Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Video: Dressing an 18thc Gentleman for "Reigning Men" at LACMA

Friday, March 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I've been attending the Costume Society of America's annual symposium in Colonial Williamsburg. One of the more fascinating presentations was given by Senior Curator Sharon Takeda and Assistant Curator Clarissa M. Esguerra from the Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who described the process of creating the 2016 major exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715-2015. Featuring pieces drawn largely from the museum's own collections, the exhibition challenged the assumption that fashion is only for women, and instead - as the program described it - "celebrated the rich history of restraint and resplendence in menswear, traced cultural influences over the centuries, and illuminated connections between history and high fashion." (The exhibition also received CSA's Richard Martin Exhibition Award.)

This short video offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show's preparation. Dressing and moving mannequins in rare and delicate 200-year-old clothing is clearly not an easy task - but the beauty and craftsmanship of the menswear glimpsed here makes the video well worth watching. For more information and other images, see the LACMA blog dedicated to the exhibition.

Attention to our lucky readers in Australia: the Reigning Men exhibition has traveled from Los Angeles to Saint Louis in 2017, and will soon complete be on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney from May 2-October 14, 2018.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Regency Satire: The Triumph of the Whale

Thursday, March 15, 2018
Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales 1812
Loretta reports:

On this date in 1812 the Examiner published Charles Lamb’s poem “The Triumph of the Whale,” which inspired this George Cruikshank satirical print of 1 May 1812. The image appeared in Cruikshank's satirical magazine, The Scourge.
The caricature and poem about the then Prince Regent (later King George IV) remind us all that mocking the great and powerful, in picture and print (and these days, in internet memes), is nothing new. Given the libel and sedition laws of the time, it’s amazing what Regency satirists got away with. And let’s not forget one of the Privileges of Peers I reported on a while back:
“3. To secure the honour of, and prevent the spreading of any scandal upon peers, or any great officer of the realm, by reports, there is an express law, called scandalum magnatum, by which any man convicted of making a scandalous report against a peer of the realm (though true) is condemned to an arbitrary fine, and to remain in custody till the same be paid.”

Scandalum magnatum notwithstanding, the faces in this caricature would have been familiar to the audience of the time, and everybody would understand the political implications. We, however, need a translation, which the Brighton Museums website provides succinctly:

“Portrayed as a whale in a ‘Sea of Politics’ George spouts the ‘Liquor of Oblivion’ on playwright and Whig supporter Richard Sheridan, and blows the ‘Dew of favour’ on Spencer Perceval the Tory Prime Minister. The prince ignores his former lover, Mrs Fitzherbert, and looks lovingly at his mistress Lady Hertford, who is shown next to her cuckold husband.”
The figures on the right—the Tories—viewed as the fat cats of the time, expect to profit further by the Regent’s decision to shun his Whig associates. The Marquess of Hertford is wearing cuckold horns. You can read a much more detailed description at the British Museum website (please click on "More" for the full description and check out the curator's comments as well). Clearly, this is pretty strong stuff, though not as strong, I think, as Lamb’s poem.

The 1812 blog offers a concise summary of Charles Lamb’s life and the poem. Most of the references are clear enough, although I haven't yet figured out why the muse Lamb summons is Io, one of Zeus’s many loves, who was transformed into a white heifer.

Update: As I hoped, a reader provided the following clarification—
"It's a song. 'Io' is an exclamation you find in Latin songs, and probably in Roman life as well, but spoken words don't survive. It means something like 'Hurray' or even 'Yay'.
In my country a Latin student song still survives. Its first line is 'Io vivat' which translates to 'Hurray, long live'. It dates to the days when all subjects at the universities were taught in Latin."

These pages are from The Poetical Works of Bowles, Lamb, and Hartley Coleridge Selected 1887

Image: George Cruikshank, The Prince of Whales, from the Scourge of 1 May 1812.
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, March 13, 2018

High Style in Rural New Hampshire, c1835

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg to attend the Costume Society of America's annual meeting. If any of you are attending as well, I hope you'll say hi.

I saw this portrait yesterday in CW's DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, and felt she definitely deserved a post. Loretta has written many posts (and books!) that feature the exaggerated fashions of the 1830s - an era of big hair, bigger skirts, and the biggest sleeves. You can see examples here, here, and here, all from trend-setting English magazines of the time.

But American women have always possessed a stylish flair and a gift for making European fashions their own. Fashion magazines and trends traveled across the Atlantic as swiftly as clipper ships could bring them. The young woman in this portrait isn't from Paris or London, but from Milton Mills, New Hampshire, a village on the Salmon River bordering Maine.

Martha Spinney Simes (1808-c1883) was in her early twenties when this portrait was painted. She's shown sitting on an elegant (if a bit strangely proportioned) red sofa - the matching portrait of her husband has him sitting on a similar sofa or chair, facing her - that serves to enhance the emerald green of her dress. Her hair is pinned into the most fashionable of glossy knots and twists, with a short braid over one side of her forehead ending in a corkscrew curl.

