New Year’s Good Luck Cake

Vasilopita is a New Year’s Day bread or cake in Greece and many other areas in eastern Europe, which contains a hidden coin that is believed to bring luck to the one who obtains the coin. It is associated with Sainr Basil’s day. (Saint Basil’s Feast Day is observed on January 1, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season known as the Vasilopita Observance) January 1, in most of Greece, but in some regions, the traditions surrounding a cake with a hidden coin are associated with Epiphany or Christmas The dough in which the coin is placed varies immensely depending on personal preference and location/region. In some families, instead of dough, it is made from a custard base. The pie is known as Chronópita, meaning New Year’s Pie.

On New Year’s Day families cut the vasilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. This is usually done at the midnight of New Year’s Eve. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. At midnight the sign of the cross is etched with a knife across the cake. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest. 

In older times, the coin often was a valuable one, such as a gold sovereign. As time went on, the tradition of a costly coin (in most cases) changed. In more modern times, a gift, money or prize is given to the coin recipient. Many private or public institutions, such as societies, clubs, workplaces, companies, etc., cut their vasilopita on New Year’s Day and the beginning of the Great Lent, in celebrations that range from impromptu potluck gatherings to formal receptions or balls.

How did this tradition start you may ask? In popular belief, vasilopita is associated with a legend of Basil of Caesarea. According to one story, Basil called on the Roman citizens of Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop the enemy forces from surrounding the city, cutting off essential supplies with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside. Each individual of the city gave what they had in gold and jewelry. When the ransom was raised, the  adversary was so embarrassed by the people’s cooperation that he called off the siege without taking a thing. Basil was then tasked with returning the unpaid ransom, but had no way of knowing which items belonged to which family, so he baked all of the jewelry into loaves of bread and distributed the loaves around the city, and by a miracle each citizen received their exact share.

Vintage Paper Dolls

What is it about paper dolls that so enchanted, and continue to enchant, children around the world? To this day they still enchant some collectors.

Paper dolls represent an interesting window into the past on any given time period. Fashion aficionados will especially appreciate paper dolls for their look at trendy fashions of the times. Combine that with the fact that popular celebrities and fictional characters were often the faces of paper dolls, and you have the perfect snapshots of moments in history.

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Paper dolls weren’t only made out of paper; some were made of cloth or wood. Obviously, however, most were made of paper, making antique paper dolls hard to find in good condition.

The first paper dolls as we know them were created in the 18th century in Europe. They featured fancy dresses and accessories worn in the fashion capitols of the world. These paper dolls were not made for children, but were in fact made for adults to admire a designer’s work in the fashion industry.

The first paper doll modeled after a celebrity took the likeness of the ballerina Marie Taglioni in the 1830’s.

The famous company Raphael Tuck improved paper dolls by inventing the interchangeable clothes and heads we’re familiar with today.

Do you collect paper dolls? Did you play with them as a child? Tell us about your favorites in the comments! And don’t forget to check out our store for some vintage paper dolls of your own.

Ancient Greek Coinage

What were the first coins of Ancient Greece?

The first coins actually came from Lydia sometime before 600 BC. The Lydians’ coin system inspired the Greeks to start making their own coins. They didn’t create the same coins for the whole country, however. Instead, each Greek city-state (of which there were more than two thousand) issued its own coins.

Lydia electrum coin.

Lydia electrum coin

Of course, the coins sometimes wandered far past the boundaries of their city-state in inter-city trade. These coins were usable anywhere in Greece, however; as a result, coins with plenty of different designs and styles circulated their way around Greece.

The Greeks made many of their coins out of silver. They struck small lumps of silver with a hammer that had a mold on it, flattening the silver into a coin while imprinting the design on it at the same time.

So how were denominations judged if different city-state coins circulated all over Greece? They were minted to an “Aeginetan” weight standard by which everyone could judge the value of the coin. But Athens struck a different standard and slowly developed a dominance in trade, making Athenian coins another weight standard through the Classical period.

An Athenian coin.

An Athenian coin.

Greek coins from the archaic period had a cruder, less polished look to them, but the design and production of the coins evolved over time into a more elegant look. Often, larger cities designed their coins with their patron god or goddess or a famous hero. For instance, Athenian coins featured the owl of Athens and a portrait of Athena.

When Greek culture expanded geographically in the Hellenistic period, the coins themselves also found their way into other countries in the Western world. Some of these newer coins had portraits of living people; kings wanted to celebrate their divinity by putting their own portraits on coins. This is where the tradition of showing royalty on currency began.

What’s your favorite ancient Greek coin?

Traveling with Art: Shrewsbury, Ireland

 

A town with mostly medieval architecture, Shrewsbury, Ireland’s rich history includes being founded around 800 AD and being the center of wool commerce. Evidence also suggests that Shrewsbury had its own mint in its early days, making it an especially important area. The site also saw a number of battles and conflicts in the Medieval era.

 

The postcard image you see above is a color photo lithograph of some of Shrewsbury’s mansions, a view from around the 1900’s showing a building that was built in 1596.

 

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Shrewsbury Castle Keep in Ireland. (Via Rev Dan Catt CC 2.0)

If you want to see a piece of royalty first hand, the town’s Shropshire Regimental Museum at Shrewsbury Castle has a locket with a lock of Napoleon’s hair. (Yes, THAT Napoleon.) To add to the list of famous names, Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury and grew up there.

 

 

A grave for the character Ebenezer Scrooge even exists in a Shrewsbury graveyard, made for a movie version of “A Christmas Carol” and never taken out.

 

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A watercolor scene of Shrewsbury, signed ‘Louise Rayner’.

The town also contains “the grandfather of skyscrapers”, the Ditherington Flax Mill, the oldest iron framed building in the world.

 

 

Shrewsbury has many more claims to fame than you can really keep track of! Today the town has a refined culture and plenty of architecture from various time periods, especially the Medieval era, that make the town a sight to behold.

Traveling with Art: Bray, Berkshire in England

Have you ever wanted to escape to the English countryside? This watercolor painting by Albert Rosser offers a small escape into a village in England. Here, Rosser has painted St. Michael’s Church in Bray, Berkshire, a small but accomplished town in the UK.

Bray is just one of many subjects that Albert Rosser has painted in England, which also include lakes and mountains in British National Parks. He’s a go-to artist for natural English beauty. (Here‘s the link to the above painting.)

“And this is law I will maintain
Until my dying day, sir,
That whatsoever King shall reign,
I’ll be Vicar of Bray, sir.”
A ballad commissioned by the Singing Vicar of Bray in the 17th century

St. Michael's Church and its graveyard (via Rob Neild under creative commons)

St. Michael’s Church and its graveyard (via Rob Neild under creative commons)

This particular Bray church was built in 1293 to replace a Saxon church, taking some of the former church’s statues along with it. According to folklore, the builders of the church ran into a little trouble that they attributed to a demonic presence. Work progressed quickly on building the church, but on the night after the first building day, something horrible happened: the start of the structure had been torn down and reduced to rubble. Well, the builders had no choice but to start over again, but the situation occurred again, and again, and again. Citizens attributed the issue to the work of demons who did not want the church built. Finally, they moved the structure’s location and, after prayers to St. Michael from the villagers, no more demons wreaked havoc on the building.

A local cottage reportedly has a tunnel which leads to the church as an escape route for clergymen.

The Fat Duck, a critically acclaimed restaurant. (via geograph.org under creative commons)

The Fat Duck, a critically acclaimed restaurant. (via geograph.org.uk under creative commons)

Bray has two internationally recognized restaurants, one of which, The Fat Duck, was voted as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. The restaurant plays with molecular gastronomy to create exotic tastes that will surprise your taste buds. Scrambled egg and bacon ice cream, anyone?

A view of Monkey Island (via geograph.org.uk under creative commons)

A view of Monkey Island (via geograph.org.uk under creative commons)

A hotel called the Monkey Island Hotel sits on the nearby Monkey Island. The island got its name from the Old English term Monks Eyot, or Monk’s Island, based on the monks who used to reside on the island. Rubble from the Great Fire of London was dumped on the island, giving it a foundation solid enough and high enough to risk flooding. One can find grotesquely painted monkeys in the pavilion inspired by the island’s name.

Bray, Berkshire has many undiscovered treasures and hidden history within its borders, and at its finest it is a quaint English town with pleasant scenery and historical architecture. Who knows what you might discover if you visit?

Traveling with Art: Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge and Prague Castle are prime examples of Prague architecture and contain rich histories within their walls.

Let’s start with Charles Bridge: The bridge crosses the Vltava River and has two bridge towers, one of which is the Old Town bridge tower famous for its Gothic style and the thirty baroque statues lining the balustrade, creating a stunning effect.

Construction on this beauty started all the way back in 1357. A rumor surrounding its construction says that the Emperor Charles IV ordered the bridge builders to mix egg yolks into the mortar to make it stronger. Allegedly one village decided to go all out in impressing the emperor and sent carts full of hard-boiled eggs to the construction site. Who wants to bet that more than a few bridge builders snuck some extra protein into their lunches that day?

The artist Mekhti Mezentsev painted this beautiful watercolor piece showing the  of the bridge. Mezentsev lives and teaches watercolor classes in Prague.

The artist Mekhti Mezentsev painted this beautiful watercolor piece of the bridge tower. Mezentsev lives and teaches watercolor classes in Prague.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world at about 570 meters in length and 130 meters wide.

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A shot of Charles Bridge.

The first of Prague castle was built around the 9th century, where the first walled building was the Church of the Virgin Mary, and throughout the decades the castle was worked on. The last major rebuild was in the 18th century by the hand of Empress Maria Theresa, and in 1848 the former emperor made Prague Castle his home. Royalty and presidents have kept their offices in Prague Castle, and the Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept in a hidden room inside.

In 1995, the Rolling Stones played a concert to over 100,000 audience members in Prague. They then gave the ultimate gift to the Czech Republic president (also a big Rolling Stones fan) Vaclav Havel: $32,000 toward the revamp of lighting in four of the castle’s grand halls. The band members presented Havel with a remote control for operating the chandeliers and spotlights. If you see the lights flickering in the halls, someone’s having a little too much fun.

This etching takes you right to the scene on a calm, peaceful day, using neutral colors with accents of yellow and green in the scenery to show the bridge in the foreground and the castle in the background.

This etching takes you right to the scene on a calm, peaceful day, using neutral colors with accents of yellow and green in the scenery to show the bridge in the foreground and the castle in the background.

That’s just a taste of the history behind these stunning Prague buildings.

What more would you like to know about these historical sites?

Have you been to Prague? Share your stories in the comments!