January 1, 2019

Some objects are so alluring that they take a collector off well worn collecting paths. Such is the story I must recount regarding a pair of new acquisitions that feature the infamous French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. In his lifetime he was known by many different names—the Corsican Fiend and the Tiddy Dollmaker – but none may be so fitting as poet Lord Byron’s designation of the French Emperor as the God of Clay. His ubiquity on ceramic wares at the time seemed unprecedented to many observers.

When I first found the flattering British depiction of the French Emperor in the form of a small English bust, it struck me as odd. Why would there be a complimentary portrait of that Nightmare of Europe given the widespread English dislike of the diminutive general? There was certainly a ready market across the Channel and perhaps these pieces were mostly exported. Or, it also could be that this bust was made during the 1802 peace treaty between England and France. That peace was short-lived, as Napoleon menacingly placed his naval fleet directly across the English Channel to threaten invasion at any time.

Shortly after acquiring my Napoleon figure, an antiques dealer brought to my attention a most startling ceramic crafted by a cunning British potter who used the same plaster mold to create a very different type of “Ceremonial” object. At the bottom of a rather large chamber pot there sits Napoleon, condemned now to “Pereat” or perish in loos across this nation. As a student of history, I must add that a cruel truth belies the humor of this vessel because the excessive war taxes needed to defend the nation against Napoleon’s threatened advance sadly caused heartbreaking economic hardship to many across Great Britain.

Other items in my collection celebrate English military victory. These two contrasting items both commemorate the English defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.

The first is the result of English potters working hastily to profit from the nation’s rapt attention to victories by honoring Admiral Horatio Nelson and Captain Edward Berry. Its rush job quietly undermines this honor, for the glazing is poorly applied and there is even a misspelled name, “Captarn Berry.” Decades later the glaze barely seems dry!

Josiah Wedgwood’s Egyptian teapot suggests a far more elegant fad for victory, with a sophisticated design, in this instance referencing the ill-gotten gains after the Battle of the Nile. With this victory came the seizure of extraordinary artifacts including the famed Rosetta Stone, the key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics and, in turn, opening up their ancient civilization. Regretfully, this teapot uses such histories to boast of military might.

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November 1, 2018

“New” additions to my Cabinet are often many hundreds of years old. Recently, however, I’ve acquired a truly state-of-the-art artifact: a lovely dark green N°5 Oliver Typewriter. Praised widely across America for its thoroughly modern design and innovative “batwing” style typebars, this handsome device now resides at my desk and will help me record my latest collections research at a far more rapid clip than ever before. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Oliver, a former Methodist minister from Iowa who—in his spare time and through his unexpected genius—designed a better typewriter. Reverend Oliver, now a full time man of business, was so enamored of the story of my collecting and my efforts to expand public understanding of the earliest ceramic history of this nation that he sent me this valuable machine as a gift. I could not imagine spending the nearly $100 such an item would cost! Needless to say, I am happily sending him a particular ceramic from my holdings, in gratitude. I am sure he will find a creative use for this eighteenth-century inkwell—perhaps a vase?—even if his invention may push the art of fine handwriting out of vogue and into the depths of history...

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July 11, 2018

Kate W., a Ho-Chunk woman, and now, a friend, visited with me over the berrying season last summer. She taught me how to play Kasu and we spent many hours together talking about our lives. She kindly sent along a game set for my own amusement as well as some baskets she no longer needed—but knew would bring me joy. These generous gifts are now displayed in my Cabinet, together with the letter that accompanied them.

January 20, 1898

Dear friend,

Received your kind and welcome letter. Thank you again for allowing my family and me to camp at your home during this past berry season. As a token of our appreciation I have included some of my older baskets as I have been given new ones. I hope that my egg basket and bread basket will be of use to you.

I also send a game set, Kasu, like the one we played during your last visit. This is the game we play with our women friends. I included a full set of 8 discs and some instructions. Along with the set I send this beautiful pouch made by an old friend. I have used it to hold game dice and carved animal pieces but please use it as you wish.

My husband and children will join me for the next berry picking and I look forward to staying with you again.

I send you well wishes and prosperity.

Kate W.

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February 26, 2018

Several months ago the celebrated band Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings played an intimate Salon in my Cabinet. They performed classic songs as "Pame Sti Honolulu," "Tiger Rag," and "Banjoreno," and kindly accepted my request to record the exceptional event. Their sweet sounds may now accompany me on my travels. As the Edison records recently arrived in Mexico, I have just now played them on a Victrola cone and wish to relay my impressions of wonder and delight.

"Pame Sti Honolulu," certainly lives up to its English name, "Let's go to Honolulu," reminding me of the sights and sounds that I enjoyed with my father while sailing around that exquisite area of the Pacific Ocean. The yodeling in this song is an unusual new addition, however.

Both "Tiger Rag" and "Banjoreno" were simply so entertaining that I could not help but smile when hearing the fast-paced melodies and inventive instruments. Aaron Jonah Lewis, Joy Patterson, Tim Findlen, Lindsay McCaw, and Matt Bell, are quite talented.

A scholar called Martin Fisher facilitated the recording. He explained the fascinating science behind the technology of these "wax" cylinders. May all of my future Salons leave such an unusual mark.

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December 30, 2017

With the delivery of a final project summary from her former assistants, Mrs. M. ————  is delighted to share with you thoughts on the their work in her cabinet last December:

Just last year this time, my seven eager young assistants were concluding research with materials from the collection. In my absence, I greatly enjoyed receiving correspondence regarding their findings – some of which I shared here in my log. At the end of their time studying in my cabinet, each scholar shared their rigorous research through unique displays for all visitors to see. Indeed, sharing the historical work that objects make possible is truly the culmination of all I have wanted for my cabinet. I am indebted to this group of creative minds. To hear them speak more in depth on their installations and discoveries, please enjoy this wonderful review!

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September 15, 2017

Regarding the recent salons in her cabinet, Mrs. M. ————  is delighted to share with you her impressions and thoughts:

Amidst my object studies and travels I have made a great many friends and acquaintances just as charmed and inspired by collecting as myself. In my absence, I’ve been quite delighted by their willingness to host salons surrounding the wonderful materials I have gathered. 

Last December, my dear friend and colleague Dr. Sarah Beetham convened a gathering in my cabinet where much was discussed about the ability of objects to transcend time—a facet of collecting I enjoy greatly. The discovery of the history of an object in my collection only makes it all the more relevant and interesting when considered here in our present. It is only from interacting with these objects that we begin to understand their layered histories today and possible futures in my cabinet and beyond!

Just last April again, another quite esteemed and knowledgeable friend of mine, Dr. Laura Johnson spoke in my cabinet on the language of gems and jewels. Not unlike the language of flowers I’ve used to critique a vexingly patriotic vase in my office, hidden messages abound in these items and it is only through careful study of their so-called language that we can begin to unravel their implied meanings.

Quite different from the first two delightful salons, just a few weeks ago now, I hosted a wonderful group of young musicians in my cabinet. History and new technologies combined as we listened to the sounds of Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings. From such classic ballads and tunes I’ve loved since I was a girl and songs I’d never encountered, to their fascinating recording equipment, it was a night not soon to be forgotten. I’ll scarcely enter my cabinet again without hearing the echoes of their jaunty voices, violin, banjo, and even dare I say, pig!


These salons have brought new life to the objects I collect and serve so well to illuminate the stories the material world may tell us. I look forward to playing hostess to more of my brilliant friends and colleagues as time goes on and I do hope visitors are as delighted as I am by their great success.

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June 3, 2017

Mrs. M. ————  invites you to read her latest journal entry concerning the new vitrine in the center of her cabinet and the objects displayed within:

My investigations of the puzzle jug have been quite successful. There is nothing quite like unraveling the secrets an object holds — and this jug certainly had quite a few! The more I held this object at first, the more mysterious it became. The lack of a bottom was only the beginning of course. Once I discovered the shape of the double wall though with my new measuring tools, I was able to piece together a pathway from a spout and handle and I believe I’ve finally figured it out.

I am certain that my dear Mr. Bingham will be quite chagrined when I send him my schematic of its inner workings. I’ve included along with it simply the note: “Eureka, indeed!” and I look forward to his response.

For now my investigation may be put to rest, so I’ve moved the puzzle jug to a vitrine in the center of my cabinet. This much closer view along with a copy of my schematic will allow my visitors to truly appreciate the puzzling nature of this lovely nineteenth-century revival piece!

I’ve also done a bit of rearranging in my collection regarding Mr. Bingham’s Tyg. I thought it quite fitting to display the forgery that first began our friendship alongside the object of our latest correspondence.

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April 13, 2017

Regarding the changes to the objects being investigated in her office, Mrs. M. ————  invites you to read her journal entry on the progress of her stove design and her next project:

I have finally finished my sketches for my new stove based on this lovely German stove tile! Upon sharing with her my ambitious endeavor to create my own design for a new stove, my Mother wrote to her friends, the Dwyer family in Detroit to request their help. They were intrigued by my inspiration, and in a letter back to me, they shared their enthusiasm to receive my plans! Now all that is left to do is to send them on to The Michigan Stove Company and see what can be done.

In the meantime, while the plans are still being set, I’ve moved the tile to the top of my desk. As it will be some time before my stove is completed, I’ve decided I will take this opportunity to investigate my dear Edward Bingham’s Puzzle Jug.

I’ve purchased some new measuring devices and I am quite ready to unravel the innards of this mysterious object. While I already have a few antique puzzle jugs in my cabinet, I am almost certain there will be some surprises with this new recreation considering the rather confident letter Edward sent along with its arrival.

I look forward to showing Edward I am still just as clever as the day I first noticed his forgery!

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