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The Oldest Known Globe to Depict the New World Was Engraved on an Ostrich Egg, Maybe by Leondardo da Vinci (1504)

Image by Davidguam via Wikimedia Commons

Every time you think you’ve got a handle on Leonardo da Vinci’s genius (which is to say, you think you’ve heard about the most important things he painted, wrote, and invented), yet more evidence comes to light of the many ways he meets the standard for the adjective “genius”…. Recently, Leonardo re-appeared not only as an inventor of futuristic military technology or discoverer of complex human anatomy, but also as the first European to depict the “New World” on a globe–proving he knew about Columbus’ voyages when the globe was made in 1504.

The discovery “marks the first time ever that the names of countries such as Brazil, Germania, Arabia and Judea have appeared on a globe,” notes Cambridge Scholars Publishing, who released a book by the globe’s discoverer and primary researcher, Stefaan Missinne. The artifact attributed to Leonardo is engraved, “with immaculate detail,” writes Meeri Kim at The Washington Post, “on two conjoined halves of ostrich eggs.” And it features a single sentence, in Latin, above Southeast Asia: Hic Sunt Dracones–“Here be dragons.”

We’ll notice other unique features of the engraved egg Missinne calls, simply, “the Da Vinci Globe,” such as the fact that in place of Central and North America are the islands of Columbus’ “discovery,” surrounded by a vast ocean in which Pacific and Atlantic join. Why ostrich eggs? Humans have used them for decorative purposes for millennia. Also, “in that time period,” says Thomas Sander, editor of the Washington Map Society’s journal, Portolan, “the ostrich was quite the animal, and it was a big thing for the noble people to have ostriches in their back gardens.”

Missinne, a real estate developer, collector, and globe expert originally from Belgium, discovered the globe in 2012 at the London Map Fair. It was purchased “from a dealer who said it had been part of an important European collection for decades,” and its buyer and owner remain anonymous. After the globe appeared, Missinne “consulted more than 100 scholars and experts in his year-long analysis,” putting “about five years of research into one year,” says Sander, calling the research “an incredible detective story.”

Missinne’s investigation seems to substantiate his claims that the globe was made by Leonardo or his workshop. The evidence, some of which you can find on the Cambridge Scholars Publishing site, includes a 1503 preparatory map in da Vinci’s papers; the presence of arsenic, which only Leonardo was known to use at the time in copper to keep it from losing its lustre; “The use of chiaroscuro, pentienti, triangular shapes, the mathematics of the scale reflecting Leonardo’s written dimension of planet earth”; and a 1504 letter from Leonardo himself stating, “my world globe I want returned back from my friend Giovanni Benci.”

Missinne and Geert Verhoeven, of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection & Virtual Archeology, have published a paper on the “unfolding” of Leonardo’s globe into the two-dimensional image above (see an interactive version here). “This miniature egg globe is not only the oldest extant engraved globe,” the authors write, “but it is also the oldest post-Columbian globe of the world and the first ever to depict Newfoundland and many other territories.” Previously, the Hunt-Lenox Globe, a small copper globe, was thought to be the oldest known such artifact. Dated to around 1510, this globe, Missinne discovered, is actually a copy made from a cast of the older, original ostrich-egg globe.

Missinne’s findings have their detractors, including John W. Hessler of the Library of Congress, who claims Missinne himself is the anonymous owner of the globe, which raises issues of conflict of interest. “Where this thing comes from needs to be clarified,” says Renaissance cartography expert Chet Van Duzer of the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, R.I., though he adds, “It is an exciting discovery, no question.” Missinne’s claims for the egg’s provenance are more modest than his marketing. He “speculates,” writes Kim, “ the egg could have loose connections to the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci.” Hessler’s view is less equivocal: “The Leonardo connection is pure nonsense.”

