Saturday, April 30, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of April 25, 2016

Saturday, April 30, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Ownership and imprints: famous hands and famous gloves.
• Even a genius has to sell himself: the remarkable resume of Leonardo daVinci.
• Wealthy boys from Eton who were accustomed to getting their own way: The Eton College Riot, 1818.
• "I don't know whether to kiss you or spank you": a half-century of fear of an unspanked woman.
Image: 17thc blocks for printing playing cards.
• The golden age of the classic high heel: Ferragamo, Vivier, and the stiletto.
• The extraordinary life of Marianne North, Victorian explorer, naturalist, and painter.
• A history of virility, and why it's different (and maybe better than) mere manliness.
• Blue men, the bean-nighe, and a brownie: more mythical creatures of Scotland.
Image: Postcard of American tourists in Europe, 1910.
• Why the colors you see in an art museum can't be replicated today.
• Why there's nothing vanilla about vanilla.
• An early 19thc church in Manhattan's Henry Street still retains its slave galleries.
• Painstaking portraits of 19thc dermatology patients.
Image: Central dome of the 1889 Paris World's Fair Gallery of Machines - the world's largest interior space at the time.
• Could the Broadway smash Hamilton keep a woman's face off the $10 bill?
• The secret history of the Civil War photo at the center of the black confederate myth.
• Egyptian blue, the oldest known artificial pigment.
• Only a year after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, Mrs. Irwin wears an "earthquake costume" to a party.
• A tale of two 18thc patriots from Salem, MA.
• For an editor in 1800, the best way to document a brutal local murder was to publish an epic poem about the crime.
Image: Good luck using this 19thc tax calculator.
• Long (but interesting!) read: conversations and chimney-pieces: the role of the hearth in 18thc British portraiture.
• Watch 65 of Charlie Chaplin's films free online.
• Presidential inaugurations: national unity and partisan poking.
• Is Longfellow's famous poem about Paul Revere's ride really a call to 19thc abolitionists?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 29, 2016

2NHG Signing Books in Burlington, MA

Friday, April 29, 2016
Loretta & Isabella report:

There we were, at last year's book signing.

We'll be there again.

Loretta & Isabella
aka Two Nerdy History Girls
will, once again, be signing their books
in Burlington MA.
Open to the public.

Details below—with thanks to Penny Watson of NEC/RWA for posting a lovely image for me to steal.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What's Old is New: Double Rings

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Among the hottest trends in jewelry right now are double rings - rings whose designs span two fingers. It's considered a look that's new, hot, fresh, and very 2016.

So even though I know that there's nothing new under the sun, I was surprised when I saw this ring, upper left, last week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The shadow reveals the two rings beneath the three stones, and the black-and-white photo, right, from the museum's web site shows the joined rings more clearly.

Featuring an emerald flanked by two rose-cut diamonds set in gold, the double ring was made in New York in 1895 by the well-regarded jewelry firm of Marcus & Company. The company's founder, Herman Marcus (1828-1899), was known for taking inspiration from the past for his designs, and this ring is in the Renaissance revival style popular at the time. So very 1895, by way of the 16th century.

But it turns out that the design is even older than that. A little more investigation, and I learned that the double ring design dates back at least to the 1st century BC, when the ring, lower right, was made in Hellenistic Greece. With an amethyst flanked by two garnets set in twisted bezels, this gold ring would be right in style today. Proving that, once again, what's old (even very old!) is new again.

Above: Double ring, Marcus and Company, 1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Top left photography ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: Hellenistic Greek gold double ring, 2nd-1st century. Private collection; image via TimeLine Auctions.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shakespeare's Buildings, Lost, Found, Recreated

Monday, April 25, 2016
William Shakespeare-Chandos Portrait
Loretta reports:

Shakespeare’s birthday is 26 April, but since this is my day to post, we celebrate a day early.

I hastily put down a date, which turned out to be wrong, so let's just celebrate Shakespeare's being born in April around this time, we think.

I had a chance to experience a Shakespeare play in something close to what it might have been like when he was alive. A few years ago, we were in England, and had, for once, made reservations sufficiently far in advance to see one of the Bard’s works at the recreated Globe Theatre.

Though it represents an educated guess at what the original Globe was like, it seemed an authentic enough experience to me. At one point in the performance of Much Ado About Nothing, it started raining. Those standing under the open roof pulled up their rain hoods or umbrellas or simply got rained on.

