Friday, February 28, 2014

Give me a hand!

Today I looked at manicures in the 18th Century. Hands do so much, and generally do not receive the treatment they deserve. They not only do utilitarian things, but the artistic as well. They allow us to play the piano, the guitar, the violin, the clarinet, frankly practically any musical instrument. They pick up the paint brush, and look at the marvels we have that grace our museum walls. They have sculpted, they have written. They massage, they type, they sew, they help us to feel the world around us.

And what do we do for them? Well, some people get weekly or monthly manicures, but most of us have them relegated to the position of slaves, doing our bidding, without a "how do you do?!" Doing housework, using cleaning fluids, waxing cars, going without gloves in the cold, inflicting an occasion burn at the stove, and the list goes on and on.

I love my hands, though, not for their beauty, though once they were quite the thing, if I do say so myself. But today I love them because they are my friends, and they remind me of my family. I have one hand with fingers that remind me of my Dad's, and both my hands look more and more like my Mom's, and she and I are both inclined to the arts. I always loved her hands, and now I understand why. She has used them to create, and they show that endeavor! It's a beautiful thing.

But how did people treat them in the 1700's. Well, I looked at manicures of the times, and found that nails were oiled and buffed with suede until they gleamed. Generally, a very fine abrasive powder was used for the buffing. Sometimes the oils were lightly tinted or scented, but nail polish was not used until the 1920's, and then came the loud, roaring reds along with white or pink moons left unvarnished at the base of the nail. The French manicure, by the way, originated in the 18th century in Paris. French manicures are designed in a way to resemble natural nails with pink color on nails and white color on tip of nails, but seen very seldom at that time.

Actually, there were paints used going way back to ancient times, but in the 18th Century, they were en vogue, not for the elegant. Gentle ladies did not use their hands for utilitarian purpose, except to wave a fan, or apply a dab of perfume, or play the lute, or pianoforte. Women, however, used them to clean clothing, wash children, make bread, harvest crops, etc etc but they never would be thinking of care of the hands, no less a manicure.

There exist many lovely manicure grooming kits and tools from the 18th Century. Some have little picks, tiny scissors, files, and of course, buffers. Some of the best are of sterling silver, with gold or ormolu. And I would gather your ladies-in-waiting did the work. There's always a "slave" involved where the glitterati abound, today or yesterday.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sportsmanship: A Lesson in Civility from George Washington

I watched the Olympics last night to see the ladies skating long program. Of course, they all are excellent, and as perfect as can be. The scores reveal judging only 10th of points apart! They have all labored over many years to get to the Olympic ice. They all have technical skill but it is the deliverance for a performance that will be remembered. Some of these women have such grace and maturity. I felt the Korean girl expressed this. An Olympic gold champion from the Vancouver games, she was trying for back to back wins. This was her last performance, and she was beautiful with such civility. New girls are coming on all the time, some so very young - sixteen or seventeen. They will have their day, but you can see greatness. They are from many nations, including our own, the USA. But then there are some like US Ashley Wagner, who could learn a less from George Washington in civility and grace.

In 1744, Washington published a dissertation of the rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation. Thought the list goes on and on, here are a few that come to mind for Ashley. She is an excellent skater, but she is a winer, complaining that she didn't like the early short program scores, grimacing, thinking she was better than that, and then last night she made a huge display of herself when she completed her program, patting herself on the back, so to speak. Then the scores came, and she was displeased. Today she criticizes the judging. Give me a break. I'm sure these girls know how to play the game, having skated for years. I'm sure the home field has an advantage, but if you're, you're great. If you are transcendent, it shows.

So, here goes, Ashley:
1) Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
2) Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
3) Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremony are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected.
4) Take all Admonitions thankfully in what Time or Place Soever given but afterwards not being culpable take a Time & Place convenient to let him him know it that gave them.
5) Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for 'tis a Sign of a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion admit Reason to Govern.
6) Think before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly & distinctly.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Skater

I have been watching the Olympics, and they have been exciting, like the bobsleds, or beautiful, like the ice dancing. Monday evening's performance of ice dance finals were so beautiful, they made me cry. Especially the Russians, dancing to Swan Lake. They make it look effortless, and that's really something, if you've ever tried to skate.

I have, and it's not easy, at best. Once you get going, you set up a rhythm, but it's hard to let yourself go, and get away from the rink's wall, if you are skating indoors. I have skated on a frozen lake in Vail, Colorado, and there is no security-blanket wall to cling to.

So in watching the Olympians, I was prompted to look into skating in the 18th Century, and then remembered a wonderful painting I saw in Edinburgh last September in their National Art Museum. The painting is by Gilbert Stuart, produced in 1782. The portrait is of William Grant, a high-born Scotsman from Congalton, not far from Edinburgh.

At the time, Stuart had not painted a full-length portrait, in fact he did not like to paint "below the fifth button" of one's waistcoat, as he commented, so this was new territory for him. It was Grant who commissioned Stuart to do the painting, and when Grant arrived to begin sitting for the work, he stated that "the day was better suited for skating than sitting". It was a very cold day, and so the two men took to the ice. They were both good skaters, but when the ice began to crack, they returned to the studio, and Stuart started sketching from memory, the day's events.

It's a life-size painting, and very impressive. Unfortunately, I am still having computer issues, so I suggest you go on line and see a larger view. It's quite beautiful, and Grant seems very relaxed and content. No Olympic gold for him, but I don't think he cares!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Before the 18th Century, Valentine's day was celebrated with gifts of small nosegays, gloves or handkerchiefs. By the 1700's hand-written notes or cards were en vogue. But not the kind with red hearts and flowers displayed. More of discreet, quiet sentiment.
Valentine crafters used not only ink and paper, but adorned their creations with sketches, watercolors, pinpricks and cutouts to make them more interesting and personal. Sometimes natural elements such as bark, feathers and dried flowers were used along with scraps of cloth, yarn, ribbon and even locks of hair.
Though the stores are ever-filled with cards for this day, I still prefer to make my own. Every year I try for a new theme. This year's was inspired by a Sherlock Holmes quote:

"The little things are infinitely the most important."   

To me, a small but sincere expression of love is worth more than a huge box of waxy chocolate! Ha Ha

Have a love-ly day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Here's to Lap Dogs!

This past Monday, I got a call from my daughter asking me if I would take care of their little dog Harlow, while they had to be out of town on family business. Of course, I said yes, hoping to be of help to them. I have dog-sat this darling little pup before, and though it does change some of my schedule, I find her a bright, happy companion, who only asks that she be included. Other than that, and that she's a terrible beggar, she's really not a lot of trouble at all. Lucky for me, my employer enjoys her company too. She has become somewhat-of-a company mascot, as she is allowed to come to work, sit under my desk, and occasionally pop her head out to greet other employees or check out a visitor to our door.

Harlow is a beagle mix, so she is a manageable size, and she doesn't shed much, or have long hair to keep groomed.          

I looked into dogs of the eighteenth century, and find that generally speaking, they were lap dogs, and looked at with some disdain, but they moved in the high circles of their aristocratic owners. Larger breeds remained out of doors, with no chance of an invitation to a salon, a dance, or the monarch's bed chamber. The nurturing of pets began to take hold during this age, and they enjoyed even small comforts like dog baskets, biscuits and food made especially for them, and even dog soap! The first dog doctors are recorded in 1771. By the mid-1800's dogs are even sentimentalized, and said to have feeling and personalities (which they do, I find!) harlow definitely fits in at any occasion, be it casual or fancy. I've even seen her in a pearl collar!

An interesting book called "Culture in Miniature: Toy Dogs and Object Life" discusses porcelain dog figurines produced in China, sold in England. One of my favorite types is the Staffordshire dogs, usually spaniels, that grace the fireplace mantles of many a country estate. There were also the exotic foo-dog with mystic properties. Talking with a friend the other day, he mentioned having a foo-dog. I have one, too, that faces my front door. He is discreetly placed, but I like to think he guards my door from the wrong kind of people as well as any potentially bad spirits!! 
Often called "Foo Dogs" in the West, these figurines are a common representation of the lion in pre-modern China. Statues of guardian lions have traditionally stood in front of  Chinese  Imperial palaces. Everyone's home is his palace, right!?

But, in the mentioned book, the author does state that the toy dog, "a small but far from trivial commodity, mediated relations of racial, sexual, and species difference and helped establish a luxury market for the pet as a racialized fetish object that continues to this day." Just give a look at the Westminister Dog Show, and tell me if dogs have not become an obsession!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The "Beautiful"

Once in a while, I like to listen to Country music, take a break from classical, drive along with the cowboys, their rough and tumble life of babes and bars and cars. But it only lasts awhile, and then I want my fix of the enduring, "the Beautiful" as I like to imagine it.

And so it was today. Driving along with country in the car, I said, enough, the songs start to sound all the same, as so I tuned in to my local classical public music station, and ahhhh!!! There it was, "the Beautiful" in all its splendor. I knew the tune immediately, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the Mozart Serenade No. 13 for strings, a chamber ensemble in G major, K525. Composed in 1787, it is one of the most familiar and probably overplayed of Wolfgang's music, but it is special none-the-less.

Mozart was writing Don Giovanni at the time, and took a little break to write a trifle, as it were, something light-hearted, and so we are gifted with Nachtmusik. Though the accurate translation is "a little serenade", we all know it as "a little night music". And that's ok too! As long as it is enjoyed, perhaps along with a cocktail on a Summer's balmy evening!

Give it a listen sometime! Here's a nice version with pretty Salzburg in the background:

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Happy Ending!

Here's something interesting, with a happy ending!

A famous Stradivarius violin was stolen last week in Milwaukee, according to the District Attorney's office. Said to belong to violinist Frank Arnold, it was over 300 year's old, known as the Lipinski Stradivarius, on indefinite loan to Arnold. Made in 1710, authenticated by unique striations on its back, it is said to be worth multi-millions of dollars!

The violin was taken when three thieves used a stun gun on the musician after a concert, but the thieves were arrested this week! Initially, police would not say if the instrument had been recovered, with an anonymous donor offering $100,000 reward leading to its safe return.

The Lipinski is one of about 600 violins, violas and cellos still in existence, made by Italian artisan Antonio Stradivari! Fortunately, it was found, in good working order, and the three apprehended! Yay!

By the way, Stradivari was born in 1644. He set up shop in Cremona, Italy, where he made violins, harps, guitars, violas and cellos. Before his death in 1737, Stradivari is thought to have made more than 1,100 instruments -- of which some 650 remain today.
He is the world's most celebrated violin maker.

Meanwhile, it may be interesting to note that Arnold, with his love of this most valuable violin, recorded an interesting album, entitled "A Violin's Life", with pieces that highlight the instrument's particular tone.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

London's Oldest Store!

After writing about specialty stores and their delightful gift boxes, I was prompted to look into a related subject. And that is, what is the oldest shop in London? There are many claims, but the most well documented certainly have the advantage.

For instance, an article in the Jewish Chronicle of 31st August 1928 joined a controversy to name London's oldest shop.  A shop called Ellis the booksellers of Bond Street, established in 1728, had laid claim to this worthy title.  Not so, said the Jewish Chronicle, because Levy Bros, Matzo bakers of 31 Widegate Street, on the corner of White Rose Court, could beat this by 18 years, having been established in 1710.

And so, I stick with stores or shops that have stood the test of time, receiving the royal warrants, offering the best of what money can buy! Like D.R. Harris & Co., the official chemist to the Prince of Wales! A place to pick up special perfumes, sartorial items like shaving brushes, etc. Though a small place, it even supplies small first class passenger items to British Airways.
Established in 1790, at No. 11 St. James Street, it was a family business, earning its reputation selling lavender water, and colognes made of English flowers. Its proprietors were Henry Harris, a surgeon, and Daniel Rotely, a pharmaceutical chemist.
Though no longer at No. 11, having outgrown the location, it is still in the St. James area, as well as another shop in Piccadilly. Their website is It's a treat to look in. You'll be tempted to shop, I'm sure!

It's nice to know some things remain the same, and funny that now days we think we are all posh and sophisticated when we buy grooming products that are made from plants, herbs, spices and flowers. D. R. Harris has been doing this for over 224 years!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Royal Warrant

I have been so busy at work lately, with hardly a moment to myself. And so, my blogging has suffered, but I will try this day to highlight the gifts brought back to me from my Mom and her recent visit to London. The gifts were great, but the packaging is a gift in itself. In my opinion, no one does this kind of thing better than in London. It's a tradition that goes way back.

Of course, the ultimate expression is a box like the enamel Battersea Box, the little hinged porcelain container, usually for a gift of jewelry, but the idea of the cardboard box is brought to a whole new level by Londoners.
One gift I received, some marzipan fruit, came from Fortnam and Mason's, a wonderful store of Picadilly Circus, with candied fruits, nuts, coffee, tea, honey, jams, preserves, biscuits, downstairs in the main food hall. Upstairs there are other delights and indulgences (perfumes, lotions, grooming items, stationary, etc).
But, back to boxes! The little marzipan apples came in a little teal blue box (Fortnam's signature color), with a satin bow. But inside, there was waxed brown paper, folded once, and then again to contain the little gems, and so their oils not to leak through. And of course, the box has the stamp of the British Royal Family, the royal warrant as it is known. In other words, the Queen approves of Fortnam's.

The second gift was a commemorative tea cup from Buckingham Palace Store, this time the box of heavy weight, Persian turquoise blue, with special paper inside featuring the monarchy royal crest in gold stamped on white issue. This company also has the warranty.

Finally, there was  little round "hat box" of champagne truffles, from Partridge's, another food and specialty market. Though not as old as Fortnam's, it gets the nod from the Queen! And no wonder, the truffles are excellent! I am doling them out as a special evening treat.

Royal warrant of appointment have been issued for centuries to those who supply goods or services to a royal court or certain royal personages. The warrant enables the supplier to advertise the fact that they supply to the royal family, so lending prestige to the supplier. In the United Kingdom, grants are currently made by the three most senior members of the  British Royal family to companies or tradesmen who supply goods and services to individuals in the family.

In the late 18th Century Royal tradesmen began displaying the Royal Arms on their premises and stationery. But it was Queen Victoria who ensured that Royal Warrants gained the prestige they enjoy today. During her 64 year reign The Queen and her family granted more than 1,000 Royal Warrants, eight times as many as The Queen's uncle, King George IV. They included companies such as Fortnum & Mason, Schweppes and Twinings, which still hold Royal Warrants today.

So, next time you are in London, check out one of these stores, and buy a tiny something, just so you can get the box! I love these boxes, and have other uses for them once the treats are long gone! Maybe a container for safety pins, straight pins, rings, perfume samples, postage stamps. Who knows!