Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pink Silk Shoes & an Intriguing Invitation, c. 1785

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Yesterday I finally visited the delightful small exhibition at the Portsmouth Athenaeum that I first mentioned here. Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850 was exactly that - a collection of beautiful shoes, many with tantalizing glimpses into the lives of their long-ago owners.

Today no woman would think of preserving the old sneakers she wears while gardening; it's the shoes she wore to her wedding or other special event that are carefully tucked away in the closet. It was much the same with women two hundred years ago, which is why many surviving shoes in museums and historical societies tend to be of the costly variety, beautiful creations of brocade or silk that carried rich memories for their wearers.

The shoes shown above and right most likely belonged to Martha (Patty) Rogers (1762-1840), the youngest daughter of Rev. Daniel Rogers of Exeter, NH. With their small angled heels, these were the latest style in the 1780s, made by the London shoemakers Chamberlain & Sons and imported to America - proof that trading had once again resumed between the two countries with the end of the American Revolution. Now faded to a pale pink, the silk satin was once a brilliant cherry, as can still be seen on the tongue (the white padding is for modern display.) Imagine them worn with a set of glittery buckles, peeking out from beneath a silk gown and ready for dancing.

And Patty did dance. When these shoes were donated to the Portsmouth Historical Society by family descendants, the small wallet (purse), left, accompanied them. The wallet was likely made from a remnant of silk brocade dress fabric, and lined with more silk that's close to the original color of the shoes.

As charming as the wallet is, the real treasure was tucked inside: a tiny note, folded into an origami-like shape known at the time as a tulip - a special fold favored by lovers - with a handwritten message:

"–––Parkers compliments to Miss Rogers. Would be glad to wait on her this evening to a dance at Capt True Gilman's Friday 10 Oclock."

Did Patty meet with Mr. Parker at Capt. Trueworthy (Trueworthy!) Gilman's? Did they dance together? Was this Mr. Parker's first overture, or was there a long-standing romance between the two? Was the note carefully preserved, or absently tucked into the purse and forgotten?

Although the romance-writer in me longs for a happily-ever-after, it didn't happen for these two. The most likely author of the note was Nathaniel Parker (1760-1812). He later married another lady named Catherine Tilton, while Patty Rogers never wed.

Many thanks to co-curators Kimberly Alexander and Sandra Rux for the personalized tour, and assistance with this post. For more information about these shoes and many others, stayed tuned for Kimberly's upcoming book Georgian Shoe Stories From Early America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.) In the meantime, please check out her blog, Silk Damask, for more fascinating fashion and textile history.

Above left: Silk Satin Shoes, Chamberlain & Sons, London, 1780s. Portsmouth Historical Society.
Right: Wallet, silk brocade from 1750s. Portsmouth Historical Society.
Lower left: Invitation to a Dance, probably mid-1780s. Portsmouth Historical Society.
All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of May 25, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015
Welcome to our weekly round-up of our fav links to other blogs, web sites, images, and articles, all gathered for you via Twitter.
• Gundry & Sons, makers of Queen Victoria's wedding slippers.
• "Covered with Egyptian darkness": New England's dark day of May 19, 1780.
• "I am left to tramp the tiled floor of my cell in lonely meditation": 19thc. prison memoirs.
• Was angora wool fashionable for 19thc. handwork?
• The lucky charms carried by soldiers during WWI.
Image: This late 19thc. gentleman is the definition of swagger.
• Ruins for sale: a 10thc. castle goes well beyond "handyman's special."
• Samurai and courtesans: Japanese life in 1865 captured in early color photographs.
• The historical inspiration for the "Red Wedding" of Game of Thrones.
Image: Wedding portrait of Cornelia Vanderbilt, 1924.
• "Will it never be day?" On the night of June 17, 1815, the Duke of Wellington waited to hear if Blücher would agree to march and join him at Mont St. Jean.
• Foil-ing the plans of the Baroness de Meyer, 1911.
• Life below stairs: duties of a Georgian housemaid.
• The Battle of Waterloo through the eyes of a modern war photographer.
Image: Preparing for a pairs dive at the Toronto Ladies Swimming Club, c1925.
• Patriotic shoes: were these 1780s shoes made from the fragments of a Revolutionary War flag?
• The death of Queen Victoria, and the politics of mourning in the British Persian Gulf.
• The burning matter of English witches.
Image: Manchester's "centrifugal railway," 1842 - basically an early roller-coaster.
Skittles and sailors: how the naval pensioners were entertained in the 1860s at the Greenwich Royal Hospital for Seamen.
• Biographical cartoons of notable Black Americans, drawn during WWII to promote unity.
• The widow and the law: a brief history of widows' pensions in Britain.
Image: Trend alert! Two nearly identical dresses worn in two separate photographs from the 1860s.
• Marie-Antoinette's armchair is among the treasures soon to be auctioned.
• Stylish if not practical: 1920s nursing uniforms.
Dracula: fact, legend, and fiction.
• Just for fun: In La Belle Epoque, it was not uncommon to see dinosaurs living in even the most fashionable arrondissements of Paris (though something may have been lost in translation - more here.)
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Video: Lewis & Clark Epic Rap Battle

Friday, May 29, 2015
Lewis & Clark & Sacagawea
Loretta reports:

U.S. schoolchildren who learn about the Lewis & Clark expedition probably remember little except Sacagawea
—which is OK, with me, since it’s not certain the explorers could have made it without her. Many years after those history lessons, I read Stephen Ambrose’s  Undaunted Courage, and developed a proper appreciation for what theses people faced and what an extraordinary accomplishment this was.

The video is a rather more lighthearted take, with plenty of in-jokes for those familiar with the story—and/or Bill & Ted.

Image: Detail of "Lewis & Clark at Three Forks" by Edgar Samuel Paxson, mural in lobby of Montana House of Representatives.

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

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Guess the Purpose of These 19thc. Bags

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Isabella reporting,

When I first spotted this assortment of simple little bags made from 19th c. printed cotton in A Colorful Folk: Pennsylvania Germans and the Art of Everyday Life, an exhibition currently on display at Winterthur Museum, I'd no idea what treasures they might once have held. Jewelry? Hairpins? Handkerchiefs? Or were they reticules, the small drawstring handbags popular at the time?

I should have guessed their purpose would be more prosaic, given the exhibition's theme. The Germans who settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th-19th c. had an exuberant design sense, and often decorated the most everyday items - from kitchen towels to bread boxes and even the bag that held rags in the outhouse - with fanciful colors and motifs. Scraps of fabric from clothing was transformed into patchwork quilts, or stitched into humble little bags like these.

A closer look at the bags tells their purpose. Two of them, right, have neatly stitched tags with inked labels: Radish says one in careful penmanship, while the other is marked Pink dbl. Hollyhock. They're bags for collecting seeds from the garden and storing them over the winter for planting in the spring, an annual ritual (and an important one) for gardeners.

I like to imagine the housewife who prized her hollyhocks, and perhaps shared the blossoms and seeds only with dearest friends or family members. Perhaps she'd brought the original seeds with her when she'd emigrated to America, or they'd been specially purchased from a seed merchant during a rare trip to Philadelphia. She didn't just write "hollyhocks" on the label. They were "Pink Double Hollyhocks", if you please, and well worth their own special bag, as well as her pride.

Above: Seed bags, cotton and linen, Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1820-80. Winterthur Museum.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Crockford's Club in St. James's Street

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Hazard Room at Crockford's
Loretta reports:

Crockford’s Club, No. 50 St. James’s Street, was a famous gaming house.* It’s played a role in my Dressmakers series—being practically next door to the fictional shop—as well as others of my books. It appears in many accounts of gaming and 19th century London history.  You can read a history of Crockford and the club here, and an architectural account here. The following explains its popularity.
~~~
There is one thing, and one only, to be said in favour of Mr. Crockford's enterprise, which is, that this establishment did away with the practice of gentlemen playing against each other for large sums. At Crockford's the game was one of Gentlemen versus Players, the players being always Mr. Crockford's officials at the French hazard table, and the sole object of his business was to win the money of his patrons. He had no other sources of profit; his establishment was an exclusive club with a very low subscription, and was open to such gentlemen only as could convince the committee of their eligibility. For their subscription, which was so small that members who did not gamble were accustomed to make a sort of offering of conscience money, by flinging a ten pound note on the play table at the end of the season, the best cookery and the finest wines in London were supplied to them gratis, and they had the companionship of the most fashionable male society of the day. Crockford was wise enough to leave all the social arrangements to a committee of gentlemen who conducted the ballots, elected and rejected whom they chose, and made entry to Crockford's as difficult as to White's or
Crockford's Club
Brooks's. The new club, in fact, at once took a tone similar to that of those aristocratic bodies, whose members were made eligible for election to Crockford's by one of its first rules. In exchange for the princely accommodation of his house, and such fare as was unobtainable at any other club in London for love or money, Crockford asked for nothing in return but that gentlemen should condescend to take a cast at his table at French hazard.
—William Biggs Boulton, The Amusements of Old London (1901)

*The building still stands.

Images: T. J. Rawlins, The Hazard Room at Crockford's, 1837, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. T. H. Shepherd, Crockford’s Club, Metropolitan Improvements; or London in the 19th Century 1827, via Internet Archive.

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

For Memorial Day: A Powerful Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1789

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Isabella reporting,

The last Monday in May is America's Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor the men and women who have given their lives for their country. It's also a day whose meaning too often is lost in the flurry of department store sales, parties, and the first long weekend of the summer.

This painting might be somber reminder of the day's true purpose. Painted by Joseph Wright of Derby around 1789, The Dead Soldier is a strong political statement about the real cost of war, no matter the century or the combatants.

A new widow buries her face with grief as she holds her dead husband's hand, bringing his fingers to touch those of his now-fatherless child. In the distance, the battle still continues, but the real drama is between these three, and it's heartbreaking. Most military paintings focus on the glory of generals and great victories, and are intended to stir patriotic feelings. This one instead shows the bleak aftermath of war for a common soldier, and the fact that the faces of both the woman and the man are hidden makes them stand in for all the now-forgotten soldiers and widows who suffered a similar fate. Only the baby turns towards the viewer. The woman's ruffled white cap, cast on the ground in despair, is an especially poignant note: a small, beribboned symbol of the girl her husband had loved, and of the life that was now over for them both.

At the time that Wright painted this, England had recently concluded an unpopular and costly civil war with the American colonies. There were few government provisions made for returning soldiers crippled by the war, or for soldier's widows and children. Many sank into deep poverty, falling into begging, prostitution, and crime to survive.

Clearly Wright had these issues in mind. He was inspired by a passage in the 1777 poem "The Country Justice" by John Langhorne, which asks for mercy and understanding for those driven to crime by poverty and indigence. While this is an unusually political painting for him (he's more often remembered for fashionable portraits, scientific scenes, and dramatically lit landscapes), it became his most popular work with the public from the time it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. There are multiple versions of the painting, and engravings of it were widely available in Britain and Europe well into the 19thc. Significantly it remained popular throughout the era of the Napoleonic Wars.

There are multiple modern interpretations of the painting. One scholar points to the classical inspiration of the figures, and another says it actually represents the moment that the wife at home receives word of the soldier's death. Others find it cloying and calculated, or concentrate on its unavoidable anti-war message.

But for me (and for many people in the 18thc. who responded so strongly to it), this powerful painting is about love, loss, and sacrifice: all things to consider and remember on Memorial Day.

Above: The Dead Soldier, by Joseph Wright of Derby, c. 1789. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Peace Day

Monday, May 25, 2015
The Colors
Loretta reports:

From The Stars and Stripes, a Memorial Day poem* inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s “Together.”
~~~
Friday, May 30, 1919
Memorial Day

“I shall forget him in the morning light;
And while we gallop on he will not speak;
But at the stable door he’ll say good-night.”
—Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-attack: And Other Poems

It isn’t quite the same as it used to be; the dark stallions, the pale faces, the black pomp of despair of civilian days. There’s a new feeling toward death, a better understanding. It is not longer strange and mysterious; it has moved among us; it has struck suddenly, mercifully, often.

We left him perhaps without a handshake when he piled into a camion and rolled away, or when we crawled out of the fox-hole he was just gone; or maybe we didn’t hear about it at all until long afterward because, Armywise, he had been transferred and we hadn’t.

And while we didn’t think about it then—things were happening mercifully fast and furious and we couldn’t think at all—now we have assembled our thoughts and decided what we were really fighting for, and so it all seems a part of the plan, loss as well as victory, death as sure as discharge.

So he will be with us, not in the busy rush of the life we’ll take up again, but quietly at the day’s end—living and real; for his going from us was unmarred by the harsh convention of civilian death, and quite cheerily, across the golden shadows, we’ll answer his good-night.

The Stars and Stripes, Friday, May 30, 1919

*Author unknown—unless you have some info on this.

Image: The Colors, from Memorial Day Peace Day Circular (Illinois. Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), Department of Public Instruction, 1920

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of May 18, 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015
Ready for your weekend reading enjoyment - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, collected for you via Twitter.
• "All the nice girls love a sailor": the enduring and complicated lure of Jack Tar.
• A very special pair of c1760s London shoes, worn by Eliza Lucas Pinckney of South Carolina.
• Not your average vacation: 1950s atomic bomb explosion tourism.
Image: Cradle commissioned by Queen Victoria for Princess Louise, 1850.
• In literature and song: the legacy of the Napoleonic Wars.
• For lovers of patterns, counted cross stitch, needlepoint, and intarsia knitting: a beautiful book of Mordvin stitch patterns.
• The bride wore...nothing: naked and smock weddings in early New England.
Image: This week in 1774, the first public advertisement for ice cream appeared in the New York Gazette.
Box it, bag it, wrap it: medieval books on the go.
Wig-making illustrated, via Diderot's great French 18thc. Encyclopedie.
A sunny 1950s hat for summer made from a very unusual natural fiber.
• WebMD of the 18thc.: more than 5,000 digitized medical consultation letters.
Image: Fantastic aerial shot of Blenheim Palace.
• How to grow a beard in the style of an ancient Roman emperor.
• In 1596, two Scottish witches were charged for the cost of the fuel that burned them.
• The erotic secrets of Lord Byron's tomb.
• What's the younger generation coming to? In the 1960s, it was the Youth Quake!
• How a freed slave fought for her kidnapped children.
Image: Magnificent 18thc. portrait of Xaing Fei, the Fragrant Concubine.
• Something you never expected: 60s Woodstock rocker Country Joe McDonald donates his collection of Florence Nightingale memorabilia.
• Strawberry delight: Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill begins to emerge from restoration with stunning results.
• Two strong Jacobite women who fought for the cause in '45.
Chemistry sets, past and present.
• Irish pickpocket George Barrington, the "genteelist thief ever remembered."
• Archbishop Hatto, allegedly killed in the 10thc. by a mischief of mice.
Image: Two army sergeants enjoy a drink in the Crimea, 1855. Photo by Roger Fenton.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, May 22, 2015

More 18th c. Hats from Colonial Williamsburg

Friday, May 22, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Since everyone enjoyed the white silk hat that milliner's apprentice Abby Cox was wearing in my last post, I'm sharing three more hats inspired by 18th c. portraits and fashion plates and recreated by the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop in Colonial Williamsburg.

The white hat, above left, features a silk-covered straw brim trimmed with silk flowers, gathered gauze, a coyly trailing silk ornament, and red silk ribbon to tie it all up. You can see the inspiration for this hat in the 1776 print A Bagnigge Wells scene, or, No resisting temptation here.

The extravagantly striped silk hat, right, with a tall crown is similar to hats found in French fashion plates of around 1787. Built on a frame of wire and buckram, it's trimmed with white cock's feathers, but also popular were hats that featured similar plumes made from more exotic (and now considered endangered) vulture  feathers. This hat was recently worn with the appropriately full hairstyle of the era by Nicole Rudolph, who also works in the shop - see her here on the shop's Facebook page. No one said "wow" in the 18thc., but that IS the proper response.

Abby models a hat of black silk taffeta and gauze of around 1781, lower left, that's a close cousin to the white hat she was wearing in my post earlier this week. Black silk seems to have been much more popular for this style of hat than the white, perhaps because it was easier to keep fresh, or simply because it seemed more elegant. (I know it's much harder to photograph, which is why there's a second picture of it, bottom left.) As Nicole Rudolph said, the black silk hat is the Little Black Dress of late 18th c. Britain.

If you were a Georgian lady visiting the shop, which would you choose? I warn you: Abby can be very persuasive behind the counter. You might end up with all three....

Many thanks to Abby Cox!

All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Fox Under the Hill

Thursday, May 21, 2015
Fox Under the Hill
Loretta reports:

Continuing my nerdy history tidbits about The Last Hellion*—

The characters appear in a number of London eating and drinking establishments, most of which I discovered in the works of Charles Dickens. One interesting place is the Fox Under the Hill. This tavern (not to be confused with others of the same name) was at No. 75 in the Strand, and vanished when the Victoria Embankment was built.




Fox under the Hill




You can read more about it here and here.  More images here and here.

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

*Recently released in audio format

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Keeping Cool in 18th c. Style in Colonial Williamsburg

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg this week, where it seems as if the Tidewater's usual steamy, sultry summer weather has already descended.

Of course no visit to CW would be complete without stopping by to see our good friends at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop. Here's how the shop's two apprentices - Abby Cox, milliner's & mantua-maker's apprentice, and Mike McCarty, tailor's apprentice - dress for hot weather in 18th c. style. The key is natural fibers in light colors, and eliminating extra layers like linings.

Abby is wearing a short sack, made of a light-weight, high-end cotton in the style of the 1770s. The sleeves are unlined, and the sack's loose-fitting, pleated back gives it an airy feel. Her petticoat is made from a cotton that's woven in a mock quilted pattern, and her apron is sheer cotton muslin. Beneath it she's wearing her usual linen shift, linen-lined stays, and cotton stockings.

Worn over a ruffled linen cap, her extravagant hat will keep her shielded from the brightest sun (and it's so much more beguiling than a baseball cap.) Made of crisp silk taffeta, it has a wired brim to keep its shape - if you look closely, you can see the ridges of the vertical wires (much the same principle as a modern lampshade.) It's a style that's often found in prints and portraits from the 1770s.

Mike is dressed in unlined linen breeches (casually left unbuckled at the knees) and an unlined linen coat, popular attire for 18th c. Virginia gentlemen. His shirt is a fine, lightweight linen, and he's wearing cotton stockings and a printed cotton kerchief around his head. Bright red backless leather slippers complete the look.

To modern eyes, it still looks like a lot of fabric for hot weather. But keep in mind that all that linen worn close to the body absorbs perspiration and carries it away from the skin, while many 21st c. summer clothes rely on synthetics that trap body heat and moisture, or leave the skin uncovered to bake in the sun. Abby swears she's more comfortable in the heat than her modern counterparts dressed in the Lycra-rich yoga pants and tank-top. It's all relative. . . .

A (foot)note: I know readers often pine after the clothes we feature from the Margaret Hunter shop. Alas, everything is made by hand by the staff for themselves, and isn't for sale. But the shoes that Abby is wearing here are: a new collaboration between Colonial Williamsburg and the historical footwear company American Duchess. These black cloth shoes are called the Dunmore, and will soon be available through American Duchess and Colonial Williamsburg.

Many thanks to Abby and Mike.

All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From the archives: The Bridewell Pass-Room

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Loretta reports:

In connection with the release of the audio edition of The Last Hellion, I'm offering a slightly revised version of an early blog post. The Bridewell Pass-Room plays an important role in the story.
~~~
This illustration of the Bridewell (one of London’s prisons) Pass-Room comes from Rudolph Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London, which was printed in three volumes from 1808 to 1810.  You can read about this splendid publication at the University of London’s Senate House Library site and at the Eighteenth Century Reading Room.  Wikimedia Commons has all or most of the illustrations posted and the Internet Archive has Vol 1, Vol 2, and Vol 3), but my favorites are the large-scale, very sharp images at Spitalfields Life.

Many of you will recognize immediately the work of Thomas Rowlandson.  His collaborator Augustus Pugin drew the building interiors and exteriors and Rowlandson, basically, put the people in them.  I used this print of the Bridewell Pass-Room,* as I so often use Rowlandson and his contemporaries, to create a scene in a book.  In this case, I sent the heroine of The Last Hellion to Bridewell on a rescue mission. 

From the Microcosm:  “The annexed print gives an accurate and interesting view of this abode of wretchedness, the PASS-ROOM.  It was provided by a late act of Parliament, that paupers, claiming settlements in distant parts of the kingdom, should be confined for seven days previous to their being sent of to their respective parishes; and this is the room appointed by the magistracy of the city for one class of miserable females.**  The characters are finely varied, the general effect broad and simple, and the perspective natural and easy.”


From the Introduction to Fiona St. Aubyn’s Ackermann’s Illustrated London (a modern, shorter edition which contains plates and excerpts from the Microcosm): “Ackermann kept a check on Rowlandson’s more outrageous drawings, and made him change an unmistakably pregnant woman in the preliminary drawing of the Bridewell print to a less obvious condition in the final version.”

*See pp 92-97 of the Microcosm online.
**single mothers

Sunday, May 17, 2015

From the Archives: Recycling a Silk Gown, from 1740 to 1840

Sunday, May 17, 2015
Isabella reporting:

This is a travel day for me - I'm on my way to Colonial Williamsburg for a few days, and will be sure to report on what I see. In the meantime, enjoy one of our more popular posts from our archives. 

Recycling is a hot trend in fashion right now, and we're all urged to make-over and make-do for the sake of the planet and our wallets. It's hardly a new idea, of course. Stylish (and thrifty) folk of the past were as conscious of changing trends as we are today, and they often took older clothes to their mantua-makers and tailors to follow the latest looks from London and Paris.

But sometimes the remodeling created an entirely new garment. In a time when the largest cost of clothing production was in the material, not the labor, older clothing was often picked apart so that the fabric could be reused. One of the reasons that banyans like this one are so rare today is that they contained considerable tempting yardage for re-cutting, and with their wide, pleated petticoats and bodices, 18th c. gowns often met the same fate.

The Victorian ballgown, above left, was made around 1840. While the sloping shoulders, v-shaped bodice, and bell-shaped skirt are all in the latest fashion, the over-sized floral pattern of the silk damask and its brilliant red were popular a hundred years before (as in these silk designs by Anna Maria Garthwaite.)

Most likely the Victorian gown began its life as a Georgian gown like this one, lower right. No one now knows if the older gown's silk was reused a hundred years later because the wearer was economizing, or if the damask was a sentimental choice from a treasured family gown, or simply a color she liked. Whatever the reason, the results are beautiful.

Above: Dress (Ball Gown), British, c. 1842. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009.
Below: Gown, British, c. 1740s, Costume Collection, Leeds Museum.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of May 11, 2015

Saturday, May 16, 2015
Ready for your weekend browsing pleasure - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, collected via Twitter.
• Bearded hipsters, beware: denouncing excessive facial hair through history.
• The use of the saber in Napoleon's army.
• Known for his innovative, exotic, and shocking designs, Paul Poiret was an early self-proclaimed "King of Fashion."
• The remarkable 19thc. butter sculptures of Caroline S. Brooks.
Image: Surprisingly beautiful 18thc. barber's apron.
• Seventy years ago, Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth secretly partied in the street with commoners during VE Day celebrations.
• How the 1834 novel Tylney Hall by Tom Hood is an everyday story of black people of Georgian Wanstead.
Viking fashions rock the catwalk.
• Solving an art history mystery: identifying the 18thc. portrait of Solomon Brigden, carter, in the service of the 3rd Duke of Dorset.
• Has there ever been a women-only army?
• Wigging out: a 17thc. recipe for extracting earwigs from the ear.
Image: Belle Gordon, Champion Lady Bag Puncher of the World, c. 1900
Bounce, the devoted Great Dane of Alexander Pope, who not only served as the poet's literary muse, but saved his life as well.
• How taking Mom out for a Mother's Day brunch is a feminist tradition.
• Georgian concern: can drinking tea turn you into a whore?
Image: Child's striped knitted sock from Roman Empire, 1800-2000 years old.
• From Milton to Keats: five Cockney poets.
• Retroactive erasure: the Black Madonnas of Europe.
• Visions inside the 19thc. Mughal harem: three memorable portraits.
• The remains of a Irish immigrant woman, murdered in Pennsylvania in 1832, finally identified  & begin the long trip home for burial.
Image: Trade card from 1896 for Ajeeb, the Wonderful Chess Automaton.
• How informal ex-pat networks helped build early modern empires.
• The A,B,C's of slavery and abolition.
• How nylon stockings changed the world seventy-five years ago.
• New research into what makes the Highland identity.
Image: 1880 census page proves that at least one child really did run away to join the circus.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Historical Shoes!

Isabella reporting,

Since one of the purposes of this blog is to talk about shoes (we say it right up there on our masthead), it seems only fitting to mention a shoe-related exhibition and symposium for you lucky folks in the Northeast.

Fellow shoe-fanatics and nerdy-history-folk: can you say "road trip"?

Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories 1750-1850 is the name of the exhibition, now on display through June 5 at the Portsmouth, NH Athenaeum. Not only does the exhibition include stunning historical shoes - many from small collections that are seldom on view - but also explores how the owners prized, celebrated, and displayed their shoes as markers of fashion and genteel sensibility. Click here for more information as well as directions.

The symposium connected with the exhibition takes place on Friday evening, May 29 - Saturday, May 30. Experts will discuss historical shoes, their manufacture, and their places in the wearers' lives. While I'm not a scholarly expert, I am definitely a shoe consumer and devotee, and as such on Friday night I'll be speaking on why shoes have always occupied such a much-loved place in the wardrobe. I hope you'll join us, and if you're a TNHG reader, please don't be shy - introduce yourself!

Click here for more information.

UPDATE: Sadly, the symposium has been cancelled. If you have already registered, you will receive a refund check shortly in the mail. However, the exhibition is still running until June 5, and I hope all you shoe-fanatics in the northeast will be able to visit!

Above: The Shoe Peddler, or The Shoemaker's Wife, by Martin Engelbrecht, c. 1750. Bavarian State Library.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Video: A View of the Peak, in Derbyshire

Friday, May 15, 2015
Matlock Dale
Loretta reports:

Following up on Miss Wonderful’s recent audio release, here’s a short, very atmospheric video that I think captures the beauty of the Peak. Background is a little hazy, but I think you’ll understand why this part of England has attracted visitors for hundreds of years, as well as playing an important part in Pride & Prejudice.

However, you may wish to turn off the music, which seems to me a peculiar choice.







Image: Joseph Wright of Derby, Matlock Dale, looking toward Black Rock Escarpment (alternate title: View of the Boathouse near Matlock), between 1780 and 1785, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Keeping Time with an 18th c. Jewel Cabinet

Thursday, May 14, 2015
Isabella reporting,

We've shared some of the fantastic work by James Cox (c. 1723-1800), a jeweler, goldsmith, watchmaker, and all-around showman-entrepreneur. The silver swan and these golden elephants are representative of the workmanship from his London shop (in the early 1770s, he claimed he had nearly 1,000 craftsmen working for him), and samples of what he displayed to the wide-eyed paying public in his Spring Gardens museum. Most of his work was destined to become luxurious gifts for foreign rulers, who were amused by the clockwork mechanisms of Western "toys."

This cabinet is made of agate, mounted in gilded copper and brass, with painted enamel plaques. The plaques feature fashionably dressed ladies personifying Winter and Summer, part of the Four Seasons series by British painter Robert Pyle, with additional panels based on works by François Boucher and Jean-Antoine Watteau. On the top of the cabinet is a removable watch, and in addition to the drawers in the front, a secret drawer opens in the back with a spring-loaded jeweled button.

But as lavish as the cabinet appears, there's a chance that it's only a fragment of a much more elaborate piece. On the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which owns the cabinet, curator Clare Vincent speculates that this might have been part of a larger cabinet described in Cox's A Descriptive Inventory of the Several Exquisite and Magnificent Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery, published in 1773 and 1774:

"If so, the Museum's miniature cabinet has lost the revolving sphere on its top described in the inventory, and it has been parted from a stand consisting of a 'gilt rock, in front of which is a cascade and running stream of artificial water, where swans are seen swimming in contrary directions; at the corners of the rocks are Dragons with extended wings.' This extravagant assemblage was in turn displayed on a crimson velvet pedestal with a silver-mounted glass cover keep out the dust."

And I was impressed by the cabinet as it stands today!

Above: Jewel Cabinet with Watch, watch signed by James Cox, c. 1766. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photographs © 2011 by Susan Holloway Scott

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Pair of 18th c. French Lovers Finds a Home in a New England Garden

Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Like most historical societies, the Massachusetts Historical Society is filled not just with books, diaries, and letters, but also with the unexpected, such as silk dresses and intimidating military banners. It's also home to these lovely 18th c. French garden statues.

Cast from lead and painted, this pair is almost life-sized. They would have been the height of garden fashion when they were made in the late 18th c., for they represent the hero and heroine of Paul et Virginie, a romantic novel by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.

Paul et Virginie was an international bestseller when it was published in 1788, with fans that included both Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte. It's the ultimate novel of the Enlightenment: the innocent friends-turned-sweethearts are raised on an idyllic Caribbean island, the Île de France (now Mauritius.) Here all the inhabitants live in a paradise of equality and harmony as true creatures of Nature, reflecting the popular writings of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

But of course there is A Conflict. Just as the young couple declare their love, a rich aunt entices Virginie to travel to France, where she will be educated as a French lady and inherit a fortune. On her return voyage, Virginie's ship founders just off the coast of her home island. Paul swims out to rescue her, but because of her newly-learned modesty, she refuses to shed her layers of Parisian clothing before the sailors, and she drowns, weighed down as much the false values of civilization as by her clothes. Bereft, Paul dies of a broken heart, and readers everywhere wept in delicious agony. (If that spoiler didn't ruin the story for you, you can download it or read it online for free here.)

Commercial tie-ins to popular fiction are hardly new, and 18th c. readers could buy prints, paintings, porcelain, and even clocks with a Paul et Virginie theme. These graceful garden statues would have been at the higher end of the market for memorabilia, and with their romanticized versions of bucolic dress, they must have added a charming touch to a country garden.

And thanks to a rare bit of luck, we can see exactly how they looked in such a garden. While it's unknown how or when the statues arrived in America, the MHS has the account books of Peter Chardon Brooks III, who purchased these statues (plus a third that is now lost) for $75 in 1842 for the the family estate in West Medford, MA. Summer, the 1864 painting of the estate, lower left, includes the statues standing near the pond (the detail, lower right, shows Paul with a red coat) - a spot that was the perfect idyllic setting for Paul and Virginie.

Many thanks to Anne E. Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts, Massachusetts Historical Society, for her assistance with this post.

Above left: Paul, statue, cast lead, polychromed, France, c. 1787-1790. Massachusetts Historical Society.
Above right: Virginiestatue, cast lead, polychromed, France, c. 1787-1790. Massachusetts Historical Society.
Lower left & right: Summer, by George Loring Brown, 1864. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Miss Wonderful & The Last Hellion Audio Release Day

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Miss Wonderful

Loretta reports:

I’m very happy to announce the release today of audio editions, of two of my books, Miss Wonderful (first book of the Carsington Brothers series), and The Last Hellion, the fourth and last book of the Scoundrels series. I'm pleased to report that Kate Reading is narrating once again.

Yesterday’s post about Matlock Bath was a sort of prelude or teaser for Miss Wonderful, which is set in Derbyshire’s beautiful Peak District, and deals with, among other nerdy history topics, canal building and early railways, and the area’s popularity as a tourist resort.

The Last Hellion touches on, among other things, London’s not-so-elegant underworld, stunning prejudices against women writers, and the serialized stories that appeared in so many magazines (yes, decades before Dickens). Also, there is a dog.
The Last Hellion

Here and on my website blog, I’ll be exploring some of the topics. and in the next week or so, you can expect to see updates to my Pinterest boards, where I try to give readers illustrated guides to my stories.

News update:
 AudioGals are interviewing narrator Kate Reading, offering first chapter listens of both books, and giving away ten sets. You'll find them here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A German Lady Travels to Matlock in Jane Austen's Time

Monday, May 11, 2015
Matlock Tor by Moonlight
Loretta reports:

Those familiar with Pride & Prejudice will remember Elizabeth Bennett’s trip to Derbyshire, when she fell in love with Mr. Darcy’s house.

Johanna Schopenhauer (mother of the philosopher) traveled to Derbyshire early in the first decade of the 1800s. Her account of her travels was published in German, but not translated into English until the 1980s. If you understand German, you might want to listen to the audio version here.

The following excerpt is from Ruth Michaelis-Jena and Willy Merson’s A Lady Travels: The Diaries of Johanna Schopenhauer, the translation that helped me time travel as I wrote Miss Wonderful.
~~~
This lovely valley, friendly yet vast, lonely yet full of life, is one of the most beautiful in Britain.  It may be that Matlock’s springs are not very effective, but this is not necessary to the finding of new energy and vitality in this heavenly place ...

The actual spa consists of three large inns and two lodging-houses, with the village of Matlock about a mile and a half away. It is impossible to describe the charm of this valley in mere words: it is so peaceful, so intimate, with the Derwent flowing through it, surrounded by high cliffs which stand rugged and bare against the sky, yet usually looking friendly, as their summits are crowned with beautiful trees.

We took a boat on the Derwent as far as it is navigable, which is only a short stretch. After that it becomes a wild torrent, full of rapids and whirlpools ...
Opposite us was the highest cliff in the neighbor hood, which the local people call the High Tor. We climbed it easily, up a shaded path, and from the top we could see on one side the narrow valley in all the glory of its rich vegetation, with the river running through the center. ON the wooded rocks opposite were the fine buildings of the spa, providing a friendly picture of pleasant social life ... On the other side we saw a second valley, looking as if no human foot had ever trod there, so remote and silent was it, enclosed by green hills ... Nowhere else had we seen the wild, simple beauty of nature more happily combined with civilization than here on the banks of the Derwent.
~~~
Image above: Joseph Wright of Derby, Matlock Tor by Moonlight (1777-80), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. Note: This work is part of the splendid exhibition, The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art 1760-1860, very well worth seeing.

Image below: Joseph Wright of Derby, Matlock Tor by Daylight, ca 1785, from the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK, via Wikipedia.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of May 4, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015
Fresh for your weekend reading pleasure! Our weekly round-up of links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered via Twitter.
• Retro-fails: ten unsuccessful Victorian-era inventions from both sides of the Atlantic.
• Fun and games with the world's oldest deck of cards (from the 16thc.)
• From farm to fashion: straw shoes for would-be ballerina, 1830-40.
• Catharine Macaulay, the first English woman historian.
• The New England Primer: death and mayhem in books made for children.
• The incredible women who swam the Thames in the early 1900s.
• The anti-drinking PSAs of the vaudeville era were gorgeously morbid.
Image: Beautiful watercolor of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra.
Anne Blunt, a 19thc. traveller, artist, and "noble lady of the horses."
• Ghostly voices from Thomas Edison's talking dolls can once again now be heard.
• Austen, Heyer, and the Prince of Orange: pugs in literary history.
• Delightful animation based on sketches of Macau by 19thc. British artist George Chinnery.
• Temples of literature: (successful) writers' houses in pictures.
• Patent application for a collapsible 1860s hoop for supporting women's skirts.
• Fantastic resource: over 6,000 historical wallpaper patterns digitized.
• Attempting to control the uncontrollable: Elizabethan sumptuary statutes. (Where were the fashion police?)
Image: Secret door and staircase hidden in 18thc bookcase at Admont Abbey, Austria.
• Vintage photographs of New York City c. 1900.
• When fashion and tragic history meet: the story of Jacqueline Kennedy's pink Chanel suit.
• Letters from a Scottish schoolteacher who survived the sinking of the Lusitania.
• How 19thc. schoolchildren trolled one another.
• "Is it proper for women to be learned?" The questions people asked advice columnists in the 1690s.
• "Does not want poems about love and roses": a guide for women on how to pitch to an 1880s magazine.
Image: 18thc. exhibition of dancing dogs.
• And in the 18thc., The Lady's Magazine: understanding the material magazine.
• Historical hunting weapons: a splendid 17thc. wheellock.
• "From my doleful prison in the Tower this sixt of May": letter from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII.
• Fantastically preserved 18thc. Jacobite silk garters.
Image: Could be in fashion now: knitted garment, Sweden, c.1835-40, naturally dyed wool, silk ribbons, velvet.
• The oldest mulberry tree in Britain was planted in 1548 at Syon Park in West London.
• Finally returning the spoils of WWII, taken by Americans.
• A dead prostitute, a male impersonator, and a medium: all found in three sensational 19thc. pamphlets.
• Behold the Grand Cassowar! Gilbert Pidcock's traveling menagerie.
Image: This London Illustrated News sketch shows how little polling stations have changed since the 19thc.
• The man whose wife had sex with the lodgers, 1900.
• "A heart above all mercenary views": A Georgian "lonely hearts" advertisement.
Corpse medicine: what the 17thc. believed were the healing qualities of hanged men's hands and mummy flesh.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Video: Early Spring at Wintherthur

Friday, May 8, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Here on the blog, I've shared many of the treasures of Winterthur Museum, from embroidered silk mantles to a gilded tureen, unforgettable portraits to a porcelain bourdaloue. But in addition to being a world-class museum founded by American collector Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur is also home to world-class grounds, sixty acres of naturalistic gardens and woodlands that were another passion of Mr. du Pont. Regardless of the season, the gardens are an endless joy to visit.

For those of you who live too far from Delaware for a visit, here's a short video featuring the early spring gardens - two minutes of beauty and serenity to begin your day.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Glimpse at the Prince of Wales's Levee

Thursday, May 7, 2015
Reception of the Moorish Ambassador
Loretta reports:

Adam Badeau wrote in the introduction to Aristocracy in London, “The first thing which more than any other, for an American, distinguishes English life and civilization from his own is—Aristocracy.  Even Europeans find the characteristics of the British people more affected by caste than is the case with the most enlightened races of the Continent, while the existence and influence of the institution are to a democrat, fresh from the equality and uniformity of social and political life in the New World, matter of unceasing marvel.”

He marveled and wrote in detail about his experiences during his twelve years in England. Following is an excerpt from his description of a royal levee. I found the bit about the gloves particularly interesting, as glove etiquette is not easy to pin down, since it changes over time and in different circumstances.


Levee description

Levee description

Image: John Seymour Lucas, The Reception of the Moorish Ambassador by Edward VII at St James's Palace (1902), courtesy the Royal Collection, via Wikipedia

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