Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Package Trade

I've been doing some more research on classic-era packing options.  For years I've been using spanish moss and wood excelsior as a packaging material, since it looked nice, was readily available, and seemed plausibly period.  It was only while finishing up the "Deep One" fetus project that I actually started to wonder just how period it was.

Yes, I'm aware such thoughts are probably a sign of incipient madness.  Heh.

I had originally believed there wouldn't be much material on the subject available, but that turned out to totally wrong.  There's a huge amount of surviving literature, most of it targeted at commercial shippers.  That includes not only manufacturers and producers, naturally interested in getting their products to market without damage, but the entire shipping industry itself, commonly referred to as the express trade. 

In general, and this was a real surprise, small packages in the 1920s were done exactly as they are today- a corrugated cardboard box filled with cushioning material.  This period ad demonstrates that nearly every type of package available today was around in the classic era.

 Notice anything missing from those boxes?  Packing tape.  Gummed tape was available, but it wasn't regularly used because of issues with moisture and abrasion resistance.  Cardboard boxes were held shut with twine or strapping, giving us the familiar image of a package wrapped in kraft paper and twine.  It would be years before tape would replace twine as the go-to closure method.


 In almost every case the cushioning material filling those cardboard boxes was excelsior or wood wool made from fine wood shavings.  It was cheap and readily available, produced in both formed sheets and loose bales at mills across the United States.

Because excelsior can be somewhat abrasive items were frequently wrapped in lightweight paper before being nestled inside the fibers.  This was usually tissue paper or newsprint, available in both sheets and rolls to professional shippers.  Old newspapers were the wrapping of choice for consumer packages.  In most large cities there were multiple papers printing both a morning and evening edition, so there was a huge supply available for recycling.

The wooden shipping crate filled with excelsior we've seen in so many movies was normally limited to extremely delicate items, like glassware, or particularly dense objects along the line of machine parts.  Crating only made economic sense when the added protection and weight, and hence cost, was a fractional expense compared to the value of the item.

What's really interesting is just how advanced crate technology was.  I know that sounds like an oxymoron.  After all, a crate is just a wooden box.  But there was a huge variety of crates available, each tailored for a specific purpose using sophisticated construction techniques.  The familiar box made of nailed together boards was only the most basic type.  By the early 20s manufacturers had perfected the use of lightweight plywood in box construction and were beginning to use ultra-thin wood panels reinforced by internal pressure.  In some cases compression was mitigated using tightly packed excelsior, but they were also using "springs" made from bowed wooden struts.  Box skins were also being tensioned using strapping and twist-bound wire.

I've probably spent more time looking into this than the subject really deserved, but I started to find it interesting in and of itself.  One thing that comes up again and again when researching classic era technology is how often we underestimate it's capabilities.  I never would have thought that the myriad of shipping boxes on the shelves today were available back in the 20s, much less in substantially identical form.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Heavy Metal

The holiday shopping season is here, and our sponsor Forlorn Foundry is marking the occasion with a sale.  Just enter coupon code PROPNOMICON to get a 10% discount on any purchase.  The code is good until January 1st.  You'll find some wonderful bronze castings in their shop.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Forbidden Knowledge

Wesley Remory's long running tome project has some new pages.  It's a good example of why crafting tomes is so difficult.  To maintain a consistent art style across the contents you have to generate page after page of material, and that can take years.  You can view the previous updates on his effort over here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Casting With Hot Glue

Arus brings us a nice tutorial on casting props using hot glue.  The materials are cheap and easy to use, making it perfect for small projects that don't justify the cost of resin.  Via Eric Hart.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cthulhu Mask

Shane Vannest brings us this wonderfully detailed Cthulhu mask. He's included over a dozen closeup shots in his gallery.

Monday, November 25, 2013

For That Special Someone

I was finally able to finish up the "Deep One" fetus project I mentioned last month.  It's available on Ebay, and would make the perfect gift for that special someone who appreciates mummified creatures.  Heh.

On a related note, I've been trying to get a handle on what kind of packing materials were used in the vintage era.  As you can imagine, there isn't an overwhelming amount of material available on the subject.  That means tracking down things like period office manuals and shipping guides in order to get some solid references.  So far it appears that wood excelsior or wood wool was the preferred packing material, followed distantly by packing paper and Spanish moss.  The latter two only seem to be popular in locations where they were dirt cheap.  For packing paper that would be mill towns with access to cut-offs from paper rolls.  Dried Spanish moss was primarily used in the deep South, where it was literally free for the taking.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Faux Gemstones

You never know where you'll find a useful technique.  Bruno at "Acetone and Old Lacquer" brings us some impressive faux gemstones created using nail polish and glass cabochons.  These would be perfect as mounted stones in an idol or artifact.  The cabochons are available in extremely precise sizes, so it's easy to incorporate a depression for mounting one into a sculpt.  The finishes available are just amazing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Great Old One

John Tatarelli Jr. brings us this nicely done Cthulhu bust.  I really like the elephantine texture on the tentacles.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fiat Lux

I stumbled across this piece from Evan Chambers and thought it was a "War of the Worlds" prop, but it's actually a table lamp.  The craftsmanship and finish work is just perfect.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Seal of Cthulhu

After a too long absence, Florian Mellies returns.  He brings us this very nice boxed set of Cthulhu seals.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Face of Cthulhu

Barbelith2000Ad brings us this beautiful Cthulhu sculpt.  If you take a look at the high resolution version of the closeup shot you can see just how much detail goes into a piece like this.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bookbinding Tutorial

Rev. Marx returns to our pages with a handy tutorial on binding a book with double end papers.  As usual, it's extensively illustrated and provides a detailed explanation of the technique.

Monday, November 18, 2013

'Tis the Season

Jason McKittrick is waging a one man effort to add a bit of the Mythos to the holidays.  First up, he brings us this Cthulhu Yuletide ornament for brightening up the solstice tree.  This is another short run project that will only be available for a week.

He's following that up with a Cthulhu-themed scarf.  Pre-orders for the neck wrap are running until November 30th.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Based on the positive response to last year's effort, I'm going to be doing another round of holiday gift suggestions this year.  Lets see if we can't once again drive up the price of obscure used books on Amazon from pennies a copy to hundreds of dollars!  Heh.

As part of the effort I'd like to feature any special holiday projects that are in the pipeline.  I'd obviously prefer Lovecraftian and horror items along the lines of what's usually featured here, but I'm a bit more flexible than normal around the holidays.  If you're an artist with something you think I might be interested in just drop me an email at

And, of course, now is a perfect time to advertise on Propnomicon in order to take advantage of the holiday rush! 

Prop Brain

Patrycja Cichocka returns to our pages with this very nice silicone brain for a production of "Frankenstein".  Browse around at the link and you'll find some truly disturbing work.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Spawn of Cthulhu

The talented Simon Lee brings us the spawn of Cthulhu.  I would sacrifice body parts just to have a tenth of his talent.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

That Voodoo That You Do

Ethis Crea brings us a great little voodoo tableau.  You can browse a version of the page translated into English thanks to Google.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Black Book

Mille Cuirs brings us this beautiful hand tooled leather tome.  The level of craftsmanship is just amazing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Centipede Edition.

The prolific Copper Centipede returns with a new Cthulhu idol. The worn stone finish is one of the more unusual ones I've seen.  It captures the look of the voids you see in pyrites and meteorites.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Ritthanondh Edition.

Daniel Ritthanondh brings us this nifty little Cthuhu idol that includes a storage compartment in the base.  It's a bonus feature for a Kickstarter campaign for a set of Lovecraftian playing cards. To be honest, the cards aren't something I'd be interested in, but Mr. Ritthanondh's sculpt would make it worthwhile.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Last Flight of the Freya 7

Christian Matzke deserves a great deal of credit for Propnomicon's existence.  For years his "Propping up the Mythos" site was one of, if not the, go-to sites for Lovecraftian propmaking.  I was genuinely saddened when it went dark a few years ago.

That's one of the reasons I think you might be interested in his latest project- The Last Flight of the Freya 7, an Alien/Aliens fan film.

He's currently in pre-production on the project and is busy putting together practical props, costumes, and effects. Long before I became interested in Lovecraft I was a huge fan of the Alien franchise. That's why two shots in his gallery were of particular interest. They're both relatively obscure items from the films that bode well for his familiarity with the original material. The first is a recreation of the Gateway shuttle that ended up being cut from the final release version of "Aliens":

The second is the rescue helmet from the bridge of the Nostromo. It was featured in the "wake-up" sequence in the first few minutes of "Alien":

Given the quality of his previous work I'm looking forward to seeing this project come together.

Update: "Propping up the Mythos" has been archived!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Great Cthulhu

Sean M. George brings us this impressive Cthulhu figure, a class project at a special effects school.  I was going to call it "full size", but a moments reflection made it obvious that would be a mistake.  At a guess I'd say it's a miniature in 1:144 scale.  Heh.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pages of the Necronomicon

Artist Joseph Vargo has some amazing pages from the Necronomicon in his gallery. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hail to the King

"S1yMcNasty" brings us this nicely done King in Yellow costume. Browse through his gallery for some other shots. Someday, and that day will come all too soon, everyone will recognize a servant of the King in Yellow.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Loincloth Edition.

There's a lot to love about this unusual Cthulhu idol from Hovito Loincloth at the RPF.  It manages to hit the basic forms of Lovecraft's sketch while going in a very alien direction.  I really like the approach he used for the base to capture the look of an object that exists in more than three dimensions.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Arsenault Edition.

I never thought this day would arrive, but here it is.  David Arsenault brings us this outstanding Cthulhu cake.   What sets this apart is the quality of the sculpt.  Most Mythos baked goods are mildly amusing, but not exactly works of art.  This one is. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Barsoomian Outlaw

Dave Crook brings us this fun little steampunk prop tableau.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Suiting Up

2StoryProps brings us a detailed recreation of an Apollo-era A7L moon suit.  The finished project is one of those things you can appreciate as a real masterpiece, but would never think of attempting yourself.  Then you take a look at the build log and see how each step was accomplished.  That's when it goes from impossible to do-able and your credit card starts to groan. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

In the Shadow of the Black Wind

Jonas Thibout brings us this unusual tribal artifact.  This would be an awesome prop for anyone running the "Mountain of the Black Wind" episode of Chaosium's Masks of Nyarlathotep.