robert replied softly, grinning.

“Oh.  Look ‘round.  There’s bits of Brighton all over this place.”

“It’s not an unattractive room, but it does rather put me in mind of George IV.”

“That’s because it’s all his things in here.  Even the walls, I think.” Punch pointed to the ceiling.  “And, them queer shallow domes.  Smelled like the inside of a chamber pot when I…well, Julian…were here that first time, and it does a bit now.”

“You’re correct,”  Robert looked around.  “We’ve been waiting an awfully long time.” Robert sighed.  “I thought Germans were meant to be punctual.”

“Aw, who knows what His Majesty is about?”  Punch studied his companion.  “How are you?”

“Much better than yesterday.”  Robert grinned.  “Thank you.  And, again, I’m terribly sorry that I spent all of that time shouting.”

“You was angry, you were.  And, I don’t blame you a lick.  Were awful what the William Stover bloke done to ya.  But, I know he won’t do it ‘gain.  He won’t be botherin’ us.”

“How can you be so sure?” Robert sighed.

“Just sure, I am.” Punch winked.

Suddenly, the main entrance swung open and a footman in very fine livery entered.  “His Majesty, Prince Albert.”

Punch and Robert rose.  Making sure he looked the part, Punch stiffened his back and arranged his face into an expression which almost resembled the look of cautious detachment that Julian was known to wear.

“Fallbridge,” Prince Albert barked.  “Dr. Halifax.  Pardon my tardiness.”

“Your Majesty,” Punch bowed his head.  “We are at your service.”

“Sit.” Prince Albert pointed to the round, cloth-covered table in the center of the room.
Robert and Punch waited for Prince Albert to sit before taking to their own chairs. 

Prince Albert snapped his fingers and as if from nowhere, half a dozen footmen appeared carrying domed trays. 

“Have you my drawings?” The Prince Consort asked.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Mr. Punch nodded, removing a leather folder—bound in ribbon—from the inside pocket of his court coat.

Prince Albert took the parcel and tossed it onto an empty chair.  “Fine.  I shall look when I have time and send you my thoughts.”

“Very good, Your Majesty.”

Robert noticed that his hands were shaking as he reached for a capered bit of some kind of fish which had been offered him from a tray by one of the footmen.

“Doctor?” Prince Albert smiled.  “You seem nervous.”

“No, Your Majesty.”  Robert smiled.

“Your hands always shake, then?  Not what one wants from a physician!”

“Oh, no, Sir.”  Robert replied in an even voice.  “You see, this being only my second time in the palace, I am not so much nervous as excited.  Hence, my shaking hands.  I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this magnificent palace and by the generosity of Your Majesty.”

“A fitting answer.” Prince Albert smirked.  “You’re well-suited to the always-politic Fallbridge here.”  He narrowed his eyes at Robert.  “You don’t suppose your shaking hands have anything to do with the fact that it’s terribly cold in this room?”

“No, Your Majesty,” Robert replied as cheerfully as possible, not quite sure why Prince Albert appeared to be picking on him.

“You needn’t omit the truth.  The room is cold.  I’m told nothing can be done about it.”

“What a pity,” Mr. Punch said, still speaking as Julian.  “The room is so handsome.”

“This room?  Dear God, Fallbridge, I hope this isn’t your taste.  I’d hate to see what you’ve designed for me if it is.  This abomination stinks of the Queen’s uncle.  It’s all from Brighton, you know?  You can’t imagine what atrocities these walls have seen.”

“Your Majesties will erase anything untoward with your mere presence.”  Punch replied.
“See?  Politic.  Politic as always.”  Prince Albert smirked.  “Now, we eat.”

They consumed their meal—which was, at least, warm—in relative silence.

Finally, Robert found the nerve to speak.  “How is Her Majesty?”

“Heavy with child and quite unhappy about it.” Prince Albert grunted.  “I doubt the skills of her physicians.”

“I’m terribly sorry to hear it, Your Majesty.”  Robert answered.

“Perhaps you should like to have a look at Her Majesty?” Prince Albert asked flatly.  “I am told you’ve experience in birthing.”

“I have, Sir.” Robert nodded.  “If it would please Your Majesties, I would be honored to consult.”

“Yes.” The Prince Consort nodded.  “Perhaps.  We shall see.”

Again, they ate in silence.

“Now,” Prince Albert rose after about twenty minutes.  “Forgive me, but I must take my leave.”

Punch and Robert rose as Prince Albert retrieved the leather-bound drawings from the empty chair.

“Thank you for such a fine meal, Your Majesty.” Mr. Punch said.  “And, also for the extremely fine gift that you sent to me for the anniversary of my birth.”

“We received your letter of thanks.  No further mention is needed.”  Prince Albert nodded.  “Good day, Fallbridge…Doctor.”

“Your Majesty,” Robert bowed.

With that, Prince Albert walked briskly from the room.

And, once again, Robert and Punch were alone in the luncheon room.

“What do we do now?”  Robert asked.  “I haven’t finished.”

“If a footman comes, we leave.  If we’re left alone, we eat.” Punch smiled.

They both sat down again, but not for long as a footman—one that they had not seen before—arrived to escort them from the room.

Silently, Punch and Robert walked to their carriage, climbing inside.

Once Huchinson had steered them through the gates of the palace, Punch and Robert both burst into wild laughter.

“What was that fish?”  Robert asked.

“I got no idea,” Punch howled.  “It smelled of the Thames.  The sauce was good.”

“I barely had three bites.” Robert chuckled.

“We’ll get Mrs. Pepper to make somethin’ for us when we get home, we will.”

“I think we’d best.” Robert nodded.  He paused.  “Dear Punch, you were brilliant again.”

“Eh.” Punch shrugged.

“Do you think His Majesty was serious in having me examine the Queen?”

“Could be.” Punch sighed.  “Who knows what that one thinks?”

The rose in silence for a few moments.  Robert, after awhile, finally spoke, “Thank you, dear Punch.”

“For what?”

“For listening to me all last evening and for introducing me to all of these new things, and…well…”

“Chum, if we thanked one another for all we did, we’d never say nothin’ else.”

Robert grinned as the carriage pulled up the No. 65 Belgrave Square.

“Here,” Punch squinted, looking out the window.  “What’s that on the steps?”

“Pardon?” Robert shook his head, peering out the window.

There, on the steps of their townhouse was what appeared to be a large sack of ruddy rags.

“Bugger!” Punch shouted.

As Punch howled, Robert realized at what they were looking.  It was not a parcel of rags, it was a man—lying on his stomach across several steps.

“It’s a bloke!” Punch snorted, climbing out of the carriage. 

The two hurried to the side of the man.

“He’s dead.” Robert whispered, checking for the man’s pulse.

Punch reached over and turned the man’s head to see William Stover’s face—barely recognizable beneath repeated bloody blows.

Did you miss Chapters 1-40 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square?  If so, you can read them here Come back on Monday for Chapter 42. 

Drawing of the Day: Vesta Tilley by George Cooke, 1910-20

Vesta Tilley
George Cooke
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This caricature of music hall star (and male impersonator) Vesta Tilley  is from the fourth album which was compiled by the commercial artist George Cooke as a way to preserve his caricatures of music hall and variety performers. This fourth album contains caricatures drawn from 1910 to 1919.

This pen, ink and wash drawing of the head of Vesta Tilley shows the performer wearing a top hat.  She is shown in shadow on the left side of her face, and is set against a black background, with four small silhouettes of her in the left hand margin.

Object of the Day: A Trade Card for Industrial Insurance

This image of a well-dressed lady with her gloves and riding crop shows the sense of growing female independence which was on the rise at the end of the Nineteenth Century.  She’s outfitted quite beautifully in a fashionable under-dress of puce and a swagged bustle in the hot pink color which dominated fashion of the era as chemical dyes became more prominent.  She wears a matching hat, and is posed at the top of a garden staircase.

The card, I think, was probably a stock image which was selected from a catalog for use in advertising Industrial Insurance.

The text on the front of the card reads:

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York.

Branch Office
S. Salina Street,

The reverse chronicles the various types of insurance offered by Metropolitan Life Insurance along with listing the names of the Officers and Directors of the Company.

To be honest, the print is so small and the subject matter so dry, that my eyes would fall out if I tried to type it out for you in the manner in which I usually do.  So, we’ll just look at the back of the card.   

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mastery of Design: A Burmese Double Comb, Late Eighteenth Century

Burmese Double-Sided Comb
Late Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Burma around 1875, this double-sided, wooden comb is mounted with gold and inlaid with a trellis-work of un-faceted rubies and emeralds the traditional Burmese style.  Such a comb would have been the stuff  of a Burmese court lady's cosmetic box.  These handy boxes were known as a “bi-it.”  Aside from combs, they usually held, perfumes, a few tresses of hair (to augment a lady’s hair like a wig-let) and thanahka (powder).

This particular comb is believed to be of royal provenance.  The very stringent laws of the Burmese court of Mandalay during the time of the Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885) restricted the use of precious gemstones to only royalty and courtiers. 

Mr. Punch's Puzzles, The Riddle of the Week

Join Mr. Punch on the second week of his 350th year as, once again, we offer up a true Victorian riddle.  The first person to answer correctly--by posting in the comments--will receive public congratulations.  

So, here's this week's riddle.  We ask that you don't Google the answer.  Mr. Punch would not find that sporting at all.  Give it a shot and see what you can come up with.  Here we go... No cheating...

 What is better than an idea?

And, the answer is

"You, dea'."  (You, dear.)

Thanks to all those who answered.  I always enjoy your responses.  Come back next Friday for another of Mr. Punch's Puzzles.

In the meantime, check out our online store to see how you can “Punch” up your everyday life.  And, remember, that’s the way to do it!

Drawing of the Day: A Pulcinella Booth, 17th-18th C.

A Pulcinella Show
17th-18th C.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This beautiful work of ink and watercolor dates sometime between the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and depicts Mr. Punch’s Italian cousin, Pulcinella, as performed within a lovely shell-blue booth.

Now part of the George Speaight Archive at the V&A, the illustration’s exact age and provenance are unknown, but it’s almost certainly Italian—not only because of the subject, but because of the gentle and loose style in which it is rendered.  

Antique Image of the Day: Pray remember the Puppet Shew Man, 19th C.

Pray Remember the Puppet Shew Man
Nineteenth Century
George Speaight Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This Nineteenth Century, hand-etching is inscribed “Pray remember the Puppet Shew Man (sic.) and depicts, fittingly, a crowd at a puppet show as the bottler (money collector) works his way through the crowd.

The caricature-style image is meant to reinforce the roughness of the characters and the inscription is written in common London-street parlance of the Nineteenth Century. 

And, that, frankly, is all we know.  It’s not signed nor has it been attributed to anyone, and, frankly, the date of creation is difficult to pin down.  However, it’s a fine image which very neatly serves its purpose.  It lives in the George Speaight Archive at the V&A.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 40

Chapter 40:
Raised Voices

Gerard quietly crept down the attic stairs, hoping to sneak into the servants’ hall unnoticed. He hadn’t counted on Charles being seated at the end of the narrow service staircase.

“Charles,” Gerard smiled despite the fatigue and confusion he was experiencing from sleeping all day.  “How’s your wrist, mate?”

“It’s not too bad,” Charles sighed, standing up.

“You all in?  Why are you sittin’ here?”

“A couple of reasons,” Charles mumbled.  He pointed toward the door which led to the service entrance to the mansion’s morning room.  Raised voices—or, to be more accurate, one particular raised voice—beat through the padded door and echoed throughout the servants’ stairway.

“Is that the doctor in there shoutin’ like that?” Gerard asked, rubbing his eyes with the knuckles of his index fingers.

“It is.” Charles nodded.

“He and the master havin’ a row?  Ain't like them.”

“No.” Charles shook his head.  “From what I gather, His Grace is just listening while Dr. Halifax vents his spleen.”

“What for?” Gerard asked nervously.

“I suppose he feels betrayed.”

Charles began to visibly perspire and his cheeks flushed.

“Not by you and the medicine,” Charles said plainly.  “If that’s what you’re thinking.”

“So, you know?”

“I do.” Charles smiled.  “It’s rather difficult to keep secrets in a room that size.”

“I didn’t mean no harm, Charlie.” Gerard said shamefully.  “It’s just it’s been so long since I had a drop o’ the drink.  I saw the bottle there and I wondered what it’d be like, is all.”

“And, doing so caused you to miss almost a full day of work.” Charles replied.  “A day that Violet had to make up for you since Gamilla and I were busy and His Grace hasn’t replaced Hortence yet.”

“Vi had to do my work?”

“A large part of it.” Charles nodded.

“I do feel bad ‘bout that.”  Gerard mumbled. 

“Gerry, I understand why you did it.  I really do.  Sometimes a body needs an escape.  I remember when I was a little younger—before I left Italy and Giovanni…”

“Your brother.” Gerard nodded.  “The no-good one.”

“Yes.”  Charles answered.  “I would wonder if I could ever escape him.  I wondered if I’d ever feel anything good.  I know what it means to want to go somewhere else for awhile.”
“I know you do,” Gerard answered regretfully.  “Only I ain’t as strong as you when it comes to that.  I ain’t had a drop of anything in almost a year.  Not even at the Duke’s celebration.  But, I saw how warm and goofy that med’cine made ya,  I was…envious, I guess.”

“You can’t do it again.” Charles responded.

“You didn’t tell the doctor?”

“No, but I thought about it.  I was going to bring the bottle back the Dr. Haliax, but I couldn’t tell him.”

“Loyalty to your pal?”

“Partly.  Also because we were interrupted.”  Charles laughed.  “But, I imagine some of it was loyalty.  I didn’t want to see you get in trouble, I really didn’t.  Just now I was about to try to return the bottle again—just to get it out of temptation’s way.  I figured I’d tell the doctor I was taking it, but didn’t feel I needed it any longer.”

“What stopped you?”

