A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 24




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 24

So, shall we find out what did Herbert did for a living? There is a tray in the window with what looks like small glass beads on pieces of wire. They LOOK interesting, but what are they?

LOOK is the clue, they are glass eyes, but what for? Teddy bears may be a good guess. However, we are in the 1870s and the president of the USA in 1902 was Theodore Roosevelt. He’d been invited to a hunting party, but refused to shoot a bear cub. Next day there was a cartoon in the newspapers and the small bear was named TEDDY! So, the Teddy Bear did not arrive until 30 years after our visit to Court 15.

For a moment, let’s imagine that we are a well-off Victorian family sitting down to our Sunday meal. Our pet cat sneaks in quietly through the door and across the carpet to the table. It suddenly cries out, MEEOW! It keels over and drops to the floor. It is dead!

What on earth would we do with our beloved pet? We would, of course, have it stuffed!

Herbert made glass eyes for taxidermists. Stuffed animals were quite common in the houses of better off Victorian families, at the time there were as many as 13 known taxidermists in Birmingham.

Herbert Oldfield had a good market for his wares.

In the 1870s there were five glass eye makers listed in Kelly’s Directory in Birmingham. One of them was Herbert Oldfield – his business was doing well – it needed to, he still had six children living at home.

To make the eyes, and the small glass toys that you see here, Herbert would use hollow rods of glass in different colours. He would heat the ends of the rods using the spirt lamp that you can also see on the bench. Herbert uses a hollow tube to blow air into the flame and this would generate sufficient heat to melt the glass of the correct colour to enable him to skilfully mould it into the required shape.

The skill of the Birmingham artisan knew no bounds.

The Oldfields’ House – Ground Floor
Teddy Bear Cartoon – Washington Post – 1902
Glass Eyes for taxidermists
A Stuffed cat
Taxidermist’s shop in Navigation Street