Christmas Tree Decorations & Seasonal Family Traditions

How old is your earliest Christmas tree decoration? What can you share about it? How many of your decorations are home-made, and by who?

It is an annual event that many of us enjoy – hauling out the Christmas decorations, lights and more.  Do you rediscover a treasure trove of cute memories in your boxes?  I know that I do!

Christmas Tree Ornaments

This glass and wire hanging fir comb (pine cone) is a sole-survivor from our family home at 54 Portobello Grove, in Portchester, Hampshire, England. It dates to around the 1950s. I was particularly fond of it, because it was blue (an unusual colour for Christmas at the time), and it is also snow-covered, hence it landed in my personal collection. We saw some snow when in my younger years in Southern England, but not nearly as much as we enjoy here in Ontario, Canada.  This item, was the only early glass ornament to survive when in 1997, our tree fell onto our ceramic floor.

How many decorations on your tree have been made by your children/grandchildren?  Isn’t it lovely to revisit the memories – helping children create them, assisting with school class projects and more?

The Pickle

Does your Christmas tree have a pickle ornament? Over the last few years, I have seen several versions for sale in the stores. It has become a new tradition for some of our family households. The story goes….. the pickle is hidden among the tree decorations late on Christmas eve…. when the children visit the tree on Christmas morning, their first task is to find the pickle. This aim is to encourage them to really look at the various tree ornaments…. appreciate their origins, the history and traditions, before diving into gifts and presents.  A lovely sentiment, the Internet tells me the tradition originated in Germany, and the glass ornaments were originally imported from Germany by F W Woolworth in the 1880s.

Glitter on Christmas Cards

Many cards sparkle with glitter –  but I didn’t understand the true significance of this until moving to Canada, when, on a crisp cold winter’s day, I saw the snow outside glistening  in the sunlight.  New to me too were sun-dogs (or sun halos), and the hoar frost – who knew?

Cake Decorations

Christmas cake, with snow-effect royal icing and a layer of marzipan beneath – is a strong tradition in my family. Maybe it’s a British thing?  As I grew up, it was a ‘whole family affair’ to prepare, bake and decorate the cake. Just a handful of my family’s original decorations have survived from various eras….. they are easily broken and damaged when stuck in the ‘snow’ or washed clean! The wood and wire fir tree has seen better days, and no longer healthy to use!

Others which didn’t survive, were the red and gold paper frills, to go around the cake, wooden Santa, a swinging public house sign staying “Brickwoods”, an earlier set of reindeer and Santa’s sleigh.

The newest addition to this group is the skier, which came from a birthday cake brought from England, by friends, on a 1985 ski trip to Yugoslavia.

What traditions and items in your home that prompt fond memories at this time of year?

 

 

Ordinary People – Leading the Way!

First Class Shipwright B H Symes, Diver, Seated on Left.

Among some recent military projects, I have seen three examples outstanding bravery and pioneering spirit…. ordinary people – leading the way!

Bertram Henry Symes (1876-1914) joined the British Royal Navy in January 1899. He trained as a shipwright, eventually becoming Chief Shipwright in 1918. What is most remarkable about his career, however, is the fact that he became a Ships Artificer Diver in March 1906. He continued to dive until May 1915, when he was noted as medically unfit to dive, after he got the bends.  Shipwright First Class Symes, was adventurous, although he was not the first to become a ship’s diver, this was certainly early days of deep sea diving, with many unknown factors, and basic equipment.

H.M.S. Ocean leaving Glasgow, 1948.

H.M.S. Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier was 630 feet long and had a crew of 1,050 sailors and could carry 52 aircraft.

We normally associate naval seamen as ship’s personnel. Peter Colin George (1926-2008) however, joined the British Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm Division around 1945.  He trained as an aircraft engineer, eventually becoming Chief Petty Officer overseeing engine and aircraft repairs. His training took place at H.M.S. St. James, Douglas, Isle of Man, then at the air craft handling unit R.N.A.S. Worthy Down, also known as H.M.S. Kestrel.

Landing jet planes on a moving ship (later known as an aircraft carrier) was a fairly new concept. He was at the forefront of industry as an aircraft engineer in the Royal Navy.

https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/hms-ocean-r68/ describes the first test flight, take off and landing of a jet-powered aircraft from a ship which carrier took place 3rd December 1945, from HMS Ocean (R68). The aircraft was a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk 10 LZ551/G. An example of this aircraft was held at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.

Towards the end of his days in the Navy, he worked at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

Source: Ipswich Star – Button Boy

Finally, not quite so pioneering, but just as brave. One recent project described how a young boy-sailor took up the role of ‘Button Boy’ in the Royal Navy. He was noted as the ‘second’ a stand-in for the lead boy, but he still had to become accomplished and demonstrate his skill for this activity.

Each R.N. training facility sports, a land-based mast, and H.M.S. Ganges is no different. There is a long-standing tradition of young trainees ascending the 143 ft mast, a performance that takes place to music. The ‘button boy’ is the man at the top.  He has to shimmy up the last stretch of the pole, climb over the lightening rod, and sit or stand-to-attention on the round platform at the top.  Ipswich newspaper shares a descriptive story, Height of Dread for Ganges Boys. The trip down from the top is pleasing, tells our client, “you slide the rope from half way, where the others have to step to the beat of the music, all the way to the ground. It’s harder coming down.”

View a Button Boy video one of many to be found on the Internet.

So, all in all, ordinary young men, training for their jobs…. yet leading the way!

I love that my job allows me to delve into different subjects and discover new things. It is heart-warming too, that future generations, friends and family will be able to enjoy a small insight into earlier times!

 

 

It’s All About The Artifacts!

We are thrilled to see that the winter issue of our wonderful local In the Hills Magazine sports an article about a project recently completed by Treasured Collections!

Treasured Collections is all about the artifacts, learning their story, noting the provenance (who had owned them, where were they from), and supplementing their story with supportive documents and photographs.

As with all our projects, it was hard to know where to start and stop. In this instance our client Robin had such a broad array of wonderful artifacts from many different members of her family.

There are artwork examples, miniature sketch books, original letters, poems, published plays, paintings and more. The earliest item dates back to 1843 and each item has its own history.

A ‘honeymoon’ booklet made in 1906, a lace christening bonnet, plus many paintings, designs and illumination examples by AH Howard, similar to those held in local and national archives and museums.

When we met with In The  Hills Magazine writer Kira, none of us knew where the article would lead! How best to narrow down this meandering story that has filled more than 100 pages of photographs and artifacts, covering so many talented family members. It was a challenge.  Kira listened, and jotted notes, next we met with photographer Pete Paterson and editor Tralee with the artifacts laid out before us. The result is truly amazing, the story weaves together a handful of artifacts, producing a heart-warming feeling for all to read about this well-known Toronto gentleman, his family roots, and a Caledon stone house (or two).

“Read about The Howard Collection”

Thank you to client Robin for the opportunity to ‘meet’ her family and thank you to In The Hills Magazine team for sharing a small part of it with the community!

From time to time, I give talks at clubs and groups. Let me know if this is a subject your organization would like to hear about.

Similarly, if you have some special family objects, that you wish to catalogue…. and don’t know where to start, drop me an email or give me a call 519-940-4877.

Identifying Military Buttons… Fun Research!

British Royal Navy jacket button, rating, circa 1945.

With recent commemoration of WWI – 100 years on!  Remembering family members who were lost and served, for me November 2018 has had a strong military focus!

Working on a few more family artifacts, I dived into the subject of Military Buttons – fascinating!

As always, Google searches can help find lots of useful information. I relied too on help from ex-military colleagues on FaceBook Groups I belong to.

One very useful website for button research was melitomnes.org  A website based in Malta…. but Malta had strong ties with the British Navy.  Over the years my grandfather, uncles and then my father were stationed in Malta. Many of our family members lived in Malta during their assignment, including my grandparents, and one cousin was born there. In 1958 I recall a trip to visit… flying for the first time my mum bundled my brother and I onto a military plane, unfortunately shortly after our arrival, our dad’s ship was called away to some trouble in Aden.

My father held a Malta driving licence. Folded linen card, 2″, 1958.

Back to the buttons…. a wooden trinket/cigarette box holds a number of buttons, among other bits and bobs.

Identifying the backing, the maker, the crowns and other images, allowed me to identify one of my mother’s WAAF button, and my father’s early (pre-officer/rating) button.

Photographed at the top, we can see the edge is plain, without a rope design around the boarder.  This means the button dates before my father (Peter Colin George, Chief Petty Officer, Fleet Air Arm, 1926-2008) took his Petty Officer course in 1950. The crown is the Tudor Crown used from 1902-1953.  The button therefore dates somewhere between his joining date of 1942 and the date he became an officer in 1950.

Identifying the shape of the crown…. helps date RN buttons.

The back of the button has a fixed loop. Again there are various styles of fixing over the years.  The maker’s mark identifies the button was made by Buttons Ltd., Birmingham.

RN Button made by Buttons Ltd, Birmingham, circa 1945.

Our family comes from the naval port of Portsmouth, Hampshire. I was thrilled to discover at sometime earlier there were two button makers in our city.  Gieves also was a company that started in Portsmouth.

To finish up…. I mentioned a trinket box.  That too has a history of its own. I had always thought it was my father’s box, but discover it was more likely it belonged to my mother! The box was made as a fundraiser in aid of Red Cross in 1943.  Made from the mooring mast from the makers of Airships and Blimps at Cardington. My mother was in the Woman’s Air force and Cardington became an Air Force base.  Likely she purchased the box.

 

 

Digitize Your Artifacts!

Have you ever brought your wedding dress or bridal gown to the dinner table to show your friends? Likely not…. perhaps it is neatly wrapped in box and tissue, and stored in a wardrobe, quite unseen?

Treasured Collections specializes in grouping connected artifacts, documents and photographs together within a digital document.  A wedding dress is not much different.  My wedding wasn’t long ago, but in the 1990s, I wore a classic suit of the era, from one of the well known dress shop. Imagine how fabulous it would be if your grandmother’s dress was documented in this way?  In time your great-grandchildren may be interested to see this detail.

The document might include a wedding photo, the location, a picture of the dress, with close-ups of accessories and details.  Add to this a scanned wedding certificate, picture of the wedding rings, flowers, cake and more – whatever has survived in your memory box!

The digital document can be shared with friends on your iPhone, tablet or as a printed paper booklet.

Packaging artifacts in this way, can show the relationship between the artifacts and provide a neat summary of the occasion for your children and their descendants.

Sharing Bygone Art and Craft Skills

This ‘silver paper picture’ created by my mother Joyce (Bake) George (1924-1999), Portchester, Hampshire, England. It hung in my brother’s bedroom from the early 1960s.

When browsing through some family photographs, I spotted more than one picture that had been created by my mother.

Silver Paper Pictures

An art form all of its own.  My mother produced wonderful pictures to sell at the school fundraising bazaar or Christmas Fair. By the mid-1960s it was a family affair, my brother, sister and I joined in the activities.

How is was done?

In our household all coloured ‘silver paper’ sweet (candy) wrappers we collected and smoothed flat. Quality Street offered, green, purple, silver, gold and more. On the farm boy’s shirt you can see the textured pattern from a strawberry sweet. Easter eggs, provided particularly large pieces of coloured silver foil papers.

On a piece of glass, usually the size of windowpane from our lead-light windows, a simple outline image was drawn or traced from a from a children’s book. This was done with a dip pen and black Indian ink.

When it was dry, the background was painted with black oil-based craft paint.  Working from the back, the image would be reversed when complete.  Within each section foil pieces were glued in place using a strong clear craft glue. Then the edges were carefully sculptured and folded back to be contained in the section. As each layer was filled, the final piece could be placed over the whole image.

The back was covered with card. Brass hanging rings pushed through the card and pre-gummed Paspatoo tape was folded to give an even finish from the front, then dampened and used to secure the edges.

My pictures usually featured ballet dancers, animals, or clowns.

Follow this blog to see more skills from the past!

 

Wrap & Pack Your Family Heirlooms

If you are the designated keeper of your family’s heirlooms, you may wish to gather some knowledge on how best to store them. I feel it is our job to conserve items in the condition they are in, and to help prevent any further deterioration. The overall aim is to keep items from being destroyed by the environment, or by each other. This subject can be technical and complicated, so I’ll try to keep things simple!

Unwrapped items can be affected by moth, bugs, damp, mould. Placing items directly against wooden drawers can also be harmful.

A simple list of what NOT to do might include: avoid damp basements and barns, avoid wrapping items in newspaper or coloured papers, avoid sticky tape, don’t encapsulate, avoid sunlight….. and more.

During my time as Collections Manager at the museum we turned to the Canadian Conservation Institute for guidance. Their scientist and specialists produce a useful set of CCI Notes which described how best to store, clean and care for your artifacts (to museum standards). The wording can be a little technical, but some useful links might be:

Often the best advice is to make acid free covers and boxes, but sourcing the supplies to do this as a private individual can be expensive. For instance minimum orders of 20 point library card, rolls of Mylar or tissue can cost up to $1000. Here I am sharing some affordable items I found locally:

Cotton gloves – Shopper’s Drug Mart (medical) – $2.50

PH Testing Pens – Lines N’ Curves or Brodart (online) – $8

Acid Free Glassine (strong tissue for wrapping and inter-leafing) – Lines N’ Curves (online) packet 100, 16″ x 20″ – $35

Acid Neutral Library Board (strong wrapping card/paper for covers and boxing books) – Michael’s Art Store, Strathmore Artist Papers, Bristol Sheet 500 series, buffered has no ground wood or unbleached pulp, limits of metallic content, free from optical brighteners, a suitable substitute – $5

Mylar safe inert plastic map sheets – Carr McLean (online) for non-sticky encapsulation/protective covers, packet of 5 – $50

Coated Storage Boxes – protective banker’s boxes with lids – Carr McLean (online) – $25 each

Textiles may be store flat in clean white cotton pillow cases. Hanging items can be covered with a clean white cotton sheet. Avoid wrapping in plastic.

Here’s a start…. I’ll go into more detail in the next few posts!

Look A Little Closer….

harmonica-p-c-george-1938

There are many ways to find out the age of your family artifacts.  Photographs and documents are often dated, many have name references too.

Objects are a little different.  On occasion you might be aware who had owned an item, and possibly where they got it from. Sometimes items have a date on them, such as this souvenir spoon from the 1967 International and Universal Exposition, the “Expo ’76” World Fair, held in Montreal.

montreal-1967-spoon

A stamped, or printed mark on the object by the maker can help you research the age of an item. You can discover how long was the maker’s business was in operation, and possibly view catalogues to identify the specific design.

The internet can lead you to lists of companies and dates, for lots of types of objects – ceramics, metal, wooden, glass.

Hallmarks on gold and silver are particularly interesting. If an item was British-made, a precise date can be discovered including the maker and the place.

This Echo-Luxe harmonica was made by M. Hohner, Germany. It was in my brother’s china cabinet for many years.  Now it has come into my possession.  The only thing I knew about it, was that it had belonged to my father – Peter Colin George (1926-2008).

Research tells me that Matth. Hohner AG is the oldest and largest producer of harmonicas in the world.  Based in Trossingen, Baden-Württemberg the company was founded in 1857 by Matthias Hohner (1833-1902). In the 1920s the chromatic harmonica was introduced and production of harmonicas hit 20 million.

So, how to pin down the date of this very popular, well-used harmonica which is still in its original box?

Look a little closer……

Within the box lid, handwritten in a pencil …. “Form 2B, P. George”. This identifies the harmonica as pre-WWII, circa 1938. It was used by my father while attending senior school –  Portsmouth Grammar for Boys (founded in 1732)!

harmonica-lid-p-c-george-1938

 

 

Identify Your Treasured Collections – Medals

Military Medal Named Boxes

If you are lucky enough to be the keeper of precious family artifacts, why not take a moment to clarify who they belonged to?

I am easily able to identify my two sets of family military medals (Royal Navy).  I have a keen interest in both family history and historical artifacts.

But to save these memories and pass them along to future generations, the information has to be clear.

The miniature medal set belonged to my Grandfather Harry Michael George (1899-1961) who joined the Royal Navy at age 15. He became an ERA (Engine Room Artificer), retiring from the Navy as a Chief ERA 2nd Class. His medal set consists of : WWI – British War Medal, and Victory Medal. Long Service Good Conduct Medal 1933, and WWII – Defence Medal and Second World War Medal.

The full size medals belonged to my father Peter Colin George (1925-2008) the son of H Michael George. He also joined the Royal Navy as a boy. Retiring after his fifth-five as Chief Petty Officer, Engineer, RN Fleet Air Arm. (He worked on planes on air craft carriers).  His medals include: Defence Medal (1939-1945), WWII Medal (1939-1945), and Long Service Good Conduct Medal.

Each medal set, is housed in a box and marked with the name of their owner.  I chose to buy the boxes in the UK during a trip, to have the Royal Coat of Arms emblem included.

In the past, military tailors such as Gieves & Hawkes, in Queen Street, Portsmouth would provide these boxes. Alas, no longer, the company still specializes in military uniforms, in Savile Row, London, but no store remains in Portsmouth.

I sourced these boxes via… Worcestershire Medal Services.

medal-boxes-b

Take a moment to identify your family artifacts!

Shared Knowledge in Priceless

Pin - Tillsonburg

Taking the time to network with colleagues in your field can bring forth an abundance of valuable knowledge.

We are all experts in our field, to a point.  We rely on years of training and practice at what we do, however we cannot ever expect to have a complete set of tools.

Glass specialists, military specialists, appraisers, art experts, antique dealers and enthusiasts all bring something to the table for the museum professional.

We should be encouraged to ask questions of our colleagues in other or the same profession as ourselves. Between us we likely have the whole picture if we pool our knowledge.

Recently on the Ontario Museum ListServe email circulation, I saw answers of a question come from different people, that gradually build the picture.

Annandale National Historic Site at Tillsonburg shared this pin, and wanted to know what the PM stood for. They had knowledge that the lady who owned it was part of the IODE in the early the 1950s.

The knowledge network them jumped into play, when a colleague on the network stated:

“The cross, anchor and heart symbol on your pin would indicate that it would be associated with the Ladies Orange Benevolent Association, or LOBA, and therefore connected to the local branch of the Orange Order.”

and another,

“The PM typically indicates that this is a Past Masters or Past Mistress Jewel.”

More information has come to light…. kindly posted by Forrest D. Pass, PhD, Exhibition Development and Research Officer, Ottawa. This brings together the previous ideas, and confirms the pin is an LOBA pin for a Past Mistress.

“I’ve pasted below a page from the Orange Family Regalia Catalogue, issued by Dominion Regalia Ltd. of Toronto about 1958 (the copy I have scanned is from the Roxborough Loyal Orange Lodge #623 fonds at the Archives of Ontario). You’ll see that your jewel is No. 227 at the top centre. According to the accompanying price list, it sold in 1958 for $13 in gold-plated sterling, or $26.75 in 10K gold, a little less than the #229 and #669 next to it; engraving was an additional eight cents per letter.”

loba-pin-past-mistress

We each carry memories of the items we have processed and worked on, plus the research we have discovered….. but together with combined shared knowledge, we can be all the more successful.