Thursday, January 31, 2013

Return Engagement: Maillardet’s Wonderful Mechanical Exhibition

Thursday, January 31, 2013
Loretta reports:

[Update: The movie Hugo, which I watched recently, reminded me of The Juvenile Artist described below.]

As usual, looking for something else, I happened upon the pages of Advertisements for June in an 1807 La Belle Assemblée.  I was particularly charmed by this ad for an exhibition of automata—and thrilled to find a video of one of Maillardet’s works* on YouTube.

The Musical Lady. Video of an 18th C automaton made for Marie Antoinette.
*The Juvenile Artist. The Maillardet automaton.
The British Fortune-Teller.  A modern magician automaton.
A Beautiful Bird.  18th C singing bird box.

For more automata, see my post on the singing bird pistols.

From La La Belle assemblée or, Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine, Vol. II.  Publisher J. Bell, 1807

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Publication Day for Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice", January, 1813

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Isabella reporting,

As all good nerdy history folk likely already know, this week marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. Countless words are being written around the world in praise of P&P and its author in celebration, and every laudatory syllable is well-deserved. There's not much I can add in the way of literary brilliance, but I can contribute a few words of my own regarding Jane Austen as a fellow author.

Long before she posthumously became one of the most famous of authors, Jane was just one more working novelist, A Lady whose name wasn't even on her title page. The details that survive about Jane and the publication of P&P, in three volumes, sound all too familiar to 21st c. writers.

Receiving her first printed author-copies (here are first editions) was at once a glorious experience and a taxing one. There were the inevitable errors, discovered too late to be corrected. She worried about the newspaper advertisement – ah, promo! – and whether the book would sell. (The sad truth was that she never earned enough from her books to support herself, something that many modern writers will also recognize.) She worried, too, that readers wouldn't understand her characters, especially her heroine Elizabeth. In the excerpt, below, from a letter she wrote to her sister Cassandra on January 29, 1813, Jane describes anonymously sharing the new book with an unsuspecting Miss Benn, relishing every appreciative word even as she dreads hearing a critical one.

Writers understand this. To Jane, Pride and Prejudice isn't a mere book, but her "own darling Child." Those who don't write believe that professional story-telling takes perseverance, talent, ideas, inspiration, and creativity. Those who do write know that a successful writer also needs a good measure of courage, enough to be able to send her or his "own darling Child" out into the cold, cruel world of critics and readers. It's a courage that Jane clearly must have had – and we're all grateful she did.

"I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London; – on Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor....The Advertisement is in our paper to day for the first time; – 18s–He shall ask £1-1- for my two next, & £1-8 for my stupidest of all....Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the books coming & in the evening we set fairly at it, and read half the first vol. to her, prefacing that, having intelligence from Henry that such a work would soon appear, we had desired him to send it whenever it came out, and I believe it passed with her unsuspected. She was amused, poor soul! that she could not help, you know, with two such people to lead the way, but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know. There are a few Typical errors; and a "said he," or a "said she," would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear – but I do not write for such dull Elves."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Flu Then & Now

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Loretta reports:

Trying to collect a prescription last week, I entered a pharmacy whose counter was heaped with bags of medication awaiting pick up, and whose pharmacists were all frantically busy.  The current raging flu season was the reason.

A Central Massachusetts columnist reminded me that, bad as it is, the current flu epidemic is small potatoes compared to the one that struck at the end of WWI.  The flu pandemic of 1918-20 affected ¼ of the U.S. population, yet the country’s death rate of 675,000 was lower than in many other places.  It was the worst pandemic since the Black Plague, to which it bore some resemblance: The symptoms of Spanish Flu (aka Purple Death) were gruesome, it killed very quickly, and it was undiscriminating, affecting young adults as much as—and in some cases more than—the elderly, ill, and small children. 

“No figures exist for many parts of the world, but the pandemic is estimated to have infected 50% of the world’s population, 25% suffered a clinical infection and the total mortality was 40–50 million: the often quoted figure of 20 million deaths is palpably too low (Crosby 1976).”
C.W. Potter, A History of Influenza

The 19th century, though, was by no means flu-free.  Several epidemics occurred (IIRC, I killed some characters in the 1826 epidemic), including a pandemic in 1830-33 comparable to the 1918 plague, but with a somewhat lower death rate.

Here, as in so many other cases, physicians disagreed about whether or not it was contagious.  The Lancet of 1837 insisted it wasn’t. 

The preferred treatment, as you might expect, was bloodletting.

Illustration at top: St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty Oct. 1918 Influenza epidemic.  Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Illustration at bottom from The London Medical and Physical Journal, Volume 10, 1803

Sunday, January 27, 2013

When a Pleasure Garden Isn't Pleasant, 1777

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Isabella reporting,

When thinking of the historical past, it's tempting to imagine the grander events as being, well, grand. The truth is that historical weather was every bit as unpredictable as its modern counterpart, and coronations, royal weddings, and balls were equally at the mercy of unwelcome rain and snow. This excerpt from the "Summer Amusements" in The Westminster Magazine, or The Pantheon of taste, June, 1777, describes a would-be glamorous event at Ranelagh, a fashionable pleasure-garden in 18th c. London. There's nothing worse than a big dance where no one feels like dancing, and not even the presence of dukes and duchesses could make up for drippy weather:

"The Grand Gala Concert on Tuesday...did not turn out so brilliant an assembly as was expected. The rain which fell on that day, and had fallen so heavily for some days preceding, not only damped the gardens, but damped the spirit of the Public; the consequence was, those who did attend seemed chagrined and disappointed at there being so few present. Till past eleven, the number of persons in the Rotunda did not amount to more than three hundred, and in the gardens these were only a few stragglers, who either just ventured to take the air and a peep at the illuminations of the bridge...or were necessitated for a moment to withdraw from the comfortable Rotunda. 

