Sunday, January 21, 2024

Photo Caption Challenge Results

Thanks to all of you who responded to my baby photo caption contest. This post was really a treat for myself, as I got to enjoy a laugh or smile as each entry arrived.

Incidentally, of the three babies, the second one is definitely a boy, named William Austin. I cannot be sure whether Austin is his middle or family name. I have a feeling/vague memory that the cornet baby is also a boy, but I only have a copy of the front here, and all three actual photos are in Cleveland. The people of yesteryear were unfortunately just as guilty as we are in neglecting to label photos.

Those who sent in replies were:

Tundra Bunny 
Debra She Who Seeks 
Roughterrain crane  
Architect Design 
The Vintage Contessa 
(Note: The Contessa has recently changed blog hosts, and the above link is the new and correct one. I was dismayed to have been out of touch with her for a while.)

Here are the captions you supplied:

#1 Key Baby:

   I picked Daddy's pocket. Now to find the liquor cabinet.  (Kirk)
   Hey, I finally got the keys to the liquor cabinet: let's PAR-TAY!  (Tundra Bunny)

NB: I hadn't known that my readers were such a bibulous lot!

   Look! I've found my keys but where are my glasses?  (Rosemary)
   Shows such perfect lace work and a happy baby which is KEY!  (Mariette)
   What are you looking at, tough guy?  (Architect Design)
   Mine!  (Contessa)
   Thanks Mum! No, of course I won't scratch it!  (Rosemary)
   I promise I'll have it back by midnight, Dad.  (Kirk)
   I hold the key to make the world happier than ever.  (roughterrain crane)

#2 Baby With Stuffed Animal

   Are you sure it's got no teeth?  (Rosemary)
   Why couldn't I have been born in an era with cute plush toys instead of this ugly hell hound?   (Debra She Who Seeks)
   Trust my cheapskate parents to get me a public domain Winnie-the-Pooh.   (Kirk)
   You said I'd get a Steiff teddy bear if I was good...   (Tundra Bunny)
   Bear is not yet a bosom friend!  (Mariette)
   No! I am not going to cuddle it.  (Rosemary)
   What do you mean he's cuter than me?  (Architect Design)
   I don't trust this babysitter   (Kirk)
   May I take the baby for a walk?  (roughterrain crane)
   Do I have to?  (Contessa)

#3 Cornet Baby  

   I asked for a rattle.  (Rosemary)
   You mean I have to play my own lullaby?!  (Kirk)
   You want me to blow what where?!   (Tundra Bunny)
   But it's bigger than me!  (Architect Design)
   Guess that cornet was COLD  (Mariette)
   Mama, just stop kissing dada and make the pleasant noise!  (roughterrain crane)
   Big to be a RATTLE!  (Contessa)
   Noooo Dad, I said I wanted a cornetto, not a cornet! (A cornetto is an ice cream in a cone in the UK)  (Rosemary)

Note that “cornetto” is also an obsolete musical instrument, with finger holes and a cupped mouthpiece. It was often called a cornet (i.e., little horn), but to avoid confusion with the modern cornet, it is usually today called a cornett, cornetto, or zink. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Good job, everyone! It is surprising how often we could have matched the entries to their writers simply by what they said. I am lucky to have such a varied and interesting group of readers, and I am grateful that so many of you have not forgotten my blog during my long absence.

I enjoyed all of your entries. If you get a sudden new inspiration, or have some general comment, be sure to reply below.

I will now reveal the *actual* answers: All three babies are saying, “I want Jim to adopt me!” Baby #3 is even offering a bribe!

(All original photos property of the author.)



Saturday, January 6, 2024

Antique Photo Caption Contest

Hello, everyone! It has been quite some time since I posted, so it's time to make my grand re-entrance with a fun contest. With so much negative news lately, I thought I would I would start this year with a happy topic—babies!

Over the years I have presented a variety of my collections, but without question my main and largest collection is early photographs. Although very few of my photographs are of babies, I do have some that display a special added attribute, as demonstrated by each of today’s photos.

I have decided to make this a caption contest. Think of creative captions for any or all of these photographs, and enter them in the comments. 


#1 Keys
What could be better than a happy, smiling baby? This particular smile was induced by handing the baby a key ring, showing that things have not changed much over the years. Of course, since this photo is over 100 years old, these are old-fashioned skeleton and cabinet keys.


 #2 Toy
What baby doesn’t love a fuzzy, cuddly toy animal? Apparently, this baby doesn’t, and his facial expression and body language say it all in this photograph.

 #3 Cornet
You all know how much I love the cornet, so acquiring this photo was inevitable. The baby, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too pleased with his parents’ musical ambitions for him.


Let these cute babies inspire you, and please enter your captions in the comments. I am not quite sure yet how the grand reveal will work, but I will turn on comment moderation in the meantime.

I am looking forward to your replies! 



Monday, January 18, 2021

Five Western Mystery Objects Revealed

This Mystery Object post has created quite a discussion. All in all there were 39 correct answers given. Congratulations to Rosemary, NYChatham, and Tundra Bunny, who tied for first place with four correct identifications each. A special shout-out goes to Mariette, who was the only one who guessed the apparently difficult #3.

Here are the answers:

#1 Button Hook

Mariette, Debra, Michelle, Jack, NYChatham, Rosemary, Sue Bursztynski, The Contessa, Travel, Mrs. D., Pipistrello, and Tundra Bunny all got this one correct.

In earlier times there were many buttons that held clothes together. Shoes and gloves especially were held on by rows of buttons. The button hook made the job easier. You put the hook through the buttonhole, grabbed onto the shank of the button, then pulled the button through the hole.

I have tried this and it is very easy to become skilled with a button hook. The tiny example pictured here was likely meant for gloves—the larger, tighter buttons on shoes would probably break it.

Here is a photo of a few more buttonhooks from dresser sets that my sister was kind enough to send to me:

#2 Hair Receiver

This direct top view shows the center hole more clearly.

NYChatham, Rosemary, Kirk, The Contessa, Mrs. D., Pipistrello, and Tundra Bunny all identified this object.

Hair receivers once adorned virtually every lady’s dresser top. Women would brush their long hair, then pull the hair out of the brush and push it through the hole in the lid. When the receiver was full, they could take the accumulated hair out and make a small cushion called a rat, which was used to supply extra volume and height for elaborate hairstyles.

There are many hair receivers (such as this one) made out of celluloid, an early kind of plastic. A great many were also ceramic, and some were even made of sterling silver. Here is an unusual square ceramic one with a square hole, again courtesy of my sister:

#3 Corn Husker

This was correctly identified only by Mariette.

This item was dedicated to Kirk, whose blog Shadow of a Doubt recently honored Carl Sandburg. Kirk in that post mentioned Sandburg’s 1919 award-winning poem collection called Cornhuskers.

When you buy fresh corn (maize) the ears are covered with leaves or husks which must be shucked off. This is not so bad if you are boiling a few ears for dinner, but if you have an entire field of corn to husk, especially when it has been left to dry in the field for animal feed, these tough husks would rip your hands to shreds. Enter the corn husker, of which there are many varieties around.

The leather strap went around your hand, and the point could be used to puncture and start splitting apart the husk, which was then easily removed by hand. Farm workers were incredibly fast with this tool, and indeed corn husking competitions were common in earlier decades, and there is some footage of these on Youtube.

I didn’t plan for this one to be so hard. Corn huskers can easily be found at flea markets or online. Here is a group that I bought together (the one used in the quiz was purchased separately). You can see some of the many forms these came in:

Proof that Necessity is the mother of Invention

#4 Jug Cover

Mariette, Debra, Michelle, Hels, NYChatham, Rosemary, slf, Jenny Woolf, Travel, Bazza, Pipistrello, Loree, and Tundra Bunny all knew what this was.

This is an object that could still be useful. When flies are numerous, cream jugs, drinks, and various dishes of food could all be protected by these crocheted (or knitted or whatever) covers, whose edges were weighted down with glass beads so they would not fall off easily.

The one illustrated above has a kookaburra in the center, indicating that it came from Australia, as Hels explained. In fact, these are found all over, but there does seem to be a predominance of them in Australia, where my examples came from.

I am adding a picture of a plainer one, an intricate one topped with a teacup, and a view of the whole group to indicate the variety these can be found in.

#5 Collapsible Cup

I admit this one was a bit of a perspective trick, as most of you have probably seen these. However, Debra, NYChatham, Rosemary, The Contessa, Travel, and Tundra Bunny all identified it correctly.

These compact cups were used to carry on one’s person, in traveling bar kits, and as camping equipment. They must have been a blessing for fastidious people in the days when drinking fountains or other sources a water had a single public tin cup for everyone to use.

The side view immediately identifies both its use and its telescoping mechanism. This one is very small, about the size of a shot glass.

The top view would have given it away, with its inscription Vest Pocket Cup in pleasantly old-fashioned writing.

The rivet on the bottom is a little mysterious. It doesn’t indent too much on the bottom, but given the size of the cup, I am guessing this might have been part of a traveling bar set, and the cup snapped into place.


Thank you to all who participated in this quiz. The answers and guesses were very well thought out, especially for items that were unfamiliar. Tabulating all the answers was quite a job, so if I made a mistake, let me know and I will fix it.

Please don’t worry that I will run out of mystery objects, either Asian or Western. In fact, when my sister was sending me the photos, she sent one of an item she had just obtained, that I believe will make the corn husker look like child’s play!

All of the objects and photos shown here are property of the author, except as noted. The group photos of the corn huskers and the jug covers (except for the kookaburra, again, courtesy of my sister) were the original listing photos when I purchased them.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Mystery Objects -- Western Edition

In the past all of my Mystery posts have been of Chinese items, which has made many of them difficult to guess. Other cultures might use the same items, but they can be hard to recognize when buried in carvings of dragons and the like.

Since turnabout is fair play, I have decided to do a mystery post of Western objects, but this time the rules will be a little different. I am afraid that some of these will prove too easy, so I am including five mystery objects in this post. Each correct guess will count, and the grand winner will be the one with the most points.

#1  This is the epitome of antique or bygone objects, once found in literally every Western home. While the handles could be made of any material, the business end was usually steel, and the entire object ranges from about three to six inches long. This diminutive example, made from bone and steel, is less than three inches long, but it works fine.


#2  These items for a long time were nearly as ubiquitous as the above object. They could be made of many materials, especially china, but this example is made from celluloid. They seem to average about five inches across.

#3 top

#3 bottom
#3  This article is perhaps more of an American specialty. Many designs and varieties exist. This one is made from steel and leather, and is almost five inches long.

#4  These crocheted pieces bordered with glass beads seem so handy that I am surprised they are not in more general use, although possibly in some places they still are. They are typically six to eight inches across.

#5  These frankly are still available, although their greatest popularity was a while ago. Often about one to three inches in diameter, this small-sized example is made of nickel-plated brass.

If you can identify any or all of these objects, please do so in the comments. The usual mystery object rules will apply. Comment moderation will be turned on. Incorrect answers will be printed immediately, so people can guess again with more clues. Correct answers will be withheld until the Reveal post in about a week.

Good Luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Mystery Object Revealed—Chinese Calligraphy Guides or Frames

This mystery object was used in the production of calligraphy. To keep the columns of characters straight, sometimes guide lines were lightly inscribed. But for those who preferred a more freehand look, these brass frames placed on the paper or silk ensured proper proportions and alignment of the characters as they were painted. They are thus among the many items that belonged in the scholar’s studio.

This was probably a difficult object to guess for those who don’t do drafting or calligraphy, but two readers used the clues and very much narrowed down the answer. Bazza directly mentioned calligraphy, and Rosemary’s mention of a template is so tantalizingly close that I have counted it as a winner.

The top example is made of cast brass, lending it some weight so that it could also be used as a paperweight, and so that it would not slip easily. The top side has a floral decoration, while the bottom is polished to lie flat against the work as it was produced.

The smooth and polished underside of the frame show that it was used directly on the paper or silk

These frames are still very much used by those who practice Chinese calligraphy. The following screen shot take from a Google search shows them in use, and that they often come in sets of varying sizes. Notice that some have rulers stamped along the edges, as a further aid in getting the proper proportions to the characters.

These frames also helped to align the placement of the seal-stamps that were used by Chinese artists and collectors. Painters and calligraphers often sign their own productions with red seals, and collectors of fine paintings and calligraphy may add their own seals, even to famous paintings of important cultural value.

Over time, the accumulation of the stamps adds a characteristic look to Chinese paintings, a visible record of appreciation over many generations. The seals also provide a provenance, and the seal of a famous collector or emperor adds to the cachet of a work.

Zhao Meng-fu (1254-1322) was a revered Yuan Dynasty painter. His Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Chinese paintings. Notice how many red seals are on the painting, and how carefully they are placed. I have been fortunate to see this painting in person, and the effect of Zhao Meng-fu’s genius is truly astounding.

This famous painting has accumulated many seals over the last 700 years. To see its beautiful detail, visit the original photo in Wikipedia, then click to enlarge.

Detail of above. Imagine the nerve it must take to add one of these seals. What if you botched it and got a red smudge on this treasure?

The next calligraphy alignment frame sports a meander or Greek key design. It could use some cleaning up, but I am afraid that removing the paper tag would create a “clean” spot on the frame, and I certainly do not want to polish it. Usually I remove tags immediately, but this is an old one that had been on there a long time, and would not come off easily. The same is true of the paper tags on the bottom of the floral one.

My final calligraphy frame is less fancy, although it is still decorated. It has engraved trophies in the middle of the long sides, interspersed with punchwork bats and corner elements. It is interesting how the corner designs closely echo the pattern of the bats. Perhaps not as heavy as the other two, it is still somewhat substantial, as one would not want these to move easily once one started writing!

When I was learning Chinese writing, I used specially ruled paper to keep the characters somewhat in order. In great calligraphy, the apparent freedom of the artist's brush is especially admired, and although some artists use genuine freehand, who knows how many rely on mechanical aids like these decorated brass frames.

(All original objects and photos property of the author. Zhao Meng-fu painting is from Wikipedia, and the Google search is of course from Google.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Chinese Brass Mystery Object

I apologize for having been remiss in posting, and in addition it’s been a very long time since I have done a mystery object.

So many objects were beautifully made in the past, but today their identification is often obscure. If you know or can guess what this is, let me know in the comments. I will turn on comment moderation for this post, so if you guess correctly I will withhold your winning comment until the big reveal next week, in order to give others a chance.

This utilitarian object is made from brass, and is about five or six inches (c. 13 cm) on the long side, although these came in different sizes.

Perhaps the exact use for this object was more common in Asian countries, at least those with Chinese-inspired cultures, but somewhat similar objects were made elsewhere. They are still made today, both the Asian and non-Asian types.

Good Luck. I look forward to seeing your responses.

(All photos and original objects property of the author.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Oboes and Oboists

A beautifully made musical instrument can give you the magical feeling that it is playing itself. On the contrary, my first oboe, loaned by my high school, was plastic and absolutely worthless. Although I was privileged to take lessons from Harvey McGuire, longtime English horn player in the Cleveland Orchestra, I was not happy with my progress. 

At college, after a couple of stints with a reproduction Baroque oboe and later an unusual oboe d’amore, an alto oboe pitched in A, they finally located a regular oboe for me to play.

A serious player might have been dismayed. An obsolete ring system oboe, it was full of cracks and did not have all the modern keys. But it was an early Lorée, a standard of quality among oboes, and its thin wood and light keys felt perfect in my hands.

Playing it was a revelation—all problems ceased to exist. The low notes, almost impossible on the plastic instrument, sounded easily. A morendo (the tone fading away to nothing) was previously crude and uneven, and I blamed it on poor breath control. But on the Lorée, the note spun out effortlessly.  

