Saturday, June 28, 2014

There's Not Enough Room For A Bed In There

The invalid room was one of a number of rooms that once occupied homes, but which have almost completely disappeared from the modern contractor's lexicon. The word invalid was derived from the negated form of the Latin word validus. Validus meant strong, and the negated form was created by adding to it the prefix in: producing in-validus, meaning un-strong, or infirmed. Although seldom used today in our super-pc (i.e. politically correct) society, a member of the family, often elderly and terminally ill, was referred to as an invalid. The invalid room was the bedroom in which the family cared for their invalid member.

It's hard to believe, but at one time we residents of the United States of America, like residents of many other countries, cared for our loved ones, when they became elderly and/or terminally ill, in our own homes. The elderly family members were not exiled to 'nursing homes' as soon as they started to cough. They were provided with a bed in a room on the ground floor of the house, often close to or beside the kitchen. In some cases, a side room would be converted into an invalid room simply by the addition of a bed, in others a room would be dedicated to the function. During the Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries, houses were often constructed with an invalid room included in the original design. Until it needed to function as a bedroom for the infirmed member of the family, an invalid room might be employed as a 'den' or 'pantry' or a storage room. As noted, the invalid room was often close to the kitchen, making it convenient to provide for the needs of the infirmed person. Rather than having to carry trays of food or buckets of water to an upstairs bedroom, the family members simply needed to carry them from the kitchen into an adjoining room. 

Perhaps the reason that many modern day families do not even consider caring for their elderly and infirmed members in their own homes is because their houses are not equipped with a room that can even be converted into an invalid room. Accomodating their invalid loved ones needs may seem so overwhelming because of the lack of a space that can function as an invalid room. It's a shame that houses are no longer built with long-term care of our elderly family members in mind.

The diagram at the top of this post shows the plans for a house typical of the early 1900s. The room highlighted in red could be used for any purpose; it was perfectly suitable to be used as an invalid room.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kindest Regards And Greetings Gay

Merry Christmas; Happy Birthday; Easter Greetings; Be My Valentine; Congratulations On Your Graduation, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. There are many holidays to celebrate and many sentiments to express, and there's a greeting card for every one of them.
And if you have a unique sentiment to express to a loved one (such as "Congratulation for advancing from party-pooper to grumpy-guss"), there's bound to be a blank card on which you can write that personal sentiment. There's even greeting cards shaped and sized specifically in which to hold a monetary bill or personal check (which the receiver hopes is at least a twenty), as if the cash won't fit in a regular card.

And not intending to offend the poorer residents of Planet Earth, I would venture to say to say that nearly everyone alive at this time has probably received at least one greeting card in his or her life. Greeting Cards tend to be ephemeral; they're like wisps of smoke from a fire, appearing to us and then vanishing as quickly as they came. Well the situation with Greeting Cards is not exactly like wisps of smoke. Greeting Cards don't really just vanish into thin air like smoke does. They get stuffed into drawers; they get stacked on shelves; they get pasted into scrap books; and they get bound together, fifty to one hundred perhaps, with a rubber band holding them tightly, and then placed in a box that is pushed into a corner of the attic.
Some recipients cherish and keep the Greeting Cards that brighten their day, while others detest having them invade their personal space, and throw them in the trash as quickly as they can (that is to say, as soon as all of the party guests leave).

I must admit that I am a cherisher of Greeting Cards. The serene, idyllic, snow-blanketed forest-scape that fills the six by eight inch surface of a Christmas card not only fills me with joy when I receive it in the mail on December 22 ~ it also gives me a warm fuzzy feeling on August 14 when I again fall under its spell it while looking for a relative's address on the envelope.
I also must admit that I just made that up to make my point ~ that is, the part about looking for a relative's address "on the envelope", because if the truth be told, I remove all my cards from the envelopes and throw away those disgustingly banal hindrances to my speedy enjoyment of the cards. I have saved most of the Greeting Cards that I have received since I was in my teens. Perhaps in another fifty years they'll seem as quaint and charming as the ones exhibited on this post.

The Greeting Cards which are exhibited on this post date from the 1890s through the 1930s. The predominantly popular art style for that period was Art Deco, and some of the cards are fine examples of that style. The Christmas card shown here which bears a ship sailing through frigid waters and the Birthday card which contains a turreted castle on the hill are examples of Art Deco that one finds in 'readers' and other children's books from the early 1900s.
Many of the cards were manufactured in Germany, and of course although the verses are in English, the style of those cards cannot help but to have been influenced by German culture at the time.

Notice the swastika that appears on one New Year's card; it had nothing to do with the German Third Reich. The card was produced in the year 1908, and the swastika was simply borrowed from the ancient Hindu symbol for peace ~ it actually at one time represented the sentiment of 'well-being', and was derived from the Sanskrit words: su (meaning 'good') and asti (meaning 'being'), combined with the diminutive suffix: ka.
Other cards bear visual symbols popular at the time, which stood for the sentiments of love, friendship and so on. For Christmas cards, the roly-poly figure of Santa Claus, popularized by Thomas Nast in his 1881 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was prevalent by the 1920s, but less jovial images of the bringer of gifts still appeared occasionally, as depicted in one card.

And it might not be readily noticeable from the images, but all of the cards shown here consist of a single layer of heavy card stock, printed only on the front side ~ as compared to modern day folded paper cards that are printed on the inside in addition to the front.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In The 1970s, Many People Got Their Clothes At The Fripperer

I'm sure that every reader of this blog post already knows what a frippery was ~ assuming, that is, that we are living in the 1700s. And therefore every reader will also know, again assuming that we are still living in the 1700s, that a fripperer was a person who worked at the frippery. What? You don't know what I'm talking about? Well apparently you're the only one, because everyone else knows that the frippery was where you took your old, worn out or damaged clothing to be refurbished and resold to someone else. Now, does that ring a bell in your memory?

The fripperer, according to the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, was a 'dealer in cast-off clothing'. Clothing has always been expensive. Look at today's prices. A man's dress shirt costs around sixty dollars; a pair of children's shoes can cost over sixty dollars. If you want three pairs of pants and two shirts, you better take two or three hundred dollars with you when you shop. Two hundred years ago, clothing was just as expensive, though in a different way. In the day and age when the lady of the house had to spin her own thread from flax plants or sheep shorn wool, the 'cost' of producing the material to be used for clothing, in addition to the actual making of the clothing, was expensive in terms of her physical labor and time spent. And even after spinning the thread, the housewife had to either weave the thread into cloth herself, or barter with the local weaver to have her cloth woven. And then, on top of that, she had to cut and sew the cloth into pants, shirts and coats for her husband and children. 

The fripperer, usually a man, in trying to make a living, provided a much needed service to people who couldn't afford, in time, material or skill, to make their own clothes. Townsfolk, who couldn't raise either sheep or flax, or at least couldn't raise enough of it to produce the amount of cloth they required for their clothing, might take advantage of the services provided by the fripperer. In the same way that a cordwainer made new shoes while a cobbler repaired old shoes, the tailor made new clothes while a fripperer mended old ones. The fripperer not only collected the 'cast-off clothing', by accepting free donations or paying a fraction of their true worth, but would sew and darn any holes in them.
He would sew on buttons where missing and replace lace where it was torn. He would have washed the clothing and perhaps even ironed them in an effort to make them desirable to his customers.

Certain sources note that fripperers dealt not only in 'cast-off clothing', but also in used furniture and household goods.

So do we have to be living in the 1700s to avail ourselves of the services of a fripperer? Certainly not ~ I can find great bargains in used and refurbished clothing at the local fripperer ~ the Goodwill store. That explains the title of this post. After the 'summer of love' in 1969, as young people cast off the shackles of conventional society in favor of becoming hippies, many found that their newfound lack of money left them without the means to buy expensive clothing. The Goodwill Store became a mecca where they could find cheap, but good clothing. And today, this modern-day fripperer still provides that service to either people who can't afford the high cost of new clothes, or who want 'vintage' clothing.

By the way, the shirt and pants exhibited on this post did not come from a fripperer, although they look like they might have. They are just some of the clothes I wore in the 70s ~ in my 'hippie' days. I simply thought they'd illustrate some clothes that might have been mended and resold by a fripperer ~ they certainly were 'mended'.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Let's Try To Win A Prize On The Midway

People spend money on carnival glass items most every day. The beautiful bowls and drinking glasses and goblets and vases shine in iridescent golds, like the breast feathers of a ring-neck pheasant or in iridescent bronzy-purples, like the head feathers of a grackle. This glass artform, which was variously called rainbow or aurora glass, supposedly got its name from the fact that it was often given away as prizes at carnivals. Despite its exquisite colors and designs, this type of glass, the poor-man's Tiffany, was inexpensive to produce, and therefore could be purchased by common people.

The item which is the subject of this post, and pictured above, is also carnival glass. I'm not joking; it is truly carnival glass. I know this because my father told me of how his mother, Jennie, had actually won it as a prize at a local county fair or carnival in the 1920s.

The type of glass shown here is more formally called "red cut to clear" glass. Cut glass is not actually 'cut'. It is produced by taking pressed glass (i.e. glass blown or pressed into a mold) and sanding (i.e. cutting) certain parts with a sanding wheel. In this case, the glass is clear with a thin layer of red over the surface, and when the glass is sanded, the thin layer of red is sanded or cut off 'revealing' the clear glass underneath.

So although an antiques dealer would probably refuse to acknowledge that this goblet is carnival glass, there is no denying that it was won as a prize at a carnival. And you know the saying: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a probably is a duck.

Friday, June 13, 2014

These Shoes Are Enough To Curl Your Toes

The phrase used for the title of this post is one that has, traditionally, been used to describe a taste sensation that is extremely sour or bitter, such as eating a lemon. We're not eating any lemons here, but the shoes pictured on this post surely look like they could force your toes to curl if you wore them all the time.

The fact of the matter is that this style of shoe was (and still is) considered comfortable in some parts of the world. It's called a Jutti, and originates in the Punjab, a portion of the Indus River Valley in (what is today with recent geopolitical divisions) northwestern India and southeastern Pakistan. The shoes are just one example of the fabulous leatherwork that has come from the craftsmen of the Punjab over many centuries.

Jutti resemble what we in the United States of America would call a 'loafer', usually having a flat sole and a closed upper (meaning the top portion covers not only the top of the foot, but also wraps around to encompass the heel). The Jutti's cousin is the mojari, which has an open back and resembling what we would call a sandal. Both, jutti and mojari, are distinguished by elaborately decorated uppers in which colored beads, pieces of mirror and shells are used to create bold designs. Juttis for men and women are made in practically the same shape, but with the one exception that for men, the toe of the shoe is extended toward a point and then folded, or curled, back upon the vamp.
Tradition states that the curled toe was meant to mimic the curled tips of Punjab men's moustaches.

The example exhibited here is possibly dated to the 1800s. The pair had been part of a collection exhibited in the Crawford Museum in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. When the museum was closed, many of the items in its collections were sold, and that is how I came to possess this pair of shoes. As can be seen from certain of the photos, the soles and heels of these shoes are fabricated from layers of leather sewn together with leather thread. The uppers appear to have been constructed of a combination of leather and fabric.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Pot To Piss In

Pardon my words, but the title of this post is from an old saying, the entire phrase being: "We were so poor, we didn't even have a pot to piss in." That, of course, implied that the speaker was not just poor, but rather was very, very poor, or as it might have been said: dirt poor. The phrase, and its sentiment, came from a time not so long ago, perhaps only one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ~ when few families had indoor plumbing, and mostly everyone had to walk (or run, as the case might be) from the house to an out-building, aptly named the 'outhouse', to empty their kidneys and bowels. At night, a trip to the outhouse might be dangerous because of wild animals prowling around, so everyone owned one or more chamber/piss pots. If you didn't have even one in your house, you were indeed poor.

There was one aspect of a chamber pot being kept and used in the bedroom that everyone instinctively thinks of when the subject is brought up ~ the smell of urine.
 In a day and age before the producers of television commercials began to convince everybody that what they were selling was less intended to make them money than to benefit the viewers' lives, people put up with many things that were natural and ordinary. Ordinary smells were accepted as natural; they weren't considered offensive. They just were there and you had to deal with them. In those pre-industrial-age days, people rode in carriages or wagons pulled by horses ~ those beasts of burden who gave off certain smells. They resided in houses warmed by fireplaces or furnaces that burned wood, kerosene or coal, and coincidently produced the smells of wood smoke or kerosene and coal fumes. And those people bathed themselves and washed their clothes with unscented soap made from lye. Television commercials for products that a few entrepreneurs decided everyone needed (or could be convinced to need) changed all that. Few people grasped the fact that the sale of a particular product was the primary motivation of the television commercials that told us that teeth of any color other than pristine white was the horror of all horrors, and that we should buy toothpaste-XYZ in order to be able to function in society. Few people realized that it was simply a company trying to make millions of dollars when they pushed soap detergent-XYZ, which promised to make dingy red teeshirts more brilliant and redder with each washing. And when the television commercials dwelled on the fact that BO (that thing that was too terrible to even speak its name aloud) was so offensive that a single whiff of it would drive mankind insane, shelves and shelves of products reeking of 'lavender potpourri' or 'vanilla-rosebud' appeared in stores. And as technology advanced, all things natural and ordinary became taboo. The chamber pot, which harbored the natural and ordinary smell of urine, became taboo after plumbing (and television commercials for air fresheners) made that smell unfashionable.

Suddenly there was running water being piped into houses ~ plumbing; and the next thing you know, water closets ~ renamed commodes in later years ~ were hooked up to the pipes of running water. There suddenly was no need for outhouses ~ or chamber pots. And that smell that emanated from the thing pictured in this post became a thing of the past.

The chamber pot was a standard item found in all houses for centuries prior to the introduction of plumbing in homes throughout Europe and the United States of America. They tended to be kept in the bedroom, usually under the bed, within easy reach, but they might also be kept in other rooms for handy use. Emptying the chamber pot was a daily chore usually assigned to one of the children of poorer families, or by a maid in a wealthier household.

Chamber pots were predominantly made of ceramic, including white ironstone china such as the one shown here, but they were also constructed of metals, such as tin and enameled tin. Richer households boasted of chamber pots made of silver. Chamber pots to be found in antique stores today often are missing their lids, but originally all of the pots would have had lids to prevent the odor of urine from constantly wafting into the room. As one of the photos shows, the lid was formed with an inner ring that helped in trapping any smells within the pot, sort of like how the "s" trap in a sink's plumbing works. Ceramic chamber pots tended to have one handle, but ones with two handles existed. The two-handled style was sometimes called a 'marriage pot'; the two handles supposedly facilitated handing the pot from one spouse to the other. The metal chamber pots often had a wire handle and resembled nothing more than a metal bucket with a lid.

My father, Bernard Smith, often told the story of how, after he had gone off to army training in Florida during the Second World War, he had written to his mother. In his letter, my dad noted that the one thing he missed (i.e. or rather wanted, but couldn't have), being in the army, was the chamber pot. Jennie, his mother, wrote back and simply said: "The floor shows that you often missed it when you were home too."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Children Should Be Seen And Not Heard

Some, but not many, aspects of child-rearing has changed over the centuries. Today children are revered and adored, their status being just below that of angelic cherubs. But at one time, children were tolerated, at best. They were, as noted in the famous proverb, 'meant to be seen and not heard'. 

Children were, no doubt, loved as much by their parents in the 1700s as they are today, but daily life was quite different in the 1700s than it is today, and children were, understandably, treated differently. Men and women, alike, worked from sunrise to sunset: the men in the fields, planting crops and harvesting the same, or taking care of livestock and performing farmwork; the women cooking, washing the family's clothes and spinning flax and wool into thread.
There wasn't much time left for either of the parents to spend playing with their children, and so the children were left to fend for themselves. But guess what? We're alive today ~ proof that apparently not all of the children of the 1700s died because they weren't coddled or pampered.

Coddling and pampering aside, one thing that has not changed through the centuries is the desire of parents that their children would be safe from harm. It is often claimed by historians that the infant mortality rate was high, and to compensate for that, parents gave birth to numerous children. But there are other sources that confute that claim, countering that the percentage of children who died in infancy then was no greater than now: the lack of contraceptives might have been a greater factor in the size of families.
Whether a family included three children or thirteen would not have influenced how much the parents loved those children. And the loss of any one of their children would surely have broken the hearts of those parents as much then as now. One difference between the 1700s and today, in regard to child-rearing, is that we currently have the results of many studies that show us what works and what doesn't. Ensuring that our children are safe from harm doesn't have to rely on trial and error any longer. But trial and error, with infant deaths resulting here and there, was the only thing parents had in centuries past. Instead of being able to reap the benefits of an extensive study, as parents can in the present day and age, parents of the 1700s either had to discover their own way, or learn from their elders.

The object displayed in this post is one of the things that parents learned from their elders and used to ensure that their baby did not die in its sleep. Although it appears to be just a fancy cloth item, similar to a doily, which is an ornamental cloth or paper mat used to protect furniture surfaces or to contribute, visually, to the presentation of something.
The primary reason this object resembles a doily is due to the lacey border material. But if not a doily, what is it? It looks too delicate to be a wall hanging. And besides, dating from the late-1700s to the mid-1800s, the item's age would preclude it from being a miniature quilt created solely for the purpose of being hung on the wall as a decoration. Prior to the recent century, women did not waste their precious cloth scraps or thread to create miniature quilts and such to hang as artwork on a wall. Perhaps the item exhibited here was a 'sampler' ~ a cloth article created by a young girl on which to practice, and show off, her skill at sewing and embroidery. But, although the item certainly exhibits a variety of stitches and sewing techniques, the 'standard' structure of a sampler is absent.
Samplers tended to be constructed of linen material; this item is comprised of silk and velvet. Samplers tended to showcase the letters of the alphabet sewn onto the linen in order to reveal how proficient the young girl was in using the needle; this item bears no letters at all. The actual purpose of this item may surprise you. 

The object of this post was intended to be placed in an infant child's cradle or crib, on which to rest the baby's head. The object is completely flat, and does not resemble what we today would call a 'pillow', but a baby's pillow is just what the object is. Through trial and error, mothers learned that a baby's head should not be lain on a fluffy or plush pillow with the risk of the baby suffocating. But all the same, mothers wanted to fawn over their little ones, and so made these cloth items to brighten the baby's cradle. The mother who sewed together this beautiful example used various types of cloth, including velvets, satins and silks, and then added a border of intricately designed lace. The back, shown below, was constructed of a piece of red silk. The baby whose head rested on this beautiful pillow was very fortunate to have a mommy who loved him or her very much.