Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Textile Treasures from Colonial Williamsburg's Collections

Thursday, October 31, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Last week I shared photos of several of the 18th c. men's coats from the textile storage facilities of Colonial Williamsburg that I saw thanks to an informal tour with curator Linda Baumgarten. Obviously, the collection includes more – much more! – than just those coats. Here are a few other items to show the range of the treasures hidden away in those aluminum drawers. As usual, please click on the images to enlarge.

Most museums have many more items in their collections than they can exhibit at any given time. Displaying textiles, however, is a bit more complicated. Old textiles are fragile; they're susceptible to damage from light, water, heat, and even the stress of gravity. Many can't be on constant display in a gallery and survive. Storing them flat, away from light and temperature changes, is a way of preserving them and extending their lives – a kind of "vacation" from display.

For every piece that still has the vibrant colors of those 18th c. coats, there are others that, even with well-intended conservancy, have over time changed or become impossibly delicate. As an example, Linda Baumgarten showed another coat of elegant pale grey silk. Then she flipped up the hem to show the silk's original color – a brilliant purple that had nearly faded away while on display earlier in the 20th c.

Since they're in storage, the items shown here didn't have identifying placards, so I'm afraid I can't supply any exact details about their age or provenance. From top to bottom: detail of an early 18th c. English crewel-work hanging; samples of 18th & 19th c. ribbons and other trimmings, stored and tied on spools; an 18th c. English embroidered linen petticoat, lined with a printed linen; a 19th c. American quilt, lined with an earlier, worn embroidered textile; and a detail of an embroidered squirrel from a 17th c. English box embellished with a raised-work panel.

All items from the textiles from the collections of Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs copyright 2013 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Indian Jugglers in Pall Mall, 1813

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Loretta reports:

If you were in Pall Mall in 1813, you might have seen these jugglers.  Unfortunately, the article doesn't say where in Pall Mall they performed. I find one specific reference in John Wilkes's Encyclopaedia Londinensis,
where he indicates that the jugglers were in a temporary exhibition space near Christie's.

Indian Jugglers inspired a lengthy essay by William Hazlitt.  But this account from Ackermann's Repository for October 1813 offers, I believe, more than enough food for thought.

Warning to the squeamish:  There is definitely an ick factor.
Read online here

Read online here

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From the Archives: Men Behaving Badly: Sir Charles Sedley, 1663

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Because today is a "travel day" for me, returning home from Colonial Williamsburg, I'm sharing one of my more lurid posts from the past. My five historical novels (written as Susan Holloway Scott) were all set in Restoration England, during the reign of King Charles II (1660 -1685.) This was a very good time for very bad gentlemen, when just about any excess could be explained away if one had a title, or at least was friends with the King.

Sir Charles Sedley (1639-1701) was a wealthy, well-connected baronet who wrote witty plays and poetry, played tennis with the King, dabbled in diplomacy, and eventually became a respectable politician in the House of Commons. He looks innocuous enough, left, but in 1663, he was best known for often being "rhetorically drunk", and also for one particularly bad example of bad-boy-dom, so scandalous that Samuel Johnson was still sputtering over it a century later:

Sir Charles Sedley, Lord Buckhurst, and Sir Thomas Ogle, got drunk at the Cock [a notorious tavern] in Bow Street, by Covent Garden, and going into the balcony exposed themselves to the populace below in very indecent postures. At last, as they grew warmer, Sedley stood forth naked, and harangued the populace in such profane language, that the publick indignation was awakened; the crowd attempted to force the door, and being repulsed, drove at the performers with stones, and broke the windows of the house.  For this misdemeanour, [the three gentlemen] were indicted, and Sedley was fined five hundred pounds....Sedley employed [his friend Harry] Killigrew [groom of the bedchamber to the King's brother, the Duke of York] to procure a remission from the King, but (mark the friendship of the dissolute!) they begged the fine for themselves, and exacted it to the last groat.

For a far more frank telling of these frat-house-style shenanigans, see Samuel Pepys's diary entry – scroll down to the first annotation/comment at the bottom by Terry F., and hold on to your coffee cup.

Above: Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Baronet. Engraving after a painting by Michael Van der Gucht, published 1722.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Victorian Children in Folk Art

Monday, October 28, 2013
Boy in a Blue Plaid Dress
Loretta reports:

Though it’s not a huge museum, the American Art & Carousel Gallery at the Heritage Museums and Gardens (more here, here, here) offers plenty to look at and think about. I have my likes and dislikes when it comes to folk art.  Some of it can be puzzling if not downright weird.  This painting of a little boy in blue was a bit jarring to our modern sensibilities.  Though aware that boys and girls wore dresses in early childhood, I still find it tricky to see a boy in images like these.  For instance, in this 1846 painting of Queen Victoria’s family, does the child on the far left look like a boy or a girl?

Portrait of Mary Louisa Bird
Long curls are unisex, in these works, and the off-the-shoulder look, which may strike the modern viewer as a little creepy sexually, had no sexual connotation to the supposedly uptight Victorians.

Apparently, one way you can tell the gender is the hair part.  Girls’ hair is parted in the middle, boys’ on the side.  Other clues are in the props.  Dogs and riding crops tend to appear with boys.  Girls tend to hold dolls and purses. Books and flowers aren’t necessarily gender signals, since they appear with both boys and girls. I hadn’t been aware of these clues previously, and trying to guess which was which without looking at the labels was fun.

The girl in purple struck me for a number of reasons.  The quality of the painting is above the common run, for one thing.  But equally important, though she's only nine years old, she’s very fashionably dressed for 1837, with her puffy sleeves and her pink reticule.

Paintings:  Boy in a Blue Plaid Dress, unidentified artist, c 1830-1860.
Portrait of Mary Louisa Bird, unidentified artist, 1837

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of October 25, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013
We're winding up the month of October with a fresh serving of Breakfast Links - our fav links of the week to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Traditional Irish Halloween game of snap-apple: trying to bite into a revolving apple on a string - with lit candles.
• Search twenty-seven years of Eleanor Roosevelt's newspaper columns, available in full text on-line.
• A medieval iPad that's also a thousand-year-old time capsule.
• For a fuller bosom, try...butter? Chocolate? Ice-baths? These and other 19th c. bust-increasing solutions.
• See the sites or wander down Pudding Lane in this virtual version of 17th c. London before the Great Fire.
• And if you love the virtual Pudding Lane, then check out virtual St. Paul's, complete with John Donne sermon & audio.
• Alfonso the Slobberer and Ivar the Boneless: worst nicknames for medieval rulers.
• "Red Dress Manor", an eerie abandoned 1725 house that's frozen in time.
• A closer look at a gentleman's 18th c. suit.
• A brief history of that ever-popular word "dude."
• Just in time to inspire: brilliant Halloween costumes inspired by famous paintings.
• The Students' Guide Through Lincoln's Inn, 1805.
• Can you say puffy sleeves? An 1890s cotton dress with plenty of details.
• The lost Billings Mansion, Washington Heights, NYC; Cornelius Billings threw a banquet for millionaires in 1903 at the exclusive Sherry's - with guests on horseback.
• How to achieve the perfect Poe parlor.
• The influence of the Great War on early 20th c. fashion.
• "A pleasant time and a pleasant tomorrow" promises Quaff-Aid, a 1950s hangover remedy.
• The brutal world of the Nelson-era Navy.
• Never too many cooks in the kitchen! What an 18th c. recipe book can tell us about female alliances.
• A map from 1812: back when America was small, Australia was "New Holland", and big chunks of the world seemingly didn't exist.
• Even in 1775, there were armchair generals attempting to call the shots from afar.
Costumes v. wardrobe: there IS a difference.
• A hedgehog's bladder and hot chocolate - 17th c. cures for children's bed-wetting.
• Delightful site featuring Victorian and Edwardian postcard fantasies of the year 2000.
• In 18th c. London, "mollies" - wearing clothes like these - gathered in inns and public houses to socialize and cross-dress.
• A new naval story for Trafalgar Day and Nelson is only briefly mentioned: Admiral Peter Rainier, defender of British India.
• The perfect Georgian dish (albeit a bit gruesome): "Sheeps head soop."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Beautiful 18th c Men's Clothing from Colonial Williamsburg

Friday, October 25, 2013
Isabella reporting,

This past week I've been in Colonial Williamsburg, attending the "Threads of Feeling" conference and doing general research. One of the highlights of my visit was an informal tour of CW's state-of-the-art textile storage facilities with curator Linda Baumgarten. Tucked away in rows of these high-tech aluminum drawers, left, are all kinds of treasures from the 17th to 20th centuries: clothing, quilts, coverlets and bed hangings, feed sacks and tablecloths, ribbons and trimmings.

But what really took my breath away were the late-18th c. gentlemen's coats and waistcoats from court suits. These clothes date from a time when elaborate, elegant (and expensive) men's wear was a sign of power and wealth, status dressing of the highest degree.

While these clothes may be over two hundred years old, they've aged very gracefully. Arranged in their flat drawers, the colored silks and velvets glowed against the acid-proof white tissue paper, the masterful embroidery and embellishment still vibrant and the sequins and beads still glittering – albeit under florescent lighting, not candlelight.

I can't offer more precise descriptions because the garments were in storage, not arranged for display with placards, but I hope you'll enjoy their beauty just as I did. (Please click on the images to enlarge.)

I like to picture the modern curators carefully tucking away these glorious clothes into their drawers, just as the long-ago valets and gentleman's gentlemen did. The silk is smoothed, the velvet is brushed, and the sleeves are folded exactly so, waiting and ready for the next time there's an important audience to impress....

All photographs copyright 2013 Susan Holloway Scott.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What is a Joliffe-shallow?

Thursday, October 24, 2013
Loretta reports:

As many of my readers are aware, I came to Georgette Heyer rather late in my career.  This means quite a number of her works are new to me.  One I recently read described a a passing gentleman who wore a “Joliffe-shallow.”

After all these years’ study of the era, I can usually make an educated guess about unfamiliar terms.  This one left me blank.  So of course I Googled it—and came upon a wonderful book, Lloyd’s Treatise on Hats.
Read online here

Lloyd offers us a Joliffe* and a Shallow.  Apparently, the hat Georgette Heyer had in mind had curled-up sides like the Joliffe and a low crown like the Shallow. Or else she was making the whole thing up.

Once upon a time, everybody wore a hat, and it was an important article of dress.  Though Lloyd’s Treatise is in the arch/facetious style we encounter in so much writing of this time, it still helps us understand what people saw when they saw a hat, and what it told them about the wearer.

Read online here
*The treatise uses two ls, Georgette Heyer’s book only one.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Parlor Entertainment, c. 1835: Taking a Profile

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Isabella reporting,

In this era of smart-phone cameras and Instagram, no one thinks twice about capturing a friend's likeness to share. But before the invention of photography, a portrait usually required an artist.

In the mid-18th-early 19th c., profiles or shades – what we today call silhouettes – became a fashionable alternative. Deftly cut from black paper or cards and pasted onto a pale background, these profile-portraits were not only faster to create and less expensive than a painted portrait, but also reflected the growing influence of classical art, and the profiles found on ancient Greek and Roman coins.

With the aid of a bright light, profiles could also be created by amateurs at home, with the shadow-outline either cut from paper or filled in with ink. While the results seldom had the nuances that a skilled profile-cutter could create, they were still better than nothing, and had the additional advantage of being a kind of combined parlor entertainment and genteel accomplishment.

This charming double-portrait from around 1832-35 shows two sisters or friends creating this kind of silhouette. One sits still while the other traces her profile on the paper pinned to the wall. Yet the now-unknown artist is playing with very notion of portraits, for the girl who is tracing the profile is the one shown by the painter in profile. It's a sophisticated conceit for a painter with little academic training, and the result is an original and delightful way to portray both girls.

How did the girl in blue achieve such perfectly poufy sleeves? Undoubtedly she was wearing a pair of sleeve puffs on her upper arms.

An aside: the term "silhouette" comes from the Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767). He wasn't the inventor of the process, but a French Controller-General of Finances under Louis XV. His belt-tightening economic policies, brought on by the credit crisis caused by France's costly involvement in the Seven Years War, made him extremely unpopular, and also made his name synonymous with anything that was second-rate or done cheaply. In the early 19th c., it became attached to the paper-cut profiles, which are still called silhouettes today.

Above: Taking a Profile, artist unidentified. American, probably 1832-1837. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Collection, Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Carousel Cat, c. 1903

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Isabella reporting,

After Loretta's recent post featuring a beautiful 19th c. carousel horse, I was delighted to spot this carved cat in the Art Museum of Colonial Williamsburg today. It's no longer attached to a carousel, and sadly no one will be riding on its back in the future, but with its shining glass eyes and a fish in its mouth, it still looks like it's ready to go.

Here's the information from the museum's card:

"Gustav Dentzel established the G.A. Dentzel Steam and Horse Power Carousel Company in 1867. In 1903, he hired Salvatore Cernigliaro, an experienced woodworker from Sicily who revolutionized production in the shop. Cernigliaro discontinued many of Dentzel's time-worn patterns and redesigned others, creating an expanded array of animals noted for playful poses, naturalistic details, and fanciful trappings.

"Cernigliaro made the first examples of these innovative designs. Other carvers in the shop quickly emulated him, so it is difficult to determine whether the master himself crafted any particular figure. The company continued to sell Cernigliaro's exuberant leaping cat even after 1909 when Gustav Denzel died, his son, William, took over, and Cernigliaro left the firm. All of Dentzel's cats raise front left paws and grip prey in their mouths. In addition to fish, his felines grasp birds, frogs, crabs, and even squid."

Above: Carousel Figure: Cat, attributed to the Dentzel Carousel Company; carved by or after a design by Salvatore Cernigliaro (1879-1974), Philadelphia, PA c. 1903-1928. Painted basswood with glass eyes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Waterproof Shoes in 1835

Monday, October 21, 2013
Loretta reports:

Long before Gore-Tex® existed, people needed ways to protect from wet their clothing or packets containing valuable items. From an early time, oils, grease, and wax were applied to fabrics like linen or cotton.  One of my favorite items, years ago, was a waxed cotton raincoat.  It was lightweight and it kept me completely dry.  Alas, after years and years of use, it began to crack and crumble.  One of these days I’ll invest in another one.

Even today, though, waterproofing leather shoes and boots can be iffy. My wonderful waterproof L.L. Bean boots use rubber and high tech insulating material to keep my feet dry.  But rubber-coated clothing was just getting started in the early 19th century—and would any self-respecting dandy wear clunky rubber anything, anyway?

We know that our well-dressed gentlemen's shoes and boots were usually polished to an extreme shine.  How effective this was against rain and snow is an interesting question.  This is one of many areas I haven’t researched extensively, so our historical dress experts are welcome to weigh in.

Meanwhile, here’s a recommendation from 1835, lifted, as so much was, from another source, although this time credit is given.
The following method of preparing water-proof leather at a very small expense will be found invariably to succeed:—Take one pint of drying oil, two ounces of yellow wax, two ounces of spirit of turpentine, and one ounce of Burgundy pitch, melted carefully over a slow fire; with this composition new shoes and boots are to be rubbed in the sun, or at a distance from the fire, with a sponge as often as they become dry, until they are fully saturated; the leather then is impervious to wet, the shoes and boots last much longer, acquire softness and pliability, and thus prepared, are the most effectual preservatives against cold and chilblains.—London Paper
The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 27, 1835

Illustrations:  Detail from Dighton's caricature of Beau Brummell (above left).  Men's footwear from The Whole Art of Dress! By a Cavalry Officer, 1830

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of October 14, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013
Fresh off the twitter-griddle! Our weekly breakfast links offer our fav links to other blogs, web sites, images, and articles, all gathered for you from the Twitterverse.
• A history of hunks: how ripped bodies became a masculine ideal.
• "A Very Small Trifle": A North Briton's view of the American Revolution.
• Only seven inches tall, this 19th c. miniature corset was probably a salesman's sample.
• "To stew pears red", an 18th c. recipe.
• "Poor Nancy - she was a honey of a patriot, but the devil of a wife!" Revolutionary War heroine Nancy Hart 1735-1830.
• Why do witches wear pointy hats?
Ghost stories from old New York: tales from the Revolution, restless Indians, haunted forts, and a drunk, headless actor.
• Parisian prostitutes, c. 1901: the impostors.
• A Roman bathhouse still in use after 2,000 years.
• The blue and white china that graced the sideboard at Emily Dickinson's family home in Amherst.
• The hierarchy of color: choice, price, and meaning of paint colors in 18th c. homes.
• A brief tour of the Folger Shakespeare Library's digital treasures - including a copy of Shakespeare's first folio that includes a child's doodles.
Eadburh, 8th c. Queen of the West Saxons.
• An over-the-top evening cape, trimmed in white marabou, from the 1920s.
• An 18th c. summer manor in New York City becomes a respected Victorian roadhouse where Women enjoyed "immunity form affront."
Oscar Wilde and his surreal speaking tour of San Francisco, 1882.
• Jeepers creepers! Why dark rides in amusement parks scare the pants off us.
• Heartbreaking: inside an abandoned public library in Detroit, now demolished.
• Advice for those living in 18th c. Oxford during student season: Lock up your daughters!
• The world's oldest cinema reopens - where the first films of the pioneering Lumiere brothers were screened.
• A newly digitized 1786 manuscript math exercise book from Virginia where enslaved labor features in quotidian word problems.
• The many historical, folkloric, and cultural connections between witches and trees.
• Letter written by 10-year-old Helen Keller found in Massachusetts Historical Society manuscript collection.
• Now at the Art Institute of Chicago: breathtaking 19th c. paintings and clothes featured in "Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity."
• Phenomenal craftsmanship: a rare 17th c. beaded christening basket.
• "Are not some of your large stock of white morning gowns just in a happy state for a flounce - too short?" A witty, gossipy letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, 1813.
• Body snatchers: a handy guide to the missing body parts of the famous and infamous.
• The maddeningly elusive dancing master.
• The backstory of wallpaper: the history of wallpaper from the paper-hanger's perspective.
• Beautiful lantern slides of Old London.
• In honor of Ada Lovelace Day: young Ada ignores Lord Byron to finish her math homework, as imagined by the incomparable Kate Beaton.
• The hideous skeleton of His Satanic Majesty, smuggled out of Japan and displayed in 1895 New York - the ultimate gaff!
Sugar mills on sugar plantations in the Caribbean, 1665-1835.
• The problem for President Taft wasn't losing the weight: it was keeping it off.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Casual Friday: The Historic Carousel Goes Round and Round

Friday, October 18, 2013
Loretta reports:

Last time, I mentioned riding on the Carousel at the American Art & Carousel Gallery of the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, MA, on Cape Cod. 

Here it is in motion, unfortunately without the wonderful carousel music.  Still, the video does give you a sense of how jewel-like these are, with their mirrors and decorations and beautiful painting.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Stylish Paper Shopping Bag, c. 1850

Thursday, October 17, 2013
Isabella reporting,

While stores and shops have been around since ancient times, it wasn't until the late 18th c. that "shopping" became a verb, an activity that began to acquire as much importance as the object being purchased.

The Industrial Revolution created not only many more items available for purchase, but also a middle class full of customers with money to spend. Advances in printing technology also led to more imaginative ways for shopkeepers to advertise their wares. By the middle of the 19th c., savvy merchants were beginning to offer paper bags printed with their shop's names and addresses, a kind of walking advertisement that's still popular with today's shoppers in the local mall.

The early printed paper bag, left, from the 1850s is a rare survivor. The pleated-bottom bag must have carried home some sort of tasty treat: it came from a combined cook, confectioner, and caterer in Stamford, Lincolnshire, UK, who also promised "full-licensed dining and refreshment rooms."

But the illustration on the bag adds much more. A group of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen (plus a few equally well-dressed children) are shown playing croquet on the lawn of Burghley House, a grand Elizabethan country house built by Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, and later the ancestral seat of his descendant, the Marquess of Exeter. The other side of the bag is printed with the romantic poem The Lord of Burghley, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to further reinforce the connection.

Decorating a humble paper bag with an image of a nobleman's home might simply have been civic pride, for Burghley House is the most spectacular landmark near Stamford. But it might also be an early example of "aspirational" marketing, implying that the sweets inside the bag will magically confer on the customer a bit of the elegant life shown on the outside.

This bag is from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, and is included in their current exhibition of recent acquisitions (through December 13, 2013). Their blog post highlights some of the other fascinating items included in the exhibition, from a 1926 Tent Revival Banner to a 15th c. genealogical chronicle that's 37 feet long, and traces the Kings of England all the way back to Adam and Eve.

Many thanks to Mitch Fraas, Bollinger Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, for his assistance with this post.

Above: Paper Bag: J.T.Holmes, (Late Dawson) Cook, Confectioners, & Public Caterer, Full-Licensed Dining & Refreshment Rooms, 7, St. Mary's Street, Stamford. Birmingham: Martin Billing, Son and Co., Printers, c. 1850s. Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Historic Carousel Still Turns

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Loretta reports:

Yes, there was a carousel, and yes, I rode it, something I haven’t done in centuries.  This was another treat at the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, MA, on Cape Cod. Their American Art & Carousel Gallery contains a beautiful carousel.  Though built in 1908, it includes figures made over a twenty year span, as early as the mid-1880s.  Back then, the figures didn’t move up and down.  When overhead gears were introduced, they were converted—and let me point out that they move faster than one expects.  What they all have in common is the Looff factory.  Charles I.D. Looff, the founder, built Coney Island’s first carousel.

Though the original carousel was broken up and sold, the Heritage Museums have most of it today, thanks to Hallett Tobin, who diligently hunted down the carousel animals.  Sadly, he found the original mechanism had been left to the mercy of the elements.  However, the slightly smaller antique replacement is splendidly crafted and works perfectly. 

In nearby Rhode Island, another Looff Carousel has National Historic Landmark status, as well as being designated “the State Jewel of American Folk Art.”  I’d definitely classify the carousel in Sandwich as the jewel of the Heritage Museum’s eclectic collection, and perhaps a jewel in general of American Folk Art.  Certainly the figures are beautiful examples of the artisans' care and craftsmanship—down to the horses’ metal hooves and real horse hair tails.

Among bits of information I picked up about carousels:  Most have one major figure, with fancier decorations than the others, called the “lead” horse.  The operator used this horse to count the number of times the horse went round.

Lead Horse
I also learned an interesting difference between English and American carousels.  What do you think it is?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beau Brummell's Greatcoat, c. 1803

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Susan reporting,

I've written before (here and here) about Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, the fantastic exhibition of men's clothing shown earlier this year at the RISD Museum. The coat, left, is a real rarity: an actual garment made for Beau Brummell.

The most stylish gentleman of Regency England, George "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) was a friend of the Prince Regent and perhaps the first true arbiter of men's fashion. He was famously fastidious about tailoring, understated elegance, and personal cleanliness - qualities that had previously been in short supply among late 18th c. Englishmen.

This navy broadcloth greatcoat was made for Brummell by the London tailor John Weston about 1803. Often in debt, Brummell never claimed the finished coat from the tailor, and it languished, unworn and pristine, in the vault of the banker Coutts & Co. for over a hundred years. It truly is a beautiful garment, exquisitely stitched and tailored, and so closely cut that it's easy to see the lean, elegant male figure that Brummell must have possessed.

Seeing the coat also reminded me of a famous Brummell anecdote, relayed by his acquaintance Captain William Jesse in his 1844 biography The Life of George Brummell, esq., commonly called Beau Brummell. If you wish to wallow in more Brummell-isms, this book is now available to read online here.

"On another occasion, the late Duke of Bedford asked [Brummell] for an opinion on his new coat. Brummell examined him from head to foot with as much attention as an adjutant of the Life Guards would the sentries on a drawing-room day. 'Turn round,' said the Beau: His Grace did so, and the examination was continued in front. When it was concluded Brummell stepped forward, and feeling the lapel delicately with his thumb and finger, said, in a most earnest and amusing manner, 'Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?'"

Obviously, the poor duke wasn't wearing a coat like this one....

Above: Greatcoat, made by John Weston, c. 1803. Photo courtesy of Coutts/RISD Museum, Providence, RI.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Dude & the Dandy

Monday, October 14, 2013
San Francisco Dandy ca 1880-1890
Loretta reports:

Having always associated the word “dude” with city slickers in American westerns, I was surprised to come across the term in Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.  (Read about it here.  Read it online here.)  The earliest usage I find in Google Books (alas, I’m traveling without my OED or Webster’s) is 1883, although this source cites Terence.

The phenomenon is recorded in many 19th century American publications, like Puck, as well as here in the July 1883 Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated. Unlike many other American slang terms, this one seems to have quickly crossed the Atlantic.

Dudes and dandies are often confused, especially by people who don’t approve of men who take what seems to be too much interest in their appearance.  But dudes have more negative associations.  They’re the cads and bounders and mashers, the card sharps and other well-dressed or overdressed types one oughtn’t to fully trust.

Dandy detail

Most of us are familiar with cigar store Indians, but may not be aware that many other types of figures stood at the doors of these shops.  The dude and dandy shown here are two of the many cigar store figures on display at at the American Art & Carousel Gallery of the Heritage Museums and Gardens (where I saw the Cars of the Future).
Dude ca 1880
Dude detail

The Dandy, which is reported to have stood in the lobby of San Francisco's Cliff House from 1901 to 1969, is carved from solid piece of wood, possibly reused ship mast. The Dude stood in front of a tobacco shop in Emporia, Kansas, selling Battle Ax Plug Tobacco.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of October 7, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013
Served up fresh! Our weekly roundup of favorite links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• Museum unearths rare Charles Dickens newspaper.
• In 1816, an escaped lioness attacked a Royal Mail mail coach traveling from Exeter to London.
• 1890s Kodak moments: photographs taken with Kodak's first commercial cameras are now 125 years old.
• The chocolate chip cookie celebrates its 75th birthday in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
• Put up your dukes: a day in the life in pictures of a bare-knuckle boxer.
• Made by his crew in his memory: the miniature coffin of Captain Cook, 1779.
Bookmobiles from a simple horse-drawn cart of the 19th c. to the four-wheelers of the 20th century.
• Can drinking tea turn you into a whore?
• Perfect for a Regency menu: 18th c. recipes for collaring meat.
• Illustrations from The Tour of Dr. Syntax through the Pleasures & Miseries of London, 1820.
• "Career Girl": picture portrait of a young woman in 1948 New York via Life magazine.
Autumn Landscape by Tiffany Studios, c.1923 is a stunning "painting" in stained glass.
• English embroidery: the forgotten wonder of the medieval world.
• In 1869 a servant girl in NYC's United States Hotel gets even with the haughty "upper servants" - she poisons them.
• Kings in the Tower of London.
• The story behind artist & art historian William Dunlop's quite poor portrait of George Washington.
• Did women make the majority of the oldest cave paintings? New analysis says yes.
• Between method and execution: the Bolsheviks found it hard to kill the Romanov daughters because they had sewn their diamonds into their corsets.
• A brief history of the ruff.
• The Dancing Cavalier: the dual lives of Civil War General Edward Ferrero.
Lost letters in the 18th century.
• Royal luxury: the newly reconstructed 15th c. Queen's Bathroom in Leeds Castle.
• The grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson attempts to bring Sissinghurst to the 21st. century.
• Elizabeth Jackson, creator of early 19th c. knitting books.
• From a baby gas mask to the UV-ray baby branding prod: eleven terrifying childcare inventions from the early 20th century.
• The witches of Halloweens past: a brief history of witch costumes.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Video: From Clothing to Character

Friday, October 11, 2013

Isabella reporting,

There are plenty of people reading this blog who believe it's a fashion history blog. It's a natural mistake, of course. Glancing at the list of label topics, I see that we've tagged 366 of our blog posts with the term "historic dress", and 287 with "fashion", which does appear to be fairly compelling evidence.

But the truth is that as much as Loretta and I like clothes and fashion (which we do, we do), we also like clothing for what it says about our characters. How a person (okay, a character) dresses is often the first indication a reader has about that character's wealth and status. But clothes also broadcast many other things, such as occupation, nationality, and age. Does he fuss over the precise folds of his cravat, demonstrating a need for control? Does wearing a corset beneath her dress make her feel confident and secure, or confined? Does he wear loud colors to match his loud voice, or does she dress provocatively to attract men? Even a character who claims not to care at all about clothes is making a major statement about himself. It's inescapable when building a character: clothes really do matter.

All of which is why I enjoyed this recent TEDx Pacific Palisades talk by Hollywood costume designer Kristin Burke. Turns out that dressing actors and actresses for television and film is pretty much the same as dressing our heroes and heroines. It's all part of the same business of story-telling. "The language of clothing is specific, persuasive, and totally silent," Kristin notes. "Most of the time we don't even realize that we are being influenced by it while it's right in front of our face." Exactly!

Kristin has designed costumes for over forty feature films in addition to music videos, commercials, and television series. You can read more on her blog Frocktalk, which she describes as the web's only costume-based movie review site.

Her design work is also currently featured in my greatest guilty-pleasure of the fall, Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow is a rollicking, scary, and occasionally quite funny time-travel reboot of Washington Irving's story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Once I was able to turn off my history-nerd-switch (There were no witch-burnings in New York in 1780! That's not the reason for the Boston Tea Party! Ichabod Crane isn't supposed to be a handsome Oxford-educated English spy from the American Revolution!!) and accept that the writers were cheerfully going to jumble history and plunder scary woo-woo stuff from all kinds of improbable sources (Paradise Lost, the Old Testament, Iroquois legends), I've gotten totally hooked. Unlike most series where things blow up, this one has imaginative writing and great characters, including a wonderful, strong female protagonist, plus a romance between lovers separated by time.

The muted palette of Kristin's costumes contribute to the unsettled, forbidding tone of the show, and help create an average small town where a lot of inexplicably bad things are happening. Her separated lovers are dressed in black and dark grey, colors of sadness. To top it off are the excellent nightmare-inducing demons -- not to mention that really scary Headless Horseman. Just in time for Halloween!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

1954's Car of the Future

Thursday, October 10, 2013
Loretta reports:

I’m not much of a car nut, (or am I?  see here, here, and here) but a trip to the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, MA, on Cape Cod, brought out my inner motorhead.

Or maybe it has less to do with auto lust than an appreciation of beautiful design.

One part of the exhibition Driving Our Dreams: Imagination in Motion, features postwar car design concepts, the result of American men's exposure to Italian design during and after WWII.  Former GIs were looking for the exciting sorts of vehicles they had seen abroad.

I hope to show several examples in the near future, but here was one of my favorites.  This beautiful 1954 Plymouth Explorer was designed to shed “Chrysler’s stodgy 1940s image.”  According to the explanatory note, the Italian design house “Ghia built cars more creatively and less expensively than the American companies.”  Thanks to Italian flair, Chrysler became the leader in cool auto style.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Blinded by Brilliant Buttons, 1777

Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Isabella reporting,

It's no secret that I have a weakness for caricatures that poke fun at fashion – and 18th c. fashion was the perfect target for the wickedly on-the-mark Georgian artists.

The long coats worn by gentlemen in the 1770s depended on fancy buttons for maximum sartorial impact. These buttons ran the decorative gamut. They could be covered with fabric and embroidered, elaborately wrapped with metallic thread, carved from horn, ivory, or mother-of-pearl, studded with cut stones, or fashioned from polished and engraved metal like pewter, brass, silver, and steel.

What these buttons didn't necessarily do was fasten the coat. The coat was often left open to display the waistcoat beneath, or closed with hidden hooks that fastened only the fronts of the coat edge to edge across the upper chest, leaving the buttons and their embroidered buttonholes with nothing more to do than look gorgeous. Stylish buttons became increasingly large, with some as big as two inches in diameter. With as many as a dozen of these buttons running down the front of a coat, the effect must have been impressive indeed.

Or, as this print shows, brilliantly blinding. (Click on the image to enlarge it to see the details.) Greeting a lady while walking in the park, this dandified gentleman has made the mistake of standing in the sunlight, making his polished steel buttons catch the sun and reflect back into the poor lady's face. They almost look like a comic book superhero's special laser-weapons. As the caption notes in elegant French, he's delivering the ultimate Coup de Bouton.

The lady recoils, and can only attempt to defend herself with flailing hands and fan. Not that the lady herself is innocent of Crimes of Fashion, however, not with her enormous wig and nodding plumes, gathered skirts over hoops, and a sizable nosegay of flowers tucked between her breasts. Perhaps they do deserve one another after all....

Above: Steel buttons: Coup de Bouton, etching by William Humphrey, c. 1777. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fashions for October 1819

Tuesday, October 8, 2013
View online here
Loretta reports:

Toward the end of the official Regency decade, waistlines climb quite high, while the bottom of the skirt carries increasing amounts of decoration, making a sort of upside-down cone effect. I especially enjoyed the note about the bias cut being employed to "display the bust very advantageously."

View online here

Read online here

Read online here
Today's fashion plates and descriptions are brought to you by Ackermann's Repository, October 1819.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Last Word on Jane Austen's Ring

Sunday, October 6, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Last year one of the few pieces of jewelry known to have belonged to author Jane Austen was put up for auction by a descendant. The ring, left, is simple and unassuming in design - an oval odontalite (a less expensive substitute for turquoise) stone, set in gold - but it was the connection to that first owner that made it so special. Interest in the auction was high, and grew higher still when the final prize realized at the sale was £152,450 (or about $236,000), considerably more than the £20,000-£30,000 that was original estimate projected by the auction house. Our original post about the sale is here.

The winning bidder's identity wasn't known at first, (more about that here) but when it was finally revealed that American Idol winner and pop singer Kelly Clarkson was the buyer, the howls of outrage began in Britain. The government declared the ring to be a "national treasure," and a temporary export ban was put into effect. Ms. Clarkson was prohibited from taking the ring home to Texas, and the Jane Austen's House Museum - a disappointed bidder in the original auction - was given until the end of September to match the amount of the winning bid. A world-wide campaign successfully raised the funds, and graciously Ms. Clarkson gave up her prize - not that she had any choice. The Museum will soon be putting the ring on display, while Ms. Clarkson had an exact replica made to wear whenever and wherever she pleased - surely a somewhat bittersweet memento.

It's interesting to read how differently the story was presented by the media in America and the UK. While the facts are the same, the perspective certainly isn't.'s headline was Kelly Clarkson forced to sell $250,000 ring to Jane Austen museum, while the went with Kelly Clarkson thwarted in bid to keep Jane Austen ring

The policy of designating and restricting "national treasures" is a complicated one; every major museum in the world contains national treasures removed from other nations, treasures that are never going to be returned to their one-time owners. So what do you think - should Kelly have been permitted to keep the ring she paid for, or does it belong on display in the Jane Austen's House Museum?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Breakfast Links: Week of September 30, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013
Breakfast links time! All the freshest of our fav links of the week, leading you to other web sites, images, blogs, and articles, and all gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• Beyond the Jersey Shore: 1920s snapshots from a chorus girl's scrapbook.
• Early 19th c. recipe for portable soup, the Regency equivalent of the modern-day stock cube.
• Vintage image: men's smoking room in a Chicago theater, 1907; each top-hatted gentleman has his own enormous ashtray.
• Solitude and Sandaya: the strange history of pianos in Burma.
• A fashionable dressing case fit for travel, 1875.
• Desperate needlework in a 19th c. asylum: the mad knitter of Dent.
• Why cats were hated in medieval Europe.
• Chaos, confusion, bewilderment! What was the appropriate dress for the outbreak of WWII?
• Grave divine consequences for pilling and drying flax or playing at "foote-ball" on the Sabbath, 1671.
• Inside America's love affair with the artist Norman Rockwell.
• This is, indeed, a good genre: medieval portraits of elephants by people who'd never seen elephants.
Blackbeard's 18th c. pirate ship emerges piece by piece off the North Carolina coast.
• The female entrepreneur who captured New York's early 20th c. theater in photographs.
• "I'll have a glass of the 1327, please": medieval drink of mead makes a comeback.
Julia Child's list of discarded titles for the cookbook that became Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
• A peep inside an 18th c. bachelor pad.
• The slickenstone: from Viking to Georgian times, indispensible for "ironing without an iron."
• A concise history of clotted cream.
• New exhibition contends that Edgar Allan Poe was more complex and influential than his "spooky" reputation suggests.
• Thomas McDonogh, Britain's first consul in Boston, and his red broadcloth coat.
• "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!" "By God, sir, so you have!" Artificial legs in the 19th century.
• In honor of Michaelmas on September 29: dramatic 15th c. illuminated illustration of Archangel Michael defeating Satan at the beginning of time.
• A question worth pondering (or not): did 16th c. men keep oranges in their codpieces?
• In 1846, the Catholic Church builds an orphanage on low-priced Fifth Avenue land in NYC - soon to be engulfed by millionaires' mansions.
Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce and mother of the first Stewart King of the Scots.
• America's oldest apple pie recipe (from 1796) plus other apple lore.
• The scandalous, eccentric life of William Beckford.
• From the proceedings of the Old Bailey: gin and tobacco smugglers, 1807.
• Let them dry while you read: nineteen must-have literary manicures.
Roman skulls that were once washed down lost London river now uncovered by new construction.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket