Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day III: Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Here are four more 18th c. houses from Colonial Williamsburg decorated for the holidays to wind up our seasonal visit.

Despite the rainy skies that are just about the same color as the clapboarding, the house, above, sports a, well, sporting theme, with the popular apples mixed with antlers from regional white-tail deer (male white-tailed deer grow new antlers each year, and shed the old ones.)

Unlike most of us who rely on the same holiday decorations from the attic every year, the ones in CW change each year. In 2011, this house has had its front door decked with a padded horse collar. In 2010, things were politically charged (in a 1776 way), and the holiday decor included George III hung in effigy plus a coiled rattlesnake warning visitors "Don't Tread on Me."

The wreath on the house, above left, could have been honoring a writer. The greenery features 18th c. style quill pens and rolled-up writing paper. Of course in a town that was at the heart of the American Revolution, those papers and pens would likely have been furiously writing pamphlets or declarations, not novels - but we can't help but dream.

The door, right, would have belonged to a merchant whose advertising sign was a unicorn's horn, proudly rising from the front of the house regardless of the season.  This wreath must be as fragrant as it is festive, with oranges and cinnamon sticks.

The last door, lower left, proves that simplicity can be prize-winning. This decoration includes two green apples, a red pomegranate, glossy magnolia leaves, and wispy ears of wheat, all symbols of prosperity and plenty for the coming year - which is what we wish for all of you in 2015, too. Happy new year!

Like to see more holiday decorations from Colonial Williamsburg? I've posted all the photos from previous year's blog posts on our Pinterest board here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Day II: Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Isabella reporting,

While everyone hopes for a white Christmas (or at least a Camelot-version of a white Christmas, with snow appearing in the morning and disappearing by nightfall), this year in Colonial Williamsburg the temperatures did not cooperate. Christmas Eve was warm and rainy, a typical December day in Tidewater Virginia.

But while the rain didn't dampen holiday spirits, it did keep most visitors indoors, leaving these three 18th c. gentlemen, left, to carry on their conversation in peace in the middle of an empty Duke of Gloucester Street.

Here are two more decorated houses, both featuring apples. The doorway, right, also includes more local elements, including pinecones and the dried magnolia leaves. (As always, click on the images to enlarge them for detail.)

The wreath on the house, lower left, includes apples and red strawflowers, but there's another uniquely Virginian element as well. Those are the fossilized shells, Chesapecten jeffersonius, from the nearby James River. Chesapecten fossils were first noted by the 17th c. settlers at Jamestown, and officially given their scientific name in 1824 in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Chesapecten fossils were also the first North American fossil to be depicted in a European scientific publication, Historiae Conchyliorum, published in 1687 by Martin Lister – all of which makes this a thoroughly historical Christmas decoration.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Day I: Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Isabella reporting,

We're easing back into blogging, and hope that your holidays have been fine and dandy and are not quite over.

As I do each year, I'll be sharing a few photographs of the houses and buildings in Colonial Williamsburg decked out for the season. The decorations all use greenery, fruits, shells, and other natural items that are indigenous to Virginia; no strands of multi-colored lights, giant inflatable snowmen, or grinning animated Santas are to be found here. (As always, please click on the photos to enlarge them for detail.)

The effect is charming and festive, if not historically accurate to colonial America. No 18th c. homeowner would ever waste a costly imported pineapple by sticking it on his front door, nor is there  any primary source documentation for seasonal decorations beyond green boughs and the occasional sprig of mistletoe.

The Della Robbia-inspired wreaths and swags are the product of the 1930s, when Colonial Williamsburg was still trying to balance its evolving mission as a museum devoted to 18th c. Virginia with the 20th c. Virginians who happened to be living in the town. The decorations featuring bright fruit and pine cones were a compromise, and also proved very popular with visiting guests. Over time this 1930s-style decor has become accepted as traditional – just not traditional to the 18th c.

But not all the seasonal finery was reserved for doorways. Our friends the mantua-makers in the Margaret Hunter milliner's shop (from left to right: Samantha, Abby, Rebecca, and Nicole), above, were wearing their favorite cottons and brightest silks in honor of the holiday. Look for more of their latest work in future blogs in the new year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Break

Friday, December 19, 2014
Loretta & Isabella report,

As the year winds down, we're taking our annual holiday break from blogging, tweeting, and general social-networking to spend less time staring at our computer screens and more with family and friends.

