The Original Yellow Drawing Pencil

One of the most asked about objects in the Nichols House Museum’s collection is a small blue box filled with yellow pencils. While it sounds like a simple set of objects, these pencils have been puzzling visitors and guides alike for years. It is the size of these small pencils that make them so unique. At one and a half inches each, these pencils would simply be too small to comfortably hold and write with. Each wooden pencil has a brass screw fitting on the back, making it clear that these small pencils were designed to attach into a larger drawing tool. The box originally held twelve pencils (or as the box reads “1 douz.”) but only nine remain.

The brand on the pencil box is L&C Hardtmuth Koh-I-Noor. L&C Hardtmuth is a pencil manufacturer that was founded at the turn of the nineteenth century in Vienna. At the end of the century the company adopted the name Koh-I-Noor [1] after a famous diamond discovered in India that is now part of the crown jewels of the United Kingdom [2]. Koh-I-Noor is credited with designing the “original yellow drawing pencil” and appealed to artists with a range of seventeen grades of graphite. [3]

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Queen Elizabeth at her coronation, 1953. The Koh-I-Noor diamond is at the base of her crown. National Media Museum, United Kingdom

To find out more about these tiny pencils we reached out to Caroline Weaver, a self-described “lifelong pencil lover” and founder of CW Pencil Enterprise. She informed us that these pencils were a refill for pencil holders that were fashionable in the early 1900s. Usually made of sterling silver or brass, these pencil holders would often have a small ring attached to them so that they could be carried on a chain.

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Brass pencil holder, L&C Hardtmuth, late 19th century, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Knowing where these pencils were from and what they were designed for, the question is which member of the Nichols family may have carried the fashionable little accessory that held them. With no such pencil holder in the collection, we are relying on photos and letters in the archives to tell the rest of the story.

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Elizabeth Nichols possibly wearing a chatelaine

A photo in the Nichols family’s collection shows Elizabeth Nichols standing in the garden in their New Hampshire summer home, wearing a rope belt around her waist that appears to have a silver object hanging from a chain. Chatelaines, decorative chains that were attached to a woman’s belt and held objects such as sewing scissors, button hooks, smelling salts and pencils, were a women’s accessory in the mid to late nineteenth century [4].

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Cut steel chatelaine, English, nineteenth century, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Chatelaines became popular as a result of the lack of pockets in Victorian fashion [5]. While they had largely fallen out of fashion by the time the Koh-I-Noor pencils were manufactured, the photo of Elizabeth wearing a chain from her belt most likely dates from the early 20th century, after these pencils were available.

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Postcards from Rose Nichols’ collection showing women wearing chatelaines

There are also a few references to pencils in the family letters.

“Having spent about all the time I have to write to you in looking for a pen I am afraid you will have to content yourself with pencil.”–March 14, 1898, Margaret to Rose

“Papa is fixing the soles of my feet and that is why I have to write in pencil.” –February 2, 1902, Margaret to Marian

“I left my pencil watch key in the upper, left hand waistcoat pocket, the same garment in which you found the bank-notes. Please bring it to me, and you may possibly find also a lead pencil.” –November 30, 1902, Arthur to Elizabeth

While Margaret’s letters suggest that pencils are not her favorite writing instrument (even if her reasoning is a bit strange), Arthur seems to prefer using a pencil. His “pencil watch key” was most likely a small pencil holder attached to the chain of his pocket watch, that is seen in an image of Arthur from the photo collection.

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Arthur Nichols wearing a chain that most likely held his “pencil watch key”

His interest in pencils is also documented by on another object in the collection. A little red pencil sharpened on both ends is labeled with a tag in Arthur’s handwriting that reads,“Bought at the manufactory / Nürnberg / Anno, 1868. / Used 1885-1891. / A. H. N.”

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1961.819

Arthur visited the Faber manufacturer in 1868, while he was studying medicine in Vienna. His detailed record of this little red pencil that was in his possession for over fifty years, along with his use of a “pencil watch key” suggests that he was the “lifelong pencil lover” of the family and the likely owner of our small box of yellow Koh-I-Noor pencils.

 

[1]“History.” Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.

[2] Tarshis, Dena K. “THE KOH-I-NOOR DIAMOND AND ITS GLASS REPLICA AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE EXHIBITION.” Journal of Glass Studies 42 (2000): 133-43. Web.

[3]”Back Matter.” Art Education 6.5 (1953): 40. Web.

[4] “Chatelaine.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.

[5] Matthews, Christopher Todd. “Form and Deformity: The Trouble with Victorian Pockets.” Victorian Studies 52.4 (2010): 572-3. Web.

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Administration.

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“Unfinished”

Tucked safely away in the Nichols House Museum’s archives are roughly three hundred photographs that make up the “Nichols Family Photograph Collection.” The collection is divided into five categories: individual portraits, group portraits, gardens and landscapes, buildings, artwork and decorative arts. The bulk of the photography collection is portraiture, followed closely by images of gardens and landscapes, unsurprisingly based on the Rose Nichols’ career as a landscape architect. Photos grouped in the “artwork and decorative arts” series make up only twenty-seven of the collection’s photos. While many of the photos in the artwork and decorative arts series appear to be photographs of collection objects taken and distributed by established museums, a very small number of photos stand out as something slightly different–student work. Three photos in the collection show figurative sculptures that appear to be made of plaster, each with a handwritten inscription on the back: “Walker Hancock – American Academy in Rome.”

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Inscription.


Walker Hancock was an American sculptor who lived from 1901 to 1998. He is most well known for his monumental works, including the Pennsylvania Railroad Memorial, and his
role as one of the Monuments Men, recovering artworks that had been looted by the Nazis during World War II [1].

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Portrait of Walker K. Hancock, 1928, by Frank P. Fairbanks, Fellows’ Work Collection, 1910-1960, American Academy in Rome.

Hancock studied sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art before being awarded the Prix de Rome fellowship which allowed him to study at the American Academy in Rome from 1925 to 1929 [2]. It was during his time at the American Academy of Rome that he designed the three sculptures that appear in the Nichols Family Photograph Collection.

 

Two of the sculptures appearing in these photos, Bagpipe Player and Boy with Squirrel were eventually cast in bronze and are found in several museums across the country but the third sculpture of two mermaids in a loose embrace, does not appear to have been completed. A very telling inscription handwritten in blue ink across the front reads “unfinished.” While the two completed models are photographed on slightly more formal pedestals, the two mermaids are seen on top of a rough looking table draped with a wrinkled piece of white fabric. Some scratchy pencil lines drawn on the photo from the base of the sculpture moving up through the two figures suggests Hancock’s design was intended as a fountain. Two copies of this photograph also exist in the photography archives of the American Academy in Rome. The records of these photos also indicate that the work was never resolved as the copies are archived under two different names,  Marine Sculpture and Fountain Group [3].

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Fountain Group, Fellow’s Work Collection, 1910-1960, American Academy in Rome.

While this work seems to have been left “unfinished” it appears to have been a precursor for Hancock’s work, Triton, a piece that Hancock designed as a fountain for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City [4].

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Large Triton Fountain, courtesy Brock & Co.

The Nichols Family’s connection to Walker Hancock does not seem to be documented outside of Rose Nichols’ possession of these three photographs. It is not surprising that Rose had an interest in Hancock’s sculptures based on her use of fountains and statuary in the gardens that she designed. While Rose may not have worked with Hancock directly or utilized any of his statuary in her designs, she did own a pair of small statues made by Hancock’s friend and contemporary, Paul Manship, depicting Adam and Eve.

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Pair of bronze statues, Paul Manship, 1961.344.1-2.

Hancock and Manship both studied at the American Academy in Rome, and were both associated with the sculptural style of “modernized classicism” [5]. Manship and Hancock were educated in sculpture in the early twentieth century, prior to the Great Depression. Unfortunately for these two sculptors as well as many of their contemporaries, bronze casting was often out of the question during the Depression due to financial constraints. Many trained sculptors during this period worked in carved wood and plaster instead of bronze. A renewed interest in modernized classicism in the 1980s allowed for many of these models to finally be cast in bronze, including one of Hancock’s most well received works, The DiverWhile many of Hancock’s statues were given new life throughout the 1980s, this fountain seen in Rose Nichols’ photo collection has remained “unfinished.”

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Inscription

[1]”Society of Fellows News.” American Academy in Rome. American Academy in Rome, Feb. 2015. Web. 3 Aug. 2016.

[2]”The Monuments Men.” Hancock, Capt. Walker K. Monuments Men Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[3] “Fellows’ Work Collection, 1910-1960.” Digital Humanities Center. American Academy in Rome, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[4] Howlett, D. Roger. “Thirties Sculpture in the Manship Tradition Reborn in the Eighties.” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 16 (1990): 28. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 20 July 2016.

[5] Ibid. 24.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist.

“Please return to R S Nichols”

In the 20th century, postcards had a fascinating role in the culture of travel, correspondence and personal record keeping. In the 2012 MFA publication, The Postcard Age, collector, Leonard A. Lauder writes, “Postcards did not just record or represent this dynamic era–they also participated actively in it.” [1] Postcards were simultaneously a popular means of communication, as well as an inexpensive and accessible type of image collecting. Before the invention of cellphones with cameras and the ease of communication and research created by the internet, postcards were a way of keeping visual records of things that you had seen in your travels and either sending them to your friends and family, or developing a collection of small, mass-produced artworks. The practice of collecting and sending postcards became very popular at the turn of the 20th century. In 1895 an estimated 314 million postcards were mailed, compared to the 880 million postcards sent in 1914. [2] 

Along with her house and furnishings, Rose Nichols left her collection of over 1,200 postcards to the Nichols House Museum. Some of the postcards were sent by friends and relatives, some were mailed home by Rose to keep in her own collection, and most of the cards acquired by Rose never saw a mail-box at all. The collection includes images of natural landscapes, architecture, interior design, and artworks including paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and tapestries. The variety of subjects offers some perspective into Rose’s interests and travel experience, ranging from Egypt to the American Southwest.

Left: Postcard, “The 2nd Pyramid of Cheefren, Cairo.”
Right: Postcard, “CAMEL BACK MOUNTAIN AND DESERT.”

These four-by-six inch images, some in color, some in black and white, gave Rose a way to keep a record of things she saw in museums, or gardens that would inspire her own work in the landscape architecture field.

Left: Postcard, “Hampton Court Garden Tudor Palace”
Right: Postcard showing a garden designed by Rose Standish Nichols, “E.L. Ryerson, Lake Forest, ILL.”

Her postcards even kept a record of some of her political activism. One example shows six members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom at the 1919 Peace Conference in Zurich, Switzerland. While Rose is not among the six photographed here, she was in attendance at the conference and was a long-time member of the WILPF.

PC150Above: Postcard, “Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Second Conference, Zurich, 1919”

While many of the postcards show elements of Rose’s life outside her house, they also give some insight into what is inside her residence at 55 Mount Vernon Street. Rose’s postcards that illustrate examples of objects create a fascinating parallel with her own collection of furniture and fine art. Some of the images show objects that are similar in style or almost identical to many or Rose’s belongings. Whether she collected them as a wish-list, as a way to remember home when she was far away, or as a record that her own home was furnished with objects of considerable status, there are dozens of examples on display at the Nichols House Museum that bring Rose’s postcard collection to life.

Left: Postcard, “MUSÉE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS -Bergere, Tapsserie au point, fin du XVII siecle-ND”
Right: Hepplewhite armchair with modern upholstery in rose-colored silk damask,[probably New England, United States of America], 1790-1805

Left: Postcard, “NAPOLI – Museo Nazionale DIONISIO (Narciso)- Pompei”
Right: Cast bronze figure of Narcissus, [European], 19th century

Left: Postcard: “GARRISON HOUSE, Exeter, N.H. ‘Daniel Webster’ Desk”
Right: Queen Anne style maple corner chair, [probably New England, United States of America], ca. 1740

Left: Postcard, “American embroidery, 18th century”
Right: Framed needlepoint fragment, likely English, late 17th-18th century

Left: Postcard, “TALL CLOCK, SIGNED BY BARTHOLOMEW BARWELL, WORKING IN NEW YORK ABOUT 1760. MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK”
Right: Mahogany tall case clock, made by Elnathan Taber, Roxbury, Massachusetts, United States of America and Birmingham, England, ca. 1790

Left: Postcard,”BED-CURTIN Cotton, embroidered with coloured wools, English; second half of the 17th century, VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM. Produced by W.F. Sedgwick, Limited”
Right: Crewelwork bed hangings made by Rose Standish Nichols,  ca. 1890

Left: Postcard: “ARM-CHAIR Walnut; said to have belonged to Neil Gwynn. English; Period of Charles II. H. 4ft. 3 in.; W. 2ft. Given by Sir George Donaldson. VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM.
Right: Reproduction Jacobean style armchairs with carved decoration by Rose Standish Nichols, made by Irving & Casson-A. H. Davenport Co. Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America, 1910-1940

Left: Postcard: “Ivory Figure of a Gazelle Egyptian, About 1375 B.C. (XVIII Dynasty) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Collotype by Maz Jaffé, Vienna Austria.
Right: Standing animal figure, possibly an ibex, signed by artist Giorgio Sommer; Naples, Italy, late 19th to early 20th century

[1]Klich, Lynda, Leonard A. Lauder, and Benjamin Weiss. The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection. Boston, MA: MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2012. Print.

[2]Elliott, Brent. “A Brief Guide to the Use of Picture Postcards in Garden History”. Garden History 31.2 (2003): 218–224. Web.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist