Commercial advertising seldom veers into nerdy history, but a new advertisement from Pedigree dog food features a little-known historical incident involving two gentlemen, a lost dog, and the Revolutionary War. The advertisement is part of Pedigree's series with the tag line that "dogs bring out the best in us," and this advertisement proves exactly that.
I won't ruin the spot with spoilers, but what's shown really did happen. The draft of the note, below, now in the Library of Congress, was written to accompany the dog. The message is from the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington, writing to the commander of the British Army, General William Howe. Washington was himself a great dog lover (there's an entire page on the Mount Vernon website devoted to his dogs), and did in fact return his enemy's lost pet, one gentleman to another. As was his practice, Washington dictated the note to a aide-de-camp. In this case, the aide was a young lieutenant colonel named Alexander Hamilton, who, despite his unquestionable devotion to the American cause, was still sufficiently dazzled by Howe's title that he first addressed him as "Sir William" instead of "General."
Of course, the advertisement doesn't *quite* get things historically correct. The Battle of Germantown took place on October 4, 1777; there was a heavy fog for most of the battle, and not a trace of snow. Washington was only forty-five at the time, not the craggy icon shown here. As for Colonel Hamilton - the real Hamilton in 1777 was barely out of his teens, a slender, fair-skinned, red-haired college drop-out.
Not until I read this entry about Portland Place did I know there was such a building as Foley House, or the rules that once existed about building in the vicinity. Not surprising. So many great London houses have disappeared, some with virtually no trace. However, I did manage to find an old engraving online (please scroll down), from Old and New London, one of my oft-consulted Victorian guidebooks to London’s history (complete, apparently, with various Victorian myths).
Portland Place is still an impressive street, though you will see more than a couple of carriage rattling around on it these days. And the road is paved, yes.
This elegant - and adaptable - gown is on display in the Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home exhibition (currently at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg through 2018; see other articles from the exhibition I've mentioned here, here, and here). The photo, right, shows the dress as it appears in the exhibition, and gives you an idea of just how much other printed gorgeousness is on parade in this amazing exhibition.
There are several features that make this dress unusual. First is the fabric itself, a block-printed cotton that was intended to mimic lapis, reflecting the era's interest in nature as inspiration for design. The fabric was printed with a curved hem border design (called "to form" or "a disposition") to be incorporated into the garment's finished design when made up. Also of interest is the fact that the dress has a pair of matching long sleeves or mitts to offer extra options to the wearer.
Here's the collection's placard:
"This small-scale spotted pattern was printed especially for a gown of this style. The red borders outlining the hem of the curved train and the skirt front are printed to the finished shape, not stitched on separately. The remaining red trimmings around the sleeves and neckline are cut from the printed yardage and stitched in place. The red and blue printing technique is usually known as the "lapis style," named for the semiprecious stone with a blue ground. The printing method involved printing a mordant (color fixative) for red in with a resist paste before dyeing in indigo blue.
This graceful gown exemplifies the neoclassical style with a raised waistline and skirt falling close to the body. The bodice closes by means of a drop panel fastening in place at the proper right shoulder. Removable matching mitts could be used to cover the arms down to the wrists for warmth or protection from the sun."
The dress is also proof that not every woman in early 19thc Britain - an era much-beloved for the costumes shown in many Jane Austen-inspired films - dressed in plain white cotton muslin. Prints and color were available for ladies who wished to stand out from the crowd, and those who understood the practicality of a dark print and its ability to mask a bit of dirt between laundering.
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The day in 1881 when the mastodons left the British Museum.
• "We lost our appetite for food": why 18thc hangriness might not be a thing.
• How a generation of consumptives defined 19thc romanticism.
• Samuel Adams, "Curer of Bacon"?
• The 1906 menagerie on Bleeker Street, NYC.
• Image: The Queen's House Tulip Stairs are the first
geometric self-supporting spiral stairs in the U.K.
• The secret family of the Duke of Wellington's nephew.
• When Bram (Stoker) met Walt (Whitman.)
• Pioneering French midwife Angelique du Coudray.
• The 12thc Irish Cross of Cong was made to encase a fragment of the True Cross.
• Countering war-time fabric shortages: keeping khaki kool during World War One.
• Image: Fifty years ago organizers tried to keep Katherine Switzer from running the Boston Marathon because she was a woman; this week, at 70, she ran it again.
• Memories of 1775: "About one o'clock, the minute men were alarmed."
• Snapshots of Victorian seaside life.
• "You are so saucy": John Adams replies to his wife Abigail's famous "remember the ladies" letter, April, 1776.
• LIFE magazine's mysterious quarter, and the Birth of a Baby, 1938.
• Joseph Priestley of Birstall, UK invented the rubber eraser 247 years ago this week.
• Image: Wool and rainbow-striped woman's festival costume shoes from Mexico, c1932.
• "When that April with his showers sweet....": Chaucer's Canterbury Tales may have taken place this week in April.
• Some things never change: in 1743, undergraduate James Otis wrote this letter to his father to ask for money for commencement expenses and sundry "entertainments."
• What sadly happens when you store gunpowder in the over, "out of the Way of Children", 1757.
• Built by Vikings, medieval Irish monks, or Native Americans? Six mysterious stone structures in New England.
• Deadline, and seven other words that originated during the American Civil War. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily. Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection
Don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of cycle skating, until somebody somewhere posted this British Pathé video. As often happens, I put on my history sleuthing hat to find out more. To my further surprise, I learned that cycle skating wasn’t exactly new in 1923. When it was new, according to this Scientific American article from March 1870, was half a century earlier.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.