Thursday, August 25, 2016

Gone Fishin'

Thursday, August 25, 2016
Isabella and Loretta reporting,

It's nearly the end of August, and once again time for us to take our annual break from blogging, tweeting, pinning, 'gramming, and FB-ing to spend time away from our computers with friends, families, and a few good books. We hope you'll find some enjoyable ways of your own to spend these last days of summer, too.

See you again in September!

Above: Salt-cellar, made by Frankenthal Porcelain Factory, The British Museum.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bartholomew Fair in the Early 1800s

Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Bartholomew Fair
Loretta reports:

Though Bartholomew Fair started out being celebrated on St. Bartholomew’s day, 24 August, calendar reform moved it to 3 September after 1752. It went on for another hundred years, until the Victorians banished it in the 1850s, maybe with just cause or maybe because ordinary people were having too much of a rollicking good time.

But as Ackermann’s Microcosm of London demonstrates, it was still going strong in 1808. I do love the description of it as “this British Saturnalia,” and yes, this is one of Rowlandson's livelier images for the book. He must have had a blast with it!

The annexed print is a spirited representation of this British Saturnalia. To be please in their own way, is the object of all.  Some hugging, some fighting, others dancing: while many are enjoying the felicity of being borne along with the full stream of one mob, others are encountering all the dangers and vicissitudes of forcing their passage through another; while one votary of pleasure is feasting his delighted eyes with the martial port of Rolla, and the splendid habiliments of the Virgins of the Sun, another disciple of Epicurus is gratifying his palate with all the luxury of fired sausages, to which he is attracted by the alluring invitation of “Walk into my parlour!” —Microcosm of London Vol 1.
(Since the Spitalfields Life blog always has superior images to what I can find in the public domain, I recommend you visit here, and enlarge.)

Along with the feasting and hugging and squeezing there were carnival rides as well as performers and other entertainments you can read about in Henry Morley’s Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair (first published in 1857).

One of the entertainers who intrigued me especially was the Fireproof Lady, but you may have your own favorites.
Fireproof Lady

Fireproof Lady

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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Beautiful Bed with (Perhaps) a Political Agenda, c.1805

Sunday, August 21, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Loretta has shared many examples (such as these here and here) of furnishings from the pages of Ackermann's Repository, showing what was "on trend" for fashionable homes in early 19thc Great Britain.

I was reminded of those illustrations when I recently spotted the bed, left, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With its swooping curves, gleaming mahogany, ebony, and rosewood, brass inlay, and elaborate (reproduction) hangings, the bed could have been straight from the pages of Ackermann's. There's one difference, however. It wasn't made in London, but in New York.

According to the bed's placard:

"Following the Revolution, Americans took inspiration from the ancient empires of Greece and Rome in the establishment of a democratic republic. In turn, domestic interiors and furnishings began to resemble architecture and artifacts from classical antiquity. This bed's sweeping frame echoes the form of a Roman lectus (daybed) and the bronze plaque at the base bears the profile of a Roman magistrate or military officer."

In other words, this bed wasn't just a stylish piece of furniture: it was making a patriotic statement. Eagles and stars appear throughout American design of the period, and combined with the ancient Roman design, this bed was a thorough expression of Federalist sensibilities.

Or perhaps not. Although it was made in New York, the maker was a Frenchman, Charles-Honoré Lannuier. One of the city's foremost furniture makers, Lannuier employed his Parisian cousin, Jean-Charles Cochois, around the time this bed was made. Cochois would have brought with him the latest in Parisian designs inspired by the newly-created French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon, too, wanted to create a new country with all the trappings of ancient Rome, but of a Roman empire rather than a Roman republic. So are the aggressive eagles on this bed republican American eagles, or imperial French ones?

One more thought: to the early 19thc customer commissioning this bed, the political and bellicose overtones of its design would have been a selling point. Today's consumers, however, prefer their beds to be a bit less menacing. While this style of classically-inspired bed - without the eagles and inlay - is once again very popular, savvy modern manufacturers call them sleigh beds - conjuring up cozy images of fresh snow, warm blankets, and sleigh bells instead of stern Roman military officers plotting their next conquest.

Above: Bedstead, by Charles-Honoré Lannuier and Jean-Charles Cochois, c.1805-8. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Photographs ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of August 15, 2016

Saturday, August 20, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Three hellish places from London's past that you wouldn't want to visit.
• The bridges of Old London.
• A scandalous divorce: the two Mrs. Fenollosas.
• Where is King Henry VIII buried and why doesn't he have a tomb?
• DIY fashion continues to thrive at the McCall Pattern Company, founded in 1863.
Image: Jane Austen finishes writing Persuasion on August 6, 1816 - and here's a page of the manuscript.
• "The pink of fashion": Mrs. Andrew Hamilton visits SweetBriar in Philadelphia, 1818.
• The many loves of Henry Tufts, the original colonial bad boy.
• How left-handed penmanship contests tried to help Civil War veterans after amputations.
• Paris, city of lights, romance, and urinals.
Image: 2000-year-old Greek mosaic floor accidentally discovered in Turkey (and it's a beauty.)
• Mayhew's street traders of London, 1851.
• Stunning interpretations of El Greco portraits created with yarn, a loom, and an algorithm.
Countess Leonor D'Oeynhausen, an 18thc poet and intellectual possibly involved in espionage.
• 1926 meets 1776 at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial.
• From the suffragettes to BLM: the unexpected ways that protestors have utilized fashion.
• Image: The 19thc Egyptian House in Penzance makes even the Brighton Pavilion look demure.
• The nostalgic glow of NYC's remaining historic neon signs.
• A short illustrated history of firefighting helmets.
• Occupational hazards: the maladies of early modern midwives.
• Who shot Edward Vyse? The Corn Law Riots of 1815.
Image: A Victorian anti-drowning device.
• Bonded by love and liver: the story of conjoined twins Chang and Eng.
• How many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were born in places other than the state they represented in the Continental Congress?
• We love a ducky story with a happy ending.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Video: Listen to a Guitar Made by Antonio Stradivari in 1679

Friday, August 19, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) is arguably the most famous maker of stringed instruments of all time time. The sound of his violins and cellos is considered magical, almost mystical, and experts have argued endlessly about what exactly makes them so special. Around 650 of his instruments are known to survive today; most of these are the legendary violins.

Much rarer still are guitars made by Stradivari. Only five still survive. Of those five, only this one remains playable. Known as the Sabionari, the guitar dates from 1679.  Here Rolf Lislevand, a musician who specializes in performing early music, plays a tarantela by Spanish composer Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739.) What a wonderful way to begin the weekend!

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or a black box where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

E.B. White on White & Brown Eggs

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Loretta reports:

I’m writing this while up in Blue Hill, Maine, in a local library, where works of E.B. White, who lived not far from where I'm hanging out on a cloudy day, stand on shelves in a lovely room focused on the area and its many talented residents and long-time visitors.

The essay, written in 1971, touches on something we history nerds constantly encounter in our research: attempts by visitors to explain the natives. Just because the writer is highly regarded, well-read, and observant, doesn’t mean he/she has a clue.

In this excerpt from a slightly longer essay, "Riposte" (which I highly recommend), Mr. White takes up the Englishman J.B. Priestley’s comments in the New York Times about eggs in the U.S.
In America [Priestley] says, “brown eggs are despised, sold off cheaply, perhaps sometimes thrown away.” Well now. In New England, where I live and which is part of America, the brown egg, far from being despised, is king. The Boston market is a brown-egg market.
“The Americans, well outside the ghettos,” writes Mr. Priestley, “despise brown eggs just because they do seem closer to nature. White eggs are much better, especially if they are to be given to precious children, because their very whiteness suggests hygiene and purity.” My goodness. Granting that an Englishman is entitled to his reflective moments, and being myself well outside the ghettos, I suspect there is a more plausible explanation for the popularity of the white egg in America. I ascribe the whole business to a busy little female—the White Leghorn hen. She is nervous, she is flighty, she is the greatest egg machine on two legs, and it just happens that she lays a white egg. She’s never too distracted to do her job. A Leghorn hen, if she were on her way to a fire, would pause long enough to lay an egg. This endears her to the poultrymen of America, who are out to produce the greatest number of eggs fro the least money paid out for feed. Result: much of America, apart from New England, is flooded with white eggs.

 Image: White Leghorns, courtesy Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From the Archives: The Tale of a Teenaged Sailor (and Embroiderer), 1850

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Isabella reporting:

Not all 19thc embroidery was done by ladies in parlors. This sailor's uniform and sea bag were featured in one of my favorite exhibitions at
Winterthur, now nearly five years ago.  With Cunning Needle: Four Centuries of Embroidery was filled with stunning needlework that ranged from schoolgirl samplers to masterpieces by professional embroiderers. While some of the pieces might have represent more skill or sophistication than the two pieces shown here, none had a better story behind them. (Click on the photos to enlarge them to see the details.)

Standardized uniforms for enlisted sailors in the United State Navy were still a relatively new notion in the 1840s-50s, when this uniform was created. While sailors were required to wear the Navy-issued uniforms while on board ship, there was more leeway in what they could wear on shore. The shore-going uniform could be proudly embellished and embroidered to suit a sailor's tastes, as well as to reflect his skill with a needle. (Here's part of another elaborately embroidered shore-going uniform, a dark wool blouse from c. 1862.)

This rare summer uniform and sea bar were owned, worn, and likely embroidered by Warren Opie, born in 1835. Growing up in a large family of comfortable means in Burlington, NJ, Warren's childhood effectively ended with his cordwainer (shoemaker) father's early death in 1848. Warren's mother struggled to support the family, and several of Warren's sisters were sent to live with other relatives. It's likely that Warren, too, felt the family's financial pressures, and in 1850, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy for a three-year tour of duty with the rating of a second-class boy. He was fifteen.

Warren served on the steam frigate Susquehanna, the flagship of the four-ship squadron commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry on his historic trip to Japan between 1850-1854. Warren would have had considerable time to make this sea bag and uniform on the long voyage between Norfolk, VA and Japan; it's possible that he learned to sew from his father, or perhaps from some of the other men in the crew. While the uniform shows the typical patriotic motifs – stars, eagles, anchors, and flags – popular among sailors, his bag features his parents, his two closest sisters, and landmarks from his hometown in New Jersey. Warren was visiting exotic countries on the far side of the world, but it's clear his heart still remained at home.

In Japan, Commodore Perry presented a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the ruler of Japan in an elaborate ceremony involving nearly all the American sailors in his squadron and thousands of Japanese officials, soldiers, and attendants. Records show that one of the American ship's boys carried the president's framed letter in the procession. It's tempting to imagine Warren, dressed in this splendidly embroidered summer-uniform, as the boy performing this important task.

Unfortunately, there's no documentation to tell what became of Warren after his three-year-tour was done; he last appears in navy records as having been promoted to "landsman," a full member of the crew. No one knows if he died at sea, or jumped ship in some foreign port, or returned to New Jersey to live a long and contented life, nor is there any record of how his uniform landed in the hands of the dealer who sold it to Mr. Du Pont for his collection. It's all another history-mystery – but what a wonderful legacy Warren Opie left in his embroidery!

Above: Summer uniform of an enlisted sailor, worn by Warren Opie, 1850-54, linen, silk, wool.
Sea Bag, owned by Warren Opie, 1850-54, linen, silk, wool, cotton.
From collection of Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library

Monday, August 15, 2016

From the Archives: Matrimonial Disputes in the Early 1800s

Monday, August 15, 2016
Doctors Commons
Loretta reports:

[Note: Because a couple of my English readers have asked about my letting characters get married at home, rather than in church, I thought I'd rerun this. In the not-too-distant future, I hope to go into the matter of special licenses in more detail.]

The matter of divorce in England in the early 19th century is much too complicated for me to attempt in a post.  I’m not sure I’d attempt it in a dissertation.  However, since we historical romance authors often send our characters to Doctors Commons for this, that, or the other thing, I thought I’d offer a Rowlandson image from the Microcosm of London and an excerpt describing one of its matrimonial functions.
Doctors Commons-matrimonial

This is also the place we’d send our heroes to obtain the famous-in-Regency-novels special license, which is explained in the epigraph heading the epilogue of Vixen in Velvet:

"But by special licence or dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Marriages, especially of persons of quality, are frequently in their own houses, out of canonical hours, in the evening, and often solemnized by others in other churches than where one of the parties lives, and out of time of divine service, &c."The Law Dictionary 1810

The image I’ve used is courtesy Wikipedia, because it’s of superior quality to the one in the Internet Archive version.  You can see truly splendid images from the Microcosm at the Spitalfields Life blog.

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

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of August 8, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• American vacations of the early 1900s in color.
• London's westward expansion in the 18thc and the development of Mayfair.
• Celebrating Elizabeth Siddal, Pre-Raphaelite artist, poet, model, and muse.
• A charming 1920s "autograph quilt" from the Pink Granite Grange, New Hampshire.
• "Girls bowled, batted, ran, and catched": yes, women's cricket was played in the 1700s.
• Free to read online: rare novels and plays by women writers, 1600-1830, from the Chawton House Library.
Image: One hundred years ago, Wyoming guardsmen stage a protest in Cheyenne by marching in nothing but their underwear.
• How exhaustion became a status symbol.
Charlotte Cushman, a star of the stage who demanded equal pay - in the 19thc.
• Napoleon's remarkable porcelain "cabaret set" - a 36-piece breakfast service decorated with scenes of Egypt, 1810.
• Syphilis onstage: Eugene Brieux's 1913 play Damaged Goods brought a taboo subject into the limelight.
• English rose: cosmetics in 18thc England.
Image: How cooking has changed - recommended boiling (!) times for vegetables and seafood, 1922.
• Five female coders that changed the world.
• Blessing cars and eating oysters: celebrating the saints' days of St. Christopher and St. James.
• The language of 18thc politics.
George Washington writes to his step-granddaughter with advice for a happy marriage: companionship is more important than passion.
• "Have mercy on your dear child," 1818.
• Image: Victorian mourning ring mounted with the glass eye of the deceased.
• An interview with Tracey Panek, the official historian of denim for Levi Strauss & Co.
• True colors: light damage and historic needlework.
• The forgotten wife of Charles Dickens.
Ambire, an antidote against all sorts of poisons, from the New Kingdom of Granada, c1628.
• The 1880 police raid on the notorious cross-dressing ball at Temperance Hall.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Video: Messages from Roman Era London

Friday, August 12, 2016
Loretta reports:

After watching a video program like this one, observing the painstaking work involved in reading what amounts to ghost messages, I ought to hesitate to call myself a Nerdy History Girl, but I won't. These really are ghost messages, since they're only the shadows of the originals, unlike an inscription on a monument, say. But you do have to be a history nerd to get excited about the first use of "London"—and the surprising recovery of London after Boudica.

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, August 11, 2016

The Importance of Mending, c1775

Thursday, August 11, 2016
Isabella reporting,

We've often shared beautiful clothing here on the blog, lavish silk gowns enhanced with yards of lace and ribbons. For most women living in the 18thc, however, gowns like those were as far beyond their wardrobes as haute couture Chanel is for the majority of us today.

But our 18thc sisters valued the garments that they did own much more than we do. The cost of their clothing lay in the fabric, not the labor. Last year's clothes weren't discarded when they no longer fit, fell from fashion, or showed wear. Instead they were unpicked and taken apart and remade, mended and reworked. While the more expensive dresses would be remade by professional seamstresses and mantua-makers (see examples here and here), most mending was done at home.

Girls were taught useful darning and mending stitches as well as fancy embroidery, and though it was often called "plain sewing," the neatness of the stitches and repairs represented a skill that was anything but plain. Nor was mending an entirely feminine endeavor. Men whose work took them far from home (and thus far from obliging female family members) like sailors and frontiersmen also became adept at mending their clothing.

I was reminded of the importance of mending as I recently watched Sarah Woodyard, a journeywoman mantua-maker in the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, repairing a gown. Sarah made the gown in 2012 for apprentice blacksmith Aislinn Lewis. (See the dress when it was new in this blog post.) The fabric is a serviceable linen with indigo-blue stripes, and it's the fabric that marks this as a working-class garment. With its open-front, fitted bodice and full skirts thanks to neat rows of tiny pleats, the same style of the dress could have been made in silk for a wealthy lady.

Aislinn's work at the anvil in the blacksmith's shop has worn sizable holes in the bodice and in the underside of the sleeve where the two areas rub together. Since the rest of the dress was still in good shape, Sarah offered to mend the holes. The goal of an 18thc patch or darn was to make it as unobtrusive as possible. Statement-making patches of contrasting fabrics wouldn't even have been considered. (The checked fabric that shows in the hole of the sleeve is the sleeve's lining, not a patch.)

In the photograph, above, Sarah is patching the hole in the bodice with a scrap of the original fabric, taking care to line up the stripes; the only difference will be how the new fabric hasn't faded. She'll turn in the raw edges and overcast them, and stitch everything neatly into place. The finished effect won't be invisible, but it will give fresh life to a favorite garment - not such a bad idea in our era of fast fashion and disposable clothes.

Photograph ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dining Room Window Decor for August 1816

Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Dining Room Curtains August 1816
Loretta reports:

The commentary about curtains and other hangings being used “in so liberal a degree” had me wondering whether this had been a recent fad, rather than the old-fashioned look of a previous generation. We do know that the heavily-draped look suited many Victorians, but I was puzzled about its popularity during the Regency. It’s also possible, though, that Ackermann’s Repository is simply explaining what’s tasteful and what isn’t, and casually directing the (upper class) reader to George Bullock, an important purveyor of furnishings during this period.

In any case, the view is nice.
1816 Curtains description

1816 Curtains description cont'd
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of September 5, 2016

Sunday, August 7, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Did Regency ladies ever get sunburned?
• The surgeon's porcupine, c1830.
• The teen-aged midshipman was also His Royal Highness Prince William, and the first British royal to visit North America, 1781.
• So cool: see the reading habits of Aaron Burr, others, by searching the books they borrowed from the New York Society Library.
• Transferring designs for embroidery in the 18thc.
The Book of Sir Thomas More: Shakespeare's only surviving literary manuscript.
• When ancient Romans had their clothes stolen, they responded with curse tablets.
Image: Sarah Bankes boldly wrote her name in the front of her book, 1649.
• Inside the 300 year old model of St. Paul's.
• Scrapbooking Waterloo: Thomas Pickstock's travel journal, 1843.
• Caleb Brewster crosses the Devil's Belt: secrets of the Culper Ring, a Revolutionary War spy ring.
Women in 1066: the power behind the throne.
• "Under cross-examination, she fainted": sexual crime and swooning in the Victorian courtroom.
Image: Patchwork quilt featuring a stunning collection of printed dress cottons, 1820-1840
• The case of the "Ghost Sculptor", 1883.
• How Alexander Hamilton (and other 18thc Americans) did breakfast.
• Elected in 1887, Susanna Salter was the first female mayor in the US.
Dogs in the 19thc press.
Video: Check out these bicorn hats from the Museum of London.
• The history behind eleven exotic words from the world of fashion.
• Mud, blood, and vegetables: the soldier "farmers" of World War One.
• Plain work and stolen finery, 1837.
Vive la comfort! For corseted 18thc courtiers, this dress was a French revolution.
Image: What was on the menu for a BBQ in Portsmouth, RI in 1766?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Embroidery for a Man's Suit that Was Never Made Up, c1780

Isabella reported,

Last month I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Antonio Ratti Textile Center and Reference Library to study examples of 18thc embroidery (see my first post here), including this fascinating example. As always, please click on the images to enlarge them.

This piece is really several pieces, or panels, featuring the embroidered elements for a man's suit that was never completed. Elaborate embroidery was the height of male fashion in the 18thc, and skilled embroiderers executed designs in silk, sequins, and beading.

The embroidery was worked flat, with the fabric stretched taut on wooden frames. The embroidery pattern and the garment's outline were transferred to the fabric via pouncing - a light chalky powder pressed through tiny holes in the paper pattern - and then the lines were reinforced with ink on the fabric. These lines were meant to be covered by the embroidery, although some do still peek through if you look carefully.  The illustration from Diderot's Encyclopédie, upper right, shows two embroiderers at work on a coat.

These panels are embroidered in silk thread, with accents of netting, on a purple silk cloth. The larger panel, left, includes not only the embroidery for accenting the front of the coat, but also the pocket flaps, upper left, and buttons, bottom left. The second panel, lower right, has the collar and cuffs as well as the knee tabs for the matching breeches. (To better understand how all these puzzle-pieces were meant to be assembled, see this similar suit, also in the Met's collection.) The pieces that are basted together in the second panel may indicate that different embroiderers were working on the same project.

In most cases, the completed embroidered panels would have next gone to a tailor to be made up into a suit. The embroidery could have been ordered to the tastes of a specific customer, or done on speculation. Either way, it would have been the tailor's responsibility to assemble the embroidery to fit his customer's body.

These panels were never made into finished garments, and the reasons why are now forgotten. They're rare survivors of the historic fashion trades, and wonderful to study as they are. But being a fiction writer, however, I kept wondering why the suit was never made. Were the colors of the silk flowers not to a customer's tastes? Was the embroidery more expensive than he expected, and never claimed? Or was the embroidery somehow "so last year," and out of fashion before it could be finished?

Many thanks to Melinda Watt, Associate Curator, European Sculpture & Decorate Arts, and Supervising Curator, Antonio Ratti Textile Center, and the staff of the Antonio Ratti Textile Center for their assistance, knowledge, and patience - as you can tell, I had a wonderful Nerdy-History-Girl time!

Above: Embroidered panels for a man's suit, French, c1780, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photographs ©2016 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of August 1, 2016

Saturday, August 6, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Victorian fat-shaming: harsh words on weight from the 19thc.
• How the stethoscope transformed medicine 200 years ago.
• Those kids of 1818, staring mindlessly into their glass devices: the now-forgotten craze for kaleidoscopes.
• The floating pleasure worlds of Paris and Edo in art.
Jane Austen's music collection is now digitized and available on line.
Image: Timeless beauty: a German gaming pouch, c1675-1700.
• Carved skeletons, Elizabethan theater giants, and a cat: St Leonard's, Shoreditch, London.
Eleanor Sidgwick, the original Victorian female ghostbuster.
• Spectators pictured "fanning" the flames of early baseball passion.
• A history of embarrassing presidential campaign logos.
Image: Celebrate summer's lushness with this green brocade robe a la francaise, c1740s.
• In 1704, Isaac Newton predicted the world will end in 2060.
Willa B. Brown, the first African American woman to earn a commercial pilot's license in 1937.
Ghosts in the machine: the devices and daring mediums that spoke for the dead.
• Discovery of vast treasure-trove of fine textiles shows importance of fashion to Bronze Age Britons.
• The history of exhaustion.
Image: "Is this you five years from now?" Advertisement selling cigarettes to women as a diet aid, 1920s.
• The art of cuisine: dining with the artist Toulouse-Lautrec and his wildly impractical but fascinating cookbook.
• Working in the Paris fashion industry 100 years ago.
Analysis of an athlete's weight, pains, digestion, perspiration levels, and speed - in 1813.
• A now-lost 1820s house in New York once known as the "house of romance."
• Thomson's Guide to London, 1902.
• Seventeenth century doll houses weren't invented for children's play, but to show off wealth and teach domestic roles.
• Just for fun: Test your book smarts.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Video: A Miser's Purse, c1870

Friday, August 5, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Long before credit cards and Apple Pay, a miser's purse was the way thrifty shoppers kept their money sorted. Despite their name, miser's purses were a fashionable accessory and popular gift. Frequently mentioned in 19thc novels and women's magazines, the purses were also a favorite small handicraft project for ladies who enjoyed crochet and fancy beading. Today they turn up at flea markets, as sad and limp as old balloons, and likely unrecognizable to most modern shoppers. This brief video from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum will remedy that, however, and explain how you didn't have to be a miser to use a miser's purse.

To see more examples of miser's purses in the Cooper-Hewitt collection, see here. For more information, the Museum has published a short ebook on miser's purses as part of their DesignFile line. The book was written by the narrator of this video, Laura Camerlengo, a Curatorial Fellow at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; it's available to download from Amazon here, and from Barnes & Noble here.

If you have received this video via email, you may see an empty space or black box where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fashions for August 1872

Thursday, August 4, 2016
Walking dresses August 1872
Loretta reports:

According to Cunnington's English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, “The fashions of this year were marked by a change in the colour taste and a development of the polonaise.” While some “still clung to the use of two approximate shades of one colour ... others boldly employed contrasts, but the general preference was for soft and ‘autumn tints.’”

