Earlier this week I wrote a post about a tiny coat for a cat, made first by an 18th c. tailor's apprentice and recently replicated by the tailor's apprentice at Colonial Williamsburg. I can't offer a similar story about dressing an 18th c. dog (though I wouldn't be surprised if there's one out there), but I do have a coat that features an entire hunting pack.
The silver button, above, is one of a set (now in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg) that once belonged to a prominent colonial Virginian who enjoyed hunting. They were believed to have been first owned by Philip Lightfoot II, a wealthy 18th c. merchant and landowner who, like many Virginians, would have followed the fashions being set by the gentry in London. This would have not only included traditional fox-hunting on horseback, but also wearing the stylish clothes associated with country pursuits.
There are thirteen silver buttons in the set, enough for a typical sporting
gentleman's coat. Each button is different, engraved with the portrait and name of a different hunting dog. It's possible that these dogs were Lightfoot's favorites, commemorated in miniature portraits. But it's equally possible that the buttons had been purchased as a set with common dog names for the time (Ranger and Rover being the Georgian equivalent to Max and Rocky.) There are other existing examples of similar buttons with many of the same names, so it's even possible that some real dogs were named after those depicted on the buttons. See here for a slideshow of all the buttons.
The buttons inspired two different divisions of Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Trades programs. The Silversmiths recreated the set plus several smaller buttons (engraved with foxes!) suitable for cuffs, complete with the same portraits and names. Then the Tailors cut and sewed a coat appropriate for the buttons. (The coat was copied from a 1777 print called The Spruce Sportsman.) The coat is made of wool broadcloth, trimmed with gold lace, lined with silk taffeta, and with chamois lining the pockets. Although it does have a military air, to an 18th c. gentleman it would definitely have been a hunting coat, especially appropriate for a Christmastide fox hunt.
Top: Dog button, silver, 18th c. Colonial Williamsburg Museums. Photograph courtesy Colonial Williamsburg. Below: Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.
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.