1891. A Historical Digression.

Even though we’re now well into the twenty-first century, I have to confess that I’m still fond of, aware of, influenced by, and intrigued by the nineteenth century. The West Tisbury I grew up in, back in the 1950’s, was still in numbers and at heart a nineteenth century village. A large proportion of the adults in town had been born in the nineteenth century, and if not, their parents certainly had been. My grandmother’s boyfriend’s grandfather was born in 1812. The West Tisbury of the ‘fifties was a “wayback machine”. Today, the fate that gave me such an old-fashioned childhood seems to be an impossible stroke of luck, and luck of the finest kind.

Us Nor’Englanders tend to be packrats. We’re cheap, too. We collect all manner of things, from cast iron to ephemera. What? Why?  Some thing might come in handy some day. Or if we’ve got that something handy it could save us an hour’s trip down-island and back — not to mention that we will not have to spend money or squander gasoline and wear and tear on the vehicle. Perhaps something is saved just because it is interesting, or because it carries associations too dear to discard.

Speaking of ephemera, I have a box of old “Scribners” magazines, published in the last years of the nineteenth century. They’re enjoyable to look through. The other day I was looking at some of the old advertisements in the back section. Some of them caught my eye. I photographed some to share with you.

In this ad, we see that standards of beauty and physical appearance have changed.


Ain’t she sweet? (Today’s buzzword for “medicinal food” is “nutraceutical”.)

What a far distance this “Granum Girl” is from the anorexic fashion models of today.

Have you had your dietary supplements?

P1210408 (1)

Some people of today still remember cod liver oil. Not all of them fondly.

Pianos were big back then. In 1890’s West Tisbury, the pressure to have a piano was strong. On one street, the street I grew up on, so many people had pianos that you could almost always hear the sound of music, coming out of the windows of the homes along the street.


There seem to have been plenty of Voses in old New England. When I was I kid, a Vose was the president of one of our local banks. I’ve known Voses all my life. Some of our best friends are Voses, which is one of the reasons this ad caught my eye.

The computer of the day was the writing machine. There was no standard yet for keyboard layout, and inventors and their backers sank huge sums of money into the new technology.


The seductive beauty of new tech. Fifty dollars. That’s about two and a half weeks wages for a skilled tradesman of the day. How much do you make in two and a half weeks today?

Not everyone made money with machine writing. Mark Twain lost a large fortune from a bad investment in a failed typesetting machine venture.

He wasn’t the only one to take a bath…


In the 1890’s, industrial change was sweeping the nation.

And in 1891, the board game Parcheesi was already almost a generation old. The manufacturer bragged: “For 20 years, the best families have had it in their homes.”


Six generations later, my grandchildren still play Parcheesi.

I never could have written this had I not been such a packrat. I have one more little packrat story. My mother used to tell a true story of being in her late husband’s attic. They found a carefully wrapped box, left by many years before, by some long-gone family member.

On the box, in careful script, was written….

Pieces of string too short to save.”

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