Monday, June 30, 2014

Words of Wisdom

At a recent estate sale, I bought a box containing a lot of 1950s Christmas cards.  In with all the images of Santas, puppies, kittens and trees, I found a single page of lined paper that was obviously a lot older than the cards.

The very top of the page had been cut off, but you can still read the lines below.

Someone -- someone with very good penmanship -- had copied (or composed?) poems.

I tried looking the poems up online.  Apparently at least some of them are not original to this author; all the citations I found, date them at least to the 1880s.  I found one other hand-written document on similar lined paper from the same estate, dated September 1, 1880, so my guess is that this sheet of poetry is about the same age.

Here are the poems:

There is not a grand, inspiring thought,
There is not a truth by wisdom taught,
There is not a feeling pure, and high
That may not be read in a mother's eye.

There are teachings of earth and sky and air
The heavens, the glory of God declare
But louder than voice, beneath, above
He is heard to speak through a mother's love.

We may write our names in albums
We may trace them on the sand,
We may chisel them in marble
With a firm and skillful hand. 
But, my friend, there is an album
Full of leaves of snowy white
Where no name is ever tarnished
But forever pure and bright.
In the book of Life, "God's Album"
May your name be traced with care,
And may you, my dearest friend,
Write your name forever there.

...And remember when you're tired and weary
And long to be at home,
That God in all his goodness
Knows what is best for you and me;
And who on earth do heavy crosses bear,
In heaven all bright with beauty
The brightest crown shall wear.

Choose not your friends from outward show,
The feather floats, but the pearl lies low.

Life is a sea, where storms must rise;
'Tis folly talks of cloudless skies;
He who contracts his swelling sail
Eludes the fury of the gale.

Friendship, like an evergreen
Will brave the inclement blast,
And still retain the bloom of spring
When summer days are past;
And though the wintry sky may lower,
And dim the cheerful day,
She still perceives a vital power,
Unconscious of decay.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Victorian Calling Cards

The meaning of a word or a phrase, my pastor often says, depends on the context the author intended to convey.  That goes for cultural terms as well as Scriptural.  

For example, if you tell someone today you got a "calling card," you might mean you'd purchased a small rectangular piece of plastic with code numbers printed on it, that allows the bearer to use a telephone for a certain number of minutes.  

In the 19th century, however, the phrase "calling card" had an entirely different meaning.

I was pleased to find some paper items dating from the mid-to late 1800s at a recent estate sale.  The family had lived in Northern California, and among the things they left behind was a small collection of Victorian-era visiting cards or calling cards.

The system of visiting (calling upon) friends and acquaintances, leaving calling cards, was essential to proper upper-middle class and upper-class etiquette in years gone by.  (The call-and-card system was also a means of keeping unwanted social climbers away.)  One source says that you could not “invite people to your home, however often you may have met them elsewhere, until you have first called upon them in a formal manner and they have returned the visit.” 

If you've read 19th century literature, you may have come across a reference to someone "calling" on another friend and presenting a card with their name printed on it. 

Jane Austen mentioned it:

She reached the house without any impediment, looked at the number, knocked at the door, and inquired for Miss Tilney.
The man believed Miss Tilney to be at home, but was not quite certain.
Would she be pleased to send up her name?
She gave her card.  -- Northanger Abbey

As did Louisa May Alcott:

"Come, Jo, it's time."

"For what?"

"You don't mean to say you have forgotten that you promised to make half a dozen calls with me today?"

"I've done a good many rash and foolish things in my life, but I don't think I ever was mad enough to say I'd make six calls in one day, when a single one upsets me for a week."...

...The family cardcase having done its duty, the girls walked on, and Jo uttered another thanksgiving on reaching the fifth house, and being told that the young ladies were engaged.  -- Little Women

From the Georgian era through the Edwardian, and perhaps a little after that, when you went to visit someone else, you probably presented a calling card when you got to their door. It was a small rectangle of cardstock, about the size of a business card, with your name written or, more properly, printed on it.  People collected the calling cards and often saved them inside ornate cases.  

Some of the cards I found at the estate sale are very plain:

Others are more ornate:

Another popular style was the "hidden name" calling card.  One edge of a colorful embossed design was glued to the front of the card, obscuring the person's name written underneath.  You lifted the other edge of the design to reveal the name of your caller:

You can see words written underneath the flowers on this ornate, oval-shaped calling card.

The collection I found included cards for ladies:

For gentlemen callers:

(Some of the designs don't look particularly masculine!)

And there were even some "salesman's sample" calling cards in the lot, in a variety of designs:

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England website has an article on social calls and calling cards:

Another website related to Jane Austen's legacy, recounts the etiquette of leaving calling cards:

"May thy pathway ever be sweet & flowery unto thee."

Here are some other articles on calling cards:

Vintage Greeting Cards with Floral Designs

One of my favorite things to find at estate sales, is a colorful old greeting card.   

Floral designs were popular in the post-World War II era. 

Here are some examples of cards I found at yesterday's estate sale.

