Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Video: Young Frankenstein

Friday, October 31, 2014
Lightning strike
Loretta reports:

Continuing in Halloween week mode, I offer a snippet from Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein, which will be 40 years old in December.  In that time, I have watched it only 60 or 70 times. 

I’ll tell my favorite line if you’ll tell yours.

Image of lightning strike, 1942, courtesy  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC.

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, October 30, 2014

The Lady & the Mirror

Thursday, October 30, 2014
Loretta reports:

Continuing in Halloween Week mode—

While attending an event at the Spencer Country Inn, I took photos of some of the place’s many antiques.  After all, one never knows what image might come in handy one day to illustrate a 2NHG blog.  It was only later, while I was sitting and chatting with friends and family members, that I noticed this picture in a distant corner of the room.  It seemed completely out of place in an area filled with baskets and old tools and milk bottles and antique cash registers and no Halloween décor whatsoever.

When I walked up for a closer look—and to take a photo, of course—the print turned out to be not exactly what I thought it was.  Or was it?  As will not surprise you, I conducted an internet search as soon as I got home.

If you've never seen this image before, you might want to try flying without Google, and telling us in the Comments what you make of it.  Or, you can click on the links below or do your own search.

The artist.   What it’s about.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jeremy Bentham's Head & Other Matters

Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Loretta reports:

Like anybody else who studied English history, I knew who Jeremy Bentham was.

But I did not know he was still hanging around the University College of London until a respected U.S. newspaper pointed this out.  The paper also reported as fact what turns out to be mainly a myth that accreted, as myths often do, around the truth.

Jeremy Bentham wanted his body preserved and kept on display.  He definitely wanted to encourage dissection. He believed, too, that his preserved body would be a useful educational tool.  He believed others’ bodies should be preserved for posterity, too, as what he called “Auto Icons.”

Though, having been dissected, his body wasn't actually preserved, his skeleton was duly stuffed with straw and dressed.  He had hoped to have his head mummified, and somebody did try to carry out his wishes, but the result wasn’t pretty.  Instead, a wax head was made and stuck on.  The real one apparently sat at his feet for a while, then was stored in a cabinet.  Now it’s in temperature-controlled storage, in the care of conservation staff.

This page shows you the full auto-icon and other images, including a photo of Bentham with his mummified head between his feet.

Here is a 360º view.

Contrary to myth, Bentham did not leave money to the University College of London on condition his body appear at University Board Meetings and noted as “present but not voting.”  He did show up for a board meeting in 2013, though.

You can read more here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Beautiful (and Romantic) 18th c. Man's Shirt from "The Diligent Needle" Exhibition

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Today I'm posting one of the breathtaking examples of needlework from The Diligent Needle: Instrument of Profit, Pleasure, & Ornament, an exhibition currently showing at Winterthur Museum. 

Hung against a dark wall, this 18th c. man's linen shirt is almost sculptural in its pristine perfection. I've written other posts about similar shirts here and here, so I won't repeat how they're made, how often they're laundered, or who wore them.

So why write about another one here (except, of course, because it's so stunningly beautiful)? While most men of every class purchased shirts made by tailors (remember that at this time, the primary cost of any garment lay in the fabric, not the labor), shirts were one of the few garments that wives and mothers could, and did, make at home. The economical geometry of 18th c. shirts made them comparatively easy to cut out and sew, and the voluminous shape did away with any challenging issues of fitting. The simple construction focused the attention on the stitching, and an accomplished seamstress could display her gifts for perfect tiny stitches and neat hems, left. Fancy needlework was admired, but skillful plain sewing like this was almost considered a wifely virtue.

Shirts were also intimate garments, worn next to the skin, and for most men at this time who still had not adopted the new-ish fashion for underdrawers, the tails of shirts also served as underwear. All of these reasons made a well-stitched shirt a popular gift from a bride or newlywed wife to her husband, and they are often mentioned in letters and diaries of the time. A new wife could proudly cloth her husband with her own labors and romantically think of him with every stitch, while he in turn would also be proud to wear a shirt that showed his new wife was accomplished and frugal.

Although the curators at Winterthur don't know either who made or wore this shirt, their guess is that it was one of these "newlywed" shirts. Not does its sparkling condition hint at a shirt that was perhaps put aside as a keepsake, but the stitcher also added a small, sentimental touch: at the bottom of the neck-opening, serving as a reinforcement, is a small appliqued heart, right. Awww....

Above: Shirt, maker unknown, linen, probably made in America, c1790-1820. Winterthur Museum.
Photographs © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stolen Bodies in 1826

Monday, October 27, 2014
Resurrectionists at work

Loretta reports:

In the days before x-rays (near the turn of the 20th century), the only way to see what was inside the human body was to cut it open and actually look inside, preferably after death.  As Judith Flanders points out in The Invention of Murder, “medical schools officially used only the corpses of executed criminals for dissection.”  The trouble was, there weren’t enough dead criminals to keep up with the demand.  Enterprising individuals started digging up the recently interred from graveyards and selling the bodies to anatomy lecturers.  Desperate for fresh corpses, the latter didn’t ask awkward questions.

