For some inexplicable reason, many men have a weird fascination with brawling women. I don't know if this has to do with unbridled animal passions, or the hope that clothes will be torn off, or the fact that ordinary women are too sane to engage in fisticuffs, but whether it's mud wrestling or Mob Wives, guys will watch. This is, of course, nothing new; this painting of The Female Bruisers by John Collett dates from 1768, and became one of his most popular prints, doubtless pinned to the walls of hundreds of taverns and alehouses for the edification of the male patrons. (As always, click the image to enlarge it.)
Like all of Collett's pictures, there's a great deal going on here. The two combatants are likely prostitutes, perhaps old rivals with a long-standing feud. This isn't the best of neighborhoods, with a house selling Neat Wine on the right and a likely brothel on the left, with an amorous couple kissing in the upstairs window. A pair of fighting cocks in the lower left squawk at one another. A tattered playbill on the wall advertises a performance of The Rival Queens.
The battling woman on the left is the more prosperous, with a sheer embroidered apron, an elegant bracelet, and a watch on a chatelaine at her waist. In the heat of battle, she has dropped her ermine-trimmed cape to the street, while a pair of barefoot, soot-covered chimney-sweeps have made a prize of her ermine muff. Damage has been done: her sleeve ruffles are tattered, her hat's been torn off, and her hair's been pulled.
Beside her, a butcher has left his shop in the background to dab something - I'm guessing a half-lemon?- at her battered nose, and to offer a go-get-'em pat on her back. He's protecting his striped jacket (similar to this one) from his trade with tie-on blue sleeve cuffs (disturbingly like the ones worn by Georgian surgeons!) and an apron tied around his waist.
The other combatant isn't as well-dressed, even before her clothes were torn. She's not wearing stays, the way a respectable woman would, which allows the man who's helping her back to her feet help himself to a squeeze of her breast. Another, older woman (perhaps the madame to one or both of the fighters) is charging forward; she's ready to jump into the fray, but is being held back by a laughing man.
In fact, while there are a couple of fascinated girls watching, most of the onlookers are male of every rank, from bemused gentlemen to the gawking country-man who is having his pocket picked. Some are astonished, but most seem to be enjoying the spectacle. You can almost hear the frat-boy chants of "cat fight!", can't you?
Top: The Female Bruisers, by John Collett, 1768. Museum of London.
Dukes are popular. We authors of historical romances create hundreds of them, contrary to historical fact. In the 1816 Debrett's, from which I've clipped the summary about this rank of the peerage, I count only 18 English dukes. This includes the brand-new Duke of Wellington.
You can learn about the privileges of being a member of the peerage here.
Gathered just for you - this week's assortment of our fav links to other website, blogs, articles, and pictures, fresh from the Twitterverse.
• Dainty 19th c. footwear designed to protect the status quo.
• The end of an era: Dewey's own card catalogs in Columbia's library to be retired.
• An 1817 crib sheet for dancers who didn't quite know what they were doing.
• Indian shawls: their history & popularity.
• "Husbands hoped the bottles would be full upon their return": Civil War tear catchers.
• A young American artist abroad: Whistler's etchings of Limehouse & Wapping, 1859.
• Elizabeth Keckley, former slave who became Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker.
• Unusual 18th c. gravestone from Newport RI for two children, plus their mother's amputated arm.
• Love is in the air - courtesy of Thomas Rowlandson.
• Homemade remedies from 200 years ago include a mixture of whiskey, water, and chlorodyne for hysteria.
• Newly discovered four-thousand-year-old skeleton, adorned with gold, was likely member of ruling elite.
• Lord Byron asks his publisher to lie for him about authorship of a poem called The Waltz, 1813.
• Joan Beaufort, 15th c. queen of Scotland.
• Perfect for trysting: garden alcoves.
• "The infamous Dr. Foulkes", the 'black villain' of 18th c. physick.
• Oliver Cromwell's "gay attire."
• An improbably survivor: a 19th c. carriage house somehow perseveres in Manhattan.
• The phantom coffin makers as an omen of death.
• John Hearn, aged 12, arrested for stealing 11 pieces of leather (scroll down.)