Look for our photographs from Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg later next week, and we'll be back to our regularly scheduled blogging on New Year's Day.

Meanwhile, we wish you all a wonderful, joyful holiday season!

Above: Central Park in Winter, by Currier & Ives, c. 1865.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter in London 1893

Thursday, December 18, 2014
British Museum

Loretta reports:

Every year near the holidays, I either re-read A Christmas Carol or one of Dickens’s novels, because the London of my imagination is his, mainly, as is my sense of a 19th century Christmas.

But recently I came upon this interesting quotation from Henry James’s Essays in London and Elsewhere.  His love of London comes through in evocative images of the British Museum as he paints a picture of London in winter.

Henry James's London

British Museum image ca 1852 courtesy Wikipedia

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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Big Furry Mittens from the 19th c.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Isabella reporting,

The holidays are nearly here and winter travel is a popular topic, with many people studying long-range weather forecasts, air and train schedules, and perhaps investing in new snow-tires. But no matter how long that trip home may be, odds are it's much easier now than it would have been in the 19th c., when these furry mittens were first worn.

They're made from buffalo leather and likely buffalo hide (the museum that owns them isn't quite certain about the fur/hair, but it does look the same as the popular shaggy buffalo coats and robes from the same era), and they would have qualified as serious cold-weather wear. Mittens are always warmer than gloves because the fingers are kept together. But there's a definite trade-off between warmth and dexterity, as anyone who has tried to do much of anything wearing mittens can attest.

But I'm guessing these mittens had a specific purpose. Stage, coach, and sleigh drivers were a hardy breed. The position required skill with horses, knowledge of the roads, and the necessary strength to drive and control a team of horses in all weather and on all kinds of roads. Driving in winter weather must have been especially cruel. The painting, right, shows the English Dover to London coach laboring through a snow storm, while the one, lower left, features a pair of Canadian sleighs, one having driven the other off the road.

North American drivers often wore long, gauntlet-style mittens like these for extreme weather. The extended cuffs stretched over the sleeves driver's coat, protecting his hands and forearms from driving snow and wind, while the leather palms could securely hold the reins. The mittens would have to have been removed to make any adjustments to the harnesses, but during a long, cold drive, they must have offered a welcome warmth - and probably made quite the style-statement at stage posts and inn yards.

I spotted these mittens on the The Clothing Project, a tumblr devoted to the clothing collections of the Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers' Museum. Many unusual American pieces here, and worth checking out!

Top left: Men's Mittens, 19th c., Bison Hide & Fur, Farmers' Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Photo by The Clothing Project.
Right: London to Dover Coach, Winter, by Henry Alken, private collection.
Lower left: Run Off the Road in a Blizzard, by Cornelius Krieghoff, c 1850, Art Gallery of Ontario.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Princess Charlotte's House

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Warwick House

Loretta reports:

This entry from Ackermann’s Repository for December 1811 intrigued me for a couple of reasons.  One was “the simple and even homely” appearance of Princess Charlotte’s residence.  Pretty striking, considering the grandeur of her father’s digs at Carlton House, not to mention his Royal Pavilion at Brighton or what he made of Buckingham House.  (His "improvements" of the latter continued throughout his successor's reign.) Second was, Where the heck was it? Close to Carlton House, apparently.  If you look at this map, you’ll see Warwick Street.  So it’s somewhere in there.

A little more sleuthing will probably pinpoint it, but
Warwick House description
my initial map searching hasn’t cleared things up.  It'll have to wait for another blog post when I have more time.  In any event, Warwick House apparently came down when Carlton House did, in 1826-27, although rumors of impending destruction appeared at least as early as 1818, as you can read here in Leigh Hunt’s Examiner.

Images courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art via Internet Archive.

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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Update: The 1772 "Grippine" Mystery Solved

Sunday, December 14, 2014
Isabella reporting,

One of our most popular blogs last month was The Hazards of Traveling by Chaise, which included a letter by Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham, recounting the trials and setbacks that she, her daughters, and the rest of their party encountered on their journey to Hayes Place in Kent from their home at Burton Pynsent.

While most of the letter described rutted roads, broken traces, and other travelers' mishaps, there was one passage that puzzled me, and many of you readers as well.

"...William [went] 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."

What could "his grippine" be? Reader suggestions included overshoes, a saddle, and a small suitcase, as well as another horse, but the correct answer was tantalizingly unknown.

But we Nerdy History Girls hate to leave a history-question unanswered, and fortunately for us, historian Jacqui Reiter (who provided us with the original quotation) is just as persistent. Since the version of the letter we were discussing had been transcribed and printed in a 20th c. biography (William Pitt, Earl of Chatham by Brian Tunstall), Jacqui decided to seek out the original letter to see what could be learned from the complete text, and made a journey of her own to the UK National Archives in Kew, where the Chatham papers are housed. The letter is several pages long, written in Lady Chatham's brisk hand, and the page with the "grippine" passage is above.

But as often the case with transcriptions, the one in the Tunstall book was not quite correct, nor was it complete. The actual words - underlined for emphasis by Lady Chatham -  in the letter are "with his favorite Gippine." The capital G makes it seem as if Gippine is a proper name, and a further passage in the letter leaves little doubt that Gippine is a horse, referring to Gippine as Bradshaw's "faithful attendant":

"The Fresh Chaise found Bradshaw got forward with his faithful attendant about a mile and a half, so he was quit for only a Comfortable perspiration."

Jacqui also found another letter that humorously refers to Bradshaw as "Gippine's travelling Friend." As she notes, "The way Lady Chatham refers to Gippine as nearly human is quite typical of the Pitts' attitude towards their horses. In fact I am still somewhat confused about which names in the correspondence refer to horses, and which to servants...not sure whether this reflects better on their attitude towards their animals, or worse on their attitude towards their staff!"

Incidentally, Bradshaw was a trusted upper servant in the Pitt household. As Jacqui notes, he was sufficiently literate and valued to witness Lord Chatham's will. And yet in the letters, he does indeed seem to take second place to the noble Gippine.

One final note: once we had the horse's name identified as Gippine, I wondered what, if anything, the name might mean. The "ine" ending seemed more French than English to me, and given the 18th c. penchant for phonetical spelling with foreign words, I tried searching for Jippine - and had success. While the name doesn't appear to have a translatable meaning (and if any of you know it, please share!), I did discover that today it's still a name used for French horses, as seen in this performance record for a pony called Jippine du Rietz.

Another history mystery solved!

Many thanks once again to Jacqui Reiter for tracking down this information for us.

Above: Excerpt from Letter from Lady Chatham to Lord Chatham, UK National Archives, Chatham MSS, PRO 30/8/9f 100, dated 9 April [probably 1772]. 
Below: A Saddled Bay Hunter, by George Stubbs, 1786. Private collection.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of December 8, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014
Now served for your weekend browsing pleasure: our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered for you via Twitter.
• Previously unseen letter by Jane Austen set to be sold at auction.
• "Love's oven is warm": baking Emily Dickinson's bread recipe.
• The lost Gillender Builing - an 1896 Wall Street skyscraper, just 25 feet wide, is demolished only twelve years after construction.
Image: Little red riding boots worn by an 8-year-old Victorian equestrian.
Ann of Denmark, queen of 17th c. style.
Wapping Stairs: the waterfront staircases of the Thames.
• Setting the record straight on who really introduced the Christmas tree to Britain (and it wasn't Prince Albert.)
• Winterthur buys a rare sampler worked in 1793 8-year-old Mary D'Silva, a student at Philadelphia's Bray Association Negro School.
• "Somewhat spent in drink": women in 17th c. alehouses.
• Gallery showing the work of Christina Broom, the UK's first female press photographer.
Image: A public library's rules for patrons, 1930.
• An 18th c. miscellany of Christmas puddings, pies, and cakes.
• Whiskey, gin, and violent rocking: things which are bad for babies, 1924.
• Cheek rewarded: the (probably apocryphal) tale of Dean Swift and the post boy.
• What 19th c. New Englanders said about snow.
Image: Empress Maria Fyodorovna's court dress of lilac pink velvet and silver thread, c.1870.
• Jane Reeve of Leadenham Hall: a sad early 19th c. tale of a young life cut short.
• Listen to this haunting, traditional Polish begging song, recorded in New York in 1927.
• Medieval spam: the oldest advertisements for books.
• The tale of Elizabeth Smith (and her second husband's first wife's first husband), 1766.
• The importance of cotton in Henry David Thoreau's 19th c. Concord.
• Lots of gunpowder: celebrating Christmas in a fur traders' fort.
• "God has called your husband to the other shore": the sad letters that turned wives into Civil War widows.
Image: An irate husband writes to the editor of the Lady's Magazine in 1791 to complain.
• The 15th c. Norwich Guildhall, one of Britain's surviving medieval civic buildings.
• Fashion with a message: narrative cycles and Biblical references frequently appear embroidered on 18th c. gentlemen's waistcoats.
• "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe....": a most unusual 1860s artifact inspired by the rhyme.
• Indigo, pomegranate rind, turmeric: the vegetable dyes of Indian export textiles.
• What cities would look like at night if lit only by the stars.
Image: Female road sweepers cleaning the streets of Liverpool while the men are away fighting, March, 1916.
• A brief history of the holiday Wassail.
• Striking photos of a medieval bridge - and river - buried beneath the streets of modern Rochdale.
• How historical dress inspired the costume designer of the animated Frozen.
• Why did Charles Dickens have a personal post box?
Mourning portraits: an expression of grief in the Georgian era.
• Harder than you'd think: entertaining quiz to identify whether a quote is by Shakespeare or Lady Gaga.
• Even the great poets had to revise. Just ask William Wordsworth.
Image: Just for fun (and our most popular RT of the week): Is this the most WTF book ever published?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday video: Bad Romance-Women's Suffrage

Friday, December 12, 2014
Loretta reports:

Isabella’s Friday video, Too Late to Apologize, was so much fun, I had to investigate the source.  It turned out that the next video created on this same principle—history brought to life via contemporary music—was about women’s suffrage, a topic dear to our hearts.  As was the artist whose work gave modern intensity to the topic.

Photograph:  Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence, British suffrage leader, and Miss Alice Paul of the National Woman's Party, ca 1910- 1920.  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.

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, December 11, 2014

One More Lady in a Pink Sultana, 1775

Thursday, December 11, 2014
Susan reporting,

Earlier this year, I wrote this post comparing two portraits of ladies wearing similar, "Turkish" inspired dress for portraits.

While this kind of relaxed attire - featuring an unstructured, T-shaped garment called a sultana, a sash at the waist, and none of the stiff 18th c. stays and hoops required for more formal dress – was popular for at-home wear, such garments in portraits could also be a costume supplied by the painter. Additional exotic elements like strands of glass pearls, plumes, scarves, and faux jewels could be staples of a studio's wardrobe, ready to be combined to convey a sense of elegance to a portrait of a lady (or would-be lady.)

Recently I came across another portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby that pretty much proves that the pink sultana worn in the 1770 Portrait of a Woman, right, is in fact a studio costume, and not the lady's own dress. Mrs. Frances Hesketh, left, is wearing virtually the same outfit for her portrait, painted by Wright in 1769. Not only is the pink sultana with the pearl trim at the elbows the same, but there's the same sash and striped gauzy scarf, and even the same strand of pearls threaded through the sitter's hair - which is also dressed in nearly the same style.

Yet despite the similar dress, Wright has done other things to show these are two very different women. Although the identity of the lady, right, is now lost, most scholars believe that she was the wealthy wife of a middle-class merchant form Liverpool. She is shown indoors, sitting in affluent surroundings, seemingly interrupted at her handwork but ready to welcome the viewer with a gracious half-smile: all subtle hints that (despite being dressed like a sultan's favorite) her life was centered on her home and the husband paying for the portrait, and that she was proud to be shown industriously enhancing that home with her own handwork.

Despite wearing the same sultana, Mrs. Hesketh's portrait shows a lady determined to present a very different image. There are no domestic trappings to be seen here. Instead she is shown outdoors, against a romantically cloud-tossed sky, and she looks not at the viewer, but off in the distance, lost in her own meditative thoughts. The large urn and stone balustrade create a classically-inspired setting, showing that she is sufficiently sophisticated to be aware of the Georgian era's rediscovery of ancient Greece and Rome. Instead of needlework, she is holding an open book, a sure sign of learning in a lady's portrait.

In status, she is most likely of a much higher rank than the other sitter.  Her husband (the wonderfully named Fleetwood Hesketh) was a prosperous country squire. His family was one of the most prominent landowners in Lancashire, and the landscape in the background might in fact show recognizable hills and lakes owned by the Heskeths. Mary Bold Hesketh had been an heiress in her own right, which would have placed her among the cream of the county's society.

It's no wonder, then, that her pose is consciously similar to those in the portraits of aristocratic ladies being painted at the same time in London, making it something of an aspirational portrait. But I have to wonder if Joseph Wright was as eager to rise to the ranks of artists like Sir Joshua Reynolds (and charge Reynolds' £100+ fees rather than the much more humble ten guineas that Wright received for this portrait) as Mrs. Hesketh was to be included among duchesses and marchionesses.

Above left: Mrs. Frances Hesketh, by Joseph Wright (Wright of Derby), c. 1775-76, National Museum of Liverpool.
Below right: Portrait of a Woman, by Joseph Wright (Wright of Derby), c. 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Getting a pauper mother married

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

James Ward, Mother and Infant
Loretta reports:

You may need a little explanation about the following tale from the 1849 Annual Register.

An unwed pauper mother's parish was responsible for her and her child’s upkeep.  Keeping people in parish workhouses, horrible as they were (see Dickens), cost money.  Thus the parish officers’ willingness to pay (bribe?) up front to make sure the woman got married and became her spouse’s responsibility.
—A Pauper Marriage—.

Mary Ann Rowland, a woman with a child in her arms, was brought before a magistrate at Bow Street, on a question connected with her settlement, when she made the following curious statement:— That she having a claim by right of birth to support from Christ Church parish, she was induced by the authorities there to consent to marry a man who belonged to another parish, and that she had received the sum of 4l. for such service; that she had put up the banns for the man whose wife she had intended to become and herself, but that her lover at the eleventh hour refused to enter the church, and that, consequently, she had been obliged to get another man to adopt his name; that in her anxiety to oblige her parish, she had prevailed upon a sailor to go to church with her, and marry her in the name of the person to whom she had been engaged, and that she handed over, as the price of that accommodation, the sum of 1l. to the sailor, who thereupon went about his business, without having had anything more to do with her.

Sir J. Key.—How long did you live with your husband?
Defendant (laughing).—I never lived with him at all. He was going off to sea, and off he went.
Sir J. Key.—What! the moment he married you?
Defendant.—Yes; he only waited to get his sovereign, and then he cut away. (Laughter.)
Sir J. Key.—Do you recollect his name?

A Married Sailor's Adieu
Defendant.—I think it was John Kelly. (Laughter.)
Sir J. Key.—Do you happen to know the name of the man to whom you expected to be married?
Defendant.—Yes; Joseph Murray. We were called three times, but he would not come and be married, I suppose because he did not consider the parish gave enough. (Laughter.) 4l. was but a small fortune.

The parish officers represented the case to be, that the woman being with child, and representing that the father was willing to marry her, they furnished the money required to supply a little furniture, and sent an official to see the ceremony duly performed. They had no idea of the substitution.
Annual Register, Chronicle, December 1849

Images: James Ward, Mother and Infant ca 1798; Julius Caesar Ibbetson, A Married Sailor's Adieu ca. 1800. Both courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Fun of '80s Fashion: Patrick Kelly's "Runway of Love"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Usually on this blog, the '80s refers to the 1680s, 1780s, or 1880s, but today's post is looking back a little less far, to the 1980s. It's an era that many of us remember with great fondness, even down to the crunchily-moussed big hair.

Last week I visited an exhibition devoted to the work of one of the '80s brightest talents, fashion designer Patrick Kelly (1954-1990). The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the fortunate recipient of a large collection of his clothing and accessories, and the staging of this exhibition - aptly called Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love – was a glorious celebration of both Kelly's designs and his philosophy.

Kelly's design goal was simple: "I want my clothes to make you smile." He succeeded, too. Dozens of mannequins showed examples of his work, featuring simple, flirtatious shapes, bright colors, and a witty use of appliques, buttons, and contrasting threads. His imagination was seemingly boundless, combining the influences of his African-American heritage and childhood in Mississippi with the inspiration he found in Paris, his second home and the place where he truly blossomed.

The mannequins were grouped by some of his most famous collections, and behind them were screens showing videos of each collection's runway shows. Clothes need bodies to come alive, and while it was fascinating to study the construction of the clothes up-close - were those buttons made from nails? - the real spirit of Kelly's clothes showed on the runway. A multicultural parade of models danced and laughed their way through each show, with everyone clearly having a fabulous time. Fashion never looked so fun, or so full of promise.

But the promise was sadly short-lived. At the peak of his career, Kelly died in Paris at the far-too-young age of thirty-five, an early victim of AIDS. In a time when the joyful racial equality of Kelly's runway seems more unattainable than ever, it was good to recall one man's optimism and creativity, and to remember the epitaph on his headstone: "Nothing Is Impossible."

While "Runway of Love" closed on Monday, much of the show is still online to view, along with several videos, here. There's no better antidote to a grey December day.

Many thanks to Mary Doering and Dilys E. Blum for their insights.

All photographs ©2014 Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, December 8, 2014

No smoking in the house, please

Monday, December 8, 2014
Mongolfier patent smoke conductor
Loretta reports:

It’s been cold in New England, unusually so in stretches, and sometimes including snow—well before it ought to be here!  No wonder then that, preoccupied with keeping warm, I found myself admiring yet another early 19th century heating device

The trick then—as it often is these days for people who use their fireplaces and wood stoves—is making the smoke go someplace that isn’t the house interior.

Please note the comparison of London and Parisian fireplaces.

Smoke conductor description

Description part 2
 Images courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library, via Internet Archive.

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, December 6, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of December 1, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014
The best weekend reading for you – our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, all gathered via Twitter.
• You go, Louisa May Alcott! Royalties from her books were far higher than those of Henry James and Herman Melville - and many writers today.
• Guide to old Hollywood special effects - with GIFS.
• 1920s college kids and the raccoon coat craze.
• Ladies last: eight important inventions by women that men got credit for.
Image: Postcard, 1920s: Judge a flapper's appetite by her size
Circulating libraries in Jane Austen's England.
• New book reveals that real Little House on the Prairie was closer to Deadwood than we'd like to believe.
• Blurred forms: an unsteady history of drunkenness.
• Which of course leads to this: how do you cure a historic hangover?
Image: Hand-sewn, block-printed wool dress, c. 1848.
• You better watch out! Krampus is coming for children who've been bad.
Edward Rushton, blind 18th c. poet and slavery abolitionist.
• Trowelblazers: early female geologists.
• For the knitters: vintage knitting pattern to download for a 1940s "Victory Jumper."
• "The dose makes the poison": dangerous 18th c. plants.
Image: Detail of stunning 1920s embroidered coat.
• How bread is tied up with the origins of "lord" and "lady."
• Lovely photographs of winter light in Spitalfields, London.
• Great 1956 interview with writer Dorothy Parker.
• A shoe-lovers dream: newly rediscovered family shoe store locked up unchanged for decades.
• The Apian Emperor: Napoleon and bees.
Image: The medieval palace in The Tower of London shows how colorful castles could be.
• The most heated, passionate, and intense letters of love, lust, and anger ever written.
• Peter Stuyvesant's eight rules for drinking responsibly in 17th c. New Amsterdam.
• How to be decorative while ice skating, 1917.
• The 1712 house and gardens at Badminton of the Duke of Beaufort.
• Three rare 1850s-60s daguerreotypes of elegantly dressed African-Americans.
Eleanor of Castile, 13th c. queen of England.
Image: Wind-swept frost in the Beskydy Mountains.
• Popular and socially acceptable in 18th c. America: cockfighting.
• "All ayre and fire": the life of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe.
• Was the 17th c. the real century of the décolleté?
• Art historian spots a long-lost Hungarian masterpiece being used as a set-prop in Stuart Little.
• On the trail of the Plantagenets, Britain's bloodiest dynasty.
Image: Trevithick's Railway and Locomotive, 1808.
• Love, flowers, and diamonds come together in the perfect sentimental 18th c. ring.
• Please adjust your dress: a fine Victorian urinal.
• After eight weeks of questioning, an anarchist jumps from an NYC skyscraper in 1920. Or did he?
• "Thy touch alone unbounds the chains of slavery": an unusual grave in the Lake District.
• What was the 18th c. going rate for selling your wife?
Image: The gymnasticon, late 18th c. exercise machine invented by Francis Lowndes.
• Icy blue silk and feathers: two luxurious winter garments from 1870s-80s.
• What happened to England's abandoned mansions?
• Because there's a museum for everything: the online Moist Towelette Museum.
Image: That moment when you storm the castle and realize you only brought one sword.
• Just for fun: Marutaro the hedgehog plays jazz piano.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Video: Too Late to Apologize, c.1776

Friday, December 5, 2014

Isabella reporting,

We shared this video back in the early days of the blog, and it's good enough to deserve another run now. The clip (from the North Carolina-based web educators Soomo Publishing) offers an entertaining mash-up of the American Founding Fathers with One Republic's Apologize –– and although it's full of important historical facts, it's also bound to stick in your head just as tenaciously as the original hit song did.

But if you'd prefer to see how culturally low you can go with American history, here's a Bud Light commercial that was recently produced for Independence Day, with the Founding Fathers whooping it up with plenty of brew and hot historical babes. Party on!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

George Cruikshank envisions a nightmare

Thursday, December 4, 2014
Cruikshank's Nightmare
Loretta reports:

Readers of this blog will by now be aware of the 2NHG’ fondness for the illustrators and caricaturists of the 18th and 19th centuries.  One of my absolute favorites is George Cruikshank, who was, fortunately, extremely prolific.

While the great painters focused on important people and sites, these tend to be formal and flattering.  Caricaturists and illustrators, however, dealt with everyday life, not always pretty. His images often help me envision scenes for my stories.

As well as creating distinctive images of people in their various humors and characters, Cruikshank drew and painted the details of his world, its streets and ordinary interiors.  But he had a talent as well for creating visual metaphors for human physical and emotional trials: headache, indigestion, and jealousy, for instance.

This image for a nightmare took my fancy, because it so aptly captures the experience in a way I think we can still relate to.

I was delighted to find Cruikshank’s A Comic Alphabet online at the Cincinnati library’s virtual library. 

You can also see the book at Spitalfields Life, a site I often turn to for big, sharp pictures of bygone London.

 Image courtesy the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

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.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Revolutionary Smile of Mme. Vigée-LeBrun, 1786

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Isabella reporting,


It's a simple, single-word command, one that's launched countless photo shoots and selfies. Smile, and the world smiles with you. In modern America, straight, white teeth are considered the sure ticket to success in every aspect of life, with a smile to lead the way.

It wasn't always so. In the past, limited diets and primitive dental hygiene made decay and missing teeth commonplace. A wide, toothy smile in an adult was considered vulgar and ill-bred, even a sign of wantonness or madness. Ladies and gentleman smiled with their lips together, hiding their teeth. Few Western portraits show a smiling subject, and rarer still are smiles with teeth.

But by the end of the 18th c., this was slowly beginning to change. As in so many things, Paris led the way, becoming the leader in producing toothbrushes, tooth-powders, mouth deodorants, and porcelain false teeth. Yet in 1787, when artist Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun exhibited the charming self-portrait with her daughter, above, the polite world was shocked. Why? Because she had painted herself with a smile that showed her teeth.

The Mémoires secrets, a popular gossip-sheet, noted that "An affectation which artists, art lovers, and persons of taste have been united in condemning, and which finds no precedent among the ancients, is that in smiling, [Mme. Vigée-LeBrun] shows her teeth....This affectation is particularly out of place in a mother."

Mme. Vigée-LeBrun did not agree. She was a popular artist in court circles, and the favorite portraitist of Queen Marie-Antoinette. She had an attractive smile herself (or at least she painted it that way), and she must have believed that a happy smile was entirely appropriate for a mother and child, and for a successful artist as well. She painted herself several more times with her teeth showing - the self-portrait, right, dates from 1787 – and today these portraits seem modern and fresh because of those revolutionary smiles.

Above left: Mme. Vigée-LeBrun et sa fille, Jeanne-Lucie, dite Julie, by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun, 1786, The Louvre.
Below right: Self-Portrait, by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun, 1787, Fyvie Castle, Scotland.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fashions for December 1829

Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Fashions 1829 December
Loretta reports:

The early 19th century La Belle Assemblée aka The Court Magazine has often contributed fashion plates to this blog.  The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons, which provided this month's, is another of John Bell’s publications for women. 

Unlike La Belle Assemblée, the World of Fashion offers four sets of fashion plates each month, each containing at least two dresses as well as head wear and coiffures.  This plate, I thought, gives us a wonderful sense of the wild hair/hat concoctions Lord of Scoundrels’ hero found so hilarious.

Fashion description

Fashion description

  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.

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