It was an altogether different experience from watching a performance in a closed theater, or even at an outdoor theater. For one thing, the playhouse is small, and the audience is practically mingling with the players. All in all, it was a fabulous experience, and I hope to return next year.
The Globe
That was one reason I became so intrigued when an email message invited me to look at this beautiful series of Shakespeare-related photographs—including some fine shots of the recreated Globe Theatre—and I learned about the discovery, by members of the Museum of London Archaeology,  of the Curtain Theatre, where it’s believed some of Shakespeare’s plays made their debuts.

The Curtain is going to be a centerpiece, interestingly enough, of a luxury development. You can find out more here and here.

There’s more about the Curtain Theatre at the MOLA site, and you can learn more about MOLA on their blog.

Images: Shakespeare, Chandos portrait, National Portrait Gallery via Wikipedia.
The Globe Theatre courtesy Shakespeare's Buildings

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, April 23, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of April 18, 2016

Saturday, April 23, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• What is dazzle, and how did it influence 20thc fashion?
• "Deserved and received respect": how after twenty-four years as a female, Deborah Lewis transformed into the male Francis Lewis in 18thc Massachusetts.
Image: Tiles with instructions for gymnastic exercises for young girls, 1840.
D-Day hero set to marry his first love - 72 years after he first proposed to her.
• Poignant 19thc petitions from mothers hoping to find sanctuary for their illegitimate children.
• A 17thc silk gown with possible royal Stuart connections discovered off the Dutch coast.
• Extreme longevity in the 1700s.
• After centuries of innovation, is the library card dying?
• The sound of the past: Wheatley's Cries of London.
Image: Warning sign at Yosemite National Park, 1915 - not that it stopped the people on that rock!
• On the trail of the Last Supper.
• Why the hit musical Hamilton is a potent reminder that historians are not the only custodians of history.
• Previously unknown Shakespeare First Folio discovered just lying around a grand Scottish home.
• A shot in the dark? A mysterious find in a bundle of archived papers.
Image: Tax avoidance, 17thc style: a house built over a river between two jurisdictions.
• The tragic love story of children's illustrator and author Beatrix Potter.
Lady Hamilton as a bacchante, restored and rediscovered.
• The life of a movie costume after filming is done.
• "Beware of the lascivious tango", warned the Ladies' Home Journal, and these are the boots to prove why.
Image: Nineteenth century Coca cola contained cocaine, and doctors prescribed it as a "nerve stimulant."
• Where's a witch to rest? Chimney stacks and witches' seats.
• Historical socks and stockings from the Nordiska Museet, Stockholm.
• George Washington's troublesome teeth.
• Image: Fantastic 18thc Polish pulpit.
William Kidd, the pirate who was framed.
• Book quiz: do you know these last lines of famous novels?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Video: Truly Vintage Denim: A Pair of 1840s Trousers

Friday, April 22, 2016

Isabella reporting,

The clothing that most Americans wear today has a short and dismal life - clothes that are cheaply made overseas, designed for today's fashion instead of longevity, and often discarded after a season or two. Some garments don't even last that long, doomed by shoddy construction and inferior fabric. It's the modern curse of Fast Fashion.

These trousers are something else entirely. They've not only had a long, long life; they've acquired a soul, too, and they just might be the great-grandfather of our modern jeans. Curators guess that they were made about 1840, before sewing machines, and all the seams are stitched entirely by hand. But that's only the beginning of the evolution of these trousers, as this short video explains.

The trousers are featured in the Denim: Fashion's Frontier exhibition currently on display at the Museum of FIT, New York. It's a fascinating, thoughtful show (you can see more highlights here) and if you're in New York, you should see it. But hurry: it closes on May 7, 2016.

Many thanks to Nicole Bloomfield, conservator at the Museum of FIT for suggesting this video.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Queen Elizabeth II Turns 90

Thursday, April 21, 2016
Loretta reports:

Today is Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. She is the longest-reigning British monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria as of last September. Though she isn’t our queen, we Yanks find her interesting for all kinds of reasons. Certainly many of us love the pageantry associated with royals, the palaces, the golden coaches, the ancient rituals.

I’m deeply interested because the monarchy is the heart of that world of noble men and women who people my fiction. The court, those who make up the upper ranks of society, how one addresses this person, who’s a peer and who isn’t, who inherits what—learning about and trying to execute correctly these and numerous other mysteries of a completely foreign world, are part of the torture and joy of what I do.

But the royals I study are long gone. Queen Elizabeth is one of a vanishing breed. She's the living model of a monarch, the modern version, yes, apparently much saner than some of her ancestors; and there she is, on TV, still doing her Queen thing, as she’s done my whole life, with dignity and grace and what seems to be good humor.

So I thought we'd mark her milestone birthday with this set of photos of her life.

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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

At a Police Office, 1828

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Tom Getting the Best of a Charley
Loretta reports:

A gentleman, summoned by a friend who got caught in a police raid on a gambling establishment, recounts his first experience there. I’ve excerpted only the account of the “young sparks” who decided to copy one famous scene from Life in London and ended up experiencing another—a visit to Bow Street.

I was awakened a short time back by a note being delivered to me from a young friend of mine, telling me that he was in trouble—i.e., in St. Martin's watch-house—and requesting me to come down to Bow-street to be his bail, if need were; and, at all events, to give him my advice and assistance to get out of the scrape.  ...
This was the first time I had ever been at Bow-street, and the scene was sufficiently striking. The low ill-lighted room, with its dingy walls and barred windows, was a place well adapted to the figures of want, vice, and wretchedness with which it was filled.  ...
After [a young forger] were brought up three young sparks for a street row. They had been enacting the parts of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, and the scene had ended, as usual, in the watchhouse. One of them exhibited the marks of the prowess of the "Charlies" in a eye portentously swollen and blackened. The two others seemed to have undergone complete immersion in the kennel; the mud of which, being now dried on their clothes, gave their evening finery a most dilapidated aspect. It appeared that these young men had been vastly taken with the refined humour, brilliant wit, and gentlemanly knowledge of the world in the production called " Life in London;" and that they had determined to emulate the deeds of its triumvirate of worthies as soon as opportunity served. In pursuance of this exalted ambition, they had sallied forth the night before with the determination of having " a spree." Accordingly, in the Strand, they had overtaken a watchman, a feeble old man, who was instantly, in the most manly manner, floored by a broad-shouldered young fellow of six feet high. The prostrate Charley, however, incontinently sprang his rattle, which brought to his assistance a sufficient number of his brethren to lodge, after a desperate resistance, the Corinthian and his friends in the watch-house. And here it appeared that their-behaviour was by no means peaceable and resigned; indeed, the constable averred, that be was finally necessitated to consign them to the strong room for safety.
Tom & Jerry In Trouble After a Spree

"At length the morn and cool reflection came,"
and found our heroes " fully sated" with their manly and gentlemanly exploit, and still more so with its consequences. These, however, terminated only at Bow-street; for, besides large pecuniary remuneration to make to the persons whom they had assaulted, they underwent a most severe and well-deserved rebuke from the magistrate for their folly, brutality, and blackguardism.—Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine 1828

Monday, April 18, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of May 2, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
William the Conquerer's struggle to win London.
• How a 17thc woman became the toughest man in the Spanish army.
• Members of Parliament and Queen Victoria's coronation.
• Heartbreaking notes attached to babies left at the New York Foundling Hospital.
Controlled substances in Roman law and pharmacy.
Image: Powerful photo of Susan B. Anthony's grave with "I Voted" stickers left by women on day of New York primary.
• Intricate knitted silk and linen lace shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria.
• Regency road accidents, 1816.
• Does the Library of Congress hold a British scouting map of Lexington & Concord in 1775?
• The fad for veils woven with bees, snakes, and spiders, 1911.
Image: "Let the men wash."
• How to knit like the Brontes.
• A raging letter to a 1798 editor on the state of contemporary fashion - and Johnny Gilpin.
• The weaker sex? Violence and the suffragette movement.
• We can't help ourselves: why your brain loves procrastination.
• West meets East: the early days of Chinese restaurants in America, 1896-1926.
Image: The first letter sent by Princess Elizabeth as a girl to her grandmother.
• Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of...Isaac Bissell?
• A filthy history: when New Yorkers lived knee-deep in trash.
• Where your education takes you: how a University of Pennsylvania scholar advised metal legend Iron Maiden.
• Mad dogs of London: an 18thc tale of rabies.
• From women's petticoats to artists' lofts: the many lives of a NYC factory building.
Image: Cartwheeling and tumbling from the University of Iowa Department of Physical Educations for Women.
• The 18thc mystery of Oliver Cromwell's missing head.
• Forgery and banknotes during the American Revolution.
• The tiny 19thc dolls called Frozen Charlottes: there's a corpse in your birthday cake!
• Early 19thc bicycling fashions.
• Clarissa Penn's silk quilt, made of wedding and "second day" dresses, 1840-1860.
• The now-lost "house of flowers" on New York's Fifth Avenue.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

An Artist in Revolutionary France: Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)

Sunday, April 17, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Last week I saw a wonderful show of 18thc portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an exhibition devoted to the work of a single, highly successful artist. Such an exhibition would be common enough if the artist were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, or any of the other prominent male painters of the era. But what made this exhibition unusual was that the featured artist was a woman - Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun – and that despite her talent and success, this is the first retrospective of her work in modern times.

Vigée Le Brun: An Artist in Revolutionary France (on view now through May 15, 2016) includes more than 75 of the artist's works. Included are the portraits that made her one of the most important artists of her time. Born into a family of artists, she was painting professionally as a teenager; only her marriage at twenty-one in 1776 to the leading art dealer in Paris kept her from being accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.

However, Mme. Vigée Le Brun's work had already attracted the attention of Queen Marie Antoinette. She painted her first official portrait of the queen in 1778, and as court painter, she went on to paint more than thirty more of Marie Antoinette and the royal family. With the queen's patronage - and pressure - Mme. Vigée Le Brun was finally admitted to the Académie in 1783, where she was one of only four women members. Her portraits became in great demand at the French court, and she painted both celebrated beauties and powerful nobles.

But as revolution loomed, the queen's patronage proved more of a danger than a benefit. To avoid arrest, Mme. Vigée Le Brun fled France with her young daughter Julie (she had separated from her husband) in 1789, and took her talents to other cities and royal courts across Europe. It was a perilous time for travel, especially for a woman, yet Mme. Vigée Le Brun's commissions led her to Florence, Naples, Vienna, Berlin, London, and St. Petersburg. As the political climate again changed in Paris, she was finally permitted to return to France during the reign of Napoleon I. Although her style gradually fell from artistic fashion, she continued painting until her death in Paris in 1842.

Her memoirs, first published in 1835, are often quoted in the captions of the Met's exhibition. Not only do they reveal her talent for maneuvering through the Parisian art world, but also show an equally important skill for a portraitist: the ability always to find something favorable to say about her sitters.

Her sensitivity and sympathy show in her portraits, and it's much of what makes them still so appealing today. I've chosen to illustrate this post with a selection of Mme. Vigée Le Brun's self-portraits, and she presents herself not only as an attractive, successful woman, but also as an approachable and charming one, her lips always slightly parted in a smile. Sitting for her must have been a pleasure in every sense.

While I know most of you won't be able to travel to New York to see the exhibition in person (and I share your pain every time I hear of a must-see show in London or Los Angeles!), the Met has generously put all eighty works on line here.

Above left: Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, c1782, Kimbell Art Museum.

Right: Self-Portrait by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1790, Gallerie degli Uffizi.

Lower left: Self-Portrait by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, c1808, private collection

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of April 11, 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Behind the music: the story of a rare and beautiful three-piece man's court suit.
• Conde Nast to release thousands of unpublished fashion photographs from its archives of Vogue and Vanity Fair.
The hidden history of maps made by women.
• Why slaves' graves matter.
Women's work: depictions of idealized women and labor on paper currency.
• The amazing story of Dorothy Levitt, holder of the world's first water speed record.
Image: Now this is a regal signature - zoom into see the signature of Elizabeth I.
Midwives, abortion, and the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861.
• You don't want to know: the mystery of "French kid" gloves, 1858.
• Microbiologists find Hannibal's route through the Alps, a crossing made 2,000 years ago.
• Joseph Crouch: "a Body Snatcher since a child."
• After 36 years of hunting, archivists finally found the Wright Brothers' airplane patent.
Marbled madness.
• The mysterious Thelma X and the struggle of black domestic workers.
Image: "The Dinner Horn" a wood engraving by illustrator and artist Winslow Homer.
Fifteen characters by Charles Dickens with really silly names.
• At the center of a difficult and contested marriage: Ingeborg of Denmark, a 12thc Queen of France.
• Photographs of a vanishing world: the disappearing post offices of the rural South.
• Graves with a view: exploring the picturesque burial grounds of the Isle of Mull.
• New insight into Shakespeare's life revealed through scientific analysis of his will.
Image: From 1874: train schedules were much more complicated to decipher before time was standardized.
• A favorite topic of ours: Queen Victoria was NOT the first bride to wear white.
• The English earthquake of 1580 had a moral and religious dimension that far outweighed the damage it caused.
• The peculiar history of celebrity dolls.
Poisons, potions, and charms in Shakespeare's plays.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Video: Unfolding an 18thc Gaming Table

Friday, April 15, 2016

Isabella reporting,

For most of us today, furniture doesn't get much more complicated than assembling an Ikea bookcase. But for the cabinetmakers of 18thc Europe, furniture became the highest expression of art, engineering, and ingenuity combined. This gaming table was created by the famed German cabinetmaker David Roentgen (1743-1807) for a wealthy client; furniture like this was prized by the elite classes of the Age of Enlightenment. Featured in this video from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this gaming table was not only an exquisite piece of art with beautifully carved and inlaid wood, but also a cleverly adaptable and useful piece of furniture.

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lalique Necklace for the 1890s

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Loretta reports:

René Lalique might be familiar to most of us for his beautiful glass work. However, as we’ve shown before, this artist designed jewelry to the same high standard.

I’ve visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts several times, and wandered in a sort of ecstatic trance through the Art Nouveau and Art Deco collection. But the museum offers so much that I can always count on finding a  remarkable something I somehow overlooked or hadn't time to study previously.
This ca. 1897 Lalique necklace, one of numerous stunning gifts from Sydney and Frances Lewis,

is late 19th century (earlier than the collar linked to above). I think it’s a wonderful example of the work created during the Belle Époque.

Here again is the Art Nouveau emphasis on natural forms, with a rather sparing use of gemstones—emphasis on art and design, in other words, rather than sparkle. It may also  owe something to ancient styles of jewelry I’ve seen in museums—it reminded me of necklaces found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

You can see a sharper image, and zoom in, here, on the museum website.

For more on Lalique, you might want to check out this past exhibition at the Corning Museum.

Necklace & description card photographed by me.
Botanical print of pomegranate from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany via Wikipedia.

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, April 12, 2016

From the Archives: Bird Millman, Bewitching High Wire Artiste

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Since I'll be traveling over the next few days, I'm sharing one of my favorite posts from the past featuring an intrepid - and daring - woman....

One of our recent Friday Videos featuring an unidentified woman dancing along a precariously high-wire far above the streets of an equally unidentified city. Our astute Nerdy History readers were quickly able to spot the buildings in the background and identify the city as New York. Some readers also thought the video was a clever fake, filmed before a backdrop, but thanks to one – Elise Daniel – we now know that the film was very likely real, and the name of the high-wire artist in the sky: Bird Millman O'Day.

Or maybe not. Read on!

A hundred years ago, we all would have recognized her. Bird Millman (1890-1940) was one of the most celebrated performers of her time, a favorite of circus audiences around the world. Born Jennadean Engleman in Canon City, CO, she began her career as a precocious child performer, and worked her way up from small-town traveling circuses to the big-time vaudeville circuit, playing to packed houses in around America.

In 1913, she signed with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, right, and became a center-ring performer and major attraction, both with Barnum & Bailey and with the Ringling Brothers. In the off-season, she continued to play on Broadway as a featured star in the Ziegfeld Follies and Frolics, and toured Europe as well, where she famously gave a command performance for Kaiser Wilheim II.

"Every girl aught to walk a tightrope," Bird declared to the Milwaukee News in 1913. "It develops a rare set of muscles and self-confidence and teaches one how to walk properly on the street."

She was famous not only for her daring, but for making her performances look graceful and deceptively easy, with a light-hearted personality that charmed audiences. She was compared to a dainty bird (which gave her her theatrical nickname) and a fairy, and while most female circus performers wore provocatively close-fitting and skimpy (for the time!) costumes, hers featuring flowing, feather-trimmed skirts that made her look even more ethereal.

Sadly, while her public persona was that of a merry sprite, her private life was not as carefree. Her first two marriages were short-lived and ended in divorce. Her third marriage to Joseph Francis O'Day sounds like a Jazz Age match in a short story by F.Scott Fitzgerald: the high-wire dancer and the Harvard-educated millionaire. Bird happily retired from performing, determined to make this marriage work.

But O'Day lost his entire fortune - and Bird's - in the stock market crash of 1929. He died shortly afterwards, and the devastated and now-destitute Bird returned to Colorado to live with family. Her health deteriorated, and she died in great pain from uterine cancer in 1940, shortly before her fiftieth birthday.

Learning all this, however, only raises more questions about the silent film clip. British Pathe, which owns the film, has it catalogued as 1931 - which would have been years after Bird retired from performing.

However, soon after the U.S. entered World War One in 1917, Bird had indeed made a special patriotic performance in New York to help raise support for the war effort and for a Liberty Loan drive. She danced along a high-wire strung twenty-five stories over the Broadway where she was a star, and, according the newspaper reports, drew crowds and stopped traffic. I wonder if this performance is the one shown in the film. In one scene, she is shown with the Woolworth Building (the tall, angular skyscraper, identified by reader Thane Floreth) in the background, a scene that is also depicted on the cover of Popular Mechanics magazine.

But if this film features a performer as well-known as Bird, then why wasn't she identified on the caption-cards? Was it old footage, recycled in 1931, and was her fame already so diminished that the filmmaker didn't bother to identify her? Or was this a recreation of Bird's famous feat by an unknown performer and using camera trickery? As another reader, Karen Anne, pointed out, no one on the ground is looking up - which would hardly be the case for the original well-publicized stunt.

So, readers: what do you think?

Top left: Bird Millman, c. 1905, Cannon City Historical Society.
Top right: Barnum & Bailey Circus poster, c. 1915.
Lower left: Autographed publicity photograph of Bird Millman, c. 1920, The Blondin Memorial Trust.
Lower right: Cover, Popular Mechanics magazine, July, 1917.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Remarkable Dr. Mead

Monday, April 11, 2016
Ramsay, Portrait of Dr. Richard Mead
Loretta reports:

Sometimes it’s my husband’s fault. He’s the one who asked me if I’d ever heard of Dr. Mead. When I looked blank, he read the following from a New Yorker piece  on papyrus scrolls: “Mead was a distinguished British physician, a fellow of the Royal Society, and a noted book collector, with a library of more than a hundred thousand volumes in his house in Bloomsbury, which was dispersed in an epic, fifty-six-day auction after his death, in 1754.”

A hundred thousand volumes? Naturally, I had to investigate.

Among other discoveries, I found this obituary in Munk’s Roll, Royal College of Physicians, Lives of the Fellows, and a series of blog posts, written in conjunction with an exhibition I wish I’d seen: "The Generous Georgian: Dr. Richard Mead."

He was, most definitely, a gentleman of the Enlightenment. Along with the book collection (which this site puts at 10K, not 100K), he was a patron of the arts, gave generously of time and money to The Foundling Hospital, experimented on himself—e.g., drinking snake venom—to test theories, published a number of treatises (here’s one), strongly supported smallpox inoculation (but do take a look at which persons were experimented on first) and ...
Gillray, The Cow-Pock 1802

But why not just click on the Generous Georgian link, and read the posts for yourself? In sum, this man was no slacker.

Online you can also find these catalogs from the auction of his collection:

“Valuable gems, bronzes, marble and other busts and antiquities" and some weird other stuff here.  "Pictures, consisting of portraits, landscapes, sea-pieces, architecture, flowers, fruits, animals, histories" here. "Genuine, entire and curious collection of prints and drawings (bound and unbound) here.

"The said collection may be view'd on Thursday the 9th and every day after (Sunday excepted) till the time of sale, which will begin each evening punctually at half an hour after five o'clock."

Images: Allan Ramsay, Dr. Richard Mead (1747) courtesy Coram in the Care of the Foundling Museum. James Gillray, The Cow-pock—or—the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation (1802) 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, April 9, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of April 4, 2016

Saturday, April 9, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• How the Mickey Mouse watch was born in Connecticut in the depths of the Great Depression.
• The mystery of concealed witch bottles.
• Goat rituals and tree-trunk gravestones: the peculiar history of life insurance.
Image: Map of nightclubs and speakeasies in 1920s Harlem.
Holloways: Roads tunneled into the earth through the traffic of time.
• The smallest show on earth: a Victorian flea circus.
• Quaker, whaler, coward, spy: how one man was caught up in the Age of Revolution.
Image: Magnificent diamond tiara made for Queen Victoria of Spain, 1906.
• According to his reviews, Sir Walter Scott took Jane Austen's books very seriously.
• If you were an 18thc sailor, your diet wasn't going to have much variety.
• Some very oddly titled (but charmingly illustrated) sheet music from the early 20thc.
Image: How to remove ink stains from linen, 16thc style.
• "You know the balance of trade was always against me": Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson go shopping in Paris, 1785.
• Victorian and Edwardian umbrellas.
• All the different ouija boards you never knew existed.
Andrew Jackson, the original anti-establishment presidential candidate.
Image: Suffragist Margaret Foley drops "Votes for Women" leaflets from a balloon over Lawrence, MA.
• "When gentlemen play'd high and stay'd late" - and what that meant.
• A rare pair of George III silver candlesticks featuring a sailor and his lass.
• The American Civil War soldiers who tempted fate with North African fashion on the battlefield.
• When New York was the greatest port in America, and its piers were filled with excitement.
Image: An unusual portrait: Queen Victoria's face on the bowl of a pipe.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 8, 2016

2NHG Historical Myth Busters in Burlington, Massachusetts!

Friday, April 8, 2016
W.Heath, Waist & Extravagance 1830
Loretta & Isabella report:

If you’ve been reading this blog fairly regularly, you’re aware that our research has contradicted some cherished beliefs about history. Over time, we’ve learned that many of the historical facts we’ve heard forever may be only partly true, or true with qualifications, or not actually connected to reality as we know it.

Some of these exaggerations, distortions, and fairy tales were perpetrated by Victorians, but not all.  Sometimes caricatures mislead us. Sometimes, too, the enemy are us: We might make assumptions about our ancestors that Ain’t Necessarily So.

We 2NHGs come upon these assumptions/myths fairly often in social media, and of course we post blogs about them. But then we got the bright idea of taking our show on the road—this once at least.

The occasion is the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, where we’ll be offering a workshop for conference attendees about a few of the many persistent historical myths.

(We’ll also be signing books at the Book Fair for Literacy.)

Workshop: Is It True? The Two Nerdy History Girls Bust a Historical Myth or Two
NEC/RWA 2016 Conference

Conference dates: 29-30 April 2016

Boston Marriott
One Burlington Mall Road
Burlington MA 01803

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Well-Loved Georgian Doll and Her Wardrobe, c.1790

Thursday, April 7, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Modern girls may believe that Barbie has the ultimate fashion wardrobe, but the long-ago owner of this 18thc wooden doll in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg would have argued otherwise - and she'd win.

Standing about 16" tall, this wooden doll is a true Georgian beauty, with brown glass eyes, a rosy painted complexion, and a curled hair wig. She has a cone-shaped figure that reflected the fashionable silhouette created for real women by stays. Her shoulders, elbows, legs, and hips are all jointed, which must have made her a costly toy indeed. (For comparison to other dolls of about the same era, see here, here, and here.)

This lady also has an enviable wardrobe that's entirely handsewn, shown here in her own storage drawer. Included are stylish gowns, stays, petticoats, shifts, nightgowns, a cloak, and a wealth of accessories that include caps, shoes, stockings, pockets, and handkerchiefs. Miraculously, only one piece is missing after more than two centuries, a fingerless mitt that has left the survivor without a mate.

While many surviving 18thc dolls (called pandoras) were meant to show the latest fashions in miniature in the shops of mantua-makers, this one was definitely a plaything. She was passed down through the daughters of a single family, and when she arrived in Colonial Williamsburg, she was accompanied by family letters that gave her an exceptional provenance. Most likely her original owner was Mary Anne Wainman (1784-1846), who might have played with the doll at her family's home, Carr Head, in the parish of Kildwick, West Riding, Yorkshire.

Many thanks to Linda Baumgarten, Jan Gilliam, and Christina Westenberger for "opening the drawers" of the collection for me, and for their assistance with this post.

Doll and original clothing, Great Britain, most likely England, c1790. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott with permission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Fashions for April 1836

Tuesday, April 5, 2016
April 1836 Morning & Evening fashions
Loretta reports:

Those who are sick to death of or never warmed up to the gigantic sleeves of the first half of the 1830s will be relieved to learn that sleeves started to show signs of shrinking in the spring of 1836.

During January 1836, we still saw huge sleeves in evening as well as day wear.

By April, fashion is in a transitional phase: The day fashions still boast big sleeves, but evening dresses’ sleeves are starting to be gathered and buckled in or simply streamlined. Not all of them, but it’s a clear trend. I chose this plate, out of the five the World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons offered for April, because it so clearly shows the contrast. While big sleeves don’t disappear altogether in 1836, they’re dropping lower, and retained mainly for daytime. Outerwear continues voluminous, but the days of big sleeves, clearly, are numbered.
April 1836 fashion 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.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"Moral Poison": The Evils of Reading Novels, 1864

Sunday, April 3, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Last week I shared an 18thc warning against women reading romances. By 1860, those who worried about everyone else's reading habits had expanded their concerns, including all novels read not only by women, but by men as well. Apparently novels were dangerous.

The warnings below come from a religious tract published in New York in 1864. A Pastor's Jottings; or, Striking Scenes during a Ministry of Thirty-Five Years was printed anonymously because, as the prefatory note explains, the author "could thus write with more freedom." That same note assures us that "the statements of this volume are all literally true."

Among the many things (this book is nearly 350 pages long) that distress this unknown pastor, novels - that "moral poison" - are right there at the top of the list: "The minds of novel readers are intoxicated, their rest is broken, their health shattered, and their prospect of usefulness blighted."

But he doesn't want us simply to take his word for it. Apparently even novels by Charles Dickens are suspect, and he quotes the famous educator Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby School fame to prove it:

Childishness in boys even of good ability seems to be a growing fault; and I do not know what to ascribe it, except to the great number of exciting books of amusement, like Pickwick, Nickleby, Bentley's Magazine, etc...that leave [a boy] totally palled, not only for his regular work, but for literature of all sorts.

Nor are women exempt from the terrible influences of novel-reading. In fact (remember, this is all LITERALLY TRUE), according to the pastor, women suffer even more:

Listen to the evidence given by a physician in Massachusetts: 'I have seen a young lady with her table loaded with volumes of fictitious trash, poring day after day and night after night over highly wrought scenes and skillfully portrayed pictures of romance, until her cheeks grew pale, her eyes became wild and restless, and her mind wandered and was lost – the light of intelligence passed behind a cloud, and her soul was forever benighted. She was insane, incurably insane from reading novels.'

But insanity is only the beginning:

Not very long since, a double suicide was a young married couple from Ohio, who were clearly proved to be led to ruin and death by these most pernicious books....Police officers too in London and some of our own large cities, have given mournful evidence of the results of some of these novels when dramatized and performed on the stage, as leading to burglaries and murder.

Suicide, madness, burglaries, and murder! As an unrepentant novelist, I clearly have much to answer for. While for obvious reasons, I don't want you to see the error of your ways, but if you'd like to read more of the Unnamed Pastor's edifying work, here's the link to his book, available to read for free via Google Books.

Thanks to Clive Thompson, who shared quotes from A Pastor's Jottings on Twitter.

Above: The Pink Domino; print made by William Henry Mote after Frank Stone, c1833-1835. The British Museum.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of March 28, 2016

Saturday, April 2, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Highlights from Jane Austen's Bath, a popular recent exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, are now online.
• Parties for plastic: how Tupperware encouraged women to participate in business.
• Blackie, the last Spitalfields Market cat.
• Born a slave, "Stagecoach" Mary Fields was the first African American woman to deliver the mail - and she did it in the Wild West.
• Cape Cod sea captain Elijah Cobb meets the French Revolution's guillotine and lives to tell about it, 1794.
• It's doll wash day for the Bowes Museum's conservation department.
Image: Oldest surviving photograph of London - Whitehall from Trafalger Square, c1839.
• Salaries, dragons, and musk: the surprising origins of spice names.
Swaddling: putting babies in a tight bind.
• Who's keeping an eye on those 18thc Loyalist refugees to Canada?
• From pulp to fiction: our love affair with paper.
• How good is your British English?
Image: Pocket watch recovered from Titanic steward Sidney Sedunary, marking the time he went into the water at 1:50a.m.
• The mysteries of 18thc beds and bedding.
• A purple accident and its vibrant impact on the modern world.
• English friar Thomas Gage's chocolate recipes and regimen, 1635.
• The witch and her bucket: Mary Spencer and the Lancashire witches.
• The university library that protects the world's rarest colors.
Image: Sampler featuring St. Paul's Cathedral, worked by Mary Wearmouth, aged 11, in 1860.
• The 19thc Cutty Sark's crew and the women on shore.
• A rare and elaborate pack of 15thc. playing cards with a hunting theme.
A Sketch from Private Life: Lord Byron's poem about his disastrous marriage.
• In Seattle's Panama Hotel, untold stories of Japanese history remain.
• Just for fun (or not!): Dante's Inferno test predicts where exactly in his Hell you deserve to be.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Friday Video: "Bedtime for the Bride", 1896

Friday, April 1, 2016

Isabella reporting,

As Nerdy History Girls, we look everywhere for clues to the past - even to a racy 1890s film. But if you're reading this at work, fear not: this clip is SFW viewing. While Le Coucher de la Mariée (Bedtime for the Bride, also known as The Bridegroom's Dilemma) is described as one of the earliest erotic films made, the erotic part has apparently deteriorated into nonexistence while in the care of the French Film Archives. When it was rediscovered in 1996, only the first minutes of the film remained.

So why share it here? This fragment shows a saucy bride banishing her groom to behind a screen while she undresses. . . and undresses. It may not be a very seductive performance to modern eyes, but she does demonstrate exactly how many layers of clothing and undergarments a Frenchwoman wore in 1896. No wonder the groom begins to read a newspaper in boredom!

The film was produced by Eugène Pirou and directed by Albert Kirchner (using the pseudonym Léar), and was first shown in Paris in November, 1896. Film scholars guess that the original film was about seven minutes long, but what happened between the flirtatious bride and groom in those missing five minutes must now be left to the imagination. Imagine away... and enjoy these amusing first two minutes that remain.
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