Irises and daisies.

A single yellow rose.

(How did Mary and her Little Lamb get in there? And why?)


Thursday, June 26, 2014

For the Astronaut In Training: The Ideal Astro Base

It's always fun to see old toys at estate sales.  But this one didn't seem all that old to me.  That's probably because the Ideal Astro Base and I -- well, we're not exactly contemporaries, but we both came along when space toys were (okay, pun intended) really taking off in America.

I bought it and brought it home.

It's easy to forget that, not so very long ago, the idea of space travel was relatively new.  Jules Verne H. G, Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote of traveling to the moon and beyond.  My parents' generation spent countless hours at Saturday movie matinees watching Buck Rogers, and listening to his adventures at home on the radio.  

Larry Crabbe later became known as "Buster."  The rest, as they say, is history.

They also watched Flash Gordon and read about him in the newspaper comics.

In the post-World War II era, the idea of space travel appealed to a new generation of American kids. And in the early 1960s, Ideal Toy Company released the Astro Base.

Someone has posted a copy of the 1960 TV ad for the Astro Base on YouTube.  It's worth it to take a look:

The Astro Base with a Scout Car, two rockets and an astronaut originally cost $19.95 -- the equivalent of $158.14 today.  (Batteries not included.) For another $3.98, you could get a helmet that would fit the young astronaut in charge of the mission.

The Astro Base I found did still have the Scout Car, but the rockets, the astronaut and some of the other parts were missing.  

This Astro Base just found a new home with a former young space explorer who wanted it for his personal collection. 

Perhaps that's one of the good things about being a grownup in 2014 -- you can go online and find all the toys you wanted as a kid, or replace the ones that your mom gave away when you went off to college.

Collectors Weekly has an article on vintage space toys:

Here's a website that explains more about the Astro Base and shows the original instruction sheet:

This website shows a print ad for the Astro Base, and features comments by former wannabe space explorers who remember owning this toy:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Old-Fashioned Summer with Skin-Nay

Since summer is about to begin, I thought we might look at some memories from summertime long ago.

At almost every estate sale I attend, I find tattered old books that someone has saved from their childhood.  The books bear the marks of having being fervently loved.  

One such book I picked up recently bears an odd title:

Oh Skin-Nay! The Days of Real Sport.  

It's a collection of cartoons by an artist named Clare Briggs, with text by Wilbur D. Nesbit.  It was first published in 1913...101 years ago.

The Days of Real Sport shows a year in the life of some small-town American kids, with a verse by Nesbit for each illustration by Briggs.  

In the drawings, the boys often refer to their playmate named Skinny (which sounds like "Skin-Nay!" when shouted at the top of their lungs) Malloy.  

Unlike a lot of single-panel cartoons, which deliver their humor in one swift punch, Briggs' drawings are complex and nuanced.  They draw a series of chuckles from the reader, rather than a belly laugh.  

Scholars who research such things have noted that there's always more than one thing going on in these cartoons by Briggs. Unlike a lot of single-panel cartoons, which deliver their humor in one swift punch, Briggs' drawings are complex and nuanced.  They draw a series of chuckles from the reader, rather than a belly laugh.  

On "A Hot Sunday Afternoon," the parents are trying to beat the heat in the shade of a tree.  One daughter is quietly reading next to them, but the two little boys are pestering their mother and the baby is trying to jar the father out of his nap under the Sunday newspaper.   The windows of the house are open. In the distant background, some neighbors are walking by.

Clare Briggs (1875-1930) was a cartoon artist for several newspapers in St. Louis and Chicago before landing a job with the Chicago Tribune in 1907.  There he developed Oh Skin-Nay! The Days of Real Sport, loosely based on his own childhood experiences.  In 1914, Briggs moved over to work for the New York Herald-Tribune.  He died in 1930 of pneumonia.  In addition to Oh Skin-Nay! he was well-known for his comics A. Piker Clerk (which has been called the first daily continuity comic strip), Mr. and Mrs. (which inspired a radio show of the same name), When a Feller Needs a Friend (which inspired a movie starring Jackie Cooper), and Ain't It a Grand and Glorious Feeling (which inspired a song by the same name). 

The Smithsonian Institute Libraries website observes that Briggs drew upon his own memories of childhood for the illustrations of Skin-Nay and Co., and notes that "his drawings of small town and city life are so accurate that they provide a historical record of the era."

Some of the children in Briggs' panels do the same thing in story after story.
Note the kid who's making the swing spin.

Even though he was one of the highest-paid and best-known cartoon and caricature artists of his time, Clare Briggs is relatively unknown today.  Fortunately his work is being studied by scholars and fans of classic comics alike. Oh Skin-Nay! has been reprinted in a facsimile edition, so a new generation of readers has been introduced to those active little boys and girls of long ago. 

There's the kid getting dizzy on a swing again.

Wilbur D. Nesbit (1871-1927) was a journalist and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune who was also well-known for his poetry.  He wrote a poem (outside the realm of Skinny and his friends) that's important for us to remember:

Who hath a book
Hath friends at hand,
And gold and gear
At his command;
And rich estates,
If he but look,
Are held by him
Who hath a book.

Who hath a book
Hath but to read
And he may be
A king, indeed.
His kingdom is
His inglenook-
All this is his
Who hath a book.

I looked through some of the readers' comments about Briggs' work on a website that sells used books.  One person wrote that reading Oh Skin-Nay is like having a great-grandfather tell you about his own childhood.  

One could do worse than have such an artistic legacy.

I sent this old copy of Oh Skin-Nay to a young family member who is very artistic.  He can listen to Briggs and Nesbit tell about their childhoods, and use those stories to tell tales of his own. 

Here's a biography of Clare Briggs:

And a 1924 interview with him:,6458138

There's a memorial to Clare Briggs in his hometown of Reedsburg, Wisconsin:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Strongheart the Wonder Dog

In an earlier post, I wrote about the "pawtographed" picture of Rin-Tin-Tin that I found at the estate sale of an elderly woman.  Rin-Tin-Tin was one of the most famous movie dogs of all time.  In a lot of his biographies, you read about his screen predecessor, another German Shepherd named Strongheart.

I'd never come across any Strongheart memorabilia, though, until I found a small book at a sale this morning.

From my research on Rin-Tin-Tin, I knew who Strongheart was, so I bought the book.

Strongheart's biography, published in 1926 by Whitman, was written by his trainer, Lawrence Trimble, who, along with his wife, writer Jane Murfin, brought the dog back from Germany after World War I, believing that he could be trained so he could appear in films like other dogs such as Jean the Vitagraph Dog .

The Internet Movie Database notes:  

His first movie, "The Silent Call" (1921), bore Trimble's expectations out, making Strongheart a star, beloved by movie-goers of all ages. Strongheart was given the star treatment, traveling by train to make personal appearances, at which he was greeted by crowds of adoring fans. He was written up in newspapers and magazines, and even the radio proclaimed "Strongheart" a star. A dog food named after him became popular and is still being produced over three-quarters of a century later. In the ultimate accolade, J. Allen Boone wrote two books about the shepherd, "Letters to Strongheart" and "Kinship with All Life."

The description of the photo above reads: 

of men who had gone before, and Strongheart was always in the lead.  The wild North had a great call for him, it must have brought back to him, wild, primordial instincts 
of the past.

If you look closely at the left side of the pages in the book, you'll see perforation marks.  The book was designed so Strongheart's fans could take the pictures out and display them.

Strongheart did not have to brave the wilderness alone; he found a companion in a female Shepherd named Lady Jule. continues:

Strongheart appeared in "Brawn of the North" (1922), "The Love Master" (1924), "White Fang" (1925), "North Star" (1925) and "The Return of Boston Blackie" (1927). Love came his way when he was paired with Lady Jule, a female German Shepherd who co-starred with him. The happy canine couple produced many litters, including offspring who would sire pups who grew up to be movie stars themselves.

None was as popular as their father, though, who got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street. 

Here's an article on Strongheart:

Here's the IMDB citation:

You can watch a short video clip of Strongheart attacking a bad guy in The Return of Boston Blackie, here:

Strongheart Dog Food is still being produced.  It even has its own page on Facebook.

And finally, here's my blog post on Rin-Tin-Tin:

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Horse Book Illustrators, Part Three: Sam Savitt

This post is one in a series on vintage books about horses and ponies, focusing on the men and women who illustrated the books.  I encourage you to find some of these old books and add them to your collection -- and share them with someone else too!

Books about kids and animals were once as as ubiquitous in school libraries, as books about kids living in Dystopia are today.   It's fun to remember the Good Old Books and magazines we used to read as kids.   

When I bought the small stack of vintage Boys' Life magazines from the 1950s at a recent estate sale, I didn't expect to see anything familiar inside.  Boys' Life, after all, was a Boy Scout magazine, and these issues were printed a little before my time.  

Then I started looking at some of the story illustrations, and recognized the artist immediately: Sam Savitt.

(Goodness, that's a lot of action -- probably much more than the average Boy Scout saw in 1953.)  

A lot of young kids say they want to be an animal when they grow up.  Sam Savitt (1917-2000) was quoted as saying he wanted to be a horse when he was little, but he had to content himself with being an outstanding illustrator of the horse instead.

Savitt wrote and illustrated 15 horse books and illustrated more than 100 by other authors.  He is best-known to some readers for his books on how to draw horses.  I found a copy of one of them at another estate sale:

In addition to books, Savitt's work also appeared on note cards...

...and a series of postcards depicting horse breeds of the world.

I met Sam Savitt at a model horse event a few years before his death.  He was kind enough to autograph one of my postcards:

Here's a website dedicated to Sam Savitt's art:

Here's his obituary in the New York Times, which recaps his career:

Here's a link to Part One of this series, on Paul Brown:

And Part Two, on Wesley Dennis: