Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Video: London Then & Now, 1927 & 2013

Friday, January 31, 2014

Isabella reporting,

In 2013, filmmaker Simon Smith chronicled nearly a century of London scenes in a unique way. His description of this short film:

"During the 1920s, cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene travelled across the UK with his new colour film camera. His trip ended in London, with some of his most stunning images, and these were recently revived and restored by the British Film Institute, and shared across social media and video websites.

"Since February I have attempted to capture every one of his shots, standing in his footsteps, and using modern equivalents of his camera and lenses. This has been a personal study, that has revealed how little London has changed."

If you received this post as an email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please go to the blog at to watch the video.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Return Engagement: And One Redouté went to Egypt

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Loretta reports:

[This post, which appeared originally in January 2010, follows up on the previous repeat, and takes us time traveling to unchilly Egypt.]

While Pierre-Joseph Redouté was painting the flowers in Josephine Buonaparte’s garden at Chateau de Malmaison, his artist brother Henri-Joseph was in Egypt enduring plague, pestilence, and famine, literally.

Henri-Joseph Redouté was one of the company of “savants”--astronomers, mathematicians, naturalists, physicists, doctors, chemists, engineers, botanists, artists, a writer and a musicologist—who followed Napoleon to Egypt in 1798.  The median age of this group was 25.  Of the 151 civilians, 31 died in Egypt or shortly thereafter; all the survivors were scarred, physically and/or psychically.  Egypt in those days was not for sissies.

To Europeans, it was only marginally more familiar than the moon.  The knowledge they had as they set out was based on the Greek writer Herodotus and tales told by the few Europeans who’d visited.  Both sources offered an interesting mixture of a little fact & a lot of fiction.

Nina Burleigh’s Mirage:  Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt, offers a fascinating account, but here are the main icky details:

The savants’ troubles started when the boat containing all their instruments went down in a storm.  Things went downhill from there.

Famine:  Napoleon failed to provide food and water for his soldiers.  Desperate, the men guzzled murky water that turned out to be infested with leeches.  When all they found to eat was watermelon, they overdid it, and developed dysentery.

Pestilence:  Mosquitoes, fleas, tiny gnats, and vicious flies “swarmed into all cavities.”  Nearly every one on the expedition endured a painful eye infection called opthalmia, which left them temporarily blind.

Plague:  “During the French occupation, the bubonic plague epidemic in Egypt was a killer of biblical stature, a germ that caused men to die hideously, rotting from the inside out, sometimes within 48 hours.” 

This was in addition to bronchial infections and bites by snakes, scorpions, and rabid camels.

Meanwhile, on the water, the English Navy was sinking their ships and in the desert, irate Bedouins were shooting at the scientists surveying the ancient monuments.

It’s amazing, yes, that anybody survived.  Even more amazing was that they produced a 23 volume encyclopedia of Egypt, La Description de l’Egypte.  The online source is my favorite for studying the pictures, but there there are smaller (the original was huge) single-book versions, like the little Taschen Description of Egypt and a larger version, The Monuments of Ancient Egypt.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

An Educational Game of Vice & Virtue, 1818

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Educational games for children are nothing new. Just like parents today, those in the past were always seeking ways to steer their obstreperous offspring down the proper paths of life, and what better way than to mask the lesson in a game?

This is the playing board for The NEW GAME of VIRTUE REWARDED and VICE PUNISHED, published in London in 1818. The goal of the game was to teach morality to children, with bad qualities like Sloth, Hypocrisy, and Impertinence alternating with desirable behavior, such as Patience, Hope, and Diligence. There appear to be more bad things to be avoided than good ones to emulate (true to life, I suppose), plus some vivid consequences of badness like the Stocks and the House of Correction. The ultimate goal in the center is Virtue – and unlike today, Luxury is considered a negative in 1818.

I'm guessing that the game was played like most classic board games, with players hopping from space to space with the roll of a dice or other counter. Still, thinking of how riotous children's board games can become, I wonder if games like this were as successful in teaching morality as the the makers intended. Certainly Contention, Confusion, and Envy have been a part of every game of Monopoly that I've ever played, with Truth and Patience in very short supply....

Above: The NEW GAME of VIRTUE REWARDED and VICE PUNISHED, published by William Darton, London, 1818. Winterthur Museum.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Return Engagement: Pierre-Jospeh Redouté and his flowers

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Loretta reports:

[Things here in New England are viciously cold, making this a good time, I think, to revisit a warm posts  This one originally appeared in January 2010.]

Spring comes late to New England, and after days of snow, I’m ready for flowers.  The ones illustrated here are by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).  He was a court painter to Marie Antoinette as well as the Empress Josephine.  After the latter fell out of favor, he got friendly with the Bourbons.  It’s no small feat to survive those sorts of political upheavals.  One must be extremely charming or extremely talented.  It’s clear he was talented, and I’m guessing he was charming, too.  He’s one in a long line of amazing artists from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Jane Austen’s World  offers a wonderful appreciation of Redouté.  If you scroll down the post, you’ll see his family in an entry from the 1889 Dictionary of Painters and Engravers.  At some online sites you’ll find Pierre confused with his brother Henri-Joseph, one of the naturalists on Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt.  The tale of the scientists and artists who created the Description de l’Egypte is a different, far more harrowing story—but with beautiful pictures—which I’ll get to one of these days. 

For now, though, let’s just enjoy the flowers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dressing a Kitten, c. 1770

Sunday, January 26, 2014
Isabella reporting,

My recent blog post about the 18th c. tailor's apprentice dressing his master's cat reminded me of this painting. Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight was painted by Joseph Wright of Derby (1737-1797) between 1768-1770.

While Wright painted many portraits (I've written blog posts featuring two of them here and here), he's best remembered for his masterful use of chiaroscuro, an effect that emphasises bold contrast between light and dark. Wright employed candlelight to illuminate figures and heighten the drama in paintings like The Orrery, giving the then-new and exciting science of the Enlightenment the same importance as an Old Master subject drawn from ancient Rome.

Here Wright uses his skill on a more humble subject. Two young girls have discarded their doll for the more interesting challenge of dressing a kitten. The girls are clearly enjoying themselves; the kitten, not so much. The subject seems straight out of LOLcats and other internet sites, where there are cats a-plenty in sombreros, princess crowns, and tutus.

But 18th c. viewers might have looked at the picture a bit differently. Most likely it would have been considered a "fancy picture," a popular genre of the time that incorporated a storyline into a seemingly every-day scene. The girls and their game might have been viewed as a cautionary illustration against animal abuse, that first step towards a lifetime of cruelty towards others. The stark lighting gives the scene an air of secrecy and the forbidden, as if the girls had been told not to do this and yet persisted in their game.

The fact that the kitten is probably a male (that nervous kitten-tail is a little too suggestively phallic to be accidental) and that the girls are pretty and on the edge of adolescence only increases the moral lecture: today they torment a male kitten, and tomorrow they'll do the same to an unsuspecting man. Some scholars also point to how Wright painted this picture when he was in his thirties, an asthmatic bachelor who suffered from bouts of depression, and wonder if the cruelty of the girls reflected his own romantic trials.

So what do you think? Do you see a "cute" picture, or one that's a moral warning or even a little creepy?

Above: Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight, by Joseph Wright of Derby, c. 1768-1770. English Heritage, Kenwood.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of January 20, 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014
Fresh off the griddle! Breakfast Links are served: our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Days before Pride and Prejudice is to be published, Jane Austen writes to her sister Cassandra.
• Now freely available: 100,000 high-resolution images representing thousands of years of visual culture from the Wellcome Library.
• Grin and bear it: buttock cupping and other health "cures" of the past.
• A closer look at clogs.
• Image: In 1885 Vermont, Wilson Bentley became the first person to photograph a single snowflake.
• Romantic postcards of 1920s lovers in the moonlight.
• Sifting through the stories about the London Stone.
• A young woman carrying information across Revolutionary War lines gets caught in a wild chase on horseback.
• Image: "25 Starving Cats Eat Out a Butcher Store" in New York, 1914.
• Glorious 19th c. mansion on Riverside Drive, New York, was home to two separate millionaries who wed showgirls.
• The dragon and the grasshopper: two legendary weathervanes have overseen a lot of history.
• A menu & a moment in time, San Francisco, 1920-23.
• Jane Shore, a conspicuous courtesan of 15th c. England.
• Image: Women skiers, Norway, 1897.
• All in London: Kitkat Terrace, the Kit-Kat Club, and Cat and Mutton Bridge.
• The Royal Exchange, an early shopping center, was officially opened this week in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth I.
• Negotiating a pay raise - 18th c. style.
Horrible Discovery in London! A notorious 19th c. crime in verse.
Mad dogs, hens, and hot irons in early modern medicine.
Consuelo's house: where do you live when you stop calling Blenheim home?
• A common American soldier: who really fought the American Revolution?
• A fascinating and tasty website featuring historic American church and social cookbooks.
• New York City received a lot of snow in 1856, and George Templeton Strong was not amused.
• A really, really thick manuscript - more than 2,000 pages - from around 1500.
• Fear of beards: "Many Americans continue to harbor 18th c. fears that beards marked maniacs, fanatics, and dissimulators."
• Fancy a gown in "puke", "gooseturd", or "lustie-gallant"? All are documented Elizabethan cloth colors.
• Image: This early 20th c. motorcycle-hearse was once considered for use by the Gressenhall Workhouse, Norfolk, as an economical way to return deceased inmates to their parishes for burial.
• Victorian bear pit now listed as historic site.
• Have you ever eaten skirrets, a now-forgotten staple of medieval British diets? 18th c. recipe for Skirret Pye.
• A closer look at a 1760s Lyon silk brocade court dress in blue and white.
• Image: Strolling in Vienna, Austria, 1914.
• "You should have known the Dodger": transportation as punishment and Dickens' Oliver Twist.
Never too cold: crazy kids conquer Central Park and the snow on sleds in New York, c. 1910.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Casual Friday: Victorian London Street Life

