Un souvenir lointain, the French phrase for a distant memory seems to fit perfectly around this little cup, a souvenir in the American sense, from another time and place. I find that thrift shop fragments of other times are almost Proustian to me, remembrances of things past triggering a cascade of not-my memories. I must have been a cat in another life because I find myself endlessly curious about such things in this one.
I am the Sherlock Holmes of broken china and porcelain orphans, and I want to know more. How did this cup from Bethlehem, New Hampshire wind up in Lacey, Washington over a hundred years later? Where did the saucer go? I know where the chip came from because I banged it into a metal rabbit on my desk and sadly, gave its first nick since manufacture in Germany a long time ago.
The cup is a demitasse, almost certainly a souvenir and not one of a set to be used for sipping after dinner coffee. It was made specifically for American trade as the mark on the bottom is in English. Made in Germany could indicate one of two things–it’s a prestige item and the “made in” was a selling point, German porcelain to the nouveau riche Americans would be appealing as all get out. Or, it was made after 1914 when the McKinley Tariff was revised from just country name to the added “made in” on imported items.
Manufacture after 1914 seems unlikely for several reasons. World War I launched on July 28, 1914, and made an unholy mess of Europe–including Germany for several years. I considered the style of the decoration too. Very Victorian, a black and white engraving of a tree lined street with no automobiles on it would seem to place it earlier in time. The bottom of the cup tells the truth of the tale: “Copyrighted by Charles Pollock, Boston”. More research turned up a well-known Yankee photographer, the ubiquitous Charles Pollock. Pollock seems to have had his work everywhere in the 1870s to the early 1900s, he even had a photography shop selling stereopticon equipment and photographs in Boston.
My little cup was new most likely in Bethlehem’s halcyon days, 1870 to about 1910. It turns out this little town in the White Mountains was a bit late to the party, missing incorporation by losing their paperwork before the Revolutionary War, but they did manage to become a town by 1798.. No one knows where the name came from, but Bethlehem it became and still is, with their final claim to fame being the ability to cancel stamps at Christmas with a Bethlehem postmark.
In the 1870s the trains came, as many as seven a day, bringing tourist trade from the sooty cities of the east to the clean air of the mountains. The Bethlehem entrepreneurs who discovered this mountain paradise first were not exactly slow to respond. Thirty resort hotels came into being in short order to serve these vacationers; and a whole of lot of wealthy folks including PT Barnum and the Woolworth family built lavish summer “cottages” to get away to for the weekends.
In 1887 the wealthy folks came up with the idea of a “coaching parade” and decorated horses and coaches to the max for the contest. A few cost as much as five grand to kit out according to my reading. Barnum is said to have remarked it was, “the second greatest show on earth.” The parade lasted almost forty years before dying away with the advent of the automobile, which also killed off the town as a major destination. No one had to take a train anymore, cars could get you further and go places trains couldn’t. The town was rediscovered as a summer destination for Jewish folks with hay fever in the 1920s or so. Yes, that’s what the literature says, and I can actually picture my Jewish grandma using that as an excuse to get away for a few weeks of R&R.
So what exactly is on this cup anyway? Hunting around for historical reference to match I discovered a wonderful old post card on line, and identified it as the Highland Hotel.
Here is a description of the hotel at its beginning: HIGHLAND HOUSE, J.H. Clark, on Main Street at the west end,
accomodates eighty guests. This house possessed spacious apartments
with closets, open fire-places and baths, hot and cold water on every
floor, electric bells, and other modern improvements, and has a fine
lawn tennis and croquet grounds. Good livery in connection.
I am now happy to put this little cup on the shelf in my studio where I can see it and admire it and wonder who bought it, a gift? a souvenir? What was their life like? Why did they choose this cup over all other souvenirs. Things I cannot know but I know enough to make me content.
And the postscript to this story made me laugh out loud with delight. The Highland Inn, circa 1983, is now a hotel in Bethlehem, NH which caters to women only. It is one of top lesbian destinations for vacation in the country according to Planet Pink. Life goes on.