Since everyone is in a rush to leave work on Friday afternoons in the summer, I thought I'd once again share this early silent video clip.
After posting the early film clip from 1896 of a snowball fight, the creation of the pioneering French film-maker Louis Lumière (1864-1948), I looked for more of his work to share here.
This short silent clip is known as Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon (La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon), and it's exactly that. Using natural daylight, Lumière set his camera across the street from the exit of his family's factory at closing time and recorded the workers – mostly women, though there are a few men in top hats – leaving for the day, plus a single large, inquisitive dog. Lumière filmed the same scene three times, on three different days, which accounts for the varying light as well as other differences like the carriages that come through the gate.
While I love seeing the clothes worn by everyday working women (plus the hats!), this film is famous for another reason. It was one of ten short films shown together to an audience on December 28, 1895 at the Salon Indien du Grand Cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, making this the first public screening of films with an admission fee charged. Each film ran about 50 seconds, shown through a hand-cranked projector. And, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.
Helen Rowland (1875-1950)was called “America’s Bernard Shaw.” Unfortunately, not an awful lot is known about her, and I’ve turned up exactly two pictures (one only last night—to feature in a future post).
It’s been a while since I’ve posted any of her wit and wisdom.* This one, on love, is rather sweet, for her.
I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg again this week, and of course I visited our friends in the Margaret Hunter millinery shop. In the past, I've shared different posts about what some of these shop's ladies were wearing (here's a mantua-maker's apprentice, a woman blacksmith, and a housewife), all dressed in replicas of 18thc clothing that was made by hand in the shop. Everything is cut, fitted, and stitched entirely by hand, using 18thc methods, and I'll be writing about more of their fashions in the next few posts.
This summer, the shop is blessed with a number of hardworking and gifted young interns to help not only with interpretations for visitors, but also contribute their stitching skills with a needle.
This would have been quite typical of an 18thc mantua-maker's (dressmaker's) shop. The shop's mistress of the trade, likely the owner, would be the one who designed and fitted the dresses, and interacted the most with customers. The more complicated work in creating the dresses would be done by the next level of skilled worker, the journey-women. Below them would be the apprentices, and at the bottom of the shop's hierarchy would be the seamstresses, women whose skills were usually limited to straight seams and "plain" stitching. As can be expected, there were more seamstresses than anything else, and they were the lowest on the pay scale, too. Georgian literature is filled with pitiful seamstresses who cannot make ends meet on their meager earnings, and too often meet with unhappy endings.
I can report, however, that the intern/seamstresses in the Margaret Hunter shop are all prospering merrily, and all say they'll be very sorry to see their internships end. Here are two of them, dressed appropriately for their station and positions working in a fashionable shop around 1775.
On the left, above, is Maggie Roberts. She is wearing a jacket that laces up the front, and is made from a reproduction Dutch printed cotton. The jacket is worn with a tucker, a cotton kerchief, a ruffled cotton cap with a silk ribbon, a cotton apron over a linen petticoat, and a coral necklace. On the right is Peryn Westerhof Nyman, who is wearing a center-front closing English gown with her skirts looped up over her petticoat, a cotton apron, cap, and kerchief, and silk ribbon bows on her bodice and cap.
As you can see, aboveright, both young women are also wearing the period-correct underthings to give themselves the fashionable shape of the era. They're both wearing boned stays, plus bum rolls and extra petticoats to give them the stylish full, wide backsides. (Read more about 18thc bum rolls and false rumps here.)
And yes, these saucy seamstresses were turned out literally head to toe in their Georgian finery, lower left, and eager to show off their flirtatious clocked stockings. (There must have been some male apprentices nearby.) The pink-heeled mules were made by journey-woman Sarah Woodyard, while the the black shoes and the reproduction stockings are made by the company American Duchess.
It’s steamy weather in New England. Nowadays when temperatures soar, we shed layers of clothing. Depending on our age and fashion sense, we wear not only fewer clothes, but skimpier ones: short sleeves or no sleeves, short skirts, short shorts.
This was not the case in times past. An Edwardian lady would faint dead away if someone proposed she go out of her bedroom, let alone go out in public, with her limbs exposed. Same goes for her predecessors.
As Isabella/Susan has shown in dress posts here and here, the solution in the past was lighter weight, airier materials.
For the late Victorian and Edwardian eras and continuing into the 1920s, the solution was the lingerie dress. During a visit to the American Textile History Museum in Lowell Massachusetts for Astrida Schaeffer's talk, Mentioning Unmentionables, I took photos of this fine example of a lingerie dress from the museum's collection.
I’m posting the information card from the museum, but you can find out a great deal more about lingerie dresses from this post at On Pins and Needles, which includes some lovely illustrations.
Dipping one more time into our archives....The current exhibition of John Singer Sargent portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art reminded me of this post about one of his more fascinating - and beautiful - sitters.
I've always been intrigued by the elegant fin-de-siecle portraits of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). While it's easy to dismiss his sitters as empty Edwardian society ladies, not all of them fall into this category. One of the most beautiful was also one of the more interesting: Helen Venetia Duncombe Vincent, Vicountess D'Abernon (1866-1954).
Daughter of the Earl of Feversham, Helen's beauty was extraordinary, and when she married the equally handsome financier and diplomat Sir Edgar Vincent (1857-1941) in 1890, she soon became a celebrated London hostess. To some she was "by reason of her outstanding beauty, intelligence and charm, one of the most resplendent figures" of her age; a far less flattering description by architect Edwin Lutyens called her "a lovely Easter egg with nothing inside, terribly dilettante and altogether superficial."
The truth must have been somewhere in between. As Sir Edgar rose both in the financial world as an international banker and as an ambassador in diplomatic corps, Helen helped further his position by serving as his hostess and as a patroness to English artists and museums. She also welcomed the leading intellectual figures to her salon, including American writers Henry James and Edith Wharton and prominent statesmen George Curzon and Arthur Balfour. She was also drawn to the romantic history of her namesake Venice, and at her urging the Vincents purchased the Palazzo Giustiniani on the Grand Canal. It was here, during an extended visit, that Sargent painted the bravura portrait, above left, in 1904, and made the sketch, right. As isn't always the case, the beauty in the portraits was real, as seen in the stylish photograph of Helen from 1906, lower right.
But when the glory days of Edwardian England collapsed with the onset of the First World War, Helen didn't retreat to the safety of her country estates. Instead she took the unusual step for an aristocratic lady of training as a nurse anaesthetist (anesthesiologist), and served with the Red Cross in Europe, often in risky makeshift circumstances close to the front. She acquired a reputation as the fearless, unflinching lady in the operating room, and treated thousands of patients.
Above left: Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess D'Abernon, John Singer Sargent, 1904, Birmingham Museum of Art Right: Lady Helen Vincent, John Singer Sargent, 1905, York City Art Gallery Lower left: Lady Helen Vincent, photograph by Lionel de Rothschild, c. 1906, copyright Solent News & Photo Agency
Fresh for your browsing pleasure! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, images, and articles via Twitter.
• Drunk and riotous: troubled and troublesome inebriate Victorian women.
• Quality Street: Hugh Thomson's delightful early 20thc. illustrations with Regency settings.
• When did English cooking begin to be viewed as negative?
• Spectacularly vibrant needlework covers this early 18thc. Book of Common Prayer.
• Oscar Wilde, the apostle of the beautiful and the Season.
• Image: "Give Mother the Vote!" Suffragist drawing by first American female cartoonist, Rose O'Neill.
• Lovely post on traditional Welsh method of carrying babies.
• Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: how news of the Declaration of Independence was spread.
• John Singer Sargent's most intimate portraits are the ones you've never seen.
• That pesky weed under foot is purslane, an 18thc. "superfood."
• Image: Actress Thalia Barbarova primps in luxurious satin loungewear, 1925.
• A history in pictures of battledore, shuttlecock, and badminton.
• A beautiful true love story: it began with secret pickles in the 1930s, survived a war, and continues over seventy years later.
• Zoomology: looking into the heart of 40th Street & Sixth Avenue, NYC, 1940.
• A brief history of creepy dolls.
• Three traditional occupations of the night: watchmen, goldfinders, and plague-bearers.
• Image: The beautiful medieval vaulting at Peterborough Cathedral.
• The true story behind the giant concrete arrows from the 1920s, still scattered across the rural US.
• An unfinished darning sampler, 1892.
• Reburial of woman in native Ireland highlights 183-year-old mass-murder mystery in Pennsylvania.
• Kirby's Eccentric Museum, 1820.
• The ruins of a 13thc. castle guard a broken heart on an island in the Firth of Lorn.
• The early history of Punch, and the "first cartoon."
• Image: Just for fun: Renaissance Girl Power! Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily. Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.
Continuing our week of reposts....This post was one of my first (from 2010!) but it continues to be among the most popular as well.
Most modern museum-goers who spot these two porcelain vessels in a display case would assume they were serving pieces. They're certainly pretty enough for an elegant 18th c. table, especially the one with the family crest on the side.
But necessity has always been the mother of invention, and often of design that's both handsome and useful, too. Consider the spreading hoops of an 18th c. lady, draped with yards and yards of costly silk petticoats, and then consider maneuvering all that yardage each time nature called.
