Wednesday, December 12, 2018

In Which Loretta & Susan Bid Farewell

Wednesday, December 12, 2018
When we began this blog in June, 2009, our main goal was to amuse one another. We didn't really expect to have much company, but boy, were we wrong!

Turns out there were many, many more fellow history-nerds out there than we'd ever realized. Since that long-ago launch, we've written 2,510 blog posts, which have received nearly seven million page views from all of you. We're delighted that you've chosen to spend that much time with us, and helped to build this little history-loving-corner of the internet.

But even Cinderella's ball ended at midnight, and the clock is chiming on The Two Nerdy History Girls, too. Our other projects (you know, books) are demanding more and more of our time, and there are just so many words to go around. This, then, will be our final new post.

Of course, you can continue to follow us on the blogs connected with our individual websites. Loretta's blog is here. Susan's is here. You can also follow us on our Facebook pages (Loretta is here, and Susan is here.) Susan will be continuing the Two Nerdy History Girls Twitter account under her own name here, and you can find her as well on Instagram here. We'll also be leaving the entire archive of posts live here on this page if you wish to go back and browse.

Au revoir, dear readers. It's been historic.

Loretta & Susan

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Few of Susan's Favorite History Books from 2018

Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Susan reporting,

Earlier Loretta shared a few of her favorite nerdy-history books, and now it's my turn. Instead of research books, I'm going to recommend a few history-related books that I've read in the last year or so - perfect holiday gifts for all your fellow nerdy-history friends and family - or maybe just yourself.

Unintentional bonus: they're all written by women.

Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era by Kimberly Alexander. Beautiful historical shoes captured in beautiful photographs would be reason enough to make this a must-buy for shoe-lovers. But Treasures Afoot also traces the often-fascinating stories behind shoes that were worn for special occasions like weddings or balls or by special people, and places them in a context of a changing culture of consumers, industrialization, and fashion.

Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World by Zara Anishanslin. Beginning with a portrait of a woman in a silk dress, this book rapidly expands into the story of the portrait's painter, the sitter and her family, the weavers of the silk, and the woman who designed the pattern: complicated and fascinating relationships between consumers and suppliers, art and trade, that are as intricately woven together as the silk itself.

Patterns of Fashion 5: The Content, Cut, Construction & Context of Bodies, Stays, Hoops & Rumps c1595-1795 by Janet Arnold and Jenny Tiramani. All fans of historic dress rejoiced when this was finally released, and it's worth the wait. The fifth volume in Janet Arnold's legendary series of fashion history books, this book features photographs as well as patterns for recreating many of the pieces shown. Buying this book is a bit like getting Hamilton tickets, however. It's only available through the School of Historic Dress website, and because they're a small organization, only a certain number of books are available for order each day. Persevere: it's worth it.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Artist in the Age of Revolution by Laura Auricchio. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803) was one of the few women artists granted membership in the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, and the examples of her exquisite portraits in this book show why. But she was also important because she didn't flee France during the Revolution, but remained to help rebuild and reinvent the county and the role of women artists and art. A fascinating woman!

American Eden: David Hosak, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson. Unjustly overlooked now, Dr. David Hosak (1769-1835) was perhaps the most important physician of the early American republic, pioneering smallpox vaccinations, cancer treatments, and pharmacology. and creating an idyllic educational garden for the medicinal study of plants where Rockefeller Center now stands in New York. He was also excellent company, and friend to many of the most notable people of his time. Interesting fact: Dr. Hosack was the family physician to both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and the attending doctor at their fateful duel.

Never Caught: The Washington's Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Dunbar. Enslaved by the most powerful man in the young United States, Ona Judge (c1773-1848) took the courageous step to run away from the Philadelphia household of George and Martha Washington. Unlike many in her situation, she succeeded in her self-emancipation - but her freedom was tested again and again as the Washingtons continued to pursue her until their deaths. A powerful, disturbing, and yet ultimately inspiring story of a once-forgotten woman.

Upper left: "A lady coming from the circulating library" by John Raphael Smith, c1781, British Museum.

A Few of Loretta's Favorite Nerdy History Books

Globe-Wernicke, ad in American Homes & Gardens c 1905

Loretta reports:

Readers often ask which books we recommend on this, that, or the other subject. For this holiday season, it seemed like a good idea to mention some favorites. They might become gifts for the nerdy history person in your life or for yourself. Many are still in print and easily available. Some are trickier to find. While I could recommend hundreds, I winnowed it down to the following, which I often turn to for information and inspiration.

Adams, Samuel & Sarah. The Complete Servant (1825). You can read this online, or can buy your own copy. Details about not only the servant hierarchy, servants’ duties, but also the economics of maintaining household staff.

Black, A&C (publishers) Titles and Forms of Address: A Guide to Correct Use. This or Debrett’s Correct Form will help readers understand titles and forms of address they encounter in books as well as prevent writers’ committing social atrocities in their stories.

Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail: Women's Dress 1730-1930. A detailed look, inside and out, of the way clothes were constructed. Extremely helpful for dressing and undressing our heroines.

Cunnington, C. Willitt. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century and Cunnington, C. Willett and Cunnington, Phillis. The History of Underclothes (1992).  The Cunnington books, written in the early part of the 20th century, feature some outdated viewpoints. However, they still offer a wealth of examples as well as amusing and enlightening quotations from primary sources.

Gill, Gillian. We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals. My favorite biography to date, and I’ve read quite a few. It reads like fiction. I originally hesitated to buy it because my sense was that Victoria lost the most fun and interesting part of herself when she wed, and that just depressed the daylights out of me. But this book offers a rather different perspective, bringing two strong personalities into sharp focus, and the compelling story starts well before she was born, with an almost operatic account of the events leading to her becoming Queen.

Grimble, Frances. The Lady's Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette. Exactly as described in subtitle, it’s a marvelous compilation of information from various sources.

Inglis, John R. and Sanders, Jill. Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London. A beautiful book and a labor of love that takes us on a voyage up and down the Thames during the Regency.

Rylance, Ralph. The Epicure’s Almanack. A moment in the Regency captured, as the author takes us on a detailed tour of all London’s eating establishments, and tells us what foods are in season when.
Félix Vallotton, La bibliothèque 1915 

Salisbury, Deb. Elephant’s Breath & London Smoke. A sort of OED of historical color, including dates for color names, and descriptions, it also offers advice on what colors for what complexions and occasions, among other fascinating details.

A Member of the Aristocracy. Manners and Rules of Good Society. A helpful etiquette book, as long as we remember it’s late Victorian to Edwardian (depending on the edition), when rules were more complicated and rigid than in earlier generations.

For more books we've referred to in our work and blogging, please click on the NHG library tag.

Images: Globe-Wernicke, advertisement in American Homes & Gardens c 1905;  Félix Vallotton, 1915  La bibliothèque.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on a caption link will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed. And, just so you know, if you order a book through one of my posts, I might get a small share of the sale.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Eighteenth-Century Fashion: A Trio of Petticoats on Display at the Massachusetts Historical Society

Sunday, December 9, 2018
Susan reporting,

I've already written here about the current exhibition, Fashioning the New England Family,  at Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, MA. Among the first pieces greeting visitors in the exhibition are a trio of petticoats, each with a different story to tell. (As always, please click on the images to enlarge them.)

Regardless of their status, all 18thc women in New England wore some form of a petticoat: a straight, full garment that covered the lower body and legs, and gathered and tied at the waist. In its most basic form, a petticoat could be made of rough linen, and worn alone like a modern skirt. At the other luxurious extreme, a petticoat could be made of silk and richly embroidered as the lower half of a costly, stylish gown. Some petticoats were also quilted, a welcome layer of warmth against a cold Massachusetts winter as well as another way to display a costly textile and decorative stitching.

The most elaborate of the petticoats on display was part of a wedding dress, detail right, worn by nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Bull at her marriage to Rev. Roger Price in Boston in 1735. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, Elizabeth had access not only to the celadon silk for the gown, but also both the leisure time to devote to designing and stitching the elaborate motifs and the budget to purchase the imported silk threads used in the embroidery.  I've featured this petticoat and the rest of the dress in three earlier posts here, here, and here, where there are many more photographs.

A brilliant yellow silk petticoat, middle left, from the 1750s was worn by Temperance Pickering (1732-1823) of Newington, NH. (The petticoat is displayed with c1780 stays, or corset, made from wool, linen, kidskin, and whalebone.) While the petticoat's maker is today unknown, the bold geometric design of the quilting remains as a testament to her skill. Beneath the yellow silk is an interlining of flax, quilted to the lining of yellow and white checked wool that make the petticoat both elegant and warm. The nearly 300-year-old silk has begun to break down, or shatter, near the waist, detail left, revealing the downy flax interlining.
The third petticoat, upper left and lower right, is a modern reproduction, commissioned by the MHS and beautifully hand-sewn and hand-quilted by our good friends from the Historic Trades program at Colonial Williamsburg: Janea Whitacre, Christina Johnson, Rebecca Starkins, and Sarah Woodyard. (For a brief video about their process, click here.) The petticoat is made of pale blue silk with wool wadding as an interlining and a linen lining.

Yet while new, this petticoat also has a New England history. Family tradition linked the original petticoat to a 17thc Massachusetts ancestor, Hannah Hudson, and was said to have been passed down through her family. The quilting design was traced from this original through a pricked paper pattern in 1896 by a descendent, Alice (Scott) Brown Knight Smith. Sadly the original silk petticoat was destroyed in the fires that followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Realizing the value of the surviving pattern, Mrs. Smith had it transferred to muslin, and then gave it to the MHS. That pattern, lower right, was the one followed by the CW mantua-makers to make their stunning reproduction. (The petticoat is shown with mid-18thc stays, or corset, made of brocaded silk, linen, and leather.)

The quilting pattern and the reproduction are typical of wide quilted petticoats worn over hoops in the 1720s-1730s. However, as the exhibition's placard notes:

"Like many stories connected to family relics, Alice Smith's account of the original petticoat proved problematic as we began to examine it in detail. The purported original owner, Hannah Hudson Leverett, died between 1643 and 1646. How then can we explain the fact that, at present, the earliest documented extant petticoats with this type of quilted design in North America date from c1720-1730s, more than seven decades after Hannah's death? This is a mystery that begs to be unraveled - and so our research continues."

Regardless, the new petticoat not only recreates the one that was lost, but also proves that the tradition of 18thc fine hand stitching demonstrated in the other two original petticoats on display is still continuing today.

Many thanks to Anne Bentley and Kimberly Alexander for giving me a special tour of the exhibition, and for including me in the planning from the earliest stages. 

The book that accompanies the exhibition - generously illustrated with many full-color photographs - is being published by the University of Virginia Press. It can be pre-ordered here.

Middle right: Petticoat, detail, embroidered by Elizabeth Bull, c1731-1735, Boston Society.
Lower left: Petticoat, unknown maker, c1750s, University Museum, University of New Hampshire.
Stays, unknown maker, c1780, University Museum, University of New Hampshire
Upper left and lower right: Quilted petticoat from a pattern given by Alice (Scott Brown Knight Smith, 1953. Made in 2018 by Janea Whitacre and Christina Johnson, with Rebecca Starkins and Sarah Woodyard, Historic Trades & Skills Milliners & Mantua-makers of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Bonus Breakfast Links: Week of December 3, 2018

A bonus round of Breakfast Links! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Isabella Banks, "Orator" Hunt, and the Peterloo Massacre.
• In Ireland, making lace for the love of it.
• A brother's detailed guide for his sister on how to tie a new bonnet, 1830.
• A different kind of "ghost writing" from the Victorian era - and one that permitted men to take all the credit: W.B.Yeats and his "spirit-medium."
• The British royal Christmas list from 1750 included a "large Barril" (?) and a fencing master.
Image: Low 18thc chair of Agnes Burns, with short legs to accommodate household labor such as cooking, spinning, and nursing.
• A 1660s recipe for hot "chacolet" from Rebeckah Winche's receipt book.
• What if ordinary people made their own money? Billets de Confiance from the French Revolution.
• The secrets of newspaper names.
• That time when 18thc French aristocrats were obsessed with sexy face-stickers.
• The "detestable crime" in Regency Britain.
• Red silk tango boots from the 1920s.
Image: This little prayer book is believed to contain the last words written by French Queen Marie-Antoinette on the day of her execution, October 16, 1793.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of December 3, 2018

Saturday, December 8, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• A glossary of 18th and 19thc tea and tea terms.
The man who named the Boston Tea Party (and much later than you think.)
Masquerade balls in Regency London.
• Nineteenth century astronomer Ellen Harding Baker created this embroidered quilt of the solar system as a teaching tool for her students.
• Read the original The Wind in the Willows: the hand-written letters that author Kenneth Grahame wrote to his seven-year-old son Alastair in 1907 that evolved into the classic children's book.
Image: The oldest intact European book was interred with St. Cuthbert in 698 and is bound in red goatskin.
• In old Marylebone.
• The cap as a modest necessity for 19thc women.
• The biggest fiction bestsellers of the last hundred years.
Image: The Brontes wrote their novels and poetry at this dining table.
•"Tough as old boots": 500-year-old Thames skeleton discovered, still wearing his remarkably well-preserved leather boots.
• Dead men's teeth: a brief history of dentures.
Neon lost and found: where New York City still burns bright.
Image: 1920s tall aquamarine boots worn by actress and dancer Andree Spinelly.
• Beer and bullets: a brief history of beer in the American Civil War.
• Elaborate slippers, embroidered and embellished with beetle wings, that were given to the chaplain of the East India Company in 1726.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Friday Video: Getting Dressed for a Dickensian Christmas

Friday, December 7, 2018

Susan reporting,

Perfect timing for the Christmas holidays - our friends at Crow's Eye Productions have just released this splendid video in their "Getting Dressed" series. The maidservant's clothes are wonderfully presented, and the candle-lit atmosphere of a winter's night in Victorian England is gorgeous. Plus there's a guest appearance by a very special celebrity....

Many thanks to Pauline and Nick Loven for sharing these videos with us all this year!

