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Once Utilitarian, Screens Became
Decorative Pieces

Screens were an important item in an early home, when winds whistled under the doors, through the window cracks and down the chimneys. A screen could consist of a single panel or of several panels attached by hinges.

Originally, the screens would be propped around furniture to act as a kind of windbreak. The design on the screen only became important much later when they ceased to be used for strictly utilitarian purposes.

In England and Europe, large folding screens came into use by the 17th century. They were covered with expensive materials, such as velvets and tapestries.

Some of the loveliest screens began to be imported from Japan and China in the 18th century. They were usually made of lacquer. Three- and four-wing screens were most common, although some had as many as six or eight wings.

Screens made at home often used leather for the wings. These were sometimes painted with Oriental themes, in imitation of the imported product. Hunting scenes were another common theme.

By the 19th century, screens were decorative objects, used primarily to provide privacy. They were frequently found in the bedrooms of the well- to-do, where they were used as shields behind which to dress.

Their function today remains predominantly decorative, being used as room dividers or as pieces on which to display such things as quilts.

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Clocks Got Names From Own Features

Clocks have been given many names, usually based on some feature they exhibit. Sometimes this refers to the shape, as in the banjo clock, lyre clock, steeple clock and lighthouse clock.

Some names are more basic, and simply refer to how a clock is used. For instance, a mantel clock usually refers to any clock that doesn’t stand on the floor or hang on the wall, and would be appropriate for use on the mantel, even if one puts it on a bookcase shelf instead. A bracket clock will attach to a wall on a special bracket made especially to fit it.

Some names refer to the material, or one of the materials, used in the construction. A looking glass clock has a mirror in the door or panel of the door, for instance. A bronze mantel clock features bronze figures of people or animals.

Another group of names refers to the actual mechanism that runs the clock. An example of this type is the wagon-spring clock, which was a shelf clock of the early 1880s, in which the mechanism was controlled by a wagon-type spring.

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Leap Year Is Adjustment Time For
The Astronomical Calendar

This is one of those years when our calendars give us an extra day. It’s been happening for a long time.

Julius Caesar was the founder of leap year, although he didn’t originate the idea. Egyptian astronomers had been proposing adding an extra day to the calendar for a long time before Caesar’s day, but couldn’t get the rest of the Egyptians to go along with the idea. Caesar, however, didn’t need to get anyone else’s approval and in 45 B.C., he added it to his calendar. It’s location at the end of February made more sense then. The Roman calendar began on March 1, so the extra day was really being made at the end of their year.

There were some problems at first. For one thing, apparently the Romans didn’t really understand what was happening, and it held a leap year every third year for about 20 years. Eventually, they got that problem straightened out, and leap year continued to occur every four years for more than a thousand years.

Then some errors began to be noticeable. The reason we have leap year is to keep our years in line with the sun and the seasons. Astronomi­cally, a year is the length of time it takes the earth to circle the sun, 365.2425 days. A 365-day year leaves 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds unaccounted for. Every four years the extra day will pick up all of that extra time, plus a little bit over.

How do we get rid of that little bit over? In three out of every four “century years,” we do not have a leap year. Only the century years that are divisible by 400 get to have a leap year. Thus, there was no leap year in 1700, 1800, 1900, but there was one in the year 2000. And that makes it all come out close enough to keep our calendar in tune with the sun.

Anyway, Caesar’s calendar by the 13th century had picked up enough of these discrepancies to be off by about 7 days, as was discovered by a monk named John of Hollywood. He called it to the attention of the authorities, but nothing was done about it for another 3 centuries, when Pope Gregory got rid of the by then extra 10 days that had accumulated by simply eliminating them from that year and amended the calendar so it wouldn’t happen again.

In England and elsewhere in Europe, as early as the 5th century, leap year came to be known as Cupid’s Calendar. It was the year in which the tables were turned in matchmaking and a lady could properly propose to a man. In 1288, it became an actual law in Scotland; France passed a similar one a few years later; the tradition was legalized in Italy in the 15th century; and law books in England by 1600 stated: “As oft lepe yeare doth return ye ladyes have ye privleg of making love to ye men, which they doe either by wordes or by lookes, as to them seemeth proper.”

Don’t expect to find much in the way of leap year collectibles. There have been a few postcards made which recognize the event, but very little else. Incidentally, it has been common law since a royal proclamation of Henry VIII in 1236 that all who are born on February 29 are legally entitled to celebrate their birthdays on February 28.

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