Monday, March 26, 2018

Gone Fishin'—Spring Break

Monday, March 26, 2018
Susan and Loretta report:

Spring is officially here, although it doesn't feel much like it in some parts of the U.S.—and, from what we've seen—elsewhere in the world.

But it's spring break time for the Two Nerdy History Girls. We're going to take the week off from blogging, and look determinedly for signs of spring, in between working on our books. And maybe goofing off a little.

See you next week!

Image: John Singer Sargent, Two Girls Fishing, 1912, Cincinnati Art Museum, Eden Park, via Wikipedia.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 19, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Secrets of a 19thc brothel privy.
• Preserving a remarkably original Regency townhouse.
Image: A 19thc sack that held a dress, pecans, braid of hair, & "love always" from enslaved Rose to her nine-year-old daughter Ashley when she was sold away form her.
• This newly-restored Georgian water pump in London was partially paid for by the East India Company.
• Published and damned: the shocking life of Harriette Wilson.
Poison and protest: Sarah Bassett and enslaved women poisoners in the early modern Caribbean.
• The Dark Man: an 1893 story of an Irish changeling.
Image: 415-year-old corset (or "pair of straight bodies") from funeral effigy of Elizabeth I prepared for display at Westminster Abbey; follow thread for more photos.
• The world's oldest decorated eggs pre-date Christianity.
• A transcribed recipe for 17thc Apple Snow to try at home.
• The British Newspaper Archives have digitized several newspapers linked to women's suffrage movement to read online.
• Videos, broadsides, letters, & artifacts: highlights of The Irish Atlantic exhibition from the Massachusetts Historical Society to view online.
• Image: In 1951, a columnist complained that Marilyn Monroe was "cheap & vulgar" and would have looked more decent in a potato sack; Marilyn's response was these photos.
Bobbi Gibb, the woman who crashed the Boston Marathon in 1966.
• A walk through time, Spitalfields Market, London.
• Catharine Macaulaythe 18thc author of The History of England.
• A 1790s French neoclassical woman's slipper, resplendent with sequins.
Image: Pre-modern artists imagined female superheroes in functional armor: Penthesilea, a brave woman, detail of medieval tapestry in the Angers Castle.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Video: A Moving Panorama of the Mississippi Valley

Friday, March 23, 2018
Loretta reports:

Many of the 1830s magazines I peruse include reviews of recently installed panoramas (please scroll down for the review about Niagara Falls). The moving panorama is also a large painting, but where the panorama requires the viewer to move around a room, the moving panorama is an early "moving picture." Using spools, it scrolls across a stage, creating the illusion of traveling along a scenic route.

Before photography and movies, both the still and the moving paintings offered Londoners as well as Americans views of distant locales. Since the Londoners seem to have been especially curious about the U.S. and its wildernesses, I’m sure they would have enjoyed John J. Egan’s “Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley”—all 348 feet of it, and a very rare survivor.

Video: John J. Egan's "Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley"

Credits Animation: Paul Caro Photography: Saint Louis Art Museum © 2015 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image is a still from 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 or the title of the video.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lustrous Luxury: Eighteenth-Century Coque de Perle Earrings

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Susan reporting,

One of the very best parts of blogging and social media in general is the opportunity to share images and inspiration with other like-minded folk. Last week, I saw the earrings upper right with a short explanation on the Instagram page of Taylor Autumn Shelby, a friend of this blog as well as the creator of replicas of historic jewelry.

I had never heard of 18thc coque de perle earrings before, but I realized I'd seen them in portraits like the one upper left: earrings with oval-shaped pearls that were far too large to be real, but were clearly prized enough to be featured in portraits. Pearls have been in fashion since ancient times, but before the invention of cultured pearls in the early 20thc, true pearls were rare and prohibitively expensive except for the very rich or very royal. I knew about Roman pearls, another kind of 18thc faux pearl that were glass beads lined with a pearly coating (see my earlier posts here and here), but coques de perle was new to me, and off I went to hunt for more information.

According to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, who owns the earrings lower right, each coque de perle (literally "pearl shell") is cut from the East Indian nautilus shell; the result is similar to a blister or mabe pearl. They are not rounded, but flat or hollowed on one side, and can be made quite large in size. The shape is usually oval (often described as olive) to follow the natural curve of the shell. The hollowed curve could be filled with wax or resin to give the finished coque de perle more of the weight of a true pearl, or left hollow to keep it light; I'm guessing that is the case of the pearl swinging from the large hoop earring in the Vigée Le Brun portrait, lower left. Some coques de perle were set in gold or silver like true pearls, while others were set in a base metal to make them more affordable.

I also found this description of coques de perle in the 1814 edition of A History of Inventions and Discoveries by Johann Beckmann, who in turn quotes 1762 French expert Jean Henri Prosper Pouget:

"Coque de perles are flat on one side, and are used for ornaments, one side of which only is seen. By Pliny they are called physemata. Artificial pearls of this kind have, for some time past, been employed in making ear-rings. Our toymen [jewelers], after the French, give these pearls the name perles coques; but the following account of Pouget in Traité des pierres precieuses et de la manière de les employer en parure [A Treatis on precious stones and how to use them for adornment] makes me dubious respecting them. 'La coque de perle,' says he, "is not formed in a pearl-shell like the pearl; it is procured from a kind of snail found only in the East-Indies. There are several species of them. The shell of this animal is sawn in two, and one coque only can be obtained from each. The coques are very small, and one is obliged to fill them with tears of mastic to give them a body, before they can be employed. This beautiful snail is found generally in the sea, and sometimes on the shore.'"

A beautiful snail, and beautiful earrings as well.

Upper left: Ritratto de Caterina Sagredo Barbarigo by Rosalba Carriera, 1741, private collection.
Upper right: Coque de Perle Girandole Earrings, 18thc, image via Bonhams Auctioneers.
Lower left, Detail, The Marquise de Pezay, and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Sons Alexis and Adrien by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1797, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Lower right: Girandole Style Earring (one of a pair; gold metal and coque de perle) English, about 1780, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lord Rivers Drowns in the Serpentine—Was It an Accident?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Lord Rivers as a boy
Loretta reports:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was addicted to gambling. The first Lord Holland’s sons ran up enormous gambling debts. Beau Brummell fled England to escape his. A lot of that going around.

The third Baron Rivers is another example I happened on. The trail started with the following in La Belle Assemblée for March 1831:
“The first act of the Duke of Sussex, on being appointed to the Rangership of Hyde-park, has been to give directions for the placing an adequate protection against the spot where the late Lord Rivers lost his life."
This was intriguing. Who was Lord Rivers and how did he die?

Wikipedia’s short entry only tantalized, sending me to the 1 April 1831 Gentleman’s Magazine obituary.
Jan. 23 Drowned in the Serpentine river, aged 53, the Right Hon. Horace William Pitt, third Baron Rivers, of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire (1802).
 ... As Mr. Horace Beckford he was for many years a distinguished member of the haut ton; and it was only after his succeeding to the title on the death of his maternal uncle, July 20, 1828, that he took the name of Pitt ... .
“Lord Rivers was first missed on the evening of Sunday Jan. 23 ... On Tuesday the Serpentine river was dragged, and in the afternoon his Lordship's body was found at the east end, near the waterfall.”
At the inquest, his steward and a footman insisted he’d been in good spirits: He was nearsighted and must have fallen into the river by accident. The superintendent of the Humane Society's Receiving House said the footpath there was so dangerous that ten people fell into the river on a recent foggy night.
“The Jury returned this verdict: ‘Found drowned near the public path at the head of the Serpentine River, considered very dangerous for want of a rail or fence, where many persons have lately fallen in.’—The rail has been since erected by direction of the Duke of Sussex, the new Ranger of Hyde Park.

Subsequently to the inquest ..., there has been considerable discussion in the newspapers regarding the cause of the occurrence; and it has been stated, with what truth we cannot say, that when the body was taken out of the water, his Lordship's hat was secured with a handkerchief under his chin, and that his umbrella was found on the bank, both which circumstances are considered indicative that his immersion was intentional; and it is added that on the Saturday night he had lost considerable sums at a gaming-house; and that this passion for play had for some years so far possessed him, that his uncle bequeathed to him only 4000l. a year, leaving the bulk of his property, amounting to 40,000l a year, to trustees for the benefit of his son, the present Peer.”
Nigel Cox, Serpentine Waterfall
It’s important to remember that suicide, being self-murder, was a capital offense. One could be tried and hanged for the attempt, and a suicide’s property was forfeit to the Crown. Up to a certain point in the early 19th C, those who’d committed suicide were buried at midnight at a crossroads without the offices of clergy. This is why coroner’s juries tended to find the deaths accidental or, when this was impossible, the victim of unsound mind.

