Imagine Wearing Glasses

John Lennon did it. So did Harold Lloyd. To say nothing of Groucho Marx. Three of my favorite celebrity guys from the past – all of them glasses wearers. I suspect that they made wearing glasses seem cool to me when I was a kid.

John Lennon and Groucho Marx were sharp, sarcastic, brilliantly funny, never at a loss for words. And even though Harold Lloyd was a silent movie actor, he was always in motion, jumping on and off trains, and hanging off of giant clocks on buildings – all with such panache. And all while wearing spectacles, too!

Harold Lloyd, hanging out in 1928

In honor of John, Groucho and Harold – and all the other cool cats and chicks I’ve had to leave out (because it would make this post WAY too long*) I have gathered some hints for all of us who wear them:

-If your glasses tend to slip down your nose in hot weather, chalk the sides of your nose before you put them on (just use ordinary chalk) [Popular Mechanics, May 1911]

- To keep your glasses from fogging up in a warm room, run some soap into the lenses and then polish the lenses [Popular Mechanics, April 1914]

-  The latest eyeglasses cleaner in 1910 was a $1, $2 or $5 bill, according to Popular Mechanics, Dec 1910 (via the New York Evening Post). Apparently this was discovered by a gentleman who had forgot his handkerchief one day, and needed to clean his pince-nez on the train home. 

And here’s one more eyeglasses hint: Zenni Optical sells eyeglasses directly to you without middlemen or a lot of flashy advertising. They make high quality prescription glasses and sell directly to you at terrific prices. This is great to know about because if you’re anything like me you’ve paid quite a lot for your glasses at some point in the past. So go check them out – I think you’ll be really pleased. And in the words of my 1970s era Marx Brothers T shirt (which I’ve written about before on this blog): tell ‘em Groucho sent you.

[All the images are from Wikimedia Commons, by the way]

*But we can do some more posts about them some other time…

The Great Cookbook Swap

I started collecting cookbooks about 20 years ago. I inherited the first items in my collection from my mother, who’d been collecting cookbooks since I was little. She liked to bake at holidays, but mostly she preferred reading and imagining the recipes in her head. I am just the same way – I cook most days, and I don’t mind it (unless I’m in the middle of writing something) and I love baking once in awhile. But show me a good cookbook – vintage if possible – and I will happily go off and read it.

One of my latest finds is this on you 1929 cookbook on your left, called Good Meals and How to Prepare Them. It was a giveaway for the readers of Good Housekeeping.  My copy was pretty well used – but I couldn’t leave it in the thrift store. I’ll tell you more about it in another post, because there are some incredible recipes in there. I also picked up a 1930s GE promotional cookbook called The New Art - the New Art being “Modern Cooking,” which of course was expedited by GE appliances.

Now, there are some  modern cookbooks I have that I’m not that crazy about. I do have a lot, and some of them just didn’t work out for me – you know how that is. But they’d be great for someone else. I’m thinking about trying an online book swap so that someone who likes – let’s say – Spanish cuisine – can have my giant Spanish cookbook.

I was sorry to see that the book swap at Goodreads will be closing at the end of this month, but you’ll still be able to exchange books with other readers at BooksfreeSwap. BooksfreeSwap.com is a community for book lovers in the U.S.  You can join for free and trade books (and audiobooks) with other readers – pass along the books you don’t want anymore and get some new ones, that you do want, in return. After you sign up, you make a list of the books you want to swap and they’ll let you know by email when someone would like one of your books. You send it, using a Postage Paid mailing label you can print out from the site – the recipient pays for the shipping and handling.

You’ll want to make your own wish list, too. When someone else lists a book that you want, you’ll get an email. Then you pay the shipping and handling, and the book or books will be sent to you, anywhere in the U.S. You can browse the available books before you sign up – I did, and they have a terrific, huge selection of books in just about any category you can imagine, from Alternative History and Action to True Crime and Travel. And of course I checked out Cooking – they have tons of modern cookbooks and books on culinary history and chef’s memoirs and…well, a lot of good stuff. If you love books – and want to trade in some books you don’t read or want anymore for some great new reads, do check out BooksfreeSwap.

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The Coffee Incident

It’s time for another great moment in 1920s etiquette, as imagined by Lillian Eichler,* who was second to none – not even Emily Post could outshine Miss Eichler here – in her creation of Embarrassing Moments. This one is from a 1921 ad for Eichler’s Encyclopedia of Etiquette and is entitled “Has This Ever Happened To You?”

As you can see, Mr. Whipple – in his pre-Charmin days as a Jazz Age socialite (you didn’t know that, I’ll bet) has just spilled a cup of coffee all over the tablecloth. So – what should he do now? Multiple choice time! Please circle the correct answer and turn your quiz in to Miss Eichler in ten minutes:

a. Turn to the hostess and say “I beg pardon.”
b. Offer his apologies to the entire company.
c. Ignore the incident completely.

I think that we will all pass the quiz if we go with a, but aren’t b and c fun to imagine? Mr. Whipple getting up, making an impassioned speech to everyone, begging them to forgive him (and to stop squeezing their table napkins and hand them over right now so the hostess can start mopping up the river of espresso that is nearing her fringed flapper dress at an alarming speed). Or even better, him continuing to chatter excitedly about paper products because he thinks that that way, no one will notice that the caffeinated version of the Mississippi is roaring towards them.

*For even more Eichler posts, just try the “Mind Your Manners” tag down at the bottom of this post. I really ought to have an Eichler tag, though.

Mary Ann Is Staying Put

Duke University Libraries

Mary Ann was a picture fan
But she worked hard all day
Washing dishes, still she had wishes
To star in a photo play

One day Mary fell asleep it seems
Mary had some very pretty dreams
She dreamed a fairy came to her that day
And she thought she heard it say

Come out of the kitchen Mary darlin’
Come out of the kitchen Mary Ann
Why waste your time cooking Irish stew
When Mary Pickford and Theda Bara will step aside for you

How would you like to be starred with Charlie Chaplin
Your picture painted on each garbage can?

I am not kidding. Those are just some of the lyrics of this novelty song, circa 1920. Mary Ann  probably replies: 

Douglas Fairbanks looks like a bunch of old hair hanks
And his little dog is rather creepy too
I don’t know if it’s worse to hang around with them
Or keep on cooking some old lousy stew.

I guess that Theda Bara with a faceful of mascara
Will have to keep on acting with élan,
For nothing’s less enticing, not even cake without icing
Than seeing my picture on some garbage can.

Thank you Duke University for this little bit of kitchen-themed retro fun! I’m writing this in a hurry so…I’ll be back soon with more this weekend :)

Ice Cream Forks and Other Dilemmas

Fork Dilemmas Pop Sci Nov 1923
“Spoon or fork?” The Ice Cream Think Tank (ad detail, 1923)

It’s hard to remember all the rules when you are out on a dinner date:

Very often you see a seemingly cultured gentleman in a hotel dining-room or restaurant playing with the silver or absent-mindedly clinking glasses together.

Lillian Eichler must have been spying on my college dining hall. There was plenty of glass-clinking and impromptu jam sessions with the silverware (minus, of course, the actual jam). We also had a game where you put really tough Jell-O cubes into a glass of 7 Up. The Jell-O cubes were usually about a week old because no one wanted to eat them and they would keep reappearing in the cafeteria line: the Houdinis of dessert. When you put the Jell-O cubes in the 7 Up, they would bounce around because of the carbonation (never escaping though – so not really like Houdini at all). Now, this sort of horrid stuff, of course, will not play well when one is dining out at the Ritz – or in a dining hall either, for that matter.

Anyway, last time we learned a lesson or two from Lillian Eichler (who was a 19 year old copywriter when she wrote first The Book of Etiquette back in 1919-20) – we were eavesdropping on a couple out on a miserable dinner date. They seem to have had three major problems: Who Goes First, Ice Cream Spoons and Saying Goodnight. I wanted to find out exactly what they were supposed to be doing. My source:  Eichler’s 1925 New Book of Etiquette, what else? Direct quotes from the book are in italics…

Who’s On First: In entering a restaurant the woman precedes. That’s it. Easy as pie – but not as easy as ice cream, because:

I Scream For A Spoon for Ice Cream:  The spoon is still used for ice cream, though the fork is now regarded as more correct. A new kind of wide-tined ice cream fork is appearing on fashionable tables.

Oh dear, is it? Maybe if you were eating a slice of ice cream this would be OK. But our dating couple were served parfait glasses. Hot fudge sauce will also be appearing on fashionable tables along with those ice cream forks, I suspect.

Lux 1925 Vintage Ad Browser
Vintage Ad Browser

Say Goodnight, Gracie: Unfortunately, Miss Eichler doesn’t seem to have a dating section in the New Book. But she does have a few things to say about men calling on young women:

…sometimes the man says “Miss Blank, may I call some evening when you and your mother are at home?” And sometimes the young woman says, “Mr. Brown, Mother and I will be at home Wednesday evening. Wouldn’t you like to stop in for a little while?”

So Maisie ought not to invite Nick in, not unless Mother Blank is sitting in the blazingly-lit parlor reading the Saturday Evening Post and scowling at the clock. And it is just as well that she is, because Mother knows where the Lux is, and how well it works on getting ice cream and hot fudge sauce out of fancy clothes. And she’s hidden the silverware and the old Jell-O cubes too, one hopes.

A Date With Ice Cream and Confusion

At the Table The Bad Date Eichler Pop Sci Apr 1923 He will probably breathe a sigh of relief when he leaves, and she will probably cry herself to sleep.*

Uh oh.

So you think you’ve had some bad dates. Well, sure. We all have. That is just one of life’s little inevitables, isn’t it? But did you know that most of your bad dates were probably caused by a lack of manners? Miss Lillian Eichler, 1920s etiquette guru, allows us to tag along on this excruciating evening when Nick and Mae go out on the town.

First, they go to dinner. And what’s on the menu? Embarassment with a side of humiliation, of course. He didn’t know whether to go in to the restaurant first or let Mae go on ahead. So Nick just blundered on ahead, then tried to be extra polite to make up for it. That was when the snarky waiter first started laughing behind his linen napkin.

Then they both got confused about which fork to use. Hint: you work from the outside of the place setting in. See, that wasn’t so hard! At last came dessert. A relief? Not so much. The caption for this picture (which didn’t crop very well, so I left it out) reads:

And now, at the table, both are embarrassed. Indeed, can there be any discomfort greater than that of not knowing what to do at the right time – of not being sure of one’s manners? It is so easy for people to misjudge us.

Which is all true enough. But they are just having ice cream! How can they not know what to do with a delicious dish of ice cream? Nick, Mae, listen: just pick up your dessert spoons. See them? They are over on the top of your place setting, I believe. But maybe they are worried about hot fudge sauce. I can see that. There’s a lot that could go wrong there. The waiter is trying not to burst out laughing again, you can tell. He can’t wait to tell the other waiters about the chuckleheads at Table 2.

But there is worse still to come. That moment – by the door, at the end of the evening. You know what I mean, and so do they: 

Say Goodnight Maisie The Bad Date Eichler Pop Sci Apr 1923Shall she invite him into the house? Shall she ask him to call again? Shall she thank him for a pleasant evening? In rapid confusion these questions fly through her mind. How humiliating not to know exactly what to do and say at all times!

Well, what should Mae say to Nick at the end of the date? “Come up and see me sometime” or, conversely, “I never want to see you or hot fudge sauce ever again”? At least Mae didn’t order chicken salad for dinner – as far as we know.

I’ll report back on Miss Eichler’s rules of dating etiquette later this week. The illustrations are from an ad in Popular Science, April 1923.

* From the ad text, which is suitably dramatic yet vague.

The Mysterious Wedding Blunder

Mysterious Wedding Blunder Eichler ad Pop Sci May 1921
Detail from ad, May 1921

More fun with 1920s etiquette – the mystery deepens here in this 1921 advertisement for Lillian Eichler’s Encyclopedia of Etiquette. We’ve been here before with ads for her mere Book of Etiquette – ads packed with strange anecdotes and illustrated with uneasy Jazz Age socialites. Well, today we’re going to Bob and Muriel’s wedding. We got there late, and we missed the wedding. But that’s not why Muriel is crying.

Muriel, darling, what’s wrong? This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, et cetera!

Well, says Muriel in the ad, she planned for this for two whole months. She arranged for the flowers, the music, the “shimmering” wedding dress. She sent cards. She did it all.
 
Oh, if only I could have known then the dark cloud that overshadowed my happiness!

Oh no! What is it? It’s Bob’s striped trousers, isn’t it? They are a little bit too short and tight. Or are you showing too much ankle? But you’re a modern gal, a flapper (I mean that in the most polite sort of way) – I don’t think anyone is going to mind that.

Then Muriel talks about the church – it looked swell! And the music was divine and maybe, oh maybe the whole scene “overwhelmed” her. Hey, I understand. Stress can make you do some pretty funny things. Did you stumble when you went down the aisle? Did you belch? Wait, maybe it’s because Bob is supposed to be waiting for you up at the altar. But – that’s not your fault. Someone should have told Bob! I just can’t figure out what Muriel’s blunder was.

OK, etiquette sleuths, we need your help! This is all that Muriel says:

...before I realized what I was doing, I had made an awful blunder. I had made a mistake right at the beginning of the wedding march, despite the weeks of preparation and the days of strict rehearsal!

Someone giggled. I noticed that the clergyman raised his brows ever so slightly….A hot blush of humiliation surged over me – and with crimson face and trembling lip I began the whole march over again.

You poor kid. How about that giggler, and the brow-lifting clergyman – speaking of rude. I mean, it’s not like you started doing the Charleston or the can-can down the aisle – right? Actually, that sounds like a lot of fun. Please tell us that you did the can-can all the way to the altar! I think we could even get Miss Eichler to co-sign that one. We’ll just give her a little extra champagne at the reception.

You can see the whole ad over here. It is delightful, especially the part where Muriel and Bob read the Encyclopedia of Etiquette after the wedding and discover all the blunders they’ve been making. Muriel still doesn’t tell us what she did to ruin the wedding, though. And Bob delivers my favorite line in this melodrama:

“Why, dear, I never knew how to dispose of my dancing partner and return to you without appearing rude!”*

A match made in etiquette heaven.

*It is polite to dispose of dance partners at the side of the ballroom, so no one will trip over them, Bob. Not in the middle of the dance floor. Now you know.

Hello, I Must Be Going

Goodbye! More Eichler Etiquette Pop Sci Jan 1924
More from Book of Etiquette ad (Popular Science, Jan 1924)

Maybe it would have been better to just keep walking, even if he was walking in totally the wrong way (between two ladies, ZOMG NO). Because oh dear the embarrassment. The horror. The confusion!

And he isn’t the only one who’s confused. I must go check what Lillian Eichler, the Emily Post of the Jazz Age (and author of the one and only Book of Etiquette) has to say about this appalling situation…

There are two issues here. One is Stopping For A Chat. The other is Raising the Hat. I think that’s it. That’s enough, probably.

Stopping For A Chat: Miss Eichler says that this is “entirely permissible, if certain rules of good conduct are observed.” She says that on a country road you can “call a jolly ‘Hello!’” from a distance, but not so much in the city. In the city, you need to put a lid on that kind of thing. But don’t whisper either. And don’t show off just because strangers are listening!

Raising the Hat: Basically, when you meet a lady you should lift your hat (don’t just touch it, that is rude) and then put it back on until you say goodbye. Then you lift it again. Don’t take your hat off and leave it off, though, unless it is warm out -  because that “is dangerous to the health.”

I still can’t see what terrible mistake this poor guy is making. Actually, it looks like those women are the ones being rude – they’re totally ignoring him. I read the whole chapter entitled On the Street and the only thing I can think of is that the ladies aren’t done talking and he is totally bored and trying to get away. Magical thinking: if I say bye bye and very politely lift my hat, maybe they will shut up. Miss Eichler doesn’t mention this scenario, though.

Dear readers, I said politely (neither shouting a jolly HELLO nor whispering) – can you solve this etiquette mystery?

Title from the etiquette solution given in song form by Groucho Marx (who really ought to have written an alternative etiquette book, don’t you think?) from the 1930 movie Animal Crackers:

Stuck In the Middle With You

What's Wrong More Eichler Etiquette Pop Sci Jan 1924
Detail from 1924 ad for Lillian Eichler’s Book of Etiquette

It is so easy to make embarrassing mistakes in public. There is, for instance, the very obvious mistake that is being made in this picture. Do you know what it is? Can you point it out? Perhaps there are more mistakes than one – what do YOU think?

Well, for one thing, I think that Lillian Eichler thinks we are all idiots. Mistakes are being made – obvious mistakes – but she assumes that we don’t have any idea what could be wrong. This is unacceptable!

I think that the man with the two ladies should be the one nearest the street so he can be the one to get splashed by taxis roaring by through the puddles. I’m also guessing that the lady in the background realizes this and is giving the Rude Middleman a filthy look (even filthier than those puddles). Oh, and I just noticed that the ladies are talking to each other and seem to be ignoring him. But I’m not sure.

Excuse me, please, while I go consult dear Miss Eichler’s Book of Etiquette

OK, got it. There’s a whole chapter called “On the Street.”* So let’s all learn about how to walk down the street:

First in importance to remember when walking in public is poise and balance of bearing. [Meaning: stand up straight and try not to stumble. Good advice.]

The gentleman always walks nearest the curb unless on a special occasion when the street is very crowded and he wishes to protect her from the jostling crowds. When walking with two ladies, a gentleman’s proper position is not between them; if it is in the evening, he offers his arm to the elder lady and the other friend walks by her side.** There seems to be a mistaken belief that a gentleman walking with two ladies must “sandwich” himself between them, but correct social usage teaches that this is entirely wrong.

Wrong or not, they’d better just keep walking – because when they stop and chat with some other people, the gentleman will be making even greater and more embarrassing mistakes. So stay tuned. And thank you, Miss Eichler, for the tip about poise and balance. I shall try and remember that next time I trip over the cat toys.

*The Eichler version of On the Road, I guess. Not that Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty cared who was walking nearest the curb or not.

**That sounds like a recipe for fun – arguing about who’s older, and then one lady trailing along like a third wheel while the other two chat. And also: what happens if it isn’t evening? Because it isn’t evening in the picture.

A Sinister Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad More Eichler Etiquette Pop Sci Jan 1924Here is another lesson in etiquette from 1920s social pundit Lillian Eichler. I love the way this sounds like an excerpt from a second rate novel about flappers and the psychological stresses of the Jazz Age. Which apparently include chicken salad:

She hears herself give the order as in a daze. She hears him repeat the order to the waiter, in a rather surprised tone. Why HAD she ordered that again? He would think she didn’t know how to order a dinner. Well, did she? No. She wasn’t sure of herself. She didn’t really KNOW.

[It is a little bit rude of the gentleman to sound surprised at this. Especially since she seems to be rather predictable at dinner. Look, there's nothing wrong with ordering chicken salad all the time, really. I mean, it is a little boring. But it is not impolite. She did say please, you know.]

Feeling detached – hearing herself give the same dreary order as if from a great distance high above Calamari’s (famous for seafood with tentacles, not so much the chicken, madam)…Oh, thinks Emerald Miller, the aging and no-longer-quite-so-famous soubrette, she must be such a bore to him. Now Rudolph will never pop the question. She isn’t sure of herself, that’s the problem. She can’t even order a dinner properly. How will she be able to manage Rudolph’s servants, if she ever becomes his wife?

But little does she know that Rudolph sounded surprised at her order because he is not only already married, but his estranged and deranged wife Gladys – who lives in the closed-off west wing of stately Picktooth Hall – has been ordering chicken salad for her dinner for the last ten years. And Emerald keeps ordering it too. He can stand it no longer. Must every woman in his life be obsessed with poultry? The fatal words “chicken salad” – said just once too often – will push him over the edge, tonight. Right now. But what next? And will Emerald, returning to her body, no longer in a daze, have the courage to tell Rudolph that she not only wants to change her order. And then demand the engagement ring that he has been promising her, with chicken-salad regularity, for the last year?

Chew on that social problem, Miss Eichler.