One of the most enjoyable parts of this blog for Loretta and me is hearing from readers who in turn share more nerdy-history-facts with us. After my recent post on the faux pearls popular in the 18th c., the so-called "Roman pearls", we heard from Sharon Ann Burnston (historian, archaeologist, author, re-enactor, & consultant on Colonial America), who reminded us of what is likely the most famous strand of faux pearls worn in 18th c. North America: the necklace worn by First Lady Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818). In the earliest known portrait of her, the pastel portrait, left, she is shown wearing the fashionable glass pearls. The strand of pale pink beads, right, belonging to her is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, donated by a descendant in 1914, and is most likely the same necklace from the portrait.
As the bride of an unknown country lawyer in colonial Massachusetts, Abigail would never have owned real pearls, but the strand of glass beads were a handsome, elegant substitute. Abigail also unwittingly set a precedent for First Lady fashion. Far in the future, First Ladies Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama (ladies who could in fact have afforded the real thing) would all become known for wearing extravagant faux pearl necklaces as part of their public personae.
Long to share Abigail's look? Sharon's "emporium" for 18th c. re-enactors, Village Green Clothier, offers a lovely replica for sale here. (HBO commissioned one from Sharon for actress Laura Linney after she won the Golden Globe for playing Abigail Adams in the John Adams miniseries.)The ironic twist: the modern replicas are genuine freshwater pearls.
Above: Abigail Adams, pastel portrait by Benjamin Blythe, 1766 Below: Glass bead necklace, worn by Abigail Adams, Smithsonian Institution; photograph courtesy Smithsonian Institution
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.