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Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Ghost of Victorian Christmas Past...Is Present!

An engravers plate discovered over the summer reveals a beautiful message and challenge to restore.

1900s engravers plate John Sellers and Sons

The back story is missing, unfortunately. The only identification of this piece is a faded word on the back “Sellers.” This is enough to tell me that the steel plate was sold to an engraver  by John Sellers and Sons in either England or New York. 

1900s engravers plate John Sellers and Sons mark

John Sellers manufactured, among other things, cutlery and razor blades and plates for engravers made of steel and copper. They expanded to America in the 19th century by opening an office in New York in 1840. There were members of the Sellers family still involved with the business through the 1980s. 

This engraving’s exact age is anyone’s guess. The style of clothing and the overall design looks to be Victorian era. It could also have been printed as a quaint retro look back at a simpler time any decade after that.
1900s engravers plate John Sellers and Sons scanned

The process to print this plate proved to be more work than I expected. I scanned the image and then adjusted the light levels to get as sharp a contrast on the lines. What I found was that this process revealed a thousand tiny scratches and some fading across the lettering.
1900s engravers plate John Sellers and Sons stain

There was also an acid-like stain across both lines in one section of the text that blurred a few words, important words. Using photo-editing software, I was able to magnify the image and work a pen in between each etched mark. 

I sometimes found it was hard to discern between a scratch and an etch. 

Once satisfied that I had removed all the worst marks I could then invert the image and make a positive, essentially a black line image on a white back ground. 

Just looking at this plain image I knew I needed to color it in. I could only guess at the colors and shades in order to provide some depth and dimension where possible. 
1900s engravers plate John Sellers and Sons restored and published
The result was definitely worth the effort, though my regret is that I couldn’t find more about the engraver and I couldn’t finish this before christmas. It still is a nice holiday message 100 years later. 

Thanks for joining me on this journey and thank you for a great 2014. There are bigger discoveries coming in the year ahead, I can feel it.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Can You Spot the Celebrity?

At a Speaking engagement earlier this fall I was approached by one of the members of the Monroe Historical Society with a special assignment.  Led to a table at the back of the hall I was handed a box of glass negatives. “We think a famous actor is in here.” Marvin Moss said as he opened the box containing 4 plates. 

Holding one up to the light for me I could see on each slide were large and medium-sized groups of adults and children One had them against a forest backdrop and another in front of a large cabin structure. “Can you process these and tell us if you can see a young Jimmy Cagney here? We think he went there with his family as a child.” Marven asked. 

Having transferred almost 100 negatives in the past 4 years, some of them for the Monroe Historical Society, I didn’t hesitate for a second to attempt this feat. This transfer would prove to be different from the others in more way than one. 

I can usually process glass negatives pretty easily, but these negatives were darker than most, and after a first attempt I realized that they weren’t as sharp as many of the others. I went from my simple home-made cardboard light box, to a much more complicated contraption fashioned from parts found in my garage to get an even light source and angle for the transfer. 

When I had completed the transfer, I then used photo-editing software to process and adjust the final image to attempt the confirmation.  Looking at each child I found that several of the campers appeared in more than one of the images. They all looked fairly similar in that their hair and dress, especially for the boys, was equally disheveled and worn. 

Finding early images of a well-known actor should have been easy; in this case, I was stumped. Plenty of images from his earliest roles were turned up by a Google search, but almost no images of his childhood years could be found. His familiar knit brow and curled hair were aspects I couldn’t see in any of these campers. But I found one...

An ultra-low resolution image required that I try a few tricks using PhotoShop to de-accentuate the aliasing.  While it looks impossible to see here, I found that when I placed the photo as an inset, the comparison seemed possible. 
Is that him? 
Or, is that him?
My friend Marven Moss has been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to this research, so I will leave it to him to find the answer. Stay tuned if you want to learn more, and if you have any clues on Cagney's background or early years, please share it in the comments. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mud Pond in Huckleberry Time....ah Paradise!

The irony of finding old paper is not knowing its origin.  There are art projects out there that invite participants to make up stories to fit the scenes and people in these images. I think I'll let this one speak for itself. Make up a story if you want to but I would be happy writing myself into this scene. 
Mud Pond at Huckleberry Time
Dimensions: 6-1/8  X 2-5/8
This card is a product of the Rotograph Company, which could place it around the start of the 20th century. The fact that Rotograph printed over 60,000 cards and may have had a library of over 2 million images doesn't help me place this location. As is the case with many interesting cards the reverse doesn't provide much more detail.
early 20th century Rotograph Post Card
I found 2 good sources of information on the company, one is a blogger's site dedicated to cards from the company, here. The other site is a massive compendium of postcard history here.  Both good reads if you the time to explore further.  

If you find the mud pond in Huckleberry time, do me a favor and send me a card. I'll come as soon as I can.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

We Serve Spaghetti AND Ravioli - Old Matchbook Fun

The selection is obvious. At Colucci's you have 2 sets of 2 choices. Spaghetti or Ravioli and 2 places to eat - at the restaurant, or at home. I wonder if they charge a cover for the latter?
 Gene's French restaurant is fairly black and white. The challenge may be in using the 1960 GPS (Gene's Positioning System). Those directions are far too complicated for me to follow.

 I wonder if they specialized in cold cuts as well? Sorry it's upside down, but the art work is suitable for framing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Civil War Update: 152 Years Later

A new friend recently introduced me to the ongoing interest in Civil War memorabilia. The history of such a bloody war still fascinates many and continues to prompt authors and documentarians to review and present their findings over 150 years later.  Learning about other people's interests can be contagious.

Maybe it was coincidental that the first sale this weekend would be the home of Genealogist, Pamela Manning. I love the title of this magazine cover found hanging on an office wall, which prompted me to ask:
The Genealogy Helper

 "If I add some ground beef and sauce, could I eat this for dinner on Tuesday?" Or, maybe the only ingredient required is Thyme (time). This home was full of books and research material into the lives of her family.

Genealogy books

The funny thing about studying your family's history is that you automatically become a genealogist because often so many other people and families become inter-connected in the research.

more Genealogy books

You can see the dedication in the shear number of books, periodicals and folders of her own findings. Our genealogist either knew ahead of time, or eventually discovered that she was related to a very well known family.
Col. Van Manning and Wife

Van Manning was a decorated Confederate officer who lead over 1300 southern soldiers an an effort to defeat the Union troops.
Van Manning Oil Portrait

Though he was wounded in battle and would eventually lose 90% of his men, Manning went on to serve 2 terms in Congress as a democrat. You can read more about him here.

My thanks to Pamela Manning, whose home I was permitted to traipse through along with many other urban archeologists, collectors, historians, genealogists and, dare I say, opportunists. I was permitted to take pictures, but the only thing I bought was this postcard for a dollar:

I knew it wasn't period and the postmark on the back proved it. The messages on the reverse did strike me as funny, with no disrespect to the family or anyone else.

With the depiction of a grand Civil War battle on the front of the card, the message "This Southern hospitality is better than I expected." is a very odd thing to write. Intentionally funny, or just a coincidence? You tell me.