Saturday, September 29, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of September 24, 2012

Saturday, September 29, 2012
Served up fresh: the new serving of Breakfast Links includes our favorite links to other websites, photographs, and articles, all gathered for you this week from Twitter.
• Ready for fall: c. 1895 tweed suit with puffy leg-of-mutton sleeves.
• The yale's tale: History and symbolism of the yale, a fantastic medieval beast with extraordinary horns and a royal pedigree.
Ship's chair, 1840s, in storage so as not to frighten the kids.
• The strange journey of Napoleon's penis.
Bundling, "a very extraordinary method of courtship."
• How to use the telephone, 1917.
• The blue-green fronds of the herb rue were admired for their beauty in the Middle Ages.
• From Jane Austen's family: a receipt for a pudding in verse.
• Cocaine tooth drops, morphine teething syrup, and other Victorian quack cures.
• Russia's museum cats in the Hermitage.
Monarchs marrying for love: the experience of Edward IV & Henry VIII.
• Lord Holland writes to Lord Byron expressing a strong dislike for the word "intellectual."
• The murderous, pie-loving prostitutes of Dover Street, 1819.
• He spat fire in your face: the Victorian legen of Spring Heeled Jack.
• Raise a pint! Happy birthday, Arthur Guinness.
• "Unfinished, ugly, slipshod": The Times is not impressed by the Impressionists.
• The 18th c. courtesan actress and the press.
Madeleine of Valois, 16th c. Queen of Scotland.
• Astonishingly detailed article on the history of very early American daguerreotypes.
San Francisco in ruins after the earthquake, 1906.
• Gulp! Brief history of modern drinking straw.
William Wordsworth's childhood home, a beautiful recreation of a 1770s middle class interior.
• Astonishingly beautiful 18th c. button: wrapped metallic thread over wooden core.
• Wild, wild west: Buffalo Bill in Earls Court, London.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirlsant for fresh updates daily!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Video: Meet the Wylder Sisters

Friday, September 28, 2012

Isabella reporting:

This Friday Video also qualifies as Shameless Self-Promotion. Although my new series of historical romances (including the brand-new When the Duchess Said Yes, in stores and available for download this week) takes place in Georgian London, my publisher's publicity department is fixed firmly in the 21st century. This is the book trailer for the series – a short video for potential readers that's meant to give a quick impression of the books, to intrigue and beguile. Let the fans flutter!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Finding your way in 1782

Thursday, September 27, 2012
Loretta reports:

Since I so often send my characters on the road, I spend a lot of time with maps and tourist guides of all kinds.  My trusty Paterson’s Roads, which some describe as the AAA or AA guide of the late 18th & early 19th centuries became the model, apparently, for all road guides, well into the Victorian era and beyond.  My 1874 copy of Black’s Picturesque Tourist follows the same format, though it includes railway travel and more extensive descriptions of the larger cities and towns.

But the most fun are the strip maps.  I saw my first one in person many years ago at the Yale Center for British Art’s exhibition Roads to Rails: Revolution in British Transport, and was enchanted.  They’re an early version of the TripTiks AAA provides.  Though I’ve found only one edition of Bowles’s Post-Chaise Companion online, and it’s 1782, it can be more helpful than modern maps when I’m trying to follow a coaching route given in Paterson's.  It helps me picture the hills and valleys and rivers my characters encounter, among other things.  Also, in cases of extreme nerdiness, it’s fun to compare older routes with newer ones.  But mainly, these painstakingly hand-drawn maps are just so interesting to look at.

You can view some sharper images here and here.




Wednesday, September 26, 2012

One Last Glimpse of Ranelagh

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Since putting up my post about Ranelagh Gardens last night, I received a wonderful surprise from David Walker, Local Studies librarian, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Library, who sent me another image from the Library's collections. The watercolor of the moonlit Ranelagh Rotunda has been re-scanned, and the contrast adjusted to match the original more accurately.

But with the new scan, a new mystery is also revealed: who are the two ladies leaving the brightly lit Rotunda? Why are they hurrying away into the shadowy trees without an escort or chaperon?

Most intriguingly: who are they going to meet?

Left: Detail, The Rotunda at Ranelagh by Moonlight, artist unknown. Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Library.

The Romance of Ranelagh Gardens, c. 1760

Isabella reporting:

If you were a fashionable 18th c. Londoner, you knew all about Ranelagh Gardens, on the river in Chelsea.

First opened in 1741, Ranelagh featured not only extensive gardens and paths for strolling, but also the extravagant Rotunda, left, a large amphitheater with an orchestra stand in the center, surrounded by a circular dance floor, and surrounded by balconies for drinking and dining.

The Rotunda was one of the most visible landmarks of Georgian London, and proudly identified as sharing the same size and proportions of the Pantheon in Rome (although I have to admit that to my modern eyes, the famous dome looks a great deal like a 20th c baseball park.) There were also artificial lakes and canals and a Chinese pavilion. With an admission charge of two shillings and sixpence, Ranelagh was considered exclusive enough to attract the aristocracy, and clearly outshone Vauxhall Garden, its nearby rival.

But as famous as the Rotunda might be, the real attraction of Ranelagh were the visitors themselves. People came to see and be seen. The masquerades at Ranelagh, right, were especially popular, when the assumed identity of a costume and a mask could lead to all kinds of diverting mischief. Costumes could be elegantly genteel like this one worn by the Duchess of Ancaster – the Rotunda is in the background – or as revealing as this, worn by the scandalous Elizabeth Chudleigh, future Duchess of Kingston.

In fact most visitors regarded Ranelagh's main purpose to be romance and intrigue. The hero and heroine of my new historical romance, When the Duchess Said Yes, first meet under the stars at a Ranelagh masquerade. They would have had plenty of company, too. Historian Edward Gibbon (1753-1794) famously described Ranelagh in a letter to his step-mother in 1768:

"Ranelagh is indeed opened [for the season]....Notwithstanding the brilliancy of the first moment, I must own I think it very soon grows insipid to a by-stander, or by-walker if you like it better. I acknowledge it indeed the most convenient place for courtships of every kind. It is certainly the best market we have in England. Lord Abingdon is just going to make a pretty considerable purchase, of Miss Warren, Mrs. Fitzroy's sister. The Lord wants money, the Lady a title, so that as the bargain seems advantageous to both parties we apprehend it will speedily be concluded."

While this sounds a bit mercenary, there's no denying the romance of Ranelagh Gardens. Imagine a warm spring evening, the Rotunda, left, glowing like a giant lantern (as it was popularly described), the music from the orchestra drifting on the breeze, and you strolling arm in arm with a handsome masked gentleman beneath the trees. . . .

Above left: The Chinese House, the Rotunda, and Company in Masquerade, by T. Bowles, 1754.
Right: Venetian Masquerade at Ranelagh, April 26th, 1749.
Below left: Ranelagh Rotunda by Moonlight, watercolor, artist unknown.
All images courtesy of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Library, with thanks to David Walker, Local Studies librarian. Check out the library's excellent blog, The Library Time Machine - a TNHG favorite.
For more, see our Pinterest boards on London's 18th-19th c. Pleasure Gardens and Fancy Dress & Masquerade Costumes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"When the Duchess Said Yes" On Sale Today

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Isabella reports:

To authors, it often seems that the proverbial slow-sliding-molasses really does move faster than the whole book-publishing-process. Months and months of edits, rewrites, and galleys, and then, bang, it's publication day. Which means TODAY for When the Duchess Said Yes, now available everywhere, in print and electronically.


When the Duchess Said Yes is the second book in my Wylder Sisters series of historical romances, set in Georgian London. It's the second sister's story as well. As the daughter of an earl, Lady Elizabeth Wylder has been betrothed since infancy to the Duke of Hawkesworth. It's a splendid match for Lizzie, or it would be if her wayward duke would return home from Italy to claim her. Handsome and charming, Hawke is willing enough to marry the lovely, witty Lizzie once they finally meet. But being a bridegroom and a husband are two different things to irresponsible Hawke, and it's up to Lizzie to make him realize that the love – and desire - that he discovers with her are worth far more than all of his old bachelor pleasures combined.

As a preview, you can read (and download) the first chapter here.

Click here for Amazon.
Click here for Amazon UK.
Click here for Barnes & Noble.
Click here for Books-a-Million.
Click here for The Book Depository.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Young Woman Dresses for Day, c. 1775

Sunday, September 23, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 25) marks the release of my newest historical romance, When the Duchess Said Yes. This is the second book in my Wylder Sisters series, all set in Georgian London, and this week I'm going to be sharing a few posts connected to the story.

As anyone who reads this blog and my books knows, I have an endless love affair with 18th century clothing. Incorporating historical clothes into a story isn't easy, which may be why many writers avoid it altogether. But Loretta and I both believe that how a character dresses reveals a great deal about them. The trick is not only to incorporate descriptions of the clothing of the past as seen through the characters' eyes, but to share the experience of those clothes with modern readers - all without stopping the story. Nope, not easy at all.

So while I've done my best to describe how my heroines dress (and undress, which may be even more important in a romance), I had Abby Cox, one of our good friends from Colonial Williamsburg, show us the layers that an 18th c. woman would wear each day. As always, please click on the pictures to enlarge them for details.

In the first row of photos, left, Abby is shown wearing the basic garment of all 18th c. women, whether the queen or a milkmaid: a loose-fitting, knee-length white linen shift with short sleeves. In this era, women did not ordinarily wear under-drawers beneath their shift, as satiric cartoonists are always quick to show. She's also wearing white cotton stockings that reach over her knees, and are held in place with garters that are tied over the stockings.

Next come the stays (the 18th c. term for a corset), which Abby has also demonstrated lacing here. Then she  ties her pocket around her waist, settling it on one hip. A pocket served as a kind of purse and carry-all, keeping the day's essentials at hand; there are openings in the sides of every skirt to reach it. Next to be tied around the waist are hoops (they're sitting on the chair in the second picture). Abby's hoops here are of a modest size, and are made of shaped cane covered in red cotton.

In the second row of pictures, right, Abby adds a petticoat with the hem embroidered in wool threads. The first petticoat would have added warmth and volume, as well as adding a fashionable note of color. The second petticoat is silk, a complimentary color to her gown since it will be visible beneath.

In the third row, Abby has put on her gown (we'd probably call it a dress), an open-front garment with a bodice, sleeves, and full skirts. The front of the gown is fastened together not with buttons or hooks, but with straight pins: the two halves overlap and are pinned together, with the points safely buried against the layers of her stays. See here and here for more about pins and pinning.

In the final picture, Abby has looped up the back of her skirts with long cords, secured by buttons at the back of her waist. This is a stylish touch that increases the volume of the skirts, and displays both the gleaming crispness of the silk fabric and the petticoat beneath.

To modern women accustomed to the ease of Lycra, this may all seem like a tremendous amount of work, tying, lacing, and pinning the day's clothes together. It would, too, be much easier to accomplish with a lady's maid. But repetition makes everything easier, and because Abby wears these clothes every day for work, she dressed herself with astonishing (to me) speed and ease – just as a young woman would have done 250 years ago.

Many thanks to Abby Cox! 
All photographs by Susan Holloway Scott

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of September 17, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012
Here's  your weekly offering of Breakfast Links – our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, videos, web sites, photos, and articles you don't want to miss.
• The mystery of author Conan Doyle - why did he believe in the supernatural?
• First, Best, and Only - the cousins of history myths.
• Fabulous photos of lost 19th c Glasgow.
• The flower tansy, which has a history as a medieval culinary herb.
• The great New England vampire panic: 200 years after Salem witch trials, farmers became convinced the dead were returning as vampires.
• Hilariously offensive Tab commercial from the 1960s.
• A glimpse into Buster Keaton's recently restored c. 1920s estate in Los Angeles.
• The splendor (and chaos) of George III's Coronation Day, 1761.
Molly Kool (1916-2009), first certified North American female sea captain.
• A 17th c. warning: don't refuse a witch an apple or you might vomit pins and spoons.
• Drink and prostitution: the Belle Epoque Hooters.
• Montgolfier brothers send wooly and feathered test pilots into sky as Louis XVI watches.
• Re-tracing the steps of a Civil War photographer: Alexander Gardner at Antietam.
• Video of a 1960s invention: the pig swing.
• This is fun, but harder than you think: try to dress the Victorian lady in the correct order.
• The costs of living abroad in London, 1911.
• A minister in colonial America tries to fend off irate women by quoting Latin. And how does that go?
Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, First Lady.
• A phaeton in 1804: a delightful description.
Shocking photos by L.W. Hine of women & children working at home in early 1900s.
• The undertaker's bill, 1780. Ever wondered what those pall bearers cost?
• A criminal "fiend" decorates his 1889 NYC building with demons.
• Ten famed literary characters based on real-life people.
• How do you pin a corsage on a strapless gown? Beautiful 1950s evening gown.
• The deadliest poisons in history (and why people stopped using them.)
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates every day!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Video: The Two-Handkerchief Bra, 1921

Friday, September 21, 2012
Courtesy Library of Congress
Loretta reports:

In the early days of the brassiere, two handkerchiefs would do, apparently.  Here's how to turn them into an undergarment. 

Illustration Where there's smoke there's fire, Russell Patterson, 1920s. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Thursday, September 20, 2012

King Edward VII's Favorite: Caesar, the Wire Fox Terrier

Thursday, September 20, 2012
Isabella reporting:

One of our most popular posts last year featured Queen Victoria and perhaps her favorite subject: her pet border collie, Sharp. Sharp was only one of many dogs in the royal entourage during the queen's long reign, and it's clear she passed her love of pets on to her oldest son, Edward.

In the last years of his life, King Edward VII's favorite was a feisty wire fox terrier named Caesar. Officially named Caesar of Notts, born in 1898 in the kennels of the Duchess of Newcastle, Caesar was widely known as a high-strung little dog with questionable manners. Disgruntled courtiers and hosts to royal visits referred to Caesar as "stinky."

But to the King, the dog was a loyal and inseparable companion that travelled everywhere with him. He slept in an easy chair beside the King's bed, and had his own footman specifically assigned to tend to his needs. His portrait was painted several times, and a model of him was carved in chalcedony and studded with jewels by the master jeweler Faberge. As was fitting for such an indulged royal pet, Caesar wore a collar with a gold tag that read "I am Caesar. I belong to the King" - not that it was ever in doubt.

Certainly Charles Hardinge, 1st Baron Hardinge of Penshurst, could testify to that. "Whenever I went into the King's cabin [on board the royal yacht]," he reminisced, "this dog always went for my trousers and worried them, much to the King's delight. I used not to take the slightest notice and went on talking all the time to the King, which I think amused His Majesty still more."

But it wasn't until the King died in 1910 that Caesar endeared himself to the British people. Caesar was included in the King's funeral procession, led by a highlander, and the sight of the little white dog walking forlornly behind his master's coffin was an image that many never forgot, right. (One who definitely didn't was Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was reportedly incensed at being placed behind a mere dog in the procession.)

Caesar was painted one last time, bottom left, with his head resting on a favorite chair of the dead king. Called Silent Sorrow, the painting poignantly captured the dog's grief for his lost master. Although Caesar shifted his devotion to Queen Alexandra, he did not live much longer than the king, dying himself in 1914.

Top left: King Edward VII with Caesar, 1908.
Right: Funeral process of Edward VII, with Caesar, the King's dog, following his casket, 1910.
Bottom left: Silent Sorrow, by Maud Earl, 1910. American Kennel Club.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A 1954 prom dress

Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Loretta reports:

Continuing my report on the Strawbery Banke Museum exhibition, Thread: Stories of Fashion at Strawbery Banke, 1740-2012:*

Another delight was this pink prom dress from 1954.  The dress is described as a “pink synthetic lace creation with its strapless flounced dress and bolero-style jacket.”

According to the museum guides, the living room was furnished from Sears Roebuck.  In other words, the room and dress represent a style not of lords and ladies or celebrities, but everyday people.  The display included a wedding portrait of Pat Brackett, the woman who wore this dress to her high school prom.  Unfortunately, my camera was feeling ill that day, and my close-up photo of that part of the room was not in focus—a fact I failed to notice until I saw it full size on my computer.  (But there’s still time to see the exhibit for yourself if you’re in the area.)

This style of décor might be familiar to some of our readers.  Can you tell what that thing is between the two photographs behind the dress?  Do you know what piece of furniture the photographs are sitting on?

*Previous posts are here and here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Martha Washington on Living a Private Life in Public, 1789

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Isabella reporting:

There has been much written in the media lately about the privacy due to the wives of public men, whether American first ladies or British princesses. While mercenary paparazzi are a modern curse, the problem of wives thrust into the glare of their husbands' spotlight is not a new one.

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802) was the first First Lady, and an unwilling one at that. When she wed George Washington (1732-1799) in 1759, she was a twenty-seven-year-old widow with four young children and a considerable fortune. Both were Virginians born into the wealthy colonial elite, and doubtless Martha married George believing they would continue in that pleasant life, running their multiple plantations, enjoying their extended family, and dividing their time among several houses.

But the American revolution took George far from home, and as commander-in-chief of the Continental  forces, he became a larger-than-life symbol of the new country. For the eight long years of the war, Martha dutifully left her home to join George during the army's winter encampments, becoming a symbol in her own right of gracious loyalty to her husband and the cause. When the war was finally done, she longed to retire with him to Mount Vernon. Both were in their fifties (an advanced age in the 18th c.), and the stress of leadership and the hardships of the war had taken their toll on George's health. She was so publicly against him accepting the presidency that she refused to attend his inauguration in 1789.

While Martha did serve as her husband's official hostess (wearing elegant gowns like this, above left), Lady Washington - her official title - was far from happy with her new role. In this letter, right, (click to enlarge) written to her niece Fanny Bassett Washington in 1789, Martha begins with a cheerful discussion of the new fashions being worn in New York, but soon lets her true feelings show:

"I live a very dull life hear [stet] and know nothing that passes in the town - I never goe to the publick places - indeed I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from - and as I can not doe as I like I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal."

I wonder how many modern political wives feel the same way today?

Above: Silk taffeta gown, worn by Martha Washington in 1780s. Hand-painted silk with design of flowers, butterflies, & other insects. Reproduction collar & cuffs. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian.
Below: Letter, Martha Washington to Fanny Bassett Washington, October 23, 1789. Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Many thanks to Barbara for inspiring this post - click here to visit her blog for portraits of Martha Washington.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Plenipotentiary

Monday, September 17, 2012
Loretta reports:

Thanks to Vic Gatrell’s, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London,* I was aware that the Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent, then King George IV) bought satirical prints in vast quantities.  Every day he got a batch, to keep him in touch with public opinion.

It’s a miracle this collection survived.  Other historical documents did not:  “In a fit of witless vandalism in 1913, George V, his queen and his secretary one evening sat in a parlour at Windsor and systematically burned the contents of thirty-seven boxes of George IV’s love letters . . . on the grounds that George was ‘the meanest and vilest of reprobates’.”  King George V later sold 9,900 of his ancestor’s prints to the Library of Congress—to pay for his stamp collection.

Recently I made another interesting discovery:  Our Prinny’s favorite bard was Captain Charles Morris (1744-1838), to whom he paid a £200 annuity. Morris’s poems and songs were famous, reprinted repeatedly in collections such as The Festival of Anacreon,** Containing a Collection of Modern Songs, written for the Anacreontic Society, the Beef-Steak and Humbug Clubs (8th ed. c. 1810); and many, many others, including a collection the poet Robert Burns published in 1799.

A sample of Morris’s lyric powers: 


The Dey of Algiers, when afraid of his ears,
A messenger sent to the Court, sir,
As he knew in our state the women had weight,
He chose one well hung for the sport, sir.
He searched the Divan till he found out a man,
Whose b******s were heavy and hairy,
And he lately came, o'er from the Barbary shore,
As the great Plenipotentiary.

. . .
When to England he came, with his p***k in a flame,
He shewed it his Hostess on landing,
Who spread its renown thro' all parts of the town,
As a pintle past all understanding.
So much there was said of its snout and its head,
That they called it the great Janissary:
Not a lady could sleep till she got a sly peep
At the great Plenipotentiary.

These are some of the more delicate verses.  You can read one version of the full poem here on page 36, or choose a version from here.  Longtime 2NHG readers may recall a similarly bawdy epic by Lord Rochester.

*My quotations are from the Gatrell book.
**Now I finally understand this caricature.
Illustration:  Gillray, Anacreonticks in full Song, 1801, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  You can view a color version here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of September 10, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012
Here's your weekly offering of Breakfast Links – our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you don't want to miss.
• Curious communications: an 18th c English sedan chair becomes a 20th c Australian phone booth.
• The most enduring (if mistaken) legend of the Yorktown surrender: its musical accompaniment.
• Truth or history-myth: "They're called 'sadirons' because ironing was such a hated chore that women were sad to iron."
• Inside Queen Victoria's wedding shoes.
• Killing time: how card-playing shaped the American Civil War, and how the war shaped cards.
Sara Guppy, eclectic 18th c English inventor.
• Two striking memorials to victims of 17th c witch trials.
• Thirty haunting abandoned doors in pictures.
• Stephen Hales's syllabub machine.
• Bristol: where you can sell your wife for half a crown (or at least you could have in 1787.)
• "Call for Philip Morris!" A spark of celebrity at the funeral home.
• Read Anne Morgan's Sept 10, 1918 letter to her mother from devastated France during WWI.
• Statue headed for Missouri becomes a poignant, unintentional 9/11 memorial through a twist of fate.
• Women's suffrage, the shut mouth, and forced ingestion.
• Excavation team may have discovered remains of Richard III in Leicester.
• A first class lady passenger - fab image from the 1930s, from the National Railway Museum.
• Amazing librarian tattoos.
• Letter by Charles Dickens surfaces after 150 years.
• Looking at dummy boards, those mysterious slightly uncanny painted figures.
• Snake oil almanacs: 19th c patent medicine advertising.
• The Bristol Old Vic: built in 1766, it's the oldest working theatre in Great Britain & about to reopen.
• An historic dress for fall, c 1842.
• Just your usual medieval day.
• The female convicts who made the Rajah quilt en route to Van Diemen's Land, 1841.
• Seven famous people who luckily missed the Titanic.
• The smarmy facade of 60s playboy manhood: James Bond auditions, 1967.
• Lock of Jane Austen's hair, made into a mourning brooch.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Video: Was 'Eve's Wireless' the World's First Mobile Phone on Film?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Isabella reporting:

This short clip from 1922 was recently discovered in the archived newsreels of British Pathe. The clip features two enterprising young women (most likely New Yorkers from the snowy street around them) who use an umbrella and a fireplug to create a mobile phone connection and listen to some swell Jazz-Age tunes.

But this was no idle film-maker's fantasy: apparently the contraption really would have worked. British Pathe quotes this explanation from Simon Atkins, a former Royal Signals officer:

"The two ladies are using a small, simple HF radio, probably a 'Cat's Whisker' type. For it to work, it needs to be earthed [grounded in Americanese], which is why it's connected to the fire hydrant. The antenna or aerial is the wire in the umbrella. On the receiving end, the telephonist [operator] is using an HF radio and puts the microphone next to the record player. For the two ladies to hear, she would have pressed the pressel switch."

Readers who received this post via email may see only a black rectangle or empty space where the video should be. To view the video, click here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Dandy of the Butterfly Order

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Courtesy Library of Congress
Loretta reports:

In considering the big fashion picture, we see men’s clothing becoming increasingly subdued as the 19th century wears on, and the fashionably extreme male—the peacock—becoming an endangered species.  I’ve mourned his disappearance myself.  But he never became completely extinct.  There were and will always be men of dandy persuasion, and they weren’t all named Oscar Wilde. Both Dickens and Disraeli were Victorian dandies, most vividly in their younger years, about the time of this piece.  But oh, how I wish I could have seen Mr. Bailey!
Mr. Bailey was a dandy of the butterfly order: he was a patron of bright colours — light-blue coats, coloured silk cravats, fancy waistcoats — and was a warm supporter of nankeen trousers. To have seen him cantering up and down Rotten Row on a summer's evening, on his well-groomed black, perfuming the air as he fanned the flies from the noble creature with the well-scented cambric handkerchief, and to observe his gauze silk stockings, thin pumps, and silver buckles; or to have seen him lounging with folded arms against the door of the crush-room at the opera, his hair hanging in ringlets over his ears, with a waistcoat of pink or blue satin, embroidered with silver or gold, and all his apparel of the finest, gaudiest, and most expensive texture, a stranger would have set him down as the impersonation of a puppy: and yet, he would have been wrong, for Mr. Bailey was a fine manly fellow, and thrashed all the watchmen in Bond Street, single-handed, one night. Still, he was by far the gayest dandy that has been seen about London for years; and, when he reached the end of his tether, and the day of reckoning arrived, the tailors' bills for cashmere trousers, and the mercers', for French cambric shirts, excited the astonishment of the humble-minded jurymen who sat in judgment on the charges. The last time we saw him, he was vegetating on the beach at Ostend.
Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, Volume 15, 1837

Illustration:  George Cruikshank, Humming Birds or a Dandy Trio, 1819. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nancy Parsons, the Tailor's Daughter Loved by Dukes

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Isabella reporting:

The great courtesans of the Georgian era had far more than mere beauty to recommend them. To attract and hold the interest – and even love – of the equally great men of the day required wit, charm, sensuality, and the ability to be endlessly alluring. Discretion was a plus, especially with gentlemen engaged in politics. This kind of worldly success was a game, and the most successful players knew how to bend the rules to win.

No one knew that better than Nancy Parsons (c1741-c1813). Born the daughter of a tailor, she left London in the company of a slave-trader named Horton and lived with him in Jamaica. When she returned without him, she was styled Mrs. Horton, though likely not married. By 1763, she had become the mistress of Augustus Henry FitzRoy, third Duke of Grafton and also prime minister. For her sake, the duke alienated his wife and tarnished his political career, and the scandalous relationship earned them a place in the notorious Tetes-a-Tetes column of Town and Country Magazine as "Palinurus & Annabella":

Annabella is now the happiest of her sex, attached to the most amiable man of the age, whose rank and influence raise her, in point of power, beyond many queens of the earth. Caressed by the highest, courted and adulated by all, her merit and shining abilities receive that applause that is justly due to them. She presides constantly at his sumptuous table, and does the honours with an ease and elegance, that the first nobility in the kingdom are compelled to admire.

Yet as fine as all this sounded for a tailor's daughter, by 1769 Mrs. Horton had moved on to become the mistress of John Frederick Sackville, third Duke of Dorset, best known as a gambler and a sportsman. Horace Walpole waggishly described her as "the Duke of Grafton's Mrs. Horton, the Duke of Dorset's Mrs. Horton, everybody's Mrs. Horton."

But the resilient Mrs. Horton wasn't ready to be so easily dismissed. She beguiled the young Charles Maynard, second Viscount Maynard, despite the (likely) ten year difference in their ages. "Lord Maynard has announced to his sister in form his marriage with Miss Nancy Parsons (for I think the title of Mrs. Horton is doubtful)," wrote a titillated Mrs. Boscawen to a friend. "This Circe was well known at the time Lord Maynard was born - is this a charade, or only a phenomenon?"

What it was was a marriage, and Mrs. Horton was now Viscountess Maynard. Perhaps because she was such a familiar face, Lady Maynard was at last accepted into society. As Walpole now noted, she "deserved a peerage as much as many that have got them lately."

A younger husband and peerage still didn't seem to be quite enough, however, and in 1784 Lady Maynard was again the talk of London. This time it was an affair with yet another duke, this one half her age: Francis Russell, the nineteen-year-old fifth Duke of Bedford. Her final mention is her death in France, 1814-15.

From these two portraits considered to be of her (the one on the left by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the one on the right by George Willison), she doesn't appear to have been a remarkable beauty, or had a voluptuous figure. But clearly she had that indefinable something. Perhaps the exotic dress she chose for both portraits hints at the mystery of being the divine Mrs. Horton.

Left: Mrs. Horton, Later Viscountess Maynard, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Right: Nancy Parsons in Turkish Dress (detail), by George Willison, c 1771. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An 1870s silk dress

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Loretta reports:

As promised previously, here’s more from my visit to the Strawbery Banke Museum exhibition, Thread: Stories of Fashion at Strawbery Banke, 1740-2012.

The descriptions in the show are not nearly so detailed as those I’ve presented from La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann’s Repository.  This beautiful dress—perhaps my favorite item in the show—is simply described as an “off-white silk brocade dress with a square neckline, and a bodice boned with eleven stays.  The look is sweetly decorated with a leaf and ferns patterns [sic] and heart shaped leaves.”  Dated at about 1875, the dress belonged to a Portsmouth lady.

Cunnington* describes the 1870s change in style thus:  “Woman seems to have stepped out of her dress and to be standing in front of it, clothed in corset and petticoat.  The device imparted to the ballroom the intimate charm of the bedroom, ‘suggesting that the wearer has forgotten some portion of her toilette.  Few husbands or fathers would allow their wives or daughters to appear in public thus undressed.’”

“Undressed?!!!” you say.  One could understand some people being shocked by the thin, slim muslin dresses of the early 1800s.  But this?  Yet the style met with disapproval, and even the ladies admitted it was a little strange.  One critic said, “ ‘Fashion is now going from the ridiculous to the shameful . . . presenting [the female form’s] outlines almost as distinctly as those of an uncovered statue.’”

I was scratching my head for a time.  Then, it occurred to me that a woman’s natural hip dimensions had not been visible since the 1820s.  For fifty years—more than a generation—her bottom half was shaped like a bell, and her top half had been hidden under pelerines and shawls.  The lines of fashion had turned her into two triangles, more or less.  Now . . . woo, woo!  And lots of action in the booty.

*C. Willett Cunnington, English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fashionably Aping One's Betters, c 1780

Sunday, September 9, 2012
Isabella reports:

I've written here (and here) before about remade gowns, 18th c dresses whose often-costly fabric was recycled into something new and fashionable. Those examples were most likely family pieces remade by the next generation or two, a practice that was both thrifty and possibly sentimental.

This remade gown, however, could have been considered darkly subversive in its time. When this gown was originally made in the 1740s, it would have had a sack back and folded-back robings, much like this gown. The flowered silk brocade satin is what made it special: a lovely, multi-colored design by Anna Maria Garthwaite (1688-1763), woven by one of the master-weavers of Spitalfields. The silk would have been expensive, and was likely the reason the gown was put aside and saved. The gown was then remodeled in the 1780s, and that's the version which has survived.

But the curators of the Victoria & Albert Museum, which owns the gown, believe this makeover is the work not of a family-member or professional seamstress, but of a style-conscious servant. Outdated clothes were customarily given to servants (especially lady's maids) in the 18th c. as a perk, and old clothes were also offered as mementos to favored servants when the mistress died. In addition, London's second-hand clothing market was a thriving one, and this gown might have been purchased by the new owner.

Servants, apprentices, shop-clerks, and other members of the lower classes had been quick to join the burgeoning consumerism of 18th c England, and eagerly followed the fashions set by the upper classes. On their days off, maids and footmen dressed to impress in re-styled hand-me-downs as far as their means permitted - and sometimes beyond. Apparently they did it so well that the upper classes they were copying became very uneasy. Servants dressed as their betters broke down the proper barriers of rank and society in a way that seemed both deceitful and disturbing, and the papers were filled with indignant whining like this:

"In former times, dress was deemed one of the most palpable distinctions in rank. Ladies then took there precedencies, and understood their respective stations, by what they wore, and their manner of wearing it. This ancient and easy mode of discrimination is no longer known in society. The very servant not only apes but rivals her mistress in every species of whim and extravagance. All sorts of people are consequently confounded or melted down into one glaring mass of absurdity or superfluity. The lower orders are intirely lost in a general propensity to mimic the finery of the higher; and every woman we meet would seem by her gesture and apparel to posses at least an independent fortune; and no difference at all in this respect is left to tell the mere spectator, whether her circumstances be narrow or affluent."
    --from 'Strictures on a Young Lady's Dress',  The European Magazine & London Review, April, 1784.

Somehow I doubt the young woman who wore this gown worried about being part of the "glaring mass of absurdity or superfluity," any more than her modern counterpart does carrying a knock-off Gucci handbag.

Above: Gown, Spitalfields, England, 1740s (made) 1780s (altered). Brocaded silk satin. Victoria & Albert Museum. Photographs: Victoria & Albert Museum.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of September 3, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012
Served up fresh: a new serving of Breakfast Links include our favorite links to other websites, photographs, and articles gathered for you this week from Twitter.
• Haven't I seen that dress before? James Tissot, Charles Baudelaire, and Fashion.
• "I have not shot her yet. Maybe Monday." A hospital-bound & nurse-plagued Dorothy Parker writes to a friend.
Message in a bottle discovered after 97 years at sea.
• Work-out equipment from the 18th c: the Chamber Horse, or Exercise Chair.
• An amazingly complete extant man's wardrobe found from the 17th c.
• An "inexperienced young Woman" named Anna wrote this letter to Byron in 1812.
• Apparently it cost as much to dress a modern girl in the 1920s as it does to equip a three-room flat today.
• Scholars from Amherst College may have discovered unknown 2nd photo of poet Emily Dickinson.
• Queen Victoria's bracelet of heart-shaped lockets is a reminder that she was a mother of nine.
• Sad demolition of house that inspired Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby.
• How Elizabeth Boleyn's embroidery became dangerous, c 1530.
• Small 1847 house transforms into a store, competing with NYC's great 19th c Ladies' Mile emporiums.
• Rationing and riots: The birth of nylon stockings.
• Daugerreotype portraits of children in the 1850s.
• Fantastic photographs: absolute wonderment & glory that is Peterborough Cathedral.
• Benjamin Franklin discovers tofu for America, 1770 (thanks to Samuel Bowen.)
• Stunning details on c1884 open weave linen dress.
• Accident or Tudor murder? Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, found dead near stairs in her home, 1560.
• Blondin, the 19th c tightrope walker whose crossings over Niagara Falls became ever more bizarre.
• "A Forked Stick for the Cookold": historical lucky pieces baked into food.
• Discovered: Lord Byron's copy of Frankenstein, with love from Mary Shelley.
• Chicago created the Beehive.
• Amazing 19th c images of everyday scenes: Back to Old Church Street with Mr. Hedderly.
• The ultimate vintage footwear? Roman shoes rediscovered in Towcester.
• Why do the middle classes have to ruin everything? Victorian music halls.
• Bejeweled Georgian eye jewellery.
• Happy birthday, Queen Elizabeth I, born this week in 1533; portraits of Her Majesty.
• To blouse, barneymugging, applesauce, and biscuit: Flapper Guide to slang.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh tweets every day!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday video: Platform Shoes 1970s style

Friday, September 7, 2012
Loretta reports:

Platform shoes, called by various names, have been around for a very long time, as Susan reported here.  Carmen Miranda, among others, wore them in the 1940s, and danced in them, as she demonstrates in this video clip.  They came back again in the 1970s.  Here’s that story.

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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Drinking on Horseback, with a Satyr: c 1760

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Drinking alcohol and drinking alcohol in an amusing way seem to have always gone together. Why just drink when instead you can add to the general pleasure with a drinking song, or drinking game, or a special drinking vessel?

This ceramic satyr's head, left, is a Georgian stirrup cup. Stirrup cups were the original to-go cup: a last dram to be handed up to a departing rider already in the saddle with boots in the stirrups. While there are some early connections to Scottish traditions of hospitality, most historians link stirrup cups to the rise of pack-hunting in England.

As the members of the hunt gathered on their horses, stirrup cups became part of the final send-off, a final gulped bit of fortification. In the18th and 19th centuries, when a manly gentleman was expected to be able to hold his liquor, it's likely that many hunters had already had had a substantial amount of fortifying with their breakfasts. (I'm afraid I'll always think of Squire Western in Tom Jones, roaring drunk and barely hanging onto his horse as he races off after the fox.) The mood was doubtless jovial by the time the stirrup cups were handed up, which probably explains why the cups themselves are often jovial, too, shaped like the heads of foxes, hounds, and stags.

And then there's this fellow, believed to represent a grinning satyr. Satyrs were mythical classical creatures associated with Bacchus and excessive drinking and carousing, as any classically-educated 18th c. gentleman would have known. It's easy to imagine the raucous laughter that must have accompanied this particular stirrup cup's appearance.

This cup is part of a fantastic exhibition currently on display at Winterthur Museum, near Wilmington, DE. Uncorked! is dedicated to exploring the incredible range of historical wine-related objects (another exhibit is this punch bowl, decorated with a scene of Vauxhall Gardens) and traditions. The show runs through January 6, 2013; here's more information. Can't make it to the exhibition? Winterthur has generously put everything on line here.

Above: Satyr head stirrup cup, Staffordshire, England, 1760-90. Earthenware (creamware) From the collection of Winterthur Museum. Photography by Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

French Fashions for September 1829

Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Loretta reports:

This month’s fashion plates come from an Ackermann’s Repository devoted exclusively to fashion.  Also, they are French.  I am crazy about the hair.



 —Ackermann's Respository of Fashions, 1829

Please click on text to enlarge to readable size. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Jeweled Gold Carnet-de-Bal, c 1777

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

I've already written about how much I love the luxurious personal trinkets that filled the pockets of a wealthy 18th c. lady – a gold box for rouge, or the perfectly named necessaire. Here's one more little goodie, left, to gather up from the dressing table as the carriage waits below: a carnet-de-bal from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A carnet-de-bal's purpose explains itself in the English translation. It's a dance card, and it's also called a souvenir, French for "to remember", a memento. This, however, is no ordinary Statue-of-Liberty-in-a-snow-globe souvenir, but the beautiful work of several master Parisian craftsmen. Small in size (only 3-3/8" x 2 1/16", or about the same as a modern card-case), this souvenir is made of gold, with brilliant enameling and an enameled portrait of a now-unknown lady. The word "souvenir" is spelled out in diamonds, and tiny pearls fill in the borders. (Click here for the link to the Museum's page to be able to zoom in on all the astonishing details.)

The photograph of the souvenir, below right, shows the hinged lid open. Beside it are the matching gold-handled stylus, and the fan of ivory sheets, held together with a gold pin, that fit perfectly inside. The stylus could be used like a pencil on the ivory sheets to jot down random notes: what His Grace wishes for dinner, or the address of that cunning new milliner. But in the role of a carnet-de-bal, the ivory sheets would be filled with the evening's dances and the names of the partners promised to each one. The fashion for carnets-de-bal was just beginning in the courts of Europe in the mid-18th c., and later would evolve into the little printed pasteboard booklets of the 19th c., dangling on silken cords from a lady's wrist.

Souvenirs were popular, if costly, gifts to be exchanged among friends and lovers - an elegantly sentimental way to say "remember me when this you see." The other side of this particular souvenir has the word L'amitie, or friendship, spelled out in diamonds, with a diamond urn of flowers and pair of doves. Most likely the portrait on the front is of either the giver or the recipient, or perhaps another deceased friend (the urn and doves may indicate this as a memorial piece.) Whoever she may have been, it's a lovely little tribute to a long-ago friendship.

Above: Souvenir, French (Paris), 1776-77. Gold, diamonds, pearls, enamel. Metropolitan Museum of Art; photographs copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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