Image: A print of the “youthful portrait of Mr. Horace Beckford, at full length in a Vandyke costume, painted by R. Cosway, R.A. and engraved in stipple by John Conde, 1792", courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo of Serpentine Waterfall by Nigel Cox. Another image here.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

An Unfinished Gown with Secrets to Share, c1785

Sunday, March 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

Historical clothing is collected, preserved, and valued for many reasons. A garment can be considered significant because it belonged to a famous person, or because it belonged to a person whom history has forgotten entirely. Another item could be treasured for the family story behind it, or could have been worn to a significant historical event. A garment can be treasured because it represents the highest level of craftsmanship and skill, or because was fashioned from rare and costly textiles.

And then there is this dress in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. (Those of you who attended the Costume Society of America 2018 Symposium in CW last week will recognize it from the keynote discussion.) Made in America of printed cotton around 1785-1795 and purchased by CW in 2004, the dress is a popular style of the time known as a common gown. The open-front dress would have been worn over a petticoat (skirt), stays, and a false rump, and would also have had 3/4- or wrist-length sleeves. Depending on the light, the ground-color of the printed cotton appears either dark purple or brown, though chemical analysis has shown it was originally a shade with deep red overtones from a cochineal-based dye.

The reason this gown holds a special place in the CW collection, however, is not what it is, but what it isn't: it was never finished. While sufficiently assembled for fitting, the gown still has extra-wide seams allowances that would eventually be trimmed away and basting threads to hold the pleats in place and to indicate where trim would be added. Most notably, stitching holes indicate that sleeves (now lost) had once been stitched in place, and were then removed. The armholes are quite high, and it's possible that they didn't fit the intended wearer. 

Still, no one now knows why the dress was abandoned so close to completion. Yet in this state, the dress reveals a rare glimpse at the mantua-maker's working and construction methods; it's frozen in time, there at the final fitting. In addition, the unworn dress presents a glazed, printed cotton in a pristine condition. For the sake of preserving this glazed finish, it's unlikely that the dress will ever go on public display and risk light-damage to the delicate surface. See more images of the original dress plus descriptions of how the fabric was produced here on the CW e-museum website.

The dress is also unusual for another reason. Most surviving 18thc dresses tend to be small - not because all 18thc women were petite, but because in an era when remodeling and recutting clothing was common, the smaller gowns didn't offer enough fabric to make recycling feasible. This gown was intended for a tall woman - 5'10" or even taller - with a 46" bust and a 42" waist.

While the original gown is primarily a study garment in the collection, it has already inspired several copies. First, the printed cotton fabric has been commercially reproduced for sale (it can be ordered by the yard here.) An exact one-to-one copy of the dress to be used for study was created by CW's Costume Design Center, who also made another copy to be worn as a costume in the historic area.

Finally (at least for now) the mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter shop in CW's historic trades program made a technological reproduction, recreating the dress using 18thc hand-sewing and other period-correct techniques. This version was completed based on other similar dresses from the period, and is shown right worn by Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade. It's stunning in person - which makes you wonder all over again why the original was never finished.

Left: Gown, maker unknown, 1785-1795, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.
Right: Technological reproduction gown, made the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, 2018. Photograph ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 12, 2018.

Saturday, March 17, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Read the comic history of England - handwritten and illustrated - that Jane Austen wrote when she was only sixteen.
• Consumptive chic: how tuberculosis symptoms became ideals of beauty in the 19thc.
• A recipe that's perfect for an 18thc spring dinner: pistachio creams.
James Allen, a Regency-era female husband.
Image: A canine rail cart trip in Alaska, 1912.
Pineapples in 18thc America.
• Nineteenth century Quaker Rebecca Lukens, America's first female CEO of an industrial company.
• A caracal for King George II.
• A thaw in the streets of London, 1865.
Image: An elegant c1775 combined music stand and writing table with Severes porcelain plaque.
• The many residents of this elegant 1872 New York rowhouse included the tragic American-born Princess Rospigliosi.
• The woman with the violin: the trailblazzing Ginger Smock and the 1940s-1950s Los Angeles jazz scene.
• The Victorian ostrich feather trade: boom and bust.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor in America; where she lived and worked in Greenwich Village, NY.
• The importance of coffee, tea, and chocolate in early America.
Image: First World War police whistle associated with the service of Miss D.A. Lovell in the
• Of sealing wax and Emperor Francis I of Austria.
Italian (sort of) restaurants in New York City in 1916.
• Dreams of the Forbidden City: when Chinatown nightclubs beckoned Hollywood.
Crispus Attucks: American Revolutionary hero?
• Image: Helluva good icicle at 15thc Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, Scotland.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Video: Dressing an 18thc Gentleman for "Reigning Men" at LACMA

Friday, March 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I've been attending the Costume Society of America's annual symposium in Colonial Williamsburg. One of the more fascinating presentations was given by Senior Curator Sharon Takeda and Assistant Curator Clarissa M. Esguerra from the Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who described the process of creating the 2016 major exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715-2015. Featuring pieces drawn largely from the museum's own collections, the exhibition challenged the assumption that fashion is only for women, and instead - as the program described it - "celebrated the rich history of restraint and resplendence in menswear, traced cultural influences over the centuries, and illuminated connections between history and high fashion." (The exhibition also received CSA's Richard Martin Exhibition Award.)

This short video offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show's preparation. Dressing and moving mannequins in rare and delicate 200-year-old clothing is clearly not an easy task - but the beauty and craftsmanship of the menswear glimpsed here makes the video well worth watching. For more information and other images, see the LACMA blog dedicated to the exhibition.

Attention to our lucky readers in Australia: the Reigning Men exhibition has traveled from Los Angeles to Saint Louis in 2017, and will soon complete be on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney from May 2-October 14, 2018.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Regency Satire: The Triumph of the Whale

Thursday, March 15, 2018
Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales 1812
Loretta reports:

On this date in 1812 the Examiner published Charles Lamb’s poem “The Triumph of the Whale,” which inspired this George Cruikshank satirical print of 1 May 1812. The image appeared in Cruikshank's satirical magazine, The Scourge.
The caricature and poem about the then Prince Regent (later King George IV) remind us all that mocking the great and powerful, in picture and print (and these days, in internet memes), is nothing new. Given the libel and sedition laws of the time, it’s amazing what Regency satirists got away with. And let’s not forget one of the Privileges of Peers I reported on a while back:
“3. To secure the honour of, and prevent the spreading of any scandal upon peers, or any great officer of the realm, by reports, there is an express law, called scandalum magnatum, by which any man convicted of making a scandalous report against a peer of the realm (though true) is condemned to an arbitrary fine, and to remain in custody till the same be paid.”

Scandalum magnatum notwithstanding, the faces in this caricature would have been familiar to the audience of the time, and everybody would understand the political implications. We, however, need a translation, which the Brighton Museums website provides succinctly:

“Portrayed as a whale in a ‘Sea of Politics’ George spouts the ‘Liquor of Oblivion’ on playwright and Whig supporter Richard Sheridan, and blows the ‘Dew of favour’ on Spencer Perceval the Tory Prime Minister. The prince ignores his former lover, Mrs Fitzherbert, and looks lovingly at his mistress Lady Hertford, who is shown next to her cuckold husband.”
The figures on the right—the Tories—viewed as the fat cats of the time, expect to profit further by the Regent’s decision to shun his Whig associates. The Marquess of Hertford is wearing cuckold horns. You can read a much more detailed description at the British Museum website (please click on "More" for the full description and check out the curator's comments as well). Clearly, this is pretty strong stuff, though not as strong, I think, as Lamb’s poem.

The 1812 blog offers a concise summary of Charles Lamb’s life and the poem. Most of the references are clear enough, although I haven't yet figured out why the muse Lamb summons is Io, one of Zeus’s many loves, who was transformed into a white heifer.

Update: As I hoped, a reader provided the following clarification—
"It's a song. 'Io' is an exclamation you find in Latin songs, and probably in Roman life as well, but spoken words don't survive. It means something like 'Hurray' or even 'Yay'.
In my country a Latin student song still survives. Its first line is 'Io vivat' which translates to 'Hurray, long live'. It dates to the days when all subjects at the universities were taught in Latin."

These pages are from The Poetical Works of Bowles, Lamb, and Hartley Coleridge Selected 1887

Image: George Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales, from the Scourge of 1 May 1812.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

High Style in Rural New Hampshire, c1835

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg to attend the Costume Society of America's annual meeting. If any of you are attending as well, I hope you'll say hi.

I saw this portrait yesterday in CW's DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, and felt she definitely deserved a post. Loretta has written many posts (and books!) that feature the exaggerated fashions of the 1830s - an era of big hair, bigger skirts, and the biggest sleeves. You can see examples here, here, and here, all from trend-setting English magazines of the time.

But American women have always possessed a stylish flair and a gift for making European fashions their own. Fashion magazines and trends traveled across the Atlantic as swiftly as clipper ships could bring them. The young woman in this portrait isn't from Paris or London, but from Milton Mills, New Hampshire, a village on the Salmon River bordering Maine.

Martha Spinney Simes (1808-c1883) was in her early twenties when this portrait was painted. She's shown sitting on an elegant (if a bit strangely proportioned) red sofa - the matching portrait of her husband has him sitting on a similar sofa or chair, facing her - that serves to enhance the emerald green of her dress. Her hair is pinned into the most fashionable of glossy knots and twists, with a short braid over one side of her forehead ending in a corkscrew curl.

And her jewelry! Martha has clearly embraced the idea of "more is more." In addition to two cuff bracelets and multiple rings, she wears an elaborate double-strand of glossy black beads, perhaps jet, and what is likely a cameo brooch. Her drop earrings are the real stars, however, over-sized gold drops with pale blue stones (opals, chalcedony, or agate?) that frame her face and help to balance her hair.

What I like best about this portrait is how all this finery doesn't overshadow Martha. Unlike the fashion plates and many European portraits of the time, she doesn't simper or glance sideways. Instead her expression seems forthright, direct, and intelligent, with just a hint of a smile. She's fabulous, and she knows it. And who's going to argue?

Portrait of Martha Spinney Simes (Mrs. Bray Underwood Simes), artist unknown, c1835, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elegant Bookcase for a Fashionable Regency Library

Monday, March 12, 2018
Library Bookcase March 1812
Loretta reports:

I set quite a few scenes in libraries, mainly because, by the time of my stories, they had become a family gathering place. Furthermore, in many great houses, these were large, comfortable rooms, often fitted out less formally than say, the drawing room. The one I used in A Duke in Shining Armor is a good example.

While bookcases, complete with writing desk, might appear in various rooms, this one seems to need quite a large room. And even if the library already has miles of bookshelves, those of us who love books can always use storage space for more.

I was particularly struck by the tambour circular cupboards, because (a) while horizontal tambour is fairly common, the circular vertical style is much less so, and (b) one of my own favorite pieces of furniture is a mid-20th century dressing table that has this feature.

Bookcase description

Images from Ackermann's Repository for March 1812, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, via Internet Archive.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 5, 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• An 1870s Turkish-inspired fancy dress costume from the House of Worth highlights the transition into women wearing trouser.
• "I desire you would Remember the ladies": read Abigail Adams's most famous and treasured letter to her husband John, written in 1776.
• The strange saga of George Washington's bedpan.
• Quick book quiz: can you spot the titles borrowed from other books?
• Online resources for palaeography - the art of reading old handwriting.
• How new research helped tell the story of Chance Bradstreet, an enslaved man living in 18thc Massachusetts.
Image: The gilded weathervane of St Mary's church, Kingsclere, is in the shape of a bed-bug.
• How 18thc British women deployed the teapot in the campaign against slavery.
Abraham Lincoln visits New York's Greenwich Village.
• Despite overwhelming odds, American Edmonia Lewis found international success as a sculptor in 19thc Rome.
• What the history of food stamps reveals.
• Online exhibition traces 150 years of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.
Image: Black women in Early Modern cameos.
• Strikingly detailed images of historic cathedrals each took up to a year to create.
• The story of Brooklyn's fabulous, forgotten Fulton Ferry terminal.
• The 18thc fashion for false rumps.
Ida Wilson Lewis, lighthouse keeper and fearless Federal worker, who saved 25 lives.
• Creating the next generation of readers: "Children fall in love with reading as a result of falling in love with being read to."
Video: Beautiful: a rare snowfall covers Rome's ancient monuments.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

Friday, March 9, 2018

Ornamental glass lustres c. 1880
Caughley Tea Service c. 1780
Loretta reports:

Instead of the usual Friday video, I’m offering a tour of the Geffrye Museum of the Home, which my husband and I visited during our time in London. The draw for me was the series of period rooms.

As Susan and I have often lamented, it’s much easier to find paintings and prints of exteriors than interiors. The Geffrye offers a chance to view some interiors and, especially, to notice the way home life changed over time. These aren’t the homes of aristocrats, but, with the exception of the almshouses, of well-off families of the professional classes.

With the museum closed for development until 2020, I invite you to check out the panoramas and the virtual tour offered on the website—which I supplement with these photographs from our visit.

Photographs by Walter M. Henritze
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dining with the Hamiltons (and the Bonapartes), 1804

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Susan reporting,

One of the reasons I especially enjoy research with handwritten letters is being able to see the little things that reproduced transcriptions often omit. The excerpt, above, is from the bottom corner of a letter than Alexander Hamilton wrote to Victor Marie du Pont de Nemours in May, 1804. Most of the letter concerns the repayment of a debt, with a complicated explanation of the principal and the interest accrued. As dry as this may be, the letter has importance because of the two parties corresponding - the former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury writing to a prominent French-American diplomat and businessman.

But it's the non-business part of the letter that intrigued me.  Aside from the fact that I wish I could end letters with Hamilton's grandiloquent yet breezy closing sentence ("The multiplicity of my affairs will excuse my delay in completing this business"), it's that little postscript to the left that caught my eye.

P.S. I sent you some days since a note requesting you to meet Mr. Bonaparte at my house on Sunday three oClock to dine. I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you.

Yes, Hamilton is displaying his typical impatience because Du Pont hadn't responded to his first invitation, but he's also describing what must have been quite a grand dinner. Mr. Bonaparte was Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France (and soon to become Emperor.) While visiting America, the nineteen-year-old Jérôme had fallen in love with Elizabeth "Betsey" Patterson of Baltimore and had married her. An American merchant's daughter did not fit into Napoleon's dynastic plans, however, and the First Consul had already made his displeasure known.

But in May of 1804, Jérôme and Betsey were glamorous newlyweds, and having them as guests must have been a social coup. In addition to the French-born Du Pont, the guest list included Hamilton's good friend, statesman and bon vivant Gouverneur Morris, who had served as the American Minister Plenipotentiary to France. Considering that Hamilton also spoke French fluently, it's easy to imagine French - the language of 18thc diplomacy and worldly sophistication - as the language of choice during the meal.

Several days after this letter, Hamilton wrote a quick note to his wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, to let her know that "On Sunday Bonaparte & wife...with dine with you. We shall be 16 in number...." Because this note is undated, it's impossible to tell exactly how much warning Hamilton gave Eliza before the dinner. At this time, he had his law office in what is now lower Manhattan, and often remained there overnight instead of making the long trek (which could take a couple of hours, depending on the weather) by horse or carriage to the family's country house, The Grange, in the then-rural northern part of Manhattan. Eliza and the couple's younger children were living at The Grange, which would have been site of the dinner.

In the same note, Hamilton asks Eliza to send the "coachee" to town on Saturday - perhaps he intended to provide transportation for at least some of his guests - and the "waggon", probably for more provisions for the meal.  He also says that it was "my intention to get out Gentis and perhaps Contoix"; Gentis had been employed by the Hamiltons as a cook, and Contoix had also worked for the family. Clearly Hamilton was planning an impressive dinner.

Now Eliza was an accomplished hostess, and I'm betting that none of this fazed her. She would have handled French guests, extra servants, and an elegant meal with gracious aplomb. While sixteen guests could have been a tight fit in The Grange's dining room, right, the accommodating design of the house would have let her open the doors into the parlor and add another leaf or two to the table. I can also imagine Hamilton himself fussing over every detail of his dinner from the menu to the wines, and sparing no expense, either. With the tall windows open to catch the breezes from the river, it must have been a merry and pleasurable evening indeed.

But the hindsight of history casts an undeniable shadow over this luxurious little dinner.
A little over a year later, the marriage of Betsey and Jérôme Bonaparte would be annulled by Napoleon. Betsey would eventually return alone to America with their infant son, while Jérôme would marry the German princess his brother had chosen. At the time of this dinner, Hamilton had already begun exchanging barbs with another New York lawyer, a conflict that would fester and escalate throughout the spring and early summer. This dinner took place on May 13, 1804. Almost exactly two months later, on July 12, Alexander Hamilton would die of wounds suffered in his duel with Aaron Burr.

Thanks to Lucas R. Clawson, reference archivist & Hagley historian, Hagley Museum & Library, for sharing this letter with me.

Above: Detail of a letter from Alexander Hamilton to Victor Marie du Pont de Nemours, May 1804; collection of Winterthur Museum.
Lower right: Dining room at The Grange, New York, NY. Photo ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Genevieve Hamper, the Most Beautiful Face on Earth

Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Loretta reports:

My husband, who recently debuted his own nerdy history blog, has acquired some fascinating material in the way of postcards. Thanks to him, I discovered Genevieve Hamper (1888-1971) and Robert Mantell (1854-1928).

A search brought me to advertisements and reviews of their first motion picture a “surpassing Photo-Play debut of Robert B Mantell America’s foremost Tragedian and Genevieve Hamper Most Beautiful Face on Earth in a stirring arraignment of Society’s Sins The Blindness of Devotion.”

The quote is from a publicity ad in New York Evening Telegram November 1915. It’s here in Rex Ingram, Hollywood’s Rebel of the Silver Screen. There’s more concise coverage on the Turner Classic Movie page for the film.

However, as the ad indicates Ms. Hamper and her husband Mr. Mantell were already highly regarded stage actors. Though, apparently, they never made it big on Broadway, they traveled all over North America, putting on a series of plays—not one play, for a week, but, as the post card shows, eight performances of different “Shakespearean and Classic plays.” Obviously, these were greatly abridged.

My impression was, this was rather like the traveling theater troupes Dickens portrayed in Nicholas Nickleby, but quite a bit smaller. From all I’ve been able to discover, there were three players at most in the performances. Not that this means they didn’t put on a good show. As I described in a blog post some years ago, I saw a splendid one-man performance of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I suspect the audience at the Worcester Theatre got their money’s worth, too.

To give you an idea of how famous they were, the Theatre Magazine of 1921 devoted two pages to photos of their place in N.J., where they spent summers rehearsing

Though they continued to make films after The Blindness of Devotion, it seems that these, like so many of the era, did not survive.

Thanks to Larry Abramoff, our dear friend, who donated his amazing collection of post cards to my husband’s project.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How Many Hours to Stitch a Woman's Gown in 1775?

Sunday, March 4, 2018
Susan reporting,

For an 18thc mantua-maker (dressmaker), time truly was money. Unlike today, when we put the premium on the labor and skill that goes into creating something by hand, the most valuable part by far of a garment in 1775 was the fabric.

In an era when nearly all new clothing was custom made to order, the fabric was selected, the design was chosen, and a price agreed upon, including the cost of cutting, sewing, and fitting the garment. That last part - the actual creation of the garment - was the smallest part of the overall cost, and it wouldn't change whether the sewing was done by one woman, or three. Labor was charged by the garment, not by the hour. The mantua-maker and her seamstresses had to be able to work fast. Keep in mind, too, that sewing machines had yet to be invented, and every stitch was done by hand.

According to advertisements in English newspapers of the time, the cost for making up a "common gown" or "English gown", a relatively plain dress worn for everyday, was 2-3 shillings. That same sum was also the daily wages for a journey-woman mantua-maker: a woman who had completed her apprenticeship, but was still comparatively new to the trade. In other words, to make a profit, that journey-woman had to make that gown in less than a day.

How long was that workday? For most 18thc tradespeople, the workday was measured by daylight. Therefore a workday in the summer would be much longer than one in the depths of December, averaging to about a twelve to thirteen hour workday. Although work could be done by candlelight or firelight, the cost of those candles or firewood would eat into the already-slender profit. Sunlight, however meager, was free, and every minute treasured.

Could a modern mantua-maker work this fast as well? Janea Whitacre, mistress of the trade in the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, recently conducted a time-study of how quickly she could create a 1775 common gown. The gown was made of cotton, a reproduction of a block-printed cotton in Colonial Williamsburg's collection, and complete with the slightly misaligned pattern typical of 18thc printed textiles. About five yards of fabric was used; the fabric's width of 42"-45", still the most common width today, was also the standard English ell in use in 1775.

The petticoat (underskirt) was not included in the trial. Gowns of this style were often worn with a contrasting petticoat - consider this 18thc "mix and match" separates - and it's likely that a woman would already have a petticoat in her wardrobe to wear with the gown. The gown's customer would have been a woman of the middling sort, who would have worn this style for "undress," or informal daily wear.

Janea kept track of her time by a stop-watch instead of the sun, and unlike her 18thc counterparts, she periodically paused in her sewing to interact with CW visitors to the shop. Although speed was Janea's goal, she wanted to please her fictitious customer as well. She took care to incorporate the fabric's stripes with the gown's design with inverted back pleats towards the center, and added contrasting cherry-red bows to the bodice and skirt.

High fashion for her customer, and a profit for her as well. Janea's final start-to-finish time for this gown was ten hours, seven minutes: well within that standard twelve-thirteen hour workday. Best of all, her customer (here represented by apprentice Rebecca Starkins ) looks most pleased with the final result.

Many thanks to Janea Whitacre and Rebecca Starkins for their assistance with this post. For an example of a more elaborate (and therefore more expensive) 18thc dress made by the Margaret Hunter mantua-makers in a day, see my earlier post here.

Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of February 26, 2018

Saturday, March 3, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• A free online course about British royal clothing.
Ada Blackjack, an Intuit woman without wilderness skill, joined a 1920s Arctic expedition as a seamstress, and outlived four male explorers.
• Presidential valets: confidantes of the wardrobe.
• The illness and death of Queen Mary I.
Frances Albrier was a 20c activist, politician, labor organizer, and the first African American woman welder in the shipyard industry during WWII.
• A fatal duel in 1834, fought between two U.S. congressmen - with rifles.
Image: During the WWI, women's football team "Palmers Munitionettes", made up of munitions workers, were unbeaten.
• Three historic explorers who were captivated by mermaid sightings.
• The 400-year-old history and intrigue of Santa Fe's Palace of the Governors.
• The grisly secrets of dealing with Victorian London's dead.
Image: Abigail Adams' dimity pocket.
• A tiny locket dictionary, c1900, to wear close to your heart.
• How did Napoleon manage to escape from Elba?
• Women on trial: British soldiers' wives tried by court martial during the American Revolution.
• Proof that cancer isn't a modern disease: discovery of a 3,000 year old skeleton of a young male sufferer.
• Britain's first national lottery, 1816.
• Explore the British Library's Harry Potter: History of Magic exhibition online.
• The enigma of Edinburgh's miniature "fairy coffins."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, March 2, 2018

Friday Video: Eighteenth Century Pockets

Friday, March 2, 2018

Susan reporting,

Here's the latest delightful short video in a new series featuring 18th century clothing. This one shows the somewhat mystifying (to 21stc people) pockets worn at the time by women of every class in Europe and America. Tied around the waist beneath petticoats, pockets were the carry-alls for a woman's little necessities of everyday life.

When skirts narrowed and waistlines rose at the end of the 18thc, the new sleeker skirts had no place to hide a pocket, and instead women began to carry small purses and reticules separately - a fashion trend that continues today. However, when I see that modern designers are attempting to revive the 80s fashion for fanny packs, I wonder if tie-on pockets can be far behind. Where fashion is concerned, what's old is always new.

Many thanks to Pauline Loven for sharing this video with us. Pauline is the costume historian, costumer, and heritage film producer who creates the costumes and contributes the historical background for this series, which is directed by Nick Loven for Crow's Eye Productions. For more of their videos, see Dressing an Eighteenth Century Lady, and The Busk.

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

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Fashions for March 1825

Thursday, March 1, 2018
Promenade Dress March 1825

Loretta reports:

If you compare with last month’s fashion post, you’ll see that the waist has dropped and the shape has evolved from the vertical line to what will eventually become in the 1830s two nearly equal triangles at top and bottom. For the 1820s, though, both skirts and puffy sleeves are still moderate.

Regarding the ball dress description: According to Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, bouillon is “a puffed-out applied trimming.” Crèpe lisse is an uncrimped silk gauze.

This red and white dress at the Met Museum will give you a better idea of what this sort of trim—and this shape of skirt—looked like in real life.
Promenade Dress Description
Ball Dress March 1825
Ball Dress Description
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
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