What I didn’t realize until reading Ms. Flanders’s book was, this was only “semi-illegal (‘semi’ because dead bodies in law belonged to no one; resurrectionists could be charged only with stealing grave clothes).” The info comes as part of her introduction to the Burke and Hare case of the late 1820s.*

My excerpt from The Gentleman’s Magazine (Volume 96, Part 2; Volume 140, 1826) is shortly before Burke & Hare, and the “friend of anatomical pursuits" is a lot more finicky about how the bodies are obtained than medical schools were.

Image: Hablot Knight Browne, Resurrectionists at work, accompanying the story of John Holmes and Peter Williams, whipped for stealing dead bodies in 1777, from The chronicles of crime; or, The new Newgate calendar, being a series of memoirs and anecdotes of notorious characters who have outraged the laws of Great Britain from the earliest period to 1841 (later ed. 1887)

*More here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of October 20, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014
Fresh for you - our weekly roundup of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered for you via Twitter.
• Fashion myths: Roger Vivier's coronations shoes.
• Mourning the short-lived children of John and Dorothy Hancock.
• Regency fashion victim: "An Exquisite alias  Dandy in Distress!"
• With and without: how wearing a corset affects you and your clothes.
• Beautiful fish art by 19th c. convict transported to Tasmania for stealing a coat.
• The forgotten female "shell shock" victims of World War One.
Image: Wonderful headstone for Dewey the Cat (1898-1910).
• The House of Doucet, a 19th c. pillar of fashion.
Tape loom weaving and its traditions in the North American colonies.
• The princess, a ruff, and an eyepatch.
• Portrait of a lady? Exhibition aims to stop the spread of Jane Austenization.
• The Divine Sarah Bernhardt upstages the spirits at a Spiritualist seance in New York, 1893.
Image: The St. Pancras Smallpox Hospital in London in the 18th c.; now the site of the King's Cross station.
• The House of Correction for bad wives, 1791.
• The now-lost 1763 Rhinelander warehouse survived in Lower Manhattan until 1892 due to a baseless rumor that lives on today.
• The tale of Lord Byron's ill-fated doctor, John Poliodori.
• Why students give teachers apples and more from the fruit's juicy past.
Image: early photo of Piazza San Marco in Venice, 1870.
• Letter from Queen Anne (Anne Boleyn.)
• Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, other authors, share their best writing advice.
• Big pockets, little pockets: a question of pocket equality for women.
• Flirting with death: the subject of death plays a part in popular culture (and a new fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Image: 18th c. wedding dress of Queen of Sweden.
• Haunting homes: Ohio's abandoned country houses.
• How flowers conquered the world.
• Do NOT try this at home: Mrs. Corlyon's toxic pimple remedy.
• Interesting selection of 1880s-1890s Liberty Art fabrics.
• The golden age of outhouses.
• Beautiful Elder Street, Spitalfields, London, in 1935 and 2013.
• An endangered species: Britain's non-royal duchesses.
Image: Grave of 14th c. couple holding hands.
Paisley, cashmere, pashmina....
• New site gives a tour through the making of a medieval manuscript.
• The 1829 story of the late Female Husband, wife-beater and model of restraint.
• A tornado, some executions, and a flood of beer.
• Just for fun: Wren Behaving Badly.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Video: A Medieval Hedgehog Tale

Friday, October 24, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Today's short video, De Herinacio: On the Hedgehog, is no ordinary nature video. Instead it's a charming animation inspired by a 13th c. English medieval bestiary, the Rochester Bestiary, now in the British Library (shown right.) This story of how hedgehogs collect grapes from vineyards for their families is imaginative, even if it bears little resemblance to real hedgehog behavior; you can read more about the story here on the British Library blog.

The video was made by Obrazki nunu and Discarding Images. Yes, it's in Latin, but there are English subtitles, and it's just delightful.

If you receive our posts via email, then you may be seeing a blank space or black box in place of the video. To view it, please click here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail

Thursday, October 23, 2014
Loretta reports:

Continuing my report on Astrida Schaeffer’s lecture at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA: 

As promised, today we look at Embellishments:  Constructing Victorian Detail, Ms. Schaeffer’s book accompanying what clearly was a marvelous exhibition.  On display were twenty-five garments from the Victorian era, from the Irma Bowen Collection of the University of New Hampshire Museum.

The book helps explain, as described in the first chapter, “The Victorian Aesthetic Mindset.”  This is an aesthetic some some may think of as Wretched Excess or clutter, because it seems so busy to the 21st century eye.

But it reflects a time of burgeoning consumerism, expanded international connections, and the many “technologies, discoveries, and opportunities bursting out of the Industrial Revolution.”  Even without fully understanding the aesthetic, however, we can appreciate the beauty and workmanship of these garments.  This book lets us get up close and personal.

