Friday, June 30, 2017

Casual Friday: Victorian Jewellery at the Museum of London

Friday, June 30, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Today's photos: some Victorian bling from the Museum of London. Below, in order:
gold tourmaline jewelry c. 1860, in original case; tiara front or comb mount c.1840; brooch and earrings c. 1850 (gold set with aquamarines, rubies, and foiled quartz).  Unfortunately, I seem not to have collected correct info for the last item. Labeling in the museum is not very detailed, but you can contact them for more specifics, if you're curious.

I apologize for any confusion and lack of story in these posts: Blogger hates my iPad and vice versa. This combined with a dial-up internet connection makes posting an ordeal.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Looking Backwards & Forwards at History at Valley Forge

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Susan reporting,

The perception of the historical past is always changing. Each new generation looks at history with fresh eyes, and fresh ideas, too.

Nowhere is this more evident than in how we Americans have treated our historically important buildings. In the years following the American Revolution, many of the place we now venerate most were simply old buildings, allowed to grow more shabby by the year.

Portions of Independence Hall in Philadelphia - the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence - had already fallen into such disrepair that they were torn down in 1812. Federal Hall in New York City - home of the first Congress as well as where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president - was also demolished barely a generation later in 1812. Built in 1713, the Old State House in Boston witnessed the Boston Massacre, but was later cut up into shops and businesses, and finally suffered the ultimate indignity of having a subway station built into its basement.

But the Centennial celebrations of 1876 brought a new interest in preserving the past. Older buildings were finally beginning to be recognized and preserved for their historical importance. Sometimes, however, these early preservationists often relied on a romanticized version of the 18thc, with some interesting  results.

The present-day Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania first became recognized as a state park focused on history in 1893. Then, as now, the centerpiece of the park was the stone farm house used by General George Washington as his headquarters during the Continental Army's winter encampment of 1777-78. Also known as the Isaac Potts House for the original owner, the Headquarters was occupied not only General Washington, but by his wife Martha Washington, seven aides-de-camp, servants, and occasional visitors.  The house is not large, especially not considering how many people were squeezed inside it, and from contemporary reports, quarters were cramped, and tempers often ran short.

But you'd never guess it from the way the house was decorated and presented to the public in the early 20thc. The photo, right, on display in the information center near the Headquarters, shows the parlor as a genteel, white-washed room decorated in the best Colonial Revival style, complete with a spinning wheel and yarn-winder for processing homespun fibers (no mention of whom was doing all that spinning.) The original caption declares it to be a view of the "parlor and secret passage." But as the modern caption in the information center dryly notes:

"When [the house] opened as a museum, explanations of the way the house had been used as a military headquarters were fanciful. The hallway identified here as a 'Secret Passage' was, in fact, an entrance used by those arriving by carriage in the 18thc."

Based on research, archeology, and paint-sampling, the same room is interpreted today, upper and lower left, as the busy hub of the military camp. There are chairs, tables, and desks strewn with letters, pens, and books, with charts and maps pinned to the walls. The white dishes on the shelves are reproductions of what was used in the house in 1777. It's a lively room, and has the distinct feeling that the occupants have only stepped out for a moment, soon to return. To 2017 eyes, it feels authentic.

But I wonder if those young officers stationed here in 1777 would agree. Would they feel at home in this modern recreation? Or would aspects of it appear as peculiar to them as the spinning wheel now does to us in the early 20thc picture? And I wonder, too, how this same room will be presented in 2117....

Middle photo: Valley Forge NHP.
Photos upper & lower left: ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Churchill War Rooms

Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Fairly early on in our time in London, we visited the Churchill War Rooms. This happened a few days after the attack at London Bridge, and made perfectly clear, in case we hadn't already realized, what it really means to be a "city under siege." As in, when bombs are falling and invasion is a definite possibility.

"The story of the Churchill War Rooms is ... one of brilliant improvisation in the face of deadly necessity," according to the guidebook. You can read a short history of its creation here, and learn more about it on the website. I'm going to do my usual while abroad with extremely low speed internet and alien computer technology, and offer pictures.

What I will point out is, not until you get down into this claustrophobic space, think about the numbers of people working here every day and night in secret, read the signs, see the working conditions, and so on, do you have the beginnings of a clue about what it might have been like to get through that war. I choked up more than once, thinking about the courage and endurance of these heroes.

All images: Photo copyright © 2017 Walter M. Henritze III

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Story Is This 18thc Painting Telling?

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Susan reporting,

Earlier in the year, I posted this painting on Instagram along with close-ups of various details. The painting is so intriguing that I'm going to assemble my rambling observations here as a blog post as well - please feel free to offer your own interpretations! (And, as always, click on the images to enlarge them.)

The artist is Louis Rolland Trinquesse (c1746-1800), a Frenchman who specialized in creating titillating scenes like this that his wealthy patrons craved. With that in mind, I doubt that the title the painting has now - An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman - was what it was originally called. I'm sure it went by something much more suggestive and saucy; that's just the kind of picture it is.

The gentleman is clearly a good "friend," and has been granted the intimacy of being here in the boudoir of the woman in pink while she dresses. We'll call her the mistress of the house, and I'd guess that she may be (or has been) his mistress as well. This could be an expensively appointed room in their love-nest, or it could be the house she shares with an absent husband. She's wearing a sheer white dressing robe to protect her gown as she arranges her hair and make-up - another sign of intimacy.

But while the man is doing his best to press his advantage - he's leaning into her, his foot nearly touches hers, and his hand is almost on her knee - the  mistress doesn't seem entirely pleased that he's there. She's paying more attention to repairing her somewhat mussed hair and cap than to him. Her tiny feet in seductively high-heeled mules do point towards him, but her legs are firmly crossed at the knee.

Meanwhile, the maidservant (and despite the painting's current title, she is definitely a servant from her dress) seems to be watching the other two with sly interest. She definitely Knows Things, and has probably Seen Things, too, and she'd be perfectly happy to tell them. Note how familiarly she's leaning on the back of her mistress's chair. She's probably wearing her cast-off clothing, as was a common practice among lady's maids, and her cap is nearly as impressive as the one her mistress is wearing. But the front of the maid's pinner apron seems loose, even rumpled, and without that flat, straight front that 18thc stays gave to every woman's torso. Has she left off her stays? Is her body uncorseted, and agreeable available beneath her gown? Maybe she's plotting to take her mistress's place in the man's attentions and his bed - or perhaps she already has.

Outside the window, the sun is either setting, or rising. Does it signify the beginning of an affair, or the end of it? Is the the aftermath of a nigh-long dalliance that the mistress is already regretting, or is she wrestling with her consciences, and wondering whether to give in to the man's persuasive seduction? Consider how she's holding that elaborate cap on her equally elaborate hair with one hand, while taking a pin from the pin cushion with the other (she would have used ordinary straight pins to anchor the cap to her hair.) Would she use one of those pins to jab his wrist if his hand creeps too close?

The fluttering pages of the open book in the background imply an unfinished story. It also appears as if the green drape around the mistress's looking glass on her dressing table has been pulled to cover the glass entirely. Is her conscience so unsettled that she doesn't want to confront her own reflection?

One final thing to note: the large incense burner (the peculiar item on the tripod stand in the foreground) is smoking: richly, luxuriantly, fragrantly. And where's there's smoke....

So what story do you see when you look at this painting?

Above: An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman by Louise Rolland Trinquess, 1776, The Wadsworth Atheneum.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 18, 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Kate Warne, the first female detective in the United States.
Jane Austen, war novelist and worldly businesswoman.
• A rare deposition from the Salem Witch trials that helped sentence an elderly widow to death is to be sold.
Image: Stunning 1856 photo of Queen Victoria with George III's daughter Princess Mary (Minnie.)
• Changes on the land: 19th American photography east of the Mississippi.
• An 18thc tartan frock coat that may have been worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.
• How a fragment of Chinese wallpaper at Uppark can be a piece in a continent-wide puzzle.
Image: An early 19thc view of Sadler's Wells Theatre.
Spy techniques of the American Revolution.
• Protection and punishment: beliefs about angels in Tudor & Stuart England.
• The painted leg: liquid stockings of the 1940s.
• Mud, sweat, and fears: the making of a Japanese kimono.
• Architect Mary Colter was "a surly woman who cursed with abandon" - and designed pioneering National Park structures that blended into the environment.
• Striking portraits of ancient people in this collection of Fayum portraits.
Image: Surely this "Mosco Silk" shawl was unusual in 1804 Portland, Maine.
• How Tories used money and influence to win an 1816.
Rayon, an epidemic of insanity, and the woman who fought to expose it.
• The comforts of home on the battlefield: an 18thc folding camp bed used by General George Washington.
Umbrella etiquette and manners in the 19thc.
• Remembering Bingo, a trench dog and mascot of World War One.
Mary Katherine Goddard, the printer of the first broadside of the Declaration of Independence to list signers.
Image: Just for fun: Civil status, according to Jane Austen. And while we're at it, how about these hints on achieving a Regency Beach Body.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Video: Behind the Scenes at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, June 23, 2017

Susan reporting,

Consider this both a Friday Video, and a super-duper Breakfast Links.

Recently Google launched a new project through their Arts & Culture program. Called "We Wear Culture: The Stories Behind What We Wear" - the landing-page link is here - the program features scores of links to videos, articles, and on-line exhibitions that highlight fashion, material culture, and clothing, both past and present. Links will lead to museums, collections, and institutions from all over the world, and cover everything from modern fashion trendsetters to the most ancient of textile crafts. There is so much to explore - be prepared to spend some time!

The video, above, is a taste of what you'll find. This is a short behind-the-scenes look at the Conservation Laboratory of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, and features several garments that presented special challenges. A hint for viewing this video (and it took me a few tries to figure this out!): use the navigation tool in the upper corner to go right and reach each new segment. I remember seeing the Worth gown on display as part of last year's "Masterpieces" exhibition, and the solution to the gown's issues was wonderfully unobtrusive, and a sympathetic way to present a still-beautiful, if damaged, garment.

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. Click here to go directly to the video.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Wallace Collection

Thursday, June 22, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Though I had already put the Wallace Collection on my list of must-sees, the enthusiasm of our guide on a Marylebone walking tour led us to seek it out sooner rather than later.

As we came through the entrance, I think my head snapped back, and I had an image of myself with my eyes popping out of my head like a cartoon character. I've been to quite a few stately homes and museums, but I must say that none quite matched the visual impact of this. Though no photos can fully capture the experience, these will, I hope, offer a sense of the house. I also urge you to explore the website.

Meanwhile, we have our fingers crossed that time and circumstances will allow us to go back before we have to leave London.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When the Other Army Triumphs: The Benjamin Ring House & the Battle of Brandywine, 1777

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Susan reporting,

Wars are fought by armies, soldiers, and generals, but too often civilians in the path of battles suffer, too.

Earlier this year I wrote about Gideon Gilpin, a Quaker farmer and his young family living near present-day Chadds Ford, PA. In 1777, the Gilpins found themselves in the middle of the Battle of Brandywine, the largest land battle (in number of men) of the American Revolutionary war. As a Friend, Gilpin followed his religious beliefs and refused to choose one side over the other in the conflict, and was distrusted by both the British and Continental Armies. When the battle was done, his farm was destroyed because of his pacifism, and he'd lost all his crops and his livestock as well.

The Gilpin family's nearest neighbors, also Friends, made a different choice. Benjamin Ring was far more prosperous and established than Gideon Gilpin. Not only did he own a 150-acre farm, but also three mills: a fulling mill (for woolen cloth), a tannery, and a sawmill. The Rings' house was nearly double the size of the Gilpin's home, and more elegant, too, with more and larger rooms and handsome woodwork. The Ring family had six children, and the household also included two indentured servants.

But when the Revolution began, Benjamin Ring decided to go against his beliefs as a Friend, and side with the Continental forces. Both he and his two older sons were on the local militia rolls, meaning that they were willing to bear arms. For this, Ring and his sons were read out of their Meeting (banished from their Quaker congregation). When Commander-in-Chief General George Washington and his officers came to reconnoiter the area near the Ring farm in anticipation of a major battle, Ring welcomed them into his home, offered them hospitality, and supplied them with information. Soon after, in early September, 1777, Washington returned with his army, determined to stop General Sir William Howe from taking Philadelphia. The Continental forces numbered about 11,000 men, facing approximately 15,000 British and Hessian soldiers.

The Ring house became the general's headquarters, and Mrs. Ring's parlor was the army's central office and the site of terse Councils of War. The general's tent was pitched behind the house, and the rest of the army camped nearby. (Among the youngest of the officers: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, and the Marquis de Lafayette, recently commissioned as a major general.) For two days and nights, Mrs. Ring cooked for the general and his officers; the receipt (this is a copy, above right) for the payment for the six meals for thirty men still exists. On the morning of September 11, 1777, the day-long battle began.

While Mr. Ring and his older sons were with Washington's troops (and eventually advised the general on the best path for the army's retreat), Mrs. Ring and the younger children remained at the house. As the fighting drew closer, she decided to flee to the safety with her children, loading boxes of valuables and gold into a carriage. But she'd waited too long, and the road was now blocked with soldiers. Abandoning their carriage and belongings, they fled on foot across the fields to the relative safety of the nearby meetinghouse.

Meanwhile, fighting surrounded their now-empty house. The kitchen gardens were rutted and churned, stone walls were pitted by shot, and a cannonball left its mark on one of the gables. But more indignity followed after the Americans retreated, and the British claimed victory. The Ring property was singled out as the home of a traitor who'd supported the rebels. Everything inside it was either stolen or wantonly destroyed. All the farm's livestock was taken or slaughtered, and the orchards and surrounding fields of crops were burned. The contents of the three Ring mills were also destroyed and made unusable.

When the British finally left after three days and the Ring family returned, only the shell of their house remained. The Rings applied to Congress to be compensated for their losses, and were paid in near-worthless Continental bills. More heartbreaking sorrow came when their youngest daughter sickened and died from an illness left by the armies.

Yet Ring family tradition states that Benjamin Ring claimed to have no regrets about having aided Washington and the Continental cause. Standing in the ruins of her home with a dying child, I wonder if Mrs. Ring felt the same.

After the Battle of Brandywine, the house was repaired, and over time served as a tavern, hotel, and tenant farmer's housing. In the early 20thc, it became a tourist attraction as Washington's headquarters, operated by historian, teacher, and preservationist Christian C. Sanderson. In 1931, the house suffered a devastating fire, and fell into overgrown ruins. Eighteen years later, the State of Pennsylvania purchased the property, and rebuilt the house to reflect its appearance in 1777. It is now open to visitors as part of Brandywine Battlefield Park, which this fall will be the center of a major reenactment of the battle.

Coming next week: A first-person recollection by one of the Rings' younger sons who watched the battle - and the destruction of his home - from the branches of a nearby peach tree.

Many thanks to Andrew Outten, director of education & museum services at Brandywine Battlefield Park, for his excellent tour and additional information for this post.

Photos ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Andrew Ducrow, the Great Equestrian of Astley's Amphitheatre

Monday, June 19, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Say you're recovering from a migraine. Do you lie languishing upon your sofa, or, when your husband says he's going for a tour of Kensal Green Cemetery, do you swallow another pill and put on your walking shoes? Gentle readers will know what my decision was. I mean, if you're going to expire from a migraine, why not do it in a cemetery where Royal Dukes and Princesses and many famous and infamous persons are buried?

Actually, I had recovered by then and was able to give the tour my full attention. On another post I may talk about the cemetery itself, but today I want to focus on Andrew Ducrow's mausoleum.  First of all, Mr. Ducrow's wife and the theater he managed--Astley's Amphitheatre--play a role in my third Dressmakers book, Vixen in Velvet. Second, it appealed to my love of everything exuberantly over the top--which it is,  even by Regency/Victorian standards. The Duke of Portland has a plain, pink granite monument. The Duke of Cambridge has an elegant but simple mausoleum. Not Mr. Ducrow.

The epitaph his second wife, Louisa Woolford (who performs in my book) wrote is modest by comparison:

"Within this tomb, erected by Genius, for the reception of its own remains, are deposited those of Andrew Ducrow, many years lessee of the Royal Amphitheatre, London; whose death deprived the arts and sciences of an eminent professor and liberal patron, his family of an affectionate husband and father, and the world of an upright man.

"He was born in London, 10th October, 1793. and died 27th January, 1842; and, to commemorate such virtues, his afflicted widow has erected this tribute."

The London Dead blog post link given above has several images of the Ducrows in performance.There are more images here at the Victorian Web, with some explanations of the various funereal ornaments.  And here's a bit more, with a map.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 12, 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Strong constitutions: that time when the Founding Fathers racked up a huge bar tab.
The liberated wife who inspired Wonder Woman.
Julia Grant's eyes: a love story.
The etiquette of the Victorian ballroom: twenty tips for single gentleman.
• Stunning 1870 solar system quilt combines needlework and astronomy.
• Ah, the Enlightenment with Thomas Jefferson: when discussing how shells might have spontaneously appeared on land made more sense than geological time.
Image: Colorful summer fashions via The Delineator, July 1915.
• The mother of all apples is disappearing.
• A color chart for woolen cloth from the early 18thc, including the delightful "Gall Stone Brown."
Victorian Monopoly: from The Strand to Jail.
• An early 14thc wonder: the 53-ft tall bishop's throne canopy at Exeter Cathedral.
• The umbrella as a weapon (and why not?)
Image: Swatches of Marie-Antoinette's dresses, preserved in the Archives Nationales.
• The feminist legacy of The Baby-Sitters Club.
For decades inconvenient wives or relatives were committed to the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum.
• Before the garden gnome, there was the ornamental hermit.
• A 14thc garden of love and earthly delights in a flowery mead.
• For Poldark fans: explore the 18thc history behind the show.
Image: Women's March, 17thc style: an army of women confront an army of monsters in this illustration from a 17thc pamphlet.
• Artist Mucha and his muse, pioneers of the Art Nouveau movement.
• A travel guide: the British tourist and Napoleonic Milan.
• From disinfectors to mush-fakers, photographs of real life on the streets of Victorian London.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, June 16, 2017

Casual Friday: A Little Balenciaga

Friday, June 16, 2017
Loretta reporting from London:

Yesterday I visited the V& A. I cannot show you pictures of my behind-the-scenes tour of the conservation department because pictures were not allowed, but I can tell you it was fascinating--and the conservationists there are extremely busy. All the time. Because the V&A has about a jillion or more (I like to be precise) works of art of various kinds, and everything deteriorates.

After lunch, I returned with the same London friend who got me into the conservation department, for a tour of the exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. A show like this offers about the only opportunity for ordinary people like me to get up close and personal with haute couture. Even viewed through glass, the work is stunning. And even if one is not in love with a particular style, one can admire the artistry.  


A quotation from the exhibition:

"Balenciaga alone is a couturier in the truest sense of the word. Only he is capable of cutting material, assembling a creation and sewing it by hand. The others are simply fashion designers." Coco Chanel

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Tiny 18thc Copper Charm with Large Significance

Thursday, June 15, 2017
Susan reporting,

Some of the artifacts in the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia are large: cannons, battle flags, and even General Washington's campaign tent. Others are smaller: books, silver cups, and powder horns. This tiny copper charm (about the size of a dime; it's enlarged here) marked in Arabic may be the smallest in the collection - but it may also be one of the most important in telling the larger story of the Revolution, and of diversity of 18thc America.

While the Founders who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence were to a man Christians (some more so than others), they were also extremely careful to keep their religion from the documents that created the new country. Yes, God is there in the form of a Creator and a Supreme Judge, but you won't find any specific mention of Christianity, or of Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Friends, Congregationalists, or any other Christian denomination or sect, either.

English-speaking gentlemen in the 1770s were still acutely aware of the difficulties that England had faced in the previous century in regards to an established state religion that had no tolerance of other faiths - difficulties that had deposed King James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Founders were determined to learn from that, and the freedom to worship as one pleased (or even not to worship at all) was one of their most important and revolutionary tenets of the new country.

The First Amendment of the Constitution, ratified in 1791, spelled it out even more clearly: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." At this time, this was a remarkably radical statement, boldly moving the country from the religious establishments of individual states to a kind of complete religious freedom that had been previously unknown anywhere.

But then, by the 1770s, the American colonies were already a religiously diverse place. The first Sephardic Jew had landed in Jamestown with other settlers in 1621, and by the time of the Revolution, there were Jewish settlements throughout the colonies, with large and active communities in New York City, Philadelphia, Newport, Savannah, and Charleston.

Other Gods were also being worshiped in the new country. Native Americans had their own deities, beliefs, and rituals. Africans who were enslaved and transported to the colonies against their will also brought their religions with them. Some were tribal worshipers, while others were members of the Islamic faith.

Which leads back to this small copper charm, which dates to around 1760. Here's the information from the Museum's placard:

"This small medal bears an Arabic phrase that translates as No God but Allah. It was found in an archaeological investigation of Fort Shirley in western Pennsylvania. This fort protected the Pennsylvania frontier during the 1755-1756 campaigns of the French and Indian War. The medal may have belonged to an enslaved African American. Many enslaved people were Muslims. Colonial Americans also traded extensively with Muslim communities in Africa and Asia, and this medal may have ended up in Pennsylvania through one of those trading networks."

Of course, this medal was never intended as a commentary on religious freedom. It was a personal object, a symbol of private beliefs, and from the hole drilled through it, was likely worn on a cord or ribbon around the owner's neck, and tucked inside his or her garments for safekeeping. While it's unlikely the medal's owner, or his or her circumstances, will ever be discovered, the medal itself remains as a symbol of an old faith in a new country - and of the religious freedom that has been part of America since its inception.

Muslim Charm, c1760, Fort Shirley, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. On loan to the Museum of he American Revolution from Juniata College. Photo credit: Museum of the American Revolution. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Treasures of the Kensington Central Library

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Loretta reports from London:

The archives of the Kensington Central Library contains, among numerous other materials, an immense collection of art.  Dave Walker, archivist + librarian, showed us dozens and dozens of prints, drawings, and paintings. I called Hold on a few, so we could photograph them.

Regency aficionados will recognize the Temple of Concord, which stood in the Green Park for a time. The 1814 Annual Register describes the festivities the Prince Regent put on to celebrate "Peace restored under the Regency"--which morphed into a celebration of  the centenary of the Hanoverian dynasty.  Apparently, the fireworks display at the Temple of Concord was spectacular. Also, unfortunately, it appears that the Temple exploded at some point.  Fortunately, we have this and a number of other images as a reminder of how wonderfully fanciful and colorful the Regency could be.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Lady's Disaster": Fashion Gone Bad, c1746

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Susan reporting,

Yes, I love 18thc fashion, but I also have a fascination for the those wardrobe malfunctions that could only occur in the Georgian era - towering hairstyles so extreme that bystanders duck in terror, cork rumps that serve as life preservers for ladies that topple into the Thames, and hoops that flip up at inopportune moments. Of course many of these are more social satire than actual occurrences, since then, as now, fashion has always been a favorite target for exaggeration and ridicule - but who can resist those wickedly pointed 18thc prints and cartoons?

It was, then, with great delight that I saw this print posted recently on Twitter by historian Greg Roberts. Called The Lady's Disaster, it claims to depict an actual wardrobe malfunction in a London street c1746. According to the caption, the scene was:

"Drawn from the Fact. Occasion'd by a Lady carelessly tossing her Hoop too high, in going to shun a little Chimney sweeper's Boy who fell down just at her Feet in an artful surprise, at ye enormous sight."

"Artful surprise", indeed. (See the detail, right.)

Yet the print is more a commentary on the foibles of fashion and the ladies who follow them than on the artful boy. Eighteenth-century hoops were designed to support and extend a woman's skirts to an extreme width; imagine them something like a wire lampshade or even a Hula Hoop, tied around the wearer's waist with tapes. Unlike crinolines a century later, the 18thc hoops didn't have additional supports like ruffled petticoats under the hoop, and beneath her wide-spreading skirts (which to complicate things further were in fact called petticoats) than a knee-length shift.

Hoops were ridiculed for their impractical folly and cursed from pulpits as the Devil's vanity. Mantua-makers (dressmakers) loved them, because they required so much costly fabric to cover and thereby resulted in a bigger sale. Women liked how hoops made their waists look small by comparison, and provided a graceful gait likened to floating clouds and rippling waves.  A woman couldn't help but make a grand entrance when her skirts were as wide as she herself was tall.

The woman in this print, however, saw her grand gesture of flicking her skirt away from a lowly chimney-swift backfire when her extra-large hoops - and her petticoats - flipped upward. Bystanders laugh, tradesmen smirk, and other women (probably prostitutes from their own revealing dress) lean from windows to get a better view of her mortification. Even a mongrel dog offers his own commentary by lifting a leg against another woman's hoop skirt.

The non-PC caption not only describes the woman's "wide Machine" (her hoops) and chastises her for wearing it, but also attempts to put her hoops in a historical context by mentioning the farthingales worn by Elizabethan women in the late 16thc.

"If Fame say true in former Days,
The Fardingale was no disgrace;
But what a sight is here reveal'd!
Such as our Mothers ne'er beheld.
A Nymph in an unguarded hour,
(Alas! who can be too secure)
Dire fate has destin'd to be seen,
Entangled in her wide Machine.
While Carmen, Clowns, and Gentle folks
With satisfaction pass their Jokes.
Some view th' enamel'd scene on high
And some at bottom fix their Eye.
Mark well the Boy with smutty Face,
And wish themselves were in his place.
Whose black distorted features show, 
There's something - to be seen below.
And awful grinning at her Foot
Cries sweep! sweep! Madam for your Soot....
In moderate bounds had Celia dres't,
She'd ne'er become a publick Jest."

Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. How many modern paparazzi pray for the moment when some starlet  - "gone commando" for the sake of a clean line in her designer gown - slides from her limousine and reveals a bit too much on the red carpet?

Above: The Lady's Disaster, artist and publisher unknown, London 1746, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 5, 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The radical history of a bed sheet.
• Puritan justice: Ruth Read (aka Rebekah Rogers) charged with "whorish and adulterous carriage."
• Saving by her corset: feminine fashion foils the fiend.
• The graceful and manly pastime of skating on artificial ice...in1841.
John Adams and the "Art of lying together."
Mustache cups, designed to keep 19thc tea-drinkers' whiskers dry.
• Download the first issue of The Journal of Dress History for free.
Image: A beautiful sarcophagus for a pet bird, 1874.
• Emily Dickinson's handwritten recipe for coconut cake hints at how baking figured into her creative process.
• "Meeting our humane and gracious sovereign": what was expected of royalty in times of disaster?
Regency fashion: men's breeches, pantaloons, and trousers.
• "The Flower of Battle": an Italian fighting manual, c1410.
Image: A plate from the monogrammed dinner service commissioned from Spode by Charles Dickens, 1869.
• Meet Bertha Benz, the woman behind Mercedes Benz.
Knitting as a useful means of transmitting coded messages during wartime.
• Fightin' Femmes: unmasking comic book super-heroines.
• The story behind an extraordinary series of 19thc crime scene drawings.
Image: A 1924 spangled velvet bathing costume by Lanvin.
• The Grand Tour as a rite of passage faded away as England began to turn in upon itself during Napoleon's time.
• False burials and dangerous water: Whit Sunday in Irish folklore.
• Unique fans related to 18thc historical events.
• How textile conservator Virginia Jarvis Whelan helped repair the tent used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
• Seven things you probably didn't know about Selfridges, the historic London department store.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday Video from the Archives: Historical Dresses Undressed

Friday, June 9, 2017

Susan reporting,

I first shared this video five years ago, and the images still fascinate me. The video was created by the Mode Museum (MoMu) in Antwerp, Belgium, in conjunction with their 2012 exhibition Living Fashion: Women's Daily Wear 1750-1950. There's a splendid selection of dresses from the exhibition, photographed "in the round" so the backs (which can be the best parts of 19th c. dresses) is visible as well as the fronts. It's a great way to see the complete stylish silhouette. In addition, a number of the dresses are shown with the undergarments that give them the necessary fashionable shape - including a daunting maternity corset from the 1860s. Other highlights are an early 20th c. riding habit shown "riding" a ghostly, galloping horse, and how a c.1900 dress was refashioned into a 1940 "war dress." Definitely worth a return from our archives!

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Baron Charles de Berenger's Gun

Thursday, June 8, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Don't know about you, but when I venture into a library's archives, I'm not expecting firearms. OK, so there weren't a lot in immediate sight, but I'll tell you there was more than one.

The place: The Kensington Central Library. My host: archivist/librarian Dave Walker, of The Library Time Machine blog, one of our favorite blogs. My firearm: a musket once the property of the Baron Charles de Berenger. His name was engraved in brass near the firing mechanism.

Thanks to Mr. Walker, I have discovered a most colorful character from the 1830s, the era in which I set my books.  You can read a bit about the baron here.  Among other activities--like a fraud or two-- he wrote an early book on self-defense, titled Helps and Hints: How to Protect Life and Property, which you can read here.

I'll be reporting more on my visit to the Kensington Central Library in coming days. I'm still reeling from the wealth of material in the archives--and I haven't even got to my own research yet!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Printed Perfection: A Two-Piece Gown of India Chintz, c1790

Monday, June 5, 2017
Susan reporting,

This lovely two-piece ensemble is on display in the Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home Exhibition (currently at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg through 2018; see other posts from the exhibition herehere, here, and here.) This photo, left, shows the dress as it's presented in the exhibition, complete with an appropriately oversized cap and full neckerchief (modern reproductions) in the style of the 1790s. It's also shown in the photo from the museum's website, lower left.

Here's the information from the exhibition's placard:

"With their brilliant, colorfast hues and luxurious polished surface finish, Indian chintzes made for the export market were among the most desirable of the printed cottons. The India chintz cotton used to make this two-piece gown was recycled from an older but still valuable garment around 1790. Worn at that time by Anne Van Cortlandt Van Rensselaer  of Croton, and later Albany, New York, the gown features a long-sleeved jacket with a peplum over a pleated, ruffled petticoat, or skirt. The ensemble was appropriate of informal daytime wear."

While today cotton is regarded as an inexpensive option used mostly for casual clothing, in the 18thc printed cottons like this were costly luxury fabrics, painted and dyed in India for the export market in Europe and America. Despite recycling the fabric from an earlier garment, Anne Van Rennselaer was an affluent woman from an elite New York family. The ruffled peplum at the back waist of the jacket, right, added a stylish accent that must have fluttered charmingly when she walked. To achieve the fashionable volume in the skirts - less extreme than earlier in the 18thc, but still in evidence - the petticoat would have been worn over a false rump. The cotton jacket is lined with less expensive linen, making the ensemble both cool and comfortable in warmer weather.

(And yes, there's even a slight connection between this dress and the heroine of my new book I, Eliza Hamilton. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (1757-1854) was a distant cousin of Anne Van Cortlandt Van Rennselaer (1766-1855), the gown's original owner (Eliza's mother was also a Van Rennselaer). Anne and Eliza were close in age, and once Anne married Philip Van Rensselaer in 1787 and moved to Albany, they belonged to the same Dutch church as Eliza's family, and almost certainly met socially. Both women's husbands were involved in politics, too: Anne's husband Philip was the mayor of Albany, while Eliza's husband Alexander Hamilton served in the New York state legislature, attended the Constitutional Convention, and was the first Secretary of the Treasury in the new federal government. As for this chintz ensemble - I wouldn't be at all surprised if Eliza had one much like it in her wardrobe, too.)

Jacket and Petticoat (Two-Piece Gown), c1790, East Indian textile of an earlier date. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 
Upper left photograph ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.
All others courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.

Leighton House Museum

Loretta reports from London:

Still adjusting to time change the other day, we decided not to be overly ambitious in our explorations, but set out for the Leighton House Museum, in easy walking distance.  You can see many examples of Frederick Leighton's work here and elsewhere on line. I would have loved to offer you pictures of the house's interior, because it's pretty spectacular, but photography is not allowed inside. However, you can get a good idea if you click here. The orientalist style rooms on the ground floor are knockouts, while the upper story is rather personal and poignant. His bedroom is a surprisingly spartan place, boasting a smallish brass bed, a few chairs, a dresser, a bear rug. Though many of the original furnishings are gone, this is very like what it looked like in his time.  The studio, as one might expect, seemed the most personal of all.

There were his palette and pigments, numerous drawings and paintings, and the windows providing much-needed light. There was as well his last, unfinished painting,  Clytie. While this style of Victorian interpretation of classical themes can get a little heavy for modern minds, I found it made a lump in my throat. It was his last work, and I could do easily imagine his longing to finish it before he died. It stood on an easel in the studio at the head of his coffin.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of May 28, 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
John Bostock, the first to describe the "summer catarrh" as hay fever in 1819.
• Inside the mausoleum of an eccentric Victorian earl and his tragic young mistress.
• Printer Isaiah Thomas and the delicate question of selling "Fanny Hill" in America.
Image: Remember the brave brave Maid of Orleans (d. May 30, 1431) who rode, fought, spoke, and died.
Emma Hamilton as Ariadne.
• A tour of a Regency town house.
• Guess who's handwriting fills the margins of this medieval manuscript.
Travel times from London: 2016 vs. 1914.
• Georgian naval chaplains -  and a rascally journalist.
Image: Favorite person in an 1880 census form: fifteen-year-old Catharine Cudney, whose occupation is "does as she pleases."
• The nights of Old London.
• The mystery of Marie Rose: family, politics, and the origins of the Haitian Revolution.
• Why was scrapbooking so popular before and after the American Civil War?
Josephine Bowes, a forgotten pioneer of the 19thc art world.
• What happened when Great Plains Indians met President James Monroe?
Salem's soldiers of the Revolution.
Images: Browse an illustrated book of 19thc shoe designs.
• Early ballooning in 18thc Britain and France.
• Can you name five female philosophers?
• The top ten medieval castles in Scotland.
• The "music scene" in Georgian Norwich.
Image: Jane Austen's 1817 grave: Sweetness, purity, but no mention of anything tatty like writing novels.
• The "Canary Girls" who risked life and limb (and turned yellow) supply ammunition to the front lines during World War One.
• On the trail of the Hawkhurst gang of smugglers.
Jane Johnson, a "disorderly woman" - thief, receiver of stolen goods, and brothel-keeper - of Rag Fair, London.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection
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