And her jewelry! Martha has clearly embraced the idea of "more is more." In addition to two cuff bracelets and multiple rings, she wears an elaborate double-strand of glossy black beads, perhaps jet, and what is likely a cameo brooch. Her drop earrings are the real stars, however, over-sized gold drops with pale blue stones (opals, chalcedony, or agate?) that frame her face and help to balance her hair.

What I like best about this portrait is how all this finery doesn't overshadow Martha. Unlike the fashion plates and many European portraits of the time, she doesn't simper or glance sideways. Instead her expression seems forthright, direct, and intelligent, with just a hint of a smile. She's fabulous, and she knows it. And who's going to argue?

Portrait of Martha Spinney Simes (Mrs. Bray Underwood Simes), artist unknown, c1835, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elegant Bookcase for a Fashionable Regency Library

Monday, March 12, 2018
Library Bookcase March 1812
Loretta reports:

I set quite a few scenes in libraries, mainly because, by the time of my stories, they had become a family gathering place. Furthermore, in many great houses, these were large, comfortable rooms, often fitted out less formally than say, the drawing room. The one I used in A Duke in Shining Armor is a good example.

While bookcases, complete with writing desk, might appear in various rooms, this one seems to need quite a large room. And even if the library already has miles of bookshelves, those of us who love books can always use storage space for more.

I was particularly struck by the tambour circular cupboards, because (a) while horizontal tambour is fairly common, the circular vertical style is much less so, and (b) one of my own favorite pieces of furniture is a mid-20th century dressing table that has this feature.

Bookcase description

Images from Ackermann's Repository for March 1812, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, via Internet Archive.

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, March 10, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 5, 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• An 1870s Turkish-inspired fancy dress costume from the House of Worth highlights the transition into women wearing trouser.
• "I desire you would Remember the ladies": read Abigail Adams's most famous and treasured letter to her husband John, written in 1776.
• The strange saga of George Washington's bedpan.
• Quick book quiz: can you spot the titles borrowed from other books?
• Online resources for palaeography - the art of reading old handwriting.
• How new research helped tell the story of Chance Bradstreet, an enslaved man living in 18thc Massachusetts.
Image: The gilded weathervane of St Mary's church, Kingsclere, is in the shape of a bed-bug.
• How 18thc British women deployed the teapot in the campaign against slavery.
Abraham Lincoln visits New York's Greenwich Village.
• Despite overwhelming odds, American Edmonia Lewis found international success as a sculptor in 19thc Rome.
• What the history of food stamps reveals.
• Online exhibition traces 150 years of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.
Image: Black women in Early Modern cameos.
• Strikingly detailed images of historic cathedrals each took up to a year to create.
• The story of Brooklyn's fabulous, forgotten Fulton Ferry terminal.
• The 18thc fashion for false rumps.
Ida Wilson Lewis, lighthouse keeper and fearless Federal worker, who saved 25 lives.
• Creating the next generation of readers: "Children fall in love with reading as a result of falling in love with being read to."
Video: Beautiful: a rare snowfall covers Rome's ancient monuments.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

Friday, March 9, 2018

Ornamental glass lustres c. 1880
Caughley Tea Service c. 1780
Loretta reports:

Instead of the usual Friday video, I’m offering a tour of the Geffrye Museum of the Home, which my husband and I visited during our time in London. The draw for me was the series of period rooms.

As Susan and I have often lamented, it’s much easier to find paintings and prints of exteriors than interiors. The Geffrye offers a chance to view some interiors and, especially, to notice the way home life changed over time. These aren’t the homes of aristocrats, but, with the exception of the almshouses, of well-off families of the professional classes.

With the museum closed for development until 2020, I invite you to check out the panoramas and the virtual tour offered on the website—which I supplement with these photographs from our visit.

Photographs by Walter M. Henritze
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dining with the Hamiltons (and the Bonapartes), 1804

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Susan reporting,

One of the reasons I especially enjoy research with handwritten letters is being able to see the little things that reproduced transcriptions often omit. The excerpt, above, is from the bottom corner of a letter than Alexander Hamilton wrote to Victor Marie du Pont de Nemours in May, 1804. Most of the letter concerns the repayment of a debt, with a complicated explanation of the principal and the interest accrued. As dry as this may be, the letter has importance because of the two parties corresponding - the former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury writing to a prominent French-American diplomat and businessman.

But it's the non-business part of the letter that intrigued me.  Aside from the fact that I wish I could end letters with Hamilton's grandiloquent yet breezy closing sentence ("The multiplicity of my affairs will excuse my delay in completing this business"), it's that little postscript to the left that caught my eye.

P.S. I sent you some days since a note requesting you to meet Mr. Bonaparte at my house on Sunday three oClock to dine. I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you.

Yes, Hamilton is displaying his typical impatience because Du Pont hadn't responded to his first invitation, but he's also describing what must have been quite a grand dinner. Mr. Bonaparte was Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France (and soon to become Emperor.) While visiting America, the nineteen-year-old Jérôme had fallen in love with Elizabeth "Betsey" Patterson of Baltimore and had married her. An American merchant's daughter did not fit into Napoleon's dynastic plans, however, and the First Consul had already made his displeasure known.

But in May of 1804, Jérôme and Betsey were glamorous newlyweds, and having them as guests must have been a social coup. In addition to the French-born Du Pont, the guest list included Hamilton's good friend, statesman and bon vivant Gouverneur Morris, who had served as the American Minister Plenipotentiary to France. Considering that Hamilton also spoke French fluently, it's easy to imagine French - the language of 18thc diplomacy and worldly sophistication - as the language of choice during the meal.

Several days after this letter, Hamilton wrote a quick note to his wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, to let her know that "On Sunday Bonaparte & wife...with dine with you. We shall be 16 in number...." Because this note is undated, it's impossible to tell exactly how much warning Hamilton gave Eliza before the dinner. At this time, he had his law office in what is now lower Manhattan, and often remained there overnight instead of making the long trek (which could take a couple of hours, depending on the weather) by horse or carriage to the family's country house, The Grange, in the then-rural northern part of Manhattan. Eliza and the couple's younger children were living at The Grange, which would have been site of the dinner.

In the same note, Hamilton asks Eliza to send the "coachee" to town on Saturday - perhaps he intended to provide transportation for at least some of his guests - and the "waggon", probably for more provisions for the meal.  He also says that it was "my intention to get out Gentis and perhaps Contoix"; Gentis had been employed by the Hamiltons as a cook, and Contoix had also worked for the family. Clearly Hamilton was planning an impressive dinner.

Now Eliza was an accomplished hostess, and I'm betting that none of this fazed her. She would have handled French guests, extra servants, and an elegant meal with gracious aplomb. While sixteen guests could have been a tight fit in The Grange's dining room, right, the accommodating design of the house would have let her open the doors into the parlor and add another leaf or two to the table. I can also imagine Hamilton himself fussing over every detail of his dinner from the menu to the wines, and sparing no expense, either. With the tall windows open to catch the breezes from the river, it must have been a merry and pleasurable evening indeed.

But the hindsight of history casts an undeniable shadow over this luxurious little dinner.
A little over a year later, the marriage of Betsey and Jérôme Bonaparte would be annulled by Napoleon. Betsey would eventually return alone to America with their infant son, while Jérôme would marry the German princess his brother had chosen. At the time of this dinner, Hamilton had already begun exchanging barbs with another New York lawyer, a conflict that would fester and escalate throughout the spring and early summer. This dinner took place on May 13, 1804. Almost exactly two months later, on July 12, Alexander Hamilton would die of wounds suffered in his duel with Aaron Burr.

Thanks to Lucas R. Clawson, reference archivist & Hagley historian, Hagley Museum & Library, for sharing this letter with me.

Above: Detail of a letter from Alexander Hamilton to Victor Marie du Pont de Nemours, May 1804; collection of Winterthur Museum.
Lower right: Dining room at The Grange, New York, NY. Photo ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Read more about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Genevieve Hamper, the Most Beautiful Face on Earth

Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Loretta reports:

My husband, who recently debuted his own nerdy history blog, has acquired some fascinating material in the way of postcards. Thanks to him, I discovered Genevieve Hamper (1888-1971) and Robert Mantell (1854-1928).

A search brought me to advertisements and reviews of their first motion picture a “surpassing Photo-Play debut of Robert B Mantell America’s foremost Tragedian and Genevieve Hamper Most Beautiful Face on Earth in a stirring arraignment of Society’s Sins The Blindness of Devotion.”

The quote is from a publicity ad in New York Evening Telegram November 1915. It’s here in Rex Ingram, Hollywood’s Rebel of the Silver Screen. There’s more concise coverage on the Turner Classic Movie page for the film.

However, as the ad indicates Ms. Hamper and her husband Mr. Mantell were already highly regarded stage actors. Though, apparently, they never made it big on Broadway, they traveled all over North America, putting on a series of plays—not one play, for a week, but, as the post card shows, eight performances of different “Shakespearean and Classic plays.” Obviously, these were greatly abridged.

My impression was, this was rather like the traveling theater troupes Dickens portrayed in Nicholas Nickleby, but quite a bit smaller. From all I’ve been able to discover, there were three players at most in the performances. Not that this means they didn’t put on a good show. As I described in a blog post some years ago, I saw a splendid one-man performance of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I suspect the audience at the Worcester Theatre got their money’s worth, too.

To give you an idea of how famous they were, the Theatre Magazine of 1921 devoted two pages to photos of their place in N.J., where they spent summers rehearsing

Though they continued to make films after The Blindness of Devotion, it seems that these, like so many of the era, did not survive.

Thanks to Larry Abramoff, our dear friend, who donated his amazing collection of post cards to my husband’s project.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How Many Hours to Stitch a Woman's Gown in 1775?

Sunday, March 4, 2018
Susan reporting,

For an 18thc mantua-maker (dressmaker), time truly was money. Unlike today, when we put the premium on the labor and skill that goes into creating something by hand, the most valuable part by far of a garment in 1775 was the fabric.

In an era when nearly all new clothing was custom made to order, the fabric was selected, the design was chosen, and a price agreed upon, including the cost of cutting, sewing, and fitting the garment. That last part - the actual creation of the garment - was the smallest part of the overall cost, and it wouldn't change whether the sewing was done by one woman, or three. Labor was charged by the garment, not by the hour. The mantua-maker and her seamstresses had to be able to work fast. Keep in mind, too, that sewing machines had yet to be invented, and every stitch was done by hand.

According to advertisements in English newspapers of the time, the cost for making up a "common gown" or "English gown", a relatively plain dress worn for everyday, was 2-3 shillings. That same sum was also the daily wages for a journey-woman mantua-maker: a woman who had completed her apprenticeship, but was still comparatively new to the trade. In other words, to make a profit, that journey-woman had to make that gown in less than a day.

How long was that workday? For most 18thc tradespeople, the workday was measured by daylight. Therefore a workday in the summer would be much longer than one in the depths of December, averaging to about a twelve to thirteen hour workday. Although work could be done by candlelight or firelight, the cost of those candles or firewood would eat into the already-slender profit. Sunlight, however meager, was free, and every minute treasured.

Could a modern mantua-maker work this fast as well? Janea Whitacre, mistress of the trade in the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, recently conducted a time-study of how quickly she could create a 1775 common gown. The gown was made of cotton, a reproduction of a block-printed cotton in Colonial Williamsburg's collection, and complete with the slightly misaligned pattern typical of 18thc printed textiles. About five yards of fabric was used; the fabric's width of 42"-45", still the most common width today, was also the standard English ell in use in 1775.

The petticoat (underskirt) was not included in the trial. Gowns of this style were often worn with a contrasting petticoat - consider this 18thc "mix and match" separates - and it's likely that a woman would already have a petticoat in her wardrobe to wear with the gown. The gown's customer would have been a woman of the middling sort, who would have worn this style for "undress," or informal daily wear.

Janea kept track of her time by a stop-watch instead of the sun, and unlike her 18thc counterparts, she periodically paused in her sewing to interact with CW visitors to the shop. Although speed was Janea's goal, she wanted to please her fictitious customer as well. She took care to incorporate the fabric's stripes with the gown's design with inverted back pleats towards the center, and added contrasting cherry-red bows to the bodice and skirt.

High fashion for her customer, and a profit for her as well. Janea's final start-to-finish time for this gown was ten hours, seven minutes: well within that standard twelve-thirteen hour workday. Best of all, her customer (here represented by apprentice Rebecca Starkins ) looks most pleased with the final result.

Many thanks to Janea Whitacre and Rebecca Starkins for their assistance with this post. For an example of a more elaborate (and therefore more expensive) 18thc dress made by the Margaret Hunter mantua-makers in a day, see my earlier post here.

Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of February 26, 2018

Saturday, March 3, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• A free online course about British royal clothing.
Ada Blackjack, an Intuit woman without wilderness skill, joined a 1920s Arctic expedition as a seamstress, and outlived four male explorers.
• Presidential valets: confidantes of the wardrobe.
• The illness and death of Queen Mary I.
Frances Albrier was a 20c activist, politician, labor organizer, and the first African American woman welder in the shipyard industry during WWII.
• A fatal duel in 1834, fought between two U.S. congressmen - with rifles.
Image: During the WWI, women's football team "Palmers Munitionettes", made up of munitions workers, were unbeaten.
• Three historic explorers who were captivated by mermaid sightings.
• The 400-year-old history and intrigue of Santa Fe's Palace of the Governors.
• The grisly secrets of dealing with Victorian London's dead.
Image: Abigail Adams' dimity pocket.
• A tiny locket dictionary, c1900, to wear close to your heart.
• How did Napoleon manage to escape from Elba?
• Women on trial: British soldiers' wives tried by court martial during the American Revolution.
• Proof that cancer isn't a modern disease: discovery of a 3,000 year old skeleton of a young male sufferer.
• Britain's first national lottery, 1816.
• Explore the British Library's Harry Potter: History of Magic exhibition online.
• The enigma of Edinburgh's miniature "fairy coffins."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, March 2, 2018

Friday Video: Eighteenth Century Pockets

Friday, March 2, 2018

Susan reporting,

Here's the latest delightful short video in a new series featuring 18th century clothing. This one shows the somewhat mystifying (to 21stc people) pockets worn at the time by women of every class in Europe and America. Tied around the waist beneath petticoats, pockets were the carry-alls for a woman's little necessities of everyday life.

When skirts narrowed and waistlines rose at the end of the 18thc, the new sleeker skirts had no place to hide a pocket, and instead women began to carry small purses and reticules separately - a fashion trend that continues today. However, when I see that modern designers are attempting to revive the 80s fashion for fanny packs, I wonder if tie-on pockets can be far behind. Where fashion is concerned, what's old is always new.

Many thanks to Pauline Loven for sharing this video with us. Pauline is the costume historian, costumer, and heritage film producer who creates the costumes and contributes the historical background for this series, which is directed by Nick Loven for Crow's Eye Productions. For more of their videos, see Dressing an Eighteenth Century Lady, and The Busk.

If you receive this video via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. Click here to view the video.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Fashions for March 1825

Thursday, March 1, 2018
Promenade Dress March 1825

Loretta reports:

If you compare with last month’s fashion post, you’ll see that the waist has dropped and the shape has evolved from the vertical line to what will eventually become in the 1830s two nearly equal triangles at top and bottom. For the 1820s, though, both skirts and puffy sleeves are still moderate.

Regarding the ball dress description: According to Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, bouillon is “a puffed-out applied trimming.” Crèpe lisse is an uncrimped silk gauze.

This red and white dress at the Met Museum will give you a better idea of what this sort of trim—and this shape of skirt—looked like in real life.
Promenade Dress Description
Ball Dress March 1825
Ball Dress Description
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How Young Was America's Founding Generation in 1776?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Susan reporting,

A version of this post originally appeared on my other blog, but it seems so appropriate now that I'm sharing it here, too.

This miniature portrait of Lt. Colonel John Laurens is one of my favorite paintings in the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank, part of the Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. It's easy enough to overlook. Like so many 18thc miniatures painted in watercolors on ivory, this one needs to be protected from light to keep from fading, and unless a visitor pushes aside the dark cloth shrouding its glass case (which you're invited to do; I didn't break any rules!), it will be missed. It's also tiny, the most miniature of miniatures. Including its frame of enamel work and cut garnets, it measures only 1-3/4" high.

But that's not a face meant to be forgotten. John Laurens was born in Charleston, SC in 1754, into a family remarkable for its power and privilege, and wealth created on the backs of enslaved men and women. Tall and handsome, well-spoken and intelligent, Laurens was educated abroad and destined for a career in law. The Revolution changed that, and against his father's wishes, he joined the staff of Commander-in-Chief Gen. George Washington as an aide-de-camp in 1777. He was 23. He became close friends with both the Marquis de Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, who considered Laurens his dearest friend in the military.

Known for his daring and impetuous courage in battle, Laurens was equally daring in his beliefs. Despite being the son of a slave owner and seller, Laurens believed that all Americans, regardless of race, should be equal in the new republic, and he campaigned for the enlistment of enslaved men in the Continental Army as a way for them to earn their freedom - an unpopular idea that was never put into action.

Laurens made his mark on both the battlefield and as a statesman, serving as a special minister to France with Benjamin Franklin to help secure French aid for America. He fought in the last major battle of the war at Yorktown and survived, only to be killed in a meaningless skirmish in 1782, weeks before British troops finally left America for good. He was only 27, his immense promise cut short.

This miniature was a copy of an earlier portrait by the same artist, and was painted after Laurens' death as a memento for one of his former comrades, Maj. William Jackson. The Latin motto around the miniature's frame reads "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori" ("It is a sweet and honorable thing to die for one's country." A noble sentiment, indeed. But Laurens' good friend Alexander Hamilton was devastated, and in one of those historical "what if's" it's impossible not to wonder what both men would have achieved together if Laurens had lived.

All of which made me think, too, of how young so many of the major figures of the American Revolution were when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. My two main characters in I, Eliza Hamilton were among the youngest: Alexander Hamilton was around 21 (his birthdate is uncertain), while his future wife Elizabeth Schuyler was 18. John Laurens was 21, and Aaron Burr 20. The Marquis de Lafayette was 18, Betsy Ross 24, Henry Lee III 20,  James Monroe  18, and James Madison 25. For fans of the TV series TURN, John Andre was 26, Benjamin Tallmadge 22, Robert Townsend 22, Abraham Woodhull 26, and Peggy Shippen a mere 16. Slightly older (though not exactly greybeards) were Abigail Adams at 31, Thomas Jefferson 33, John Hancock 39, Thomas Paine 29, and John Adams 40. Even George Washington, the future Commander-in-Chief, was only 44, and his nemesis King George III was 38.

They were young men and young women brimming with enthusiasm, dedication, and fierce devotion to their ideals and dreams, and to making their world a better place. Consider how our current government is one of the oldest in American history: the average age for members of the House of Representative is 57 and for Senators 61, with a president who's 71. I, for one, am glad to see that revolutionary youth and spirit once again rising up today among those who born around the turn of the 21st century. Who knows what brave new things they, too, can accomplish?

Above: Miniature Portrait of John Laurens by Charles Willson Peale, c1784, Independence NHP.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Duke's Household

Monday, February 26, 2018
Morris, Woburn Abbey 1866
Loretta reports:

In A Duke in Shining Armor, my heroine says, “It’s good to be a duke.”

Though dukes, by and large, are nothing like as numerous or as attractive as we paint them in romance novels (as I describe at RT Book Reviews), and any number have fallen on hard times in the past and present, things were not so bad for the 11th Duke of Bedford.

