Saturday, January 30, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of January 25, 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Intriguing book digitalized for online reading: Barrington's New London Spy for 1809, or, The Frauds of London Detected.
• Which came first: the product or the L'eggs?
• Smoking little Josiah: mandatory fumigating with brimstone against smallpox in 1775 Boston.
Amelia Earhart's cautiously optimistic advice to an aspiring female pilot in 1933.
• Looking closely at a young New York woman's early 19thc. diary.
Image: Another needlework pattern - for aprons or neckerchiefs - from the Lady's Magazine, 1786.
• Posthumous portraiture in 19thc. America.
• The unexpected beauty to be found in America's last surviving textile mills.
• Remains of an early African-American burial ground discovered in NYC beneath a Harlem bus station.
• Lustful looks: signs of venery in John Ward's 17thc diaries.
Image: The Swell's Night Guide to the Bowers of Venus.
• Brighten up a dull winter day by carrying a little bouquet of bright flowers in this 19thc silver holder.
• Mr. A. Watkins and the touring bee van.
• Why (and how) does an 18thc fictional character have a grave in the cemetery of NYC's Trinity Church?
• Ranch dressing: what to wear to a dude ranch in the 1930s.
Image: Tudor rose, Canterbury Cathedral.
• A mysterious ritual burial for two horses killed serving in the War of 1812.
• The arches of Madison Square Park in New York.
• Paper dolls and ready-to-wear brought flapper fashions to the masses in the 1920s.
Monsters and moral panic in 18th-19thc London.
• The kitchen is the heart of the home: why these two slave cabins matter.
Image: When you want to fight, but your horses just want to hug it out.
• Life in the King's Bench Prison.
• What they left behind: things people keep to remember their deceased loved ones.
• Somewhere between history and style: the eccentric beauty of Malplaquet House.
• Just for fun: "When you're rich, and when you're poor" from Mad Magazine, 1977, and still too true.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Video: Sights and Sounds of Paris in the 1700s

Friday, January 29, 2016
Loretta reports:

The closest we Nerdy History Girls come to time travel is exercising our imaginations, based on  what we find in historical materials. As to actual time travel—I’m not sure I want to go there without inoculations against a host of diseases. Also, I’m not sure how well I’d cope with the smells. My fantasy is a sort of bubble, in which I’m invisible to others, and which contains a translation device that allows me to understand what people are saying. This would include speakers of English, whose pronunciation not only varies depending on locale, but has also changed over time.

While not in English, this video gives a hint of what it might be like in that bubble, walking through a part of Paris in the 1700s.*

*My thanks to author Lauren Willig, whose Facebook post I stole it from.

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, January 28, 2016

Saving Local History and the 18thc Covered Wagon Inn

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Isabella reporting,

I live in Chester County, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. Independence Hall, Carpenters' Hall, and the Liberty Bell are forty or so miles to the east, and Valley Forge National Park is the proverbial stone's throw away.

Although the county is a region almost embarrassingly rich in 18thc. history, there aren't as many surviving buildings as you might think. Part of this is the nature of that past - most of 18thc. Chester County was farmland - plus the usual hazards to old structures of fire and strong weather, but the largest threat has always been progress. Just as that 17thc. developer William Penn looked at the colonial wilderness and envisioned his famous "Green Countrie Townes" replacing forests, so his later counterparts were - and are - every bit as eager to wipe out yesterday for the sake of a more profitable present.

The photograph, above, shows the Covered Wagon Inn in Strafford, PA, built around 1780 as a way station for travelers and commercial traffic on the busy road between Philadelphia and Lancaster. Beyond that, it's not famous. It doesn't have landmark status. It's not even a particularly striking example of vernacular architecture, and besides, the interiors were gutted long ago to convert it into a modern restaurant (it's currently the showroom for a furniture maker.) But the Inn is a tangible link to a long-gone Chester County, and a vivid reminder that, however fast we're whizzing along Route 30 today, we're only about seven generations removed from the 18thc. Pennsylvanians who stopped here for a meal and to water their horses.

It's also a reminder that may soon be gone. The Covered Wagon Inn has the misfortune to sit on a valuable corner lot, and there are plans to replace it with a CVS drug store. Although the lot is large enough to work around the Inn, the CVS representatives are adamant: they want that corner so the new store can have a drive-thru window. They can't see an imaginative way to incorporate the old Inn into their plans. Their architect promises to honor the memory of the old inn by incorporating a stone wall into the store's design.

That's not enough. Surprisingly, local preservation laws to save the Inn don't exist. But people who care about local history are trying to persuade the town supervisors, the real estate company holding the property, and CVS to change their plans and save the Inn. No one expects a historically accurate restoration or recreation, but rather a historically sensitive plan to preserve and incorporate the Inn into a modern commercial use for the corner. You can read more about the efforts here. You can follow the Inn on Facebook here, and you can sign the Change petition here. I'd appreciate it if you do.

But more importantly, I hope you'll take a long look at the links to the past in your own neighborhood. So many need your help, and perseverance and creative thinking are the only ways to keep the past as part of the present, and the future. Because once that old house, or shop, or tavern, or mill, or bridge, or whatever it may be, is gone, it's gone forever.

UPDATE, 5/20/16: The Covered Wagon Inn looks like it has had a reprieve - read more here.

Above: The Covered Wagon Inn, photograph via Google street view.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mr. Curtis's Acoustic Chair

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Curtis's Acoustic Chair
Loretta reports:

While researching another topic entirely, I came upon Mr. Curtis’s Acoustic Chair. This is another of the items that were familiar enough to people at the time to become the subject of witticisms, while being completely new to me.

“Mr. Curtis, about 1830, by the aid of several mechanics, brought out his acoustic chair, which was stated to possess such wondrous power, that His Majesty could sit in his palace, at Windsor, and hear communications from his ministers at Whitehall. Whether our present Sovereign does not require her ministers to keep at such a distance, and, therefore, has not patronized Mr. Curtis's acoustic chair, or whatever other cause may have operated, probably will never be known, but that gentleman's name does not appear to be continued in the list of Her Majesty's household.”— William Wright, A Few Minutes' Advice to Deaf Persons (1839)

Mr. William Mullinger Higgins’s Philosophy of Sound and Musical Composition (1838), whose relevant pages I show above, contains the shortest and easiest-to-understand explanation I came upon.

You can learn more of the technical details in the Mechanics’ Magazine of January 14, 1837 here.

Another illustration (of the chair at home) and explanation appeared in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction on 18 February 1837 here.

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

From the Archives: Big Furry Mittens from the 19thc.

Monday, January 25, 2016
Isabella reporting,

I live outside of Philadelphia, one of the areas hit hardest this weekend by the blizzard known as Winter Storm Jonas (and why do the Weather Powers That Be feel the necessity to name storms?)  As we dig out from 29" of snow plus drifts, I remembered this post, and thought about how much harder this all would have been in the 19th c., when these furry mittens were first worn.

They're made from buffalo leather and likely buffalo hide (the museum that owns them isn't quite certain about the fur/hair, but it does look the same as the popular shaggy buffalo coats and robes from the same era), and they would have qualified as serious cold-weather wear. Mittens are always warmer than gloves because the fingers are kept together. But there's a definite trade-off between warmth and dexterity, as anyone who has tried to do much of anything wearing mittens can attest.

But I'm guessing these mittens had a specific purpose. Stage, coach, and sleigh drivers were a hardy breed. The position required skill with horses, knowledge of the roads, and the necessary strength to drive and control a team of horses in all weather and on all kinds of roads. Driving in winter weather must have been especially cruel. The painting, right, shows the English Dover to London coach laboring through a snow storm, while the one, lower left, features a pair of Canadian sleighs, one having driven the other off the road.

North American drivers often wore long, gauntlet-style mittens like these for extreme weather. The extended cuffs stretched over the sleeves driver's coat, protecting his hands and forearms from driving snow and wind, while the leather palms could securely hold the reins. The mittens would have to have been removed to make any adjustments to the harnesses, but during a long, cold drive, they must have offered a welcome warmth - and probably made quite the style-statement at stage posts and inn yards.

I spotted these mittens on the The Clothing Project, a tumblr devoted to the clothing collections of the Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers' Museum. Many unusual American pieces here, and worth checking out!

Top left: Men's Mittens, 19th c., Bison Hide & Fur, Farmers' Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Photo by The Clothing Project.
Right: London to Dover Coach, Winter, by Henry Alken, private collection.
Lower left: Run Off the Road in a Blizzard, by Cornelius Krieghoff, c 1850, Art Gallery of Ontario.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of January 18, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Time to get out your ice skates: Gillray's Elements of Skating, 1805.
• The great rocking chair riots of 1901 in New York's Madison Square Park.
Image: Jane Austen's writing desk.
• The world's first hunk: why we're obsessed with muscle-men.
• A squash does in fact hold dried blood of beheaded Louis XVI.
Falkirk tartan is oldest in Britain, dating back to Roman times.
• The ideal marriage, according to novels (and it's male writers who tend to portray love as something mysterious and irrational.)
Image: Portrait by self-taught itinerant painter Ammi Phillips, c1815.
• Oh, red shoes! Red pumps with moosehair embroidery, c1850-1870.
• This is wonderful: What Estella saw.
• More similar than you'd think: how Victorian daily habits compare to ours today.
Make-up and medicine in the Middle Ages.
• This 19hc French policeman's amulet includes a piece of a hangman's rope and a dried slice of a murderer's skin.
Big Hair of the 1960s in snapshots.
• Check out the on-line exhibition for the MuseumFIT's Denim: Fashion's Frontier - including a pair of 1830s denim work pants.
• If, like most of us, you can't get to Glasgow for the Century of Style exhibition, you can still download the app.
Image: Vintage London underground poster.
• Are you (or your daughter, or granddaughter) part of the Felicity generation?
Ogling another man's girl in 1912 cost a NY salesman his life.
• A tailor looks for customers so he can support his "very distress'd Family," 1766.
Pye Corner: flames, poltergeists, and bodysnatchers.
Mud hovels, mean houses, and natural philosophy in early 19thc India.
Image: F.Scott Fitzgerald's financial ledger for 1925.
• Fashion never sleeps: looking back at the last time wearing pajamas in public was in style.
• The "virgin's disease" that could only be cured by sex.
• David Bowie in historical costume.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Video: 100 Years of Workout Style

Friday, January 22, 2016

Isabella reporting,

It's the third week of January, which means that most of those New Year's fitness resolutions have already gone by the wayside, and you're ready for a little fun fashion history. Even if you're still heading off to the gym five days a week, you'll find this week's short video entertaining. While the video features the specialized clothing that American women have worn over the last century for exercising, it highlights some of the more foolish fads in exercise as well. Thighmaster, anyone?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Panorama of the Thames

Thursday, January 21, 2016
Loretta reports:

“In 1829 a very unusual book was published, containing just two pages. One opened out into a panorama sixty feet (eighteen metres) in length, the other to just six feet (two metres). The work was called Panorama of the Thames from London to Richmond, and was published by Samuel Leigh, a well-respected London bookseller with premises in the Strand.”
—John R. Inglis & Jill Sanders, Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London

I’ve used Mr. Leigh’s London guides as resources for many of my books. In their advertisements I’d come upon mouth-watering descriptions of publications I was unable to find online. Or anywhere.

Imagine my Nerdy History Girl excitement in November when I learned that the Panorama had recently been painstakingly scanned and cleaned up and made into a book!

Sadly, even the UK edition came out too late (U.S. edition will be out in February) for Dukes Prefer Blondes research, because I would have loved to have had such beautiful details of, for instance, Richmond, and in particular “Mr. Palmer’s” house—now known as Asgill House—the inspiration for Ithaca House in my story. However, I know it will be useful in future books, along with being simply a feast for Nerdy History Girl eyes.

You can read about the making of the new book as well as the entire Thames Panorama project here and you can see a lovely video here.

For more images and details, please see the London Historians’ Blog here.

Note: I bought this book with my own money, so no disclaimers are necessary.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Miniature 18thc Fashion Merchant - in Porcelain

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Clues to life in the past can turn up in unexpected places. Discovering the interiors of long-ago shops for our characters to visit has always been a particular challenge for Loretta and me. While there are prints and a few paintings that show shop interiors, descriptions can be maddeningly vague. Just as today, shops were so ordinary and commonplace that few people sat down and described them in detail in letters or diaries. When was the last time you documented your local Target for posterity?

All of which is why I found this little (only about six inches high) porcelain so delightful. According to the sign on the front, it shows a marchand de mode, or fashion merchant, complete with a well-dressed shopkeeper ready to serve his customers. I'm not quite sure if the woman represents a customer, or a shop assistant; while the man is firmly behind the counter, her body ends vaguely right on top of it.

The diversity of the goods on the shelves makes me think this is something of a milliner's shop - that is, by the 18thc definition, it contains a variety of small, fashionable goods instead of just hats. There are hats, hanging on the wall, but there are also handkerchiefs and bolts and bolts of fabric, in prints and stripes, checks and solids. I think I can also make out cloaks, or perhaps they're some sort of fancy-dress dominos in the upper left.

Then there are items that I'll have to guess as to their purpose. The cone-shaped items with the red
decoration may be the shields that people held up to protect their faces while their hair was powdered, but then again, they could be folding fans. On the right wall appears to be a display of black silk bows with false curls or queues. I'm also not certain about the black crosses on ribbons, either; are they necklaces, or rosaries, or something else altogether? I know our readers are a well-informed bunch, so if you know better than I, please let me know!

This little shop was made in the Ludwigsburg Porcelain Manufactory, c1765. Apparently the shop was part of a much more elaborate market scene, composed of numerous porcelain shops and figures, and commissioned by Charles Eugene, Duke of Wüttemberg (1728-1793). Apparently the set was inspired by the Duke's visit to Venice, and was used as a table centerpiece for banquets.

Hmm, a formal banquet with an entire Venice street-scene in porcelain strung along the table beneath the candelabra - that sounds like it belongs in a story, too, doesn't it?

Above: Venetian fair shop with two figures, Ludwigsburg Porcelain Manufactory, 1765, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bedroom furnishings, early 1800s

Monday, January 18, 2016
Grecian style bed 1828

 Loretta reports:

Continuing my visual guide to Dukes Prefer Blondes*, I’m taking you into my heroine’s bedroom to look at a couple of its furnishings.

“The bed was a modern one in the Grecian style, with bare-breasted females supporting the bedposts. Apt enough. Lady Clara ought to have a pair of caryatids at the foot of the bed, guarding the goddess’s temple. Other Grecian-style articles looked on from the mantelpiece. An elaborate urn clock dominated the center. Cupid stood on its pedestal, pointing to the time on the revolving band encircling the urn.”—Dukes Prefer Blondes

This bed in Ackermann’s Repository for October 1828 was my inspiration.
Grecian style bed description
As to the clock: I was looking through Eric Bruton’s fascinating History of Clocks & Watches** when I came upon this lovely timekeeper from the late 1700s. According to the book, it’s in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague—unfortunately, closed, from what I could ascertain during my online search for a sharper image.

I found other annular clocks online, most from a later period.
This from c.1900.

This French 1850s one.

This one from the 1880s.

And this.

*Previous posts here and here and here and here.

**My 1989 edition of this wonderful book has provided inspiration for other watches and clocks in my stories, most notably the naughty pocket watch in Lord of Scoundrels.

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

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of January 11, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images via Twitter.
Shop windows: the drapery trade in the long 19thc.
• How the naming of clouds changed the skies of art.
• What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
• The beginning of the women's health and fitness industry: the fit flapper of the 1920s.
Image: This is fantastic! Women prospectors on their way to the Klondike, 1898.
• Jane Austen's copied music manuscripts now available online.
• Flower power: two stunning 18thc gentlemen's waistcoats.
Image: Beautiful penmanship for this 17thc recipe for a lemon biscuit.
• Pet rabbits in 19thc literature and history.
• Sobering: nearly every historic fruit and vegetable once found in the United States has disappeared.
• Sir John Falstaff, the notorious highwayman.
• Where the statues of Paris were sent to die.
Image: A beautiful pair from the Fashion Museum in Bath: a fashion doll's mantua and a woman's court mantua, both from the 1760s.
• Oak Hall ready to wear menswear, c1902 - what a dapper clerk with the measuring tape around his neck!
• In 1942, the Hershey Hotel was a chocolate-scented POW camp.
• What do Thomas More, Hans Sloane, and a Moravian burying ground have to do with one another?
• A Roman ruin at the hairdresser.
Image: Silver "Jailed for Freedom" pin that belonged to activist Alice Paul.
• An 1830s cream-colored silk dress - that likely isn't a wedding dress.
• Explore the contents of a 17thc bookshop, recreated from the bookseller's will and inventory.
• Ten abandoned places and ghost towns in Florida.
• In honor of the young men whose Movember efforts weren't quite up to snuff: The Lay of the Red Moustache, 1851.
• Dr. G. Zander's medico-mechanical gymnastics.
• Just for fun: Tudor Tinder.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Horse-Drawn Carriages in Motion

Friday, January 15, 2016

Loretta reports:

The heroine of Dukes Prefer Blondes drives her own vehicle—a cabriolet, as pictured at left— and there's quite a bit of traveling in the story, in various kinds of vehicles, including the hackney cabs and coaches I recently described
This short video offers s a chance to watch horses and carriages in action. Note that many of the vehicles are earlier than the time of my story, and some are quite modern, made specially for extreme carriage racing.

Image: John Ferneley,William Massey-Stanley Driving His Cabriolet in Hyde Park 1833, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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, January 14, 2016

How Many Handsewn Stitches in an 18thc Man's Shirt?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Isabella reporting,

In the 18thc, a man's linen shirt was perhaps the most democratic of garments. Every male wore one, from the King of England to his lowest subjects in the almshouse, and though the quality of the linen and laundering varied widely, the construction was virtually the same.

Contrary to the modern belief that the people of the past were dirty slobs (a bugaboo we NHG are always trying to banish), Georgian men were fastidious about their shirts. Men were judged by the cleanliness of their linen. From laundry records of the time, it's clear that the majority of men changed their shirts daily, and in the hot summer months, it wasn't unusual to change twice a day. This wasn't just a habit of wealthy gentlemen, either. Tradesmen, shopkeepers, and others of the "middling sort" had a good supply of shirts in their wardrobes, a dozen or so on average.

While most of these shirts were purchased from tailors, shirts were one of the few garments that women could make at home for their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. Eighteenth century shirts were loose-fitting, geometric garments, all precise squares and rectangles with straight seams. They weren't difficult for the average seamstress to construct - keeping in mind that everything was being sewn by hand before the invention of the sewing machine. The precision of that seamstress's stitching would make them not only more attractive, but also more long-wearing through the rough-and-tumble laundering (no gentle cycle) of the time. But how long would it take to make such a shirt? And how many stitches must be taken in the process?

When I was visiting the Margaret Hunter millinery shop in Colonial Williamsburg last month, the mantua-makers (whose seamstresses can make men's shirts just as readily as the tailors) were pondering this exact question. A chart in the July, 1782 issue of The Lady's Magazine, right, calculated the "number of stitches in a plain-shirt", perhaps to provide the amateur seamstresses among their readers with a number to impress the home-stitched shirt's wearer. The Magazine's estimated total was an impressive 20,619 stitches for a man's shirt.

The Margaret Hunter seamstresses took these calculations a step further. Working an average of 30 stitches per minute at a gauge of 10 stitches per inch, it would take approximately eleven and a half hours to stitch a shirt. Of course that doesn't take into account the time for cutting threads, finishing a thread, or threading needles, nor for cutting out the pieces to be sewn, and it also doesn't make allowances for the individual seamstress's speed. While the needles in the Margaret Hunter shop seem to fly, the ladies freely admit that they'd probably be considered slow in comparison to their 18thc counterparts who sewed from childhood.

More about 18thc shirts here and here. Many thanks to Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade, Colonial Williamsburg, for her assistance with this post.

Left: Shirt, maker unknown, linen, probably made in America, c1790-1820. Winterthur Museum.
Photograph © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: Excerpt from The Lady's Magazine, July, 1782.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Old Bailey

Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Rowlandson, “The Old Bailey
Loretta reports:

Several scenes in Dukes Prefer Blondes occur in or around the Old Bailey. Since it’s rather different now from what it was in the early 1800s, I highly recommend that Nerdy History Persons visit the Proceedings of the Old Bailey online, where I researched not only the building and environs, but my criminals and court cases.

From the intro to the building's history:
“The Old Bailey, also known as Justice Hall, the Sessions House, and the Central Criminal Court, was named after the street in which it was located, just off Newgate Street and next to Newgate Prison, in the western part of the City of London. Over the centuries the building has been periodically remodelled and rebuilt in ways which both reflected and influenced the changing ways trials were carried out and reported.”
You can read more about its evolution here, as well as pinpoint the Sessions House (where trials were held) and Newgate Prison, conveniently located next door.

The color image above of an Old Bailey trial is a couple of decades before the time of the story, but according to the website, the “basic design of the courtroom remained the same.”

Here’s an interesting historical detail from the Old Bailey site:

“Before the introduction of gas lighting in the early nineteenth century a mirrored reflector was placed above the bar, in order to reflect light from the windows onto the faces of the accused. This allowed the court to examine their facial expressions assess the validity of their testimony. In addition, a sounding board was placed over their heads in order to amplify their voices.”

By the time of the George Cruikshank illustration of 1848, the gas lights were in and the reflector was gone—although I’d think they could still use the sounding board.

Thomas Rowlandson, “The Old Bailey,” from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London, Vol 2, courtesy Internet Archive.

George Cruikshank, “From the bar of the gin shop to the bar of the Old Bailey it is but one step,” from The Drunkard’s Children (1848), 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.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Shame: "After the Misdeed", c1885

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Although Loretta and I live hundreds of miles apart, we often (very often) talk on the phone, and one of our recent conversations centered on how frequently shamed and fallen women appear in 19thc art and literature.

The reasons for this are, of course, so many and varied that I can't possibly address them all successfully in a mere blog post. (The Foundling Museum  in London recently held and exhibition devoted to the myth and reality of The Fallen Woman, and the exhibition's web site still has a number of good links to explore here.) The morality of the time was behind much of it. The perceived "frailty" of women and the need for them to be protected by Good Men, husbands, fathers, and brother, also meant that women were equally susceptible to unfortunate choices, seduction, and ruin at the hands of Bad Men.

In art (if not in life), the women who became fallen were usually young and beautiful, adding a salacious edge to the tragic morality tale. Not surprisingly, the Bad Man - the rake, the bounder, the seducer - rarely merits a painting of his own.

All of which led Loretta and me to this beautifully dramatic painting. (As always, click on the image to enlarge it.) The artist is a Frenchman, Jean Béraud (1849-1935), who was a contemporary and friend of the Impressionists, and best known at the time for his scenes of Belle Epoque Paris. But he also painted his share of genre and morality pictures. His most over-the-top one is St. Mary Magdalene in the House of Simon the Pharisee, which introduces both Jesus Christ and a well-corseted and repentant Mary Magdalen into a group of wealthy 19thc Frenchmen; I particularly like the unimpressed fellow lighting his cigar to the left.