We’re treated not only to close views of design details but instructions for making them as well.  The photographs and illustrations are simply spectacular, and made me wish I had the skills to try recreating some of the adornments.  You can view sample pages here and images from the exhibition here.

Do check out the dashing Art Nouveau coat (back view second from left in first photo, front view at right of fourth and fifth photos).  That's my favorite.  Which garment do you like best?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ugbrooke Park: Saving a Historic English Country House

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Many of us Nerdy History Folk dream of living in a grand English country house, whether Pemberley, Downton Abbey, or, in the case of Loretta and me, the imagined house in our current WIPs. But in too many cases, that dream country house proves more of a nightmare for the families who inherit estates burdened with taxes and hundreds of years of deferred maintenance. The scores of servants necessary to support such an estate have vanished, and in many cases the necessary income necessary has disappeared as well. It's estimated that 1 in 6 of the great English country houses has been demolished in the last 75 years, and the inescapable economics of a long-gone way of life means that others houses are sure to meet the same fate.

But one house that teetered on the bring of such a disaster has returned to flourish: Ugbrooke Park, located in Devon. Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Clarissa Clifford, Lady Clifford of Chudleigh, and the current mistress of Ugbrooke Park, speak at Winterthur Museum about both the challenges and rewards that Ugbrooke has offered.

The Cliffords have the kind of family history that novelists like me love. Scattered through the centuries are a royal mistress and an Elizabethan privateer, an adventuresome lord who rode the American plains with General Custer, another who became a cardinal, and yet another who was an eccentric famous for founding the Mystic Evolution Society.

But the ancestor most important to Ugbrook was Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron of Chudleigh, who was one of the most trusted of Charles II's ministers. (If you've read any of my Restoration-set historical novels, then you'll recognize Lord Clifford's name, even though he wasn't well-liked by any of my heroines.) In return for Lord Clifford's services, the king granted him the land that would become Ugbrooke.

The 4th Lord Clifford, Hugh, transformed the property extensively in the late 18th century, adding beautiful interiors by Robert Adam and landscapes and gardens by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. The turreted exterior with a medieval flavor was the latest fashion at the time, but a mixed success in a land of Palladian symmetry; it's that somewhat squat appearance that has earned Ugbrooke its reputation as an "architectural ugly duckling."

But over the centuries, the house's fortunes declined. While the 20th c. members of the family preferred their lands in New Zealand, Ugbrooke languished, serving as a school, a refuge for soldiers, and, most ignominiously, a granary. When the 13th Lord Clifford returned with his family in 1957, he began the monumental challenge of making the house once again fit to be a home, a task that the 14th Lord Clifford continues today.

There were many decisions to be made. Instead of restoring the house into a museum-like setting, the family chose to make it a family home with modern amenities where the children's pets were as important as the Robert Adam ceilings. History was respected and embraced – one of the highlights of the restoration was discovering Adam's
working drawings – but never overshadowed the present. Budgets were strict, and addressing unglamorous projects like new roofs, dry rot, and plumbing were methodically accomplished year by year. To help fund the restoration, a family heirloom – the state papers of the secret 1670 Treaty of Dover between Charles II and Louis XIV that had been given to the first Lord Clifford for safekeeping – was sold at auction.

Lady Clifford is a professional London-based interior designer who, after her marriage, threw herself whole-heartedly into the house's rebirth on a budget. Stables and attics were searched, and long-neglected furnishings were restored and given a fresh place in the house. Murky forgotten paintings became glorious again once cleaned and rehung. When recreating an elaborate plaster frieze proved prohibitively expensive, a printed trompe l'oeil version was substituted instead. After a half-century, the transformation is still on-going, but that's to be expected when your renovation has more than eighty rooms.

Today Ugbrooke Park has a new life as Ugbrooke Enterprises. The estate can be hired for destination weddings, corporate retreats, concerts, and hunting parties, and also hosts events as diverse as classic automobile shows and whippet fun days. Lord and Lady Clifford entertain overnight guests from around the world, including groups from Winterthur. (You can read more here on Ugbrooke's website.)

And from Lady Clifford's presentation, I'd say Ugbrooke looks once again thoroughly dream-worthy.

For another country house that's being pulled back from the brink of disaster by its determined family, see this post on Highclere Castle, otherwise known as Downton Abbey. For one that sadly wasn't as fortunate, see here for Mavisbank.

Photos top and bottom left copyright Patrick Baty.
Photos right copyright Ugbrooke.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Victorian Corsets: Some Facts & Myths—update

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Loretta reports:

I had the good fortune recently to attend a lecture by historic fashion and textile expert Astrida Schaeffer at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA.  Ms. Schaeffer very kindly gave me permission to take photographs of her lecture.*

As this blog’s regular readers are aware, we periodically point out fashion myths, especially those about corsets.**  However, my research area is the early part of the 19th century, not the Victorian era, so I was interested to distinguish truth from myth regarding later corsets, constructed with materials like steel and metal grommets strong enough to allow more intense tightening.

The changes were not as extreme as we tend to think.  No, the 16”-18” waist wasn’t the norm but the exception.  Ms. Schaeffer presented several images showing the waist we associate with Victorian women, and pointed out that these were not usual, but corset ads or images of actresses whose claim to fame was a teeny tiny waist.  The average woman didn’t go to this extreme.  Her corset was meant to create a smooth line under her clothing, and she came in all shapes and sizes as women do today.

Waist differences illustration source
Ms. Schaeffer also pointed out the way the corset redistributed flesh.  From the front, the waist appears narrow, especially with a great skirt ballooning out below.  But if we look at the lady from the side, she’s rather wider.  The experiment was tried with an actual human being, and the picture shows what happened.

These images, front and side, give you an idea.

Another false image is the Victorian woman lying or swooning on her sofa  because her corset prevents activity.  Also not true.  I couldn’t keep up with all the photographic examples, but here’s just one, of women jumping rope.  In other photos from The Happy Valley, they’re climbing fences and jumping down from them, ice skating and roller skating, running, leaping fearlessly from stairs, and so on.  As we’ve pointed out before, when you live in a world where the corset is the norm and not wearing one is abnormal, you are simply accustomed to doing everything wearing a corset.  It doesn’t debilitate you.  If you’re in the last stages of a galloping consumption, that’s another story entirely.

If all goes smoothly, I’ll have something to say at another time soon about Ms. Schaeffer’s book, Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail.

The gold dress, c. 1896, which belonged to Ellen Rodman Motley, is part of the museum’s extensive collection of clothing.  A small but fine selection is on view at present.

Update:  Belated credit to The Pragmatic Costumer, whose illustration above, of the waist differences was included in the lecture, but whose source I was unaware of.  Please check out her post, which is much more informative than I could ever be.

*Not wishing to be obnoxious about it, I limited photo-taking to one or two examples in each  subject she covered.
**Please click on the corsets label for more on the topic.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

From the Archives: Queen Victoria's Baby Tooth Brooch, 1847

Sunday, October 19, 2014
Isabella reporting:

Yes, it's that finish-the-infernal-manuscript time again, and so for today I'm sharing a favorite post from our archives. 

I'll freely admit that I'm as sentimental as most mothers, and that like a lot of us, I squirreled away my children's first lost baby teeth as mementos. They're tucked in my desk, inelegantly sealed in business envelopes, preserved for...something.

But then, I'm not Queen Victoria (1819-1901).

When Victoria's oldest child, the Princess Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1901), shed her first baby tooth, it, too, was preserved, though not in a lowly envelope. The seven-year-old princess's father, Prince Albert (1819- 1861) tugged the tooth free himself in 1847, while the royal family was visiting Ardverikieby Loch Laggan, as a guest of the Duke of Abercorn. As a memento of both the enjoyable visit (Victoria was so smitten with Scotland that she soon purchased Balmoral Castle as her own retreat in the Highlands) and to commemorate the landmark event in Princess Vicky's young life, Albert had the tooth made into a special brooch, left, for Victoria. Set in gold, the tooth forms the blossom of a gold and enamel thistle, the symbolic wildflower of Scotland. A "private" piece of jewelry as opposed to royal jewels for state occasions, the small brooch had never been shared with the public until 2010, when it was included in the Victoria & Albert: Art & Love exhibition at Buckingham Palace.

It's easy to dismiss a brooch featuring a baby's tooth as one more example of slightly macabre 19th c. taste, but in some circles, such mother's jewelry is still made and worn. Check out actress Susan Sarandon's custom-made bracelet, featuring her children's assorted baby teeth as the charms.

Above: Brooch, gold, enamel, & tooth, 1847. Commissioned by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria. Photo copyright The Royal Collection.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of October 13, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014
Served up fresh for you - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, all gathered via Twitter.
Dudes of the Dutch Republic.
• Woman's hilarious tale of her husband and the healing power of tea, 1733.
Edinburgh in calotype: atmospheric images from the earliest days of photography.
• Marie Antoinette's last letter before she was taken to the guillotine.
• Strange story of documents thrown overboard and later recovered from a shark's stomach, 1799.
Image: Art Nouveau leather, gold, and gem-set owl purse, 1905.
• Delight in the splendor of the Belle Epoque with this publication from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, free to read online or download.
• Mad for plaid: George III, tartan archer.
• Top ten haunted hotspots that make up England's spookiest sites.
Image: Pembroke Castle, by Paul Sandby, 1808.
• The peripatetic life of 19th c. traveller Isabella Bird.
• Try not to end up in a squalid boarding house or addicted to laudanum: dating advice from classic literature.
• The historical difference between "Miss" and "Mrs." : starting point - they're both short for Mistress.
• For whom the ghost tolls: an irritating sort of haunting in Bedford-Stuyvesant, NY, 1901.
Image: an oh-so-striking red redingote, 1810.
Jeanne Garnerin, 18th c. female ballooning and parachuting pioneer.
• Modern science reveals secrets of the mummified corpse of 2,500 Siberian princess.
Image: Luncheon menu from Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, celebrating the 60th year of her reign.
• The top remedies of the 17th c. that you'd probably want to avoid today.
• The high cost of appearing fashionably rustic: details of an 18th c. stomacher.
• Privately held photos of Titanic's launch shown for the first time.
Bachelors looking for love in 1910: pretty sure bachelor #22 is still on OKCupid.
Image: Magical 15th c. house in gorgeous gardens, Stoneacre, Kent.
French soldier's room unchanged 96 years after his death in World War One.
• The 18th c. mystery of Oliver Cromwell's missing head.
• True story behind the myth of Mrs. O'Leary's cow starting the Great Chicago Fire.
• What do Columbus and Tony Soprano tell us about the history of American immigration?
• When fonts were FONTS: the Caslon Letter Foundry, London, 1902.
Image: Spectropia: an exquisitely stunning spooky book cover, beautiful gentle lettering.
• What tattoos can reveal about the lives of the Victorian poor.
• Chop-chop-chop chopines: a part of 17th c. Venetian shoes.
• Meet the Teddy Girls, the forgotten 1950s Girl Gang.
• Diagrammatic writings of UK asylum patient, first published in 1870.
Image: The Victorians knew a thing or two about traveling in style....
• Never stiff the undertaker: "The Undertaker's Revenge" with a mysterious death and missing entrails.
• Lantern slides with theater etiquette for early 20th c. movie-goers.
• Recipes from the 17th c. for St. Anthony's Fire.
• The forgotten (and now long-gone) streets of old Chelsea.
Image: Dior photoshoot at the Acropolis in 1951.
• What made a "fine gentleman" in 1783.
• Princess Victoria's cycling adventure, 1901.
• Ancient Viking treasure hoard including old textiles discovered in Scotland.
Image: Amazing detail in the costume: Portrait of Aletta Hanemans by Frans Hals.
• For fans of Sleepy Hollow and Washington Irving: retracing the journey of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman through the real Sleepy Hollow.
• Just for fun: British parrot missing for four years returns home speaking Spanish.
• And a just-for-fun image: Library Cake.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Casual Friday: Victorians get funny

Friday, October 17, 2014
Street Acrobats
Loretta reports:

No YouTube video today, because of my brain.  But I am sharing a link to some amusing photographs of those supposedly prim and proper Victorians.

You can view them here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Modern Face in an 18th c. Painting

Thursday, October 16, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Fashions in faces and beauty change just as they do in clothing. Often portraits of famous beauties of the past fail to convey that magic to modern viewers, who just can't figure out how THAT face launched a thousand ships - or at least rocked some long-ago king's world.

And then there are portraits that seem almost shockingly modern, with faces that stand out in a gallery like a misplaced time-traveller. I saw this young lady yesterday in the Winterthur Museum, and had exactly that response. Painted by colonial artist John Durand around the time of the American Revolution, her face to me seemed as modern as any other teenager at the mall today. The museum's placard:

In 1834, an early critic of John Durand's work called his style "hard and dry." Durand's charming portrayal of the then-unmarried Miss Briggs as a woman of talent with a confident gaze and self-assured presence belies this assessment. By selecting a cittern – a Renaissance-style stringed instrument – and fashionable garb for her portrait, Dorothy Briggs declared herself both a member of the Virginia gentry and a woman of the world.

Maybe it's that "confident gaze and self-assured presence" that make Dorothy stand apart from other, more demure women's' portraits from the same time period. Maybe it's the little wisps of her dark hair that have slipped free around her ears, or the way she wears her elaborate silk gown with such nonchalance. What's your opinion - do you think she looks more 18th century than 21st?

Update: Although Winterthur's placard listed Dorothy's instrument as a cittern, two of our sharp-eyed friends - Neal Hurst and Natalie Garbett have since more correctly identified it as an English guitar, an instrument popular in 18thc Britain. Here's an example of one from the Ashmolean Museum via Natalie. Thanks to you both!

Above: Dorothy Pleasants Briggs (Mrs. John Nicholas), by John Durand, 1775-1782. Photo by Herb Crossan, Winterthur Museum.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

George Cruikshank's Ode to October

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Cruikshank, Return to Town

Loretta reports:

Comic poetry from the early 19th century tends to be rife with puns and topical references completely incomprehensible to most readers today, even those of us who spend large portions of our time studying or writing about the era.  With a little concentration, however, this one becomes reasonably clear.  And it’s certainly relevant to anybody who’s gone on a holiday/vacation that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. 

I also wanted to introduce those of you who haven’t already encountered it to the dizzyingly prolific George Cruikshank’s Comic Almanack.  While some of the prose and poetry is written in what is, to the 21st century reader, more or less a foreign language, his illustrations offer wonderful glimpses of London in the early 1800s.

Cruikshank, Return to Town

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mad for Plaid: The Prince Regent, a Bestselling Author, & Flirtatious Plaid Boots

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Isabella reporting,

In 18th c. Britain, tartan plaids were politically charged textiles. As I mentioned in this blog about a 1785 Scottish wedding gown, the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 led to laws prohibiting the wearing of plaids by Highland Scots as a sign of rebellion. Time softened the symbolism to the English, and the laws were repealed in 1782. But whenever a caricaturist wished to portray a less-than-flattering image of a Scot, the figure was always swathed in plaid, and the distinctive graphic fabric continued to carry a whiff of rebellion and treachery.

That all began to change with the publication of Sir Walter Scott's historical novel Waverley in 1814. Long fascinated by the stories and legends of the Scottish Borders, Scott set his novel against the dramatic events of the Jacobite Uprising. Waverley became a publishing sensation, selling thousands of copies in Britain, Europe, and America, and inspiring Scott to write many more novels with Highland settings.

Among Waverley's fans was George, the Prince Regent, who invited Scott as the "author of Waverley" to dine with him in 1815. The prince became so fascinated by the romanticized world of Scott's books that, once he ascended to the throne, he became the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland nearly two hundred years, making a lavish tour in 1822. Always one to enjoy the pageantry of the monarchy, George embraced Scot's suggestion that he portray himself as a new Jacobite ruler, a regal clan chieftain through his Stuart blood, as a way to help restore the pride - and the loyalty - of the Highlanders.

For the festivities, George ordered an elaborate highland costume of a scarlet tartan. His outfit was supposed to represent the "ancient dress" of the Highlander, but with the gold braid, plumes, and pink tights to cover his bare knees - and at the cost of over £1,000 – it was more fancy-dress than ancient. He wore the outfit for a heroic portrait in 1829, right. As can be imagined, the caricaturists were less kind, lower left.

But the rehabilitation of the traditional Scottish plaid had begun. As Loretta featured earlier this month, tartans were already appearing in stylish dresses as early as 1822. Queen Victoria was another fan of Sir Walter Scott's romantic version of the Highlands, and she, too, embraced all things Scottish - including tartans. Fashionable society followed where the queen led, and by the mid-19th c., Highlands-inspired plaids were everywhere, from children's clothing to lavish silk gowns for evening.

Which brings me (finally) to the women's tartan boots, above left. These were probably the "fast fashion" of their time; their construction is inexpensive, and no effort was made to match the plaids. But their bright colors and fringed tops are cheerfully fun, and it's easy to imagine these boots peeking flirtatiously from beneath the hem of a crinoline skirt - and all less than a century after that symbolic Highlands wedding dress.

Many thanks to Kimberly Alexander for first spotting these boots.

Above left: Women's Tartan Boots, c. 1860.  Cora Ginsburg.
Right: George IV in Highland Dress, by David Wilkie, 1829, Apsley House.
Lower left: Detail, Turtle doves and turtle soup! by George Cruikshank, 1822. Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Budgeting for servants in 1825

Monday, October 13, 2014
Loo in the kitchin
Loretta reports:

Once upon a time, labor was cheap.  Mr. Darcy’s ten thousand pounds a year would have made for a large staff at Pemberley.

The following budgets, from Samuel & Sarah Adams's, The Complete Servant, show that even ladies and gentlemen of modest means could afford at least one servant.  Though the figures are for 1825, we can get a general idea of what, say, Mr. Bennett’s annual income might have been, based on the size of his household staff.
staff acc. to income
staff acc. to income


 The Complete Servant is available online at Google Books.

Image, Loo in the kitchin [sic] or, High life belowstairs, 1799 courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of October 6, 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014
The leaves may be beginning to fall, but our Breakfast Links are going strong - our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images via Twitter.
• The most popular girls names in Tudor England.
• An "honest" garment: the traditional Scottish shepherd's maud.
• The Litchfield Academy and schoolgirl embroidery in 18th-19th c. Connecticut River Valley.
Decoding diplomacy: how John Adams and John Quincy Adams used ciphers & codes in their correspondence.
Image: Marie Curie's notebook, 1899-1902, is still so radioactive that it cannot be handled.
• The last days of Edgar Allan Poe were almost as grim as one of his own stories.
• Rediscovered: previously unknown photo of three of General Robert E.Lee's female slaves.
• Infamous 15th c. prophesier Mother Shipton & how she has been sensationalized for centuries.
• The perks of being a 19th c. courtesan.
Image: Rembrandt, the king of the selfies.
• The 18th c. merchant who was swallowed up by an earthquake but lived to be buried twice.
• The role of women in 1737, from virgin to widow (plus recipes.)
• Which photograph is the "real" one of the Bronte sisters?
• Shaker recipe for apple butter from 1871 uses all the edible parts of the apple.
* Hideous (?) Georgian hats.
• The ghost of Merry Andrew: a forgotten bodysnatcher tale.
Image: An 18th c. street vendor with a basket full of tiny pigs made of pie crust.
• Had-colored etchings of 1870s Parisian street scenes.
• Nine perfect works from the illustrator who ruled the Mad Men era.
• Interesting way of considering history: determining your personal "mirror year."
• Americans celebrate the Empress of China, 1785.
Image: Horses ploughing in Ledbury, the way it used to be.
• Author Elizabeth Gaskell's house opened after restoration to "former glory."
• Stunning illustrations of Victorian business life from London in 1888.
Mandrakes: from mythology to museum collectible.
• The lost Gilded Age NYC mansion of oil tycoon Henry M. Flagler.
• O death where is thy bling? Victorian mortuary extravagance.
Coffee houses, taverns, tea, and chocolate in Restoration London.
• Rarest of the rare: 15th c. black parchment.
Image: Louisa May Alcott's writing room, where Little Women was written.
• How to escape the Victorian asylum of Broadmoor.
• Portrait miniature of the 21-year-old Mozart sent by composer to his first love - to be sold.
• Buried under a bridge in Paris: the misfit mausoleums of Montmarte.
Bathers, bath-houses, and the law in 1921.
Image: Music was the theme for Elsa Schiaparelli's fall 1939 collection.
• Despite how it appeared in Downton Abbey, contraception options for 1920s London women were not simple.
• Nineteenth century triangular bandage printed with first-aid procedures.
• How blind Victorians campaigned for inclusive education.
Image: Just for fun: the best headline (and article) you'll read today.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hyde Park Corner Toll-gate Goes Under the Hammer

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Loretta reports:

When I've sent my characters on the road, I've had to make them stop at toll-gates.  As the introductory paragraph below indicates, early in the 19th century toll-gates were beginning to be a nuisance, impeding London's traffic, rather like the ancient city gates, which came down, too, eventually.

I had not realized, though, that the Hyde Park Corner toll-gate was removed as early as 1825.  And I never would have guessed it was auctioned off.

Here’s the story, courtesy Hone’s Every-day Book.  You can read the online version here

Please click on images to enlarge.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Mr. Evans's Cushions": More Secrets of the Big Hair of the 1770s.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Two of our most popular posts of the summer dealt with the towering hair styles of the 1770s and how these styles are being recreated by apprentice mantua-maker Abby Cox and the other ladies of the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg. When I spotted this 1779 advertisement, left, from a London newspaper online this morning, I knew I'd have to share it here on the blog.

Although this advertisement is over two hundred years old, it has all the marketing tricks the beauty trade still uses. There's the name brand of EDWARD EVANS, there in caps so it can't be missed. And why is his name so important? Because it carries the endorsement of a mega-celebrity - he's the Hairdresser to the Queen, which was about as celebrated as a celebrity could be in Georgian England. (He might even as skilled as this hairdresser, lower right, who is forced to balance on a stool to reach the top of his client's hair.)

Mr. Evans is offering hairdressing cushions that are apparently the new, new, newest thing, and promises that ladies will be able to achieve the latest styles with ease and speed. He knows, because his products have often been imitated, but never equaled by his competitors. Then Mr. Evans finishes off with a promise that he has the lowest prices. If there had been infomercials in 1770, Edward Evans would have been a tonsorial king of late night TV - the Chaz Dean of hair cushions.

And yet as detailed as this advertisement is, it still leaves so much unsaid. What made these particular cushions so suitable for summer wear? How large were they? What fabric was used so they didn't slip from the head or require hair pins? Of course, Mr. Evans's ladies would have known all this, just as their modern counterparts know exactly how a Bumpit works. But oh, what we Nerdy History (and Historical Hair) people would give for even one illustration to make everything clear!

Many thanks to Neal Hurst for spotting this advertisement for us!

Above: Advertisement, Public Advertiser (London, England), Saturday, June 26 1779; Issue 13952.
Below: The preposterous head dress, or, The Feather'd Lady, published by M. Darly, London, 1776. From the collection of the Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

English & U.S. Newspapers 1830

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Loretta reports:

Those of us who grew up in the previous century will remember the days when even small towns had more than one newspaper.  We were pikers compared to the 19th century, though.  London in 1830 had four daily morning, six daily evening papers, and one kajillion other papers appearing once, twice, three times a week or every third week.  But I didn’t realize, until reading this little miscellaneous bit in the 1830 Annual Register, that the U.S., with a much smaller population, had more newspapers.

                                                                                                       Image:  Henry Heath, Miss-Ann-Thropy, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rare Everyday-Wear: A Woman's Shortgown, c.1780-1800

Sunday, October 5, 2014
Isabella reporting,

As promised, here's one of the 18th c. garments from Pottsgrove Manor's current exhibition, To the Manor Worn: Clothing the 18th Century Household, that I featured last week here. The exhibition includes silk gowns, a magnificent embroidered waistcoat, silk breeches, and quilted silk petticoats.

The shortgown, left, is considerably more humble, and because of that, it's much more rare, too. Like the 19th c. cotton dress I wrote about here, shortgowns were most commonly worn by working women, and they often turn up in the advertised descriptions of runaway indentured servants and slaves. Shortgowns were t-shaped garments with a flared hem that were comfortable for physical labor. They had no fastenings, but closed with straight pins along the front opening. Made from cotton, linen, or wool, shortgowns were worn over a linen shift and a petticoat; they were early, easy separates.

An 18th c. working woman's wardrobe was limited, and each article received hard wear. Clothes were mended and refashioned until there was literally nothing left but rags, which in turn would then have had another life around the household. Unlike a wedding gown or baby cap, a shortgown like this would not be set aside and preserved for posterity. Even the few that have survived would not find a welcome in most modern costume collections, which tend to concentrate on the clothing of the elite classes, beautifully constructed clothing of rich fabrics.

This shortgown tells a different story. Its owner was neither wealthy nor famous, but she was thrifty and resourceful and skilled with a needle. The fabric is either corded linen or cotton, once off-white and now discolored with age. The simple style could have been made by the wearer herself.

As the exhibition catalogue notes, "In the 18th century, the material made up the biggest cost of a garment, so even the clothing of wealthy individuals often shows some level of patching to get as much use of the fabric as possible."

This shortgown has been patched, and patched again, with neatly squared patches and careful stitching. As you can see in the detail, right, some of the patches are scraps of the original fabric, and others are simply similar fabric. Most of the patches are in places that would have received the most stress and wear, under the arm and along the sleeves.

The name and history of the shortgown's owner are long forgotten, but she left her testimony in each of the tiny stitches across each frugal patch, making the most of what she had. She's as much a part of early American history as George Washington, and I'm glad to see her work preserved and presented as the treasure that it is.

To the Manor Born: Clothing the 18th Century Household runs through November 2, 2014. For more information, see Pottsgrove Manor's website, or their Facebook page. Many thanks to curator Amy Reis and the rest of the staff for their assistance with this post.

Above: Women's shortgown, linen or cotton, c.1780-1800. From the collection of the Chester County Historical Society. Photograph courtesy of Pottsgrove Manor.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of September 29, 2014

Saturday, October 4, 2014
Welcome to Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered for you via Twitter.
Flowers of the sky: hundreds of years of comets, meteors, meteorites and shooting stars.
• Fascinating images reveal the true colors of ancient Greek statues.
• Heartbreaking: the last days of an iconic 19th c. Shingle Style house overlooking the harbor in Beverly, MA .
Image: Merton College Library, Oxford - the oldest continually operational library, open since 1376
• All a matter of taste: hideous hats from the 18th-19th centuries.
• Beautiful photographic portraits of 1920s Zeigfeld Follies showgirls.
• Children history forgot: 18th c. calico print workers could be as young as six.
• Fantastic manuscript: Japanese scroll c. 1800 showing European ship designs.
Image: Fan vaulting in Beauchamp chantry, Tewkesbury Abbey.
• Why 19th c. women refused the relief of anesthesia.
• Seventy-five years of historical costume design and research at Colonial Williamsburg.
• Why are packets of food that belonged to a Nazi war criminal sitting in a Maryland basement?
• Little Miss Muffet and her dad: 17th c. spiders.
Image: A 2000year old Thracian chariot found buried in Bulgaria along with the horses that pulled it.
• Behold! Everything you ever wanted to know about the 19th c. tazzle man.
• When a NYC medical student seeks to become an expert in poisons in 1915, a millionaire ends up dead in this house.
Image: Hampton Court Palace Astronomical Clock, commissioned by Henry VIII and completed in 1540.
• Handknit by Scottish women, the historically-inspired knitwear in Outlander may be the best part of the show.
• Ten historical myths that everyone believes because of Hollywood.
Image: Marvelous woman's French silk brocade hooded jacket, c.1760-1770.
Paintings of mysterious interiors by Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916.)
• The mechanical leech, the anti-crime bow-tie, and seven other preposterous Victorian inventions.
• "Love is in the (h)air: how hair was used in 17th-19th c jewelery.
• Eight things you may not know about the guillotine.
• "To the next burglar": Mark Twain's front-door notice to prospective thieves.
• Dancing on the dead in dirty old London.
Image: Shocker! "Disgraceful Conduct on a Steam Launch", 1895.
• "So you think you can sew, Mr. Saint?" Thomas Saint, who first patented a design for a sewing machine in 1790.
• Just for fun: Swedish scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into scholarly articles as part of long-running bet.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket