Friday, March 15, 2013

Slurp and Lick: Ice Cream Cones and Donkeys

Ice cream should be added to the list of great American pastimes if it isn't already on it.  When I first decided Maude Oliver, donkey extraordinaire, from the book, Rescue in Poverty Gulch, loved ice cream, I had to decide how she ate it.  My own donkey, Daisy, I'm sure wouldn't put much thought into it. If she couldn't get it into her mouth in one large bite, she'd figure out something else. And watch out for your fingers if you're the benefactor of the treat!

I did a lot of reading about donkeys before Maude made her way to the written page. The real life donkey that gave me the idea for Maude loving ice cream was a modern day donkey.  The donkey's owner didn't go into much detail, but I imagined the donkey ate ice cream from a cone. Maude, however, being a fictional donkey, had to eat ice cream the way they did it in 1896. 

While ice cream was served many different way during the 1800's, the ice cream cone as we know it, was first sold in a push cart on the streets of New York City by a man named Italo Marchiony who is credited with the invention and production of the cone as early as 1896. 

However, the ice cream cone did not gain nationwide popularity until 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair.  As the story goes, Ernest Hamwi, a waffle vendor had a booth next to an ice cream salesman that ran out of dishes.  Hamwi, solved the ice cream vendor's problem by rolling a waffle into a cone shape that served as an ice cream dish. The cone has undergone changes and modifications throughout the years, but still maintains is "waffly" look.

So, what would have been realistic to assume about how ice cream was served in the gold boom town of Cripple Creek in 1896?  Not ice cream cones as we know them today.  This led me to the discovery of Penny Licks.  A Penny Lick was an ice cream container used primarily by street vendors in the late 1800's.  It was a shallow stemmed glass that came in various sizes: half-penny, penny, and a two penny size.  The customer would place his order, stand near the cart, lick out the ice cream, and return the container to the vendor.  After swishing the container in water, the vendor would collect money from the next customer, scoop a new serving in, and hand the "new" dish to the streetside ice cream lover.  Sometimes the container wasn't even washed in between. It's no wonder that in London, in 1899, a law was passed to ban the use of Penny Licks as they were believed to contribute to the spread of Tuberculosis.

Luckily, donkeys don't get Tuberculosis. Or, not that we know of anyway.  Maude and Ruby shared many a Penny Lick purchased at the Palace Drug near 2nd Street and Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek in 1896.  One would hope the containers were well washed inside the store before ice cream was served to the next customer.

As I've mentioned often, one of the things I love about writing historical fiction is the discovery of factoids about the past. It's always fun to reflect on how things were and the changes that have happened over time.  So, think about how far we've come from the pushcart days the next time you have a treat at the Cold Stone Creamery or Baskin Robins.  Slurp, lick, and enjoy.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pen-sive: Using the Right Nib.

It’s so easy to get stuck in paradigms with historical research.  Before I needed to put a pen into a historical character’s hand, I thought there was only one type of old-time writing utensil…the carefully nibbed quill. I don’t know what I thought happened in between the quill pen and the clickable Bic, but when Miss Sternum (Rescue in Poverty Gulch) needed to pull a writing utensil from her purse at an important moment in the story, it gave me an ink-stained pause.

Like all technology, things undergo a gradual and sometimes a not so gradual change.  When I think about pens during my lifetime, I recall the fat ballpoints we were finally allowed to use when I reached junior high school.  And these were much different that the fine tipped Sharpies or gel pens in use today.  

Not my dad. High school boyfriend?

I also remember when pocket protectors were an everyday part of a business man’s wardrobe, not just the nerds, but people who went to work every day wearing a suit, like my dad. Even when he wore a sports shirt, the pocket protector was in place and a pen handy. Then, if you consider all the different styles and brands of pens, the variety is immense. 


The ball point pen itself was a huge leap forward, relying on a ball bearing at the tip of the ink tube to keep the ink from spilling out.  It’s the pressure on the ball, which releases the ink to flow out in what everyone hopes will be a smooth, even flow.  No blotters or blotting paper needed after the ballpoint replaced metal nibs for writing.  Ballpoint pens came into common use in the 1950’s and are still in use today.  (Gel  pens use a type of roller tip,too, but the consistency of the ink (the gel) is what makes the difference in how they write.)

The invention of the metal nib advanced pen technology.

So what came in between dipping and rolling?  I discovered it was the fountain pen which uses a nib, but also has a self-contained ink bottle needed. It worked on the science of capillary attraction to make work. And in case you've forgotten that science lesson, it is what allows liquid to flow into a narrow space...the little slit in the metal point.




So to back up a little, there were quill pens, then the invention of metal nibs used for dipping, and from there the fountain pen which was portable and carried around its own ink in a metal tube.

The fountain pen, which was not very reliable to begin with, evolved to the point (no pun intended) where a person could be relatively certain it could be used  without ending up with a pool of black liquid in a purse,  a pocket, or on the paper being used. 

In the 19th century, people were often judged by the quality of their penmanship,  but it makes me wonder if it became such a respected talent because of the skill it took to produce a piece of writing that was not blurred, blotted, blobbed or blackened.

Ink blotter
Judging by how often I use the delete key on the computer, I would have been hard pressed to produce an error-free letter.  I still remember writing my first published book on a typewriter (before White-out).  I’d use the little correction papers, stick them between the typewriter ribbon and keys to cover the mistake, retype so the mistake looked white and blended with the paper (sort of), and re-type again with the correction paper removed, and if I did this step correctly, I could move on.

(My typewriter was actually a little newer. than this one.)

And now, ahhhh, the computer keyboard.   Who could have imagined?

In the end, Miss Sternum did pull a fountain pen out of her purse (1896) and the important paper was signed without any pooled ink.  Or maybe I neglected to include that detail in the story.

In this case, it wasn't the most important thing. But it certainly was important that she didn't have to pull out her ink bottle and quill, uncork the bottle, dip the pen in and hand it over while the "bad" guy waited.
My final thought: be pen-sive and use the right nib. It may not be necessary to know the exact brand or design used, but an error in vintage will require a quantity of blotting paper to cover it up.  

Egyptian Reed Pens from 4th Century Egypt