Thursday, 26 June 2014

Signs and Symbols

I've seen a few monograms in my travels lately and though I've never paid that much attention to them, I have been intrigued by the concept of a cypher for myself. Usually it is a kind of signature for you alone using your own initials interwoven to make a design. There are a lot of styles these days but I like the beautiful ornate variety from former times.

Today monograms are usually found on towels and stationery and come in a myriad of fonts, but once upon a time it was a device used to show presence and they were quite elaborate in their design. Here in England, there are many examples still in use today; you can see the cyphers of the respective monarchs on mail boxes and telephone kiosks.

If you think about it, company logos are modern cyphers. You would recognize the Nike logo and probably the Volkswagen symbol if you spotted them around town. Many people wear Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel's monograms and who wouldn't know what the “Golden Arches” stood for? Branding is a worldwide thing these days so it isn't so far removed from the monograms of say the 18thcentury.

Marie Antoinette's cypher, an intertwined A and M formed an elegant pattern that graced walls, furniture and China, for example, and it's my favourite of them all. I am so tempted to just “borrow” it, I like the way the letters flow together and they just happen to be my initials too. But, I think in the interest of originality, I probably should come up with my own design so I have been doodling and trying to come up with my own distinctive mark. Something for my stationery, a seal perhaps or just my own brand for my pencil boxes and assorted receptacles for my stationery trappings.

Maybe that is a bit too lofty an ambition marking all my possessions but I do like the idea of monogrammed stationery and perhaps a wax seal to use in my correspondence. Dear Limner over at Oh, write me! likes to use the bee as her symbol and I think that is singular. I've come up with a couple of designs for myself but haven't chosen my favourite one yet.  I have a few other ideas for cyphers that I want to try to draw out before I decide. (I still like Marie Antoinette's cypher best!) Do you have a monogram you use or a logo or device?

Friday, 20 June 2014

Happy Trails

I got snail mail today.  Was it a good mail day?  I'm not sure.  The "mail" was left by a snail that got into my dining room somehow.  I was greeted this morning to silvery trails in an intricate pattern on my carpet, but no sign of it's author.  Having crawled all over the floor looking in every conceivable space that may harbor the creator of the silver graffiti, I have concluded he has left the building. When you're renovating your home there are a multitude of places for snails to stealthly enter or exit.  I just feel confounded that I can't find the little critter!  We think snails go slow, but judging from his path, it looks like he made quite a tour of the carpet underneath my dining table last night. At first I thought perhaps he hitched a ride in on the cat, though somehow, I can't see the cat tolerating that.  The worrying thing is that this is not the first incident.  In fact, it has been going on for a couple of weeks now.  I can't imagine what he is feeding on to stay to hale and hardy.  There is only one plant in the room and it's a cactus so I don't think he's having his dinner there.  I'm so curious how he sneaks in and out. Despite the fact that he leaves a map of his travels, I still am at a loss as to how he entered or left.  It will just have to remain one of those great unsolved mysteries of all time.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Waxing Poetic


After months of searching, I have finally found my wax seal set a friend had given me some years ago. I put it in a safe place so my son wouldn't see it and be tempted to try it out and get into a mess with it and then hid it so well I couldn't find it!

I have a few stamps and several waxes but use them sparingly because they are expensive and when you are on a budget, all avenues of delight seem to suffer. Still, I got to thinking how I could make my own seals and while I was casting around for inspiration, thought, “Hey! A button can be a seal.” as my eyes came to rest on a jar of buttons I have sitting on a shelf.  I have two jars in fact. I just like the colourful bookends they make holding up a few of my favourite books. I dumped a jar of buttons out on my writing table and began sorting though them, separating the plain from the ornate. I found some really great designs among them and made a couple of piles. Those I thought would definitely work and others I just wanted to try to see what image they would render.

Then I thought, hmmm, I don't want to use up all my wax, because that is expensive too and I have some nice colours that aren't readily available. What to do? I decided to try pressing the buttons into a small piece of clay roughly the size of the dollop of wax I would need to make the seal. So far so good. It was interesting to see how the designs on the buttons appeared in relief. Some I was sure would make fabulous seals were just so-so and some I just wanted to try for the heck of it came out great. Using the clay, helped me to sort out the buttons I thought worked best but the real test would be pressing them into hot wax. Most of the buttons I wanted to test were shank buttons and had a loop on the back that made it easy to hold in place and remove after pressing, but others I needed to get a little creative with as they had no loop. That was another factor in weeding out the best of the best. You don't really want to ruin the seal by prizing the button off the wax. I put a little wire through some of the buttons but others it just didn't work, narrowing down the choice of buttons to use even further.

Now I was ready to test. I know that a lot of people use a hot glue gun and glue sticks to make their seals but I've found the glue to be a bit thick and it can come off the envelope so I wanted to try something else. I thought maybe I'd use a candle, but only have white ones and they don't show up the design well. I had to think about it for a while, then I had a scathingly brilliant idea, to borrow a phrase. We've got a box of crayons from when my son was little. We don't use them any more but I couldn't just throw them away so I saved them for a day when they might come in handy. I thought if I tried a few, it wouldn't hurt since they were just sitting there anyway and besides, it's better to use them than waste them. So, I chose a few colours I thought would work...and a few I hoped would work!

There was a bit of trial and error when I began melting the crayons. The flame of the match can cause black swirls to appear in the wax if you hold the match too close. Some crayons sputter and the consistency of different brands of crayons differs, some being very thin and almost watery when melted. Something else I noticed is that the wax stays wetter longer so you have to let it begin to dry before you press the button onto it. I had a few buttons just take the wax up with them at first so I coated the tops with oil and that gave better results but there is still more to experiment with. I also found that the rounded buttons seem to work a little better on the crayon wax than the sealing wax and the flat buttons did better on the sealing wax than the crayon wax which seems to have a bit of suction.

Now I have an arsenal of new seals to use on letters and the crayons worked a charm, so I don't have to scrimp, I can seal more of my letters. Plus...I still have that other jar of buttons to sort through.

I hope you like this idea. I think it's a keeper.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Pen Portraits

I’m a history nerd, I admit it freely. I’ve always had an avid interest in Elizabeth I and her father Henry VIII. I have a collection of books on their era that would rival the local library. Living in England has fuelled my passion for history, especially recently when I was digging in the garden and unearthed some shards of Tudor pottery, which was quite a thrill in itself.

Lately my interest in history has widened and I’ve been reading biographies of noteworthy people of the 18th century, including Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire and Marie Antoinette. A lot of these biographies rely heavily on correspondence to form a more personal view of the individual’s lives. Because of my interest in letter writing, I’ve paid more attention to the correspondences these books cite. These letters are very in depth glimpses into the daily lives and loves of the subjects and it’s that detail we depend upon today that allow us to see life as it was then.

One thing I’ve noticed throughout my reading is the term “pen portrait” being used. Pen portraits were often given when referring to someone that your correspondent may not know very much about. It was quite a detailed description which not only included the physical attributes, but also various mannerisms, expressions, and thoughts on the person’s temperament and demeanour. Its purpose was to give a vivid picture of the person in question. In a time when only the wealthy had portraits done, pen portraits were a vital resource for gaining a view into others’ lives you may not typically meet.

As pen pals, even with the ability to send photos, we still create pen portraits to an extent when we write about our everyday life and interests. They give our pals a deeper look into who we are. We form opinions through the descriptions we give and receive. Before we get a photograph from our pals it’s through these pen portraits we tend to form an image in our minds of who we are writing to. Oftentimes, when we do eventually get a photo it is interesting to compare the picture to the mental image we have conjured up. Sometimes I get it all wrong, I must admit, and it makes me wonder if the descriptions I’m giving to my pals are at all accurate!

