Archive for November, 2011

This morning, I began looking for holiday decorations and, as usual, starting reading instead. Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that I found, or rather, “rediscovered” a Scientific American from 1900 depicting scenes from a production of “Ben Hur” at the Broadway theater in New York on the cover. In yesterday’s post, I described a Christmas scene illustrated by William Martin Johnson who was most famous for his illustrations for a book entitled “Ben Hur: A Tale of Christ” by Gen. Lew Wallace. Is this just a coincidence?

Indeed, the article associated with the cover illustrations mentioned the book by name.  I can’t say that I knew about the book (but I have seen the 1959 movie (and there were 2 more made in 1907 and 1925 based on this book!)), but according to Scientific American, it “attained a wider sale than probably any other American work of fiction with the exception of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ ” The article goes on to tell the story, but, as a scientific magazine should, the focus becomes mechanics and effects.  “The new effects were invented by Mr. Claude L. Hagen, of the firm of McDonald & Hagen, New York city, who is also the master machinist of this splendid production of ‘Ben Hur.’ ”

The article began with a discussion about why Mr. Hagen’s skills were in particular demand in 1900:  “For years the public has been demanding more realism in plays. … The public dislikes long waits, and more than once a play or opera has proved a failure on this account; but after one has seen the production of an elaborate play from behind the scenes, he will never again be impatient at the length of the entr’ acte.” Mr. Hagen was able create the chariot race illusion by means of treadmills beneath the stage “which are covered by sections of planking which are removed and carried out to the wings when the race is to take place. There are eight treadmills, one for each horse, and the horses are brought up from the stables, a few blocks away, a short time before they are needed, and they take their places with the artists and supernumeraries awaiting their cue to go upon the stage.”

So this leads to the movie “Hugo” which opened on Wednesday, and is one I recommend. Hugo is about a boy who, due to unfortunate circumstances, has been left with the job of keeping the clocks in a Parisian railroad station in good order and on time. It isn’t really a “coming of age” story as much as it is a “being an age” story. The child has grown-up responsibilities already and identifies strongly with his work. His father taught him how to be a clock maker and can fix mechanical objects, including an automaton, which represents much of the movie’s underlying themes. The child’s life becomes entwined with that of Maries Georges Jean Méliès otherwise known as Georges Méliès (1861 – 1938) a famous Parisian cinematographer.

I won’t say anymore in hopes that you see it this holiday season.



But is it steampunk? You may ask. Well, I wore my new clockwork and key earrings from Steampunk Styles and saw the previews, and looked for steampunk references (which were quite a few) and my conclusion is …

By the way, the magazine is available for purchase at Steam at Harper’s Ferry.

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This beautifully illustrated edition still has an intact cover in tan, blue and white. Egyptian hieroglyphs grace the page behind Mary holding the Christ child. A burning candle is placed in front of a lamb. The illustration is by William Martin Johnson who is most famous for his illustrations in the book Ben-Hur published in 1880.

On a lighter note, on page 1043, there is a paid supplement for “Vin Mariani a la coca du Perou”. A special offer for customers is an illustrated book, containing “Portraits and Autographs of Celebrities” and “will be sent FREE to all who apply.” The drink’s virtues are limitless! Clergymen recommend it, along with all “eminent physicians,” equestrians and bicyclists to not feel fatigue when fortified with it, and “[t]o clear the throat, to maintain the voice and to counteract nervous strain, orators, teachers and public speakers” indulge in its properties.

What is the the wine’s secret?

The primary ingredient for Angelo, also known as Ange-Francois, Mariani’s cure-all was Bordeaux wine infused with three (3!) coca leaf varietals. He started producing the wine in 1863 and exported it to the United States, where, over the next several years, he was met with fierce competition. For example, in 1884, John Pemberton started distributing “French Coca Wine” from Atlanta, Georgia which was fiercely lobbied against, resulting in the invention of Coca-Cola according to the Exposition Universelle des Vins & Spirituex website.

Mr. Mariani’s U.S. sales stopped in 1914 when an act, called the Harrison Act, controlled the sale of products containing coca leaves. This was the same year in which he died.

This edition has great advertisements relating to awards granted at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition and French fashion.

Happy Saturday!

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I’ve been preparing a selection of Victorian-era Christmas newspapers to sell at the shop. Since I wasn’t able to help the Harper’s Ferry Merchant’s Association decorate the town with fresh Christmas greens because I spent most of the day waiting for an electrician to fix an overhead light, today was a good day to look over some scanned illustrations and articles.

One newspaper cover, Harper’s Weekly dated Saturday, December 25, 1875 was particularly striking. It features an African-American man selling a holly branch. He wears tattered clothes and is talking to a white woman with her child, both of whom are well-dressed. At first, I was reluctant to post this image and also considered not displaying it at all because it may be considered in bad taste to show it. I looked at it some more and thought about the Christmas theme and read the accompanying article and convinced myself that it is an entirely appropriate post.

In the United States, the Civil War ended on April 18, 1865. When you look at the image, you’ll see that the man is not only an African American, but old enough to have been a slave. He appears to take pride in selling this greenery. He is an entrepreneur and the money he makes from the sale will most likely be his. It is a casual scene. It is remarkable in context.

This newspaper was published in 1875, a mere 10 years after the Civil War and depicts a scene in Richmond, Virginia which served as the capital of the Confederate States.

That same year, on March 1, 1875, the Civil Rights Act was passed.  It was, according to PBS.org, passed by the “last biracial U.S. Congress of the 19th century. … It protected all Americans, regardless of race, in their access to public accommodations and facilities such as restaurants, theaters, trains and other public transportation, and protected the right to serve on juries. However, it was not enforced, and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1883.”  The bill was introduced in 1870 by Senator Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts and its chief sponsor was Congressman Benjamin Butler, also a Republican from Massachusetts.

