JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 1016
Luxury for the not-wealthy, the luxuries of the working classes, is a relatively new invention in the West. Virtually unmolested except by the aristocracy, "luxury" was a thing defined to exclude nearly everyone in Europe, the United Kingdom, America and virtually any other place. Not until the second Industrial Revolution did capital become more "absorbent" to those working for it, with the working classes allowed to be paid more and keep more of it--money in the hands of the mass of society became expendable on the stuff of life that wasn't necessarily "necessary". This picture dictionary--collected but not assembled by the social muse and graphical strategist Malcom Mumbry (of Landrum, South Carolina, working-class neighbors to the wealthy in the horse country of northern South Carolina)--displays some of the many new luxuries of the 1880-1920's period, most of which have now been lost to the dust and short memory.
The images are beautiful and unusual--their content may be even more so, and generally unexpected and--occasionally-unimagined. We'll be making posts to this site until we can construct a few representative alphabets of lost luxuries--their initial presentation will not be made alphabetically.
H Hat Ennui.
By the time this photo was made in 1920 hat-need had surpassed itself to the point where only ennui could quench the continuing hat-thirst. So much so as a matter of fact that Giles Rope, a French playwright, wrote and co-produced (along with Guy la Flembeur) "Ennui Chappeu", an absurdist work on the developing hat anti-lust. Intended as a silent/violent statement against hat ennui, it became a pro-ennui sensation--not only did men want hat ennui, they evidently wanted to watch other men with hat ennui, as well. The play ran 85 weeks in Paris, 50 in London and 102 in New York, closing in 1926.
H Hats, Bologna
Perhaps a more unusual hat story in 1921 was the appearance of party hats for over-sized bologna. The delicatessen standard was new in 1921, and in order to make it more somehow appealing to customers the bologna were dressed in large, flat-brimmed party/sun hats. By 1922, bologna hat racks began to appear in some eateries; by 1923, the hat craze was over, and bologna had shrunk.
The somewhat wealthier classes were offered a short "Exclusive Hirelings" pamphlet by Bent Gruel Company (of Chicago), where well-dressed "Attendants" could be hired to "engage at a distance". This amounted to polite watching--interested parties could now hire one (or more) of Gruel's sophisticated cadre to "attend to the visual needs deserted" of people in joy or crisis so that whatever it was being experienced was now not necessarily experienced alone. (In the above scene a client has hired three men to equidistantly observe her weeping by a painted window.)
M Maid Fainting
For the millions of Americans who were newly affluent in 1925 but not affluent enough to afford a fainting maid that they could attend to came the Maid Fainting Society Inc of America. Bonded in 15 states, MFSA sponsored overseas maids to faint in good American homes. They were hired out at $4/hour (a handsome hourly sum in 1925), the fainting maids being allowed to keep half. In 1926 a sub-cult of Extra-Tall Fainting Maids was born (an example of which is picture above), and provided an income to thousands for several years. (One of the last silent films ever made, Fainting Maid Maiden, with Clara Bow, 1944, used this phenomenon as a basis for its story; by that time however the craze had passed, the war was on, and no one cared anymore for silent films about fainting maids.)
C Cigar Cane Rentals
An excellent example of an extinct semi-luxury that was almost entirely based in England and which never caught on anywhere else in the world was cigar cane rentals. As seen in this photo (made in London in 1922), well-intentioned better-clothed country pensioners were brought into the city and made to pose with their renter canes. Wooden canes evidently deprived Londoners of a "cigar aromaticity" need that was fulfilled with these canes made of cigars. The short craze lasted for about 15 months, during which time better than 500 cane renter holders were stationed around London at walking parks on any given evening. It was an essential part of care rental to do so on brick, as the cigar cane tip made a distinctive sound (a harley-like individuality if you may), which was enjoyed by the renter and the non-renter alike. AS we can see in the photo above, nearly all of the cane renter men have already rented their canes, pushing the last two men with canes to the front for greater visibility.
--end, Part I