Saturday, December 31, 2011

Breakfast Links: Week of December 26, 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011

To help usher in the new year, we present our weekly offering of Breakfast Links – our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, pictures, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
Pig on lap, drink in hand—Mela Koehler's New Year's card:
• Really lovely blog post on year endings, self-doubt & John Keats:
• For New Year 1696: the Window Tax was introduced in England and Wales.
• A look at Dresden whitework ruffles from 18th c women's dress:
• 18th c sailor Ann Mills, lady pyrates, & why women went to sea:
• A stay in the country: British country houses as hotels - & a bad plan
• First feet, black buns, and hansels: the language of Scottish New Year’s traditions
• The ‘Breakfast at Tiffany's’ house, now for sale: Social tragedy, cinematic history on E. 71st Street:
• Leonardo da Vinci’s symbolic “Lady with an Ermine”:
• More on early 19th c. magazines for women - John Bell and La Belle Assemblée
• Twelve Days of Christmas - Sandro Botticelli 1445-1510 -
• A high-flying ski jump in Chicago?
• Myths Debunked! King James didn't translate the KJB ... nor was he a saint.
• Charming image of an Edwardian lady w/ snow-covered coat, from a wonderful early 1900s album
• Christmas Decorations at Jane Austen's House:
• A short collection of Victorian jokes, as compiled by:
• How a train accident in 1865 could have made ‘Great Expectations’ Dickens' last complete novel:
• Currant fritters (boiled in butter!) from 1759 cookery book by William Verral, master of White Hart Inn, Lewes:
• Designer Adrian resists the New Look: 1948 Adrian suit
• Good compilation of Britain's finest follies:

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: My Favorite Wreaths

Susan reporting:

I hate to play favorites with the holiday decorations of Colonial Williamsburg, and I'd never want to be one of the judges in the annual competition – but these three always made me slow and smile whenever I passed by them. (As always, please click on the photographs to enlarge them for details.)

The large wreath, above, featured nontraditional Christmas colors, but I like the those shades of orange against the grey clapboarding. Pomegranates, pine cones, sprays of bittersweet, and papery orange Chinese lanterns – simple but striking.

The wreaths, right,  are shamelessly political with their miniature 18th c. flags tucked into the greenery – even if those yellow Gadsen flags make for a "Don't-Tread-On-Me" Christmas.

The last wreaths, left, also demonstrate a beautiful play of colors with the dried flowers, cotton bolls, and greenery against the dark ochre paint.

Hope all of you had a wonderful holiday, and very best wishes for a splendid 2012!

All photographs copyright 2011 Susan Holloway Scott.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: Unexpected Wreaths

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Susan reporting:

With dozens of houses, shops, stables, and other buildings in Colonial Williamsburg decorated festively for the holiday season, there's no shortage of unusual wreaths. Everything used must have been available to 18th c Virginians, but there's clearly no limit on imagination. Here are four houses decked out with special flair; please click on the photographs to enlarge them for details.

At first glance, the dignified house, above, seems to traditionally decorated with pine cones and boughs. But look closer: there are also bright green Granny Smith apples as well as various dried grasses and seed pods. My favorite part: the vertical garlands flanking the door are topped with fans of wild turkey feathers.

More wild ingredients appear in the wreath, above left. Punctuating the greenery are branches with red berries and pheasant feathers. The puffs of white are cotton bolls, and nestled in the center of the wreath is a crown of deer antlers.

Not found in nature (at least not together): the wreath, right, featuring purple-tinged clam shells filled with dried pink strawflowers. The leafy green buds surrounding the shells are brewer's hops.

The final house/shop, lower left, is one that clearly inspires its decorators: the lattice-work signboard that's holding red and green apples served as a makeshift gallows for hanging a royal effigy in 2010.

This year's theme is less political and more equine. A padded horse-collar serves as a frame for a basket of dried flowers and grasses, while on the window shutters, long stirrups hold more apples.

(Curious about the curious sign board? I was, too - and here's the explanation from Colonial Williamsburg.)

Photographs copyright 2011 Susan Holloway Scott

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: White Silk & Fashionable Dolls at the Milliner's Shop

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Susan reporting:

Because the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop is one of the TNHG's favorite places in Colonial Williamsburg, I HAVE to include them in our holiday tour. The shop presents several different historic trades of the 18th c under its roof: the milliner, who sold many small imported and locally made goods (think of a modern store specializing in accessories); the tailor, who custom-made men's clothing; and the mantua-maker, who custom-made women's clothing. (Check out their Facebook page here.)

The shop's outdoor holiday wreath, left, reflects their trades. In addition to three modern-style cloth dolls, there are smaller versions of the shop's wares pinned to the wreath, including tiny pockets, muffs, and hats. (Click on the photo to enlarge and see the details.) For comparison, here's the shop's wreath from 2010, decorated with 18th c style fabrics.

Inside the shop is another holiday tradition. Each year a miniature version of the shop, right, complete to the smallest detail, is set up in one of the corner display cupboards. Replicas of 18th c fashion dolls that would have once worn samples of the latest styles now inhabit the shop. This year one of them has stopped by the shop for a new gown, and is standing in her stays and petticoat while the mantua-maker drapes and pins the gown on her (wooden) body. Click here for more about the mantua-maker's dolls.

But the doll isn't the only one with a new gown for the holidays. When Emma, right, one of the mantua-maker's assistants, learned that she was scheduled to work on Christmas, she decided to make herself a new jacket and petticoat of white silk in honor of the day. I saw her gathering and stitching the ruffled trim in the shop on Christmas Eve, working under deadline like a true 18th c seamstress would have done. And like her 18th c counterpart, she finished on time, too – here she is on Christmas Day!

All photographs copyright 2011 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: Gentlemen on Horseback, plus Apples & Oranges

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Susan reporting:

No snow for a white Christmas this year in Colonial Williamsburg (though there was plenty of the white stuff in 2010!) Milder temperatures are more characteristic for December in Tidewater Virginia. Because many of the outdoor decorations rely on fresh fruit for color, the apples and oranges like the ones shown here, left and right, on houses in the town often need to be "refreshed" over the course of the holiday season. The sun isn't the only culprit, either. What hungry bird could resist shining red apples like these?

Note that the apples are used in more than the door's decorations. They're also tucked into the patterned openings of the brick walls (click on the photos to enlarge for details.) This is always done on this particular house – here it is with last year's yarn-based decorations.

There are plenty of advantages to warmer weather, however. How else would I have seen these two 18th c gentlemen, above, out for a leisurely early-morning ride?

All photographs copyright 2011 Susan Holloway Scott

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: The Raleigh Tavern

Monday, December 26, 2011
Susan reporting:

Because I have family in Williamsburg, VA, I'm most fortunate to be able to visit Colonial Williamsburg each Christmas.

The holiday season brings out the best in the colonial city, with nearly every house and shop decorated for Christmas. While the full-out holiday decorations aren't entirely authentic – no sensible 18th c. Virginian would ever have wasted a perfectly good (and expensive) imported pineapple by sticking it on his front door – the decorating "rules" require that only materials available in 18th c. can be used, which rules out modern glitter & glitz, flashing lights, and, of course, Santa. The results are quite wonderful, and draw even more visitors than usual. Over the next week, I'll be sharing a few of my favorites from 2011.

This is the front of the Raleigh Tavern, a colonial hotbed of roiling revolutionary politics. Beneath Sir Walter's bust, the tavern's holiday wreath features not only festive pomegranates and greenery, but also clay pipes and curled pages of the Virginia Gazette in honor of the lively discussions that must have taken place among the gentlemen of the colony, here in the Raleigh's smoke-filled public rooms.

Curious to see how the tavern's door was decorated last year? Here it is in 2010.

Above: Raleigh Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg, 2011, photo copyright Susan Holloway Scott. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Break

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Loretta & Susan report:

Over the next few days, we'll be taking a break while we enjoy the holidays with our families and friends. If the weather's willing, Susan will again be posting photos of the holiday decorations from Colonial Williamsburg. Look for fresh new posts from us both at the start of the New Year.

Of course, we hope you'll be having too much fun with your own families and friends to notice our absence. We wish you a most joyous holiday season and a New Year filled with many delightful revelations of the historical kind as well as many other good things!

In the spirit of a holiday filled with peace and beauty, enjoy this lovely video clip of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Beautiful!

Many thanks to our twitter friend Denise Brain for sharing this clip with us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fashions for December 1823 (beautiful red dress #3)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Loretta reports:

Many thanks to Susan for posting a rerun while I was in the throes of revisions.

Following, as I promised earlier in the month, is another red dress for December.  Note the radical style change since 1813.
No. 2.—Carriage Dress. 
Witzchoura pelisse of gros de Naples of a bright scarlet geranium colour, trimmed with a very broad border of swansdown, or of ermine. The conspicuous splendour of this pelisse compensates for the plainness which marks the bust and sleeves, that are almost devoid of all ornamental trimming. A bonnet of black velvet, lined with white satin, is worn with this beautiful winter dress; the bonnet is ornamented with one very long drooping black feather, hanging over the right side; on the left, is a half wreath of various coloured flowers. A fine clear muslin ruff, gauffrée, is worn round the throat, and over the bust, is a gold chain, forming three rows, festonnés; from the lower one depends the eye-glass. A muff is worn, to correspond with the broad fur at the border of the pelisse, either ermine or swansdown; and the lady thus appropriately attired generally carries a reticule of Waterloo blue velvet, ornamented, lightly, with gold. The shoes are of kid, and are either of a bronze colour, or of London smoke.

 . . . We have given, in one of our engravings, for this month, a fac-simile of that most comfortable of all pelisses, when the weather is very rugged—the witzchoura. Its closeness round the form, its unsparing portion of fur, all render it a desirable outdoor covering and shield against the cutting winds of bleak December. Yet, sensible as is this out-door envelope, as well as every other kind of pelisse, these long cherished favourites seem tardy in their appearance, and nothing new has been invented yet, either in their make, or the manner of trimming them: one lady waits to see what kind of pelisse will be worn this winter by her fashionable friend; the friend has not yet determined on it, and the invention of her marchande de modes seems at a stand, while pelisses, at least of any novel fabric, appear to be actually laid aside.
La Belle assemblée, 1823.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ruby Velvet & Ostrich Plumes: London Fashions for December, 1819

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Loretta reports:

Another look at one of our favorite posts from the NHG archives - here's a nice little wool and velvet number for the fashionable lady of late 1819.

London Fashions for December

A PELISSE composed of kerseymere: the colour is a peculiar shade of grey; it is lined with white sarsnet. The body is tight to the shape, the waist is rather long, and the sleeve is set in so as to just touch the point of the shoulder: the sleeve is wide, and falls very much over the hand. The skirt is moderately full, meets before, and fastens down on the inside. The trimming is composed of ruby-coloured velvet; it is of a new pattern, and exceedingly rich and elegant; it goes round the bottom, and up each of the fronts. The epaulettes and cuffs correspond with the trimming. High standing collar, trimmed in a similar manner. Head-dress, a bonnet composed of ruby velvet, intermixed with levantine: the crown is made of folds of these two materials, so disposed as to form a point in the centre, which has a light and novel effect: the brim is large, and of a singular but becoming shape; it is finished at the edge by a rich roll of ruby levantine, to which is attached a full fall of blond lace, set on narrow towards the ears, and broad in the middle of the brim: this style of trimming adds much softness to the countenance. A high plume of ostrich feathers, to correspond, is placed upright in front, and a rich ribbon ties it under the chin. Gloves to correspond with the pelisse. Half-boots, the lower part of black leather, the upper part grey levantine.

From the Repository of arts, literature, fashions, Vol. VIII. No. XLVIII, published by R. Ackermann, 1819
Kerseymere—Fine woolen suiting, having two-thirds of the filling and one-third of the warp on the face.
Levantino—Four-leaf, double-faced, closely woven silk serge, having single or ply warp.  Comes mostly in solid colors but also in stripes.
Sarsenet— Plain, woven stout piece dyed English cotton cloth finished with high gloss, often calendered to give the appearance of a twill; used for lining, etc.

Definitions from the Dictionary of Textiles by Louis Harmuth, 1915

Sunday, December 18, 2011

From the NHG Bookshelf: 'Hark! A Vagrant"

Sunday, December 18, 2011
Susan reporting:

As you've probably gathered by now, Loretta and I are bona fide nerdy history girls, fortunate enough to be able to incorporate the swell history facts we discover in the fiction we write. I'd like to introduce you to another of our NHG sisterhood: cartoonist extraordinaire Kate Beaton.

If you've somehow managed to miss Kate's phenomenally popular on-line cartoon strip, Hark! A Vagrant, then this compilation, above leftby the same name of  is going to be a revelation. With a jittery line and an irreverent wit, Kate goes to the heart of history and literature (as well as the occasional foray into the popular-culture territory of Nancy Drew, Beyonce, and Wonder Woman) with hilarious results. If you still have room on your wish-list for Santa, then this book should be on it.

Kate's cartoons skewer not only big names like Napoleon and Shakespeare, but lesser-known historical folk like Maximilian I of Mexico and murderous grave-robbers Burke and Hare. Armed with a degree in history (she also studied anthropology, but as she herself notes, anthropology doesn't seem to turn up in her art), she gets the details right, and her cartoons are both funny and smart.

We're not alone in loving Kate Beaton, either. Hark! A Vagrant was recently named one of Time Magazine's top ten fiction books for 2011. When was the last time a cartoon book was honored like that?

The cartoons reproduced here are copyright Kate Beaton. No need for a FTC disclosure statement here; I'm such A Fan that I bought this book myself.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Breakfast Links: Week of December 12, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011
Served up fresh: our weekly offering of Breakfast Links!  Our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, pictures, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
• Could Arthur Conan Doyle draw a pig, blindfolded?
Take a look through Isaac Newton's college notebook, now on-line:
"Perils of perambulating young people": Teenagers take over a museum in 1922 (sounds like a modern mall)
Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Stories - "Bertie's Box" in real life:
• The Pitcairn-Putnam Pistols: magnificent 18th c Scottish pistols used in Rev. War  - but by whom?
Festive 1890s bodice w. holly & puffy puffy sleeves: 
Pictoral Walking Tour of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago
Country House Amenities: Lighting with Candles:
Oh, the embroidery on this! A c. 1810-14 court suit owned by Austrian composer Johann Hummel.
Prints for a Different Parlor: late 19th c circular letter advertising "conjugal goods" of all kinds:
The astonishing collections of the National Trust are now searchable online:
Fake tan, hair dye, wrinkle filler, sun block,‘Gray-hairs dyed Black’: 17th Century beauty tips
At midnight, New Year's, millions of people will belt out "Auld Lang Syne" - but what does it mean?
1806 - Mogg Pocket Map of London (full page view & 'zoomable')
How Victorian strongman Eugen Sandow attached his fig leaf
Exciting Anne Boleyn portrait info – at last Anne has a “real” face!
Exactly how cold was that in 18th c? 'Froze the water in the chamber pot':
A history of whisky: the immortal dram & its historic links with our seasonal festivities
Rest ye merry, scared shepherds. The archaic language of Christmas:
• Lady Rachel Fane's 17th c syllabub & the proper glass for sipping it:
• Now on Sotheby's site: classic 'American Needlework Treasures' available as flip-book:
New blog from Jane Austen's House Museum – launched on Jane’s birthday this week: "Welcome"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Looking into the future from the 1920s

Friday, December 16, 2011
Loretta reports:

I often wonder what my early 19th century characters would make of my world.  They might have imagined people flying, but what sort of device would they picture?  What would they imagine we'd be wearing?   Could they envision the demise of the horse as transportation?

Though this film was made in the 1920s and 1930s, it does give us an idea of the limitations of our minds as well as the leaps we can make.  And the clothes are pretty interesting.  Note the cantilevered shoes, especially.

Please note:  If you receive our blog via RSS Feed (email), you might see only a black rectangle where the video should be.  To watch the show, please click on the link to our blog.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Recycled 18th c. Silk Gown – with a Political Agenda

Thursday, December 15, 2011
Susan reporting:

Recently I wrote here about an 18th c. gown that had been creatively remade and recycled a hundred years later into a 19th c. ballgown.  Soon after I came across this 18th c. gown, left, that had likewise been "repurposed," but for different reasons.

Historians have determined from the brocaded floral pattern of the silk that this fabric was first made into a gown around 1727. Most likely the silk was imported from London to the then-colony of Virginia, and made up into a gown (that might have looked like this) by a mantua-maker there for a wealthy lady. Styles changed, but the silk was too valuable to be discarded, and the gown was saved.

Fifty years later, the colony of Virginia was in the middle of the American Revolution. Just as patriotic American ladies were banishing English tea from their tables, they were also no longer wearing the newest silks imported from London. Making over and making do was a way of making a political statement as well as a necessity, and there were even some (male) calls for everyone to wear homespun linen and wool. But even the most fervently rebellious ladies still wished to dress fashionably, and old gowns were now brought to the mantua-makers to be recut into the new styles being worn in London and Paris. Sometime between 1770-1782, the 1727 gown was remade into its present state, with a narrowed back, fitted sleeves, and draped, polonaise style skirts. (The dark red petticoat is a modern reproduction.)

By now the gown was owned by Martha Kerby (b. 1747), who became the second wife of Captain Miles King (1747-1814) in April, 1782 in Elizabeth City, VA. Martha may even have worn it for her wedding. Perhaps for sentimental reasons (or simply because Martha was bearing five children between 1785-1796), the gown was once again set aside and preserved. As the 18th c. came to a close, fashionable waistlines rose and the heavy woven damasks and brocades were replaced by lighter fabrics, making this gown woefully out of fashion.

But according to King family tradition, the gown had one more act ahead of it. In 1824, Revolutionary War general the Marquis de La Fayette (1757-1834) returned to America to help celebrate the country's fiftieth anniversary. In a year-long tour, La Fayette visited all 24 states and traveled more than 6,000 miles - no mean feat considering both the roads and the marquis's age. He was feted everywhere he appeared, including several events in Virginia. As the widow of a Revolutionary War soldier, Martha Kerby King was invited to one of the balls in his honor, where patriotic ladies wore gowns from the 1770s (the fifty-year-old vintage dresses of their day) to honor both the marquis and the country's anniversary. Supposedly Martha once again wore her blue silk flowered gown – and danced with the Marquis de la Fayette.

Above: Dress, c 1770-1785, Smithsonian, National Museum of American History; given by Mrs. Claude M. Bain and Mrs. Hugh M. North, Jr.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Oxford Freshman 1825

Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Loretta reports:
     Ascending a dark stone staircase till the oaken beams of the roof proclaimed we had reached the domiciliary abode of genius, I found myself in the centre of my future habitation, an attic on the third floor: I much doubt if poor Belzoni, when he discovered the Egyptian sepulchre, could have exhibited more astonishment. The old bed-maker, and the scout of my predecessor, had prepared the apartment for my reception by gutting it of every thing useful to the value of a cloak pin: the former was engaged in sweeping up the dust, which, from the clouds that surrounded us, would not appear to have been disturbed for six months before at least. I had nearly broken my shins, on my first entrance, over the fire-shovel and bucket, and I was now in more danger of being choked with filth.
     "Who inhabited this delightful place before, Mark?"
     "A mad wag, but a generous gentleman, Sir, take notice, one Charles Rattle, Esq., who was expelled college for smuggling, take notice: the proctor, with the town marshal and his bull dogs, detected him and two others one night drawing up some fresh provision in the college plate-basket. Mr. Rattle, in his fright, dropped the fair nun of St. Clement's plump upon the proctor, who could not understand the joke; but, having recovered his legs, entered the college, and found one of the fair sisters concealed in Mr. Rattle's room, take notice. In consequence he was next day pulled up before the big wigs, when, refusing to make a suitable apology, he received sentence of expulsion, take notice."
     "He must have been a genius," quoth I, "and a very eccentric one too, from the relics he has left behind of his favourite propensities."
      In one corner of the room lay deposited a heap of lumber, thrown together, as a printer would say, in pie, composed of broken tables, broken bottles, trunks, noseless bellows, books of all descriptions, a pair of muffles, and the cap of sacred academus with a hole through the crown (emblematical, I should think, of the pericranium it had once covered), and stuck upon the leg of a broken chair. The rats, those very agreeable visitors of ancient habitations, were seen scampering away upon our entrance, and the ceiling was elegantly decorated with the smoke of a candle in a great variety of ornamented designs, consisting of caricatures of dignitaries and the Christian names of favourite damsels.
The English Spy [Part 1.], 1825.
Illustrations from the book, courtesy Project Gutenberg

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Visiting the Ruins of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon at Versailles, 1803

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Susan reporting:

The English have always been intrepid travelers, and for hundreds of years, they have eagerly crossed the Channel in search of the enlightenment, entertainment, and edification to be found on the Continent. The 18th c is the heyday of the famous "Grand Tours", that final finishing touch to a young gentleman's education, and not even the hazards of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars could keep the determined tourist in Britain.

One of the more famous travelers of this era was a lawyer-poet-travel-writer named Sir John Carr (1772-1832.) Undeterred by inconvenient current events, he traveled widely throughout Europe in the early 19th c. and wrote a series of travel books that documented his journeys. The books were popular, and sufficiently influential to earn him a knighthood from the Duke of Bedford in Dublin in 1806. Styles in writing change, however, and while his detailed descriptions remain interesting, it's also painfully clear that he believed that no noun or verb should go unmodified, ever, ever.

Still, where else would we find this description of the tattered remains Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon at Versailles, which Carr visited less than a decade after her death? This excerpt and the illustration, above, are both from The Stranger in France, published in 1803 – and, if you'd like to read more, it's available on-line free as a Project Gutenberg Ebook here.

    "I approached, with increased delight, the enchanting little palace and grounds of the late queen, distant from Versailles about two miles, called the Petit Trianon, to which she very justly gave the appellation of her "little Palace of Taste." Here, fatigued with the splendours of royalty, she threw aside all its appearances, and gave herself up to the elegant pleasures of rural life. It is a princely establishment in miniature. It consists of a small palace, a chapel, an opera house, out offices and stables, a little park, and pleasure grounds; the later of which are still charming, although the fascinating eye, and tasteful hand of their lovely but too volatile mistress, no longer pervade, cherish, and direct their growth and beauty. By that reverse of fortune, which the revolution has familiarized, the Petit Trianon is let out by the government to a restauranteur. All the rooms but one in this house were preoccupied, on the day of our visit in consequence of which we were obliged to dine in the former little bed room of the queen, where, like the Idalian goddess [Venus], she used to sleep in a suspended basket of roses. The apertures in the ceiling and wainscot, to which the elegant furniture of this little room of repose had once adhere, are still visible.
    "After dinner, we hastened through our coffee, and proceeded to the gardens. After winding through gravelled walks, embowered by the most exquisite and costly shrubs, we entered the elegant temple of Cupid, from which the little favourite of mankind had been unwillingly, and rudely expelled, as appeared by the fragments of his pedestal. 
    "Thy wrongs little god! shall be revenged by thy fair friend Pity. Those who treated thee thus, shall suffer in their turn, and she shall not console them!...."

Above: Ruins of the Queen's Farm-house in the Petit Trianon, Engraving in aqua tint of sketch, published in The Stranger in France, 1803

Monday, December 12, 2011

Men Behaving Badly: Captain Dollupson

Monday, December 12, 2011
Courtesy Yale Center for British Art
Loretta reports:

Captain! thou abominable d—d cheater, if captains were of my mind they would truncheon you out, for taking their names upon you before you have earned them.      Shakspeare.

A LARGE dirty personage, with scratched cheeks and bloody cravat, calling himself 'Captain Dollupson of the Army,' was charged with having assaulted one of the dismounted horse patrol.

The 'captain,' it seems, by way of a little 'life,'* was amusing himself with a knot of costermongers in a back yard behind Little Russell Street, Drury Lane; and doing his utmost to 'knock up a mill' between two of them. The costermongers, however, would not 'come to the scratch' to please the captain, who thereupon felt his choler rise; and the costermongers venturing to laugh at his captainship, he boldly seized one of them by the cravat, and twisted it so that the poor costermonger was all but strangled. The others rushed to the rescue of their companion, and the captain's face was sadly scratched in the scuffle. At this moment the patrol passed by the end of the yard, and having been told what was the matter, he observed that the captain ought to be ashamed of himself, whereupon the magnanimous captain darted upon him and knocked him down by a tremendous blow' on the eye.

His worship made some remarks upon the unofficerlike amusement of the noble captain, and then called upon him for his defence.

• Your worship,' replied he, 'this scoundthrell, who had no business whatever to intrude himself among us, called out to me " Come here, blubberhead, and I'll whop you!" That was language, your worship, which no gentleman could put up with, and therefore I knocked him down.'

'And, therefore, you will put in bail for your appearance to answer it at the Quarter Sessions,' rejoined the magistrate; and the captain was instantly removed by the turnkey, but not before some of the costermongers had offered to prove that he was not called 'Blubberhead' by any body; and that every body called him 'Thickhead.'
His worship observed that the distinction was immaterial, and other cases were called on.

*This was when blood-shedding, blackguardism, and debauchery, was called 'life.'
     —More Mornings at Bow Street: A new collection of humorous and entertaining reports, 1827

Illustration: Rowlandson, A black Leg Detected Secreting Cards, courtesy Yale Center for British Art.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Breakfast Links: Week of December 5, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Served up fresh: our weekly offering of Breakfast Links!  Our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, pictures, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
A 19th c Manhattan landmark destroyed "by stealth":
What a costume says: Mildred Pierce's 1930s waitress uniform:
Civil War cool: Three young officers of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, hanging out by a tree:
Check out the festive pug! 19th c chromolithographed Christmas cards from Am. Antiquarian Society :
'Beyond the Grave: Concepts of Death in Early Modern England' -
Grafffiti at the Tower of London: 
Sometime in late 41 BC, Marc Antony and Cleopatra had Cleopatra's sister and rival Arsinoe executed
• On-line book:  'Street Life in London', 1877: Rare descriptions & photographs of ordinary working people:
The myth of Krampus, the bad guy of #Christmas out to punish bad children:
If you haven't already discovered the tumblr of smoldering gentlemen in cravats from, you should. Really. :
Modern realities of maintaining British estates:
Looking at the work by Betty Ratcliffe, eighteenth-century artist and lady's maid:
Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer:
The Vindication of Christmas, 1652, shows how Father Christmas was perceived in Cromwell’s England:
'Parting the veil of Faery', 1890s -
Extraordinary pair of ivory, steel, & brass wheellock pistols, c 1655-65 from Metropolitan Museum of Art: 
Illegal marriage, an escape attempt in men's clothing, & finally death by starvation: the life of Arabella Stuart
A history of the 'gin palaces' in Regency England:
Exploding cuffs: how 1740s women's fashions widened:
18th c horse racing:
Anyone for a full baron? Roasting the Christmas Beef:
Birds of Paradise*gorgeous* hand-coloured engravings)
Looks like a high old time: Vintage (and embarrassing!) photos from1948 Christmas office party in NYC:
Above: At Breakfast, by Laurits Andersen Ring, 1898

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Video: O Christmas Tree, Horrible Histories-Style

Friday, December 9, 2011

Susan reporting:

With only a few weeks until Christmas, here's a carol for our Friday Video, especially one sung by the Horrible Histories folk. Most people do know that the Christmas evergreen is a German tradition brought over to England by a royal spouse. It's usually Prince Albert who gets the credit, but in fact the first Christmas trees entered the palace celebrations nearly a century earlier, through George III's queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Still, Victoria and Albert did popularize the custom, and Christmas trees have been part of English and American holidays ever since. This year Windsor Castle has been decorated for the season as if Queen Victoria were still in residence. This article includes plenty of photographs of this Victorian Christmas – including Albert's preference for hanging the trees from the ceiling!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The English Stage Coachman

Thursday, December 8, 2011
Loretta reports:
Cruikshank illustration from  the magazine
 . . .wherever an English stage coachman may be seen, he cannot be mistaken for one of any other craft or mystery.

He has commonly a broad, full face, curiously mottled with red, as if the blood had been forced by hard feeding into every vessel of the skin; he is swelled into jolly dimensions by frequent potations of malt liquors, and his bulk is still further increased by a multiplicity of coats, in which he is buried like a cauliflower, the upper one reaching to his (heels. He wears a broad-brimmed low-crowned hat, a huge roll of coloured handkerchief about his neck, knowingly knotted and tucked in at the bosom; and has in summer time a large bouquet of flowers in his button-hole; the present, most probably, of some enamoured country lass. His waistcoat is commonly of some bright colour, striped, and his smallclothes extend far below the knees, to meet a pair of jockey boots which reach about half way up his legs.

All this costume is maintained with much precision ; he has a pride of having his clothes of excellent materials; and, notwithstanding the seeming grossness of his appearance, there is still discernible that neatness and propriety of person, which is almost inherent in an Englishman. He enjoys great consequence and consideration along the road; has frequent conferences with the village housewives, who look upon him as a man of great trust and dependence; and he seems to have a good understanding with every bright-eyed country lass. The moment he arrives where the horses are to be changed, he throws down the reins with something of an air, and abandons the cattle to the care of the hostler; his duty being merely to drive them from one stage to another. When, off the box, his hands are thrust in the pockets of his great coat, and he rolls about the inn yard with an air of the most absolute lordliness. Here he is generally surrounded by an admiring throng of hostlers, stable-boys, shoe-blacks, and those nameless hangers-on, that infest inns and taverns, and run errands, and do all kind of odd jobs, for the privilege of battening on the drippings of the kitchen and the leakage of the tap-room. These all look up to him as to an oracle; treasure up his cant phrases; echo his opinions about horses and other topics of jockey lore; and, above all, endeavour to imitate his air and carriage. Every ragamuffin that has a coat to his back, thrusts his hands in the pockets, rolls in his gait, talks slang, and is an embryo Coachey.
—George & Robert Cruikshank, The Gentleman's Pocket Magazine, 1827.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From the NHG Bookshelf: 'An Introduction to the Tokens of the Foundling Museum'

Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Susan reporting:

We've written before on the Foundling Hospital, London, a remarkable charitable institution founded in 1741for the "Education and Maintenance of Exposed and Deserted Young Children." The Hospital continued to do exactly that well into the 20th c., taking in and providing for unwanted children, and teaching them a trade to support themselves.

Desperate mothers in the 18th c. turned to the hospital as a last resort, the one sure way to offer their children a better life than they could provide. When the child was offered for admission, a small token was left as well to be used for future identification, the hope being that the mother's circumstances would improve so that she could return and reclaim her child. Alas, few did. Today the tokens are among the most moving pieces in the Hospital Museum's collections.

Last year, the exhibition Threads of Feeling highlighted the textile tokens - ribbons, sleeves, and snippets of cloth - taken from the foundlings' clothing. (Click here for a heartbreaking slideshow of this exhibition.) Now the Museum has published a new book, An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum, above left, that features many of the other tokens as well as several of the textile ones. These include coins, paper hearts, baby-sized rings, gambling markers, thimbles, keys, even admission tickets to Vauxhall Gardens; several are shown here, and on the book's cover. It's a fascinating collection of what lower-class Londoners held dear in the 18th c, and what they believed would link them forever to the children they had to give up. There's also a brief history of how the tokens were used in the 18th c., and how they were rediscovered and exhibited in the late 19th c.

But the true heart of this small book are the stories behind the tokens. Some have happy endings, of foundlings restored to their mothers, or growing to independent, responsible adulthood. Others are simply heartbreaking, and hint at the desperation and poverty that too many London women faced each day.

Margaret Larney's story is told in a simple letter that served as a token. Margaret and her husband came from Dublin to London to improve their fortunes. But after a series of menial jobs, Margaret became involved with a group who shaved gold sovereigns. She was arrested and tried for "degrading the coin of the realm," a crime that was considered high treason and punishable by execution. Although Margaret protested her innocence, she was convicted. While she was in prison, her husband disappeared, and her older son was taken and admitted to the Foundling Hospital. Because Margaret was pregnant, her execution was postponed until she gave birth, and then that son, too, was sent to the Hospital. In the letter, lower right, (which she must have dictated) that accompanied the newborn, she begged that the two brothers would be permitted to know one another:

Dear Sir
I am the unfortunate Woman that lies under Sentence of Death at Newgatt. I had a Child put in here before when I was sent here his name is James Larney and this [second son] his name is John Larney and he was born the King's Coronation Day 1758. And Dear Sir I beg for the tender mercy of God to let them Know one and other for Dear Sir I hear that you are a very good gentleman and God's blessing and more be on you for ever
   Sir I am your humbel 
   Servant Margaret Larney

It's doubtful her final  wish was fulfilled. The baby born in Newgate Prison died soon after admission, and soon, too, after Margaret herself was executed at Tyburn by strangulation and burning. But the older boy - renamed George Millett - survived, and became a successful wigmaker in Shropshire: the kind of happy ending that the founders of the Hospital hoped for all their charges.

An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum is available here through the Museum's shop in London. Our American readers can also order the book stateside through our friends at Burnley & Trowbridge here.

All images are from the book, and are used with permission of the Foundling Museum. In accordance with the FTC (a rule that probably doesn't apply to Loretta and me since we're writers, not reviewers, but never mind) I received this book as a gift from the Museum.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fashions for December 1813 (beautiful red dress part deux)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Loretta reports:

We’re featuring red dresses this month, as did the ladies magazines of the 19th century.
This dress, when divested of the spencer, or jacket, exhibits the
PLATE, 41.
In order to render these commodious habiliments the more clearly understood by our readers, we shall commence with a description of the Evening or Opera Costume: which consists of a round robe of morone or crimson-coloured Merino, kerseymere, or queen's cloth, ornamented round the bottom and up the front with a fancy gold embroidered border. The bodice is composed of satin, or velvet, of the same colour, trimmed round the bosom and sleeves with gold braid and narrow swansdown; the front of the bodice richly ornamented with gold and pearl buttons. A gold band and pearl or diamond clasp confine the bottom of the waist, with a gold frog pending on each side, inclining towards the back of the figure. The robe is laced behind with gold cord. Hair disposed in dishevelled curls, falling on the left side, and decorated with clusters of variegated autumnal flowers. Necklace, composed of a treble row of pearl, white cornelian, or the satin bead, confined in front with a diamond clasp. Ear-rings and bracelets to correspond. Slippers, of crimson velvet, ornamented with gold fringe and rosettes, though we recommend those of white satin in preference. White kid gloves, below the elbow. Fan, of richly frosted silver crape.

The great convenience and novel attraction of this dress, consist in its admitting of a spencer of the same material as the robe (as seen in our promenade figure), which is richly ornamented, à la militaire, with gold braid and netted buttons, forming a sort of epaulette on the shoulders. The spencer is embroidered up the seams of the back, on the shoulders, and cuffs, to correspond with the bottom of the robe. This spencer, when worn over the evening dress, affords at once both comfort and utility; and, with the addition of a straw or velvet hat, ornamented with feathers, and half-boots or Roman shoes, constitutes a most attractive and appropriate Carriage or Promenade Costume. The convenience as well as becoming properties of this seasonable habiliment, will be duly appreciated by such ladies as are in the habit of attending the theatres or private evening parties, affording a compact and comfortable protection from a damp and cold atmosphere, and which may be easily relinquished on entering the drawing room. It were needless to observe, that this dress admits of being constructed in any colour, and of many suitable trimmings. It is the sole invention of Mr. Barry, tailor and habit-maker, 55, New Bond-street, where it is exhibited, and where orders are received.
Ackermann's Repository, 1813 (December issue)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tinted Glass Spectacles, c. 1830

Sunday, December 4, 2011
Susan reporting:

While the collection of the Winterthur Museum primarily features American decorative arts, their curators clearly possess our Nerdy History weakness for once-ordinary things from the past that are just too interesting not to share. (Examples from Winterthur that I've mentioned here include bourdaloues and  sleeve puffs.) Each time I visit, I discover some new/old curious thing in the museum's ever-changing display cases, including the spectacles, left.

Made in New York in c 1830, these spectacles are beautifully crafted of silver and clear and colored glass. They're also wonderfully ingenious, an early predecessor of 20th c clip-on sunglasses. At this time, spectacle frames were made to order by jewelers and watchmakers. The green-tinted lenses are hinged to swing over the clear glass, and are thought to have offered additional protection against bright sunlight. The bows can fold over the lenses, and have sliding pieces for a customizable fit. Because the bows are not curved to fit over the ears like modern glasses, a ribbon could be threaded through the eyelets to secure the spectacles - again much like modern leashes.

Soon after I saw these spectacles, I spotted this striking young gentleman, right,  c 1807 in the De Witt Wallace Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, and he's wearing similar spectacles with green-colored lenses in silver frames. I don't know if he wore the spectacles against the sun, or because he suffered from some sort of weakness or injury to his eyes, or if he might even be blind - it's unusual that his face is turned to one side instead of looking directly towards the viewer in a more traditional portrait pose. Or is he simply too cool for Federal-era America? Alas, his name and his story are now lost, so all that is conjecture.

But then I came across this Spanish gentleman, lower left, from a slightly later date. He, too, is wearing spectacles with hinged tinted or smoked lenses similar to the Winterthur pair, but in this case the colored lenses are used as side visors. Again, because this gentleman's identity is also now forgotten, I can't offer his reason for wearing the spectacles, especially while sitting for his portrait – though they do give him a definite steampunk air.

This kind of spectacles could have been worn by anyone sensitive to bright light or sunshine, but at this time they were also becoming popular with travelers. Passengers on the early open-car railroads were subjected to smoke, wind, flying cinders, and sparks, and spectacles such as these were so often suggested to protect the eyes that they became known as 'railway spectacles'. Later railway spectacles would replace the tinted side lenses with mesh gauze screens that eventually would evolve into modern protective goggles. Here's an advertisement from the 1840s for "Gauze Railway Spectacles and Blue Glass Eye Protectors."

For much more about the history of eyeglasses and spectacles, check out the College of Optometrists on-line MusEYEum here.

Upper left: Spectacles, made by Charles Brewer & Company, New York, 1829-33, Winterthur Museum, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont
Right: Portrait of a Gentleman, by John Wesley Jarvis, 1807, Private collection
Lower left: Portrait of a Spanish Gentleman, by Jose Buzo Caceres, 1832, British Optical Association Museum, London
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