A layperson like Missinne, whatever his personal investment, might be inclined to overinterpret evidence or make tenuous connections a trained scholar would avoid. The many scholars he cites in support of his claims for the globe are also vulnerable to these charges, however, though to a lesser degree. What do we make of French Mona Lisa expert Pascal Cotte’s testimonial, “I hereby confirm the evidence of the left-handedness of the engravings on the Ostrich Egg Globe. As Leonardo was the only left-handed artist in his workshop, I hereby endorse the hypothesis of Leonardo da Vinci’s authorship”? As in all such academic debates, “Here be dragons.” Weigh the case in full in Missinne’s 2018 book, The Da Vinci Globe.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Watch Chick Corea (RIP) Perform Intimate Acoustic Performances with Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton, Hiromi Uehara & Others

It seems impossible to talk about keyboardist Chick Corea, who passed away from cancer on February 11 at age 79, without also talking about Miles Davis. Davis hand picked him for the groundbreaking albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, and as a member of those ensembles, Corea helped shape the future of music and helped divide the jazz community into those who embraced the psychedelic “fusion” of jazz, rock, and other world musics and those who were fiercely protective of tradition.

Corea, however, “had already gone through early explorative phases of his career,” writes Jim Burlong at Jazz Views, before his “brief but not always happy” stint with Davis. He was on his way to the avant-garde direction he would take with his later group, Return to Forever. Yet no matter how far out there he went with Davis or the ridiculously accomplished RTF and hundreds of other musicians he played with, Corea always stayed connected to the music’s roots.

“Throughout his career,” Giovanni Russonello writes at The New York Times, Corea “never abandoned his first love, the acoustic piano, on which his punctilious touch and crisp sense of harmony made his playing immediately distinctive.” We hear it in compositions like “Spain” (at the top in a beautifully spare version with Bobby McFerrin), “500 Miles High,” and “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” all of which have “become jazz standards, marked by his dreamy but brightly illuminated harmonies and ear-grabbing melodies.”

We hear Corea’s “dreamy” acoustic piano throughout Return to Forever’s 1976 Romantic Warrior, an album that features 29 or so additional instruments among its four musicians, including a MiniMoog, Micromoog, Polymoog, Moog 15, ARP Odyssey, and an alarm clock and slide whistle on the quirky, medieval “The Magician.” This description alone might make purists cringe, but charges that jazz fusion albums are overstuffed and overly busy don’t tend to stick to Corea’s best recordings.

The sound of Return to Forever on Romantic Warrior, an album that influenced “bands to come on both sides of the Atlantic,” is “never crowded,” Burlong writes, “and the overall ambiance from all combinations of the thirty something instruments used is mostly one of controlled urgency.” Graced with a finesse that shines equally in weird, Scientology-inspired electric albums and traditional acoustic trios, Corea’s “versatility is second to none when it comes to the jazz world,” says his longtime friend and collaborator, vibraphonist Gary Burton.

Corea resisted the idea that funk and rock instrumentation in progressive jazz meant the invention of a new sub-genre. “It’s the media that are so interested in categorizing music,” he said in 1983, “the media and the businessmen, who, after all, have a vested interest in keeping marketing clear cut and separate. If critics would ask musicians their views about what is happening, you would find that there is always a fusion of sorts taking place… a continual merging of different streams.”

His advice to fellow musicians who might feel constrained by tradition or the strictures of the market is priceless (or “cheap but good,” he wrote), including the advice he gave a graduating class at Berklee College of Music in his home state of Massachusetts in 1997: “It’s all right to be yourself. In fact, the more yourself you are, the more money you make.” As a musician, Corea was never anything less than himself, though he didn’t seem in it for the money, sharing composition credit equally among the musicians on many of his ensemble albums.

Corea’s versatile musical approach won him 23 Grammys (“more than almost any other musician,” writes Russonello), three Latin Grammys, and the enduring respect and admiration of fans and fellow musicians. See more of his flawless chops in the intimate live performances above, including a Tiny Desk Concert with Burton, a full concert in Spain from 2018 with his acoustic trio, and a dueling piano performance of “Spain” live in Tokyo with pianist Hiromi Uehara, just above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


The Art of Movie Posters: View Online 40,000+ Movie Posters & Learn How They’re Made

If you can’t judge a movie by its poster, it’s not for the poster designer’s lack of trying. Nearly as venerable as cinema itself, the art of the movie poster has evolved to attract the attention and interest of generation after generation of filmgoers — and, safe to say, developed a few best practices along the way. Some examples go beyond effective advertisement to become icons in and of themselves: take for example, the poster for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, designed by James Verdesoto. In the Vanity Fair video above, Verdesoto draws on a variety of “one-sheets” in order to explain a few of the tricks of the trade.

