Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Victorians Lose Their Luggage

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Frith, The Railway Station 1866

Loretta reports:

Last time, I talked about penmanship. Today, I offer a look at letter-writing, another lost art. I was, as any nerdy history person would imagine, thrilled to find the Correct Guide to Letter Writing (4th ed, 1889), which covers letters for virtually all occasions, including a marriage proposal From a Widower with grown-up Daughters to a Young Lady (and acceptance and rejection letters for same);  a letter From a Young Man to his  Guardian, asking for an increased Allowance; one from From a Butler to his Master, giving Notice; and one From a Lady, promising to sing at an Afternoon Tea.
Lost Luggage Letters

The two letters displayed here, complaining about lost luggage, show that this phenomenon didn't begin with airline luggage.  I’ll bet anything there are Egyptian hieroglyphs and Roman tablets complaining about lost luggage. Some of those pictures carved on cave walls probably express some Neolithic ancient ancestor’s dismay about his misplaced mastodon skin.
Llangollen Station
Llangollen station on the w:Llangollen Railway, a heritage line in north Wales. Photographed from the town bridge over the River Dee (Afon Ddyfrdwy), by Chris Mckenna, 2005, courtesy Wikipedia.

William Powell Frith, The Railway Station. Engraving by Francis Holl (after Frith) 1866, 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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Is This a Forgotten Portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church?

Sunday, February 26, 2017
Susan reporting,

Anyone familiar with the musical Hamilton already knows the name Angelica Schulyer Church (1756-1814). In fact, in most Hamil-fan circles, she's called just Angelica, the Schuyler sister who's famously never satisfied.

Anyone alive in late 18thc London and Paris would have recognized her name, too, for she was certainly the best-known American woman in the fast set of English society. Born into a wealthy Dutch-American family in Albany, NY, she eloped with John Church, a slightly shady Englishman who made his fortune selling arms during the American Revolution. After the war, John took Angelica and their children back to England, where he became a landed gentleman and a member of parliament. Angelica combined  her wit, beauty, and vivacious character with her husband's money to make her drawing room one of THE places to see and be seen in Georgian London.

Angelica was admired by gentlemen as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, the Prince of Wales, the Marquis de Lafayette, Whig party leader Charles James Fox and playwright Richard Brinsely Sheridan. She was a patron of artists Benjamin West, John Trumbull, and Maria Cosway. She may (or may not) have had an affair with Thomas Jefferson, and she may (or may not) have had one with her brother-in-law Alexander Hamilton, too.

To me, she's the older sister of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the heroine of my new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton (to be published by Kensington Books in September, 2017.) I've been wallowing deep in my research of the Schuyler and Hamilton families for a good long time now. Characters become very real to me (especially the ones who were real people - I know, weird writer problems) to the point that I half-expect to run into them at the local grocery.

So imagine my surprise when the lovely face, above left, turned up in my Instagram feed this morning. Posted by the account of the Philip Mould Gallery in London, this portrait is by the well-known Georgian miniature painter Samuel Shelley (1750-1808). Shelley was famous for painting society beauties of the day, and this one - identified only as a portrait of a lady - is a gorgeous example of his work.

I'm also convinced it's a forgotten portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church.

There are only two other portraits of Angelica known today. One is a portrait of her with her son and servant by the American artist John Trumbull, detail, right, and the other a print after a painting by English artist Richard Cosway, lower left. To my eye, the Trumbull and Shelley portraits show the same woman. It's an uncommon face for an 18thc beauty: a long nose (which also turns up in portraits of her father), a small mouth, the dark, slightly close-set eyes. The Shelley miniature also seems to capture both the flirtatious charm and intelligence that Angelica's contemporaries all mention.

From the clothes and hair style, I'd guess that this portrait was painted in the 1780s, the time when Angelica was living in London. The art world in London at the time was a small one; another portraitist, Maria Cosway, was one of Angelica's closest friends, and it's easy to imagine Maria introducing Samuel Shelley to Angelica as a possible patron.

I've written to Emma Rutherford, the consultant specializing in miniatures for Philip Mould with my thoughts. UPDATE: Here's the reply from Ms. Rutherford: "Portrait miniatures do not often survive with the same provenance as oil portraits – their size meant that they could not be physically attached to labels and papers - and they were often not properly listed in inventories etc. I have also checked the RA listings and Shelley does not note exhibiting a portrait of Angelica. There are no other papers or sitters lists which survive relating to his output. With the lack of documentary evidence and provenance we would be unable to say that this is definitively a portrait of Angelica. On the other hand, the facial similarity (including eye colour) is so strong that I would like to amend our cataloguing to say that this is ‘possibly’ a portrait of her."

Above left: Portrait of a Lady by Samuel Shelley, image via Philip Mould Gallery.
Right: Portrait of Mrs. John Barker Church (Angelica Schuyler), Son Philip, and Servant by John Trumbull, c1785, private collection
Lower left: Print after a painting of Mrs. Church by Richard Cosway, c1790

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of February 20, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Library hand, the fastidiously neat penmanship style made for library card catalogues.
• And so to bed: 18thc night attire.
• Born in 1790, President John Tyler still has two grandsons alive today.
• "I always made an awkward bow": the final letter of poet John Keats.
• The ghost ships of San Francisco: dozens of wrecked ships lie beneath the city streets.
• Image: Anne Boleyn handed this miniature book of psalms, which contains a portrait of Henry VIII, to one of her maids of honor on the scaffold in 1536.
• Caught out, or why expense fiddling is not a modern phenomenon.
• Pennygown: the ruined chapel and medieval effigies of a Hebridean burial ground.
• Help transcribe Word War One love letters.
• Image: Photo of sixteen-year-old future author Agatha Christie on a visit to Paris in 1906.
• Discovering Citoyen Coiffier, an 18thc artists' supplier in Paris.
• What about the fathers? Men and childbirth in 19thc Ulster.
• Walt Whitman's brain, Napoleon's penis, and other famous body parts plundered from the grave.
• Those glorious wedding gowns of the 1980s, often inspired by Princess Diana.
• Who were "the servants"? Piecing together the lives of two 18thc enslaved men owned by the Schuyler family of Albany, NY.
• Image: The absolutely essential Oxford comma.
• This little street in Manhattan holds a story of two murders - and money.
• Mystery over 14thc male Black Death victims found buried together hand in hand.
• Nylon, the fiber that changed America, turns eighty.
• The lowdown on pantaloons: what Regency men wore on their legs.
• An abandoned hobbit castle built for sheep?
• Image: Just for fun: Best. Footnote. Ever.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Art of Penmanship

Friday, February 24, 2017
Alfred Stevens, The Letter

Loretta reports:

Periodically, an inquiry pops up on social media about whether or not children ought to be taught cursive handwriting. Some say it’s no longer necessary. Others worry that our letters and journals will become the equivalent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were a complete mystery for about 1400 years. We’re still not positive about how to pronounce the ancient Egyptian words, since the hieroglyphs don’t bother with vowels.

But the Is Cursive Really Necessary? contingent maintain that there will always be experts who can translate our funny little marks on paper, just as there are experts today who can translate the numerous scripts of centuries past, like this letter written in English Chancery Hand.
Who Can Learn to Write
The Picturesque

In other words, our diaries and such will make perfect sense to a small group of nerdy history writing scholars in the centuries ahead.

For now, though, a great many of us are still writing and reading cursive. Some of us ancient ones remember being taught the “Palmer Method” in elementary school. While reading Ann Trubeck’s The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, I learned that the Palmer method was a simplification of a very beautiful style that was popular from about 1850 to the 1920s, and used for one of the most famous logos on earth, Coca-Cola®.

It’s called Spencerian script, and it was developed by Platt Rogers Spencer, who thought that our writing should be inspired by the forms in nature. The forms of his letters truly are beautiful. The words are easy to read. But it’s no easy feat to get good at it. If you’re interested, though, you can read the New Spencerian Compendium of Penmanship here at Internet Archive or in this PDF.
Ladies' Hand
Images: Alfred Stevens, The Letter, courtesy Wikipedia.
Handwriting advice and samples from the New Spencerian Compendium, courtesy Internet Archive.

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, February 23, 2017

From the Archives: An 18thc Dress Makeover - With the Scraps to Prove It

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Susan reports:

As anyone who reads this blog knows, by now, I find recycled and remade clothes fascinating. As a "handwork" person myself, I'm in complete sympathy with the desire to make something new and usable from an older garment that's just too beautiful to toss. I've shared several such dresses before - here and here and here - but this one has an unusual twist.

Most of the examples in museums are 19th c dresses refashioned from 18th c silks, and the one shown here, upper left,  falls into that category, too. The silk is a lovely mushroom-colored damask from c 1760-70 (here's a similar damask, used in a gown from 1770), an elegantly subdued color that was once again in fashion in the mid-19th c. Consider these two silk dresses c. 1850, right. With the addition of a small lace collar, ruffled lace sleeve-cuffs, and a full hoop petticoat, the remodeled gown must have been quite stylish.

In most cases, it's far more difficult to guess at the appearance of the original gown. But this recycled dress comes with a bonus: all the pieces and scraps of fabric that were removed were carefully saved in a bag, lower left.

In the middle of the photograph is the original gown's compere stomacher, a kind of false-front with buttons like this (from one of our new Pinterest boards.) Lying on either side are the original elbow-length sleeves - too narrow to have been remodeled - with their gathered, serpentine trim (like this) on the outside of the flaring cuffs (like this.) Without examining the pieces, it's difficult to guess the rest of the 18th c gown, but I'm sure that with the pieces spread out like a jigsaw puzzle, a costume historian could do exactly that.

And, perhaps, some costume historian is doing exactly that. The recycled gown and the "extras" were sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions back in 2012, and I've always wondered what became of it. If one of you were the lucky buyer or knows where the dress landed, I hope you'll let us know!

Above & lower left: Mid-19th c dress, made of 18th c silk damask. Photographs courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.
Right: A pair of silk day gowns, c 1850. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Care of Infants in 1837

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Alken, The Infant
Loretta reports:

Well into the 20th century, a great many children did not survive infancy. In this context, the idea of "strengthening" and "hardening" a child makes sense, though we may find some of the practices a little alarming.

A child is constitutionally weak and irritable to a high degree: hence we should endeavour to strengthen, and diminish this irritability, in order to procure it the greatest happiness of life,—a firm body, which may resist all the influence of air and weather. Such management is highly advantageous, as it will enable children, when adults, to support every species of fatigue and hardship...

All attempts to render children hardy, must, therefore, be made by gradual steps. Nature admits of no sudden transitions. For instance, infants should by imperceptible degrees be inured to the cool, and then to the cold bath…

The child's skin is to be kept perfectly clean, by washing its limbs morning and evening, and likewise its neck and ears; beginning with warm water, till, by degrees, he will not only bear, but like to be washed with cold.

After he is a month old, if he has no cough, fever, nor eruption, the bath should be colder and colder, (if the season is mild) and gradually it may be used as it comes from the fountain. After carefully drying the whole body, head, and limbs, another dry soft cloth, a little warmed, should be used gently, to take all the damp from the wrinkles, or fat parts that fold together. Then rub the limbs; but when the body is rubbed, take special care not to press upon the stomach or belly. On these parts, the hands should move in a circle, because the bowels lie in that direction. If the skin is chafed, hair-powder is to be used. The utmost tenderness is necessary in drying the head, and no binding should be made close about it. Squeezing the head, or combing it roughly, may cause dreadful diseases, and even the loss of reason. A small soft brush, lightly applied, is safer than a comb. Clean clothes every morning and evening, will tend greatly to a child's health and comfort.—The Female's Friend, and General Domestic Adviser 1837

Image: Thomas Henry Alken, The Infant, from Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man (1824), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

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, February 19, 2017

From the Archives: That Big Georgian Bum, c. 1780

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Susan reporting,

On one of my visits to Colonial Williamsburg, I fell in love with this replica pale blue silk gown, left, worn by apprentice [now a journeywoman] mantua-maker Sarah Woodyard during her presentation for the 2014  Millinery Through Time conference (another picture here.) Sarah served as forewoman for the gown, directing fellow apprentice Abby Cox, who did most of the cutting, stitching, and fitting. As always, please click on the images to enlarge them.

Called an "Italian" gown, the style was popular in the late 1770s through the 1780s, and featured a close-fitting bodice, two-piece sleeves, and a skirt with the fullness gathered to the back. Similar gowns are often seen in 1780s portraits by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun like this oneand in drawings like this by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

It's a graceful, flattering gown, without the ungainly width of the hoops worn earlier in the century. But even though hoops had fallen from fashion, something was needed to support those silk skirts from behind.

Enter the false rump, or false bum, or derrières, which is just French for much the same. First appearing around 1776, the false rumps were exactly that: two pillow-like cushions that tied around the waist and boosted the posterior to outlandishly large proportions. Some bums were made from cork, while others were stuffed with horsehair or sheep's wool.

The false bum that Sarah is wearing is made from linen, stuffed with sheep's wool. Tied over her stays, shift, and petticoat, they look like saddlebags, but under the gown, they make her waist look smaller by comparison, and display the shining pleated silk to best advantage. She reports that sitting in narrow chairs can be something of a challenge.

But (hah!) there couldn't be a fashion more tailor-made for the scathing pens of Georgian caricaturists, who gleefully drew fashionable women with HUGE bums. The satirical print below is called The Bum Shop, and it shows exactly that: two Frenchmen (of course) are fitting women with the new style, with examples of their wares hanging on the wall. The shopkeeper is (of course) named Monsieur Derrière; the caption reads:

"Derrière begs leave to submit to the attention of that most indulgent part of the Public the Ladies in general, and most especially those to whom Nature in a slovenly moment has been niggardly in her distribution of certain lovely Endowments, his much improved (aridae nates) or Dried Bums so justly admired for their happy resemblance to nature. Derrière flatters himself that he stands unrivalled in this fashionable article of Female Invention, he having spared neither pains nor expence in procuring every possible information on the subject, to render himself competent to the artfully supplying this necessary appendage of female excellence."

By the 1790s, the fashion for big bums faded away, as all extreme fashions do. Yet while such styles may disappear, they're usually dormant, not extinct; seventy-five years later, the latest must-have is another form of false rump called the bustle.

Photographs copyright Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: The Bum Shop, published by S.W.Fores, London, 1785. The British Museum.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of February 13, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• What bloomers reveal about the 19thc women who wore them.
• The lavish work of one of the last gilders of the royal court at Versailles.
• Abraham Lincoln's tough love letter to his step-brother about laziness and his work-ethic.
• Mini-video: Victorian and Edwardian sewing samples.
• Fashioning the 17thc in Boston: clothing belonging to Hannah and John Leverett.
• Image: Found: a long-lost photograph of Harriet Tubman.
• How a reproduction scenic wallpaper featuring the "Ruins of Rome" finally completes one of the grandest private spaces from colonial America.
• Valentine's Day and the romance of cobwebs.
• "Now or never": African-American troops in the Civil War.
• Is this the most jaw-dropping room in London?
• Image: An ocean liner departing from New York for Europe, as seen from the Empire State Building, 1921.
• The tailor made: the power suit of the Edwardian era.
• History's love letters provide heartfelt glimpse of the beloved.
• The sad tale of the 18thc miser Mary Luhorne.
• Seldom mentioned: a Regency abortion, 1816.
• The legendary 19thc counter-revolutionary, royalist, and insurrectionist Jean "Chouan" Couttereau.
• Image: Crossing the frozen Hudson River at Albany, NY by sleigh, 1853.
• Crafting protest, fashioning politics: DIY lessons from the American Revolution.
• Mr. Darcy's tempting, pleasing, and dangerous mouth and lips.
• Everything you know about corsets is false.
• "America is lost!" wrote King George III - of did he?
• Image: Just for fun: When you lie on your resume, but still get the job.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fashions for February 1813

Friday, February 17, 2017

Opera Dress February 1813
Morning Dress February 1813

Dress Description
Dress description cont'd 
Loretta reports:

A little late with the month’s fashion plate…

We’ve moved into the 1810s, a decade that develops an interesting fashion twist after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Up until then, the dresses carry on the vertical style, with a variety of interpretations of “classical” dress, as do these two items. But after Waterloo, things start getting more elaborate and less body-clinging, as we gradually move toward the wild and crazy part of the early 19th century, where most of my stories are set.

That’s for next time, though. What we’re looking at today is classic Regency style, the look we associate with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

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, February 16, 2017

Pearls, Lace, & Purple Silk: A Magnificent c1770 Dress

Thursday, February 16, 2017
Susan reporting,

Some surviving 18thc dresses have become internet celebrities (I'm thinking of all the beautifully photographed dresses from the websites of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Kyoto Costume Institute, and the Los Angeles County Museum.) Thanks to social media and blogs like this one, these dresses are instantly recognizable - old friends of silk damask and lace - by costume historians, re-enactors, historical seamstresses, and anyone who just likes a beautiful, beautifully made garment from the past.

This dress, upper left, deserves to be as well known as her more publicized sisters. I've heard about this dress in costume circles for years ("The PEARLS", whispered in hushed awe), and I finally had the opportunity to see it in person at Winterthur Museum this past fall, thanks to Linda Eaton, John & Marjorie P. McGraw Director of Collections and Senior Curator of Textiles.  As always, click on the images to enlarge.

The rumors were right. It's stunning. The dress is a saque, or sack gown, made between 1765-1775, most likely in France. There are so many layers of texture and embellishment in this single dress. To begin with, the fabric (see detail, right) is a purple plain weave silk with a brocaded lace and flora design in white, yellow, orange, green, red, and pink textured yarn.  It almost appears to be elaborate embroidery, but all those flowers are in fact woven into the fabric.

The dress has several different kinds of trims. Around the neckline and edging the skirt is gathered lace, and loops of green silk cording. There's a different kind of gauze-like lace gathered into poufs on the skirts, (see detail, left) and the poufs are in turn decorated with silk tape or ribbon that has been hand-painted with red and purple c-scrolls, vines, and medallions. The tape is exquisite, the work of a highly skilled specialist, and I can't imagine how long it must have taken to paint such delicate detail.

If that isn't enough, there are strands of pearl-like glass beads threaded through the other trimmings. There was some question whether the pearls were a 19thc addition, when the dress could have been used as a fancy-dress or theatrical costume, but it was finally determined from the stitching and the beads themselves that they are in fact an 18thc embellishment, though likely added about ten years after the dress was originally made. Strands of faux pearls on dresses are shown in many 18thc portraits, but I'd never seen a dress with any still in place. When the next generation plundered an older dress, I'm sure glass pearls were among the first things cut off for reuse.

I also liked how the sleeve flounces were lined with a contrasting plain-weave blue silk. The flounces had an extra little secret, too, bottom right. Sewn inside each flounce was a flat, oval-shaped, lead weight, covered in fabric, that made the flounce hang correctly from the wearer's arms. Like all the most sumptuous 18thc clothing, it's the little luxurious details - everything stitched or otherwise created by hand - that are so special.

I saw the dress in a storage box, not on a mannequin; the photo, upper left, is by Winterthur, and the detail pictures are mine.

Saque dress, c1765-75, Winterthur Museum.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Be My Valentine

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Loretta reports:

Many centuries ago, when I was in elementary school, we exchanged Valentine’s Day cards in the classroom. We made them, too, but most of the exchanges involved cards that came in  packages of 25 or 100. We traded candy hearts, too.

The sending of cards, notes, and other tokens of friendship or affection goes back centuries. For today, I offer a few historical links.

The New and Complete Valentine Writer for the Year 1805 provides a variety of Valentine’s poetry, rather different sentiments from what we exchanged in school. (The image above left is typical of ours.)

And here and here you’ll find some history about commercial Valentine’s Day cards, much more elegant than those we traded. You can see larger samples of the Whitney cards here.

Images: To My Valentine, 1890, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 

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, February 12, 2017

We're Back - and New Books Are Coming

Sunday, February 12, 2017
Susan reporting,

Finally, Loretta and I are back! After furious writing, holidays, groundhogs, and a couple of snowstorms, we can now report there WILL be new books from both of us this fall (as well as new blog posts in the meantime.)

First off: I've returned to writing historical fiction. I've also returned to being Susan Holloway Scott, while Isabella Bradford, my historical romance name, has gone on hiatus; it's all part of having multiple pseudonyms, and being a Gemini, too.

Secondly: My new novel is I, ELIZA HAMILTON, coming in September from Kensington Books. (It's available for pre-order now in both paperback and ebook, through those links over to the right.)

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (1757-1854) was the wife of Alexander Hamilton (c1755-1804), a Revolutionary War hero, statesman, politician, and abolitionist, the first Secretary of the Treasury, a signer and promoter of the Constitution, the founder of the American financial system, and, perhaps most famously for posterity, the only Founding Father killed in a duel.

You might also have heard that he inspired a certain Broadway musical that carries his name.

Like so many women of the past, Eliza's story has been overshadowed by her brilliant husband. She didn't help her place in posterity by destroying most of her own letters and virtually eliminating her voice. As a result, she's too often been dismissed by (male) historians, who variously describe her as shy and reclusive, a homebody, a saint.

But the real Eliza's still there: in the letters of others who knew her, in diaries, in portraits, in memoirs, and most of all, in the achingly beautiful love letters her husband wrote to her over the years of their courtship and marriage. She was a mother, daughter, sister, and wife. She was intelligent and resourceful and strong, a woman who lived in the thick of some of the most turbulent and exciting times in American history. Her marriage was filled with love, passion, regard, and devotion, but also marred by public scandal and unimaginable tragedies that broke her heart, but not her spirit. I'm honored to tell her story.

Over the next months, I'll be sharing more here on the blog about Eliza and her life and times, as well as discoveries from my research junkets. You can also read a bit more about the book here in a recent post on Bustle.com.
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