• Victorian spring puddings and rhubarb.
• Author F.Scott Fitzgerald's finances: alcoholism & the question of downward economic mobility.
• The housewifely concerns of 17th c. gentlewoman Johanna St. John.
• Etiquette tips from the 1950s from Amy Vanderbilt, who clearly knew EVERYTHING.
• Victorian sensibilities: dildos and didon'ts.
• Painted buttons that may have belonged to Toussaint l'Ouverture, 18th c. former slave who became ruler of Haiti.
• Dorset is full of marvelous place names. This may be the best.
• In 1774, a sailor claims the British military kidnapped him to force him to accuse "King Hancock" of leading the Tea Party.
• Out and about: Fred Astaire's tuxedo.
• How paperback books changed the reading habits of an entire nation in the 1940s.
• Heroes of Slang(and a bawdy one, too): John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.
• Queen Charlotte swore by it! Recipe To Thicken Hair, 1871.
• The apartments of MesDames at Versailles.
• If I die young: a brief history of funeral invitations.
• The brazen bibliophiles of Timbuktu - how a team of sneaky librarians duped Al Qaeda. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily!
This isn't a single video, but a series of short, silent clips pieced together. The description notes that it's also been "enhanced," with the focus sharpened and the speed made consistent. That said, it's a wonderful slice of Edwardian life, a medley of street scenes, factory-dominated landscapes, amusement parks, family scenes, dockside farewells, and holidays at the beach. The caption on YouTube says the clips were mostly shot in London, with some perhaps from Cork, Ireland as well.
Much like one of our earlier Friday videos from 1895, the people here may have been arranged before the camera, but no one is acting. Seeing how everyone walks, how their clothes move and how they carry themselves, the carriages and wagons and early motor cars - it's as close as we'll get to being able to look backwards in time more than a hundred years.
Several things stood out to me while watching this:
1) Everyone dressed much more formally then, no matter what the occasion.
2) Boys and men have always been willing to stick their faces in front of a camera.
3) Wherever the people in the last scene are, it's an incredibly happy crowd. So many smiles!
4) The women's hats are fantastic, and so are the men's moustaches.
Along with the recommendations for bathing, we get a little reminder that not every household had its own bathing facilities. London had a number of public bathhouses at this time, as the page from Leigh’s New Picture of London demonstrates.
As a preservative of health the value of cleanliness must be obvious to every sensitive mind, whether indeed it be considered in a medical, a moral, or a cosmetical point.
Personal cleanliness, and every thing connected therewith, is a principal duty of man: an unclean and dirty person is never in health, and, at best, is always a loathsome and disgusting sight. It is better to wash twenty times a-day, than to allow a dirty spot to remain on any part of the skin...
The body, and particularly the joints, ought to be frequently washed with pure water, especially in summer, when the perspirable matter, being of an unctuous, clammy nature, obstructs the excretion by the pores. The face, neck, and hands, being most exposed to the air, dust, and the like, ought to be daily washed, morning and evening…
The whole head ought to be frequently washed and cleaned, as it perspires much, and is, besides, exposed to the dust and other particles in the atmosphere. Washing opens the pores, while the comb, by its close application to the skin, removes the viscid humors and renders them fluid. The use of baths, too much neglected, ought to be more generally introduced. It is not sufficient for the great purposes of cleanliness and health, that a few or more wealthy families repair every season to watering places, or that they even make use of other modes of bathing, either for health or amusement. A very different method must be pursued, if we sincerely wish to restore the vigor of a degenerated race: we mean here to inculcate the indispensable necessity of domestic baths, so well known among the ancients, and so universally established all over Europe a few centuries ago.
—The Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion 1834
Here’s more on public bathing. Clicking on the Bathing label at right will take you to our many posts on the subject. And here are directions to what may or may not be a Roman Bath in London.
Recently old photographs of the Cardiff Giant surfaced on Twitter, and with them returned a few ancient memories of my own. On some long-ago family vacation, I clearly recall peering over a wooden fence into a pit to see the Giant himself. He left a considerable impression on my youthful mind, primarily because he was really big and he was naked. Whoa!
But then the Cardiff Giant was designed to have that effect on people. The Giant was the creation of a New Yorker named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, concocted the plan in an I'll-show-them moment after an argument with a group of Methodists. The argument was over a passage from Genesis that stated giants once inhabited the Earth, which the Methodists accepted as fact, and Hull didn't.
To prove his point, Hull hired artisans to create a monumental hoax. He arranged for a giant figure, about ten feet long, to be carved from gypsum in Chicago by a stone cutter sworn to secrecy, and in an extra twist of cynicism, Hull had the figure's face carved to resemble his own. Then he had the completed figure "antiqued" by beating and staining.
Finally, Hull had the figure transported to the upstate New York farm of his cousin, William C. Newell, where it was secretly buried near Newell's barn. Then they waited nearly a year before hiring two local well-diggers to accidentally discover the giant in October, 1869. The stone figure was declared to be the petrified remains of a lost race of giants, and was dubbed the Cardiff Giant in honor of the nearest town.
Word spread like the proverbial wildfire. Newell set up a tent over the statue, and charged 25 cents for a look. The crowds grew, and he raised his fee to 50 cents. Scientists and archaeologists denounced it as a certain fake. I particularly like the declaration by palaeontologist Othniel C. Marsh: "a most decided humbug." To modern eyes, it doesn't remotely look like anything but an amateurish 19th c. sculpture.
Yet people believed in the Cardiff Giant because they wanted to. Fundamentalist Christians - the ones that had so irritated Hull - not only accepted it, but defended it, too. Wrote one well-regarded pastor from nearby Syracuse: "Is it not strange that any human being, after seeing this wonderfully preserved figure, can deny the evidence of his senses, and refuse to believe, what is so evidently the fact, that we have here a fossilized human being, perhaps one of the giants mentioned in Scripture?"
The only true "wonderfully preserved" thing to emerge was Hull's bank account. While he reportedly had spent over $2,000 to create the hoax, he was reaping a fortune thanks to the gullible public. Finally he sold his share of the giant in 1869 to a syndicate led by showman David Hannum who paid him $37,500 (nearly half a million dollars in modern money.) They trundled the Giant off to Syracuse, where he could reach a wider audience and earn even more money.
So great was the Giant's appeal that another showman (the king of showmen, really) P.T. Barnum offered $150,000 for the figure. Hannum and his partners refused. Barnum not only promptly created a fake giant of his own, but declared that his was the genuine Cardiff Giant, and that Hannum's was the fake. Hannum sued Barnum, much to the delight of the newspaper-reading public.
But the end was coming. Hull confessed the Giant was a fake. On February 2, 1870, both giants were declared to be fakes, and the case dismissed. The original Cardiff Giant ceased to be a marvel, though he was still attracting the curious well into the 20th century, above. Eventually he ended up in The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY (not far from the Baseball Hall of Fame), which is where I saw him.
Much more lasting, however, is a comment made at the trial by David Hannum, and ironically it's more often attributed to P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute." Can there be any better legacy for the Cardiff Giant than that?
Above left: Cardiff Giant side show, c. 1900 Lower right: Cardiff Giant on display in Syracuse, NY, c. 1869 Photographs courtesy New York State Historical Association.
Some of the magazine descriptions of clothing, houses, and furnishings are as charming and interesting as the items themselves. This bed is a great example. It strikes me as delightfully fanciful, and I like the way it's described as a balance between English and French taste. I also like the options of decorating with more "chasteness" or more "gaiety."
While I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last month to see the Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity exhibition, I also had to stop by some of my favorite paintings, the way every good, habitual nerdy-history-museum-goer does. Each time I see something new, some slight nuance that I'd missed before, no matter how many times I've seen the picture.
The larger-than-life portrait of Elizabeth Farren, left, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, has been one of my favs since I was a teenager taking summer classes at the Met. I've always liked the combination of the gleaming silk under the cloud-filled sky, and the story of the sitter is intriguing, too. Elizabeth Farren (c. 1759-1829) was an Irish actress who made her London stage debut at 18 in Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. This portrait was painted in 1790. Her theatrical success was trumped by her matrimonial achievement: in 1797, she married the twelfth Earl of Derby, and became a countess.
What I noticed most about the portrait this time, however, was Miss Farren's muff. Oversized muffs were very much the fashion, especially for a glamorous woman like Miss Farren, and a fur one like this would have made the same stylish – and pricey – statement as a large designer handbag does today. I've written several blog posts about 18th c. muffs before (here and here, and the male versionhere), but this particular muff is the largest I've ever seen either in a portrait or as a surviving example.
But clearly the perception of Georgian caricaturists was that the large fur muffs of the day were huge, even monstrous in size. Fur muffs were a grotesque female fashion in need of skewering, which is exactly what happened. Check out the satirical print, right, from 1787, only a short time before Miss Farren sat for her portrait. This lady's muff is so extreme that it dwarfs her, which might explain her slightly pained expression - though the equally exaggerated hat might account for that, too.
There's always a wealth of goodies in our Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, articles, and web sites, gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Murderabilia for English society ladies, 1910.
• Daffy's Elixer, an 'elixir salutis' & 18th-19th c. cure for colds, fevers, & stomach complaints.
• Waltzing with Eisenhower: a collection of West Point dance cards, 1915.
• American Shakers under Lucy Wright, 1760-1821.
• "Wear your own secret heart code!" Ad campaign for Lady Alice shirts, 1943.
• Digital mapping project at Stanford University reveals social networks of 18th c. Grand Tour travelers.
• Did people in the Middle Ages take baths?
• How attractive are you to the opposite sex? Esquire magazine's 1949 questionnaire of sexisms.
• Advice to a niece on her wedding, from Anne Stockton, wife of Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton.
• The Victorian Batman who crash-landed in Chelsea.
• Suffrage diary of Kate Parry Frye (1878-1959.)
• The Science of Self-Defense for Girls & Women, 1929, digitized book at Hawaii Karate Museum.
• Early reports of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in British newspapers, 1865.
• It never changes for writers: the disappointing sales of Walter Scott's poem Rokeby, 1813.
• True Hollywood glamour by Irene, both on and off the screen, 1930s-40s.
• A scene on the main deck, 1824.
• An anti-love potion, 1913.
• The now-forgotten Edinburgh International Exhibition of 1886.
• On April 19, 1775, Minute Men stood guard at the Old North Bridge.
• The habits of cats: image from a 13th c. bestiary.
• History myth or truth? 'Your name is mud' insult comes from doctor who treated Lincoln's assassin.
• What was the truth about the madness of George III?
• Vintage visions of Pennsylvania Station, NYC, in its heyday before Madison Square Garden.
• Who was Madame Tussaud?
• Taking care of a gentleman's clothes, 1827.
• Blood, sweat, & steel: an afternoon with the Ace of Swords.
• Pain and pearl cordials: 17th c. women and miscarriage.
• The British plan to burn Harvard College, 1775.
• "Women who fly": women in early 20th c. aviation.
• Album of rare photos of actress Lillie Langtry, mistress to Edward VII. More about Lillie/Lily. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily!
Before the Beatles, before Elvis Presley, before even Frank Sinatra, the singer who made girls swoon was Rudy Vallee.
Along with love songs and the blues, he performed the occasional novelty number. One of my personal favorites, because I appreciate clever comic lyrics, is “When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba.” (Try singing along.)
But “Kansas City Kitty” is a close second on a similar theme (the not-so-intellectual), and this clip features Betty Boop, in her first appearance.
Photo image of Rudy Vallee courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Those who receive our blog via email might see a blank or empty rectangle where the video should be. To view the video, please click on the link to our blog.
It's a known fact that Loretta and I have a Thing for shoes (it says so right up there, under the blog's title.) When we come across shoes that also have a history - like these or these - we're in heaven. And when there may be a mysterious romance tossed in with the history – well, we can't ask for more, can we?
Dating from the 1820s, the leather slippers, trimmed with now-faded silk, left, were recently "rediscovered" in the King's Museum, University of Aberdeen. As occasionally happens in even the best of collections, these shoes had been long ago tucked away and forgotten, until an enterprising curatorial assistant, Louise Wilkie, came across them, and researched their background to be able to identify them as they prize they are.
The slippers have been identified as having belonged to Pauline Bonaparte Borghese (1780-1825), below right, Princess of Sulmona and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. One clue was an old engraving on the shoes' soles: "Pauline, Rome Jan 20 1824." Another was the diminutive size of the shoes themselves, equivalent to a UK child's size 2; Pauline was famously known to have very small feet.
But Ms. Wilkie discovered a much stronger connection. The shoes were included in a collection of belongings of Robert Wilson (1787-1871.) Born in Banffshire, Scotland, Wilson served for several years as a ship's surgeon with the Honorable East India Company. The experience quelled his interest in medicine, but made him into an intrepid traveller. His journeys took him throughout Europe as well as to Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and India - all the more extraordinary given the unsettled times in which he was travelled.
While visiting Italy in 1820, he met and formed a close friendship with Pauline. Exactly how close they became remains a tantalizing mystery, even given Pauline's reputation for sexual adventures with many lovers. Still, entries like this one in Wilson's diary hint at their intimacy: "I passed a fortnight in the vicinity of Pisa with the Princess Borghese in a state of almost perfect seclusion, and afterwards accompanied her to the Baths of Lucca."
Perhaps the Princess found the straight-forward Scotsman a refreshing change from her more exotic lovers. Perhaps they simply were friends, and no more. But she did give him many gifts, including these slippers, as mementos – mementos that he carefully packed away and saved for the remainder of his long life, and bequeathed with his papers to the university at his death.
Above left: Slippers belonging to Pauline Borghese, King's Museum, University of Aberdeen. Bottom right: Princess Pauline Borghese, by Robert Lefevre, c. 1808. Palace of Versailles.
In case you were wondering what the ladies wore to the Queen’s Drawing Room, here are a few descriptions of dresses worn to the one held on 18 April 1833. (idiosyncratic spelling retained).
A list of the principal dresses worn at Her Majesty’s Drawing Room.
HER MAJESTY. A rich silver tissue dress, embroidered in gold, the body and sleeves ornamented with diamonds and blonde: train of crimson velvet, lined with white satin, with gold and silver border to correspond. Headdress, feathers and diamonds.
DUCHESS DE DINO. A gold and silver lama dress over a white satin slip, with gold and silver lama corsage a pointe, profusely trimmed with gold fringe; manteau of emerald-green velvet, superbly trimmed, with rich garniture to correspond; cherusse en blonde. Head-dress, green wreath, with ostrich feathers, surmounted with diamonds.
MARCHIONESS OF DOWNSHIRE. A figured satin petticoat, trimmed with robings of blonde and gauze riband; boddice and sleeves trimmed with blonde to correspond ; train of green velvet, splendidly trimmed with lama and gold fringe. Head-dress, blonde lappets, feathers, and diamonds.
MARCHIONESS OF HASTINGS. A crape petticoat, richly embroidered with gold and silver, worn over white satin body, and train of cream-coloured satin, embroidered to correspond. Pearl ornaments.
MARCHIONESS OF LONDONDERRY. A black crape dress and train, lined with black gros deNaples, trimmed with gauze riband, and attaches of clusters of diamonds; corsage a pointe, with a splendid diamond stomacher. Head-dress, black feathers en chaperon, double guirlande of diamonds, black lace lappets, and necklace of large pearls and diamonds.
MARCHIONESS WELLESLEY. A rich black bugle dress; train to correspond. Head-dress, black feathers and jet ornaments.
That’s only the the very top ranks. For the lot—countesses, viscountesses, etc.—please click here.
Illustration: Court Dress for April 1832 (a year earlier, but close enough) from The Royal Lady’s Magazine, 1832. To enlarge the dress description below, please click on the image. Or you can read it here.
It's hard to imagine selling a Fifth Avenue mansion for a pearl necklace - but that's exactly the deal that was made between an indulgent millionaire and a savvy jeweler in early 20th c. New York City, and with both parties thoroughly satisfied with the transaction, too.
Morton F. Plant (1852-1918) was the millionaire, a railroad tycoon, real estate developer, and philanthropist. Plant was a gentleman with expensive tastes – he owned yachts, baseball teams, multiple houses, and a hotel or two – and when he decided on a new house in 1902, he spent grandly. Occupying a corner lot on Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, the five-story mansion, left, was built of granite and marble and featured all the elegant details of the Italian Renaissance Revival style, making it an instant landmark of "Millionaire's Row."
When Plant's wife of twenty-six years died in 1913, the sixty-one-year-old millionaire didn't wait long to find a new spouse. Mae Caldwell Manwaring was only thirty-one, and married to another man. But Plant was not accustomed to being denied, and less than a year after his wife's death, he married the newly-divorced Maisie.
A new bride deserved a new house. Concerned with the encroachment of stores and businesses up Fifth Avenue, Plant began building an even more lavish new mansion farther uptown on 86th Street. Maisie was eager to do a little upgrading of her own. She had her eye on a double-strand necklace of Oriental pearls in the display cases at Cartier. In these days before cultured pearls, natural pearls were extremely valuable, and favored by kings and queens – and Maisie. This particular necklace certainly had a royal price: $1million dollars, or roughly $16 million in today's money.
But what Maisie wanted, Maisie received. Her husband met with the jeweler, and sold the Italianate mansion on 52nd Street for $100 and the pearl necklace. The jeweler transformed the mansion into Cartier U.S. flagship store. Maisie, right, happily wore her pearls through two more marriages.
In the long run, however, it seems that Cartier got the better of the deal. The store continues to prosper in Plant's mansion, and in 1970 was designated a New York City Landmark. I can't begin to imagine what the Cartier store is worth today in Manhattan's real estate market, except that it must be significantly more than a million dollars. As for Maisie's pearls, the development of cultured pearls in the 1930s-40s flattened the market for natural pearls. After her death in 1957, Maisie's heirs sold her pearls at Park Bernet. The price realized at auction? A mere $150,000.
Many thanks to one of our favorite blogs, Daytonian in Manhattan, for first sharing the story of Maisie's pearls with us.
[T]hough the hoop and quilted petticoat are no longer suffered to shroud in hideous obscurity one of the loveliest works in nature, yet all intermediate covering is not to be banished. . . .
Some of our fair dames appear, summer and winter, with no other shelter from sun or frost, than one single garment of muslin or silk over their chemise—if they wear one ! . . . No eye but that of a libertine can look upon so wanton a figure with any other sensations than those of disgust and contempt: and the end of all her arts being lost, the certainty of an early old age, chronic pains and deeply-furrowed wrinkles, is thus incurred in vain.
No woman . . . ought to be prodigal of her charms ; she should not " unmask her beauties to the moon or unduely expose the vital fluid, which animates her frame with life and joy. A momentary blast from the east may pierce her filmy robes, wither her bloom, and lay her low for ever.
The Chemise, (now too frequently banished,) ought to be held as sacred by the modest fair, as the vestal veil . . . to shelter her from the gaze of unhallowed eyes. There are circumstances which might occur to her, wherein the want of this decent garment might subject her to a shame never to be forgotten by herself or others. Let her think of accidents " by flood, or field, or fire;" and I trust she will never again subject herself to the chance of such unwomanly exposure...
[W]e shall next speak of the stays, or corsets. They must be light and flexible, yielding to the shape, while they support it. In warm weather, my fair reader should wear under her gown and slip, a light cotton petticoat; these few habiliments are sufficient to impart the softening line of modesty to the defined outline of the form. Health, also, is preserved by their opposing the immediate influence of the atmosphere; and none will deny, that enough of female charms are thus displayed, to gratify the quick, discerning eye of taste.
—The Mirror of the Graces,1811
Guidance on shoes and stockings here. Proper behavior between the sexes here.
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, photographs, articles, & videos, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• An ingenious 1815 sewing compendium in the shape of the Brighton Pavilion.
• The important etiquette of good grooming, 1940.
• Heart-shaped ginger cakes: 18th c. recipe plus modern version.
• The squirrel is a symbol of Satan, and probably that will not surprise anyone.
• Seven famous people who fortunately missed the Titanic when it sailed 101 years ago this week.
• "A kiss from France": sentimental silk embroidered postcards, sent home during World War One.
• A charm of goldfinches, a drift of hogs, a kindle of kittens: how many terms of 15th c. venery do you know?
• Fascinating Theatre de la Mode from the 1940s: French high fashion in miniature.
• A 17th c. beadle's staff is among the historical relics of Norton Folgate.
• Cringe or starve: defining the deserving and undeserving poor in Victorian and Edwardian England.
• The Good Pub Guide for the 1500s tells you how to binge-drink for a few pence a week.
• When Dickens met Dostoevsky. Or not.
• An 18th c. French 'carnival mask' ring makes a remarkable statement of love.
• Weird relics and mementos include body parts and hangmen's ropes.
• For years this photograph was seen as the joyful, iconic V-J Day photo - but was it really sexual assault?
• Traces of a vanished occupation: lamplighters in 18th-19th c. British newspapers.
• Starch, the devil's liquor? Maybe in the 16th c....
• Knitting a shower-proof golf coat and other vintage knitting patterns.
• Distilling the essence of Heaven: how alcohol could defeat the Antichrist.
• Giant grasshoppers! Vintage postcards show Americans' love of folksy exaggeration.
• A 1901 Victorian bath chair bought on Ebay, now lovingly restored to former glory.
• Exuberant English Renaissance calligraphy books.
• The Art of Kissing: a 1936 guide for lovers.
• Fascinating look at changing sleep patterns between 16th-17th c. and modern day (or night.)
• Only 50 years after construction, NYC's magnificent Havemeyer mansion falls to progress in 1915.
• Keats, Dylan, Fitzgerald, Dickinson, more: fascinating handwritten poems by famous authors.
• Recipe for 18th c. Spanish Pudding, spiced with a Moorish twist.
• Who was behind the 1920s fashions for flappers?
• "The severall places in London where you may hear news" in London, c. 1640.
• A right royal little video: the making of Henry VIII's crown.
• Harriot Kezia Hunt (1805-1875), the first American woman to practice medicine professionally.
• With a taste for "extravagances and debaucheries": The Winchcombe Highwayman.
• The historical sociology of choosing baby names. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for daily updates!
Last month I shared part one of a video of the mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg creating this 18th c. silk gown, left, in a single day. The second part of the video is now online to watch here. Through cutting, fitting, pinning, stitching, and even decorative pinking, the video demonstrates how these skilled tradeswomen replicated a gown that would have made their Georgian counterparts proud.
The emphasis on the women's hands as they work is especially beautiful. Today so few things are made by hand - any hands - that we often forget the magic rhythm of creation, and the now-rare satisfaction that can come from it as well. Watch, and enjoy.
Most clothing has a short life-span. People of the past treated their clothing much as we do today. When garments wore out, or went out of style, or ceased to fit, they were discarded, handed down, or remade. The pieces that do survive over the generations are rare. Some were saved because of extraordinary craftsmanship, others because of a connection to a famous person, and still more because they were worn for a special occasion like a wedding.
And then there's this dress, lower right. Sewn from white cotton printed with purple stripes and dots, this summer gown was made by an unknown French seamstress around 1880. It's the only extant garment featured in the current exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is also shown in a nearby painting. (I've already blogged about the show here and here.) In the Conservatory, left, was painted c. 1880 by Albert
Bartholomé (1848-1928), and features the artist's wife stepping from their garden. Their marriage was apparently a happy one, with Mme. Bartholomé overseeing a salon in their home that included friends like American painter Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) and Symbolist novelist Karl Huysmans (184801907).
Sadly, Mme. Bartholomé died in 1887. Bartholomé kept the painting of his wife and the dress in which she posed as mementos, and both are now in the collection of the Musée ďOrsay in Paris. While the art critic for the New York Times dismissed the painting as "cloying" and its inclusion in the show as "a wide miss," gallery-goers when I saw the show didn't seem to agree, clustering around the painting and the dress in a case nearby. M. Bartholomé would have been proud.
Above left: In the Conservatory, by Albert Bartholomé, c. 1880, Musée ďOrsay, Paris. Lower right: Summer Dress, printed cotton, c. 1878-1880, maker unknown, Musée ďOrsay, Paris.
On this day in 1865, at Appomattox Court House, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all United States forces. The surrender didn’t end the Civil War. It took several more months, and the death of President Lincoln, before the fighting ended completely, after 600,000 men had been killed.
A Virginia Girl in the Civil War, 1861-1865 is told from the point of view of a wife of a Confederate soldier, but this excerpt, which I found initially via the Library of Congress, struck me as particularly poignant. And universal.
The author has been waiting for several days, with increasing panic, for her husband to return from the war.
Do you know how it is to feel in your sleep that some one is looking at you? This is the sort of sensation that aroused me the next morning, and I opened my eyes in the early dawn to find my husband standing by the bed with clasped hands looking down at me.
Ah, we were happy—we were happy! Ragged, defeated, broken, we but had each other and that was enough. ...We are prosperous now, our heads are nearly white; little grandchildren cluster about us and listen with interest to grandpapa's and grandmamma's tales of the days when they "fought and bled and died together." They can't understand how such nice people as the Yankees and ourselves ever could have fought each other. "It doesn't seem reasonable," says Nellie the third, who is engaged to a gentleman from Boston, where we sent her to cultivate her musical talents, but where she applied herself to other matters, 'it doesn't seem reasonable, grandmamma, when you could just as easily have settled it all comfortably without any fighting. How glad I am I wasn't living then! How thankful I am that 'Old Glory' floats alike over North and South, now!'
One of our more popular clothing posts was A Perfect Pair of Gentleman's Buckskin Breeches. Breeches like these were worn by men of every class from the 18th-early 19th c., as any reader of Georgette Heyer can attest. During my last visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I learned a bit more about these breeches from apprentice tailor Michael McCarty, left. Even better, Michael was wearing a pair himself, which made him able to answer from experience my nerdy-history-girl questions.
Despite their name, buckskin breeches weren't all necessarily made from the skin of buck (male) deer. Not only were some made of doeskin (from the female deer), but there are also references to skins of sheep, elk, caribou, and even beaver fashioned into the popular breeches. The 18th c. wasn't above a bit of fashion-marketing, however, and it was evidently much more agreeable to cut a dashing figure before the ladies in a pair of new buckskins than a pair of (baa!) sheepskins.
The breeches were sold ready-made, and were also custom-made for more discerning gentlemen. They were popular for riding and for work, since they were both comfortable and long-wearing. While they are most often seen in 18th c. paintings of gentlemen as country-wear, they were also adopted by young bucks about town, as well as by sporting gentlemen.
Most breeches were pale, both from fashionable choice and from making use of the naturally creamy white color of the skins. Others were smoked to achieve a grey color, while the skins could also be surface-dyed, with the same processes used to dye leather for shoes.
Michael's breeches are in fact sheepskin, and were made by journeyman saddler Jay Howlett, also of Colonial Williamsburg. Like everything else made through CW's historic trades programs, the breeches were cut and sewn entirely by hand, using 18th c. tailoring techniques.
How comfortable are the breeches to wear? Michael reports that they're as soft and comfortable as a pair of worn jeans, and says that the skins make the breeches have natural stretch and give (no Lycra!), with sufficient "memory" that they return to shape; it's clear that buckskin breeches could be very close-fitting indeed, without the potential of seam-splitting disasters. As an 18th c. tailor, Michael sits cross-legged in the traditional posture for work, right, and his breeches didn't seem any the worse for it.
And do you recognize Michael's striped waistcoat? It's the stable jacket we last saw here, doing double-duty as an extra layer for fashionable warmth.
I happened on this little bit of early filmmaking, clearly made to titillate. There seemed to be a good deal of that happening in the early days of cinema: lots of scantily clad women. There are certainly some oddities in this one—like, what is that stuff the maid is pouring on her? But ye persons of historical nerdiness will appreciate this golden opportunity to see what layers a woman would be wearing in the late 1800s, and what went over and under what.
le Balis a film by George Melies, whose name film buffs and anybody who's seen Hugo will quickly recognize.
Illustration is a possible image for during the ball: Albert von Keller's Lady Dancing, 1900. Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.