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.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Fashions for November 1913

Monday, November 5, 2018
Dresses November 1913
Loretta reports:

Let's read over the shoulder of a lady in 1913 who's just picked up the latest copy of Ladies Home Journal.
  What I See on Fifth Avenue by Alice Long: With Drawings by Jessie Gillespie.
“From the top of one of those lumbering, top-heavy busses that wheeze ponderously along Fifth Avenue is really the best place to get a good view, not alone of the shops that line the avenue, but also of the kaleidoscopic mass of color formed by the hurrying streams of woman shoppers. And if you are looking for what is new in fashion you are just as apt to see it on some of these same shoppers, many of whom have names that are household words because of their prominence socially or because of the financial rating of their men folks, as in even the most exclusive shops...

“I SPENT several days going through the more important Fifth Avenue shops and dressmaking places, and of one thing I am convinced: The fashionable silhouette demands fullness at the hips and a narrowing in at the foot; and be it peplum or tunic—call it what you please—some sort of flounce arrangement must be shown on the skirt of a fussy dress anywhere between the waistline and the feet. A strikingly pretty model of this sort of composite type formed the dress of one of the season’s débutantes, and was intended for a luncheon to be given in her honor. It was of a dull watermelon pink shade of silk crepe, with a. blouse of pale lilac chiffon over flesh-colored malines.* The Medici frill is wired with fine silk wire, so fine as to be invisible, and the plaited tunic, which is of the lilac chiffon, is also wired on the edge, so that it stands out the tiniest little bit.
Ladies’ Home Journal, Volume 30, November 1913 
 The whole article is an interesting read: the color red's popularity, the puzzle of wearing summer weight fashion in November and heavy fabrics in summer, etc.

*Malines in this context appears to refer to "Malines Lace—Bobbin lace with sprigs or dots outlined with a heavier cordonnet over a hexagonal or round mesh ground.  It is made in one piece of white flax thread."—Dictionary of Textiles, Harmuth 1915. Aka Mechlin Lace. You can read a history of lace here.

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, November 3, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of October 29, 2018

Saturday, November 3, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Does discovery of a red velvet bag reinforce the legend that Sir Walter Raleigh's widow Elizabeth kept his severed head with her after his execution?
• R is for raisins, the unexpected super-food found in many early modern medicines.
• Norah Smyth, suffragette photographer.
• Image: Cat passages in the doors at Thomas Jefferson's 18thc Monticello.
• The 19thc angel guides of death.
• Stylish (and prize-winning) 1959 dress, made from a feedsack.
• President George Washington's letter to the Hebrew congregation in Newport, RI, 1790.
• ImageDubious tips on how to get a husband from an 1950s women's magazine.
• "Knackers pork": the grim reality of London slaughterhouses during the Regency.
 Elizabeth Thorn, the angel of the Battle of Gettysburg.
• Wheat the old way: 1940s video of Pennsylvania Dutch family harvesting wheat by hand, without modern machinery.
• From an 1930s trousseau: beautifully embroidered silk slip and tap pants.
• Image: 1850s child's leather boot decorated with a black cat.
• A Mandarin duck mysteriously appears on a pond in New York's Central Park.
• John Rogers and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
• The Kit-Kat Club, an 18thc literary, political, and social club that became a stronghold of the Whig party.
• Workers in a Goodwill store in New Jersey discover an important, original 1774 Philadelphia "rebel" newspaper.
• Fifteen important women in history that you may not have heard of.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.
Please note: I'll be traveling this week, so alas, no Breakfast Links next Sunday....

Friday, November 2, 2018

Friday Video: The Two-Handkerchief Bra, 1921

Friday, November 2, 2018

Courtesy Library of Congress

Loretta reports:

In the early days of the brassiere, two handkerchiefs would do, apparently.  Here's how to turn them into an undergarment.

Illustration Where there's smoke there's fire, Russell Patterson, 1920s. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Rare Survivors in New York City: Sylvan Terrace's Cobblestones & Row Houses, c1880

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Susan reporting,

When most of us think of Manhattan, we picture towering skyscrapers, sleek walls of glass and stone, midtown streets crowded with cabs, cars, and bustling pedestrians. Small 19thc wooden row houses and a quiet cobble street: not so much.

Yet the street shown here is indeed in Manhattan, in Washington Heights near 160th Street. I discovered it by accident, on my way to visit the 18thc Morris-Jumel Mansion (more about that in a later post.) No matter where you live, the scene may look familiar, because it has appeared as a location in numerous period films.

The street is called Sylvan Terrace. In the 1880s, the city's growth was creeping uptown, and the open fields and gardens that had so long insulated the Morris-Jumel Mansion were finally being divided into streets and house-plots. Developer James E. Ray commissioned twenty identical row houses, built on what had once been the Mansion's carriage drive. Because the neighborhood was so far uptown from what was considered the "city," the houses were exempt from fire codes that stipulated brick or stone construction, and could instead be made from less expensive wood over high brick basements.

The new street was given the pastoral name of Sylvan Terrace, another indication of how far it still was from downtown. The houses were modest, and the residents were middle-class, tradesmen and small merchants. The neighborhood continued to grow around them, larger and more lavish brownstone townhouses followed by larger-still apartment buildings. In a city where buildings are routinely knocked down within a generation to build something new,  all twenty of the little frame houses on Sylvan Terrace miraculously survived.

But time did bring changes. The original cobblestones were paved over with asphalt, and the houses themselves gradually lost most of their wood trim. Some were fronted with stucco facades, others sheathed in aluminum siding or false brick. The basic integrity of the street remained, however, and in 1970, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission created the Jumel Terrace Historic District.

In 1981, Federal funds restored the facades to approximate their original unified appearance; the backs of the houses still reflect 20thc remodeling. The asphalt paving was removed from the cobblestone street. Reaction to the restoration seems to have been mixed at the time. Residents complained that the work had been shoddy, and a few rebellious owners began repainting the new facades. In an 1989 article about the restoration, The New York Times deplored its "deadened homogeneity."

Visiting today, it appears that the disgruntlement of the 1980s has been forgotten, or at least put aside. The houses appear beautifully maintained, and unified in their color schemes - which I personally found more harmonious than homogeneous. Perhaps it's not so much a matter of taste, but economics, that has brought peace to Sylvan Terrace. The houses seldom come on the market, but when they do, their charm and history come at a price: $1,500,000 and up.

Above: Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.
Lower right: Photograph via Curbed NY.
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket