Cabinet Of Curiosities 2

Only connected to vinyl in a very tangential way…

Curator and artist Vince Kelly has begun an ambitious online image project which he calls his Cabinet of Curiosities. In it he wanted to try and capture objects from inside his house in the way Victorian households used to enjoy collections of objects in a cabinet. He asked me to try the same thing, and his plan is to invite others to assemble their own online cabinets, linked from his website.

Vince’s rule is that the page should be just images. It was a daunting task which I puzzled over for a few days before deciding the only way to tackle it was to sit down with a sheet of paper and map out what I would include to most sum up my own interests from within what the house contains. Armed with a set of sketches of objects, I then gave myself an hour to rummage through boxes and on shelves to find the objects I had in mind, or as close to them as physically possible within the time restraint (otherwise the search for one or two items I know we have could have gone on for hours, given that as we’re decorating a lot of stuff is currently in boxes).

I then set about photographing the objects as quickly as possible using natural daylight. Typically I’d picked a very overcast morning but if the hand-held exposures were longer than ideal it did make for nice even light. They were then uploaded and cropped to a square format. I’m quite into this at the moment, a result of preparing vintage images for a Flickr project, software which always previews images in nice neat squares.

To get around Vince’s no text rule, I decided to write a paragraph about each image as well, which would not appear on Vince’s site, but to which people could be referred on to should they wish. It’s a bit like in an art gallery; where you can look at images and either study each caption in detail or ignore it (or do what I do and ignore them first time round, then go back and read them on a second walk round).

To see Vince’s original Cabinet click here.

To read my captions check below.

SHEFFIELD – There used to be two big British companies making measuring equipment, Rabone’s in Birmingham and Chesterman’s in Sheffield. After they merged in the 90s I was invited to go round the Sheffield works (with a number of other interested people) and take some photographs. It was profoundly depressing to know everyone I watched working had a very uncertain future, and that 250 years of manufacture on the site was close to ending. A couple of the works bosses got to know us and as the place was emptying let us have a few ‘souvenirs’. I’d spotted these two steel rulers in their office. The ordinary thin one had the company name ground off and I wondered why. Apparently any which didn’t come up to scratch were set aside, and staff were allowed to take them home. The deal was that the name had to be obliterated before they left the premises.

The thicker rule was amazing; on one side normal metric and imperial 12″ measurements, the reverse had lots of unusual measurements – the size of a grain of rice, thickness of a dime, picas, microwave oscillation, etc. They could only recall that they had been made for a special order. I took both rules away with me and use them just about every day. Quite recently I discovered the special order one had been made as a promotion piece for the American design company M&Co.

READING – We have hundreds of books in the house but as a kid I devoured American comics as well. They had to be Marvel; DC were just too contrived. I loved the art and stories, the logos and letters pages, and poured over the adverts offering armies of 100s of toy soldiers for less than $2.

I sort of lost track of comics until as a student I found my younger brother had latched onto some new titles, part of a whole story arc written and drawn by Jack Kirby, who I realised had drawn my favourite Marvel strips as well. From then on through college I bought just about everything he put his name to. One day a mate came in to college with a box which he handed to me. It was a pile of 60s Kirby drawn comics he’d kept from new. He felt they should go to a good home. They did and I still have them. This is one, a ‘golden age’ Jack Kirby title.

MUSIC – Most people enjoy popular music as a kid but seem to lose interest later in life, but some of us old crocks never give up on the kick of finding a new band, or an old album we’ve not heard, and which still gives us that buzz. Part of the fascination with popular music for me is the packaging and presentation which I first became aware of as a young child when given a couple of 7″ kiddies EPs. These had stories, theme tunes and even multiplication tables set to music. And many were pressed on glorious flecked vinyl, with the colours radiating out from the centre. They still turn up in charity stores from time to time, which is where these two came from. They are very beaten up, pressed at 78rpm, and we don’t have kids, so they’re of very little practical use (I still recall having to sit through that terrible maths EP!), but still look great.

GIRLS – As skirts got shorter and shorter during the sixties, makers of stockings and tights came up with ever more ingenious solutions to the problem of what to wear underneath. This was one. It reminds me of bus journeys to school. Most stocking packets are flat but Lucky Charm came up with a triangular box for something a bit different. I found it in a charity shop in town.

FOOD – It pains me to think of some of the garbage we ate as kids, mostly on the confectionary front. Summer holidays with mouths constantly afoam thanks to 1d sherbert tablets and various brightly coloured carbonated drinks. The more expensive selection boxes were an occasional treat. My mum came home with one of these boxes of Cadbury’s Lucky Numbers when they first went on sale in the 60s. Each chocolate had a different number on the wrapper, which somehow caused much more excitement than the boring old Black Magic boxes. I think they ran a competition with certain numbers only found in a few packets which probably helped hype us all up.

This box still has the chocs inside..

FAMILY – A few artifacts have survived the generations and periodic house clearances most families go through. One item which always fascinated me at my Gran’s house was this blunderbus, along with hearing stories of various relatives carrying it on the way to market to protect themselves against robbers. It eventually ended up with me. The temptation to load it with powder and rusty nails is always there – especially when the neighbours get antsy – but so far I’ve resisted.

DESIGN – I’ve always been interested in design, whether good or bad (just not indifferent). This 60s Omo packet is both a marvel of gaudy colours and layout as well as a reminder of the soap powder wars which raged in the 50s, 60s and 70s as manufacturers battled for market share by offering ever more outrageous claims for their product, and ever more useless free gifts to tempt buyers. My mum used to complain about  the mountains of tat which adorned the soap powder shelves in our local grocers. At least the lucky buyer of this packet got some money off and a 5/- voucher instead of a bunch of plastic flowers, a candle, snack tray or mixing bowl.

Again the contents are still inside. Who buys this stuff and never uses it? I got it off a stall holder whose mother had apparently amassed a garage full of soap packets bought just for the free gifts.

CHILDHOOD – Often defined in part by the toys we played with and remember. My earliest memory is of being shown a toy train layout in a flat above ours where we lived and being impressed with the little vehicles which adorned it. I grew up playing with Matchbox toys and as a teenager began collecting them avidly, rummaging round old corner shops for left over stock. But this one I found with some other old toys in an abandoned property which was due for demolition in Sheffield. It was the last back-to-back house in the city (what, save it for posterity?) and kids had trashed the place, scattering the contents all over the yard. So the box is a little bruised, but the toy itself is almost as good as they day it came out of the factory on Lee Conservancy Road in London circa 1963.

ART – Aged 8 or 9, I was absorbed by the gory artwork on a number of increasingly violent sets of bubble gum cards which had their origins in America but were licensed for distribution in Britain. We parted with our sixpences, opened the wax paper wrappers, chewed the gum and poured over the bloody images, trading them around school to get the set. A series of cards called Battle in particular were full of brightly coloured but grim illustrations, more vicious than anything shown on a pulp novel.

Today articles are written on the artist, one Norman Saunders, whose original art for the cards fetches five figures on the rare occasions it ever comes up for sale.

Being American, the set had largely erased Britain’s involvement in the war, so the British printers hastily added a dozen or so extra cards to redress the balance. They were rubbish.

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4 Responses to Cabinet Of Curiosities 2

  1. Pingback: Cabinet Of Curiosities – Portrait Gallery | OIOI

  2. What a fantastic idea I hope other people don’t feel too shy to send in their own contributions to vincentkemail-wordpress [at] yahoo.co.uk

  3. Tony says:

    I favoured Marvel comics over DC when I was young. My first Marvels were B & W British reprints first as American comics were more expensive. They were more fun in glorious colour with adverts inside for sea horses, x ray specs and other curios. When older I bought many 60s silver age Marvels which I still have yellowed/battered as they are. I remember OMO – love that design. To answer the question on who keeps soap powder, err, I would have to say us as I found 8 boxes of it recently put away years ago. Nothing as exotic as the OMO box unfortunately.

    I also remember the trash (as Simon notes) I used to fill my face with. Cresta, ‘it’s frothy man’ fizzy drinks in radioactive colours, blackjack chews, crackerjack and the chewing gum with the cards. the mention of sherbert brings to mind a local expression for it at school “Kayligh’. More froth!

    I’m still going on about Lucozade in glass bottles/orange plastic wrappers but I also miss the squash drink ‘Tree Top’ with its nice conical shape bottle and top.

    • simon robinson says:

      Nice to spark off some more memories Tony! Marvel were always top as they were rooted in an overall universe and characters seemed more vulnerable. The ads inside were part and parcel too, used to dream of sending away for a 300 piece army (then when I recently saw one, and how tiny they were, I’m glad I didn’t). I still have some original Cresta tins. I think their USP was that they added milk to the soft drink. They relaunched it some years ago but it failed to spark much interest. Kayligh is an expression for sherbert I know people in the North West used, but it wasn’t one I heard as a kid in Sheffield. I also have a Lucozade bottle in the plastic wrap somewhere, but not the Tree Top drink, though I do recall the unusual bottle shape. We were told it was too expensive, so didn’t drink much of it!

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