Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Welcome Little Stranger, 1770

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Isabella reporting,

While Loretta and I were off on our mini-breaks, we wallowed happily in Royal Baby madness like the rest of the world.  With our nerdy historical bent, this of course also led us to think of historical babies.

These little pincushions would have been made for new mothers in the 18th-19th centuries. Some historians believe that they would have served as a kind of birth announcement as well, to be hung on a door when the baby was born. More likely the pincushions were a thoughtful gift in a time when even baby clothes and diapers were fastened with straight pins, and pins were never far from reach. A few that survive were clearly well-used, while other examples were preserved as pristine little tokens.

In a way, these are pincushions times two. Not only could they serve for storing pins, but the decorative messages are made of pins, pushed deep into the cushion so the heads form the letters and design. The one, above, also features pins as a kind of fringed border. The background was often white silk, or fine linen or cotton, and a misplaced pin could not be moved without the hole showing in the fragile fabric. Like so much handwork of the time, patience and skill were required for a handsome result. (Please click on the images to enlarge for details.)

I've always found the messages in these little cushions quite touching. Today's parents can choose to know the gender of their new babies, but for 18th c. parents the new baby would be a complete surprise - truly a "little stranger." Later 19th c. layette pincushions are embroidered with more complex sayings and poems ("Bless the Babe and Save the Mother" is the sternly direct message on one from 1862.) One of my favorites from 1838 features a short poem.  It's sentimental, yes, but even the most no-nonsense modern parent can't argue with the good wishes:

   Angels guard thee, lovely blossom
   Hover round and shield from ill
   Crown thy parents' largest wishes
   And their fondest hopes fulfil.

Top: Layette pincushion, cotton with cotton fringe & pins. English, 1784. Victoria & Albert Museum.
Bottom: Pin cushion, silk, thread, pins. American, 1770. Winterthur Museum.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

English Plagiarists 1836

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Loretta reports:

The early 19th century saw little regard for an author’s rights to his property.  Plagiarism was rampant.  In 1844, Dickens filed suit against the publishers  of a pirated edition of A Christmas Carol.  The judge found in his favor, but he ended up having to pay his own costs, amounting to £700.  This was an English publisher, and not the first to deprive him of the fruits of his labors.  Previously, on the other side of the pond, the Americans stole, too—and were deeply offended when he mentioned it during his American tour.

Piracy, however, worked both ways, as this excerpt from the American magazine, The Knickerbocker, indicates.

Read online here

Illustration: The Moment of Imagination, 1785, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gone Fishin'

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Loretta & Isabella reporting,

Everybody else seems to be going on vacation, so we are, too. We're taking a week off from blogging, tweeting, pinning, & general social networking.

See you back here next week!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Keeping Cool (or Not) in Colonial Williamsburg

Sunday, July 21, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Like much of the east, Williamsburg, VA suffered through record a record heat wave last week, with temperatures in the upper nineties and humidity to match. Yet Tidewater Virginia was a hot place in the 18th c., too, and the interpreters and historic tradespeople of Colonial Williamsburg were determined to continue on as they would have 250 years ago. The single most important secret weapon against the heat: linen, the best possible fiber for keeping cool(er). As always, click on the images to enlarge them.

Some people I've identified, but there are others, alas, whose names I didn't get. If you know the anonymous ones, please let me know & I'll happily add their names.

Journeyman blacksmith Christopher Henkels, top left, swore that the heat of the summer sun was much worse than standing near his fire to work. I'll take his word for that - but he was dressed for the heat with the neck of his line shirt open and the sleeves rolled as high as possible.

These two summer interns, right, in the Margaret Hunter millinery shop are ready to ply their trade in crisp linen and cotton, with silver thimbles on their fingers. Lauren Greene, left, wears a purple and white striped cotton English gown, with a diamond-patterned cotton petticoat, linen cap, apron, and neckerchief. Molly McPherson, right, also wears a linen apron and cap with her short gown of printed cotton, and a cotton neckerchief.

Melissa Blank, lower left, is an apprentice cook in the Governor's Palace kitchen. Open-hearth cooking is hot work, but the royal governor expected a fine midday dinner to impress his guests, regardless of the weather. Melissa is dressed the way most 18th c. working women would met the challenge of the heat: she's wearing her linen stays over her linen shift, with a linen petticoat and cap. In addition to being cool, linen has natural fire-retardant properties (if a spark lands on linen, it smolders rather than bursting into flame, or worse, melting onto the skin like modern petroleum-based fibers) that make it the perfect fiber for working around a fire.

But in the 18th c., just as now, there are plenty of people who resolutely ignored the heat, and dress exactly as they would for any other day. These three men, lower right, were on their way to a program at the Governor's Palace; my guess is that they represent a wealthy gentleman (perhaps even the royal governor himself) in silk coat, waistcoat, and breeches; his secretary in somber dark green; and his enslaved servant in silver-laced livery that's probably wool. Their black hats are either wool, or beaver - hardly summer-weight! - and the two gentlemen area also wearing full wigs. The saving grace would have been the long linen shirts that all three were wearing next to the skin beneath all that stylish magnificence.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of July 15, 2013

Saturday, July 20, 2013
The heat wave continues, and our Breakfast Links are hot as well – our fav links of the week to other web sites, blogs, images, and articles, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• Shameless 1790s gossip from the Adams family about the Vassall family, with added sex and gambling.
• Sailors' favorites: naval war kitties in hammocks, World War II.
• Breathtaking historical food artistry - molded puddings jellies, and pastries.
• A literally hot gentleman: Man Against a Background of Flames, attributed to painter Isaac Oliver, c. 1600.
• Irony par excellence: lining of bishop's miter is cut out of pages with medieval love poetry.
• What would a Regency lady put on her sunburn?
Dress right for safety in the shipyard, WWII.
Lemon meringue pie, first created by 19th c. Philadelphia pastry shop proprietress Mrs. Elizabeth Goodfellow.
• Medieval representations of the births of royal babies and other celebrated infants.
• Exquisite costumes of The Ballets Russes.
Alice Austen's intimate & creative images of life in New York more than a century ago.
• The phantom of a great fire in Bryant Park, New York, 1858.
• What do the British and Irish Lions have to do with a ghost in 18th c. Donegal?
Lady Margaret Douglas, niece of Henry VIII and a survivor of four Tudor courts.
• A short history of swan-herding.
• Library porn: truly breathtaking libraries from around the world.
• An exotic piece of lost 18th c. London: William Bullock's Egyptian Hall.
• Eighteenth century receipt for making gooseberry vinegar.
• It's July, 1813, and Lord Byron is displeased.
Zootsuits in Chicago, 1946.
• Truly novel bookstores.
• An Indian court-martial in 1819 for letting a Rajah escape.
• Buying a stocked country store in 1836.
• American in Paris Thomas Jefferson describes the storming of the Bastille, 1789.
• A wealthy grain dealer breaks ranks and builds his hulking mansion far north of Millionaire's Row, New Yor, in 1875.
• The London Painters-Stainers Company and the house-painter.
• Baddeley Brothers, a rare survivor among printers in London still producing engraving, die-stamping, embossing, & debossing.
• Dr. Benjamin Rush attends a Jewish wedding in 1787, and finds it all fascinating.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls and receive fresh updates daily!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Video: Mr. Darcy & That Infamous Wet Shirt

Friday, July 19, 2013

Isabella reporting,

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is one of the most-filmed books in literature. For many fans of the book, the ultimate Mr. Darcy remains Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC production. Those same fans can be even more specific: in a recent poll, viewers named the scene where Darcy takes a fully-clothed dip in his pond as the all-time most memorable moment in British TV drama. It's so famous, in fact, that there's now a twelve-foot fiberglass sculpture of Firth as Darcy, right, rising up from the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park, which is really pretty scary.

Is the scene worth all the fuss? Here's the clip so you can judge – and enjoy – for yourself.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

18th Century Vignettes from Colonial Williamsburg

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Isabella reporting,

A bonus post today, simply because I wanted to share these photos.

As enjoyable as Colonial Williamsburg is for a self-proclaimed history nerd - the tradespeople, the politics, the antiques and art - sometimes it's the little unexpected moments that offer the truest glimpse into the past. (As always, please click on the images to enlarge them.)

Top: It's been so hot here this week that in the buildings without modern air-conditioning, every door and window is thrown open for any hint of a breeze. This is looking into (and through) one of the outbuildings behind the Peyton Randolph House. Hard to imagine being one of the 18th c. women using those flatirons (standing on the table) in 100 degree heat!

Left: This is one of the upstairs bedchambers in the Wetherburn Tavern. The gentleman who has removed his wig (the heat again?) has paid extra for one of the "private" rooms - though he'll likely still be sharing his lodgings with several other men if the House of Burgesses is in session and the town is crowded.

Right: This is the shop window of the post office and printing shop, offering pens, paper, and ink as the tools of the writing trade. How could I not include that? But it wasn't until just now that I noticed the abandoned plastic cup sitting on the brick wall. Ahh, modern "civilization" intrudes again....

Ahoy! Real-Live Petticoat Breeches!

Isabella reporting,

Colonial Williamsburg is land-locked in the Virginia Tidewater, so imagine my surprise this morning to meet this handsome young 18th c. sailor strolling the streets of the town. (He's really CW interpreter Beau Andrews.) His shirt, straw hat, and waistcoat are standard attire for any man of the time regardless of his class, but what instantly caught my eye - and what identified him to me as a sailor - were his linen petticoat breeches, the first I'd ever actually encountered outside of a painting or print.

One of my very first posts for this blog - way back in 2009! - was about petticoat breeches. While this fashionable affectation for gentlemen and courtiers didn't last long in the second half of the 17th c., it did continue for working sailors long into the 18th c. It was a practical style: the wide legs offered plenty of room for movement and could be easily rolled up higher on the leg if necessary, and the loose fit dried quickly. While breeches as wide as these gradually narrowed with the 19th c., loose-legged trousers continued to be standard attire for working sailors, and remain so today.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What the French Lady Wore, 1780

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Whenever I visit Colonial Williamsburg, my first stop is always the Margaret Hunter millinery shop to see what beautiful new gowns and other goodies that the mantua-makers (dressmakers) have been making. The gown, top left, is one of their most recent creations, and worn by Abby Cox, one of the apprentice mantua-makers who helped make it.

This gown is a Robe à la Polonaise, a style popular in France and England c. 1780, and was inspired by the French fashion plate, right. This would have been a costly, high-fashion gown. (For comparison, see here for Abby dressed in the much more common clothing of an 18th c. maidservant.) The colors in this gown are reversed from the ones fashion plate because there was more orchid-colored silk taffeta on hand in their shop than yellow - something that an 18th c. mantua-maker would have done as well.

This gown was also an exercise in speed. A successful 18th c. mantua-maker had to be able to produce gowns swiftly, not only to answer the demands of customers who wanted a new gown immediately, but also to keep the shop profitable. In an era when the largest cost of a garment lay in the fabric, not the labor, the faster a gown could be created, the more profitable it was.

The CW mantua-makers have been working on improving their speed as well, striving to match their Georgian counterparts. This polonaise was begun on a Friday morning at 9:30 am, and was completed shortly before 3 pm on Saturday, including cutting, fitting, and stitching.

Everything was done in the 18th c. manner, and entirely hand-stitched. Seven women worked on the gown: the mantua-maker, two apprentices, and four seamstresses, working only during the shop's business hours (which in the 18th c., would have been the hours of daylight.)

Shortly after I took these pictures, I walked through one of Colonial Williamsburg's many gardens, and spotted the phlox, lower left, that were almost the same color. Fashionable silk, fashionable flowers.

Above left and lower left: Photographs copyright 2013 Susan Holloway Scott.
Lower right: "Jeune Dame en robe à la Polonaise...", designed by Pierre-Thomas LeClerc, French, 1780. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Crim Con Witness & a Forgetful Bridegroom

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Doctor Syntax in a Court of Justice
Loretta reports:

I've referred to the Rambler's Magazine before (here and here), an early 19th century compendium of titillating tidbits.  The following excerpts come from its July 1822 issue.
 DUNNING AND THE WITNESS.—A handsome young woman, who was a witness in a trial of crim. con. before Lord Mansfield, was interrogated by counsellor Dunning, who, thinking to confuse the woman, made her take off her bonnet, that he might have a view of her countenance, and see (for all counsellors are complete judges of physiognomy) whether the truth came from her lips. After he put many ridiculous questions to her, he asked her whether her mistress had ever communicated the important secret to her. "No, sir," said the woman, "she never did." "And how can you swear to her infidelity?" "Because I saw another gentleman, besides my master, in bed with her." "Indeed!" said the counsellor. "Yes, indeed, sir.'' "And pray, my good woman," said the modest counsellor, thinking to silence her at once; " did your master, (for I see you are very handsome.) in return for his wife's infidelity, go to bed to you?" "That trial." said the spirited young woman. "does not come on to-day, Mr. Slabberchops." Lord Mansfield was tickled to the soul; he thrust his hand into the waistband of his breeches, (his custom when highly delighted,) and asked Dunning if he had any more interrogatories to put. "No, my lord, I have done," said the chop-fallen orator, settling his wig, and sitting down.

FORGETFULNESS.—The Right Honourable Henry D—, on the morning following his wedding-day, arose from bed much sooner than might have been expected; he dressed himself, went down into his library, and rung the bell for breakfast. The noble secretary's servant, on entering the room, wished his master much joy, and hoped he might have many years of happiness with his lady. "My lady! by G—d, I forgot her!" replied the gentleman, and immediately returned to his chamber, went to bed again, and endeavoured to atone to his wife for his apparent neglect.

The Rambler's Magazine: Or, Fashionable Emporium of Polite Literature etc., Volume 1, 1822.

Black and white illustration from Heath's Book of Beauty, 1833.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Sunday in July in Colonial Williamsburg

Sunday, July 14, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Huzzah! I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg this week, gathering all manner of historical fun stuff for future blogs. This was a hectic day, without time for proper blog-writing, but I did want to share this photograph from this morning - before the temperature rose to the mid-90's to welcome me to Tidewater Virginia in the summer. Hmm...they're on the steps of the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop. What did I discover within? Come back on Wednesday to see what new delights the mantua-makers had for me!

Photograph copyright 2013 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of July 8, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013
Beat the summer heat and relax with our latest edition of Breakfast Links - our favorite links of the week to other web sites, blogs, videos, articles, and images gather for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Video: Costume & stage designer Jenny Tiramni recreates a fantastic gentleman's outfit from the 16th century.
• Oh, that chance encounter with royalty, with advice from Lady Troubridge, 1939.
• Expensive, nervous, sexual: "I'm a Widow Worth Having" - at least in 1861 song.
• The striped dress that Rosamund Hussey wore in her 1900 portrait.
• A Revolutionary discovery in the stacks at Harvard: Bostonian women among those who signed papers protesting Townsend Acts, 1767.
• Magenta divine: a family history rich with color and dyers.
• Cautionary tales of Spanish Fly: murder, lust, and coffee.
• The Pot & Pineapple and Gunter's: Domenico Negri, Robert Gunter, and the confectioner's art in Georgian London.
Lady Jane Grey, the nine-days' queen, was pronounced monarch on July 10, 1553.
• "Cave in, boys": a discouraging leaflet aimed at the Confederate defenders of Vicksburg, 1863.
• "To Persons of Foreign Birth: Write Your Soldier Boy in the Language of the United States": WWI poster that is, ironically, in English.
• An elegant yellow chiffon dress, perfect for a summer party in 1932.
• A (slightly) biased view of the French in 1792.
• Who wore it better, Georgian style: three ladies, one gown, all painted by Thomas Hudson.
• A brief history of khaki pants.
• The serpent mourning ring for William Harry Vane, 1st Duke of Cleveland, 1842.
• The hazards of the chamber pot in the Victorian home.
• The Great Gatehouse of Hampton Court Palace.
• "Shall I cry, faint, scream, or go off in hysterics?" Civil War diary of a rebel girl in Louisiana, 1863.
• This week in 1960: Novelist Harper Lee gave America a book for the ages in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The scandals & bold superhero moves of Revolutionary War heroine Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler.
• Twain vs. Cooper, Shaw vs. Shakespeare: the greatest literary takedowns of all time.
• Great 17th c. Dutch image of two very well-dressed gentlemen playing tennis.
• A bride sees her husband's shaving "ghost" while he sleeps, deathly pale, beside her, 1883.
• A sign of gratitude and submission as well as friendship: hand-kissing between early 18th c. men.
• Vignettes from the lost history of 19th c. brothels along the Minneapolis waterfront.
Hungry for more? Follow us on twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer Rerun: 500 Years of Women's Portraits in Western Art – in Three Minutes

Friday, July 12, 2013

Isabella reporting,

Loretta's a bit under the weather today, so instead of a new Casual Friday post, we're offering a summer rerun of one of our most popular videos of the past. Beautiful paintings, amazing computer editing, Bach's Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major performed by Yo-Yo Ma: the perfect way to ease into a summer weekend.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Two Shirts a Day for Cleanliness & Fashion, 1728

Thursday, July 11, 2013
Isabella reporting,

It's a common misconception that all people in the past were dirty and smelled bad. Yes, not everyone in 18th c. London smelled sweet and fresh all the time, but then a ride on any modern subway during a July rush hour proves that modern folks aren't always delightful, either.

By the 18th c., however, most Englishmen of the middle class and above prided themselves on personal cleanliness as a sign of good healthy, respectability, and virtue. While a bath tub was still a luxury, a wash bowl, soap, and water were standard features of nearly every bedchamber.

Even more important to 18th c. notions of cleanliness was clean linen. According to medical beliefs of the time, perspiration was considered one of the body's important ways of "evacuating" ills, and a shirt made of linen, a naturally absorbent fibre, would contribute to good health. Linen shirts were an indispensable part of the male wardrobe and the only garment worn directly against the skin, and having a clean shirt was a literal sign of clean living.

But like many things that begin with good reasons, fashion soon took over. Men were judged not only on the quality and cleanliness of their linen, but also how often they changed those linen shirts. As this passage from Daniel Defoe's The Complete English Tradesman (1728) shows, while cleanliness and clean linen was to be praised, excessive amounts of it weren't – at least not to him.

The universal custom of wearing excessive fine linen; not a shopkeeper, not a drawer at a tavern, not a barber, not hardly a barber's prentice, but must have a shirt of fine holland of five or six shillings per ell; and the ordinary beaus run it up to ten or twelve shillings an ell. Their grandfathers perhaps as clean, though not so gay [fashion-conscious], contented themselves with good holland of less than half the price, and with shifting their linen perhaps twice a week; to correct which, our nicer gentlemen have brought it to two clean shirts a day; we may suppose their uncleaner bodies require it more than those of their ancestors did.

More about 18th c. men's shirts here and here.

Thanks to Sarah Woodyard, apprentice mantua-maker, Historic Trades Program, Colonial Williamsburg for her assistance with this post.

Above: Man's linen shirt, 1775-1790 (remodeled 1810-1820), American or English. Colonial Williamsburg.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Spider Barometer

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Loretta reports:

The Spider Barometer was new to me, although apparently familiar to many others, at least in the early 19th century.

After encountering the entry below in Hone’s Every-Day Book, I came upon a more detailed account here at the The Entertaining Magazine, or Repository of General Knowledge for the year 1815

Read online here

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Lovely Portrait of a Larger Lady, 1776

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Isabella reporting,

One of the questions we're often asked when we post historical portraits and fashion plates is "Where are the larger ladies?" (See here and here.) Much of the answer to this is perspective, and what qualified as plus-size in the past.

Because of diet, environment, activity, economics, and genetics, Western women living 250 years ago were generally smaller in every way than their modern counterparts. (Consider how many miles Jane Austen's heroines walk in the course of every book!) But in any era, there's no "standard" size for women, and in the past as in the present, there were women of every size and shape, and perfectly happy that way, too.

Which brings us to this lovely portrait of Madame de Saint-Maurice, painted by Joseph Siffred Duplessis in 1776. Like many wealthy French ladies, Mme. de Saint-Maurice chose to be painted at an intimate moment in her day, sitting at the looking glass on her dressing-table.  While she's having her hair arranged, she's wearing an embroidered dressing-gown of sheer white silk gauze over her stays and a beribboned stomacher. Her hands are gracefully arranged in her lap, and her half-smile, glowing skin, and dark eyes are skillfully captured. She's presented as a beautiful, charming lady, and she is.

Unfortunately, there's no record of Madame's reaction to the painting, or of the husband who most likely commissioned it. Still, she must have been pleased. The artist exhibited this portrait at the Salon of 1777, where, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's gallery label notes, "it was admired for its truthfulness and the delicate treatment of the draperies." Successful portrait painters were required to flatter their subjects the same way a modern art director Photoshops. Clearly Madame didn't request it, or require it, either. Beauty comes in all sizes, and vive le différence!

Above: Madame de Saint-Maurice, by Joseph Siffred Duplessis, 1776. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Monday, July 8, 2013

1822 Fashionable Cloak Stand and Flower Stand

Monday, July 8, 2013

Loretta reports:

Usually Ackermann's Repository presents architectural designs and furniture in pristine form, devoid of signs of human habitation.  This illustration caught my eye because the cloak stand holds clothing!  And umbrellas!

However, I'm still scratching my head about the lamps at the top of the flower stand, and the suggestion of putting goldfish bowls there instead.

—From Ackermann's Repository, July 1822, from the collection of the  Philadelphia Museum of Art, online at Internet Archive.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of July 1, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013
We're back on our weekend schedule with a fresh helping of our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, images, and articles, gathered each week from the Twitterverse.
• Seeing history: the rise of spectacles in early modern Britian (plus a 17th c. prosthetic eye!)
• Fishscales in a c.1805 staircase by John Nash at Attingham Park.
• Great collection of images of 16th c. chopines, 20" tall platform shoes worn by courtesans & nobles.
• Those fashionable fellows of the 1770s, the Macaronis.
• It's July, 1813, and Lady Caroline Lamb stabs herself over Lord Byron at a party.
• A magnificent souvenir, c 1800-25: a parure to remember.
• The Battle of Gettysburg foretold by a NY clairvoyant and by a Quakeress with a gift of prophecy.
• The art of bathing in Renaissance England.
• Free online course for reading medieval handwriting.
• Faces of the American Revolution: poignant 19th c. photos of the last veterans.
• The opening of the new London Bridge, 1831.
• The Great Gatsby mansions: real-life homes that inspired the book and film.
• What secrets did Queen Charlotte keep inside this beautiful diamond-studded pocket notebook, 1765?
• Bear's grease, bellows, bonnets, biscuits, and Bibles: essential goods sold to Europeans in Bengal, 1851.
• The stonemasons who are keeping Lincoln Cathedral alive.
• The angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn, 1863.
• The pointy-stick proliferation, or, how to explore the antiquities of Britain as an 18th c. gentleman.
• Misbehaving Pilgrims: miscellaneous sexual offenses 1653-1683 in the Plymouth Colony Court records.
• 149 years ago today the Confederate army was...buying office supplies.
Postcard: Edith Wharton writes to Henry James from Italy, 1911.
• America's long (and odd) fascination with yoga.
• Mrs. Perry's 1810 recipe for Volatile Foetid Spirit, to be taken when "low, faint, or helpless, or any way nervous."
• A single gilded picture frame held successively the portrait of the king of Great Britain & the first president of the United States.
• The art of begetting handsome children, 1860.
• Wonderful on-line slide-show of 150 years of Irish crochet lace.
• NYC's lost Metropolitan Hotel: hosting 10,000 guests for the Tom Thumb wedding reception, 1863.
• Macedoine and other eccentric Victorian jellies.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for daily updates!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday Video: Dance Crazes of the Roaring Twenties

Friday, July 5, 2013

Isabella reporting,

The 1920s may have been a decade of great change and historical significance, but on film, the '20s sure look like a whole lot of fun. This clip is a compilation of popular dances and general shenanigans from the time, matched to the appropriate music that's guaranteed to make you want to jump up for a quick Charleston or Foxtrot. Ain't we got fun!

Many thanks to Susan Bailey, one of our intrepid followers and a fellow-blogger (Louisa May Alcott is My Passion) for first sharing this clip with us!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day 1894

Thursday, July 4, 2013
Independence Day of the Future
Loretta reports:

Independence Day, more usually known these days as the Fourth of July, has often been an occasion in this country for passing significant legislation or calling attention to inequalities.

According to the Library of Congress website:

"In 1859, the Banneker Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, urged African Americans to celebrate Independence Day while bearing witness to the inconsistencies between the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the practice of slavery."

You can read more about that here.

Unlike many Puck illustrations, whose historical/political references don't ring bells with modern readers, this 1894 Independence Day print is pretty easy to read.  When you don't know the specific political context or recognize the names, it's impossible to get the joke.  But this one, like the Valentine's Day illustration I posted on my own blog, doesn't require historical scholarship.  I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about what provoked it and what it says about attitudes of the time and whether or not we've come a long way since then.

Illustration courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More About That Dashing Officer & the Woman in White in "The Black Brunswickers"

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Isabella reporting,

When last week Loretta posted The Black Brunswickers, left, by John Everett Millais (1829-1896), and asked all of you what seemed odd about the painting, we'd no idea there'd be such a response, or so many thoughtful comments, either.

Yet some of these were pretty harsh – so harsh, in fact, that I felt I should put on my old art historian hat (yes, it's dark red velvet, with an ostrich plume) and offer a bit more about the painting and its historical context that wasn't included in the information from the museum. Without Millais himself here to explain his work, I'll add that this is my interpretation alone, and like all art there's no "right" or "wrong" way of looking at a painting.

Millais painted The Black Brunswickers in 1860. While outwardly it shows a scene from the era of the Napoleonic Wars – a soldier from the Black Brunswickers regiment says farewell to his sweetheart, going to his near-certain death – the painting is closely tied to current events of the late 1850s.

In 1851, Napoleon III had seized power in France through a coup d' état, and had increased the size and strength of the French military forces as well as modernizing their fleet and fortifications. The French standing army consisted of 400,000 men, while the British Army had been scaled down to around 150,000, of which only 42,000 were considered effective. The glories of Wellington's armies were by then a distant memory.

The political climate between the two countries was an uneasy one as well, with the French believing England was harboring would-be assassins and other enemies of the French. When the French declared war on Austria in 1859, Englishmen feared a French invasion, and clamored for a stronger national defense in the newspapers and in charged public meetings. Soon after, the Government authorized the Lord Lieutenant to raise volunteer corps throughout the country. Patriotism (and fear) led to an astonishing number of volunteers, with an average of 7,000 recruits being enlisted each month.

Millais would have been acutely aware of all of this when he began The Black Brunswicker. In much the same way that 20th c. American patriotic art freely used George Washington and Uncle Sam to combat Adolf Hitler, Millais invoked England's heroic past as a reminder to the present. He made his departing soldier a member of a volunteer regiment with a fearsome reputation, and one that not only fought with great bravery, but also suffered catastrophic losses at the pre-Waterloo engagement of Quatre Bras, 16 June 1815. Anyone in 1860 seeing that distinctive black uniform with the death's head badge on the shako would know that this soldier would most likely not be returning.

As many of you noted, the young woman's dress and hairstyle are much more in the style of 1860 than 1815. An artistic perfectionist, Millais could have given his model a perfect Regency dress, but chose not to. Instead her dress serves to blur the lines between the past and the present, to show that Englishwomen will likely be forced to make the same sacrifices in 1860 as they did in 1815. The red ribbon on her sleeve and on the dog's collar may not be "accurate", but the color is symbolic of loyalty and courage, and, of course, of blood and death. Her white dress represents purity and innocence, qualities to be protected against defiling French invaders. The Victorian wallpaper represents an 1860s home that must be defended. The print of Napoleon crossing the Alps (after a painting by Jacques Louis David), one of the emperor's finest moments, wouldn't have been found in many English homes, but it's a splendid symbol of the threat of another Napoleon.

Those who viewed the painting in 1860 would have "seen" all this, and understood the patriotism it represented. The painting didn't fare well with the critics (thanks to commenter Hope Greenberg for finding this scathing review), but it was a great favorite with the public. Millais sold it for 100 guineas, the most he'd ever received for a painting.

Yet the painting and its theme had to have had far more significance to Millais than a mere fee. With a young wife he adored and a growing family, patriotism must have been in his own thoughts, too. Soon after he'd completed the painting, Millais himself enlisted in the newly-created 38th Middlesex (Artists) Rifle Volunteers – ready to make a sacrifice of his own for England.

Composed of volunteers who were painters, sculptors, engravers, musicians, architects, and actors, the Artists Rifles is such a fascinating regiment that they deserve a post of their own, and I'll be writing one here soon. Many thanks to one of our favorite followers and fellow-bloggers Patrick Baty for sharing his own research for this post. See Patrick's Facebook page devoted to the Artists Rifles here and his Pinterest board here.

Above: The Black Brunswickers, by John Everett Millais, 1860, Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Fashions for July 1811

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
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Loretta reports:

Most fashion plates feature one or two women, but sometimes we get children, and on rare occasions, a man. This child is probably a prop.  It's hard to imagine any mama of the upper ranks taking her children to an adult evening entertainment.  In many upper class households, children didn't have a great deal of contact with their parents.  In some they had rather too much contact and were allowed to run wild, to the horror of guests.

Alert readers may spot similarities between the "cottage vest" of the opera dress and the evening spencer Isabella/Susan explained not too long ago.

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