Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fashionable Survivor: A Rare Silk Damask Gown, 1777

Thursday, April 30, 2015
Isabella reporting,

This week I visited the wonderful Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston with one of our blog's good friends, Kimberly Alexander of the historic clothing blog Silk Damask. We had an appointment with Anne E. Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts, to see a certain pair of 1747 emerald green damask wedding shoes. We swooned over the shoes (as true Nerdy History folk do) and I wondered aloud whether the shoes had matched the bride's dress.

"They did," replied Ms. Bentley. "I know, because we have the dress, too."

Out came the long, over-sized archive box that is always a sign of marvels to come. There were three beautiful dresses inside that box, nested together in their tissue-paper cocoons: a silvery-green 1840s silk dress and matching pelerine, the emerald silk wedding dress (more about that in a future blog) worn by Rebecca Tailer for her 1747 Boston wedding to Rev. Mather Byles, and the dress shown here, long ago incorrectly identified by family tradition as having belonged to Rebecca Tailer Byles' mother. It's more likely the wedding gown of Rebecca's daughter Abigail, who married Dr. Jon Clark VI in Halifax, NS, in 1777.

And it's so beautiful.

The silk damask is light and crisp and scattered with lavishly detailed flowers between pink patterned stripes. Most likely French, the silk would have been the highest fashion at the time, and it would have been expensive, too. In the middle of the American Revolution, this silk would have been imported in a merchant ship out-racing privateers, which would have added to its cost.

The dress is an open robe à l'anglaise, lined with linen. The front of the bodice closes not with straight pins (the traditional closure for most 18thc. women's clothing), but with the very modern fastenings of hooks and eyes, middle left. The low neckline would have been filled in with a fine linen neckerchief, and there are narrow bands of pleated trim with scalloped (pinked) edges at the cuffs of the sleeves, lower right.

With its open-front skirt, the gown would have been worn over either a matching petticoat or one of a contrasting color, a look that's common in French fashion plates of the 1770s. The skirt is longer in the back, suggesting that it was worn with a false rump. Kimberly and I also suspect that the skirts were worn looped up in the back for more fullness, although we didn't have time to hunt for the tell-tale signs of stitching for a cord or buttons inside the lining.

Abigail's mantua-maker was well aware of European fashion, and skilled in executing it. She took care to work with the striped pattern of the silk, cutting the sleeves on the cross-grain so that the stripes went around the arm. The back of the gown, upper left, is particularly well-done, using the pink stripes to accentuate the tapering of the waist.

By measuring the gown, we could also tell a bit about Abigail Tailer herself. We're guessing she was about 5' 4" or so in height, and the waist of the gown was 26", with some of that an allowance for her stays and shift - roughly a modern size 6.

The gown as it is now is preserved for study, not display, so I can only offer these detail photographs of it. On a mannequin, it would probably look much like this one, lower left, from LACMA's collections. There's another similar gown from the Manchester Museum featured in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1.

What's the most exciting thing for me about Abigail Tailer's wedding gown? Learning that Kimberly and I were the first people outside the MHS to see it in more than forty years, and probably longer than that. It came to the MHS directly from Abigail's descendants, and it hasn't been featured in any exhibitions or books. It's been waiting patiently all that time in its tissue paper to be rediscovered.

I'd say it was well worth the wait....

Many, many thanks to Anne E. Bentley and the Massachusetts Historical Society!

Above: Gown, silk, 1777. Collection, Massachusetts Historical Society. Photographs ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott. 
Lower left: Robe, silk, 1775, Collection, LACMA.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A London Policeman's Work in the 1830s

Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Loretta reports:

We usually think of police as catching criminals, and certainly London in the 1830s had an ample supply of crime  But these statistics show another aspect of the work during the early days of the Metropolitan Police, very much in keeping with their mission at this time: preventing crime. And who knew they performed so many rescues?

Police Statistics
Police statistics
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.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Gone Fishin' Some More

Monday, April 27, 2015
Four women fishing
Isabella & Loretta report:

As we mentioned last week, we were away for a few days for the New England Chapter/RWA conference.  We attended workshops, networked with published and aiming-to-be published authors, talked to editors and agents, and signed copies of our books.

It turns out we need to take a few more days off, in order to recover from the excitement and to catch up with the work that accumulated while we were away.

We won’t be gone long: You can look for fresh posts starting Wednesday.

Image:  William James, Four women fishing. Oakville, Ontario, Canada (ca 1904).

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, April 25, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of April 20, 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015
Ready for  your weekend reading pleasure - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images collected via Twitter.
• Spectacular drone photos catch historic places the "way they were designed to be seen."
• In search of the rope-makers of Stepney.
• Nothing is new: texting in medieval times.
• The people's palaces: gin in Regency England.
Image: So striking: Woman with Peacock, 17thc Mughal painting conceptualized on marbled paper.
• Lost and found: the revival of the French flower-making trade.
Child-stealing: the case of Thomas Dellow, 1811.
• 19thc. sportswear for women from La Mode Illustree.
• When exactly was the "Season" in London?
Image: 1890s black fan with tumbling pierrot figures.
• The forgotten treehouse bars of bygone summers in Paris.
• Rediscovered: the marriage bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
• Just remember that they're costumes, not history: Outlander designer Terry Dresbach on eight memorable costumes from the show.
• And more costumes: interview with Michele Carragher, historically inspired costume embroiderer for Game of Thrones.
• Alfhild, a swashbuckling 5thc. pirate princess, and daughter of the King of the Goths.
Image: Steamboat acrobats, c 1883.
Yoda? Is that thou? Figure in 14thc manuscript looks familiar.
• What turned a handsome, popular actor into America's most notorious murderer?
• Art + reading: 20 beautiful images of medieval & Renaissance women reading.
• The port of London in the 18th c.
• The president and the parsnip: Thomas Jefferson's seasonal vegetable charts.
Image: Fabulous zoomable panoramic shot of 1920s bathing beauties.
• What a magazine looked like in 1702.
• The hidden courtyard of one of Britain's best-preserved medieval castles.
• Laennec's baton: a short history of the stethoscope.
• Finally, even in 18thc America, flowers acquire scientific names and become status symbols.
Image: The glorious ceiling of Stowe House's Marble Saloon.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion: Bookfair for Literacy

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
It's not often that the Two Nerdy History Girls – yes, us – are in the same place at the same time, but it WILL happen this weekend, and for a good cause, too.

We'll both both be signing copies of our books at the Bookfair for Literacy, part of the Let Your Imagination Take Flight conference sponsored by the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America. The signing takes place 1:30-2:30 pm on Saturday, April 25, at the Boston Marriott Hotel, which, despite its name, is located in Burlington, MA. Admission to the signing is free.

There will be more than twenty authors signing, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Massachusetts Literacy Foundation. If you're in the area, please come say hello!

OK, so this isn't really a picture of us, but of the Dolly Sisters.  Still, there is a remarkable resemblance in the degree of fabulosity....

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

From the Archives: The fine art of walking city streets in the 19th century

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Louise-Léopold Boilly, Passer Payez, c. 1803
Loretta reports:

The art of negotiating city streets in bad weather, modeled on the Parisian method.
You must pay attention to your manner of walking, for fear of throwing mud around you, and spattering yourself as well as those who accompany you, or who walk behind you. Any person, particularly a lady, who walks in this improper manner, whatever her education may be in other respects, will always appear awkward and clumsy.

Every one knows that the Parisian ladies are celebrated for their skill in walking: we see them in white stockings and thin shoes, passing through long, dirty, and blocked up streets, gliding by careless persons, and by vehicles crossing each other in every direction, and yet return home after a walk of several hours, without soiling their clothes in the least.

To arrive at this astonishing result, which causes the wonder and vexation of provincial visitors on their first coming to Paris, we must be careful to put the foot on the middle of the paving stones, and never on the edges, for, in that case, one inevitably slips into the interstice between one pavement and another: we must begin by supporting the toe, before we do the heel; and even when the mud is quite deep, we must put down the heel but seldom. When the street becomes less muddy, we can compensate ourselves for this fatigue, which, however, in the end, leaves us hardly sensible.

This manner of walking is strictly necessary when you offer your arm to any one. When tripping over the pavement, (as the saying is) a lady should gracefully raise her dress a little above her ancle. With the right hand she should hold together the folds of her gown, and draw them towards the right side. To raise the dress on both sides, and with both hands, is vulgar. This ungraceful practice can be tolerated only for a moment, when the mud is very deep.
Elisabeth Celnart, The gentleman and lady's book of politeness and propriety of deportment: dedicated to the youth of both sexes, 1833  

Illustration: Louis Leopold Boilly, Passer-payez (ca 1803), courtesy Wikimedia Commons.  

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 click on caption for more info.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

From the Archives: Sarah Bowdich Quells a Mutiny, 1816

Sunday, April 19, 2015
Isabella reporting:

Here's one of my all-time favorite "intrepid women" from the blog, and one whose story is definitely worth repeating.

In 1816, not all English ladies were leading a genteel, Austen-esque life in the country. At least one of them was sailing with her infant daughter to Africa to meet her husband. Sarah Wallis Bowdich (1791-1856) was the only woman, let alone the only lady, on board a small merchant ship full of desperate men. Here's Sarah's own telling of what happened one evening, from her 1835 book Stories of Strange Lands, & Fragments from the Notes of a Traveller:

"The surgeon whispered to me his apprehensions that all was not well, and that our people...were irritated and annoyed, and in a most discontented state. The first mate was in command of the vessel; and, though he was an admirable sailor, and a most obliging and excellent person, was very impetuous. The dinner was sent to table very ill-dressed, and the cook was summoned aft to receive a reprimand. He became impertinent, and the mate, seizing a butter-boat, threw it at his head....A general scuffle ensued, and the second mate, running to the chest of arms, loaded a brace of pistols, and stood in the door-way of the cabin, swearing to two men who came aft, that he would blow their brains out if they ventured a step further. I expostulated with him, but he only replied, "You do not know the danger, Ma'am; the men are in a state of mutiny, and if they seize on the small-arms, we may all be murdered." My child happened to be on deck; and, at the word murdered, I crept under the second mate's arm after her. She was perfectly safe, with Antonio [another sailor] beside her, as guard. My fellow-passenger [a convicted slaver!] was on the larboard side, striving by fair words to quell the tumult; but the first mate was nearly overpowered at the opposite gangway. In striving to reach my child, I became mixed up with their party; and, without knowing it, was close by the mate when when the cook made a plunge at him with the large knife with which he cut the meat. To seize the cook's arm, to snatch the knife out of his hand, and throw it into the sea, was an affair of impulse, not reflection; however, it probably saved the mate, for the knife had already cut through his waistcoat. This action, and my presence, seemed to produce a momentary pause, and gave time to those who were well-disposed to rally round their master. The cook was put in irons, and...went away muttering curses and threats; and I had no inclination to eat the offering with which he had tried to propitiate me....I accordingly threw it into the sea, and retired to the cabin, to prevent further identification with this painful concern."

But wait! This is only one tiny slice of this lady's amazing and accomplished life as an author, artist, zoologist, traveller, and naturalist, as well as a wife and mother. Read more about her here.

Above: Loaded pistols were served out to all the sure men by N.C. Wyeth, 1911, illustration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Collection of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of April 13, 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015
Served up fresh for your weekend browsing: our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, collected via Twitter.
• A Chinese fantasy: Middleton Park, 1806.
• Although poignantly beautiful today, Queen Charlotte did not like her 1789 portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
• How five black women rode from New York to DC by bicycle over Easter weekend, 1928.
• Watching Wolf Hall? Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the period-perfect costumes.
• The politics of early 18thc. Italian chocolate: Cosimo III's secret jasmine chocolate recipe.
Image: A delightful 19thc. patchwork pincushion in the shape of a teapot.
• Four infamous intelligence failures of the Revolutionary War.
• A striking English quillwork portrait, 1700-1720.
• Directly connected to British Imperialism: how India Pale Ale got its name.
Image: A well-dressed 1546 party in the garden.
• When wearing shorts was banned in America.
Scandal, elopement, and devotion: behind the lovely portrait of artist Allan Ramsey's second wife.
• How could they not have hired her? Eudora Welty, aged 23, applies for a job at the New Yorker in 1933.
• A gentleman's Chinese silk banyan with matching waistcoat, made in Italy c. 1800.
• The story of Columbus's voyage to the New World continues to be told with one monumental error.
Image: So sweet: a long-forgotten flower pressed between the pages of a 1790s almanac.
• A lovely French fan of the Directoire period.
• Books, children, and (possibly) staged photos as propaganda during WWII.
• By ambition hewn: when beautiful architecture marks a sad history: Ballysaggartmore, County Waterford.
• How roller-skating made for a speedier romance in Victorian England.
• Why fashion magazines still matter.
• The forgotten squalor of NY's Cornelia Street.
• Now this is vintage pulp fiction, with a lurid, over-the-top cover to match - and written by the creator of Wonder Woman!
• Image: Abdul Karim, Indian Secretary to Queen Victoria, and more about him here.
• The material culture of tragedy: what Abraham Lincoln left behind.
• A 17thc recipe: Robert Boyle's "best way" to make syrup of violets.
• Thousands of women ran for office before they had the vote - and some of them won, too.
• The Viking women who disappeared.
• How do you correct a misprint in a 16thc book?
Image: You know there must be a story here: charming anonymous photograph c.1910.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Surprising Pair of Pistols

Friday, April 17, 2015
Painted Finch
Loretta reports:

Isabella and I have shown you a number of clockwork devices from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.  (See blogs here and here for examples & links).

This is a particular favorite of mine.  It inspired one of the stories in Royally Ever After.

Image: Plate 53 of Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting Painted Finch (1827-1838), courtesy Wikipedia [edited].

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, April 16, 2015

A Charming Hand-Drawn Love Letter, c. 1800

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Isabella reporting,

In my praise of primary sources earlier this week, I shared one of the accounting pages from the papers of 18thc. merchant and landowner John Cadwalader. Today I'm featuring an example that's a lot more fun, though just as revealing about the past: a complicated, hand-drawn liebesbrief, Valentine, or love letter, left.

Although the messages on this love letter are in English, it's firmly in the design traditions of the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Drawn and brightly colored on paper, this manuscript-style folk art is called fraktur, after the angular style of the writing that is often part of the design. This liebesbrief includes the bright colors and whimsical designs often featured in fraktur, plus clever folds that open into a four-pointed star. The unfolded letter, lower right, is equally enchanting, and reveals the complicated folds.

Each point of the star has a separate couplet:

  My Dearest Dear and blest divine/ I've picture here your heart and mine
  But Cupid with her Cruel dart/ Has deeply pierced my tender heart
  And has between us set Across/ Which makes me to lament my loss
  But I'm in hopes when that is gone/ That both our hearts will be in one

No one today knows who drew this love letter, or for whom it was intended. Still, it's easy to imagine a young woman (or young man: the artist's gender isn't known, either) carefully drawing and writing this piece, neatly coloring the pink hearts and flowers, filling in the background with all those tiny dots, and thinking of the recipient with every stroke of the pen and brush. But was it meant for a faithful sweetheart, or was it a brave first declaration of admiration?

Again, there's no way of knowing. But whoever the recipient was, he or she carefully preserved the liebesbrief - which I'd guess was a very good omen for the sender.

Above: Liebesbrief (Love Letter), Anonymous, c. 1800, Pennsylvania. Collection, The Free Library of Philadelphia.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Travelling Medicine Chest for 1827

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Medicine Chest 1805
Loretta reports:

You may be interested to learn that improving stale beer falls under the category of Medicine, though this is not quite as exciting as the advice regarding lancets.  Note also the product placement.
Travelling Medicine Chests have been fitted up in a variety of forms : however, so many circumstances arise which it is impossible to foresee ... that all that the most wary Traveller can do, is by timely attention to the First Symptoms of Disorder, to prevent the increase of it: for this purpose, he will rarely require more than Salts—Rhubarb—Sal Volatile—and Sticking Plaster.

A Lancet is indeed necessary for a Traveller, because a Lancet which has been used in bleeding a person afflicted with an Infectious Disease may inoculate any other who may be bled with it a short time afterwards— and so may a Razor which has shaved a diseased person.

Carbonate of Soda is useful: you may occasionally get good Beer*, excepting that it is a little Stale, which this will correct; but the best Beverage for Travellers, is half of a common-sized Wine Glass; or One ounce of Brandy in a common-sized Tumbler; or Eight ounces, or half-a-pint of Water.

Strong Peppermint Lozenges are excellent Stomach warmers, and very comforting companions in Cold Weather; — they will often stop Sea-sickness, and will fortify your Stomach when you have to fast longer than usual. They are made by Smith, Fell Street, Wood Street, Cheapside...

Some Biscuits ; for the Languor felt when the Stomach is empty, may often be removed by eating a Biscuit; and when it can be so appeased, it is a more innocent way of amusing it, than by winding it up with Wine; however, it is more advisable to give it both, than to suffer the Circulation to go down.

* We can tell you where you can get good beer in London—at Field's, No. 22, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. Brown Stout, Burton Ale, and Cider Superlative, quite as agreeable to the Mouth, and ten times more so to the Stomach, than half of the Champagne that is now sold.  —John Jervis, The Traveller’s Oracle (1827)
Image: Medicine chest, winged front, from Reece's Medical Hall, Pic Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images, Wellcome Library, London. Description: Medicine chest, winged front, from Reece's Medical Hall, Piccadilly, with 30 painted glass bottles and 4 drawers, 5 confection glasses, 1 probang, 3 boxes, 1 plaster spreader, 1 seal, 1 spatula, 1 bowl, 1 pill tile, 1 fleam, 1 lancet, 2 syringes, 4 visiting cards, 1 receipt and engraved plate, c1805.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Daily Expenses for a Gentleman in Philadelphia, 1772

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I love primary sources - letters, diaries, receipts, journals, inventories, and so on - that can act as an instant link to the past. (Apparently many of you agree: one of my most popular posts explored the inventory of an 18thc. woman's wardrobe.) Reading the elegant handwriting in faded ink, turning over the still-crisp papers, seeing the very human blotches of ink, misspellings, or doodles, can all make the intervening centuries disappear.

Last week I went searching through the papers of Philadelphian John Cadwalader (1742-1786) in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Cadwalader was a prominent merchant and landowner, and during the American Revolution, he became one of General Washington's commanders. He kept voluminous records of his finances and daily expenses, many of which survived and are now in the HSP's collections.

Looseleaf pages like this one, left, from January, 1772 might seem like the driest of accounting, a day-by-day catalog of Cadwalader's expenses. But the entries reveal not only more about Cadwalader's own personal and household spending, but also fascinating details about life in the 18thc. city.

In addition to the money given to "Jem Sampson for marketing" (I'm assuming he or she was the cook, though there is also another entry marked "paid to the Cook"), much of the household's food was bought directly from specialized shops or from individuals. Cadwalader lists items on this sheet for almonds, loaves of bread, yeast, lemons, and squab pigeons. Another page includes "a String of fish" and a payment to "a Woman on the German-Town Road for Eggs." He bought wine, too: "Mr. Morris for 5 Bottles Frontenacc."

Of course I was interested in seeing what was spent on clothing. Other pages have numerous expenses for Mrs. Cadwalader's wardrobe as well as his own, but two of the more expensive bills on this page are paid to "Isaac Parish for a Hat", and a whopping £4 for a "Muff & Tipit" to keep Mrs. Cadwalader warm. (To put that in perspective: modern estimates are that a common laborer in the 18thc. colonies earned roughly £40 annually, a schoolteacher earned £60, and a minister around £100. Odds are none of them were spending £4 for a muff and tipit.)

There are many entries for postage, for letters carried to New York and sent to far-away London. He paid for services like chimney-sweeping, "for Quilting a Cradle Quilt," and "for Bleeding Moll Singo & Jem Sampson." He had energy costs: "6 Cord Wood from over the Schuylkill [River]." Other pages include the annual fee for his church pew, payments to Charles Willson Peale for portraits of his family (including the one right), contributions to what would become the University of Pennsylvania, and alms to the poor, all signs of responsible, respectable 18thc. gentleman.

But there's another side to all this lavish spending that only appears in a couple of references: the expenses pertaining to the "Negroes." Scholars today guess that the Cadwaladers had at least seven slaves in their city house, and there were surely more working the family's sizable plantation on the Sassafras River in Kent County, Maryland. Were Jem (perhaps short for Jemima) and Moll among those enslaved people? The most important slave in George Washington's household during his presidency in Philadelphia in the 1790s was his cook, Hercules. Could Jem have had that trusted status with the Cadwaladers, too? (If anyone knows for certain, I'd love to learn more.)

And all that from what amounts to an 18thc. check register.

Above: Looseleaf page from John Cadwalader papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Lower right: John and Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader and their Daughter Anne, by Charles Willson Peale, 1772. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Rare Creamware Water Cistern

Monday, April 13, 2015
Loretta reports:
Another object that caught my eye during my visit to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta was this 18th century water cistern.

Like the tea party I showed previously, this is the sort of thing that can easily make its way into a story.  While the objects are interesting and beautiful in themselves, and their workmanship delights and impresses, they also help us visualize a bygone world, helping writers bring a scene to life and nerdy history persons do a bit of time traveling.

You can get another view of this cistern as well as learn more about it here.

Water Cistern and Cover, 1790-1795.  Cream –colored earthenware.  Leeds Pottery (Leeds, England), maker.  Purchase in memory of Frances Floyd Cocke, 2009.6a-b.  High Museum of Art.

 Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of April 6, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015
Fresh for your weekend web-surfing - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, collected for you via Twitter.
• Ground-breaking research reveals significantly differently original composition in a beloved painting, Fragonard's Young Girl Reading.
The feline ancestors of Hello Kitty? The cats of Japan's Edo Period.
• Rare Ojibwa Indian coat from the 1780s mixes traditional motifs with European style.
An early 19th c. Easter miscellany.
• An astonishing 18th c. portrait: the Marquis de Boissy (1765-1840) depicted as a . . . hare.
• Two young British wheelwright apprentices visit Colonial Williamsburg to help keep alive a dying trade.
Waterloo treasures featured in new interactive video from the Cambridge University Library.
• Stinks, smells, and fumes: Fumigating for health in early modern England.
Image: Lovely informal portrait of a couple by Danloux, c. 1802.
• Camp followers in the Peninsular War.
• Twelve of NYC's historic ballrooms: grand entertainment venues of another era.
Beer for breakfast: most 18th c. people began their days with beer.
• "Plus-size": a history of the fashion industry's most troubling term.
• Delicious rottenness: women, sex, and apples.
• The red dead-nettle: a weed from the Bronze Age.
• The old industry of rope-making: hemp from the Philippines, Russia, & Italy transformed in London, 1905.
Image: the Chelsea Bun House, where supposedly over a quarter million buns were sold on Good Friday, 1829.
• Only full skeleton retrieved from Battle of Waterloo in 200 years identified after being found beneath a car park.
• Propaganda warfare: Benjamin Franklin fakes a newspaper.
• The US Forestry Service made this fantastic cocktail guide in 1974.
• The miracle of the heavens: how Galileo's telescope changed the world.
• Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill: the eccentric house that inspired the Gothic Revival.
• The promenade de Longchamps: horses, hats, and history.
• Eighteenth century stockings: how shocking!
Image: Giggle Water: cover to 1920s cocktail recipe book
The Lady's Magazine, 18th c. boarding schools, and other problems.
• This elegant 1890 townhouse is the last sliver of the 19th c. on its block on W. 72nd Street, NYC.
• Just for fun: two medieval monks invent bestiaries. Watch out for that bed-bird tucking you in!
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Video: Underwear in the V&A: From Corsets to Bullet-Bras and Back

Friday, April 10, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Corsets, stays, and underwear in general are always popular topics here on the blog, and the use of corseting to achieve a fashionable body shape is once again back in the news under the guise of "waist-training". In this video, Eleri Lynn, fashion curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, shares some of the highlights of the collection as well as her thoughts on the ever-changing ways that undergarments have been used to enhance, modify, and support the female body.

Ms. Lynn is also the author of one of my favorite books on historical underpinnings, Underwear: Fashion in Detail. The latest in the gorgeous series of fashion histories featuring the V&A's collections, this over-sized book is filled with page after page of beautiful images and stunning details. You'll find almost everything here, from a 16thc. boy's shirt to 18thc. stays to a 19thc. whalebone busk, Queen Victoria's bloomers to Calvin Klein's briefs. Highly recommended!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Fashions for April 1864

Thursday, April 9, 2015
1864 Ladies Fashions
Loretta reports:

Blame it on all the Victorian history books I’ve been reading lately (and will blog about before long)—or on Astrida Schaeffer’s luscious book, Embellishments.*  These and/or other forces unknown have helped soften my heart toward Victorian fashions, even those of the 1850s and 1860s, with the big skirts and sloping shoulders I once found so unappetizing. 

These days, though, looking into Godey’s Lady’s Book or Peterson’s Magazine, with an open mind, shows me the sexiness—yes! & maybe all the more so because it seemed to be so deeply suppressed in everyday life—and artistry of the styles.
1864 Fashions described
Images from Godey's Lady's Book April 1864, courtesy Internet Archive.

*More about this here.

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, April 8, 2015

A Special Book from Samuel Johnson to Fanny Burney, 1781

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Isabella reporting,

As a writer, I'm always intrigued by the bits and pieces of the craft that other writers in the past have left behind, like Jane Austen's humble writing desk and chair or these unbound, first edition volumes of Pride and Prejudice. More rare still are handwritten drafts, manuscripts that have been crossed out and scribbled over in a frenzy of creative inspiration.

Even now in the computer age, there are several stages to transforming a manuscript into a finished book. Revisions are made by editors and copy editors as well as the author her/himself, plus additional notations by the production team. The final step is the galleys, or page proofs, that show exactly how the pages of the finished books will look. Today this all takes place through an electronic exchange of track-changes, but in the past the process involved flopping reams of paper mailed back and forth in padded brown envelopes. (It wasn't so distant a past, either; I have not-fond memories of racing to ship edited galleys to the FedEx office before closing.)

After the book was published, all those various versions and edits of mine went into the recycling bin. I imagine that 18th or 19th c. authors and printers probably did their version of recycling, too, by sending the old galleys to be remade into new paper. They weren't considered worth saving, and very few survive today.

One that did is shown here, above, and features a work by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Dr. Johnson was perhaps the most famous literary figure of 18th c. Britain, and among the many hats he wore were essayist, editor, poet, literary critic, biographer, and lexicographer. One of the highlights of my tour last week of Houghton Library, Harvard University, was visiting the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson, right, with curator John Overholt. The comprehensive depth of this collection of books, artwork, manuscripts, and letters is truly breathtaking, and even if you cannot visit for yourself (Houghton Library is open to the public for tours on Friday), you can view highlights on the collection's website.

These are the proofs to Dr. Johnson's Life of Pope, from Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, published in 1781, and later to be known more simply as Lives of the Poets.  I love being able to see Dr. Johnson's comments and corrections in the margins, exactly the kind of final corrections and changes that every writer makes.

Ordinarily the proofs would have been used and then discarded by the printer. According to John Overholt, however, these survived because the novelist Fanny Burney (1752-1840) asked Dr. Johnson to save them for her so she might read the selection early, without waiting for the final published edition, as a personal ARC (advanced reader copy.) Not only did Dr. Johnson retrieve the edited proof from the printer, but because he had also been trained as a young man to be a bookbinder, he bound the proof himself as a special gift for Mrs. Burney – and a special gift, too, to those of us living today.

Many thanks to John Overholt for his generous assistance with this post.

Above left: Proofs for the Life of Pope from Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, by Samuel Johnson, 1781. MS Hyde 50 (4), Harvard University.
Lower right: The Donald & Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
All images courtesy of Harvard University.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Royally Ever After On Sale Today

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Royally Ever After
Loretta reports:

I haven’t written many novellas or short stories, mainly because they’re trickier than you’d think, and the time needed subtracts from the time my full-length books demand.  But a couple of times in recent years, I was tempted back into the world of shorter tales.  The results were published in two bridal anthologies coinciding with, first, the marriage of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge (perhaps better known as Will & Kate) and second, media interest in certain of the bridal attendants.

Today, the two novellas are being released in a single eBook, Royally Ever After, with its own beautiful cover.

If you haven’t read my work before, this is a fairly painless way to sample it, as well as some bits of nerdy history I was able to incorporate, entertainingly, I hope. Here at 2NHG and on my website blog you can expect to see some follow-up posts on those bits.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Frothy, Fashionable Caps, c. 1780

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Isabella reporting,

When I visited the Margaret Hunter Shop in Colonial Williamsburg last month, the mantua-makers had just finished two complicated sewing projects, and their form of relaxing was to replicate several silk gauze caps of the late 1770s-early 1780s.

Caps had been part of an Englishwoman's day-time wardrobe for many generations before this. Ostensibly to cover the head and hair for modesty's sake, they were worn by nearly all women of every age and rank. For working women, linen caps kept hair tidy and out of the way, and offered extra protection around open fires. For the more fashionable, caps could also provided a base for the wide-brimmed hats worn out-of-doors.

By the last quarter of the 18th c., however, caps had evolved into notable fashion statements on their own. Trimmed with ribbons, bows, and ruffles and enhanced with fine stitching and embroidery, caps inflated into frothy confections to match the towering hairstyles ("heads") of the time.

These stylish caps were made of the finest silk gauze, a translucent fabric with a crisp hand much like modern organza. The narrow rolled hems, pleats, and tiny stitches were a test of skill for the mantua-makers, as Nicole Rudolph, above left, demonstrates. The original caps were so airy and insubstantial that few survive in collections today. (Our CW manuta-makers report that even after a single careful laundering, the caps
begin to wilt, and after two, they're pretty much done.)

But longevity wasn't the caps' point. They were a trend-driven fashion, with new variations appearing frequently in the London shops. They could be further personalized with different bows, as the back view of the example, lower left, demonstrates (though it could use some equally fashionable big hair beneath it for proper height.) Compared to a new gown, caps were also inexpensive, and an easy way to update an older wardrobe.

Looking at the satirical prints of the time, right, it's easy to assume that the size and foolishness of the caps was exaggerated (along with everything else) by the artists. They weren't. Apprentice Abby Cox models one of the caps copied by the shop from a print, lower right, and there's no denying its exuberant charm. Yes, the cap is extreme, and more than a little foolish to modern eyes, but to an 18th c. lady - and more importantly, to an 18th c. gentleman - there were few things more unabashedly flirtatious than a pretty young woman in a sweet ruffled cap.

Above left: Photo copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.
Right: Detail, Deceitful Kisses, or The Pretty Plunderers, from an original by John Collet, printed by Carrington Bowles, 1781. Collection of the British Museum.
Lower right: Photographs copyright 2015 the Margaret Hunter Shop.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of March 30, 2015

Saturday, April 4, 2015
Fresh for your weekend reading - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, articles, images, and websites, collected for you via Twitter.
• Cards with cut-out faces advertised the 18th c. French coiffure.
• Last vestiges of early London, drawn and engraved c. 1800 by John Thomas Smith.
• Inside out: images from a fashion exhibition at Kent State University feature the inside view of clothing of the past.
• London before the Great Fire: John Thomas Smith's 18th c. images recored lost London.
• A charted guide to name-calling: Zelda Fitzgerald called Ernest Hemingway "a pansy with hair on his chest."
Image: Suffragette banner at Museum of London lists names of hunger-striking prisoners.
• A papyrus of Homer was used as toilet paper.
• Women and restaurants in 19th c. America.
• Turbulent Londoners: writer, feminist, and early trade unionist Clementina Black.
• A trend in 19thc-early 20thc seed-selling: women-owned businesses.
• Eighteenth century knives and scissors sharpened.
• Seventeenth century recipe: "to make lemmon cakes."
Image: Typology of 18th c. Wedgewood buckles.
• Planning an 18th c. garden with Martha Daniell Logan (1704-1779), South Carolina Gardener & Teacher.
• Sweden's traditional Easter witches.
• Carrie Marcus Neiman: a pioneer in ready-to-wear clothing.
• The creation of London's first great docks in the early 19th c.
Napoleon and the Marquis de Lafayette.
• Photos of Bohemian partiers in New York's Greenwich Village, 1910-1920.
• The elopement of Lady Elizabeth Howard, 1793.
Image: Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC from a 1934 postcard.
• How Grandpa got his LOLs: how people did April Fools pranks before the internet.
• The weird abandoned domes of Casa Grande, Arizona.
• Mourning jewelry: remembering the dearly departed.
Image: Gold-heeled wedding boots, 1873.
• London's oldest hot cross buns for Good Friday.
• "Look'd like milk": breast-milk substitutes among captives in New England's 18th c. borderlands.
• The English diplomat who signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783 was known for singular dress and lack of stockings.
• Napoleon, or the "Corsican Monster" in early 19thc. British propaganda.
• F.Scott Fitzgerald's first draft of The Great Gatsby.
• Twelve buildings still in use today that were built during the time of Richard III.
• Anyone can write like Jane Austen...with the Jane Austen font!
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Friday Video: Two Schoolboys' View of a Georgian Prince

Friday, April 3, 2015
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Loretta reports:

The early Georgians are not my specialty.  I’m more familiar with the Prince Regent (later, King George IV) than his predecessors.  But it’s interesting to learn how a family tradition of mutual father-son antipathy continues over generations.

In this short video clip, two schoolboys explain Prince Frederick and his family situation.  If you want to know more, you can view a lengthier and more detailed (and yes, very entertaining) account of the Georgian monarchs here.

Image: Attributed to Joseph Highmore, Frederick, eldest son of George II of Great Britain and Caroline of Anspach (circa 1740-50), from the Royal Collection via Wikipedia

Clicking on an 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, April 2, 2015

A Brilliant Starry Messenger, 1783

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Isabella reporting,

The night sky is unfamiliar territory to most modern Westerners. A sky filled with stars and planets that was once so familiar for telling time and location is today lost in the brightness of electric lights. Rare celestial events like comets, meteors, and fireballs are relegated to a passing notice on the Weather Channel (or worse, in a song by Pitbull.)

But to our ancestors, the sight of an unexpected ball of fire shooting across the heavens was a strange and unsettling thing, a divine portent of a coming war or the downfall of a king. Starry Messengers: Signs and Science from the Skies is the name of a wonderful exhibition currently on display at Harvard University's Houghton Library, and features examples of how early modern scientists, artists, and writers tried to explain and understand the stars and skies above. The exhibition runs through May 2, and is free and open to the public; click here for more information, and also watch the excellent short video here.

I was particularly fascinated by the story that accompanied these two images on the exhibition caption:

"On the evening of August 18, 1783, a fireball streaked across the British night sky, breaking up in the atmosphere and vanishing over the course of a minute. The summer heat meant there were a number of observers outside at the right moment. Remarkably, a gathering on the terrace of Windsor Palace included both the physicist Tiberious Cavallo and the artist Thomas Sandby, each of whom recorded the event in his own way; Cavallo in the pages of the premier scientific journal of the time, and Sandby in a beautifully atmospheric painting of the event, turned into a hand-colored etching by his brother Paul."

The illustration, right, that accompanied Cavallo's scholarly account in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1784 no doubt explained the stages of the fireball's self-destruction to his learned readers. However, the Sandby painting, above, (click on the image to enlarge it) captures the magic of the event, showing a group of party-goers turned celestial observers gazing up into the sky from the terrace. Unlike some of the earlier illustrations in the exhibition that show people recoiling in fear from comets, these individuals are calmly regarding the fireball with true Age of Reason solemnity.

I like that Sandby included two well-dressed women in the group, and that they are watching solemnly, too, without any signs of female hysterics or fear. What did they make of the sight, I wonder? They certainly weren't going to report their reaction to the Royal Society; women were not admitted as Fellows to that august group until 1945. Did they rush to tell their friends and family and mantua-maker the next day? Did they write letters describing what they'd witnessed? Did they rely on the men around them for explanation(that one fellow pointing his hand was probably a know-it-all), or were they sufficiently educated themselves to understand what they were seeing?

Alas, no one knows. But don't be surprised if a heroine in one of my next books happens to be walking on the terrace of Windsor Palace on a warm August night....

Many thanks to John Overholt and Andrea Cawelti for their assistance with this post, and for my tour of Houghton Library; I am still in a blissful Nerdy History Girl daze.

Above: To Sir Joseph Bankes, President of the Royal Society, London, this plate, from motives of respect and esteem, is inscrib'd. London: P. Sandby, 1783.
Right: Royal Society (Great Britain), Philosophical transactions, 1784.
Both from the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Images via Houghton Library.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From the Archives: Fake Beards & Face-Paint: the Dreadnought Hoax, 1910

Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Isabella reporting,

With today being April Fools Day, it seems appropriate to mention one of the most outlandish pranks of the Edwardian era. (Remember this earlier hoax from 1809?) In our time of hyper-security and identity checks, it's impossible to imagine a group of artists and writers in cheesy costumes bluffing their way onto a royal  navy ship – but that's exactly what happened in what became known as the "Dreadnought Hoax."

On February 7, 1910, six members of the Bloomsbury Group planned an elaborate lark.  Dressed in improvised costumes and with fake beards pasted on their faces, they presented themselves as a party of Abyssinian princes with their Foreign Office guides to the crew of the HMS Dreadnought, flagship of the home fleet. The costumes were not particularly good - see the photograph above - and one fake beard even disguised a woman, the writer Virginia Woolf (far left in the photo).

Yet they succeeded in fooling not only the captain and crew of the Dreadnought, but an admiral as well. They were welcomed on board the ship with full honors, marines at attention, the band playing, and African flags flying. The ship's officers invited the visitors to dine with them, which the visitors politely declined, claiming the food and drink would be inappropriately prepared for their diets. In reality, they feared the glue holding their beards in place would not survive a meal.

The mastermind of the plot, infamous practical joker Horace de Vere Cole, described the hoax in a letter to a friend:

"It was glorious! Shriekingly funny – I nearly howled when introducing the four princes to the admiral and then to the captain, for I made their names up in the train, but I forgot which was which, and introduced them under various names, but it did not matter....

"I was so amused at being just myself in a tall hat [Cole played the part of one of the English guides] – I had no disguise whatever and talked in an ordinary friendly way to everyone – the others talked nonsense. We had all learned some Swahili: I said they were "jolly savages" but that I didn't understand much of what they said...It began to rain slightly on the ship and we only just got the princes under cover in time, another moment and their complexions would have been running – Are you amused? I am...Yesterday was a day worth living."

But while Cole was amused, many others were not. Within days the details of the hoax became widely known, with the newspapers devoting much page-space to the story as well as printing cartoons like the one, right, that are appalling to us now. The Edwardians may have been elegant, but they could also be audaciously arrogant, racist, and insensitive - imagine the international incident that this "hoax" would cause today!

Even in 1910, parliament demanded answers about the lack of security, while the navy was forced to endure the humiliation of being the butt of the entire affair. Even Cole was almost (almost) sorry about that, noting that the officers "were tremendously polite and nice – couldn't have been nicer: one almost regretted the outrage on their hospitality."

Above: Photograph of the participants in the Dreadnought Hoax, 1910. From collection of Horace de Vere Cole.
Below: "Once Bitten, Twice Shy", cartoon from the Daily Mirror, February, 1910.
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