"About twelve, at which hour the company seemed most numerous, there might be six hundred in all, and to say the truth, a large part of the first fashion: the Duke of Cumberland, Duke and Duchess of Devonshire...and as many of the long list of noble Personages who generally frequent Ranelagh as were in town, being of the company. The Rotunda was most beautifully illuminated, and the orchestra filled with a fine, full band, who played various pieces of music...till past one in the morning. [But] Not a single dance was to be seen, unless the tedious perambulation of company round the room can be called dancing....Mr. Temple Luttrell, who planned the above entertainment, is said to have been a considerable loser by it, having only expended six hundred guineas for the use of the gardens and the expences of the concert.

The interior of the famous Ranelagh Rotunda is shown above. The crowd looks a little sparse here, too.  The print, left, shows the Rotunda from the outside, its domed roof making it resemble a modern sports arena, and the gardens and canal the perfect spot for a stroll on a clear evening.

Above: The Interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh Gardens, by Canaletto, c. 1751. Private collection.
Right: The Rotunda at Ranelagh, by Thomas Bowles, 1754.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of January 21, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013
The January weather may be frigid, but our Breakfast Links are always the perfect way to warm up  your weekend. You'll find our favorite links of the week to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles, all gathered from the Twitterverse.
• Days before Pride & Prejudice is published in 1813, Jane Austen writes to sister Cassandra.
• To be or not to be married, 1887.
• A striking red and black 1890s ensemble.
• How to get your beard into a gas mask, 1939.
• Manet's forgotten, red-haired muse (and fellow artist): Victorine Meurent.
• The lost wolves of New England.
• Why did European men start (and stop) wearing high heels?
• Rare & charming children's art from 1868, found in the blank spaces of a ledger.
Couples from the 1500s, together in love, lust, & greed.
• British First Day Covers of new Jane Austen commemorative stamps.
• During a cold spell in NYC, 1888, it was possible to cross the ice-bound East River on foot.
• Lovely WWI photograph shows amusement and relief away from the fighting, October 1918.
Gossamer gowns: what to wear to an inaugural ball.
• Ye very olde Sauce Madame for duck, from the 14th c.
• Quinine smuggling dolls, guns hidden in cookies, & other tales of Civil War blockade runners.
• Toby Chien, author Colette's beloved dog and muse.
• Forget those modern shoes with the red soles - how about these 18th c. beauties with flowered heels?
• Everything was fake but her wealth: the strange story of rich NYC recluse Ida Wood.
• Gallery of women's tattoos, to confirm & upset your assumptions about America's gendered past.
• The Secret Mansion: haunting photos of a grand house abandoned & lost in time.
• What prospects existed in post WWI UK for a spinster like Downton Abbey's Lady Edith?
LOLcats of the Middle Ages.
• A snowy panoramic view of the Tudor entrance to Hampton Court Palace.
• Fantastic woodcut of a dozen men getting drunk, 1648.
• The daughter of THE Mrs. Astor marries the son of a Confederate and two immense fortunes are joined.
• Happy birthday to designer Christian Dior, born this week in 1905; his extraordinary "Venus" ballgown.
• Celebrate with Prince Albert's Plum Pudding (surprisingly not a euphemism.)
• "Pestilent stuff": the Dime Novel War of 1884.
• "My face is finely ornamented": surviving smallpox inoculation, 1777.
• Helen Taft was the first First Lady to donate her dress to the Smithsonian, and it's beautiful.
• "The Queen is slowly sinking": the death of Queen Victoria, 22 January, 1901.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls and receive fresh updates daily!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Casual Friday: Ghost Signs

Friday, January 25, 2013
Loretta reports:

I’ve always had a fondness for old mill buildings and remnants of our Industrial Revolution past.  This picture is part of an extensive series I took some years ago.  I was lucky enough to catch this building before it was completely demolished.  And of course I was heartbroken that it was demolished.

Thus a little note about an exhibition of photographs of “ghost signs” caught my attention.

Are there similar vestiges of the past in your area?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Great Frost, 1607-8

Thursday, January 24, 2013
Isabella reporting,

While it's currently very, very cold in much of America (and from our friends in the U.K., it's much the same there), it could be worse. England in January, 1608 was in the middle of a winter of record-breaking cold, part of the much longer "Little Ice Age" that ranged from roughly 1350-1850. Not that the average Englishman or woman was thinking in climatological terms; all he or she knew was that it was wicked cold, so cold that the Thames froze solid.

The river became an impromptu fairground, with amusements and refreshments available. Though not as elaborate as later frost fairs, this deep freeze was still enough of a wonder to merit its own publication. The great frost. Cold doings in London, is a slender tract printed in 1608, no doubt to cash in on the novelty of the frozen river. The cover illustration, left, shows Londoners amusing themselves on the frozen river near London Bridge - which seems to have shrunk through some mysterious artistic licence.

The tract is written in the form of a conversation between two friends, the Country-man and his urban counterpart, the Citizen, who discuss how the cold weather has affected London and the countryside. It reads a bit like an exchange between a pair of Weather Channel reporters - if the guys in the blue jackets spoke in Shakespeare's English. Here the Citizen describes the frozen river:

"The Thames began to put on his Freeze-coate about a week before Christmas, and hath kept it on till now, this latter end of January. This cold breakfast being given to the Cittie, and the Thames growing more & more hard-harted, youthes and boyes were the first Merchant venturers that set out to discover these cold Landes upon the River; and the first path was beaten forth, to passe to the Bank-Side without going over Bridge or by Boat, was about Cold-Harbour, and in those places neere the Bridge....

Both men, women, and children walked over, and up and downe in such companies, that I verily believe, and I dare almost sweare it, that one half (if not three parts) of the people in the Citie, have been seene going on the Thames. The rivers shows not now (neither shows it yet) like a river, but like a field where archers shoot, while others play at football....It is an alley to walk upon without dread, albeit under it be the most assured danger. The Gentlewoman that trembles to passe over a bridge in the field, doth here walk boldly: the Citizens wife that lookes pale when she sits in a boate for fear of drowning, thinks that here shee treads as safe now as in her parlour. Of all ages, of all sexes, of all professions this is the common path: it is the roadway between London and Westminster, and between Southwark and London."

Above: Illustration from The Great frost. Cold doings in London...Printed for H. Gosson, London, 1608. Harvard University Library.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cosmetic recipes of 1834

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Loretta reports:

Like many of you, I wondered what exactly a “Kalydor” was.  The dictionaries, both OED and online offered no defnitions.  But further investigation showed me that this was a brand name for one of Rowland’s famous lotions.  In the days when trademark protection was nonexistent, it appears to have been generally adopted, much to Rowland’s aggravation, for facial lotions, rather in the way Kleenex® is used for facial tissues.

Rowland was often warning about inferior and dangerous imitations, but this one might have escaped notice.  Many of us are familiar with the use of lead in cosmetics in earlier times.  Mercury (quicksilver) was another toxic ingredient—but who knew?  Not us kids, way back when, who played with it.

On the other hand, ingredients for the the scent bags are innocuous (at least the ones I can identify) and might be fun to make.

Excerpts are from The Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion, 1834

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Another Museum's Collection On-Line

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Isabella reporting,

The internet has been a boon to us history-nerds. One of the most exciting developments has come from world-famous museums who are making their collections and exhibitions available on line - a wonderful and generous gift to all of us who can't jet around the world visiting museums. Like everything on the internet, these sites are definitely works in progress, with new images and downloads being added all the time.

We've shared several of these links with you in earlier posts:
   • The Museum of the City of New York's collection of gowns by designers Charles Frederick Worth & Mainboucher.
   • We've often illustrated our posts with items we've first seen thanks to the National Trust Collections on-line, which highlights the thousands of holdings of over 200 National Trust Places in the U.K.
   • Not quite an exhibition, but exhibition catalogues: the Metropolitan Museum of Art's backlist of out-of-print art books and catalogues available to download. The Museum's collection is on-line, too, here.
   • A slideshow featuring the 18th c. tokens left with foundling at the London Foundling Museum.
   • The Museums of Colonial Williamsburg have a wealth of on-line resources including podcasts, vodcasts, slideshows, & videos here; our favorite is (obviously!) highlights 300 years of historic clothing in their collections.

Now another of our favorite museums is putting its collections on-line. Winterthur Museum is the premier museum of the American decorative arts, plus many other pieces from around the world in their wide-ranging collection. On visits there, I've seen everything from fighting-cock spurs to sleeve puffs, from early sunglasses to a silver tureen, above, to a lady's chamberpot called a bourdaloue. These items and many, many more are now available for browsing on Winterthur's collections site. In addition, Winterthur has put several of their most popular exhibitions on-line as well, including the recent Uncorked! Wine, Objects, & Tradition.

Of course, this is only a tiny fraction of museums with on-line resources. Do you have a favorite you'd like to share with us? Please, please let us know in a comment with a link!

Above: Silver tureen and stand, made by Robert Garrard, Jr., London, England, 1824-25. Winterthur Museum. Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Heroic Commander Ross

Monday, January 21, 2013
Wildman, Commander James Clark Ross, 1834
Loretta reports:

I noticed this poem for a couple of reasons.  First, Louisa Sheridan, the author, is one of the Sheridan sisters mentioned obliquely (in relation to the Sheridan-Grant Scandal) in Scandal Wears Satin.  Second, I had an idea who Captain Ross was:  We 2NHG pinned him to our Pinterest page under Hot Heroic Inspiration. (I am assuming this is the correct fellow, since all the info fits.)

Among other things, the poem displays the era’s love of puns.  What Commander Ross displays, I leave you to determine.  If you click on the link under the portrait, you’ll reach his Wikipedia page, where you can enlarge his portrait considerably, and take in every tiny detail.  Please click on the poem to enlarge it to readable size.


 —The Comic Offering; Or Ladies' Melange of Literary Mirth, Editor
Louisa Henrietta Sheridan, 1835

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of January 14, 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Served up fresh for you - our latest collection of links of the week, bringing you our favorite blog posts, photographs, articles, and news stories via the Twitterverse.
• Twenty spectacular abandoned mansions from around the world.
Streaking in bad weather is not a good idea, 1791.
• What a way to save paper! Criss-cross letter by Jane Austen, 1808.
• Forgotten corners of Old London.
• The beautiful creations  of 19th-20th c.  Brooklyn dressmakers find a place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collections.
Corsets destroy health, 1857.
• "The sting of a hornet": Edwardian hat-pin self-defense
Madeline La Framboise (1780-1846), enterprising French/Native American fur trader in Northwest Territory.
• Detailed account of the coronation of Elizabeth I, on January 15 1559.
• How the racy confessions of an NY society girl saved the New Yorker magazine in 1925.
Alfred the Great: no Domestic God, but no slouch, either.
Lady pirates: Mrs. Fulworth, little-known accomplice of notorious rich-girl-turned-pirate Anne Bonny.
• Exit, pursued by a bear? Bear-baiting in Shakespeare's London.
• The Devil, & Medea & her Dragons: Lord Byron exchanges juicy gossip with John Cam Hobhouse, 1813.
• Here you go, fellow nerdy history knitters: vintage knitting patterns to download for free.
Gossip from 1500s Italy: the story of Bianca Capello de' Medici (1548-1587).
• In Naples, 1822, "it is a common thing enough for ordinary men's wives to suckle the lap-dogs of ladies of quality."
• How President Lincoln's second inaugural ball turned into a food fight of sorts, including the lavish menu.
• New research concludes that Roman bath-houses were places where weird things went down.
• There may be a shot for the modern flu, but in 17th c. Toulouse, the only preventative for lovesickness is excessive playing of the lute.
• A scandal survives: society fashion designer & Titanic passenger Lucile (and yes, she designed Lady Edith's wedding gown on Downtown Abbey.)
• A project to study and reinterpret the wonderful 1730s dollhouse from Uppark.
• Occurring this week in 1919, the Boston molasses disaster 21 dead, 150 injured, and $100 million in damage - plus a landmark court case.
• Learning to dance was an essential attribute for a young lady or gentleman in the 18th c.
ª Ancient beauty aids, including one attributed to Cleopatra that requires "one part of burnt domestic mice."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls and receive fresh updates every day.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Casual Friday: Love Me, Love My Cat, c. 1756

Friday, January 18, 2013

Isabella reporting:

I've already posted this print on our Pinterest boards, but it's just too amusing not to share here, too. Cat-obsession is nothing new. This 18th c. print of a young woman with her favorite feline bears the title "Love Me, Love My Cat" – which sounds oh-so-twenty-first-century, but there it is, in elegantly engraved letters. Meow!

Love Me, Love My Cat, print made by James McArdell, after Philippe Mercier, c. 1756. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund. 

Casual Friday: Too Early, 1873

Isabella reporting:

This 1873 painting by James Tissot (1836-1902) has always been one of my favorites. Titled Too Early, it's exactly that: those anxious minutes that seem like hours before guests begin arriving. From the dresses of the ladies and the orchestra in the corner, it would seem that this party will be a ball, with dancing on those well-polished floors. The mother has a final word with the musicians while the unmarried daughters of the house stand about their father, nervously opening and closing their fans as they wonder when, when, when (not if!) the hot guys they invited are going to show up.

Or...perhaps this isn't an innocent scene featuring an affluent London family. Perhaps those beautifully dressed young women instead belong to the Parisian demi-monde, and they've been invited by the white-haired gentleman to entertain his friends who've yet to arrive. Perhaps that's not their mother, but an infamously boisterous singer from a music hall, deciding which bawdy song she'll sing first. Perhaps in two or three hours, this will turn into a scene of wild revelry and debauchery, with those elegant coiffures and gowns falling down and the black velvet neck ribbons being worn as trophies by drunk young men - a raucous scene more suited to be painted by Toulouse-Lautrec than Tissot.

But right now, it's still too early to tell for sure. What do you think? Or do you imagine something else entirely? Here's a link to a larger version of the painting.

Above: Too Early, by James Tissot, 1873. Guildhall Art Gallery, London, UK.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

King George IV's cottage at Windsor

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Loretta reports:

What's here called the His Majesty's Cottage became the Royal Lodge, the residence at present of Prince Andrew.  It's by no means the same building.  King William IV had all but the conservatory demolished after his brother King George IV* died.  Why?  Good question.  I wondered the same about King George IV’s demolishing Carlton House.


—Images are from Ackermann’s Repository for January 1823.
*More about this controversial monarch here, here, and here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More 18th C. Silk Fringe

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Since so many of you enjoyed my post earlier this week on recreating Georgian silk floss fringe at Colonial Williamsburg, I couldn't resist sharing several more examples of 18th c. originals to show both the ingenuity and diversity of those long-ago fringe-makers.

This detail of a sleeve ruffle, top left, is from a sack back gown in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The gown is British, made from Spitalfields silk, and dates from 1760-1769. This understated but rich fringe was so carefully matched in color that it's almost an extension of the silk cloth.

The fringe, upper right, embellishes a mid-18th c. sack back gown from the costume collection of Paxton House, Scottish Borders. Although the sack was much altered in the 19th c. for fancy-dress wear, this multicolored fringe remains a bright accent on the white gown.

Another vibrant, multi-colored fringe, lower left, was recently spotted on eBay and featured on the excellent 18th c. costuming blog At the Sign of the Golden Scissors. This fringe is dated to a bit later, 1770-1780.

The fringe, lower right, is a rare survivor - a length of trim that somehow has survived on its own for over two hundred years, without a garment attached to it. It's late 18th c. French, and from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Finally, below, an over-the-top example of fringe combined with silk ribbon and flowers. Glorious excess! This is a detail of the front of the petticoat of a French Robe a la Francaise, 1750-75, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Now a bit of exciting news with a fringe connection. In 2014, Colonial Williamsburg will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Margaret Hunter millinery shop as part of the museum's site with a special symposium. While the symposium's focus will be not only on the history of the shop (one of Williamsburg's surviving 18th c. buildings), but also on the millinery trade itself, its people and its products, from the 18th c. to the present. The last day of the symposium will consist of hands-on workshops featuring different products of the millinery trade: artificial flowers, a calash, trims – and fringe! The details of the symposium are still in the planning stages, but the dates are firm: March 16-18, 2014, followed by the workshop day on March 19. We'll be sure to pass along more information when we hear it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snow and Ice in 1814

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
William Collins, British Frost Scene, 1827
Loretta reports:

January 1814 brought serious winter weather to England.  Accounts occupy several pages in the Chronicle section of the 1814 Annual Register, continuing into February.  You can follow the story starting here.


Illustration: William Collins, British Frost Scene, 1827, courtesy Yale Center for British Art.

Please click on illustrations to enlarge.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Making 18th C. Floss Fringe for a Gown

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Isabella reporting,

During my last few visits to Colonial Williamsburg, I've been intrigued by one of the on-going trade studies by the staff of the Margaret Hunter shop. Mantua-maker Janea Whitacre and her apprentice Sarah Woodyard, above, have been researching and recreating the fringe trimming that accented 18th c. gowns and accessories. Trimming was not only an important addition to a lady's gown – the final touch that elevated a gown to the next level of fashion  – but fringe-making itself was also one of the specialized trades of the 18th c. luxury-clothing industry, like embroiderers and button-makers, that thrived on the details.

Floss fringe is deceptively simple: a long woven, braided, or knotted base strand of silk, punctuated by tiny cross-elements of knotted silk floss arranged at regular intervals into the base. (Floss fringe is also known as fly-fringe, its 20th c. name, and French fringe, because even 250 years ago, anything named "French" had a more fashionable ring to it.) Here, here, and here are examples of 18th c. gowns trimmed with floss fringe, all from our Pinterest boards.

In London and in Paris, fringe-makers were generally their own trade, known as the French Trimming trade, or the Narrow Fancy Trimming Branch of the Silk Manufacturer. However,  fringe might also have been made by a mantua-maker (dressmaker) or milliner, and sold at millineries, which meant that fringe-making could be considered a branch of the millinery trade, too.

Fringe designs were limited only by the maker's imagination, and examples exist in scores of colors and variations. Fringe was sold wrapped on a card in 12-yard lengths, the average amount used to trim a gown. An expert fringe-maker could produce around 10 yards a day, depending on the fringe's complexity. The price would vary, again depending on the fringe.  In her album, Barbara Johnson notes that she paid five shillings for a 12-yard card.

It's safe to say that the fringe-maker herself did not earn that much, nor would she likely have owned a gown trimmed with the silk fringe she made, either. Floss fringe was used only on the costly gowns that would have been the designer dresses of their day. A fashionable silk gown in 1770s London could have cost anywhere from eight pounds sterling to over twenty-five for a ball gown worn by a peeress. To put this in sobering perspective, the mantua-maker who cut and fit that silk gown would have received two-and-a-half shillings for her twelve-hour workday, while the common seamstress who stitched the gown together would have received only one-and-a-half shillings.

In learning the 18th c. techniques, Sarah has been replicating fringe using a box loom to weave a tape-ribbon-style of fringe, by knotting the fringes into the cord, and by tying directly onto a ribbon base, middle right. She's found she can make about ten of the little floss-fringes (lower left; including brushing out the ends of the floss with a boar-bristle brush) in 30 minutes, and then make about 20" of finished fringe in an hour.  She's currently making sufficient fringe in pale green silk floss to trim a gown made from the rose-pink silk cloth beneath it. I'm looking forward to seeing it completed the next time I visit.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of January 5, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013
It's a new year, and plenty of fresh new Breakfast Links – links to other blogs, web sites, photographs, videos, and articles, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Why Jane Austen still matters, 200 years on.
• Fabulous, fun, and historic: Faberge pendant in form of a golden egg being cracked with a knife, c. 1890.
• Postcards from the edge: early 20th c. American picture postcards featuring lunatic & mental asylums.
• Photo: 5 megabyte hard drive from 1956, being forklifted onto plane.
• A new machine for winding up the ladies, 1829.
• Wonderful photo of Civil War camp scene with officer and family gathered in front of their tent, 1861-1865.
• This page of blue, green, and gold in the 15th c. Black Hours is a feast for the eyes.
• The Marquess of Buckingham's tribute to Queen Charlotte: The Queen's Temple at Stowe.
• Tea, tea rooms, and the suffrage movement.
• The morning toilette as an 18th c. social ceremony.
• Is that a woman holding a decapitated head on the New York Public Library?
• Lovely cream silk 1840s bonnet.
• Oh, Almanzo: Laura Ingalls Wilder's husband's homestead claim.
• True labor of love: amazing stitching in an infant's cotton lawn shirt, c 1702.
• Archaeologists find a 2,000 year old medicine chest at the bottom of the ocean - with surprising contents.
• In honor of David Bowie's birthday this week: rock stars (and groupies!) get budget-cut memos, too, 1972.
• Fit for "Festes Royalle": the fancy jellies served to Henry VIII.
• Some 18th c. cold remedies, none of them nice.
• Forget the Uggs! Fabulous fur-lined carriage boots, late 19th-early 20th c.
• "The Strap-Hammock": on deluxe London underground trains, cartoon from 1906 Punch magazine.
• While Central Park may overshadow them, the history of New York's small parks matters, too.
• Take the Witch Test: would you have been at risk of persecution as a witch in 17th c. Britain?
• Ghostly decaying daguerrotypes from the Library of Congress.
• A happy hedgehog by Hans Hoffmann, c. 1580.
• Party planning, 1867: The Conversazione
• The drinking habits of John Falls, aged 110. (1754)
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh tweets throughout the day!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Casual Friday: Was it something he said?

Friday, January 11, 2013
Hunt, The Awakening Conscience
Loretta reports:

I happened on a black & white version of this painting, part of the Tate Britain's collection, in one of the older books on my shelves, James Laver's Manners and Morals in the Age of Optimism 1848-1914.

It's a Victorian morality tale, which I leave you to interpret as you wish.  Or you can cheat, and read the explanation on the Wikipedia page.

If you click on the caption, you'll come to a large file, which will allow you to examine details close up.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Macaroni & Cheese, c. 1774

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Isabella reporting:

While visiting Colonial Williamsburg over the holidays, I stopped by the kitchens of the Governor's Palace to see what our friends there were preparing. As usual, the day's dishes were set out on the kitchen table, above, as if waiting for a footman to come whisk them away to the royal governor and his guests. Sadly today they remain there, too, since modern health regulations prohibit the food made in an 18th c. kitchen to be consumed by 21st c. diners.

Among these dishes (counter-clockwise from the top) were: a pumpkin stuffed with eggs and seasoned bread crumbs; a boiled pound cake - close kin to a boiled pudding - in a sweet wine sauce; a chine of pork; and a tureen of rich onion soup. And what's that on the last plate? While none of the other dishes are common fare to most Americans today, this one definitely is: baked macaroni with cheese, topped with buttered bread crumbs.

The 18th c. recipe for macaroni and cheese was much the same as a modern one (at least a modern one that doesn't rely on day-glo-orange pasteurized cheese food), but the dish's place in the culinary world was much different. Today's mac and cheese is a homey comfort-food. The Georgian version would have been considered a luxury dish, redolent of fancy foreign cookery. Pasta was one of the tastes acquired by English gentlemen on their grand tours to Italy, and dried macaroni came home with them to England along with leopard-patterned waistcoats and paintings of ancient ruins. Pasta and Italian food in general became so closely connected to extreme male fashion and pretensions that foppish gentlemen were often derisively called macaronis themselves.

But to more epicurean English gentlemen, baked macaroni was a dish to impress, with the dried pasta either imported from Italy, or the work of a well-salaried, foreign-trained cook. Thomas Jefferson was a great fan, instructing his agent abroad to send him a macaroni-making machine for use at Monticello (here's his surviving letter.) In more modest households, cooks with a copy of Hannah Glasse's popular 1774 cookbook The Art of Cookery, Made Plain & Easy  might not have been able to create the forced or rolled tubular shape of macaroni, but they could make the long strands of vermicelli (vermicella) with the recipe below - though one hopes they didn't share Mrs. Glasse's comparison of the pasta to "little worms" with their diners.

                                                      To make vermicella
MIX yolks of eggs and flour together in a pretty stiff paste, so as you can work it up cleverly, and roll it as thin as it is possible to roll the paste. Let it dry in the sun; when it is quite dry, with a very sharp knife cut it as thin as possible, and keep it in a dry place. It will run up like little worms, as vermicella does; though the best way is to run it through a coarse sieve, whilst the paste is soft. If you want some to be made in haste, dry it by the fire, and cut it small. It will dry by the fire in a quarter of an hour. This far exceeds what comes from abroad, being fresher.

Photo copyright 2012 Susan Holloway Scott.

Update: Quite by coincidence, History is Served, the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Foodways blog, posted a recipe today for how "To Stuff a Chine of Pork", in both an 18th c. version and a modern interpretation. This isn't the recipe that is pictured above, but still looks mighty tasty!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Regency armchair in the Egyptian style

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Loretta reports:

Some people have an idea of Regency style as one of pale colors and classical influences.  This is true to a point.  It’s also true that they loved decorating with bright colors (red and green were big) and weren’t shy about mixing in some (or a lot of) Gothic, Chinese, or Egyptian design elements.

In London there was a place called the Egyptian Hall, (for more images, please see my Pinterest page, the board for Lord Perfect), and in houses of the well-to-do one might see sofas, chairs, and other furniture boasting hieroglyphs that made no sense, Sphinxes, cobras, pyramids, Eyes of Horus, Egyptian gods and goddesses, pharaohs, and so on.

The style first became popular early in the 19th C.  Designers and architects got inspiration partly from Dominique Vivant Denon’s 1803 publication, Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt: during the campaigns of General Bonaparte and, between 1809 and 1829, the monumental Description de l’Egypte.*

The armchair, from the V&A museum,** is one of a set based on M. Denon’s designs (and might have been his property at some point).  I thought it would make a suitable illustration for this quotation from Mary Russell Mitford’s Our Village—which would in turn describe the Royal Pavilion at Brighton pretty well, too.
Every room is in masquerade: the saloon Chinese, full of jars and mandarins and pagodas; the library Egyptian, all covered with hieroglyphics, and swarming with furniture crocodiles and sphynxes. Only think of a crocodile couch, and a sphynx sofa! They sleep in Turkish tents, and dine in a Gothic chapel. *

*You can buy your own mini version of this work online, if you, too, are an ancient Egypt geek (see my previous posts, here, here, and here).

**Note that the upholstery is modern.  I'm not wild about the color.  Definitely not Regency.  What color do you imagine was used originally?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nerdy History Girls Library: Death by Petticoat

Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Isabella reporting:

Here's a quickie quiz for all of you fellow history-nerds. Which of these statements about the past are true?
• Beds in the 18th c. were shorter because people slept sitting up.
• Venetian blinds were invented in Venice.
• Some women in the 19th c. had their lower ribs surgically removed so they could achieve fashionably smaller waists.
• So many early American women died from burns when their long petticoats caught fire from open hearths that it became the second-most common cause of death among women - second only to childbirth.

Now a confession: I've not only accepted all of those statements as truth, but I've also repeated them as the truth, fascinating historical facts. Like many history-loving people, I long ago (and long before I was a writer) volunteered as a guide at a local historical site. Like many such sites, this one was sadly underfunded and operating on good intentions and the proverbial shoestring. Most of my training came in the form of following other guides, listening, learning, and repeating their authoritative tour-speeches. Some of what they said sounded a little peculiar to me even then, but the other guides were all older and presumably wiser than I, and so I began telling the same speeches – including all four of the statements above, which, as I later learned, are false.

If only I'd had this charming little book back then! Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked by historian and history teacher Mary Miley Theobald grew from an article which grew into a blog (here is the link) devoted to finding the truth behind many of our most determined history myths. Myths like these are seldom created as deliberate deceptions, and like the more popular urban myths, there's often a grain of truth behind them. But somewhere along the line the truth became muddied with supposition, guesswork, scandal, repetition, and the almost-irresistible human desire to "improve" a story in the telling. After a few years (or a few hundred), the myth is ingrained as truth, found in house-museum tours, articles, textbooks, and even ::shudder:: Wikipedia.

Working with the historians of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (who are credited as collaborators), Ms. Theobald collected over 120 of the most popular myths from American history - including the ones above - and set the historical record straight. It's not a scholarly tome (no citations or references, alas), but it is a fun, light book with many pictures, to skim or read straight through, and it's entertaining enough to share with a budding nerdy history girl or boy in middle school.

No need for a FTC disclosure; I bought this book myself at the Colonial Williamsburg bookstore.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Almack's in 1833

Monday, January 7, 2013
Loretta reports:

Devotees of the Regency era all know about Almack’s.  But some may be surprised to learn that it was still a hot spot for the elite in the 1830s.

Among other things, all of us Regency writers learned that nobody, including the Duke of Wellington, could get in after midnight . . . or maybe he could.

One tidbit I picked up in perusing the Court Journal:  Apparently, there was a stretch of time, as this 1833 clipping seems to hint, when entry was permitted after midnight.  I noticed an 1835 edition reporting that the midnight rule was again in force, which indicates that for a time it wasn't.  Another note for the nerdiest among us: Sometimes the day of the assembly was changed, if it conflicted with another significant event that week. This definitely happened in 1835.


The Court Journal, 1833

Please click on illustrations to enlarge.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of December 31, 2012

Saturday, January 5, 2013
Happy New Year! The Breakfast Links are back, ready to bring you a week's-worth of tasty links to other blogs, web sites, articles, videos, & pictures, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Enamel pig, a Glucksschweinchen, symbol of good fortune to wish in 2013.
• Consuming an entire avian population in a single gluttonous 18th c. meal.
• The poignant, secluded 1797 tomb of "an aimable child" on a summer estate survives as NYC engulfs the area.
• Amazingly detailed set of drawings by George Jones, published in a book on Waterloo in 1815.
• European royalty chart, back to Maximillan I (d. 1519), available to download here.
• Vintage New Year's Day postcards from early 20th c.
• Still in a festive mood? Check out these over-the-top fancy dress costumes from the early 20th c.
• To keep the Hogmanay party going strong, here's The Top Secret Drum Corps performing at Edinburgh Castle.
• What gifts did Queen Elizabeth I give (& receive) in 1578? It's all listed in her New Year's gift roll.
• Woody Guthrie's "New Years Rulin's" from his journal, 1943.
• The bridges of Old London in photographs.
Party time with Martin Luther (or at least devil-spiting) "Whenever the devil harasses you thus...drink more."–Martin Luther, 1530.
• Fitness advice from 1920s chorus girls.
Cripplegate: Destruction and rebirth of one of London's oldest areas.
• "Ran to the Canal & Jumped in to the Rescue": heroics of a Victorian tram conductor.
• Hold onto your horses - it's snowing! 1908 snow plow in action in Chicago.
• Never too late for a Christmas ghost story!
• The real story of Queen Victoria's 'domestic bliss.'
• After four marriages, Bess of Hardwick (1518-1608) was England's wealthiest woman.
• Women on the Force: Chicago's first female police officers, 1913.
• "To Vanish A Glasse of Beere", other 17th c. party tricks.
• A history of sequins from King Tut to the King of Pop.
• A Cruikshank dig at Horatio Nelson and the Hamiltons, and more smoke besides.
• Wonderful moody photographs of a dark city: London at night, 1930s.
• Dipped in the blood of a beheaded French king: DNA confirms gruesome momento from Louis XVI's execution.
• 1930s silk crepe gown would have been perfect for New Year's Eve party.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Casual Friday: A Scene in a London Street, 1770

Friday, January 4, 2013

Isabella reporting:

The modest title of this painting by John Collet – A Scene in a London Street – has to be one of the greatest understatements in art history. There's enough happening in this painting for an entire movie. (Click the image to enlarge, and if you want to see even more detail, here's a link to a larger jpg.) Front and center is The New Bagnio, clearly a dubious establishment where bathing is taking a back seat to more risque shenanigans, and it appears we've just missed witnessing some sort of street fight.

Not to get too "Where's Waldo?", but here are a few things to look for:
   • The "loose" lady without stays, stepping from a hired sedan chair
   • The bailiff with his tipstaff, and a forlorn debtor newly in captivity
   • The Bath Fly, a coach traveling between London and Bath, with partyin' passengers on top
   • A monkey, dressed in a mini-turban
   • A pet dog dressed in a kerchief
   • A chimney-swift peering from a chimney
   • The large basket belonging to a strawberry street-vendor, with smaller cone-shaped pottle-baskets (see another strawberry vendor with similar baskets here)
   • The irate vendor (or is she the bagnio's madame?) attacking the fallen gentleman (perhaps an officer?) in the street, one of her baskets still on his sword
   • The angry folk on the left: thieves, more vendors, sailors, or...what?
   • The same hapless gentleman's shaved head, and his wig, complete with bow, knocked to the pavement.

What else can you discover?

Above: A Scene in a London Street, by John Collet, c. 1725-1780, Yale Center for British Art.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fashions for January 1826

Thursday, January 3, 2013
Loretta reports:

Red’s a popular winter color as we’ve shown here & here, and alert readers will notice a distinct resemblance to the carriage dress of December 1823.

From The Ladies' Monthly Museum, Volume 23, 1826

Following the description of the plates, the magazines usually provide an overview of the latest fashions for the month.  This January entry is interesting, especially the furs.

To enlarge, please click on the illustrations.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Day Calls in New York, 1847 & 1870

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Isabella reporting:

While this description of a New Year's Day from 1847 is nearly contemporary with the one (1854) in Loretta's post yesterday, the celebration couldn't be more different.

In the genteel society of early 19th c. New York, New Year's Day was observed with a ritual of polite calls. Gentlemen put on their best clothes, and one by one visited each of the ladies of their acquaintance. While this must have made for a busy day for the gentlemen – at least the popular ones – the ladies, too, had to offer a considerable repast to their callers. Etiquette advisors of the day stressed that this should be informal and light, but clearly much more was expected than today's beer and a bucket of wings served with a bowl game on the flat-screen, as this excerpt from a New York cookbook shows:

"In New York City, where it is the custom for ladies to remain at home to receive the calls of their gentlemen friends, there is not time nor occasion for dinner; should it be desirable, it would be similar to that for Christmas, or instead – a cold roasted turkey (bone it if you can), cold boiled ham or tongue, a large glass salad-bowl of pickled oysters, or an oyster pie with dressed celery or a chicken salad, with jelly puffs and tarts and small mince pies, blancmange, de russe and jellies and ice cream and fancy cakes, with syrup water and orgeat or lemonade for temperance, or wines and punch. The manner of celebrating New Year's day by calls, is a peculiarity of our own, and having so few which are 'native here,' many of our wisest and best, have wished that this might in no wise be slighted. Many a feud-divided family have been united, and misunderstanding friends have been brought together, under the all-pervading hospitality and genial influence which distinguishes the day."
                                      ––The American System of Cookery, Mrs. T.J. Crowen, 1847

As charming as this tradition sounds, its days were already numbered. In Edith Wharton's short story New Year's Day, set in New York in the 1870s, the New Year's calls have become a nearly-forgotten curiosity:

"Even then fashion moved quickly in New York, and my infantile memory barely reached back to the time when Grandmamma, in lace lappets and creaking moire, used to receive on New Year's Day, supported by her handsome married daughters. As for old Sillerton Jackson, who, once a social custom had dropped into disuse, always affected never to have observed it, he stoutly maintained that the New Year's Day ceremonial had never been taken seriously except among families of Dutch descent, and that that was why Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had clung to it, in a reluctant half-apologetic way, long after her friends had closed their doors on the first of January, and the date had been chosen for those out-of-town parties which are so often used as a pretext for absence when the unfashionable are celebrating their rites."
                                    ––New Year's Day, by Edith Wharton, 1924

Above: Detail, Fashions for 1845, by S.A. & A.F.Ward. Collection of Library Company of Philadelphia
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