The polonaise “consisted of a bodice and tunic in one, the tunic being looped up at the sides, short in front and much looped up behind into a puff. It was, of course, only a revival of an eighteenth century garment but its acceptance may be fairly attributed to English rather than to French taste. In a special form, made with materials printed in chintz patterns, it was known as the ‘Dolly Varden.’” It seems we are not to use the two terms interchangeably, however, as, according to Cunnington’s sources, the Dolly Varden was “not patronized by the ‘best people.’”  In other words, it was popular and affordable.
1872 dress description

1872 dress description cont'd

Cunnington includes more detailed explanations of the style(s). Since I do not make historical clothing and barely understand even modern dressmaking terminology, these might as well have been written in Romanian or Chinese. What’s clear enough is the change in shape from the 1860s fashions I showed last month, from the wide-all-around tent-like skirt to the flat front, and the wonderfully inventive emphasis on the booty.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Trying to Keep Cool the 18thc Way in Colonial Williamsburg

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Isabella reporting,

This past weekend I made a quick visit to Colonial Williamsburg, where it was hot, hot, hot, and tropically humid, too - the steamiest of Tidewater Virginia weather. As I walked (no, I'll be honest: I was dragging myself) around the historic area, I was impressed by how the women dressed in the style of c1775 seemed to look much more comfortable with the heat than I was, dressed c2016.

The secret to keeping bearably cool in the heat like our 18thc counterparts did? Apparently it's layers of linen and cotton that breathe and absorb perspiration away from the skin, plus straw hats against the sun.

Not far from the cabinet-maker's shop, Katy, upper left, was making a length of cord (probably destined for use as a drawstring) with the help of a lyre-shaped tool called a lucet. Her linen bedgown is comfortably loose and pinned closed, and given shape with the apron tied around her waist.

Sitting before the George Wythe House, Christian, right, was writing in her journal, pen in hand and inkstand on the bench beside her. In addition to her linen jacket, shift, and petticoat, she was wisely keeping from the sun with her wide-brimmed hat plus fingerless linen mitts, all designed to preserve a proper lady-like paleness.

In the shade of the courthouse porch, Mairin, lower left, was embroidering, her scissors hanging ready on a ribbon from her waist. She wore a mix of bright colors and prints that were cheerful and summery to modern eyes: a printed cotton short gown, a printed cotton neckerchief, a checked apron, and a bright yellow linen petticoat. In the shade, she didn't wear a straw hat, but she did make sure to keep her head covered with a neat linen cap. What 18thc woman wouldn't?

But all of these women were sitting still while they worked. The young women (I'm sorry I wasn't able to ask their names), below right, were working in the treading pit in the brickyard. With their feet bare and their petticoats tucked into their aprons, they took turns mixing water with clay to create the raw material for the brickmaker to mold into bricks. Visitors were invited to join them, shedding their shoes and sandals to take a turn in the treading pit and shrieking at the unfamiliar sensation of wet clay between the toes.

Beneath a tent-like shelter overhead against the sun - I suspect more to keep the clay from drying out than to protect the workers - the clay and water must have been pleasantly cool underfoot on this hot day. But passing visitors notwithstanding, this wasn't at all the romanticized, genteel way we often imagine the past. This was hard, tedious work, unskilled labor at its most basic, and I couldn't help but think of the 18thc women, men, and children who must have toiled in similar treading pits from dawn until dusk, from early spring until the frosts of fall - and likely for the most minimum of wages, too.

All photographs ©2016 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Opening the New London Bridge, August 1831

Monday, August 1, 2016
London Bridge 1 August 1831

Loretta reports:

Usually, I start the month with fashion plates, but today’s the 185th anniversary of the opening of the “new” London Bridge. So we'll look at that instead, in pictures and text, since it isn't in London anymore.

The bridge, as many are aware, has had several incarnations.

On this day in 1831, King William IV officially opened, with great pomp and ceremony, the version that’s since moved—more or less—to Arizona.
You can read a short summary of its life hereand a lengthy account in the Gentleman’s Magazine starting here.

London Bridge ca 1890-1900
You may not feel up to an early 19th century detailed report on the bridge’s history and construction, along with a blow-by-blow description of the opening ceremony. These lengthy accounts are tough on modern readers. But this sort of thing was what readers wanted, in the days before photography, let alone television. If the whole article is too much for you, you might still want to take a look at the very nice bird’s eye view engraving here.

Image above left: The New London Bridge as it appeared on Monday August 1st, 1831, at the Ceremony of opening by their Majesties, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Below right: London Bridge ca 1890-1900, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

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

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