**News Flash** I just received an email from the Lorée company, stating that this special oboe was made in 1882, presumably under the supervision of François Lorée himself, as he started the company in 1881. Although a real antique, it was a regular ring-key Conservatoire system with a low Bb. Perhaps this history might account for its singularly enchanted quality.

After college, I started searching for an oboe to replace my beloved Lorée. I collected the following five oboes, three of which are Lorées, but none of them seemed to warrant putting into good playing condition.

The top oboe in the photo is a Lorée from the 1920’s. It might have promise, but unfortunately, it has an undesirable automatic octave system. Semi-automatic octave keys are the only good type.

The next one is also a Lorée, this one from the 1960’s, but somehow its magic quotient is low.

The middle oboe is marked Getzen, usually an American maker of brass  instruments. This oboe was in fact made in France and only labeled for Getzen. It is not a bad instrument, but is no substitute for a Lorée.

This Getzen tends to be watery, meaning that condensation from playing sometimes climbs the bore and gets into the keywork, creating a  gurgling sound. The temporary solution is to insert a piece of absorbent cigarette paper. This was difficult to buy, since people assumed it was for illicit purposes. When I found a brand without glue (Reynolds OCB), I bought two cartons, enough for several lifetimes, and gave one case to the dignified Mr. McGuire. He thanked me, adding that it was embarrassing for him to have to ask for the incriminating cigarette papers.

The fourth example in the photograph is an antique oboe by Lorée, and the fifth and last example is a similar instrument by Barnett Samuel. These might be o.k. if put in playing order, but the keywork is not what is known as Conservatoire system, and so these two will remain simply as curiosities.


Early photographs of oboists are fascinating to collect. These are more difficult to locate than photos of players on, say, the violin or cornet (another instrument I love), but as always patience is rewarded.

This distinguished photo is British, but the oboe seems more Continental. With its heavy turnings and wide ivory rings, it appears to have been old-fashioned even at the time of the photograph.

This young man seems at ease with life and with his choice of instrument—let’s face it, he chose wisely.

This gentleman from Reading, Pennsylvania is playing a Boehm-system oboe made by Buffet, Crampon, a rather daring and avant-garde oboe for its day.

An unusual photograph of a female oboist. One wonders how you can "breathe from the diaphragm" while wearing a corset. This photo is marked for Nice, France, but another photo of the same woman was taken by a photographer in Brighton, England.

An oboe collector’s card that came in a packet of chocolate.

This trade card is too cartoonish to tell much. Since it is French, perhaps it is intended to depict a musette, a small, pastoral version of the oboe.

This oboist is perhaps a soldier from World War I.

This man was versatile enough to play both the oboe and the violin. Good luck reading that signature.

This is Charles Nutick, oboist with the Cincinnati Symphony in the 1920’s. The instrument on his lap is a slightly odd English horn. With its light wood and spherical bell, I thought it might perhaps be a tenor Heckelphone, but I wrote to the Heckel company, and they said that it was not their product.

Many oboists made fine recordings during the LP era. These include John Mack (whom I also heard in person), Neil Black, Pierre Pierlot, Jacques Chambon, Alfred Hertel, and Heinz Holliger. Some of the legendary earlier oboists who also recorded are Marcel Tabuteau, Leon Goossens, Evelyn Rothwell, and Mitchell Miller, who later achieved fame as “Sing Along with Mitch.”

All of these oboists can now be found on Youtube, along with a host of younger talent, but I would like to point out two special recordings that you should not miss. The first is Neil Black playing my favorite version of the Mozart Oboe Concerto.

Rosemary from Where Five Valleys Meet highly recommended Nicholas Daniel, a world-class oboist. I was particularly impressed by his distinctive version of the Mozart Oboe Quartet.

Many people take up a musical instrument at some point. Please let me know what instruments you have learned to play, and whether you had the luck of finding the exact instrument that was perfectly suited to you.

All photos and original items property of the author.