Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Social and Cultural History

  • Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press by Ruth Herman

    Why write about old news? Grub Street and the Origins of the British Press

    I’ve always been interested in the news. From my first days in Public Relations to freelancing for the drinks trade press the ways in which events are reported have fascinated me. Later on when I embarked upon an academic career I found myself researching the arcane world of the early newspapers. I found it fascinating and much more serious. Punishment for the wrong copy didn’t simply mean getting your work spiked. It was more likely to be your ear or your cheek that bore the permanent marks of your transgression.

    Hogarth’s Distrest Poet is a depiction of a Grub Street hack’s poverty-stricken living conditions while writing anything that will earn him some money. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press, Amberley Publishing)

    So I’ve just written a book which sets out to give an introduction to the wild, bizarre and dangerous world of early newspapers and other ephemera in Britain. The days are long gone when the print was laboriously set by some apprentice. Speed of publication was measured in days rather than seconds and tweeting was something that only birds did. So you may be wondering why anyone would  study a sheet of newsprint which was destined at best to be tomorrow’s pie-wrapping? Does anybody care that 300 years ago owners lost their dogs and their wives and they put a poultice made from pigeon faeces on their thinning hair. (Yes they did – it’s in the book).

    From what I have just written you can see that, apart from the bird poo, people all those years ago were occupied with many of the same issues. Although printing technology was in its infancy the similarities between yesterday’s Grub Street hack and today’s journalist are clear. Online or in the stocks there is a continuum of news which applies when one set of people reports on what another set of people are doing. Journalists can go from providing readers with the most damaging and salacious stories to pursuing those who are harmful to the public. Celebrity love lives or fraudulent tycoons will excite readers and often it seems that the reporters make no distinction. Because reporting on either could risk prosecution and worse I started to think about the brave souls who set themselves the task of telling the “truth” about the hierarchy. I became fascinated by the way that 21st century reporters will pursue a president in much the same way as their 17th century counterparts attacked a king.

    The Daily Courant. This publication paved the way in the newspaper industry.(Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press, Amberley Publishing)

    This last thought brings up a word which has so much weight in both today’s reporting and the writings of every age that it almost blows a hole in the page. It’s the little but oh so powerful word “Truth”. Truth is such a slippery idea and as everyone knows it is sometimes difficult to pin it down. It is particularly tricky to tie in with its stable mate, fact, a concept which is also notoriously fluid and disturbingly often has little to do with “truth”. We are all aware that the powerful often lie or at least suppress the “Truth” because they can. Who is going to challenge them? This is where the very brave writers and journalists literally risk life and limb to hunt down the falsifiers and the producers of that very old concept “fake news”.

    The purpose of the book was not necessarily to illustrate the negative and dark side of the ephemeral world of the newspaper. I also wanted to show how these fascinating collections of words illustrate how people lived and thought. Would you now believe that a cow could escape from London’s Lincoln Inn Fields to run amok in High Holborn and end up falling off the top floor of an inn? It happened. Or that people thought that a string of metal beads could cure toothache? They did. The pages of these eclectic early news-sheets are a window on sophisticated, witty, clever folk whose knowledge of the world may have been more limited than ours but their zest for life was just as great. They also wanted to know what the Queen was wearing and how our soldiers were doing overseas. They went to the theatre and they went shopping for clothes. Women ran away from their husbands and others had babies. They lost dogs and pet birds. They bought houses and sold all sorts of goods. They even gambled on lotteries and lost money on the new stock market. So they weren’t so different to us. It is by reading these newspapers that you can see that despite not having Facebook or any other social media life carried on. So the book is full of stories and anecdotes which may amuse, delight or puzzle the reader. While I was reading these old new-sheets I certainly felt quite at home with the writers, although they were often guilty of using ten words where five would have done.

    To finish this blog I would like to share with you that it was a treat to research the book and I hope that you enjoy it as much I enjoyed writing it.

    Ruth Herman's book Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press is available for purchase now.

  • London - 'The Flower of All Cities' by Robert Wynn Jones

    The History of London from Earliest Times to the Great Fire

    A large part of London, and almost all of the old walled City that lay at its heart, was burned down over the space of a few short days during the Great Fire of 2–6 September 1666. This book attempts as it were to unearth from the ashes something of the history of the already age-old and burnished City that had gone before. It tells tales of settlement, struggle, conquest, oppression, rebellion, war, plague and purifying fire. The City founded by the Romans in the middle of the first century AD, on the damp maritime frontier of their vast continental empire, and named by them Londinium. The City abandoned by the Romans at the beginning of what some still think of as the ‘Dark Ages’ of the seaborne Saxons and Vikings, and known by the former in turn as Lundenwic and Lundenburg. And the City of the – later – Middle Ages or Medieval period, of the Normans and Plantagenets; and the post-Medieval or early Modern, of the Tudors and Stuarts; one of the first true world-cities, called by some Londinopolis.

    Replica of the Elizabethen Globe playhouse, Bankside, Southwark. The original was built nearby in 1599. (The Flower of All Cities, Amberley Publishing)

    This unique history of old London town encompasses the lives of kings and queens, gentlefolk, commoners and knights, monks and merchant-adventurers and strutting players; of the anointed and ill-fated, the remembered and the forgotten. It is a City tale of “great matter” and “great reckoning”; of bustling waterfronts and imposing walls, of praying spires and vying masts, of consuming chimneys and seducing streets, of plunging shadow and abiding light. That which the poet William Dunbar in 1501 described as “sovereign of Cities” and “the flower of Cities all”.

    The City of London as presently defined incorporates some areas that lie a little outside the original walls (including Southwark, south of the river). Pre-Great Fire Greater London, that is to say the more-or-less continuously built-up area, extended even farther out, especially along the Thames: on the north side of the river, as far west as the West End and Westminster, as far north as Spitalfields and Shoreditch and as far east as Stepney, Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliff, Limehouse, Poplar and Blackwall; and on the south side, as far west as Lambeth and Vauxhall, as far south as Borough and Newington, and as far east as Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, but not as far as Deptford, Greenwich, and Woolwich, which remained isolated settlements. The Great Fire was substantially confined to the old walled city.

    Through the story of early London we can trace a busy, beautiful, dangerous city lost forever, but brought back to life here through skilful analysis of the archaeological, pictorial and written records.

     

    Robert Wynn Jones's new book The Flower of All Cities: The History of London from Earliest Times to the Great Fire is available for purchase now.

  • Die-cast Commercial Vehicles by Paul Brent Adams

    Die-cast toys first appeared a little over a century ago. The first vehicles to be produced were cars, but commercial vehicles soon followed. A fleet of trucks, delivery vans, tankers, service vehicles, and mobile shops. Many of these carried the names and logos of real companies, making them some of the most colourful of all die-cast models. Often a single van or truck casting was produced in several versions, each carrying a different company name or livery.

    The British firm of Lledo produced several horse-drawn vehicles in the 1980s and 1990s. This small horse-drawn delivery van was part of a set devoted to Ringtons Tea – the rest of the models were motor vehicles. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Real commercial vehicles seldom receive an annual facelift the way cars do. This means that model trucks and vans do not date as rapidly as model cars, and a successful model can stay in production for long periods, with an occasional change of finish. The large, flat sides of trucks and vans giving plenty of space for colourful liveries. Some were even produced to special order for the companies concerned, as part of various promotions, hence the fact they are called promotionals. Commercial vehicle models soon became a staple of many die-cast ranges.

    While vans and pick-up trucks are often the same size as a normal car, most heavy commercials are much larger. To produce models that are not too large or expensive, manufacturers often make their commercials to a smaller scale than their model cars. Several firms also produced a range of larger and more expensive models, which allowed the heavies to be closer in scale to the cars, although most were still a little smaller. Among the leading British die-cast companies there were the Dinky Supertoys, Corgi Majors, and the Matchbox Major Pack and King Size ranges. At the opposite end of the size range, several lines of small scale models were produced as model railway accessories, such as the Hornby Dublo range, intended to complement Hornby OO model railways; or the Lilliput series, made by Britains, who were best known for their extensive range of toy soldiers. In more recent years, several lines have been devoted exclusively to Big Rigs, comprising a tractor unit and semi-trailer. With these models a limited number of different tractor units can be combined with various types of trailer, to produce a fleet of different models. Open vehicles can also be given an assortment of loads, allowing for even more variety.

    The Models of Yesteryear series by Matchbox was devoted to veteran and vintage vehicles, including this American-built Walker electric van. According to the back of the box, Harrods department store in London had a fleet of 60 for local delivery work in the 1920s. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    As collecting die-casts became an established adult hobby, models began to be produced aimed directly at collectors. With adults, size and price were less of a factor than they were with toys aimed at children. Many of these ‘adult’ models being highly detailed, delicate, and expensive. I still prefer the various toy ranges by companies such as Matchbox. They may lack a few of the refinements of the adult collectable, but they were designed to be played with, and there is an element of fun about them that is lacking in adult models. This is why most of the models in my collection are toys. Plus, they were the types of models I once played with.

    Modern toys are also much more affordable than adult collectables. Although vintage toys in pristine condition can be extremely expensive, as few have survived without a few paint chips, and other signs of use. If you are prepared to accept the odd imperfection, and the lack of a box, even vintage models become more affordable – which explains why most of my older models do have a few chips and scratches, some were even part of my own childhood collection.

     

     

    A pair of steam powered lorries, or wagons, from the Models of Yesteryear series. Launched in 1956, the models grew larger over the years – as these two demonstrate. The 1922 Foden being far larger than the early Sentinel. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    After discovering plastic kits in the 1970s, my die-cast toys spent a couple of decades in a box, usually under the bed, until I again began collecting die-casts in the 1990s. My collection comprises a mix of subjects, including a fair number of commercial vehicles. There are horse-drawn vehicles, a few of which survived on British roads into the 1960s; electric vehicles, used mostly for local delivery work, or inside factories and warehouses; steam power, which had been used on roads since the early nineteenth century, and lasted into the 1930s for heavy haulage; and the usual range of motor vehicles. Everything from motorcycles with a sidebox for goods and tools, to the largest lorry or tanker. There have been several ranges devoted to veteran and vintage models, and to vehicles from the early post-war years – the 1950s and 1960s. Buses and racing cars do not usually count as commercial vehicles, but these often carry advertising for various companies, products, and services, so they can be added to a collection, providing even more colour and variety. There are also a few oddballs that do not fit neatly into one of the usual categories, but these can be among the most interesting models of all. Due to the vast range of models available, most collectors specialise to some extent. Some collect only certain types of model – three-wheelers or delivery vans; a specific period, such as a favourite decade; a particular scale; or a favourite brand, such as Matchbox or Dinky. It is even possible to build a collection around a major company or product type – I tend to have a little of everything.

    One of the more modern types in the Lledo range was the Morris LD150 van from the 1950s. This example carrying colourful period-style advertising for Gibbs SR toothpaste. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Apart from the real vehicles, it is also possible to see the way models have developed over the years. Early die-casts were almost always all-metal, except perhaps for rubber tyres or wheels. From the 1950s onwards plastic parts have been used – plastic allowed models to be given clear windows. Today, most models are a combination of metal and plastic. During the 1950s and 1960s companies offered models with more detail, and more working features, in their efforts to increase sales. From the 1970s toys had fewer working features as manufacturers sought to cut costs. Many of the older companies either disappeared, or changed hands, but there are always new companies appearing, keeping the fleets of die-cast commercial vehicles rolling.

    Paul Brent Adams's new book Die-cast Commercial Vehicles is available for purchase now.

  • Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide by Lorraine Hitchings

    Richard Steiff, father of the teddy bear. (Image courtesy of Steiff GmbH, Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    Brimming over with myths and legends about his past, the Teddy Bear it seems, has been a huge part of our lives almost forever. Many people believe they own a Teddy from Victorian times or even earlier but, the truth is, he only entered our lives in 1902 and even then, the first bears (because he was not known as 'Teddy' until later) looked nothing like the cuddly creatures we know and love today. It was all thanks to Germany and to a man named Richard Steiff who became known as the father to the Teddy Bear. His aim was to create a soft toy that children could cuddle, as during those times toys were made of hard stuff like wood and even metal. Even dolls of those times were made of very hard materials.

    The first bears made by Steiff were rather harsh looking and also quite hard to the touch. The truth is, we needed to give him time to evolve.

     

     

    An early American-made teddy bear named Mississppi, who lost an eye sometime in the past. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    Those rather magical two words that we know so well 'Teddy Bear' came just a little bit later and for this we have to thank America, or to be a little more accurate to both President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt and to a small shop keeper from Brooklyn, New York named Morris Michtom. Without these two people adding their mix to his evolution, who knows, we may not ever have heard of the Teddy Bear.

    Very quickly the Teddy Bears name spread across both sides of the Atlantic and by 1906 many toy companies in the United States began to produce their very own versions of him. Companies like the Ideal Company, Bruin Manufacturing Company (BMC) and the Strauss Manufacturing Co. Inc starting up teddy production.

    It was to be a while, however, before England started making Teddy Bears as many toy manufacturers believed him to be just a fad. However, by the start of the First World War, they were just beginning to realise his importance and English Teddies began to trickle through. The first makers being the London based firm of Farnell (famous for producing the world's Most Famous Bear – Winnie the Pooh). It was this company who, during the Great War, produced what we now call 'Sweetheart Bears' or 'Soldier Bears'. These were tiny teddies that were made especially as soldiers’ mascots and often given by their sweethearts, before leaving to fight abroad. Such was the popularity of these little bears that other companies began to create their own versions.

    The revoluntionary Wendy Boston bears were certainly a new generation of teddy. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    By the end of the First World War many companies, both in England and Europe, were producing Teddy Bears. What really pushed the manufacture in England was the fact that due to German products being banned from the country, we found ourselves somewhat teddy less.

    Between the two world wars manufacturers, both in England and Germany, found it difficult to find materials to make their bears. Steiff looked at many different alternatives to mohair, including would you believe, nettles and wood, eventually coming up with their amazing 'Paper Plush' Teddy.

    It was points like this in history along with the latest fashions that has changed the way the Teddy looks, from his whole body shape, to the colour of his fur coat. During the twenties, for example, ladies made the Teddy Bear a fashion item and because of the vibrant colours of that era, the teddy took on many new and bright colours. A German toy manufacturer named Schuco produced some adorable little teddies in many different colours and many of these bears carried a secret – when their heads were taken off they revealed a lipstick or even a compact. These bears were made so well that today many has survived to tell the tale and they are now extremely popular with collectors around the globe.

    One of the biggest changes in the Teddy Bears lifetime was during the 1950's and 1960's when Health & Safety issues arose. For the first time in his life he was called dirty and unhygienic.

    Ted Hart, a Merrythought bear from 1958, who is still owned and loved by his original owner. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    A new Teddy Bear design had to be found and for this part of his evolution, we have to travel to a small town in Wales called Crickhowell. The lady we have to thank is Wendy Boston. Along with her husband Ken, they produced some of the most iconic (and in my opinion beautiful) teddies of that era.

    Wendy Boston Bears looked very different from any other teddy ever made that is for sure. This was because they were fashioned from completely washable nylon fabric and even the stuffing was fully washable. These bears became famous, not because of their looks but because they could be washed frequently in a washing machine and not only that, but they could be put through a mangle. As well as being fully washable and so termed hygienic, they were also fitted with modern 'safety eyes' whereas older bears had glass eyes fitted on a metal shank which could easily be pulled out of the bears head.

    Wendy Boston Bears sold in their thousands all around the world and many bears have survived to this day and once again sought after by collectors and I would note that, at the moment they come at a very affordable price.

    The Teddy Bear continued his journey, every decade showing up yet another problem for him, but still he carried on. When the Eighties came, of course, his personality shone, when a new age of Teddy Bears hit the scene. Firstly, manufacturers jumped on the collecting band wagon, making Limited Edition Bears. Often these bears were sold out before they even hit the shops. Artist Teddy Bears also hit the market and these bears, took the market by storm.

    No matter how much the Teddy Bear has evolved because in our hearts he is still 'Teddy' our best friend, lifetime companion and keeper of secrets and for me that is all that really matters, but I have to admit, his history is just incredible.

    Lorraine Hitchings' new book Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide is available for purchase now.

  • Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History by S. D. Tucker

    THE TWILIGHT ZONE: The Quack Discipline of ‘Zone Therapy’

    In an extract from his new book Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, out now in paperback, SD Tucker examines the bizarre ‘medical’ advice that combing your hands and squeezing your fingers can cure all ailments known to man.

    Albert Ankers's 1879 painting Der Quacksalber illustrated perfectly the origins of the word 'Quack'; namely, an old Dutch term for someone hawking dubious medicines. (Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the most comical pseudo-medical fads of all time was something called either ‘Zone Therapy’ or ‘Zonotherapy’, depending on how fancy your local quack wished to sound. This involved splitting the body up into ten different vertical zones, and claiming that symptoms in one area of the body could be diagnosed and then resolved by applying pressure to other, corresponding, zones, as everything was connected beneath the skin by nerves. Most of these nerve-networks seemed to terminate in one or other of the fingers or toes.

    This was curious, as anatomists had never managed to actually see these particular nerve-networks before, when cutting up human bodies for analysis. The Zone Therapists conveniently replied that this was because they were invisible.

    Invented around 1909 by Dr William H. Fitzgerald (1872–1942), the chief physician and senior ear, nose and throat surgeon at St Francis Hospital in Connecticut, the fake discipline first came to the attention of the wider world thanks to an article written for Everybody’s Magazine in 1915 entitled ‘To Stop That Toothache, Squeeze Your Toe!’ by the man who would become Fitzgerald’s long-time partner in such nonsense, Dr Edwin F. Bowers (b.1871).

    Unfortunately, whilst Dr Fitzgerald was a real, genuine surgeon, well-educated and well-travelled and with medical certificates spilling out of his ears, nose and throat, ‘Dr’ Bowers was not. An investigation carried out into Bowers by American medical authorities in 1929 revealed that the man had not so much as attended medical college for even a single day’s worth of instruction.

    Simply gripping a comb tightly in your hand in the fashion illustrated above would be enough to ensure an entirely painless childbirth for any woman. (William H. Fitzgerald & Edwin F. Bowers, Zone Therapy; Or, Relieving Pain At Home, Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    There’s One Born Every Minute

    Having established himself as Zonotherapy’s chief propagandist, Bowers set to work collaborating on a book with Dr Fitzgerald, 1917’s Zone Therapy: Or, Relieving Pain at Home, whose introduction jauntily promised it would advance medical knowledge far beyond geneticists’ recent discovery of ‘the evil possibilities in marrying one’s cousin’. The basic idea was that, when your eyes were hurting, say, you would look up in a Zonotherapy book which other part of your body secretly corresponded to these organs, and then apply pressure to this area to put a stop to the pain.

    In this case, the nerves within the first and second fingers of the human hand corresponded to the eyes, so the best remedy was to tie elastic bands around them, or encircle them tightly with little wire-springs until they turned blue. If neither of these items were to hand, you could always try attaching clothes-pegs to them instead – this is not a joke, this was Bowers and Fitzgerald’s actual advice, and they provided S&M-style photographs of people transformed into human washing-lines to prove it.

    The book was marketed primarily as a practical means for dispelling pain when it erupted around the home, away from your doctor with his reassuring stores of opium – even if the pain arose from as serious a thing as childbirth. In order to achieve a painless birth, all the expectant Zonotherapy-loving mother had to do was sit there with a metal comb in each hand, gripping onto them and thereby numbing her nerves whilst she pushed away merrily.

    Doing this, said the authors, would result in a new mother laughing and joking her way through the complete non-trauma of pushing a live infant out through her genitals. One new mother told her Zonotherapist that ‘she did not experience any pain whatever’ using this method, and ‘could not believe the child was born’. ‘This is not so bad,’ she laughed happily, no doubt wanting to drop out another immediately, just for fun.

    Fitzgerald claimed to have performed several successful minor operations without anaesthetic, rendering the whole procedure painless simply by applying constant pressure to his patients’ fingers prior to applying the knife, a discovery he initially termed ‘Pressure Anaesthesia’. Sceptics were invited to let practitioners squeeze the nerves in their hands, then close their eyes and see if they could feel it when pins were jabbed into their flesh.

    Apparently, they said they couldn’t; one daring fellow kept his lids open and let his Zonotherapist attach a hook into his eyeball without feeling so much as a scratch. The keen quack then ‘put several pins into his face’ before calling the man’s wife into the room to show her what he had done. The wife did not seem pleased.

    About as Much Use as a Comb to a Bald Man

    Deafness, meanwhile, could be treated by clamping a clothes-peg around your third toe or poking at your teeth with a cotton-bud, thus enabling you to hear nearby people laughing at you. You could also try combing deaf people’s hands, or solve an earache by fastening a clothes-peg ‘for five minutes or thereabouts’ on the tip of your ring-finger.

    Headaches were dispelled by sucking your thumb and pressing it hard into the roof of your mouth, thus allowing you to ‘push the headache out through the top of the head’. Alternatively, you could ‘attack’ your migraine by shoving your fingers up your nose. If your friends’ heads felt all fuzzy, you could even invade their nasal orifices for them, although it was wise to inform them of your intentions first.

    If you were going bald, meanwhile, you had to sit there ‘rubbing the fingernails of both hands briskly one against the other in a lateral motion for three or four minutes at a time, at intervals throughout the day’ until your hair re-sprouted, thus making you glad you had already invested in a metal comb for your pregnant wife upon the Zonotherapists’ wise advice.

    Those disposed to stomach-ache were advised to ‘arm yourself with a wire-hair brush and a metal comb’ every time they boarded public transport. Then, rather than vomiting over their fellow passengers, they could simply ‘get busy with the comb and brush – not on your head – but on your hands’, thus dispelling travel-sickness, indigestion and ‘distension from gas’. The sight of you obsessively combing your bare hands until you farted might still make people want to sit far away from you, however, in which case it was recommended, for no apparent reason, that you just eat some salted popcorn instead.

    If your baby had a tummy-ache, you could pursue similar methods. Rather than beating your crying infant ‘up and down the room’ with your slippers until it either shuts up or dies, why not just comb the baby until it goes peacefully to sleep?

    Submitting to Zone Therapy treatment may have cured your pain, but it could severely injure your dignity. (William H. Fitzgerald & Edwin F. Bowers, Zone Therapy; Or, Relieving Pain At Home, Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    Dentally Disturbed

    Even sharp needles could be banished from dentistry via sensible use of Zone Therapy. Instead of having cocaine injected into your mouth to numb the pain, it was much simpler to just sit there with elastic bands wrapped around your fingers. As the fingers and teeth were intimately connected, this meant you would surely feel no pain whilst lying back and relaxing within the dentist’s chair. However, because for some unknown reason (presumably related to the differing level of quasi-hypnotic suggestibility of individual patients) Zonotherapy only worked for 65 per cent of the time, the authors of Zone Therapy were careful to advise that, sometimes, the numbing needle did work best after all.

    Not only pain, but actual disease, could be cured by the Zonotherapists, or so they said. Whooping cough was banished simply by pressing a hidden bodily button located somewhere at the back of the throat. Cancer, appendicitis, goitre, even polio, all could be beaten off, at least temporarily, with naught but clothes-pegs and combs. One woman given Fitzgerald’s treatment went so far as to simply wee a bothersome tumour out from between her legs one day, causing it to make ‘a happy exit’ down the drain.

    There was no end to the wonders Zone Therapy could perform. Attending a dinner-party one evening, Dr Fitzgerald met a female opera-singer who complained that her voice was in terminal decline. Eager to help, the surgeon asked if he could fondle her feet in front of the other guests. As he did so, Fitzgerald discovered a calloused area on the big toe of her right foot. He squeezed it for a bit, then told her to sing. Amazingly, ‘Not only was she able to exactly reach the notes she had been missing, but she was able to reach two notes higher than she had ever done before.’ Dr Fitzgerald must have had a grip like a vice! If only his brain had been in such good working order too …

    S. D. Tucker's new book Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History is available for purchase now.

  • Die-cast Aircraft by Paul Brent Adams

    German aircraft of the First World War often carried very elaborate personal markings, such as those on this Model Power Fokker D.VII fighter. The artwork is different on each side of the fuselage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    My interest in aviation began in the early 1970s with the 'Biggles' books by Captain W.E. Johns, himself a pilot in the First World War. I soon began building kits of the various aircraft mentioned in the stories. Then came my first efforts at writing, mostly about model aircraft. Once I began collecting diecasts in the 1990s, a few diecast aeroplanes also joined my miniature air fleet.

    People who collect real aircraft have a problem (other than the cost of real aeroplanes) which model enthusiasts do not have to worry about: even a small fighter plane is not going to fit into a normal-sized house. Model aircraft, being much smaller, are far more practical.

    This RAF Hawker Tempest of the Second World War is a partwork model. The code letters on the fuselage side identify the squadron flying the aircraft. The model has a display stand, but no undercarriage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    Model aircraft generally come in two forms: build-it-yourself kits; or complete models, in a variety of materials, including die-cast metal. Die-casts have been made for over a hundred years. Initially, they were mainly all-metal, but since the 1950s plastic has often been used for the smaller details. Plastic is in no way an inferior material to metal: it has allowed models to be given clear canopies and windows, previously these had often been depicted with silver paint.

    Most of the companies making die-cast models have concentrated on road vehicles, but several have also had extensive model aircraft ranges. Early models were all made as toys for children, but in recent years more highly detailed, and therefore expensive, models aimed at adult collectors have been produced by several specialist firms. There have also been several ranges of partwork models, which offer high quality models at very reasonable prices, along with a magazine giving background information on the real aircraft. Models aimed at collectors tend to be made to a limited number of well established scales; while toys are often made to fit inside a standard-sized box, so the scales can vary considerably.

    Corgi Showcase model of a Hawk jet trainer belonging to the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team. The canopy is black, and there is no interior detail. All Showcase models come with a display stand, but no undercarriage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    There are two ways to look at these models. Aviation enthusiasts are likely to collect examples that show the history and development of the aircraft the models are based on. Others might be more interested in the design of the toys themselves, and the ingenuity of the toy makers. Each company tended to have its own style of model making, which developed over the years.

    Among the British companies, Dinky issued their first aircraft models in 1934, with their last new releases appearing in 1975. In the years just after the Second World War, there were a number of small companies producing die-casts, including aircraft, but most would eventually disappear, unable to compete with the quality of Dinky. Corgi produced a model of the supersonic Concorde in 1969, and a few helicopters in the 1970s, but did not get serious about aircraft models until 1998 when the Aviation Archive series was launched. Matchbox began producing the Skybusters line in 1973, and these are still being produced today. More recently Oxford Diecast have made a growing range of aircraft models. Most European countries have had at least one or two makers of die-casts, and many of these have also produced model aircraft; as have various American firms. There are now a number of companies in the Far East making aircraft. This means that there is a vast range of both new and vintage models to be collected.

    The Douglas DC-3 airliner of the 1930s, from the Corgi Showcase range. All the windows are printed. Larger versions of the DC-3 and its military counterparts are included in the Aviation Archive series. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the easiest ranges to find today are the Matchbox Skybusters, and the Corgi Showcase line. Neither series is expensive, and is a good starting point for a collection. As the models are fairly small, they do not take up a lot of space. These two lines also show the difference between toys, made to be played with; and models, which are intended more for display. Current releases can be found in toy and model shops, while older models can be picked up at collectors' fairs. Unlike the internet, fairs give you a chance to actually examine the models before buying.

    Dating from the 1970s, the Skybusters range comprised a mix of military and civil aircraft, from the Second World War onwards. There were also a few fantasy designs, and these now dominate the range, but a number of more realistic models are still available. The Skybusters are intended as toys, and scales vary. All have a fixed undercarriage, usually with rather over-sized wheels. Propeller driven aircraft and helicopters have revolving propellers or rotors, but there are usually no other working features. The models can be a little chunky, as they need to be sturdy, but every aircraft is recognizable. The colour schemes range from reasonably accurate, to completely fictitious.

    The Matchbox Skybusters series includes both civil and military aircraft. The twin-engined Cessna 402 is on a 1970s style card, while the General Dynamics F-16A fighter is on a 1980s card. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    The Corgi Showcase series includes both vehicles and aircraft, made to a variety of scales. All the aircraft have a display stand, but no undercarriage (unless the real aircraft had a fixed undercarriage). There are no working features, other than the usual revolving propellers and rotors. Canopies and windows are often painted blue, black, or silver, just like in the old days before clear plastic. Colours and markings are highly accurate, and detailed. These are much finer models than the Matchbox Skybusters, but are more delicate. They are display models rather than toys to be played with. Showcase models are smaller than their Aviation Archive counterparts - some aircraft types are available in both ranges so collectors have a choice.

    Over the years both Skybusters and Showcase models have been issued in boxes, usually with a clear plastic window so you can see the contents; or in clear plastic blisters glued to a backing card. Some of the models have also been released in sets.

    Paul Brent Adams' new book Die-cast Aircraft is available for purchase now.

  • Betrumped: The Surprising History of 3000 Long-Lost, Exotic and Endangered Words by Edward Allhusen

    The greatest invention of all time - Words and where they came from

    If you stop people in the street and ask them to make their choice of the greatest invention of all time they usually say the wheel. But the choices are endless - penicillin, concrete, telephones, petrol engines, sliced bread. Yet one invention is seldom even shortlisted despite all of us using it every day just as you are doing right now. Surely the greatest invention is language but it is seldom considered as people take it for granted. But it certainly is an invention, for no new born child comes equipped with a vocabulary.  All the words in all of the world’s estimated 6912 languages and countless thousands of dialects were invented by man. Samuel Johnson defined 42,773 words in his famous dictionary published in 1755 but now it is believed that there are in excess of 600,000 words in the English language.

    Every single one of them must have been made up by someone, somewhere at some time and for some purpose.

    Every word has a pedigree but for many the mists have rolled in and the history has been lost. But thousands have retained their history and that is what makes etymology so fascinating. For practical purposes conventional histories have to limit their scope to periods of time; areas of the world; particular spheres of science, philosophy or whatever the wordsmith chooses. But words have no such restrictions, leaving them free to leap over boundaries on their journey to the same single destination - your vocabulary, whether it be in your memory, your spell checker or your dictionary.  As they journey through time, cultures, regions and other languages they invariably bring with them a little bit of their ancestry.

    Thousands of words have been purloined from hundreds of other languages and English has always welcomed these immigrants whenever there seemed to be a linguistic gap that needed filling. Before the fifth century Latin was spoken in much of Britain but when the Romans packed up and departed they left behind thousands of words including Domino, Mantelpiece and Refrigerate. The dispossessed Celts bequeathed Butcher, Glass and Lukewarm. The Angles, whose language forms the basis of English, brought many words that have remained unchanged since they stormed ashore, Bishop, Daisy and Earwig among them. Then there were the Vikings whose Norse language contributed hundreds more including Acre, Awkward and Ski.

    In 1066 Norman-French became the language of government and law and, even when English eventually regained the upper hand, many words such as money, jury and tax remained. Knights and pilgrims returning from the Holy Land brought home exotic items and ideas never before seen in the west thus introducing words that originated in China, India and Persia such as Ivory, Oranges, Pyjamas, Satin, Sugar and Shampoo.

    Explorers and travellers returning from the new world with a plethora of previously unseen foods, ideas and items retained the native names including Anorak, Avocado, Barbeque, Hooch, Potato and Tobacco.

    Thousands of new words had to be coined during the industrial revolution to describe recent inventions and discoveries. Many were derived from Greek and Latin such as Anatomy, Bacteria, Factory, Inoculate, Vaccine and Vitamin while others were made up by scientists with a sense of humour such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis which is a disease of the lungs. Many words are made up by joining two others together such as bedridden. Ridden means filled with something unpleasant. So bed is where you go when you are ridden with pneumonoult... etc.

    So we, the English, have appropriated words from all over the globe and it is this willingness to accept incomers that gives it strength since its constant ability to adapt has been the cornerstone of its success. Other languages such as French have been more concerned with purity than progress so, while lovers of the English language tend to sneer at Americanisms and bad usage, spare a thought that maybe you are witnessing the type of change that has strengthened it to the point at which it is now an unstoppable global language.

    Quite the opposite to Cornish that served an area too small to survive as anyone’s first language but thankfully not before it contributed words such as Bludgeon and Puffin to English.

    Mandarin gave us Kowtow and Typhoon. Arabic provided Algebra, Artichoke, Chemistry and Coffee. Spanish produced Alcove, Boot, Castanets and Dagger while Hindi charms us with Bungalow and Chutney. Each of these vies with English for the accolade of being spoken by the most people as their first language. But it is English that is spoken by far more people as a second language and they do this all over the world making it the undisputed language of commerce and government. Over half of everyone living in the EU has English as a first or second language. If only we could charge a royalty as we severe our ties with them!

    After they have arrived words do not necessarily remain unchanged until the end of time. They drift in and out of popularity. Many have already been consigned to the literary scrap heap while others are tottering on the edge of oblivion suffering from lack of use.

    What better way to see how things have changed than to go back 250 years to take a stroll through the pages of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary? Some gems have disappeared from our perception altogether and really ought to be brought back. Surely in uncertain political times we have a need to use snollygoster which means 'A politician concerned more for his personal advancement than for performing the duties for which he or she was appointed'.  How much better that we revive resting gems than slip into a world where pronouncements, even from the higher echelons of the world stage, are reduced to 280 characters and smiley faces? Where will it end? Samuel Johnson, who knew a thing or two, described trumpery as 'something salacious; something of less value than it seems. Falsehood; empty talk. Something of no value; trifles'.

    Edward Allhusen's new book Betrumped: The Surprising History of 3000 Long-Lost, Exotic and Endangered Words is available for purchase now.

  • The British Seaside by Stuart Hylton

    I didn’t always like to be beside the seaside

    The beach at Cromer - undated, but the presence of bathing machines further up the beach suggests it may be early twentieth century. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    For most of us, our stock of childhood memories include visits to the seaside. Hopefully, most of these memories will be happy ones, but the sea was not always the welcoming haunt of the holidaymaker. Going back to Old Testament times, the sea could be seen as the bringer of death and disaster (think Noah), or the home of mysterious gigantic creatures, ready to devour the unwary (as Jonah found out). People would generally only venture away from dry land if driven by the imperatives of earning a living or military conquest.

    The change began around about the eighteenth century, when near-miraculous powers of rejuvenation started to be claimed for the seaside and sea water (and for its cousin, the inland mineral water spring). Before too long, well-to-do people were flocking in considerable numbers to the seaside, to drink and bathe in its water. The cure, as it came to be known, could last for a considerable time and there was only so much sea bathing or brine drinking that even the most assiduous patient could take. Other, hopefully less objectionable, diversions had to be found to fill the time, and it was from these that the seaside resort evolved.

    Bikini girls c. 4 BC - part of a Roman mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    But it was with the coming of the steam ship and, more particularly, the railways, that the seaside began to change from the preserve of the leisured and rich to the holiday haunt of all but the poorest members of society. My book The British Seaside: an illustrated history tells the story of the transformation of the British coastal resort from a number of points of view.

    One sometimes heated debate that has run for centuries has been the appropriate dress (or rather undress) code for sea bathing. Every school of thought has been represented in it, from those who favoured shapeless head to foot canvas garments, to variations on the next to nothing theme (culminating in nothing whatsoever). There was even the bathing machine, a species of garden shed on wheels in which the bather could be rolled into the sea, their modesty intact.

    Given that it is a book about the British seaside, it could not ignore what happens when the weather rules out the beach. Seaside resorts have made several distinctive forms of architecture their own. Notably there was the pier, which started life as a purely functional means of getting arrivals by boat onto land with dry feet, before evolving into an all-singing and dancing palace of varieties.

    A rare photograph of a lady emerging from her bathing machine in about 1893. (Wikimedia Commons, The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    Some individual seaside entertainments also had colourful histories. The “what the butler saw” machine had its origins in a scandalous Victorian society divorce case, in which the key witness was the butler, who apparently observed his employer’s dalliances through the keyhole of the dining room. The roller coaster had its origins in eighteenth century Russia and the first ones did not even have wheels – they were giant sledges, sliding down man-made ice hills to entertain visitors to Czar Catherine II at the Oranienbaum Palace, near St Petersburg.

    Dodgem cars should correctly be referred to as bumper cars (Dodgem being a brand name for one make of them, patented in America in 1920). Some of the early ones were apparently very rickety indeed, liable to fall apart at the gentlest of impacts and with steering that bore only the vaguest relationship to the direction in which you were going.

    Punch and Judy is a much earlier entertainment, appearing as it does in Samuel Pepys’ diary and with links back to Roman times and the Lord of Misrule. It gradually went from being an adult entertainment to one for children, and was softened in the process. The modern health and safety conscious Mister Punch is much less likely to murder the baby or feed it through the sausage machine, or to leave parents to explain his relationship to his mistress, Pretty Polly, to their children.

    But one of the most striking seaside rides was developed in 1904 by Sir Hiram Maxim (inventor of the machine gun). This steam-powered ride (the Captive Flying Machine) was originally intended to give customers the sensation of operating a flying machine (Maxim had recently made a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to construct the real thing). Perhaps wisely, the health and safety authorities of the day rejected some of Maxim’s more adventurous features, leaving him, as he saw it, with a toothless “glorified merry-go-round”. A version of this may still be seen at Blackpool.

    The Palace Pier, Brighton in about 1914. It was built in 1899 to replace the 1827 Chain Pier, destroyed in a storm in 1896. Today it is known just as Brighton Pier. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    The Second World War bought an end to the seaside holiday, as many of the nation’s beaches were barred to the public, mined and covered in tank traps. Instead local authorities were encouraged to make worthy (if not universally successful) efforts to create holidays at home, turning parks, rivers or whatever amenities a town had to offer into makeshift “seaside” resorts. Even Punch and Judy got conscripted, with Hitler replacing the character of the hangman (whom Mister Punch invariably tricked into hanging himself).

    But most of all this is an illustrated history of the seaside, and researching it has been a splendid excuse for visiting many of the country’s resorts, and collecting illustrations – ancient and modern - of their development over more than a hundred years. These pictures, and the thumbnail histories of the resorts that accompany them, form the second half of my book.

    Stuart Hylton's new book The British Seaside: An Illustrated History is available for purchase now.

  • Dresses and Dressmaking by Pam Inder

    Clara Dare's dress, c. 1868. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    From the Late Georgians to the Edwardians

    In my working life I was a museum curator, looking after collections of ‘applied arts’ – which means furniture, ceramics, glass, silver, textiles, dresses and so on. I soon realised that when we put on an exhibition of ceramics, silver, glass, or furniture the display labels concentrated on where and when the item was made and by whom. With dresses, the information we supplied was largely descriptive – ‘Dress of cotton printed with small pink and green flowers, c.1790’, for example. If we knew anything about where the garment came from it usually related to the wearer – so the label would then be something like ‘Wedding dress of ivory silk worn by Jane Smith when she married John Robinson in September 1863’. Not until the late 19th century when makers began to put labels in their garments did we have any knowledge of the firms or individuals who made the dresses in our collection.

    Yet making a dress of expensive fabric that fits and flatters the wearer, is robust enough to withstand years of wear and conforms to the fashion of the day requires as much skill and knowledge of materials as, say, fine wood carving or glass blowing, particularly as dress patterns as we know them did not come on the market until the 1870s. Prior to that there had been a few books with diagrams that had to be scaled up and adapted to fit, but most dressmakers made their own patterns, either from an old dress that they unpicked or by pinning and draping material on their clients.

     

    Dress of white tambour-embroidered muslin, early 1850s. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    I became interested in the women who made our clothes – and given that most of the dresses I was curating were made post-1770, dressmakers were nearly always women. Up to the 1690s those women’s dresses that were not made at home were made by tailors, and tailoring was a guild occupation so tailors were almost invariably men. By the 1690s some women, calling themselves ‘mantua makers’ after a new style of dress that had originated in France in the mid-1670s and become very popular, began to infiltrate the trade, though not without considerable opposition from the tailors who saw half their trade disappearing into the hands of pesky women! However, by 1800, women had a near monopoly of the dressmaking trade.

    I wanted to know more about these people. Who were they, how did they learn their trade, how much did they earn? How did they take over the trade? I soon learnt that it was not the feminist triumph it might at first appear. Dressmakers, particularly in the first half of the 19th century, worked unbelievably long hours, often in wretched conditions, and earned very little. The making up of a dress often cost no more than the price of a single yard of the fabric from which it was made. The trade was oversubscribed – it was one of the few ‘respectable’ occupations for women – so there was intense competition and many businesses went under.

    Back view of Purple dress of ribbed silk, c. 1895. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    It turned out there were not a great many actual records for me to examine. ‘Scissors’ writing in 1895 in a pamphlet entitled ‘Why Dressmaking does not pay’ claimed that Many dressmakers keep no book – in other words, many dressmakers did not keep records - even though by 1895 the law obliged them to do so. However, such records as I found presented a coherent picture and I was able to create a fairly full picture of the development of the trade in the 19th century. For the earlier period much less survives – but it is reasonable to suppose that things did not change radically between the 1780s and the early 1800s.

    I became fascinated by account books. In the 18th and 19th centuries many women kept detailed records of their weekly expenditure, probably so they could account for the money they were given by their husbands and fathers. These not only tell us what individual items cost but also enable us to work out how much these individuals spent on dress in total over the course of a year. One such set of accounts – kept by Eliza Stone of Knighton in Leicestershire in the early 19th century is included in the present work.

    Fashion plate from the Dressmaker and Warehouseman's Gazette showing dresses with kilted trimmings. Undated, but mid-1870s. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    No account of the dressmaking trade would be complete without an examination of the actual garments dressmakers made, and this study concentrates on garments in the Leicestershire museums’ collections. These are among the items I used to curate so I know them well and include details and descriptions showing how they were constructed. Because the dresses are nearly all from Leicester and Leicestershire, much of the rest of the book refers to the city and county. This is not as limiting as it might at first sight appear. Leicester was as fashionable as any other county town, it was a wealthy city and much of that wealth came from the manufacture of garments, particularly boots and shoes and knitwear. The county of Leicestershire is a typical English county with its fair share of big houses, stately homes and gentry families. It is also a hunting country and was visited in the winter season by keen huntsman and their families, fashionable people from all over the country, including royalty. A study of dress in the city and county can therefore stand as a study of dress in much of England.

    This is a slim volume and limited in scope. There is much more that could be written about the makers and making of our ancestors’ clothes – and it is hoped that this work will whet the readers’ appetites and encourage them to learn more.

    Pam Inder's new book Dresses and Dressmaking: From the Late Georgians to the Edwardians is available for purchase now.

  • False Economies by S. D. Tucker

    The Strangest, Least Successful and Most Audacious Financial Follies, Plans and Crazes of All Time

    Pies in the Sky: Defeating Communism with Chocolate Coins - examining the bizarre use of chocolate coins as a real-life currency in North Korea.

    Life within the Communist hell-hole of North Korea (or DPRK, as it is officially known) is hard. Its economy is, for the most part, centrally planned, condemning most of its people to have to live in poverty. Ever since the days of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founding father who still technically rules the place even though he is dead, North Korea has pursued a policy of juche, or ‘self-reliance’, which is just another way of saying ‘self-imposed economic isolation’.

    The North has failed to publish any official economic data since 1965, which implies that the only people doing well out of the closed command-economy are the military. Because the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ is about as open to outside penetration as a nun’s chastity belt, it seems that most people there don’t have a particularly good understanding of the notion of capitalism – which is why attempts have been made over recent years to try and undermine the nightmare dictatorship’s economy via the use of chocolate biscuits.

    Following a disastrous 1990s famine, the DPRK’s top brass have thankfully allowed some limited economic reforms to take place, the most significant being the creation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in 2002 under the auspices of Kim Jong-il, father of the current chunky little leader, Kim Jong-un. The KIC was a special economic zone in which sealed-off factories operated by 120 South Korean firms employed 50,000 North Korean workers, getting to pay them lower wages than they would back home whilst simultaneously opening up the North to outside influences, or so it was hoped.

    The real motive of the DPRK was to increase their foreign currency reserves; workers’ wages were paid direct to the North’s government, and they then passed back the equivalent sum in North Korean notes to the factory staff – minus some ‘necessary deductions’, naturally. The KIC is currently closed down due to deteriorating relations between North and South, but even whilst open it proved a source of severe controversy because of one particular product its factories were producing … Choco Pies.

    Choco Pies are the Far Eastern equivalent of Wagon Wheels, being two little circles of cake filled with marshmallow and covered over in chocolate, manufactured by a South Korean company called Orion. Such items may seem unremarkable in the mouth of a capitalist, but confectionaries of this kind were like miracles to the Communists of the North, to whom buttered cardboard is doubtless considered a culinary luxury. To the downtrodden workers of the DPRK, the KIC’s factories contained many hitherto unknown wonders such as toilet-paper (and indeed actual toilets) and the Choco Pies were yet another piece of magic from within Aladdin’s Capitalist Cave.

    The South Korean bosses in the KIC factories started paying their workers with free Choco Pies as a non-monetary bonus supplement, hoping to boost morale and increase productivity. The workers seemed pleased with their new bounty, describing them as producing ‘ecstasy’ upon their very tongues, but inspections of the factory workers’ bins revealed something strange – there were no Choco Pie wrappers in them. Why not? Apparently, it was because the workers were taking them home to use as a makeshift currency, deeming them more valuable per unit than many North Korean banknotes were. The chocolate biscuits had become chocolate coins!

    At the height of the craze 120,000 Choco Pies were doled out to the biscuit-hungry plebs each day, with even corrupt soldiers guarding the KIC site demanding their customary bribes in Wagon Wheels instead of banknotes. If you believe the highest estimates, some 2.5 million Choco Pies were being used as coins per month, and trading at a value of £6.40 each, compared to their usual price of 16 pence in South Korea. A more realistic estimate of their value was 25 pence, but this was still 1 per cent of the average weekly wage of £25. So valuable did they become that KIC workers started holding sporting contests and placing massive bets in biscuits.

    This was all quite disturbing to the DPRK authorities because, as well as helping undermine the economy, the mass distribution of Choco Pies was helping undermine the ideological concept of juche as well. If capitalists were so bad, then why were their biscuits so tasty? The phenomenon was dubbed an ‘invasion of the stomach’, and the regime got nervous, remembering the old argument that the Iron Curtain ended up being torn down because the suppressed proletariat of Eastern Europe, jealous of blue Levis, had wanted to get their hands on more Western consumer goods.

    Several measures were adopted by the DPRK Politburo to stem the crisis, with all Choco Pie bonuses being banned in 2014 in favour of wage top-ups of free sausages instead. Another tactic was to spread fake news about the Choco Pies; according to North Korean media, the biscuits had been infected with unspecified ‘weird substances’ by the South, intended to ‘shake our national defence’ or cause illness. In some sense the Choco Pies were really undercover secret agents, which were ‘spying and scheming’ upon behalf of their capitalist masters, hoping to create a situation where ‘the ideology of the people could wither at any moment’. These ‘sweet symbols of capitalism’ were then replaced by the North with cheap forged knock-off versions, a breed of pirated pies which just didn’t taste as nice, thereby undermining the pseudo-currency’s value.

    Alternatively, DPRK officials warned that the Oriental Wagon Wheels contained miniature bombs or highly powerful biological agents which would immediately give you cancer ‘and make your body suffer’ if you so much as touched one. Foreign food, it was said, ‘contains material that is harmful to socialism’, so had to be prodded away into a designated safe area with a long stick. According to one South Korean academic, ‘When North Koreans see high quality consumer goods [like Choco Pies] produced overseas, they begin to understand that their economic system doesn’t really deliver.’ If it can so easily be undermined by generic marshmallow treats, then the North Korean economy really must be in trouble; should all the currency within the DPRK’s Treasury come one day to be made entirely from confectionary, there is a severe danger Fat Boy Kim might just eat it.

    S. D. Tucker's new book False Economies: The Strangest, Least Successful and Most Audacious Financial Follies, Plans and Crazes of All Time is available for purchase now.

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