Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Relive the Adventure Right in Your Own Home! A 19th Century Pop Culture Tie-In

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections
Do you know anyone who’s bought a kids’ meal at a fast food place to get the special toy from the latest movie sensation? Are your children begging you for a Percy Jackson or Harry Potter action figure? Have you toyed with the idea of buying The One Ring™ - Sterling Edition from The Lord of the Rings for $129.00 and claiming absolute power for yourself?

Today, our culture abounds with “tie-ins” that maximize the money-making potential of popular novels, movies and television programs. These artifacts, which range from cheap plastic toys to finely-crafted “facsimiles,” seem the epitome of popular culture in the 21st century.

While the variety and number of such tie-ins may seem infinite today, the phenomenon goes back at least a couple of centuries. James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, became the most popular English-language novel of its time. Although it would have to wait 80 years or so to receive its first movie treatment, tie-in products appeared much sooner.
One group of Cooper tie-ins was a series of girandoles featuring characters from The Last of the Mohicans. Girandoles are “figural candelabras or candlesticks of the mid- to late 19th century, made of cast brass with gilt finish, and having marble bases and cut prisms around the candle sockets, often used in sets consisting of a candelabrum flanked by two candlesticks.”[Art and Architecture Thesaurus] The central candelabrum in the set featured the hero, Hawkeye (also known as Natty Bumppo) together with two Native Americans, most likely Uncas and Chingachgook. Flanking them are two single candlesticks with the figure of an army officer, probably the British Major Heyward. Candlesticks featuring Cora Munro, the leading female character, were also made.

In an age in which candles still provided most artificial light, girandoles were especially showy. The light reflected off their gilt surface and glass pendants. Girandoles were often placed on a mantel in front of a mirror, which further accentuated their glittery surface.

The makers of the Last of the Mohicans girandoles, Cornelius and Company of Philadelphia, did not have an exclusive deal with a toy retailer or fast food chain, nor could patrons order these figures from their website. Nevertheless, they managed to tap into the public’s desire to prolong the experience of Cooper’s novel and to permanently display that connection in their homes—something that seems very much in tune with our own times.
Above: Cast brass, gilt, glass, marble, Cornelius and Company, Philadelphia, PA, ca. 1849, N0 N0067.1977(01) and N0101.1978(01)-(02)

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin