WHO IS THE MASKED MAN?

| July 31, 2008

A quick history of THE PUNCHINELLO.

Many have wondered over the years about the odd figure climbing the stairs in the Vita logo. I never really knew much of the history either, until Mike McConnell (Vita’s founder) told me a few bits about the clown-like fellow, and how he hailed from Naples (a city some call the birthplace of espresso) where the Punchinello seems to have grown out of the Neapolitan puppetry tradition and quickly became a central figure. But he also played a role in real life; where young and passionate individuals would don the characteristic mask, long nose and hat and perform politically incorrect maneuvers after dark.

With a bit of research I learned that the famous trickster and early radical next headed north and was appropriated by the British puppet stage in the form of Punch and Judy – where our hero became a bit more raucous, started wielding a large stick, and did about everything in his power to challenge the puritanical scruples of the day – much to the delight of children across the Queen’s fat land


On 17 July 1841 a couple of whip-smart writers (Henry Mayhew and Ebenezer Landells) founded the magazine Punch which enjoyed an insanely long topsy turvy ride finally shuttering operations in 2002. In its heyday Punch could be seen in the honeyed mitts of such writers as Emily Dickinson, Emerson, the Bronte’s, Longfellow and even a fellow by the name of Herman Melville (who famously named a coffee company that would eventually spread over the planet like a great beached whale – congrats Melvy!).


Punch always featured the devilish marionette on the cover in some opportunistic mischief – a graphic maneuver that the American rip-off MAD magazine happily co-opted.

One other great tidbit of history: the editors of Punch were so passionate about the role of the common table that they even installed a lavish banquet room in their editorial offices – exclaiming that the majority of the content in print came from long nights of wine, beast, and doubtless…coffee. Perhaps not a mistake of history that we find Vita sitting down with coffee farmers around the globe and sharing fermented spirit, beast, ideas, stories, and…coffee.

Punch or Punchinello has had a long successful run of popping up here and there and letting his squawk be heard. He represents a bit of humor, a touch of the radical, and always a wallop of important commentary about how life on our planet could be a bit more full and rich. His history is not unlike that of coffee – a bittersweet liquor that has certainly been well involved in societal change, progressive politics, and the importance of sharing ideas. (regardless how they may sting.)

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