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Accessories for the Natural Man - XIV

The crisp, bold graphic on these cufflinks—presented in unusual rootbeer and taupe enameling—makes me think of the "V" in "Victory."  It's easy to see victory everywhere, especially in hindsight, when looking at something English from the Thirties or Forties.  But British victory in the war was never a certainty.  World War Two was fought hard and long—and the British paid dearly for their win. As for these cufflink graphics, they were probably made well before England entered the war (or even before there was a war).  So I guess I'm just being a romantic, or, perhaps, fanciful.  What is true is that these cufflinks are quite unique, especially regarding their coloration, and they do enjoy a strong and handsome graphic design....

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Accessories for the Natural Man - XII

Though I purchased these cufflinks in London, I have never been convinced that they were made in England. Something about the "large stone" slightly fascist design hinted at an Eastern European (or Soviet Bloc) origin.  They are set in Art Deco mounts—indicating that they are from the Thirties—a period when such "Brutalist" stonework was not really en vogue in the British Isles.  In this regard, they are just slightly ahead of their time.  (Big-stone cufflinks became popular after World War II, even more so in the Sixties and Seventies). Regardless of the time or place of creation, one must admit that the banded agate is simply beautiful.  Caramels, whites and rootbeer colors form spontaneous streaks of stone—which was then cut, bevelled, polished...

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Accessories for the Natural Man - XI

The Scots love their stones!  From the rusticated architectural building-blocks in Edinburgh to the inlaid agates in their "Penannular" shawl-fasteners.  And what seems to be important isn't whether the gemstone itself is valuable in the eyes of the world but, rather, is the stone colorful, beautiful, and Scottish in origin.  Like so many things Scottish, the best things come from the land.  My favorite things in Scotland are hard, durable and weather-beaten.  After all, this is a country represented by the thistle—a wiry, spiky and tenacious plant which clings to life in the rocky, cold and windswept mountain terrain. These cufflinks, made in the 1920's, are fashioned from oval cabochons of polished "hardstone"—mostly oxblood, with a dose of brown, and...

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Accessories for the Natural Man - X

We're spending a few days showcasing some accessories "for the Natural Man"—cufflinks in the subtle, low-key shades of brown, rust, cream, black and white.  You'll find them (and many others) for sale on the LEO Design website. These black mother-of-pearl cufflinks are ultra-iridescent—the "highlight colors" are lush and varied.  They are set into gold-plated mounts and you can learn more about them by clicking on the photo above.

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Accessories for the Natural Man - IX

In the 1930's, functional graphics in England took on a particular look—clear, soft, round—and one can see great examples of this in vintage enameled railway signage from the period.  Sometimes the signage was in brown, sky blue or green, giving the signage a "softer" more natural appearance.  This contrasts with American signage of the period which was often red, yellow, orange, black or white—meant to "pop" not "complement" the surroundings.  Furthermore, many of the signs were produced with rounded corners which served to soften the sign's appearance even more.

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Accessories for the Natural Man - VIII

Tracery is most often associated with Gothic architecture—for example the lacey, carved-stone windows in a church (usually filled with stained glass) or pierced woodwork (including trefoils and quatrefoils) that decorates the interior. These Art Deco cufflinks, while they make no pretense to Gothic style, have metallic tracery overlays which are derivative of the Medieval style.  The gilt metalwork lies upon mother-of-pearl faces and are set into gilt (that is, lightly gold-plated) mountings.  Click upon the photo above to learn more about them.

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Accessories for the Natural Man - VII

This pair of goldstone cufflinks is as "flashy" as we will get this week.  In truth, "goldstone" is not a stone at all; it is a glass carrying suspended copper crystals which create a sparkling, metallic optical effect. For centuries, goldstone was believed to have been invented in Venice by the Miotti family of glassmakers. In the 1600's, the Venetian Doge granted the family an exclusive license to produce goldstone. More recently, a Persian amulet (dating from the 12th or 13th century) has been discovered, showing that goldstone had been produced elsewhere and earlier.

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Accessories for the Natural Man - VI

At first glance, these cufflinks seem to have very little decoration to them. But, upon closer inspection, there is quite a bit of subtle detail work which adorns them. First, they are crafted in an interesting, modernist "lozenge" shape—essentially a soft rectangle. Then the centers are etched with very fine diagonal lines. The end quarters are etched with a contrasting crosshatch effect. Finally, two of the corners are "dipped" into brown enameling, giving the piece an interesting "twisting energy." But all of this is only appreciated by someone who takes the time to study and understand the cufflinks.

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Accessories for the Natural Man - V

Toledo is an ancient city in Central Spain, about 45 miles south of Madrid. In Medieval times, it was known as a place where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together (for better or worse), with each group contributing art, architecture and cuisine to create a rich, blended culture.  But long before this, Toledo made its mark as the place where the finest forged-steel swords were made.  Metalsmiths in Toledo invented a technique of forging hard and soft steels together, creating swords that were strong and flexible.  From 500 BC, the Romans discovered that they wanted their weapons from Toledo.

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Accessories for the Natural Man - IV

Every now and then, a customer will want to buy a pair of cufflinks for a young man. Sometimes he's about to graduate from high school or university.  Or, perhaps, he's been invited to his first dressy function.  This will be the young man's first pair of cufflinks—and the shopper asks for a little advice. White mother-of-pearl cufflinks are the most neutral and one can never go wrong wearing them with black tie or a dinner jacket.  But white (dressy) mother-of-pearl cufflinks always exude a formal disposition—and a man with his first (and only) pair of cufflinks may want to be able to wear them with other shirts, on other occasions.  In this case, I always recommend black mother-or-pearl.

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Accessories for the Natural Man - III

Many people assume that the "repp" in "Repp Stripe" refers to the repeating pattern of distinctive, colored stripes often shown in ties or foulards. In truth, "repp" refers to the repeating tiny ribs woven into the silk fabric from which the ties are made (regardless of the color pattern). In the Medieval age, groups of knights would enter battle wearing distinctive heraldic colors or carrying flags which indicated the fighting team to which they belonged.  Repp stripes are an evolution of this idea, adopted by (originally male) groups to distinguish themselves from other groups: schools, military regiments, social clubs, sports teams. Customized striped patterns and colors would be adopted as the "modern heraldry" of a specific group, usually woven into...

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Accessories for the Natural Man - II

These understated Soviet cufflinks (hallmarked 1921 to 1958) are made of jasper—the opaque, highly polishable stone that comes in shades of brown, red, yellow or green.  Jasper has been used as a coveted gemstone for millennia. Official seals made of carved jasper (used for authorizing or sealing documents), dating from 1800 BC, have been unearthed in the Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete. Large pieces of jasper have also been crafted into boxes, urns, sculpture and architectural elements like the balustrades on a grand staircase. The metal mountings on these Soviet cufflinks are silver which has been plated in a gold "vermeil." 

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Accessories for the Natural Man - I

Some men like to keep things understated.  No flash.  No bling.  For them, we present a collection of "natural accessories"—cufflinks in decidedly "earthy" shades: brown, rust, black, cream and white (plus silver and gold). Call it an "Homage to the Seventies" or a solution for the modest mate.  Find these cufflinks for the Natural Man on our website at LEO Design. Art Deco was a large and widely popular design movement.  It conveyed "a modern feel," in keeping with the modern times after World War I.  It was well-suited to mass production methods, necessary to satisfy a growing middle class with new-found leisure time and increasing disposable income (in contrast to earlier movements which required much more labor-intensive "handcraft").  And the Art Deco...

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Welcome, May!

May is here—and so is her majestic birthstone, the Emerald. Emeralds are one of the four "cardinal" gemstones, alongside diamonds, sapphires and rubies.  At one time, amethysts were on this list of rare stones until vast amethyst deposits were discovered in South America, making them much more common (and inexpensive). Perfect emeralds are very rare.  Because they are so susceptible to flaws, the industry allows them to be graded with the naked eye (that is, without magnification).  This allows them a bit of a "reprieve" from the harsh standards of other rare gemstones—as almost no samples would pass muster under rigid scrutiny.  The most valuable color is a deep green, but one that is very clear and bright.

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The King-of-the-Jungle

In nearly every world culture, the lion is admired (and equally feared) as a symbol of royalty, fierceness and brave leadership.  To "lionize" a person is rarely considered an insult. That's why the lion is called "The King-of-the-Jungle" and is often included in the heraldry of nobility wherever lions are known. In three short months, we'll be in the middle of the LEO sunsign (23 July - 22 August). Perhaps a handsome pair of bookends will make your favorite LEO happy?  This pair, made of cast iron in the 1920's, are graced with a regal bas relief portrait of a male lion.

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Japanning

With the increasing trade between Europe and Asia in the 1600's, Europeans got their first exposure to many Asian craft forms previously unknown in the West. Rich Europeans went wild! They loved the Asian ceramics, woodcarving and metalworks brought-home by merchants—and they spent big money expanding their collections.  One of these "new" crafts was lacquerware. Europeans couldn't quite figure-out how to duplicate the Asian laquer process (in part because the necessary tree sap did not grow in Europe).  Furthermore, European collectors began to suspect that Asian lacquer craftsmen were holding-back their very best pieces for their domestic collectors (which is not surprising).  So, in the 17th Century, the Italians developed a faux laquerware which came to be called "Japanning."  It did not use the proper Asian tree...

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Iridescence

Iridescence, also called goniochromism, is a phenomenon throughout the natural world—found in animals, vegetables and minerals.  Simply put, iridescence is the event in which surfaces appear to gradually change color as one's angle of viewing is changed (or the angle of light source shifts).  Iridescent materials reflect light across all (or part of) the rainbow spectrum.  In contrast, pearlescent color usually means the reflection of sparkling white light along with the predominant "base" color of the object. Iridescence occurs when something "interferes" with the consistent reflection of one pure color of light off the physical surface.  It could be the varying thicknesses of the reflective material, an uneven (reflective) surface, or something else in the underlying structure of the surface.  Consider a soap...

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Cathedral

The word "cathedral" comes from the Latin word cathedra—that is, "the chair."  Thus, a cathedral is any church which houses the bishop's seat, making it the "mother church" of a diocese, conference or episcopate. Cathedrals are usually bigger (and grander) than the other churches within a bishop's "see" (his "territory').  But it is not the grandeur of the church which makes the church a cathedral.  It is the bishop's chair—the seat of his assigned authority—which elevates a church to a cathedral.  Think of a cathedral as a bishop's "home church."

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Wise Owl

People have always found owls mysterious.  They hunt by night, fly in complete silence, and appear to study intently (and contemplate) everything that happens before them. Those big eyes seem to see everything.  Thousands of years ago, the Ancient Greeks associated owls with knowledge; Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, was often depicted with an owl who would whisper the truth to her.  In later centuries, Athena's Roman counterpart, Minerva, continued to be shown with a a wise owl.  The "secretiveness" of owls has sometimes earned them an association with death.  An owl flying into (and out of) a room conveys the poetic symbolism of the passing of human life from Earth to the Hereafter.

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Great Writers: Dante

Italy's greatest writer (indeed, one of the Western World's most important writers), Dante Alighieri, was born in Florence in 1265. Alas, he found himself on the wrong side of a political battle in his home city.  After supporting the (losing) White Guelphs, Dante was banished—upon pain of death—from his beloved Florence. After a bit of moving around, he settled in Ravenna, some 90 miles from Florence, where he died and is entombed to this day.   Dante's greatest work, The Divine Comedy, was written during his exile. It is considered one of the most important works of literature of all time, in any language.  And, unlike other important Medieval writers who wrote in Latin, Dante wrote in the vulgate, specifically the Italian Tuscan dialect.  After...

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Great Writers: Shakespeare

We don't know the precise date on which William Shakespeare was born.  There is, however, a church record showing that he was baptized on 26 April 1564.  He was probably born a couple (or a few) days earlier.  23 April has become a popular birth date speculation—which also happens to be the day he died in 1616.  Although Shakespeare's first days are shrouded in mystery, his works—poetry, sonnets and plays—are famously the most important body of work written in the English language. Through the astounding range of plays, characters and dramatic situations he crafted, Shakespeare distilled the essence of what it means to be a human—plays, characters and human situations which still resonate today.

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Great Writers: Longfellow

"The Song of Hiawatha" is an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published in 1855.  It follows a number of American Indian characters—notably the warrior Hiawatha and his lover Minnehaha—along the southern shore of Lake Superior.  It was an immediate success, selling over 50,000 copies in its first two years, and it created an indelible impression of Indian life and people in the popular imagination.  Critics condemn the poem as the romantic creation of a non-native writer.  Longfellow's source materials and understanding of real Native American culture have been called into question. Nevertheless, it is a monumental work of American Romantic literature and it played an important role in Nineteenth Century popular culture.

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The Weavers

This trio of wooden spools would have been used by industrial weavers around the Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century.  The yarns would have been wound around the spools, each of which has been augmented with metal banding (presumably to protect a high-wear area).  During weaving, as a particular color of yarn was used-up, an attentive weaver would have replaced the spent spool, keeping the machinery humming.  The contrast between the warm, natural wood and the industrial form (with metallic banding) creates an interesting juxtaposition of material and form.  They are shown being used as primitive candlesticks, however, because they do not have wide bases, they should be carefully supervised (or tacked-down with museum putty) to monitor tipping.  Additionally, one should not burn the candle down...

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Classical Fresh

Classical Antiquity has provided so many timeless design ideas, many of which still look perfect nearly 2000 years later.  This vase, for example, made in Roseville, Ohio during the Art Deco 1930's, was inspired by a Classical Greek urn.  The two handles, certainly a part of the original Classical aesthetic, have been updated with slight Art Nouveau "whiplash" energy—making the vase as fresh and attractive as ever.  Of course, the clean satin white glazing also contributes to a crisp, modern aesthetic.  Click on the photo above to learn more about it.   Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).  We also can be...

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Champ & Major

After four years without (live) animals in the White House, first family pets are back! Champ and Major are two male German Shepherds, the family pets of the Biden family. Champ, now twelve years old, was purchased by Joe Biden from a Pennsylvania breeder to fulfill a promise to his wife—that he would get another family dog if he and Barack Obama won the 2008 election.  Major is three years old and is the first rescue dog to live in the White House.  Joe Biden's father would sometimes call the future president "Champ"—and this nickname was passed along to the older dog.  The younger dog may have received his name as a tribute to Biden's deceased son, Beau, who was an Army...

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Christening Cup

Baptism is an important (some would say vital) rite within the Christian Church. The ceremony, usually followed with a meal or other gathering, has become an opportunity to give a meaningful gift to the little one.  In the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, silver became the gift of choice as the precious metal was believed to confer healthful properties and was also a symbol of prosperity.  Thus, a silver Christening gift would convey a wish for the health and success of the newborn. Since the Victorian Age, useful gifts—especially items associated with nourishment—have been popular.  Silver spoons (perhaps engraved with the baptismal date) were very common (and could be used to feed the child).  Cups, bowls and egg cups were other functional choices.  Sometimes...

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Saturday Sailing

It may still be a little too chilly to hit the bay.  But you can dream of that day right now—warm and snug indoors—with this set of four yachting whiskey glasses.  Each glass features a different type of ship, in a different color way, so that your guests can easily identify their glass.  At ten ounces, this "single old fashioned" glass is comfortable to hold (and takes up less precious space in your on-board galley).

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The Light of Asia

    Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904) was a British poet, journalist and educator.  He was sent to India in 1856 where he served as a school principal for seven years. While there, he was exposed to Buddhism, heretofore virtually unknown in the West.  After returning to England, where he worked as a journalist, he published The Light of Asia in 1879.  It was the first major exposure of Buddhism to the Western World.  The book was a great success and has been translated into 30 languages, including Hindi. The book takes the form of a poem and follows the life of Indian Prince Gautama Buddha, his renunciation of his formerly privileged life, and his pathway to Enlightenment.  Mahatma Gandhi, then a law student...

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Row, Row, Row

When I was a young boy, my father had a modest boat, a 13' Boston Whaler.  Every weekend, it seemed, he would take me out into Kaneohe Bay from which one is treated to one of the most beautiful views on Earth.  We would motor out to the sandbar and I would look down at (what my dad called) "the sea snakes" in the shallow water.  (I think they were probably sea cucumbers.)  Despite the great adventure, I never really liked going out in that boat.  Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the opportunity.  I hated the gas fumes from the portable fuel tank.  The salty orange-canvas life jacket scratched my burning neck.  The violent chop-chop-chop across the water was...

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Chasing China

    Traditionally, red glazes have always been the most "temperamental" for potters to control. Small changes in the glaze mixture, kiln temperature or firing time could alter the final coloration of a piece.  For centuries, the Chinese had been creating beautiful "oxblood" ceramics, despite very primitive technology.  Their kilns were essentially earthen mounds, fired with wood, with windows and vents which could be opened or closed to control the temperature.  Despite these hard-to-control conditions, the Chinese had been been able to produce red glazes from the 1400's (and possibly the 900's).  Early oxblood ceramic vessels were used for religious purposes and have sometimes been called "sacrificial ware." In the 1700's, when trade with Europe was well underway, there was...

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Lift with Style

When I was a kid, growing-up in Hawaii, the only beer labels I could name would have been Olympia ("It's the water" - Tumwater, Washington), Primo (with its blue Hawaiian warrior and a name that rhymed with "Kimo") and, of course Budweiser ("...You've Said it All!).  In the 60's and 70's, at least in my circle, beer was drunk by Joe Six Pack—and nearly every father who's just come home from work.  The cool brew was much-relished, sure, but I don't think quality was a top criterion.  Forget about sophistication. When I got a little older, perhaps in the 80's, I noticed a couple of "more upscale" brands on the scene: the elegant Heineken (imported and dressed in a costly...

