Monday, December 23, 2019

Quick Holiday Greetings

Uniting the season with my interests in Colleges and in the State of Ohio, here is a 19th Century snow scene on the campus of Ohio State University, with Main Hall in the background.

Hello everyone,  This is not a regular post, but I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season, whatever holiday(s) you may celebrate.

There is a Santa, after all.
My favorite holiday animation has long been Frannie’s Christmas, produced by Mike Mitchell. This classic took part in some animation festivals, and was released on VHS, but unaccountably has made no appearances since then. Now someone has posted a slightly imperfect dubbing on Youtube, but I recommend taking advantage of this rare opportunity to view it—who knows how long it will stay up!

Those who know my offbeat sense of humor will know why I treasure this, but at least now the rest of you won’t have to quote syrupy Letters to Virginia to prove the existence of Santa Claus:

Watch Frannie's Christmas Here.


Christmas Time is Here, by Golly!
While we’re on the subject of Christmas Classics, I hope that you all know Tom Lehrer’s Christmas Carol. His zany and complicated rhymes remind me of Ogden Nash, but of course the style is all Lehrer’s own, and has the added benefit of music:

Listen to Tom Lehrer's A Christmas Carol Here.


The Insects' Christmas
I posted this video by Russian-French animator Ladislaw Starewicz a few years ago, but many of you many have missed it, or wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Although the title sounds quite edgy, this silent animated short is just the opposite—sweet, charming and magical:

Watch Starewicz's The Insects' Christmas Here. 

Holiday Question: Can you buy artificial dead Christmas garland?
Answer:   In Taiwan, Yes!

I was walking today in the Taipei's wholesale/decoration area, and there were lots of natural/green and colorful or metallic garlands like these:

but then at a store that generally sells the cheapest of merchandise, I saw the dead artificial garland--it was not in the least metallic; in fact I kept excepting "needles" to drop off when I touched it!

Tell me how you like these holiday videos. Try to be tolerant if any of those annoying Youtube commercials pop up. 

I hope to have a few new posts ready for early 2020. I already have a few basically prepared except waiting for some email confirmations, but you know how people are about sending emails!

Finally, I wish everyone a Happy and Safe New Year, and a healthy and prosperous 2020.

(Stereoview photo of Ohio State University collection of the author.)

Monday, June 24, 2019

My Ties to Tie Clips

When I was in college, I played the contrabass clarinet in the concert band. The contrabass is a huge clarinet, pitched two octaves below the standard clarinet in Bb. It is over six feet tall and must be played standing up. This configuration posed an unusual problem.

Single-reed player Jay Easton playing the Bb contrabass clarinet, showing the size of the instrument. His website additionally features many unusual clarinets and saxophones. Click here to listen to him playing the instrument (Mr. Easton plays in a modern style; I also enjoyed playing more traditional melodies).

I had to wear a necktie for many concerts, with the result that the tie would swing forward and interfere with the keywork on the instrument. When I explained this to my musician grandfather, he replied that he had a present for me.

Clarinet octave key tie clip.
It turned out to be a tie clip made from the octave key of a clarinet. This solved the problem in a most perfect and suitable way. You can imagine how happy I was to locate the clip recently in a box of small items I had in storage.

The tie clip compared to the octave key of a standard soprano Bb clarinet.

I treasure this tie clip because it has memories both of playing in the band and of my grandfather, who after a career as a professional tuba player, settled down in Canton, Ohio and had his own music store.

A pencil from my grandfather's music store.

At the same time he gave me the clarinet tie clip, he also gave me this set of tie clip and cuff links, shaped like grand pianos.

That box contained a number of other novelty tie clips, mostly gathered as fun collectibles that reflected other interests. I never wore any except the clarinet key, and that one not since college. Here are a few favorites:

For a while I had a metal detector, and while they do work, the learning curve is considerable. Any detectorist will confirm that what you mostly find are those old pull tabs from beverage cans. So I really enjoyed the humor of this tie clip, which is not made from a real pull tab, but is a specially made solid piece of jewelry.

I love hand tools and anything to do with them, including these vintage tie clips.

This thermometer tie clip really works, and the scale is printed horizontally so that it can be easily read when worn.

From the handcuff theme, this is obviously a policeman's tie clip. It came with a money clip marked for the Cleveland Police. It probably wouldn't hurt to wear this one while driving.

Everyone from Cleveland knows the Cleveland-Cliffs company, long a giant in the mining and shipping of ore. This tie clip shows the ship Edward B. Greene, named for the president of the company in the 1930's.

You may recall my post on the wooden Budai statue. Here he is in triplicate, as a tie clip and cuff link set. (Although made of ivory, this set certainly pre-dates any ban on that substance.)

The Budai are all carved very well. Even on the underside which does not show, the feet and toes are clearly defined.

