vintage inkstand

words and images from the past

Seed Packet Illustrations

May 13, 2018


Vintage illustrations include those drawn for children’s books, works of art chosen carefully for the covers of magazines, and copies of flora and fauna hand-drawn from observation for encyclopedias and other reference books.

Some of the loveliest vintage art, for me, can be found on calendars, seed packets, and other, more utilitarian papers. As an amateur gardener, the month of May inspires me to visit gardening centers, plan out my beds, and dig my hands into the earth! This post is dedicated to seed packets and catalogs from long ago. Oh, how I would love to have some of these flowers for my own garden.

Adorning the following packet, graceful asters in heritage pinks and violets (and one fiery red bloom) curl towards the sun as the wind softly blows their petals.

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Via Wikimedia Commons By Maule, Wm. Henry (Firm) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

According to the Maule family website, William Henry Maule helped his father’s seed company become “renowned worldwide” (www.maulefamily.com). Maule created colorful catalogs and marketed them towards individuals, showing the importance of beautiful art in advertising.

Next, I have chosen a packet with blooms so deep, they can only be heirlooms (from 1894). These giant petunias, in deep reds, purples, and creamy whites, show off their ruffles. Note the lovely striped and multi-color effects of these beauties:

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Via Flickr from Manual of Everything for the Garden (1894)

The photo above reads:

“Peter Henderson and Co., New York. 1894. Petunias: Giants of California. Seeds of any of the above varieties 25c per packet. The collection her show each packet separately for $1.50.”

In his Manual for Everything in the Garden, Henderson cleverly disguised an annual seed catalog as a reference for gardeners, but it was a true guide, as well, with detailed descriptions and instructions for planting. I would have looked forward to this every year.

I have chosen the next graphic because it is a French seed packet, and I love its style:

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via The Old Design Shop (please go to her site for permission to share)

Dahlias, with their understated elegance, are my new love this year in my garden. They offer the delicacy and richness of roses, but without the thorns. The cream and deep wine roses in the following illustration are quite tempting for me, though:

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via The Graphics Fairy

I can imagine the white and red roses grown together (at 75c each). The Dingee and Conard Co. were a “primary grower of roses in America” in the early 1900’s and were also the first company to introduce miniature roses.

We just bought our home two years ago, moved in after the first growing season was over, and are still trying to uncover the garden, overgrown from years of neglect. Originally, someone planned the landscaping around our home meticulously, with shrubs (dozens of forsythias), flowering trees, perennials, stone paths, and an underground sprinkler system. As a result, we have named our house Forsythia Cottage.

So far, I have only added some lavender and bee balm until I see what blooms naturally. I  prefer carefree, airy plants and long for a cutting garden with a mix of French and English styles.

I leave you with a flower that grows quite well here in the Ozarks, even in our hard, rocky soil. I refer to these as spring Phlox or Dianthus, but in literature they are often known by the quaint name Sweet William:

SeedAnnual1908SweetWilliam.jpg

In literature, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a memory about Sweet William(s) in an article for the Missouri Ruralist in 1917:

“A window had been broken in the schoolhouse…and the pieces of glass lay scattered where they had fallen. Several little girls going to school for their first term had picked handfuls of Sweet Williams and were gathered near the windows. Someone discovered that the blossoms could be pulled from the stem and, by wetting their faces, could be stuck to the pieces of glass in whatever fashion they were arranged. They dried on the glass and would stay that way for hours and, looked at thru the glass, were very pretty. I was one of those little girls and tho I have forgotten what it was that I tried to learn out of a book that summer, I never have forgotten the beautiful wreaths and stars and other figures we made on the glass with the Sweet Williams.”

April, Cardinals, and Birthdays

April 29, 2018


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via Flickr by Swallowtail Garden Seeds

The late spring this year reminds me of childhood Aprils in Iowa, apple trees clothed in white blooms, warm grass beneath my feet, and the promise of warm days to come. Here in the Ozarks, spring often comes much earlier, woods coming alive in a parade of colour: redbuds, magnolias, and dogwoods (although not early this year).

April and Elizabeth von Arnim

References to April in literature abound. Elizabeth von Arnim refers to her oldest daughter as the April baby. This precocious five-year-old, born in the month of April, changes the story of Adam and Eve so that it ends happily, asks lots of questions about God, and wants to know what angels wear and if they are girls (Elizabeth and Her German Garden 66).

Elizabeth von Arnim also gave us one of the most iconic English holiday stories in The Enchanted April. The characters gain new perspective at the Italian seaside bursting with beauty in the month of April:

 “…the wisteria was tumbling over itself in the excess of life…[and] scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour. The ground behind these flaming things dropped away in terraces to the sea, each terrace a little orchard, where among the olives grew vines on trellises, and fig trees, and peach trees, and cherry trees…in blossom…” (109).

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Vintage image of a Marigold c. 1887 via The Graphics Fairy

The Song of the Cardinal

The writer who gave us A Girl of the Limberlost seemed to have some sort of secret handshake with nature that allowed her to be a party to its mysteries. In truth, Gene Stratton-Porter had a keen gift of observation and immersed herself in woods, streams, and fields.

In her novelette The Song of the Cardinal (dedicated to her father), this naturalist and storyteller paints a picture of April in the northeastern United States:

“Thrusting aside the mold and leaves above them, spring beauties, hepaticas, and violets lifted tender golden-green heads. The sap was flowing, and leafless trees were covered with swelling buds…The catkins bloomed first; and then, in an incredibly short time, flags, rushes, and vines were like a sea of waving green…There was intoxication in the air” (published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1913).

April provides the backdrop as the Cardinal woos his mate.

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Illustration by Frederick William Frohawk 1887 via Flickr

Frederick William Frohawk, a British naturalist of the 19th century, shared Gene Stratton-Porter’s love for moths, birds, and butterflies. Like Audubon, Frohawk first observed and then sketched, painted, and colored everything from eggs and cocoons to feathers and shells.

In the above sketch, Frohawk captures the expressions of the lovebirds, including the pride of the male bird as described in The Song of the Cardinal.

Here, another pair of British birds, Redstarts, construct their nest in the month of April. Soft leaves serve as a frame to the gray female and the more colorful male:

Redstart

Illustration by Henrik Grönvold (d. 1940) from The Birds of Great Britain and Ireland

Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare, and Birthdays

Illustrators and writers alike from past centuries seemed to view April as the true coming of spring, not as a month of pure rain and umbrellas. Charlotte Bronte, born in April of 1816, compared herself to her birth month, noting that like April, she was girl of many moods. Here is an excerpt of a letter she wrote to her aunt while she was in Brussels:

Believe me, though I was born in the month of April, the month of cloud and sunshine…My spirits are unequal, and sometimes I speak vehemently, and sometimes I say nothing at all; but I have a steady regard for you, and if you will let the cloud and shower pass by, be sure the sun is behind, obscured, but still existing” (The Life of Charlotte Bronte: Volume I).

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A young Jane Eyre in an early 1897 edition via The British Library (Flickr)

I love the illustration above, by Edmund Henry Garrett, as it captures the heart of a writer, one who feels deeply, is a bit of a loner, and gets lost in her own world. Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre both claimed to be emotional (in a controlled way) and unable to move on from things easily, and it is easy to see that Bronte put some of herself in this character.

Shakespeare, another April baby, refers to his birth month as “lovely” in Sonnet 3 and personifies April in Sonnet 98:

“From you have I been absent in the spring,/When proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,/Hath put on a spirit of youth in everything.”

Shakespeare describes April as colorful and youthful. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, proud-pied means “gorgeously variegated.” Whatever he may have meant by this, it seems that Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte both observed the many dimensions of April.

Like the writers above, Kate Greenaway described life, but in her own way, through pictures. In the Birthday Book for Children, this pictorial view of April is found at the end of the month. The daughter’s arms are flung with the freedom and light of springtime. All three are dressed in white gowns proclaiming that warmth is here to stay, and mother kisses baby while seeming to float as she strolls.

Kate_Greenaway's_“Birthday_Book”.jpg

Via Wiki Commons

April is nearly over, but it will leave its mark on us, with its unfurled leaves, days of drops and splats, dogwood blossoms, and many shades of greens, perhaps the very reason Elizabeth von Arnim chose to center an entire vacation around this month. April looks forward and brings inspiration to women from all seasons of life.

 

Snowy Vintage Illustrations

January 12, 2018


Even though January can be dark and cloudy and the weather unpredictable, it can also be breathtakingly beautiful, even in a vintage illustration!

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Winter Lady with Letter at The Graphics Fairy

Olive greens, browns, and deep reds remind us of robins, cardinals, holly, and evergreens, the bright spots of winter. Did you ever notice how you really see houses when they are highlighted by snow? Or how pines and spruces suddenly come into the foreground once the deciduous trees have lost their leaves?

Here,  an olive-clad mysterious lady with a basket, a fur muff, and a letter, shows us that she is carrying a secret. What is so important that she must brave the cold and snow to deliver its contents? Or has she just received important news?

The crusted snow mirrors the letter. Both have crisp, white exteriors, but secrets lie beneath.

I will probably always be an Iowa girl at heart, and the soft grasses peeking from beneath the snow make my heart skip a beat.

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Vintage Winter Bird Nest Label at The Graphics Fairy

This chirpy robin is saying something, and the vintage card would have allowed the sender to fill in her own message beneath…whatever she wanted the bird to say. Perhaps:  cozy up in your nest and stay warm this winter! Or maybe she is announcing the birth of some baby birds this coming spring or perhaps a human baby.

 

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In an old book illustration, a red-caped maiden entices a robin as it sits atop a bare branch. Gold and gray Victorian dresses, ice-covered branches, and a French garden wall frame the pretty little bird as it tries to decide if it should trust her. This illustration by L. E. Barker, found on the British Library’s collection of vintage images on flickr, is from a book of poetry published in 1853 (Poetry of the Year: Passages from the Poets).

It is almost as if this illustration is a closeup of the one above, showing us that for the robin in winter, the struggle is real! Oh, I want to bring it indoors, poor thing.

My parents feed these sweet birds all year long, but in the winter in Iowa, birdseed, shelter, and a heated birdbath are the difference between life and death. The image is by J. Hall from a book published in 1893 titled Nursery Songs.

 

 

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Image found at the Graphics Fairy

Soft greens surround a mademoiselle leaving a church service, who has caught the eye of a gray robin. “We are the same,” they seem to be saying to each other, “with our muted pink dresses and our covered heads…we may not be as fancy as others, but we are survivors!”

The bird and the girl stand out amidst soft snow and gray skies and are surrounded by branches and a latticed window that mimic the ribboned frame. I’m not sure what the purpose of this vintage image, but it may have been a simple Christmas card or maybe a calling card for the winter:  “I came by to see you.”

In this image, the beauty lies in the colors and textures of winter. Biting winds and stinging cold may make us long for spring, but we are so much more appreciative of small comforts and simple beauty.

I’m so glad images such as these continue to be available to us many years later. Happy January!

 

 

Christmas Illustrations in Literature

December 13, 2017


Illustrator Frances Brundage wishes us a Merry Christmas in 1910:

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Frances Brundage Merry Christmas image

If you could caption this postcard, what would you call it?

Louisa May Alcott was no longer alive when Brundage began to illustrate re-printings of Alcott’s beloved novels (the above drawing is not connected). I’m not sure the sweet-faced cherubs drawn by this idealistic, albeit extremely talented, artist would have attracted LMA’s attention had she been alive. I sense she may have looked for a sense of humor over a sense of nostalgia.

Alcott most likely expressed her own experiences in several of her stories in which children do not anticipate any “extras” for the most wonderful day of the year, as in the opening line of her most famous novel:

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents…” (Little Women)

For a little girl at that time, a pretty dolly was the most coveted of toys. Somehow, I picture Alcott rather wishing for books, pens, journals, a pair of skates, or a bright toboggan rather than a doll!

The Coming of Father Christmas

In the next illustration, an English Christmas is celebrated by a “merry troop” in  “The Coming of Father Christmas,” written by Eliza F. Manning and published in 1894 in London:

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The Coming of Father Christmas by Eliza F. Manning (1894)

In this narrative poem, Father Christmas asks some children to come with him to bring some orphans from the inner city and be their “playmates” for the day. In the illustration, we see the various social backgrounds of the children all feasting together. Notice the piles of oranges and puddings on the table (ah, it brings to mind Dickens himself).

Then, Father Christmas distributes the gifts:

“Here’s my basket full of treasures…tops and goodies, marbles, dolls. Climbing monkeys. Pretty Polls; A Jack-in-the-box, and picture books too, Old Mother Hubbard, and Little Boy Blue.”

Finally, he reads the Christmas story as the children listen near the dying fire of evening, the Christ child the true lauded one of the day. Here, you may access the The Coming of Father Christmas. It is worth a read for its stunning illustrations.

“I Will Honor Christmas in My Heart and Try to Keep it All the Year”

Another British illustrator, Arthur Rackham uses humor to depict scenes in a version of A Christmas Carol published in 1915 by Lippincott. I love the way both Dickens and Rackham give us a glimpse of the games once played at celebrations in the 1800’s.

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Image by Arthur Rackham from A Christmas Carol 1910

In the scene at Fred’s Christmas party (one Scrooge was invited to attend), Topper chases after a pretty girl as they play “Blind Man’s B[l]uff.” He and Fred have conspired so that Topper can see the girl and always seems to go where she goes. Of course, he catches her, she pretends not to like it, and the two disappear together! (p 102)

I rather fancy that Alcott would have liked the humor and sharpness Rackham put into his “sketches.” He was known for his fairy and fantasy illustrations (as was Alcott as a writer).

Perhaps it is John Leech who visually gave us the Scrooge we all know and love in his illustrations of the very first edition of A Christmas Carol published by Chapman & Hall in 1843. Here, we see Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present:

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Scrooge’s Third Visitor” by John Leech (first edition 1843).

It is exactly as Dickens describes (except perhaps for Scrooge’s age), showing that this illustrator greatly understands the humor and irony of every detail. Here, a scrawny, childish old man in a ridiculous night-dress contrasts with the high-spirited, muscular Spirit of Christmas Present (even that name makes me smile).

Though his faces weren’t detailed, Leech gave us the true expressions of pity, joy, fear, despair, and compassion that challenge us all to “honor Christmas” in our hearts and try to “keep it all the year!”

Now, I leave you with another postcard, this time of a boy since I teach all boys, and we are nearing the end of the semester. Perhaps this year, we will get enough snow to build one of these:

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Birds, Naturalists, and Writers

May 26, 2017


While working outside the other evening, I heard the unmistakable sound of a Bob White. Bob-Bob-White he called over and over. The sound transported me to my childhood in Iowa, where I would answer the bird-call and exult in his calling back to me again and again.

Americans have had an obsession with birds since Audubon first determined to find, in person, all North American birds and draw or paint them. The copper-plated engraving process, both expensive and time-consuming, created a soft, rich, nostalgic effect, as did lithography, which took the place of the copper technique.

Here, we see not only the beauty of Audubon’s hand-painted work, but also of the engraving, identifying the birds, done by his printer Havell. Note the plate number at the top, right-hand corner.

 

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Painted Finch:  1,2, Old Males, 3 M of 1st. Year, 4,  2nd. Year, 5, Female.

[An up-close, high-resolution download and more information can be found at Audubon.org.]

My first introduction to naturalists (as in those who study animals and plants in their natural habitats) came subconsciously through writers such as Louisa May Alcott. After years of teaching and reading about Alcott, I now better understand that Alcott was influenced by her father’s background and involvement in the transcendentalist movement.

Jo’s parenting methods in her home for boys (Little Men) allows for each boy to explore and grow in his own unique gifts and talents as an “individual”.  As a teacher at a home for boys, I relate to all the types of “treasures” boys might bring home, including the following from my own experiences:  sticks, strings, weeds, seeds, feathers, stones, fossils, lizards, snakes, and even a freshly-shot turkey (he had a license and it was in-season, but still!). In Little Men, several of the boys create a naturalist museum brimming with all sorts of specimens, including:

“A snake’s skin, a big wasp’s nest, a birch-bark canoe, a string of birds’ eggs, wreaths of gray moss from the South, and a bunch of cotton-pods” (Louisa May Alcott, Little Men).

Birds Nest

Nests and Eggs of Birds of the United States:  Illustrated by Thomas G. Gentry, c 1906

Audubon stuffed his home at Mill Grove, Kentucky, with similar collections, according to his own journals published by his daughter in 1897. As a way to become better known, he visited naturalist museums all over the country and tried to contribute his work to them if they allowed him to. In the process, he learned from others how to improve his methods and market himself.

He painstakingly drew and re-drew birds and found a way to color them by hand:

“February [1822] was spent in drawing birds strenuously, and I thought I had improved much by applying coats of water-color under the pastels” (Maria R. Audubon, Audubon and his Journals,Volume I).

Here is a drawing/painting which he completed that same year:

Black_Bellied_Darter_Audubon_1822

Black Bellied Darter or Snake Bird. Painting by John James Audubon, New Orleans, 1822.

Like Audubon, Gene Stratton-Porter shared a passion for birds, as well as other creatures of the forest, but described them, rather than drew them, in her fictional works such as Girl of the Limberlost and non-fiction articles for magazines such as McCall’s. Rich with imagery, her writing shows us her beloved home in The Song of the Cardinal:

“Every hollow tree homes its colony of bats. Snakes sun on the bushes. The water folk leave trails of shining ripples in their wake as they cross the lagoons. Turtles waddle clumsily from the logs. Frogs take graceful leaps from pool to pool.”

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Illustration Pond and Stream:  Nature Books for Children, c 1906

Books, magazines, journals, calendars, and illustrations from this period of literature were ripe with nature and depicted it in its most realistic forms, perhaps due most to the efforts of naturalists of the 19th and 20th centuries. It seemed to be a calling for Audubon, Gene Stratton-Porter, and others such as Chester A. Reed.

BobWhite

I quite love this illustration of bob whites from The Bird Book, by Reed and published in 1915 by Doubleday. Unfortunately, this talented artist and naturalist passed away of pneumonia in 1912.

He claims that the bob whites “frequent open fields” and build their nests “along roadsides.” That explains why I heard their call so often growing up. Open fields surrounded our house, and grass-covered ditches provided the habitat these plump birds need to propagate.

Reed also had a passion for photography, filling the pages of this beautiful book with photos of eggs, as well as appealing graphics and sketches on every page.

It is apparent that this was meant to be a resource for those who came across eggs, nests, or the birds themselves and wanted to identify them. But, had he lived in the 21st century, he might have been a graphic artist!

I try to remind myself when I watch old movies or read books with black-and-white photos that people viewed the world in color, just as we do now. They noticed the varying shades of green of the soft grasses, the yellow reeds, and the deep-emerald swallows. They, too, knew the white-blue of a summer sky and the cold-purple blue of a lake in the fall.

Perhaps this is the very reason Audubon’s works were so popular. For the bird world is a world of color. He knew this and wanted others to see what he noticed and not just in the grays of a sketch, however well done it might have been.

Thanks to the naturalists who left us records in photos, sketches, paintings, writings, and journals, we have a picture of the world as it was and in their eyes.

 

One of my favorite things about gutenberg.org and archive.org (both sites that offer books in the free domain) are the original illustrations found in copies of works from the 19th century and early 20th century. Kate Greenaway first caught my attention with her illustrations of Elizabeth von Arnim’s April baby, May baby, and June baby. …

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