Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holiday Break

Sunday, December 20, 2015
Holiday greeting card
Loretta & Isabella report:

As mentioned on Friday, we’re taking our annual break from social media to enjoy in-person holiday festivities with our families. We’ll be back on the first Monday of 2016, and we hope you’ll rejoin us as we begin yet another nerdy history year. Thank you for continuing to encourage us!

We wish you the most joyous of holiday seasons and a New Year filled with all kinds of good things, historical and otherwise.

Image of what is apparently a news carrier’s greeting card—appropriate, we thought, for the 2NHG bringers of old news. Dated between 1880-90. Image 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.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of December 14, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015
Breakfast Links on Friday? Why not? Loretta and I are heading off on our annual holiday break from the blog and the rest of social media, but I couldn't go away without posting one more round of Breakfast Links. You're just getting them a bit early this week.
• What greed put asunder (a stunning 13thc. missal) scholarship can reunite.
• The untold story of the hairbrush.
• How Thomas Jefferson learned architecture.
• Piecing together the life of centenarian Mary Hicks (died 1870), who spent the last 27 years of her long life as an inmate in the Brentford Workhouse.
• Ten of England's most beautiful and historical synagogues.
Image: Amazing photo of a woman cleaning casks for Tennents Brewery during World War One.
• The science of life and death in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Exploring Hyde Park's hidden pet cemetery.
Are longer words falling out of use because of texting and social media?
• Did you read this series? The Cherry Ames nurse books, published between 1943-1968.
• Dissecting the dream of the 1890s: A skype-date with those curious neo-Victorians.
An American historian meets the American Girl dolls.
Image: This unpicked 19thc bodice of 18thc silk brocade is equally stunning on the reverse side, where the weave creates a stripe.
• Clothes make the woman: a century of Chinese women and what they wore.
• Victorian adventures and terrible tales: the Illustrated Police News.
The historical stories that make Revolutionary War researchers laugh.
We can dream: some seriously amazing holiday party dresses from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The other Boleyn girl's daughter.
• A pair of stunning mid-19thc. papier mache bookbindings with mother of pearl here and here.
A Georgian farting club.
Did falsified medieval history help create feminism?
• The snowflake man from Vermont produced the first photographs of snowflakes in 1885.
Image: Carbonized bread from Herculaneum, 79 CE.
• The poignant last letter of Mary Queen of Scots before her execution.
• Designer Jacqueline Durran's 11thc-style costumes for the latest film version of Macbeth.
• The Georgian circulating library.
• How an intern saved a museum by discovering this Revolutionary War treasure in the attic.
• Just for fun: cartoonish Kate Beaton draws the painter J.M.W.Turner and some of this artistic contemporaries.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Shopping in 1833

Thursday, December 17, 2015
Hunt, A Lady Reading
Loretta reports:

In the early 19th century, Christmas wasn’t even close to the gigantic consumer event it is today. “20 Great Gift Ideas Under $25” or “50 Must-Have Gifts under $100” or some other list didn’t appear in every periodical, and holiday sales were not ubiquitous. Or even existent, apparently.

But sellers did offer a gentle nudge here and there. In the advertising pages of the December 1833 Court Journal, I came upon these.

Painting: William Henry Hunt, A Lady Reading (aka A Lady Reading; Mrs.

William Hunt), ca. 1835, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recreating Emily Dickinson's 1883 Black Cake

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Last week, quite by accident, I attended a 185th birthday party for American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). While visiting Harvard's Houghton Library to see their current exhibition (more about that in a future post), I was invited to join the festivities by friend-of-the-blog Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger at Houghton. How could I resist?

Such a celebration wasn't surprising. The Emily Dickinson Collection at Houghton is the largest in the world devoted to the poet, and contains everything from hand-stitched manuscript copies of her poems to the small desk on which she wrote them. But the centerpiece of this party wasn't a  poem. It was a recipe.

Emily Dickinson's handwritten recipe for Black Cake - the name comes from the dark color created by the ingredients - is a typical 19thc. cake for holidays and celebrations, rich in dried fruit and spices and laced with equal parts of molasses and rum. It's also dauntingly large, requiring nineteen eggs (!) and producing over twelve pounds of batter.

Two intrepid members of Houghton's staff recreated the recipe in all its glory (and beat all those eggs by hand) for the party. Emilie Hardman, Research, Instruction, and Digital Initiatives Librarian and Emily Walhout, Reference Assistant, are the stars of the above video, showing exactly how they made the cake - or rather, several cakes, since the amount of batter exceeded any modern cake pans.

Much like the Rich Cake for Twelfth Night that I featured here last week, this cake needed a month to "mature" and meld the flavors and alcohol. It was worth the wait: I can report that the cake was absolutely delicious, and as  you can see, left, I wasn't the only one to think so.

If you want to try the cake yourself, here's the digital version of Emily Dickinson's original handwritten recipe, and here's the post from Houghton Library's blog with more information about the cake.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Cost of Fashion

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Loretta reports:

In response to a recent fashion post, a reader asked, “What class of women could afford this cape? What was the cost of fashion and what fabrics were used to create the cape?”

High fashion was expensive then and it’s expensive today. La Belle Assemblée, where those plates came from, was aimed at upper class women. A very rough analogy would be today’s Vogue or Harpers Bazaar. The fashions are mainly for wealthy women.

The Regency History site provides some LBA prices in the Regency era here. And Mike Rendell has info here. On my own, I found that LBA in 1826 cost 3 shillings. Ackermann’s Repository cost 4s. In 1833 The Royal Lady’s Magazine sold for 2s 6d.

Compare this to the Ladies Cabinet of Fashion which sold for 6d. The Lady's Pocket Magazine, the source of the fashion plates on this page, was another low-priced magazine. These were smaller, and the plates weren’t cruder. But the low price indicates readers at a lower economic level, who still wanted fashionable clothing. Basically, this would mean using less expensive material, since labor costs were negligible.

In Nicholas Nickleby,* a seamstress’s terms of employment are as follows: “Our hours are from nine to nine**with extra work when we’re very full of business, for which I allow payment as overtime ... I should think your wages would average from five to seven shillings a week; but I can’t give you any certain information on that point until I see what you can do.”

But a seamstress is a lowly position. How about this ad from The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser for February 1835?
A widow and her daughter, Members of the Church of England, to undertake the Management of the GIRLS’ CHARITY SCHOOL, in this Town, and the Instruction of the Children. Piety, Ability, and Activity are necessary qualifications; and references as to these must be given, as well as to general Respectability of Character ... Salary. £ 52. 10s. a year.

I also happened on this:
“Ladies fashionable Side-laced Boots, Black and Coloured, 4s 6d to 5s6d per pair.”—Brighton Patriot and Lewes Free Press etc. Tuesday, August 18, 1835

A pair of those shoes would take a sizable chunk of Kate’s weekly wages.

I couldn’t track down Luxmore. What I did find was:
"Luxor—A soft, ribbed silk satin: used as dress fabric: also an obsolete French woolen dress goods."— Louis Harmuth, Dictionary of Textiles.

Since this post is already too long, I'll continue with fabric costs and wages at another time.
*Dickens, who was a journalist at heart, tends to be pretty reliable in terms of living and working conditions.
**Six days a week.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

From the Archives: Mistletoe Madness, 1796

Sunday, December 13, 2015
Isabella reporting:

In modern holiday celebrations, mistletoe has become something of a kitsch-y joke, the inevitable prop for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus humor.

But in the 1790s, when the print, left, was published, mistletoe still had an aura of wickedness, even danger. The ancient Druidic traditions linking mistletoe and fertility had not been forgotten, and kissing beneath the mistletoe was thought to lead to more promiscuity, or even - shudder! - marriage.

Certainly the four merry young  couples in this print appear to be enjoying themselves. Some scholarly descriptions refer to this as a dance scene, and perhaps it does show nothing more than a particularly rollicking country dance.

Still, I can't help but think that at any moment some stern-faced, indignant elder is going to appear in the doorway and demand to know what exactly is going on down here. I'm guessing the artist thought that, too, from the caption he added to the bottom: "Whilst Romp loving Miss is haul'd about/With gallantry robust." (The attribution to Milton is incorrect; the line is from a poem by the 18th c. Scottish poet James Thomson.) In any event, there's no doubt that these are romp-loving misses being haul'd about by their robust gallants. No wonder Christmas mistletoe was so popular!

Above: The mistletoe, or, Christmas gambols, by Edward Penny, 1796, London. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of December 7, 2015

Saturday, December 12, 2015
It's time for Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other articles, images, blogs, and websites via Twitter.
• Poignant and evocative: original recordings of Irish soldiers' songs, made in German prisoner of war camps during World War One.
• Hold the butter! A brief history of gorging.
• Charming letter from Santa to Mark Twain's three-year-old daughter (though Santa sounds suspiciously like Mark Twain....)
Bearded ladies, on display.
• Strikingly modern ancient textiles.
• An unusual quiz: which medieval torture method would you use on your enemies?
• For the holidays: how to prepare a turkey in pre-Revolutionary America.
Image: Falstaff in an 1823 fore edge painting.
• An appalling trail of historical distortion: how the African victims of the Zong Massacre were replaced by "Irish slaves."
• When was the London Season?
• The erotics of shaving in Victorian Britain.
Indian chintz: a legacy of luxury around the world.
• The humble petitioners of 18thc London.
• Medieval spam: the oldest advertisements for books.
Image: Dragoon helmet, First Troop, Philadelphia City Calvary, 1835
• The 19thc. motherhood trap: why were so few Victorian women writers also mothers?
• Witches and grandma's tomato sauce.
• To consider next time you're in a store: what fashion mannequins say about us.
• Important historical question: do you have a barber?
Image: Someone was naughty: child-sized hands traced on the pages of an 1852 book.
• In 1816 England, the pillory was used to punish sodomy, pimping, fraud, perjury, and theft that involved breach of trust.
• Shoe and plaster cast of a Chinese woman's bound foot c1890.
• How the tiny island of Nantucket became the 19thc. whaling capital of the world.
• The history of the hamburger.
Image: The Library Company's amazing suggestion box with a lion's mouth, c1750.
• Fifteenth century recipes to entertain in an Exeter cathedral library manuscript.
• Norman Cross, French Prisoner of War camp in Huntingdonshire, begun in 1796.
• First-person account of what it was like to be a poor Victorian child attending a "ragged school."
• Two women physicians appear in the illustrations of this 14thc. manuscript, and here's a female medical student shown in another 14thc. manuscript.
• Photos of soldiers' inventories showcase 1,000 years of fighting gear.
• Exploring Hyde Park's hidden pet cemetery.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Shall We Dance?

Friday, December 11, 2015
Loretta reports:

“Zoom zoom, zoom zoom
The world is in a mess ...”

So it is, and so begins the song “Slap that Bass,” which Fred Astaire sang in 1937’s Shall We Dance.

He appears quite often in this video, as he ought, along with many other of my favorite singers/dancers from the movies’ golden age. During the 1930s, musicals offered hours of happy escape from a very difficult world. In that spirit, and the spirit of the holidays, I offer this delightful mashup, wherein great talents of an earlier generation move beautifully to music of our time.

With thanks to author Candice Hern, who posted this on Facebook, and brightened my  day.

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

From the Archives: Time to Bake Your Rich Cake for Twelfth Night

Thursday, December 10, 2015
Isabella reporting:

A worthy repeat post for seasonal celebrations from our archives....

If you were the cook for a great house in the 17th-early 19th centuries, or simply a woman who lived in a sufficiently prosperous household, you'd be baking your Rich Cake, left, for Twelfth Night celebrations now. The Christmas holidays were also a popular time for weddings,and the Rich Cake would be the wedding cake of choice, too.

Celebratory cakes of the past were not the frothy, towering constructions of piped and colored icing that they are now. What made them festive was the lavishness of their ingredients, not their outer display. These cakes would be rich with eggs and butter and sugar, candied fruit and costly imported spices, brandy and sherry. With eggs as the only leavening, the texture would be dense to modern tastes, more of a cross between our pound cake and a fruit cake. But because the ingredients were fresh (or freshly ground), there'd be none of the chemical-preservative flavor that makes many 21st century fruitcakes such bad jokes.

Rich Cakes were often baked in a Turk's-head pan, shaped much like contemporary Bundt pans. Once unmolded, they could be wrapped in cloth and soaked with more liquor to develop their flavor and moistness. By the time the cakes were served in late December or January, they would truly be worth their star status on the holiday table.

During a recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg, the cooks in the kitchen of the Governor's Palace were baking the Rich Cakes for Twelfth Night. I was there for the final unmolding, right, a process that apparently involves exactly the same held-breaths and crossed fingers familiar to modern bakers. But as you can see, the cake slipped free with nary a crumb left behind.

If you'd like to try making a Rich Cake yourself, Colonial Williamsburg has put the recipe that they use (from Hannah Glasse's classic 18th c. cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy) on their Historic Foodways site. In case the non-specific nature of an 18th c. recipe is too daunting, the site provides a modern version, too.

Photographs ©2012 Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt, the Bears, & the Oaks

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Loretta reports:

During my recent visit to the Historic Paine Estate’s Holiday Open House,

I came upon a small room filled with teddy bears. Of course I wondered what this had to do with the Paine family—or was it simply holiday décor?

A little of both, it turns out.

The name “teddy bear” derives from an incident involving Theodore Roosevelt and a bear he refused to shoot.

But what did Theodore Roosevelt have to do with the Paines?

The clue lies in this wedding invitation (recently discovered, if I remember correctly*). It’s tricky trying to take photos of objects under glass, and we had a very sunny day. But the invitation reads:

“Mrs. and Mrs. George C. Lee request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their daughter, Wednesday, October Twenty-seventh at Twelve o’clock, Unitarian Church, Brookline.”

Mr. and Mrs. Lee’s Daughter was Alice Hathaway Lee. The Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the DAR, whose chapter house this is, did some research and learned that she was a great-great-great-granddaughter of Judge Timothy Paine. This is an invitation to her wedding to Theodore Roosevelt in 1880. Sadly, she died on Valentine’s Day 1884, two days after giving birth to the formidable Alice Lee Roosevelt.

I thought the teddy bear display was a charming way to celebrate the holiday as well as the Roosevelt-Paine connection—just one example of the discoveries and intriguing network of history related to this lovely old house.

*You can find out more here about the intriguing bits of history that turn up in the Oaks.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dancing Days, 1810 and 1913

Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Over the weekend I spotted his illustration, above, on the Instagram account of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. (As always, click on the image to enlarge it.) The illustration was drawn by George Barbier for the Journal des dames at des modes in 1913. The title translates to "The Madness of the Day," referring to the new dance crazes that were both wilder and more athletic than those of the generation before, as the scandalized older couple on the right make clear.

But there's more than just the dancing to earn their disapproval: the women's fashionable figures are slender and boyish, and their revealing evening clothes are not only cut to show more than a flash of ankle, but are worn without the sturdy corseting of the past. The men are equally slender, and sleekly androgynous with their pink cheeks and slicked back hair. The couples are elegant and stylish, and determined to turn their backs on the past as they represent the new generation.

Yet they also reminded me of another pair of couples from a hundred years before. In the 1810 print La Walse: Le Bon Genre by James Gillray, these dancers are also engaged in a scandalous new dance - the waltz - that has them touching one another with then-shocking freedom. They're wearing trendy, revealing clothing, cut narrowly close to the body, that was a complete departure from the stiff formality of the 18th c. The women wear neither stays nor hoops, and instead embrace the "modern", more slender silhouette. All four of them are so dedicated to the new fashions and dance that they've earned consideration by Gillray's scathing pen.

I also spotted another small similarity between these two illustrations: there are tassels swinging from the hems of dresses in both. I'm sure you can find others. Since fashion tends to run in cycles, none of this is surprising, and I'm certain that somewhere out there is a caricature c.2015, drawn on an iPad or other tablet, that shows a pair of lithe young couples in body-conscious clothing, swept away by the rhythm of the latest trance music in the club....

Top: La Folie du Jour, by George Barbier, Journal des dames at des modes, 1913. Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Below: La Walse: Le Bon Genre, print by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 1810. The British Museum.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Grimstone's Eye Snuff

Monday, December 7, 2015
Loretta reports:

I came upon this advertisement while looking for something else. Mr. Grimstone has created a cure for eye ailments as well as headaches. Well, they can go together. The interesting part was the snuff—non-tobacco, by the way.

A little further research showed me that mine might have been one of Mr. Grimstone’s earlier ads, that his eye-snuff was a household word often employed for comic purposes in novels
and in magazines like Punch, and that he was harassed by the excise people. That last link will take you to quite the tale of woe.

A Cyclopedia of Domestic Medicine says “Grimstone’s eye-snuff ... is of service in many cases of chronic ophtalmia.”

Others call it quack medicine. The Quack Doctor offers a neat summary of Grimstone's patent medicine career here.

Image: Four eyes. Drawing, c. 1794, from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust,

Text clipping is from my copy (courtesy author Candice Hern) of The Ladies’ Cabinet for what we believe is February 1836.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of November 30, 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015
It's time for Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other articles, images, blogs, and websites via Twitter.
• Sartorial dissections: clothes in the early 20thc photographs of Christina Broom.
• How a design student transformed traditional Hungarian needlework patterns into beautiful music.
• A man-cave for an Enlightenment gentleman.
Coconuts weren't as rare in medieval England as Monty Python & the Holy Grail wanted you to think.
• The dangers of fringed gloves.
Image: The Flapper magazine, 1922: "not for old fogies."
• Did you save that lucky wishbone from Thanksgiving? This one was embellished with a diamond and a pearl!
Haberdashery trade cards from the 18th-19thc.
• Protecting Grace Darling's coble.
• Diamond jewelry was very rare in 18thc. America, but Martha Washington wore this multi-stone ring - with a secret.
• Conserving the 200-year-old Kinfauns Castle recipe book.
Image: From National Button Day: a 19thc button with a design of woven hair in different shades.
• There's both a tech conference and a navy destroyer named after this person - yet you've never heard of her.
• There really was a Winnie-the-Pooh - a female bear cub from Winnipeg, Canada, brought to England at the start of World War One.
• An intricately inlaid 17thc. cabinet for holding stationary and writing instruments.
• The rise and fall of the military moustache.
Image: Melodramatic book covers from 1880s-90s pulp fiction.
• A recipe to try with 17thc. origins: cinder toffee.
• The original 1807 Nelson's Needle monument near Portsmouth was paid for by the crew of HMS Victory.
• How a 19thc Finnish librarian decoded the world's folklore.
• Won't someone save this scandalously neglected French chateau?
Image: An ingeneous folding trunk bed.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Challenge to Modern Needleworkers from 1796

Friday, December 4, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Loretta and I often share things from women's magazines of the past. One of the earliest and most important ones was the Lady's Magazine, first published in 1770. Like women's magazines today, the contents of the Georgian Lady's Magazine included fashion tips, entertaining fiction, society gossip, and music. It also included patterns for embroidery, an important feature in an era when a lady's accomplishments usually included skilled needlework.

But while many issues of the Lady's Magazine are available online and through libraries and other collections, those needlework patterns are often missing. This makes sense - any needleworker who wished to replicate the designs would have pulled them from the magazine and tucked them into her workbag - but it's frustrating for modern readers.

One of our-blog friends, Dr. Jennie Batchelor, is leading a two-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and based at the University of Kent. Titled The Lady's Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre, the project will be studying the importance of the Lady's Magazine, and aims to shed new light on its role as one of the longest-running women's magazines of all time. Recently Dr. Batchelor was given a copy of the July half-year issue for 1796 (you can read her account of that acquisition  here). Miraculously, the issue included the needlework patterns.

Now here's the challenge. Dr. Batchelor and her team generously scanned these patterns, and are making them available for free as actual-size jpgs here. In return, they'd like to see how the patterns inspire modern craftspeople. While those of you who are re-enactors or who enjoy replicating historic dress might copy the patterns literally - of course your Significant Other needs that New Pattern for a Gentleman's Cravat! - but don't feel you must be limited to traditional embroidery. Perhaps you see the patterns as inspiration for a hooked pillow cover, a quilting motif, or beading on the sleeve of a jean jacket. Dr. Batchelor would love to see your work, and will share the best along with your stories on the project blog.

Be creative, and follow in the footsteps of your needleworking sisters from the Georgian era!

Top: "A New Pattern for a Winter Shawl, engraved for the Lady's Magazine", 1796.
Bottom: Emma Cross stitching in the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg. Photograph © Susan Holloway Scott.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fanny Bullock Workman Climbs the Himalayas

Thursday, December 3, 2015
Loretta reports:

[Note: Due to my brain's temporary—I hope— malfunction, this post accidentally ran in Monday's email. I do beg your pardon for the seeming repeat, but I did mean it for today.]

During my Halloween visit to Worcester’s Rural Cemetery, I happened upon this unusual gravestone. And so of course I took a closer look, and boy, was I surprised.

As you might expect, the gravestone was only the tip of the iceberg (sorry). A search took me to an extensive Wikipedia biography of Fanny Workman Bullock.
She turns out to be the famous one, appearing in at least a dozen books, along with having written several of her own, with her husband. He, by the way, doesn’t even get a Wikipedia page.

I am not going to attempt to condense the extensive story because I wouldn’t know what to leave out.  In a nutshell, along with being a mountaineer who climbed the Himalayas in the early 1900s, she was a Suffragist and a New Woman.

I’ll excerpt one little bit:
 Fanny led them across the Sia La pass (18,700 feet or 5,700 metres) near the head of the Siachen Glacier and through a previously unexplored region to the Kaberi Glacier. This exploration and the resulting book were among her greatest accomplishments. As she wrote in her book about the trip, Two Summers in the Ice-Wilds of Eastern Karakoram, she organized and led this expedition: "Dr. Hunter Workman accompanied me, this time, in charge with me of commissariat and as photographer and glacialist, but I was the responsible leader of this expedition, and on my efforts, in a large measure, must depend the success or failure of it". At one 21,000-foot (6,400 m) plateau, Fanny unfurled a "Votes for Women" newspaper and her husband snapped an iconic picture.
Fanny Workman & Tent
Fanny at 21,000 feet

Fanny & William Workman

Photos of Workman gravestone by Walter M. Henritze III.

Fanny & Tent and Fanny & William, both from The Call of the Snowy Hispar 1911.  On Silver Throne plateau at nearly 21,000 feet, 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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Stylish Pair of Red & Green Brocaded Wool Shoes, c1735

Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I saw these 18thc. shoes earlier this year as part of the exhibition Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories 1750-1850 held by the Portsmouth (NH) Athenaeum. I've written about other shoes and garments from the show (here, here, and here), but there's something about the cheerful red and green brocade of this pair that made me want to share them now in December.

These shoes are made not of silk, but of wool brocade. Long-wearing and easily dyed, wool was a popular choice for women's shoes in the 18thc., but not many survive in modern collections. Wool is a protein-fiber that's a tasty treat for moths, and while these shoes have been expertly conserved, there is still moth damage along the sides and fronts that reveals the linen lining. The shoes would have been fastened with buckles through the straps across the top of the foot; buckles were considered fashion accessories that were switched from pair to pair.

These were fashionable shoes, too. Not only was the brocade expensive, but the high, curving heels were more stylish than practical, and it's likely the shoes belonged to a wealthy woman. While their complete history isn't known, the label pasted inside one of the shoes shows they were made by John Hose, a prominent London cordwainer (shoemaker) whose shoes were imported to the American colonies. The shoes are "straights," without a defined left or right, and were probably not bespoke, but bought from the shopkeeper who had imported them.

There's another clue that these shoes were valued. Look closely at the vamp, below the straps, in the photo, right. At some point, the shoes were widened with a gusset, an inset piece of solid-colored cloth. Did the original owner need the additional room because of pregnancy, age, or illness? Or were the alterations made by a later owner? No matter the reason, the shoes were clearly important enough to the wearer to have them carefully adjusted for longer wear - a very different philosophy from today's "fast fashion."

Many thanks to our good friend Kimberly Alexander for assistance with this post. For more information about these shoes and many others, stayed tuned for her upcoming book Georgian Shoe Stories From Early America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.)

Above: Women's shoes, made by John Hose & Son, London, c1730-40s. Collection, Historic Deerfield, Inc.
Top photo courtesy of Historic Deerfield, Inc. Bottom photo ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Fashions for December 1835

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Loretta reports:

Because the events of Dukes Prefer Blondes *occur through the second half of 1835, I was on the hunt for fashions for that time period. This led me to purchase my very own copy of La Belle Assemblée. Being accustomed to viewing fashion plates online, I was stunned by the quality of the originals. While my scans are little nicer quality than some Google Book scans of LBA, they are still not nearly as fine as the originals, alas. Also, sleeves get cut off, because of the book binding.

Please note the “violet satin cloak”—I am not quite clear what the description of the cape means, but it might explain why the lady’s right arm seems to come through an opening in the cape and her left seems to be underneath this garment.


Walking Dress.
A cloak of Luxmore, of a bright brown, with a rich pattern in black; it is made as a pelisse, fitting closely to the figure, excepting the sleeves, which hang full from the shoulders. A dress of pale lilac cachemire, bonnet of sapphire blue velvet.
Standing Figure.
Cloak of violet satin, embroidered round with a light pattern of bright chenille, a deep cape lined with velvet; the cape finishes at the shoulder, and turning back, forms a second in velvet. Dress of green cachemire, bonnet of black velvet, trimmed with ponçeau, and black and ponçeau vulture feathers.
Sitting Figure.
A morning dress of cinnamon satin, wraps to the side, is bordered entirely round with a double edge of velvet scalloped. Pelerine to correspond, a simple cap of blonde lace tied with cerise riband, the borders rather wide and full round the face, and supported by chrysanthemum.

*on sale 29 December!

Please click on images to enlarge.
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