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Tag Archives: Illustration

Vintage Ad: Kellogg’s Pep

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Introduced in 1923, Kellogg’s Pep cereal was one of the first products to be infused with vitamin additives, beginning in the 1930’s.  It was a strong point of their advertising campaign, along with the “mildly laxative” effects, and the product was a sponsor of the long-running radio serial “the Adventures of Superman” (1940-1951). Despite its purported health advantages, public tastes changed, and by the late 1970’s the product was discontinued.


A Sailor of King George

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Captain Frederick Hoffman, HMS Apelles - 1808

As part of the research I’m conducting for a novel I’m working on, I’ve just finished reading a rip-roaring tale of high adventure – and it’s all true!  Straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, from an officer and gentleman who saw and survived 45 years in His Majesty’s navy (according to his own reckoning at the end of the tale).  Captain Hoffman, who began as a lowly mid (midshipman), survived yellow fever twice, was a prisoner of war twice, lost the hearing in one ear (and part of the ear), survived countless battles (including Trafalgar), and spent years at a time separated from his family, yet all with a keen eye for detail, and a sailor’s knack for conveying what he saw with humour and a vivid imagination.  He had a tongue-in-cheek writing style, and I found myself laughing many a time at his gentlemanly wording of euphemisms, such as when they attacked an enemy vessel and boarded her: “She (the ship) received us as warmly as if she had known us for years. I took the liberty of shooting a man in her main rigging who was inclined to do me the same kind office, had I not saved him the trouble.”

He also had an amazing repertoire of similes, and here are just a few:

  • “don’t be after splicing yourself (getting married) until you have a commission, and if you do then, you will have as much business with a wife as a cow has with a side pocket…”
  • “I walked the deck as surly as a bear with the Caledonian rash.”
  • “…(sitting) on the back of an animal as obstinate as a boat’s crew…”
  • …”we were as helpless as a cow in a jolly-boat…” (due to being short-handed)
  • “We were drifting like a pig upon a grating, and as helpless as a sucking shrimp…”
  • “My mind was like a coal-barge in a waterspout when I heard…”
  • “…his eyes glistening like a Cornish diamond…”
  • “Our prizes (ships captured, to be sold for prize money) made their eyes shine like a dollar in a bucket of water, and their mouths water like a sick monkey’s eyes with a violent influenza.”
  • “…we daylighted the anchor, mastheaded the sails, crested the briny wave like a Yankee sea-serpent…”
HMS Apelles

HMS Apelles; Illustration from the book.

Captain Hoffman was commander of several vessels, including the HMS Apelles; Wikipedia has an interesting article regarding the fate of that particular ship; Hoffman was taken prisoner as a consequence of his gallant actions, and spent over two years as a POW in France; Bonaparte refused the usual gentleman’s agreement of prisoner exchange, leaving men to languish in prisons until he was defeated and deposed (for the first time, in April 1814).

This gem of a book can be found free of charge at, and I would highly recommend reading it if you have any interest in military history, natural history, or social history, or just love a good tale – Hoffman covers it all!


Pietre Dure: Eternal Paintings

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I recently came across an interesting bit of information on past centuries’ continental tourists:  Searching for a way to display stones collected among Italy’s ruins and landscapes, these tourists discovered that they could have their stone specimens transformed into pieces of furniture or pottery, such as tabletops or bowls, in the ancient art of pietre dure (particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries).  Often floral or geometric designs, the tourist would collect semi-precious stones such as agate, jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, marble, onyx, topaz and many others, and have them worked into a treasured souvenir to bring home.  Click on the image below to read an article from the Select Italy Travel blog for an interesting piece on the topic.

Poccetti - Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

Poccetti – Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

A Brief History of the MP3 Player

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World's First MP3 Player (1998) - MPMan 32MBWe tend to think of historical gadgets as something invented before our lifetime; but in the world we live in today, things invented in the 80’s and 90’s are already considered historical – antique, something quaint but completely irrelevant and surpassed by today’s technology (which is next year’s quaint but completely irrelevant object).  A case in point is the MP3 player:

First invented by in 1998 (yes, less than 20 years ago), it sold from January of that year for USD $200, had a capacity of 4 MB internal flash memory, which came out to about 2 hours of play, and had a custom rechargeable battery pack (which meant that the expensive bit was dependent on that specialized battery recharging – I doubt they were replaceable).  It had basic controls and no display.

Does anyone know what MP3 stands for?  It’s not a straight-forward term such as CD (“Compact Disk”):  MP is an abbreviation of an abbreviation, MPEG meaning “Motion Picture Experts Group”, who set standards for encoding moving pictures (and sound) in digital form. Which means that technically the thing we think of as playing music stands for “motion picture”.  The 3 refers to “audio layer 3”, one of the sections of the standard for encoding sound only; omitting the video layer left a convenient format for music.

So the next time you log into Spotify through your Sonos system or your cell phone, just think of all the decades of high-priced technology you’re bypassing; and feel free to tip your hat to those intrepid inventors as you laugh, put in your ear buds, and listen to music on your music library/agenda/game/apps/life’s-eggs-in-one-basket cell phone…

The Lions of MGM

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or getting your popcorn and drinks during the opening moments of every film you’ve ever seen, chances are you’ve seen the famous MGM lion roaring his way into your movie experience.  But I bet you didn’t know they’ve used several lions over the years, and that they each had a name; the one most of us know is Leo, who’s been used on most films since 1957.  Click on the photo below to see the whole article at Wikipedia!

Cameramen recording the lion roar for the MGM logo

The Lambton Worm

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Myths and legends are often based in some distant, past reality; sometimes they are blown out proportion by the telling over time; what started out as a guppy eventually becomes a whale.  In the case of the Lambton Worm legend however, the dragon became a worm:  “Worm” to our modern minds doesn’t sound threatening at all; but the Old English wurm, a variant of wyrm, actually meant “serpent, snake, dragon, or reptile“.  I find it fascinating to read between the lines of such a story, to recognize the actual historical elements buried over time within the fantastical renditions; there may be elements of local geography, superstitions, explanations that arise over time, moral lessons to train children in a particular behaviour, and many other tidbits of history along the dusty road to modern versions of ancient tales.  To read more about this interesting legend, click on the image below.

Illustration from the Book, ‘The Curse of the Lambton Worm’

Illustration from the Book, ‘The Curse of the Lambton Worm’

Top 10 Inventors

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Here’s a short, fun video about 10 top inventors; some may be arguable, and I’m sure we could come up with several that should have made it onto the list.  It’s still incredible to think back and see the “Eureka” moments these gentlemen had; and to wonder what they would have thought of some of the modern versions  of their initial devices.  What would Bell think of the cell phone that’s rarely used as a phone (rather as an SMS device, or app- or camera device)?  What would the Wright Brothers think of the Concord, or the ISS?  Click on the photo below to see the video.


Pseudo-Retro Vintage Ads

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I wonder what people will believe in a few hundred years?  It’s unwise to believe everything you see and hear on the web, and even “reputed” sources such as newspapers have been duped more times than they’ll ever admit.  With Photoshop and similar programs at the fingertips of every bored teenager and adult in the western world, we have to take what we see and hear with a healthy pinch of salt and a huge dose of discernment.  Having said that, here are a few fun pseudo-retro ads … they remind me a bit of the old cartoon, “The Jetsons”.

Vintage Facebook Ad Vintage Skype Ad Vintage YouTube Ad



The Diva Mummy of China

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When we think of well-preserved mummies we tend to think of Egypt; but in fact, the best preserved mummy of all time comes from China.  Known as the “Diva Mummy”, the Lady of Dai died sometime between 178 and 145 BC; when she was found in the 1970s her skin was still elastic, and she was still intact, down to the nose hairs.  For the full story, click on the photo below.


Snapshot in History: A Lethal… Photo

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Colt 38  Camera

New York, 1938 – The image is of a Colt 38, adapted to carry a small camera that automatically takes a picture when you pull the trigger.   To the left of the gun is a strip of 6 photos taken by the camera.

I assume that using such a camera was a good way to get yourself in the headlines – as a statistic.  Either the police or the mob would have had trigger-fingers back in the 30’s in New York, Chicago, or any other big city with mob or gang territorial issues…  but to each his own camera brand I guess!


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