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 rifle 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!

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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.
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