Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Victorians Lose Their Luggage

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Frith, The Railway Station 1866

Loretta reports:

Last time, I talked about penmanship. Today, I offer a look at letter-writing, another lost art. I was, as any nerdy history person would imagine, thrilled to find the Correct Guide to Letter Writing (4th ed, 1889), which covers letters for virtually all occasions, including a marriage proposal From a Widower with grown-up Daughters to a Young Lady (and acceptance and rejection letters for same);  a letter From a Young Man to his  Guardian, asking for an increased Allowance; one from From a Butler to his Master, giving Notice; and one From a Lady, promising to sing at an Afternoon Tea.
Lost Luggage Letters

The two letters displayed here, complaining about lost luggage, show that this phenomenon didn't begin with airline luggage.  I’ll bet anything there are Egyptian hieroglyphs and Roman tablets complaining about lost luggage. Some of those pictures carved on cave walls probably express some Neolithic ancient ancestor’s dismay about his misplaced mastodon skin.
Llangollen Station
Llangollen station on the w:Llangollen Railway, a heritage line in north Wales. Photographed from the town bridge over the River Dee (Afon Ddyfrdwy), by Chris Mckenna, 2005, courtesy Wikipedia.

William Powell Frith, The Railway Station. Engraving by Francis Holl (after Frith) 1866, courtesy Wikipedia.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Is This a Forgotten Portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church?

Sunday, February 26, 2017
Susan reporting,

Anyone familiar with the musical Hamilton already knows the name Angelica Schulyer Church (1756-1814). In fact, in most Hamil-fan circles, she's called just Angelica, the Schuyler sister who's famously never satisfied.

Anyone alive in late 18thc London and Paris would have recognized her name, too, for she was certainly the best-known American woman in the fast set of English society. Born into a wealthy Dutch-American family in Albany, NY, she eloped with John Church, a slightly shady Englishman who made his fortune selling arms during the American Revolution. After the war, John took Angelica and their children back to England, where he became a landed gentleman and a member of parliament. Angelica combined  her wit, beauty, and vivacious character with her husband's money to make her drawing room one of THE places to see and be seen in Georgian London.

Angelica was admired by gentlemen as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, the Prince of Wales, the Marquis de Lafayette, Whig party leader Charles James Fox and playwright Richard Brinsely Sheridan. She was a patron of artists Benjamin West, John Trumbull, and Maria Cosway. She may (or may not) have had an affair with Thomas Jefferson, and she may (or may not) have had one with her brother-in-law Alexander Hamilton, too.

To me, she's the older sister of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the heroine of my new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton (to be published by Kensington Books in September, 2017.) I've been wallowing deep in my research of the Schuyler and Hamilton families for a good long time now. Characters become very real to me (especially the ones who were real people - I know, weird writer problems) to the point that I half-expect to run into them at the local grocery.

So imagine my surprise when the lovely face, above left, turned up in my Instagram feed this morning. Posted by the account of the Philip Mould Gallery in London, this portrait is by the well-known Georgian miniature painter Samuel Shelley (1750-1808). Shelley was famous for painting society beauties of the day, and this one - identified only as a portrait of a lady - is a gorgeous example of his work.

I'm also convinced it's a forgotten portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church.

There are only two other portraits of Angelica known today. One is a portrait of her with her son and servant by the American artist John Trumbull, detail, right, and the other a print after a painting by English artist Richard Cosway, lower left. To my eye, the Trumbull and Shelley portraits show the same woman. It's an uncommon face for an 18thc beauty: a long nose (which also turns up in portraits of her father), a small mouth, the dark, slightly close-set eyes. The Shelley miniature also seems to capture both the flirtatious charm and intelligence that Angelica's contemporaries all mention.

From the clothes and hair style, I'd guess that this portrait was painted in the 1780s, the time when Angelica was living in London. The art world in London at the time was a small one; another portraitist, Maria Cosway, was one of Angelica's closest friends, and it's easy to imagine Maria introducing Samuel Shelley to Angelica as a possible patron.

I've written to Emma Rutherford, the consultant specializing in miniatures for Philip Mould with my thoughts. In the meantime, what do you think? Is this Angelica?

Above left: Portrait of a Lady by Samuel Shelley, image via Philip Mould Gallery.
Right: Portrait of Mrs. John Barker Church (Angelica Schuyler), Son Philip, and Servant by John Trumbull, c1785, private collection
Lower left: Print after a painting of Mrs. Church by Richard Cosway, c1790

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of February 20, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Library hand, the fastidiously neat penmanship style made for library card catalogues.
• And so to bed: 18thc night attire.
• Born in 1790, President John Tyler still has two grandsons alive today.
• "I always made an awkward bow": the final letter of poet John Keats.
• The ghost ships of San Francisco: dozens of wrecked ships lie beneath the city streets.
• Image: Anne Boleyn handed this miniature book of psalms, which contains a portrait of Henry VIII, to one of her maids of honor on the scaffold in 1536.
• Caught out, or why expense fiddling is not a modern phenomenon.
• Pennygown: the ruined chapel and medieval effigies of a Hebridean burial ground.
• Help transcribe Word War One love letters.
• Image: Photo of sixteen-year-old future author Agatha Christie on a visit to Paris in 1906.
• Discovering Citoyen Coiffier, an 18thc artists' supplier in Paris.
• What about the fathers? Men and childbirth in 19thc Ulster.
• Walt Whitman's brain, Napoleon's penis, and other famous body parts plundered from the grave.
• Those glorious wedding gowns of the 1980s, often inspired by Princess Diana.
• Who were "the servants"? Piecing together the lives of two 18thc enslaved men owned by the Schuyler family of Albany, NY.
• Image: The absolutely essential Oxford comma.
• This little street in Manhattan holds a story of two murders - and money.
• Mystery over 14thc male Black Death victims found buried together hand in hand.
• Nylon, the fiber that changed America, turns eighty.
• The lowdown on pantaloons: what Regency men wore on their legs.
• An abandoned hobbit castle built for sheep?
• Image: Just for fun: Best. Footnote. Ever.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Art of Penmanship

Friday, February 24, 2017
Alfred Stevens, The Letter

Loretta reports:

Periodically, an inquiry pops up on social media about whether or not children ought to be taught cursive handwriting. Some say it’s no longer necessary. Others worry that our letters and journals will become the equivalent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were a complete mystery for about 1400 years. We’re still not positive about how to pronounce the ancient Egyptian words, since the hieroglyphs don’t bother with vowels.

But the Is Cursive Really Necessary? contingent maintain that there will always be experts who can translate our funny little marks on paper, just as there are experts today who can translate the numerous scripts of centuries past, like this letter written in English Chancery Hand.
Who Can Learn to Write
The Picturesque

In other words, our diaries and such will make perfect sense to a small group of nerdy history writing scholars in the centuries ahead.

For now, though, a great many of us are still writing and reading cursive. Some of us ancient ones remember being taught the “Palmer Method” in elementary school. While reading Ann Trubeck’s The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, I learned that the Palmer method was a simplification of a very beautiful style that was popular from about 1850 to the 1920s, and used for one of the most famous logos on earth, Coca-Cola®.

It’s called Spencerian script, and it was developed by Platt Rogers Spencer, who thought that our writing should be inspired by the forms in nature. The forms of his letters truly are beautiful. The words are easy to read. But it’s no easy feat to get good at it. If you’re interested, though, you can read the New Spencerian Compendium of Penmanship here at Internet Archive or in this PDF.
Ladies' Hand
Images: Alfred Stevens, The Letter, courtesy Wikipedia.
Handwriting advice and samples from the New Spencerian Compendium, courtesy Internet Archive.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

From the Archives: An 18thc Dress Makeover - With the Scraps to Prove It

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Susan reports:

As anyone who reads this blog knows, by now, I find recycled and remade clothes fascinating. As a "handwork" person myself, I'm in complete sympathy with the desire to make something new and usable from an older garment that's just too beautiful to toss. I've shared several such dresses before - here and here and here - but this one has an unusual twist.

Most of the examples in museums are 19th c dresses refashioned from 18th c silks, and the one shown here, upper left,  falls into that category, too. The silk is a lovely mushroom-colored damask from c 1760-70 (here's a similar damask, used in a gown from 1770), an elegantly subdued color that was once again in fashion in the mid-19th c. Consider these two silk dresses c. 1850, right. With the addition of a small lace collar, ruffled lace sleeve-cuffs, and a full hoop petticoat, the remodeled gown must have been quite stylish.

In most cases, it's far more difficult to guess at the appearance of the original gown. But this recycled dress comes with a bonus: all the pieces and scraps of fabric that were removed were carefully saved in a bag, lower left.

In the middle of the photograph is the original gown's compere stomacher, a kind of false-front with buttons like this (from one of our new Pinterest boards.) Lying on either side are the original elbow-length sleeves - too narrow to have been remodeled - with their gathered, serpentine trim (like this) on the outside of the flaring cuffs (like this.) Without examining the pieces, it's difficult to guess the rest of the 18th c gown, but I'm sure that with the pieces spread out like a jigsaw puzzle, a costume historian could do exactly that.

And, perhaps, some costume historian is doing exactly that. The recycled gown and the "extras" were sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions back in 2012, and I've always wondered what became of it. If one of you were the lucky buyer or knows where the dress landed, I hope you'll let us know!

Above & lower left: Mid-19th c dress, made of 18th c silk damask. Photographs courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.
Right: A pair of silk day gowns, c 1850. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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