The woman in the illustration did not have the right to vote. She would not be able to vote until 1910 when the 19th Amendment was passed.

The accompanying article indicates further how far the United States has come since 1875:

I didn’t know that gathering and selling of Christmas greens was banned due to its affiliation with the Church of Rome. Now there are 6 Roman Catholics on the Supreme Court.

The first Roman Catholic Justice was Roger Taney who wrote the opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case of 1857  which said that people of African descent would never be citizens. This decision, which has never been directly overruled by the Supreme Court, but was rendered moot by the 13th Amendment, said specifically that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.”  The case was brought to the Supreme Court from Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Missouri.

In 1857, the Secret Six formed. In 1858, John Brown attacked two homesteads, confiscated property and liberated 11 slaves, delivering them to Canada from Missouri.  

On October 16, 1859, John Brown arrives in Harper’s Ferry.

These are the things a 136 year old Christmas illustration can bring to mind. Enjoy!

Selling Christmas Greens - A Scene in Richmond, VA drawn by W. L. Sheppard.


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In addition to original art and limited edition prints, Steam at Harper’s Ferry has Artist Proofs. An Artist Proof, according to Creative Glossary, “is the impression of a print created in the print-making process to understand the progress of the plate an artist is working on.”  The Artist Proof or A/P is generally more desirable than limited editions because there are fewer of them. Currently, we have two A/P prints available made by regional artists. One with a steampunk theme and the other of a canal in the Fall. Either will make a great gift!

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The New York Ledger, according to the Oxford Companion of American Literature, was published weekly from 1855 until 1898 and was  “the most widely read weekly paper of its time.”

We have added two New York Ledger newspapers for sale dated November 1892, which are among several Victorian period newspapers available at Steam at Harper’s Ferry.

These particular newspapers have not only interesting articles, but great advertising and illustrations which may be used for Victorian period or steampunk related projects, such as collages, website designs, research, etc.

For example, there are two very interesting  columns, Correspondence and Science.  In the Correspondence column, a reader asks:  “I have invented a frictionless valve and steam-chest for engines. Can the Ledger tell me if there is any way I can find out whether my invention is something new or only an infringement on somebody’s else (sic) patent. Will I have to go to any great expense to ascertain what I wish to know?” Answer: Write to Hon. Charles E. Mitchell, Commissioner of Patents, Washington, D.C. The cost of ascertaining whether your invention is totally new will probably be little. Any one can for himself find out whether an invention infringes upon another’s by consulting Patent-Office Reports found in nearly every large public library. Or any patent solicitor will conduct the ‘preliminary’ examination for five dollars.” Two thoughts came to mind when I read these editions.  First, that the reader could send a letter to the Commissioner of Patents directly to get an answer to his or her question. Second, that the columnist encouraged the reader to investigate for him/herself to find out the answer.

Under the Science column, some advice was given by a “prominent doctor” for getting rid of a cold, specifically “When the first symptoms manifest themselves is the time for action, and this should consist of a hot mustard foot-bath before going to bed and hot draught of milk. The covering of the body should be linen and wool, the former in the way of the sheet and the latter in the blanket. … Nothing is more fallacious than the belief that health is promoted and life prolonged by air in excess, and this is proved by tombstones.” Well.

Was this written yesterday? Sounds so familiar ...

And I can’t ignore the Fashion corner which offers this description for a dressing gown I would love to have: “A very handsome house-dress is made of brocade and plain silk. The skirt is of brocade with rows of narrow, dark-colored velvet above puffs from shoulders to elbows; the yoke is shirred in to a velvet collar; the fronts are of plain silk, with very closely set rows of velvet ribbon. The revers, short basque skirts and very deep cuffs are of plain silk elaborately embroidered.”

In the Thanksgiving Number, the following poem appears:

Thanksgiving all the Year by Caleb Dunn

Once a year there comes a day
In the chill November weather
When from near and far away
Loving kindred meet together.

Round the old hearthstone they meet,
Young and old, in union tender,
To renew their greetings sweet
And their mutual love to render.

Thanks are given that once again
They whom distance separated,
With their hearts all free from pain,
Gather there with hearts elated.

Yet through all the changing year
We for giving thanks have reason
For the blessings that appear –
That we find in every season:

Thanks for shelter from the storm ;
Thanks because no ills confound us ;
Thanks for hearts that e’re are warm ;
Thanks for loving friends around us;

Thanks for health that day by day
With fresh pleasure comes attended ;
Thanks for sorrow passed away,
Thanks for troubles that are ended.

So, for blessings we receive,
Making our lives worth the living,
Every day of joy we live
Should to us be a thanksgiving.

Beautifully written and illustrated. Prices vary.

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I thought I had plenty of time to get things done this month. But no. For some reason, this November has been crazy with activity.  Just in case you don’t have enough planned for the rest of the year, following are some activities and events worth considering.

Victorian Holiday Greeting Card Workshops

Where:  The Clara Barton National Historic Site, 5801 Oxford Road, Glen Echo, MD
When:  Saturdays and Sundays, November 26 & 27 and December 3 & 4 – RESERVATIONS REQUIRED
Time:  11:30 am, 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm

Old Tyme Christmas at Harper’s Ferry

Where:  Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Lower Town
When:  Friday – Sunday, December 2-4 and Saturday & Sunday, December 10 & 11
Time:  9 am to 4 pm December 2-4 and 9 am to 5 pm December 10 & 11 for the events. The shops will be open later.


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The orange and brown woodcut prints are dry and ready to go! The Steam at Harper’s Ferry letterpress prints are drying.

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