Sunday, 30 August 2015

Old Dutch Cleanser Girl

The Old Dutch Girl had none of the freedom of movement granted to the Dutch Boy. While the Dutch Boy scampered around at will, she remained a prisoner in her traditional native costume with her face concealed, doomed for eternity to chase away dirt with her stick at the ready. The Dutch connection was chosen to benefit from the association the Dutch have with high standards of cleanliness – an association we British have never had to contend with. These examples come from a time when Old Dutch Cleanser was a major presence in the American marketplace and advertised extensively in prime positions in mass circulation magazines. Over the decades it seems to have faded from the public eye although it remains in production and the Old Dutch Girl still disports herself on the pack in the interests of continuity. In the example above, illustrator Andrew Loomis has captured the moment of revelation – the scientific proof that Old Dutch Cleanser will never scratch thanks to the addition of Seismotite, a substance that despite the Atomic Age name seems to be nothing more than pumice. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Dutch Boy House Paint

Today we pay our respects to the Dutch Boy brand character – an eternally cheerful scamp and willing servant of the National Lead Company. An effeminate hairstyle and a camp cap did little to dim the affections of the American public. Clad in overalls and clogs he traded on the famous tale of the blonde Dutch boy who saved the day by plugging a leaky dike with his fingers. First seen in 1907 he was still waving his brush around fifty years later reminding the public of the enduring values of Dutch Boy House Paint. In these examples from the 1950s he plays the master of ceremonies to perfection but his role today is much diminished – a small scale stylised product logo. So let him be remembered in his prime when no American home was complete without a generous application of Dutch Boy House Paint. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Les Demoiselles de Tiger Bay

Since last week’s post about the Newport Transporter Bridge in which I wrote about the theatrical potential of the bridge I’ve been reminded that the 1959 movie Tiger Bay opens with the mariner hero crossing on the gondola, passing through the gates, and by virtue of film-maker’s licence, finding himself in the streets of Cardiff. With his wages in his pocket after a long voyage, spirits are high as he looks forward to being reunited with his girlfriend but of course, tragedy awaits him. Tiger Bay shows us a seedy and decrepit Britain as yet untouched by the hedonism that would follow in the 1960s. The multi-racial character of Britain’s major ports is well captured. 

The credit sequence on Jacques Demy’s 1967 film, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort seems to have sprung from another universe with its colour, energy and optimism. We know that Don Draper watched the trailer for Demy’s 1969 movie Model Shop and it’s easy to imagine him watching the syncopated brilliance of the opening sequence of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort and thinking how this cinematic energy could be put to more profitable use promoting cigarette sales. The Rochefort Pont Transbordeur is still in existence and operated principally as a visitor attraction. Unlike Newport it is restricted to pedestrian and cycle traffic. The Rochefort bridge, like the examples built in Nantes, Marseille and Rouen is recognisably of the Arnodin family, though it lacks the distinctive captain’s cabin on the gondola. It was opened in 1900, six years before Fernand Arnodin’s Newport design began operating. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Postcard of the Day No. 77 – Traffic Tower, New York City

Seven of these curious beasts were installed on New York’s Fifth Avenue in the 1920s. They didn’t last long as they quickly became a cause of congestion rather than a solution. By 1929 they were gone. Cast in bronze and architect designed they were intended to impress but they just got in the way. An early instance of the surveillance society that we all inhabit today, they attempted to bring a militarised solution to the problem of traffic flow. The Beaux-Arts decorations and mouldings were to reflect the prestige of the commissioning authority – the Fifth Avenue Association. Somehow they contrive to be simultaneously sinister and ridiculous. It would have been interesting if the claw feet on which they stand were to wrench themselves out of the tarmac in an emergency and set off in hot pursuit of a felon. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Newport Transporter Bridge Revisited

The opportunity to climb the 276 steps to the top of the Newport Transporter Bridge, walk across the top, descend in an orderly fashion and ride back in the gondola, all for the princely sum of £2.75, was much too good to miss. On my last visit in July 2008 the bridge was closed for repair but now it’s back in action with a resplendent repainted gondola and open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday. £2.75 buys a day ticket and the right to ride to and fro all day should the mood take you. 

When these bridges were new they were seen as technological marvels – an ingenious engineering solution to the problems posed to shipping by low bridges. The simplicity of the concept is impressive – nothing more than a mobile section of roadway, supported and cradled by an enormous heavy metal superstructure. Part of their appeal lies in the contrast between the fragility of the gondola with its ornate fixtures and fittings and the massive presence of structural steel that surrounds it. The sheltered seating and the turreted captain’s cabin on the gondola have the air of a seaside pavilion or a spa resort while the towers, cross-ties, rivets and gantries of the bridge remind us of electricity pylons and heavy industry. Most of these bridges fell by the wayside more than 50 years ago and the handful of survivors have become something to cherish. 

Watching the gondola transit back and forth is like observing a theatrical stage in motion. For an all too brief 102 seconds the occupants are launched into a zone of detachment, set free from immobility and guided on a voyage of enchantment. It’s a Steampunk vision of Edwardian heavy engineering accompanied by a lighter than air receptacle that appears to glide through space of its own volition until you notice the cables that prevent it from being dashed into the waters below. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Postcard of the Day No. 76 – Métro Station Sèvres-Lecourbe

A return to the Paris Métro for today’s postcard. A Métro employee stands at the platform end observing an approaching train sweeping round the curve of the viaduct. The caption tells us that the train is on Ligne 2 Sud which enables us to date the card between April 1906 and October 1907 (after which it was designated Ligne 5). Later still it became Line 6. The sharp-eyed viewer may recall this card made an earlier appearance in a previous post about Line 6. The excuse for showing it again is this brief video clip that I recorded last year and has remained undisturbed and unseen on a mislaid HD card until its recent reappearance. Now available for the first time it turns out to have been filmed at the same station – Sèvres-Lecourbe. Fractionally over 1 minute in length, every second is time well spent. One of the highlights is that most evocative of Parisian sounds – the warning note of a Métro door closure. 

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Mr Therm at the Festival of Britain

Following on from last week’s adventures we find Mr Therm drawing back the curtain on the Festival of Britain. He was master of all he surveyed in 1951 when public ownership of the economy was at its high point. Promises of a brighter gas-powered future went largely undelivered as the industry acquired a reputation for inefficiency and poor customer service. Its generally dismal performance made it a sitting duck when Mrs Thatcher began selling off state-owned industries. In the unlikely event that Corbynomics sweeps all before it, there just might be a future for an updated Mr Therm, complete with hipster beard, piercing and an ostentatiously tattooed flipper. A few more examples below of the kind of company Mr Therm enjoyed in 1951, including Siemens, making the very most of its British connections. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Scrapbook 1929

For many years I have been acquiring vintage scrapbooks whenever the opportunity arose. There are now about 25 examples on my shelves. They fall into two categories – the specialist, devoted to a single subject such as travel, fashion, dogs, flowers and gardens, trains, cars or cartoon strips, and the generalist, almost always a varied selection of imagery guided by a female sensibility. A hundred years ago compiling scrapbooks was a respectable occupation for young ladies of leisure whose prosperous parents encouraged any time consuming activity that might offer distraction. Wartime scrapbooks were a popular way of recording the progress of the conflict but after 1945 the scrapbook went into sharp decline – never quite disappearing but of marginal interest. The recent revival of interest is curious but perhaps it meets a need for something physical and tangible as opposed to digital. What you see online suggests that for many participants it’s a way of recording a visual diary. At its most basic it seems to be no more than tastefully rearranging pre-purchased materials. 

This example is the work of a child at the end of the 1920s – female and from a good home with a ready supply of printed material to be snipped and pasted. The pages are organised thematically – floral display, party food, holidays, Christmas, wild life, plus some gentlemen’s pursuits - hunting with dogs and tobacco products. Illustrations by Lawson Wood, Beatrix Potter and Harry Rountree can be seen alongside trade cards from Typhoo Tea and Player’s Cigarettes. Some enduring consumer products such as Bird’s Custard and Bovril also feature. Please click on the YouTube link below to view the pages.