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Epic Ink: How Japanese Warrior Prints Popularized the Full-Body Tattoo     Collectors Weekly, 2017

Utagawa Kuniyoshi released his action-packed illustrations, inspired by the characters of a popular Chinese martial-arts novel, amid a period of social turmoil.  But unlike previous illustrators who stuck closely to the text, Kuniyoshi made a key change, adorning several of the story’s heroes with elaborate, large-scale tattoos. In doing so, he merged fantasy and decorative art to create a breathtaking new style of body modification, ultimately producing a cultural touchstone that remains influential more than a century after his death.


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Pushing Buttons: In Our Divided America, Political Pinbacks Give Anyone a Voice     Collectors Weekly, 2017

Amid our isolating echo chambers, the success of political pinbacks offers a small beacon of hope—a quaintly analog way of voicing opinions on touchy topics that’s survived more than a century of civic turmoil, and will surely outlast the siren call of social media.


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Furniture of the Future: Victorian New York's Most Visionary Designer Loved His Machines     Collectors Weekly, 2017

When George Jakob Hunzinger patented his first piece of furniture in December of 1860, the United States was on the brink of a devastating Civil War. Gas-powered automobiles hadn’t made their debut; electric lighting was decades away; skyscrapers did not yet exist. Yet from Hunzinger’s vantage point as a successful immigrant in New York City, possibly the most forward-thinking place on Earth, he imagined a future where humans lived among machines, and even the most humble pieces of furniture would be mechanically enhanced.


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The French called them mouches or “flies,” because of the dark spots’ resemblance to small insects alighted on fashionably pale skin. In England, artificial beauty marks were known as “plaisters” or patches, since they often covered scars and pockmarks, thereby transforming a blemish into a feature. During the late Renaissance, these conspicuous spots spread among the stylish set and tantalized onlookers, to whom they seemed like a secret language: Were hers placed in symbolic locations? Did his cover signs of illness or injury? Were secret messages encoded in their shapes?


For more than a century, most games of chess have been played using a familiar set of abstracted black-and-white pieces, with minimal variation in size and detail. Known as the Staunton pattern, the design was named after Howard Staunton, a British player famous during the mid-19th century when the style was first created by Nathaniel Cooke. But the Staunton pattern’s prevalence today belies the variety of the game’s physical incarnations throughout history—in the past, chess was never quite so black and white.


When Medieval Monks Couldn't Cure the Plague, They Launched a Luxe Skincare Line     Collectors Weekly, 2017

Long before the modern deluge of organic soaps, herbal remedies, juice cleanses, and lifestyle brands, the mindful crowd had a medieval-era source for all-natural panaceas: the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Roughly translated as the “Perfume-Pharmaceutical Workshop of New Saint Mary’s Church,” this world-renowned cosmetics and pharmaceutical company began its life as a community health clinic at a 13th-century Florentine monastery.


Subversive Sounds: The Straight Men Who Made America's First Gay Record     Collectors Weekly, 2016

When “Love Is a Drag” hit record-store shelves in 1962, it was decidedly not a sensation. Only a few shops carried the album, which featured jazz standards performed by an anonymous singer and band, and its label flopped shortly after the release. But beneath this mundane veneer, the record’s content was remarkably provocative, becoming the first major release to feature a male singer crooning love songs about other men.


Mechanical Movements of the Cold War: How the Soviets Revolutionized Wristwatches     Collectors Weekly, 2016

Shortly after the stock market crash of 1929, the Soviet Union purchased a bankrupt watch manufacturer in Ohio and moved the business halfway across the globe to Moscow, employees and all. Within a couple of decades, the Soviets had transformed this single workshop into one of the world’s top watchmaking centers, second only to the venerable Swiss enterprise.


The Sissies, Hustlers, and Hair Fairies Whose Defiant Lives Paved the Way For Stonewall     Collectors Weekly, 2016

Three years before the Stonewall riots in New York City, transgender citizens of San Francisco took to the streets to demand better treatment and to hold their harassers accountable. Although the conflict at Compton’s was mostly ignored by the media, including publications run by the nascent gay community, 1966 would prove a major turning point in the battle for transgender civil rights, a year when cultural shifts aligned to begin improving the trans community’s access to healthcare and its relationship with law enforcement.


From the slaughtering of animals to inexplicable epidemics to the fatal complications of childbirth, it’s hard to overstate the ubiquity of dying in 18th-century Europe. And yet, since few people understood the many potential failings of the human body, most simply held fast to their faith and left the rest up to God. So God got more involved.


Fred Harvey was said to have “civilized the West” by bringing middle-class values to hardscrabble frontier towns, but his real accomplishments were more impressive: Harvey’s business model established the modern chain restaurant, created a major tourist market for Native American art, and gave opportunity to scores of young women escaping the confines of their Midwestern upbringings. Through its promotion of the region’s landscape, architecture, and Native American cultures, the Fred Harvey Company also built a lasting fantasy of the American Southwest.


Why Are America's Most Innovative Companies Still Stuck in 1950s Suburbia?     Collectors Weekly, 2016

Today’s tech campuses have done nothing to disrupt the isolated, anti-urban landscape favored by mid-century corporations, those stagnant suburban offices that isolated themselves—by design—from the communities their products were supposed to impact.


Over the last few millennia, as scientific knowledge and social norms have fluctuated, what Westerners considered smelling “good” has changed drastically: In today’s highly deodorized world, where the notion of “chemical sensitivity” justifies bans on fragrance and our tolerance of natural smells is ever diminishing, we assume that to be without smell is to be clean, wholesome, and pure. But throughout the long and pungent history of humanity, smelling healthy has been as delightful as it has disgusting.


It seems strange to admit that in 2015, the right to exist in certain physical spaces on Earth—spaces bound by imaginary lines drawn on maps by our governments—can be prevented by a pocket-sized paper travel document. And yet, as millions flee Syria to escape continued violence, their lives often depend on a bit of official paper permitting transit to any number of safer countries.


Coin-Op Cuisine: When the Future Tasted Like a Five-Cent Slice of Pie     Collectors Weekly, 2015

Starting in the 1890s, people flocked to a new type of restaurant whose walls were lined with futuristic devices serving everything from deviled crab on toast to apple pie. It was called the “automat.”


 In many ways, Madam Walker’s story is a classic rags-to-riches tale, wherein a poor orphaned girl pulls herself up through sheer determination and willpower, forming a business that becomes an industry giant and the envy of others. But Walker’s story is also one of repeated frustration—that her various husbands took more from her than they gave in return; that her accomplishments were challenged or overlooked by others in the black community; that she barely lived long enough to enjoy her hard-earned prosperity.


At a time when obscure new whiskeys are appearing on cocktail menus from Savannah to Seattle, it’s hard to imagine the American whiskey industry was ever under threat. But despite its noble foundations, America’s whiskey industry suffered repeated setbacks, like our 13-year Prohibition on alcohol, which nearly drove it to extinction.


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Let There Be Light Bulbs: How Incandescents Became the Icons of Innovation     Collectors Weekly, 2015

The lowly light bulb’s profound impact turned it into the universal symbol for innovation—yet despite the bulb’s storied legacy and Thomas Edison’s near-mythical status, for most people, that leap from fickle flame to unwavering electric light is vague at best. 


Pyrex’s utilitarian, streamlined designs—and even its technical-sounding name—implied that cooking was a science to be mastered using mathematical perfection. And in fact, the temperature-resistant glassware has its roots in the groundbreaking laboratories at the Corning Glass Works, a company that initially manufactured glass for industrial purposes. Indeed, the kitchenware line we take for granted once provided the material for the world’s largest telescopic lens.


Fashion to Die For: Did an Addiction to Fads Lead Marie Antoinette to the Guillotine?     Collectors Weekly, 2015

Fast fashion might seem like a modern invention, but in the turbulent world of 18th-century France, when Marie Antoinette was calling the shots, fashion moved at light speed: In an era when several artisans would be called upon to labor over a single garment, styles shifted by the hour, rendering fashion magazines, which were printed every 10 days, outdated before their ink was even dry.


Bedecked with ornate, European-inspired architecture and an array of technological wizardry, the city resumed its role as a West Coast powerhouse less than a decade after near-total destruction. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition showed the world that the city had reached new heights of grandeur, launching the modern incarnation of San Francisco like a phoenix from the ashes.


The Romance of Grindr     Wired Magazine, March 2015

I remember so many details about him—his upbringing, the things he hated about his job, how he sounded reaching orgasm—but not his name.

 


How the Military Waged a Graphic-Design War on Venereal Disease     
Collectors Weekly, 2015

In order to prevent a repeat of the venereal disease (VD) epidemic of World War I, the U.S. government teamed up with artists, designers, and ad-men to set the story straight, plastering public-health warnings on walls at bases and training facilities just as military ranks were growing exponentially ... While American sex-ed programs have taken many forms over the last hundred years, the military’s VD campaign left a unique trail of ephemera in its wake, featuring imagery that’s both gorgeous and deeply unsettling.


A Shock of Schiaparelli: The Surreal Provocateur Who Forever Altered Fashion     Collectors Weekly, 2015

Elsa Schiaparelli made women feel beautiful, daring, and independent—by convincing them to wear insect jewelry, clown prints, and shoes on their heads. And yet, despite Schiaparelli’s love of outrageous attire, her clothing was often extremely practical, adopting new technologies like plastic zippers and synthetic fabrics to create garments that made women chic and comfortable.