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Cutting It Close

Interestingly, while I very much dislike smoking, I have usually really liked smokers. Maybe it's their conviviality, their "lust for life," or—how do you say it—their joie de vivre. In an ideal world, I would have many friends who are healthy, former smokers.   I have also always liked the accoutrements of smoking—ashtrays, tobacco jars, smoking sets.  When I found this Spanish cigar cutter, I didn't have to think long before buying it.  It's handsome.  It's useful.  It's beautifully-made.  And it is a part of the mysterious culture of the (horrid) art of smoking.  Please click on the photo above to learn more about it.   Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please...

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"Press Tin Close"

"A little closer.  Closer.  Good.  Hold it.  Say "cheese!"  Very good!"  Oh, those sibling group photos!  Once a staple of family gatherings and grandparents' visits; Now, thanks to the camera phone, possibly a daily occurrence.  But, in 1920, when this pressed tin frame was made, such family photos were quite rare indeed. Kids were dressed in their Sunday Best and—as was the custom at the time—people rarely smiled for the photographer.  Photo day was serious and commemorative.  A photo was rare and meant to last. This pressed tin frame is finished with an applied faux woodgrain and has a convenient hook on the back for hanging upon the wall.

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Here Comes the Sun

Though Old Man Winter is well behind us, the Spring, thus far, has been unpredictable indeed.  Days in the mid-70's are followed by nights in the 20's (and dustings of snow).  My wardrobe—not to mention my spring bulbs—are confused by the inconsistency.  But the Earth's axis continues its progressive tilt, bringing us closer to the Sun with every passing day. This Art Deco vase, made by Stangl in the 1930's, reminds me of that fiery, life-giving ball in the sky.  Though it cannot provide warmth, alas, it will provide a feeling of sunshine—just what we need right now.

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Innocence

Before eating from the forbidden "Tree of Knowledge," Adam and Eve had a pretty sweet life. No hunger, no work, no trouble, no shame.  And a beautiful garden, to boot.  But such wasn't to last—and here we are now. This pair of cast iron Art Deco Bookends, made in the 1920's, show Eve luxuriating before a date palm tree in the Garden of Eden. Let them bring some stylish "Biblical Literacy" to your desk, den or bookshelf.

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More Mucha?

Today we present another bronze belt buckle, likewise crafted in the Art Nouveau Revival of the Rock & Roll Seventies.  It depicts a Bohemian maiden, framed by her flowing locks, and decorated with scrolling botanical decoration.  

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Mucha's "Byzantine Brunette"

Alfons Maria Mucha was born in 1860 in Moravia—then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now part of the Czech Republic. He is a giant amongst artists of the Art Nouveau Movement.  Although he was a fine arts painter, he is most recognized for his graphic arts which were perfectly suited to the new technology of modern, high-volume lithographic printing. Fine art posters, theatrical flyers, consumer packaging and advertising campaigns were all graced with Alfons Mucha's beautiful images (giving him tremendous popular exposure). Many of his works were portraits of women, presented in Byzantine dress and accessories. They were usually surrounded by swirls of hair, art nouveau botanicals, and Byzantine decorative motifs—all part of Mucha's drive to recognize and promote a...

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Winter Rose

Though Spring is here, there's plenty of winter left in the atmosphere. We are still having occasional 20° nights. Our rose plants are showing nice, early leaf growth—though, disappointingly, flowers are still weeks away.  So, until we are blessed with a real Spring rose, this Japanese crystal rose will have to suffice. This rose-form paperweight, crafted of hand-cut crystal in Japan, is a wonderful object to behold and a certain conversation piece.

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Happy Easter!

Wishing all LEO Design customers a Happy Easter and a Springtime filled with beauty and promise. This jolly "Running Rabbit" plaque is sculpted in stoneware, fired and finished with an aqua glaze.  It comes with a hanging wire on back. 

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Cuffed

I am an avid shopper for cufflinks—traveling around the world, perusing the collections of private collectors and vintage jewelry merchants.  I do not go out of my way to seek-out women's jewelry, though, in truth, I stumble across a lot of it while inspecting cufflinks.  When I see a piece I like, I will often pick it up. This English Arts & Crafts hand-hammered pewter cuff is punctuated with three jade glass cabochons.  This type of craftwork was popular in the British Arts & Crafts period, mostly creating pin-on brooches.  I have never seen another wrist cuff such as this.  Please click on the photo above to learn more about it.

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Industrial Production

As the Nineteenth Century Industrial Revolution swept across England, Europe and North America, these regions also witnessed dramatic growth of a new middle class.  And, as these middle class families took root in the market economy, their demand for more (and more) non-essential consumer goods grew.  Non-aristocrats, for the first time, could afford to buy the things they wanted, not just those things they needed.  And the coincident Industrial Revolution was poised to churn-out a high volume of (mostly) high-quality goods. These picture frames, made around 1890, were crafted in some sort of a production run of at least moderate volume.  They combined an affordable and adaptable industrial material (glass) with suitable production methods (a glass moulding factory) to create something handsome and useful...

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From Russia, With Love?

WASHINGTON, 1 April  —  Assistant White House Press Secretary, M. Jess Kidden, reported to Reuters this morning that a year-old puppy had been left behind in the White House, possibly abandoned by the outgoing first family.  Members of the junior White House staff discovered the canine sleeping in a crate in the former Executive Chef's office. Facts are scarce, Kidden admitted, since none of the permanent household staff wishes to come forward with testimony, fearing they might be targeted for political retribution.  What is known is that an unnamed foreign ambassador quietly hand-delivered the Russian Wolfhound puppy during the summer of 2020.  A handwritten tag attached to the crate read, "Thank you for everything. I'll miss you. VP"  Advisors soon...

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Will Little Nell Live?

Charles Dickens published The Old Curiosity Shoppe as a weekly series in 1840 and 1841.  It proved so successful—on both sides of the Atlantic—that frantic New Yorkers stormed the pier when the final installment arrived by ship from England.  They all wanted to know: "Will Little Nell Live?" The story concerns 13 year old Nell, a kind and loving girl who was orphaned after her parents died in poverty.  She is taken-in by her grandfather and they live in an antiques shop. She is a lonely girl; her only friend is Kit, a good boy who works in the shop, whom Nell teaches to write.  Kit secretly falls in love with Nell and commits himself to keeping her safe.  But...

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Poker Night

Once the province of weekly male bonding, "Poker Night" seems to have gone the way of craps games and bowling leagues. Cigars, blue talk and midnight sandwiches are less popular today than they were 80 years ago. Which makes this copper match holder even more interesting.  Made around 1910, it might have been part of a larger "smoking set" with an ashtray and cigarette holder.  And the tiny silver rivets hint at a sophisticated past, while the striated hand-tooled texturing remind us that a talented person craft this handsome piece, one stroke at a time.

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Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Emmanuel College, part of the University of Cambridge, was founded in 1584 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  The original buildings were a Dominican Friary, which her father, Henry VIII, had confiscated after "dissolving" the monasteries (an act of revenge on a Church which would not permit Henry's penchant for "dissolving" wives). The new school was founded to develop Anglican preachers.  The Catholic chapel was stripped and converted into a dining hall.  In 1677, a new chapel was built by the illustrious British architect, Sir Christopher Wren.  Some of the original Dominican features exist to this day, including a large fish pond (now home to a raft of ducks) and one of the oldest bathing pools in Europe (originally used...

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Spring Suggestions - VIII

Let's end our procession of Spring Suggestions with this particularly sunny offering: an Art Deco vase glazed in a rich yellow glaze.  It was made by Martin Stangl in Trenton, New Jersey in the 1930's. The two "lop eared" handles, atop the urn, seem an Art Deco botanical reference to some earlier, classical time.  The glaze is particularly vibrant. If this vase can't bring with it a ray of Spring sunshine, can anything?

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Spring Suggestions - VII

This handsome plate ticks many boxes. First there's the hand-hammered rosy copper, always a favorite of mine. And then the plate is "damascened"—that is, bonded with delicate elements of inlaid silver, creating a delightful pattern. And that pattern, too, tips its hat to several period aesthetics. The stag amongst the foliage is a common medieval tapestry theme. The hammered copper lies at the heart of Arts & Crafts metalwork.  And the silhouette of the stag is reminiscent of the works of the American Art Deco sculptor, Paul Manship. 

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Spring Suggestions - VI

Hand-hammered brass, softly gleaming, makes for a handy and handsome drinks tray.  It was made in Germany during the Jugendstil movement.  The hammered "peening" softens the reflected light and the gallery of "pillows" around the edge will keep your glasses from sliding off. It would also make a useful "kitchen tray" to corral oil bottles and spice jars.

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Spring Suggestions - V

For a "Mod" take on Springtime fun, how about these double old fashioned "rocks" glasses.  The set of eight "lowballs" is boldly punctuated with bands of 22 karat gold. Handsome, useful and very, very cool.  Your whiskey has got to taste just a little better from these glasses! Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.

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Spring Suggestions - IV

Commence your Spring Cleaning in-style—at least at your dining table. This English Arts & Crafts hand-hammered brass crumber set boasts a central botanical decoration as well as hand-riveted metal strapwork. Crumbers like this would be used to clean the dining table linens between courses.

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Spring Suggestions - III

You'd be forgiven if you thought this pitcher is Italian; its hand-painted Harlequin dress looks so much like the costume of Arlechino, one of the character clowns of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte.  No, it's German, made by Übelacker in the 1950's.  What is clear is the pitcher's strong Springtime sensibility. Wouldn't it be nice to be greeted each morning by this sunny, friendly creamer?

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Spring Suggestions - II

Warm and softly-radiant, brass often reminds me of Spring. And this German Jugendstil hand-hammered brass tray is (a bit) reminiscent of the sun. It's modestly sized—perfect for tea-for-two or drinks for six.  It would also be the perfect dresser or kitchen tray—holding bottles and jars.

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Spring Suggestions - I

Hurrah!  We've moved-into Spring—and we'd like to share some "Spring Fresh" ideas with you, now in-stock at LEO Design. One of these items might just "do the trick" to lighten the mood and move your abode into the new season of growth. This French Art Deco ice bucket is beautiful and useful.  It is blown of citrine glass and is reminiscent of an Early Springtime daffodil trumpet.  Daffodils are amongst the first of the Springtime flowers—often emerging long before their more-reserved botanical cousins.

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Welcome, Spring!

Is there any season more invigorating—more hopeful—than Spring?  Early green shoots begin to emerge from their bulbs, long forgotten below.  Trees acquire a haze of yellow or light green as buds begin to form along their twigs. And a frisson of delight passes through the body when one realizes "Perhaps I don't have to wear a jacket today..."  Despite nighttime temperatures in the 20's, Spring is here—having arrived today, 20 March, at 5:37 am Eastern Time.

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The Wearing of the Green

As a "Three-Quarter Irish-American" (and proud holder of dual passports), I guess I'm obligated to take a little pride in Saint Paddy's Day—despite my annual disgust at the day trippers vomiting green beer along the Fifth Avenue parade route.  Most of all, I am proud to be the descendant of beleaguered immigrants who persevered—misunderstood, maltreated and despised (as waves of immigrants, sadly, always have been and continue to be).  Today, Irish-Americans have fully taken-root in the New Country.  But I still pray we remember what our forebears endured—and commit to helping those who arrive on American shores a century later.

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Beware the "Ides of March"

In the ancient Roman calendar, "The Ides” were the mid-point in a month—either the 13th or 15th, depending on the length of that particular month.  Each month’s Ides were celebrated in honor of Rome’s top deity, Jupiter, and a “scapegoat” was paraded and sacrificed to that god. The Ides of March—15 March—was extra-special since March was the first month of the year.  Commoners spent the day picnicking, drinking, and making merry.  The scapegoat in March would be an old man, dressed in animal skins, who would be (symbolically?) driven from the city—perhaps representing the expulsion of the just-completed, old year.

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Spring Forward

Late tonight (actually, early tomorrow morning)—after we're in bed—the clocks will "spring forward" to begin Daylight Savings Time.  Don't forget to adjust your clocks before you head for bed. This Italian sand-cast pewter sandglass would make a handsome conversation starter on your desk, mantel or bookshelf.  And it works, too!  (Mostly.)  It accurately indicates a range of time, more-or-less anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes (depending upon its mood).  Like so many things Italian, what it lacks in precision it amply makes-up in style and beauty.  Please click on the photo above to learn more about it.   Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we...

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Welcome, March!

Welcome, March, and your ever-promising flower, the daffodil.  Daffodils are one of the first flowers to emerge after the winter,  confirming the promise of Spring—that life does return after sleep.  And seeing daffodils is such a joy!  Certainly, March enjoys a wonderfully symbolic flower. Back in April of 1802, English poet Willam Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, were enjoying a walk around Glencoyne Bay in the Lake District in the north of England.  As they walked, they saw a few daffodils swaying near the shoreline.  The brother and sister wondered together if the flower seeds had floated ashore and sprouted.  As they walked, they saw more and more of the yellow blossoms, finally culminating in a wide belt of the...

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Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras—"Fat Tuesday"—the last day to celebrate before Lent begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday.  It's the day when all the household's fats, meats, sweets and other indulgences are consumed or thrown away. A big Mardi Gras celebration prepares the family for a properly abstemious Lent. While we're still having a party, how about a handsome Modernist punchbowl service.  Thick bands of platinum decorate this punchbowl and ten "roly-poly" punch glasses.  Click on the photo above to learn more about it.   Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).  We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at...

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Happy Presidents' Day

It's the third Monday in February, Presidents' Day!  Or is it President's Day?  Or, perhaps, Presidents Day?  The answer will depend on the mood of the writer (and which state s/he inhabits).  Congress established a federal holiday, called Washington's Birthday, in 1879, intended to honor only the first president.  The holiday was initially observed on 22 February, the first president's actual birthday.  Individual states have similarly made it a state holiday—sometimes calling it Washington's Birthday or Presidents Day or President's Day or Presidents' Day.  In 1971, Congress "regularized" many federal holidays, placing them on a certain Monday of a given month (thus, creating more three day weekends and not having strange, mid-week disruptions to the workweek). 

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Any Day Now...

As we approach the anniversary of The Great Covid Hibernation, most people I know are more than ready to return to "normal life."  We have places to go, friends to see, pounds to lose.  Luckily, a rapidly increasing schedule of vaccinating is helping to dig us out of our national hole. These Art Deco basset hounds, standing patiently atop their stepped bookend plinths, are biding their time, too.  "Any day now," they seem to be saying.  "Any day now...".

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Great President, Great Man

On this day, 2/12—212 years ago!—Abraham Lincoln was born at his family's "Sinking Spring Farm" in Kentucky.  Raised to perform hard physical farm labor, he and his family moved several times during his childhood, eventually to Illinois when Abraham was 21.  Lincoln was not a pampered child, born to comfort and luxury; he faced difficult challenges throughout his life—the most difficult, no doubt, as the 16th President of the United States.  Lincoln was handed a country on the brink of civil war.  Conservatives in the South were outraged at the election of this gangly, progressive leader (and alarmed that he would challenge their economic prosperity, based on enslavement).  The month after his inauguration, the Civil War began.

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On a Pedestal

A nice tray can be used to present food in its best possible light. But putting something atop a pedestal adds a whole new dimension to the exhibition.  Place a cake or muffins or even cookies upon a raised plate (like this one, shown above) and you've elevated the presentation.  This Arts & Crafts cake plate is made of hammered and silver-plated. It was made by Derby of Meriden, Connecticut.

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The Tray of Vine and Berries

This journal entry title may not be obvious—and it is quite far from clever.  (I was attempting a reference to the 1962 film "The Days of Wine and Roses" and its haunting theme song by Henry Mancini.)  But! There is an association!  The film, made by Blake Edwards and starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, is the tale of a couple and their relationship to alcohol.     This German Jugendstil tray, made by WMF in the 1910's, is decorated with a delicate repouseé of entwined vines, palmate leaves, and clusters of delicate berries.  Though I have not, yet, identified the variety of berry, I have leapt to the conclusion that the Germans may have used these same fruit to make wine...

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Delicate Beauty

This little English Arts & Crafts copper tray is decorated with a hand-tooled radiant botanical design.  It's not very big—just over nine inches across—but it has great style.  It would look perfect hanging on the wall (in that "perfect little spot") or it would serve beautifully as a dresser tray, organizing all those bottles, tubes and jars which are part of one's daily ablutions.

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Juxtaposition

It was in Seventh Grade when I was taught the word "juxtaposition"—that is, the placing of two items next to each other in order to compare or contrast their features. To my eleven-year-old mind, juxtaposition seemed to be a useful concept. But I had no understanding of how much I "would juxtapose" in my future life (or that I'd be writing about it 46 years later). When I first found this English Arts & Crafts copper plate, I focused on the large-peen hand-hammering at its center.  Such "brutalist" hammering is especially good for providing highly-visible texture from a distance (for example, as seen from across a room while hanging up-high on a wall).

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More Remembrance

Yesterday we talked about the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, specifically of those who gave their lives in war for Britain. This English Arts & Crafts copper plate shows a trio of poppy pods—yet to be opened.  Additionally, it shows a trio of wild geese, flying around the rim of the plate. For Celtic Christians, the wild goose is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, much as the dove is for the broader church. And don't underestimate the intentionality of "threes" (either geese or poppies).  A trio, in Christian symbolism, is a reference to the Trinity.  This handsome plate conveys a symbolic meaning—hidden within its the skillful repoussé work of its maker.

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Remembrance

This English Arts & Crafts copper "pie plate" is decorated with a repoussé whiplash and poppy design.  In England, poppies memorialize the war dead and (today) especially those who gave their lives in World War One.  Red poppies stain the open fields of France's Western Front—where British (and other) servicemen died (and some were buried).  Additionally, the narcotic effect of opium (from poppies) has always connoted sleep, thus the close association with eternal rest. This copper plate is beautiful in its own right—and made even more special by the remembrance it engenders.

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Shocking!

For most of human history, the world was dominated by a small number of monarchs, the aristocratic one percent, and all the rest of us—the 99% who served those monarchs and aristocrats.  "Luxury" was out-of-reach for all but the tippy-top. And then came the Industrial Revolution.   While the Industrial Revolution did create many problems—pollution, exploitation, and the relegation of human labor as an interchangeable commodity—it also allowed for the growth of a modern Middle Class.  And this new middle class had something heretofore unknown to them: discretionary income.  For the first time, a growing middle class could afford to buy things that they wanted, not just what they needed.  But they were still not rich enough to match the...

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Rustic Character

Yesterday, we shared one of the finest trays in our collection. If one might call that one "Beauty," the shallow bowl, shown above, might be called "The Beast."   But a beast is not without its usefulness—or its charm.  Rustically hand-hammered copper is fashioned into a shallow bowl.  Set upon a refectory table, it would be perfect for holding fruit, bread or a collection of decorative objects—pinecones, wine corks, seashells or glass balls.

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The Fairest of Them All?

After 26 years of collecting and selling English trays, this one may be the nicest I've ever owned. And, although it could be used to serve food, it would be much better suited to hanging upon the wall as a work of art.  Actually, it could serve as an architectural feature!  Four whorls of scrolling botanicals luxuriate in each corner of the tray which is surrounded by a crimped-edge gallery. And the soft, warm reflection of light off the brass surface will gently brighten any spot in your home.  (Why am I selling this?)

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A Copper Beauty

This sweet (though small) little plate would bring a lovely touch of Arts & Crafts sophistication to that tiny spot in your home which has been wanting for a small point of punctuation.  It was made in England around 1905.  The hammering is beautifully executed, the design is crisp, and the deep, brown patination is rich and lovely. Especially unique is the trio of piercings which encircle the plate.  A stylized, six-petal flower radiates from the center.

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Welcome, February!

February is here—and it brings along its regal birthstone, the amethyst. Until the Nineteenth Century, amethysts were very precious; they were considered one of the rare (and expensive) "Cardinal Gemstones"—alongside rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds.  At the time, they were only to be found in Austria and Russia (where the most beautiful, deep-purple amethysts were found). Medieval monarchs—especially in England—adorned themselves with the royal amethyst (given that the color purple has long been associated with royalty). Even today, Anglican bishops wear an amethyst in their episcopal rings. This is due to the ancient belief that amethysts prevented intoxication—and that alcohol, drunk from an amethyst bowl, would not cause inebriation. In fact, the name "amethyst" comes from the Ancient Greek root...

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From the Ends of the Earth

In the old days, China was considered "at the far end of the Earth." Venetian explorer-merchant, Marco Polo, was the first European to make a well-documented trip to China in the late 1200's (though scholars believe that the Chinese had periodic contact with Europe for centuries before this). It was not an easy trip; it took him three years to travel from Venice to China and he stayed there for 17 years. In later centuries, the West enjoyed increasingly easier travel to China, though politics did affect the ease of trade from time to time (as it continues to do today). Intrepid European traders made vast fortunes bringing-back luxurious and exotic products from China—textiles, ceramics, tea and other foodstuffs that...

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Tea with Miss Marple

Victorian England was absolutely encrusted in ceramic tiling.  Pubs, kitchens, churches, shops and train stations: nearly every new British building in the second half of the Nineteenth Century could find multiple uses for lots and lots of glazed ceramic tile.  And although British tilework was hardly novel in the 1850's, the Industrial Age was new—and modern, high-volume production methods allowed British factories to turn-out enormous quantities of beautiful, heavy, high-quality tile (and other glazed ceramic or terra-cotta architectural components).  

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Nothing Fresher

Hand-painted trees, heavy with ripe oranges, surround the octagonal perimeter of this English Art Deco platter by Norman Keates for Crown Ducal.  At the time this platter was made, circa 1925, oranges were still a small luxury in middle class England—thus the decorative embellishment might have promoted a touch of wistful aspiration.  Oranges were first cultivated in China; Medieval traders and explorers brought them back to the West where they were grown in temperate (Mediterranean) locales. At the time, however, only the richest of aristocrats could afford to purchase the expensive, imported fruit.  In the late Nineteenth Century, when Christmas gift-giving became customary, an orange might be left in the toe of a child's Christmas stocking (and, at this point, oranges...

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More From The Middle East

Here's another Middle Eastern beauty, this time in hand-tooled copper.  A crenelated gallery surrounds the interior graphic elements:  triangular "teeth," scrolling botanicals, and a corollate center.  The bold simplicity of the design—almost "folk art" in aesthetic—brings this tray closer to the sensibility of traditional Arts & Crafts than most Middle Eastern works.  Still, the competence of the metalsmith is apparent.  This tray, hanging in an Arts & Crafts interior, would provide wonderfully warm punctuation.

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Middle Eastern Brass

Here's another handsome piece of metalwork: a Middle Eastern hand-tooled brass tray. It serves wonderfully as a tray.  I like it even more when hanging on the wall—where it provides a warm glow of reflected light and beautiful punctuation in an Arts & Crafts interior.  It's interesting to point-out that period Aesthetic Movement and Arts & Crafts designers or craftsmen would sometimes imitate "exotic" aesthetics and decorative elements into their work. This was their way of bringing the beauty of another culture to those who might not have the opportunity or wherewithal to travel so far away.  And the wealthiest collectors competed with one another to have more and better Asian ceramics, Persian tilework or Middle Eastern metalcrafts.  Some of these...

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Beauty is Universal

I love hammered metalwork—an appreciation which transcends place and period.  Though, in fact, most of my collecting has been in the West: Europe, Britain and the United States.  Thus, my ability to identify these places and periods is (a little bit) better developed. So, over the years, I have focused principally on acquiring Western metal crafts for my shop.  (As a merchant, I must balance the issues of physical space and cash-on-hand.)  

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German Brass

This simple tray was made by the Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik, more commonly known as WMF.  It was founded in Geislingen, Germany in 1853.  The company was well up-and-running (40 years old) by the time the German Jugendstil Movement was born—and WMF was well-positioned to take advantage of the trend.  In fact, WMF enjoyed its heyday during the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.  It is possible that this tray once held a glass dish or "liner" of some sort.  It holds a 12 inch plate nicely.  Without a plate, it is just right as a drinks tray and would make a smart dresser or kitchen tray, too.

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A Late Age Career Change

Cornish office clerk, Charles Thomas Eustace, returned to work after a long illness to discover that his position had been given to another person.  The 59 year old father of 13 children needed to do something—and quick!  He and his brother, John, opened a small copper crafts workshop in Hayle, Cornwall, their hometown.  Although he knew nothing of metalsmithing, he learned the craft quickly, becaming quite proficient.  Eustace admired the Keswick School of Industrial Arts and drew inspiration from their Arts & Crafts designs, despite the fact that it was now the 1930’s and the Arts & Crafts movement had pretty much ended with World War One.  Fortunately, Cornwall had a community of small copper crafters which probably helped Eustace get his...

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Wine is Served

During these chilly Winter days, we are featuring a selection of trays now in-stock at LEO Design. We look-forward to the time (the sooner, the better) when we can use these trays to serve family, friends and other loved ones. The company which would evolve into Joseph Sankey and Sons was established in 1854, making simple tin trays.  In the late Nineteenth Century, Sankey was joined by his brothers, by which time the company had developed a broader line of products, many of them intended for an elegant upper middle class market.  With the advent of the English Arts & Crafts (Art Nouveau) movement, Sankey produced a large number of sophisticated household service pieces: trays, tankards, kettles and planters.  These were made in brass, copper...

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More Transition

With the sweet smell of Transition still perfuming the air, we share this English hand-hammered pewter tray, made in the 1920's or 1930's.  The Gothic elongate-quatrefoil silhouette and the textured peening of the metal places this tray within the English Arts & Crafts sensibility. The handles, however, provide a whisper of Art Deco style—which moves this handsome tray into the "transitional" period between the two Early Twentieth Century movements.

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Hush, Little Baby

Felines are the "royalty" of the pet world. They sleep up to 16 hours a day and hunt at night (if they can), sometimes bringing their catch home as an offering to their human consort. There are 38 species of cat worldwide, with all but the "house cat" being wild. But do not let your little puss fool you!  Within it's small and silky frame beats the heart of a LEO huntress—and she retains all the instincts of her larger, wilder relatives.

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Meanwhile, South-of-the-Border...

While the squirrels in the frigid Northern Hemisphere are snuggling in their nests, in the Southern Hemisphere, tree frogs are busily scampering in the trees, eating bugs and making the next generation of little climbers.  There are approximately 30 varieties of tree frog in the United States—and 600 species in Central and South America.  Worldwide, there are approximately 800 species, all related by the climbing structure of their feet.  The largest tree frog is about 5 inches long while the smallest comes-in at under one inch long.

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Out for a Peak

Squirrels do not hibernate. But, when it's bitterly cold, as it is now, they will stay home with their nest companions—entangled in a comfy-warm "communal sleeping ball." This helps them to keep warm during the coldest days of winter.  When the temperature rises a bit, they will venture out of the nest, retrieving the food they buried in the earlier seasons.  It has been estimated that a squirrel will hide three years worth of food during the summer and fall seasons—ensuring that even those squirrels with terrible memory skills will be able to survive the winter well-fed.

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Deep-Sea Writer

Suppose you need to write a quick note—while sitting at the bottom of a pool or diving in the deep-blue sea. This "metal alloy" pen could save the day! Its special tip writes (semi-permanently) without lead or ink. And it will even write underwater! (Waterproof paper is another matter.) When finished, cap it with its magnetic snap-on cover.

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Sketch in Style

Advance your lead—with an assured click, click, click—and keep-on sketching the scene. This hexagonal mechanical pencil, made in England of brushed stainless steel, will keep writing in durable style. The faceted sides keep it from rolling-off your desk. And the supply of 2mm leads will get you through many a landscape.

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Mining for Gold - IV

Let's finish our procession of gold-leafed photo frames with this charming Gothic Revival version.  Water gilding is embellished with a hand-drawn overlay, then burnished for a rich appearance.  This frame sits horizontally or vertically and will hold a 3.5" x 5" photo.

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Mining for Gold - III

As though plucked from a 1930's MGM movie, this European Art Deco beauty is handsome, modern and stylish.  The wooden frame is leafed in gold and punctuated with four silver leaf corners.  It sits horizontally or vertically and holds a 3.5" x 5" photo.

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Mining for Gold - II

This European gold-leafed frame is as classic as can be.  The only decoration is the little rabbeted edge and the little "overlaps" where the edge of one thin leaf of gold covers the edge of its neighboring leaf of gold.  It holds a 3.5" x 5" photo and can sit horizontally or vertically.  Pure stye and sophistication.

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Mining for Gold - I

One of my 2021 New Year's resolutions was to finish going through the last few remaining boxes—as-yet-untouched since closing my shop in Greenwich Village.  The boxes were mostly office supplies and display fixtures.  But they had been packed in a frenzy and, it turns out, there were a few merchandise items buried within them.  So I've had a little chance to "mine" a few little treasures, including a small trove of European gold-leafed frames.  I will share a few of my favorites with you this week. This frame wears a confident Art Nouveau "whiplash" border upon its hand-applied gold leafing.  Thin sheets of gold are applied (with water) to the wooden frame below, after which the pattern is drawn by...

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Trusting One's Taste

As I've become a more experienced collector, I feel more confident venturing-beyond my previously trod territory.  When I find something that I like, yet cannot identify—or I suspect it might even be recently-made—I will give the piece an extra turn or two in-the-hand, asking myself, "Why not?".  If the quality is high (and handmade), the design is tasteful, and the piece is priced well, I may add it to the collection despite my uncertainty as to its age or maker. The piece shown here was discovered at an estate sale last week.  I was hunting for furniture and came across this in the meantime.  It wasn't a lot of money—and something told me that it was good (if not "important").  To learn more...

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