Throwback Thursday: A white gold crane in flight

Throwback Thursdays took a hiatus but now they're back.

This week’s gift of yesteryear is this brooch.

Designed by Cartier and made in 18k white gold, this crane in flight dates back to the 1930s.

The brooch is engraved with the words 'NO FLOWERS' on the back.

It belonged to Amelia Earhart the record-breaking pilot. 

It was found in the back of a New Jersey van which transported Earhart's belongings from the airport. The company owner tried to return it, but shortly after, Earhart disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean during a round the world flight. She was 41.

It's not possible to say with certainty what 'NO FLOWERS' meant to Earhart but in a 1931 New York Times article about Amelia’s wedding to George P. Putnam, the ceremony was described as being very simple. It mentioned that there were 'no flowers.' 

To me, 'no flowers' sounds morbid, it's the kind of thing you hear when you read details for a funeral. 

Christies, the auction house handling the sale of the brooch, writes: "Perhaps the brooch was a wedding gift to Earhart and the phrase a witticism between the couple? Whatever the significance of “No Flowers” may have been, this brooch is atypical of what Cartier was producing at the time and was most likely a special order for the first woman of aviation around the time of her nuptials. "

Bidding for the brooch starts at $7,000. 

 

Throwback Thursday: The original care package

I recently came across the phrase: ‘hurt people hurt people’. Without knowingly carrying out research, I’ve found this to be true.

Thankfully, we are prevented from living lives which constantly alternate between terror and trauma because there are people in the world who do not repay hurt with hurt. These people cheerfully interrupt the vicious cycle by showing love.

Which brings me to this week’s Throwback Thursday gift, the CARE package.

Care Package | Laughing Heart

In late 1945, when much of Europe was broken and barely recovering from the Second World War, an organisation called CARE, the Co-operative for American Remittances to Europe was formed. Made up of an host of different charities, CARE provided food to those starving and displaced by conflict in Europe.

It was officially established by President Harry S. Truman, after receiving pressure from the American people who wanted to provide poor relief to those suffering.

Americans paid $10 and a care package was assembled and sent on their behalf, originally to family members living in Europe. Donations and demands increased to the point where Americans could donate a package to a stranger.

Some packages were addressed to ‘a hungry occupant of a thatched cottage’ and ‘a school teacher in Germany’. The packages were initially made up of food supplies donated by American companies. They were later assembled to include other items like blankets and clothes.

© CARE International

Millions of packages were sent until 1955. Over half of all packages were sent to Germany. The last package was sent to the UK.

Gillian Roberts, 73, from Kent recalls receiving a care package as a child: “We must have gone back to our bombed out bungalow which was still being repaired from the war. Then the absolute joy and disbelief, and I can remember a huge tin of peaches, a bag of flour in a muslin bag, and I think a tin of butter. My grandmother, she just sat in the middle of the floor, just sobbing. We were just opened mouthed.

“It was the thought of somebody being so kind. The impact that it had on us was indescribable. Because my grandmother was crying so much she couldn’t see any logic in it. She said, ‘well it’s from people a long way away, and they realise that we’ve got problems and we need help, and they were kind enough to send it to us.”

During war and after it, ideas of 'otherness' surface. Usually from the mouths of politicians but perpetuated in the media. You hear phrases like 'the enemy', 'the opposition' and 'the bad guys'. The CARE packages demonstrate that strong-minded and loving people were able to recognise human suffering in people just like them, looked past 'otherness' and were moved to do something useful about it.

CARE became CARE International, which now provides life-saving assistance across the world in Syria, Yemen, Ecuador and Nepal to name a few.

 

Throwback Thursday: Robert Burns

In the week that Jackie Kay was named Scotland's national poet, or makar, I thought I'd look to Robert Burns for this week's historical gift-giving story.

Robert Burns, perhaps Scotland's greatest poet, gave this inkwell to his friend, John Lapraik, in 1793.

John Lapraik and Robert Burns Inkwell | Laughing Heart

It is made from the hoof of a pony. Weird, but not uncommon.  The hoof of Napoleon Bonaparte's favourite horse, Marengo, was made into an inkwell.

This particular inkwell features an iron shoe, a silver plaque bearing the presentation date and a brass lid engraved with the following: 'Presented to Mr Lapraik by his Much respected Friend Robt Burns'.

Born thirty miles and thirty years apart, Burns and Lapraik were from farming families in Ayrshire and, as Lapraik put it in a poem to Burns, ‘A mut’al flame inspires us baith’ meaning the two were poets.