Reading Lucy Lethbridge’s Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, I came upon this:

“At Woburn Abbey, the eleventh Duke of Bedford maintained until his death in 1940 not only a household of at least sixty indoor servants to attend solely to his wife and himself, but two separate, fully staffed residences in Belgrave Square, including four cars and eight chauffeurs; the Woburn parlourmaids were all Amazonian at over five foot ten, as had always been the Bedfords’ stipulation.”

According to the 13th Duke, (who sounds like a pip, and whose books I intend to read):
“‘Guests never travelled with your suitcase, that was not considered the thing to do. It had to come in another car, so you had a chauffeur and a footman with yourself, and a chauffeur and a footman with the suitcase, with another four to meet you. Eight people involved in moving one person from London to Woburn.’”
11th Duke of Bedford in Coronation Robes
While other noble families changed or economized as the times demanded, the Bedfords continued in the lavish late Victorian/Edwardian style until 1940. “The [11th] Duke always started meals with his own cup of beef consommé and a plate of raw vegetables served to him on a three-tiered dumb-waiter. The Duchess’s secretary-companion had her own quarters that included a cook and a maid.” The duke’s mistress had her own rooms with her own staff—on the premises, I assume?

Apparently, the 11th Duke of Bedford is also responsible for the grey squirrel invasion of England.

Images: Woburn Abbey, from Francis Orpen Morris, The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland 1866; 11th Duke of  Beford in Coronation Robes, Photo credit: Middlesex Guildhall Art 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.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of February 19, 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Considering a single, surviving silk shoe, made in London c1760.
• Adventures in 19thc knitting (as told by a 21stc knitter following an 1875 pattern.)
• Remembering when London's pubs were full at 7:00 am.
• The remarkable story of James Hamilton, born at Fort Ticonderoga during the American Revolution, and killed at the Battle of Waterloo.
• The Fisk Jubilee Singers: preserving African American spirituals.
• How Victorian governesses were in danger from their employers.
• Image: In case you thought Georgian gentlemen were all nobility and good manners....
• Amazing story of the revival of Pawnee Eagle corn, thought to be extinct.
• Rare Roman boxing gloves found near Hadrian's Wall.
• Student discipline at Amherst College 200 years ago for offenses that included "an opprobrious inscription upon glass" and drinking cherry rum.
• Robert "Romeo" Coates: a very bad Regency actor.
• One of the oldest trees in Manhattan: the "Hangman's Elm" in Greenwich Village.
• Founding Father firepower: metal intended for statues of George Washington was used to arm the Confederacy.
• Image: Delightful "puzzle purse" Valentine, c1810.
• Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to practice law in both India and Britain.
 Edward Dando, the celebrated gormandizing oyster-eater.
• The man who lived and died in his wife's Brooklyn tomb.
• Recreating Georgian tent follies from c1760.
• Francis Scott Key: A young man and his portrait.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Video: Knole House, Kent

Friday, February 23, 2018
Loretta reports:

Rather a long time ago, at the end of the England trip that led to my writing Lord of Scoundrels, my husband and a friend and I visited Knole. By this time, we’d explored a number of stately homes, but Knole was an entirely new experience. This wasn’t simply because the early Jacobean structure was older than many of the homes we’d visited, but because so much of the centuries-old stuff inside wasn't renovated or restored, but the original stuff, fading and tattered. While conservation work is ongoing, and a great deal has been done since we visited, it’s still possible to see some these furnishings, and they do give the place a different atmosphere from that of other great houses. Then, too, there’s the sheer size of the place. I'm pretty sure the impression it made led to my fascination with Jacobean mansions, and having my characters live or get married in them.

Video:  Knole - Five centuries of showing off

The video is one from  Knole's YouTube channel where, among other things, you can watch conservation in process.

Image: Knole House, from Francis Orpen Morris, A Series of Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland: With Descriptive and Historical Letterpress, Volume 6 (1880)

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.
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 or the title of the video.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

George Washington as Painted for a Scottish Earl, c1792

Thursday, February 22, 2018
Susan reporting,

Forget President's Day - today is the real birthday of George Washington, born on February 22, 1732 (Georgian calendar.) Two hundred eighty-six years later, he remains the best-known figure in American history: the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, the first president of the United States, and the white-haired gentleman on the one-dollar bill.

As can be imagined, Washington's image was much in demand, and over his lifetime, he sat for many portraits by many artists. The one shown here, however, is different. None of those other portraits were commissioned by a Scottish earl.

David Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan (1742-1829) was a man of many interests. He encouraged engineers designing new kinds of bridges, and he published an essay honoring the controversial Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun. He served both as a diplomat, and as the Grand Master of Scottish Freemasons. His correspondents included Horace Walpole, George Dyer, and George Washington, whom he greatly admired.

When Scottish-born portraitist Archibald Robertson (1765-1835) decided to pursue his career in New York in 1791, Buchan commissioned him to paint a portrait of Washington "that I might place it among those whom I most honor." (You can read the earl's entire letter to Washington here; Buchan also entrusted Robertson with a special gift for Washington, a wooden box said to be made of the oak that sheltered William Wallace.)

