Object of interest: a souvenir from Venice

In the 18th century, Venice was among the top destinations of the Grand Tour. The city was experiencing a period of peace, and economy and arts flourished. Thiss attracted rich British tourists. They indulged their sense of luxury, spent their days at leisure at Caffè Florian or Caffé Lavena, and enjoyed the opera, gambling, dancing, fireworks and spectacles. Buying art was also high on the list of things to do, and paintings with views of the City by sought-after artists such as Antonio Canal (Canaletto) made an excellent souvenir. Of course, pretty trifles were taken back to Britain as well. These could, e.g., be hand-held fans. Let’s have a closer look at one of these beautiful items.

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Object of Interest: The Devil Among the Tailors

Playing with a top and skittles was popular in the 18th century. Children and grown-ups alike tested their skills at a game called “The devil among the tailors”. The 18th-century game is different from today’s version that is still around in some pubs in Britain. It is much larger, and you need more skills to score points. How was it played? And what’s in a name?

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Object of Interest: A Currency Calculator

For British merchants doing business with France, the French Revolution brought a special challenge: Revolutionary France introduced the metric system of weight and measures in 1795, and made the franc the single monetary unit in the country in 1803. Thus, the value of British money had to be reevaluated for export and import, and adjusted to the new system of weight and measures. How could this be achieved? Continue reading

From Education to War Gaming: Tin Toys in the Long 18th Century

Miniature figures or miniature soldiers in general have been around as talismans or devotional objects for many centuries. However, the ‘modern’ toy soldier – a product explicitly marketed to children to play with – was created in the 18th century in Prussia. The first tin toys were flat, two-dimensional figures. They started as a by-product of the tin-ware production.

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Object of Interest: The Serinette

Music instruments of the 18th century – the harp and the piano for genteel young ladies come to mind, the violin for young Arthur Wellesley, flutes and pipes for rustic dances. But is that really all that was popular during that time? Well, I came across an interesting piece (see photo) at the section for musical instruments of Deutsches Museum / Munich. It is a type of mechanical musical instrument consisting of a small barrel organ and some pipes. But what exactly is it – a simple music box? There wasn’t a description added to the instrument, but having the year 1813 written on it, it naturally interested me. I did some research and found out more:

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Object of Interest: Coach Clocks

Coach clocks were, in principle, enlarged pocket watches with a diameter of 9 to 12 cm. However, a clock to take with you on a journey by carriage had to provide some special features. First of all, it had to be robust against the bumps of the road. That’s why coach clocks were kept in padded protective cases made of copper or brass, often covered with fine leather. The metalwork of the case was done in delicate broken ornaments to allow the sound of the mechanism to penetrate. Continue reading

Object of Interest: The Columbian Printing Press

The American engineer George Clymer invented the Columbian printing press in 1813. It was one of the first iron printing presses, and it was in part inspired by the Stanhope press.

The Columbian printing press cost $400, more than twice the price of a conventional wooden press – and too much for the American market. So Clymer moved to London in 1817. Here, he made a success of his press-manufacturing business. Continue reading