Thursday, January 14, 2010

The NHG library: Elephant's Breath & London Smoke

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Loretta reports:

From a recent addition to my Nerdy History library--

Mummy, 1835 – Mummy, or Egyptian brown, is also a bituminous substance combined with animal remains, brought from the catacombs of Egypt, where liquid bitumen was employed three thousand years ago in embalming; … Its other properties and uses as a pigment are the same as those of asphaltum, for which it is employed as a valuable substitute, Chromatography, 1835

Mummy, 1849 – It is therefore that we… have never felt the least desire to essay this pigment, seeing nothing to be gained by smearing our canvas with a part perhaps of the wife of Potiphar, … the student can obtain genuine Egyptian mummy at our color shops, Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oilpainting, 1849

Pick a color, any color.  Elephant’s Breath & London Smoke:  Historic Colour Names, Definitions, and Uses, edited by Deb Salisbury, will tell you all about it. 

The main part of the book is the fascinating dictionary of colors, with entries like those above, from various time periods. 

The last forty pages contain several sections, on the following topics (I've given some samples of the contents):

Period Comments on Colours, e.g., “Ridiculous Colours from 1827”
Historical Colour Notes, e.g., “Benjamin Franklin the Elder on Dyeing: c. 1700”
Colour Symbolism, e.g., “Colour in Heraldry”
Harmony in Colour
, e.g., “Harmony Of Colours, in Lining Carriages, with the Complexion and Dress: 1860”
What Colours to Wear, e.g., “Advice for a Red-Headed Girl: 1888”
Colours by Artificial Light, e.g., “Observations on Candle and Oil Lamp Light: 1807”
Mourning Colours, e.g., “The Mourning Robes of Queen Elizabeth”

And all of this followed, as you’d expect, by an extensive bibliography.

This is the sort of book a NHG reads not only when researching a story, but just for fun.  Delicious.

8 comments:

Jane O said...

This looks fascinating. Does it say anything about the bright yellow of the quilted jump from the previous post? That looked to me to be a really hard color to wear. If a fair English rose were to put it on, all anyone would see is the jump. Unless she only wore it in private, and the color helped keep her warm.:)

LorettaChase said...

Jane, a couple of notes regarding the way the book handles colors: First, it lists them by their names, not by hue. So a cherry red called Xylidine is under X. Second, there are no color samples, alas. It's great for looking up unfamiliar color names one comes across, and fun for browsing, but the color descriptions are limited--one of the book's flaws, I feel. But you can find info like this "Mustard 1872 "...is intolerable by day; and even that by gas or candle light is also much softened and paled, that it becomes perfectly admissible in a dress."

Myretta said...

This is the sort of thing I can't resist. Being the strong woman I am, I stuck it on my wish list for warmer times. Thanks, Loretta.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I'd first seen this book mentioned on another loop, one for historic dress, and promptly put it on my wish-list, too. I mentioned it to Loretta, and she, lucky dog, got it first. But after reading this excerpt makes me think I HAVE to have it NOW!!!

LorettaChase said...

Myretta & Susan, you know I'm an enabler.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Loretta, I KNOW you are, and Amazon loves you for it. *g*

Deb Salisbury said...

Thank you for your great review, Loretta! I'm linking back to you.

Sarah said...

Hurrah! this is a book of the kind I've been looking for - wonderful! and on my wish list and heavy hints dropped in time for my birthday moreover...

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