Lapraik was an early supporter of Burns but he didn’t come close to achieving the level of fame or commercial success as his young friend. His contribution to Burn’s work can be seen in the ‘Three Epistles to John Lapraik’

An inkwell is a good gift for a writer. However, the reason I find the gift so poignant is that Burns was already enjoying notoriety in 1793. Lapraik by that time was already 66 years old. By giving Lapraik the inkwell, Burns is both practically and symbolically saying to his friend: ‘You must keep writing too’.

As an object, the hoof is as much associated with forward movement as it is with the earth. As my old professor Robert Crawford said of Burns, ‘No poet has been at once so brilliant and so down-to-earth.’ An ornate silver inkwell wouldn’t have been quite right for an old friend.

I don’t love the idea of an inkwell made out of a pony’s hoof but as far as gifts go, this gift ranks highly. It is as symbolic as it is practical and I like it for a’ that.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us...

If you'd like to read more about John Lapraik, www.lap raik.com   is a great site to visit. 

Visit Robert Burn's House in Dumfries:

Burns Street

Dumfries

DG1 2PS

Scotland

01387 255297

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Give the angry man a hat

I've always believed it's bad idea to apologise with a gift. 

A gift is a symbolic, shorthand way of publicly expressing a private feeling. If there is one occasion to avoid shortcuts and symbols it is during an apology. 

Plus, who wants to be reminded of the time they were wronged? Plus, an apology gift has never worked...or has it?

One historical figure proves me wrong: Samuel Pepys. 

Samuel Pepys

Generally speaking, the diary of a civil servant is unlikely to arouse or sustain high levels of interest. The diary of Samuel Pepys is different.

Born during the English Civil  War, Pepys lived through the Great Fire of London, survived both the plague and numerous extramarital encounters and wrote all about it in his diary.

One diary entry contains our historical gift. 

Sunday 1st November 1663

(Lord’s day). This morning my brother’s man […]  brought me as a gift from my brother, a velvet hat, very fine to ride in, and the fashion, which pleases me very well, to which end, I believe, he sent it me, for he knows I had lately been angry with him.

It’s not clear what brother Thomas did to make Samuel angry but the velvet hat was able to placate him. 

It seems like a fitting gift given that both sons took an interest in fashion. Thomas followed his father into the tailoring trade and Samuel placed a number of orders for clothing with Thomas. One such order includes a rather opulent 'gowne of purple shagg, trimmed with gold'. 

Sadly, Thomas followed a less fortunate path than his brother, dying young and in debt. 

I tried to find a picture of a velvet hat from around that time but didn't have much luck. I found this picture on Pinterest which gives an overview of hats between 1600 and 1700. 

1660s fashion Laughing Heart

The National Maritime Museum is holding a major exhibition on Samuel Pepys, his life and times. It runs until the 28th March. Find out more

If you're interested in reading the diary of Samuel Pepys, I'll put a link to it below:

Throwback Thursday: Pineapple? Fineapple!

A post in which I find out whether it's possible to give someone a serious pineapple-themed gift.

 

 

When I was in America earlier this month, my friend Laurie asked me for gift ideas for her friend, Sarah.

The only thing Laurie told me about Sarah was that she liked pineapples and wore silk kimonos.

An actual pineapple was vetoed and novelty pyjamas were out.

This was the ultimate test of my gift-giving abilities. As I was out of my natural environment, I couldn’t suggest any shops in San Francisco that would sell something both pineapple-y and desirable. We went to Jonathan Adler on Fillmore Street but a trip there proved fruitless, literally.

My suggestions fell short. I was a fish flopping about on dry land.

I failed.

In idle moments since getting back to London, I thought about that challenge. Could a chic pineapple gift be done? Was it ridiculous to give a pineapple-themed gift to someone?

I wondered why I thought so much about pineapple-related gifts and then it hit me.

CHARLES II.

I remembered seeing a painting of Charles II receiving a pineapple.  If Queen Elizabeth II commissioned a painting of her receiving a pineapple, you'd raise an eyebrow. But in the 17th Century, it was a mark of wealth and privilege. 

When pineapples were first available to buy in the 1700s, a single fruit cost the equivalent in today’s money of £5,000 (about $7,000).

Pineapples weren’t a ridiculous point of inspiration for gifts! They had a noble provenance!

And like the comeback you deliver too late, one month later, here are my pineapple suggestions.  

Throwback Thursday: Dwarf-giving

While searching online for hairstyle inspiration, I came across noblewoman Isabella Clara Eugenia. 

She was born on the 12th August 1598 to Philip II of Spain (known as Philip the Prudent) and his third wife Elisabeth of Valois.

She appears to have been an intelligent and practical person, able to translate court documents for her father and nurse him on his sickbed.

But she also gave dwarves as gifts.

Dwarves - as in people of short stature.

Further research proves that she wasn’t the only one! Dwarf-giving was a thing. At one time, it was considered the gift for aristocrats who had everything.

Once a dwarf was given, it appears they were accepted into court life. In her article ‘Inventoried Monsters’, art historian Touba Ghadessi suggests that the gift-giving process had a metamorphic effect on the way dwarves were perceived. They went from ‘objects to subjects’. 

However, the historian Janet Ravenscroft argues that dwarves were already perceived as special and intriguing. In fact, in Egypt during the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods, dwarves were treated with extreme reverence. Their rarity made them the ideal gift. 

Isabella gave a dwarf to Philip IV of Spain. His name was Miguel Soplillo and he became the king’s close companion for over 40 years. 

Here is a picture of the two together:

Miguel Soplillo | Laughing Heart

Perhaps having such power over a person, the power to alter their destiny, move them around socially and dominate them physically must have made both the giver and receiver feel God-like. I read Philip’s hand on Miguel’s head as hinting at that. 

With whatever reverence dwarves were treated, however good their lives became through closeness to a monarch, exchanging people is a troubling occurrence in the history of gift-giving.

Being treated in certain way because of your size must have grown old, fast.

I remember being on the London Underground with a colleague, Emily, who is over six feet tall. A man stood next to her said: ‘You’re tall’ as though this was brand new information. 'Yes,' she said, 'I am'. 

Emily said it happened all the time. It was annoying but that was the extent of it. Emily was able to pursue and select a career of her choice, pick her company and didn't live in fear of being acquired, gift-wrapped and sent to the Queen. 

Throwback Thursday: Sappho & the purple headband

This week’s Throwback Thursday post is about the Greek poet, Sappho, and a gift she couldn't give.

Few facts exist about the woman who we now refer to as ‘the first woman poet’, ‘tenth muse’ and slightly-misinterpreted icon of lesbianism.

We do know that she was a native of the Greek island of Lesbos, located a few miles from the Turkish coast. We know that she lived on the island during the late seventh and early sixth century B.C but did spend time in Sicily as a political exile. It is believed she married and had at least one daughter, Cleis.

Her lyric poetry survives on fragments of papyrus. One poem, addressed to daughter Cleis, caught my eye.

Dr. Philip Freeman, Harvard classicist and author of the excellent Searching For Sappho, kindly gave me permission to reproduce his translation:

For my mother used to say

That when she was young it was

A great ornament if someone had her hair

Bound in a purple headband.

But for a girl whose hair

is yellower than a flaming torch…

Crowns adorned with

blooming flowers…

Recently a decorated headband

…from Sardis

…cities

But for you, Cleis, I have no beautiful headband

Nor do I know how to get one.

 

In this fragment, Sappho remembers her mother’s words that when she was a girl, there was no finer adornment than a purple headband. For fair-haired girls, flowers were the perfect ornamentation.

However, more is conveyed in this poem than just mother-daughter style advice.

It is a sad and nostalgic poem; not only is Sappho unable to give her own daughter  a headband, we get the impression of Sappho as a displaced figure, separated from the people and places able to supply such a thing. Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos, was a busy centre for trade would have been the obvious shopping destination for Sappho but she seems unable to get there. Perhaps this is a poem created in exile. 

The idea of separation is compounded through her reminiscences. She is separated from her mother by time. 

Though I've talked about separation, it's connection which has kept Sappho's legacy alive. Sappho’s work survives because she can describe human experience in such a way that a modern reader can identify immediately. For example, she describes love as a ‘loosener of limbs’  and  ‘a subtle/fire races beneath my skin./ I see nothing with my eyes/ and my ears hum’. She felt it as we feel it.

The shared experiences don’t stop there. Extensive googling proves that beautiful purple headbands are just as hard to come by today as 2600 years ago.  I challenge you to find one. It doesn’t even need to come from Sardis (modern-day Turkey).

And I agree with Sappho's mother, flower crowns are the perfect ornamentation and are much easier to come by.

The index picture I’ve used with this blog was kindly provided by Bee from The Honeycomb. Bee makes the most beautiful silk floral crowns by hand. Evidence below! 

Philip Freeman's Searching for Sappho is out in the U.S and will be released in the UK on the 11th March. I picked it up during my recent trip to America and I'm so glad I did. It is a fantastic read for anyone interested in literature, history, women's studies or classics.