Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saucer of the Week: English Child's Punch and Judy Plate

Several weeks ago, while Boy was out and about doing errands and a bit of idle shopping, he came across a whimsical little plate in a pocket-sized antiques store that belongs to a family of pickers and that has been a most happy hunting ground for us.  It is the same shop, in fact, Dear Reader, where Boy found the souvenir portrait of the inestimable Robert Burns (identified as such by the eagle-eyed Corinthian Columnist) that now graces our dining room's pride of space (we have since had the painting cleaned and the frame restored).

The little plate Boy brought home was designed, I believe, to be used in a child's tea service, and depicts a scene from the Punch and Judy puppet show that was wildly popular in England from the late sixteen hundreds through the mid-twentieth century and continues to be performed in that country to this day.  The brown transfer-print design features Punch with his wife, Judy, who is holding their daughter, accompanied by a pipe-smoking frog nearby.  I had initially suspected that the figures depicted were based on illustrations done by George Cruikshank (1792-1878) in 1828, when a script for Punch and Judy was published for the first time.

A Cruikshank illustration from John Payne Collier's
The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy, published 1828

However, when I compared the figures on the plate with those of Cruikshank's, it is clear that they are based on later illustrations, perhaps of the 1840s.  The overall design of the plate, though, is unmistakably of the even later English Aesthetic movement, popular in the 1870s and 1880s.  My, what a hodgepodge of inspiration this delightful child's plate is!

When the plate is turned over, a mark is revealed identifying it as having been made by Charles Allerton & Sons, an English pottery active 1859-1942.  Based on what research I have been able to do, and taking into account the style of its design, I date the plate to pre-1889.

The plate's mark

While not technically a saucer, my diminutive little plate qualifies for inclusion in this series because of its size (it is only four and one quarter inches across) and because I choose to do so.

The Punch and Judy plate currently sits on a bedside table in one of our guest rooms at Darlington House, where it provides sweet pleasure—one hopes—to our guests and a most decorative and utilitarian repository for their keys, errant buttons, and the small bits of printed papers and spent candy wrappers that one empties one's pockets of when retiring at the end of the day.

I hope you find this little plate as charming as I do, Dear Reader.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick; Cruikshank illustration courtesy of

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reggie Reporting on New York Social Diary

Today, Dear Reader, I have the distinct pleasure of reporting on David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary, a blog that is a daily must-read of mine, as it is for many that I know, where one catches up on what's up and who's doing it here in Gotham and its environs.

In the post I interview Martha Glass, a charming lady whose photograph regularly graces NYSD, about her passion for collecting ceramics, an interest that she and I share in common.  I urge you to click over to NYSD and read the interview, Dear Reader, because Ms. Glass is charming, amusing, sensible, and full of good advice, and the story is full of photographs of her lovely collections.  I am sure you will like her as much as I did, and do.

Martha Glass in her dining room, with a selection of plates and
serving pieces from her collection.
Photograph by Jeff Hirsch for NewYork Social Diary

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reggie's Rules for Those Who (Still) Smoke

As readers of this blog may remember, Reggie is no stranger to the pleasures of smoking cigarettes.  I was for many years a sometime social smoker and only gave up the evil habit after more futile attempts to do so than I'd care to admit.  Fortunately I succeeded in my efforts to quit smoking once and for all more than five years ago, and today I am what I consider to be a former smoker.  Not a non-smoker, mind you, but an ex-smoker.  Once a confirmed smoker, I believe one can never regain one's status as a non-smoker, but will always (at least if one is successful at it) be an ex-smoker.  It's like drinking: once a drunk, always a drunk, whether wet or dry.

Reggie in his younger days, enjoying a restorative smoke

Even though I gave up smoking cigarettes regularly years ago, I'm not immune to lighting one up every once in a great while at a party (whether in my own house or someone else's) if a pack is brought out and offered 'round.  But I generally need to be fairly soused and among the company of other smokers, a rarity in the circles I run in these days.  I'm the type that needs a ring leader to bring me into the fray: you know the kind, the ones who slyly bring out a pack at a dinner party once the dishes have been cleared and says "Mind if I smoke?" and everyone else at the table responds "Mind? Not if I can have one, too!" and then happily settles into an evening of boozing and smoking, having an absolutely lovely time of it.

Until the next morning, that is, when one awakes with a cigarette hangover and wonders "What was I thinking?"

Not all that long ago, it was considered socially
acceptable to smoke at dinner parties

So, for those of you who may question under what authority Reggie speaks when it comes to the behavior of and rules for smokers, I believe I have the smoking credentials to spell out what I believe are the rules by which smokers should abide in today's increasingly rabid anti-smoking world.  I'm not expecting you to agree with all of these rules in all cases, Dear Reader, but please do read them and give them some thought.  I'd be interested to hear from you, too, as to whether you think I've missed one or two, or am wide of the point in one or two cases.

Bars, booze, and butts: a match made in Heaven

Before I get to the rules, however, I'd like to share that I think the whole anti-smoking thing has gone too far here in America, and more recently in Europe.  Sacré bleu, that one cannot light up a cigarette in a restaurant in Paris anymore!  As far as I'm concerned, people should at least be allowed to smoke in bars and nightclubs, and even in certain grown-up restaurants that are large enough and well-ventilated enough to be able to support having a smoking section.  I'm fine with there being non-smoking restaurants for those that can't abide secondhand smoke, but I think there should be some choice in the matter, too—what's the harm in allowing a restaurateur the choice whether or not to have a smoke-free place?  I don't buy into the view that it isn't fair to non-smoking employees and other patrons of such establishments to be exposed to secondhand smoke.  Vote with your feet.  I don't know all that many people who are exactly forced against their will to work in or go to a bar or club that allows smoking, who don't have any other employment or entertainment choices available to them.  Smoking is the least of the vices available in some of those establishments—at least it was in more than a few of the choicer places I found myself in the wee hours of the night in my younger days.  If you don't want to inhale secondhand smoke, folks, then don't go to or work in a bar!  It's as simple as that.

Needless to say, Reggie does not countenance
encouraging young people to smoke

Now that I got that off my chest, here are my rules for thems that still smokes:

1.  Confine your smoking only to areas and places where it is explicitly allowed

Even though you may find the present-day restrictions on cigarette smoking inconvenient, if not annoying, you must heed such restrictions.  Rules are, after all, rules.

2.  Ask first, before lighting up

Whether in public or private.  It's common courtesy, thank you.

3.  Don't get shirty if someone objects to your smoking

Their rights trump yours.

4.  Take it outside

Unless explicitly condoned, confine your smoking to the great outdoors.

5.  Don't smoke while walking on the street

It is rude to the other people who are out and about, particularly those walking downwind of you, who have no choice but to inhale your secondhand smoke.

6.  Watch it with those ashes!

If you must walk around in public smoking a cigarette, don't do it holding it in such a way that there is any risk that you could brush against someone, leaving ashes on them, or even possibly burn them.  This is a particular pet-peeve of mine when walking along the sidewalks of New York, where I have on more occasions than I care to recollect found myself with someone's cigarette ashes deposited on my sleeve.  And if you do accidentally ash someone, you should apologize profusely for doing so, particularly if the person you've ashed objects to it!

7.  Don't walk around with a cigarette butt hanging out of your mouth, like some kind of Bowery bum

It looks disgusting and down market.

8.  Don't throw a lit cigarette butt onto the sidewalk or the street

It is thoughtless and dangerous, and can burn the feet of those you share the sidewalk with, such as my dear little Pompey.

9.  Dispose of your spent cigarette butts in proper receptacles

Don't just toss them on the streets or sidewalks, or into the bushes, assuming that someone else is going to pick them up after you.  And don't even consider depositing them in a potted plant or planter.  Your spent cigarette butt is litter.  Always dispose of cigarette butts in a trash can or in one of those public ashtrays set out in front of buildings.  If none of those are around, put the damn cigarette butt in your pocket, and dispose of it properly later.

10.  When taking a smoking break from your place of employment, do not hover around the entryway of the building, but rather walk a discrete distance away from it.  

It is decidedly unpleasant for those entering and exiting a building to have to walk through a haze of cigarette smoke in order to do so.  Besides, there's nothing that looks more depraved than seeing a gaggle of smokers sucking on cigarettes outside of a building.

11.  Don't smoke in the car

It is dirty and leaves a vile smell, and is unpleasant for other non-smoking riders trapped in the car with you.

12.  Be thoughtful of the people around you who may not share your love for smoking cigarettes

At the end of the day, this is what it is all about.

And there you have it, Dear Reader, Reggie's rules for those who (still) smoke.  If you must smoke, I suggest that you follow them, both for your sake and for the sake of others.

All photographs courtesy of LIFE Images

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to School

It's that time of year again, isn't it?

A favorite old photograph of mine of a boy's cross country team
delightedly posing for the camera, sporting boutonnières

Autumn is my favorite season.  Although I am long past my schoolboy days, I am still drawn to the rhythm of the school calendar, more so than the Gregorian calendar that we use to mark the passing of days, weeks, and months.  Even though that calendar may say that the new year begins on January 1st, the day after Labor Day is more of a psychological new year's beginning for me.  That's when the new school year starts, and clothes are bought or taken out to wear again.  There is the sense that I have another opportunity to make something of myself, that I have another chance to succeed in what I put my mind to.

Coincidentally, Autumn is also the season here in the Hudson River Valley when the weather is at its most lyrically beautiful.  It is still summery and warm through much of September, and the skies are often cloudless and brilliantly cerulean blue, days on end.  There is little more beautiful to me than when the trees start to turn and then become ablaze with yellow, orange, and red leaves, and the fields become golden.  With the nights becoming refreshingly cool again it is perfect porch sleeping weather at Darlington House, one of the great joys of life, I believe.

As with so many new beginnings, though, there is work to be done.  And so I am back to RD again, after a lazy hiatus these past two months.  I had a busy June and July at the office which culminated in a lovely August largely devoted to spending time by the shore and then kicking back when I wasn't.  It was delightfully pleasant.

During the final weeks leading up to Labor Day the streets in midtown Manhattan are sparsely peopled during the day, with only a few tourists and office workers straggling about.  And it is a virtual ghost town on the UES where we live, as most of its inhabitants are either away for the summer or locked within their air conditioned apartments.  Fortunately for those of us who found ourselves in the city then, as I happily did this year, the restaurants were empty and thrilled to take walk-ins, there was no traffic to speak of, and the streets were full of empty taxis roaming for fares.  I love being in New York when everyone else is out of town.

The minute that Labor Day weekend is over, though, it is as if the starting gun has gone off at Saratoga, and, like clockwork, the city immediately becomes clogged again with throngs of people rushing about the sidewalks, traffic becomes unbearable, the restaurants are jammed to the rafters, and finding a free cab during rush hour is a fruitless exercise indeed.

Back to school.  Back to work.  Back to life.  Back to RD.

Here are some of the essays that I am working on that you can expect to see here in the coming weeks:
  • New installments of Reggie's Rules
  • A Pompey post or two
  • An interview with a lovely lady who shares her mutual passion for collecting ceramics with me, which will first appear in New York Social Diary before running here
  • The return of the Saucer of the Week essay
  • A piece in which I explain how "Saint Grottlesex Made Me Who I Am Today"
  • An essay about windsor chairs, and how they are a more versatile seating form than many give them credit for
  • Musings about the distinctions between what it means to launder versus wash linens and clothes
  • The joys of a well-ordered linen closet
  • Some new additions to our collections at Darlington House, and
  • Attending the Colonial Revival show at the Museum of the City of New York
I appreciate your patience (and thoughtful emails), Dear Reader, during my absence, and I look forward to picking this up again.

Thank you,


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