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Arsenic and old lace: When women’s clothing could actually kill you
10:13 am



A child’s dress dyed green with arsenic, 1838-1843.
Ah, the color green. Generally associated with good luck and four-leaf fucking clovers the color green was anything but good luck back in the 1800s. During the entire century and into the 1900s arsenic was used in all kinds of everyday products from wallpaper to paint as well as women’s clothing and beauty products. Yikes.

Originally known as “Scheele Green” in 1814 German company Wilhelm Dye and White Lead Company decided to try to modify the paint by adding arsenic and verdigris (a blue/green color that is made by using copper or brass to oxidize it). The new color was dubbed “emerald green” and was an overnight smash. It was soon being used for all kinds of things including dying dresses, shoes and flower hair accessories for women, among countless other products too numerous to mention. When the actual “recipe” for the dye was published in 1822 distributors attempted to temper the color as well as change its name so customers would keep using products that would eventually kill many of them.

Due to their constant contact with the deadly dye, seamstresses and makers of flower hair accessories were especially susceptible to the dangers of getting up close and personal with arsenic and would pay for it by developing horrific lesions on their skin or face. And they were the lucky ones. Death from arsenic poisoning was preceded by vomit that was a distinct shade of green, foaming at the mouth and convulsions. All things considered, as bad as things are now, they really seemed a whole lot worse during a time when looking good could literally kill you. I’ve included many images in this post of vintage garments, shoes and other items that drastically cut the average life-expectancy of a lot of ladies and anyone who liked cake because guess what? Arsenic was also used to color cake icing back in the 1800s! If this kind of historical weirdness is your kind of thing I highly recommend picking up the book Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David.

The effect of constant contact with arsenic on the hands of perhaps a seamstress or flower maker.

Boots dyed with arsenic, mid-1800s.
More deadly clothing after the jump…

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Political ‘propaganda kimonos’ from pre-World War II Japan
12:46 pm



There’s something very alluring about secret codes intended to transmit a message of solidarity to a select few. Just recently in the wake of the presidential election, a significant number of people have adopted the practice of wearing a safety pin as a sign of resistance to President-Elect Trump and as a message of support to groups likely to be marginalized under a Trump administration such as African-Americans, Muslims, and women. Gee thanks, white people.

One example of this that I learned about recently was the Japanese practice of wearing militaristic propaganda in a way that only close friends and family would be in a position to notice—on ornate, specially designed kimonos. They were mainly reserved for inside the home or at private parties. Since the designs were often on undergarments or linings, a host would show them off to small groups of family or friends. These “propaganda kimonos” are called omoshirogara—denoting “interesting” or “amusing” designs—and were popular from 1900 to 1945, and for the first half of that period they had little to do with warfare.

For instance, in the 1920s and 1930s, many omoshirogara featured a bright consumerist future with gleaming art deco cityscapes and chugging locomotives and ocean liners. In the late 1920s, however, conservative and ultra-nationalist forces in the military and government started to assert themselves. In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria and installed a puppet regime there, marking the start of a period of extreme militaristic nationalism and aggression as well as isolation from the West.

Norman Brosterman is one of the world’s foremost collectors of propaganda kimonos, and his website is a trove of arresting imagery. All of the kimonos depicted on this page come from his collection. He writes:

The Japanese tradition of pictures on garments took an insidious turn in 1895 and 1905 with the Sino-Japanese, and Russo-Japanese Wars, when kimono were first made with images of troops, cannon, and battleships. In the 20th century, kimono with a plethora of themes were produced – travel, sports, politics, fashion, and in the 1930’s, an outpouring of imagery of war. From 1931 and the Japanese annexation of Manchuria, until Pearl Harbor and the complete war footing it necessitated, Japanese propaganda in the form of clothing for men, boys, and more rarely, women, was produced and worn in Japan in support of the efforts overseas.

Here are some excellent specimens of the form:

This boy’s kimono with an image of a streamlined car.

This detail from a kimono from 1933 depicts the popular figures of “the Three Brave Bombers,” real-life soldiers who perished while laying explosives to clear out the enemy’s barbed wire defenses.
Many more remarkable kimonos after the jump…......

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Russian prison tattoo-themed plateware (NSFW)
12:34 pm



In Russian tattoos, the cat symbolizes a successful thief
It was just a couple of weeks ago that we brought you old-school ceramics with pictures of German nuclear power plants on them. There may be something of a trend happening here, for today our offering consists of similar ceramic plateware with astonishing illustrations derived from Russian prison tattoos.

Valeria Monis is the “multidisciplinary designer” who creates these amazing plates and vases, invariably in cobalt blue. Every object is handmade, so they are also quite individual; there is no mass production here. Monis was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and currently lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The title of Monis’ project is “From Russia With Love.” It combines “the subversive art of Russian criminal tattoos” and “traditional blue porcelain design,” bringing together “two opposed but equally important and influential strands of Russian art history.” As Monis writes of this Russian tradition, “In the criminal world, a man with no tattoos has no status. ... The illustrations they wear on their skin tells the story of their closed society, a society with its own hierarchy and social structure.”

While transmitting information to others about a person’s crimes and prison terms, the tattoos more fundamentally express a kind of folk understanding of sex, love, honor, sacrifice, and happiness. Many of the images are deeply misogynistic, bestowing warnings of the perils of “whores” and “bitches,” although others celebrate sex, orgasm, and the delights of “playing with your body.” 

Not all of the tattoos are bawdy or boastful or are intended to denote status. Some of the tattoos depict visions of failure or loss, while others are markers of connubial bliss.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume I, by Danzig Baldaev
Monis’ source material is FUEL Publishing’s remarkable series of Russian prison tattoo books by Danzig Baldaev.

These intriguing items are available for purchase. Small plates (roughly 6 inches in diameter) cost $95 or $99, large plates (11 inches) cost $120, and the vases cost between $250 and $300.

Vologda Transit Prison, 1950s

“Girls, find yourself a generous hand. You’ll be fed, dressed, and entertained, and you’ll play with your body….”
Many more of these marvelous ceramic items after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Splendor in the Cash: Incredibly intricate designs carved on coins
11:44 am



“Hobo nickels” is the term given to coins that have been altered with decorative carving. Though there is a long tradition of such carving going as far back as the 1700s, hobo nickels really came to prominence after the US Mint issued a new 5¢ coin in 1913. This coin featured an Native American head on one side and a buffalo on the other. This coin became known as the “Buffalo nickel” or “Indian head.” Due its size and the softness of its metal, the Buffalo nickel became a popular medium for trying out engraving skills by carving faces onto the coin.

During the First World troops were known for turning these coins into mementoes for sweethearts, family members and loved ones while awaiting departure for France at docks in Hoboken, NJ. Many of the hobo nickels produced around this time feature caricatures of Kaiser Wilhelm and German soldiers.

By the 1930s, it was mainly hobos who carved elaborate portraits or designs onto coins which they would then exchange for a hot meal or some essential goods.

British artist Shaun Hughes continues this tradition of hobo nickels by engraving beautiful, elaborate designs onto nickels, quarters and British pennies and shillings. His coins are pocket artworks which sell on eBay for around $5-$200 apiece—which is a nice way to increase the value of your cash.

Shaun doesn’t do commissions but you can see more of his work and his working processes here.
More valuable coin art, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-80’: Essential collection of prime U.K. punk paraphernalia
10:22 am



Poster for Rock Against Racism Carnival, Victoria Park, David King, April 30, 1978
The U.K. punk scene represented one of mankind’s greatest explosions of populist mass art, as represented not only in the songs and the album covers the scene generated but also a well-nigh endless variety of punk clothing, handbills, flyers, posters, badges, fanzines, and who knows what all. The DIY and countercultural ethic of that moment reverberates down the decades to us today—and will for some time. We’re not done hearing the echo of that moment.

Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print, 1976-80, a new book from Phaidon Press, offers a detailed look at one of the world’s great agglomerations of U.K. punk ephemera, Toby Mott’s collection, which took decades to bring to its current state. This generous volume is bursting at the seams with punk energy, its whopping 500+ pages offering approximately that many riveting punk artifacts. The book is surprisingly affordable at $22.76.

Mott was in the thick of the action during the original U.K. punk era as one of the founders of the Anarchist Street Army, a late 1970s organization based in Pimlico that specialized in street disturbances. Later he appeared in Derek Jarman’s 1985 movie The Angelic Conversation, and the art collective he co-founded, the Grey Organisation, was responsible for the iconic day-glo cover art for De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising.

The Mott Collection includes essential punk artifacts such as Jamie Reid’s “ransom note” designs for the Sex Pistols, Linder Sterling’s astonishing “Orgasm Addict” art for the Buzzcocks, Barney Bubbles’ memorable work for Ian Dury, as well as grassroots fanzines such as Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue.

The book features an essay by Rick Poynor, who writes:

One of the revelations of this collection is the unswerving focus on the bands. No matter how wild and thrashy the lettering and graphics may be, the pieces produced by fans mainly deliver pictures of the performers rather than other kinds of imagery. Punk was a highly sociable scene and it attracted people who loved to dress up and show off. They identified with the groups, and in fanzines like Sniffin’ Glue and Ripped & Torn they celebrated them as makers of their own grassroots culture. This is an illuminating departure from the usual picture of punk as an essentially political act of rebellion and the scene’s fixation on punk’s stars hasn’t been so obvious in previous surveys. Within only a few years, some post-punk groups would shun the spotlight and insist that the music was the essential thing, but the 1970s punks embraced the performer as an anti-glamorous star figure just as surely as earlier audiences embraced conventional versions of the pop star. The means of adulation were much the same. By 1977 Punk magazine was publishing a double-sided colour poster featuring all the favourite bands, the Clash were posing moodily for a pin-up in Oh Boy! magazine and punk was ripe for “punxploitation” in a picture publication titled Punk Rock Rules OK?

Here are some samples from Oh So Pretty:

Back side of flyer for Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Adverts, Motorhead, The Vibrators, Generation X and Buzzcocks at The Greyhound, Croydon, February/March/April 1978

Poster for X-Ray Spex’s single “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” October 1977

Poster for Siouxsie and the Banshees at Eric’s, Liverpool, May 14, 1977
Much more after the jump…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
For Sale: The Private Life of Marilyn Monroe
11:15 am



This is what it comes to when we die: a wardrobe full of clothes, shoes, some scattered notes, several albums of photographs and a few good memories to be shared by others.

When Marilyn Monroe died on August 5th 1962, she left behind a shitload of personal effects from which we can learn more about her private life than any biography or old movie magazine interview could ever reveal. This November, Julien’s Auctions are selling some of Marilyn’s personal belongings from the collections of David Gainsborough-Roberts, the estate of Lee Strasberg and the estate of Frieda Hull. The lots up for grabs include clothes, costumes, jewelry, photographs, memorabilia, private journals, and poetry.

Julien’s shortlists the sale as follows:

Highlights from Marilyn Monroe Property From The Collection of David Gainsborough-Roberts include a sheer black beaded and sequined dress worn by Monroe in her Golden Globe winning role Sugar Kane as she crooned “I’m Through With Love” in the award winning 1959 film Some Like it Hot; an elaborate embellished stage gown worn by Monroe as she sang “After You Get What You Want You Don’t Want It” in the 1953 comedy There’s No Business Like Show Business which was designed by one of Marilyn’s all-time favorite designers, William Travilla; a pink linen halter wiggle dress designed for Monroe by Dorothy Jenkins for the 1953 thriller Niagara

The Marilyn Monroe Property From The Estate of Lee Strasberg collection includes one of just a few pieces of fine jewelry ever owned by Monroe: a ladies platinum and diamond cocktail watch with movement reading “Blancpain, Rayvill Watch Co. 17 Jewels, Unadjusted Switzerland.” Other highlights in this collection include a beautiful 1950’s brown alligator ladies handbag from I. Magnin & Co. with matching accessories; a grey pony handbag from Mexico still containing three one peso bills; a number of other handbags, fur coats and stoles; a stunning ladies minaudière with the original box, featuring multiple compartments containing loose powder with cotton buffer, mirror, comb, two mercury dimes, eight Phillip Morris cigarettes and a tube of used Revlon lipstick in “Bachelor’s Carnation” with a date of 1947, a virtual time capsule of one of the star’s nights out on the town.

Déjà vu Property From The Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe includes personal items originally sold at Christie’s 1999 and Julien’s Auctions’ 2005 Property From The Estate of Marilyn Monroe auctions and other consignors.

Among these incredible treasures are many of Marilyn’s intimate writings which reveal her frustrations with acting, her fear of being unable to love another, and various poems including one which might be about suicidal feelings:

Stones on the walk,
every color there is
I stare down at you
like a horizon
The space—air is between us beckoning
and I am many stories up
my feet frightened
as I grasp towards you.

The auction takes place over three days on November 17th, 18th and 19th, Los Angeles in what would have been Marilyn’s ninetieth year. View the catalogs here and full details of the auctions here.
More Marilyn Monroe memorabilia auction, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Do you have this octopus in my size?’ The surreal shoes sculptures of Costa Magarakis
09:49 am



These boots aren’t made for walking—they’re sculptures designed by Costa Magarakis—a Greek-born artist who is now based in “a Shoe Galaxy some ‘step years’ away…”

Costa makes shoe sculptures because he believes every “shoe has its own personality and a story to tell.” His influences come from “everywhere” but the Victorian era is his favorite.

His sculptures are produced thru a long and laborious process in which each shoe is made “suitable for molding.” Once the old boot is softened up, Costa adds fiberglass resin and a variety of diverse materials including bronze, glass, wood, paint, fantasy and love.

The finished sculptures cost between $500 and $1,200+ each and can be purchased via Costa’s Etsy page—where he trades under the name SpiderJelly.

Check out more of Costa’s work on his website.
More surreal shoe sculptures, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The lost art of local 1970s department store charge cards
11:04 am



Castner-Knott Co., Nashville, Tennessee
About a month ago, the geniuses at Liartown USA dropped a few fake vintage department store credit cards; today I decided to look into the source material for those parodies, and it turned out to be a trip well worth taking.

What I had underestimated was how different the department store market was in the 1970s. I would have assumed that even then Sears and Macy’s and a few others would have dominated the market. But the merest glance at the charge cards page at the Department Store Museum makes it abundantly clear that the market was actually dominated by locally owned enterprises.

In my neck of the woods, which was the suburbs outside of New York City, that meant Caldor; in my adopted home city of Cleveland, there was Higbee’s, which served as a key location for the movie A Christmas Story. I’m currently reading an excellent novel by Ellen Ullman called By Blood, which is set in San Francisco in the 1970s, and a store called I. Magnin is mentioned—fun to run into it today as well!

According to the Department Store Museum:

If you were a customer of one of these stores, this is the item that you personally carried in your wallet or purse, identifying you as their customer. Possessing a certain credit card was also a status symbol of the time as well.

Most of these cards did not have a magnetic strip across the back; mechanical embossers of several different types were used to imprint the raised information on the plastic card onto a duplicate sales slip.

The first four cards below are Liartown USA fakes; the “Davison’s” card (slightly smaller) is the first one that’s real. They did an amazing job reproducing the charming aesthetic of these beauties.


Much more after the jump…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Giant John Waters head bong
02:34 pm



Image via NikkiSwarm on Instagram

I completely adore this huge ceramic John Waters head bong by artist John de Fazio. The piece is currently on exhibit in Los Angeles at Venus Over Manhattan. (Looks more like a “pipe” to me, but the Internet is calling it a “bong.”)

Fun fact: During his brief tenure at NYU in 1966, a young John Waters was involved in the first major pot bust on a college campus. University authorities asked the students involved to keep quiet about the incident, but Waters called the New York Daily News the next day giving the tabloid paper an interview about what had happened.

Photo by Nicole McClure AKA Nikki Swarm on Instagram and Twitter

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Collectible porcelain plates with nuclear reactors on them
02:26 pm



The website for Atomteller (“atom plates”) starts with the slogan “Denkmäler des Irrtums - Hoffnung von Gestern - Folklore von Morgen,” which means “Monuments of error - Hope of yesterday - Folklore of tomorrow.” So it’s clear that the site’s creators, writer/director Mia Grau and architect Andree Weissert have created this astonishing set of old school china emblazoned with German nuclear reactors with a highly developed sense of irony.

They point out that windmills are a common motif on folkloric items, and what in today’s world could be more parallel to a windmill than a nuclear reactor? Grau and Weissert write:

As cathedrals of a technological worldview, [nuclear reactors] promised independence and infinite growth. They serve as testimonials of their epoch, relics of progress and a signs of changing times. The days of windmills have long since passed, and sun is setting on the era of German nuclear power as well. High time, therefore, to show nuclear power plants for what they are: monuments of error - hope of yesterday - folklore of tomorrow.

On the underside of each plate is a wealth of information, including the precise coordinates of the reactor, the name of the province in which it is located, nearby bodies of water, the company that owns the reactor, the type of reactor, the reactor’s electrical yield as well as the dates of construction and operation. The most chilling piece of data is the final one, “meldepflichtige Ereignisse,” which means “events that must be reported to a higher authority”—good German bureaucracy-speak for “accidents.”

Each plate costs 39 euros ($43), but you can buy the entire set of 19 plates for just 680 euros ($750).


More great “atom plates” after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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