In Philadelphia, Robertson painted miniatures of both George and Martha Washington. His portrait of Washington, lower right, shows the president as he likely appeared in late 1791: his hair receding, his cheeks hollowed, and the strain of his responsibilities clear in the general weariness of his expression.

But the portrait he painted at the same time for the Earl of Buchan, above, shows Washington as a younger man. Not only is he portrayed wearing his general's blue and buff uniform from the Revolution, but the years and the cares have been wiped away. His cheeks and hair are fuller, his expression alert and confident: it's the face of the commander-in-chief of the 1770s. Was this done at the request of the earl, or did Robertson decide a little judicious 18thc Photoshopping might make the portrait more agreeable to his patron?

No one now knows. But when Robertson completed the portrait, Washington himself wrote to the earl that:

"The manner of the execution does no discredit, I am told, to the Artist; of whose skill favorable mention had been made to me. I was further induced to entrust the execution to Robinson [sic] from his having informed me that he had drawn others for your Lordship and knew the size which would best suit your collection." 

Unfortunately, there's no record of Buchan's reaction to the painting, but one hopes it did find an honored place in the earl's collection. According to ArtUK, over time the portrait suffered damage, was repaired, and perhaps worst of all, became mislabeled as "A Naval Officer." A cataloguer in the 1930s correctly re-identified the portrait as Washington, and in 1951, the current Earl Buchan presented the painting to Sulgrave Manor, the English birthplace of Washington's ancestors, where it hangs today.

Above: George Washington as a Younger Man by Archibald Robertson, c1791-93, Sulgrave Manor.
Below: Miniature portrait of George Washington by Archibald Robertson, 1791-1792, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pre-Victorians Becoming Posture Perfect

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

C.E. Drummond, Scene at Scotsbridge 1830
Loretta reports:
“A horrible instrument was devised which I had to wear while doing my lessons.  It was a steel rod which ran down my spine and was strapped at my waist and over my shoulders—another strap went around my forehead to the rod. I had to hold my book high when reading, and it was almost impossible to write in so uncomfortable a position. However, I probably owe my straight back to those many hours of discomfort.”—Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold
C.E. Drummond, watercolour drawing 1828-1830

This sort of thing fit the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, when everything seems to have become so very strict: divisions between classes, excruciatingly complicated etiquette, and fashion.

But I had not thought about posture devices for the earlier period. After all, Susan and I are well aware that acutely straight posture was the order of the day in the 18th and 19th centuries. Women’s shoulder blades were supposed to come as close as possible to meeting in the back, and dress designs reflected this. The corset and especially the busk were all part of maintaining elegant posture.

Then, thanks to Susan's alerting me to an image, I bought and started reading Susan Lasdun’s Making Victorians: The Drummond Children’s World 1827-1832. It has proved enlightening on a number of counts, not least the posture devices used on girls in the pre-Victorian era.

An especially poignant image, a watercolor by Cecile Elizabeth Drummond (at top), brought the point home forcibly—as it evidently did to the errant child. At her feet lies her backboard, which she’s apparently abandoned. And there is Mama, holding a birch rod—a bundle of twigs with which the little girl will be punished for her misbehavior.
C.E. Drummond, watercolour drawing 1828-1830

Lady Lasdun describes the backboard as a “painful” device, yet I’ve seen images of modern children wearing such backboards, in re-enactments (here, here, and here, for example). If it truly were painful, would the re-enactment have been allowed? And would someone be selling them as "only suitable for use by children."?

No doubt the backboard wasn’t comfortable—in the book are several images of children who’ve discarded their backboards and are anticipating a whipping—but it was probably less painful than the whipping, and certainly more comfortable than the iron monstrosity Consuelo Vanderbilt endured. Frankly, I suspect this sort of thing would have benefited my posture enough to compensate for the unpleasantness…though of course I wouldn’t have thought so at the time!

Images: watercolors by Cecil Elizabeth Drummond, 1828-30 (made); Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection; Given by Miss Barbara Drummond, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

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, February 18, 2018

Those Now-Famous Strands of George Washington's Hair: The Backstory

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Susan reporting,

If you're reading this blog, you're most likely a history nerd, and proud of it, too. It also likely means that somewhere you've read this week's favorite history story in the mainstream media: how a few strands of George Washington's hair were discovered tucked inside a 200-year-old almanac in the rare book library of Union College. Partly because it's almost Washington's birthday, and partly because it IS an interesting discovery, the story has been everywhere, including the Washington Post, The New York Times, USAToday, Newsweek, Newsday, US News & World Report, and the Smithsonian's SmartNews, NPR, and network and cable outlets as well. Last time I checked, it had appeared in over 200 outlets.

In many versions of these stories, I'm quoted (along with professors of history and hair-experts), describing how hair was a common memento among friends and family in the past.  Which, of course, it was - but there's much more to the story than most journalists have space to tell. I don't have those constraints, and besides, I love all the nerdy-history details. There are even connections to Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, the heroine of my historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton.

The almanac (shown above) - and the hair - were discovered during an inventory of the archival collections of Schaffer Library, Union College. Bound in red leather, Gaines Universal Register or American and British Kalendar for the year 1793 was a popular volume for gentlemen of the time, and contained useful, everyday knowledge such as population estimates for American cities and comparisons of various coins and monies. The almanac is inscribed "Philip Schuyler's a present from his friend Mr. Philip Ten Eycke New York April 20, 1793."

The first thought was that the almanac belonged to Gen. Philip Schuyler (1733-1804), a close friend of Gen. Washington who served under him during the American Revolution. Philip Schuyler was later active in Federalist politics and government as a U.S. senator from Albany, as well as one of the founders of Union College. He was also the father of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (1757-1854), and father-in-law to Alexander Hamilton.

Tucked inside the almanac were several pages of handwritten notes and a business letter, which make the owner more likely General Schuyler's son, Philip Jeremiah Schuyler (1768-1835). Also inside the almanac was a slender yellowed envelope, upper right, with this written on one side: "Washington's hair, L.L.S. & (crossed out) GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug.10, 1871." Inside the envelope were a few white hairs, tied together with a thread, left. Who were all these people, and could their identities help prove that the hair really had come from Washington?

A Google search by Phillip Wajda, Union's director of media and public relations brought him to my blog post about historic hair in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. (See the strands of Washington's hair, held together with red wax, that belong to MHS, lower right.) The handwriting accompanying that hair does appear to the be same as is on the envelope, belonging to James Alexander Hamilton (1788-1878.) James was the fourth child of Elizabeth and Alexander Hamilton, and, like his mother, was very aware of both his father's legacy and his family's place in American history.

Locks and strands of hair were often exchanged, especially as tokens of a deceased loved one. While it's impossible to be absolutely certain without DNA testing, the hair's provenance makes a strong case for it having come from Washington. The Hamiltons were close to the Washingtons, and it's likely that Martha shared George's hair with Elizabeth after George's death, if not before. It therefore makes sense that James passed along the hair given to him by his mother, Eliza, as he wrote on the envelope.

He gave the hair to family members who would have appreciated it, too. Thanks to the assistance of Jessie Serfilippi, an interpreter at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, we determined that the initials refer to James's granddaughters, Louisa Lee Schuyler (1837-1926) and Georgina Schuyler (1841-1924.) The sisters continued the family interest in history through historic preservation - an idea growing in the late 19thc-early 20thc with a renewed appreciation for the country's early history. Together the sisters were instrumental in making Gen. Schuyler's grand colonial house in Albany into a New York historic site in 1917. At some point, the envelope with the hair must have been slipped into the almanac for safekeeping, forgotten, and then later donated to Union.

A digression into the complicated genealogy of Louisa and Georgina: Philip Jeremiah Schuyler (son of Gen. Schuyler, brother of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and owner of the almanac) and his second wife, Mary Anne Sawyer, had a son, George Lee Schuyler. George Lee Schuyler married his cousin Eliza Schuyler, the daughter of James Alexander Hamilton (son of Elizabeth and Alexander Hamilton.) George and Eliza became the parents of Louisa Lee and Georgia - who therefore were, through intermarriage, great-granddaughters to both Gen. Philip Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton. Whew!

What I find particularly fascinating about all this is that because Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton lived to be 97, she would have known both Louisa Lee and Georgina as girls. Think of that: they would have heard first-hand stories of the American Revolution from Elizabeth, and yet they themselves lived into the 1920s. It's understandable that Louisa Lee and Georgina would have wanted the Schuyler Mansion to be preserved since they remembered their great-grandmother, who in turn would have remembered when the mansion (then her family's new home, known as The Pastures) was built in the 1760s.

Could there be any better backstory than that?

Thanks to Phillip Wajda, Jessie Serfilippi, and Anne E. Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts, Massachusetts Historical Society, for their assistance with this post.

Upper photos ©2018 Union College.
Lower right: Strands of hair belonging to George Washington, Massachusetts Historical Society, photo ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of February 12, 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Archaeologists think this spinning disk - at least 14,000 years old - may have been a child's toy. More about ancient toys and children here.
Tulipmania: the classic story of a 17thc Dutch financial bubble is mostly wrong.
• A grand piano bought by Queen Victoria as a gift to Prince Albert in 1854.
• The bloody world of Georgian female boxing.
• Filling in the 19thc history of pregnancy and dress.
Image: Believed to be the earliest identified sampler by an African American, this rare work from 1793 carries a beautiful message.
Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley: the real story.
• The earliest photographs of the Henry Clay Frick mansion before it became an art museum.
Image: A delicate mourning bonnet, c1870.
• The beautiful chaos of improvisational quilts: jazz with a needle.
• For author Mark Twain, it was love at first sight..
• Seven black nurses who changed medical history.
Image: The contents of President Abraham Lincoln's pockets the night he was assassinated.
Video: The only artifact in the collection of Fort Ticonderoga certain to have been used by a woman.
• Get your quills ready: a short guide to making a medieval manuscript.
• Now on-line: the commonplace books of Lady Augusta Murray, who married George III's son, the Duke of Sussex, and had his children, but then saw their marriage ruled invalid.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection
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