“The front bell rang and when I opened it, in bounded Dr. Halifax, seething and all red in the face.  I  never saw him look like that before.  Sure, I’ve seen him angry, but nothing like that.  He bounded into the house, went right into the morning room and slammed the door.”

“That musta been the loud noise that woke me.”  Gerard shook his head.  “I thought maybe it were the Duke playin’ with Dog Toby.”

“Musta been.”  Charles sighed.  “So, the doctor sent me for His Grace who joined him in the morning room and, now, the doctor’s been shouting ever since.”

“Do you know what for?”

“I think it’s got to do with William Stover.”

“That Humpty Dumpty bloke who came here?  The one you said you saw lurking in the square?”

“That’s the one.”  Charles replied.  “Saw him this morning, too.  He was following the Duke and Dr. Halifax around Covent Garden.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.” Gerard scratched his chin.

“Nor I.”  Charles nodded.  “When I was upstairs with the Duke and His Grace earlier the doctor got a message saying there was an emergency at the Stover Porcelain Company and that eh should come right away.  So, he left.  We didn’t expect him back so soon.  But, to be honest, I’ll bet there was no emergency.  I thought when the doctor left that it had a fishy smell to it, that story.  With all the doctors on that side of London, why need Dr. Halifax?”

“So, the doctor’s been in there yellin’ ever since?”

“Sure has.”

“Hmmmph.”  Gerard snorted.  “All I can say is that this Stover bloke better stay ‘way from here if he knows what’s good for him.”

“What’s this?”  Ellen asked as she met up with the gentlemen in the service passage. “What’s all the shouting?  I had to come down to see what was happening.”

“The doctor is upset ‘bout somethin’, Miss.”  Gerard explained.  “He’s telling the Duke all about how he was tricked this afternoon.”

“That Stover fellow?”  Ellen asked, wide-eyed.

“Ya know ‘im?” Gerard asked.

“No—I’ve only heard him mentioned by the Duke and Dr. Halifax.”  Ellen clucked her tongue.  “He sounds like an unpleasant man.  I wonder what the doctor ever saw in him.”
“Sometimes when a bloke is only, he’ll keep company with anyone he can.” Gerard shrugged.
“But, usually the doctor is such a good judge of character.”  Ellen sighed.  “This Stover man seems intent to cause trouble.”

“Well, of course, he is.  The Duke is very wealthy.  Who knows what this Stover wants?  Did you see him lurking at St. Paul’s this morning?”

“Is that who that was?”  Ellen asked.  “I felt as if someone was watching us.”

“He was there all right.” Charles shook his head.

“He’d be smart to stay away from this house and from the masters.”  Ellen barked.

“He doesn’t know what’ll hit ‘im if he does.” Gerard winked.

“I’ll tell you what will hit him.” Ellen smiled, balling up her hand into a fist.

“I like that,” Charles winked.

“Those two gentlemen have been kinder to me than my own brothers—and my brothers have been limitlessly kind, if that tells you anything.  I won’t let them suffer for a moment.”

“You’re not alone.”  Charles said firmly.

“I’d best get back to the nursery,”  Ellen said.  “Will you two please keep me informed if there’s more trouble?”

“Sure, Miss.”  Gerard answered eagerly.

“Thank you.”

Once Ellen had left, Charles and Gerard stood awkwardly alone.  Finally, Gerry spoke up.
“Charlie, ‘bout the med’cine.”

“I won’t say a word.”  Charles nodded.  “Only there’s a condition.”


“Just bring it back to Dr. Halifax like I asked.” Charles answered.

“Right after tea.”

“Speaking of tea,” Charles said with a panicked look in his eyes.  “I’m going to need you help what with only having one good hand for the time being.”

“Sure thing.” Gerard nodded.

“And, there’s a letter to go to Countess Hamish.”

“Where’s Tom, then?  That’s his job.”  Gerard frowned.

“Gone missing again.”

“That rotten boy.” Gerard grumbled.  He paused.  “Why’s that old crone getting a letter anyway?”

“It’s from the Duke in response to a letter she’d sent this late afternoon.  The Duke tells me that Lady Constance and Countess Hamish were here last night.  Seems  the old lady made quite a scene about having to wait outside for too long and she was terribly insulting to both masters.  Today, she sent a letter of apology—making sure to remind the Duke that the invitation to dinner was still extended.”

“What’d he say?  Do you know?”

“He responded that he will be unable to attend.  That was all.”  Charles chuckled.

“Good for ‘im.”

“I suppose they can stand up for themselves, His Grace and the doctor.  But, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to protect them.”  Charles continued.

“Nor should it?”  Gerard agreed.  “The Lord knows that anyone who interferes with those men will get theirs in the end.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-39 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Saturday for Chapter 41.