Say hello to the Chevy Chase Bank Check Card Man!

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This foam, fabric and plastic costume was used in the mid-2000s to advertise Chevy Chase Bank’s check card services.  It measures 5’6″ tall and 18″ deep, and features check-card-replica info on the front and back (including ‘valid’ dates 2003-2006, and the name “Mr. I.M. Convenient”) and an exceedingly happy expression.  The lucky wearer peered out through the black mesh inside Mr. Convenient’s smile.  The full costume included red shoe covers and large white gloves, though those were lost before donation.

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Chevy Chase Bank was founded in 1969 by B.F. Saul II, grandson of B.F. Saul I, whose eponymous real estate company (founded in 1892) is still in business.  As the bank’s name implies, it was a local company, based in Chevy Chase and Bethesda.  Originally called the Chevy Chase Savings & Loan Association and later Chevy Chase Savings Bank, the company was renamed Chevy Chase Bank in 1994, and local residents may remember the distinctive red-brick, columned-front bank branches that popped up around the area in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Mr. Convenient and his friend, a seven-foot-tall walking ATM (which costume, alas, we do not have), were sent out to bank-related events and openings, and participated in various public and charitable activities.  For example, I found this awesome photographic evidence of Mr. Convenient playing basketball, at Towson University’s “Annual Mascot Madness” in 2009. There seem to have been a few other copies of Mr. Convenient out there, but it’s clear that, basketball-playing or no, our guy got some action; one of the interior shoulder braces has broken off, and the plastic eyeballs are scratched and chipped. (Other than that, the costume is in pretty good shape.) The large armholes on the sides, and an open bottom, allow for some movement, but I imagine that the humans who portrayed Mr. Convenient had their fair share of mishaps nonetheless.

An inside view, as it were

An inside view, as it were

The bank was acquired by Capital One Bank in 2009, and in 2010 the Chevy Chase name was officially removed from use.  In 2012 the B.F. Saul Company donated this costume, and other 1990s-2000s bank-related ephemera, via James M. Goode, the company’s historian and archivist, and his assistant Peter Penczer; the latter kindly modeled Mr. Convenient for us, as seen in the photo below.

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Once the bank changed owners and names, the check card mascot was no longer needed – at least not by the bank.  As an historical artifact, he can still be a contributing member of society!  Of all the past-businesses-related pieces in our collections, this costume probably has the best visual impact.  After all, not every artifact smiles back.

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Here we have a political poster from the early 1960s, screen-printed on heavy cardboard, measuring 22″ x 28″. It reads “Elect Elaine Lady – House of Delegates – Republican Candidate. By authority of candidate.”  Based on the condition, it was probably used on the campaign trail (not simply a left-over).  It was donated by Donna Bassin in 1999, part of a large collection of mid-20th century political posters.

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Elaine Lady of Chevy Chase served one term in the Maryland House of Delegates, from 1966 to 1970, representing Montgomery County’s District 1.  A real estate agent, Mrs. Lady’s campaign platforms focused on education, pollution, lower taxes, and efficient government. Before her successful election in 1966, she ran for the House as a Prince George’s County candidate in 1954, and as a Montgomery County candidate in 1962; she served as Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Appeals from 1964-66. In 1970 she ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate, and appears to have retired from politics after that. Based on the candidate photographs used in the Washington Post, this poster dates from her 1962 campaign, probably from the November general election.

Mrs. Lady was not the first woman to serve in the Maryland legislature. That honor belongs to Mary E.W. Risteau of Harford County, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1922 (the first year it was possible for a woman to run in Maryland); she later served in the State Senate as well. Montgomery County’s first woman in the House of Delegates was Lavinia M. Engle, elected in 1930; she was followed by county residents Ruth Elizabeth Shoemaker, Genevieve H. Wells, Leona M. Rush, Kathryn J. Lawlor, Margaret C. Schweinhaut, Edna P. Cook, Alice W. Hostetler, and Louise Gore.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Once elected, serving in the legislature was not always easy. This 2009 article on Prince George’s County’s Pauline H. Menes, who also entered the House in 1966, quotes Menes: “It was made fairly clear to the few women who were here that we were not expected to accomplish very much, that we were not expected to stay very long.” (In fact, as of a few years ago Menes was the longest-serving state legislator in the U.S.)  Women were not appointed to leadership roles; there wasn’t even a ladies rest room near the chambers.  (There’s a good story about the rest room problem in the article linked above.)  It was sometimes a struggle simply to have their voices heard and taken seriously. 

Want to learn more? Visit the Women Legislators of Maryland site, or the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

Trend alert! Though I have no national statistics to support my anecdata, this summer I have noticed a lot of people in the DC area carrying umbrellas to ward off the sun. (I’ve also seen a lot of guys in suspenders, but that will have to wait for another post.) More and more women - and some men; after all, UV rays do not discriminate - are reclaiming the umbrella as a sunshade.

An outing on Chevy Chase Lake, ca. 1917.  The arrow points to Elsie Pitt Chaney.  Donated by Edward E. Chaney.

The umbrella/sunshade/parasol is an ancient idea, but it fell out of fashion in 20th century America. “Umbrella” (from Italian, 16th century) and “parasol” (from French, early 17th century) both originally referred to sunshades. In early 18th century France and England, carrying an umbrella was mildly embarrassing because it signaled to the world that you couldn’t afford a closed carriage. However, Anne Wood Murray of the Smithsonian (Antiques, 1961) surveyed American newspapers from the second half of the 18th century, and found multiple advertisements for the sale and repair of stylish, expensive umbrellas. By the 19th century, American and European women were often seen carrying parasols (as they were now called) in the latest styles.

Two ladies remain cheerful (and shaded) while they wait for their broken-down car to be repaired, near present-day White Flint, circa 1915.  Photo by Lewis Reed, donated by the Reed family.

Carriage parasols, designed for sitting decoratively in an open vehicle, were typically festive and tiny; some had folding handles (for convenient storage) or tilting tops (to better shade your face as you traveled). Walking parasols were a little sturdier, with longer ferrules (the bit at the top of the awning), sticks and handles. There were even “full-dress parasols” for particularly formal occasions. “Umbrella” came to mean the larger, more serviceable rain guards that we think of today, though of course they could still do double-duty as sunshades.

These gentlemen – watching the harness racing at the Rockville fairgrounds, circa 1910 – would probably have called their plain, manly sunshades “umbrellas.” 

Like many artifacts, parasols and umbrellas can be dated by changes in style, shape, material, and technology. For example, steel ribs were introduced in the 1840s, replacing the earlier and more expensive whalebone. Fringed edges were popular in the 1840s and ‘50s; a pagoda-like shade was stylish in the early 1860s; knob-shaped handles were all the rage in the 1880s.

Sisters Kathryn, Eleanor and Clara Beall of Olney, 1894.  Donated by Katherine Beall Adams.

Parasols lasted into the early 20th century, but then faded away, leaving only their rain-shielding cousins behind. Why?  In 1961, Anne M. Buck, Keeper of the Gallery of English Costume at Platt Hall (UK), blamed the fact that “today women turn their bare heads and faces to the sun like worshipers.” In 2012-today, though, we’ve moved back toward a view of sun exposure as a bad thing – though we’re protecting our skin for health, rather than aesthetic, reasons. So let’s bring back the parasol! And I don’t mean simply trotting out our department store umbrellas on a sunny day.  Think of the boost to the economy if elaborately decorative sunshades were a major market, not just a craft-show novelty.

The Library holdings include many photos of Montgomery County residents holding parasols and umbrellas; I’ve added in a few here. There are several pieces in the artifact collections as well, but unfortunately most of the parasols were donated in poor condition. (The umbrellas have fared a little better, being somewhat sturdier.) A slightly different problem is the fact that most of them are unrelated to Montgomery County, as for many years we accepted items like ones that county residents may have owned and used. And anyway, this post is getting kind of long and involved. So rather than tossing in all our cute but broken parasols, here’s a link to the turkey parasol featured last year plus a bonus one, below: Circa 1850, specific history unknown, donated by Barbara Smith. It has a silk cover, steel ribs and frame, and carved wooden handle. The ferrule has a little carved ring, and the entire thing is only a little over two feet long. The decorative rings and the short length mean this was a carriage parasol; for strolling or walking, a longer stick and a stout ferrule made a useful pseudo-cane when the sun wasn’t too strong.

In short (too late!) parasols are pretty fantastic, and we should all make an effort to bring them back into fashion. I can’t help but end this post with links to many, many more fabulous parasols in other museum collections (below), and a quote from one of my favorite novelists, Elizabeth Peters, whose Victorian heroine Amelia Peabody made good use of her own walking parasol:
“My parasol proved useful in pushing through [the crowd]; I had to apply the ferrule quite sharply to the backs of several gentlemen before they would move.” From Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters, 1975

Parasols at the Metropolitan Museum, NYC

Parasols at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Parasols at the Victoria & Albert, London

Parasols at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Postcards are an (almost) endless source of information, from the image on the front to the text on the back. Often the publisher is the least interesting part – to a local historian, at least – but occasionally the publisher, printer or photographer is a local individual or business, and one’s Montgomery County history radar is engaged.

Above: Front and back of “Brookville Road, Chevy Chase, Md., Publ. by Mrs. M.E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked April 21, 1912, and addressed to Miss K. Beham, Roxbury, Ct.: “Hector said you wanted to hear from me.  Hope all are well.  Jessie.  222 Ontario Wash. DC.”

While going through our postcard collection here at MCHS, I noticed many cards – particularly from the down-county area – published by Mrs. Minnie E. Brooke of Chevy Chase. Intrigued, I did a little research in our library . . . couldn’t find much, other than the census records . . . finally pinned her down as Mrs. Minnehaha [awesome!] “Minnie” Etheridge Brooke, wife of Wentworth Brooke and at one point owner of the Brooke Farm* restaurant in Chevy Chase. I then went to the internet for additional info . . .

. . . And discovered that Minnie and her postcard business are well-known, and are featured on not one but two local websites: The Chevy Chase Historical Society has a great online exhibit on Minnie and her many social projects and business ventures, and this site takes more of a postcard-collector view.  (Be sure to click at least one of those to check out Minnie’s portrait.)  So much for my groundbreaking research. No matter! Minnie Brooke’s story is pretty great, and it fits in with the theme of Women’s History Month, so I will blog onward.

Mrs. Brooke was born in North Carolina, and married Wentworth Brooke in 1896. The census gives only a glimpse (if that) of Minnie’s work as a suffragist, club manager, restaurateur, hotelier and postcard publisher; in fact, her occupation is noted as “none” in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, and the 1930 census lists both husband and wife as “salesmen.” (Neither Minnie nor Wentworth appears in the 1920 census, confusingly enough.) No hint here that this entrepreneurial woman managed the Cosmos Club in DC; ran several successful restaurants and tea rooms in the DC area, including the Brooke Farm Inn (sometimes called Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room) on Brookville Road; belonged to the National Woman’s Party, helped organize the 1913 suffrage parade in DC, and often stood on the side of Pennsylvania Avenue espousing the suffrage cause; started a mini-publishing industry with her penny postcards; and eventually operated a souvenir shop in DC. (She died in 1938.) Thus are the limitations of my beloved census revealed.  But of course, any record that lists the majority of female residents as having “no occupation” (which is often demonstrably false, even discounting the work performed in the household) should be viewed with some skepticism.

The Chevy Chase Historical Society’s online exhibit has even more information on Minnie, and on the postcard craze she hoped to cash in on; they also have many of her Chevy Chase cards visible, as does the other site linked above. Her cards focus on the down-county area (Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Great Falls) and the District of Columbia. Currently it’s unknown if she took the photos herself, or purchased images from other photographers. The cards included here from our collections show Brookville Road in Chevy Chase (donated by Joseph Valachovic), and Rock Creek Park in DC (donated by the Dwyer family).

Above: Front and back of “View of Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., Publ. by Minnie E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked October 26, 1907, and addressed to Mrs. D.J. Dwyer, Unity, Montg. Co., Maryland: “Dear Aunt Susie.  Aunt Ida was down three days last week.  Isn’t this beautiful weather.  Hope you are well. Love to Uncle Dave and a share for yourself.  Jennie.”

*The Brooke Farm restaurant, also known as Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room and Brook Farm, was owned by Minnie Brooke from the 1890s into the 1920s; it was operated under the same name(s) by other owners later in the century, and the cottage-like building is now home to La Ferme Restaurant.

A Fine Collection’s artifacts have been skewing a little feminine this year, so let’s take a look at the other side of fashion. Today’s piece is masculine, but not plain: An embroidered waistcoat, from the second half of the 18th century, worn by Charles Jones of what is now Chevy Chase.

The waistcoat is silk with a linen back, embroidered with both silk and metallic threads and embellished with tiny metal sequins. (Today the metal trim is dulled; you’ll have to imagine the sparkle it would have added.)  There are two crescent-shaped pockets, and eleven self-covered sequined buttons (the top buttonholes are fakes).  The bottom is square-cut, ending just below the waist, and there is a short stand-up collar.

Men’s waistcoats were introduced, literally, in 1666; they have stayed more or less in fashion – at least for formal wear – ever since. Alas, today’s vests are usually fairly sedate, but until the early 19th century they were often elaborately embellished, and meant to be seen and admired. If you think this vest is fancy, check out some of these even more fabulous examples from Colonial Williamsburg, the MFA, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Here's your man William Paca, painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1772. His waistcoat is sadly unembroidered, but it gives you a sense of the garment's place in the whole outfit. From the Maryland State Art Collection.

Judge Charles Jones (1712-1798) was a prominent landowner and local official. His estate, Clean Drinking Manor, was built around 1750, and remained in the family into the 20th century. (Remember Jonesy? This is his grandfather.) Jones served as one of the first judges of the Montgomery County Orphans Court, from 1777-1779, and was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1780. The 1783 tax assessment lists his real and personal property at a total of 2,520 pounds, quite a good haul for the time.

After a stint at the Smithsonian, the waistcoat was loaned to us for many years and and finally donated by the Jones family in 1982. Family tradition tells us that it was worn by Charles Jones in 1750, “when [he was] presented to the King and Queen of England.” We can take that with a grain or two of salt; for one thing, England was ruled only by the widower King George II in 1750. For another, some of the design elements on this waistcoat are more 1780s than 1750s. (Click the link for a very similar piece at the V&A.)  Whether Jones made a trip to England in 1750 is currently unknown.

Even if this waistcoat didn’t make it to England, Jones was an important and wealthy gentleman who would have needed some formalwear; he could have worn it to many events in and around Montgomery County in the late 18th century.  The family, not unnaturally, chose to focus less on local appearances and more on the potential Royal connection (even though Jones was an early proponent of the Revolutionary cause, and might himself have been uninterested in perpetuating his Royal visit). I can’t quibble, since it helped to ensure the waistcoat’s survival for our admiration. 

Mr. Paca, in the Maryland State Art Collection, can be found here.

This wary young gentleman is John Courts Jones, Jr. (1802-1880) of Clean Drinking Manor, Chevy Chase. In 1815, the 13 year old Jones was sent to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point; he is shown here, in this unsigned portrait, wearing his cadet uniform.

The Jones family, and their home Clean Drinking Manor, have been featured on this blog before, in the person (?) of a large pewter wine measure owned by our boy’s father, John Courts Jones, Sr. The house was built around 1750 for Charles Jones, and it stayed in the family until 1910 (the house was torn down shortly thereafter). Because the Manor was one of the oldest homes in the county, and the family both held onto and was proud of its heirlooms, accounts of the house and its contents can be found in several newspaper and magazine articles. In one of these, ambitiously titled “An Ancient Place – One of the Old Manor Homes in This Vicinity – Two Hundred Years in One Family – A Visit to the Venerable Lady of Clean Drinking Manor – Revolutionary Memories Written Exclusively for the Evening Star,” printed in 1894, the author notes, “One of the most interesting of [the family portraits] represents a handsome boy of fourteen which Mrs. Jones told me was the likeness of her husband, John Coates [sic] Jones taken while a cadet at West Point.” The portrait is supposed to have hung in the Manor until 1910 when the last owner, Jones’s son Nicholas, died. The Historical Society acquired the painting in 2003 as part of a large auction lot of Jones family artifacts and archives.

I like portraits, and this is one of my favorites from our collections. He has such a hip hairstyle, and looks so very, very young. Unfortunately the artist is unknown; the portrait was probably painted in 1816 (in which year the Secretary of War approved the use of gray uniforms for USMA cadets), rather than in 1815 when he first went off to school. My first thought was that his expression showed a freshman’s dismay, but perhaps instead he was going for a 14 year old’s best approximation of an intimidating stare. Although we know a little about his adult life – including the fact that had nine children with wife Elizabeth Parker Jones, and was a slave owner – to me, JCJ Jr will always be a wary teenager and, in my overly familiar way, he is always Jonesy. (There are a lot of Joneses in the county, and most of them have some variation or another on the same first and middle names – nicknames help me remember which one is which!)  (I suspect my personal afterlife will consist of angry Montgomery County residents chiding me for my lack of respect.)

A postcard showing Nicholas Jones on the front porch of Clean Drinking Manor, captioned "A Relic of Colonial Days, Near Washington DC."

The blog has been skewing a little modern in the past few weeks, so here’s something a bit older for your enjoyment. This is an 18th century pewter measure, owned by the Jones family of Chevy Chase.

The family described the piece as a “tankard,” and indeed there are pewter tankards and flagons with lids and thumb-pieces like this one, and some are in the baluster form seen here. However, this particular vessel is eleven inches tall (base to lid), has a base diameter of six inches, and is extremely heavy – not exactly an easily hefted tankard o’ ale, there. This form was commonly used for wine measures, and although our piece does not have its capacity marked, I’ve found other examples of gallon wine measures that are this size and shape. The thumb piece is double volute shape, with a fleur-de-lis on the hinge plate, fairly typical for mid 18th century pieces. The piece is in good, if used, condition, except for the tail of the handle, which has been bent (it should have a nice curly flip to it), and the lid doesn’t fit snugly anymore.

According to the Pewter Collectors’ Club of America, lidded baluster measures were imported from England to the American colonies in the 1740s and 1750s; some were made here, as well. Other than the incised circles on the lid, the only deliberate mark is a small WP (or WF) stamped onto the side of the rim; so far we (I enlisted a colleague in the search this morning) have not identified either a British or American maker to match the mark, so its exact origins are still unknown.

As for its history, this piece came from Clean Drinking Manor, the home of the Jones family. The house was built for Charles Jones around 1750 (it is no longer standing, but was off of Jones Mill Road in Chevy Chase). The donor, Robert Jones Jr., told us in 1976: “The tankard was in the household [by 1775], and when John Courts Jones served with rank of Major, Fourth Maryland regiment, Maryland Continental Line, he used the tankard while on duty and returned it to Clean Drinking Manor upon his discharge.” John Courts Jones, Sr. (1754-1802) served in the Maryland Line, including two years as aide to General William Smallwood, from 1775 until 1783. The Jones family’s story of the ‘tankard’ going off to war and being “used… on duty” always makes me imagine some poor horse charging into battle with this gigantic vessel strapped to the saddle, whomping him on the rear with every step. That’s not what happened, though. If indeed this piece went off to war, it no doubt stayed in the officers’ tent where it belonged; officers supplied their own luxury items (including servants). Anything else Jones brought with him is unknown; did he include a matching set of graduated measures, or was a gallon all he needed? Whatever his reasons for choosing this piece, both the story and the actual piece were “treasured” by the family (to use the donor’s own word), along with other, more traditional mementos of military service.

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