Keeping the whole premise of the pen portrait in mind, I’ve been trying to perfect my own powers of description so that they bring to the mind of my prospective pals the image I am trying to convey. I’ve written a little pen portrait of one of my other history heroes. See if you can identify him.

Born the son of a chandler, this 18th century gentleman is mainly remembered for his roll as a founding father of our country, although he had many other accomplishments. An inventor, amateur scientist and writer, his lesser known achievements include helping establish the first university in Pennsylvania, the first hospital and the first fire department. He was also the first Post Master General and as a result of trying to find the easiest routes to deliver the mail, invented the odometer. This Revolutionary fellow was a man of average height, with a muscular build that tended toward a stout frame. He wore his brown hair long, as was the custom of the time, and yet did not tie it back in the fashionable ponytail as his contemporaries did. A serious fellow, one could still detect the mirth in his hazel eyes, even behind his studious reading glasses, another of his inventions, which were usually perched on the bridge of his nose. A “thoughtful” fellow, he had many ideas and observations about how things work, some leading to experiments, like the flying of a kite one stormy day. At times impatient, he was always determined to succeed, and is remembered for his tact and charm.

If I’ve done this correctly you should have an image of Benjamin Franklin in your mind. Coincidentally on this day in 1752 Ben Franklin flew his kite during a thunder storm demonstrating the electrical nature of lightning. And on an eerie note we had a thunder and lightning storm today!
I’ll leave you with one of the many adages he is remembered for:

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you were dead & rotten either write things worthy reading or do things worth the writing.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Lost and Found

I mentioned earlier we are in the process of renovating our Georgian home. The house was left to get into a shocking state of disrepair before we bought it, but given that there are so many original features, I don't mind. For the most part we have to clear out and clean up before we can repair things like the plumbing. There is literally a century of dirt under the floor boards. As we fix and repair we do occasionally find bits and pieces. Usually just rusty nails and cobwebs but there have been a few Eureka moments, though I have to admit, the things I find intriguing would probably be discarded by other renovators.
As a letter writer, all written things interest me so when we find bits of old newspaper, I carefully unfold them and try to read the news of the day. We've found scraps of papers from the 50s, 70s and 80s which are interesting in their own right, but the bits of the paper from 1901 we found were incredible. As a society we don't realize just how the way we speak and write is ever changing and newspapers document that change. Even more exciting than finding the papers was the lady's calling card we found safely hidden beneath the floorboards in bedroom 2 for nearly 100 years; sadly abbreviated by mice, but still a treasure. This morning I was caught off guard when I found a single postage stamp behind the skirting board in that very same room. It's easy to figure out how that could have gotten lost behind there, as thin and fluttery as it is, but I still like to wonder who it belonged to. Perhaps, Cynthia, the lady who left her card?   After a bit of research I found it was a King George VI stamp from 1937.

I wonder if that is where Cynthia's desk was, against that wall where I found the stamp. I've wondered about Cynthia as well. She and her family did live in the house in the 1930's and did a little renovating in their own style which was Art Deco. Bakelite doorknobs and geometric mirrors still exists upstairs and there was a bit of wallpaper in the hall that could only have been from that era.

Other, earlier residents have left little bits of themselves behind as well. Including someone who left a secret stash of bottles and cigarettes in a cubby hole under the stairs. I have done some research to acquaint myself with the former residents. Old census forms and because our house was once the rectory for the local church, a long list of vicars and their families. I'm curious about them all. I'd love to know who Colleen was. I found her name written boldly on my bedroom wall when I took some of the wall paper down. And in another room, the scent of perfume came wafting by when wallpaper was removed. Little glimpses of previous tenants light up my imagination.

I think I will write a letter and tuck it somewhere out of the way for someone to discover in another time. I like the idea of leaving a little bit of myself to meet the future. I wonder what the person who finds it will think when they find my missive? Have you ever done anything like that? Left a note, carved your name on a tree, made a time capsule for the future to tell of your existence?