Like any cultural artifact, movie posters are subject to trend and fashion. It just happens that trends and fashions in movie poster design can last for decades, with each revival bringing an underlying aesthetic concept back into the zeitgeist in a new way. Surely you’ll recall a few years, not long ago, when every major comedy seemed to stamp bold red text on a pure white background: American Pie, the remakes of Cheaper by the Dozen, and The Heartbreak Kid, even the likes of Norbit.

This has been going on at least since the 1980s, as Verdesoto shows by pulling out the poster for John Hughes’ beloved Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, then comparing it to the conceptually similar one for Meet the Parents to note differences in the use of fonts, photographs, and negative space.

Since The Firm, thrillers have often been signaled with hunted-looking men running down blue-toned corridors or streets, often in silhouette; a great many explosive action movies since Die Hard have gone in for black-and-white posters that emphasize slashes of red or orange. Even the non-genre of “independent films,” often modest of marketing budget, have their own color: canary yellow “a cheap way to catch the eye.” Case in point: Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, a notorious film that also happened to come with one of the most memorable posters of the 2000s, due not just to its yellow background but because its conscious reference to European designs of the 1950s and 60s, such as the one for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up.

You can behold (and in some cases even download) countless many works of movie-poster art, from a variety of decades and a variety of nations, at the sites of the University of Texas Harry Ransom Center and the New York movie poster gallery Posteritati. Here on Open Culture we’ve also featured Taschen’s book of dynamic movie posters of the Russian avant-garde, online archives of the famously artistic movie posters of Poland and Czechoslovakia, not to mention compellingly odd hand-painted movie posters from Ghana. Spend enough time with all of them, and you may find yourself possessed of enough of an intellectual investment in this thoroughly modern art form to start investing in a genuine collection of your own. But no matter your enthusiasm for movie posters, it’ll be a while before you catch up with Martin Scorsese.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.


Trips on the World’s Oldest Electric Suspension Railway in 1902 & 1917 Show How a City Changes Over a Century

Today we take a ride on the world’s oldest electric suspension railway—the Wuppertal Schwebebahn in Germany.

Actually, we’ll take two rides, traveling back in time to do so, thanks to YouTuber pwduze, who had a bit of fun trying to match up two videos discovered online for comparison’s sake.

The journey on the left was filmed in 1902, when this miracle of modern engineering was but a year old.

The train passes over a broad road traveled mostly by pedestrians.

Note the absence of cars, traffic lights, and signage, as well as the proliferation of greenery, animals, and space between houses.

The trip on the right was taken much more recently, shortly after the railway began upgrading its fleet to cars with cushioned seats, air conditioning, information displays, LED lighting, increased access for people with disabilities and regenerative brakes.

An extended version at the bottom of this page provides a glimpse of the control panel inside the driver’s booth.

There are some changes visible beyond the windshield, too.

Now, cars, buses, and trucks dominate the road.

A large monument seems to have disappeared at the 2:34 mark, along with the plaza it once occupied.

Fieldstone walls and 19th-century architectural flourishes have been replaced with bland cement.

There’s been a lot of building—and rebuilding. 40% of Wuppertal’s buildings were destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII.

Although Wuppertal is still the greenest city in Germany, with access to public parks and woodland paths never more than a ten-minute walk away, the views across the Wupper river to the right are decidedly less expansive.

As Benjamin Schneider observes in Bloomberg CityLab:

For the Schwebebahn’s first riders at the turn of the 20th century, these vistas along the eight-mile route must have been a revelation. Many of them would have ridden trains and elevators, but the unobstructed, straight-down views from the suspended monorail would have been novel, if not terrifying.

The bridge structures appear to have changed little over the last 120 years, despite several safety upgrades.

Those steampunk silhouettes are a testament to the planning—and expense—that resulted in this unique mass transit system, whose origin story is summarized by Elmar Thyen, head of Schwebebahn’s Corporate Communications and Strategic Marketing:

We had a situation with a very rich city, and very rich citizens who were eager to be socially active. They said, ‘Which space is publicly owned so we don’t have to go over private land?… It might make sense to have an elevated railway over the river.’

In the end, this is what the merchants wanted. They wanted the emperor to come and say, ‘This is cool, this is innovative: high tech, and still Prussian.’

At present, the suspension railway is only operating on the weekends, with a return to regular service anticipated for August 2021. Face masks are required. Tickets are still just a few bucks.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.