Friday, January 24, 2014

View online here
Loretta reports:

Continuing this week’s look at the streets of bygone days—

This short series of slides from Street Life in London, by journalist Adolphe Smith and photographer John Thomson, calls to mind Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (1861), but the photographs have an immediacy that even the finest print artists can’t quite capture.

The Smith & Thomson book is online at Google Books, but the photographs are not nearly as clear as the ones in the video.

Illustration,  A Foggy Morning, Piccadilly Circus, London, England, c1904, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Foul-Weather Footwear: Pattens

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Several readers noticed the odd-looking footwear of this 1825 woman negotiating a snowy street in last week's blog. She's wearing pattens, a kind of primitive kind of protection against foul weather, and fouler streets.

According to the Bata Shoe Museum, pattens have been in use in Europe and North America since at least the 12th century. Pattens were overshoes, a thick wooden sole with a leather top that slipped on, or buckled or tied over the wearer's regular shoes, and served to lift the foot away from mud, snow, or just the general filth that collected in early modern city streets. The example, upper left, is Dutch, from the 1400s.

Pattens were primarily worn by working-class women, and when they appear in prints like the one I showed, they were meant to imply a comic, low-brow effect. They must have been awkward to walk in  - imagine the worst pair of ill-fitting platform shoes - and likely made a clumping sound, too.

Late 18th c. and early 19th c. pattens, upper right, featured an iron ring fixed to the wooden sole. In a nod to style, the soles were shaped to reflect the shape of the shoes being worn. These must have been a bit lighter to wear than the clog-like styles,  although they would have made a ringing sound as they struck paving stones.

The patten, lower right, from around 1830 is more genteel. Known as a "promenade clog" or "carriage clog", this features a neatly made upper with decorative cutwork and stitching. The sole is thinner, and is made from light-weight cork.

Like so many things, technology finally signaled the end of pattens. In the 1850s, vulcanized rubber galoshes became widely available, replacing the wooden and leather overshoe with a waterproof one.

A fashionable version of the functional patten appeared for 18th c. ladies. More often called clogs, these were a light, second sole that tied over a lady's heeled dress shoe, and usually were made of the same fabric as the shoe to form a matching set, like the ones, lower left. Since the surviving examples show so little wear, it's unlikely that they served the same heavy-duty protective service that their sturdier country-cousins saw. Instead they must have been worn for very short walks from a carriage to a door, or perhaps to create a wider sole to prevent heels from sinking into gravel while strolling a genteel garden path.

Upper left: Wooden patten, Dutch,  1400s. Bata Shoe Museum.
Upper right: Pattens, European, second half 18th c. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lower right: Patten, Great Britain, 1825-1835. Victoria & Albert Museum.
Lower left: Shoe & matching patten, England, 1735-1750. Bata Shoe Museum.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Early 20th Century Street Sweeping Machine

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Loretta reports:

Following up on my last post
The World's Work, Vol 31, 1916
The search for street sweeping improvements continued, and produced some interesting approaches to the job, like this one, which uses a motorcycle.

Alert readers will note that, despite the Victorian era advances in street sweeping, the crossing sweeps were still at work through the 19th century, and men with push carts and brooms were still doing the job in 1916.

Street Sweeper & Handcart c 1896

Image at right courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Please click on captions to view (and enlarge) at online source.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Gentleman's Formal Suit – in Pink, c. 1770

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Isabella reporting,

When a wealthy 18th c. gentlemen dressed for evening, our modern "black tie" wouldn't even been considered. Instead he would have chosen a beautifully embellished suit – consisting of coat, waistcoat, and breeches – such as this one, resplendent with embroidered flowers. (Click the image to enlarge.)

This was male power dressing: the richer the silk fabrics and the more elaborate the silk embroidery, the more costly the clothing was, a walking demonstration of the owner's wealth and power as well as his taste. The light, bright colors would also have shown well in a room lit only by candles, and drawn attention to the wearer. Floral designs such as this one were popular, a reflection of the growing interest in nature and nature-inspired motifs towards the end of the 18th century.

No one at the time would have considered the shades of pink, purple, and mauve in this suit as effeminate. Dark colors and subdued tailoring for men's wear did not come into fashion until the 19th c., when more sober attire became perceived as serious and masculine. Beau Brummell and the Victorian gentlemen that followed him put an end to the elegant male peacock, and he hasn't truly returned to fashion since.

This suit is part of the Think Pink exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, running through May 26, 2014. I've written about several other garments from this small but enjoyable show here, here, and here - if you're in Boston, it's well worth a visit.

Above & left: Man's formal suit, France, 1770-1780. Silk plain weave, silk satin, embroidered with silk. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Early Victorian Street Sweeping Machine

Monday, January 20, 2014
Frith, The Crossing Sweeper, 1853
Loretta reports:

We take clean streets more or less for granted.  Litter and dog poo are nothing to what our early 19th century ancestors encountered.  Crossing sweeps pushed brooms, and pedestrians were supposed to pay for a clear path. By the late 1830s, with the filth worsening, inventors set about developing mechanical, albeit horse-driven, methods of cleaning streets.  Mr. Whitworth gets credit for the first mechanical sweeper, but by 1843, when his machines were put to work in London, other inventors (scroll down) were applying for patents for similar devices or “improvements.”

This machine, lately brought into operation in the town of Manchester, where it excited a considerable deal of public attention, has lately been introduced into the metropolis, and is now employed in cleaning Regent-street. It is the invention of Mr. Whitworth, of the firm of Messrs. Whitworth and Co., of Manchester, engineers, by whom it has been patented. The principle of the invention consists in employing the rotary motion of locomotive wheels, moved by horse or other power, to raise the loose soil from the surface of the ground and deposit it in a vehicle attached. The apparatus for this purpose is simple in its construction; it consists of a series of brooms (3 ft. wide) suspended from a light frame of wrought iron, hung behind a cart, the body of which is placed near the ground, for greater facility in loading. The draught is easy for two horses, and throughout the process of filling, scarcely a larger amount of force is required than would be necessary to draw the full cart an equal distance.

Two machines are advantageously worked together, one a little in advance of the other. Not only is the operation of cleansing a particular street thus effected more rapidly, but the two drivers can occasionally assist each other, and one of them (at higher wages) may exercise a supervision over both machines.
The success of the operation is no less remarkable than its novelty. Proceeding at a moderate speed through the public streets, the cart leaves behind it a well swept tract, which forms a striking contrast with the adjacent ground. Though of the full size of a common cart, it has repeatedly filled itself in the space of six minutes from the principal thoroughfares of Manchester. This fact, while it proves the efficiency of the new apparatus, proves also the necessity of a change in the present system of street cleaning.

The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Volume 6, 1843

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of January 13, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014
Time for Breakfast Links! Here's our weekly round-up of favorite links to other blogs, web sites, images, and articles, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Spangles, sequins, and spangs, o my! All about historic sparklies.
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens, & George Crukshank.
• Edgar Degas paints fellow-artist Mary Cassatt – and here, too.
Celestial charts, 1823, attributed to a mysterious "lady", were perforated to light the stars.
Cock ale, a 17th c. "homely" aphrodisiac.
• Not just Sherlock Holmes: the list of Baker Street's famous residents include William Pit the Younger.
• How Monopoly helped WWII prisoners escape.
• Notorious Georgian celebrity Elizabeth Chudleigh: public near-nakedness & bigamy.
• Image: From The Times, 1853: the original story that inspired 12 Years a Slave.
• Mr. Grimstone and the revitalized Mummy Pea: a taste of Ancient Egypt in Victorian London.
• If you have 4 "sivil oranges", then you can make this 18th c. recipe for Orange Cream.
• A kangaroo in a 16th c. manuscript could change modern understanding of Australia's history.
• The archives of Chatsworth House contain over 1150 letters by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; here are two.
• Image: a gentleman never swims without a top hat.
• Dating advert from The Times, 1832: "I want a woman to look after the pigs while I am out at work."
• From 'unlike' to 'flash mob': five words that are older than you think.
• Have King Alfred the Great's bones been discovered in Winchester?
• Sit up straight! Bad posture and the "neck swing" in the 18th c.
• Perhaps the most bizarre disaster in US history: the Boston Molasses Flood.
• Image: Early photo of the town of Haworth, c 1870, had not changed much since the Brontës lived there.
• T.L.Busby's Costume of the Lower Orders, 1820.
• Actress Vivien Leigh was a wartime star - and a knitter for the cause, too.
• The very definition of a "hostile takeover": East India Company violence towards a Portuguese ship, 1626.
• Conceal and carry gun moll, 1923, Chicago (plus what exactly 'gun moll' means.)
• A "bone automata": hand-carved French folk art, c. 1820, is a miniature working guillotine.
• Image: Now this is a library! Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial en Madrid (Espana)
• Rare color photos of circus showgirls of the 1940s-1950s.
• The magnificent Renaissance banquets for the wedding of Annibale Ill Bentivoglio and Lucrezia d'Este.
• "Ooh, if I just wasn't a lady, what wouldn't I tell that varmint": hoop skirts, the New Deal, and Gone with the Wind.
Margaret Beaufort, mother of the Tudor dynasty of kings.
• George I's chocolate-making kitchen uncovered at Hampton Court.
• The fascinating story behind one of the most well-known emblems of old time Main Street: the cigar store Indian.
• Image: Illustration from a medieval manuscript; or, if Game of Thrones gets really weird.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Video: Lord Uxbridge's Gilt-Bronze Carriage Clock, 1811

Friday, January 17, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Sometimes it's the unexpected things that bring the past into sharpest focus. I saw this elegant carriage clock on display last month at the Frick Collection in New York, and was immediately drawn into both its design, and its story. The clock was made by the father & son team of Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776-1858), and was purchased by General Henry William Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, later 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854) in 1813. Lord Uxbridge was a prominent British military leader, best remembered for leading a definitive cavalry charge against French troops at the Battle of Waterloo – and, of course, for one of the more striking portraits of the era, below.

As this short video about the clock shows, a Breguet timepiece like this carriage clock was not only an indispensable accessory for wealthy travelers (its features include an alarm clock!) but also a symbol of rank, wealth, and efficiency: all the generals on both sides of the Napoleonic wars carried Breguet watches. Technology aside, it's a breathtakingly beautiful work of art.

The clock is part of a stunning small show, Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, on view through February 2, 2014. If you've braved the lines for the current blockbuster show of Dutch masterpieces (yes, I did see The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch, too), it's worth leaving time to see this clocks and watches as well.

Below: Field Marshall Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, by John Hoppner & Sawrey Gilpin, 1798. National Trust Collection, Plas Newydd, Anglesey.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gothic Looking Glass for 1827

Thursday, January 16, 2014
View online here
Loretta reports:

I have to suppose that this piece would work in the appropriate surroundings, and there would have been any number of suitable houses for it, because Gothic was a popular style in the early 19th century.  Come to think of it, this would be the kind of thing you'd expect in Dracula's castle, except that—right—he wouldn't be able to use it.

Read online here  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Leopard Fur for Fashionable Feet, c.1910

Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Loretta and I are always on the hunt for interesting historical tidbits to share with you, and we never quite know when or how or where we'll find something new - or is that old? I discovered the curious furry object, left, on the "Winter Wonderland" Pinterest board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Check out our own Pinterest boards at Two Nerdy History Girls.)

What exactly is this luxurious accessory? It's a foot warmer, to be used by a stylish, wealthy woman while riding in her unheated horse-drawn carriage or daring new motorcar; think of it as a single slipper for both feet. Fashioned of costly leopard and fox fur (no modern stenciled calf or faux fur here), silk, and cotton, this foot warmer would have kept the chill from only the most pampered of silk-clad feet on their way to a ball. For the lady living in the pre-PETA Belle Époque who was already swathed in a fur coat, fur-trimmed gloves, and a fur muff, this must have been the final touch of extravagance – especially since it would have been a private luxury, and most likely never seen by anyone beyond the user.

Above: Foot warmer, probably French, first quarter 20th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Mysterious Samuel Crisp, Esquire

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Evening Coach, London from Greenwich
Loretta reports:

This apparently kindly gentleman has fallen into complete obscurity.  The Early Diary of Frances Burney offers some clues, mainly in explaining he’s not the Samuel Crisp she was so close to.  That one I could find plenty of information about.  This Samuel Crisp, who died on this day in 1784, leaves us only a rather sweet obituary and a number of tantalizing mysteries:  Why the daily London-to-Greenwich round trip? Where was the Lactarium?  What about those mile and half stones, Mrs. Henniver, and so on?
January 14.

In January, 1784, died suddenly in Macclesfield-street, Soho, aged 79, Sam. Crisp, esq., a relation of the celebrated sir Nicholas Crisp. There was a remarkable singularity in the character of this gentleman. He was a bachelor, had been formerly a broker in 'Change-alley, and many years since had retired from business, with an easy competency. His daily amusement, for fourteen years before, was going from London to Greenwich, and immediately returning from thence, in the stage; for which he paid regularly £27 a year. He was a good-humoured, obliging, and facetious companion, always paying a particular attention, and a profusion of compliments, to the ladies, especially to those who were agreeable. He was perpetually projecting some little schemes for the benefit of the public, or, to use his own favourite maxim, pro bono publico; he was the institutor of the Lactarium* in St. George's Fields, and selected the Latin mottoes
A Milkmaid
for the facetious Mrs. Henniver, who got a little fortune there. He projected the mile and half stones round London; and teased the printers of newspapers into the plan of letter-boxes. He was remarkably humane and benevolent, and, without the least ostentation, performed many generous and charitable actions, which would have dignified a more ample fortune.
—William Hone, The Every-Day Book

*Lactarium—an establishment for the sale of milk:  a dairy.

Illustrations courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Above left: Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, The Evening Coach, London from Greenwich (among other titles) 1805.
John Augustus Atkinson, A Milkmaid, undated.
Please click on captions to view the (enlargeable) illustrations on the Yale site.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Miserable Winter Weather, 1825

Sunday, January 12, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Considering how much of the Northern Hemisphere is wallowing in snow, sleet, and Arctic Vortex, this pair of prints from 1834 seems particularly appropriate. (As always, please click on the image to enlarge.)

Although they're ostensibly for the Christmas holidays – the caption below the man reads "A merry Christmas & a happy new year in London" while the woman's caption replies "The same to you, sir, & many of 'em"  – they're  more portraits in weather-related misery than any seasonal good cheer. Without the modern protection of down coats and waterproof boots, these two are not happy. The wind is blowing and the snow is wet, umbrellas are sprung and noses are red, and it's altogether clear that they would much rather be anywhere else, thank you very much.

The winter miseries also continue in the backgrounds. Here in the 21st century, we can't wait for the plows to arrive after a heavy snow, for a passable street is the first step back towards normalcy after a storm. But there were no snow-plows in 1825, and as these prints show, streets would have remained a snowy, slushy mess. Not only do other pedestrians slip and slide, but the horses do as well, no matter how the drivers exhort them to do otherwise. Up above, other men struggle to clear the rooftops, shoveling snow onto the hapless passersby below. Brrrrr!

Above: Detail, The same to you, sir, & many of 'em, George Hunt, printmaker. c. 1825, London. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Below: Detail, A merry Christmas & a happy new year in London, George Hunt, printmaker. c. 1825, London. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of January 6, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Here's a fresh serving of Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other websites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• Early 19th c. fashion prints showing half-mourning for royalty.
• Image: How to shoot your beloved? These young ladies were instructed by Cupid himself! The HagueKB76H5.
• "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog": How Mark Twain's first short story became the breakout bestseller of 1865.
• Fashion of the forgotten: researching the dress of indentured and enslaved women, 1750-90.
• A brief history of pointy-toed flats.
• This week in 1933, the Sacred Cod was stolen from the statehouse in the fish heist that shocked Massachusetts.
• New favorite website: Cinderella bibliography.
• Engine of terror: how Brixton made the treadmill famous (and infamous.)
• Image: Exciting (!!!) news about Jane Austen's little-known military career.
• The medical case for beards: Victorian doctors praised them as a filter, a relaxant, and a remedy for sore throats.
• Perfect for Downton Abbey viewing: 1920s recipe for English Scones.
• Recipe for 'Peristaltic Persuaders', 18th c remedy for constipation.
• Proof via Laura Ingalls Wilder: school wasn't canceled for bad weather in 1882.
• A giraffe sandwich? Researchers discover you could order one in ancient Pompeii.
• A carved skull clasp closes a pilgrim's portable Book of Hours, c.1500.
• A favorite gift for 19th c. readers in England and America: the illustrated gift annual.
Charlotte of Savoy, Queen of France (c1441-1483), was second wife to King Louis XI.
• Image: The Hampton Court moat as Henry VIII intended, thanks to recent floods.
• Buried alive: exploring the darkened waters of London's River Westbourne.
• Suffering through rheumatism in the 18th c: Lady Bristol endures joint pain, falls, & swollen feet, yet still continues duties at Court.
• Don't be an "Idle Dick"! Boys in prison encouraged to read picture stories, 1840.
Bejeweled fingertips: a vulgar, bedazzling fad of the moment in 1903.
• That most fashionable of restaurants in Gilded Age NYC: now-lost Delmonico's, 1897.
• Image: Making a cameo appearance, from the J.Paul Getty Museum.
• There was much more to George III than his madness - including his architectural drawing.
• Image: Wrapper from funeral biscuit, 1828, given to mourners at funeral for Mrs. Oliver.
• Surreal photos  taken this week of "Chiberia", the Second City's frozen shore - including an iceberg in Lake Michigan.
Twelfth Night, always an excuse for a big blow-out celebration in 18th c. England.
• Image: Northern Lights seen this week in Brighton over the Brighton Pavilion. 
• For once the developers didn't win: the prettiest building in Times Square has been saved & repurposed.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast, by Laurits Andersen Ring.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Casual Friday: Moose & Squirrel

Friday, January 10, 2014
Loretta reports:

Among the various effigies and tokens lining my desk is Rocket J. Squirrel.  He and Bullwinkle Moose, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, and all the supporting characters who lead various segments of the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show continue to infect my mind (with puns, among other things), and have probably found their way into my books in ways I may not even recognize. 

This nearly one-hour bio includes representative segments as well as historical insight into the time and circumstances that inspired the show. We have satirical animated cartoon series today, but for some of us, none can surpass Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

And Now a Coat for the Dogs, c.1777

Thursday, January 9, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Earlier this week I wrote a post about a tiny coat for a cat, made first by an 18th c. tailor's apprentice and recently replicated by the tailor's apprentice at Colonial Williamsburg. I can't offer a similar story about dressing an 18th c. dog (though I wouldn't be surprised if there's one out there), but I do have a coat that features an entire hunting pack.

The silver button, above, is one of a set (now in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg) that once belonged to a prominent colonial Virginian who enjoyed hunting. They were believed to have been first owned by Philip Lightfoot II, a wealthy 18th c. merchant and landowner who, like many Virginians, would have followed the fashions being set by the gentry in London. This would have not only included traditional fox-hunting on horseback, but also wearing the stylish clothes associated with country pursuits.

There are thirteen silver buttons in the set, enough for a typical sporting
gentleman's coat. Each button is different, engraved with the portrait and name of a different hunting dog. It's possible that these dogs were Lightfoot's favorites, commemorated in miniature portraits. But it's equally possible that the buttons had been purchased as a set with common dog names for the time (Ranger and Rover being the Georgian equivalent to Max and Rocky.) There are other existing examples of similar buttons with many of the same names, so it's even possible that some real dogs were named after those depicted on the buttons. See here for a slideshow of all the buttons.

The buttons inspired two different divisions of Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Trades programs. The Silversmiths recreated the set plus several smaller buttons (engraved with foxes!) suitable for cuffs, complete with the same portraits and names. Then the Tailors cut and sewed a coat appropriate for the buttons. (The coat was copied from a 1777 print  called The Spruce Sportsman.The coat is made of wool broadcloth, trimmed with gold lace, lined with silk taffeta, and with chamois lining the pockets. Although it does have a military air, to an 18th c. gentleman it would definitely have been a hunting coat, especially appropriate for a Christmastide fox hunt.

Top: Dog button, silver, 18th c. Colonial Williamsburg Museums. Photograph courtesy Colonial Williamsburg.
Below: Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What is elastic in the early 19th century?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
View online here

Loretta reports:

Lil commented on my December 1809 fashions post:

<<One thing I noticed was the "elastic belt" on the first costume. Was what we think of as elastic available then, or was Arbiter Elegantiarum speaking of something else?>>

PickyPicky was curious about the term as well, since India rubber did not become available until later in the century—or did it?

I guessed at a stretchy knit interpretation but Commenter ista said:

<<Elastic could mean knitted, but it also could mean narrow tightly wound springs in channels, there are a couple of extant examples in collections. For example (click here).>>

<< Here's another c1805 garment with 'elastic' wire springs - which are no longer taut. From memory there's another in the Kyoto Costume Institute. (and yes I'm a clothing nerd)>>

My own sleuthing produced the following:

Among the recent inventions at Paris— an elastic stiffening of a vegetable substance has been invented, instead of that spiral brass wire now used for shoulder-straps, glove-tops, corsets, &c.: it is valuable, because it neither cuts the cloth that covers it, nor corrodes with verdigris : it is said to be made of Indian rubber, and promises to be exceedingly useful in belts, &c. The French queen was pleased to express her approbation of some useful articles of dress made in the national colours of this material, presented to her by Mad. Reybert, of the rue Louis le Grand.
The Lady's Magazine, 1830

View online here
Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century offers the following quotation, which I’ve so far been unable to find online:

Corsets.  ‘A recent discovery...substituting India rubber for elastic wires, the rubber is manufactured in strong but delicate fibres which possess all the elasticity of wire without being subject to snap or to corrode.’ (1831)

Thanks to our commenters’ questions & answers—and ista gets a gold star for providing the info and links—we’ve learned that the elastic referred to in the 1809 description wasn’t stretchy knit, as I guessed, but wire springs. Rubbery stretchiness didn't happen to clothing until 1830, an invention as revolutionary, perhaps, and useful as spandex.

Upper left, Ficus Elastica illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants (1887), courtesy Wikipedia.

Lower right, Rubber Trees near Palm Beach, 1880-1897 courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Unsupervised Tailor's Apprentice & the Christmas Coat for a Cat, c. 1775

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Most memoirs written by veterans of the Revolutionary War concentrate on glorious battles won, comrades lost, and patriotic fervor. But the memoirs of James Potter Collins (1763-1844) also include this entertaining anecdote from his days as a twelve-year-old tailor's apprentice with a bit too much unsupervised time.

"I had been at work about two months when Christmas came on – and here I must relate a little anecdote. The principal [the tailor] and his lady were invited to a party among their friends...while it devolved on me to stay at home and keep house. There was nothing left me in charge to do, only to take care of the house. There was a large cat that generally lay about the fire. In order to try my mechanical powers, I concluded to make a suit of clothing for puss, and for my purpose gathered some scraps of cloth that lay about the shop-board, and went to work as hard as I could. Late in the evening I got my suit of clothes finished; I caught the cat, put on the whole suit – coat, vest, and small-clothes [breeches] – buttoned all on tight, and set down my cat to inspect the fit; unfortunately for me there was a hole through the floor close to the fireplace, just large enough for the cat to pass down; after making some efforts to get rid of the clothes, and failing, pussy descended through the hole and disappeared; the floor was tight and the house underpinned with brick, so there was no chance of pursuit. I consoled
myself with a hope that the cat would extricate itself from its incumbrance, but not so; night came and I had made on a good fire and seated myself for some two or three hours after dark, when who should make their appearance but my master and mistress and two young men, all in good humor, with two or three bottles of rum. After all were seated around the fire, who should appear amongst us but the cat in his uniform. I was struck speechless, the secret was out and had no chance of concealing; the cat was caught, the whole work inspected and the question asked, is this your day's work? I was obliged to answer in the affirmative; I would then have been willing to take a good whipping, and let it stop there, but no, to complete my mortification the clothes were carefully taken off the cat and hung up in the shop for the inspection of all customers that came in."
–– Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier, by James Potter Collins, published 1859

With his own master away from the shop for the holiday, Michael McCarty, above, a tailor's apprentice in the Historic Trades program, Colonial Williamsburg, was inspired to copy Collins' achievement, and make a miniature red hunting coat for his own cat. The coat was made to measure like every 18th c. gentleman's coat would have been, and cut and sewn entirely by hand of fine red woolen, trimmed in black with tiny covered buttons and gold-thread buttonholes. And just like young Collins' cat-coat, Michael's handiwork was on display in the shop window throughout the Christmas season, below left – although someday I'd really like to see it on the cat, too.

Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott. More photos on the Tailors Shop Facebook page here.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fashions for January 1827, with White Wedding Dress

Sunday, January 5, 2014
View online here

Loretta reports:

Well, how could I resist this promenade dress?  Meant for walking or driving, it makes some concession to the January weather, with the chinchilla trim and muff. Oh, and the hat!  But equally interesting, I trust, is the white wedding dress.  As we've discussed before (including here and here), white wedding dresses were not at all uncommon before Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840.
View online here

Read online here

Read online here

Fashions from Ackermann's Repository, January 1827, from the Internet Archive, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of December 30, 2013

Saturday, January 4, 2014
Happy new year! We're back with a bountiful collection of Breakfast Links for you - links to all our recent fav web sites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Early circulating libraries and Jane Austen.
• Saving face: beauty for women workers during the First World War.
• Is the famous 19th c. painting Washington Crossing the Delaware obscene? Some schools have thought so.
• Rare 18th c. "Incroyable" male fashion doll displayed new styles to gentlemen.
• How humans made squirrels part of the urban environment.
• Another point of view: squirrels as symbols of Satan, of spite, and of saving.
• Michelangelo's handwritten (and illustrated) 16th c. grocery list.
• "You are certainly a very bad woman": the case of Mary Moriarty, a regular of the 1830s magistrates' courts.
• Before drivers' licenses and SSNs, some 19th c. civilians used the equivalent of commercial dog tags for ID.
• Image: Women in the dissection room, Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1892.
• New Years gifts to the "deserving poor" from Queen Victoria, 1853.
• Animal crackers: the long English tradition of keeping exotic animals.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as translated into Latin and set in plainsong: amazingly beautiful, too.
• Victorian adventures and terrible tales, all part of the Illustrated Police News.
Paws, pee, & mice: cats among medieval manuscripts.
• Making up Hollywood: makeup maven Max Factor, who created the "cupid's bow" lips and made Rudolph Valentino a heartthrob.
• Image: Two stones thrown by Suffragists at Buckingham Palace 100 years ago.
• Here come the brides! Behind-the-scenes blog leading up spring installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum of wedding gowns from 1775-2014.
• The most boring thing on your plate is about to get amazing: parsley, the herb of death.
• Christmas in prison in 1839.
• In the background: art you may never notice in museum dioramas.
Jewish boxes as "enforcers" during the Covent Garden Old Price War of 1809.
Electric corsets, the very thing for ladies c. 1890.
• Image: Sentimental or grotesque? Charles Dickens' letter opener, made from the taxidermied paw of his beloved pet cat, Bob.
• To make Lemon Cheesecakes: 18th c. recipe plus modern version.
• Weeping sailors: British manliness, 1760-1860.
• The snooty Astor Place Opera House in New York City is ruined when a rival secretly rents the house for a dog and monkey show in 1852.
• Be merry and drink perry, a popular 17th c. pear wine - even in Puritan Massachusetts.
• Human trophies: the skull is a familiar memento mori, but during the Second World War, it also became a controversial souvenir.
• New Years' gifts for Queen Elizabeth I, 1599-1600.
• Domestic cats enjoyed village life in China 5,300 years ago.
• Models on 1920s postcards labelled with the names of the real-life lovers who sent cards.
Pitchcocked eels: English tavern dining in the 18th c.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
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