Monday, June 30, 2014

Flags & Fireworks of Every Description

Some nicely illustrated advertising covers sure to spark a Fourth o'July holiday spirit. Dates of these extremely rare envelope covers from various fireworks manufacturers and importers, range from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

And one seven-star confederate flag cover printed with wood blocks, and an imprint advertising a Georgia bookseller and dealer in musical instruments.
All covers via Schuyler Rumsey Philatelic Auctions 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Tin Toy Typists Tirelessly Tapping

On occasion of today's 146th anniversary of the typewriter patent, these two typing ladies recount its history while sitting with their textbook posture tirelessly tapping away. Both of these mechanical novelty toys are made of litho embossed tin measuring only 2.5" wide. By squeezing the mechanism on the reverse, the woman's arm and hand move up and down at the keyboard, producing a loud clicking sound. A small prong at the bottom permits each to stand upright. One is from Germany and designed and printed with greater detail. The second, nearly identical typist with the deco-patterned dress is from Italy. Both were sold recently in separate auctions from Hake's Americana & Collectible auctions for undoubtedly more than their original cost. You go girls!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The 18th Century Art of Fireworks

Though this rare botanical specimen looks much like a Dr. Seuss plant, it is actually an 18th century roman candle masquerading as a potted plant. It is one of the more interesting images included in a 1780 DIY manual on the fabrication of pyrotechnical instruments and the construction of fireworks. This 376 page Dutch manuscript is entirely handwritten and illustrated (probably not from the same hand) and provides the crafty 18th century DIY guy with clear instructions on how to build your own fireworks spectacular. This entire manuscript from the Getty Research Library can be fully explored on the Internet Archive

The handsomely illustrated watercolor of the hand and puffy sleeve is the only human influence we see in the entire manual. I'm happy to see the use of a long match extension to safely light the rocket, however the hazardous smoke surrounding this floating arm is somewhat puzzling, not to mention suspicious. All of the illustrations are quite detailed in nature and created by someone who obviously knew a thing or two about the proper display of visual information. Their are a number of color-coded bar charts with decorative baroque headers and titles describing what must be the recipes for quantities of ingredients to create special effects. 

It amazes me to see how bright and clean this book appears considering it is nearly 225 years old. Some of the images have a gold paint on them to portray flame and gold or brass metal parts. In Fig. 70 below, the potted roman candle plant is seen again in an elaborate display.

The title page from this anonymous fireworks manual is rather uninspiring; especially in light of all these lovely watercolor images. I did want to include it however, as it is the most essential page of any book. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Space-Age Packaging Design

With the rise of science-fiction novels and movies in the post-industrial age and the allure of space travel decades later, it is no wonder we all became fascinated with the anthropomorphic robot. The robot represented an optimistic future which would relieve the factory worker and provide us with more leisure time. After WWII, it was the toy robot which helped pave the way to economic recovery in Japan and the US, when toy manufacturers quickly seized the opportunity to meet a demand for this funny little tin man. The robot future was securely sealed when Japanese manufacturers introduced the first battery operated robot in 1955, and they continue to be on the march today. Robots purchased for under $5 even fifty years ago, now bring as much as $25,000 to $50,000 at auction when in their original packaging.
     Judging from the early robot package designs offered up at Morphy's Auction house this past February, the vision of space-age exploration was still being invented. More than likely, the packages were illustrated by nameless artists envisioning the future toy, sight unseen. As the package example above illustrates, the robot has little resemblance to the actual tin toy inside, however it is not without its charm and personality. Sidenote: No wonder his "eyes light up" when he sees that $110 price tag. What a steal! It just sold at auction for nearly $600. 

Space-age Wordspacing

Sometimes, I believe we take lettering and typography rules much too seriously. These space-age package designs are a true folk art, and were just as theatrical as the mechanical marvels they portrayed. The Japanese artists who hand-lettered much of the English text on the early box designs, gave little forethought to word and letterspacing or alignment, because they probably didn't even speak the language. They ventured where few lettering artists had gone before, bringing a whole new meaning to the term outer space. Graduated italic titles with airstream strokes characterized space-age travel; dramatic lightening bolt lettering symbolized electricity; and rivets and gears suggested the perfect industrial machine-age toy. 

The "Non Stop Robot" is fun for the entire family...until the batteries die out. And I'm still waiting for all that extra leisure time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The 19th Century Book Plates of D.M. Dewey

Title page for one of D.M. Dewey's specimen books.

Dellon Marcus Dewey (1819-1889) was a bookseller, publisher and art patron in Rochester, NY before he became one of the 19th century's most enterprising businessmen, printing and selling colorfully stenciled book plates of botanical illustrations "for the practical use of nurserymen, in selling their stock." He employed teams of immigrant artists and colorists in the mid-1850s to paint and stencil several thousand botanical plates of various ornamentals, trees, shrubs, fruits and vegetables. By 1859, Dewey's price list contained some 275 different plates. Once completed, the colorful book plates were assembled into handsome octavo catalogs and portfolios customized for the traveling salesmen known as "plant peddlers" of the floral and nursery trade. Dewey was not the first to devise this practice of providing botanical illustrations to sell seeds and plants, but he was the first to expand the process by relying on the time-honored stencil production process which came to be known as "theorem paintings." Prior to the development of chromolithography, this multi-layered stencil process was the most striking and effective method of producing colored multiples at the time. Although quite rare now, Deweys' polychromic watercolor artworks can still be found in complete book sets, and continue to be valued for their exquisite beauty. This 1875 plate book of 91 images shown below was sold on eBay a year ago for about $400.

To produce each stenciled image, artists would use transparent watercolors to build up areas of tone and color. Stems, tendrils and small details such as the small, red paint strokes seen on the peach above, were painted freehand for added effect on many images. The stencils were most likely made of paper, but brass could easily have been used and would have endured much longer. Paint and inks were carefully applied through these stencils using a brush or dauber of sorts—creating vivid color tones and values as layers were added. A similar process to this, called porchoir, was later popularized in Europe in the early 20th century, however that process relied upon a printed "key plate" to which stenciled color was applied. Greater detail of the "theorem" stencil and brush process can be seen in the grape images below. 

In the wake of Dewey's successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US.

Small newspaper ad and advertising envelope for D.M. Dewey's "colored fruit and flower plates."


This 1872 D.M. Dewey plate book shown above appears to be stenciled plates. Later editions, such as this handsome edition below were entirely printed with chromolithographed plates. This stenciled book happens to be in reasonably nice shape and still available here for a rather large sum. I just have my eye on that sweet grape arbor below.

By 1881, Dewey's company offered over 2400 varieties of book plates of plant specimens. In the wake of his successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of his botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US. Confident that chromolithography was the solution to "a greater variety and better plates," Dewey consolidated his nursery supply business with the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company in 1888. One year later he died, "but the demand for plate books did not" according to Tim Hensley of the Urban Homestead, and "no less than a dozen Rochester printing companies would follow in his wake." Hensley points out that each printer had a style uniquely their own as they each employed their own team of individual artists. Some particularly stood out such as the work of the Stecher Lithographing Company (1887-1936) who went on to produce posters, labels and trade cards for seed companies. The Stecher plates of the Salway peach and Le Conte Pear below from Hensley's site, Rood Remarks, are so exquisite, I find it difficult to believe they are chromoliths. I'm fairly certain they are a combination of chromo and stencil artwork of the tendrils and leaves. The last image of the Greensboro peach printed by the Vrendenburg & Company of Rochester is most certainly a chromolith plate. They are all mighty fine fruit plates.