Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Break

Sunday, November 24, 2013
As has become our custom, we'll be taking this week off from blogging, tweeting, and all-around social-networking to spend time with family, friends, and a good book or two.

And pies. Yes, there will be pies.

We both have much to be thankful for - including you, the very best readers, followers, and fellow-nerdy-folks in the world.

Have a wonderful holiday,

Loretta & Isabella

Left: Poster, The Chap-Book, Thanksgiving Number, by William H. Bradley, 1895. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of November 18, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013
Fresh off the griddle! Here's our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, videos, and images, gathered for your from around the Twitterverse.
• The woman who launched fireworks from a balloon over 19th c. Paris.
• Did Clark Gable really kill the undershirt?
• Historical how-to for home management: The Complete Servant, 1825.
• The thrill of the hunt: rat-hunting keeps dogs of all stripes occupied in 1820s London pubs - and in modern NYC.
• Tattoo history: tattooing in in 19th c. British gaols.
• "My last writing before the battle will be to you...." Nelson's last letter to Emma Hamilton, 1805.
• Evocative photographs of the loneliness of Old London.
• Drilling a hole in the skull to cure stupidity: "some in this case cry up with the wonderful praises of Trepaning."
• Explore the Casey Fashion Plates Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library for style form 1780-1880.
• Seven things Americans used to dress up for - and not that long ago, either.
• Pride and partridges: Jane Austen and food.
• The pleasure gardens of Vauxhall in 1827.
• The politics (and the excesses) of 18th c. English turtle feasts.
• Delia Jarvis and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
• An unusual eulogy on an early 19th c. gravestone in Fulham.
• NORWICH, BURMA, ENGLAND: saucy lovers' acronyms from the 1930s.
Sweet treats from a Georgian kitchen: recipes for caramels and almond clear cakes.
• The weirdest and fiercest helmets from the Age of Armored Combat.
• "The hair on their phizzes": the Yale Class of 1870 proudly catalogues their mustaches, beards, and "hopeful scrags."
• The true history of Richard II - not quite the same as Shakespeare's version
CIA women from the 1960s-70s tell of bugged evening wear, surveillance compact mirrors, and "how to spot an enemy operative by his socks."
Amazons vs. the wife-beater, 1878.
• Cooking Thanksgiving for an army (literally): a World War One pumpkin pie recipe from the first Manual for Army Cooks, 1910.
• Shopping at the Sign of the Oil Jar: a splendidly elaborate 18th c. trade card.
• Refugee heirlooms: what people take when they're forced to leave their homes.
• When knitting becomes a feminist issue (or not.)
• Photos from the glorious but now-abandoned City Hall subway station, NYC.
• An exuberant 19th c. birdcage in the shape of the Rialto Bridge.
• Amazing survivor: a remnant of paper ream wrapper preserved on pasteboard from the late 17th c.
• The lost Proctor Theatre in NYC: when Lillian Russell appeared here in 1905, she earned a staggering $4000 a week.
• British newsreel film from 1953 shows a school with a mock-up flat where girls can practice cooking, cleaning, and making beds.
• End of an era: the last surviving old-fashioned phone booths in NYC.
• In this dramatic 1938 ad, a psychiatrist prescribes...Listerine.
• Cue the Beach Boys! Phenomenal set of vintage photos of Los Angeles - the city has never looked so charming.
• Stuck with a stuck-up sweetheart? Foolproof 17th c. advice on how to bring her down a peg or two.
• Last but certainly not least: there really is an island where cats rule.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Video: Beautiful Needlework by an Eleven-Year-Girl, 1671

Friday, November 22, 2013


Isabella reporting,

I recently showed a tiny detail of a 17th c. box, or casket, covered in raised work needlework, from the textile collection of Colonial Williamsburg. By coincidence, one of our readers, Tricia Nguyen, forwarded this silent Vimeo clip to me, showing a similar casket in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. What's most amazing to me is that both these caskets were the work of adolescent girls. The one in the video was worked by Martha Edlin (1660-1725), who was only eleven when she completed the needlework panels for this casket. It's hard for me to imagine many modern girls who possess either the focus or the patience to create something so beautifully detailed and stitched. The V&A page for the Martha Edlin's casket is here.

Tricia Nguyen is a skilled needleworker and teacher in her own right, and she was part of the team who recreated this exquisite c. 1600 embroidered jacket under the auspices of Plimoth Plantation (here's more about the jacket, now on display at Winterthur.) If you're inspired to create a replica embroidered casket of your own, Ms. Nguyen offers an on-line course, complete with the wooden box and all supplies. Patience and perseverance, however, aren't included; it's an eighteen-month-course from start to finish, and a definite labor of needlework love.

Oh, to be a genteel 17th c. lady, sitting at needlework each day instead of a computer keyboard....

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wimpole Hall: a Survivor

Thursday, November 21, 2013
View online here
Loretta reports:

In light of the recent repeat post about the privileges of the peerage, I thought we might as well take a look at the way these privileged persons lived.  From time to time I post information about palaces and mansions and such, mainly from Ackermann's Repository.  But numerous series of volumes were published in the 19th century illustrating and describing Great Britain's great houses.  Morris's County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland offers color plates.  In looking through it, I was struck with the number of houses that have managed to survive, some in deplorable condition, and some, like Wimpole Hall, continuing to thrive.




Read online here






Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Cutting Edge: 18th c. Leopard-Patterned Fashion

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Isabella reporting,

I've written two other posts featuring 18th c. men sporting leopard-print clothing (here and here), but when I spotted (*cough*) this pair, I couldn't resist sharing them as well.

In the late 18th c., leopard prints could be printed on velvet, wool, or cotton & linen, or, in those days, even a bit of real leopard skin. It could be a pattern so stylized that it was little more than an irregular dot, or a literal translation worthy of a big cat. Then, as now, animal-inspired prints added a touch of the exotic, hinting that the wearer might be a bit of the animal him (or her)self.

The lady in the 1788 French fashion plate, left, is either the height of Parisian fashion, or the depths of foolishness, depending on your perspective. Not only is she wearing an entire robe a l'Anglaise printed with leopard spots, but she's also sporting a headdress sprouting exotic feathers, no doubt imagining herself a perfect belle sauvage. The hedgehog inspired hair, the giant pouf of ribbons on her headdress, the large cluster of silk flowers pinned to her bodice, and the barrel-sized muff on her arm would also have been considered very stylish.

Although the gentleman, right, dates from 1773, he, too, has also succumbed to the leopard-print trend, wearing an entire suit in the fashionable pattern. Much like the French lady, he is wearing stylishly exaggerated accessories, including a huge black silk bow on the queue of his wig,  a fur or feather trimmed cocked hat, and an over-sized spray of flowers on his lapel.

Those flowers have given him his nickname: the title of this print is Lord ___, or the Nosegay Macaroni. For while this looks like another fashion-plate, it's really a satiric print of an actual young Irish gentleman, George Mason-Villiers, 2nd Earl Grandison (1751-1800.) At the time this caricature was drawn, Lord Grandison was only 22 and recently married, and evidently so style-conscious in his dress that he'd been branded a macaroni. In time the earl served respectably in both the British House of Commons and in the Irish House of Lords, eventually being sworn into the Irish Privy Council, so I assume he must have outgrown his taste for splashy nosegays and leopard-spots.

Left: Detail, Fashion plate, Magasin des Modes, Paris, February, 1788.
Right: Detail, Lord__, or the Nosegay Macaroni. Plate from The Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine, or, Monthly Register of the Fashions and Diversions of the Times. London: John Williams, February, 1773. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Return Engagement: The Privileges of Being a Peer

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Loretta reports:

I think the following, taken with my blog on illegitimacy, offers some insight into the mindset of the upper classes.  So many rules didn’t apply to them—which helps explain the behavior we’ve blogged about here, here, here, and here, and elsewhere.
~~~
THE PRIVILEGES OF THE PEERS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND.
The nobility of England enjoy many great privileges, the principal of which are as follows:
1. That they are free from all arrests for debts, as being the king's hereditary counsellors. Therefore a peer cannot be outlawed in any civil action, and no attachment lies against his person. This privilege extended also to their domestic servants, as well as to those of members of the lower house, till the year 1770 . . . For the same reason they are free from attending courts leet, or sheriffs turns; or, in cases of riot, from attending the posse comitatus.

2. In criminal causes they are only tried by their peers, who give their verdict, not upon oath, as other juries, but only upon their honour; and then a court is erected on purpose in the middle of Westminster Hall, at the king’s charge, which is pulled down when their trials are over.

3. To secure the honour of, and prevent the spreading of any scandal upon peers, or any great officer of the realm, by reports, there is an express law, called scandalum magnatum, by which any man convicted of making a scandalous report against a peer of the realm (though true) is condemned to an arbitrary fine, and to remain in custody till the same be paid.

4. Upon any great trial in a court of justice, a peer may come into the court, and sit there uncovered.
No peer can be covered in the royal presence without permission for that purpose, except the lord baron of Kinsale, of his majesty's kingdom of Ireland. See De Courcy, Baron Kinsale, in the Peerage of Ireland... In case of the poll-tax, the peers bear the greater share of the burden, they being taxed every one according to his degree.

Debrett's Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1820

Illustration:  House of Lords, from the Microcosm of London, 1808-1810

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The First Oval Office: Reconstructing George Washington's Marquee Tent

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Isabella reporting:

In the past, when I've written about the work of the tailors from Colonial Williamsburg's historic trade department, I've shared coats and jackets and other garments. But this year the tailors have been engaged in a much larger project in conjunction with the Museum of the American Revolution: recreating the 18th c. marquee, or tent, used by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, c. 1778-1782.

Outfitting an 18th c. army was a major undertaking, and when war broke out in 1775, the nascent Continental Army was starting from scratch. In addition to the obvious requirements of weapons, gunpowder, uniforms, food, and everyday supplies, the new army was in dire need of tents to house the troops. Everyone who could wield a needle was pressed into sewing. Tailors, sail makers, upholsterers, and seamstresses went to creating tents in all sizes, using thousands of yards of linen and hemp fabric. There were no sewing machines; every stitch was made by hand.

As commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, General Washington's tents (he had two) served as his offices as well as sleeping quarters. He likely used the larger marquee as a gathering place for his aides and guests, for dining as well as meetings. The tents were furnished with eighteen walnut camp stools, three walnut camp tables, and Washington's folding camp bed. While the marquees were probably the largest in the American Army, they were not the most elaborate (some wealthy officers rivaled Washington for elegance) and were modest compared to their British counterparts. Nonetheless, their symbolic significance was clear: this was headquarters. In the painting, above left, the general is shown standing outside his marquee.

But like every other tent used by the army, these received considerable wear and tear in the course of the war. The first set of the general's tents only last for the first two campaigns, from 1776-1777. The second set, made in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1778, inspired the current reproduction, which will be used for education and exhibition. The original marquee - now fragile from general age as well as from frequent "appearances" over the last two centuries - remains in the collection of the Museum of American History in Philadelphia; this was studied and copied by the crew at Colonial Williamsburg. The dining marquee is in the collection of the Smithsonian.

Using the same techniques as their 18th c. predecessors (and dressed in the same way, too, below), the team of accomplished tailors and seamstresses worked through the summer and into the fall creating the new tent. They cut and stitched linen fabric, some of which was hand-woven in Colonial Williamsburg's Weave Room, and while their hours weren't quite as long as those of the 18th c. seamers (who would have worked as long as there was daylight), their progress was impressive, averaging 13 feet of seaming a day at a gauge of 6 stitches per inch. Granted, the earlier seamers wouldn't have worked before a constant stream of Colonial Williamsburg visitors watching and asking questions, but then the modern seamers did have the advantage of working in air conditioning.

Finally, on Friday, the completed marquee was raised, lower left, - an impressive achievement! For more information about the project and many more photographs, see the blog on the Museum of the American Revolution's web site, and join the project's Facebook page here.

All photographs courtesy of Mark Hutter - many thanks, Mark!

Top left: Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown, by Charles Wilson Peale, c. 1784. Maryland State Art Collection.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of November 11, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013
Here's your fresh serving of Breakfast Links – our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, images, and articles, gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• "Hot spiced gingerbread!" 18th c. recipe for Georgian street vendor's favorite.
• A medieval world 1000 feet underground, carved entirely from salt.
• How to fight like a Victorian gentleman: a guide to bartitsu, the Sherlock Holmes art of self-defense.
• Some historical fashion objects simply cannot be displayed: Jacqueline Kennedy's pink Chanel suit.
• More Austen on the block - a Jane Austen portrait, first editions, and more.
• The marvelous story of the Hotel Theresa, Harlem's hottest hotel in the 1940s and '50s.
• The Oldest Student in France & the Champion of the World: early 20th c. French calling cards.
• The tignon – a kind of turban – and why 19th c. African American women wore them in Louisiana.
• Simple yet ornate drawing of a dragon fills in the line in 15th c. Prayer Book of Charles the Bold.
• From wreathes to jewelry, Queen Victoria to Michael Jackson: web site for the world's only museum devoted entirely to hair.
• The heroic, harrowing life of American colonial artist Henrietta Johnston (1674-1729).
• The circus animals that helped Britain in World War One.
• According to lurid 18th c. newspaper advertisements, Northampton was the home of broken families and the criminally insane.
Punqua Wingchong just wanted to return to his home in China in 1808 – or at least that's what Thomas Jefferson thought.
• A tale from 3rd c. BCE Egypt: the lentil-cook and the pumpkin-seller went to market....
• Group portraits of 19th c. American families in their Victorian-style homes.
• The painstaking process behind creating Mughal paintings and calligraphy.
• The cat and the diplomat, 1860: "A cat comes down the chimney, stares at me in amazement, secures one of my slippers in full flight and disappears."
• A captivating (and zoomable) panoramic display of 1920s bathing beauties.
• Of hedgehogs, whale vomit, and fire-breathing peacocks (and the 17th c. recipes that mention them.)
• Renaissance rhinoplasty: the 16th c. nose job.
• A new theory to an ancient mystery: did the teenaged King Tut die in a chariot crash?
• Myra Howard, shoplifter, apprehended in Chicago, 1900.
• "My face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What will those Spaniards say of me if they see me like this?"
• A brief & tortured history of caffeine "addiction."
• Seven myths and seven truths about the Boston Tea Party.
• A walking stick and 100 other objects that tell the story of America.
• When a diamond really is a girl's best friend: the allure of a cursed diamond.
• How drunk were late-Victorian train drivers?
• Fall fashion trend for 19th c. ladies: leaves (plus recipes for preserving them.)
• The life of Edward III, one of England's most successful kings, born at Windsor Castle in 1312.
• The fashionable, coy single women of 1920s fantasy postcards.
• The coroner and the corset, 1874.
• How slang and swear words helped soldiers survive World War One.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Casual Friday: The Tattooed Lady & Groucho

Friday, November 15, 2013
Groucho Marx
Loretta reports:

Well, there was the way he walked, that stalking, snakelike movement.  And the eyebrows.  And the mustache.  And the way he talked, usually around the big cigar.  I've had a big crush on Groucho Marx since childhood, and this is one of my favorite bits from the Marx Brothers movies.  As one who's a sucker for clever rhymes and lyrics, I find "Lydia, oh, Lydia, that encyclopedia," just irresistible. The song is "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," and the movie is At the Circus.

You may have your own favorite Marx Brothers routine or song.  Feel free to share.  Movie history nerdiness counts as history nerdiness, too.





Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When Little Girls Wore Blue & Boys Wore Pink Dresses

Thursday, November 14, 2013
Isabella reporting,

As Loretta discussed in a recent post highlighting 19th c. American portraits from the Heritage Museums & Gardens, it's not always easy for modern eyes to decipher a historical child's gender. For hundreds of years, young boys and girls were dressed in virtually the same clothes - a long gown that seems like a dress to us, but was in reality a simple garment for convenience in those pre-Pampers days. The question of color defining gender does appear in the late 18th c., but with pink preferred for boys as a stronger, more masculine color, and blue - a color long associated with innocence and virginity - as the primary choice for girls.

I thought of this again while visiting the Think Pink exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts (which I mentioned earlier this week here.) The charming small dress with the puffed sleeves, left, is made of bright pink printed cotton, with seams accentuated by white cotton embroidery; the narrow-legged trousers beneath are modern reproductions. The dress was worn by an American child around 1825, but whether it was made for a boy or a girl remains unclear.

Gender guessing games are difficult for curators and art historians. A similar dress in blue is worn in the painting, right, which is most likely a young girl. Another in white, lower left, is nearly identical in style, and because of the toy horse, is probably worn by a little boy.  But with the sitters' identities long forgotten, no one now knows for certain. Confusing matters further is that 19th c. parents weren't as concerned as their modern counterparts about choosing the "right" color, and might simply have dressed a child in blue to match her (or his) eyes.

Apparently the current generation of American parents is much more concerned  than ever before about reinforcing gender stereotypes through children's dress. According to this fascinating article from Smithsonian Magazine, new mothers who were dressed in genderless children's clothes in the 1970s-80s are now choosing the pinkest of ruffled dresses for their daughters and aggressively blue overalls with footballs for their sons - choices encouraged by savvy marketers of children's wear. Who knows which way the kiddie fashion pendulum will swing next?

Perhaps this little pink unisex dress is more ahead of its time after all....

Above left: Boy's or Girl's dress, United States, about 1825. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph copyright Susan Holloway Scott.
Right: Detail, Family Group, by Sturtevant J. Hamblin, 1830s.
Lower left: Detail, The Williamson Family, by Stanley Mix, 1840s.
Both images from the wonderful art history website by Barbara Wells Sarudy, It's About Time.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Seasonal Foods in November 1811

Wednesday, November 13, 2013
View online here
Loretta reports:

Because we live in the era of supermarkets and refrigeration, we need to stop and think—look it up, actually—when we’re giving dinner parties in our books—if, that is, we want to talk about the food  as well as what the hero and heroine say and do during the meal.

A recent trip to the local farmers’ market showed me what the non-supermarket food choices are in New England at this time of year.  And of course it awakened my Nerdy History Girl curiosity about what would be available to eat in England during an early 19th century November.




Read online here
The Female Instructor; Or, Young Woman's Companion, 1811


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Shocking Pink . . . in the 1830s?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Isabella reporting,

I'm afraid I'm as guilty as anyone of imagining the late Romantics and early Victorians as dressing in nothing but the most fragile and languid of non-colors. It doesn't matter how much proof I've seen to the contrary in the fashion plates that Loretta has posted. My imagination says otherwise, and insists on picturing subdued colors for this era, with nothing more vivid than, oh, a maiden's blush.

This weekend my imagination received a firm slap of reality with these two dresses, left, from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This pair were so bright that they nearly glowed in luscious, vibrant shades of pink.

The American dress with the short sleeves is the earlier of the two, dating from about 1830. It's made of silk satin patterned with weft floats, and dyed with either madder or cochineal (the king of red-dyes and Starbuck's strawberry frappuccinos – more about it here). The lady who entered a room in this gown would have had every eye on her, and with good reason, too. Simple in style, it's the color that makes it such a beautiful stand-out.

The dress with the longer sleeves dates from 1868-70, and was also sewn in America, but of fabric made of pineapple leaf fiber from the Philippines and combined with a silk underdress trimmed with silk net. According to the museum's label, the dress has an interesting history: "This bright pink dress was originally worn by Mary Francis Cook of Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and was made of piña cloth brought home by her sea-captain father. By the second half of the 19th century, the port of Manila had a vibrant trade in pineapple fiber cloth, which was lauded for being strong, light-weight, and breathable. This fabric was dyed with fuchsine, an aniline dye color introduced in 1858 that became ultra-fashionable in the 1860s."

In other words, the color of the earlier dress came from naturally derived plant or animal dyes that had been in use for hundreds of years, while the later dress represents the latest in 19th c. color innovations, straight from the chemist's lab. Yet side by side, the two complement one another beautifully, like a pair of prize azaleas.

Both dresses are part of Think Pink, a charming interdisciplinary exhibition now showing (through May 26, 2014) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It's small - only a single gallery - and tucked away in a distant corner, but it's a delightful, thoughtful look at the color pink in fashion from the 18th c. to the present day. Pink girls (you know who you are) will love it, and if you're visiting the MFA for the blockbuster exhibition of John Singer Sargent watercolors, it's well worth the trip upstairs, away from the crowds.

Day dress, United States, c. 1830, silk satin patterned with weft floats, dyed with madder or cochineal.
Day dress of piña cloth, United States (fabric from Philippines), 1868-70, pineapple leaf fiber (piña) plain weave dyed with fuchsine; silk pain weave underdress trimmed with silk net.
Both from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Newpaper for the Doughboys: The Stars and Stripes 1918-1919

Monday, November 11, 2013
More info here

Loretta reports:

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. (a video here) and Remembrance Day elsewhere.  As Downton Abbey aficionados and others will know, the signing of an armistice on 11 November 1918 marked the end of the Great War.  11 November became the commemoration day, known for many years as Armistice Day.

Looking for a social history angle (we Nerdy History Girls generally leave politics and war to others) I ended up at one of my favorite sites, the Library of Congress, where I came upon the newspaper created for the U.S. Army during WWI.  Intended to unify the U.S. forces, which were spread over Europe and mixed with troops of other countries, The Stars and Stripes ran from 8 February 1918 to 13 June 1919.

I discovered that soldiers created a significant amount of its material, and the original staff included enlisted men Alexander Woollcott (later of of The New Yorker and Algonquin Round Table fame) and Harold W. Ross, (a co-founder of The New Yorker).

If you’d like to see what the soldiers were reading, you can take a closer look at individual issues on this list.  Downloading the PDF-Entire Issue offers the easiest viewing of whole pages, but you will probably want to zoom in quite a bit.
More info here

Here’s what a U.S. soldier found in its first issue. It includes illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson, along with satire and satirical prints and a fascinating array of advertisements for U.S., British, and French companies and products.

Posters courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of November 4, 2012

Saturday, November 9, 2013
Served up fresh - our latest helping of Breakfast Links! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Know a woman who is bossy or wants the right to vote? "Fun" badge from 1898.
• The Vikings had a taste for fine Persian silk.
• Beautiful portraits show sisters and sisterhood.
• Useful for chilly days: a 12th c. Irish bronze handwarmer.
•Paper instead of gold? The 18th c. furor surrounding the issue of the first paper bank notes.
• A brief fashion history of the iconic LBD, or little black dress.
• Recreating a 1920s that may not have existed: short video from the VFX team behind the recent film The Great Gatsby.
• Nice to see some highly immature 19th c. behavior involving a painted moustache immortalized in print.
• At the ghost parade: night-time rehearsal for the Lord Mayor's Show, and oh, that coach!
• From Jane Austen's handwritten manuscripts to the Lindisfarne Gospels - explore treasures of the British Library with these eBook downloads.
• A look at Hart Island, New York City's Potter's Field, and the largest mass grave site in the U.S.
• This 1747 recipe for "Nothing Pudding" has far more ingredients than the title indicates.
• A dog named Bashaw: 1832 life-sized marble statue of a faithful Newfoundland, plus other canine portraits.
• Charlotte Bronte's tiny, tiny handwritten book.
• Using garlic to test for fertility in the ancient Greek world.
• Let your closet dream big! Catalogue to upcoming auction of Victorian, Edwardian, & 1920s clothes and jewelry.
Ignatius Sancho, a black Georgian in 18th c. London.
• Why do we kiss?
Charlotte Bronte's portrait of her friend Sophia Hudson returns to Bronte Parsonage for the first time in 170 years.
• The Great Storm of 1703: eyewitness accounts of the worst storm in England's history.
• How much meat did medieval people eat?
• Feeling lonesome? 19th c. love charms and party games.
• Ending washday blues: the invention of Washing Mill.
• Georgian comfort-food: 18th c. recipe for Shin of Beef Stewed.
• The lost NYC mansion of Mrs. Mary Mason Jones, the indomitable aunt of Edith Wharton and inspiration of her character Mrs. Manson Mingott.
Confessions of 19th c. children who committed murder.
• Ready for a 1606 masque at court in a costume 'A la nimphale.'
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Video: Travel Scenes from Around the World, 1896-1900

Friday, November 8, 2013

Isabella reporting,

We've seen two other short films made the pioneering French film-maker Louis Lumière (1864-1948) - an 1896 Snowfall Fight, and Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon from 1895. But while these two films were shot close to home, Lumière also realized the exotic appeal of foreign lands to his budding audiences. Towards the end of the 19th c., he sent film crews to America, Europe, and the Middle East to capture these locations. Today's clip is a compilation of some of these very early travelogues. In addition to seeing the sights, I enjoyed watching these people from the past - what they wore and how they behaved in front of the novel new cameras.

If you want to guess the locations shown by the landmarks, then stop reading right here! Otherwise, here's the list in order of appearance: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France; Dresden, Germany; Piazza del Duomo, Milan, Italy; Palace of Westminster, London, England; Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary; Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium; Nice, France; Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; Istanbul, Turkey; Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA; Egypt; Martyrs' Square, Beirut, Lebanon; Jerusalem, Palestine.

The evocative accompanying music is Gymnopedie No. 1 (1888) by French composer and pianist Erik Satie (1866-1925).

Many thanks to HomburghGuy on YouTube for sharing this video.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

An Elegant Phaeton for 1819

Thursday, November 7, 2013
View online here
Loretta reports:

I've thought of phaetons as sporting vehicles, which would be driven by the owner, but this looks like a coachman-driven vehicle.  It's hard to be sure, since we're dealing with a drawing rather than a photograph, but the cushioned seat at the back with its overhead covering indicates that this was not intended for servants or luggage, as is the case in the demi-mail phaeton in which my characters travel in Scandal Wears Satin.  This is a good reminder that carriages were not built on an assembly line, and different coach builders had their own distinctive style, which would also incorporate the customer's particular wishes.  In this case, it seems the climate was taken into account as well.

From Ackermann's Repository for November 1819.


Read online here

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the Archives: Guy Fawkes Crosses the Atlantic & Becomes Transformed into Pope Night, 1745

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Isabella reporting:

Because our friends in Great Britain celebrated Guy Fawkes Day yesterday (and because I'm presently in Boston), it seems like an excellent time to revisit this post. 

Guy Fawkes Day is a holiday that may have a dark past, but it's certainly alive and well and full of bonfires and fireworks. Yet while it may seem a quintessentially British holiday, there's also a strong history of the celebration in New England as well as Old.

The Massachusetts colony was largely settled in the early 17th c. by English Puritans, and those conservative Protestant values continued to rule the colony. The bonfires and effigy-burning of the Fifth of November was one of the transplanted traditions that prospered, but by the middle of the 18th c., it had developed a few distinctly Yankee quirks. Several colonial wars against the French served to increase distrust and fear of Catholics. While the memory of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot weren't forgotten (the "Remember, Remember" song was duly sung), in all the northern colonies the celebration was now called Pope Night, and a rowdy time it was.

In Boston, crowds of  young men, sailors, and apprentices thronged the streets, dividing into two rival gangs, while costumed boys thumped on doors and begged money for drink. Each gang had their own procession and effigies of the Pope, friars, priests, and devils, and after a fierce brawl between the two gangs (ah, American contests of sports supremacy!), the winners captured the losers' effigies, and everything was finally burned in a satisfying bonfire. Special noisemakers, fashioned from conch shells and called "Pope's horns", added to the din, like 18th c. vuvuzelas.

As political tensions in Boston increased with England in the years before the Revolution, other effigies of unpopular public figures found their way into the procession, including the Catholic Pretender to the British throne James Stuart, Lord North, and Lord Bute. Later infamous Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold earned his place in the flames, too. A 1745 newspaper described the scene:

Tuesday last being the Anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, two Popes were made and carried thro' the Streets in the evening...attended by a vast number...armed with clubs, staves, and cutlashes, who were very abusive to the Inhabitants, insulting the Persons and breaking the windows, &c., of such as did not give them money to their satisfaction...the two Popes meeting in Cornhill, their followers were so infatuated as to fall upon each other with the utmost Rage and Fury. Several were sorely wounded and bruised, some left for dead, and rendered incapable of any business for a long time to the great Loss and Damage of their respective Masters.

For more about Pope Night in the American colonies, check out this excellent site commissioned by The Bostonian Society. Also see one of our favorite history blogs, Boston 1775, which has numerous posts on the subject.

Above: Detail from Extraordinary verses on Pope-night, or, A commemoration of the Fifth of November, giving a history of the attempt, made by the papishes, to blow up king and Parliament, printed in Boston, 1768. Collection, Library of Congress

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fashions for November 1823

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
View online here


Loretta reports:

I know that many Regency dress aficionados find the 1820s fashions fussy and weird, but after dealing with my characters’ 1830s garb, with their vertical coiffures and sleeves the size of beer barrels, I find these 1823 fashions delightfully understated.

Some delicious accessories here.  I was taken by the lady in blue’s “large perspective eyeglass,” as well as the veil on the side of her hat.  This look was very fashionable.  And I’d love to see in real life the necklace the lady in lavender evening dress is wearing.  The illustration makes it look rather like a scarf, but the description promises a beautiful piece of jewelry, with the gold “Arabian talismanic ornaments,” and turquoise bead tassels.




View online here

Read online here

Fashions from La Belle Assemblée, November 1823

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tales of 18th c. Foundlings: "Threads of Feeling" Comes to Colonial Williamsburg

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Isabella reporting,

Last week I attended the conference connected with the "Threads of Feeling" exhibition now on display in Colonial Williamsburg. The exhibition was originally shown at the London Foundling Museum, and the conference's keynote speaker was John Styles, the show's curator. Through the records of the children left at the Foundling Hospital in the 18th c., this poignant exhibition shows the plight of the mothers - and occasionally the fathers - and the children for whom the Hospital offered one last chance at hope and survival. Not all the foundlings were the children of single mothers; nearly a third came from parents who were wed, but too poor to raise the child.

I've written about the Hospital and the textile tokens that are the major feature of the show here, and also linked to the slideshow made for the Museum here. The exhibition is small, with two rooms of cases displaying the open billet books with the tokens. Only one page and token from each book can be displayed at a time, but the size of these thick books still manages to represent the sheer number of foundlings taken into the Hospital. The first time I visited the exhibition, the galleries were crowded with visitors discussing what they were seeing, and along with the others I admired the scraps of textiles and read the sad little notes that were attached.

The second time I went at the end of the day, when I was the only visitor in the galleries. Yet I wasn't alone: I heard the desperation of those long-ago mothers in every scrap of fabric, their voices clear in the handful of words that they left with their children. There were heartfelt pleas to look after special babies, notes of names that had been carefully chosen, and pledges to return one day to reclaim the children when their own circumstances improved.

The statistics accompanying the show told the grim truth. Between 1741 and 1760, 16,282 babies were admitted to the hospital. Nearly 11,000 of them, or roughly two-thirds, died. Only 152 were reclaimed by their mothers.

Still, that also meant that a third did survive to adolescence, and were launched on useful lives to learn various trades as apprentices. In fairness, too, the staggering rate of infant mortality didn't reflect abuse or deprivation in the Hospital. According to Professor Styles, the figures were much the same for the rest of mid-18th c. London.

The print, above, represents the Hospital's admission lottery, c. 1749. Run as a private charity, the Hospital's limited funds in its early years meant that only a fraction of the thousands of infants brought to the gates could be accepted, with only 200 children admitted annually. The lottery was devised to bring some measure of fairness to the admission process. As shown in the print, mothers reached into a bag and drew out a colored ball. White meant the infant was accepted, pending a health review. A black ball - which the majority received - meant rejection. Observing the proceedings are a group of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, whose presence must have made everything even more difficult for the poor mothers.

One of the lucky ones must have been the mother of little Florella Burney, who was admitted to the hospital on the day of her birth, June 19, 1758. Her token was a scrap of floral cloth, below, and the accompanying note begs that "particular care be take'n off this child, As it will be called for Again." Florella was baptized and given the more sensible name of Mary Dench (renaming was the Hospital's policy), and when she was eleven, she was apprenticed to a milliner: a success story. Her mother, alas, never returned.

"Threads of Feeling" continues at Colonial Williamsburg (the only American location for the show) through May 26, 2014; more information, plus a podcast with the exhibition's curator John Styles, here. The exhibition's catalogue includes many photographs, and is available here and here.

Top: An exact Representation of the Form and Manner in which Exposed and Deserted young Children are Admitted into the Foundling Hospital, 1749, etching by Nathaniel Parr after a painting by Samuel Wale. The Foundling Museum.
Below: Florella Burney, Foundling number 8959, textile token. The Foundling Museum.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of October 28, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013
Because of Halloween, this week's Breakfast Links have a decidedly spooky flavor to them. Look for all our fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Fit for a king (or queen): house once owned by Henry VIII up for sale.
• Employing "a fish bladder filled with blood": the useful art of faking virginity in the 17th century.
• This amazing bat hat c. 1917 must have been an unsettling fashion accessory.
• The most terrifying trousers ever: 17th c. necropants made from the legs of a corpse.
• A humble occupation for the talented in 1911: street pavement artists.
• The strange and mysterious history of the Ouija Board.
• Behold Jane Austen: a massively multiplayer role-playing game that explores the world of Jane Austen's novels.
• "The novel is a wonder": this week in 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald sent his editor an early draft of The Great Gatsby, and this letter.
• The Queen's Halloween: how Queen Victoria enthusiastically celebrated the holiday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
• How to be black-balled, Georgian style.
• It's alive! For the first time, explore original Mary Shelley manuscripts - including Frankenstein - via online archives.
• What to do with all those leftover pumpkins? Inspiration from a Regency cookbook.
• The hill of bones: the macabre story of the burial ground at Bunhill Fields.
Hobgoblin classification in the 18th century.
Satanic seduction: 17th c. witches, the devil, and fertility.
• A beautiful white enamel mourning ring for Sarah Nicholls, c. 1755.
• This 1920s-style costume, made from an antique table cloth, has appeared in many productions, including Downton Abbey.
• Armed and dangerous: the wide variety of Victorian prosthetics.
• London's market gardens: the Neat Houses.
• How to avoid dancing with death, according to an 1808 Cruikshank print.
• "Studies in Passions and Emotions": yes, they're 19th c. emoticons.
• Why did J.P.Morgan's prize bulldog die of shame?
• If only we had deeper pockets! Auctions featuring Jane Austen-related items.
• A piratical haul: five of Blackbeard's cannons lifted from the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina.
• The Statue of Liberty turned 125 years old this week; the unveiling in 1886 did not go as planned.
• Impeccably dressed English tourists on donkeys distinguish an Edwardian excursion to view the Sphinx in 1910.
• in 1854, a father gave his daughter a unique betrothal gift: a scrapbook of engravings decorated with blood drops.
• The influence of World War One on fashion meant military coats and black evening gowns.
• Lovely photographs of Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn's family home.
• One remedy for barrenness in the 17th c.: aphrodisiacs.
• Made in Taiwan? An 18th c. Frenchman aims for the bestseller list with his account of a fantastic, fictional Formosa.
• In case you missed National Cat Day this week: coveting the craziest cat-people collectibles.
Les Diableries: 19th c. French stereo views of daily life in Hell.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Casual Friday: Royal Bedchamber

Friday, November 1, 2013
Loretta reports:

A friend recently returned from London reported happily on an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace, “Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber.” 

As one who only a few years ago discovered Hampton Court Palace’s delights (blogs here and here and here, and here and here, for instance) and who spent some time studying the royal bedrooms (and the lavatories), I was very excited to visit online.  The Historic Royal Palaces website offers several wonderful, short videos about the exhibition, as well information about how to conserve your own precious objects.

This made it hard to choose among the riches.  But I thought our Nerdy History readers would be as fascinated as I was by the painstaking methods used to conserve a bed rail.








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