Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Victorian Mourning Wreath at the Oaks

Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Loretta reports:

As promised, I made a second trip to the Historic Paine Estate, the Oaks,
this time for a private tour with Jennifer Willson. This splendid old house is filled with treasures, some appearing in unexpected places. I hope to get to several of them in the coming weeks.

Today I start with mourning, which became a major industry during the Victorian era. Though Queen Victoria represents the extreme of grief, mourning did become more strictly codified and ostentatious in the U.S. as well as England, and fashion magazines like Godey's commented disapprovingly on current practices. Still, what looks to us like a morbid obsession may simply reflect the Victorian tendency to over-decorate and overdo. It may be a coping mechanism, too, for a time when even London's privileged lived over filth, and cholera, typhoid fever, and other epidemics raged through communities to decimate families.

In the days before photography, the bereaved used their loved ones’ hair to create mementos, and the practice continued long after photography became possible. Our predecessors did create some beautiful if rather macabre objects.

The wreath made of hair is one of the more spectacular expressions of mourning from this era, and the Paine Estate owns this fine example, as well as mourning jewelry, which I'll be showing in the very near future.

This blog post explains hair wreaths in some detail. And here is an example from the Everhart Museum.

And now for the plug, because this house deserves to be seen and experienced (and it needs our support):
If you’re in the area, I think you'll find a visit to the Oaks (140 Lincoln Street, Worcester, MA) as fascinating as I did. This year the remaining visiting days are 12 September and 3 October 1-4PM.  There will also be a Christmas Open House in early December, when the Oaks gets all dressed up in her holiday finest.

Doesn't fit your schedule? You can arrange a special group tour by contacting the DAR Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter:

 I also recommend Jennifer’s blog Revolutionary Oaks. She's a true Nerdy History Girl.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Duke of Wellington's Waterloo Cloak, 1815

Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Isabella reporting,

To historians and collectors, "provenance" is a magic word. It's the history of an item or artwork - where and by whom it was made, who owned it over time, and if it managed to be in the right historical place at the right time to make it extraordinary.

This ordinary-looking men's cloak scores big-time in provenance. The tailor who made may be forgotten (though the buttons have been identified as the work of R. Bushby, St. Martin's Lane, London), but not the man who bespoke it: Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.

Unlike many of his officers, Wellington wasn't a clothes horse, and preferred simple, functional dress for battle instead of the flashy uniform that by rights he could have worn. Over his military career, he probably owned a number of other cloaks that looked just like this one: a single curved piece of of heavy blue wool, fulled to keep out rain and wind, with a velvet collar and facings and plain gilt buttons.

But this particular cloak is special, because it's believed to be the one that Wellington was wearing when he won the decisive Battle of Waterloo. There are mud spatters along the hem that could have come from the rain-soaked battlefield, spatters that have carefully been preserved for their significance.

That's a powerful provenance - but there's more. After the battle, Lady Caroline Lamb was one of the British ladies to rush to Brussels. Ostensibly she was there to tend to her brother, Colonel Frederic Ponsonby, who had been gravely wounded in the battle (see Loretta's post here), but it was widely believed her real reason was to pursue the celebrated duke. Lady Caroline was already notorious for her famous affair with the poet Lord Byron, while Wellington was equally famous for never saying no to a flattering lady. Although both were married, that inconvenient fact mattered little to these two, and they did in fact have a (likely meaningless) hook-up in the days after the battle. Lady Caroline claimed that Wellington gave this cloak to her as a souvenir, and it's tempting to imagine the Iron Duke protectively draping the cloak over her slender shoulders.

Intriguing, but probably not likely. Lady Caroline wasn't particularly sentimental about the cloak, and at some point she gave it to surgeon Sir Anthony Carlisle.  In 1823, Carlisle in turn gave the cloak to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, a civil servant and collector, and the cloak remained in his family until this year, when it was put up for auction. Sotheby's had estimated it to sell for between £20,000-30,000. It sold for significantly more: £47,500. Fortunately, it was bought not by a private collector, but by the National Army Museum in London, where it will soon be on display.

For more about the cloak's history, see the Sotheby's listing here.

Above: Cloak, believed to have been worn by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815; photograph courtesy of Sotheby's.
Below: Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1820. The Huntingdon Library and Art Collections.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Fashions for August 1921

Monday, August 3, 2015

August 1921 dresses
Loretta reports:

For a little change of pace, I thought we’d look at fashion of the early 20th century. Color images have not been easy to find. This set comes from the Delineator, which basically sold Butterick patterns.

If you’re reading or writing books set in the Downton Abbey era, you will probably enjoy taking a more extensive look at the magazine online. It includes illustrations for undergarments, which can be extremely important in historical romance.

Meanwhile, I believe the descriptions of the dresses will make more sense to those who sew than they do to me. I do not understand the bit about the waist closing on the shoulder.
dress description

August 1821 dresses rear view

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, August 1, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of July 27, 2015

Saturday, August 1, 2015
Fresh for your browsing pleasure! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, images, and articles via Twitter.
• The story of Spitalfields silk.
• An early Victorian dress, inside and out.
• In elegant penmanship: a merchant's 1763 accounting book of the sales of African men, women, and children in Philadelphia.
• Photographer Eugene Atget captured the now-lost streets of old Paris about to be swept away.
Flat roofs: 19thc. Italianate houses in upstate New York.
Bodysnatching in 1816: a bad year to be alive, or dead.
Image: One of Horace Walpole's "Gothic Lanthorns" from his house at Strawberry Hill.
• Seventeenth century women on horseback in art.
• The groaning Georgian dining table with the elaborate epergne at its center.
• Cracking open the history of fortune cookies.
• The Great New England Earthquake of 1663 came with a "roar like a great fire."
• Image: Mother of pearl fan, French, c.1895.
• Art and design meet in this "behind the seams" look at a 1918 dress by Lucile.
• The freaks and fascinations of 18thc. entertainment.
• Recreating 19thc. whitework embroidery.
• Who knew that Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown's School Days, also founded the idyllic town of Rugby, Tennessee, as a social experiment?
• The over-the-top coronation of George IV.
• Bigamy and bankruptcy: the unfortunate tale of 1750s Boston shopkeeper Henrietta Maria East Caine.
• Waiting for a summer promenade: eight of Britain's most historic surviving seaside piers.
Image: Startling remedy for hiccups from an 18thc. herbal.
• "Have I been poisoned?" Real questions asked of an oracle by ancient Greeks.
• Women hunting, shooting, & fowling across the centuries in art.
• How to shop like a fashionable Regency gentleman.
• Image: A 19thc cartoon of "indoor cycling" complete with cinemetograph and fan.
• "A recipe for a Pomander": excerpts from a 17thc perfume book.
• All that flitters: spectacular sparkling wallpaper from 1910.
• Thought-provoking piece about how American slavery is presented on plantation tours.
Image: Unabashedly unsubtle recruitment poster from WWI.
• Unfair sport: a brief history of Dickens-bashing.
• How Singer won the sewing machine war.
• Mass graves of Napoleon's soldiers recently found in Lithuania show that many died of disease and starvation, not battle.
• Manchester University launches largest-ever online collection of the work of Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell.
Image: Just for fun: In 1951, Harlequin Books wasn't just publishing romances.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer Rerun: Leaving Work, 1895

Friday, July 31, 2015

Since everyone is in a rush to leave work on Friday afternoons in the summer, I thought I'd once again share this early silent video clip. 

Isabella reporting,

After posting the early film clip from 1896 of a snowball fightthe creation of the pioneering French film-maker Louis Lumière (1864-1948), I looked for more of his work to share here.

This short silent clip is known as Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon (La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon), and it's exactly that. Using natural daylight, Lumière set his camera across the street from the exit of his family's factory at closing time and recorded the workers – mostly women, though there are a few men in top hats – leaving for the day, plus a single large, inquisitive dog. Lumière filmed the same scene three times, on three different days, which accounts for the varying light as well as other differences like the carriages that come through the gate.

While I love seeing the clothes worn by everyday working women (plus the hats!), this film is famous for another reason. It was one of ten short films shown together to an audience on December 28, 1895 at the Salon Indien du Grand Cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, making this the first public screening of films with an admission fee charged. Each film ran about 50 seconds, shown through a hand-cranked projector. And, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.
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