Currently investigating:

Elizabethan Lace

"One of the greatest Elizabethan extravagances was lace. Until the time of Elizabeth lace was used very little. During her time the manufacture and use of lace accelerated. All lace was handmade and very very expensive. As an example, to manage to buy enough lace for a large ruff a man might have to sell a few acres of Vineyard to raise the cash. Pieces were no more than 3" wide and most were just 1". It took a good lacer up to two hours to make just one inch. At their largest ruffs were 9" wide. It can take about 5 yards to make a full ruff. If you were using 3" wide lace, every yard of 9" wide ruff would be made up of 9 yards of 3" wide lace sewn together. That means that it takes 45 yards x 36" x 2hr., or 3240 man hours. That would be a year of 10 hr. days."

Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws

Elizabeth's Sumptuary Statues

... beg comparison to the current laws limiting the amount spent on dowries and wedding celebrations on the Indian sub-continent and the early 20th century laws limiting potlatching in the Pacific Northwest.


Things to think about:

  1. Toys and their special talents...

    So-called U.S. hostage appears to be an 'action figure' (CNN)

  2. Applications which phone home all by themselves...

    Little Snitch, a helpful little application for OS X users.

  3. How the real Groundhog Day looks like the movie...

    Punxsutawney Phil predicts prolonged cold (CNN)


Current requests:

  1. I'm looking for a good image of Florence Upton's original Dutch Dolls (Peggy and Sarah Jane) and the Golliwogg. (I've got an extremely poor low-res image of the dolls in a glass case at Chequers and would like something better.)

    "Upton donated her original drawings (and dolls?) for public auction to support the WW I British war effort. Her five penny-wooden Dutch dolls and the Golliwogg were long kept in a glass case at Chequers, the country estate of the Prime Minister, where many of the original drawings grace the guest rooms Upton's original drawings grace the guest rooms. The dolls are now on view at the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood in London."

  2. I need help identifying the following two toys:

Unknown Toy A

Unknown Toy B


Objects of interest:

  1. Four short performance films by Leigh Bowery

    Go to
    Click on Leigh Bowery
    At the top of the window click on 'Movies'

  2. Collector sewing machines

    Elna Grasshopper
    Singer Featherweight

  3. Paper war balloons

    "Japan has long been known for beautiful handmade paper and art objects made of paper, a technique known as Origami. However, in 1944 a new use of paper was brought to the attention of the world, huge paper balloons filled with hydrogen were used to carry antipersonnel and incendiary bombs from Japan to the USA, Canada and Mexico.

    "The balloons were marvelous devices, they took two years to perfect and required the development of several new technologies, including mechanized production of previously handmade paper, pressure sensors, detonators, antifreeze batteries, and cold resistant rubber for the balloon fittings...."

    Origami Warfare
    Pieces of Paper
    The Mystery of Japanese Vengeance Bombs


Paper Dresses

Imagine a time before AIDS, personal computers, cell phones and other 'miracles of science' like Dupont's Tyvek.

History of the Paper Dress
Paper Dresses of the 1960s


Study 1


Enid Blyton, Golliwogg Mother No. 2

If Florence Upton is Golliwogg Mother No. 1, then Enid Blyton, as the mid-century figure who brought the Golliwogg to the masses, is clearly Mother No. 2. And from the perspective of visual culture it's interesting to see that while Florence created the character as an illustration (her mother Bertha wrote the texts), Enid popularised the Golliwog as an author...

"Arguably the most prolific children's writer of the last century, she has a staggering 4000 stories and some 700 books to her credit. At some stages in her life she wrote 10,000 words a day and for at least one year in the 50s she was averaging a book every 5 days."

...who required the services of another person to 'visualize' her world.

Eelco Martinus ten Harmsen van der Beek

"It was in 1949 that Enid Blyton first thought up the characters which were to transform her into the 20th century's most successful children's writer. The original watercolour drawings of Noddy and Big Ears were sent to her for approval by Dutch illustrator Harmsen Van der Beek, and she snapped them up.

"It was these images which helped to launch the cheeky little boy and his friends into the world to charm millions with the first book, 'Noddy Goes To Toyland'. Mr Van Der Beek died suddenly in 1953 after confessing to his publisher sometimes all he could see were little Noddies crawling over his desk."

The Eelco Martinus ten Harmsen van der Beek Story

Van der Beek's visual legacy? As of last year more than 200 million 'Noddy' books published in 27 languages.


Study 2


In the Future Everyone Will Be Their Own Diderot

Most of the people who know me personally know how enthusiastic I am about DevonThink. Since I discovered it in July 2003 it has become for me -- admittedly ADD crazed and Google addicted -- the single most important piece of software ever.

Many of us remember life before personal computers and how much our lives changed with the arrival of their first (my first was a Mac Plus). The personal computer brought about a paradigm shift, represented a watershed. Life before this moment and life afterwards were not the same.

A second and even bigger watershed stood of the shoulders of the first: the web. Can you remember how you managed "to find things out" before the web? How you developed your research and cultivated your interests before personal publishing? Before search engines?

DevonThink, in my opinion, represents a third momentous leap: the realistic ability to organize one's gathered information, interests, curiosity and affinities into a vast private encyclopedia. A data-rich collection of one's information prospects and history, one's attention economy over time.

Steven Johnson has recently published an essay mentioning DevonThink in the NY Times: Tool for Thought.

Much more information on DevonThink on Steven Johnson's weblog.

As of today my DevonThink database contains 7,658 carefully selected objects (PDF files, html files, rich & plain text files, quicktime movies) divided over 1,985 groups and totals 3,323,282 words.


Some People Push Back

Pity about Churchill's poor choice of words. But if his essay wasn't so inflammatory who'd be paying attention?

  1. CNN's initial story (8 February 2005)

  2. Ward Churchill's essay (September 2001)

  3. Chalmers Johnson interviewed

  4. Ward Churchill's response to the recent uproar


h. b., sunshine


Some answers to previous questions:

  1. Unknown Toy A appears to be an early 'Bill-Ding' set (thanks Jackie Britton/

  2. Unknown Toy B appears to be Mr. Willy Fangel's Connector Building Set. Surprisingly, Mr. Willy Fangel returns absolutely nothing in Google -- his name and his construction set would still be a mystery if not for the fortuitous timing of a recent auction. If you have more information about this toy or know of any published references to it -- I would be delighted to hear from you.


15.02.05 Hamburg - Final rehearsal before the premiere of Samtmanns Familienabend - 5 Jahre später


Sundry links following a Saturday browsing

  1. Alexander Graham Bell: Tetrahedral Principle in Kite Structure (from National Geographic Magazine Vol. XIV, No.6, June 1903)

  2. Kenneth Snelson's lovely Structure and Tensegrity pages

  3. Technovelgy: an inventory of technological ideas gleaned from speculative SF

  4. Boria Sax: Konrad Lorenz and the Cult of Wildness

Yes these things are all connected.


New Collector

While tracing the fascinating history of children's wooden alphabet and construction blocks and the various 19th and 20th century manufacturers of these systems I've several times come across the name of one collector, Norman Brosterman. Brosterman, who has been responsible for books and exhibitions such as 'Potential Architecture' (Canadian Center for Architecture) and 'Inventing Kindergarten' (a wonderful book over Friedrich Fröbel), seems to be not only an avid collector but a shrewd collector as well...

"Over the last 15 years, Brosterman has been making hay out of the following formula: first, he discovers a vein of unrecognized and undervalued social or cultural treasures. Second, he forms a coherent collection, the broader, fresh context of which yields untold, forgotten or repressed narratives with social, historical or artistic resonance. Third, if possible, he exhibits the collection at a museum, accompanied by a book which he researches and authors. Finally, Brosterman sells his collection, preferably for a stratospheric figure to a wealthy institution or individual. But the profit from Brosterman's shrewd collecting skills obviously exceeds the pecuniary rewards. Like what Mark Twain said about not letting your schooling get in the way of your education, one can learn more about a culture by studying its unsorted debris at the flea market than from the official histories told by most museums."

From: Out of Time: Collecting with Norman Brosterman


For the Lover's of Reference Books

Bookmark this: The Dictionary of the History of Ideas

January 2005

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