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

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Italians Serenade London for Christmas in the 1820s

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Lazzari, Trompe l'oeil Still Life 18th C
Loretta reports:

There are a couple of interesting bits in this excerpt from Hone’s Every-Day Book. The first part reminds us that ordinary Londoners didn’t have anything like the access we do to music. If you were well off, you could go to the opera, ballet, or theater, or you would dance at Almack’s to some of the latest pieces from abroad. For ordinary people, London had its street musicians, true, as well as cheaper theatrical entertainments. Italian music by Italian musicians, however, seems to have been rather uncommon in the 1820s.

The second item I’d call to your attention is Hone’s reference, a little further on, to Londoners’ attitude toward Italian musicians a generation earlier, which this Rowlandson image illustrates. It is a far cry from the gentler and appreciative tone of Hone's report.

"Previous to Christmas 1825, a trio of foreign minstrels appeared in London, ushering in the season with melody from instruments seldom performed on in the streets. These were Genoese with their guitars.  Musicians of this order are common in Naples and all over Italy; at the carnival time they are fully employed, and at other periods are hired to assist in those serenades whereof English ladies hear nothing, unless they travel, save by the reports of those who publish accounts of their adventures. The three now spoken of took up their abode in London, at the King’s head public-house, in Leather-lane, from whence ever and anon, to wit, daily they sallied forth to ‘discourse most excellent music.’ They are represented in the engraving below, from a sketch hastily taken by a gentleman who was of a dinner party, by whom they were called into the house of a street in the suburbs.

Italian Minstrels in London,
At Christmas, 1825

Ranged in a row, with guitars slung
Before them thus, they played and sung:
Their instruments and choral voice
Bide each glad guest still more rejoice;
And each guest wished again to hear
Their wild guitars and voices clear."
Images: Sebastiano Lazzari: Trompe-l'œil Still Life, 18th century; illustrations and clipping from The Every-Day Book or Guide to the Year, William Hone, first published 1826

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A White Silk Dress for a Special Portrait of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, 1787

Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Susan reporting,

Sitting for a portrait was serious business in 18thc America. Professional artists were few and portraits were expensive, a luxury for only the wealthiest or most prominent of people. Even for them, a portrait was often a once-in-a-lifetime event.

When Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton sat for her portrait in the winter of 1787, she was thirty years old. From a socially prominent New York family, Eliza was the wife of Colonel Alexander Hamilton, an up-and-coming young lawyer and Revolutionary War hero who was already playing an important role in shaping the new country's government. Alexander himself had already sat for several portraits, and now it was Eliza's turn.

The white silk gown that Eliza wears is the first to be recreated by historical mantua-maker and gown designer Samantha McCarty as part of the Fashioning Eliza program for the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, PA. It's all part of the museum's "Year of Hamilton" celebration that I've previously posted about here.

The white dress is the perfect choice to recreate, too. Eliza would have put a great deal of thought into what she chose to wear for this portrait. She was creating a lasting image of herself, a "selfie" for posterity. Her dress is stylish and appropriate for her status coming from a wealthy family and as Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, with costly imported silk and lace that displayed her husband's success. Her dark hair is frizzled and powdered white in a style made popular by Queen Marie Antoinette of France – a nod not only to French royal fashion, but also to the country that had helped America win its Revolution.

But Eliza pointedly wears only thin black ribbons tied around her wrists and throat instead of jewels or other ornaments. Simplicity in dress – and this dress is without any extra ruffles or fussiness – was praised, and considered patriotic. With Eliza's body shaped by stays (corset), it's easy to overlook the fact that she's pregnant in this portrait, and that she would give birth to the third Hamilton son, James Alexander, in the spring of 1788. Her white silk gown is the color of purity, truth, and virtue, excellent qualities for a woman of the new republic, and for the mother of new citizens as well.

Eliza may also have chosen a white gown for another reason, since this portrait resulted from an unusual act of charity by the Hamiltons. Alexander knew that the American-born portraitist Ralph Earl was imprisoned for debt in the New York City gaol. By the paradoxical laws of the time, the artist wouldn't be released until he'd paid his debts – impossible for him to do as long as he was imprisoned.

Alexander arranged for Earl to be given fresh paints, brushes, and canvas, and he also commissioned this portrait of his wife. Also happy to help the impoverished artist, Eliza sat for Earl in the gaol, her pristine white gown setting her apart from the sordid conditions nearby. Other New York ladies followed her example, and the artist was finally able to pay his debts and resume his career.

There's only one other portrait of Eliza from the years of her marriage, a pastel by James Sharples drawn around 1795. In this, too, she is shown wearing white. The choice of color is probably only a fashionable coincidence, and yet the two white dresses in these portraits stand out in comparison to what was to come. When Alexander died in 1804 of wounds following his fatal duel with Aaron Burr, Eliza immediately began dressing in black for mourning. In the fifty years of her widowhood, she never wore anything else.

A version of this post appeared previously on the website of the Museum of the American Revolution.
Read more about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton.