By comparison, After the Misdeed is subdued. The woman's pose, her face buried in shame against the sofa, leave no doubt that she's sinned. Nineteenth century viewers would be certain that the misdeed she'd just committed must be sexual. Her beautifully fashionable clothing could either show that she's a well-bred lady who has wandered - a pampered daughter rejecting a proper suitor for a cad, or an adulterous wife, instantly filled with regret? Or is she a demi-mondaine, a woman who sold her virtue in return for that elegant fur tippet and bustled dress? The lush red velvet sofa could also represent luxurious excess, a symbol of the woman succumbing to passion.

But Loretta and I aren't 19thc gallery-goers. Despite being Nerdy History Girls, we're firmly in the 21stc, and we couldn't resist considering less momentous possibilities for After the Misdeed. Did this distraught lady arrive at a party where the hostess wore the same dress? Did she use the wrong fork at dinner? Did she leave the parlor door open so that the family dog made a mess on that velvet sofa?

What would you guess her misdeed to be?

Above: After the Misdeed by Jean Béraud, c1885-90, National Gallery, London.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of January 4, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016
Happy new year! We're back with a fresh round of Breakfast Links for you - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images via Twitter.
• Hypnotic GIFs of Victorian optical toys.
• London's oldest theatrical tradition involves eating cake.
• "Stand fast in the liberty": a very rare 18thc. waistcoat belt.
• How did women in the past cope with their periods? Another view here.
• A walk through 1873 London (and earlier) by way of Walter Thornbury's illustrations.
• The mysterious seaweed tunnel of Pegwell Bay, Kent.
Image: Skating on the Serpentine, 1839.
• A dangerous freedom for unmarried women: Anthony Trollope, pillar post boxes, and love letters.
• How did people sleep in the middle ages?
• "No stimulating drinks": Thomas Jefferson lays out guidelines for students at University of Virginia, 1819.
• A fiercely festive feline from Egypt, 6th-7thc BC.
Image: Perfect title of an 18thc novel (with a ton of spoilers.)
• Because you never know when you might NEED to know: vintage user's manual for operating Disneyland's monorail.
• An unsolved 1920s murder case: the mystery of Annie Hearn's sandwiches.
• Not too late: how to make cuneiform gingerbread cookies for the new year.
Image: A little medieval humor from the Abbey of Sainte Foy.
• Buried under a boulder: the grave of a Lancashire "witch."
• The morning after the night before: detoxing in history.
Image: An 18thc back-scratcher.
• Why the 1960s were swinging (at least fashion-wise.)
• An 1860s acrobat's special corset for "flying."
• A c1800 book to read online, with advice for every kind of lover: The Complete Art of Writing Love-Letters.
• Old Judy, keeper of the Newcastle Upon Tyne town hutch.
Image: Martha Washington wore these shoes for her 1759 wedding to George.
• Why is the Flying Scotsman so famous?
• Not historical, but still breathtaking: traffic camera catches snowy owl in flight.
• Just for fun: the V&A lets you design your own over-the-top 18thc. wig.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday Video: An 18thc Automaton Watch

Friday, January 8, 2016

Isabella reporting,

This is a very short video - less than a minute - but it's still an impressive tribute to the level of craftsmanship of 18thc. jewelers and watchmakers. Made of gold with enamel, the watch's artistic detail is as stunning as the clockwork mechanism that animates it. Alas, both the maker and the original owner's name are now forgotten, and today the watch is most famous for having been in the collection of  King Farouk of Egypt during the 20thc.

But it's easy to imagine some wealthy (for a watch like this would have been a very costly bauble) nobleman easing this from the fob pocket of his silk breeches and ostentatiously checking the time, making sure that all around him saw the tiny country miss swinging back and forth from the dial. Click on the photo right to see all the details. Beautiful!

Automaton watch, quarter repeater, gold and enamel, late 18thc. Shaw Watch Collection, Guernsey Museums & Galleries.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Hackney Cab vs. Hackney Coach

Thursday, January 7, 2016
Cruikshank, “The Last Cabdriver"

Loretta reports:

My characters in Dukes Prefer Blondes spend time in hackney coaches and hackney cabs. You will often find the terms used interchangeably, as though they were the same thing. However, a hackney cab was quite a different article from a hackney coach. The cab was a two-wheeled, one-horse vehicle. It held only two passengers, and seemed to be generally regarded as a mode of transportation for those who liked to live dangerously.

