Friday, 24 September 2010

Oscar Wilde letters are sold at auction

Oscar Wilde letters are sold at auction

A fantastic insight into the private life of Oscar Wilde here, with the sale of some of his letters to a publisher friend.

Looking back at some of the content from our modern perspective it is interesting and yet somehow poignant to read Wilde's plaintive requests to arrange meetings with his colleague. Of course on the other hand, knowing what we do now about Wilde's private life, it is just possible that too much is being read into the correspondence. It may well be that he simply wished to discuss some business matter pertaining to the Society Magazine. It is difficult to judge from just the excerpts in the article and it would seem that little is known about the extent of the relationship between the two men.

Either way the letters remain as an interesting snap-shot of a period of Oscar Wilde's life and his social circle in 19th Century London and they now no doubt form part of a valued collection for a particular Oscar Wilde aficionado, which can only be a good thing.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Close-up look at London's 19th century electric cabs



We often think of the electric car as a very modern development, only now coming to prominence as a serious alternative to petrol and diesel cars, but in actuality over a century ago electricity vied with internal combustion and steam power to be the predominant motive power of the automobile. Of course 100 years ago electric technology was not quite as advanced as it is now and shortcomings such as slower speeds and shorter ranges probably went some way to giving the lead to petrol but for a time there were a surprising number of electrically-powered vehicles available at the beginning of the 20th Century, as this clip from the B.B.C. shows. Several companies, both in Europe and America (such as Rauch & Lang, below), manufactured electric cars right up until the late 1920s.

It just goes to prove the old adage "nothing new under the sun" and it is fascinating to see that the same concerns and options existed so long ago and that, as the presenter says, we have come full circle and are once again looking at electric cars as the future of motoring.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Rare 1897 Chinese stamp sells for £300,000

Rare 1897 Chinese stamp sells for £300,000

Further proof here of the increasing "commercial collecting" of stamps and the sudden explosion of serious prices being paid in emerging markets such as China.

One can understand such a high price being paid for a very rare, 113-year-old stamp but it is strange to see such large amounts of money changing hands for more recent issues. I suppose "speculate to accumulate" about sums it up; today's stamps will be tomorrow's valuable collectibles, I imagine.

The 1897 stamp is a nice-looking piece, however, and once again we see that a printing error and the subsequent rarity value attached to a production run of just 32 commands a high price. I'd love to have it in my collection but again, I can't afford £300k! It will most likely have sold to a wealthy Chinese collector, who I am sure will appreciate it and continue to patronize the growing Chinese philatelic market, which in the wider stamp-collecting world is a welcome addition to the top-end collecting boom.

Building a bomber plane in just a day

Building a bomber plane in just a day

As part of the commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz there have been many events and programmes in memory of "The Few", the fighter pilots of the RAF who bravely and heroically repulsed the Luftwaffe attacks in 1940.

However there are also articles and programmes such as this one from the B.B.C., which tell the story of the workers in the factories and their ongoing job of building aeroplanes and war material for the Allied forces. In particular it focuses on one amazing example of people pulling together for the greater good and performing a Herculean task in order to prove that they were the best in the world and that they wouldn't give up even in the face of constant adversity.

To build an aeroplane the size of a Vickers Wellington in 24 hours sounds an almost impossible target even today, so for the workers of the Welsh Vickers factory to have done it 70 years ago is beyond admirable.

This is yet another story well-deserving of being told, to remember the thousands of men and women who worked in factories up and down the country to provide the necessary machines and equipment to ultimately win the war.

*For British viewers, Wellington Bomber airs on Tuesday 14th September at 8p.m. BST on B.B.C. Four and will of course be on iPlayer for a week thereafter.*

Friday, 10 September 2010

Steampunk chip takes the heat

Steampunk chip takes the heat

From the New Scientist magazine comes news which proves that the old ways are sometimes still the best. Who would have thought that 150-year-old technology, which has formed the basis for a whole modern (albeit now mainly aesthetic) movement, should end up having a practical use in something as high-end as US Defence projects?

It just goes to show that sometimes modern electronics have their limits and it falls to good old-fashioned mechanical constructions to take the strains which leave more highly-advanced but often fragile devices broken and burnt out. So to sum up: modern technology (above) = rubbish; Victorian technology (below) = the future! Huzzah!

Seriously though, it's heartening to see today's scientists still looking to the technologies of the past and adapting them for use in the present, rather than simply disregarding them. Progress is sometimes not just about inventing the next new thing but also looking to previous designs and breakthroughs to see if they can be adapted or reused to help further existing advancements. The use of such tried and tested designs in these new developments also allows us to follow a timeline of modern technology, from Charles Babbage's original Difference Engine to today's computer chips, and so appreciate the progress that has been made over the last century-and-a-half while still noting the inherent basic similarities between these old and new mechanisms.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Rare photographs of comedian Stan Laurel are auctioned

Rare photographs of comedian Stan Laurel are auctioned

I make no secret of my love for the films of Laurel & Hardy, so it was with great interest that I read about this discovery of some very early photographs of Stan Laurel (some of which can be seen here).

A few are very much in the vein of private family photographs, with some even showing him as a young boy playing and acting with his siblings, when he was still just little Arthur Stanley Jefferson. (He would later go on to be billed as "Stan Jefferson" when touring with Fred Karno's outfit in 1910s America but, a very superstitious man, he disliked the fact that it was 13 letters in length. It was his first wife, Mae Dahlberg, who suggested the name "Laurel", having seen a picture of Caesar wearing a laurel wreath).

Stan's parents were well known in local showbiz circles, with his father running a number of theatres and his mother performing in variety acts, so it should come as no surprise to see him catch the acting bug so early. And generations of comedy fans worldwide are glad he did!

Other photos in this collection include impromptu photos of Stan and Oliver Hardy clowning about on set and in publicity shots, many of which have never been seen before. This fact and the continued appreciation of their work by people the world over should ensure that these photographs fetch a tidy sum and end up in the hands of an appreciative collector who will preserve them for years to come.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Penny farthing race takes place in Knutsford

Penny farthing race takes place in Knutsford

A charming bit of British eccentricity now, featuring perhaps the most recognisable bicycle design of the last 140 years - the Penny-farthing.

This particular event is all the more gladdening for the fact that it is in aid of a good cause and also that it brings Penny-farthing riders from around the world together to share their common interest. It must be quite an interesting and remarkable sight for the locals as well!

Although the skills needed to ride a bike such as the Penny-farthing may seem alien to those of us more used to conventionally-designed machines, by all accounts the actual riding is quite straightforward and it is more the mounting/alighting and the consequences of falling off that are the greater hazards to overcome. I don't think I shall be trying my luck with a full-size Penny-farthing any time soon, although I'm pleased to see that there is a 21st Century version currently available!

Friday, 3 September 2010

WWII German bomber to be recovered from Goodwin Sands

WWII German bomber to be recovered from Goodwin Sands

An amazing find here, of the kind that is worthy of preservation. We hear a lot, particularly in this Battle of Britain/Blitz 70th Anniversary year, about the 'planes of the RAF and the gallant men who flew them and quite rightly so. What we don't see so much of are examples of the opposite number's equipment and the insight and understanding it can provide into the wider scale of the air war.

So the discovery of this Dornier Do17 bomber (nicknamed "The Flying Pencil" because of its slender fuselage) under the sands off the south coast of England is a welcome one, all the more so because it appears to be in such remarkably good condition all told (with air still in the tyres, no less!) and is able to be raised and restored without too much difficulty. From there it will soon be on display at the RAF Museum in Hendon, where it should serve as a rare example of the type of aircraft British pilots were fighting on a daily basis in the skies of 1940 Britain.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Prince Charles: wear 'vintage'

Prince Charles: wear 'vintage'

I always find time for His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, particularly when he gives such sage advice as this.

Who better an advocate of elegant and stylish dress - clothing from the past to boot - than the future King? Much of what he says in this article (an abridged version of which can be found here) and elsewhere on the subject makes excellent sense and His Highness is to be applauded for championing such a worthwhile cause. I find myself agreeing with everything he says.

I love trawling second hand shops (or "thrift stores" as I believe our American cousins charmingly describe them) on the lookout for vintage clothing because not only do I prefer the fashions of an earlier period but I appreciate the craftsmanship and, as the Prince of Wales hints at, the enjoyment of giving new life to an old garment and the satisfaction of knowing it is saved for another generation. When I have to buy new clothes I always check the label to see what material(s) go to make up the fabric and wherever possible I eschew man-made fibres such as polyester (shudder). Some people seem to think this is a kind of sartorial snobbery but not only is there an environmental angle to choosing natural over synthetic, but by and large the former just looks better. I baulk at the idea of going out in shiny, plasticky, cheaply-made poor quality clothes that disintegrate after a couple of years when there is a wealth of second-hand items of vastly superior style and manufacture just waiting to be snapped up if one knows where to look.

If more people thought like this we might even see an improvement in the current standard of dress with, as the article mentions, modern designers already seizing on the growing passion for vintage style and creating new twists on classic designs. We could be on the verge of seeing a better-dressed, more environmentally- and sartorially aware society (oh, how I wish!).

So at the risk of preaching to the converted, if I read my audience right, go forth to your local second-hand emporium dear readers and scour the clothing racks - you never know what you might come across! Gentleman, I direct your attention to the likes of Savvy Row and Vintage Whistles; ladies, umm... womenswear is not really my area of expertise(!). A quick perusal of my blogroll should lead you to a few vintage-inclined ladies whose posts cover this sort of thing much more thoroughly and expertly than I could ever hope to.

Happy hunting, and here's to a well-dressed future with Prince Charles at its head!

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