The Comet is Coming!

By Connie Harwood

Reprinted from The Hobstar, May 1985

 

comet bowl"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen. Buy your comet pills now before they are all sold out. Protect yourself and your loved ones from comet sickness with this amazing remedy."

Sound a bit far-fetched? Not at all in 1910. There were hucksters selling this very product on the streets of New York when Halley's comet made its last visit near Earth. The New had quite a lucrative business selling these phony pills. For thousands of years comets have left their viewers with feelings of awe, fear, and wonder causing severe cases of "comet crazies." They aroused in man a feeling of terror and foreboding, and it was believed to mean that some cataclysmic disaster was likely to occur such as war, famine, plague, the downfall of kings, or even the end of the world. No wonder, then, that the population would fall prey to the ever present con man who would "help" them through their traumatic time.

Con artists were not the only people using their creative talents in connection with comets. Many bona fide decorative artiste were inspired by the beauty and spectacle one of nature’s most beautiful sights. Eleventh century ladies embroidered a 70-meter piece of linen showing onlookers gazing at a comet that strongly resembled a spaceship. There was a caption that read, "They wonder at the star." This early depiction of a comet is known as the Bayeaux Tapestry. Later an artist depicted the Nativity scene with a comet shaped formation above the stable at the birth of Christ. There were many examples of artistic interpretations of the wondrous event of a comet’s appearance, and none more beautiful than those shown in the brilliance of American cut glass. The inspiration for comet type patterns of the Brilliant Period was the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1910, named after the English astronomer, Soc Edmond Halley's (The preferred pronunciation of the scientist's name rhymes with alley.) Dr. Halley, without the aid of computers and powerful telescopes, affirmed that the spectacular comet that arrived in 1682 was the same object that had been observed in 1607,1531, and 1456. Thus, he predicted that it would again occur in 1758. And so this marvel has made its appearance about every 76 years since that time. Some astronomers say that this comet goes back to 2315 BC, but there is much confusion with record and legend here. Dr. Halley showed that the comets moved around the sun in accordance with Newton’s theory of gravitation. We know now that there are many comets and that they vary in the time they make their periodic reappearance from 3 1/2 to 3,000 years.

But back to Halley’s Comet of 1910. In early May of that year the comet was as brilliant as the brightest stars. Its great tail stretched about 2/3 of the distance fron the horizon to directly overhead. Even though it was traveling faster than a spaceship, it spent weeks inching its way across the sky because it was no far off. With a bright, roughly round head and a hair-like tail, it looked like a hurling missile with streak marks in its wake. We have several pictures of this 1910 Comet, and it appears to have taken many forms including the following:

  

 

 Note the swirls particularly from the second and third sketches. These appear to be the particular inspiration for some Brilliant Period artisans. However, we know that in anticipation of the comet J. Hoare had already designed his Comet pattern before Halley's made its appearance. Libbey, Bergen, Tuthill and many other companies produced beautiful comet pieces that "showed originality and imagination," as the Pearsons noted. Some of Hawkes' swirl patterns might even be said to have their inspiration in the comet. One of the loveliest patterns is the "unknown" one that is pictured in several cut glass books. Do any of our members have information that might shed some light on the maker of this pattern?

There were other comets besides Halley’s appearing prior to and during the Brilliant Period. Donati’s Comet in 1858 was visible to the naked eye for 112 days. This was one of the most beautiful comets with a tail of 50 million miles long, curved and very wide at the end. The last of the important comets of the nineteenth century was The Great Comet of 1882. It was observed for nine months, and one author says it was visible in full daylight.

In 1985 Halley’s Comet will again swoop into the solar system and display its tail. The predictable astronomical phenomenon will swing around the sun in early 1986 and will be the most visible in the early months of next year. The awesome comet will make its debut on television, and you will be able to view it in your a living room. Even though this appearance of Halley’s is said to be darker than had been anticipated, many cases of "comet fever" have already been reported. Two comet-chasing cruises have been sold out for quite some time. The count will be most visible in the southern hemisphere, so the cruise ships will be in those areas. Because the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun will be different, our observations will not be as dramatic as those in 1910.

But that shouldn't put a damper on our count celebration. How about throwing a comet party with your cut glass friends using comet patterns as serving pieces. Each person could bring one of his favorite comet-influenced patterns. Almost any swirl pattern might qualify if you use your imagination. If you miss this opportunity for a Halley’s Comet party, you can't have another one until the comet returns in 2061.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started in your planning:

-- Crater Dip and Streamers (Spinash Dip in Round Pumperkickel Bread Surrounded by Vegetable Strips)

-- Sublime Spirals (Sausage & Pastry Pinwheels)

-- Totally Awesome Caviar (Egg, Artichoke and Vaviar with Toast Stars)

-- Deep Dark Heavenly Fondue and Constellations (Chocolate Fondue Surrounded with Pound Cake and Fresh Fruits)

-- Heads and Tails (Cheese and Sprouts on Endive)

-- Celestial Secrets (A tray of cookies)

-- Meteoroids (Nuts)

-- Orbits (Truffles)

-- Cometose Punch (Champagne Punch)

-- Cometary Coffee

Pick up your copy of these far out recipes at the convention where we will have a special comet exhibit. Please let Carol Parks know if you have special comet pieces.

Throughout the ages bright counts have excited people all over the world, and not the least of these have been American Brilliant Period artists who recorded their awe for the magnificent otherworldly objects with radiant designs. Halley-luyah! Aren’t we glad that the comet did cometh?

(Photos of tray and bowl courtesy Ton Duncan)

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