Small Talk Archive: December 2016

A Game of Put and Take

Teetotum, Date Unknown, Maker Unknown, Location Unknown

One of the most treasured Hanukkah traditions is of course spinning the dreidel in order to win that big pile of chocolate gelt! The game, which was popularized in sixteenth-century Germany, involves spinning a four-sided top. While this game commemorates the origins of Hanukkah, later versions of the game were created for secular play and simple gambling.

A cousin of the dreidel, the teetotum is a multi-sided top that includes either numerals or in the case of this brass model, English instructions. Popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the game of Put and Take involved two or more players spinning the teetotum and following the directions on the face-up side in order to win (or lose) money from a pot. The game, which was easily set up and could be played almost anywhere, became a huge craze in the 1920s and 1930s. The game was met with controversy in many places due to being associated with gambling and eventually faded in popularity. We’ll stick to chocolate coins, thank you!

Through the Looking Glass

Rococo Mirror

With its gilded C-shaped curves intertwined with floral vines, this miniature mirror is unmistakably Rococo style. Popular in Europe in the eighteenth century, Rococo style came to America via imported furniture, immigrant craftsmen, and pattern books. The full-scale inspiration for this work came from a Rococo mirror in the collection of the Winterthur Museum, attributed to Philadelphia furniture maker James Reynolds.

In creating the tiny looking glass, artist William R. Robertson researched the original mirror to determine scaled measurements. Using precision tools, he then carved the mirror’s frame in wood. Lastly, the frame was coated in gold leaf and fitted with a small mirror. The result is a Rococo miniature masterpiece worthy of taking a selfie in!