Leigh’s New Picture of London for 1834 briefly explains the difference here. You can read about them here in Omnibuses and Cabs, Their Origin and History, which includes excerpts from Dickens’s lively descriptions.

I’ve written a bit more about hackney coaches here, and you can read Dickens’s full version (which originally appeared in Bell’s Life in London in November 1835) here in Sketches by Boz.
1823 Hackney Cab
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Weighing In for 1748

Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Updated January 7, 2016.

The new year is often a time of grim resolutions to undo all the merry-making of the holidays. If the rush of advertisements for weight loss gimmicks and flashy gyms are any indication, there are many Americans who had a sobering confrontation with their bathroom scale on January 1 (or maybe the second.)

But apparently this isn't anything new. In 1748, a young man noted the results of his family's January weigh-in. Born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, John Holyoke (1734-1753) was the son of Edward Holyoke, who became the ninth president of Harvard College in 1737 and moved his family to Cambridge, outside of Boston. Fifteen-year-old John kept an informal diary on the interleaved pages of his copy of An astronomical diary, or, An almanack for the year of our Lord Christ, 1748 by Nathaniel Ames. On these pages, John wrote of the things that interested him: the weather, family illnesses, and his own studies, travels, and daily activities

Opposite a list of the year's eclipses, above, John made his first note for the new year, titled "January 8 AM. Family Weighed 1747/8." (Detail below right; click to enlarge.) In the days before personal scales, weighing oneself meant going to a commercial establishment and using the same scales employed for weighing goods and produce. This wasn't merely a colonial hardship; in faraway London, even dukes presented themselves to be weighed on the commercial scales of Berry Brothers & Rudd. Apparently John's father must have taken his entire extended household to one such set of scales to start the year, and John wrote down the results.

The results are interesting. We modern people tend to think of our counterparts in the past as being much smaller. True, at 93 1/2 lbs, John himself was on the slight side for a young man his age, but his mother weighed 183 1/2 lbs, and his father weighed a substantial 234 1/2 lbs! All those half-pounds must have been important - especially since John totaled everyone's weight for a neat sum of 1316 pounds.

I guessed that Betty Epes, Betty Hol., and Deb Forster are grown cousins, aunts, family friends, or perhaps servants, and it turned out I was right. Thanks to one our "friends of the blog", historian and writer J.L. Bell, I've learned since writing the original post that I was (mostly) guessing right. All were members of the extended Holyoke household; please see his own post here to learn the details of this "blended" family.

But the last name and weight on the list belonged to an individual who most likely lived beneath the same roof, but wasn't considered a true member of the extended Holyoke family. That final entry with a single name belonged to Juba, the family's black slave.

John Holyoke's diary is included in a fascinating exhibition (free and open to the public) currently on display in Harvard University's Pusey Library. Opening New Worlds: The Colonial North American Project features archival and manuscript treasures relating to 17th and 18thc North America, all from the university's libraries and collections. Reflecting every aspect of colonial life, the documents range from diaries and journals to maps, doodles, sermons, and music. The project will digitize the entire collection, and make the documents available for wider study; click here for more information.

Above: Pages from John Holyoke's diary, 1748. Harvard University Archives.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Fashions for January 1836

Monday, January 4, 2016

Morning & Opera Dresses Jan 1836
Loretta reports:

This month’s fashion plate is connected to my recently released book, Dukes Prefer Blondes, whose heroine’s clothing styles cover the time between August 1835 and May 1836, when fashion finally begins its shift away from the gigantic sleeves to the less flamboyant style we might think of when we think of “Victorian”: the top of the dress gets smaller, and hair and bonnet styles grow sleeker.

In January 1836, however, The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons is still showing enormous sleeves. The black dress on the right gives a nice view of what’s under the opera cloak. One note: the pelerines, which look so stiff in the plate, were rather more graceful in real life, being made of fine muslin.
Dress Description

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

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket