The Pen Holder’s Tale

My friend India gave me this jar 20 years ago. She knew that I liked willow ware, which its pseudo Chinese landscape is reminiscent of; plus, it did not sell at our yard sale.

It looks old, but not valuable, so I’ve always used it as a pen holder on my desk, on hand for taking notes, writing in my journal, and far too infrequently, penning a letter.

When India first gave me the jar, I checked the bottom for markings. None. It looked worn so I figured it was at least 50 years old or more, but I thought nothing more about its origins until I saw this picture:

They’re not twins, but those jars definitely look like siblings or close cousins of mine. The chipped pair in the photo are among the 13,000 Victorian jam jars and pickle pots unearthed in an archaeological dig at the site of a new London rail station.

Crosse and Blackwell once operated a food manufacturing factory on the site, chucking left over or broken pots into a cistern from the 1870s until 1921. The blue and white jars were designed to hold preserved ginger, so I believe my pot once held the same.

I’ll never know how and when it crossed the Atlantic to America and traveled overland to California, but whenever I look at my pen holder now, I will think of London housewives, Crosse and Blackwell and a long ago jar of preserved ginger.

Those Plucky Posties

This female postal delivery person is walking her route in the war torn London of 1940. Notice the bomb-damaged building on the left and what looks like a pile of rubble, or perhaps gravel for fixing the road, on the right. A wheel barrow is propped neatly against the wall in the background.

Beginning September 7, 1940, London was bombed during 56 of the next 57 days and nights, a rain of fire known as the Blitz. With a stiff upper lip, the British populace carried on, remarking on the bombardment as one would on the weather, saying whether or not a day was “very blitzy.”

While the post office did not welcome many women employees prior to World War II, the loss of male staffers to the armed forces opened many positions to women.

The advent of WWII also caused the U.S. Post Service to adjust its thinking about women delivering the mail. In 1944, Jeannette Lee became Chicago’s first female letter carrier, leading to today’s post office where women comprise 40% of the work force.

Packages from Publishers

board-book-in-the-mail

I’ve never had a disappointing package from a publisher. (Disappointing rejection letters, yes, but no one has ever sent me a rejection package.) Even when I’ve seen all of the illustrations in advance for a picture book, and even if I’ve seen a previous version of the book itself, it’s always exciting to peel open an envelope and pull out an advance copy.

In this case, my package contained the new board book version of Old Manhattan Has Some Farms from Charlesbridge, slated for release in spring. It feels great to have a new (old) book hitting the shelves again.

To Your Perfect Porridge!

Isn’t this New Year’s card from illustrator Terry Lim Diefenbach lovely? I look at what she can create with layers of paper and am embarrassed to admit that I can’t even cut wrapping paper without a leaving a jagged edge.

And how about her wizardry in transforming the shadow of the house and chimney into the outline of a Christmas tree?

Even without Terry’s artistry, I can join her in the wish that each of us, indeed, receives just the right porridge this year, whatever that porridge may be.

Christmas Eve Angel

angel

On Christmas Eve I’d like to share with you this lovely angel from a card my friend Susan sent me in 1997. While I cannot look at a picture like this and name the era, I know that styles change and an angel drawn nearly two decades ago will probably be different than angels drawn today. So enjoy this winged beauty from the past and enjoy your Christmas tomorrow.

Merry Christmas

 

Those Wacky Victorians

frog-card

If I write the words “Victorian Christmas card,” what springs to mind? Perhaps a convivial cast of Dickens-esque characters enjoying carols round the tree or sitting at a banquet table with a flaming plum pudding. Or maybe you think of turn-of-the-century whimsy, with beribboned kittens and rosy-cheeked children. But how about ice skating frogs who have lost both their footing and their pipes, all in a row?

Welcome to the wacky world of Victorian novelty cards where beetles dance with frogs while some winged thing shakes a tambourine.

bug-card

Then again, nothing says holiday cheer like traveling bee and beetle musicians in a wintry landscape. Their walking sticks are a nice touch.

bird-card

Strange these cards may be, but stranger still are the dead bird postcards. No kidding; I have seen more than one Victorian holiday card that features a dead bird lying on its back, little feet cocked in the air, a cheery Christmas message written below.

I decided not to “send” you any of those. You can thank me later.

 

Out of this World

space-reuben-h-fleet

While nostalgia usually edges out modernity at Christmas, there are exceptions. When I worked at a science-oriented non-profit several years ago, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center sent me this card of Earth and Moon ornaments. Isn’t the Moon’s shadow on Earth a wonderful touch?

I also received this gift-wrapped planet from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Placing a world suspended in space on white linen and blue ribbon is sheer genius. space-smithsonian

My sister acknowledged the “spacey” side of my personality when she once sent me this Astronaut Santa card. Note how the electronic equipment on his suit is also crimson.space-santa

And I confess that I am the one who picked out cosmic Christmas paper for wrapping gifts this year.

So however far afield your own thoughts or travels take you, have yourself an out of this world holiday season.