Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Video: Why Share a Picture of a Meal When You Can Eat It? (18thc Style)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Yes, I have an Instagram account, but no, I don't post pictures of food before I eat it (okay, so there was this one pumpkin pie I made for Thanksgiving - pie pride! - but I swear, that's IT.) Having to wait with food on the table while someone else hovers with their phone, trying to compose the perfect shot of their rapidly-cooling meal to post on IG, Yelp, or a personal foodie Just no.

All of which is why I found this advertisement so entertaining. It features that too-familiar, first-world-scenario, but from an 18thc perspective.

Relax, indeed.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Newgate Prison and Its Inmates in September 1819

Thursday, September 29, 2016
Newgate Prison—west view
Loretta reports:

My recent book, Dukes Prefer Blondes, features a barrister (trial lawyer) who’s familiar with Newgate Prison and the Old Bailey. As I researched the book, I was already aware that, during the Regency era (some years before my story) England had an extremely high number of capital offenses. According to Albion’s Fatal Tree, “The most recent account suggests that the number of capital statutes grew from about 50 to over 200 between the years 1688 and 1820.”*

As a consequence, we tend to believe that people were being hanged by the droves. What I learned was, people were hanged, yes, including children, but more often, mercy was sought and granted, and the sentence changed to transportation or prison. This may explain the rather shocking nil in the category “Convicts under sentence of death.” You will notice that, even though more men than women were convicted of crimes, more women were sentenced to transportation. At the moment, I can’t explain that one.

*Figures based on Sir Leon Radzinowicz, A History of English Criminal Law and its Administration from 1750.
Newgate Statistics 1819
Newgate Statistics 1819

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

From the Archives: A Gold Box for Rouge & Patches, 1783

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Isabella reporting:

An 18th c. French lady could take literally hours dressing for an important ball. Just like modern celebrities preparing for the red carpet, a Parisian court beauty required a team of experts to dress and powder her hair, apply her make-up and patches, fasten jewels around her throat and wrists, lace her into her stays, and pin and her into her gown.

But even this carefully crafted magnificence might need a touch-up or two in the course of the evening, and a lady had to be prepared. This little gold box, left, contained a looking glass, a tiny brush, rouge, patches - those black velvet faux beauty marks so well-loved in the 17th-18th centuries.

Just as fashionable artifice reached new heights in the 18th c., so, too, did the craftsmanship that produced this box. This is the work of a master goldsmith: precisely cut and meticulously soldered, with inset hinges and perfectly fitted panels as well as separate compartments for the rouge and patches. The surfaces of the box are beautifully decorated as well in contrasting yellow and white gold. All of this is done on a miniature scale: the box measures only 2-1/8" x 1-1/2" x 5/8".

It's easy to imagine a lady using such a piece for artful flirtation, gracefully opening the little box and fluffing the brush over her cheeks, and, perhaps, coyly using its gleaming reflection to check the interest of the gentleman sitting behind her....

Above left: Box for Rouge and Patches, French (Paris), 1783-84, Varicolored gold. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Kate Read Blacque. Photos copyright Susan Holloway Scott.
Lower right: Les Adieux, engraving, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune, 1777.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Carlton House's Conservatory

Monday, September 26, 2016
Carlton House Conservatory 1811
Loretta reports:

Regency aficionados will recognize the famous 19 June “entertainment” referred to in this description of the Prince Regent’s Conservatory.

What I wanted to point out was the lack of plants in the picture. Apparently, this isn’t just a function of the artist’s wanting to show the space without a lot of trees and flowers in the way. I recall reading somewhere (but have not been able to find the source) that plants were moved into and out of the conservatory as needed. One assumes, consequently, that it didn’t truly house a horticultural collection, in the way we think of conservatories doing. If you have further information about this, please feel free to comment.
Conservatory description

Conservatory description cont'd
For more images of the long-vanished Carlton House, you might want to take a look at David Watkins’s The Royal Interiors of Regency England: from watercolours first published by W.H. Pyne in 1817-20.

