Florida souvenirs
Memorabilia from the "Golden Age." Top left: Stein, "Florida State College, Tallahassee." Center: Large framed "cameona" by Olive Commons. Right: Mary Gregory glass, "St. Augustine." Bottom left: Carved bone alligator salt shaker. Center: Enameled tray, "St. Augustine." right: Bathing Beauty, "Tampa."

by Larry Roberts
Before 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.

Left to right: carved ivory alligator perfume, Greenleaf & Crosby walking stick, orangewood penholder.
Bottom left: Mauchlineware box, Ponce de Leon Hotel.
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.
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 Florida’s 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 Osky’s 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. John’s River.

Spoon - Enamel bowl, Royal Poinciana Hotel

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 d’art.
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. Osky’s 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.

Florida souvenirs
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
E.G. Barnhill
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 doll’s 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 Florida’s 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.


1890 TO 1930 by LARRY ROBERTS

Featuring an incredible array of mementoes from Florida's past. Published by The University Press of 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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