Saturday, 6 April 2013

Cabinet of Curiosities #1 – inherited

In a former life this glass cabinet was a shop display for cakes. It’s not particularly beautiful but it does have a certain oddness that I like.

The display and choice of objects was never really planned, it’s more a case of what actually fits onto the limited shelf height; several objects are in groupings, namely the tin robots, boats, glasses, sardine tins, and D’s collection of VW camper vans.

The photographs of Jayne Mansfield and Cary Grant are purely incidental, I bought the old frames from a market stall in Banbury, and these photographs were included, I have never got around to changing them, and have now become quite attached to Jayne and Cary – were they ever an ‘item’ I wonder?

My favourite things are the set of ten wooden soldiers that I inherited from my grandmother; these were used to decorate my mother’s childhood birthday cakes, although we have no idea where they originated from – my great grandfather was a baker, so perhaps they were handed down? 


  1. The cake display cabinet is a thing of joy (imagining it full of cakes - wow), and the creamy-yellow base is very evocative of a time gone by. Most of the items within the cabinet have that retro feel to them, and I love the fact that the Cary & Jayne images are still in the frames!"Kiss Them For Me" was a film that starred them both, and Jayne said that Cary Grant was, "one of the most marvelous men I've ever met."

    The scale is interesting regarding the soldiers, as from the picture in the box (and for what they are) you'd imagine them to be much larger, as toys. Though I like the fact that they were (unusually?) possibly made as decorations. Wouldn't that be a great connection to your great grandfather? Did he have a shop I wonder, or was he the baker for the village, i.e. have the back part of the house with the baking ovens etc.?

  2. How nice to know that Jayne and Cary got on, and here they are reunited in the cake cabinet!

    There seems to be a baking theme to this post – as your questions regarding my great-grandfather have prompted me to find out more. I now know he was called Herbert and worked within a bakery somewhere. My Mum’s memories are of decorated sugar easter eggs which were iced with her name, and through a tiny hole on the top you viewed a scene inside the egg. She also remembers her grandparents having a pig, which was shared with other families. From this Herbert made pork pies, brawn and anything else that a pig could yield (I’ve had to google brawn – and it doesn’t sound very appetising to me!). She remembers that he made wedding cakes for people, and birthday cakes. The soldiers are about 25cm high, and seem to have been for the sole purpose of decorating the cake.

  3. I looked up the decorated sugar easter eggs you were talking about as they sounded amazing, and after an image search, I can say that they ARE amazing! They really attracted me from your description of a 'secret scene' behind the tiny peephole in the top of the egg. Some of them had a (larger) hole cut in the side showing an easterish vignette. What a lot of work, and a wonderful gift to receive too - though wonder if they actually tasted that nice? I guess having something sweet (after rationing etc.) was a treat enough!
    Great to hear that great-grandfather Herbert extended his baking skills to encompass making all pieces of a pig more tasty - know what you mean about brawn, though various though 'less apetising' offal products do seem to have made a comeback in recent years.
    My grandfather kept a pig, ducks and chickens for 'family' consumption (they were a family of 9). I have seen a small black and white photo of my Mum with the pig and some chickens. Apparently the 'evil' Rooster's days were ended after it climbed on my Mother's back and started pecking viciously at her neck. My grandfather intervened for a quick dispatch of the cockrel.

    The soldiers are very special items, and look well made. I can't think that many vintage cake decorations would still exist, and a lovely family connection. Would've loved to see all those cakes made in yesteryear for birthdays and weddings.

  4. I have followed your lead and also looked at the images for the eggs – they do seem very special, so I’m not surprised that my Mum remembers them so clearly.

    Pigs were obviously a common occurrence at that time – probably very good value for money considering that so much of it could be utilised – and visualised brilliantly in the lovely Alan Bennett screenplay A Private Function. The rooster story is my worst nightmare as I have a bird phobia – how does your Mum feel about birds now?

    Re: the soldiers, it’s interesting how some family ‘keepsakes’ from the past survive, whilst others bite the dust. These are still in the original box – and as I describe in the book, my Mum as a child, used to love removing each of the soldiers, then the wadding – then putting them all back in again before closing the lid – simple pleasures! Maybe the box is why they survived, it’s that same discussion again isn’t it – regarding preserving things within the box.

  5. You make a really good point P, to keep or not to keep - why? I definitely agree, the box makes all the difference, and love the idea of taking items out for a while and putting them back, as your Mum did.
    I think it's also because we don't have so much tradition anymore and think differently r.e. particular house interior 'displays' like the china cabinet etc., and rooms held for occasional use only, with all the 'best' items on show.

    Heirlooms are not necessarily appreciated with the same value as they once had.

    R.e. birds - will ask Mum, but if she was a little phobic, she must've been very tolerant, as Dad (in one of his 'crazy hobbies' phases) had 3 aviaries in the garden housing 54 foreign birds: various varieties of finches, parakeets etc.!

  6. My Mum's story reminded me of my childhood and how I would play with her button bag - a tartan silk, drawstring affair with a solid base, kept within the actual sewing box and holder of all the odd buttons. It was a lovely game to get them all out, line them up, categorise by colour or size, and then put them all back again. My friend C also mentioned recently that she did exactly the same thing - it's funny how sewing baskets hold a certain fascination at whatever age.

    Bravo to your Mum - I would be a nervous wreck - although it does sound an exotic hobby!

  7. What a lovely recollection P - so, there were a few of us that enjoyed the 'getting out' and catagorising (I agree, usually size, shape and colour were the usual suspects) of buttons, and haberdashery items from the sewing basket. That container full of different colours, textures and shapes lead to hours of entertainment!
    If I remember rightly, also felt-tip pens were a favourite, as they came in HUGE packets/cases with lots of colours too.
    I wonder if those activities started off loves of stationery, and also needing/wanting a sense of order around oneself?


Blog Archive