There was a solution. These are two examples of bourdaloues, chamber pots designed specifically for women. With the assistance of a lady's maid, they could be slipped beneath skirts and petticoats, employed while standing, and then discretely carried away. Other versions were more utilitarian and fashioned of tin or leather, and intended to make long journeys by carriages bearable. Even when skirts shrank in size towards the end of 18th c., the bourdaloue was deemed too practical an item to abandon, and they remained in use throughout the Victorian era.
Where did the name come from? Legend says the name was taken from a celebrated 17th c. French Jesuit priest named Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704), whose sermons were so infamously long that ladies came to church prepared. Not many historians accept this explanation. Even given that people were more frank about bodily needs in the past than they are now, it's very doubtful a well-bred French lady would relieve herself in her pew. Though no one now seems to know for certain, it's likely to be either something garbled in translation, or one more sly English insult aimed at the French. Top: Bourdaloue. Made by Andrew Stevenson Factory, Cobridge, Staffordshire, England; 1816-30. Below: Bourdaloue with lid. Made in Jingdezhen, China; 1790-1820. Both from the collections of Winterthur Museum & Country Estate
a miracle this collection survived. Other historical documents did
not: “In a fit of witless vandalism in 1913, George V, his queen and
his secretary one evening sat in a parlour at Windsor and systematically
burned the contents of thirty-seven boxes of George IV’s love letters .
. . on the grounds that George was ‘the meanest and vilest of
reprobates’.” King George V later sold 9,900 of his ancestor’s prints to the Library of Congress—to pay for his stamp collection.
I made another interesting discovery: Our Prinny’s favorite bard was
Captain Charles Morris (1744-1838), to whom he paid a £200 annuity.
Morris’s poems and songs were famous, reprinted repeatedly in
collections such as The Festival of Anacreon, Containing a Collection of Modern Songs, written for the Anacreontic Society,***the Beef-Steak and Humbug Clubs (8th ed. c. 1810); and many, many others, including a collection the poet Robert Burns published in 1799.
A sample of Morris’s lyric powers:
THE PLENIPOTENTIARY The Dey of Algiers, when afraid of his ears, A messenger sent to the Court, sir, As he knew in our state the women had weight, He chose one well hung for the sport, sir. He searched the Divan till he found out a man, Whose b******s were heavy and hairy, And he lately came, o'er from the Barbary shore, As the great Plenipotentiary. . . . When to England he came, with his p***k in a flame, He shewed it his Hostess on landing, Who spread its renown thro' all parts of the town, As a pintle past all understanding. So much there was said of its snout and its head, That they called it the great Janissary: Not a lady could sleep till she got a sly peep At the great Plenipotentiary.
These are some of the more delicate verses. You can read one version of the full poem here on page 36, or choose a version from here. Longtime 2NHG readers may recall a similarly bawdy epic by Lord Rochester.
*My quotations are from the Gatrell book.
**See a recent postfor an illustration of a society members' meeting.
Illustration: Cruikshank, A Peep at the Plenipo-!!! Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
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.
Since so many of our readers are new (and this blog is nearly six years old!) Loretta and I have agreed to dip into our archives for our posts this week. Sometimes something old can be new!
I've written before about the importance of pins in everyday 18th c. life. Straight pins were widely used to fasten all kinds of clothing, from women's bodices to infant's diapers, and also used in hand sewing. Pins were considered so indispensable that when Abigail Adams wrote from colonial Massachusetts to her husband John Adams in Philadelphia in 1775, the one thing she requested was for him to "purchase me a bundle of pins and put in your trunk for me." (Read the rest of the letter here.)
Pins for clothing and sewing, yes. But I hadn't realized that pins were also an essential tool for 18th c. writers. Thanks to (or cursed by, depending on your point of view) computers, most modern writers submit manuscripts electronically. Rewrites and copy edits are all conducted now through the magic of track changes and transmissions. Gone are the days of hauling manuscript boxes to the post office, not to mention pages that bristled with pink "flags", the comments and queries pasted to the edges of pages by editors. I've gotten to the point where the only words on paper I see in the entire process are in the finished book – and the way things are going, that may soon vanish, too.
But what did writers do in the days before paper clips and Post-Its? How did an early novelist who was already struggling to make sense of a handwritten manuscript mark revisions and additions? According to the librarians of Oxford's Bodleian Library, the answer is pins – and lots of them. All those notes and insertions and extra copy were handwritten on scraps of paper and pinned in the margin with a straight pin. The pins, above, were all plucked from the library's holdings, and date from 1692 to 1853.
In 2011, the Bodleian acquired a true Jane Austen rarity: the manuscript draft of her abandoned novel, The Watsons. (See here for more about the auctionand the staggering realized price, as well as a page of the manuscript itself.) In addition to the clues to cross-outs and rewrites on the draft provide, there were also a wealth of pinned-on additions. For purposes of preserving the manuscript, these pins were carefully removed with their notes, studied, catalogued, and saved – a librarian's scholarly labor of love.
But as a fellow-writer, I like to imagine Jane at work at her small writing table. I wonder: did she use the same pins she used for her clothing, or did she have another stash of pins reserved for writing? Did she keep a pin cushion on the table with a stack of scrap-paper sheets beside her inkwell, prepared and ready to make changes? Or did she tuck them into her sleeve like a hurried seamstress might, keeping them literally at hand when she needed them?
Here is the link to the original article about literary pinning by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. Thanks to Deb Barnum for first sharing this story with us.
Above: Manuscript pins, c. 1690-1850. Bodleian Library.
In celebration of the audio release of Mr. Impossible, I offer an earlier post about one source of inspiration for the book. Sarah Belzoni is a great example of the resourceful women who visited and explored Egypt in the 19th century.
After waiting two months in Cairo, and understanding it might be some time before Mr. B. could return, I determined on a third voyage to Thebes, taking the Mameluke
before mentioned. I went to Boolak, and engaged a canja with two small
cabins; one held my luggage, and the other my mattress, for which I paid
125 piastres. I left Cairo on November 27th, and arrived at Ackmeim on
the 11th December, at night. A heavy rain, accompanied with thunder and
lightning, commenced an hour after sunset, and continued the whole of
the night: it pourred in torrents. My mattress and coverings were wet
through, and were so for some days; and though the rain had ceased, yet
it came pouring from the mountains through the lands into the Nile on
each side for several days after.
I arrived at Luxor on the 16th, and was informed Mr. B. was gone to the Isle of Philœ: I crossed the Nile, and took up my residence at Beban el Malook.
The men left to guard the tomb in Mr. B.'s absence informed me of the
heavy rain they had experienced on the night I mentioned, and, in spite
of all their efforts, they could not prevent the water entering the
tomb; it had carried in a great deal of mud, and, on account of the
great heat, and the steam arising from the damp, made some of the walls
crack, and some pieces had fallen. On hearing
this I went into the tomb, and the only thing we could do was to order a
number of boys to take the damp earth away, for while any damp remained
the walls would still go on cracking. Mr. B. arrived two days before
Christmas, and on St. Stephen's day he crossed to Carnak
to review the various spots of earth he had to excavate, when an
attempt was made to assassinate him. I had then a violent bilious fever,
which, added to this fright, flung me into the yellow jaundice. Having
sent a man to procure me some medicine from a doctor at Ackmeim, he
returned after five days with about half an ounce of cream of tartar,
and two teaspoonsful of rhubarb. Fortunately for me, two English
gentlemen happened to arrive, on their return from Nubia for Cairo, and
gave me some calomel, which was of great service to me, and which I
remember with much gratitude. ~~~ Above left: Vue general de Louqsor. Below right: Karnak. Temple de Ramessés IV, deux Pylônes. Both by Maison Bonfils (Beirut, Lebanon), photographer, and courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Served up fresh for your weekend reading - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images via Twitter.
• The buried remains of Little Compton Street, London.
• A dip in the briny: bathing in the sea wasn't always fun in the 18thc.
• The myth of designer Poiret abolishing corsets debunked by 1906.
• Contemporary 17thc drawings of rather splendid palaces & country houses, and their gardens.
• Image: This 1722 phrasebook from a gentleman's pocket companion tells a story in French & Italian.
• An 18thc. sailor's possessions (and they weren't much.)
• Babies on display: when hospitals couldn't save premature infants, a Coney Island side-show did.
• How a twelve-year-old girl in 1930 gave the planet Pluto its name.
• The Michelangelo next door: David statue in front yard divides suburban neighborhood.
• Religion and the experience of sickness in the early modern world.
• Image: Stunning embellished 1957 shoes by Dior.
• "Wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day": beautiful letter to a stranger by author & essayist E.B. White.
• Georgian hair: fashionable but potentially fatal.
• Swimming on dry land, 1900.
• Image: Elegant beadwork on these Iroquois leggings.
• Heartbreaking video of what remains of Clandon Park, a once-beautiful 18thc. country house, after the fire earlier this year.
• A quick look through women's tennis fashions at Wimbledon.
• The experience of growing up in medieval society.
• When wellness was weird.
• Image: 1916 newspaper printed on poplar leaf to shame deadbeat subscribers.
• Mug shot fashion: late 19thc. female inmates of San Quentin prison and the hats they wore when arrested.
• When Scottish Fair Isle met traditional Vancouver Island motifs: the Cowichan Indian sweater.
• The pet parrot in 18th-19thc. art, literature, and history.
• Images: One of the most beautiful libraries in the world: inside the Pierpont Morgan Library Museum, New York.
• There's a million-dollar reward for finding Dorothy's missing Ruby Slippers.
• Image: A real patent found in the British Library. Think about that.... Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily. Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.
Because of how dramatically women's fashion has changed in the last hundred years, it's easy to overlook the transformation in menswear over the same time period. While this video can't cover everything - it's only three minutes long - it does hit the most dramatic styles. The handsome male model helps, too.
A side note: I'm willing to bet that most of you will accept the older looks, but question the more recent ones. I know that's something I do myself - remembering (or better yet, wearing) a fashion before it became "vintage" gives us a different perception and perspective, doesn't it?
If you receive our blog posts via email, you may be seeing only an empty space or a black box where the video should be. Click here to view today's video.
Readers of Regency era stories will have encountered pelisses from time to time, but not all will have a clear picture in mind.
According to Jane Ashelford’s The Art of Dress, “During the first five years of the nineteenth century the pelisse was half-way between an over-tunic* and a coat. It was usually made with long sleeves and a high waist, and was knee-length, extending to the ankles only after 1810.”**
For this quick tour of the pelisse world, you can thank alert reader Jill Sardella, who sent me to a set of blog posts about a pelisse believed to have belonged to Jane Austen, the project to reconstruct it, and the resulting article. The
garment is a historical mystery: Will we ever be absolutely certain it
was hers? My optimistic self believes that one of these days, a really
good portrait of Jane Austen will turn up somewhere. And so of course I
believe we’ll one day know definitely whether she wore this pelisse.
*I’ve seen the shorter lengths called “demi-pelisse.”
**The 1800 November fashion plate description reads: "Pelise of shot-silk, lined with pink. A ruff round the neck, and full at the bosom." You will note that it reaches the ground, which contradicts Ms. Ashelford's dating.
Image at top courtesy Internet Archive. Image below courtesy Google Books.
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.
As all of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram already know, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY on Monday. As usual, I went to the big shows and checked in on my "old friends" - favorite paintings and galleries that I've been enjoying since I was a teenager.
But there was also one special exhibition that made me ooh and ahh with delight. It was very small - a single tiny gallery with three display cases tucked away downstairs - and it didn't have international sponsors, audio guides, or flashing video displays.
Elaborate Embroidery: Fabrics for Menswear before 1815 was exactly what the title says: dozens of richly embroidered samples of velvets and silks for the elegant clothes worn by wealthy 18thc. European gentlemen. And wow, was it breathtaking! The exhibition runs only until July 19, 2015.
Formal menswear at this time had evolved to a standard three pieces: a coat, waistcoat, and breeches. Bright colored silks and velvets, rich silk embroidery, and sequin and paste jewel embellishments were not simply the mark of the male peacock - they were considered signs of wealth, power, and station, and they were required for evening wear and appearances at Court. The most skilled embroiderers were based in Paris, and the beauty and precision of their handiwork has never been rivaled.
The coat and waistcoat were the primary canvas for embroidered designs, with even the buttons (see here and here) making a fashion statement. The designs were embroidered on flat pieces by professional embroiderers, with the pieces then being made up into garments by tailors. These embroidered samples must have helped a gentleman make his choices, matching patterns, colors, fabrics, and degree of ornamentation. (Examples of finished garments here and here.)
There were a couple of the flat embroidered garments that had never been made up in the exhibition, as well as a copy of 1770's L'Art du Bordeur by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin c.1786, and a French scrapbook of designs that was probably a record of one shop's output, with each design numbered.
But the stars of the show were the embroidered swatches, with beautifully worked designs to suit every taste and pocketbook. I hope you'll click on the images to enlarge them and see the phenomenal detail - which will also bring them to about their actual size. The names of these master embroiderers may be long forgotten, but fortunately their exquisite work remains.
Here's a link to the Museum's blog about the exhibition for more information.
Some years ago, I visited an exhibition about Woody Guthrie. I hadn't high expectations. My folk-singing days were (luckily for the listening public) centuries behind me, and I thought I knew as much about him as
I needed to:He was a folk music hero, he was Arlo Guthrie’s father,
he was a strong early influence on Bob Dylan, and he wrote “This Land Is Your
The show was an eye-opener. Woody Guthrie turned out to be vastly more
interesting than I’d supposed. But I won’t attempt to summarize his short, extremely creative
life in a blog post. There’s abundant material in this Wikipedia entry, and this New Yorker review offers some insights and anecdotes.
Today, on his birthday, I just want to talk about the famous song. If you don’t
know it, you can find all kinds of versions on YouTube.
What you probably won’t find easily is a version
of “This Land is Your Land”containing the lyrics he originally wrote. It wasn't quite the paean to the U.S.A most of us assume it is.
One version of the last stanza is:
One bright sunny
morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.
As to the copyright, here's what he wrote: "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a
period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will
be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write
it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to
You can hear Woody Guthrie singing it here (minus that
Image: Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie, 1943
courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
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.
As Nerdy History Girls, we're always on the search for historical this-and-that to share with you. Museums, historical societies, and other public collections are our favorite hunting grounds, but auction houses, too, can often provide unique things worth sharing. Auctions often feature fine art and other pieces that are only briefly in the public eye; they're put up for sale by one private collector, then bought by another, then disappear once again.
This fantastic centerpiece for a dining table may soon fall into that category. Currently owned by a private collector, it's part of a large assembled table service from the early 19thc. that will be auctioned this week by Skinner, Incin Boston.
Standing an impressive 32 inches high (without candles!), the centerpiece is made of ormolu, a bronze alloy that was coated with a high-carat gold-mercury amalgam. Also known as gilt bronze, ormolu was popular in the 18th-19thc. for its opulence. It had all the flash of pure gold, but was less costly and substantial than all gold or gold over silver, and could be cast into all kinds of fanciful, showy shapes like this French tureen.
Opulence in dining was definitely on the upswing in the late 18thc. Most modern Americans eat at least one take-out meal a day, usually hastily consumed at the desk or in front of a TV or computer. To affluent Georgians, however, the last meal of the day was meant for lengthy display as well as lavish sustenance. Not only did the number of silver spoons, knives, and forks begin to increase, but decorative table pieces proliferated as well. Everything was calculated to display the wealth and taste of the host and hostess, and impress their guests.
There was even a fashionable change in how food was served, moving away from à la française (similar to modern family style service), where all the meal's dishes appeared on the table at once, to à la russe, where food was brought to the table by servants in courses. Sevice à la russe offered more table-space for decorative pieces like this centerpiece, as well as more wealth on display in the form of additional liveried footmen hurrying back and forth from the kitchen.
The design of this centerpiece is in the latest fashion. Not only are the trio of bacchante with grapes in the best classical tradition, but the three sphinx supporting the base reflect the new popularity of Egyptian motifs, spurred on both by recent archaeological discoveries and by Napoleon's Egyptian campaigns.
This centerpiece has several important names associated to it that many Regency fans will recognize. The centerpiece was made by the London firm of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, the most celebrated jewelers and goldsmiths of the era. It's also inscribed with the Royal coat of arms. The provenance provided to the current owner states in part that the centerpiece was "formerly the property of a Nobleman; given by George IV to Mrs. Fitzherbert." It's easy to imagine Prinny approving those three half-clad female figures holding the grapevine wreath and glass dish.
In addition to this centerpiece, the auction will include a pair of six-light candelabra, a pair of three-tier etageres, a pair of brûle-parfums (incense burners), and a surtout de table, a long mirrored centerpiece to reflect everything else. But you'll need deep pockets to dine like Regency royalty: the total pre-sale estimates for these pieces is about $42,000, and they will likely go for much more.
Update: The centerpiece did in fact go for more than the starting estimate of $8,000 - much more. At auction on July 18, it fetched an impressive $38,130. Prinny would be proud.
• Fashion and consumption during the first World War: fascinating on-line exhibition.
• A complicated case of 18thc. bigamy.
• A pair of portraits of Waterloo veteran Sir Richard Hussey Vivian - and the very different statements they make.
• An incredible American genre: "Lost Friends" ads published by ex-slaves searching for families and friends.
• Image: Marie-Antoinette's private library at the Petit Trianon at Versailles.
• Remembrance of things lost: are we forgetting the important things of our personal pasts?
• When science and fiction collided: the great moon hoax of 1835.
• "Prick't by Benedictus": blessed thistle and Much Ado About Nothing.
• What are under-servants offices in an 18th-19thc. household?
• Image: Sir Briggs, horse of Lord Tredegar of the 17th Lancers, ridden at Balaklava, 1854; Briggs survived the Charge of the Light Brigade & was unofficially knighted for his bravery.
• Bringing Thomas Jefferson's battered tombstone back to life.
• Creepy caves: the mystery of Mortimer's Tunnel.
• An unusual source for fashion history: church monuments.
• London Particular: how a fog named after a soup became a soup named after a fog.
• Image: Rotten Row in the 1890s.
• The revolution has been digitized: explore the oldest archive of radical posters relating to labor, civil liberites, feminism, anarchism, and other political movements.
• Nineteenth century dog names.
• A unique embroidered folding fan, 1590-1630.
• Amasa Delano, the Tryal, and the problem of racism in the early American Republic.
• How the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, came to be in 1764.
• Alexander Burnes: diplomat, spy, charmer, deceiver.
• Splendid resource: an online historical thesaurus.
• Image: Now this is a book cover!
• Photographing the real bodies of incorrupt saints.
• The original Tiffany & Co. factory in NYC, an 1864 brick building on Prince Street that still survives.
• How a desert snail spent years in the 19thc. glued to a specimen card in the British Museum before anyone realized it was still alive.
• Image: Because Victorian children's books never tired of the notion of incinerating their target audience.
• Vita Sackville-West's erotic poetry to her lover emerges after an "intoxicating night."
• American girls in early 20thc. cigarette cards.
• Inside the remains of the 14thc. Charnel House, the oldest building in Spitalfields, London.
• "I am afraid you must stop writing these little love letters to my husband while he and I live together": Literary treasures from the Harry Ransom Center, TX.
• Image: Just for fun: who writes novels? Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily. Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.
Social media has its faults, but it's also a wonderful boon to us Nerdy History folks. Not a day (ok, even an hour) goes by that I don't learn something new thanks to Twitter, FB, or Instagram.
This post will be the proof. Last night, I put a small detail shot, left, of one of my favorite paintings on my Instagram account, which then kicked over to my Facebook page, too. These two ladies and a child are from The North Terrace at Windsor Castle, Looking East, by Paul Sandby. I've stood before this painting many times at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's a sizable picture (see it here), nearly 40" x 50", and the figures - there are several more besides these three - are dwarfed by the castle's tower and the vast sky. But the figures are surprisingly detailed nonetheless, and I was able to take several close-up photos that could be enlarged for further study.
These close-ups offer some fascinating depictions of 1770s fashions, which is why I posted them for my costume-history friends. What I didn't expect was the wonderful online discussion that developed. I'm consolidating the results of this discussion here, to share it with our NHG readers as well. As always, click on the images to enlarge them.
The lady on the right is wearing a red gown with the skirts looped up over a matching petticoat. It's hard to tell if she's wearing a true polonaise gown, or simply copying the style. The white bands around her waist are the strings of her apron, tied in front. Aprons could be a high-fashion accessory, and though hers doesn't show, it's likely a fancy counterpart to her sheer white linen sleeve ruffs. Around her neck is a kerchief, probably linen or cotton, with a decorative edging (pleats?), and around her throat she's wearing a thin black ribbon that seems to have a white bow in the back.
But it's her bonnet, right, that makes the true fashion statement. Worn low over her eyes, it's probably made of white silk, and features a quarter-moon shaped bill with a full round caul and plenty of pleated ruffles. (Here's a similar modern replicavia Colonial Williamsburg.) Her hair appears lightly powdered, too, to give it that dusty-grey look.
The second lady, lowerleft, is dressed for stylish sight-seeing. She is wearing a burnt-orange Jesuit, a long, hooded jacket with a hood folded back on her shoulders, and buttons up the front. Worn for travel, Jesuits (and their cousins, Brunswicks) were often made of light silk. She has a white kerchief around her neck, and her extravagant ruffled cap seems to have a loop of ruffles beneath the chin, over the black ribbon around her throat. Her green parasol has a carved knob at the end of the handle. It appears that she's carrying a similar hooded garment for the child over her arm.
And that child, lower right, attracted the most discussion last night. I'd assumed at first that because of the ruffled cap, the child was a girl, but others suggested that instead it's a young boy. Eighteenth century. boys wore long gowns much like girls until they were "breeched" (dressed in the same style breeches worn by adult men), usually between the ages of three and six; boys of higher rank were breeched later, sometimes being as old as eight. The close-fitting, collarless jacket that the child-who-may-be-a-boy is wearing would have been considered male. It's also vaguely like a 16th or 17thc. doublet, with a soft linen collar and what may be puffs of the shirt beneath pulled through the front opening, a romantic homage to the past that was very popular in the later 18thc. On the other hand, the child is tall to be an unbreeched boy, so she may instead be a girl, dressed in a 16thc. Mary Stuart-inspired jacket.
So that's what we decided about the dress of these "supporting" figures - but feel free to add any observations or thoughts of your own as a comment. I'd love to learn more!
Many thanks to all the contributors to this post: Angela Trowbridge Burnley, Sharon Burnston, Mark Hutter, Hallie Larkin, Samantha McCarty, Cassidy Percoco, Connie Bitz Unangst, Ruth Verbunt, Katy Werlin, Chris Woodyard. The North Terrace at Windsor Castle, Looking East, by Paul Sandby, c. 1775-1780, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The heats of the season now impose the necessity of occasionally substituting a light vegetable diet for the more solid gratification of animal food ... Cauliflowers, artichokes, green-peas, French-beans, Windsor* and other garden beans, frequently form a conspicuous part of the family dinner, to which butcher’s meat, in moderate quantities, may be said to serve merely as an auxiliary stimulant. Ham, bacon, and tongues, as well as ducks and geese, are the most seasonable viands for this purpose ... On festive occasions venison and turtle retain their pre-eminent station at the tables of the opulent, where also the fawn ... forms an elegant dish, when roasted whole and served up with rich gravy. Veal, having now been fed on milk, in its richest state, is peculiarly fine and well flavoured; but care should be taken that it be delivered fresh to the cook, as it is more liable to suffer from the heat of the weather and from flies than any other kind of meat. Ragouts of sweetbreads, oxpalates, lambs’ bits, fat livers, and cocks’-combs, are among the light dishes introduced at superior tables; where also various preparations of curry afford a delectable repast to those who have acquired a taste for this Indian diet. ... ... a plenteous and varied dessert presents itself at this season; consisting of pines, melons, peaches, cherries, grapes, currants, gooseberries and raspberries, as well as early apples and pears. Fruit is certainly most salubrious in hot weather; but, if the opinion be well founded that it does most good when taken before dinner, the dessert ought to take place of that spurious meal called lunch, which, being usually made of animal food, too often banishes the appetite irrecoverably for the day.
For a holiday weekend, these last few days have had their share of excitement, from fireworks, Wimbledon, and women's World Cup Soccer. But there was also a much quieter event on Sunday afternoon that had special appeal to us who like history and tradition. Two-month-old Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was baptized at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, surrounded by doting family, paparazzi, and a cheering crowd of royal supporters.
There has been plenty already written about how the princess cried, what her mother wore, and how her older brother had a small meltdown at the end of the day (as two-year-olds are entirely entitled to do, princely or not.) Of course the little princess made history simply by being born: thanks to recent changes in the laws of succession, she is the first British princess who cannot be displaced by any future younger brothers, and is now officially fourth in line for the throne. Considering how well Britain has done - and continues to do - under its queens, this is a fine thing indeed.
But I was fascinated by one of the lesser historical features of the christening that no cameras were permitted to capture. In fact, its very arrival in Sandringham from the Tower of London (where it is considered part of the Crown Jewels) was so shrouded in secrecy and high-level security that the man personally responsible for its care has never had his photograph taken with it, in case he might be identified and linked to the priceless treasure's whereabouts.
The Lily Font has been used for all royal baptisms since 1840. Made of silver gilt, the elaborate font features a design of water lilies (lilies in general represent purity, and water lilies are considered a symbol of new life) and harping putti (because putti are babies.) The font was ordered through the firm of E.&W.Smith, and made by Barnard & Co., at the sizable cost of £189 9s.4.d.
The font was ordered by Queen Victoria for the birth of her first child, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, who was born November 21, 1840; her baptism was not until February 10, 1841, her parents' wedding anniversary. That ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace, and earned the Queen's praise: "Albert and I agreed that all had gone off beautifully and in a very dignified manner."
Dignity was important to both Victoria and Albert. The Lily Font was not the first royal silver baptismal font. An earlier one had been made for Charles II in the 1660s. Unfortunately, Charles and his queen, Catherine of Braganza, had had no children between them, but the font had been put to good use for the christenings of a number of his illegitimate children with various mistresses. Not surprisingly, this association was distasteful to Victoria, who did not want her children to use the same font as Charles's royal by-blows - no matter how many other legitimate royal children had made use of it in the 18thc.
Princess Victoria was duly baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with water brought from the River Jordan, exactly as Princess Charlotte was this weekend. From the news photos, the current royal family seemed every bit as happy with the results as Victoria and Albert had been.
Still, one wag wrote in a letter to The Telegraph (London): "Does an archbishop using water from the river Jordan in the Lily Font make you more christened than any old vicar using tap water in a stone trough?" Well, no; but it certainly must have made for a beautiful and history-laden ceremony.
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.