Monday, 16 December 2013

They don't make them like this anymore #2 - Vintage early 20th century Christmas cracker novelties

Even now, in deepest darkest cynical adulthood, when Christmas comes around I find myself irrevocably drawn to the contents of the Christmas cracker.  As a child they were the most excellent bonus to Christmas dinner or Boxing Day tea, and while the hats and jokes felt irrelevant to the festivities, the often intricate and sometimes bizarre plastic toys and gifts provided much glee and entertainment to Christmas mealtimes. It's difficult to find quality crap items in a cracker these days. There is no joy to be found in a "luxury" cracker where the gift might be a packet of golf tees or a lanyard to put your glasses on. Sometimes all you want is a tiny pack of cards or a tiny plastic magnifying glass or a fortune telling fish, and these items are becoming increasingly hard to find. Perhaps the fascination with cracker novelties runs in my genes, as here are 3 great examples that belonged to an old great aunt. She must have saved them as a child back nearly 100 years ago now, they may possibly be of a later date, as she may have saved them as an adult, like I have done with many of my ephemeral items. There are parts missing but it's still possible to recognise the objects for what they are - the Christmas pudding has lost his arms and the clock has lost its pendulum but the little clown, however, is perfectly intact in all his 3 dimensions.

 Coin shows the scale for these perfectly formed Christmas Cracker novelties Circa 1920's

 The clown is moulded metal, possibly lead, with lovely details on front and back, including a great pair of buttocks showing through his satin pantaloons

 The Pudding has lost his arms, but still has his little metal legs coming out of his wooden body.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

ROMA Photo Souvenir

Here's an old "Photo Souvenir" from Rome. I love these little pocket time travelling glimpses into the recent past especially when the subject matter concerns the relics of the distant past. The concept is so simple and the construction follows suit - tiny snaps in a simple paper wrap.  There is something gratifying about opening the wrap each time and ritualistically putting the photocards back after viewing them. The other simplistic joy they offer is the minor irregularity in size of the cards - they all fit into the paper but as they are of slightly different dimensions they form a unique deckled edge each time they are viewed and returned to the paper wrap. As with many of these items, you can't buy the modern equivalent today - at least not with the same exquisite simplicity. As with old type printed items there is a slight impression in the printed text - the text possesses the surface it is printed into. This rarely happens in modern printing where the print is seemingly digitally pasted into the surface. You get something extra from these objects just from running your fingers over the print. How aptly romantic for such a souvenir from one of Europe's most enchanting of cities. When I look at these cards I am nearly always reminded of the excellent short story "Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton. Short stories are similar to ephemera in that they are brief but tangible and can remain in your conscience long after you think you've disregarded them. Similarly they can be retrieved and revisited and brought to life by other imagery. You can read Roman Fever here. Items like these have always inspired me in my own work - see here - my version captures the essence, but perhaps not quite the romantic side of a place.
Paper and photographs with letterpress. Comprises of 16 photo cards. Approx. 55mm x 45mm x 6mm

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Brooke Bond Teacard - Wild Birds In Britain

Tea  and cigarette cards, once given free in packs of well known brands are the epitome of ephemera. They can be collected and treasured or treated as mere rubbish and discarded with the empty box or packet. For me, there is in these tiny cards, a poetry. Not unlike a haiku, they are complete in wisdom and beauty. The small and compact size demanded tight and concise design and typesetting and the result is almost always a perfectly balanced combination of illustration and information. The narrative aspect flows from image to text in a continuous loop - just keep turning it over and over.
Portable and instant they serve as a cache of facts more immediate and intoxicating than any search engine hit for the same information.

Like a flock of visiting winter birds, the set of these cards, illustrated by C.F. Tunnicliffe 
are beautiful both as a collection and as individual cards 

Brooke Bond issued these cards in 1965, they measure 68mm x 36mm

A large flock of waxwings have been visiting my local area since November. As it says on the back of the tea card, the birds are driven south by bad weather in a search of food, it could be years before they visit here again. Even though they are fleeting visits, I look out for them, despite that they may be long gone to another berry tree on a distant moor. Along with the trivia from daily events, rare bird sightings become catalogued in the memory as cerebral ephemera, stored away and ready for retrieval for some future query of time or place, or just for the pure joy of remembering an ephemeral event.