You can see some of the images, from the Pyne’s Royal Residences, online here and here.

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, September 24, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of September 19, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The long, sad history of accusing women who seek power and influence of ugliness and ill health.
Kingsbridge, the Bronx, NY, neighborhood with royal connections.
• Students, stay in your seats: improving 19thc school desks.
• "Welsh's Splendid Cheap Eating House", the NY beer cellar favored by Edgar Allen Poe and other newspapermen in the 1840s.
• In 1896, P.T. Barnum's grandson threw the greatest bachelor party on earth.
• Fun site to explore: 30 objects from the world of fashion, from the collections of the National Museums of Scotland.
• The real housewives of Jane Austen.
Image: Crinoline forever, and no bathing machine required.
• Welcome to Bluetown, where every other house is a public house and every third house a brothel.
• How do descendants of slaves find their ancestors?
• Highway robbery: the curse of Tupton Hall.
• An octagonal gem: the 1842 McBee Methodist Church in Conestee, SC may be only one of three such surviving churches in the country.
• Were Iron Maidens really medieval torture devices?
• Image: 1916 appeal for aid for horses wounded in active duty during World War One.
• Rags, riches, and cross-class dressing in Elizabethan England.
• Chicago's stylish but forgotten magazine of the Jazz Age.
• "What do you want to be when you grow up?": this 1961 book had the answer for girls.
• Did artists in the Renaissance realize they were in the Renaissance?
Image: In 1907, Madame Decourcelle became Paris' first woman taxi driver.
• The 18thc mystery of the housekeeper's chocolate at Chatsworth, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
Armour for children.
• How did 18th-19thc mariners use log books to keep time?
Sir Hans Sloane: collector, marmoset-owner, and chocolate-popularizer.
• The dome of the US Capitol was built in the Bronx, 1860.
Image: An unusual protective good-luck charm from Word War One.
• Marguerite of Valois, Duchess of Savoy and Berry.
• History's strangest tax? Peter the Great puts a price on beards.
• Quick video: Explore the interior details of this c1805 silk satin dress.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Original Star Trek, Maybe? Mèliés's Masterpiece of 1902

Friday, September 23, 2016
Loretta reports:

Star Trek made its television debut 50 years ago, and lots of celebrations are going on. Though the original series was very short—only three seasons—it has lived on and prospered in spinoffs and movies and in the hearts and minds of its devoted fans.

You can watch some excerpts from the early series here.

But for a deeper trip into film history, I thought you might enjoy what seems to be the first science fiction movie ever, George Mèliés's Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) of 1902. You may notice a few similar elements, along with many head-scratchers. It’s a little baffling and odd and funny and hallucinatory. Note: The music in this beautiful version is a recent, modern addition and some readers may prefer to mute the sound.

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, September 22, 2016

Inspired by History: Designer Todd Oldham

Thursday, September 22, 2016
Isabella reporting,

While Loretta and I are self-proclaimed history nerds, we're not historians. Instead we're fiction writers whose books are inspired by history (and, of course, we share more of that history as bloggers, too.) I'm always interested to see how other people are inspired by history. Fashion designers in particular often dip into the past to make something new from something old. The late Alexander McQueen was a master of this, and thanks to a recent exhibition at the RISDMuseum, I have another favorite: designer Todd Oldham.

I visited All of Everything: Todd Oldham Fashion last month, shortly before it closed, and I'm so glad I did. The show focused on the couture fashion created by Oldham in the 1990s. For those of us who lived through it, the decade was an exuberant era for fashion, with bright colors, short skirts, and lots of sparkle, but Oldham took that exuberance to an entirely different level.

The exhibition featured 65 full ensembles, displayed in a runway-style setting that made it possible to see the clothes from all angles. And such amazing clothes! True, these aren't everyday clothes, but they are true works of art, featuring exquisite embroidery, luxurious textiles, and embellishment that included crystals and metallic threads. According to the exhibition notes, Oldham sought out master craftspeople from around the world to bring his designs to life, taking a special interest in encouraging and preserving artisan industries, and it showed in the exquisite details.

But what I enjoyed the best was seeing how he "quoted" and incorporated elements from the past into his clothes. The dress, above left, (as always, please click on the images to enlarge them) from 1992 was inspired by Byzantine jewelry Oldham had seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the placard, he replicated that jewelry "by embellishing four-ply silk crepe with 18-karat gold bullion, faceted glass, and semiprecious stones. This was the most expensive dress [Oldham] ever made, and it now lives permanently in the Met, which makes sense."

More gold bullion turned up unexpectedly in a pair of shorts, upper right, from 1994. Swirling old bullion embroidery like this is more usually seen decorating the formal uniforms and epaulets of Napoleonic-era officers, who'd probably be shocked (or titillated, depending on the officer!) to see so much gold on shorts for women. I'd guess that they were quite heavy, too; admitted Oldham, "the shorts are completely embroidered with real 18-karat gold bullion, making them stiff and scratchy - but oh so very beautiful."

The art historian in me loved the outfit, lower right, inspired by one of my favorite 18thc artists, Jean-Honore Fragonard. Noted Oldham: "The skirt is based on Fragonard paintings, as seen through the filter of the Indian embroiderers. It's still very refined, but I love how the rough work and sequins look with the classic motifs." So did I.

There was one piece created for the exhibition, an ensemble that Oldham made in collaboration with students from the Rhode Island School of Design's textile department. The students created the gorgeous printed textile that was not only used in the skirt, but also cut into thin strips and knitted to make the top. The bell-shaped skirt, worn over a hoop, was the same shape as a crinoline-supported dresses from the 1850s. I also appreciated the time and effort that Oldham employed with the students to create a truly one-of-a-kind couture garment in the face of modern mass-produced fast-fashion. Noted Oldham:

"There is a staggering number of people involved in producing couture. More than 35 students participated in creating the print on 25 yards of truly beautiful, insanely detailed fabric that we then embroidered with custom-made sequins and paillettes in my New York studio. By the time the embroidery was finished, more than 60 people will have collaborated on this dress."

All of which reminded me of this earlier blog post, which described all the tradespeople who contributed to creating the clothes of an 18thc lady. Sometimes slow fashion can be a very beautiful thing.

I've posted a few more photographs from the exhibition over on my Instagram account:
Back view of the RISD student collaboration dress
Persian Carpet Dress, 1997
Byzantine Jewelry dress, 1992.
Klimt ensemble, 1997.
Crewelwork-inspired ensemble, 1997, and detail
Skirt with Chinese-inspired embroidery, 1994.
Love Ball dress, 1991.
Garage Sale ensemble, 1992.

Upper left: Byzantine Jewelry Dress, Spring1992, by Todd Oldham. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Upper right: Embroidered shorts from the Blue Sky Ensemble, Spring 1994, by Todd Oldham. Todd Oldham Studio.
Lower right: Fragonard Meets African Trinkets Ensemble, 1993, by Todd Oldham. Todd Oldham Studio.
Lower left: RISD Ensemble, 2015/2016, RISDMuseum.
All photographs ©2016 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Andrew Carnegie & His Libraries

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Punch cartoon
Loretta reports:

Andrew Carnegie was one of those rich guys who ended up giving away something close to 90% of his money. This would still leave a large chunk of change, because he was extremely rich, one of the richest Americans of all time.

One of his methods for unloading his money was building libraries. A lot of libraries. I knew nothing about Carnegie libraries until my husband, after one of his photographic expeditions in Worcester, MA, told me the city had three of them. This entry in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Earth edition, explains what they were and the conditions Carnegie required the town to meet.
Greendale Branch
If you scroll down this page of the Worcester Public Library site, you can read the vital statistics about our three Carnegie-funded branches.
Greendale Branch detail
Mr & Mrs Carnegie attended the cornerstone layings of all three libraries, as described here. I loved that, having come unprepared for a cold, raw, Worcester day, Mr. Carnegie stopped at a store to get rubbers. Here’s more about that day, complete with illustrations and links. It’s well worth reading, for a glimpse into the past, and some idealism we could use today.
South Worcester Branch
The Greendale Branch, now renamed, is still a library.
The Quinsigamond Branch is now part of a school.
The South Worcester Branch has been converted to private residences.
South Worcester Branch detail
Is there a Carnegie Library in your town? Look around. You might be surprised, as I was.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Delicate Pair of Wedding Oversleeves, c1830

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Thanks to her current series of books, Loretta is the queen of the over-the-top fashions from the 1820s-1830s (see examples in her posts here, here, and here), but she's won me over to extreme hair, huge sleeves, and bell-shaped skirts.

So when I spotted these ghostly oversleeves recently in the costume & textile study drawers at the RISDMuseum, I recognized them for what they were: delicate and rare survivors from the Romantic Era of fashion. (Although another gallery-goer standing beside me had the more normal 21stc reaction: "What the heck are those things?")

While the rest of the original dress is no longer with these oversleeves and may not even still exist, it is possible to guess what it may have looked like. Sheer oversleeves were a major fashion trend in the late 1820s-early 1830s. Always made from a sheer fabric like silk gauze or voile, they added a delicate, feminine transparency to dresses that were almost architecturally structured with pleats, wide collars, and stiff belts. Some oversleeves were embroidered with overall patterns, some were not. You can see how elegant the style could be in the portrait, right.

The oversleeves from the RISDMuseum are labeled as having been worn as part of a wedding dress. Loretta shared this fashion plate of a wedding dress, lower left, from 1828 which is probably a bit early for the RISDMuseum's sleeves (they have more volume at the top, which would make them later), but you can still get an idea of the general effect. The fortunate American bride who wore such an ensemble in the 1830s must have been on the cutting edge of bridal fashion.

What I found particularly intriguing about the RISDMuseum's oversleeves is that the label says they were created of silk that was possibly made in China for export. Then as now, China was known for its exceptionally fine silk, and for its embroidery, too. Of course there's no way now of knowing for certain, but I found myself wondering if this beautiful silk was brought to New England in a China-trade ship, chosen by a mariner for his bride-to-be waiting back home. Could that be why they were set aside and carefully saved - a very special wedding memento?

Upper left: Oversleeves from a Wedding Dress, American, c1830, RISDMuseum. Photo via RISDMuseum.
Right: Detail, "Théodore Joseph Jonet and His Two Daughters" by François-Joseph Navez, 1832, photo via Christie's.
Lower left: Bridal Costume from La Belle Assemblee, June, 1828.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of September 12, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Is this the key to Alexander Hamilton's secret correspondence?
• The physics of Rapunzel's hair: could a man really use it to climb up? Apparently yes.
• A familiar part of Georgian travel: falling off your horse.
• French kissing to lesbian orgies: the origins of the myth of the debauched French court.
Image: From the Lady's Magazine, July 1797: "Rules to be observed at City Feasts, especially Parochial Ones" - and perhaps at BBQs, too.
• "Gymnasticks" and dumbbells: exercise in 17th-18thc Britain.
• The weathervanes of Old London.
Ring for a bride, made from shard of glass that nearly blinded a WWI tank commander in battle.
Image: Already a tourist attraction: Philadelphia house where Jefferson wrote Declaration of Independence, shown in an 1855 photo.
• Are these seven pigtails from the infamous mutineers of the Bounty?
• Great rooms in children's literature.
• "A most lamented princesse": a 17thc English princess at Versailles.
• Uncovering a different side of Bath.
• The 18thc man with (supposedly) 87 children – and only one wife.
Image: A Medusa mosaic, 2nd-3rdc AD from the Archaeological Museum of Tarragona.
• The tragedy of early 20thc beauty, model, and actress Audrey Munson.
• When fashion becomes a form of protest.
• British female felons in the 18thc.
• The newest historical American Girl doll has Motown swagger.
• General George Washington, hairdresser.
Image: Oh, the Illustrated Police News, 1895: "Pinching girls' legs his mania." Story here.
• One hundred and fifty-one years after the last shot was fired, a Civil War pension is still being paid by the U.S. government to the daughter of a veteran.
• Criss-Cross Spelling Slips: sold as an educational game in the 1880s.
• "Gone for a solider": but the 19thc British Army wasn't for everyone.
Image: Just for fun: arguably the best photo and caption on Wikipedia.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Video: The President's Tailor

Friday, September 16, 2016

Isabella reporting,

While Loretta and I were on our break, Labor Day may have slipped by, but we haven't forgotten it. A holiday in celebration of the American worker is too wonderful to overlook, and today's video is the perfect tribute. Martin Greenfield is a master tailor who has made suits for American presidents from Eisenhower to Obama. Immigrating to this country as an orphaned teenager in 1947, he's justifiably proud of his craftsmanship and all he has achieved, and he's clearly prouder still to be an American.

But Mr. Greenfield's story is filled with tragedy as well. Because he and his family were Jews, they were imprisoned by the Nazis in the concentration camps at Auschwitz. He was the only one of his family to survive, and as he says in this video, he continues to grieve for them over seventy years later. In this American election year, when racist rhetoric and hate-crimes against those who are different are on the rise, and the Alt-Right movement has brazenly appropriated the symbols and philosophies of Nazi Germany, we all need to be reminded of the hard lessons that came from the suffering of the past, and make sure those dark days never return.

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pulvermacher's Hydro-Electric Chains to Cure Whatever Ails You

Thursday, September 15, 2016
Pulvermacher's Electric Chain
Loretta reports:

My vacation reading included Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life. You’d think, after all this time, all the bios, all the scholarly papers, there’s nothing new to learn about Dickens. Au contraire.

Maybe I overlooked it elsewhere, but, among other things, I discovered that Dickens’s health was worse than I'd supposed, and he suffered from gout (which he pretended was something else—there was a lot of fiction in his life as well as his books). And to treat his painful foot, on the night before he died, he ordered “a ‘voltaic band,’ a type of electric chain that had become a fashionable all-purpose cure, recommended to him by the actress Mrs. Bancroft and supplied by Isaac Pulvermacher, Medical Battery Maker.”

And yes, of course I tracked the thing down for our readers’ edification.

You can read about it in this detailed pamphlet.  And this pamphlet explains all the ailments it supposedly cures. And you can read the the Wikipedia overview, with illustrations. And  Hand-Book of Natural Philosophy 1856 explains some more here.
Puvermacher's advertisement 1859

Please note the impressive list in the ad, of those endorsing the device.

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, September 13, 2016

An 18thc Dress Becomes a 19thc Costume for Charades

Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Isabella reporting,

For people like me who love 18thc clothing, the 19thc can be a very dark period. For an era that has a reputation for being grim and dour, the Victorians seized any excuse to dress up in fancy dress. Costume balls, masquerades, pageants, amateur charades and pantomimes after supper were all the rage, and they loved, loved, loved the gorgeous silks and velvets of the Georgians.

While some of the most elaborate fancy-dress outfits worn by the upper classes were created to order by designers like Charles Frederick Worth, the majority of Englishmen and women would simply ransack the attic for a good costume. If great-grandmother's dress or great-grandfather's coat wasn't considered worthy of remaking into something modern, it became fair game for dress-up.

Nor were the clothes treated with much respect. The idea of preserving the past through the material culture of clothing is a relatively new idea. Old clothes were simply old clothes, and it was more important - and fun - to let everyone amuse themselves with makeshift fancy dress, from adults to children. Some 18thc clothes, too, were donated to theatrical companies, where they suffered the additional indignities of being smeared with stage make-up and worn under hot lights. Still other clothes wound up in the wardrobes of artist's studios, ready to dress a model for a painting with an historical theme.

Modern costume curators all have horror stories of how once-glorious Georgian dresses and suits in their collections were battered and stained and remade until they became only faded, tattered shades of their former selves: a scrap of embroidered silk here, or a jewel-studded button there. But until I saw this painting last month while visiting the RISDMuseum, I'd never witnessed the very act of Victorian costume-crime.

A Game of Charades, above (click on the image to enlarge), was painted by the popular historical and genre artist Edward Matthew Ward. A lively family group is amusing itself with charades in the parlor, and the improvised costumes include a sailor, some sort of rough frontiersman, and a gypsy. Of course there's a guy in drag, too, with a cap and kerchief on his head, because there always is.

I'm not quite sure about the clothes of the two young women dancing together, and the two women musicians. The museum dates the painting at c1840, which would make their dresses with the enormous sleeves about ten or fifteen years out of date. Are those sleeves far enough from current fashion that the dresses would have already become ripe for ridicule and costume - much the way today that people invited to parties with a 1980s theme will wear huge shoulder pads? The yellow dress seems to be worn with some ankle-length bloomers plus "exotic" slippers, which makes me think it's become a costume. Or are the young women not wearing costumes at all, but are simply a bit behind the current trends?

But it's the woman in the painting's foreground (and right) who really breaks my heart. She's wearing a gorgeous gown, petticoat, and apron from around 1775, complete with a ruffled cap that she likely found in the same trunk. The pale blue silk in that apron shimmers richly, and the petticoat that peeks out from beneath the gown looks like it might have gold threads. The rose silk of the gown is either a damask weave, or perhaps embroidered with flowers. This is still-beautiful clothing that must have been the height of fashion when new, and costly, too, yet by 1840 it's been relegated to charades, or perhaps to the artist's costume collection. What became of it all since then, I wonder?

Above: A Game of Charades, by Edward Matthew Ward, c1840, RISDMuseum.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fashions for September 1882

Monday, September 12, 2016
September 1882 Fashions
Loretta reports:

C. Willett Cunnington, writing in 1937, had this to say about 1880s fashions, in English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

The fashions of the ‘80’s were more remote than those of any other decade from modern standards of taste. But if, on that account, we are pleased to call them ugly we only beg the question—not very important—which is the better taste. Their interest to us lies in their significance for they display an unusual amount of symbolism. Economic depression forcing many women to seek other careers than marriage, coupled with increasing outdoor activities, produced fashions in which the ordinary devices of sex-attraction were absent. The tailor-made costume, for example, seemed to the older school repellently masculine. It was the first move towards a style signifying (unconsciously) that the wearer was engaged in some other pursuit than the capture of man. Even the evening dress, majestically ornate, avoided the cruder methods of allurement; the high neck for dinner wear, the minimum display of physical charms until eh close of the decade, and the preference for heavy materials, all were in keeping with the spirit of the period. The principle was strict, that beauty should make no passionate appeal. The epoch was, above all others, anti-anatomical.”

September 1882 descr
September 1882 descr
The author quotes a “contemporary’s” remark: “Women whose minds are occupied with other things tend toward simplicity in costume while those who are empty-handed and empty-headed oftenest appear in fantastic and gaudy garments.”

Each era brings its own perspective on dress, of its own as well as earlier times. And I for one am not at all sure that “fantastic and gaudy garments” necessarily indicate stupidity or shallowness. For some people, extravagance in dress can be an expression of joie de vivre or an artistic statement, among other things.

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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