Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Day III: Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Isabella reporting,

Unlike many other holiday decorations in shopping malls, the traditionally-inspired decorations in Colonial Williamsburg are different every year. While the ingredients vary -- a holly wreath one December is replaced the next by strawflowers or oyster shells – the "themes" are often the same. The decorations on the historic trade shops usually reflect the trade inside, with locks of hair woven into the wreath on the wigmaker's shop, and miniature fashion-dolls on the one outside the shop occupied by the tailors and mantua-makers.

It's also interesting to see how the decorations on specific buildings change each year. Shown here is the Dr. Peter Hay house (which has a fascinating history of its own.) In 2010, the Christmas decor had a political tone – at least the politics of 1776 – complete with a "Don't Tread On Me" warning on the front door and a hanging effigy of George III.  In 2011, the decorations featured baskets, red and green apples, and a horse collar. This year the decorations have a decidedly sporting air, with horse shoes and deer antlers on the front door, left. The bay window, above, that once served as Dr. Hay's apothecary shop window is decorated with crossed wooden swords and stirrups holding apples.

Clearly I'm not the only one who's fascinated by this house's annual decorations, too. As you can see from the photographs, it almost always earns one of the decoration-contest blue ribbons.

Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott

Monday, December 30, 2013

Day II: Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013
Isabella reporting:

The holiday decorations of Colonial Williamsburg have always been popular with visitors. There are special walking tours to view the wreathes, and the gift shops offer books and videos to help recreate the "Williamsburg look" back home. An annual contest judges the most creative displays, with separate divisions for professional decorators/artists and amateurs, and winners proudly display their blue ribbons pinned beside their doors.

Materials are restricted to things that would have been found in 18th c. Virginia, which eliminates electric lights, anything plastic or super-sparkly, Santa Claus and Christmas trees. As these examples show, however, there's still plenty of objects that meet the criteria.  Tucked among the greenery, pinecones, and dried wildflowers are 18th c. style playing cards, a fiddle, clay pipes, flags, gentlemen's cocked hats and straw hats for ladies, fifes, and drums. (The modern plastic tankards beside the door, right, were temporarily left by visitors who weren't permitted to bring beverages inside the shop.)

While the decorations are indeed lovely, they're not accurate for 18th c. America. No colonial housewife would dream of sticking perfectly good (and expensive!) apples, oranges, and pineapples on her front door for the birds and squirrels to eat. Traditional decorations would have been a bit of greenery, and little else.

But when Colonial Williamsburg was still finding its focus in the 1930s, residents in the historic area were encouraged to decorate their houses with della Robbia-inspired wreathes of fruit instead of modern gaudy colored lights and reindeer. Visitors enjoyed the wreathes so much that they became a new tradition; they are historically inspired, just not inspired by the 1700s.

Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Day I: Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013
Isabella reporting,

I'm fortunate to spend each Christmas with family in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. The restored area of 18th c. colonial homes and buildings is always decorated with festive interpretations of traditional decorations, and it's become a tradition here on the blog for me to share photographs of some of my favorites.

If you'd like to check out past years' images, see our Pinterest board here

Tidewater Virginia seldom has a white Christmas, and this year was no exception. While there was plenty of rain in the beginning of my visit, the wet weather was soon replaced with brilliant blue skies,left. Perfect weather for balancing on steps and leaning over railings to take pictures of wreaths!

Whenever I post photographs from Colonial Williamsburg, readers who have also visited wonder how I manage to show empty streets, especially during the holiday season. I promise there's no Photoshop trickery at work; I'm simply there very, very early in the day, when most visitors are still in the local pancake houses.

All photographs by Susan Holloway Scott.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holiday Break

Friday, December 13, 2013
View online here
Loretta & Isabella report:

So, maybe we seem a little lazy:  It's been only a few weeks since our Thanksgiving break, and here we are, wandering away for Christmas.  But Thanksgiving came late, and work on our books as well as holiday enjoyment with our families call us away a little early this year.

But we shall return to blogging promptly in 2014.  In the meantime, look for our annual gallery of pictures from Colonial Williamsburg, decorated for the holidays, to help while away the hours until the next bout of nerdiness.

We wish you the best of holiday seasons and a splendid New Year, replete, we hope, with historical delights of all kinds.

1913 Puck Christmas issue courtesy  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Thursday, December 12, 2013

From the Archives: Marching Into Valley Forge, 1777 (and 2013)

Thursday, December 12, 2013
This is one of my favorite past blog posts, about one of my favorite local history-related events. The Commemoration of General Washington's March In is held every year at Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania. This year's free event is scheduled for December 19, from 6:00-8:00 pm; see here for more information.

Isabella reporting,

On a cold Sunday evening when most people were finishing up their Christmas shopping at the nearby mall, we took a different path. We headed off across the moonlit fields of Valley Forge National Historical Park, and followed the path of General George Washington and the Continental Army as they marched into their winter encampment on 19 December, 1777.

Valley Forge is one of those rare historical names that almost all Americans recognize, a landmark in our war for independence. Yet despite how often the "battle" of Valley Forge may be invoked by confused politicians, there was no battle fought here. Eighteenth century armies followed the seasons, and hostilities ceased during the winter months. In 1777-78, the majority of the English army spent the cold months in the captured city of Philadelphia. The Continental army wintered about twenty miles west of the city on farmland near Valley Forge, building fortifications and thousands of small log cabins for shelter.

Though there were hardships at the encampment, park interpreters stress that the legendary "bloody footsteps in the snow" are later embellishments. These 12,000 men were enlisted soldiers, not militia, and 18th c. soldiers expected conditions to be primitive and food to come from foraging. The Continental forces included men from the thirteen colonies as well as European mercenaries. Many were experienced veterans, not only from recent battles, but from earlier colonial wars against the French and Indians. They came prepared and equipped, and instead of the traditional image of soldiers shivering in rags, most of these men wore full uniforms, and contemporary reports speak of a camp that was industrious and optimistic.

The real enemy at Valley Forge wasn't the British army, but disease. Nearly 2,000 men died during the encampment, with the majority dying not in the harshest winter months, but later in March, April, and May. The killers were the same diseases that ravaged all groups of 18th c. people: influenza, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery.

Yet there's no denying the importance of what happened here. Under the leadership of Washington and a former Prussian army officer, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, the men drilled and trained and came together not as a group of soldiers, but as a disciplined, professional army with a single goal. From many, one: E Pluribus Unum, the dictum chosen later in 1782 by Congress for the new Seal of the United States.

In the season of celebrations and shopping and Santas, it's good to take time to remember the past as well as the present. Standing there under full moon beside the replica log cabins (and doing a bit of replica shivering, too), we thought of those soldiers, and what they'd accomplished against such odds. And there, under the stars, we were most thankful that they had.

Above: Photo from the Annual March-In Commemoration of the Continental Army, 12/19/2010, Valley Forge National Historical Park, Valley Forge, PA. For more information about the Park, visit their website.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dickens by Dickens

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

View online here
retta reports

Just about everybody is familiar with Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

 It’s hard not to be.  The novella has been made into plays, films, musicals, radio plays, operas, and television specials.  Scrooge has been a man, a woman, a duck, a Smurf, Mr. Magoo, Yosemite Sam, and Oscar the Grouch, among others.

But imagine Scrooge played by Dickens?  How about Bob Cratchit played by Dickens?  Or the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future?

Charles Dickens loved to perform, and one of the many ways he used his boundless energy was in giving public readings, and playing the different characters.  His first public reading was A Christmas Carol.

If I could time travel, I’d like to be in the audience of one of those readings.  The day after Thanksgiving, I came close.  At Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA,
on the same stage where Charles Dickens appeared in 1868, his great-great-grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens,* gave a one-man performance of A Christmas Carol
View online here

Our lives are about technology.  We’re used to super-duper special effects, enhancing and sometimes entirely usurping the place of humans in films and TV.  Here was one man on a stage performing a work written 170 years ago. Minimal props and little in the way of costume changes.  Yet I discerned no signs of restlessness or impatience.  No ring tones playing.  No audience chatter.  There was laughter and tears (yes, I wept over Tiny Tim), but above all there was rapt attention.  He had the audience captivated—much, I imagined, as his great-great grandfather must have done when buildings like the Mechanics Hall were brand new.

For Mr. Dickens’s angle on his performance, the venue, and the story of his great-great-grandfather’s 1868 appearance, please scroll down this entry of his blog.

This is part of a tour, and you might find a performance near you by looking at the 2013 Dickens Performance Schedule here.  He’ll be appearing at, among other places, Winterthur Museum and Colonial Williamsburg, two sites popular with the Two Nerdy History Girls.
*Not the only talented descendant. See here  and here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Richard Doyle, Victorian Illustrator

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
View online here

Loretta reports

One way I develop a a sense of place is by studying drawings, engraved illustrations, prints, and paintings.  I see my early 19th century world, not through the eye of a camera but via an artist’s interpretation or a writer’s picture in words.

Vauxhall Royal Gardens, which no longer exist, except in some illustrations and a pair of photographs, is a case in point. Looking for images of the place, where important scenes of Vixen in Velvet are set, I came upon this illustration by Richard Doyle.

It’s fifteen years later than my story, but all one need do is mentally change the dress and allow for the artist’s humorous interpretation.  Equally important for me, though was discovering this work of Richard Doyle’s, and his talent for drawing crowds in a comical way.
Read online here

Apparently, there isn’t as much of Doyle’s work as there ought to be because he was notoriously unreliable about completing his assignments.  However, he did complete his job for Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe, a delightful little comic picture of London done in the style of Samuel Pepys’s Diary
I was particularly struck with the interpretation of Regent’s Street, which in 1849 bears a strong resemblance to the Regent Street I experienced in the late spring of 2012.  My experience didn’t include lions or horses, but the sidewalks were equally jammed, as were the shops. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What the Pandora Wore: High Fashion in Miniature, c. 1760

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Isabella reporting,

This lovely robe à la française is from the Think Pink exhibition (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) that I've written about previously here and here. Made of silk taffeta with lace, the gown features the serpentine self-trim, stomacher with bows and lace, and  the deeply flounced petticoat and sleeve ruffles that all were the height of Parisian fashion c. 1760-70. Any European or colonial American lady would have loved to have worn such a gown – except that there's a slight problem with the size.

The gown is only about 15" tall.

While it's possible that the gown belonged to the treasured plaything of a wealthy child, it's far more likely that the gown was worn by a different kind of doll. Pandoras were doll-sized mannequins dressed in the latest fashions from Paris and London, and sent to shops and mantua-makers to show customers the new styles from the big cities. Unlike a printed fashion plate, a pandora could demonstrate fabrics and techniques as well as accessories like caps and mitts, and could also show the gown from all sides.

The rare surviving pandora, left, from the Victoria & Albert Museum is approximately the same age as the pink gown. Carved from wood, painted, and complete with a head of human hair, she wears not only an embroidered gown, but also the appropriate undergarments, mitts, stockings, shoes, and cap for a stylish Georgian lady. What's most amazing for a doll that's nearly 350 years old is that she is has worn these things the entire time; the dressmaker's original pins securing the clothes remain exactly where they were placed centuries ago.

Did pandoras actually influence women's decisions with their dressmakers? The MFA makes a good case for it by showing this portrait, right, from their collection near the miniature pink gown. Dorothy Quincy - married to wealthy Bostonian and patriot John Hancock - is shown wearing a similar pink silk gown with pinked bows. There is, of course, absolutely no documented connection between the portrait and the pandora's pink gown - but it is fun to imagine Dorothy with her mantua-maker and a pandora, discussing what the ladies in London were currently wearing....

Above: Doll's dress robe à la française, c.1750-1790, Europe, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Above left: Fashion doll, c. 1755-1760, England, V&A Museum.
Below right:Dorothy Quincy (Mrs. John Hancock), by John Singleton Copley, c. 1772. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of December 2, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013
After a week off for the holiday, we're back today with a bumper crop of Breakfast Links – our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Mary Robinson - known as Perditia - a Georgian fashion icon and leading London celebrity of the 1780s.
• Retail therapy: what mannequins say about us.
• The remarkable life & times of Jeffery Hudson, Charles I's dwarf.
• Image: early handbills show the rage for talented animal sideshows include the "Most Astonishing" Learned Goose.
Hypochondria in Jane Austen's England.
• Nine 19th c. books that will change your Victorian sex life.
• The burning of the "satanic" Albion Mills at Blackfriars, 1791.
• A glimmer of gold: a gorgeous 19th c. bonnet.
• Sensational assassination in the Adriondacks: 1903 murder of millionaire lawyer Orrando Perry Dexter.
• "Christmas pye, the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon."
• For the first time, ancient Bibles and Biblical texts from the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries go on-line.
• Minding the farm: wives looking after family properties for their Tory husbands during the American Revolution.
• A century of vintage photographs of people building snowmen, 1850-1960.
• Image: Monday washing, New York City, 1900
• "To Make a Quarter Cask of Currant Wine": 18th c. recipe begins with eighty-six pounds of "the best Jamaica sugar."
• A video offering a closer look at a magnificent Charles James evening gown.
• Image: delightful photo of Edwardian domestic servants up to some "mischief."
• Happy Hanukkah! images of the Festival of Lights from medieval manuscripts in the British Library.
• Claxton's Patent Ear Cap, 1890s, to prevent baby from getting "ugly" ears.
• Browse through Charles Dickens' manuscript for A Christmas Carol.
• A dress to dye for: 1860s green dress colored with arsenic in the aniline dye.
• The Edwardian debutante.
• The tongues of rogues: how secret languages develop in closed societies like English con men, Parisian prostitutes, and German bandits.
• The history of green boughs and trees for Christmas.
• Teeny tiny medieval books.
• The British view of early American President John Adams.
• Turquoise with a story: the diadem of Empress Marie-Louise, Napoleon's second wife.
• French frolicking dog wallpaper, 1798.
• Quinine from cinchona bark as cheap and effective treatment for malaria in 19th c. India.
• "Dust, ho? Bring out your dust": early cries of London.
• Piss prophets and the Wheel of Urine: what urine revealed in the medieval world.
• Beware the girl with the wiggling walk and the boy eating pencils: vigilant Dr. Jackson lists the signs of a chronic masturbator, 1861.
• Of dirty books and bread.
• Heart-rending family stories in records of Royal Hospital School for children of lost seamen.
• In 1902, the Episcopal Women's Auxiliary in NYC sends lunch wagons out to keep workers and coachmen out of saloons.
• Quotes falsely (and repeatedly) attributed to George Washington.
Nancy Dupree, a thoroughly intrepid woman in 20th c. Afghanistan.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Video: Benjamin Franklin's Glass Armonica, 1761

Friday, December 6, 2013

Isabella reporting,

One of Benjamin Franklin's most ingenious inventions was an unusual musical instrument he called the glass armonica, from the Italian word armonia, or harmony.

Most everyone has run his or her dampened finger along the rim of a crystal wineglass or goblet, producing an other-worldly, high-pitched echo (and often sending all pets scurrying from the room.) In 18th c. Europe, water-tuned wineglasses were combined in carefully tuned sets and "played" to the enchantment of audiences. Among those who enjoyed this eerie music was Franklin, visiting London in 1761. Franklin resolved to refine the concept of the water-tuned glasses into a more convenient instrument, and the result was the glass armonica. For more of the history, see this website devoted to the instrument.

While the new instrument was a great success with aristocratic audiences in the 18th c. – even Mozart composed for it – today there are only a handful of performers worldwide. One of them is William Zeitler, featured in the video here, who not only explains the armonica, but also plays several short pieces. If you're in the mood for more, here's a link to Mr. Zeitler playing the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite - it's never sounded more wonderfully ethereal.

And if you're a fan of the paranormal/steampunk TV show Sleepy Hollow (yes, I've already admitted I'm a Sleepyhead, too), then you've already seen and heard a glass armonica. In the November 18 episode Necromancer, guests at Abraham's house were being entertained by a glass armonica performance. Could there be a more appropriate soundtrack?

Shameless Self-Promotion: Download WHEN YOU WISH UPON A DUKE for $.99

Isabella reporting,

Looking for a little light holiday reading? For a limited time, my publisher, Ballantine Books, has reduced the download version of my 2012 historical romance, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A DUKE, to $.99.

It's available across the various ebook platforms - here are the links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Nook) and Sony Reader. It's also available through Apple's iBook site. Happy reading!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Elegant Girandole for December 1821

Thursday, December 5, 2013
View online here

Loretta reports:

Though I may not go into detail about the furnishings in a given scene in one of my stories, it's always helpful to have images.  What, exactly, might be reflected in the pier glass?  What's holding the candles?  A sconce?  A chandelier?  A simple candlestick?  Here's one pretty example of the latest thing in glass-making (according to its creators, at any rate).  The illustration and description are from Ackermann's Repository for December 1821.

Read online here
Nerdy History persons curious about the "Memoirs" mentioned in the description may wish to peruse a later edition of Mr. Aplsey Pellat, Jr.'s book on glass-making, complete with color  illustrations.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fashions for December 1809

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

 Loretta reports:

We’ve blogged before about the popularity of the little white dress (here and here) during the early 19th century.  Interestingly, in December, the fashionable lady is wearing white cambric or muslin, warmed (not very much, I’d guess) by her silk-lined velvet coat.  For evening it’s satin, and a pelerine trimmed in swansdown.   And red shoes! This time you might find the General Observations also well worth your perusal. 

“It is the fate of innovators to be misunderstood and misrepresented.” Do you agree?  And what about anybody wearing any color?


You can view and read online, starting here, at the Internet Archive.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Royal Dance of Torches

Tuesday, December 3, 2013
View online here
Loretta reports:

This is one of those odd little notes one comes across while looking for something else.  “The Royal Dance of Torches,” performed at a royal wedding on this day in 1821, was all new to me, and precious little could I find about it online.  The illustration is of a scene a few decades too early, and we see no torches, but it is a royal wedding in Berlin (of the Prince Royal's mother?). For the dance, we must exercise our imaginations.

American Notes & Queries
Hone's Every-Day Book

 Clicking on the captions will take you to the online material.  An easier-to-read version of the Hone entry is here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Enticing (and Mysterious) Mrs. Faber, c. 1750

Sunday, December 1, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Several weeks ago I posted this charmingly intimate portrait, left, on my Facebook page, and the discussion was so interesting - and so intriguing - that I decided it needed to appear here on the blog as well.

The lady in this portrait is Mrs. John Faber, painted by Thomas Hudson about 1750. Mr. Faber (1695?-1756) was an engraver who specialized in making mezzotint engravings of the paintings of other, more famous artists. Mrs. Faber is shown in elegantly provocative deshabille, in a silk dressing gown that is wrapped over her shift. She holds her scarf both as if to relish the sensual softness of the fur, and also to coyly expose her bare breast; she's clearly not wearing stays. The fur, the silk, and the pearls in her ears and around her throat attest to her husband's success and prosperity.

While mistresses and actresses were painted in this kind of provocative pose, it's unusual to find one of a respectable wife. Almost nothing is known of Mrs. Faber (not even her first name!), but if the 1750 date of the portrait is accurate, Faber himself was 55 when it was painted, making his wife much younger. Perhaps she was a Georgian "trophy wife," and he was sufficiently proud of her seductive beauty that he commissioned this portrait.

Or perhaps not. When I searched around the internet, I found another version of this same portrait, by the same artist, with nearly the same date. While the pose is the same, the dressing gown is not as revealing and the cap is less flirtatiously ruffled. It's also a less flattering portrait of Mrs. Faber's face.

So which portrait was done first? Was one deemed too unflattering, and a second one painted? Or was one version painted for private viewing, and another for a more public place? Could Mrs. Faber herself have asked for a portrait that showed her looking younger than she really was? Faber himself must have been reasonably pleased by the more severe portrait, for he made this mezzotint copy of it.

But more unsettling is this mezzotint engraving, right, that Mr. Faber did of the prettier version of his wife's portrait. It's a skillful trompe l'oeil version of the portrait, showing it as if the covering glass had been broken within a frame. But why would a husband choose to interpret his wife's portrait covered with jagged shards of broken glass? Is it simply a commentary on vanity, or something more ominous? (In fairness, I do have to note that some sources don't attribute this print to Faber, but to the ever-anonymous "English School.")

The explanations behind all these mysteries – as well as Mrs. Faber's side of the story – are lost now, or at least waiting to be rediscovered by some intrepid art historian. If there is one out there who has investigated these portraits, I hope she or he will comment. One fact about Mrs. Faber does remain, thanks to Horace Walpole: that after her husband's death in 1756, she remarried, to a lawyer named Smith. I can only hope she was happy.

Above: Mrs. John Faber, by Thomas Hudson, c. 1750. Private collection.
Below: A trompe l'oeil with a portrait of Mrs. John Faber the younger, the engraver's wife, after Thomas Hudson. 18th c. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Break

Sunday, November 24, 2013
As has become our custom, we'll be taking this week off from blogging, tweeting, and all-around social-networking to spend time with family, friends, and a good book or two.

And pies. Yes, there will be pies.

We both have much to be thankful for - including you, the very best readers, followers, and fellow-nerdy-folks in the world.

Have a wonderful holiday,

Loretta & Isabella

Left: Poster, The Chap-Book, Thanksgiving Number, by William H. Bradley, 1895. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of November 18, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013
Fresh off the griddle! Here's our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, videos, and images, gathered for your from around the Twitterverse.
• The woman who launched fireworks from a balloon over 19th c. Paris.
• Did Clark Gable really kill the undershirt?
• Historical how-to for home management: The Complete Servant, 1825.
• The thrill of the hunt: rat-hunting keeps dogs of all stripes occupied in 1820s London pubs - and in modern NYC.
• Tattoo history: tattooing in in 19th c. British gaols.
• "My last writing before the battle will be to you...." Nelson's last letter to Emma Hamilton, 1805.
• Evocative photographs of the loneliness of Old London.
• Drilling a hole in the skull to cure stupidity: "some in this case cry up with the wonderful praises of Trepaning."
• Explore the Casey Fashion Plates Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library for style form 1780-1880.
• Seven things Americans used to dress up for - and not that long ago, either.
• Pride and partridges: Jane Austen and food.
• The pleasure gardens of Vauxhall in 1827.
• The politics (and the excesses) of 18th c. English turtle feasts.
• Delia Jarvis and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
• An unusual eulogy on an early 19th c. gravestone in Fulham.
• NORWICH, BURMA, ENGLAND: saucy lovers' acronyms from the 1930s.
Sweet treats from a Georgian kitchen: recipes for caramels and almond clear cakes.
• The weirdest and fiercest helmets from the Age of Armored Combat.
• "The hair on their phizzes": the Yale Class of 1870 proudly catalogues their mustaches, beards, and "hopeful scrags."
• The true history of Richard II - not quite the same as Shakespeare's version
CIA women from the 1960s-70s tell of bugged evening wear, surveillance compact mirrors, and "how to spot an enemy operative by his socks."
Amazons vs. the wife-beater, 1878.
• Cooking Thanksgiving for an army (literally): a World War One pumpkin pie recipe from the first Manual for Army Cooks, 1910.
• Shopping at the Sign of the Oil Jar: a splendidly elaborate 18th c. trade card.
• Refugee heirlooms: what people take when they're forced to leave their homes.
• When knitting becomes a feminist issue (or not.)
• Photos from the glorious but now-abandoned City Hall subway station, NYC.
• An exuberant 19th c. birdcage in the shape of the Rialto Bridge.
• Amazing survivor: a remnant of paper ream wrapper preserved on pasteboard from the late 17th c.
• The lost Proctor Theatre in NYC: when Lillian Russell appeared here in 1905, she earned a staggering $4000 a week.
• British newsreel film from 1953 shows a school with a mock-up flat where girls can practice cooking, cleaning, and making beds.
• End of an era: the last surviving old-fashioned phone booths in NYC.
• In this dramatic 1938 ad, a psychiatrist prescribes...Listerine.
• Cue the Beach Boys! Phenomenal set of vintage photos of Los Angeles - the city has never looked so charming.
• Stuck with a stuck-up sweetheart? Foolproof 17th c. advice on how to bring her down a peg or two.
• Last but certainly not least: there really is an island where cats rule.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Video: Beautiful Needlework by an Eleven-Year-Girl, 1671

Friday, November 22, 2013

Isabella reporting,

I recently showed a tiny detail of a 17th c. box, or casket, covered in raised work needlework, from the textile collection of Colonial Williamsburg. By coincidence, one of our readers, Tricia Nguyen, forwarded this silent Vimeo clip to me, showing a similar casket in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. What's most amazing to me is that both these caskets were the work of adolescent girls. The one in the video was worked by Martha Edlin (1660-1725), who was only eleven when she completed the needlework panels for this casket. It's hard for me to imagine many modern girls who possess either the focus or the patience to create something so beautifully detailed and stitched. The V&A page for the Martha Edlin's casket is here.

Tricia Nguyen is a skilled needleworker and teacher in her own right, and she was part of the team who recreated this exquisite c. 1600 embroidered jacket under the auspices of Plimoth Plantation (here's more about the jacket, now on display at Winterthur.) If you're inspired to create a replica embroidered casket of your own, Ms. Nguyen offers an on-line course, complete with the wooden box and all supplies. Patience and perseverance, however, aren't included; it's an eighteen-month-course from start to finish, and a definite labor of needlework love.

Oh, to be a genteel 17th c. lady, sitting at needlework each day instead of a computer keyboard....

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wimpole Hall: a Survivor

Thursday, November 21, 2013
View online here
Loretta reports:

In light of the recent repeat post about the privileges of the peerage, I thought we might as well take a look at the way these privileged persons lived.  From time to time I post information about palaces and mansions and such, mainly from Ackermann's Repository.  But numerous series of volumes were published in the 19th century illustrating and describing Great Britain's great houses.  Morris's County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland offers color plates.  In looking through it, I was struck with the number of houses that have managed to survive, some in deplorable condition, and some, like Wimpole Hall, continuing to thrive.

Read online here

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Cutting Edge: 18th c. Leopard-Patterned Fashion

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Isabella reporting,

I've written two other posts featuring 18th c. men sporting leopard-print clothing (here and here), but when I spotted (*cough*) this pair, I couldn't resist sharing them as well.

In the late 18th c., leopard prints could be printed on velvet, wool, or cotton & linen, or, in those days, even a bit of real leopard skin. It could be a pattern so stylized that it was little more than an irregular dot, or a literal translation worthy of a big cat. Then, as now, animal-inspired prints added a touch of the exotic, hinting that the wearer might be a bit of the animal him (or her)self.

The lady in the 1788 French fashion plate, left, is either the height of Parisian fashion, or the depths of foolishness, depending on your perspective. Not only is she wearing an entire robe a l'Anglaise printed with leopard spots, but she's also sporting a headdress sprouting exotic feathers, no doubt imagining herself a perfect belle sauvage. The hedgehog inspired hair, the giant pouf of ribbons on her headdress, the large cluster of silk flowers pinned to her bodice, and the barrel-sized muff on her arm would also have been considered very stylish.

Although the gentleman, right, dates from 1773, he, too, has also succumbed to the leopard-print trend, wearing an entire suit in the fashionable pattern. Much like the French lady, he is wearing stylishly exaggerated accessories, including a huge black silk bow on the queue of his wig,  a fur or feather trimmed cocked hat, and an over-sized spray of flowers on his lapel.

Those flowers have given him his nickname: the title of this print is Lord ___, or the Nosegay Macaroni. For while this looks like another fashion-plate, it's really a satiric print of an actual young Irish gentleman, George Mason-Villiers, 2nd Earl Grandison (1751-1800.) At the time this caricature was drawn, Lord Grandison was only 22 and recently married, and evidently so style-conscious in his dress that he'd been branded a macaroni. In time the earl served respectably in both the British House of Commons and in the Irish House of Lords, eventually being sworn into the Irish Privy Council, so I assume he must have outgrown his taste for splashy nosegays and leopard-spots.

Left: Detail, Fashion plate, Magasin des Modes, Paris, February, 1788.
Right: Detail, Lord__, or the Nosegay Macaroni. Plate from The Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine, or, Monthly Register of the Fashions and Diversions of the Times. London: John Williams, February, 1773. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Return Engagement: The Privileges of Being a Peer

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Loretta reports:

I think the following, taken with my blog on illegitimacy, offers some insight into the mindset of the upper classes.  So many rules didn’t apply to them—which helps explain the behavior we’ve blogged about here, here, here, and here, and elsewhere.
The nobility of England enjoy many great privileges, the principal of which are as follows:
1. That they are free from all arrests for debts, as being the king's hereditary counsellors. Therefore a peer cannot be outlawed in any civil action, and no attachment lies against his person. This privilege extended also to their domestic servants, as well as to those of members of the lower house, till the year 1770 . . . For the same reason they are free from attending courts leet, or sheriffs turns; or, in cases of riot, from attending the posse comitatus.

2. In criminal causes they are only tried by their peers, who give their verdict, not upon oath, as other juries, but only upon their honour; and then a court is erected on purpose in the middle of Westminster Hall, at the king’s charge, which is pulled down when their trials are over.

3. To secure the honour of, and prevent the spreading of any scandal upon peers, or any great officer of the realm, by reports, there is an express law, called scandalum magnatum, by which any man convicted of making a scandalous report against a peer of the realm (though true) is condemned to an arbitrary fine, and to remain in custody till the same be paid.

4. Upon any great trial in a court of justice, a peer may come into the court, and sit there uncovered.
No peer can be covered in the royal presence without permission for that purpose, except the lord baron of Kinsale, of his majesty's kingdom of Ireland. See De Courcy, Baron Kinsale, in the Peerage of Ireland... In case of the poll-tax, the peers bear the greater share of the burden, they being taxed every one according to his degree.

Debrett's Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1820

Illustration:  House of Lords, from the Microcosm of London, 1808-1810

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The First Oval Office: Reconstructing George Washington's Marquee Tent

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Isabella reporting:

In the past, when I've written about the work of the tailors from Colonial Williamsburg's historic trade department, I've shared coats and jackets and other garments. But this year the tailors have been engaged in a much larger project in conjunction with the Museum of the American Revolution: recreating the 18th c. marquee, or tent, used by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, c. 1778-1782.

Outfitting an 18th c. army was a major undertaking, and when war broke out in 1775, the nascent Continental Army was starting from scratch. In addition to the obvious requirements of weapons, gunpowder, uniforms, food, and everyday supplies, the new army was in dire need of tents to house the troops. Everyone who could wield a needle was pressed into sewing. Tailors, sail makers, upholsterers, and seamstresses went to creating tents in all sizes, using thousands of yards of linen and hemp fabric. There were no sewing machines; every stitch was made by hand.

As commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, General Washington's tents (he had two) served as his offices as well as sleeping quarters. He likely used the larger marquee as a gathering place for his aides and guests, for dining as well as meetings. The tents were furnished with eighteen walnut camp stools, three walnut camp tables, and Washington's folding camp bed. While the marquees were probably the largest in the American Army, they were not the most elaborate (some wealthy officers rivaled Washington for elegance) and were modest compared to their British counterparts. Nonetheless, their symbolic significance was clear: this was headquarters. In the painting, above left, the general is shown standing outside his marquee.

But like every other tent used by the army, these received considerable wear and tear in the course of the war. The first set of the general's tents only last for the first two campaigns, from 1776-1777. The second set, made in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1778, inspired the current reproduction, which will be used for education and exhibition. The original marquee - now fragile from general age as well as from frequent "appearances" over the last two centuries - remains in the collection of the Museum of American History in Philadelphia; this was studied and copied by the crew at Colonial Williamsburg. The dining marquee is in the collection of the Smithsonian.

Using the same techniques as their 18th c. predecessors (and dressed in the same way, too, below), the team of accomplished tailors and seamstresses worked through the summer and into the fall creating the new tent. They cut and stitched linen fabric, some of which was hand-woven in Colonial Williamsburg's Weave Room, and while their hours weren't quite as long as those of the 18th c. seamers (who would have worked as long as there was daylight), their progress was impressive, averaging 13 feet of seaming a day at a gauge of 6 stitches per inch. Granted, the earlier seamers wouldn't have worked before a constant stream of Colonial Williamsburg visitors watching and asking questions, but then the modern seamers did have the advantage of working in air conditioning.

Finally, on Friday, the completed marquee was raised, lower left, - an impressive achievement! For more information about the project and many more photographs, see the blog on the Museum of the American Revolution's web site, and join the project's Facebook page here.

All photographs courtesy of Mark Hutter - many thanks, Mark!

Top left: Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown, by Charles Wilson Peale, c. 1784. Maryland State Art Collection.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of November 11, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013
Here's your fresh serving of Breakfast Links – our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, images, and articles, gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• "Hot spiced gingerbread!" 18th c. recipe for Georgian street vendor's favorite.
• A medieval world 1000 feet underground, carved entirely from salt.
• How to fight like a Victorian gentleman: a guide to bartitsu, the Sherlock Holmes art of self-defense.
• Some historical fashion objects simply cannot be displayed: Jacqueline Kennedy's pink Chanel suit.
• More Austen on the block - a Jane Austen portrait, first editions, and more.
• The marvelous story of the Hotel Theresa, Harlem's hottest hotel in the 1940s and '50s.
• The Oldest Student in France & the Champion of the World: early 20th c. French calling cards.
• The tignon – a kind of turban – and why 19th c. African American women wore them in Louisiana.
• Simple yet ornate drawing of a dragon fills in the line in 15th c. Prayer Book of Charles the Bold.
• From wreathes to jewelry, Queen Victoria to Michael Jackson: web site for the world's only museum devoted entirely to hair.
• The heroic, harrowing life of American colonial artist Henrietta Johnston (1674-1729).
• The circus animals that helped Britain in World War One.
• According to lurid 18th c. newspaper advertisements, Northampton was the home of broken families and the criminally insane.
Punqua Wingchong just wanted to return to his home in China in 1808 – or at least that's what Thomas Jefferson thought.
• A tale from 3rd c. BCE Egypt: the lentil-cook and the pumpkin-seller went to market....
• Group portraits of 19th c. American families in their Victorian-style homes.
• The painstaking process behind creating Mughal paintings and calligraphy.
• The cat and the diplomat, 1860: "A cat comes down the chimney, stares at me in amazement, secures one of my slippers in full flight and disappears."
• A captivating (and zoomable) panoramic display of 1920s bathing beauties.
• Of hedgehogs, whale vomit, and fire-breathing peacocks (and the 17th c. recipes that mention them.)
• Renaissance rhinoplasty: the 16th c. nose job.
• A new theory to an ancient mystery: did the teenaged King Tut die in a chariot crash?
• Myra Howard, shoplifter, apprehended in Chicago, 1900.
• "My face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What will those Spaniards say of me if they see me like this?"
• A brief & tortured history of caffeine "addiction."
• Seven myths and seven truths about the Boston Tea Party.
• A walking stick and 100 other objects that tell the story of America.
• When a diamond really is a girl's best friend: the allure of a cursed diamond.
• How drunk were late-Victorian train drivers?
• Fall fashion trend for 19th c. ladies: leaves (plus recipes for preserving them.)
• The life of Edward III, one of England's most successful kings, born at Windsor Castle in 1312.
• The fashionable, coy single women of 1920s fantasy postcards.
• The coroner and the corset, 1874.
• How slang and swear words helped soldiers survive World War One.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Casual Friday: The Tattooed Lady & Groucho

Friday, November 15, 2013
Groucho Marx
Loretta reports:

Well, there was the way he walked, that stalking, snakelike movement.  And the eyebrows.  And the mustache.  And the way he talked, usually around the big cigar.  I've had a big crush on Groucho Marx since childhood, and this is one of my favorite bits from the Marx Brothers movies.  As one who's a sucker for clever rhymes and lyrics, I find "Lydia, oh, Lydia, that encyclopedia," just irresistible. The song is "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," and the movie is At the Circus.

You may have your own favorite Marx Brothers routine or song.  Feel free to share.  Movie history nerdiness counts as history nerdiness, too.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When Little Girls Wore Blue & Boys Wore Pink Dresses

Thursday, November 14, 2013
Isabella reporting,

As Loretta discussed in a recent post highlighting 19th c. American portraits from the Heritage Museums & Gardens, it's not always easy for modern eyes to decipher a historical child's gender. For hundreds of years, young boys and girls were dressed in virtually the same clothes - a long gown that seems like a dress to us, but was in reality a simple garment for convenience in those pre-Pampers days. The question of color defining gender does appear in the late 18th c., but with pink preferred for boys as a stronger, more masculine color, and blue - a color long associated with innocence and virginity - as the primary choice for girls.

I thought of this again while visiting the Think Pink exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts (which I mentioned earlier this week here.) The charming small dress with the puffed sleeves, left, is made of bright pink printed cotton, with seams accentuated by white cotton embroidery; the narrow-legged trousers beneath are modern reproductions. The dress was worn by an American child around 1825, but whether it was made for a boy or a girl remains unclear.

Gender guessing games are difficult for curators and art historians. A similar dress in blue is worn in the painting, right, which is most likely a young girl. Another in white, lower left, is nearly identical in style, and because of the toy horse, is probably worn by a little boy.  But with the sitters' identities long forgotten, no one now knows for certain. Confusing matters further is that 19th c. parents weren't as concerned as their modern counterparts about choosing the "right" color, and might simply have dressed a child in blue to match her (or his) eyes.

Apparently the current generation of American parents is much more concerned  than ever before about reinforcing gender stereotypes through children's dress. According to this fascinating article from Smithsonian Magazine, new mothers who were dressed in genderless children's clothes in the 1970s-80s are now choosing the pinkest of ruffled dresses for their daughters and aggressively blue overalls with footballs for their sons - choices encouraged by savvy marketers of children's wear. Who knows which way the kiddie fashion pendulum will swing next?

Perhaps this little pink unisex dress is more ahead of its time after all....

Above left: Boy's or Girl's dress, United States, about 1825. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph copyright Susan Holloway Scott.
Right: Detail, Family Group, by Sturtevant J. Hamblin, 1830s.
Lower left: Detail, The Williamson Family, by Stanley Mix, 1840s.
Both images from the wonderful art history website by Barbara Wells Sarudy, It's About Time.

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