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A proverb is the distillation of some universal truth (or so I say). Diverse cultures have their proverbs but often they are saying the same thing, which only goes to prove the point I am trying to make. In that sense they share something in common with folk-stories which accomplish a similiar function.

Distillation of knowledge is not quite the exact science we would like to believe. An episode of The X-Files prominently features a desk block with the words of wisdom inscribed. Basically it reads, One today is worth one hundred tommorows. Very 1980's thrusting corporate image. Once you get to a certain age the realisation that you have more days behind you than you have ahead (Thankyou Capt Picard, Star Trek) and 1980's thrusting corporatism does not seem so clever. Get to the crunch and One more tommorow is worth all your yesterdays. All well and good but if there is someone out there that has not truly believed in the sentiment of the country and western gloom merchants, 'I'd trade all of my tommorow's for a single yesterday.' Then you are either, fortunate, extremely young or in denial <g>.

The day we can distill all knowledge down to catchy-phrases is the time to say, 'Stop the planet. I want to get off.' The modern Labour Party seems to have got the sound bite down to an art form. However only within the UK. In a recent trip Bill Clinton showed us 'Limeys' a thing or two about the art of communication without meaning. The faceless 'they' always reckon we are about three years behind the US.

Well I am not writing a site about The X-Files or Star Trek (they are on here somewhere) and I am not writing about Country and Western music, or International political non-speak. Indeed, despite flashes of extreme ego it is not really about myself. It is all about cigarette cards so back to what you are paying for...

Whilst I wait for the shrieking of protest to subside

Fortune cookie say

The Chinese are probably the best known culture for all things proverbial and the fortune cookie probably the corniest way (sorry) of getting them into the round eyes hands.

We all remember those creaky old black and white films when Charlie Chang would always find some illuminating phrase culled from a fortune cookie. It was a better reader than I that managed to read the sub-heading without hearing a really bad Charlie Chang impersonation in their head.

A good many manufacturer's of cigarette cards issued sets about this proverb theme.

Any early set was simply called Proverbs and was issued in 1903 and was a multi-manufacture issue.
Cohen & Weenen
New Moslem
This was a series of 30 cards which holds no real surprises in its choice of proverbs although I had not heard card 3, Always endeavour to make both ends meet, as often as perhaps I could have done <g>.

Churchmans, Eastern Proverbs [1931] & [1932] will make up the bulk of this article. In this instance I am talking about the two series of 25 cards. Exactly how eastern 'Eastern' is might be a moot point given it also discusses French proverbs. Although strictly speaking Eastern it is not quite the image the set is trying to create. No matter, it is still a worthy set, so lets stop nit-picking and dive right in.

The illustrations are done by the same artist that did the Churchmans, Howlers series, and bears that very unmistakable stamp. Very well drawn they are in the 'cartoon' style. I hasten to add the stylish cartoon style of the 1930's rather than the cartoon style of 1990's Japanese Manga, which might well be good enough for todays production values but lets not kid ourselves it will be a bad day when Walt Disney goes into manga style animation. It'll be a darn strange one when they go in for manga type plots as well which is perhaps a way of saying form follows function.

Churchman, Eastern Proverbs

Along with the illustration the bottom of the card gives the proverb it is illustrating.

This set is interesting to me as the reverse gives something of a comparative study of the proverb itself. The reverse of the card is something of a work of art as it takes the Eastern theme very seriously with a most eastern like typeface and a turkish palace feel about the design. The people at Churchmans seem to be having a great deal of fun with this set.

The research contained within this set is really quite something to marvel at. For example:

Details from Card
Series 2, #15:
To go beyond is as bad as to fall short.
This Chinese proverb is rather like our own English saying; A miss is as good as a mile. The earlier and more understandable form of this saying dating from 1605, was- An inch in a miss is as good as an ell; the English ell, now obsolete, was forty-five inches. The Germans have a similiar proverb- A little too late is much too late. One is reminded of Browning's famous lines: Oh, the little more, and how much it is! And the little less, and what worlds away!

To be honest with you I would take up a number of points with the compilor there. I mean, more understandable form? And Browning would never have sprung to my mind.

Many proverbs seem to have a very obvious cynical element and this is not un-noticed.

Details from Card
Series 1, #14: If you are poor keep out of the crowd; if unfortunate, don't seek a relation.
Poverty appears to have as few attractions for the Chinese as it has for Westerners: To be poor and to look poor is the devil all over happens to be an English proverb, but it would certainly be heartily endorsed in many other countries. A poor man, say the Chinese.dwells un-noticed in the market-place; a rich man living in the far-off hills will be visited by his distant relatives. On the whole our English proverbs, like the Chinese saying which forms the subject of our picture, take a cynical view of relations; e.g Many kinsfolk, few friends: Love your relations but live not near them.

I shall dip into the proverbs of poverty once more and then leave it well alone. Card 25 of series 1, 'When wine comes to an end, so does conversation; when money comes to an end, so do friends.'

Right we leave that behind and move onto the theme of poverty relief but horror of horrors there is no rest-bite here either:

All right so that was a bit cynical I suppose but that is how the cards fall. Like many things in life though, these proverbs would not have survived the furnace of time if they did not illuminate real experience.

The next card up is very relevant to the antique trade: The barber learns his art on the orphan's face. 2nd series #5. Experience being an efficient teacher (if perhaps painful and expensive?) The English proverb of 1546, It is good to learn at other men's cost, has a resonance with the Indian proverb, Train your hawk on another man's fist. The proverb of the title is Arabian but has an exact mirror in the English proverb, 'The fool's beard teacheth the young barber his trade (1654)

Do you think those two dates are real they quoted on the reverse of that card or were just achieved by jumbling up the numbers?

Relevant to the antiques trade?

Sure. You just try and get an antique dealer to share one single morsel of information with you. It cost them thousands to accumulate the knowledge they hold and it is going to cost you twice as much to learn it. Mistakes are a very efficient teacher as long as your pockets are deep enough to learn. Could be why more business are doomed to failure in the first two years than at any other time. It is a cut throat business all over.

Another gem for the antique trade is 'The rain of tears is necessary for the harvest of learning. Series 2 #21. Just imagine if the spin doctors got to work with some of this stuff, it is dynamite. The only trouble is it has some meaning within the words which might not go down to well in political circles.

Remaining in the theme of business here is a card for the trading of goods in Cyberspace: 'The reply to a Turkish question should be in Turkish. It is one of the first lessons to realise. Different cultures have different requirements and getting the transaction currency right is absolutely imperative let alone the interesing ticks of language which means I am always remembering not to call cigarette cards, fag cards as so often they are by older collectors in the UK, the UK population walk around smoking fags which in itself is potentially another mighty confusing statement but there are no laws against it.

Here is a proverb for all you auditors out there: The washerwoman knows the defects of the village. It neatly encapsulates the auditors maxim, 'Ask the cleaner, they know more than most, and they talk more than anyone.' Series 2, #23. If you have not heard that one before make sure the cleaners are kept out of the way when the men in black come in.

Details from Card
Series 1, #16, Look the other way when the girl at the teahouse smiles.
After studying the world's store of proverbs concerning men and women, a woman would certainly infer that most of them were coined by men for men. The following are surely of maculine origin: To furnishe a shipp requireth much trouble But to furnishe a woman the charges are double(English 1602); He that loses his wife and sixpence hath great loss by the money. (English, 17th century);A wise woman seldom crosses her husband's threshold (Japanese) and the other Japanese proverb which forms the subject of our illustration. In some, however the balance is held even; for example, In the quiet house the husband must be deaf and the wife blind.

One last proverb which should be kept in mind when running a business (and this really is one I should keep an eye on): 2nd series, #5, 'The camel-driver has his plans, and the camel has his.' I seem to spend my whole life swimming against the tide trying to put out a quality product where content is king and then I see 'Benny Hill' and 'Are you being served' are some of the most successful comedy programs on the television, the work of genius no less and soap operas rule the schedules. I have no problem with this, I only wish quality was as profitable as dross. Look at that I have just cut another great chunk of my earning potential :-(

Good grief, I really am going to have to control this ego, I have just called this site quality.

Well we have done poverty, friendship, business and now it is time for sex to come into the equation.

Whilst I wait for the shrieking of protest to subside let me remind you, He who speaks the truth should have one foot in the stirrup. Series 1, #11.

However, as any man should know, and every woman does know:

The man thinks he knows, but the woman knows better. Series 1 #3.

Enough said?