Monday, December 11, 2017

The Best of the Best of Janesville

A recent trip to Janesville, Wisconsin, took me to Best of Janesville, an antiques and collectibles shop on the edge of town. I saw some cool stuff!

First, there was this colorful... something...

Each satin piece (ribbon?) is machine embroidered with the name of a country, or college...

... or whatever (the Knights Templar? the Masons?)...

It was pretty mysterious. The green background fabric is rough and ragged; the stitches that attach the pieces are clearly hand-done. But the ribbons themselves are just as clearly not handmade.

Well, it turns out there is some small lettering along the bottom of the ribbons, visible only along the bottom row (since all of the other rows overlap and cover it up). Most of them say "Egyptienne Luxury," while one says "Turkey Red." The interweb quickly told me these were tobacco brands, and the ribbons were "premiums" that were included free in cigarette boxes in the early 20th century.

The collegiate series ran for about four years around 1910. I'm not finding much information on the countries or other oddities. The Turkey Red silk in the bottom row shows the city of Rochester's seal... so they must have done a cities series around the same time.

Altogether, there are 96 silks on this piece. Google tells me they sell (in theory) for $5 to $15 apiece. The agglomeration was priced around $50.00. I have no idea if their value would be decreased by the way they have been sewn onto the backing.

As always, there was some cool packaging for funky products and nice lettering:

"For effective treatment of 'ICK'"... ! (It's important to realize this is a product for aquariums.)

But I love the pattern and the use of red, black, and white.

These beautiful letters were on the door of an old wood-burning stove.

There was also some not-so-cool packaging:

As I've written before, Stephen Foster is problematic, shall we say. This album artwork shows the reason why. These "Plantation Melodies" were played by "the Plantation Symphonette."

Here's a close-up of the artwork:

Romanticization of enslavement much?

[palate cleanser]

On the wall above the checkout, there's an illustrated map of Janesville:

It was done in 1967, and the artwork is by Kathleen Jelinek. There are lots of neat close-ups, but I wanted to share just three:

It's interesting that all three are the homes of notable women. But it's funny to me that of the "famous" occupants, two are listed with just their names, while the third says her name plus what she's famous for.

Today, I'd be willing to bet the average person is more likely to know The Little Engine that Could than they are to know why the mapmakers thought Frances Willard or Carrie Jacobs-Bond were notable. Willard was a late-19th-century educator, temperance reformer, and women's suffragist. She lived in Janesville from age 7 to 19. (By coincidence, I've also seen her later house, down in Evanston, Illinois, near the Northwestern University campus.) Jacobs-Bond was a singer, pianist, and songwriter, working from about 1890 to 1940. I've never heard of her. Her best-known song appears to be "I Love You Truly," which I only know because it's used in the honeymoon scene of It's a Wonderful Life.

Frances Wiggins Ford lived in Janesville from the age of 6 months, after arriving in a covered wagon in 1854. It's unclear when she moved away (though it was after she had married and her husband became ill). The Little Engine that Could story was written in 1912, after she had moved to Nebraska and then Chicago to work as a journalist.

Unlike Willard and Jacobs-Bond, Wiggins Ford does not have a Wikipedia page. And it looks as though Janesville's claim that she wrote The Little Engine is not generally accepted: The book's cover credits Watty Piper, pen name of publisher Arnold Munk. But (as the book's Wikipedia page shows), his version was preceded by several others. The phrase "I think I can" dates to a 1902 Swedish journal; the basic story of the "engine that thought it could" is in a 1906 sermon published in the New York Tribune. Printed versions for children started in the 1920s; Munk's book is from 1930, though the 1954 version (and illustrations) is the one we all know.

The Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries says Wiggins Ford's authorship "was finally recognized in 1953 by Grosset & Dunlap publishers," but it gives not details on that. The Nebraska State Historical Society holds a collection of letters from the 1950s in which Wiggins Ford's cousin tried to confirm her authorship of the story. But I guess we have to go to Lincoln to check out those letters to be sure, because the interweb contains no proof that she had anything to do with the story, except what Janesville has to say about it.

Wiggins Ford lived to be 102 years old, by the way.

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