Explore the Roman Cookbook, De Re Coquinaria, the Oldest Known Cookbook in Existence

Western scholarship has had “a bias against studying sensual experience,” writes Reina Gattuso at Atlas Obscura, “the relic of an Enlightenment-era hierarchy that considered taste, touch, and flavor taboo topics for sober academic inquiry.” This does not mean, however, that cooking has been ignored by historians. Many a scholar has taken European cooking seriously, before recent food scholarship expanded the canon. For example, in a 1926 English translation of an ancient Roman cookbook, Joseph Dommers Vehling makes a strong case for the centrality of food scholarship.

“Anyone who would know something worth while about the private and public lives of the ancients,” writes Vehling, “should be well acquainted with their table.” Published as Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome (and available here at Project Gutenberg), it is, he says, the oldest known cookbook in existence.

The book, originally titled De Re Coquinaria, is attributed to Apicius and may date to the 1st century A.C.E., though the oldest surviving copy comes from the end of the Empire, sometime in the 5th century. As with most ancient texts, copied over centuries, redacted, amended, and edited, the original cookbook is shrouded in mystery.

The cookbook’s author, Apicius, could have been one of several “renowned gastronomers of old Rome” who bore the surname. But whichever “famous eater” was responsible, over 2000 years later the book has quite a lot to tell us about the Roman diet. (All of the illustrations here are by Vehling, who includes over two dozen examples of ancient practices and artifacts.)

Meat played an important role, and “cruel methods of slaughter were common.” But the kind of meat available seems to have changed during Apicius’s time:

With the increasing shortage of beef, with the increasing facilities for raising chicken and pork, a reversion to Apician methods of cookery and diet is not only probably but actually seems inevitable. The ancient bill of fare and the ancient methods of cookery were entirely guided by the supply of raw materials—precisely like ours. They had no great food stores nor very efficient marketing and transportation systems, food cold storage. They knew, however, to take care of what there was. They were good managers.

But vegetarians were also well-served. “Apicius certainly excels in the preparation of vegetable dishes (cf. his cabbage and asparagus) and in the utilization of parts of food materials that are today considered inferior.” This apparent need to use everything, and to sometimes heavily spice food to cover spoilage, may have led to an unusual Roman custom. As How Stuff Works puts it, “cooks then were revered if they could disguise a common food item so that diners had no idea what they were eating.”

As for the recipes themselves, well, any attempt to duplicate them will be at best a broad interpretation—a translation from ancient methods of cooking by smell, feel, and custom to the modern way of weights and measures. Consider the following recipe:




I foresee much frustrating trial and error (and many hopeful substitutions for things like lovage or rue or “satury”) for the cook who attempts this. Some foods that were plentifully available could cost hundreds now to prepare for a dinner party.


Vehling’s footnotes mostly deal with etymology and define unfamiliar terms (“laser root” is wild fennel), but they provide little practical insight for the cook. “Most of the Apician directions are vague, hastily jotted down, carelessly edited,” much of the terminology is obscure: “with the advent of the dark ages, it ceased to be a practical cookery book.” We learn, instead, about Roman ingredients and home economic practices, inseparable from Roman economics more generally, according to Vehling.

He makes a judgment of his own time even more relevant to ours: “Such atrocities as the willful destruction of huge quantities of food of every description on the one side and the starving multitudes on the other as seen today never occurred in antiquity.” Perhaps more current historians of antiquity would beg to differ, I wouldn’t know.

But if you’re just looking for a Roman recipe that you can make at home, might I suggest the Rose Wine?



You could probably go with red or white, though I’d hazard Apicius went with a fine vinum rubrum. This concoction, Vehling tells us in a helpful footnote, doubles as a laxative. Clever, those Romans. Read the full English translation of the ancient Roman cookbook here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


10,000 Vintage Recipe Books Are Now Digitized in The Internet Archive’s Cookbook & Home Economics Collection

“Early cookbooks were fit for kings,” writes Henry Notaker at The Atlantic. “The oldest published recipe collections” in the 15th and 16th centuries in Western Europe “emanated from the palaces of monarchs, princes, and grand señores.” Cookbooks were more than recipe collections—they were guides to court etiquette and sumptuous records of luxurious living. In ancient Rome, cookbooks functioned similarly, as the extravagant fourth century Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome demonstrates.

Written by Apicius, “Europe’s oldest [cookbook] and Rome’s only one in existence today”—as its first English translator described it—offers “a better way of knowing old Rome and antique private life.” It also offers keen insight into the development of heavily flavored dishes before the age of refrigeration. Apicus recommends that “cooks who needed to prepare birds with a ‘goatish smell’ should bathe them in a mixture of pepper, lovage, thyme, dry mint, sage, dates, honey, vinegar, broth, oil and mustard,” Melanie Radzicki McManus notes at How Stuff Works.

Early cookbooks communicated in “a folksy, imprecise manner until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s,” when standard (or metric) measurement became de rigueur. The first cookbook by an American, Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, placed British fine dining and lavish “Queen’s Cake” next to “johnny cake, federal pan cake, buckwheat cake, and Indian slapjack,” Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald write at Smithsonian, all recipes symbolizing “the plain, but well-run and bountiful American home.” With this book, “a dialogue on how to balance the sumptuous with the simple in American life had begun.”

Cookbooks are windows into history—markers of class and caste, documents of daily life, and snapshots of regional and cultural identity at particular moments in time. In 1950, the first cookbook written by a fictional lifestyle celebrity, Betty Crocker, debuted. It became “a national best-seller,” McManus writes. “It even sold more copies that year than the Bible.” The image of the perfect Stepford housewife may have been bigger than Jesus in the 50s, but Crocker’s career was decades in the making. She debuted in 1921, the year of publication for another, more humble recipe book: the Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church Ladies’ Aid Society of Chicago’s Pilgrim Cook Book.

As Ayun Halliday noted in an earlier post, this charming collection features recipes for “Blitz Torte, Cough Syrup, and Sauerkraut Candy,” and it’s only one of thousands of such examples at the Internet Archive’s Cookbook and Home Economics Collection, drawn from digitized special collections at UCLA, Berkeley, and the Prelinger Library. When we last checked in, the collection featured 3,000 cookbooks. It has grown since 2016 to a library of 10,600 vintage examples of homespun Americana, fine dining, and mass marketing.

Laugh at gag-inducing recipes of old; cringe at the pious advice given to women ostensibly anxious to please their husbands; and marvel at how various international and regional cuisines have been represented to unsuspecting American home cooks. (It’s hard to say whether the cover or the contents of a Chinese Cook Book in Plain English from 1917 seem more offensive.) Cookbooks of recipes from the American South are popular, as are covers featuring stereotypical “mammy” characters. A more respectful international example, 1952’s Luchow’s German Cookbook gives us “the story and the favorite dishes of America’s most famous German restaurant.”

There are guides to mushrooms and “commoner fungi, with special emphasis on the edible varieties”; collections of “things mother used to make” and, most practically, a cookbook for leftovers. And there is every other sort of cookbook and home ec. manual you could imagine. The archive is stuffed with helpful hints, rare ingredients, unexpected regional cookeries, and millions of minute details about the habits of these books’ first hungry readers.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


A Side-by-Side, Shot-by-Shot Comparison of Denis Villeneuve’s 2020 Dune and David Lynch’s 1984 Dune

As a longtime fan of all things Dune, there’s no living director I’d trust more to take over the “property” than Denis Villeneuve. But why remake Dune at all? Oh, I know, the original film—directed (in several cuts) by “Alan Smithee,” also known as David Lynch—is a disaster, so they say. Even Lynch says it. (Maybe the nicest thing he’s ever said about the movie is, “I started selling out on Dune.”) Critics hated, and largely still hate, it; the film’s marketing was a mess (Universal promoted it like a family-friendly Star Wars clone); and the studio felt it necessary to hand glossaries to early audiences to define terms like Kwisatz Haderach, gom jabber, and sardaukar.

But when I first saw David Lynch’s Dune, I did not know any of this. I hardly knew Lynch or his filmography and had yet to read Frank Herbert’s books. I was a young science fiction fan who saw in the movie exactly what Lynch said he intended: “I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world.” I did not know to be upset about his deviations from the books in the grotesque imagining of the Third Stage Guild Navigator or the decision to cover Baron Harkonnen in bloody, oozing pustules. The film’s impenetrability seemed like a feature, not a bug. This was a world, totally alien and yet uncannily familiar.

In hindsight, I can see its many flaws, though not its total failure, but I still find it mesmerizing (and what a cast!). Villeneuve, I think, was in a very difficult position in updating such a divisive work of cinema. Should he appeal to fans of the books who hate Lynch’s film, or to fans of the classic film who love its imagery, or to the kinds of theatergoers Universal Studios feared would need a glossary to make it through the movie? Add to this the pressures of filmmaking during a pandemic, and you can imagine he might be feeling a little stressed.

But Villeneuve seems perfectly relaxed in a recent interview above for the Shanghai International Film Festival, and the trailer for the new film has so far passed muster with everyone who’s seen it, generating excitement among all of the above groups of potential viewers. As you can see in the video at the top, which matches shots from the preview with the same scenes from the 1984 film, the new Dune both does its own thing and references Lynch’s disputed classic in interesting ways.

No director should try to please everyone, but few adaptations come laden with more baggage than Dune. Maybe it’s a good idea to play it safe, anchoring the film to its troubled past while bringing it in line with the current size and scope of Hollywood blockbusters? Not if you ask the director of the Dune that never was. Alejandro Jodorowsky intended to bring audiences the most epic Dune of all time, and was relieved to find that Lynch’s adaptation was “a shitty picture.” By contrast, he pronounces the Villeneuve trailer “very well done” but also compromised by its “industrial” need to appeal to a mass audience. “The form is identical to what is done everywhere,” he says, “The lighting, the acting, everything is predictable.”

Maybe this is inevitable with a story that filmgoers already know. Maybe Villeneuve’s movie has surprises even Jodorowsky won’t see coming. And maybe it’s impossible—and always has been—to make the Dune that the cult Chilean master wanted (though breaking it into two parts, as Villeneuve has done, is surely a wise choice). Herbert’s vision was vast; every Dune is a compromise—“Nobody can do it. It’s a legend,” says Jodorowsky. But every great director who tries leaves behind indelible images that burrow into the mind like shai-hulud.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


The Massive Harrods Catalogue from 1912 Gets Digitized: Before Amazon, Harrods Offered “Everything for Everyone, Everywhere”

A couple years ago, obituaries began appearing online for the department store Sears after the 130-year-old American company announced its bankruptcy. Many of the tributes focused on Sears, Roebuck & Co’s catalog, and for good reason. Their massive mail-order business, the Amazon of its day, transformed the U.S., selling guitars to Delta blues and rock and roll musicians and shipping thousands of build-it-yourself houses to rural homesteaders and suburbanites. The sheer reach and scope of the Sears’ catalog can seem overwhelming…. That is, until we turn to the 1912 Harrods for Everything.

This 1,525-page catalogue from London’s world-famous department store, Harrods, does seem to mean everything, with over 15,000 products available for purchase at the store’s location, by mail, or by phone (“anything, at any time, day or night”).

You can see the enormous monument to commerce for yourself at Project Gutenberg. The catalogue took 13 years to scan. “Some idea of the vast quantity of items that Harrods stocked or had available can be taken from the general index,” notes Eric Hutton, one of the volunteer editors on the project, “which runs for 68 pages, five columns to a page.”

Men and women could order custom-tailored clothing, fine jewelry, clocks, watches, furniture. Naturalists and hunters could have their trophies dressed and mounted. Policemen and, well, anyone, could order pistols, “knuckle dusters,” and handcuffs. “You could also hire bands or musicians, plus tents or marquees for outdoor gatherings. You could rent steam, electric, or petrol launches to go down a river, or, if you set your sights further afield, there were ‘exploring, scientific and shooting expeditions… completely equipped and provisioned for any part of the world”… perhaps the Edwardian British version of the Sears House.

A MetaFilter user points out how much globalization and empire play into the marketing. These are “not just luxury goods but commodities. I noticed wheat could come from at least three continents…. Over and over it explains how Harrods will outfit anyone abroad who needs a social or military or exploratory uniform: telegraph Harrods for shoe buckles appropriate to your stations.” Harrods also repeatedly emphasizes they will ship anywhere in the world. Colonial officials in India or Uganda could live like kings. We must confess, we doubt this merchandise was truly meant for everyone.

This was also a time when miracle cures and various unscientific treatments abounded. “You could buy things like chloroform or throat pastilles in dozens of varieties,” notes Hutton, “even those containing cocaine!”

A few of the commodities featured in Harrods for Everything are a lot harder to come by these days. Some of them, like the pages of guns, are easy to get in the US but not so readily available in the UK and many of its former colonies. (Though you can find catalogues for just about anything if you look hard enough.)

But aside from certain obvious historical differences, the catalogue isn’t that much different from the pages of online retailers who will also sell you almost anything, at any time of day, and ship it to you anywhere in the world. What we thought of as unprecedented innovation was commonplace in the days of Queen Victoria, only shipping took a lot longer. Harrods’ universalizing Latin motto even sounds particularly modern, in English, at least: Omnia Omnibus Ubique, or “everything for everyone, everywhere.” Yet much, too, has changed. Harrods, outfitter of the British Empire, is now owned by the state of Qatar.

See the fully scanned 1,525-page Harrods for Everything catalogue at Project Gutenberg.

Related Content:

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How the Sears Catalog Disrupted the Jim Crow South and Helped Give Birth to the Delta Blues & Rock and Roll

What It Cost to Shop at the Grocery Store in 1836, and What Goods You Could Buy

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Michel Gondry Creates a Burger King Ad That Touts New Research on Reducing Cow Flatulence & Climate Change

As every grade schooler knows (and delights in working into conversation), cows have a tendency towards flatulence. At first this just deterred kids from going into animal husbandry, but now those kids have come to associate the phenomenon of farting livestock with a larger issue of interest to them: climate change. From cows’ rear ends comes methane, “one of the most harmful greenhouse gases and a major contributor to climate change,” as Adam Satariano puts it in a recent New York Times article on scientific research into the problem. “If they were a country, cows would rank as the world’s sixth-largest emitter, ahead of Brazil, Japan and Germany, according to data compiled by Rhodium Group, a research firm.”

For some, such bovine damage to the climate has provided a reason to stop eating beef. But that’s hardly the solution one wants to endorse if one runs a company like, say, Burger King. And so we have the Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whopper, the product of a partnership “with top scientists to develop and test a new diet for cows, which according to initial study results, on average reduces up to 33% of cows’ daily methane emissions per day during the last 3 to 4 months of their lives.” The main effective ingredient is lemongrass, as anyone can find out by looking up the project’s formula online, where Burger King has made it public — or as the marketing campaign stresses, “open source.”

That campaign also has a music video, directed by no less an auteur of the form than Michel Gondry. In it the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind filmmaker has eleven-year-old country musician Mason Ramsey and eight other Western-attired youngsters sing about the role of cow flatulence in climate change and Burger King’s role in addressing it. All of this presents a natural opportunity for Gondry to indulge his signature handmade aesthetic, at once clumsy and slick, childlike and refined. You may recognize Ramsey as the boy yodeling “Lovesick Blues” at Walmart in a video that, originally posted two years ago, has now racked up nearly 75 million views. Burger King surely hopes to capture some of that virality to promote its climate-mindedness — and, of course, to encourage viewers to have a Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whopper “while supplies last.”

Related Content:

Michel Gondry’s Finest Music Videos for Björk, Radiohead & More: The Last of the Music Video Gods

Filmmaker Michel Gondry Presents an Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Director Michel Gondry Makes a Charming Film on His iPhone, Proving That We Could Be Making Movies, Not Taking Selfies

The Coen Brothers Make a TV Commercial — Ridiculing “Clean Coal”

Watch Andy Warhol Eat an Entire Burger King Whopper–While Wishing the Burger Came from McDonald’s (1981)

McDonald’s Opens a Tiny Restaurant — and It’s Only for Bees

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.


What Is a “Casual Game?” Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #46 Talks to Nick Fortugno, Creator of “Diner Dash”

Famed game designer Nick joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to consider fundamental questions about the activity of gaming (Nick calls games “arbitrary limits on meaningless goals”) and what constitutes a casual game: Is it one that’s easy (maybe not easy to win, but at least you don’t die), one meant to be played in short bursts, or maybe one with a certain kind of art style, or just about any game that runs on a phone? Nick’s most famous creation is the casual Diner Dash, which can be very stressful. Vastly different games from very hard but very short action games and very involved but soothing strategy games get lumped under this one label.

Our conversation touches on everything from crosswords to Super Meat Boy, plus the relation between psychology and game design, whether casual games really play less than hardcore gamers, the stigma of an activity that was for marketing reasons at one point branded as being just for adolescent boys, and even heuristics for beating slot machines.

Some sources we looked at include:

Just so you don’t have to write them down, our recommendations at the end were:

You can follow Nick @nickfortugno.

Learn more at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.


Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.