Sunday, February 23, 2014

"What is elegance?

Soap and water. ~ Cecil Beaton is everywhere these days--from the dollar store to the high end boutiques.   Handcrafted soap makers are featured on Etsy, shown on Pinterest, and lined up on Ebay.  It comes wrapped in fancy paper, tucked in creative sleeved-paper, felted, and just piled up in basins and buckets.  This is one of those products though where better quality ingredients do produce better quality soap.  Some of the cheaper soaps are made from various animal fats not high quality olive oils like the bar shown here.
What got me thinking of soap was an article about the “most expensive soap in the world,” made of pure gold dust, olive oil and virgin honey and embedded with diamonds, was unveiled by Khan Al-Saboun Bader Hassoun and Sons of Lebanon.  BBC News reports that the 160 gram (around 5.6 ounces) bar of soap brings in such a high price because it is filled with gold and diamond powders. The owner of the soap company says the soap has a “psychological and spiritual” effect on the user.
(I don't want to tell you how my psyche and spirit would react!)
Originally soap was made for washing textiles like wool or for medicinal purposes.  In the ancient ruins of Babylon (now Iraq), remnants of soaps were excavated in a barrel that soap back to around 2800 B.C. It is believed that these large canisters were used in Babylonia for some kind of soap making process.

The first proof of soap's existence was a Mesopotamian clay tablet dating back to 2200 B.C. with a soap recipe inscribed on it. The soap making technique in the ancient times was mixing supplies taken from animals and from nature, such as animal fat and tree ash to form a cleansing agent.

Egyptians also made some type of soap. Manuscripts from approximately 1500 B.C found in Egypt describe a substance made by combining animal fats and vegetable oils to create a soap-like base and go on to explain another type of soap which is produced for the use in the production of wool. 

The Romans use of soap is documented in Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis, and it seems that Mount Sapo was the namesake for their soap since sapo is Latin for soap.  Around 200 A.D., the ancient Greeks combined lye and ashes to clean their pots and statues. The Gauls and Romans also used animal fat, beech tree ashes and goat's tallow to produce both hard and soft soap products.
As soap developed, it was created by soap maker guilds and was very expensive. According to my research, in France during the reign of Louis the 14th, bathing was considered an oddity not the norm. It is said that King Louis guillotined 3 soap makers for making soap that irritated his very sensitive royal skin. In desperation the 4 remaining soap makers in Paris got together and re-invented a method of pouring and curing the soap – taking a month to make a single bar. They saved their own necks, and the world got handmade soap (a.k.a. poured soap, cold process soap, farm soap, cured soap, etc).
Soap is mostly produced by a cold process where fatty acids and lye are mixed together. The fatty acid can range from beef tallow to hemp or olive oil.   Just as in cooking, not all olive oils are equal so even if soap is touted as olive oil soap it may not be a better quality.  Handmade soap is technically glycerin soap and it differs from industrial soap. In the handmade soap process method, an excess of fat is used to consume the alkali, and in that the glycerin is not harvest out. This supperfatted soap is more skin-friendly than industrial soap.

 What often eludes today's consumers is the fact that handcrafted items are expensive, were always expensive, and should be expensive.  Quality products are not cheap; however, in the 18th century a Frenchman (no, not Chinese!), Nicholas Le Blanc  discovered a chemical process that allowed soda to be extracted from salt, and another Frenchman  Eugene-Michel Chevreul designed a formula for adding fat to the recipe instead of guessing.

One of the first soap factories was built in Marseilles where the soil produced great olive trees and vegetable sodas.  The Industrial Revolution changed the manufacturing process and now soap was readily available in a store or from a catalog.
After WWI and until 1930's, a method called batch kettle boiling was used for soap manufacture. Shortly thereafter, continuous process that decreased soap making production time to less than a day was introduced and refined by Procter & Gamble. Continuous process is still used by large commercial soap manufacturers. 
We have no four figure soap bars, but do keep in mind a dollar bar of soap may be worth just that or less.  Better quality soaps do not disappear, and I learned that if a soap base says it is 100% organic or all organic, that cannot be since soap requires some naturally occurring minerals - and by definition, minerals are NOT organic (they have never been alive).  The oils can be organic though, but that could not be all organic.  Soap will actually get better as it ages, but the scent may start to fade around a year.

