Saturday, April 21, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of April 16, 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The decades-long quest to find and honor the grave of pioneering 19thc black sculptor Edmonia Lewis.
• Treasure maps, pirate utopias, and author Robert Louis Stevenson.
• Little-known story of the six Chinese men who survived the sinking of the Titanic, only to be immediately deported after arriving in NYC.
• The Hancocks of 18thc Boston in wool, silk, and linen.
• GIFs that return ancient ruins to their former glory.
The Progress of a Water-Coloured Drawing: highlights from a how-to-paint book from 1804.
Love letters between 19th inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary reveal secret communications and relationships at the famously isolating prison.
Image: Necklace fashioned posthumously from radical author Mary Wollstonecroft's hair.
Medieval graffiti: the lost voices of England's churches in the middle ages.
• Women's riding apparel, in the 1920s and now.
• The tragic story of Elizabeth Whitman, the inspiration for The Mysterious Coquette.
• Biscuits, broth, and hasty pudding: the diets of the Romantic Poets.
Image: All about the honey: a medieval Winnie the Pooh appears in this 15thc Italian manuscript.
• The myth of Dolley Madison and the White House Easter Egg Roll.
• James Ince & Sons, umbrella makers.
Queen Mary I of England washes the feet of the poor.
• Albany's Willy Wonka: remembering hand-made chocolates.
Image: Title page of translation of Plutarch's Lives, as critically annotated by Mark Twain.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday Video: Loretta's Musket Training

Friday, April 20, 2018
Loretta reports:

I’d never fired a weapon in my life. The closest I’d come was holding Baron de Berenger’s unloaded musket at the Kensington Central Library.

Last November, I found out from author Caroline Linden that one could fire a black powder weapon at Colonial Williamsburg. Susan Holloway Scott—aka the other Nerdy History Girl—sent me photos of her family's experience not long thereafter. I was sold. There's lots of history one can only read in books. I am not going to turn down a chance to experience it firsthand.

The video is very short. What I learned is very long. I fired two weapons, a musket and a fowler. What you don’t see in the video is Loretta trying to heft either of them. The musket weighs ten pounds, the fowler is a little bit lighter, and they're both looong. My arms shook, lifting the gun. Then I had to hold it and aim at the same time. Also, you don’t see how hard it is to draw back the cock. I had to use two hands. (I really need to work on my upper body strength.) Meanwhile, there's the loading process, with which I received a great deal of assistance. Otherwise, I could have been there for half an hour for each shot. Soldiers could load their weapons in 15 seconds.

These are far from accurate weapons. Even when you know how to aim, you can’t be sure the ball will go where it should. But yes, I did badly wound a couple of paper bottles.

Video: Loretta Shoots!!
On my YouTube Channel
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A 1770s Dress Worn by One of the "Visitors to Versailles"

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

Last week I previewed a major new exhibition called Visitors at Versailles, 1682-1789, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through July 29, 2018. Created in partnership with the Château de Versailles along with loans from many other institutions, the exhibition brings together nearly two hundred paintings, drawings, tapestries, porcelains sculptures, furnishings, books, and costumes (and even a sedan chair) to recreate the era when the palace of Versailles and its gardens truly were the center not only of the France, but also the world of fashion, diplomacy, and sophistication.

Versailles was a public court, drawing visitors from around the world. Yet it wasn't just courtiers jockeying for a moment of king's favor. During the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, Versailles brought together the leading artists, musicians, intellectuals, and master artisans in one place as well, and visitors as diverse as Benjamin Franklin and the seven-year-old crown prince of Cochinchina (modern Vietnam). We can't go back in time to visit Versailles in its 17thc-18thc glory ourselves, but this exhibition is an excellent introduction, and highly recommended.

One of the first galleries features the lavish clothing required by the French court, and I'll be featuring some of these costumes in future blogs. The style of this beautiful silk dress was called a sack, or, more glamorously, a robe à la française. According to the museum's gallery notes:

"Characterized by free-flowing back pleats that extended from shoulder to hem, the robe à la française had been largely abandoned by the 1770s - except at court. A woman conveyed her status not only through the display of rich textiles, but also through her elegant negotiation of the cumbersome hoop under the large skirt, a learned skill intended to give the impression of natural grace."

While the dress and its matching petticoat have survived together, the original stomacher (the triangular insert that filled in the two sides of the bodice) has not. This isn't that unusual. A stomacher was an important 18thc accessory. Because stomachers were pinned into place for wearing, women could easily update an older gown or change its look by swapping stomachers.

According to the Met's website, this dress has been displayed several times before, and it has been shown each time with a different stomacher - perhaps in the spirit of that 18thc lady. For the current exhibition, the dress's fabric and trim were carefully recreated for a matching stomacher inspired by contemporary fashion prints. Earlier exhibitions have featured a stomacher with buttons and lace, and another sported rows of exuberant bows. It's also interesting to see the changing styles in modern display mannequins. Which do you prefer?

 Link for more information about Visitors at Versailles, 1682-1789.

Above: Dress (robe à la française), French, c1770-75. Silk faille with cannelé stripes, brocaded in polychrome floral motif, trimmed with self fabric and silk fly fringe. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Top left image by Susan Holloway Scott; all others Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Neckcloth Part 2

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Loretta reports:

Last time, in tackling the immense subject of men’s neckwear, I focused on the material in the early 19th century neckcloth, and several readers were kind enough to explain further. The subject is daunting, and I’m taking Mark Hutter’s remark as my mantra: There is no “typical.”

For instance, stocks were old-fashioned, then they weren’t; “correct” colors and materials changed for both neckcloths and stocks, depending on the occasion and that capricious being, Fashion; and then, some people use the terms interchangeably.

What seems clear is that neckwear offered a way to express one’s individuality, especially after men’s clothing became more subdued in color and more uniform in style, thanks in great part to Beau Brummell.
Folding & tying the cravat
One important way of expressing oneself was in the way one tied that important length of fabric.
My neckcloth, of course, forms my principal care,
For by that we criterions of elegance swear,
And costs me each morning some hours of flurry,
To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.*
Cravats for travel
I don’t know the author of this verse. It appears here, there, and everywhere, referring to Beau Brummell. He didn’t write it, but everybody stole it without attribution, as often happened/happens. Still, a great deal was published anonymously or under whimsical names. One of these days I’ll pin down its first appearance. Meanwhile, let’s look at those hours of flurry.

Many readers are familiar with Cruikshank’s 1818 illustration from Neckclothitania (top left). Like many publications of the time about neckwear, it’s a combination of fact and satire.

However, it turns out that another book on neckcloths became an international bestseller. The Art of Tying the Cravat: demonstrated in sixteen lessons, including thirty-two different styles ... (the title’s longer than the book), appeared first in France, then Italy, then England, apparently by different authors. But the names seem to have been a joke: “Baron Emile de l’Empesé, Conte della Salda, and H. LeBlanc, which translate respectively as Baron Starch, Count Starched, and H. White or Starch,” as Sarah Gibbings points out in her fascinating tome, The Tie: Trends and Traditions 1990. Nonetheless, the Art of Tying the Cravat is charming. And informative. I recommend taking a look at it.
Advice to Julia excerpt

You can also find a number of Youtube videos, but none struck me as satisfactory. For a good visual, I suggest you take a look at MY Mr Knightley: Tying a Cravat, at the blog Tea in a Teacup.

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

From the Archives: How Many Handsewn Stitches in an 18thc Man's Shirt?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

Since Loretta's last post featured men's neckcloths, it seemed like a fine time to share this post from the archives about the shirts worn with those neckcloths.... 

In the 18thc, a man's linen shirt was perhaps the most democratic of garments. Every male wore one, from the King of England to his lowest subjects in the almshouse, and though the quality of the linen and laundering varied widely, the construction was virtually the same.

Contrary to the modern belief that the people of the past were dirty slobs (a bugaboo we NHG are always trying to banish), Georgian men were fastidious about their shirts. Men were judged by the cleanliness of their linen. From laundry records of the time, it's clear that the majority of men changed their shirts daily, and in the hot summer months, it wasn't unusual to change twice a day. This wasn't just a habit of wealthy gentlemen, either. Tradesmen, shopkeepers, and others of the "middling sort" had a good supply of shirts in their wardrobes, a dozen or so on average.

While most of these shirts were purchased from tailors, shirts were one of the few garments that women could make at home for their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. Eighteenth century shirts were loose-fitting, geometric garments, all precise squares and rectangles with straight seams. They weren't difficult for the average seamstress to construct - keeping in mind that everything was being sewn by hand before the invention of the sewing machine. The precision of that seamstress's stitching would make them not only more attractive, but also more long-wearing through the rough-and-tumble laundering (no gentle cycle) of the time. But how long would it take to make such a shirt? And how many stitches must be taken in the process?

When I was visiting the Margaret Hunter millinery shop in Colonial Williamsburg last month, the mantua-makers (whose seamstresses can make men's shirts just as readily as the tailors) were pondering this exact question. A chart in the July, 1782 issue of The Lady's Magazine, right, calculated the "number of stitches in a plain-shirt", perhaps to provide the amateur seamstresses among their readers with a number to impress the home-stitched shirt's wearer. The Magazine's estimated total was an impressive 20,619 stitches for a man's shirt.

The Margaret Hunter seamstresses took these calculations a step further. Working an average of 30 stitches per minute at a gauge of 10 stitches per inch, it would take approximately eleven and a half hours to stitch a shirt. Of course that doesn't take into account the time for cutting threads, finishing a thread, or threading needles, nor for cutting out the pieces to be sewn, and it also doesn't make allowances for the individual seamstress's speed. While the needles in the Margaret Hunter shop seem to fly, the ladies freely admit that they'd probably be considered slow in comparison to their 18thc counterparts who sewed from childhood.

More about 18thc shirts here and hereMany thanks to Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade, Colonial Williamsburg, for her assistance with this post.

Left: Shirt, maker unknown, linen, probably made in America, c1790-1820. Winterthur Museum.
Photograph © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: Excerpt from The Lady's Magazine, July, 1782.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of April 9, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• How much scent was too much for a Victorian lady or gentleman?
Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly solo in a balloon, 1805.
• Online exhibition: American aviatrixes: women with wings.
Image: Sample book of crochet stitches and patterns.
• "Stupid news" of the 19th century.
• The truth about Johnny Appleseed: he was "a bit of a loon" who died a rich man from planting apples to make hard cider.
• Finding "buried treasure" of the material culture variety on the grounds of an historic 18thc New England house.
• The history of church fans: a quintessential accessory in the American south, and much more in the hands of black women.
Image: Watercolor painting of George III and Queen Charlotte giving alms to the poor, Maundy Thursday, 1773.
• Medieval Arabic recipes and the history of hummus.
• Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and the war that changed poetry forever.
• One hundred forty-six people, mostly young immigrant women, died a horrific death in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911.
Image: Medieval church mermaid, All Saints, Upper Sheringham, Norfolk.
• An African abbot in Anglo-Saxon England.
• Online exhibition featuring "Silence Dogood" - the creation of a teenaged Benjamin Franklin, marking his first published pieces as a journalist.
• Dinner on horseback: a Gilded-Age party for the books.
Mary Katherine Goddard: the woman who printed the Declaration of Independence.
• In 20thc restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels: check your hat?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Video: Listen to the Earliest Known Surviving Piano

Friday, April 13, 2018

Susan reporting,

While we were away on our spring break, we missed one of those daily celebrations that the Internet so loves, and honors with a hashtag: #PianoDay. Fittingly, this was the eighty-eighth day of the year, with a day for each of a piano's keys.

But perhaps everyday should be piano day. In the world of instruments, pianos are relative newcomers. The first were invented by Venetian-born Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1732), who built instruments for the Medici court in Florence. The piano in this video is the earliest known to survive today, and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. For more information and additional photos, see the museum's entry here.

In this video, pianist Dongsok Shin performs the Sonata in d minor, K.9 by Domenico Scarlatti. Enjoy!

If you're receiving this video via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Click here to view the video.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Neckcloth Part 1

Thursday, April 12, 2018
David, Pierre Sériziat, 1795
Loretta reports:

Not very long ago, a reader who’d happened upon Susan’s post about 18th C men’s shirts, asked what an English gentleman’s stock was made of, saying, “In painting of the era it seems to be of a very light material as there are multiple folds.”

I brought the question to Mark Hutter, Master Taylor in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades Department.

The answer, as is the case so often with fashion, is, “It depends.” But he did clarify further, as well as guiding me toward several resources for my investigation. A gentleman’s choice of fabric to put around his neck would depend on the time period as well as the occasion, his bank account, and his personal taste. As Mark pointed out to a visitor, there’s no “typical.”

Because it’s a huge subject, I’m picking one era, place, and financial situation, the one in my stories: early 19th C British gentlemen of the upper classes.

According to Ian Kelley’s Beau Brummell, the dandy’s neckcloth was “a triangle of fine Irish muslin, cut diagonally from a square yard and plainly seamed.” From what I can ascertain, fine Irish muslin would have been quite expensive.
Regency style neckcloth

It gets tricky, distinguishing between cotton and linen fabrics. Undergarments like shirts, neckcloths, collars would be referred to as “linen,” though they might be made of other material. Good cotton, however, as far as I can discover, wasn’t cheap. The famous muslin dresses Regency ladies wore were made of fabric imported from India, and like their miles-long cashmere shawls, displayed their wealth.

Mark mentioned lawn and cambric, terms some of our readers might have come across in their reading. According to Harmuth’s Dictionary of Textiles, lawn is “a plain woven, very light, soft, smooth and sheer cotton or linen wash dress goods ... similar to cambric but lighter.” Irish lawn is “very fine, plain woven, bleached lawn, made of pure, hard-spun ply linen yarn.”

To answer the reader’s question, then, the neckcloths in the portraits were of quite fine material, most likely of linen or muslin. The white neckcloth* we see so often in Regency portraits would have been lightly starched to allow one to create the correct folds. Too much starch would make it too stiff. Usually. A few styles, it turns out, demanded stiffer fabric. But that’s another topic.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the incredibly tricky business of tying these things.

*They came in other colors, as well as in silk, but we’ll deal with that later, too. Eventually.

Image: Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Pierre Sériziat, 1795, Louvre Museum
English: A Regency style neckcloth tied in a bow on a starched Grafton collar. Attribution: CharlieHuang at English Wikipedia

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wall Street & the Tontine Coffee House: New York City in 1797

Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Susan reporting,

While I'm not *quite* ready yet to reveal the title and subject of my next historical novel, the painting shown here will offer clues galore. This is a view of Wall Street in New York City around 1797, between the modern Water and Front Streets, in what is now the heart of the Financial District.

Writing novels set in the early years of America can offer many challenges, including the the small number of drawings, prints, and paintings (and of course no photographs) showing the cities and landscapes of the time. Set a story in 1790s London, and there are countless primary images for inspiration while creating a character's "world." Resources like those are much harder to find for the young United States. Professional artists were rare in 18thc America, and often the best surviving paintings and drawings of places are the work of visitors from abroad (like these panoramic watercolors, here and here, by Frenchman Pierre L'Enfant, or this view of the Hudson River by British Lieutenant Thomas Davies.)

All of which makes this painting of the New York, (above, with details below; click to enlarge), that my characters would have known especially useful to me. This street corner would have been familiar to Eliza and Alexander Hamilton in I, Eliza Hamilton, and it's equally well-known to my new characters, too. The scale of 18thc New York may bear little resemblance to the towering skyscrapers of today, but the city's legendary intensity is already present. Every person (and even the dog in the lower left) seems filled with energy and purpose as the Stars and Stripes snaps and flutters in breeze.

At this time, Wall Street led directly to the waterfront and the East River wharves, the source of much of the city's wealth and power. Those tall masts at the end of the street must have been a constant reminder that New York was a flourishing international port, sending ships not only to Europe, but to destinations in Africa, South America, and the faraway Pacific. The cargo in these ships included coffee, sugar, and tea, silk, cotton, and linen, fine furnishings and silver. It could also include enslaved men, women, and children, for slavery was still legal in New York, and many households and businesses, large and small, relied on enslaved workers.

Coffee houses played an important role in 18thc New York, and two of the most notable appear in this painting. The small clapboard building on the corner with the gambrel roof is the Merchants' Coffee House, one of the gathering-places for political discussions during the Revolution, and later, during the 1780s, the site of the creation and organization of the Bank of New York. Across the street and nearly out of the left side of the painting is the Tontine Coffee House. This was the first home of the New York Stock Exchange, and of merchant activity of every kind.

According to  Travels through Lower Canada, & the United States of North America, in the Years 1806, etc. by John Lambert (published in 1810):

"The Tontine coffee-house was filled with underwriters, brokers, merchants, traders and politicians; selling, purchasing, trafficking, or insuring; some reading, others eagerly inquiring the news. The steps and balcony of the coffee-house were crowded with people bidding, or listening to several auctioneers....Every thing was in motion; all was life, bustle, and activity....Every thought, word, look, and action of the multitude seemed to be absorbed by commerce...and all were eager in the pursuit of its riches."

Above: Tontine Coffee House, New York City by Francis Guy, c1797, New-York Historical Society.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fashions for April 1833

Monday, April 9, 2018
April 1833 Ball Dress

Loretta reports:

Since my new series, Difficult Dukes, is set in 1833, and we’re up to the 1830s in the monthly fashion prints, it made sense to offer sample fashions from that year. You’ve seen enough of the 1830s images by now to be familiar with the immense sleeves and lofty approach to hair styles and headwear. These plates, published in The Lady's Magazine and Museum (Improved series, Enlarged Vol. 2), uses the high quality French engravings, rather than some of the cheap copies we see elsewhere.

You will notice, in the ball dress description, that the corset-style top can be a different color from the dress. Indeed, any of these dresses might have been made in other colors and fabrics, with individual touches. Somewhere there may be a fashion plate with the dress in two colors, since the engravings were hand colored, and the publisher would have employed more than one artist.
April 1833 Walking Dress

Dress description

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Gone Fishin'—Spring Break

Monday, March 26, 2018
Susan and Loretta report:

Spring is officially here, although it doesn't feel much like it in some parts of the U.S.—and, from what we've seen—elsewhere in the world.

But it's spring break time for the Two Nerdy History Girls. We're going to take the week off from blogging, and look determinedly for signs of spring, in between working on our books. And maybe goofing off a little.

See you next week!

Image: John Singer Sargent, Two Girls Fishing, 1912, Cincinnati Art Museum, Eden Park, via Wikipedia.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 19, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Secrets of a 19thc brothel privy.
• Preserving a remarkably original Regency townhouse.
Image: A 19thc sack that held a dress, pecans, braid of hair, & "love always" from enslaved Rose to her nine-year-old daughter Ashley when she was sold away form her.
• This newly-restored Georgian water pump in London was partially paid for by the East India Company.
• Published and damned: the shocking life of Harriette Wilson.
Poison and protest: Sarah Bassett and enslaved women poisoners in the early modern Caribbean.
• The Dark Man: an 1893 story of an Irish changeling.
Image: 415-year-old corset (or "pair of straight bodies") from funeral effigy of Elizabeth I prepared for display at Westminster Abbey; follow thread for more photos.
• The world's oldest decorated eggs pre-date Christianity.
• A transcribed recipe for 17thc Apple Snow to try at home.
• The British Newspaper Archives have digitized several newspapers linked to women's suffrage movement to read online.
• Videos, broadsides, letters, & artifacts: highlights of The Irish Atlantic exhibition from the Massachusetts Historical Society to view online.
• Image: In 1951, a columnist complained that Marilyn Monroe was "cheap & vulgar" and would have looked more decent in a potato sack; Marilyn's response was these photos.
Bobbi Gibb, the woman who crashed the Boston Marathon in 1966.
• A walk through time, Spitalfields Market, London.
• Catharine Macaulaythe 18thc author of The History of England.
• A 1790s French neoclassical woman's slipper, resplendent with sequins.
Image: Pre-modern artists imagined female superheroes in functional armor: Penthesilea, a brave woman, detail of medieval tapestry in the Angers Castle.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Video: A Moving Panorama of the Mississippi Valley

Friday, March 23, 2018
Loretta reports:

Many of the 1830s magazines I peruse include reviews of recently installed panoramas (please scroll down for the review about Niagara Falls). The moving panorama is also a large painting, but where the panorama requires the viewer to move around a room, the moving panorama is an early "moving picture." Using spools, it scrolls across a stage, creating the illusion of traveling along a scenic route.

Before photography and movies, both the still and the moving paintings offered Londoners as well as Americans views of distant locales. Since the Londoners seem to have been especially curious about the U.S. and its wildernesses, I’m sure they would have enjoyed John J. Egan’s “Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley”—all 348 feet of it, and a very rare survivor.

Video: John J. Egan's "Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley"

Credits Animation: Paul Caro Photography: Saint Louis Art Museum © 2015 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image is a still from the video.
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 or the title of the video.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lustrous Luxury: Eighteenth-Century Coque de Perle Earrings

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Susan reporting,

One of the very best parts of blogging and social media in general is the opportunity to share images and inspiration with other like-minded folk. Last week, I saw the earrings upper right with a short explanation on the Instagram page of Taylor Autumn Shelby, a friend of this blog as well as the creator of replicas of historic jewelry.

I had never heard of 18thc coque de perle earrings before, but I realized I'd seen them in portraits like the one upper left: earrings with oval-shaped pearls that were far too large to be real, but were clearly prized enough to be featured in portraits. Pearls have been in fashion since ancient times, but before the invention of cultured pearls in the early 20thc, true pearls were rare and prohibitively expensive except for the very rich or very royal. I knew about Roman pearls, another kind of 18thc faux pearl that were glass beads lined with a pearly coating (see my earlier posts here and here), but coques de perle was new to me, and off I went to hunt for more information.

According to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, who owns the earrings lower right, each coque de perle (literally "pearl shell") is cut from the East Indian nautilus shell; the result is similar to a blister or mabe pearl. They are not rounded, but flat or hollowed on one side, and can be made quite large in size. The shape is usually oval (often described as olive) to follow the natural curve of the shell. The hollowed curve could be filled with wax or resin to give the finished coque de perle more of the weight of a true pearl, or left hollow to keep it light; I'm guessing that is the case of the pearl swinging from the large hoop earring in the Vigée Le Brun portrait, lower left. Some coques de perle were set in gold or silver like true pearls, while others were set in a base metal to make them more affordable.

I also found this description of coques de perle in the 1814 edition of A History of Inventions and Discoveries by Johann Beckmann, who in turn quotes 1762 French expert Jean Henri Prosper Pouget:

"Coque de perles are flat on one side, and are used for ornaments, one side of which only is seen. By Pliny they are called physemata. Artificial pearls of this kind have, for some time past, been employed in making ear-rings. Our toymen [jewelers], after the French, give these pearls the name perles coques; but the following account of Pouget in Traité des pierres precieuses et de la manière de les employer en parure [A Treatis on precious stones and how to use them for adornment] makes me dubious respecting them. 'La coque de perle,' says he, "is not formed in a pearl-shell like the pearl; it is procured from a kind of snail found only in the East-Indies. There are several species of them. The shell of this animal is sawn in two, and one coque only can be obtained from each. The coques are very small, and one is obliged to fill them with tears of mastic to give them a body, before they can be employed. This beautiful snail is found generally in the sea, and sometimes on the shore.'"

A beautiful snail, and beautiful earrings as well.

Upper left: Ritratto de Caterina Sagredo Barbarigo by Rosalba Carriera, 1741, private collection.
Upper right: Coque de Perle Girandole Earrings, 18thc, image via Bonhams Auctioneers.
Lower left, Detail, The Marquise de Pezay, and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Sons Alexis and Adrien by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1797, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Lower right: Girandole Style Earring (one of a pair; gold metal and coque de perle) English, about 1780, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lord Rivers Drowns in the Serpentine—Was It an Accident?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Lord Rivers as a boy
Loretta reports:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was addicted to gambling. The first Lord Holland’s sons ran up enormous gambling debts. Beau Brummell fled England to escape his. A lot of that going around.

The third Baron Rivers is another example I happened on. The trail started with the following in La Belle Assemblée for March 1831:
“The first act of the Duke of Sussex, on being appointed to the Rangership of Hyde-park, has been to give directions for the placing an adequate protection against the spot where the late Lord Rivers lost his life."
This was intriguing. Who was Lord Rivers and how did he die?

Wikipedia’s short entry only tantalized, sending me to the 1 April 1831 Gentleman’s Magazine obituary.
Jan. 23 Drowned in the Serpentine river, aged 53, the Right Hon. Horace William Pitt, third Baron Rivers, of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire (1802).
 ... As Mr. Horace Beckford he was for many years a distinguished member of the haut ton; and it was only after his succeeding to the title on the death of his maternal uncle, July 20, 1828, that he took the name of Pitt ... .
“Lord Rivers was first missed on the evening of Sunday Jan. 23 ... On Tuesday the Serpentine river was dragged, and in the afternoon his Lordship's body was found at the east end, near the waterfall.”
At the inquest, his steward and a footman insisted he’d been in good spirits: He was nearsighted and must have fallen into the river by accident. The superintendent of the Humane Society's Receiving House said the footpath there was so dangerous that ten people fell into the river on a recent foggy night.
“The Jury returned this verdict: ‘Found drowned near the public path at the head of the Serpentine River, considered very dangerous for want of a rail or fence, where many persons have lately fallen in.’—The rail has been since erected by direction of the Duke of Sussex, the new Ranger of Hyde Park.

Subsequently to the inquest ..., there has been considerable discussion in the newspapers regarding the cause of the occurrence; and it has been stated, with what truth we cannot say, that when the body was taken out of the water, his Lordship's hat was secured with a handkerchief under his chin, and that his umbrella was found on the bank, both which circumstances are considered indicative that his immersion was intentional; and it is added that on the Saturday night he had lost considerable sums at a gaming-house; and that this passion for play had for some years so far possessed him, that his uncle bequeathed to him only 4000l. a year, leaving the bulk of his property, amounting to 40,000l a year, to trustees for the benefit of his son, the present Peer.”
Nigel Cox, Serpentine Waterfall
It’s important to remember that suicide, being self-murder, was a capital offense. One could be tried and hanged for the attempt, and a suicide’s property was forfeit to the Crown. Up to a certain point in the early 19th C, those who’d committed suicide were buried at midnight at a crossroads without the offices of clergy. This is why coroner’s juries tended to find the deaths accidental or, when this was impossible, the victim of unsound mind.

Image: A print of the “youthful portrait of Mr. Horace Beckford, at full length in a Vandyke costume, painted by R. Cosway, R.A. and engraved in stipple by John Conde, 1792", courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo of Serpentine Waterfall by Nigel Cox. Another image here.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

An Unfinished Gown with Secrets to Share, c1785

Sunday, March 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

Historical clothing is collected, preserved, and valued for many reasons. A garment can be considered significant because it belonged to a famous person, or because it belonged to a person whom history has forgotten entirely. Another item could be treasured for the family story behind it, or could have been worn to a significant historical event. A garment can be treasured because it represents the highest level of craftsmanship and skill, or because was fashioned from rare and costly textiles.

And then there is this dress in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. (Those of you who attended the Costume Society of America 2018 Symposium in CW last week will recognize it from the keynote discussion.) Made in America of printed cotton around 1785-1795 and purchased by CW in 2004, the dress is a popular style of the time known as a common gown. The open-front dress would have been worn over a petticoat (skirt), stays, and a false rump, and would also have had 3/4- or wrist-length sleeves. Depending on the light, the ground-color of the printed cotton appears either dark purple or brown, though chemical analysis has shown it was originally a shade with deep red overtones from a cochineal-based dye.

The reason this gown holds a special place in the CW collection, however, is not what it is, but what it isn't: it was never finished. While sufficiently assembled for fitting, the gown still has extra-wide seams allowances that would eventually be trimmed away and basting threads to hold the pleats in place and to indicate where trim would be added. Most notably, stitching holes indicate that sleeves (now lost) had once been stitched in place, and were then removed. The armholes are quite high, and it's possible that they didn't fit the intended wearer. 

Still, no one now knows why the dress was abandoned so close to completion. Yet in this state, the dress reveals a rare glimpse at the mantua-maker's working and construction methods; it's frozen in time, there at the final fitting. In addition, the unworn dress presents a glazed, printed cotton in a pristine condition. For the sake of preserving this glazed finish, it's unlikely that the dress will ever go on public display and risk light-damage to the delicate surface. See more images of the original dress plus descriptions of how the fabric was produced here on the CW e-museum website.

The dress is also unusual for another reason. Most surviving 18thc dresses tend to be small - not because all 18thc women were petite, but because in an era when remodeling and recutting clothing was common, the smaller gowns didn't offer enough fabric to make recycling feasible. This gown was intended for a tall woman - 5'10" or even taller - with a 46" bust and a 42" waist.

While the original gown is primarily a study garment in the collection, it has already inspired several copies. First, the printed cotton fabric has been commercially reproduced for sale (it can be ordered by the yard here.) An exact one-to-one copy of the dress to be used for study was created by CW's Costume Design Center, who also made another copy to be worn as a costume in the historic area.

Finally (at least for now) the mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter shop in CW's historic trades program made a technological reproduction, recreating the dress using 18thc hand-sewing and other period-correct techniques. This version was completed based on other similar dresses from the period, and is shown right worn by Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade. It's stunning in person - which makes you wonder all over again why the original was never finished.

Left: Gown, maker unknown, 1785-1795, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.
Right: Technological reproduction gown, made the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, 2018. Photograph ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 12, 2018.

Saturday, March 17, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Read the comic history of England - handwritten and illustrated - that Jane Austen wrote when she was only sixteen.
• Consumptive chic: how tuberculosis symptoms became ideals of beauty in the 19thc.
• A recipe that's perfect for an 18thc spring dinner: pistachio creams.
James Allen, a Regency-era female husband.
Image: A canine rail cart trip in Alaska, 1912.
Pineapples in 18thc America.
• Nineteenth century Quaker Rebecca Lukens, America's first female CEO of an industrial company.
• A caracal for King George II.
• A thaw in the streets of London, 1865.
Image: An elegant c1775 combined music stand and writing table with Severes porcelain plaque.
• The many residents of this elegant 1872 New York rowhouse included the tragic American-born Princess Rospigliosi.
• The woman with the violin: the trailblazzing Ginger Smock and the 1940s-1950s Los Angeles jazz scene.
• The Victorian ostrich feather trade: boom and bust.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor in America; where she lived and worked in Greenwich Village, NY.
• The importance of coffee, tea, and chocolate in early America.
Image: First World War police whistle associated with the service of Miss D.A. Lovell in the
• Of sealing wax and Emperor Francis I of Austria.
Italian (sort of) restaurants in New York City in 1916.
• Dreams of the Forbidden City: when Chinatown nightclubs beckoned Hollywood.
Crispus Attucks: American Revolutionary hero?
• Image: Helluva good icicle at 15thc Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, Scotland.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Video: Dressing an 18thc Gentleman for "Reigning Men" at LACMA

Friday, March 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I've been attending the Costume Society of America's annual symposium in Colonial Williamsburg. One of the more fascinating presentations was given by Senior Curator Sharon Takeda and Assistant Curator Clarissa M. Esguerra from the Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who described the process of creating the 2016 major exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715-2015. Featuring pieces drawn largely from the museum's own collections, the exhibition challenged the assumption that fashion is only for women, and instead - as the program described it - "celebrated the rich history of restraint and resplendence in menswear, traced cultural influences over the centuries, and illuminated connections between history and high fashion." (The exhibition also received CSA's Richard Martin Exhibition Award.)

This short video offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show's preparation. Dressing and moving mannequins in rare and delicate 200-year-old clothing is clearly not an easy task - but the beauty and craftsmanship of the menswear glimpsed here makes the video well worth watching. For more information and other images, see the LACMA blog dedicated to the exhibition.

Attention to our lucky readers in Australia: the Reigning Men exhibition has traveled from Los Angeles to Saint Louis in 2017, and will soon complete be on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney from May 2-October 14, 2018.

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to watch the video.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Regency Satire: The Triumph of the Whale

Thursday, March 15, 2018
Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales 1812
Loretta reports:

On this date in 1812 the Examiner published Charles Lamb’s poem “The Triumph of the Whale,” which inspired this George Cruikshank satirical print of 1 May 1812. The image appeared in Cruikshank's satirical magazine, The Scourge.
The caricature and poem about the then Prince Regent (later King George IV) remind us all that mocking the great and powerful, in picture and print (and these days, in internet memes), is nothing new. Given the libel and sedition laws of the time, it’s amazing what Regency satirists got away with. And let’s not forget one of the Privileges of Peers I reported on a while back:
“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.”

Scandalum magnatum notwithstanding, the faces in this caricature would have been familiar to the audience of the time, and everybody would understand the political implications. We, however, need a translation, which the Brighton Museums website provides succinctly:

“Portrayed as a whale in a ‘Sea of Politics’ George spouts the ‘Liquor of Oblivion’ on playwright and Whig supporter Richard Sheridan, and blows the ‘Dew of favour’ on Spencer Perceval the Tory Prime Minister. The prince ignores his former lover, Mrs Fitzherbert, and looks lovingly at his mistress Lady Hertford, who is shown next to her cuckold husband.”
The figures on the right—the Tories—viewed as the fat cats of the time, expect to profit further by the Regent’s decision to shun his Whig associates. The Marquess of Hertford is wearing cuckold horns. You can read a much more detailed description at the British Museum website (please click on "More" for the full description and check out the curator's comments as well). Clearly, this is pretty strong stuff, though not as strong, I think, as Lamb’s poem.

The 1812 blog offers a concise summary of Charles Lamb’s life and the poem. Most of the references are clear enough, although I haven't yet figured out why the muse Lamb summons is Io, one of Zeus’s many loves, who was transformed into a white heifer.

Update: As I hoped, a reader provided the following clarification—
"It's a song. 'Io' is an exclamation you find in Latin songs, and probably in Roman life as well, but spoken words don't survive. It means something like 'Hurray' or even 'Yay'.
In my country a Latin student song still survives. Its first line is 'Io vivat' which translates to 'Hurray, long live'. It dates to the days when all subjects at the universities were taught in Latin."

These pages are from The Poetical Works of Bowles, Lamb, and Hartley Coleridge Selected 1887

Image: George Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales, from the Scourge of 1 May 1812.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

High Style in Rural New Hampshire, c1835

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg to attend the Costume Society of America's annual meeting. If any of you are attending as well, I hope you'll say hi.

I saw this portrait yesterday in CW's DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, and felt she definitely deserved a post. Loretta has written many posts (and books!) that feature the exaggerated fashions of the 1830s - an era of big hair, bigger skirts, and the biggest sleeves. You can see examples here, here, and here, all from trend-setting English magazines of the time.

But American women have always possessed a stylish flair and a gift for making European fashions their own. Fashion magazines and trends traveled across the Atlantic as swiftly as clipper ships could bring them. The young woman in this portrait isn't from Paris or London, but from Milton Mills, New Hampshire, a village on the Salmon River bordering Maine.

Martha Spinney Simes (1808-c1883) was in her early twenties when this portrait was painted. She's shown sitting on an elegant (if a bit strangely proportioned) red sofa - the matching portrait of her husband has him sitting on a similar sofa or chair, facing her - that serves to enhance the emerald green of her dress. Her hair is pinned into the most fashionable of glossy knots and twists, with a short braid over one side of her forehead ending in a corkscrew curl.

And her jewelry! Martha has clearly embraced the idea of "more is more." In addition to two cuff bracelets and multiple rings, she wears an elaborate double-strand of glossy black beads, perhaps jet, and what is likely a cameo brooch. Her drop earrings are the real stars, however, over-sized gold drops with pale blue stones (opals, chalcedony, or agate?) that frame her face and help to balance her hair.

What I like best about this portrait is how all this finery doesn't overshadow Martha. Unlike the fashion plates and many European portraits of the time, she doesn't simper or glance sideways. Instead her expression seems forthright, direct, and intelligent, with just a hint of a smile. She's fabulous, and she knows it. And who's going to argue?

Portrait of Martha Spinney Simes (Mrs. Bray Underwood Simes), artist unknown, c1835, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elegant Bookcase for a Fashionable Regency Library

Monday, March 12, 2018
Library Bookcase March 1812
Loretta reports:

I set quite a few scenes in libraries, mainly because, by the time of my stories, they had become a family gathering place. Furthermore, in many great houses, these were large, comfortable rooms, often fitted out less formally than say, the drawing room. The one I used in A Duke in Shining Armor is a good example.

While bookcases, complete with writing desk, might appear in various rooms, this one seems to need quite a large room. And even if the library already has miles of bookshelves, those of us who love books can always use storage space for more.

I was particularly struck by the tambour circular cupboards, because (a) while horizontal tambour is fairly common, the circular vertical style is much less so, and (b) one of my own favorite pieces of furniture is a mid-20th century dressing table that has this feature.

Bookcase description

Images from Ackermann's Repository for March 1812, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, via Internet Archive.

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

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