Munroe Blair
The first English language water closet --- that's the fancy word for toilet --- was the Ajax, and was installed in Queen Elizabeth's palace at Richmond. Samuel Pepys had one too, but he called it a privy. It dumped its contents into a cesspool in his basement. Early ones were made of metal, and sometimes responded to the name of "valve closets."

Pottery bowls began to be manufactured in the 18th century complete with a stink-trap to trap you-know-what. In the 19th Century, in England, almost 80,000 people lost their lives to cholera. The Public Health Act of 1848 required every house to have a "Water closet, Privy, or Ashpit." Potters such as Wedgewood, Enoch Wood and Twyford began to make free-standing plumbed-in pottery WCs.

George Jennings got the monopoly on toilets at the Great Exhibition's Crystal Palace, and he charged a penny to use the facilities which meant he cleaned up £1,000 a year. It is said that Queen Victoria used a Unitas WC in 1886 at the Angel Hotel in Doncaster --- but how do they know? In any event, she may not have been amused, but she was pleased: T. W. Twyford was granted a "Royal Warrant of Appointment as Bathroom and Washroom Manufacturer to Her Majesty Queen Victoria's Government." There'll always be an England.

The author tells us that Britain soon became the gold standard for toilets:

    Exported around the world, British WCs were acclaimed for their efficiency and quality, with patterns designed to suit local customs and religious needs.

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Mr. Blair has come up with the ultimate in source book for those who have to know everything there is to know about Water Closets, with the run-down on the history, manufacture, and style --- complete with a Glossary:

    Continuous action syphonic: the double-trap pattern, which pulls the bowl's contents throughout the flush.

The glory of this short pamphlet lies in the pictures. I especially call your attention to the Twyford Twycliffe WC with hand-enameled raised exterior decoration --- blue and white and rust patterns on the outside [Fig. 2 below]; the Shanks Citizen WC with hand-painted exterior --- green and yellow leafy patterns; and the Shanks Junction --- blue and white lilies, fired lotus and grass within [Fig 1 above]. The 1898 Doulton salt-glaze stoneware wash-out WC [not shown] looks like a African tribal pygmy worship fetish in the kneeling position. The line drawings are a gas.

--- T. W. Thwarp
Sacred India
Forward by William Dalrymple
(Lonely Planet)
The first and last time I went to India I was there for almost a month --- but spent the last few days in my room, reluctant to emerge. One reason was that they have viruses in India that never got around to vacationing in America. My sinuses swelled to the size of party balloons, my nose did the running faucet routine, and my eyes leaked tears like I was crying non-stop. I was. I had gone to Benares so that I could meet with the master Baba Baba so I could know the divine and here I am in my tiny hotel room filled up with my own exudates.

That was part of it. The other was that I was damn sick and tired of the sheer polyglot wonder of it all. After days of having my eyes scorched by the wonder and horror of the streets of your typical Indian city and dodging scooters and cows and cow poop and being beset non-stop by the very very very poor, I decided it was safer waiting in my hotel until the airplane took off. Give me exoticism, give me color and life --- but please, don't do it in spades.

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I got a chance to go back there this week in the arms of Sacred India, which is an introduction to the country's four major and six minor religions. It's ablaze with almost 200 color photographs, some of them (as with everything in India) wonderful, some of them horrible --- and few of them so-so. In the Horrible Department you will see bodies dressed up for cremation and a devotee of Shiva, painted quite blue, who has twisted his poor legs so thoroughly that he'll never be able to walk again. There are also several devotees who have long pointy things sticking through their cheeks and tongues --- far more colorful and probably more holy than our punctured American juvenile romantic imitators.

For sheer glory, there's the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram and gopurams of Dravadian temples, both alive with gods and demons and animals and elaborate acid-vision design. There are mosques and the Sikh golden temple at Amritsar which floats on the water like lovely Cleopatra's barge.

Throughout, there are quotes from the followers. For example, Susan Mitra tells us how she cares for her gods, Ganesh, Shiva, Durga, Saraswati, and Lakshmi:

    I give them water, flowers, and sweets. Any sweets that come into this house are first offered to the gods. During winter I put clothes on them to keep them warm, and at night I place small blankets over them when I put them to bed.

And William Dalrymple, in his introduction, tells of meeting a sadhu in Kedarnath. For four and a half years he had been a wandering pilgrim:

    Before that I was the sales manager with Kelvinator...I had done my MBA at Patna University and was considered a high flyer by my employers. But one day I just decided I could not spend the rest of my life marketing fans and fridges.

--- J. A. Silverstein


The Fundamentals
Of Early Manias

Peter M. Garber
Any of us who ever had the delusion that we were going to make money on the stock market were early on introduced by our betters to Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. It was to be an object lesson: that the market --- stock market, commodities market, real estate market --- can be sensible and logical and wise, but then there are times when they are swept up in such a frenzy of irrational exuberance that men --- otherwise right-thinking men --- expect to be enriched beyond their wildest dreams by such nonsense as dot-com stocks, real estate in the swamps, or tulip bulbs.

It was always this last that caught our attention. For we were told that stolid Dutch burgers paid enough for a single Viceroy tulip bulb to buy all of the following at 1637 prices:

  • 4 well-fed oxen
  • 8 well-fed pigs
  • 12 well-fed sheep
  • 2 oxheads of wine
  • 4 tons of 8 guilder beer, and
  • 1 bed with accessories
plus wheat, rye, clothes, cheese, butter, and "1 silver chalice."

"Well," you think --- "I'd never be that stupid." And indeed, according to Garber, neither were the Dutch that stupid. The fact is that, because of the way they are propagated, unique tulip bulbs have always been expensive. Indeed, there are records of prices paid 100 years after the "collapse" of tulipmania which indicate that values declined by no more than 2% per annum.

Even in our own time some of the prices seem to outdo what passed for mania so long ago: in 1987, in Haarlem, "A small quantity of prototype lily bulbs was sold for 1,000,000 guilders" --- which works out to $693,000 in contemporary dollars.

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The second factor has to do with what the Dutch call windhandel. It means, "trading in the wind." We call it "trading futures" and "short selling." The beauty of this type of trading is that you and I can sell something we don't own. On the Chicago Board, we can borrow 15,000 pounds of orange juice or 12,500,000 yen or 112,000 pounds of world sugar and sell it to someone else. Before the expiration of the contract, we are to buy it back or, if we wait until expiration, we are expected to come up with the item we have borrowed. You don't think that's windhandel? Where on god's green earth could you come up with 15,000 pounds of orange juice or 40,000 pounds of frozen pork bellies?

When you borrow and sell, your hope is that the price will go down. Then, when you cover, you'll then make some money. If it goes up, you're screwed. But there is a protection mechanism built into futures trading in the United States. You have to prove to the market authorities that you have the capability of coming up with the commodity or its cash equivalent at the end of the contract period.

According to Garber, this was decidedly not the case in Holland before and during tulipmania. In 1610, a edict was issued by the authorities that prohibited windhandel --- "trading in shares not possessed by the seller." This edict was extended four times up to and including the years 1636-7. The key was a point of law: "the authorities did not prosecute people for participating in proscribed futures contracts. They simply refused legal enforcement of such contracts."

Thus trading futures was a great game. You could go to the ale-house, take out a contract to buy 100 Semper Augustus tulip bulbs at 5,000 guilders per bulb, and when the contract expired, you were to hand over 500,000 guilders. But if you didn't have it (or if the other party didn't have 100 bulbs) there was no way that either could enforce the contract. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but this is as close as you can get.

Garber makes a good case that tulipmania was mostly a hoax --- of later historians. He makes the same case --- somewhat less convincing --- about the Mississippi Bubble of 1720 and the South Sea Bubble of the same year.

His main problem is not with his thesis which is intriguing but his writing. It's a boor. He is so intent on proving his point with charts and definitions of "herding," "bubbles," and "irrational exuberance" that he takes all the spice out of it. Mackay's book became and remained such a classic because these capers were written about as a great and wonderful joke (and they were pretty funny when you think about it). Garber just makes everything logical and sensible. I'm constitutionally opposed to logical, carefully footnoted, sensible, serious writing. The writer has a point, but unfortunately, uses the book as a hammer to drive it and us (endlessly) into the ground.

--- Lolita Lark