When I started collecting items, I trained myself to recognize real amber, tortoiseshell, etc. That skill came in handy when rescuing this amber tie tack from the twenty-five cent box.

Perhaps my most amazing tie clip was a present from my sister. (We have an ongoing contest to see who can find the best presents for each other. I can assure you that the competition is fierce.) When we were growing up, we used a silverware pattern called Flair, made by Rogers Brothers and originally produced in the 1950's. We loved this set which embodied many happy memories for us. 

In recent years we have even augmented our holdings of Flair, adding serving pieces, baby sets, and the like. Imagine my surprise when my sister came up with this Flair tie clip, which must have been made in the '50's for the use of salesmen selling Rogers silver. I cannot imagine there are many of these around.

The Rogers Brothers Flair pattern tie clip. Like the pull tab, this was specially made as jewelry, not cut down from some utensil.

The tie clip next to a Flair demitasse spoon for comparison.

The clarinet key tie clip was a real life saver, while the others were collected out of a sense of fun, each representing an interest in my life. Let me know if you have a favorite among these, or if you have a favorite piece of jewelry with a story behind it.

All photographs and original objects property of the author.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ultimate Mystery Objects: Chinese Ornate Bronze Grilles

I have written about many Chinese mystery objects, with the answer revealed in the following post. However, some of my Chinese items are “ultimate” mystery objects—I cannot supply the answer because no one has any idea of what they are.

These may be common objects, and after publishing I will see them everywhere, but the dealers I have bought them from could supply no information, no one else seemed to know, and intensive internet searches turned up nothing. Perhaps the public scrutiny involved in posting them will yield a clue, and the mystery will at length be solved.

Today’s example is a set of three round bronze grilles, each about seven inches (18 centimeters) in diameter. They are of the same basic pattern, but have increasing complexity of ornamentation.

The simplest design, with added boss to give the center some interest.

The first one has the simplest design. There is an outer ring, with four brackets that bend down to support the inner design. This consists of two more concentric rings. The four outer brackets are split into double volutes or spirals, filling part of the open space. The middle ring has four bars soldered to it in a cross pattern, which support the inner ring. A large, ribbed boss is at the very center.

Additional volutes in the center start to fill in the design.

The second grille starts out like the first. However, the four struts that support the inner circle do not meet in the center, but like the outer struts are split into double volutes. Since these eight spirals occupy the smaller inner spaces, they immediately give a much more ornate and dense effect.

On top of what is left of the inner supports there is attached a cross-like structure with banded ends that is split in the middle to form a hollow square space (detail enlarged in top photo). With the inner circle, the whole effect is of a large coin pattern, similar to those on the pewter offering stand. The round cash coin with a square hole in the center is a very auspicious Chinese design.

The most elaborate design, with added bats.

The final grille is the most elaborate. It is built like the second one, but this time on the flat part of the supports emanating from the middle circle are riveted four bronze bats. These bats are well made, of an openwork design with soldered-on three-dimensional bodies and finely engraved wings. Bats, of course, are another Chinese lucky symbol.

The center coin design is altered slightly. The square hole is larger, and there is no banding on the crosspieces that create the hole. The effect is simpler and more open, perhaps intentionally to avoid a too-crowded look with the addition of the bats.

Detail of the workmanship on the bat appliques.

Their open pattern suggests grilles of some kind, for ventilation, heat, or incense, but I have not seen similar grilles in situ. The lucky symbols incorporated are very common to many Chinese objects, and would not indicate any particular purpose. The supports split into spirals are often seen in Chinese metalwork, but I imagine this technique is found in most societies. 

These three grilles somewhat resemble trivets, but the step-down in each one suggests that they were designed to fit into openings. The fact that there are no mounting holes for nails indicates that they likely were set into a flat surface, instead of being mounted vertically into walls. Various stoves, large incense burners, and furnaces for burning spirit money might have had such flat vents built into them. Some incense and money burners are very large, often built of masonry.

However, the boss on the simple design indicates that nothing (such as a kettle) was meant to be placed on these, and the bronze is too thin to support the heat from a stove or furnace, although if not too near the flames, these uses are still possible.

My best guess is that these were meant for a large temple-size incense burner, although that still leaves the mystery of the three designs. They could have been meant for different types of incense (or denominations of spirit money), or they could have been arranged in a way that made visual sense.

I have three of these, but of course the original number could have been much greater—they could even have encircled a building or large object with rows of increasingly complex designs. Conversely, these could have been sample products, to allow the consumer to choose the most pleasing design.

I imagine that these would look good mounted against a white wall, to highlight the designs. If you have seen similar objects before, or can guess a more probable use for them, please let me know in the comments. Also let me know which one is your favorite: the simple model, the intermediate design with the extra volutes, or the most complex design with the bats.

All photographs and original objects property of the author.