[from The New Technical Manual of Use]
Figure 1: Here is the left clavicle. Note the deltoideus—the point
at which it was most common to apply pressure to the clavicle for
corrective manipulation; and the trapezius, which becomes the
pillar upon which the chin may eventually rest.
A new feature of the dressy suit for spring is in
the detachable collar and cuffs of white mull.
— Good Housekeeping
The problem arises as to how one might steer one's thoughts towards the heavens in a more permanent and lasting manner. One may gaze upon the cosmos for a time and see the workings of the universe, the planets in their orbits, the fiery sun, the rushing of comets; consider the watchmaker responsible for such wonder, and wish to be held in awe forever; feel one's heartbeat as the pulse of spheres, of matter expanding ever outwards, the pull in one's chest as one is lifted from one's feet, hovering just above the ground, ready to fall away from the earth and be released, as the Dharma says, from the dhukka, the ceaseless cycle of karma, of being born only to die and be reborn again—
Yet eventually there comes the crick in the neck. The dryness in the eyes. The discomfort in the lower back.
One must bow one's head once again, returning to the dust of our own meager planet. And when the gaze does drop, oh how one's thoughts do plunge with it towards the base and immoral.
There is nothing on earth but immoral intentions and actions.
— Nietzsche, The Will to Power
The corrected collar, then, is a tremendous gain in heaven-seeking. By manipulating the collarbone—composed of the right and left clavicle (from Latin, clavicula, "little key"), which act as struts between the scapula and the shoulders, allowing the shoulders to rotate freely—the collar may be shaped and molded into finger-like supports for the chin, pointing the head upwards, rectifying that deficiency of gaze, and allowing one to live at ease in permanent, star-struck awe.
For decades, the practical Finger Collar sufficed. At the age of four for girls, and five for boys, two small rods were bolted to the sternum, with the tips applying pressure under deltoideus of either clavicle (fig 1). Over time, the pressure pushed the arc of the clavicle upwards until it came to rest just below the chin.
The three stages of shapening were the Moon Phase, where the trapezius on either side resembled two small hills; the Sun Phase, where the trapezius lost their arcs and were two raised thumbs; and finally the God Phase, where the thumbs became index fingers, finally propping up the chin. The only decoration was a sliver of silver, shaped like the head of a teaspoon, and mounted to the tips of the trapezius. These caps were applied when the manipulation was complete, a blush of chrome signifying one's union to the stars.
Early collars were quite successful, yet it was not long before other, purely aesthetic manipulations were added to the basic regimen. Early in the 18th century, fringe clips were added. Applied during the Sun Phase, these had the effect, as their name implies, of ribboning the outermost edges of the collar. The appearance was decidedly clam-like, and the ribboned collar style became known as The Maxima, after Tridacna maxima, or Giant Clam, which has pursed and wavy lips.
Of that most delicate lodging: by my life,
I kiss'd it; and it gave me present hunger
— Shakespeare, Cymbeline
The Maxima was all the rage, and spurred any number of competing imitations. Some would add pressure clips to the clavicles, so that as they grew upward, so were they also flattened. Thus, when the final touches of the fringe clips were added, the wavy lips of The Maxima grew almost together, creating a second mouth just below the chin.
The Tudors began to wear the collarbone as a Ruff. After the God Phase was complete, a small gold ring was placed just below the tips of the trapezius. Before going to bed, the child inserted a small key, lacelike in its delicacy, into the ring, and when the key was turned, the ring contracted by miniscule increments. Over time, the points of the finger were constricted into small bulbs; these could then be manipulated with pinching, pressure and fringe clips, so that, in the end, the bulbs were flattened, increasing their diameter to three or four inches, and ribboned along the edges. The results were two lovely, nearly translucent flowers, within which the child's head was cupped.
Fine and frail and fair art thou
Like a rare old porcelain.
The Regents created tall Prayer Collars, shaped like two hands meeting in supplication below the chin, with embroidery on either side. Consider the striking image of George IV, Prince Regent, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence
. His collar is the very excess of the aristocracy, a regal turtle's neck outfitted in black. To effect this collar, Regents punched miniscule holes in the collarbone with a bone-awl. Steel wire was strung through these eyelets, and the wire was suspended from the mouths of two steel rings hung on either side of their bedchambers. The Regents suspended themselves on the wire nightly for a period of eight to twelve months. A bone embroiderer was then hired to add finishing touches. Often short prayers were inscribed on the collars, a mark of praise, or a nod towards wonder.
The form of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
— Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Though the styles varied, the collar was almost universally worn in the stark white of naturally exposed bone, which was evidence that the collar was a holy thing.
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled
their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they
— Revelation 3:4
During the years when populist revolution swept across Europe, the whiteness of the collar, that refined aspect of beauty and virtue, did not escape attention as an indicator of wealth and class—where one's daily activities might normally preclude the minutiae of washing a collar, one's ability to keep the collar white also indicated that one could afford to have such minutiae attended to. Even when collar machinery became cheaper and more effective, and the lower classes could afford small alterations—styles such as the South London Stump, the American Gas, and the Four-leaf Clover—these collars were rarely of the same bone china white that the aristocracy could profess.
As the mania for collars grew, the competition with which collars were pursued was fierce. Restrictions known as Elizabeth's Sumptuary Laws forbade anyone outside Queen Elizabeth's circle to wear the wide, wire-reinforced double-ruffs that she was famous for, ensuring that she was able to tell, with a glance, the members of her crowd. These prevented the head from turning at all, and made eating almost impossible—one was unable to eat anything but liquefied victuals, sucked through a golden straw. Yet because one's attention was always favorably attending to the heavens, it was thought that the heavens might likewise attend favorably to one; the difficulty of eating was humbugged as unimportant.
All of this changed, however, with a quick and decisive (some might say impetuous) action by Hannah Lord Montague, resident of Troy, New York, and long-suffering wife.
Hannah's husband, Orlando Montague, was a middle-class merchant, whose fastidiousness for a stark white collar put his wife to great pains to keep his collar clean. Hannah was known to go about the streets of Troy muttering about the difficulties of keeping house, and the absurdity of adding the washing of Mr. Montague's collar to her daily chores. One day, when Orlando was particularly demanding and in a great hurry, Hannah balked at his demands: "You want a clean, white collar?" she said. "Here!" And she took a large pair of shears from the table, snipped easily through the tender bone of Orlando's collar, removed it from his neck, washed it in the laundry tub, and riveted it back onto his sternum, all within a very short time, and all to the astonishment of Orlando, who never said a word.
Stunned, Orlando wandered out into the street where the crowds quickly noticed the bolted-on collar. They were said to point and whisper as Orlando awkwardly made his way to his scheduled meeting. This proved fortuitous, however, as Orlando was to meet with the Reverend Ebenezer Brown, a businessman with great entrepreneurial spirit. Brown immediately recognized, in the hastily re-attached collar, an advent of historical proportions. Not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, Brown convinced the still stony-faced Orlando to patent and commercialize the process.
The Detachable Collar, as it came to be known, is a collar surgically separated at the points where it meets the scapula, and removed in its entirety. Where the two bones once met and were joined with tissue and cartilage, the laundress installs fastening bolts. Now the wearer may take the collar off at the end of the day and deposit it with a laundry, so that it may be washed, quite easily, and replaced the following morning. No longer will the wearer have to sit through the hour (and sometimes more) long process of having the collar washed and conditioned.
One must be careful in the state of removal, of course, as the shoulders will no longer freely rotate. The soft tissues of the neck and chest are also somewhat unprotected. However, one may purchase a chest plate, which can be easily fastened over the exposed area. There are, as yet, no solutions for limited mobility.
After the development of the Detachable Collar, synthetic collars soon followed. These were made from a papier-mâché of animal bone, epoxy, and starch, pasted over a balloon of the desired shape. When the papier-mâché dried and hardened, the balloon was popped and removed through a small, unpatched opening with tweezers. The hole was then covered over. If a synthetic Detachable Collar was made well, it was virtually undetectable from its real counterpart.
Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell.
— Shakespeare, Othello
Perhaps the greatest result of the synthetic collar was that the limits of aristocratic stylings were no longer out of reach. In fact, synthetic collars offered the opportunity for elaboration to an extent once thought impossible. Collars like spun silk; collars that jutted at angles derived from Euclidean Geometry; collars that swooped and curved like the flights of swallows—not only did the collar truly become a work of art, but to a certain extent, class distinction vanished over night.
There were those, however, who argued against Detachable collars, saying that they were unsanitary, or possibly dangerous.
Misunderstanding of it has arisen from a misapprehension of its scientific function, which is that of revealer of dirt.
The essence of its being lies in its spotless cleanliness, and the
readiness with which this is marred as witnessed by the tell-tale
cuffs and front is all to the advantage of the body.
—Francis Cavanagh, The Care of the Body
Indeed, as a revealer of dirt, a permanent collar was indispensable: when the collar was dirty, one needed a bath. Without this indication, how would one have been able to tell?
Yet the subtext of these arguments might have been more attuned to the preservation of class distinctions. The Detachable Collars were the great equalizers. Heaven could be attained by anyone.
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
kingdom of God.
One would have hoped that the populism of the Detachable Collar would have brought us back to the original, guileless intentions of heaven-gazing. After all, fads soon tire. However, instead of abandoning the secularized collar, groups engaged in fiercer competition. The Elizabethans took to wearing an excessive quadruple-ruff collar. The weight of the collar counterbalanced one to the extent that walking was out of the question; they went about on flat dollies, pushed by attendants.
Worse, those who rejected synthetic collars, who demanded a kind of veracity in the controlled outgrowth of the bones of the scapula as opposed to papier-mâché, and yet who demanded the ability to change style at a whim, and who were willing to pay for it, forced a post-mortem trade in collars. Graves were excavated; morgues were robbed. And there were other, much darker dealings, of which it is best not to speak.
There were moments when, frankly, it was a comfort to have
the real thing under one's hand....
—Henry James, The Real Thing
There were still the dutiful. Small sects began to turn from the gloom of disappointment, to seek a brighter future, free from greed, lust and vanity. Rumors circulated that small colonies had been established in various locations—in the Paris catacombs; scattered into the craggy hideaways of mountains, the Alps and Urals; even of the rediscovery of Atlantis—a dreamland where the dutiful, who still wore the old-fashioned Finger Collars, and had their sights set on the glories of heaven, their upward gaze undistracted, flourished. There, they were protected from the farce that unfolded just outside their doors, the cataclysm of absurdity, the worst kind of sacrilege.
Now the cave or den is the world of sight...
— Plato, The Republic
Monumental domes were built and painted to resemble the night sky. Every star was carefully mapped; every galaxy was there, turning in infinity, a pulse of energy, the music of spheres.
There were rumors—but nothing has been proven.
Some day we, too, may return to the austere and unadorned days of the Finger Collar. We may seek heaven on our own terms. We hope. But for now, we may only dream of Atlantis, where the dutiful still pray—where, except for the occasional jostle, or the bump into an unseen obstacle, a pillar or a wall perhaps, the cosmos is still their great treasure.
Adam Weinstein lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with his wife, Emily and their cats Swordfish and The Chap. This essay is excerpted from [The New Technical Manual of Use], his Wunderkammer.