Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Vernon, Season's Greetings
Susan & Loretta report:

‘Tis the season—and with suitably jolly and joyful spirits, the Two Nerdy History Girls are going to take our annual holiday break, to spend more time with our families and less time on social media. We may pop into the blog now and again with a picture or two and maybe a few words, but regularly scheduled blogging will not resume until 2018.

We thank you for continuing to share our historical enthusiasms, for encouraging us to continue, and for reading our books as well. They’re the reason we started blogging in the first place: all those bits of historical reality that wouldn’t fit neatly into our fiction but we just had to share. How lucky we are to have found so many like-minded readers!

Dear Readers, we wish you a very happy holiday season, and a splendid New Year. May it be a bright, healthy, and happy one for all of you.

Image: Émile Vernon, Season’s Greetings, courtesy Wikipedia

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, December 19, 2017

From the Archives: The Unsupervised Tailor's Apprentice & the Christmas Coat for a Cat, c. 1775

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Susan reporting,

Most memoirs written by veterans of the Revolutionary War concentrate on glorious battles won, comrades lost, and patriotic fervor, and the memoirs of James Potter Collins (1763-1844) are no different. Born in Tryon County, NC, Collins enlisted in a local militia company at the age of seventeen, and saw action in several of the most important battles of the southern campaigns. But Collins's memoirs also include this entertaining anecdote from his days as a twelve-year-old tailor's apprentice with a bit too much unsupervised time.

"I had been at work about two months when Christmas came on – and here I must relate a little anecdote. The principal [the tailor] and his lady were invited to a party among their friends...while it devolved on me to stay at home and keep house. There was nothing left me in charge to do, only to take care of the house. There was a large cat that generally lay about the fire. In order to try my mechanical powers, I concluded to make a suit of clothing for puss, and for my purpose gathered some scraps of cloth that lay about the shop-board, and went to work as hard as I could. Late in the evening I got my suit of clothes finished; I caught the cat, put on the whole suit – coat, vest, and small-clothes [breeches] – buttoned all on tight, and set down my cat to inspect the fit. 

"Unfortunately for me there was a hole through the floor close to the fireplace, just large enough for the cat to pass down; after making some efforts to get rid of the clothes, and failing, pussy descended through the hole and disappeared; the floor was tight and the house underpinned with brick, so there was no chance of pursuit. I consoled myself with a hope that the cat would extricate itself from its incumbrance, but not so; night came and I had made on a good fire and seated myself for some two or three hours after dark, when who should make their appearance but my master and mistress and two young men, all in good humor, with two or three bottles of rum. After all were seated around the fire, who should appear amongst us but the cat in his uniform. I was struck speechless, the secret was out and had no chance of concealing; the cat was caught, the whole work inspected and the question asked, is this your day's work? I was obliged to answer in the affirmative; I would then have been willing to take a good whipping, and let it stop there, but no, to complete my mortification the clothes were carefully taken off the cat and hung up in the shop for the inspection of all customers that came in."
–– Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier, by James Potter Collins, published 1859

With his own master away from the shop for the holiday, Michael McCarty, above, a tailor's apprentice in the Historic Trades program, Colonial Williamsburg, was inspired to copy Collins' achievement, and make a miniature red hunting coat for his own cat. The coat was made to measure like every 18th c. gentleman's coat would have been, and cut and sewn entirely by hand of fine red woolen, trimmed in black with tiny covered buttons and gold-thread buttonholes. And just like young Collins' cat-coat, Michael's handiwork was on display in the shop window throughout the Christmas season, below left – although someday I'd really like to see it on the cat, too.

Update: I visited Colonial Williamsburg this past weekend, and although the tailors have now moved further down Duke of Gloucester Street to a new shop of their own, I'm happy to report that their holiday decorations still include the little red cat's coat, prominently pinned in the window.

Photographs copyright 2013 by Susan Holloway Scott. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Dickens and the Cratchit Family's Christmas Pudding

Monday, December 18, 2017
Mrs. Cratchit by Arthur Rackham
Loretta reports:

I haven’t yet seen the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, but no one needs another movie to associate Charles Dickens with the holiday, thanks to his story, A Christmas Carol.

This past summer, while in London, I spent a few hours touring the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street. Among many items claiming my attention was the kitchen, because we Nerdy History Girls are always curious about everyday life. This house, which reflects the author’s lifestyle when he was just beginning to be famous, is very much a middle-class household, considerably upscale from that of Mr. Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I offer some images from the kitchen, and leave you to imagine the process of making a Christmas pudding, even in this comfortable household. Then, please imagine what it might have been like for Mrs. Cratchit in her humbler abode. As a museum sign pointed out, “The Cratchit family had only one small pudding, but in a household such as 48 Doughty Street, there were often many spare puddings, cooked and stored for use at other celebrations throughout the year. Filled with spirits, old ale and spices, the puddings were well preserved on larder shelves and were even believed to improve in taste as they aged.”

Yes, that's the kitchen sink
But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses— to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough 1 Suppose it should break in turning out ! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam. The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding ! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly —with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding ! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing. At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up.
“A Christmas Carol,” from The Works of Charles Dickens, Volume 13
Hedgehogs used for insect control
Photos of Charles Dickens Museum copyright © Loretta Chekani 2017
Illustration of Mrs. Cratchit carrying in the pudding by Arthur Rackham for 1915 edition.
Please click on images to enlarge.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Video: A Victorian Christmas & Victorian Dolls

Friday, December 15, 2017
Loretta reports:

Looking for some holiday-type historical footage for the Friday video, I came upon these stereoscopic images of staged, late-Victorian Christmas celebrations. Many of the images seem a little eerie to me. But then, Victorian images often are. In this case, too, the strange “animation,” combined with the stereoscopic effect, heightens the sensation.

But I was struck by the little girls cradling their dolls, an image that remains familiar and sweet.

Then I remembered the photos of Victorian toys—mainly dolls and doll furniture—I took in September at the Provincetown Museum, which is part of the Pilgrim Monument.* I could picture little girls on Christmas morning, lovingly holding these dolls when they were new.

*No, I didn’t climb to the top of the monument. There’s quite a lovely panoramic view on the website.

Video: 3D Stereoscopic Photographs of Christmas in the Victorian Era (1889-1902)

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. Please click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

From the Archives: Mistletoe Madness, 1796

Thursday, December 14, 2017
Susan reporting:

In modern holiday celebrations, mistletoe has become something of a kitsch-y joke, the inevitable prop for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus humor.

But in the 1790s, when the print, left, was published, mistletoe still had an aura of wickedness, even danger. The ancient Druidic traditions linking mistletoe and fertility had not been forgotten, and kissing beneath the mistletoe was thought to lead to promiscuity, or even - shudder! - marriage.

Certainly the four merry young  couples in this print appear to be enjoying themselves. Some scholarly descriptions refer to this as a dance scene, and perhaps it does show nothing more than a particularly rollicking country dance.

Still, I can't help but think that at any moment some stern-faced, indignant elder is going to appear in the doorway and demand to know what exactly is going on down here. I'm guessing the artist thought that, too, from the caption he added to the bottom: "Whilst Romp loving Miss is haul'd about/With gallantry robust." (The attribution to Milton is incorrect; the line is from a poem by the 18th c. Scottish poet James Thomson.) In any event, there's no doubt that these are romp-loving misses being haul'd about by their robust gallants. No wonder Christmas mistletoe was so popular!

Above: The mistletoe, or, Christmas gambols, by Edward Penny, 1796, London. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The White Lion Inn, Putney

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Loretta reports:

Most of the locations in A Duke in Shining Armor are real—or as real as I can make them. Some once existed but no longer do, some have changed beyond recognition, and some are there, looking more or less the same. None are quite the same, of course. For one thing, the extant buildings have indoor plumbing. And electricity.

The White Lion Inn, where several important early scenes occur, did and does exist, although my characters wouldn’t recognize it today, and may not have even known it by that name.

What I saw, when studying my copy of the Panorama of the Thames, was the Putney Hotel, which a note in the text referred to as the Red Lion Inn. But it seems to be the same building Ralph Rylance refers to in his 1815 guidebook, The Epicure’s Almanack, as the White Lion. (More about the book here, here, and here.)
White Lion.
“Continuing on your way to town you come to the village of Putney, at the bottom of which, close to the Fulham Bridge, is the White Lion.[2] You may have a good dinner drest here to order, in which order you ought not to forget to include stewed eels, or fried flounders. The people here have a live stock of them in the wells of the peter-boats moored off the village.”
The footnote explains further:

[2] “The White Lion near Fulham Bridge (now Putney Bridge) dated from the early C17 and was rebuilt in 1887; it is still operating, as the ‘Australian Walkabout Inn,’ at nos. 14-16 Putney High Street.” (p. 203)
View of Putney in 1829

On my investigative tour of Putney, last summer, we came upon what seemed to be the right building.  At the time, though, I wasn’t sure this was the place, because it looked like a late Victorian era structure, and closer inspection confirmed an 1880s date. Still, the big lion on top was a clue, and I asked Walter to take some photos. Once home, with various books at hand, I felt more certain of its identity. This did seem to be the White Lion, extensively renovated and decorated or maybe entirely rebuilt.  I can also confirm that it (1) is no longer the Australian Walkabout Inn, (2) was closed, and (3) had been closed for some time. But everything about its location did fit my mental images for the story. Obviously, for the interior and stable yard scenes, I had to use a combination of imagination and research into 18th and 19th century coaching inns.

Photograph at top by Walter M. Henritze, III. The image of 1829 Putney is a screen shot from the fabulous website connected with the Panorama of the Thames, a gorgeous book. I strongly recommend your visiting the website, for larger images, and tons of information. You can scroll along for the river view or search by specific locations.

More images of the White Lion here at the Victorian Web and here at Wikimedia Commons.

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, December 10, 2017

George Washington's Diamond Eagle, 1784

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Susan reporting,

George Washington - commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and the first President of the United States - was the most painted American of the 18thc. In all those many portraits, he is shown either in his general's uniform of buff and blue, or in civilian clothes, often a black suit. Compared to his counterparts in Europe, his dress is sober, even severe, as was fitting for a near-legendary citizen-soldier, the leader of a new republic.

However, in the case of this remarkable jewel-encrusted medal - which doesn't appear in any of those portraits of Washington - the general made an exception.

After the end of the war, officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts who had served together formed the Society of Cincinnati. The mission of the Society was to preserve the memory of the war for future generations, and to maintain an appreciation for the achievement of American independence.

The golden eagle that became the Society's insignia was designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French-born military engineer who served in the Revolution and, in time, became the master planner of Washington, DC. When L'Enfant returned to France to have the Eagle made by the Parisian goldsmiths, officers of the French Navy commissioned a more impressive, jeweled version as a surprise for Washington - the Diamond Eagle shown here. L'Enfant carried the medal back to America with him in 1784, and presented it to Washington on behalf of the French officers at the first general meeting of the Society of Cincinnati in Philadelphia in May, 1784.

Washington seemed to have reserved the Diamond Eagle for the most formal occasions. As President General of the Society of Cincinnati, he likely wore it for the Society's special events, and also for his own annual birthday ball. Featuring emeralds, rubies, and 160 diamonds from India and Brazil and a total diamond weight of 9 cts., the medal also includes scenes and mottoes related to the life of Cincinnatus, the self-sacrificing Roman statesman to whom Washington was often compared. The medal was unique in 18thc America, and was a stunning tribute to the man who wore it.

After Washington's death, his widow Martha Washington sent the Diamond Eagle to Alexander Hamilton, the newly-elected President General of the Society. Following Hamilton's death in 1804, his widow Elizabeth Hamilton (yes, the heroine of my historical novel I, ELIZA HAMILTON) sent the medal to the third President General, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Pinckney in turn donated the Diamond Eagle to the Society in 1811, and it became the badge of office of the president general of the Society. The Society continues today as the oldest patriotic organization in America, and remains devoted to the principles and ideals of its founders.

Rarely exhibited publicly, the Diamond Eagle is currently on loan to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia until March 3, 2018. It's especially fitting that the medal is displayed in the museum adjacent to Washington's War Tent, another powerful symbol of Washington's dedication to his troops and the Revolution.

See here for more information about viewing the Diamond Eagle at the MoAR.

Above: The Diamond Eagle, front and back, with its original leather case. The blue and white ribbon, symbolizing the continuing friendship between France and the United States, is a modern replacement. All photographs courtesy of the Society of Cincinnati.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of December 4, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Henrietta Duterte, the first black female funeral director, who used coffins to help people escape slavery.
• During World War One, patriotic knitters faced the perils of "knitter's face" and "knitting nerves."
Anne of Green Gables, patron saint of girls who ask too many questions.
Image: Shopping, 1787: Gallerie du Palais Royal, Paris.
• The true history of Pocahontas: romantic historical myths versus tragic reality.
• Frost fairs on the Thames.
• "I heard the bells on Christmas Day": how hope rose from despair for poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
• Now online: Horwood's Plan of the Cities of London, 1792-99, puts the city (even houses!) at your fingertips.
• The scandalous and formidable Lady Holland.
Image: Fine glass kohl pot from ancient Egypt retains its original applicator, much like modern mascara.
• The hidden history of mac and cheese.
• The politics of hair.
• Thousands of women pursued their own California dreams during World War Two.
Murder ballads, gender, and who deserves to die.
• The splendor of weddings during the Italian Renaissance.
Image: A 19thc letter written in cross-hatching to save postage and paper.
• Lace me up, Daddy: a brief glimpse into male corsetry.
• How Victorian women cleaned their fancy dresses.
• Was Lydia E. Pinkham the Queen of Quackery?
• The mysterious New Orleans chapel of prosthetic limbs.
• Image: Proof that none of us have risen to the modern challenge of serving pasta elegantly.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday Video: Making a Plum Pudding, c1775

Friday, December 8, 2017

Susan reporting,

Since we're officially in the holiday season now, it seems like the appropriate time to share a video on how to make a traditional plum, or hunter's - the same pudding goes by different names - pudding. This is one of many excellent 18thc cooking videos produced by Townsends, an American purveyor of all kinds of 18thc and 19thc necessities for re-enactors and anyone who relishes the past, from reproduction wool cloaks to hunting knives to research books to (as mentioned in this video) the proper kidney suet for puddings.

Here you'll learn not only how to make a proper Georgian-style pudding, but also the histories of many of the ingredients. Who knew 18thc raisins were so different from their modern day descendants?

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The French Corset in A Duke in Shining Armor

Thursday, December 7, 2017
Phillipon, L'utile, marchande de corsets
Loretta reports:

Some time ago, Susan sent me the image you see, of a French corset seller with her wares, as an inspiration for the Dressmakers series I was working on. It looked perfect to me: not only the elegant 1830s corsets but the seller: her hair, her facial expression—that flirtatious glance. I kept it in view, especially when I was writing Leonie’s story, Vixen in Velvet, because she was the corset artiste of the trio.

However, I never wrote about the corset itself. At that time, I was focused on the seller, because my dressmakers were businesswomen.

But its moment came, in a flash of inspiration, when I was working on A Duke in Shining Armor, and had to get my heroine, Olympia, out of her wet clothes and into a fresh set of garments, right down to the underwear.

So far as I had been able to ascertain, ladies’ stays were white, as were all of their undergarments. The examples I’ve seen tend not to be especially sexy—except in the sense of being underwear in the 1800s and therefore sexy to the gentlemen—and not colorful. Maybe a little lace or embroidery would adorn, say, one’s chemise and petticoats, and pretty stitching, as in this example from the V&A online collection.

The undergarments I’d seen had all belonged to respectable women, though, including queens and aristocrats. Ordinary women were more likely to wear their clothes until they were not worth preserving.

Corset ca 1825-35
But what about the not-so-respectable women? What about the courtesans and others who had busy love lives? Expected to dress more dashingly and daringly, they might want to purchase less subdued styles, in colors or at least with colorful trim. This image told me that the Paris corset sellers were well able to oblige them.

As to why Olympia ends up in French underwear, or why she’s wet in the first place—it’s all in the book.

While the above image appears in several places, including my Pinterest board for A Duke in Shining Armor, I recommend you click on this link to the FIT blog and scroll down. You can enlarge it to an enormous size!

Images: L’utile, marchande de Corsets, Charles Phillipon 1830, courtesy Les Musêes de la ville de Paris

White corset, ca 1825-35 courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum online collections.

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, December 5, 2017

What Did Alexander Hamilton Wear for His Wedding to Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Susan reporting, 

This post appeared earlier this fall on the blog that's connected to my web site, but since it was so popular there, I decided to share it here, too.

In early December 1780, Lt. Col, Alexander Hamilton finally received leave from his position as an aide-de-camp on Gen. Washington's staff, and headed north to Albany, NY to marry his fiancee Elizabeth Schuyler. It was his first leave away from the army since accepting the post in 1777. The young lieutenant colonel had performed his responsibilities so well that he'd become virtually indispensable to His Excellency, who only grudgingly granted the leave, and only for a few short weeks at that.

The wedding was small family affair, with the service taking in the parlor of The Pastures, the Schuyler family home overlooking the Hudson River. There are no surviving records of what either the bride or groom wore for the ceremony, or for the celebration that likely took place afterwards. The description of Eliza's gown that you'll find in my historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton is drawn from a suggestion for bridal dress for a fashionable winter wedding in a 1780 copy of The Lady's Magazine, the Georgian precursor of magazines like Vogue, and I also consulted with Janea Whitacre, the Mistress of the Mantua-Making Trade at Colonial Williamsburg.

In a letter that Alexander wrote to Eliza shortly before embarking for Albany, he asked if she'd prefer him to wear his uniform for their wedding, or civilian clothes. Alas, her reply is lost, so it's not known what decision she made for her groom. I'm guessing that she chose his military attire, given that it was a war-time wedding.

None of Alexander's uniforms from the Revolution are known to survive today. Uniforms from the war saw considerable hard wear, and only a handful from the entire Continental Army still exist. Among them is the uniform, above left, that was worn by another of Washington's aides-de-camp, and one of Alexander's close friends, Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman (1744-1786) of Maryland. As shown on a museum mannequin, the uniform is missing some key elements: a white linen shirt, gold officer's epaulettes, a sword and sword belt, boots, cocked hat, and the green ribbon sash worn by members of the general's staff. The portrait, above right, shows Gen. Washington himself, with the Marquis de Lafayette in the middle, and Lt. Col. Tilghman to the right, all in uniform.

Alexander's uniform at the time of the wedding was likely very similar. The miniature portrait by Charles Willson Peale of Alexander, below left, shows him in that uniform.

Now I have a totally unsubstantiated theory about this particular miniature: that Eliza may have seen it at some point during their courtship, and that perhaps Alexander even offered it to her, but that she rejected it for some reason - perhaps as not being worthy of her beloved. During the summer of 1780, he had another miniature painted at her request, showing him looking much more conventionally handsome and in civilian dress: see it here.

In any event, the epaulettes shown in the photo, lower right, did in fact belong to Alexander, and may well have been the same ones shown in the miniature portrait. Epaulettes were a relatively new feature of military dress in the 1770s, and were worn to make officers more visible to their men in battle. They were also considered to have less of the aristocratic baggage of the ribbons and sashes traditionally worn by British officers, and therefore were embraced by the Continental Army as being more democratic.

I saw Alexander's epaulettes on display this past summer at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, VA. Even though the gallery was in half-light to protect the artifacts (and make the photos fuzzy!), the gold bullion still glittered despite being more than two centuries old. Imagine how those golden epaulettes and rows of polished buttons must have sparkled on Alexander's coat in the sunny parlor during the wedding, and imagine, too, how wonderfully dazzled Eliza must have been by her groom. Ahh, the sartorial power of a man in uniform....

Above left: Uniform worn by Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman, c1777. 
Above right: Washington, Lafayette, and Tilghman at Yorktown, by Charles Willson Peale, 1784.          Both from the collections of the Maryland Historical Society; images from Maryland Historical Society.
Lower left: Miniature portrait of Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton, by Charles Willson Peale,, 1777, Museum of the City of New York.
Lower right: Epaulettes Belong to Alexander Hamilton, c1777-1783, The Society of the Cincinnati. Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Invalid Chair in A Duke in Shining Armor

Monday, December 4, 2017
Mechanical Chair
Loretta reports:

The basics of this post appeared a few years ago, as Merlin's Mechanical Chair. Clearly, the ingenious device stuck in my mind, because it ended up playing an important role in A Duke in Shining Armor.

The trick was figuring out how the thing worked. In the first place, early 19th century prose can be very hard to follow. It tends to be much less direct than our way of writing. In the second place, my brain is easily confused by physics and mechanics. Doubtless it took me a lot longer to learn how to drive this chair than it did the Duke of Ripley, in my book. I will leave it to you to read the instructions and make what sense of them you can.

Meanwhile, let us consider for a moment the commentary that follows the instructions. "Amusement"? Oh, yes, I figured that one out pretty quickly. But the suggestions for running the chair by means of a "very small and portable steam-engine" remind me of the way some people used to imagine us flying around on individual rocket-propelled devices in The Future. Having a 19th C steam engine powering my chair does not strike me as a safer prospect.

And then there's the idea of finding a way "to enable it to carry a small cannon, which should be, both for itself and its operators, completely unassailable by the enemy, as well as, by the singular rapidity of its evolutions, terribly and unusually destructive." Is your hair standing on end? Mine sure is. But let us remember that Great Britain was at war with Napoleon in 1811, and things weren't going so well. At home, people carried on with their lives, but that didn't mean they weren't aware of what was happening on the Continent, or didn't take seriously the possibility of invasion. As it turned out, Napoleon continued to be a danger until June 1815.

By the time of my story (1833), however, that's all in the distant past, and the chair is perfoming its dual functions of serving those with limited mobility as well as providing amusement.
Mechanical chair described

Mechanical chair described

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

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of November 27, 2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The Italian prince at Waterloo.
• The oldest treasures in twelve great libraries.
• Ten things you (probably) didn't know about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.
• A pair of short videos here and here for an extraordinary Victorian archery ensemble, complete with an original belt and accessories.
• One of NYC's greatest architectural losses: the birth, life, and death of the old Penn Station.
• Image: Author Edith Wharton's motor vehicle permit, France, 1915.
• English folklore: the fairy midwife and the magic ointment.
• Poet Phyllis Wheatley's writing desk most likely began as a card or tea table.
• Victorian doodles of Vauxhall pleasure gardens.
Dying with "perfect resignation" in the Regency.
• Peas, please: the objects authors use most frequently for size comparison, past and present.
• Sexuality during the American Civil War: soldiers, wives, and intimate dreams.
• Image: Built in 1705 by Sir Christopher Wren, St. Paul's Dean's Stair appears to float.
Wardrobes and the storage of clothes at a Swedish manor house, 1758.
• "A Lament Upon a Wombat", 1869 (because that lamented wombat was the pet of artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.)
• Love advice from the middle ages: how to tell if your 12thc lover is not that into you.
• Smallpox in the Sea Islands: Clara Barton and Columbus Simonds in South Carolina.
Chopin's preserved heart may provide clues to his cause of death.
• Four generations of brides from a single family wore this handmade wedding dress from 1932.
Image: Just for fun: For maximum impact and flair when reserving a parking space, try a peacock.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Bride's Dress in A Duke in Shining Armor

Friday, December 1, 2017
Loretta reports:

Since my first blog post of the month is usually a fashion illustration, I shall begin my tour of A Duke in Shining Armor’s historical background with what the heroine, Olympia, wore to the first wedding.

Seeking suitable bridal attire, I turned the pages of my French Fashion Plates of the Romantic Era. And there it was, exactly what I was looking for: an ensemble complicated enough, with a sufficiently elaborate hair arrangement, to express, in clothing, my heroine’s plight as well as her state of mind. It allowed, too, for what I deemed a satisfactory amount of comic effect. As some of you are aware, if there’s fashion description in my story, it’s there for a reason. If it doesn’t have a role to play—something to tell you, something to express, some action to perform—I skim over or skip it.

So there’s the dress that set me off. And there’s the dress. And there it is again.
Bridal Dress May 1833

As is evident, my search didn’t end with French Fashion Plates of the Romantic Era—because the book describes it as you see above, which is to say, not much. Since the source for these plates is the Petit Courrier des Dames (also published as Modes de Paris) for 1830-34, I commenced a search. That particular illustration did not appear in any of the online editions of the publication I could find, or in any of the several museum collections I searched.

But all was not lost. If you read here about the magazine, you’ll also learn about the kind of rampant stealing that went on. Long aware of the copying, I started investigating online for images from magazines for May-June 1833.

There it was, in a fashion print from the Ladies’ Cabinet, courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library online collection of Casey Fashion Plates. There it was, not called anything. But the date, May 1833, did correspond to the one in French Fashion Plates.

All very entertaining, but I needed a description—and at last I found it…sort of. There was the same dress, but in yellow, called an evening dress, in the Magazine of the Beau Monde. However, I decided it was a mis-coloring as well as a misprint, because here’s the description:

Figure III.—Evening Dress.—A white satin dress, corsage en pointe, trimmed with nœds; short sleeves with blonde sabots; a pelerine of blond extending over the sleeves. The hair in front separated and forming full side curls, elevated in close plaits on the summit of the head figuring a diadem ornamented with a branch of orange blossoms; a deep veil of blond surmounting the coiffure, and descending below the waist.
Bridal Dress mis-colored

The orange blossoms would be a clue.

On my Pinterest Page you can see other illustrations I used while writing A Duke in Shining Armor. If you visit or sign up for my website blog, you’ll get some special material, exclusive material, and expanded/alternate versions of topics I’ve blogged about 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.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lord Raby's "Great Silver Wine Cistern," c1705

Thursday, November 30, 2017
Susan reporting,

While my last post featured the now-unknown 18thc child of a soldier living in a military encampment, this post features an 18thc child on the opposite end of the Georgian social ladder. Born into wealth and power, Charles James Fox (1749-1806) was the son of prominent politician Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, and Lady Caroline Lennox Fox, eldest daughter of the Duke of Richmond. Later in life, Charles became a noted statesman in his own right. 

But as a child, Charles was much spoiled by his indulgent parents. One famously appalling incident is recounted in the wonderful biography Aristocrats (by Stella Tillyard, 1994, Noonday Press):

"Once a grand dinner was held at Holland House for some visiting foreign dignitaries. The Fox children were brought in for dessert. Charles, still a toddler in petticoats, said he wanted to bathe in a huge bowl of cream that stood on the table. Despite [his mother's] remonstrances, [his father] ordered the dish to be put down on the floor and there, in full view of some of Europe's most powerful politicians, the little boy slopped and slid to his heart's content in the cool, thick liquid."

I remembered little Charles in the cream when, while wandering on the internet, I came across this splendidly ostentatious silver wine cistern, upper left. A little more sleuthing led me to the publicity photo, bottom left, of a modern toddler named Leo, gleefully emulating young Charles Fox. As you can see from the photo, right, the wine cistern (today it would be called a wine cooler) is enormous. It measures over 51 inches across the top handles and contains over 70 kilograms of sterling silver, and can easily hold more than a dozen bottles of wine. It's also plenty large enough for most any small lordling's impulsive cream baths, and several of his friends, too.  

But the wine cistern wasn't just a costly extravagance. Created in 1705-1706, this "great silver wine cistern" was commissioned by Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby and Ambassador Extraordinary to Berlin between 1706-1701. Lord Raby's post was one of the most important abroad, and the cistern was part of his ambassadorial silver. The ambassador's silver service not only represented the wealth and magnificence of Queen Anne and the country she ruled, but its presence also honored foreign guests and dignitaries at state dinners. Made by Philip Rollos, Sr., in London, the cistern features a pair of patriotic British lions as well as the royal arms and cipher of Queen Anne.

Wine cisterns were the largest pieces in such a service, and so impressive that contemporaries waggishly likened them to boats and coaches. They weren't quite that large, but their size, containing so much silver, meant that some were melted down and remade into other items after the fashion for cisterns had passed. That, added to the fact that relatively few were made to begin with, means that today only a handful still exist. 

Lord Raby's cistern remained in his family for three centuries. It was finally put up for auction in 2010, and was kept from leaving Britain by a fundraising campaign by Leeds Museums and Galleries, augmented with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. The cistern can now be seen on display at Leed's Temple Newsom House - though cream-bathing is not an option.

For much more about the history of Lord Raby's wine cistern, see the catalogue description by Sotheby's here.

Photos, left, courtesy of Sotheby's.
Photo, right, ©2010 by Clara Molden for The Telegraph.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Duke in Shining Armor Official Debut

Tuesday, November 28, 2017
A Duke in Shining Armor
Loretta reports:

Today’s the big day for A Duke in Shining Armor, the first in my Difficult Dukes series. Though it’s listed as a December book and though I’ve already seen it on some bookshop shelves—and happily signed the copies I found—today’s the official day.

You can read about the Difficult Dukes series here at my website. On the book’s website page, you'll find a back cover plot summary and an excerpt. And my website blog has and will continue to have posts related to the book.

Following is my book tour, actual and virtual:

Actual Tour

I'm looking forward to meeting readers at these events. I hope to see you there!

Loretta Chase & Caroline Linden: A Conversation
7 PM Wednesday 29 November 2017
Bacon Free Library
58 Eliot Street
Natick MA 01760

Romance Event with authors Sarah MacLean, Maya Rodale, and Megan Frampton
7-8pm Thursday 30 November 2017
Savoy Bookstore and Café
10 Canal Street
Westerly RI 02891

Romance & Respect
—with Joanna Shupe, Tessa Bailey, Megan Frampton, Tracey Livesay
7-8pm Wednesday 6 December 2017
Strand Bookstore
828 Broadway (& 12th Street)
New York NY 10003

Virtual Tour

Cathy Maxwell & I will be discussing heroines at USA Today’s Happy Ever After. Details TBA

Heroes and Heartbreakers has published a short version of the excerpt (in case you’re pressed for time).

At RT Reviews, I offer the alarming truth about dukes in the early 19th century. Also, RT VIP Salon interviewed me; however, this material is available only to subscribers.

My work is mentioned at Racked, in an article about the term bodice rippers.

Publishers Weekly interviewed me for their article about consent in romance.

A Duke in Shining Armor has also received some very good reviews, including starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, and a Desert Isle Keeper Review at All About Romance.

That's all I can think of for now, but you can expect some book-related blog posts in the near future, here as well as at my website blog.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Littlest Camp Followers, c1775

Sunday, November 26, 2017
Susan reporting,

One of the things I appreciate most about the still-new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia is the way the artifacts, videos, and exhibits are so much more inclusive than many more traditional exhibitions devoted to the Revolution and life in 18thc America. The stories told by the MoAR feature the familiar heroic actors like George Washington, but there are also many other individuals - including Native Americans, African Americans, and women - whose contributions and sacrifices have been too often overlooked, forgotten, or purposefully ignored.

This tiny earthenware lamb (only a few inches long) represents a group that was very much involved in the war, yet seldom mentioned: the children of soldiers. Along with their mothers and soldier-fathers, these children - often born during a campaign - were a familiar feature of 18thc armies. While the term "camp follower" conjured up titillating images like this, the reality was that the majority of the women traveling with the army were married to enlisted men; these women were often employed in laundering, food preparation, and tending the sick and wounded. Their children, of course, had little choice in the matter; they simply "followed the drum" because they followed their fathers.

Children appear in contemporary paintings of military scenes like the one shown here. The reality was likely much more rough-and-tumble, and combined with the real possibilities of danger, disease, and death, yet their presence at the time was unquestioned in a way that seems unfathomable to us today.

The lamb toy was excavated from a British Revolutionary War campsite near New York City, a British stronghold through much of the war. Made in England of white salt-glazed stoneware, the lamb could have crossed the Atlantic on board a troop ship with its owner, or been purchased in a New York shop.

The name of the lamb's young owner isn't known, nor are the circumstances of how it was lost or left behind at the camp. Lost toys are nothing new, nor, sadly, are children in the middle of wars. Still, I hope that both that long-ago child and his or her parents returned safely from the war, even if the lamb remained behind as a poignant reminder of a child in the middle of an adult conflict.

Thanks to Philip Mead, Chief Historian of the Museum of the American Revolution, for suggesting this post.

Left: Toy Lamb, England, 1750-1800, on loan from the New-York Historical Society to the Museum of the American Revolution. 
Right: British Infantrymen of a Royal Regiment in an Encampment, painter unknown, c1760, National Army Museum.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thanksgiving Day's coming, and we're taking a break

Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Loretta & Susan report:

As we do every year, the Two Nerdy History Girls will take some time off to prepare for the Thanksgiving Day holiday, celebrated in the U.S. this year on the 23rd.

There will be food, way too much food, probably. There will be friends and family getting together. And there will certainly be thanks.

We’re thankful for many things, including our jobs, which we do believe are among the best in the world. We’re thankful for our readers, who support our work and continue to follow us on our nerdy history peregrinations.

Our voyages into the past will continue after the holiday.
We wish you an abundantly happy one.

Image: Greetings of Thanksgiving, postcard, New York Public Library Digital Collections image ID 1588398.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Alexandra Palace

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Loretta reports:

This qualifies as one of those things you don’t know that you don’t know. I knew about London’s Crystal Palace. Until I happened upon The Queen’s London, however, the Alexandra Palace meant nothing to me. The funny thing is, unlike the Crystal Palace, the Alexandra Palace is still there.

“What the Crystal Palace has been to the south, it was thought the Alexandra Palace would prove to the north, of London. The former was built of the materials used for the Exhibition of 1851 ; the latter, of those employed for the Exhibition of 1862. A superb site, north of Hornsey and east of Muswell Hill, was chosen for it, and it was opened in May, 1873. Fourteen days later the building was burnt down; and, Phoenix-like, the present structure rose from its ashes, being finished in just under two years. It is very fine in its way, and contains all manner of courts and a fine concert-hall. The grounds, too, with their ornamental water, are delightful. But for some years now, with the exception of an occasional Short season, the Palace has unfortunately been closed.

The Queen's London: A Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks, and Scenery of the Great Metropolis in the Fifty-ninth Year of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria 1897*

And so, one thinks, another amazing building lost. But no.
This northern rival of the Crystal Palace, finely situated on Muswell Hill, was, after a chequered career, acquired in 1901 for the public use, and is controlled by a board of Trustees representing various local authorities. The grounds, comprising over 160 acres, command fine views of London and the country to the north, and contain a boating lake, cycling track, swimming baths etc. The Great Hall will hold about 14,000 people, and has a fine organ. During summer, attractive concerts and other entertainments are given in the grounds. Adjoining is the Alexandra Park Racecourse.
A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to London and Its Environs 1919

John Bointon, Alexandra Palace from the Air
Unlike other abandoned structures, and in spite of burning down twice, the Alexandra Palace not only survived that “chequered career” but is still in use today. It has quite a fascinating and eventful history, which I won’t attempt to summarize here. You can find out more at the palace website's Did You Know?” section. Wikipedia has a lengthy entry as well.
Details about the first fire here. Image of Belgian refugees housed in Palace here.

*My personal copy (couldn’t help myself, once I discovered the book’s existence), from which I scanned the image above, is dated 1896.
Color photograph below, Alexandra Palace from the Air, by by John Bointon, via, Creative Commons License.

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, November 12, 2017

From the 2NHG Library: "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking"

Sunday, November 12, 2017
Susan reporting,

With the holidays approaching, books are always on the top of the 2NHG lists for both giving and receiving. Here's one that will appeal to many of our readers who love historic clothing, the 18th century, and recreating period clothing for re-enacting and interpreting. It would also be welcomed by anyone who enjoys reading about the Georgian era, and wonders exactly how stays and hoops and pockets all fit together on a woman's body.

The book is The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox (Page Street Publishing) and it's a wonderful introduction to recreating and wearing 18thc fashions, exactly as that over-long title says. For those of you unfamiliar with the American Duchess brand: it's a company founded by co-author Lauren Stowell and devoted to creating replicas of historic footwear for modern feet. Their products have appeared in film, television, and on Broadway (from Outlander to Hamilton), and walked everywhere from red carpets to battlefield re-enactments. This is the first American Duchess book, and perfectly designed to serve the market that wears their shoes.

Hundreds of color photographs cover not only every step of cutting, sewing, and construction representative women's garments, but also demonstrate how to wear and style the clothes accurately. Instructions are included for undergarments and accessories, too. Although the book assumes the reader may possess zero background in 18thc costuming, there is also plenty here to interest those with more experience, with glossaries of fashion terms, explanations of 18thc sewing and fabric, and troubleshooting advice.

I'm guessing that much of the expertise in this book comes from co-author Abby Cox, who earned a M.Litt in Decorative Arts and Design History from the University of Glasgow. Abby's name (and face) will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog from her years as an apprentice mantua-maker at Colonial Williamsburg, where she cheerfully both shared her knowledge and posed for my camera for numerous blog posts. As a member of CW's historic trades program, Abby learned 18thc sewing techniques from Mistress of the Trade Janea Whitacre, and that training and practice shows in every page of this book. While The American Duchess Guide isn't a Colonial Williamsburg publication, it does reflect the high standards set by Janea and the other mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter Shop. Even the most accuracy-focused readers and sewers will be pleased by the detailed instructions and photographs. If you're like me, you'll soon be eager to try your hand at a gracefully elegant Italian Gown in flowered chintz.

All in all, an informative and entertaining look at a particularly lovely period of women's dress (I know, I'm biased.) You can purchase it here on Amazon.

Full disclosure: I received a pre-publication copy of this book for review. 
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