Top: "Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton" by Ralph Earl, 1787, Museum of the City of New York.
Bottom: Museum educator Amy Yandek dressed as Eliza Hamilton. Photograph by Kevin Rossi, Museum of the American Revolution.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Fashions for December 1922

Monday, December 3, 2018
December 1922 fashions
Loretta reports:

We complete this year's historical fashion plate cycle with a set of patterns and fashion news from the Delineator for December 1922.
The New in New York by Evelyn Dodge

“The jacket blouse and the blouse jacket have elbowed their way well to the front of the Fifth Avenue windows and New York almost killed a very charming style with the kindness of its enthusiastic reception. The jacket and the blouse are twins so much alike that their own mother-designer has difficulty in telling them apart. In many cases they can be used interchangeably, but as the weather grows colder the blouse jacked is more and more made of the fur cloths and heavier clokies, while the jacket blouse appears in the matelassés, crêpe silks and velvets.

"The best Fifth Avenue houses are making their separate skirts quite generally with camisole bodies instead of inside belts. There are two reasons why the camisole is a better bet than the belt with the present styles. If the belt is large enough to rest low on the hip, it is almost impossible to keep in its proper place. If it fits the normal waistline, it has a curiously high-waisted look, an optical delusion produced by the very general acceptance of the lowered waistline.  Practically all blouses, except the under-the-sweater type, are worn outside the skirt. If the blouse is white or partially transparent, the upper part of the skirt shows through when it is mounted on a belt. The camisole does not bring the skirt above the low waistline and it can be made of white China silk if it is to be worn under light, transparent blouses. The camisole top also make an excellent foundation for the jerseys or open-work sweaters that are worn so much in place of blouses ...

"With longer skirts and the more formal type of draped dress the bobbed-hair girl has had to grow up overnight. The closer hair-dressing is partly responsible for the vogue of the long earring, which for evening reaches almost to the shoulder. Some of them seen in the Fifth Avenue windows are made of heavy red gold in long, narrow Egyptian designs triangular in shape. Crystal is very smart for evening or afternoon. Very large hoop earrings are also worn in fine lines of jet or jade or amber.”
December 1922 fashion descriptions
The Delineator, which sells Butterick patterns, offers pages and pages of fashions each month, including children’s clothes, underwear, and sleepwear, as well as ideas for low-cost gifts. If you’re interested in this era, it’s well worth a look.

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

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of November 26, 2018

Saturday, December 1, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Guide dogs in medieval art and writing.
• The exceptional wedding shoes of Mary Wise Farley, 1764.
• The tangled history of weaving with spider-silk.
• Forget the movies: the original ghostbuster was 19thc scholar Eleanor Sidgewick.
• Wonderful personal memories of growing up in Jewish American Detroit: the fiddle and the city.
• Yes, they did it: bust enhancement in 19thc women's dresses.
• A breathtaking reconstruction 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon helmet from the Staffordshire Hoard.
• Self-taught poet Hester Pulter wondered in the 17thc "Why must I forever be confined?" - now her poems are online for all to see.
• A striking 1937 gold lame wedding outfit designed and stitched by the bride herself.
Tanuki, the shape-shifting raccoon-dog: mischief, magic, and change in the Japanese countryside.
• A visit to the house of 18thc artist William Hogarth.
• The Statue of Liberty's original torch gets a new home.
• "Battalion of Life": American women's hospitals and the First World War.
• Contested rites: the fascinating roots of America's Thanksgiving holiday.
• Protecting children in traffic: a brief history of crossing guards.
• You may be cool, but you'll never be Cordell Jackson "the rockin' granny" cool.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday Video: Dressing Queen Elizabeth I

Friday, November 30, 2018

Loretta reports:

We’ve been doing quite a few “getting dressed” videos, yet I don’t hesitate to offer one more because, well, historical clothing. And then, too, it’s Lucy Worsley!

Video: Does my bum look big in this? - Tales from the Royal Wardrobe with Lucy Worsley - BBC One

Image is a screen shot of the video.

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 (which will take you to our blog) or the video title (which will take you to YouTube).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Sparkling Length of 18thc Gold Lace from the Massachusetts Historical Society

Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Susan reporting,

Earlier this month I visited the latest exhibition at one of my favorite places for research and inspiration, the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, MA. Called Fashioning the New England Family, it's a truly breathtaking exhibition, featuring clothing, accessories, textiles, and embroidery worn and made by New Englanders.

The majority of the pieces are drawn from the MHS collections, and many have never before or only rarely been seen by the public. There's so much here: Abigail Adams's copper-colored silk gown (on loan from the Adams Historical Park); Thomas Hancock's walking stick crowned by a clenched ivory fist; Governor John Leverett's 17thc buff coat worn to fight under Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War; Rachael Hartwell's light-as-air 1890s wedding dress. The history of the wearers is woven into each piece, and the presentation is thoughtful and beautifully displayed. The exhibition is free to the public, and runs through April 6, 2019. See here for more information.

I'll be featuring highlights from the exhibition in upcoming blog posts, and I'm starting with one of the smaller items. It's also among the most stunning. Some time during the mid-18thc, this length (unfolded, it measures 283 cm x 5 cm) of gold wire bobbin lace was made in Europe. Whether bought by an individual there or imported to the American colonies to be sold in a shop here, the lace was purchased and carefully wrapped in blue paper with the price written in iron gall ink. For whatever reason, the lace was never used, but instead put away in its original paper wrapping.

Metallic lace was a costly and luxurious trim, designed to sparkle in 18thc candlelit rooms. It could be used to adorn a woman's gown or a man's waistcoat, or even the cap of a special baby. (I immediately thought of the similar gold bobbin lace that was incorporated in this mat embroidered c1780 by Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.) Metallic lace was usually a blend of gold and silver or other metals, and over time and wear often tarnished and lost its shine.

But this particular length of lace remains as bright as new, the intricate woven gold glowing against the blue paper.  When the lace was given to the MHS, it was accompanied by a handwritten note from Susan Holmes Upham (1804-1877): "Gold lace given me with other old-fashioned things by my mother." It must indeed have been an old-fashioned curiosity by the mid-19thc. Today it's a sparkling link through the centuries to the shop of the now-forgotten milliner or mantua-maker who made the sale, tallied the price, and wrapped the lace, and the (I hope!) satisfied customer who carried the new purchase home.

Many thanks to Anne Bentley and Kimberly Alexander for giving me a special tour of the exhibition, and for including me in the planning from the earliest stages. 

The book that accompanies the exhibition - generously illustrated with many full-color photographs - is being published by the University of Virginia Press. It can be pre-ordered here.

Gold Wire Bobbin Lace, mid-18thc, European. Massachusetts Historical Society. 
Photographs courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Society.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Victorian Fly-Cages

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Napomyza lateralis
Loretta reports:

From the Annals of Obscurity:
Mr. Bumble sat in the workhouse parlour, with his eyes moodily fixed on the cheerless grate, whence, as it was summer time, no brighter gleam proceeded, than the reflection of certain sickly rays of the sun, which were sent back from its cold and shining surface. A paper fly-cage dangled from the ceiling, to which he occasionally raised his eyes in gloomy thought; and, as the heedless insects hovered round the gaudy network, Mr. Bumble would heave a deep sigh, while a more gloomy shadow overspread his countenance. Mr. Bumble was meditating; it might be that the insects brought to mind, some painful passage in his own past life.—Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Behold me gazing ceilingward. Fly-cage? Paper fly-cage? Apparently, I’d happened upon one of those numerous 19th century articles, like ticket porters, that were once a necessity and part of everyday life, and now extinct. The fly-cage wasn't an easy thing to track down, and I'm grateful to Lonely Planet for guiding me.

According to the Dickensian these fly-cages "were usually made of coloured perforated paper folded into globular or bell-shaped forms suspended from the ceiling. They were not intended for "cages" but as places in which flies could settle so that their buzzing should not be an annoyance."—the Dickensian Vols 46-47; Dickens Fellowship, 1949
Apparently, however, it wasn’t just to stop the annoying buzzing, but the annoying fly specks on ceilings and walls.
Point Lace Fly-Cage
“Every cottager who has hung the gaudy-coloured paper “fly-cages” in his room, to prevent his clean whitewashed roof and walls from being dirtied by common house-flies, has practically availed himself of the attraction which bright colours have for even these non-flower-loving insects.”—John Ellor Taylor, Flowers: Their Origin, Shapes, Perfumes, and Colours 1878
Though I've so far found no lovely colored illustrations of the paper fly-cages, Cassell's Household Guide, Volume 2 1869 explains how to make one.

If you’d like something more elaborate (though some of us would wonder why), you can also crochet one. Yes, you read correctly. You can crochet your own fly-cage. Mrs Jane Weaver provides instructions in the Peterson Magazine of 1858.
Pendant Fly-Cage

Links to better illustrations of the paper fly-cage will be warmly welcomed.

Images: Napomyza lateralis; Point lace fly cage, from Cassell's household guide, Volume 2 1869; Pendant fly-cage from the Peterson Magazine, Volumes 33-34

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Loretta and Susan reporting,

Turkey time! Americans will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday, November 22. Since Thanksgiving also always seems to coincide with our deadlines and general manic bursts of writing, we'll be be keeping one hand on the keyboard and the other on the pumpkin pie.

We'll be taking a few days off from blogging, too, since we imagine you're all just as busy as we are. But please know that whatever the season, we're endlessly thankful for you, our readers all around the world. You're the best.

Have a wonderful - and delicious - holiday.

Above: Thanksgiving Greetings, holiday postcard, 1907, New York Public Library.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

From the Archives: How (Not) to Dress a 17thc Puritan Maid

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Susan reporting,

With Thanksgiving just round the corner and festive Pilgrims featured in every advertisement, let's revisit one of our most popular posts with a "Puritan maid."

Historical clothing is one of our favorite topics on this blog, and readers of both our posts and books will know how hard we try to get things *right* when in comes to what people were wearing in the past. Yet I'm also willing to concede that there can be considerable wiggle-room when it comes to theatrical costumes (no one really expects Cinderella to wear a perfect replica 18th c. gown, do they?) and other artistic expressions of past fashion.

But what happens when that artist's vision becomes such a potent image that it wipes the real thing clear away?

That was my thought while reading one of my favorite blogs, historian Donna Seger's Streets of SalemA recent post featured the 19th c. Anglo-American painter George Henry Boughton (1833-1905), and how his paintings of 17th c. New England Puritans have influenced how we today imagine those early settlers. (Read her post here.) She's right: Boughton's paintings have illustrated countless school history books, and his version of Puritan dress is still widely accepted as the real thing. In fact, when I did a search for the painting, left, the Google best guess that comes up is "Puritan fashion", followed by links to a teaching site that labels this as an example of "colonial clothing."

Except that it isn't. Like most history-painters, Boughton's intentions were the best, but what this young woman is wearing bears no more real resemblance to 17th c. clothing than the sturdy stone walls and substantial brick buildings in the background do to mid-17th c. architecture in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Boughton painted his Puritan maiden in 1875, and to me her expression and posture seem more akin to a fashionable lady of that era; compare her with the lady in James Tissot's Portrait, also painted in 1875.

But it's the costume that Boughton contrived for his model that fascinates me the most. I'm guessing that, like many artists, he had a collection of antique and fancy-dress clothing in his studio, and he assembled an outfit from bits and pieces that looked right to him. To be fair to Boughton, he was trying to create an artistic mood, a somber, thoughtful reverie set in the past, rather than a 17th c. fashion plate. In 1875, people regarded historical clothing as old clothes to be worn to masquerades (no one loved fancy-dress more than the Victorians), and the academic study of dress and fashion was in its infancy.

Still, I'd like to offer a challenge to you. Among our readers, there are many art historians, re-enactors, costume historians, historic seamstresses and tailors, and others of you who know your historical fashion. How many different elements and eras can you see represented in this young woman's costume?

Above: A Puritan Maiden, by George Henry Boughton, 1875, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of November 12, 2018

Saturday, November 17, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Lost identity of 150-year-old body discovered in New York City discovered.
Women at sea: Ann Johnson and Abbie Clifford.
• "The joy of my life": seeing-eye dogs, disabled veterans and civilians, and World War One.
• "A revolution in female manners": the political portraiture of Mary Wollstonecroft.
• "I'll glut you with gold": the strange ambivalence of the treasure map.
• Follow the thread for all the amazing images: the American Revolution as imagined in 1861 by a Japanese artist and author who had never left Japan.
Ada Lovelace and her mother Annabella Byron: the Countess of Computing and the Princess of Parallelograms.
• A toy monkey that escaped Nazi Germany and reunited a family.
Anna Morandi, the 18thc Italian anatomist and sculptor who brought dead bodies to light.
Pyrotechnia: an Elizabethan fireworks guide includes how to make a firework dragon.
• The last velvet merchant in Venice.
• Archaeologists and medical historians discover how castration affected the skeleton of famed 18thc opera singer Farinelli.
• An up-market new suburb in late 17thc London: the development of St. James's.
Child-stealing in Regency England.
• Nineteenth century Bostonian Harriot Kezia Hunt, an early practitioner of holistic medicine and staunch civil rights reformer.
• Don't try these at home: eight dishes made by notorious poisoners.
• Creeping (or creepy?) baby doll patent model, 1871.
• A c1870 silk dress with an ingenious built-in method for lifting the hem away from a dirty street (be sure to click on "additional images.")
• The Tenement Museum in NYC maps a century of deadly diseases and their human stories.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Friday Video: Pearls & Diamonds Worn by Queen Marie Antoinette

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Susan reporting,

Diamonds may be forever, but the jewelry that enhances them seldom is. Precious stones can be recut and reset, and precious metals reformed into new settings and pieces. Royal jewels are among the most transitory of all, especially those belonging to a doomed royal family in the midst of a revolution.

Queen Marie Antoinette of France was famous for her jewels, and it can be argued that her love for diamonds helped lead to her tragic downfall. This week, a few of her pieces (along with other jewels belonging to the Bourbon Parma family) came up for auction through Sotheby's. As can be imagined, the interest in jewels with such a history was considerable, and this video features the rarest of the pieces in the auction, and beautiful things they are, too.

Pre-auction sales estimates often tend to be low, but I imagine even Sotheby's was stunned by the final sales figures. The small enamel and seed-pearl pocket watch engraved with the queen's monogram and featured in the video was estimated to sell for around $8,000-9,000; it sold for $248,203. The triple-strand pearl necklace with the diamond clasp had an estimate of around $198,000-297,000; it sold for $2,278,499.

But the real star was the large pearl pendant on a diamond bow, right. The pre-sale estimate was around $1,000,000-2,000,000. The final price? A staggering $36,165,090.

See here for photos and a listing of all the pieces in the auction.

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From the Archives: Harriette Wilson on Virtue

Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Loretta reports:

The Regency era courtesan Harriette Wilson belonged to the sorority called Girls Just Want To Have Fun.  Here’s her take on virtue:

There certainly was much aggravation of sin, in my projected criminal intercourse with the Marquis of Worcester.  Many women, very hard pressed par la belle nature, intrigue because they see no prospect nor hopes of getting husbands; but I, who might, as everybody told me, and were incessantly reminding me, have, at this period, smuggled myself into the Beaufort family, by merely declaring to Lord Worcester, with my finger pointed towards the North—that way leads to Harriette Wilson’s bedchamber; yet so perverse was my conscience, so hardened by what Fred Bentinck calls, my perseverance in loose morality, that I scorned the idea of taking such an advantage of the passion I had inspired, in what I believed to be a generous breast, as might, hereafter, cause unhappiness to himself, while it would embitter the peace of his parents.

Seriously I have but a very confused idea of what virtue really is, or what it would be at.  For my part, all the virtue I ever practised, or desire to learn, was such as my heart and conscience dictated.

Now the English Protestant ladies’ virtue is chastity!  There are but two classes of women among them.  She is a bad woman the moment she has committed fornication; be she generous, charitable, just , clever, domestic, affectionate, and ever ready to sacrifice her own good to serve and benefit those she loves, still her rank in society is with the lowest hired prostitute.  Each is indiscriminately avoided, and each is denominated the same—bad woman, while all are virtuous who are chaste.

…The soldier’s virtue lies in murdering as many fellow creatures as possible, at the command of any man, virtuous or vicious, who may happen to be his chief, no matter why or wherefore.

The French ladies’ virtue is, generally speaking, all comprised and summed up in one single word and article—bienséance!*

Excerpt from The Memoirs Of Harriette Wilson, which were first published in 1825.
You can read the first two volumes from the 1909 edition online here.    And for further insight into this fascinating woman, you might want to look into The Courtesan’s Revenge: The Life of Harriette Wilson, the Woman Who Blackmailed the King.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday Video: Getting Dressed in 1816

Friday, November 9, 2018

Susan reporting,

Another wonderful video from our friends at CrowsEyeProductions - and this one also tells the story of how author Mary Shelley came to write her legendary novel Frankenstein. Many people believe that women's clothing of the early 19thc was breezy and uncomplicated. In comparison to the more structured clothing of the 18thc, perhaps it was; but as this video showed, there were still a good many layers involved, and a lady's maid continued to be useful.

Many thanks to Pauline Loven for sharing the latest in the "Getting Dressed" series with us.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Armistice Day One Hundred Years Later

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Welcome Home Our Gallant Boys
Loretta reports:

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice ending World War I—known as the Great War and the War to End War, until only a couple of decades later, when another great war broke out.

World War I was a horrendous war, even by war’s horrendous standards, as Wilfred Owen’s poetry makes more than clear. His war isn’t heroic or romantic. It’s ghastly and heartbreaking. For a time, his work fell out of favor for this reason. But only for a time.
An English professor introduced me to "Anthem for Doomed Youth" fifty or so years after it was written, at a time when it struck a chord with those protesting the Vietnam War. Owen’s and others’ poetry led me, some years later, to Robert Graves’s Good-Bye to All That, which offered insights into both the war and that generation of Englishmen. Unlike Owen, Graves survived.

For me, these works and others began an education that continues. Visits to English and Scottish churches, stately homes, and memorials have given me a powerful sense of the toll this particular war took on the other side of the Atlantic.
Anthem for Doomed Youth 1917

We keep hoping, but so far, no war has ended war. All we seem to be able to do is mourn and remember. The Tower of London remembers, beautifully and movingly, again this year, as you will discover if you search “Beyond the Deepening Shadow,” for images from the centenary commemoration.

Wilfred Owen

Images: Welcome Home Our Gallant Boys, 1918 poster, courtesy courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and photograph of Wilfred Owen from Poems by Wilfred Owen, 1920.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on a caption link will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed. And, just so you know, if you order a book through one of my posts, I might get a small share of the sale.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Election Day

Tuesday, November 6, 2018
No blog post today, except this one-word message for our American readers.

You know what to do, right?

Vote, published by the Milwaukee County League of Women Voters, early 20thc, Collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
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