Monday, April 30, 2012

London Zoo 1830

Monday, April 30, 2012
Loretta reports:

Guidebooks offer wonderfully detailed information about specific cities.  I've used contemporary guidebooks for Paris, London, and Venice, among others.  Here's a sample page from the 1830 edition of Leigh's New Picture of London, describing the London Zoo.

George Scharf, The Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park
Illustration (from a work in the collection of the London Museum) courtesy Wikimedia Commons. The Camel House in the picture still exists in extremely altered form.  See more historical images here.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of April 23, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012
Served up fresh for your weekend delight: our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, video clips, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
• Slaying Myths: Richard the Lionheart had little to do with the popularity of St George in England.
• Mary Randolph's 1825 Refrigerator.
• Drawing pin or thumbtack? Pram or stroller? British words & their American equivalents.
• Ride on! Great images of 19th-early 20th c women & bicycles.
• Dream a little dream: people sleeping in former days.
• Possible statue depicting twins of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.
• Wonderful new archival site featuring every aspect of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
• How to deal with a wayward wife, 1799.
• Many copies of Princess Charlotte wearing her blue gown exist, c 1817. Here's the original gown.
• Women of Woburn, MA make a modest proposal in 1775, addressing the problem of paying for that pesky tea boycott.
Coining it in the 18th c: "King" David Harley, executed 28 April 1770.
• Who says the Victorians never smiled? Absolutely charming c 1850 daguerreotype of a young girl.
• Female mugshots from the early 20th century.
• On April 27, 1749, this ticket would have admitted you to the Royal Fireworks.
• The bubble silhouette of the 1950s.
• The white-faced portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
• The knot garden, Castletown Cox, Ireland.
• Difficulties of travel & transportation in early 19th c Britain.
• Posters for 1890 burlesque shows.
• An ominous sign for the Boleyn family, 1536.
• Stunning & symbolic 18th c mourning ring.
Mary Harrison's house - she was almost Jane Austen's sister-in-law.
• New Hope & Osculation - Kisses from World War II.
• Truth or history-myth: Paul Revere rode through the countryside shouting: "The British are Coming!"
Bluebells at Bow Cemetery.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What the 18th c Housewife Wore Whilst Sweeping

Friday, April 27, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

While it's usually the clothes of the rich and famous that survive in museums, those of the "middling sort" in the 18th c took care with their dress, too. Here Sarah Woodyard (an apprentice mantua-maker in the historic trades program at Colonial Williamsburg) shows what an English or colonial American housewife would have worn for work-a-day dress.

She is wearing an English night-gown with a fitted back, made from a printed calico. The small figure and dark print would have held up to wear, but this kind of printed calico was also less fashionable than printed cotton chintzes with more white space in the printed design (like this one here.)

The gown is worn over a cream colored loom-quilted petticoat with a cotton muslin apron. Of course she is wearing boned stays (corset), which not only give her a fashionable shape, but help support her back as she goes about her tasks. Her ruffled cap - for no respectable 18th c woman ever goes without a cap, even indoors - is also cotton muslin, with a silk ribbon.

Tucked into the bodice of her gown is a triangular kerchief of Irish linen, and around her throat is a small strand of red coral beads. The stuffed red heart hanging by a ribbon from her waist is a pincushion, and also hanging is a pair of scissors (ribbons tied to the apron strings like this would have constituted an average woman's chatelaine.) She's wearing white cotton thread stockings, and a pair of men's flat mules - perhaps borrowed from her husband?

All clothes are replicas, but stitched entirely by hand by Sarah herself, in the same way as an 18th c seamstress would have done.

*Why the double name? Here's the reason.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dining Georgian-Style: Salmagundy

Thursday, April 26, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

Just as it would have been 250 years ago, the kitchen of the Governor's Palace of Colonial Williamsburg is always a busy place. Royal governors were expected to entertain on a grand scale, and they brought from London not only skilled professional chefs, but also sophisticated tastes in dining. An elegant presentation (aka 'plating' to modern foodies) was an important part of the Georgian dining experience.

The dish, left, is a composed salad called salmagundy. Salmagundy was a popular dish on 18th c tables, a kind of salad including chopped vegetables, meat, seafood, nuts, and eggs. The ingredients varied, but creating a pleasing composition was always important. Salmagundy would be served at the table, with an olive-oil based dressing to individual taste. 

The salmagundy prepared today in the Governor's Palace included ham, bacon, chives, and hard-boiled eggs. Flowers were used as garnish, another 18th c fashion. These lovely purple blossoms were plucked from the chives, right, growing a few feet outside the kitchen door.

If you'd like to try your hand at salmagundy, here's the link to an 18th c recipe, plus a modern adaptation, both courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg. 

Many thanks to Susan Holler of the Governor's Palace kitchen for answering my questions today as she cooked!

*Why the double name? Here's the reason.

Foxgloves in the Rain

Isabella/Susan reporting:

Just to prove that yes, the weather forecast was sadly right, and it did rain today here in Colonial Williamsburg. But even that couldn't dampen the spectacular colors of these foxgloves - a quintissential flower for old-fashioned flower gardens.

Why the name foxgloves? Here are some interesting suggestions from English botany: or Coloured figures of British plants, by Sir James Edward Smith, James Sowerby, & George Shaw (1814):

"...the name foxglove is a very ancient one and exists in a list of plants as old as the time of Edward III. The 'folks' of our ancestors were the fairies and nothing is more likely than that the pretty coloured bells of the plant would be designated 'folksgloves,' afterwards, 'foxglove.' In Wales it is declared to be a favourite lurking-place of the fairies, who are said to occasion a snapping sound when children, holding one end of the bell, suddenly strike the other on the hand to hear the clap of fairy thunder, with which the indignant fairy makes her escape from her injured retreat. In south Scotland it is called 'bloody fingers' more northward, 'deadman's bells' whilst in Wales it is known as 'fairy-folks-fingers' or 'lambs-tongue-leave'."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April in Colonial Williamsburg

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Isabella/Susan* reporting:

As promised, I'm reporting from Colonial Williamsburg this week. After a few technical glitches of the 21st c variety, I'm happily basking in the 18th c British colony of Virginia. I'll be posting about Georgian food, carriages, a fire engine, and - of course - clothing, with whatever else catches my eye tossed in, too.

Spring arrived about four weeks earlier here, just as it has all up and down the American east coat this year. As a result, the flower gardens are all in fine flower; the foxgloves (those tall spikes of color) are spectacular. Here are a few photos taken today to get you in the 18th c mood. Alas, the fine weather isn't supposed to last, so this may be the last blue sky I post all week.
*Why the double names? Here's the story.

We are experiencing technical difficulties


Please stay tuned.

Or come back soon...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Coming attractions & a note from the archives

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Loretta reports:

This week will bring a new set of posts from one of our favorite historical sites, Colonial Williamsburg, in Williamsburg, VA.

As a sample of the kinds of things we see & learn there, and the up-close-and-personal photos we bring you, here's my very first 2NHG post, from 2009:

Breeches buttoned Finally, I got to unbutton a pair of breeches.
Susan and I entered the milliner’s shop in Colonial Williamsburg,
and there they were, spread out on the counter.

Breeches up close We were told we were welcome to touch, so I did.
In case you were wondering, that “stockinette” you may have read about is definitely stretchy--and thinner than you’d guess. These breeches are 18th century, a little before my writing time.

Breeches-fall It was very interesting to learn that men of the Regency wore their clothes much tighter. Tailors, we were told, were advised to cut the material three inches narrower than the man’s measurements. So now I’m picturing men in tights. (???)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Those Bumless Beauties, 1788

Sunday, April 22, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

This is one of my favorite satirical prints of the late 18th c, and what's not to love? It's pure fashion foolishness at its best. Of course in 1788, when this print was published, Englishwomen didn't suddenly lose their booties.

But fashion was changing: the big hoops and false-rumps of the earlier 18th c had fallen from fashion, and the narrower, high-waisted gowns of the Regency era are just around the corner. The shoes with curving high heels that had been in style for over a century have been replaced by flat slippers. Balancing out the new, narrower lower half are oversized hats, kerchief-draped bosoms, that enormous fur muff, and full, frizzled hair.

Yes, it's doubtful even the most dedicated Georgian fashionista was dressed to this extreme. Portraits and surviving clothes from this period are actually quite pretty and feminine, even to our modern eyes. But satirical artists made their living by exaggeration, and in an era that loved women of physical substance, an artist couldn't go wrong ridiculing a too-slender figure in a tight skirt, or accusing women of deception in dress, either.

The caption:
   Both bums and rumps are now no more.
   With merry thoughts the fair are blest.
   Their beauties now you may explore.
   All bare and therefore all express't.

Although this print has been attributed to James Sayers, scholars now believe it's the work of one of the best caricaturists of all time, Thomas Rowlandson (who incidentally died on this day in 1827.) Given the many - and often erotic - drawings Rowlandson made of robustly endowed women, he clearly wasn't enamored of the new fashions. Don't you wish he could be miraculously transported to modern times to draw Kim Kardashian?

Above: The Bumless Beauties by James Sayers/Thomas Rowlandson, published by S.W.Fores, London, 1788. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

*Why two names? Here's the answer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of April 16, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012
Served up fresh for your weekend delight: our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, video clips, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
• Annie Miller, that scandalous stunner, immortalized by the Pre-Raphaelites.
• Madame Jeanne Guyon: the Accused Witch Who Defied King Louis XIV.
Titanic survivor Eleanore Widener lost her husband & son - but left many legacies in their honor.
• Painted out of history: the abdication crisis & a doctored portrait of Edward VIII.
• How cool is this Victorian tattoo'd lady?
• A long-"lost" letter from Paul Revere to his wife Rachel rediscovered, preserved.
• From Civil War drummer boy to Titanic passenger: the fascinating & full life of Frank Millet.
• Aaron Burr describes the flogging of the "impertinent" ship's steward by the "good-natured Captain on his voyage from England to America.
• The death of Anne Boleyn: a correspondent writes to Elizabeth I.
• What an 18th c gentleman packed in his trunk for a journey.
• The 1912 Little Theatre (aka the Helen Hayes Theater) remains the smallest in the NYC theater district.
• This week in 1906: the San Francisco earthquake: rare color photos of the damage.
• Portrait of legendary 18th c transvestite Chevalier D'Eon discovered, identified.
• Would you believe there's still an outhouse in NYC?
• Thomas Jefferson's "Maccaroni" machine with instructions for making pasta.
• Murder of suicide? The strange death of the Earl of Essex, 1683.
• Historic Dress of the Day: dinner dress, 1910-1912.
• Ancient staute depicts female gladiator.
Parisians in 1842: The Upper Class.
• Sweet history: Domino cakes and Battenburg cakes.
• Hair apparent: false hair caps & the mysterious world of 19th c hair anxiety.
• Keeping women happy in the workplace, 1943.
• Photographs by C.A. Matthews from 1912 show daily life in Spitalfields, London (look closely for the Titanic announcement)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Video: Astaire & Rogers 1933 dancing debut

Friday, April 20, 2012
Loretta reports:

My thanks to the FIDM Museum for this wonderful post about Fred Astaire's shoes.  It included not only a link to a fascinating interview with the great dancer, wherein he discusses his clothing choices in detail, but this clip from Flying Down to Rio—the first film in which Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire danced together.  They appear only for a short time, but the production is a great example of what musicals accomplished—with talented human beings and no computer special effects—in the 1930s.

Illustration:  Detail from City of New York Municipal Airports poster,  courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.      

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a black rectangle or square or X where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title of this post.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Enterprising Mantua-Maker Saves her Apprentice, 1711

Thursday, April 19, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

The following tale of an ingenious, avenging London mantua-maker (dressmaker) saving her young apprentice from a false seducer is from The Spectator (1711), an influential daily publication founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. Most likely these events are pure fiction, not fact, and the "author", the felicitously named Alice Threadneedle, is also likely male. But it could have happened....

   It is the ordinary Practice and Business of Life with a Set of idle Fellows about this Town, to write Letters, send Messages, and form Appointments with little raw unthinking Girls, and leave them after Possession of them, without any Mercy, to Shame, Infamy, Poverty, and Disease. Were you to read the nauseous Impertinences which are written on these Occasions, and to see the silly Creatures sighing over them, it could not but be Matter of Mirth as well as Pity. 
   A little Prentice Girl of mine has been for some time applied to by an Irish Fellow, who dresses very fine, and struts in a laced Coat, and is the Admiration of Seamstresses who are under Age in Town. Ever sine I have had some Knowledge of the Matter, I have debarred my Prentice from Pen, Ink and Paper. But the other Day he bespoke some Cravats of me: I went out of the Shop and left his Mistress to put them into a Band-box in order to be sent to him when his Man called. When I came into the Shop again, I took occasion to send her away, and found in the Bottom of the Box written these Words, "Why would you ruin a harmless Creature that loves you?" then in the Lid, "There is no resisting." I searched a little farther, and found in the rim of the Box, "At Eleven of clock at Night come in an Hackney-Coach at the End of our Street." 
   This was enough to alarm me; I sent away the things, and took my Measures accordingly. An Hour or two before the appointed Time I examined my young Lady, and found her Trunk stuffed with impertinent Letters, and an old Scroll of Parchment in Latin, which her Lover had sent her as a Settlement of Fifty Pounds a Year. Among other things, there was also the best Lace I had in my Shop to make him a Present for Cravats. I was very glad of this last Circumstance, because I could very conscientiously swear against him that he had enticed my Servant away, and was her Accomplice in robbing me: I procured a Warrant against him accordingly. 
   Every thing was now prepared, and the tender Hour of Love approaching, I, who had acted for myself in my Youth the same senseless Part, knew how to manage accordingly. Therefore after having locked up my Maid, and not being so much unlike her in Height and Shape, as not to pass for her, I delivered the Bundle designed to be carried off to her Lover's Man, who came with the Signal to receive them. Thus I followed after to the Coach, where when I saw his Master take them in, I cryed out, "Thieves! Thieves!" and the Constable with his Attendants seized my expecting Lover. I kept myself unobserved till I saw the Crowd sufficiently encreased, and then appeared to declare the Goods to be mine; and had the Satisfaction to see my Man of Mode put into the Round-House, with the stolen Wares by him, to be produced in Evidence against him the next Morning. 
   I have been contented to save my Prentice, and take a Year's Rent of this mortified Lover, not to appear further in the Matter. This was some Penance; but, Sir, is this enough for a Villany of much more pernicious Consequence than the Trifles for which he was to have been indicted? Should not all Men of any Parts or Honour, put things upon so right a Foot, as that such a Rascal should not laugh at the Imputation of what he was really guilty, and dread being accused of that for which he was arrested?....

Above: The pretty mantua maker, published by M. Darly, London, 1772. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
* Why two names? Here's the answer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A London House 1810-11

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Loretta reports:

The same French visitor who deplored British dining habits admired London’s houses.
Each family occupy a whole house, unless very poor . . . These narrow houses, three or four stories high,— one for eating, one for sleeping, a third for company, a fourth under ground for the kitchen, a fifth perhaps at top for the servants . . .

The plan of these houses is very simple, two rooms on each story; one in the front, with two or three windows looking on the street, the other on a yard behind, often very small; the stairs generally taken out of the breadth of the back-room. The ground-floor is usually elevated a few feet above the level of the street, and separated from it by an area, a sort of ditch, a few feet wide, generally from three to eight, and six or eight feet deep, inclosed by an iron railing; the windows of the kitchen are in this area . . . you cannot pass the threshold without being struck with the look of order and neatness of the interior. Instead of the abominable filth of the common entrance and common stairs of a French house, here you step from the very street on a neat floor-cloth or carpet, the wall painted or papered, a lamp in its glass bell hanging from the ceiling, and every apartment in the same style:—all is neat, compact, and independent, or, as it is best expressed here, snug and comfortable . . .

On the foot pavement before each house is a round hole, fifteen or eighteen inches in diameter, covered with an iron grate; through that hole the coal-cellar is filled without endangering the neatness of the house. The streets have all common sewers, which drain the filth of every house. The drains preclude that awkward process by which necessaries are emptied at Paris, poisoning the air of whole streets, during the night, with effluvia, hurtful and sometimes fatal to the inhabitants. Rich houses have what are called water-closets; a cistern in the upper story, filled with water, communicates by a pipe and cock to a vessel of earthen ware, which it washes.
—Louis Simond, Journal of a tour and residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811, Volume 1(1817 edition).

Illustration from Thomas H. Shepherd's London in the Nineteenth Century.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Who's Wearing the Ducal Breeches in 1775?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

Satirical cartoons of the late 18th-early 19th c are seldom subtle (like these examples here and here), which makes this pair all the more interesting. Published in 1775 by Matthew Darly, the prints are not labeled with the subject's names, and modern historians are reluctant to give them a definite identity. Still, 18th c viewers would have instantly known who they represent, and it's an easy guess for us, too: Jane Gordon, Duchess of Gordon, and her husband, Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon.

Jane Gordon (1748-1812) was one of the most discussed ladies of her generation. Georgian ladies were supposed to be decorative; Jane was a celebrated beauty, but she was also clever, savvy, out-spoken, and witty. Not only did she handle her husband's business affairs, but as a confidant of William Pitt the Younger, she was actively involved in politics as a noted Tory hostess. Many accused her of having far more influence than was suitable for a woman. Her personality and pro-Bonaparte sympathies eventually led to the end of her marriage and her social position with it.

In the drawing, above, called The Breeches in the Fiera Maschereta (Italian for "fine masquerade"), a woman with a duchess's plumes has hidden herself entirely in an enormous pair of men's breeches.  (If you're having trouble visualizing the front of the breeches, see this photo of an 18th c style pair.) Twentieth century wives with strong personalities were often described as "wearing the pants in the family," which could also sum up this drawing. But in a time when no woman wore breeches (or pants), there's a sharper edge to the humor. By meddling in men's affairs, the duchess is an unnatural woman - and one who strives to assume a male identity by assuming the ultimate male garment as a masquerade.

The companion drawing, right. is no more flattering to His Grace. Alexander Gordon (1743-1827) was an  energetic Scottish nobleman, popular with his tenants, but his marriage to Jane was widely regarded as a bitter, tumultuous disaster. Despite having a sizable family, the two eventually lived separate lives. Those who disliked his duchess and disapproved of the influence she maintained faulted the duke for not making her act in a more traditional wifely manner (though it was doubtful any man could have made Jane obey.)

In The Petticoat, at the Fieri Maschareta, a man is shown "masquerading" in a voluminous woman's petticoat, his gloved hand protruding from the pocket slits and the waist strings tied around his neck.  On his head is a ducal coronet, and the face that peeks out has an exaggerated version of the duke's profile. Garbed like this, he is not simply hiding behind his wife's skirts, but overwhelmed and emasculated as well - which is likely the way his overbearing wife's behavior was viewed.  Despite this caricature, however, the duke was behaving in an entirely male, ducal way. While his duchess ruled London society, he remained at Gordon Castle with his mistress nearby, siring four illegitimate children with her.

Above: The Breeches in the Fiera Maschereta & The Petticoat, at the Fieri Maschareta, published by Matthew Darly, London, 1775. The British Museum.  Many thanks to our blogly friend Heather Carroll for reminding us of this print!

*Why two names? The explanation is here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fashionable furniture for April 1814

Monday, April 16, 2012
Loretta reports:

From the April 1814 issue of Ackermann’s Repository, remarks on the value of the arts accompany the illustration of a table and chair inspired by the man who gave the Regency its name.
We know that a people become enlightened by the cultivation of the arts, and that they become great in the progress of that cultivation. That a just knowledge of the useful and a correct taste for the ornamental go hand in hand with this general improvement, the dullest observer may be satisfied by looking around him. We now acknowledge, that it is alone the pencil of the artist which can trace the universal hieroglyphic; understood alike by all, his enthusiasm communicates itself to all alike, and prepares the mind for cultivation. A national improvement is thus produced by the arts, and the arts are supported in their respectability by the calls which the improving public taste makes for their assistance ; they are inseparable in their progress, and mutually depend on each other for support. In the construction of the domestic furniture of our dwellings we see and feel the benefit of all this. To the credit of our higher classes who encourage, and of our manufacturing artists who produce, we now universally quit the overcharged magnificence of former ages, and seek the purer models of simplicity and tasteful ornament in every article of daily call.

The table and chair which are the subject of the present engraving, are peculiarly of the description of improvement of which we are speaking. They exhibit a judicious combination of elegance and usefulness, do great credit to the artists who designed and executed them, and highly merit the patronage afforded them. They are from the ware-rooms of Messrs. Morgan and Sanders, of Catherine-street, Strand. They take the name of Carlton-House Table and Chair, as we presume, from having been first made for the august personage whose correct taste has so classically embellished that beautiful palace.
The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics,1814

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of April 9, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012
Served up fresh for weekend delight: our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, video clips, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse - and while I could have done an entire listing of only Titanic-related links, I promise I didn't.
• The first Sartorialist: the 1906 street style photography of Edward Linley Sambourne.
• Poor Chole! How to reject a girl, 1788.
• A glimpse of author Harper Lee's reclusive life from her sister.
• Unprincipled octogenarian Scottish noble Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, executed this week in 1747 for his role in Jacobite rebellions.
• So many New York connections to the Titanic, and more here, too.
• "'The Irish glover!' cried Mr. Hill, with a Look of Terror" - the truth about 18th c chicken skin gloves.
• Why some American Civil War soldiers glowed in the dark.
• Did a concoction made from fiddlehead ferns kill 19th c botanist Constantine Rafinesque?
• What happens when a big lorry drives through a small 16th c archway.
Fantastic food for jubilees and other royal occasions.
• Unknown no more: identifying a Civil War soldier.
• The beautiful carved swags on early 19th c houses in Salem, MA.
• Vintage LOL cats.
• When things were still made in the US: business stationary featuring architectural vignettes.
• "Footprints in the cheese": a strange tale of theft, 1770.
• The squirrel: a symbol of saving, spite, and. . .Satan.
• The young Shakespeare among the inns & playhouses of Elizabethan London.
• Death-defying feats: a day at 19th c Cremorne.
• Items from Emily Dickinson Museum at Amherst College, including Emily's poems & lock of her hair.
• The splendid fashions of 1912, or what you might have worn on board the Titanic. More here.
• In the days before CNN, important news - like the assassination of President Lincoln - came in newspaper extra.
• Important invention: the refrigerator, patented in 1803 by Thomas Moore. Early customer: Thomas Jefferson.
• A memorable tale of true love: one of the most poignant stories from the Titanic, and the monument to it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Video: After Hours at the Bookstore

Friday, April 13, 2012

Isabella/Susan* reporting:

This delightful video is a true labor of love by the owners and staff of Type Books, a small indie bookstore in Toronto, ON. As the YouTube description says, they "spent many sleepless nights moving, stacking, and animating books," and the results are delightful. Try doing this with an e-book!

At least they say they moved the books.  Who really knows what happens when books are left alone at night?

For more about the making of this video as well as Type Books and a list of all the volunteers who helped create it, here's the link to the YouTube page.

* Wondering why I now have two names? All is explained here

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Worth's Magnificent Gilded Age Fashion Now Online

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

The Museum of the City of New York has just given us Nerdy History Girls (as well as all other lovers of history, fashion, impeccable stitching, Gilded Age New York City, Edwardian London, and fin-de-siecle Paris and all-around gorgeous clothes) a most splendid gift: they're presenting their incredible collection of couture clothes by master designers Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1925) and Mainboucher (1891-1976) in an online exhibition. No matter where in the world you live, if you have internet access, you can visit Worth/Mainboucher: Demystifying the Haute Coutureand wow, do I hope you do!

Hands down, this is the very best presentation of historical fashion that I've yet seen online. The clothes are beautifully photographed, most with multiple views. Click on the close-up feature (that little magnifying glass), and you can view each piece in astonishing detail, with every exquisite stitch and seam distinct. Ever garment has an accompanying short history, plus actual garment measurements and technical details outlining fabric content.

While those of you who enjoy sleek 20th c. elegance will relish the Mainboucher section of the site - he dressed such style-setters as the Duchess of Windsor, Babe Paley, and C.Z. Guest - my own taste runs more to the lavish, often fanciful, 19th c creations of Worth. For nearly seventy-five years, Worth's Parisian atelier was a mecca for wealthy fashion-conscious ladies from Europe and America, and his one-of-a-kind gowns exemplify the luxuriant excess of Gilded Age New York in the time of the Astors and Vanderbilts.

The ice-blue ball gown c 1886, left, includes many of the features that make Worth gowns so special. Masterful draping, an eye-catching combination of fabrics (including uncut velvet, satin, chiffon, glass beads, lace, & silk plush!) that create an interplay of textures, and dramatic asymmetry all help create a gown that would make the wearer stand out even in the most crowded ball. (Here's the link to the page for the complete description and more photos - and don't forget that magnifying glass feature!)

But modern 19th c ladies required fashion beyond the opera house and ballroom. Once owned by a princess, the c 1890 coat, right, was designed for ice skating. Rich brown wool duvetyn is trimmed with mink, and lined with blood-red silk that would have showed through the back vent as the skater glided by. Wouldn't you love to add this to your own wardrobe for blustery days? (Here's the link to the coat's page.)

Photographs courtesy The Museum of the City of New York.
*Wondering why I now have two names? Here's the scoop.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Strange English Dining Customs & Furniture

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Loretta reports:
There are some customs here not quite consistent with that scrupulous delicacy on which the English pique themselves.  . . . Drinking much and long leads to unavoidable consequences. Will it be credited, that, in a corner of the very dining room, there is a certain convenient piece of furniture, to be used by any body who wants it. The operation is performed very deliberately and undisguisedly, as a matter of course, and occasions no interruption of the conversation. I once took the liberty to ask why this convenient article was not placed out of the room, in some adjoining closet; and was answered, that, in former times, when good fellowship was more strictly enforced than in these degenerate days, it had been found that men of weak heads or stomachs took advantage of the opportunity to make their escape shamefully, before they were quite drunk; and that it was to guard against such an enormity that this nice expedient had been invented. I have seen the article in question regularly provided in houses where there were no men, that is, no master of the house ; the mistress, therefore, must be understood to have given the necessary orders to her servants,—a supposition rather alarming for the delicacy of an English lady.
Louis Simond, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, During the Years 1810 and 1811, Volume 1 (1817 edition).

Seventeen years later, Prince Pückler-Muskau writes to his beloved Lucie about “one strange custom . . . a relic of barbarism which is extremely repugnant to our notions of propriety.
“This struck me especially today when an old admiral who, clad in his dress uniform, probably on account of Lord Melville’s presence, made use of this facility for a good ten minutes, during which period we felt as if we were listening to the last drops from a roof gutter after a long past thunderstorm.”

Illustration:  James Gillray, A Voluptuary under the horrors of digestion, 1792. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pseudonyms; or How Susan is Becoming Isabella

Sunday, April 8, 2012
Susan/Isabella reporting:

Pseudonyms, or pen names, have a long history in publishing, especially for women. In the past, women writers often assumed a male name to give their books credibility with editors and readers skeptical of a female pen: Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte), George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). I can think of only one case when a woman writer with a male-sounding first name switched to one that was more feminine: Howard Allen O'Brien publishes as Anne Rice.

Sometimes women writers choose a pen name to separate themselves from their husbands and families, and sometimes, too,  a pen name works because it's shorter and easier to remember than the real name: the single-named Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.) Modern writers often choose a second name to signal readers that they're writing a different kind of book Nora Roberts writes traditional romance/women's fiction; as J.D. Robb, she writes futuristic suspense. I'm sure you can think of more examples - once you start, it's hard to stop.

All of which is a roundabout way of explaining that this summer I'll be launching an exciting new series of historical romances under a new name: Isabella Bradford. Scheduled for release at the end of July, When You Wish Upon a Duke is the first of three books (published by Ballantine/Random House) following the romantic escapades of the irrepressible Wylder sisters – escapades that make them the talk of Georgian London, and a passionate challenge to the trio of dukes who fall in love with them. You won't have long to wait for the next book in the series, either.  When the Duchess Says Yes will be released in late September, and When the Duke Found Love in late November.

I'll be writing more here on the blog about the historical background to the books over the coming months (as well as launching an Isabella Bradford website), but in the meantime, I'll be adding Isabella's name to my posts here as well. A bit awkward, I know, but then we Geminis are accustomed to having multiple identities.

What about my historical novels written as Susan Holloway Scott? For now, I'm taking a short break from historical fiction to focus on Isabella Bradford. But don't be surprised if some historical story suddenly bubbles up from my imagination and research to become a new book.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of April 2, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012
Happy Easter, happy Passover, happy spring! Served up fresh for your holiday weekend: our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, video clips, pictures, and articles, collected from around the Twitterverse.
• The lost Hippodrome – a mammouth 1906 NYC theater – reportedly the largest in the world.
• "Minions": the complicated privy chamber of Henry VIII.
• Account of the Wonderful Centaur, 1751.
• "Rogues, a Study of Character"- collection c1860 of glass print photos of criminals & their crimes.
• A ballroom shepherdess? Charming fancy dress costume, c1883-87.
• Inspired by a royal bride (or not): The truth about 19th c Battenburg Cake.
• The Victorians and the Blow-Up Doll Femme de Voyage.
Shakespeare and the Lost Years.
• What a library! Uses of tiered tables in the book rooms at Wimpole Hall.
• Avert your eyes, sensitive followers: A naughty Georgian print, featuring a little light spanking.
• Oh, why not? Architectural LOLcats.
• Enjoy three lovely straw hats (1890s, 1940s, & 1950s) that are perfect for Easter Sunday.
When books mattered: Scribner's NYC bookstore was the Apple flagship of its day, a century ago.
• 17th c advice on how to train a horse to pick up a glove, count, and piss on demand.
• First-ever appearance of Peter Rabbit, in an illustrated letter from Beatrix Potter to a young boy.
• UK's first female doctor? Strange tale of a woman called "James" Barry, who lived life as a man.
Mark Twain's obsession with Joan of Arc.
Louis XIV: Patron, but no saint.
• Hear Mick Jagger sing about cereal, as mentioned by Don Draper on Mad Men. (video)
Titanic: Twenty telling images.
• Ganseys for Dummies: exploding myths surrounding historic cable knits of the British Isles.
Victorine Meurent, Manet's famous model - and an ambitious artist herself.
• Stupendous photos of the 1960s pre-Apollo astronauts. Did Geminis have the right stuff? Hell yeah!
• Women known as "fluffies" clean the London Underground at night in 1944. (video)
• Queen Victoria's wedding dress.
Arbors for lovers and large gatherings in early American gardens.
Victorian women & drugs.
• Grisly "hand of glory" discovered in the wall of a thatched cottage.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Videos: Queen Elizabeth II & the Royal Maundy Service

Friday, April 6, 2012

Susan reporting:

We're offering two videos this week, featuring the same royal ceremony fifty years apart. Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the three days celebrating Easter, and commemorates the events of the Last Supper. In an ancient tradition that dates back at least to the time of King Edward I, the reigning English monarch offers alms, called the Royal Maundy, to a symbolic number of elderly, deserving citizens (one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign's age); the sum of the alms is also the same amount in pence. The sovereign gives each recipient two small leather purses, one red, one white, which are carried in the ceremony by Yeomen of the Guards. In the red purses are modern currency for the purchase of food and clothing. In the white purses are the silver Maundy coins. (For more about Maundy Money, see this post by the Royal Mint.)

The Royal Maundy Service in 1952, shown in the video above, was the first official appearance by Elizabeth as the new queen, only a few weeks after her father's death in February. Because of her youth - she was only twenty-six at the time - the Royal Maundy that she distributed consisted of silver coins totaling twenty-six pence, given to the twenty-six deserving men and women. She was the first English queen to participate in the ceremony since her namesake Elizabeth I, four hundred years earlier.

Sixty years later, the Queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, and when she attended the Royal Maundy Service at York Minster this week, the number of the recipients and the coins were substantially more: eighty-six male and eighty-six female recipients received coins valued at eighty-six pence. Below is video from the service, which took place yesterday, April 5, 2012.

If you receive this post by email and are seeing only a blank or black box above, please go directly to this link to view the videos.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Easter Custom: Lifting

Thursday, April 5, 2012
Loretta reports:

An interesting Easter custom, courtesy William Hone, The Every-Day Book, or, The Guide to the Year, Vol. 1., (originally published in 1825)
Mr. Ellis inserts, in his edition of Mr. Brand's "Popular Antiquities," a letter from Mr. Thomas Loggan of Basinghall-street, from whence the following extract is made : Mr. Loggan says, " I was sitting alone last Easter Tuesday, at breakfast, at the Talbot in Shrewsbury, when I was surprised by the entrance of all the female servants of the house handing in an arm-chair, lined with white, and decorated with ribbons and favours of different colours.  I asked them what they wanted, their answer was, they came to heave me; it was the custom of the place on that morning, and they hoped I would take a seat in their chair.  It was impossible not to comply with a request very modestly made, and to a set of nymphs in their best apparel, and several of them under twenty.  I wished to see all the ceremony, and seated myself accordingly.  The group then lifted me from the ground, turned the chair about, and I had the felicity of a salute from each.  I told them, I supposed their was a fee due upon the occasion, and was answered in the affirmative; and, having satisfied the damsels in this respect, they withdrew to heave others.  At this time, I had never heard of such a custom; but on inquiry, I found that on Easter Monday, between nine and twelve, the men heave the women in the same manner as on the Tuesday, between the same hours, the women heave the men.”
The late Mr. Lyson read to the Society of Antiquaries an extract from a roll in his custody, as keeper of the records in the tower of London, which contains a payment to certain ladies and maids of honour for taking king Edward I. in his bed at Easter; from whence it has been presumed that he was lifted on the authority of that custom, which is said to have prevailed among all ranks throughout the kingdom. The usage is a vulgar commemoration of the resurrection which the festival of Easter celebrates.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Liberated Lives of Hortense & Marie Mancini

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Susan reporting:

Hortense Mancini, Duchess Mazarin (1646-1699) is one of my favorite historical women. I've written about her here and here for this blog, and she's also cut a bold figure in several of my historical novels, including The French Mistress and The King's Favorite.

Born a niece of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin, Hortense was a beautiful, flamboyant woman unhappily married off to a fanatical madman. Granted, she would have challenged most husbands: she rode, shot, gambled, swam, read and wrote, fought with swords, dressed in men's clothes, kept a menagerie of pets, and took lovers with abandon, including the English King Charles II.

But in 17th c society, women were considered their husband's property, with few rights of their own, and Hortense rebelled. She fled her husband, as did her equally unhappily married sister Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna (1639-1715) - who had herself been an early love of the French King Louis XIV- and together the two women embarked on a wild journey across Europe. Keeping one step ahead of their husbands, they travelled scandalously on their own from one royal court to another. Best of all, Hortense wrote her memoirs, whose frankness and feminist philosophy made them an instant sensation. How can you not like a woman like that?

My only regret regarding Hortense and Marie was that, stunningly, neither lady had a first-rate biography. Now they do: The Kings' Mistresses by noted scholar Elizabeth C. Goldsmith. Bringing together the remarkable lives of Hortense and Marie Mancini against the tumultuous world of Baroque Europe, this dual biography is rich with period detail and thoughtful research. It's historical biography at its best - the intertwined story of two women who refused to be ruled by either husbands or kings, and dared instead to create their own destiny.

Above: Hortense Mancini, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes.

In accordance with the FTC, I received this book from the publisher for review - though I would definitely have bought it on my own, too!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fashions for April 1821

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Loretta reports:

I especially love the little puffs on the shoulders of the carriage dress.

From the Lady’s Monthly Museum for April 1821.

FOR APRIL, 1821.

Pelisse of levantine of a bright mashmallow-blossom color, finished round the border with points folded back, from the material being placed over the lining; each point is terminated by a rich tassel à la ballon. The mancherons at the shoulders are formed of distinct puffs. A cravat scarf shawl, of pink raw silk, is generally worn with this pelisse, and a black bonnet, with oval puffings à I'Espagne on the brim, and points at the edge to correspond with the trimming on the pelisse: a rich plume of curled feathers is placed in front, with one feather depending over the right shoulder. Single Spanish ruff of lace, of a Vandycke pattern. Half-boots, of mashmallow-blossom, kid.

Round dress, of pearl-colored gossamer satin, trimmed with a broad ornamental border of embossed crape, or satin à l’antique. The stomacher is composed of fine lace of a novel form, and is pointed at the bottom of the waist in front. High tucker of fine broad lace. The hair arranged partly in the Greek and partly in the Parisian style, confined by a velvet bandeau across the forehead, where it is slightly separated, and crowned by a superb-diadem of apple-blossoms. Necklace and ear-rings of large oriental pearls. White satin slippers, white kid gloves, and white fan of figured tulle.

We have . . . been favored with the above elegant dresses by Miss Pierpoint, inventress of the Corset à la Grecque, 9, Henrietta-street, Covent-Garden.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fashion that Made an Abolitionist Statement, c 1790

Monday, April 2, 2012
Susan reporting:

The fashion-conscious gentleman of 1800 that we recently saw here (and in detail below) was wearing one of the more popular and useful male accessories of his era: dangling seals, also called fobs or toys. Suspended by ribbons or a chain, the seals were a decorative evolution of a practical item. Before envelopes, letters were folded sheets sealed with wax. The letter-writer would personalize his missive by pressing an intaglio seal into the hot wax, marking it with a symbol or design meaningful to him: a monogram, family crest, cipher, or classical motif.

While a seal could be cast metal, more elaborate ones became a kind of jewelry, with carved stones set into precious or plated metals. Look closely at many portraits and drawings of gentlemen from the late 18th-early 19th c, and you'll see them, usually worn at the waist in a small cluster. But the fashion wasn't restricted to gentlemen. Ladies, too, wore seals, hanging from their waist as part of a chatelaine. (Here's a splendid one c 1740, complete with a watch as well as seals.)

But the seal, above left, is more than mere ornament. (This photo shows the seal about twice actual size, and mounted on a display post.)  To quote from the accompanying placard: "The engraved carnelian stone of this example depicts a half-kneeling African male, bound at the wrists and ankles by iron chains, beneath the motto "AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER." The design was first adopted in England in 1787 by the Quaker-led Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Within a few years, the "slave medallion" design achieved wide circulation in print, metal, and ceramics and was adopted by anti-slavery movements in France and the United States. With each use, the owner of this seal expressed his or her abolitionist sympathies."

Abolition was a complicated and volatile issue for Americans and Englishmen alike, involving questions of politics, morality, religion, racism, regionalism, and economics. Wearing a seal with this symbol – instantly recognizable at the time – would have made a subtle yet undeniable statement that had nothing to do with the whims of fashion.

Top: Seal, probably made in London; 1790-1810. Carnelian, gilt brass. Collection of Winterthur Museum.
Below: Detail, A man of fashion in 1700: A fashionable man in 1800, drawn etched & published by Dighton, Charg. Cross, London, 1800. Copyright Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket