Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More Faux Pearls: Abigail Adams's Necklace, 1766

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Susan reporting:

One of the most enjoyable parts of this blog for Loretta and me is hearing from readers who in turn share more nerdy-history-facts with us. After my recent post on the faux pearls popular in the 18th c., the so-called "Roman pearls", we heard from Sharon Ann Burnston (historian, archaeologist, author, re-enactor, & consultant on Colonial America), who reminded us of what is likely the most famous strand of faux pearls worn in 18th c. North America: the necklace worn by First Lady Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818). In the earliest known portrait of her, the pastel portrait, left, she is shown wearing the fashionable glass pearls. The strand of pale pink beads, right, belonging to her is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, donated by a descendant in 1914, and is most likely the same necklace from the portrait.

As the bride of an unknown country lawyer in colonial Massachusetts, Abigail would never have owned real pearls, but the strand of glass beads were a handsome, elegant substitute. Abigail also unwittingly set a precedent for First Lady fashion. Far in the future, First Ladies Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama (ladies who could in fact have afforded the real thing) would all become known for wearing extravagant faux pearl necklaces as part of their public personae.

Long to share Abigail's look? Sharon's "emporium" for 18th c. re-enactors, Village Green Clothier, offers a lovely replica for sale here. (HBO commissioned one from Sharon for actress Laura Linney after she won the Golden Globe for playing Abigail Adams in the John Adams miniseries.) The ironic twist: the modern replicas are genuine freshwater pearls.

Above: Abigail Adams, pastel portrait by Benjamin Blythe, 1766
Below: Glass bead necklace, worn by Abigail Adams, Smithsonian Institution; photograph courtesy Smithsonian Institution


Anonymous said...

I admit to being a nut about hsitory, too. Thank goodness, I found your blog and subscribed. Even though I write late 18th centrury historical romance, you still provide good research, such as the high spped travel on a horse. Even when it's Regency, which I love to read but don't write, I thoroughly enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing. Can hardly wait untiL SILK FOR SEDUCTION is in stores!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Okay, I clicked the wrong box due to Blogger's recent temper tantrums. The above is from me, Caroline Clemmons.

Isobel Carr said...

Those are some really nice reproductions. I've sent the link to my Georgian re-enactor girlfriends.

Time Traveling in Costume said...

This is wonderful, especially with the link to Sharon's website. It's a great resource for costumers to see what is period correct, and great prices to purchase them. I've shared it with other costumers on Facebook. And I enjoy reading your posts each day.

Kristin said...

Sharon is AMAZING. I've met her several times at events and she is always so willing to chat and share her knowledge. I can't wait for her bible, I mean book, Fitting and Proper, to come back into print!

Great post, ladies!

nightsmusic said...

You are so bad! Another few hours wasted in pursuit of the interesting. I have to stop clicking on your links!


I love glass pearls. I have a couple sets that have been in my family forever along with a set I bought several years ago and they are all still lovely. People don't realize that the nacre on a real pearl will wear off if they're worn constantly. Yes, the oils from your skin make them brighter, but the constant movement also wears off the outer coating so the glass pearls are a gorgeous alternative.

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