The difference between trading in ideas—such as, for example, fiction—and trading in objects—such as, for example, handcrafted steampunk props—is that one doesn’t actually sell an idea, one sells access to an idea, but one sells an object, to which one then no longer has access. ‘Handcrafted’ is probably a bit of a stretch, in this instance, because the base materials I’ve been using are cheap, mass-produced toys and implements, which I’ve then glued or cable-tied together, and then given about four coats of paint and varnish. But, in memoriam, as it were, of some of the props I managed to rehome (in what can best be described as a sequence of bittersweet acts of commerce) at last weekend’s wonderful Steampunk Victoriana Fair in Goulburn, here are a couple of items of which I now only have the photographs, and the explanatory notes:
The great assassin-poet Colleen McCudgell has said that, ‘given my choice of all the weaponry on God’s good, green earth, I’d much prefer to adopt the simple lead-weighted sock as the tool of my trade, by virtue of the delicious sound it produces, honest, rich, and resonant, when brought down, just so, upon the unsuspecting victim’s head’. Regrettably, McCudgell was forced, by a persistently squeaky brass leg, to adopt less directly percussive methods of unsuspecting-target elimination. Foremost amongst these in her arsenal was the Fauntleroy & Magnussen Rangeblaster Deluxe.
The Rangeblaster Deluxe was originally designed as a sniper’s weapon, with its superior Zeiss-Hornswoggler optics capable of pinpointing human targets at distances as great as eight leagues. However, its incapacity to inflict anything more substantial than a moderate flesh wound or painful bruise at distances exceeding two leagues was, to say the least, a cause of frustration amongst its users, and it fell largely from favour shortly after its introduction in 1873. McCudgell, however, took to it with alacrity, seeing a way to turn the firearm’s shortcoming into an advantage. ‘What other weapon,’ she asked, ‘would allow one to extirpate a target whilst improving one’s physique through the lengthy pursuit of one’s wounded prey?’ For this reason McCudgell, although scoring poorly on the Assassin’s League tables of the day, is now fondly remembered as the progenitor of the increasingly popular fitness regime Assassercise, ‘an impromptu and unpredictable sport, as likely to involve mountain-climbing, sewer-running, or roof-leaping in place of conventional cross-country, but wonderfully exhilarating—for one of the participants, at least’.
The Croydon firm of Geo. Dottlesworth & Sons was well known to tobacconistas of Victorian London, and during their heyday in the 1870s and 1880s they produced an astonishing profusion of ‘Pipes for the Gentleman Adventurer’. One of the most intriguing items offered in their six-volume 1882 catalogue was this ‘Dottlesworth Infusohaler’, which comes to us from the collection of the Lindsey-Doyle family. While the Infusohaler, in common with most of the pipes in the Dottlesworth range, could be deployed ‘for the Smoking of Conventional and Exotic Tobaccos & sundry other Varieties of Dried Foliage’, its primary purpose was as a portable, convenient, impromptu receptacle ‘in which could be Brewed all manner of Teas and Other Flavoursome Infusions’. The Infusohaler, which when first introduced featured the smallest valve-and-ballcock assemblage then known, also incorporated a small heating element of ‘quickened pitchblende’ which provided the warmth necessary for teamaking; the tea, once brewed, could either be sipped from a thimble-sized, electrum-plated cuppette—sadly not retained with the specimen on offer here—or, ‘for Gentlemen in a State of Haste, Inhaled’.
It is believed that this Infusohaler was in the possession of Sir Henry Lindsey-Doyle from 1882 until his death, from a mysterious pneumofungal disorder, in late 1887. Sir Henry’s body, naturally mummified, was bequeathed to Science and can still be seen on display in a glass cabinet within the foyer of the London School of Anatomick Curiosities, Grotesqueries, and Cautionary Examples.