Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Much-Loved Family Dollhouse from 1820

Sunday, November 29, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Years ago when my daughter was younger, my husband and I conspired to make the ultimate (at least that year!) Christmas present for her: a big wooden dollhouse with a swinging door across the front, wallpaper in every room and clapboarding on the outside, a shingled roof, and a chimney covered with tiny bricks. We had a blast making it, but from Christmas morning onward we realized the house would become a never-ending work in progress, with my daughter frequently "redecorating" with new furnishings, rugs, tiny pets, and even the occasional new doll-resident. Although she's outgrown the house now, it still occupies a place of pride in our living room, waiting until one day she'll take it to share with her own children.

That's probably why I am so drawn to this doll house, right, in the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The house was originally made for a pair of twin sisters from a prosperous Philadelphia family, Elizabeth Clifford Morris Canby (1813-1892) and Sarah Wistar Morris (1813-1826)), and was given to them some time around their seventh birthday in 1820. It remained in the family for over 150 years, until it was finally given to Colonial Williamsburg in the 1981. The numerous generations of girls that played with it are reflected in its somewhat unwieldy name: the Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse.

Although this dollhouse is far from the most lavish in the CW collection, it was clearly cherished and clearly played with, and the rooms reflect changing tastes and styles as well as those of the young owners. While some of the furnishing are original, there were additions made all the way through the mid-20thc.

But my favorite addition to this dollhouse was made by Samuel Canby Rumford (1876-1950), grandson of original owner Elizabeth. While he made several pieces of miniature furniture for the house in the 1930s, the most impressive is the the tall chest-on-chest in the corner of the bedroom, above left.

Crafted from the thin wood of a cigar box, the chest is something of a double family heirloom: it's a tiny version of a full-sized mahogany chest-on-chest that had descended in the family since the 18thc. That original chest, left, was the work of celebrated cabinet-maker Thomas Affleck in 1775 as a wedding gift from father to daughter. It, too, was acquired by Colonial Williamsburg from the family, and it now stands (quite wonderfully) in the next gallery from the dollhouse with the miniature replica.

Upper left: Detail, Bedroom, Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse, 1820, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.
Right: Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse, 1820, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Lower left: Chest-on-Chest, by Thomas Affleck, Philadelphia, 1775, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Break

Monday, November 23, 2015
Harper's Bazar Thanksgiving 1895
Loretta & Susan report:

We in the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. Though we’ve been having Thanksgiving celebrations here since the 17th century, it took us a while to settle on the day, and it didn’t become a Federal Holiday until 1941.

To mark the occasion, the President pardons a turkey. The rest of us celebrate in our own way, often with family feasts. Usually, but not always, an unpardoned turkey holds the place of honor on the table.

The Two Nerdy History girls will this year, as we always do, take a break from blogging during Thanksgiving week, to spend time with our families. We’ll have plenty to be grateful for, including the loyal readers who aid and abet us in our historical nerdiness.

Whether or not you’re celebrating this week, we hope you, too, have a happy and festive week. We’ll look forward to your joining us again next Monday.

Image: Harper’s Bazar Thanksgiving Number 1895, 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.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of November 16, 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015
It's time for Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other articles, images, blogs, and websites via Twitter.
• How suffragists used cookbooks as a recipe for subversion.
• The forgotten kaleidoscope craze of Victorian England.
• 350-year-old Italian collar seeks 350-year-old English dress for meaningful, short-term relationship.
• There once was a dildo in Nantucket....
• Can reading make you happier?
Image: Hats are a good indicator of an image's date and the status of the people; this London street-scene dates from about 1902.
• How the ballpoint pen killed cursive.
• How Paul Revere's powerful image of the Boston Massacre was copied and reused repeatedly.
• The most popular boy's names in Tudor England.
• Lavish apartments for millionaires were fitted out like mansions in New York's now-lost Hotel Marguery.
• Over a million documents from the slavery era to be digitized and put online, helping African Americans learn more about lost ancestors.
Image: "Society despairs of the Modern Woman, 1915."
• The first surgeon to successfully perform a C-section was a woman disguised as a man.
• How women's history and civil rights came to the Smithsonian.
William Hogarth at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, 1733.
• The exotic taste of rice.
• Controlling a small world: doll houses and gender roles.
• A block of flats in London with its own air-raid shelter - now preserved.
Image: A fan with poppies for Armistice Day.
• Discovered: a lost short story by Edith Wharton, written in France during World War One.
• And also discovered: a previously unseen story and poem by Charlotte Bronte.
• A spicy history inside a round 19thc. wooden box.
Image: 1910 suffragette banner signed by 80 hunger-strikers.
• Spreading their wings: the post-WWII Wingfoot homes for returning GIs.
• A brief history of London crypts.
• Nine pronunciation arguments you can stop having.
• The death of the ruthless Empress Tzu-hsi, who ruled imperial China for nearly half a century.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Video: Paris in 1900

Friday, November 20, 2015

Isabella reporting,

This has been such a sorrowful week for the City of Lights. This short video, shot during the Exposition Universelle of 1900, captures a much different time, and a city and its people that were smiling and happy, confident and carefree. For the sake of Paris and the rest of the world, we hope those times return soon.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Highway Robbery in Kent, 1811

Thursday, November 19, 2015
Dr Syntax Stopt by Highwaymen
Loretta reports:

The way this is written, the robbery seems to have been a relatively civilized encounter. The robber, for instance, did not shoot his victim upon learning he had an undesirable watch and insufficient money. And nobody bothered Mrs. Atkins.
     As Mr. and Mrs. Atkins, of Maidstone, were returning from London, on Thursday, Nov. 14, in their single horse chaise, just as they had reached the 15th mile-stone, corner of Birch Wood, about half past one o’clock in the afternoon, a man came out of a gap-way on the left-hand side of the road from London, and without saying a word, seized the horse by the head. Mr. Atkins immediately stood up in the chaise, and said he would not be robbed, and began to flog the man with his chaise-whip, in hopes of making him let go his horse’s head, upon which he drew his right hand from behind him and presented a horse-pistol. At that instant a companion of his (whom Mr. Atkins had not seen before) made his appearance, and going round the horse to Mr. Atkins’s side, demanded his money. Mr. A. finding his resistance useless, gave him four guineas; not satisfied with that, the robber said you have more. Mr. A. replied, yes, I have a little silver, and gave him to the amount of 10 s. The robber afterwards demanded his watch, which being in a tortoise-shell case, said he would be d—d if he would have, and repeatedly questioned him as to his having more money; but on Mr. A. assuring him he had not, he was suffered to proceed. The man who seized the horse never spoke a word all the time, but held the horse with his left hand and the pistol with his right; the other, who took the money, said, it was distress drove them to it. Neither of them attempted to rob Mrs. Atkins, nor did they say any thing to her. —La Belle Assemblée, Volume 2

Image: Thomas Rowlandson, "Dr. Syntax Stopt by Highwaymen," from The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque.

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, November 18, 2015

Titillating 'Flannel Armour', 1793

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Loretta and I are great fans of the British caricaturists of the 1780s-1820s, including James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, George Cruikshank, and many others. When their prints are mocking fashionable pretensions, politicians, or the royal family, the "joke" is still apparent, even after two hundred years. But then there are some prints that are real head-scratchers to modern eyes.

This one by James Gillray falls into that category. What exactly is going on here? (As always, click on the image to enlarge it.) The ladies appear to be dressing the soldiers in strange, buff-colored costumes, and displaying a certain lascivious eagerness in the process, too. While bare-breasted women are often found in 18thc. satirical prints, here Gillray offers a bit of titillating male nudity. Like most men of the time, the soldiers wear no under-drawers, but simply tuck their long shirt-tails between their legs. These ladies would clearly have gotten an eyeful, and this being Gillray, we should believe their rosy cheeks are due more to excitement than embarrassment.

The title offers some hints: "FLANNEL ARMOUR; FEMALE PATRIOTISM, or Modern Heroes accoutred for the Wars," as does the satirical dedication "To the benevolent Ladies of Great Britain, who have so liberally supported the new system of Military Clothing."

A bit of research explains the rest of the history behind the print. France had declared war on Great Britain on February 1, 1793, launching a generation of warfare between the two countries that would not end until 1815. But when this print was published on November 18, 1793 (weird coincidence, I know!), no one knew that. Instead Britain was filled with patriotic fervor, and the usual certainty that this war would be swiftly and easily won.

As the soldiers drilled and the military began its preparations, British ladies also wanted to show their patriotism and make their own contribution to the war effort. (The lady in the front is already wearing a stylish red habit, sash, and plumed hat that imitates a soldier's uniform.) Wives, mothers, and sweethearts worried that the soldiers would suffer from the cold in the coming winter, and eagerly responded by stitching undergarments of warm winter flannel for the troops. The pointed flannel caps shown here must have been liners for the tall bearskin uniform caps of the time - see one hanging on the wall along with a red uniform coat.

The "flannel campaign" was lauded by politicians and newspapers, but found no favor at all with the soldiers. Companies that were presented with the flannel underclothes refused them outright. Not only did they not want to wear what they perceived as foolish and unnecessary garments, but they also wanted no part of the ladies' "charity", and apparently were quite blunt about it, too.

So the soldiers marched off without under-drawers, and the ladies were offended by their ingratitude, with both leaving caricaturists like Gillray with plenty of inspiration.

Above: Flannel Armour; Female Patriotism, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, November 18, 1793. Walpole Library, Yale University.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Amazing Félix Nadar

Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Nadar Self-Portrait in Balloon
Loretta reports:

A review of When I Was a Photographer, a book published over a century ago and only recently translated into English, had me investigating Félix Nadar, which turned out to be the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820-1910).

The name will be as unfamiliar to many of my readers as it was to me. In his own day, though, Nadar was a celebrity. He knew everybody—and he photographed them—alphabetically from Tsar Alexander III to Emile Zola, as his Wikimedia Commons page demonstrates.

He was far more than a sought-after portrait photographer, though. Nadar became the first photographer to devise a way to use artificial lighting, in order to take pictures of the Paris catacombs. He was also a balloonist who one day discovered, after numerous failed attempts, how to take aerial photographs without ruining the plates (the problem was the balloon’s gas valve). This trial and error accomplishment transformed mapping techniques. It also led to this Daumier caricature
Nadar élevant la Photographie à la hauteur de l'Art
as well as inspiring Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon.

Along with his identities as photographer, balloonist, and inventor, Nadar was a caricaturist and writer. He was, in short, a man of many talents, living in an era and a city, Paris, of tremendous creative energy.
Nadar Caricature

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, November 15, 2015

An 18thc. Pocket-Sampler...or is It a Sampler-Pocket?

Sunday, November 15, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I've written before about 18thc. pockets, those indispensable accessories that women wore tied around their waists and beneath their skirts. Some pockets are humble and hard-working and made of patchwork scraps, while others are elegantly worked in silk to be admired.

But this one is something special. The pocket from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg, where I saw it earlier this year. (It was stored in a study drawer, which partially obscures the very top of the edge in the photo, above.) This pocket is also a sampler, a needlework practice-piece to demonstrate skill at embroidering.

The maker proudly included her name - Judith Robinson - along with her initials. Nothing more is known about her, but it's likely she lived in Pennsylvania, and likely, too, that this was one of her first girlhood projects as a budding needleworker. The motifs she chose - the lions, trees, and birds - were typical of Pennsylvania German samplers of the time. At first glance, it appears Judith included a date below the pocket's opening. Instead of a date, however, the numerals are simply 1-8, with the 9 a haphazard afterthought in the middle of the design.

Judith's counted-thread cross-stitches were done in shades of blue wool on linen. Some of the wool has become fragile and worn away over time, as has the printed floral cotton used to bind the edges. It's easy to imagine the pocket becoming a favorite piece in Judith's wardrobe, worn with pleasure over and over - and why not, with those cheery lions, right, for company?

Many thanks to Linda Baumgarten, Jan Gilliam, and Christina Westenberger for "opening the drawers" of the collection for me. Colonial Williamsburg has much of their collection on-line here in their E-Museum, and it's constantly being updated as more pieces are researched, catalogued, and photographed. Go explore!

Above: Woman's pocket (Judith Robinson), wool embroidery on linen, America, Mid-Atlantic (Pennsylvania), c. 1780-1820. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott with permission of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of November 9, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015
It's time for Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other articles, images, blogs, and websites via Twitter.
• Magic in motion: the Victorian toys spinning back to life as GIFs.
• Astonishing trove of 2600+ undelivered 17thc. letters.
• Hester Bateman: an extraordinary 18thc silversmith and businesswoman.
• A stylish gown and coat that survived San Francisco earthquake.
• How the Industrial Revolution made Americans eat like animals.
Image: beautiful photograph of sunset from the top of Belvoir Castle.
• One of Queen Victoria's hats (when she wasn't wearing a crown.)
• When Wall Street was a wall.
• Thomas Jefferson's ten rules for life, and how they were satirized.
• The deadly history of women using perfume as poison.
• A selection of 18thc. European walking sticks and canes.
• Library of Congress acquires portfolio of photographs of over 600 U.S. public libraries.
Image: Rare locket with posthumous eye miniature and lock of hair of Princess Charlotte (1796-1817.)
• Ten things you won't see on Downton Abbey (like servants actually working.)
• Designing women: the Hewitt sisters and the remaking of a modern museum.
• An Arizona high school cross-country team is building on the Hopi tradition of running - and winning.
• Uncovering early wooden water-pipes in Salem, MA.
Image: Window shopping, Kensington High Street, London, 1926.
• The Lake District estate where Beatrix Potter first imagined Peter Rabbit to be restored.
• A mysterious object found in Lyme Regis could have belonged to famed fossil collector Mary Anning.
• A nearly-lost fashion art: making artificial flowers (and there's a museum, too!)
• How to make medieval bread.
Lottie O'NeilI, the first woman legislator in Illinois elected in 1922.
Image: 17thc. paper needlework pattern that bears the prick-marks made by the needleworker.
Birds saved centuries-old documents in their nests.
• Georgian consumerism: living on credit.
• Rogue's gallery: finding the criminals and crimes behind Victorian mugshots.
Satyr calisthenics and other oddities.
• Digitised vintage kimono patterns.
Image: Just for fun: Costume change!
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Video: Fashion 1949-1980

Friday, November 13, 2015
Image from video
Loretta reports:

At the start of each month, I present fashion plates from a certain year, usually of the 1800s. Thanks to research for my books, I have a mental image of how women's styles evolved from, say 1810 to 1920, although the transitions for the first half of the 19th century are etched more sharply in my mind.

This video, which takes us from 1949 to 1980, does help us follow the changing silhouette of the second half of the 20th century.

One other change in fashion is quite evident in this series of pattern images.

Take a look at the measurements for sizes. True, a pattern size 10 was probably an 8 on the racks in stores. But an 8 then isn't what it is now. The pattern sizing shows how far vanity sizing has gone, in the U.S., at any rate. I don't believe there used to be size 00 in, say, the 1970s.

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, November 12, 2015

Return Engagement: Arrows in the Hair, 1805-1830

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Isabella reporting,

If you followed Loretta's directions for creating a fashionable early 19th c. hair style and the hair pomade to keep it in place, you're now ready to finish off your Apollo's Knot coiffure with a trendy ornament. Flowers, jewels, and plumes were most customary, but according to fashion plates and portraits, another popular option was an arrow.

The point and shaft of the arrow was thrust through the top of the hair, like a narrow miss by William Tell (though in the fashion plate right, the arrow must have been made in two pieces, to make both ends stick out the front of the hair. An ornament that likely began as a Neo-Classical whim - think an arrow from the quiver of the huntress-goddess Diana - seemed to slide into the Romantic Era with more sentimental connotations. The ornaments were called Cupid's Arrows or Cupid's Darts, and most appear to be brass or other gold-toned metal.

I say "appear" because I haven't been able to find any examples in on-line museum collections. My guess is that the arrows were the kind of fast-fashion hair accessory that wasn't made to last, and wasn't kept. Still, if any of you have come across a Cupid's Arrow hair ornament, I hope you'll share it – Loretta and I would love to see it!

Top left: Detail, Portrait of Nanette Kaula, by Joseph Karl Stieler, c 1829. Schönheitengalerie.
Top right: Detail, women's fashions plate, 1831.
Bottom left: Detail, Mme. Giuseppina Grassini, by Louise Élisabeth Vigee Le Brun, c. 1805. Private collection.
Bottom right: Detail from La Reunion, fashion plate, c. 1832.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day - Veterans Day - Remembrance Day

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Welcome Home
Loretta reports:

THE schools are asked to give special attention to the celebration of Armistice Day, in an appeal issued by J. J. Tigert, United States commissioner of education. Dr. Tigert says:

November 11, Armistice Day,* will become more historic as the years pass, and it will take its place with the Fourth of July, the Twenty-second of February and other epochal days in American history.‘ This day marked the hour of democracy’s triumph over autocracy and the end of a war that many hoped might end wars. It marked the opening of a great conference in the city of Washington last year which made much progress toward limitation of armaments and toward the substitution of reason for force in the settlement of international disputes.

Wars and destruction spread rapidly. Peace and constructive enterprises require time for consummation. Years of education, gradual development of better understanding, the slow substitution of sympathy for suspicion, the eradication of selfishness and lust for power—all these and more must be brought into the hearts and minds of the peoples of the world before we can have enduring peace.

The schools are the great mills through which we must grind the grist of peace and where those qualities of human character which will bring about the sway of righteousness, justice and reason can best be developed. It seems well, therefore, for our schools to put emphasis upon armistice day as a day of special observance, not only in memory of those heroic soldiers who defended our liberty, but as a day for fostering sentiments of peace.—School & Society, Volume 16, Society for the Advancement of Education, 1922

*At 11AM on 11 November  1918 the Allied Powers and Germany signed a ceasefire agreement, which brought the Great War to an end. Since, sadly, it turned out not to be the only Great War of the century, its name changed to World War I.

Image above: Welcome home our gallant boys  (1918), courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Image below: Photo of a veterans square memorial in Worcester, MA. The plaques (not actually blue, as you can see here—but this is the way my new camera photographed it) appear on granite pedestals at intersections throughout the city. 

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, November 10, 2015

A Man, His Dog, and "Two Great Wolves" at Plymouth, 1621

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Isabella reporting,

November means that we're in Pilgrim season - the time when advertisers send out the parade of goofy-looking quasi-Pilgrims in buckled hats and white collars, chasing turkeys on their way to Black Friday sales at the local mall. The other alternative isn't much better: the romanticized rosy-cheeked and near-saintly Puritan maids and families, heads bowed over bountiful feasts.

The truth was that during the first years of the Plymouth colony, the lives of the settlers were grim indeed, and filled with an inconceivable degree of everyday danger and risk. This short paragraph is from A Relation or Journal of the Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth by Edward Winslow, a journal for the first years of Plymouth published in London in 1624.

The passage describes a harrowing January evening endured by a colonist named John Goodman. Although suffering from frostbite in his feet (which resulted from an earlier snowy night spent hiding from a lion in a tree in the forest), Goodman decided to go for a short walk with his pet dog. A dog would have been a rare companion to anyone on that difficult voyage on the Mayflower, and one not easily replaced. Any pet-owner will feel horror and sympathy for Goodman, forced to defend his terrified little dog:

"This day in the evening, John Goodman went abroad to use his lame feet, that were pitifully ill with the cold he had got. Having a little spaniel with him, a little way from the plantation, two great wolves ran after the dog, the dog ran to him and betwixt his legs for succor. He had nothing in his hand but took up a stick, and threw at one of [the wolves] and hit him, and they presently ran both away, but came again. He got a pale board [used for fencing] in his hand, and [the wolves] sat both on their tails, grinning at him, a good while, and went their way, and left him." 

Little else is known of John Goodman. He may have survived the wolves, but not disease and hardship. Nearly half of the original colonists died that first winter, and by 1651, Governor William Bradford included Goodman in his list of Mayflower passengers who "died soon after in the general sickness that befell." As for his little spaniel, he was at least spared this kind of canine indignity by living in the 1620s.

Above: Blind Man with His Dog, by Jacques Callot, 17thc. Harvard Art Museums.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Washing Up Correctly in 1854

Monday, November 9, 2015
Still Life: Tea Set
Loretta reports:

Washing Up Instructions
Many centuries ago, when I was in school, we had Home Economics classes. That is to say, the girls did. The boys had Shop. I’m not sure what our process was at home. Mainly I remember regarding all household chores as loathsome wastes of valuable time I could have spent reading.

I do remember that the Home Ec method involved more or less the same order of events as in the Victorian-era approach. Otherwise, though, Godey's advice seems to modern eyes rather slapdash, not to mention unhygienic.

And so it’s a good example of a world that hadn’t yet caught onto BACTERIA, let alone grown hysterical about the little critters. The Victorians didn’t have hot water on tap, either, or instantly-dissolving dish cleaning liquids, or the host of other allegedly labor-saving devices available to us.

I’ve read elsewhere of cleaning rugs and other items with used tea leaves, a method I haven’t tried, but I’m thinking of experimenting with certain bottles and decanters.

Image: Jean-Étienne Liotard, Still Life: Tea Set (circa 1781-83), courtesy Getty Center via Wikimedia Commons.
Text from Godey’s Magazine, November 1854

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, November 7, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of November 2, 2015

Saturday, November 7, 2015
It's time for Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other articles, images, blogs, and websites via Twitter.
• First letter composed on a typewriter (that "new-fangled writing machine") by Mark Twain.
Marie-Antoinette: a life in seven objects.
• What new immigrants looked like when they arrived on Ellis Island.
• The New Woman meets the Old Witch.
• Answering the tight-laced corset debate: modern scientist counters with an MRI of corset-wearer.
• The mystique of the cursed figurehead.
• Rapper's delight: P.T. Barnnum exposes a supernatural swindler.
• Image: lovely 1820 fashion plate for a purple pelisse.
New Romney, a thriving English medieval port changed forever by a devastating storm.
• How intrepid women overcame an East India Company ban on them traveling to India in the early 17thc.
• This letter written in October 1780 by Abigail Adams to her husband John described the shocking betrayal of Benedict Arnold.
• Slashing throats for 130 years: the "read" Sweeney Todd.
• Henry VIII's break with the Pope and London's largest property transfer: the dissolution of the monasteries.
• Recreating the make-up of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.)
Image: Advertisement for Electric Corsets.
• "Bedazzling the eyes... like an angel of the sun": Shem Drowne's early 18thc. Indian archer weathervane.
• Beautiful color photographs of England in the 1920s.
• Observations on 18thc textiles in the correspondence of John and Abigail Adams.
• Object of intrigue: the prosthetic iron hand of a 16thc. knight.
• Behind the scenes in pictures at a 19thc. American illustrated newspaper.
• The medical powers of pumpkins.
Alexander Hamilton's last letter, 1804.
Image: A set of wooden play blocks depicting Nelson's funeral procession, 1806.
• James Ince & Sons, the oldest umbrella makers in England.
• The World War One munitions workers called "canary girls" - and the deadly hazard they faced.
• The spice that built Venice.
• A remedy for witchcraft and demonic possession from 17thc. Ireland.
• Lessons of the brain: how railway worker Phineas Gage survived a horrific work accident to his skull and brain - in 1848.
• Not just a Victorian fashion: the earliest known mourning ring dates from the late 15thc.
Image: Just for fun: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood vs. One Direction.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Video: Two-Tone Hairstyles from 1956

Friday, November 6, 2015

Isabella reporting,

While modern actresses and pop-singers are sporting pastel and ombre hair color, this video from British Pathé shows that they're not the first to dye their hair in Easter egg hues. These colorful styles from 1956 are the work of British hairdresser Raymond Bessone (1911-1992), also known as Mr. Teasie-Weasie for his deft work with a comb. The models in their evening gowns turn their heads in stately slow-motion and the orchestral music swells as Mr. Bessone adds his masterful touch to their hair. Clearly this was Serious Fashion.

I don't believe sea-foam green hair ever really caught on in the 1950s. But I was fascinated to see that one model in this clip is also sporting green nail polish - another fashion that's made a fresh appearance in the 21st century. Once again, when it comes to fashion, what's old is new.

Thanks to Kimberly Alexander for suggesting this video.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Guy Fawkes Day

Thursday, November 5, 2015
Guy Fawkes
Loretta reports:

Guy Fawkes Day (and Night) will not be familiar to many U.S. readers. Following are a few hints, from Hone’s Every-Day Book, about the origin and the celebration, along with a delightful “corporation notice.”


This is a great day in the calendar of the church of England: it is duly noticed by the almanacs, and kept as a holiday at the public offices. In the " Common Prayer Book," there is " A Form of Prayer with Thanksgiving, to be used yearly upon the Fifth day of November; for the happy deliverance of King James I., and the three Estates of England, from the most Traiterous and bloody-intended Massacre by Gunpowder: And also for the happy Arrival of His late Majesty (King William III.) on this Day, for the Deliverance of our Church and Nation.

There cannot be a better representation of "Guy Fawkes," as he is borne about the metropolis, " in effigy," on the fifth of November, every year, than the drawing to this article by Mr. Cruikshank. It is not to be expected that poor boys should be well informed as to Guy's history, or be particular about his costume. With them "Guy Fawkes-day," or, as they as often call it, " Pope-day," is a holiday, and as they reckon their year by their holidays, this, on account of its festivous enjoyment, is the greatest holiday of the season. They prepare long before hand, not "Guy," but the fuel wherewith he is to be burnt, and the fireworks to fling about at the burning: "the Guy" is the last thing thought of, "the bonfire" the first.
—William Hone, The Every-day Book (1827)

Cruikshank, Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes notice

You can read Susan/Isabella's Guy Fawkes Day (and Night) posts here and here.

Image at top: Guy Fawkes, print made by Rowney & Forster (active 1820–1822) after John Augustus Atkinson (1775–1831); aka The Fairs, (after 1821), 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, November 4, 2015

A Gift from Marie-Antoinette: An Elegant Traveling Case, c. 1780

Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Isabella reporting,

On Tuesday, Christie's held a sale in Paris entitled Collection Marie-Antoinette, featuring dozens of artworks and other items that were linked in one way or another to the doomed French queen. Not surprisingly, a number of items sold above the estimate, and in a few cases, far, far above. A humble woven basket with a history of having been used by the queen during her last imprisonment at la Conciergerie had a pre-sale estimate of $884-$1,326, but instead sold for $11,736!

According to the engraved brass plaque on the lid, this traveling case was a gift from the queen to Madame Auguie of Lascans sometime between 1773-1786. In French, the case is more elegantly called a necessaire de voyage, and for a lady traveling in the 18thc., it did in fact contain every little necessity for a journey. Wealthy travelers didn't expect many amenities along the way, and planned accordingly - and luxuriously.

This mahogany case is a wonderful example of what to bring. Among the things packed inside the relatively small case (it's about 18" long) are a small teapot, two teacups, and a box for loose tea; a box with perforated lid for hair powder; an oval mirror; a basin for washing; a pair of candlesticks with bases that unscrewed to for packing; a gilt fruit knife; an inkwell, a funnel, and an hourglass, as well as assorted boxes and jars for cosmetics and creams. In addition there's a smaller shagreen-covered case that housed more personal items, such as manicure tools, a comb, and a razor.

Everything has its fitted place within the case, making it easier for a maid to find and repack each item, and to keep it all secure while being jostled in a carriage. Not surprisingly, the case and its components were the work of a small team of the best specialized craftsmen in 18thc. Paris, including Jean-Etienne Langlois, Gabriel Gerbu, Antoine-Gaspard Lorett, Francois Corbett, and Pierre-Claude Mottie.

Christie's description of the case notes that a few things have been lost over time, but it's hard to imagine what else a lady might need. The case was passed down through the family until it was finally sold to a private collector in 1955, and now again today. I would guess that its connection to Marie-Antoinette made it a treasured heirloom, even a relic, which helped it remain so complete today.

If you're curious to see more from the sale, the results have already been posted online here. And if you'd like to compare this case to later traveling cases, here's a blog post featuring one from 1870, and another from 1920.

Above: Traveling case (necessaire de voyage), made in Paris, 1773-1786. Photograph courtesy of Christie's.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fashions for November 1856

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

November 1856 fashions
Loretta reports:

For this month’s fashion plate, we return to Godey’s, this time pre- U.S. Civil War—although one of the fashion terms is connected to a style of dress from about the time of the English Civil War. I glossed a few terms that might not be familiar to everybody (including me).

The September "chat" referred to in the description is starts here (in the lower right hand corner of the page).

November 1856 fashions described

BasquineExample on eBay

Galloon:“Narrow tape or binding of cotton, wool or silk, showing usually fancy weave; used for trimming dresses, uniforms, also for lacing.”
Passementerie: “Braid, fringes, etc., used for trimming”
—Louis Harmuth, Dictionary of textiles (1915)

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, November 1, 2015

Rococo Beauty: Mme. de Pompadour at her Dressing Table, 1750

Sunday, November 1, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), is best remembered as the chief mistress of King Louis XV. This portrait of her - painted by one of her favorite artists, François Boucher - shows her as the epitome of the doll-like beauty so popular in the mid-18thc. French court.

Obviously the goal wasn't a "natural" look. The very fact that the marquise chose to be captured in the intimate act of painting her face shows that artifice was expected, even prized.

As she sits at her looking glass, a lace-edged cape around her shoulders to protect her gown from powder, her gaze is both frank and serene. Her table has not only an oversized swan's-down puff for powder, but also an assortment of silk flowers (more artifice)  that she will be tucking into her hair. On her wrist is a bracelet featuring a cameo of the king, making it clear where her heart - or at least her best interests - lies.

What caught my eye first when I saw this painting, however, was the gold box and brush in her hands. Holding rouge for reddening the cheeks, the box and brush are very similar to one that I'd seen several years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; my blog post about that box is here. While the Met's box dates to several decades after Mme. de Pompadour's death, it's still tantalizing to imagine another lady sitting at her glass in much the same pose - art and an artifact combining to bring a lost world back to life.

This portrait is on display in the newly refurbished Harvard Art Museums on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA, well worth a visit if you're in Boston. More imagining: picture the pious Puritan worthies of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who established the college in the 17thc., coming face to face with the lovely, wanton French marquise holding court in their midst....

Above: Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour by François Boucher, c1750. Harvard Art Museums. Photograph by Lydia Scott.
Lower detail copyright President and Fellows of Harvard College.
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