Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Hazards of Traveling by Chaise, c. 1770

Sunday, November 30, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Traveling was not easy in Georgian England. We modern folk tend to think of carriages as romantically portrayed by Hollywood, traveling merrily over modern roads, but the reality was much more hazardous. Even the wealthy and titled (who were the only ones who could afford to own and maintain a carriage and the horses to draw it) expected a certain amount of peril on every journey.

This excerpt is from a letter written by Hester, Countess of Chatham, to her husband, William Pitt the Elder, first Earl of Chatham, describing her journey from London to their estate at Burton Pynsent in Somerset, a distance of about 135 miles. Today the trip can be made in about 2-1/2 hours; in the 1770s, it took considerably longer.

What strikes me about Lady Chatham's account is how matter-of-fact she is regarding rutted roads, broken traces, falling horses, bad meals, and even "a view of Stonehenge." And yet this passage still only describes half their journey!

There's also a noteworthy mention of "William Footman", who behaves heroically in the face of near-disaster. The practice of addressing servants by their position - William Footman, John Coachman - has been much discussed in novel-writing circles, and even dismissed as a modern exaggeration. But since I'm willing to bet that Lady Chatham's footman was not baptized William Footman, here's primary-source proof of the practice.

"The road from King's Weston to Aynsford Inn, greatest part narrow causeway, like the Ilminster Way, requires careful driving; we performed it very well. The chaise horses broke two rotten traces, not from any fault of theirs, but it is all for the better, they cannot serve again. Wheel of said Chaise broke as it got to Aynsford Inn. Road very well from hence till within two miles of Hindon. Then very heavy, not being made, but safe. At Hindon find our horses. The landlord does us the honour to ride as postillion at wheel himself, because nobody could ride the horse he did, but himself. Went very safe, the road for the next couple of miles very bad indeed, broke only one trace this post. After the two mile on to Deptford, good enough. House [inn] at Deptford very bad....From hence to Amesbury, road very good, but fortune did not favour Bradshaw and the damsels [the servants following in another coach]. About 3 miles from Deptford the wheel horse fell down, the postillion under him, but the admirable care and dexterity of William Footman whose cleverness in travelling I cannot enough praise, extricated him from this perilous situation without his receiving much hurt. We set forward again. Within a quarter of a mile short, in two breaks the perch [the pole connecting the fore and hind running parts of a carriage] of their chaise. We took our party immediately, brought our two maids into our coach, with trunk, band boxes, etc., put on one pair of the unfortunate chaise horses to our four in consideration of the additional weight, sent William forward to fetch a fresh chaise from Amesbury to meet Bradshaw, who was to march on foot till they came to him with his grippine*. We continued our way with our three postillions most happily to Amesbury, taking a view of Stonehenge in our way. We went directly then to Andover with excellent horses and got in about seven."

*I have no idea what 'grippine' might be, especially in this context. Does anyone else know?

This quotation appeared in William Pitt, Earl of Chatham by Brian Tunstall (London, 1938), and comes to us via historian and writer Jacqui Reiter. Her blog is one of my favorite "rabbit holes" for history-reading on the internet; devoted to her research regarding the Pitt family, it's filled with all manner of fascinating insights into the politics and lives of these important Georgians. Well worth checking out!

Above: The Marquess of Bath's Coach, by John Cordrey, Private Collection, ©The British Sporting Art Trust.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Break

Monday, November 24, 2014
Thanksgiving issue, Puck 1905
Loretta and Susan report:

This year, as we’ve done previously, the Two Nerdy History Girls will be taking a break, to spend time preparing for and enjoying Thanksgiving with our families.

As always, we’ve so much to be grateful for—and that includes you, our faithful readers and nerdiness devotees.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Puck cover image courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of November 17, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014
Hot off the Twitter griddle for you! Our weekly round-up of fav Tweets with links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images.
• Proof of an early world economy: Roman glass plate has been discovered in a 5th c. A.D. Japanese tomb.
• More than a genteel pastime: Regency-era sketches of the UK, painted by Lady Anne Rushout (1768-1849) of Wanstead Grove.
• Studying a rare extant 18th c. robe de cour bodice in Sweden.
• Making the best of bad parchment: delightful inspirations of imperfections in medieval parchment.
• No, no, no! The Victorians did not invent the vibrator.
Image: The first bathing machines in England were introduced in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in 1735.
Portable soup, as supplied by Mrs. Dubois to the Royal Navy, 1756.
• Saving one of Italy's oldest cities from crumbling away.
• Poignant and unsettling: finding a mental asylum's cemetery for young patients hidden in the woods.
• Ancient Egyptian book of spells is deciphered.
Image: Charles Dickens reading to his two daughters, 'Mamie' and Kate, at their Gad's Hill home, 1865.
• A gentleman and his purse: newly identified 17th c. portrait of Sir Thomas Savage, 1st Viscount Savage.
• Children in mourning, and mourning a child through early modern history.
• One of Napoleon's two-pointed hats auctioned for $2.2 million at the Osenat auction house this week.
• The soldier and the quack: medical blackmail in Victorian London.
Image: From the collection of The Fan Museum: a lace fan, c. 1890, with Faberge guilloche enamelling and goldwork.
• Years of suffering for an 18th c. newlywed wife: treating the "Rheumatick complaint" of Mary, Countess of Chatham.
• After the harvest: a bountiful November feast in medieval Europe.
• "Deluded by his hypocrises": Lady Mary Radclyffe Stanhope Gell (and her shoes.)
• A slideshow about reading instruction in the U.S., 18th-20th c.
• Fascinating look at how the Museum of London stores the remains of medieval Londoners - and what can be learned from them.
• "Bringeth down the menses": a short history of abortifacients.
Image: Tremendous atmosphere in this 13th c. chapter house turned 19th c. chapel at Newstead Abbey, Notts.
• The 1739 Infant in the Well and unwed mothers in the 18th c.
• Women's indigo-dyed pocket hoops c. 1750s-90s - linen fabric and baleen/whalebone for shaping.
• The bloody history of chocolate.
• Squeezed in between the mansions: New York City's lost 1869 Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue.
• An American icon, especially in the 1950s: the saga of Davy Crockett's coonskin hat.
• Oseberg wooden Viking ship head, found in Norway and dated to 825.
• Unusual 18th c. ceiling decoration shows Death blowing bubbles.
• Men and women in gardens, in 17th c. prints.
• Gallery views of "Death Becomes Her" exhibition of mourning wear currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
• Feather crowns and witch wreaths.
• A streetcar cow-catcher for pedestrians, as described in Scientific American in 1894.
Snuff and snuff-boxes.
• Vintage mugshots reveal some of Australia's earliest women criminals.
• Just for fun: Elizabethan superheroes.
• And more superheroes for more fun: Batman shares our sentiments exactly.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Video: Stop Looking at Your Phones

Friday, November 21, 2014

Isabella reporting,

With Thanksgiving just around the table, I can't be the only one who is trying to mandate a "no phones at the table" rule during the meal. Apparently I have historical precedent on my side – or at least this amusing parody of Downtown Abbey. This is one sketch from the The Britishes, a parody collection currently appearing on DirecTV, and I think I may have to hunt down the rest of the episodes. Or at least I will as soon as I take this call....

(Warning: there's a tiny bit of Adult Language here that may make this video NSFW.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Queen Victoria proposes to Prince Albert

Thursday, November 20, 2014
Prince Albert
Loretta reports:

On 23 November 1839 Queen Victoria announced her engagement to Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg.  The story, as told in Gillian Gill’s We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals is interesting, indeed, for Her Majesty was in charge.

“She imposed upon Albert a series of tests and ordeals.  The prince had to beg through family intermediaries for an invitation to come to England to see the Queen.”  The invitation was quite a cool one, apparently.  Then, “After Victoria had looked Albert over and decided that, indeed, he was the husband she was looking for, her first impulse was not to clasp her beloved in her arms but to go into delicious conclave with her prime minister over how exactly she should propose and what arrangements would have to be made for the wedding.”

England wasn’t happy about her choice.  Albert was foreign and poor.  Caricatures, insults, and mocking poetry ensued. Parliament voted him an allowance of only £30,000, though in the 17th century, Prince George of Denmark, Queen Anne’s spouse, had received £50,000.

Victoria is engaged
I’ve clipped from a lengthy memoir in the 1839 Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, which, along with detailing his pedigree, gets in a few subtle digs about the Saxe-Coburg family’s amazing success in marrying English royals.  Leopold, King of Belgium by this time, had been “a simple major in the Austrian service” when he married Charlotte, Princess of Wales (only legitimate offspring of King George IV).

For more dish on Victoria & Albert, I highly recommend (again) We Two.

Illustration: Prince Albert, a print "after George Baxter, 1804–1867" made after 1855.  Image 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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Indispensable Objects for Dressing a Wig, c.1750-80

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Susan reporting,

Sometimes everyday objects from the past are instantly recognizable to modern eyes, while others are completely mystifying. I'm guessing that for most of us today, the two objects above would fall into the mystifying category. Both appeared as part of the talk "Fashionable Fittings for Hair Care and More" from the Head for Fashion conference this past weekend, Colonial Williamsburg; they were displayed by Amanda Keller, assistant curator of historic interiors & household accessories, Colonial Williamsburg.

If you'd worn a wig in late 18th c. England or North America, you would likely have recognized at least one of these peculiar-looking objects. They're both forms of dispensing powder to a dressed wig or hair. (For more about 18th c. hair powder, see here.) The gentleman in the print, lower left, is on the receiving end of a similar device, and looks none to happy about it, either.

The object, lower left, is a wig bellows. The accordion-like section is made of leather. At the larger end is a turned wooden cover that was removed to fill the bellows. At the smaller end is a metal cap with a fine mesh screen. While the leather of the bellows has now stiffened with age, it once must have given a quite satisfying whoosh of fine powder, a snowy dusting that would have been the finishing touch to the coiffed head of a well-dressed gentleman or lady.

The second object, above right, is a wig carrot, named for its resemblance to the vegetable.  It, too,
was used for dusting a wig with powder, but through a slightly different technique. Like the bellows, the end has a fine metal screen with a cap that unscrews for filling with powder. The carrot, however, relies on the lung power of the hairdresser, who would blow through the narrow tip to scatter a find spray of the powder through the other end. The carrot is made of turned wood, while its tip is made of horn.

While I'm sure an 18th c. hairdresser would be able to identify modern curling irons and hair rollers – both are similar in shape to their Georgian counterparts – imagine how amazed (and delighted) he would be by a blow-dryer. All the power of the wind in your hand!

Above: Wig Bellows & Wig Carrot, mid 18th c. England. Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
Below: The Englishman in Paris, by Jno. Collet, 1770. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Amazing John Joseph Merlin

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
John Joseph Merlin
Loretta reports:

When I found the Ackermann plate of Merlin’s Mechanical Chair, historical nerdiness compelled me to find out who "Merlin" was.  Funnily enough, the Wikipedia entry led me back to Two Nerdy History Girls, and Isabella/Susan’s Friday Video of John Joseph Merlin’s extraordinary swan.

Since there are quite a few articles and biographies online (here, here,and here), I’m going to offer some of the high points from Richard D. Altick’s less easily accessible The Shows of London.

About 1774-75 Merlin patented a combination harpsichord and pianoforte, and soon thereafter created a six-octave pianoforte (some years before Broadwood introduced his 5½ octave span instrument).  Merlin created “a barrel organ-harpsichord capable of playing nineteen tunes, a one-man orchestra,” and many other musical devices.  He created a tea table the hostess could make revolve via a foot pedal, to bring each cup to her in turn.  He made a bell device to let servants know what the master wanted at a given time.  In Hyde Park he drove a “mechanical chariot” [pictured below] whose equipment included a mechanical whip and an 18th C version of an odometer (the latter actually a 17th C invention).  He created a type of roller skate—but having failed to provide brakes, he crashed into a mirror. 

“Still other exhibits [at Merlin’s Mechanical Museum] were a gambling machine ... a set of whist cards for the blind, which may well have been an anticipation of the Braille system; the bust of a Turk which chewed and swallowed an artificial stone, and an ‘Aerial Cavalcade,’ four wooden horses on a structure supported by six pillars, ‘on which the Ladies and Gentlemen may ride, perfectly safe, over the heads of the rest of the company.’  This last was unquestionably an early carousel, complete with brass rings.”
John Joseph Merlin & his mechanical chariot

The mechanical chair was one of several devices he invented for the use of ill and handicapped people. For example, King George III might have endured physician abuse, but he did enjoy one of the mechanical chairs.  The following quotation appears in numerous early 19th century books and periodicals: “One of Merlin’s chairs was at this time provided for him, with which he was so pleased, that he was constantly removed from one room to another in it.”
Dodsley's Annual Register for 1820.

One more interesting tidbit from Altick:  Merlin, a Belgian, had an extensive English vocabulary, but often put the words in the wrong order and “had an unerring habit of stressing the wrong syllable.”

Portrait of Jean-Joseph Merlin (1735-1803) from Belgium; mechanical engineer, inventor of the roller-skate and designer and maker of various musical instruments, clocks and other mechanical constructions, by Thomas Gainsborough (1782) from Kenwood House collection.

Merlin and his carriage from Kirby's Wonderful and Eccentric Museum (1803) aka Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

From the "Head for Fashion" Conference, Colonial Williamsburg

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Isabella reporting,

I've spent the last few days in Colonial Williamsburg attending the "Head for Fashion" Conference, which was great fun of the nerdy-history variety. I met many wonderful like-minded folk and learned many new things, some of which inspired blogs that will appear over the next weeks.

I'm still with limited wifi, but I did want to share these photos from the presentation ("Head Dress at Sixes and Sevens") given by our friends at CW's Margaret Hunter millinery shop. This was the final "line-up", front and back. The replica clothes here roughly span 1770-1820, and were all made by hand by the ladies in shop (who are also among the models.) As always, click on the images to enlarge them.

Also please take note of the fabulous hair, all done by mantua-maker apprentice Abby Cox. I've written before of Abby's research and prowess with 18th c. hairdressing, here and here. She dressed everyone's hair today in a marathon session of powder and pomade, and no hairspray or other modern products were used to create these styles - only pins, hair cushions, pomade, and powder.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Alas, No Breakfast Links This Week

Saturday, November 15, 2014
Isabella reporting,

I know how much many of you look forward to our weekly Breakfast Links, and how I hate to disappoint you! I am at present in Colonial Williamsburg, which is in most ways a Very Fine Thing. It's also a Very Bad Thing in that the wifi where I'm staying is a weak and pitiful creature, and not up to the task of compiling Breakfast Links. My apologies, and look for the Links to return next weekend.

Left: Detail, Jemmy's Return, printed by R. Sayer, 1787. Walpole Library, Yale University.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Video: King George III's insanity cure

Friday, November 14, 2014
Treatment with tractors
Loretta reports:

Among other research for Dukes Prefer Blondes, my current WIP, I've been looking at medical books and treatises from the early 1800s.  These leave one amazed that any of the patients survived their treatments.  Even monarchs suffered at their physicians' hands.  This Horrible History is, if anything, quite an understatement, and King George III was by no means the only royal tortured by his doctors.

 Illustration: James Gillray, Metallic Tractors (1801), from Wikipedia

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.

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, November 13, 2014

18th c. Caps & Hats from the Milliner's Shop, Colonial Williamsburg

Thursday, November 13, 2014
Isabella reporting,

I'm lucky to be in Colonial Williamsburg this week, where among other things I'll be attending one of their conferences this weekend. A Head for Fashion: Hair, Wigs, Cosmetics, and Jewelry, 1600-1900 will cover so many of my favorite topics that it's sure to inspire a future blog or two.

As can be imagined, our friends in the Margaret Hunter millinery shop are busy preparing for a talk for the conference, and choosing which of their hats and caps to include as examples.

These are all replicas, hand-cut and hand-sewn as they would have been in the 18th c., and based on caps from 18th c. prints and paintings. Relatively few hats and caps from this period survive in historic dress collections today; their very insubstantial charm made them too fragile for a long life.

Nearly all 18th c. European and American women covered their hair during the day, but while the original intention was based on modesty and neatness, and you can see many of the caps became flirtatious and frothy. And what an elegant way to mask a bad hair day! (As always, click on the images to enlarge.)

Many thanks to Nicole Rudolph and Abby Cox for being my models.

Top left: Hats in the style of the 1770s-1780s, on display in the millinery shop, ready to tempt customers.
Top right: Demonstrating to a potential customer how best to wear a hat of c. 1780 - slanted winsomely forward over the face. Silk gauze and ribbons over a straw base.
Bottom left: For the lady who wishes to play at being a milkmaid, a plain kerchief tied over a ruffled and be-ribboned cap.
Bottom right: Ready to flutter: a cap of silk gauze, silk crepe, pleated ruffles, and lace.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Merlin's Mechanical Chair

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Mechanical Chair
Loretta reports:

Following up on Monday’s wondrous Ærial, I present a wondrous chair, not only suitable for invalids, but useful in wartime* to ... hmm ... carry artillery?

Look for more about the mysterious Merlin fellow in a future blog.
Mechanical chair described

Mechanical chair described

* Great Britain was at war with France at this time.

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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Fashion Worth Reviving? A Bridegroom's Embroidered Wedding Waistcoat, 1842

Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Isabella reporting,

I've shared an 18th c. wedding dress embroidered by the bride (Elizabeth Bull's gown here and here), and now here's a waistcoat (vest) that a 19th c. bride likely made for her bridegroom. This handsome silk waistcoat, embroidered with silk, must have made a stylish statement coming down the aisle. I especially like the combination of stitches - all those French knots! - to bring texture to the monochrome silk, right.

The waistcoat is currently on display in Winterthur Museum's exhibition, The Diligent Needle, and here's the accompanying information card:

In the 1840s it was fashionable for men to wear embroidered waistcoats at their weddings. This example is embroidered with cornucopia, a symbol of plenty, and was worn by Robert S. Hone on November 30, 1842, when he married Eliza Rodman Russell. Eliza may well have worked the embroidery herself. Both she and Robert were from prominent and wealthy families, so the hope for plenty was more or less a foregone conclusion.

With many brides today looking for ways to personalize their wedding-wear by making their headpieces, veils, and shawls (if not their entire gowns), perhaps there might be someone out there inspired to make something special for her groom, too.

On the other hand, one of the speakers (I think it was Marla Miller - if anyone else who was there can correct me, please do!) at Winterthur's Diligent Needle conference  last month relayed an amusing story about one such modern creative bride.

A bride was proudly working on making her groom's vest into an elaborate personal statement, spending many hours on her embroidery. Showing the nearly-finished product to the groom, she happily declared, "When you wear this at our wedding, everyone will see how much I love you." To which her groom replied, "When I wear this at our wedding, everyone will see how much I love you, too."

Perhaps fancy waistcoats should be left to the past after all....

Embroidered waistcoat, worn by Robert S. Hone, Providence, RI or New York City; 1842. Silk. Winterthur Museum.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Most Beautiful Man in the World, According to Him

Monday, November 10, 2014
Loretta reports:

In Vixen in Velvet, I mention in connection with Vauxhall a gentleman who called himself “The Ærial”.  His real name was Joseph Leeming, and he’s a treat.  The 9 November entry in Hone’s Every-day Book dealing with him is long but well worth reading in its entirety. Below are some excerpts.
Vauxhall Orchestra
[Quoting from the 2 July 1825 Times] “An individual in a splendid dress of Spanish costume has excited much attention at Vauxhall gardens  Having walked or rather skipped round the promenade, with a great air of consequence, saluting the company as he passed along, he at length mingled amongst the audience in the front of the orchestra, and distributed a number of cards, on each of which was written, ‘The Ærial challenges the whole world to find a man that can in any way compete with him as such.’”
He conceives that he is the most beautiful person in the world, and hence besides calling himself “the Ærial”, the “New Discovery,” and “the Great Unknown,” he adds “the Paragon of Perfection,” “the Phoenix,” “the God of Beauty,” and “the Grand Arcana of Nature.”   ... “Apollo is nothing compared with me; there is no figure to compete with me in any respect, except the Achilles in the park, which may be somewhat like me in the under part of the foot upon the ground.

Images:  The Ærial, from my copy of Hone’s Every-day Book, Vol 1.
Vauxhall Gardens, by Pugin & Rowlandson, from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London courtesy Internet Archive.  You can see a much more beautifully colored, enlargeable-to-gigantic version of this image here at Spitalfields Life.

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, November 8, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of November 2, 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014
Fresh off the griddle! Our Breakfast Links feature all our fav links of the week to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered for you via Twitter.
• Fabric of the frontier: how textiles help us understand the American West.
• A pair of fashionable ladies from the 1860s? No, Victorian female impersonators Fred and Earnest, aka Fanny and Stella.
• Up for auction: this fabulous 1927 silver lace wedding gown.
• Cropped out of history: individuals who lived on the margins of society and culture.
Image: Luxurious 1890s American silk brocade boots.
• Good news for Early American material culture people (and anyone who likes to browse images): Historic New England has expanded their on-line digital  collections.
• Stories from the Great War: the Artists Rifles.
• The world-wide fascination with Sherlock Holmes' tweed cape.
Image: 18th c. Lady's Magazine advises wives to dress as carefully after marriage as before to please their husbands.
• Melancholy list of Edgar Allen Poe's debts, from his 1842 bankruptcy petition.
• Women rejecting marriage proposals in Western Art.
• The tragic life of Marceline, the star clown of the NYC Hippodrome before WWI.
• Amazing homes from the realms of films and TV....when do we move it?
• History of fireworks: cautionary tales from history.
Image: Unusual portrait of by Rembrandt Peale of his brother Ruebens...with a geranium.
Romance for every season of the year with 17th c. artist Jean LeBlond.
• New interactive map of Versailles.
• Edward Dando, the celebrated 19th c. gormandizing oyster-eater.
"Lively as an Eel, by virtue of that Liquor": unexpected effects of 17th c. chocolate consumption.
Nine famous people and what they're buried with.
Why are there so many monsters on historical maps?
• Imagine your mother-in-law is Abigail Adams, and she thinks you aren't American enough.
• Starling murmurations in pictures.
Image: Keeping warm with 1922 Sonia Delaunay designs.
• A new Flickr album of bookplates, drawn from the collection of the Library of Congress.
Ghosts and the French Revolution's Reign of Terror.
• From Old London: memorable tombs of the rich and famous.
• Twelve reasons (with great illustrations) why women do not deserve the right to vote, according to a prominent 1914 anti-suffragist.
Image: Sweeping the letters, Hours of Marguerite d'Orleans, Rennes, c. 1430.
• Visiting a Jane Austen site: Box Hill from Emma.
• Beautiful stitchery came from the Wemyss School of Needlework in Fife, Scotland, found in 1877.
• The lost Jennings-McCullough Mansions on Park Avenue, NYC, lavish double mansions built for a pair of wealthy sisters in 1891.
Image: View from Pentonville Road Looking West, London, Evening, by John O'Connor, 1884.
• Three brave British Army wives during the American Revolution.
• The papers and objects that ships seized in wartime.
• Fire over England: The evolution of Guy Fawkes.
• Ten things you probably didn't know about the history of London.
• Jousting secret explains how Charles Brandon rose so quickly at the court of Henry VIII.
Image: Brocaded silk Spitalfields shawl, late Regency period, 1820s.
• Fighting smallpox at the Foundling Hospital with Dr. Richard Mead.
• A tiger lose in Limehouse, 1839.
• Just for fun: photoshopping a Bronte/brontosaurus joke.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Video: A Visit to Houghton Hall

Friday, November 7, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Great English country houses often appear in the books that I write, and I'll freely confess that the theatrical grandeur of William Kent's designs for Houghton Hall have inspired several of those fictitious houses.

Houghton Hall was built by Sir Robert Walpole, later 1st Earl of Orford. Walpole was a statesman who rose to become Britain's first prime minister, and he wanted his house to reflect his taste, his power, his wealth, and his ambitions. The house itself was designed by architect Colen Campbell in a restrained Palladian style, but the extravagant interiors – including everything from the painted ceilings to the furniture and the silverware on them – were the work of William Kent (c.1685-1748).

Kent was one of the Georgian era's most creative individuals, with talents that included architecture, painting, landscape architecture, and furniture design. The important commission for the interiors of Houghton Hall, begun around 1725, took nearly ten years to complete; this video is only seven minutes long, but it does give you a glimpse of the extravagant imagination of William Kent as well as the lavish lives of the early Georgians.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

From the archives: What's at the Makeup Counter in the 1820s

Thursday, November 6, 2014
With deadlines looming, we've pulled this post from our archives to share again.

Loretta reports:

Thanks to Frances Grimble’s splendid compilation, The Lady’s Stratagem, (which I’ve referred to/raved about hereherehere, and here), I’ve discovered several terrific resources dealing with historical dress and manners in the early 19th century.  One was The Duties of a Lady’s Maid (1825).

Among other things, the book offers a clue to how matters stood regarding makeup.  The contents make it clear that it was acceptable for women—and not just actresses and harlots—to wear make-up.

Though the author recommends making beauty aids at home—and offers many dire warnings regarding toxic ingredients—ladies could and did buy them from their favorite perfumer.

One could buy rouge in dishes, of which there were two kinds, Portugal-made (superior & costlier) and London-made.  One could also buy small cakes of rouge-tinged Spanish wool (I’m picturing felt, but welcome explanations from our experts)—the London-made being superior to the Spanish-made.

There were also color papers.  One variety was rouge-tinged paper, “chiefly for the convenience of carrying it in a pocket-book.” Another, from China, came in fragile 3” diameter “large, round, loose cakes.”  The wool that holds the rouge is described as being “like carded wool,” and apparently, the color flaked off easily.

China also provided color boxes, which “contain each two dozen of papers; and in each paper are three smaller ones, viz., a small black paper for the eyebrows; a paper of the same size, of a fine green colour; but which, when just arrived and fresh, makes a very fine red for the face; and lastly, a paper containing about half an ounce of white powder (prepared from real pearl), for giving an alabaster colour to some parts of the face and neck.”

Mouse fur eyebrows not included.

Illustrations courtesy Wikimedia
Top: Katsushika Hokusai, A bowl of lip rouge, a mirror in a case, and a packet of face powder.

Bottom:  Mignot Parfumeur, illustration from Journal Universel 16 décembre 1854—by Monsieur Gilbert Randon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A "Lady with a Scarf," c. 1820, Inspiring Sailors – and Perhaps Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Museums are like icebergs - very often what's on display for the world to admire is only a tiny fraction of what is actually in the collection, hidden away in storage rooms and warehouses.

This week I again visited one of my favorite historical spots in Boston, The Bostonian Society, located in the Old State House Museum. I was there at the invitation of Patricia Gilrein, Collections Manager, who brought out exquisite baby clothes from the exceptional 18th c. needle of Elizabeth Bull Price (I've already shared her wedding gown and neckerchief) that will soon merit blog posts of their own.

But I also had the chance to follow Patricia off into one of the Society's storage areas, and that's where I encountered this winsome young lady. Although she's posed like a figurehead, ready to lead a ship across the seas, she likely never saw a drop of saltwater. Instead she served as a shop display piece, a model to show off the skills of her maker: Isaac Fowle, an expert carver working from 1807-1832. His shop was at 53 Prince Street in Boston, and the business was continued by his two sons, John D. Fowle and William Henry Fowle, until 1869.

At 74" tall, the figure is larger than life. She's carved from pine, and she's painted white, perhaps to make her look more like a classical statue carved of stone. Unlike the seductive mermaids and idealized goddesses that were favorites of both 19th c. carvers and sailors, this figure looks more like a portrait of a real young woman.  Perhaps she was Isaac Fowle's own wife, sweetheart, or daughter, or a young woman who worked in one of the other shops on Prince Street.

Whoever she might have been, Fowle chose to show her fashionably dressed in a button-front gown, short boots, and lace-trimmed petticoats, and the way the fabric pulls slightly across the front of her bodice (and scandal! no corset!) must have made plenty of sailors sigh.  I love all the little details - the trim and border of her dress, her skirts rippling in the wind, even the brooch at her collar and the bracelet on her wrist – that make her seem almost alive.

But there's a chance she might have inspired more than shipowners and randy sailors. Tradition says this figure was seen by Massachusetts author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), and that she was the inspiration for his fanciful short story "Drowne's Wooden Image" from Mosses from an Old Manse and Other Tales (1846). You can read it online here (it's a very short story), and judge for yourself.

Many thanks to Patricia Gilrein for introducing me to this delightful lady! 

Lady with a Scarf, by Isaac Fowle, c 1820. The Bostonian Society. Photographs copyright 2014 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fashions for November 1810

Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Half Dress

Loretta reports:

This month’s fashion plates, from Ackermann’s Repository for 1810, show the high-waisted, “classical” style we usually associate with the Regency—although, strictly speaking, the Prince of Wales (later, King George IV) did not become Prince Regent until the following year.  However, social history, art, & architecture scholars generally use the term to cover a broader span, from about 1800 until Victoria came to the throne in 1837.  To save a lot of defining, qualifications, and the ensuing arguments pro and con, I try to stick with “early 19th century.”

Whatever you call the era, this is about as vertical as the vertical style gets.  What structure there is tends to be concentrated on the bodice.  Still, it’s by no means a plain style.  These dresses show some beautiful work on the bodice and neckline, and the scarves or tippets add drama.

Walking & Morning Dress
Dress description

You will note that plump cheeks are in fashion.

Images courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, via Internet Archive.
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, November 2, 2014

An 1835 Workbook of Needlework "Specimens"

Sunday, November 2, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Last weekend I attended a wonderful conference at Winterthur Museum: The Diligent Needle: Instrument of Profit, Pleasure, and Ornament. The talks and workshops were devoted to the needlework of British and American women from around 1600 to the present, with topics that ranged from 18th c. samplers of the Carolinas to elaborate embroidered boxes from Stuart England, early 19th c. stuffed and stitched silk globes from a Quaker boarding school to the 1960s crewel work of Erica Wilson. In the museum galleries is also an accompanying exhibition, also called The Diligent Needle, of pieces from Winterthur's collection that will be running through July 5, 2015. Over the next weeks, I'll be sharing some of the things I learned and saw here on the blog.

This workbook was part of a workshop on the samplers and general needlework taught to girls in 18th-19th c. orphanages, asylums, charity, and model schools in Britain. The workbooks came from the collection of the workshop-leader, Rebecca Scott of Witney Antiques, Oxfordshire, England.

While middle and upper class girls studied fancy decorative needlework as a suitable "accomplishment" and produced samplers to be framed and admired by their doting family, the lower-class girls enrolled in a charity school (often orphans) were learning a much more practical kind of needlework. The goal was to prepare the girls for careers as skilled seamstresses, mantua-makers, and dressmakers, all respectable careers open to women, and ones in which they could become self-sufficient and even prosperous.

This workbook, printed in Dublin in 1835, was part of a rigorous program designed to teach students in model schools not only the basics of "plain needlework", but also crochet, tatting, fine lace knitting, darning, and elaborate embroidery stitches. The book's very lengthy title explains its purpose: Simple Directions in Needle-work and Cutting Out Intended for the Use of the National Female Schools of Ireland to Which Are Added, Specimens of Work Executed by the Pupils of the National Model Female Schools. (Whew!)

The first part of the book contained detailed directions for a series of lessons designed to teach various skills as well as the most economical ways to cut and produce garments. When the project, or "specimen," was completed and approved by the instructor, it was pasted in the special back pages of the book that were printed on sturdier paper, like a scrapbook. The workbook therefore became a record of accomplishment, a reference book for the future, and a portfolio to show to future employers.

On the pages (each about 8"x10") above, the specimens on the left demonstrate seaming and piecing, while the miniature nightshirt on the right shows gathers, hemming, narrow seams, and buttonholes. The pages below displays specimens of fine-gauge knitted lace, and examples of precisely executed herring-bone stitching on cotton muslin and on wool flannel. (As always, please click on the images ot enlarge them.)

Ms. Scott had several examples of these workbooks, each bulging with dozens of completed specimens. It was easy to imagine how proud each young woman must have been of her accomplishments when the lessons were complete and the back pages of the workbook filled: symbols of patience and skill, but also of hope for now-promising future.

Many thanks to Rebecca Scott for sharing her collection - please check out her website for many more examples of British samplers and needlework:

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of October 27, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014
For your weekend reading pleasure - our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, collected via Twitter.
• Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time: presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt attends a Salem "pageant" to watch witches being hanged in 1932.
• A lovely c. 1900 photograph of young sisters Jessica & Rosalie Wakefield by Horace Warner - and what became of the two girls.
Cocaine wine: Coca Cola's sordid past was the fireball of the Victorian era.
Sarah Bernhardt's aging was front page news.
Image: "A Peep into Brest with a Navel Review": caricature of a late 18th c. fashion statement.
• Could your stuff be haunted? Ghostbusting the creepiest antiques.
• Three brave British Army wives from the American Revolution.
• In 1938, a kindergarten teacher made Los Angeles court room history by wearing slacks to testify in a burglary case; the judge sentenced her to jail for contempt of court.
• After the Boston Tea Party, colonists brewed bergamot and other herbs as substitute teas - try it yourself.
Image: a 1920s printed souvenir fan for a society ball held at Palais Garnier.
• A history of Regency Royal Ascot (starring Wellesley-Pole.)
Robert Fulton (1765-1815), creator of steamboats and submarines - and of paintings like Love's First Interview.
• London street names: ham sandwiches and the Hellfire Club.
• The origins of the Shroud of Turin.
Image: The opening lines of James Boswell's draft of "Life of Samuel Johnson" in the Beinecke's Boswell Collection.
• The "western" techniques hidden in Chinese wallpaper.
• The evolution of women's dress in the workplace from 1900 to 2000.
Video: Georgian delights in Kensington Palace's royal costume storage.
• Beautiful assortment of costumes from historical movies.
Sweet Potato Pudding from 1827: the original recipe, plus modern adaptation for your Thanksgiving table.
• How an African slave helped Boston fight smallpox.
• Interactive map showing legacy of 18th c. landscape designer Capability Brown.
Image: 1920s shoe: olive silk upper and silver and gold leather applique.
• World War One and women doctors: the work of American women's hospitals "over there."
• The tiniest places overseen by the National Trust: the best dolls' houses.
• Scandalous tales of the British Embassy in Paris.
Image: At the end of World War Two, emergency stretchers were used in some districts of London as fences.
• Gallery of the world's most beautiful bookstores.
• When a 12 became a 6: a short history of standardized sizing in American women's clothing.
• The 19th c. Frenchman responsible for a gigantic fraud.
Image: Just for fun: ghost fashions.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
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