Sunday, February 22, 2009

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows...

are in the seeds of today.” (Proverbs)
Is it time to bring back a Victory Garden? I live in New Jersey, indeed the Garden State (despite what those of you in the other 49 may call us), and we do have gardens around the house and shop…floral and veggie. Every day several seed catalogs come in the mail, and, of course, with them, the promise of beauty and bounty. I managed to find some old seed catalogs at a flea market, and it lead me to this week’s entry.

Today we can access seeds through the internet, grocery stores, dollar stores as well as the mail ordercatalogs. Imagine the excitement of the 18th century household when their seed catalog arrived.
In 1784, Englishman David Landreth established the first mail order seed catalog, and his company still exists today. They introduced the zinnia in 1798, the first white potato in 1811, and the tomato in 1820. David and his son went on to help found the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 1828.
Joseph Breck of Boston established Joseph Breck & Co. in 1818. His 1840 seed catalog was packed with information as well as a treasure trove of seeds to be ordered. The catalog below has similar features.
The D. Landreth Seed Co. and others were key participants in what is known as the Columbian Exchange. Based on my research, it was responsible for putting the West in contact with the East, sending chocolate to Switzerland, paprika to Hungary, tomatoes to Italy, and potatoes to Ireland.
Cotton, sugarcane, and most vegetables other than squashes are introductions to the New World. Seedsmen, as they are still sometimes known, imported seeds from Europe and sold them to settlers, as well as providing seeds from the newly explored territories for expeditions to Asia and the North Pole.

Seed catalogs and mail order marketing of seeds played an important role in American and world history. Without potatoes from the New World crossing back to the Old World, there would be no Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s and hence fewer Irish immigrants to North America.

Now, in our move to return to the past, heirloom seeds are in vogue again…and I have read where seed catalogs are once again garnering attention. So, maybe it will put folks back in touch with their earth...their roots...good can come from depression if you let it!
“Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Godey's Lady's Book...who knew?!

A buy at the end of the auction Friday night sent me on this search. I have often bought these prints, and I even have had the images on china...this one is surrounded by an aluminum frame, a 1940s decorative accent,
but I never took the time to explore the history, and what I found proved to be rather enlightening...there is a web site where you can see original issues that have been digitized...

The magazine was published in Philadelphia by Louis Godey (see...naming magazines after oneself...i.e. "O" or "Martha" is not new)from 1830-1878. It was targeted specially to women, and it published poetry, articles, and, of course, the famous engravings that have been reproduced throughout the last century. A couple articles from the digital copies shows that no matter how many years pass, we really don't change all that much: "A Suburban Cottage in the Italian Style," "A Nervous Wife, and How she was Cured," and "Medical Education of Women."

Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Oliver Wendell Holmes had works published in the magazine, but the editor from 1837 to 1877, Sarah Josepha Hale (best known for writing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and making Thanksgiving a national holiday), created a publication that championed women's right to work and their need for quality education. She would publish special issues which only included work done by women. What we take for granted was highly irregular for the women of that era.

Because the Civil War happened during this time, Godey did not want to offend southern readers so he forbid articles on war and politics! He was determined to feature "fashions, etiquette, receipts, patterns, house plans, crafts, helpful hints, health advice, short stories, poetry, book notices, and musical scores."

In 1845, Louis Godey began copyrighting the magazine to prevent other magazines from lifting the articles. He was severely criticized, but he maintained a sense of elegance. His magazine was expensive...$3.00 a year which translates to $76 in today's money.

According to my research, it cost $105,200 to produce the Lady's Book, with the hand tinted fashion-plates in each issue costing $8,000. But, despite the fact that the images from Godey's Lady's Book remain engrained in our illustration library, it is Hale's courage in reformatting the magazine that we should understand. One of her first decisions after becoming editor of Godey's was to rid the magazine of "watery verse and sugary romances."

Being a composition teacher, I have to admire Hale who sought to improve the literary quality of stories submitted by professional writers, and she also attempted to advance the writing skills of Godey's readers. One article she wrote was titled "Rule of Composition," instructing writers to "give yourself as you are --what you see, and how you see it. Shakespeare, Goethe, Cervantes, gave the world as they saw it, each for himself."

And so...think when you write...are you "watery" and "sugary"...or do you "give yourself as you are"? Still looking good, of the Godey women attest...

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Ah…Valentine’s Day…some of my fondest memories are from this day…when I was in grade school, we used to have the decorated box (which my Dad always volunteered to decorate since his regular handwriting looked like calligraphy) where you would drop those little tidbits of love! Then, in my early teaching career, I would receive bouquets of flowers from current boyfriends which the secretary always delighted in bringing to my classroom…I taught 7th & 8th graders so you can imagine that scenario!

I love the primitive signatures and messages on the ones that have been saved for decades. It is hard to do justice to the Valentines I have in my shop, but here is a small sampling intermingled with the post.

The history of the day is mixed, but, since I love the ancient history connections, in Rome February was the official beginning of spring and a time for purification. Houses were cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

The church redesigned the event to honor an obscure priest who was beheaded on February 14 in 270AD who had been idolized for his chastity and virtue not fertility.

In the 1700s, England produced retail cards, and by the 1800s embossed papers and colorfully printed motifs were in vogue. Perforated papers imitating lace were created, and by the end of the century, Dobbs of England as renown for their work.

In America, Esther Howland created fine Valentines during the Victorian era. She worked by herself…sound familiar MMP women…and she eventually had to hire women to help her. She sold 100,000 cards a year. Her father’s illness forced her to sell the business George Whitney who incorporated a w into the designs.

After WWI, the Valentine lost some popularity, but the Depression era revived the need for tokens of love, and, by the 40s, the schools had introduced the familiar Valentine box that opened this tale.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)

Approximately 85% of Valentines are purchased by women—the other 15% are purchased by men at the drugstore or Hallmark store after work on Feb 14.

In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. Maybe the UN should consider a worldwide holiday...what the world needs now is love, sweet love...sing along...

So, a big cyber hug to you all...and, if you are in my Comp class this week, I have chocolate for you...kiss...kiss.

Love does not dominate; it cultivates.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within. (WilliamCullenBryant)

Don’t know why, but I love February. Maybe it is because it is a quickie month that offers the amazing possibilities of spring or that it contains my favorite holiday…Valentines’s Day (speaking of…Brits are getting rid of the apostrophe…so for any of the subjects of the Queen…Valentines Day).But I will do Valentines in more detail next week...this week I am celebrating February!

This month we have Black History Month and Presidents Day…hit the daily double with Barack there! I work with a number of Martin Luther King’s essays in my Comp classes…always love this MLK quote: "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"

Oh, and then there is Groundhog Day…how would you like to be pulled out of bed in the middle of your hibernation to give people a weather report. Probably as good as the TV guys though!

Interestingly, January and February were not part of the old Roman calendar because the Romans considered winter monthless…I am still meditating on that one. Then February was the last month when they did tack them on in 700 BC. February was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification, via the purification ritual Februa held on February 15 in the old Roman calendar. It took the second position in 450 BC and has always had number of day issues.

I love the birth flower for this month…the violet…and also the primrose. Violets are always popular decorative accents. I have violets throughout my garden, and I love the spring day when they start to bloom. That brings me to another fav quote (seems I am on a quote tote)…from Alice Walker: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

These violet plates are from Haviland Limoge factory and date to 1870-1882. The mark CFH - Charles Field Haviland and the GDM is Gerard Dufrisseix & Morel, a factory he absorbed in the Limoge dynasty. I have come to love the "pretties" of the porcelain plate world, and they are so inexpensive.

Slag glass, which is milk glass with "slag"(molten iron)added, is commonly found in purple. This bud vase is purple slag...and that is another topic for future blogs.

Violets are frequently found on cups and saucers made in the 1950s in Japan. These sets are fairly representative of the china imports of that time.

The birthstone is also purple…amethyst…and I do love purple, so, before we go all red for Feb, think a little purple for your monthly circle!