"Your body is like a bar of soap. The more you use it, the more it wears down."
           ~ Richie Allen

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"A room without books

is like a body without a soul." ~ Cicero

On this date in 2011, Borders filed for bankruptcy.  Barnes and Noble hangs on, but their digital market did crash this past Christmas, and I would imagine that was due to the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle.  Barnes and Noble did hold its own against Amazon when the latter was going to go into publishing since they refused to carry any of the books that Amazon would publish (back to those drones, Jeff!).

But, will e-books like email take over?  Or, are we going to be reduced to “hash-tags”?  And, like the ancient philosopher wrote-souless?  As a trained librarian and an instructor of composition, I hope not.  I love the printed word even though the internet has all the information one could possibly need.  I guess I should be happy that some people still do read.  New books have that fresh paper smell and speak to you when you open them even though you are “cracking” their spines!  And, old books have their history.

I love books that have handwritten names or notes.  I know purists will tsk!tsk!, but it shows real people handled these books not the buy and never touch people.

Just to compare the book to the e-world…here is an old copy of The Rubaiyat.

 Here is what is looks like online…
The Rubaiyat
By Omar Khayyam
Written 1120 A.C.E.

Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.

But, in many ways, like what circulates on the web, the authors of ancient works had no rights concerning their published works; there were neither authors' nor publishing rights. Anyone could have a text recopied, and even alter its contents. See the similarities to the internet and ancient days?
Scribes earned money and authors earned mostly glory unless a patron provided cash; a book made its author famous. This followed the traditional conception of the culture: an author stuck to several models, which he imitated and attempted to improve. The status of the author was not regarded as absolutely personal.

Books were created in Rome in the 1st century BC, and there were bookstores in the Roman Empire.  Julius Caesar wanted a library to show political prestige.  We do have a Library of Congress today, but I am not sure Congress and prestige are synonymous!

Guess who “invented” papermaking, writing paper, tea bags, and toilet paper?  If China came to mind, you win!  In the first century AD,  paper became something useful.   The Chinese were the first to have paper currency also.

Medieval paper makers built water-powered paper mills, and the Chinese and Muslim handcrafted paper was replaced with cheaper papers.  Of course, the printing press brought the book into the modern world in the 15th century. 

An old book with a handcrafted card makes a unique gift no matter what any "tweet" says...
But, in the 21st century, will the modern world make that printing press obsolete?  Will books be relegated to the attic to crumble...

Although I like this quote about that very idea…

“In an age of infinite digital documentation, paper was the last safe place for secrets.”
     ~Evan Angler in Swipe

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"I don't understand why Cupid was chosen to represent Valentine's Day.

When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, chubby toddler coming at me with a weapon."    ~Unknown

Valentine’s Day is Friday, and I thought maybe you might like a little trivia for the week’s  tweets.
Despite email and Facebook, The Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentine cards are sent world-wide each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. Americans, for example, spend around $277 million on Valentine cards every year, and, generally, Valentine’s Day is a $14.7 billion industry in the U.S.
Most cards are bought by women…83%...but men purchase around 17% although it seems they are now buying more…both a funny card and a romantic card…Hallmark doing BOGO?
The research indicated that half of all consumers preferred to receive a humorous Valentine.  The old ones certainly fit that form.

36% of women and 26% of men would rather have a romantic Valentine.  This statistic is funny…13% of males want a sexy Valentine, but only 3.5% of women want that kind!

Florists love the day because it accounts for at least 32% of their annual sales.  Even though California produces 60% of American roses, most sold for this holiday come from South America.  73% who buy flowers are male, and 27% are females.

Over 110 million roses – mostly red – will be sold and delivered during the 3 days around February 14. 

Males do spend more on Valentine’s gifts with the average being $95.  3% of pet owners will buy gifts for their pets.

Alexander Graham Bell applied for this patent on the telephone on Valentine’s Day in 1876, and he never could have imagined what happened to that device!

The chief colors associated with Valentine's Day are pink, red and white. Pink is a delicate, almost innocent shade of red and is also connected with Saint Valentine, whose burial was said to have caused the pink almond tree to blossom. Red is a symbol of warmth and feeling...the color of the heart, while white represents purity and faith...a faith between two who love each other.
"It is best to love wisely, no doubt; but to love foolishly is better than not to be able to love at all."
   ~ William Thackeray

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"In the antique business

there are no experts, just students." ~ Wayne Mattox Antiques

Unlike the traditional retail world where one can go to a catalog and order, the antique/vintage/retro business works in the wheel of fortune game-spin the wheel so to speak at an auction, flea market, yard sale.  We keep adding labels to make the business more current since antique has that grandma dusty smelly hoarder feel to it. Still as Walmart is urged to closed some of their giant stores, and Amazon is raising shipping costs, the small brick and mortar shop owners hang on, and, in this economy, where you may need to create your own business to survive, perhaps the small shop will have a renaissance not to mention offer an escape from the truly maddening world.

When I first started in this business, the price guides were our catalogs.  But, so many of those have faded into the internet searches, but the Kovel guide is still in print as well as online.  The book used to be produced by Terry and her husband Ralph, but, when he died in 2008, her daughter joined the business.  I do wonder if she will maintain it when her mother dies. 
Anyway, the Kovel price guide people released the top searches for 2013 in the antique world and did a comparison to 2001.

In 2013, antiques enthusiasts were busy researching:  (1) China, (2) Book, (3) Bottle, (4) Lamp, (5) Doll, (6) Toy, (7) Milk Glass, (8) Cookie Jar, (9) Occupied Japan, (10) Fenton, (11) Carnival Glass, (12) Pottery, (13) Furniture, (14) Roseville, (15) Vase, (16) Depression Glass, (17) Collector Plate, (18) Limoges, (19) Coca-Cola, (20) Delft.

The Top 20 searches of 2001(1) China, (2) Dinnerware, (3) Furniture, (4) Book, (5) Doll, (6) Figurine, (7) Carnival glass, (8) Plate, (9) Toy, (10) Bottle, (11) Roseville, (12) Glass, (13) Porcelain, (14) Avon, (15) Cookie Jar, (16) Depression Glass, (17) Hummel, (18) Vase, (19) Lamp, (20) Clock.

China is on top on both lists, and I think it may be because as children clean out parents' houses, they want to know if that stash in the china cabinet is worth anything not necessarily because they are interested in the patterns.  Seeing collector plate and Avon on the lists tends to fit in that same mindset.  I do love that "book" is now number 2.   Maybe the e-books have some impact there...what happens when the printed word on paper vanishes?
Cookie jars moved up from 15 to 8...that again may be because they were found in attics, or maybe people are tired of cookies in bags and boxes?  Toy is a constant since people do collect memories, and we all loved our toys.  What will the kids of today have?  X-boxes?

Here are the insights from the Kovel site...."Experts agree that there has been new interest the past 12 years in advertising collectibles; 1950s furniture, as well as Scandinavian and Italian furniture; art pottery, with renewed interest in Roseville; and mid-twentieth century accessories, like modern silver from the U.S., Mexico, and Denmark. There’s also huge interest now in costume jewelry, vintage toys and things made of iron like doorstops and bottle openers. Sports memorabilia like baseball cards have less collector interest. So have Royal Doulton figurines and much antique wooden “brown” furniture. Interest has changed from Currier and Ives prints from the 1800s to photographs.
And there is a group of enthusiastic technology collectors who want everything from old electric fans and typewriters to early computers and TV sets."
I still urge people to buy what they love, what they can use, what keeps them in touch with their souls not just their future investments. 

“Priceless things matter not for their value, but because they offer us an enduring reminder of stability and permanence.”
― Barbara Taylor Bradford, Power of a Woman