the Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard

One of the most legendary and sought-after guitars in the world.

In 1952 the Gibson Guitar company began to sell a solid-body guitar. The guitar was a collaboration with “The Wizard of Waukesha” guitarist & inventor Les Paul. The Gibson Les Paul guitar was created as an answer to the Fender Telecaster, created two years earlier becoming the first mass produced solid-body guitar. Despite some initial success Gibson sold fewer and fewer Les Pauls over the next 5 years. By 1958 Gibson decided to redesign the style of the guitar and turned to the sunburst finish of their hollow-body electric guitars for inspiration. They replaced the Les Paul’s gold painted finish with a cherry sunburst finish. This was the dawning of “the Burst”, some of the most famous guitars ever made.

Golden Gods

The 1958-1960 era of Gibson Les Pauls are some of the most collectible guitars in the world but they didn’t start out that way. Officially called the Gibson Les Paul Standard, but nicknamed the “Burst”, the guitar went relatively unnoticed until 1964 when a young Keith Richards bought a 1959 Burst from Selmer’s Music in London. He used it to record many of the Rolling Stones’ early hits including Satisfaction, Get Off My Cloud, and Let’s Spend the Night Together. Perhaps as importantly Richards was also seen with the guitar – in publicity photos, on tour, and in 1964 during the Rolling Stones appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Because of the great sound the guitar produced, other early blues-rock guitarists wanted to try it. Richards lent his 1959 sunburst to Jimmy Page (then a studio musician, pre-Led Zeppelin) as well as to Eric Clapton. Later the classic combination of Gibson Les Paul played through a Marshall amp was created by Clapton who used the combo on the highly influential 1966 album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Whether Clapton used a 1960 sunburst or a 1959 is an item of debate.

Soon other musicians wanted the sound & style of the 1959 sunburst. The problem was supply. In 1959 Gibson only made 643 Les Paul sunbursts. Even the whole of the sunburst run from 1958-1960 only produced somewhere around 1406-ish guitars. So by the late 1960s lots of musicians wanted one, but there weren’t enough to go around. This began a storied history of 1959 sunbursts being bought & sold, changing hands, and creating some very famous (and extremely valuable) guitars.

It’s who’s who of rock royalty who have played a 1959 burst.

Rock Provenance

While the guitar itself is a great guitar, the who’s who of rock guitarists who have played 1959 sunbursts adds to their value. The provenance of these guitars is what make them famous.

  • Keith Richards: In 1967 Keith sold his sunburst to Mick Taylor, who had replaced Peter Green in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers (… who had replaced Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers). The “Keith Burst” would rejoin the Rolling Stones two years later when Taylor was brought in to replace Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones. In 1971 the guitar was either stolen, or maybe sold, but around 1977 it was sold to Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake who held onto it for about a week before selling it to Mike Jopp. In 2004 it went to an anonymous Swiss collector who supposedly paid $1 million for it.

  • Peter Green: Purchased around 1965 from the same shop as Keith Richards’ sunburst, Peter Green’s 1959 sunburst “Greeny” can be heard on 1967’s A Hard Road by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. The guitar went with him to the newly formed Fleetwood Mac and can be heard on their early blues-based albums including 1969’s Fleetwood Mac in Chicago. In the early 1970s he sold it to Gary Moore of Thin Lizzy where it can be heard on their albums. Moore sold it in 2006 for perhaps £300,000 or somewhere between $750,000-1.2 million, depending on the story. It further traded hands and most recently was sold in 2014 to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. As for the price, it’s been reported that Hammett bought the guitar for $2 million but he’s said “I made a deal with the person I bought it from that I would never say what I paid for it. But it wasn’t $2 million. It wasn’t $1 million. It wasn’t even $500,000. That’s all I’ll say about it.”

  • Jimmy Page: The guitar that Jimmy Page calls his “Number One” is the 1959 sunburst that he bought off of Joe Walsh in 1969 while on tour in America. Incidentally after Joe Walsh joined the Eagles in 1975 he and Don Felder both played sunbursts including on the band’s biggest hit Hotel California. As for Jimmy Page his “Number One” has become one of the most iconic versions of the guitar. It can be first heard on 1969’s Led Zeppelin II. Page went on to own more than one 1959 sunburst and used them throughout the band’s career, part of which can be seen in their 1973 concert film The Song Remains the Same.

  • Billy Gibbons: Founder and front man of ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons purchased “Pearly Gates” from a rancher outside of Houston, Texas in 1968. After hearing Eric Clapton play a Les Paul sunburst he knew he had to have one. Gibbons named the guitar after a former car which in turn was named because it miraculously survived a drive from Texas to Hollywood. He’s played “Pearly Gates” on every ZZ Top album since. At one point he was offered $5 million for the guitar but declined.

  • Duane Allman: While Allman was more famous for his 1957 gold top Les Paul, he sold it in a deal to buy a 1959 sunburst. That sunburst is most famously heard on the Allman Brothers Band’s 1971 live album At Fillmore East. Today it sits in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Joe Perry: Unsure exactly who he traded guitars with, or when, Joe Perry ended up with a 1959 sunburst at some point in the 1970s. He played it on the early Aerosmith albums and can be seen playing it on the album art for Aerosmith’s Live! Bootleg album. Around 1982 Perry needed money and sold it for $4,500. It changed hands a few times, eventually going to Eric Johnson who offered to sell it back to Perry for what he paid for it, but Perry didn’t have any money and declined. It was sold again and by the time Perry had the money and went in search of his old guitar it was owned by Slash of Guns N’ Roses. The Joe Perry Les Paul can be seen in the November Rain video. In 2000 as a surprise 50th birthday present, Slash gave Perry back his old guitar.

Because of their iconic status the 1958-1960 Les Pauls have inspired many knock-offs. Some 1957s were refinished to look like 1958s, while others are just very convincing fakes. This leads to variations of the joke that between 1958-1960 Gibson made around 1,500 sunbursts and there are only about 3,000 left.

Of the sunbursts the 1959 is still the most valuable. The “Holy Grail” of guitars, the 1959 sunburst is so popular that Gibson currently makes a reissued version of it which you can buy new for just around $7,000. This is relatively inexpensive given that original 1959 sunbursts, even those with no particularly interesting provenance, sell for a few hundred thousand dollars each.

Five Watt World gives an excellent history of the Burst Les Pauls.

Clapton’s sunburst Les Paul combined with a Marshall amp, as heard on the album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, helped set the template for what blues-rock should sound like.

You can hear Peter Green’s “Greeny” burst on Watch Out by Fleetwood Mac.

ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons demonstrates the sound of his 1959 Les Paul, “Pearly Gates”.

Jimmy Page’s “Number One” burst is one of the most iconic 1959 Les Pauls in rock.

MacGuffins

The thing that drives the plot but doesn’t really matter.

In storytelling, a MacGuffin is something that drives the plot but exactly what the thing is doesn’t really matter. It’s a catalyst that gives the characters something to pursue, something to destroy, something to protect, all while revealing their morality, their motivations, etc. A MacGuffin helps to generate action and suspense but ultimately doesn’t directly affect the plot. It has theoretical value to the characters but has no real value to the story. The moment a MacGuffin significantly changes the plot it ceases to be a MacGuffin.

The term was created by screenwriter Angus MacPhail, who collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock (who in turn made the concept famous by using it in several of his films). While the term is new the idea of the MacGuffin is as old as storytelling itself. For example Helen of Troy prompting the siege of Troy in The Iliad, Sleeping Beauty and other classic damsels in distress in need of saving, the Holy Grail motivating the The Knights of the Round Table, etc. are all MacGuffins driving the story but having little impact on the plot.

One of the best examples of a MacGuffin is the statue in Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon. The search for the Maltese Falcon statue drives the plot but the fact that it’s a statue of a bird is irrelevant – it just needed to be something of value/importance to the characters. Whether it was a statue, a painting, secret plans, etc. it just had to be something to motivate the characters.

From the Maltese Falcon statue to the Dude’s rug, MacGuffins help drive the story.

Let’s chase some MacGuffins

There are many examples of MacGuffins, as well as classifications of MacGuffins, but the following are a few examples found in popular media:

  • It’s the secret military plans in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps
  • the stolen $40,000 in Psycho
  • the microfilm in North by Northwest
  • It’s basically everything Indiana Jones chases after such as the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • the sacred Sankara Stones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • It’s the glowing suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly, which in turn inspired …
  • the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction
  • George Lucas said that R2-D2 with the Death Star plans in Star Wars is a MacGuffin
  • It’s the Dude’s rug in The Big Lebowski
  • the Horcruxes in Harry Potter
  • “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane
  • It’s Pauline from Donkey Kong and Zelda in the Legend of Zelda
  • Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) in the first season of The Mandalorian
  • Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan
  • etc.

Not a MacGuffin

The ring in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is frequently thought of as a MacGuffin, but this is incorrect. While the ring could be exchanged for some other object the fact that it has a direct effect on the characters who encounter it, that Bilbo and Frodo both use it numerous times for its magical power of invisibility, and in doing both of these directly changes the plot throughout the story, means it isn’t a MacGuffin.

Added info: lest you think their bar was Scottish themed, the concept of the MacGuffin is so pervasive in film that AMC Theatres named their chain of theater bars MacGuffins Bar.

Alfred Hitchcock explains what a MacGuffin is on The Dick Cavett Show.

A Trope Talk deep-dive into MacGuffins.

When is Easter?

Easter if a floating holy day whose date has been a moving target for millennia.

The modern confusion over when to celebrate Easter goes back to the earliest Christians. To start, it’s not entirely clear what day of the week the crucifixion of Jesus took place on. The Bible can be interpreted to say that the Sunday resurrection took place three full days after the crucifixion, meaning the crucifixion took place on a Wednesday. Or the resurrection was simply “on the third day” (not three full days) and as such the crucifixion took place on a Friday. As for celebrating the resurrection some early Christians chose to celebrate on the first day of Passover (the holiday during which Jesus was crucified) while others celebrated on the Sunday of Passover when the tomb was found empty.

The First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine, established that the resurrection would be celebrated not just on a Sunday but on the Sunday following the full moon after the March (northern Spring) equinox. This kept the holiday near Passover, which is also around the Spring equinox, but not necessarily on Passover. This helped to standardize the observance of the resurrection … until the change of calendars confused things again.

East meets West

Introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, the Gregorian calendar was used by western churches to (among other things) calculate the annual observance of the resurrection. Orthodox churches however continued using the Julian calendar (which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar). The use of two different calendar systems is why there are two different dates for Easter each year – falling near one another and sometimes even falling on the same Sunday.

Another confusing detail is what to call the holiday. Given the holiday’s connection to Passover many languages and church denominations call the holiday some translated variation of the word Passover (which in Latin & Greek is “pascha” which also gives us the word “paschal” the term for things pertaining to Easter or Passover). In German and English however, the names “Ostern” and “Easter” are used which come from a pagan goddess.

Easter / Ēostre pagan goddess

The Germanic goddess Ēostre (aka Ôstara or Austra) was a Spring deity … probably. There is very little documentation of Ēostre. It is unknown how widespread the worship of her may have been or for how long. The primary source we have is The Reckoning of Time written by the English monk Saint Bede the Venerable in 725 CE. Bede writes about calculating the date of the resurrection and mentions that it took place around the Spring equinox, the same time of year that the Anglo-Saxons used to hold a feast in honor of Ēostre. From this timely reference to Ēostre the name “Easter” came to be the English name for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus (even though she had nothing to do with it).

Added info: Constantine not only helped to standardize when to celebrate Easter but he was also the reason the Chi Rho became the symbol of the Roman empire as well as the early Catholic church.

the Imp of the Perverse

The urge to do the wrong thing at the worst possible time.

The imp of the perverse is the phenomenon where you have the urge to do the wrong thing at the worst possible time. The name comes from the 1845 Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name which is part essay part short story. Poe lays out his theory that humans sometimes have a destructive drive that works against their best interests. It then goes on to be a short story of murder (as Poe stories tend to do).

What if I …

Like the imps of folklore, or maybe the cartoon devil on your shoulder, we each have a mischievous side that tells us to do something wrong just because we can. It can be something benign like the urge to shout in a quiet concert hall, or maybe to throw a coin off the top of a building, to jump out and scare someone, or maybe to tip over a carefully arranged stack of cans in the grocery store. Sometimes the ideas are more dangerous like thinking about driving your car off the road, pushing someone, etc. We don’t do it, but that little thought pops up sometimes.

A special kind of imp of the perverse is the French concept of “L’appel du vide” or “the call of the void”, where you stand at the edge of a precipice and think “I could just jump right over the edge” but then quickly back away. Studies of L’appel du vide (aka High Place Phenomenon) suggest that it isn’t suicidal – quite the opposite. Researchers believe that this is your brain warning you to be careful. It’s driven by a desire to continue living rather than the other way around.

Choices and ideas

It’s not fully understood why we have these thoughts, why the imp of the perverse pops up from time to time. One possible explanation is that we like to have options even if we know we would never choose some of them. Just knowing that we could do/say something is satisfying enough without actually doing/saying it. Another possibility is that these thoughts are part of an internal rebellious drive, part of what psychoanalyst Otto Rank called our “counterwill”, where we oppose feeling confined/controlled and so we try and assert our own individuality. It could be an internal way of feeling like an individual by thinking counter to what is expected & acceptable.

That said, some of these wild ideas are useful. They might be long shots, but occasionally one of these ideas is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that’s necessary for innovation. Sure most of these ideas are “hold my beer” bad but a few come along which might just be crazy enough to work. Purely rebellious ideas like dropping a coin off the top of a tall building isn’t going to do much but thinking outside of the norm is where big innovative ideas come from.

Thinking these thoughts is normal. Our prefrontal cortex, which is involved in impulse control, helps us follow social norms and not follow through on these ideas. Still, every now and then the imp of the perverse manages to serve up something helpful.

Following the imp of the perverse, Jerry sets up Elaine for disaster.

Cú Chulainn: Irish Warrior

The mythic Irish figure who lived fast, died young, and could warp into a Hulk-like warrior monster.

Cú Chulainn is a legendary figure in Irish mythology. While there are numerous variations of his name (Cuchulain, Cuchullin, Cuchulinn, etc.) there are even more variations of his life story. Cú Chulainn (‘Koo KUL-in’) was said to have lived somewhere between the 1st century BCE to 1st century CE in the kingdom of Ulster in the north of Ireland. His tale was a part of the oral storytelling tradition, changing and growing of the years, so by the 7th century when it was recorded by Sechan Torpeist, there were numerous versions.

Differences in his story aside, the basics are that Cú Chulainn was born to a mortal woman, Deichtine, sister to Conchobar mac Nessa the king of Ulster, while his father was the god Lugh (whom the County of Louth is named after). This makes Cú Chulainn a demigod and like other demigods in folklore he had superhuman abilities & looks. He was said to have hair that was three different colors, he had four colored dimples in each cheek, as well as seven pupils per eye, seven fingers per hand, seven toes per foot. In spite of these unusual features (or perhaps because of them) he was considered exceptionally handsome.

As a child, in an early display of his warrior abilities, a wolfhound ran to attack Cú Chulainn but in self-defense he used his hurley to hit a ball down the dog’s throat, eventually killing the dog with his hands. Feeling bad for killing Culann the metalsmith’s dog he offered to take the dog’s place in guarding Culann’s property. This is how Sédana (to add yet another name to his story) became Cú Chulainn. “Cú” means hound and “Chulainn” was the name of the metalsmith – so “Culann’s hound”. In a way Cú Chulainn was named after the dog, like Indiana Jones.

At the age of seven Cú Chulainn heard the druid Cathbad discussing a prophecy that any warrior who took up arms that day would have everlasting fame. Desiring fame & glory Cú Chulainn went to his uncle the King to request a weapon. Unfortunately Cú Chulainn failed to hear the second part of the prophecy which stated that this famous warrior would also have a very short life.

The short, but action-packed, life of Cú Chulainn took him on numerous adventures.

Unleash the beast

Like other demigod warriors, Cú Chulainn had an unmatched prowess in battle. Part of his secret to success was his ability to go into a ríastrad or “battle frenzy/spasm” where he would physically transform like Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde or Bruce Banner into the Hulk, but with more of an H.P. Lovecraft feeling.

Driven by rage his body would contort so his feet and shins turned backwards, his one eye would recede into his head while the other would dangle out, his hair became like spikes, his lungs and liver were somehow visible in his mouth, all while his forehead leaked blood. He became a monstrous killing machine, indiscriminately slaughtering anyone (including allies) who crossed his path. Once the fighting was over he would return to his beautiful, beardless, youthful human form.

Warrior Legend

Cú Chulainn’s superhuman speed, agility, his monstrous ríastrad form, and his good looks led him to many adventures. He trained with Scáthach on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, he got recruited into fighting demons in Tír nAill (the magical “Otherworld”), he accidentally killed his own son, many women (human and magical) fell in love with him, he defended Ulster by single-handedly holding back the army of queen Medb in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, won contests, bested his foes, etc.

Despite his extraordinary abilities Cú Chulainn couldn’t escape that he was cursed to die young. Having slain so many men he understandably made a lot of enemies including the shape-shifting goddess The Morrígan (the magical “phantom queen” who may be three sisters or just one woman in multiple forms). Eventually he was brought down by his various enemies conspiring against him. Towards the end of his final battle Cú Chulainn tied himself to a standing stone (with rope or with his entrails) so he could die on his feet. After the final blow was dealt the surrounding army was afraid to approach him, unsure if he was really dead. A raven (The Morrigan in Badb bird form) landed on his shoulder proving that Cú Chulainn the legendary warrior had died – at 27 years old.

Symbol of Nationalism

The story of Cú Chulainn, the heroic Irish warrior, has served as inspiration over the centuries. In the early 20th century there was renewed interest in Cú Chulainn as part of the Celtic Revival where he became a part of the Irish nationalism movement. That he would tie himself to stay upright and continue the fight against a seemingly intractable enemy became symbolic of the republican movement for national independence and the fight against England. In 1935 Éamon de Valera chose the Oliver Sheppard statue The Death of Cuchulainn for the national memorial to the 1916 Rising. Today the statue can be seen inside the General Post Office, O’Connell Street, in Dublin.

Viking Helmets & Wagner

Viking warriors didn’t wear helmets with horns or wings on them.

There’s no evidence that Viking warriors wore helmets with horns or wings. There are actually very few Viking helmets of any kind in existence and none have been found with horns or wings. Medieval sources show Vikings more commonly wearing simple headgear (perhaps made of leather or iron) while others have nothing on their heads at all. Vikings who wore metal helmets were probably in the minority and all of those helmets were fairly plain.

The Gjermundbu helmet is one of the few Viking helmets in existence. Medieval sources show Vikings wearing simple head coverings or nothing at all. Winged or horned helmets were never used in battle.

South of Scandinavia, Germanic and Celtic tribes did have religious headpieces with horns, antlers, wings, etc. but these were purely ceremonial and never worn in battle. To wear a helmet with large decorative extensions in combat would be impractical.

The paintings of August Malmström and the stage productions of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle set the standard for what we think Viking warriors looked like.

Artistic License

Fast-forward to the early 19th century, the Romanticism movement produced works that turned away from classical Greek & Roman influences and embraced medieval history from other European cultures further north (such as the Germanic and Celtic cultures). Within Romanticism was the Viking Revival in which the Swedish painter August Malmström is believed to have been one of the first to paint Viking warriors with wings on their helmets. In the spirit of the Mark Twain quote, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” there are a variety of historical inaccuracies in Malmström’s paintings and the winged helmets are a big one … but they make for some great paintings. The fact that winged headpieces were purely ceremonial and probably Celtic (and not Viking), seems to have been lost on Malmström.

But perhaps the most influential source of this myth is the composer Richard Wagner. Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a German 4 opera cycle by Wagner which tells the tale of a mythical past, a magic ring, and the fall of the Nordic / Germanic gods. For the first Bayreuth production in 1876 Wagner’s costume designer Carl Emil Doepler added wings to the helmets of the female Valkyries and horns to the helmet of the minor character Hunding, husband of Sieglinde.

What’s Opera, Doc?

Over time the Valkyries’ wings were replaced with horns, giving us the idea of a female opera singer with a horned helmet. This spread across pop culture most notably in the comic strip Hägar the Horrible, the Minnesota Vikings football team logo, Julianne Moore’s character in the Gutterballs dream sequence from The Big Lebowski, and the legendary 1957 Warner Bros. cartoon What’s Opera, Doc? which pulls from several Wagner operas and features Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in winged/horned Wagnerian costumes.

A scene from the 1957 Wagner inspired Warner Bros. cartoon What’s Opera, Doc?.

Drop in to see what condition your condition is in with the Wagner inspired Gutterballs dream sequence from The Big Lebowski.

Beyond the Pale

The expression about unacceptable behavior that’s based in Irish history.

Around 16,000 BCE the melting ice from the Ice Age raised sea levels and separated Ireland from Britain. Then around 6,000 BCE Britain became separated from mainland Europe. Since around 8,000 BCE the island of Ireland has been steadily inhabited but whether these early settlers arrived on a disappearing land bridge or by boats is unknown. The Celts much came later (exactly when is debated) but somewhere starting around 500 BCE.

The long conflict between the Irish and English stems from the 1169 CE Norman invasion of Ireland. An 1155 papal decree by Pope Adrian IV (who, what a coincidence, was English himself) granted King Henry II of England the right to invade & govern Ireland. This was the start of the next several hundred years of English colonization of Ireland.

Us From Them

The Lordship of Ireland began in 1177 but England really only ruled over parts of Ireland. Some of the Lords who had been given land assimilated to the local Irish culture, the crown gained land and lost land, and gradually the area under English control shrank. By the 14th century only a region around Dublin was still under English control. To clearly mark the King’s territory, to separate “us from them”, a wooden fence was constructed along portions of the border. This border was the pale, from the Latin “palus” for a stake or fence. So, the native Irish living free outside of the control of the English crown were “beyond the pale.”

To try and control their subjects the English put in place various laws to prevent Irish influence. Marriage between English settlers and the Irish was forbidden, as was speaking Irish Gaelic, dressing like the Irish, or even cutting your hair like an Irish person. These activities were deemed unacceptable behavior and were “beyond the pale.”

Added info: the oldest structures in Ireland, sometimes thought of as Celtic, existed long before the Celts arrived in Ireland. Newgrange, the 5,200 year old passage tomb just North of Dublin, was created 2,500 years before the Celts arrival (it was also created before the pyramids of Giza).

Salvation Mountain

An outsider art environment in the California desert created as a testament to love.

Sitting in the dusty beige desert of southern California is a vibrant candy-colored art project known as Salvation Mountain. Created by Leonard Knight over a 27 year period it’s a 50ft tall 150ft wide monument to God. The mountain is constructed of bales of hay coated with adobe as well as tires, car parts, logs, and whatever else he could find. Covering it all is an estimated 100,000 gallons of paint (which was donated by supporters over the years).

Salvation Mountain is an example of outsider art – art made by an artist outside of the mainstream art world. Knight was a self-taught marginalized artist (but he never considered himself an artist). He was also a visionary artist in the sense that he had a spiritual / religious imperative. Knight was compelled to create Salvation Mountain (a name applied by others) as a testament to God’s love.

God is Love

Begun in 1984, Knight’s construction process was to work on a section, move to new areas, and return to old ones. The high-heat and dry desert conditions means that parts of the mountain are always in need of repairs. The mountain has an estimated 10-15 coats of paint on it, which adds to the structural stability. As for the subject matter there are numerous biblical passages & prayers painted on the mountain (John 3:16 and the Sinner’s Prayer), as well as painted biblical references such as the large Sea of Galilee at the base of the mountain. There are also trees and flowers found all around. While Knight was a nondenominational evangelical Christian, the mountain’s main message is agnostic of any particular faith which is that “God is Love.” This simple message is found all around the mountain.

A bale of hay that is waiting to be coated in adobe clay and painted. Given the conditions of the desert parts of Salvation Mountain are always in need of repairs.
There are multiple painted vehicles at Salvation Mountain, including the truck Knight lived in.

In 2000 Salvation Mountain was deemed a National Folk Art Site. Knight died / “went to meet his Mentor” in 2014. Today the mountain is cared for by the Salvation Mountain, Inc. nonprofit organization. The mountain continues to be a popular tourist draw.

“Dont overcomplicate love, lets just keep it simple.”

Leonard Knight

This 2013 video from Vice features Knight discussing his mountain and his message.

Desert Storm Trading Cards

The bizarre 1991 Gulf War trading cards celebrating weapons and the American military.

In 1990, after Iraq invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait, a coalition of Western forces mounted a response in defense of Kuwait (… and oil). The initial operation of the Gulf War was codenamed “Operation Desert Shield” which was followed by the combat phase of “Operation Desert Storm”. Around the same time the American trading card industry was reaching new highs. Trading cards were expanding beyond just sports. There were cards for TV shows, movies, bands, cartoon characters, etc. It was in this world that Desert Storm trading cards were launched.

A collection of cards from Topps Desert Storm series 2 including the “Desert Drink” card which discussed the benefits of staying hydrated.

For the children

In 1991 Topps produced the Desert Storm trading card series. There were 88 cards and 22 stickers with 9 cards & one sticker per 50-cent pack. There were cards of military leaders such as General Norman Schwarzkopf, political leaders such as President George H.W. Bush, as well as cards for vehicles, weapons, and other military equipment. Topps said these cards were not glamorizing war but instead were offering an “encyclopedic look at this military operation and its personalities and weapons …”.

As for being “encyclopedic”, the cards included numerous mistakes such as card 73 (“Machine Gunner”) which listed the 14 NATO member countries, but in 1991 there were actually 16 member countries (they forgot to list France and Iceland). Topps said their information was provided by the Pentagon and arms manufacturers, shirking any fact-checking responsibility.

Topps ended up producing three different Desert Storm card series, for a total of 264 cards, but they weren’t alone. A host of other companies got in on the action producing similar cards. Pro Set had 350 cards in their Desert Storm series with interesting cards such as Greenwich Mean Time, oil, as well as a card for the U.S. Constitution.

A collection of Pro Set Desert Storm cards including the “Greenwich Mean Time” card.

Strange days

Today the cards feel like a satirical take on America’s love of guns & patriotism – an odd relic of the early ‘90s. Critics at the time felt the cards trivialized warfare, that they were propaganda, and were desensitizing kids to violence. As for their monetary value, because of their popularity they were mass produced and so Desert Storm trading cards aren’t worth much. You can buy the entire Topps first series for $10.

Added info: at the same time as the Desert Storm trading cards Topps also produced Desert Shield baseball cards. The baseball cards were the same as regular baseball cards but with an Operation Desert Shield palm tree crest stamped on the front in gold foil. Also, after 9/11 Topps created the Enduring Freedom line of trading cards which included a collectible Osama bin Laden trading card.

House Numbers & Chinoiserie

The style of common American house numbers was influenced by Chinese design.

There is a fairly ubiquitous design style to the address numbers on American houses. While there are some variations to the design it’s essentially a brush script typeface.

The earliest example of this typeface is the 1927 H. W. Knight & Son catalog of letters & numbers, a catalog of physical type to be used in signage, monuments, headstones, etc. Described as simply “Door Numbers” with no comment on the design, the catalog offers two different styles of numbers with the other being more of a traditional serif typeface. It’s the brush script set of numbers though that we see most frequently, but why?

A collection of houses with variations of the typeface found in the Knight & Son catalog.

Chinoiserie

From the late 17th through the 18th century there was a European fascination with things from the East and in particular China. Europeans emulated the Chinese decorative style and incorporated it into their own work. “Chinoiserie” is essentially French for “Chinese style” and came to encapsulate this orientalist movement of European produced creations that were designed in a (sometimes loose interpretation of) Chinese style. In the 19th century there was a Chinoiserie revival which lasted into the 1920s. The Art Deco movement was strongly influenced by designs from China (just look at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). Which brings us back to H. W. Knight & Son in 1927.

Some examples of Chinoiserie and how the Chinese design style influenced the Rococo style of the 18th century.
The Chinoiserie revival of the 19th century extended into the Art Deco of the 1920s.

The design of the H.W. Knight house numbers was influenced by the Art Deco Chinoiserie style of the day. Looking at traditional Chinese calligraphy as well as more modern Chinese inspired fonts it’s easy to draw a connection between these house numbers and Chinese designs. In 2006 Hoefler&Co. created the font Bayside which is a new font inspired by the H. W. Knight & Son typeface.

Drawing on the script numbers from the the 1927 H. W. Knight & Son catalog, Hoefler&Co. created the font Bayside.