by Larry Roberts
I begin, I would like to thank Joan Bryant, publisher of Antiques
and Art Around Florida, for giving a voice to collectors of Florida
related antiques and art. By providing authors, such as myself,
a forum to discuss our work, she has single handed advanced the
interest and appreciation of Floridiana at every level.
Florida has long been associated with
cheap and tacky souvenirs. The post WWII tourist boom of the
1950s drew millions of festive travelers to Florida where the
rights of passage were an avant garish keepsake and a sunburn.
Today, baby boomers who remember their childhood trips to Florida
collect these truly tacky treasures, popularly referred to as
kitsch", shabby chic or gaudy gone
good. Most were produced by the Japanese, some say as revenge
for losing the war.
Left to right: carved ivory alligator perfume,
Greenleaf & Crosby walking stick, orangewood penholder.
Bottom left: Mauchlineware box, Ponce de Leon Hotel.
The pop-revival of these counterculture,
mid-century miscreants and their Florida trademark status has,
until recently, overshadowed earlier Florida souvenirs. But this
is beginning to change. It appears Floridas rampant commercialism
has finally offended enough citizens to create a beneficial backlash,
both historically and environmentally.
At the historical level we
see growing public concern among Florida's historical societies,
museums and related organizations in saving landmark structures
and local artifacts. They help develop and maintain our heritage
and the identity of our communities. This in turn stimulates
public interest in local history and, in some cases, the collecting
of local memorabilia, especially postcards. Though postcards
are a wonderful source of information, there are other interpretive
souvenirs we can turn to.
Around the turn of the century,
Florida would witness its first definable tourist boom and souvenir
renaissance, called the "Golden Age," c.1890-1930.
Like postcards, many of the mementos were illustrated with Florida
scenes. Fine European china, spoons and lovely hand colored prints
offered the wealthy Northern tourists an array of elegant souvenirs.
Prior to the 1890s, tourists
bought bio-curios like alligator teeth, sea shells, turtle shells
and even Spanish moss. Around 1880, carved alligator walking
sticks made from local orangewood came into fashion. Carved handles
of ivory, bone, and buck horn adomed with passive gators graced
the tops of the more costly canes.
These canes, and other carved
alligator souvenirs like pipes, corkscrews, inkwells, etc., were
manufactured in Jacksonville, Florida. City directories indicate
at least eight commercial cane makers operating in Jacksonville
from 1877 until World War I. They also carved an array of utilitarian
alligator souvenirs including ink pens, napkin rings, letter
openers and page flips. Orangewood remained the favorite wood
among carvers and was used in manufacturing painted orange and
orange blossom decorated souvenirs. An Oskys catalogue,
1910-15, advertised painted orangewood boxes, frames, tie racks
and letter holders.
Mauchlinware was another type
of wooden souvenir found in Florida tourist shops, named for
the small Scottish community of Mauchlin, where they were manufactured.
Made of sycamore wood, they were decorated with varnished photographic
transfers. Most scenes depicted buildings in Jacksonville, historical
sites in St. Augustine and vistas along the St. Johns River.
Spoon - Enamel bowl, Royal Poinciana
The 1880s marked a dramatic change in
the souvenir trade. Henry Flagler, oozing money from his ventures
in Standard Oil, saw the enormous potential in Florida tourism.
Well connected, he began building grand hotels for his rich and
famous friends whose taste for elegance changed the souvenir
trade and marked the beginning of the "Golden Age,"
c.1890-1930. Bio-curios were becoming passe' and souvenir shops
now turned to sterling, fine china and other objet dart.
Probably the most sought after
memento among the monied was the souvenir spoon. Compact and
beautiful, they were easy to carry and tasteful. They came in
many styles and were decorated with a wide variety of Florida
motifs. Most were made by die stamping, the process used in minting
coins. The most expensive spoons had enamel bowls and or handles.
Die stamping was also adapted
to the manufacture of Florida jewelry, often using a relief decorating
process called charnpleve'. Sterling pins and brooches using
this technique often picture oranges and orange blossoms and
were sold by more exclusive shops like Greenleaf and Crosby and
El Unico. Oskys dominated the market of fine alligator
goods, including the well received, carved alligator tooth jewelry.
Around 1908, Olive Commons
developed her own personal line of hand painted porcelain jewelry
called "cameonas". In delicate detail she captured
the wild wondering heart of the St. Johns River, each piece a
personal reflection of the artist's love for Florida. In the
1920s, she moved from her home in central Florida to Miami. Here
she introduced her "platinum palm ware" line including
jewelry and china. This style contrasted her hand painted platinum
landscapes against a white china background, creating appealing
designs irresistible to Florida tourists.
One of the most well received
mementos of the "Golden Age" was souvenir china, and
few souvenirs represented Victorian Florida better. Sometimes
called scenic or picture china, these utilitarian forms captured
in vivid detail every aspect of Florida life. From resort hotels
to riverscapes, they provide a graphic record of Florida history.
They were often marked on the base identifying the shop that
sold them, adding more insight to their historical narrative.
Sterling enameled pins with Florida motifs
Figural china was sold as well, though
was not as popular. These were generally of two varieties. First,
there was ceramic orangeware types named for their consistent
orange color. These included marine life forms shaped like fish,
lobsters and even stingrays. Orangeware also consisted of miniature
orange shaped souvenirs like creamers, tea sets and trays. The
second figural type was the bathing beauties, generally dating
from the 1920s. They were typically dressed in flapper period
bathing suits and participating in some type of seaside fun.
Though glassware sold as well as china during the "Golden
Age," glass souvenirs are comparatively rare. Ruby flash
and other colored glass mementos were sold with the town name
engraved through the ruby color or as enamel transfers on the
colored glass. Sometimes cut glass and even enamel transfer scenes
can be found, but these are scarce.
Metal souvenirs were offered
as early as c.1890 and remained a mainstay of the trade until
the 1950s. Early souvenirs came in a variety of metal from silver
matchsafes to oxidized nickel inkwells, from brass figurines
to die stamped pot metal. Prior to WWI, most metal keepsakes
were made in Germany and of high grade metal. After the war the
manufacture gradually shifted to Japan, where pot metal was used.
Two methods were employed in making metal souvenirs; die stamping
as previously described and mold made. Die stamping was used
in making items like plates, ash trays and tumblers while the
mold made were usually the heavier figural pieces such as alligators,
dogs and pelicans.
Souvenir china - Lakeland, Sanford House,
Bok Tower, St. Augustine, Palatka
Around the turn of the century, Wallace
Nutting was making a name for himself with his hand-colored landscape
photographs. Though few of Nutting's Florida examples are known,
we did have two outstanding photo colorists who produced a substantial
body of work. William J. Harris and Esmond G. Barnhill shared
a passion for photography that placed them on very similar courses.
Harris first showed up in
St. Augustine in 1898 and Barnhill in St. Petersburg around 1914.
Both began working as colorists, c.1910-1915, and both used watercolors
to tint their photos and prints. They lead ambulatory lives;
Harris wintering in Florida and summering in New Jersey and Barnhill
exploring coastal Florida and the Caribbean Islands for treasure
while periodically opening Indian Trading posts from Colorado
to Wisconsin to Maine. Their inviting views tamed the wilderness
landscape and portrayed Florida as a tourist friendly wonderland.
|Hand colored prints
Bottom left: Wilcox
Bottom right: W.J. Harris.
All photos from the author's collection
Probably the most familiar Florida souvenir
is the Seminole Indian doll. They came relatively late in the
"Golden Age", c.1918, and many have survived. They
were made with palmetto fiber bodies and dressed in clothes consisting
of colorful linear bands with alternating rows of patchwork.
The Seminole doll makers dressed their dolls in clothes closely
resembling their own. As dress and hair styles changed among
the Seminoles, so did the dolls. The revival of tourism in the
1950s created such a demand that short cuts were taken in making
the dolls clothes. The banding became broader with multiple
rows of rickrack replacing patchwork. This style has prevailed
and is currently being used on contemporary dolls.
Souvenirs from the "Golden
Age" were many and varied. Their images provide new avenues
for exploring Floridas historical record and reflect, in
part, the material culture of tourism. The idealized nature of
scenic china, prints and other pictorial souvenirs promoted Florida
as paradise found. Their variety and quality matched the demand
of the nouveau riche who defined and validated their travels
with these small artistic acquisitions.
Now, with a growing interest
in local and state history, souvenirs are being recognized as
a valued source of information manifested in a wonderful legacy
of Florida mementos.
... A NEW BOOK
FLORIDA'S GOLDEN AGE OF SOUVENIRS:
1890 TO 1930 by LARRY ROBERTS
Featuring an incredible array
of mementoes from Florida's past. Published by The University
Press of Florida
& Art Around Florida
About the author:
Larry Roberts, along with his wife, Jeannie, owns
Roberts Antiques in Micanopy, Florida. As a native Floridian,
he has collected and researched Florida memorabilia for most
of his life. His new book, Florida's Golden Age of Souvenirs:
1890 to 1930 will be available this fall.
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in the U.S.!
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