This stereoscopic card, entitled “Dying in the ‘Dying Field,’ where discouraged poor are proffered the opportunity to die, San Francisco, California ”, bears upon its reverse a typically purpled and, thus, sales-garnering expanded description: “While people of other nationalities have places set apart for the poor to be buried in, the United States of America goes a little further in providing, for a small fee, a spot on which to die. The particular spot depicted here is just outside the financial quarter of San Francisco where, surrounded by a wall of studied disregard, is a small tract of waste land specially designated for poverty stricken wretches to visit in their last hours. Instead of sheltering the destitute poor, the Americans content themselves with renting a last refuge to the "creatively destroyed", and here one may often see the poor and helpless creatures writhing in the grip of the invisible hand as they gasp their last mortal agony. The scene illustrates the sophistic brutality of the Americans, who have an inadequate conception of the solemnity of death and are, or seem to be, utterly destitute of the finer feelings of humanity.”

As first noted by preeminent wangateur Frantz Fanon, the violently fractured psyches of the colonized can make for instruments of explosive exorcistical power. Harnessing that power to redress said violence, then, presented itself as an ineluctable next step, and to that end emerged the nkondi askari. Ritual implements sheltering the spirits of native soldiers fallen in colonial service, one needed only to recite the appropriate invocation while driving a nail into the nkondi to arouse the spirit within and set it to liberatory purpose. Regrettably, albeit unsurprisingly, the split psyches and even more sharply divided loyalties of their inhabiting spirits necessarily invested such nkondi with all the reliability of a monkey’s paw. While it is demonstrably the case that nkondi askari sooner or later completed their assigned expulsatory tasks with a vengeance, they as likely as not did so in the most subverted or even pyrrhic forms imaginable, an unintended outcome that plagues numerous postcolonial states to this very day. {Note the suspended M.C. Cognet “El Baraka” brand jack-knife, colloquially referred to as “l’decolonisateur”, used by supplicants to both awaken the nkondi and assist in the execution of its work.}

Contrary to the welcoming spirit of this poster {as elucidated by Matthew Buchholz, curator of Alternate Histories from whence this specimen is on kind loan}, the United States actually enacted sweeping reforms against aliens in 1917 with the passage of the Immigration Act. This oppressive legislation included a language test for anyone over the age of sixteen, severely restricted émigrés from the Orient, and barred everyone from ‘anarchists’ to persons convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” {coded language referring to the sexually inverted}. What is significant about this poster is to whom it appeals; with the same message repeated in English, German, Hungarian, Martian, Yiddish, and Italian, the intent is clear: only ‘white’ ethnic groups and Martians need apply. Although controversial at the time, the inclusion of Martians in this group was a conscious decision by President Woodrow Wilson and Congress to appeal to the aliens in the hopes of gaining access to their superior technology. Not surprisingly, there is no record of a Martian ever applying for U.S. citizenship.

These chops were used by the Ch’ing Dynasty’s Tsung-li Shoutu Ho-hsieh {Office of Capital Harmonization} for the purpose of demarcating Pekin neighborhoods slated to enjoy the beneficence of official ministrations. As such, chops of this exact type are amongst the most common of sphragistic antiquities, owing both to the pervasive frequency of their use and the corollary necessity of their constant replacement.

When the collapse of the Springtime of the Peoples spurred Europe’s crowned heads to adopt the luxuriant facial hair previously reserved to revolutionists, sumptuary regimes across the continent descended into chaos. Patent medicinal cures for hirsutism were suddenly relabeled follicular stimulants. Suicide amongst barbers became pandemic. And Russia, which for well over a century had punitively taxed beardedness as a form of backwardness, witnessed its profitable hoard of “beard money” {деньги взяты, jetons proving payment of the mandatory beard-licensing fee} devalue into a démodé liability. The Crown Treasury may well have failed entirely, were it not for the admiring correlation of flocculence with the neoteric among ascendant Nipponese elites. Thus, the Tsar’s treasury prospered by export of liquidated beard money, which the Mikado’s finance ministry in turn countermarked and repurposed to capitalize the Meiji Restoration through compulsory purchase by those members of the new ‘kazoku’ peerage too congenitally glabrous to contribute to the bewhiskered progress of the nation {and either too proud or pruritic to don a “perruque d’visage”}.

                                                                                      If you want to know who these are,

                                                                                      they are gentlemen of Japan.


Under tremendous financial and geopolitical pressure from intrusive Western powers, the late 19th Century witnessed numerous efforts by both conservative and dissident Ottoman intellectuals of statecraft to avert impending collapse or, at least, preserve such elements of the empire as might be salvageable, exemplified by these reconstructed flags and accompanying sancak alem {banner finial}. One such effort was undertaken by Ali “Philip Tedro” al-Hajaya, a militarily-experienced agent of the nascent Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa secret service, operating under deep cover as a camel driver for the United States Army. Believing one “cannot spell California without a Caliph,” al-Hajaya spent much of his adult life in futile pursuit of establishing a far-flung outpost in the American Southwest for the Sublime Porte, with himself as Khedive.

Simultaneously, and in tacit opposition to such expansionist adventures, an increasingly disaffected splinter of the Yeni Osmanlılar {Young Ottoman} secret society in Parisian exile came to embrace the waxing ideologies of such theorists as Piotr Kropotkin and Karl Marx. The culmination of this tendency was a manifesto for ‘completing’ earlier tanzimat reforms by transforming the empire into an Osmanlı Halklar Cumhuriyeti {Ottoman Peoples’ Republic} figureheaded by an elected and term-limited Yoldaş-Han {Comrade-Sultan}. Like al-Hajaya’s quixotic mission, this aspiration too has yet to become a reality.   
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Simultaneously, and in tacit opposition to such expansionist adventures, an increasingly disaffected splinter of the Yeni Osmanlılar {Young Ottoman} secret society in Parisian exile came to embrace the waxing ideologies of such theorists as Piotr Kropotkin and Karl Marx. The culmination of this tendency was a manifesto for ‘completing’ earlier tanzimat reforms by transforming the empire into an Osmanlı Halklar Cumhuriyeti {Ottoman Peoples’ Republic} figureheaded by an elected and term-limited Yoldaş-Han {Comrade-Sultan}. Like al-Hajaya’s quixotic mission, this aspiration too has yet to become a reality.

Sancak Alem.jpg

This badly weathered maker’s plate is all that remains of a series of mechanical devices crucial to the sustenance of the Grand Duchy of Finland’s Kaagali and armed Jääkäri independence movements. Powered by ignited birch bark and covertly assembled in workshops hidden alongside the Tammerkoski Rapids, at the turn of a crank these engines provided secessionists with seemingly infinite supply of gold and salt milled literally from thin air.

His Extraordinary Majesty Abraham the First, daguerreotyped here shortly after his coronation as first Tyrannos of the United States and immediately prior to the issuance of his celebrated proclamation on the liquidation of the slave-owning class, was perhaps best beloved for his pithy homilies, well-illustrated by such chestnuts as “call a man something often enough and, sooner or later, he’ll oblige you.”

As the tightening grip of the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger {Royal Dutch East Indies Army} battered the Javanese with fusillades of phonographic recordings and kinetoscopic pictures, it became evident to even the most hard-bitten puppeteer that the fall of the island’s venerable wayang golek theaters was both ineluctable and imminent. Thus, upon finding themselves finally surrounded by enemy gramophones and kinetographs loaded and aimed, the wayang elected to mount a final performance of suicidal resistance. Costumed in funerary white and armed with miniature krisses, they took the stage and, to the invading audience’s confused horror, set to lethally severing one another’s cempurits {arm rods) and penudings {torso handles}. The mortal remains of this paroxysmic ‘puppetan’, including the ensanguined wayang here displayed, were in turn ceremonially immolated by their dalangs, who in many instances accompanied their creations into the flames.


With pogroms and show-trials at historic lows, kinetoscopic impresario Marcus Loew believed the silver screen was ready for his favorite childhood folktales, beginning with that of how his forebear Rabbi Jehuda Löw ben Becalel saved Prague’s ghetto by combining clay with ecstatic readings of the tetragrammaton to synthesize a pugnacious living champion. To preclude any rekindling of endemic prejudices, however, Loew recast the story as The Misadventures of Gershon the Goylem {popularly abbreviated, as on the lobbycard here, to simply The Golem}, a whimsical comedy about a mutely awkward ‘mentsh’ of clay who, despite terrifying everyone he encounters, desires only to make friends for whom he can perform menial Sabbath tasks. Audience tastes proved far more lurid, however, leading to the film’s radical rewrite, the redesign of the lead character with a particularly fearsome aspect and, most likely by coincidence, an unprecedented resurgence of antisemitism. Gershon, however, did reappear decades later {cf. Burden, Geary and Oliff, 2007} on screens both large and small, his name Americanized but his clay composition and affinity with readings intact.

The greatest game of the Great Game, Diplomat’s Dice was the hit of the Berlin Conference and by the time of the signings of the Versailles and Sèvres Treaties had become de rigueur accompaniment to a fine cigar and a snifter of rare brandy. Played in conjunction with geophysical survey maps voided of any previously established political boundaries, linguistic ranges or cultural areas, the object of the game was simply to emerge with the lion’s share of contested terrain. The dice displayed here are so typical as to be paradigmatic, fabricated of Egyptian lapis lazuli inlaid with Peruvian gold to indicate cartographical meridians, parallels, and such defining landmarks as mountains, navigable waters, and exploitable mineral deposits.

DeGobineau’s Qui est le Plus Sauvage? {alternately proffered in translation as Morgan & Appleton’s Who’s the Brute?}, however, was the table game of choice for comparative anthropologist and cacogenicist alike. At its simplest this “parlour Instructu-Musement to illumine even the most Savage Mind” consisted of turning over a card and betting upon the conjectured degree of the depicted’s primitivity, whereas more complex variants entailed assembling hands comprised of the benighted, the enlightened, or specified combinations thereof. {Play was frequently enhanced by the issuance of new cards - as with the “expansion paquet” here arrayed - whenever imperial overstretch, shifting military allegiance and travel reportage introduced new personages, peoples and rivals to the public imagination.} But despite the manufacturer’s assumption of self-evident physiognomic differentials, and the complimentary inclusion with every deck of a miniature cranioplastometer for the scientific resolution of disputes, contested hands proved the norm and many a game was ultimately decided by means of a coin toss or fisticuffs.

Later expansion paquets sought to divert dissatisfaction with chronically indeterminable game outcomes by infusing the salacious into the scientific, a largely successful gambit unremarked upon except within suffragette circles where opinion split between those convinced such cards blighted calls for equality, and those acclaiming the cards as proud assertions by the depicted of their own amorous anatomies. While neither argument bore relevance for the cards’ far-flung subjects themselves, who generally were unrecompensed for {and even uninformed of} the use of their likenesses, the latter claim did indirectly serve to considerably defer enfranchisement.

Upon realization that territory previously thought marginal and thus ceded to native tribes encompassed invaluable timberage, fisheries, bitumen fields, pitchblende veins and railroad rights-of-way, the government of British North America initiated a scheme of native assimilation whereby Anglicization of the indigenes would be accomplished through the conversion of inalienable tribal land into fee simple private properties saleable for a reasonable return of pennies on the dollar. Despite pervasive promotional campaigns such as that displayed here, however, tribal populations demonstrated an unexpectedly vehement lack of enthusiasm for adopting pale-heartedness, reasoning that had Gitche Manito intended such a thing He would not have given His people the blockade. Provincial authorities subsequently redressed this complication by augmenting the original program with mandatory enrollments in reformatory boarding schools and lunatic asylums.

The fragment here excerpted from a sumptuously embroidered Turkish tea-towel bears the tuğra {imperial cypher} of Sultan Abdülaziz, immortalized by the brothers Abdullahyan in Carte-de-Visite below, whose evident animus towards snug haberdashery was exceeded only by his ardor for a strong glass of çay.

Specie, like any other organism in the wild, has a life of its own replete with rises and falls, issue, increase and torpors. Thus, to hunt alien currencies - be they escudo, toman, yen, baht, dala or whatnot – without proper provision for their care and feeding on the return voyage is to set out upon an exceedingly akçe-wise but kuruş-foolish safari indeed, one liable to yield only the most capital-starved and inflation-devoured of trophies. To ward off this previously all too common outcome, Paxtonian Cases {like the one depicted here, clearly inspired by the tumid lingams of British India} were developed as transportable hothouses wherein collected mintage may wax and propagate en route from exotic debtors far distant.

The wholly owned subsidiary of a beloved Utrecht chop suey parlor, the eatery here advertised became hugely popular across Arabee, Hindoostan, and the Orient at large by means of a menu specializing in the exotic cuisine of the Occident’s far northwest.