Monday, September 14, 2009

Victorian Social Propaganda and the Bizarre World of Antiques


Perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with my psyche, but I have to confess that I am fascinated by human nature as it is manifested in the more bizarre antiques.

Charms tend to be one of the areas where both men and women often have chosen unique, often terrifying objects to own or wear. Many of these, of course, were believed to have magical powers or at least the power to ward off evil.

In 19th century England and at the turn of the century, the wide scope of the British Empire had brought fashion into contact with civilisations across the globe. Academic interest in ancient folklore and fairytales inspired the creative artist in diverse ways.

Here are two examples of solid 9k. fobs or charms made at the turn of the 20th century. They are probably 'Temperance Charms' designed to remind the wearer of the 'evils of drink'. When the lever is activated, a bizarre character pops out of the top of this tankard. In one case, it is a creature with horns and wildly uneven eyes... In the other, made of horn or ivory rather than glass, the skull-like demon's head leers crookedly...

At first, I had thought these could be protective amulets or else an artistic jest. Then I discovered that there are many such charms depicting a demonic creature who pops out of a tankard at the touch of a lever!

It definitely could be a fertile source for a Gothic novel or short story, even knowing that it was designed to be a piece of social propaganda. It is positively terrifying and the fact that it pops out of a rather, prettily engraved innocuous cylinder adds to its potency.

I cannot imagine what sort of person would wear an amulet or charm of this sort. It must have been a political and social badge promoting 'prohibition', equating alcohol quite clearly with the devil but these little demon-filled tankards are frightening, albeit cleverly designed. I wonder if they made something similar for opium eaters with a demon issuing forth from a pipe.

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