Friday, August 15, 2014

Gone Fishin', Again

Friday, August 15, 2014
Isabella and Loretta reporting,

As we've done before (and will probably do again), we're going to step away from blogging and other social-networking for the last two weeks of August to unwind, spend time with family and friends, and maybe even get a bit of writing done.

Since this is more or less our blog's fifth anniversary, too, we'd like to thank you all for another year of following our sundry historical discoveries, thoughts, and ramblings. We're not exactly sure when it happened, but it seems that sometime in the last few months we crossed the two-million mark in page views. We're amazed, and grateful as well. Who knew there were so many other Nerdy History Folk out there?

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and see you in September!

Above: Selfie proof that, once in a while, we really do wind up in the same place at the same time.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Regency Era Steam Yacht

Thursday, August 14, 2014
View at source here

Loretta reports:

Though most of my books are set in early 19th century England, now and again I send my characters abroad.  Writing Silk is for Seduction, I needed to become familiar with the steamship packets that carried travelers and mail across the English Channel.  It was easy enough to find information and images about steam vessels from the Victorian era.  But before that, things online are a little sparse.  So of course I was thrilled to find recently, in the 1819 Ackermann’s Repository, this image.  I was even more delighted with what the description conveys about the

entrepreneurs “zealous to promote the success of the application of steam as the
Read online here
propelling power to vessels.”  The detailed interior description is a pretty good substitute for the interior photo shots we’d expect today.  It's also a good example of the prose style of the time, which appears very convoluted to 21st century eyes.

Read online here

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More about the 1734 Wedding Dress, and the Bride who Embroidered and Wore It

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Isabella reporting,

As I wrote this blog post on Elizabeth Bull's embroidered wedding dress from The Bostonian Society earlier this week, I realized I'd need a second post as well to share all the interesting things I'd learned about the dress - as well as a mystery about it, too. Since so many of you wished to know more about Elizabeth herself,and what happened to her (and the dress) after her marriage, I'm including that, too.

Although the dress has been updated and refashioned several times in its history - it currently reflects the styles of the 1830s - there's a hint that perhaps it might have been changed even before it was first worn. Preserved along with the dress is an item referred to as the "practice bodice," left, a fitted back section of a dress bodice, that is currently on display at the Old State House in Boston.

The bodice is actually only the back-half of a bodice, as you can see in the photo right. It's made from the same celadon China silk as the dress itself, and not only were the same silk threads used to embroider it, but the design and craftsmanship are every bit as elegant and skilled as that used on the dress itself. Note, too, the inked designs towards the bottom that were never completed. (There's also an extra small scrap of embroidery pinned near to the neckline.)

While no one knows for sure, historians have decided that this was a trial run for Elizabeth's embroidery, a test piece before she began on the actual dress. As anyone who has embroidered with silk, on silk, will know, it's not easy, and, once stitched, it's also very difficult to pick out to correct or change a design. Given that Elizabeth was only fifteen or so at the time, perhaps her mother or embroidery instructor suggested this step to help build her confidence.

Or...perhaps this once was the actual back of the dress. Certainly there's nothing "trial" about the design or the stitchery. But once that embroidery was complete, there'd be no possibility of making adjustments in the vertical pleats that shape the back of the bodice. What if in the years in which she worked on the dress, she grew in size to the point that the narrow back no longer fit and needed to be replaced, and a newer section was inserted?

Or...perhaps Elizabeth changed her mind regarding the dress's style. She was obviously fashion-conscious, and cost was not an issue to her. A new style in women's gowns was appearing from Paris during the time she was working on her dress. The robe à la Française, or sack gown, replaced the earlier fitted back with a series of open pleats that flowed gracefully down from the shoulders into the skirt. (Here's an example from 1730-40, and here's a replica of a similar dress being made by the mantua-makers of Colonial Williamsburg that shows the pleats more clearly.) Could it be that Elizabeth wished to follow this new style, and discarded the original, now-old-fashioned back?

These possibilities are only musings of my own; novelists can let their imagination ramble, while professional historians can't. No one knows for certain, and neither the back of the dress as it stands nor the practice bodice offer many clues. But it's a tantalizing mystery, isn't it?

What happened to the Elizabeth and her wedding dress? In 1734, she married an Englishman, the Reverend Roger Price, a commissary of the Church of England; he was twenty years older than she, and it was a marriage joining prestige and fortune. Soon afterwards, the couple moved from Boston to a substantial house in rural Hopkinton, where Rev. Price started a new church. Elizabeth continued to wear her wedding dress as her "best" dress, as was customary for 18th c. brides, and was known to charm the friends and parishioners of her sometimes prickly husband. Elizabeth gave birth to eleven children between 1735-1753, five of which survived to adulthood - a sadly average figure for the time.

In 1754, the couple sailed to London, leaving their considerable property in Massachusetts behind. They never returned. They were considered Loyalists, and during the Revolution, they lost their property and assets. In 1783, her oldest son and daughter returned to the Massachusetts, and successfully recovered most of the family property. Elizabeth herself died in 1780, aged 72.

I find it fascinating that despite so much political upheaval, Elizabeth's family kept the dress, as well as other examples of her needlework (look for another blog or two in the future!) I like to think they did so not only as mementos of a well-loved mother, but also in recognition of her skill and artistry, talents that were clearly so much a part of her.

And the dress? Family legend has it that the dress traveled to London with Elizabeth in 1754, and that in time it was remodeled and worn by her oldest daughter to the court of George III.

As before, many thanks to Patricia Gilrein, Kimberly Alexander, and the staff of The Bostonian Society for so generously sharing Elizabeth's dress with me.

All photographs courtesy The Bostonian Society.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Belt Buckles for Gilded Age Wasp Waists

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Loretta reports:

Not long ago I read Consuelo Vanderbilt’s The Glitter and the Gold, which had me thinking about Gilded Age fashions.  We’ve looked at the wasp waists more than once, mainly in connection with the tight corseting of the Victorian era.  Belts often encircled and called attention to those tiny waists, sometimes with beautifully crafted belt buckles, of which the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a splendid collection.

This gold and garnet buckle is one fine example, dating from about 1899.

The nickel and silver glass paste buckle, with its strange face and the wide open mouth, is something completely different.  It’s about ten years later, and looks less Victorian and more Art Nouveau.

Can you picture the sort of woman who’d wear one of these? My guess is that it would not be the same woman!

Buckle # 1, by K.K. Faschschule für Edelsteinschleifer, Edelsteingravure, Goldschmeiede und Juweliere, Bohemian (Turneau), founded 1884.

Buckle #2, by Kirschgaessner und Kraft, German (Pforzheim), founded 1902.

Marie Kröyer
Painting: Peder Severin Kröyer, Portrait of the artist´s wife: Marie Kröyer (1901) courtesy Wikipedia

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Very Special Embroidered Wedding Dress, 1734

Sunday, August 10, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Wedding dresses are special clothing, ceremonial garments to be worn only once, yet infused with a lifetime of dreams and wishes.

Last week I had the opportunity to see a wedding dress that was even more special than most. Not only was it a rarity for its age and provenance – nearly three hundred years old, and made in Boston more than a generation before the American Revolution – but for the magic of its very creation. The bride herself embroidered the swirling leaves and flowers, turning her wedding dress into a brilliant masterpiece of needlework.

The bride, Elizabeth Bull, was born in Boston in 1716. While we often tend to think of New England in the early 18th c. as a primitive colony in the wilderness, Boston was a sophisticated town, connected to all the world's seaports by its ships. As the only daughter of a wealthy merchant, Elizabeth was not only taught fine needlework, but had access to silk threads from the best shops in London and silk cloth from China. She also had the time to devote to perfecting her skill, as well as a genuine talent for color and design.

She began the embroidery for this gown when she was still a schoolgirl, around the age of fifteen, and was still working on it when, in 1734, she met the man she would eventually marry, the Reverend Roger Price. When they wed the following year, the embroidery was not finished, nor is it finished today - inked outlines of flowers on the petticoat, left, show that Elizabeth had planned to make the design even more elaborate.

While in many photographs the dress appears off-white, the Chinese silk is in fact an elegant shade of pale celadon green that must have glowed by candlelight. (My camera exaggerated the green in the detail photographs, left - the original color seems to be difficult to capture on film.) The embroidery is in every shade imaginable, the colors of the silk thread still rich and vibrant.

Like many 18th c. dresses (such as this one here and here), Elizabeth's was remodeled and updated at least twice. It's impossible to know exactly how it looked in 1735; in its current state, it reflects the short, puffed sleeves and bell-shaped skirt of the 1830s, with additional fabric and netting trim. The original embroidered petticoat that would once have shown beneath an 18th c. style open skirt was relegated to being an under-petticoat to support the rest of the dress. In the late 19th c., the dress was likely worn as a Colonial Revival costume, and as late as the 1920s it was still being worn, lower right, for photographs for lady's magazines as a relic of the past.

The dress now has a treasured place in the collections of The Bostonian Society, whose conservators have carefully preserved and stabilized it for the future. There's no doubt that the dress has suffered over the centuries, with scattered stains and wear to mark its long life, and it's now so fragile that it can only be on public display once a year (or until funds are raised for a state-of-the-preservation-art display case.) But thanks to historian Kimberly Alexander and Patricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator of The Bostonian Society, the dress was brought out from its large, white conservation box and swaths of acid-free tissue for me to see.

And yes, I gasped. The artistry of the embroidered designs, the choice of colors and textures, the consummate skill of the needlework, are all undeniable. But I wasn't prepared for the impact of Elizabeth herself, her presence so palpable in every stitch that she might have been in the room with us. Like every artist, she'd put part of herself into her work - and how very fortunate we are to be able to appreciate her masterpiece today.

Many thanks to Patricia Gilrein, Kimberly Alexander, and the staff of The Bostonian Society for their warm welcome, knowledge, and generosity!

See another blog about this dress - and its mysterious "practice bodice" - here.

Detail photographs by Susan Holloway Scott. 
All other photographs courtesy of The Bostonian Society.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of August 4, 2014

Saturday, August 9, 2014
Ready for a warm summer Sunday! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• Marie Curie's century-old radioactive notebook still requires a lead box.
• A charming portrait of a favorite pug in an enameled brooch, 1875.
• The most popular brothel in Jacobean London had indoor plumbing - and snacks.
• Four pairs of shoes that Queen Marie Antoinette wore, plus another pair she didn't (though probably would have liked.)
Image: Author Lewis Carroll's typewriter, acquired by him in 1888.
• Arabella Williams, a little-known Georgian spy.
• Four-legged 19th c. star athletes earned endorsement deals, paparazzi, and glory.
• Looking for a copy of The Tuzzymuzzy Songster? In 1835, you'd head to the dirty-book shops of Holywell Street.
• Selection of elegantly pretty turn-of-the-20th-century tennis illustrations.
Image: A man's blue-striped knitted swimsuit, c. 1900.
• Shoes AND history: of course this upcoming exhibition caught our eyes!
• A delightful knight and lady decorate this fore-edge painted book - read it here.
• Daisy Murdoch, the teenaged burlesque actress turned celebrity Cupid of 1880s tobacco cards.
• Built in 1465, Oxgate Farm still stands in the middle of London.
• The Regent's Canal, an engineering wonder of early 19th c. London.
• Victorian strangeness: seven singular sports of the Victorian era.
• The Lincolnshire Stuff Ball, 1785, held to support and promote local manufacturing.
Image: Two stones thrown by brave suffragists through the windows of Buckingham Palace in 1914.
• Size matters: giant medieval manuscripts.
• The death masks and funeral effigies of queens and kings in Westminster Abbey.
• Sixteen of the most magnificent trees in the world.
Classified ads from New York papers for abortifacients and contraceptives, c. 1841.
• The short life and tragic love story of Princess Amelia, youngest daughter of George III.
Image: Working class dress: a young fisherwoman's clothing c. 1880-85 in Runswick Bay.
Savigny Hall, the elegant 19th c. Harlem townhouse that became a social club, rehearsal hall, church, and art gallery.
• Drunk tank pink? International Klein blue? Charting the outer-reaches of the color spectrum.
• How guys tried to pick up girls in 18th c. New York.
• To download or read online: A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew in its Several Tribes, of Gypsies, Beggers, Thieves, Cheats, etc., 1899 edition.
Image: 1918 advertisement for an all-purpose wrinkle remover and bust developer: Dr. Charles Flesh Food.
• Bringing the garden indoors: paintings by Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935.)
• World War I pamphlet to read online: War Work for Women.
• This image of a man yawning subverts the expectations of an 1854 photograph.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Video: Italian Hand Gestures Elucidated

Friday, August 8, 2014
Loretta reports:

Last time for Casual Friday, I offered a satirical video about grammar. Today I offer a language of gesture.

Nearly all of us use hand gestures when we speak, but I believe many will agree that the Italians have raised this to an art form and highly expressive language of its own.  So this Friday video is not so satirical but still fun, I hope.  Or at least easy on the eyes.

Image is a detail of a detail of Botticelli’s Primavera, courtesy Wikipedia.
The original is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where a few years ago I had the great privilege of seeing it in person.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tilting Hinged Parasols, c 1810

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Isabella reporting,

One of the more charming details in this painting that I posted earlier this week is the tilted parasols carried by two of the girls. Reader Mary O'Keefe Kellogg noted them, too: "The oldest girl's parasol has a hinge in the handle to tip it. Very practical! Has anyone seen one of these?"

I know that somewhere, somehow, in some collection, I HAVE seen one, and maybe more. Hinged parasols were popular from the late 18th c. until late in the 19th, and are occasionally called carriage or marquise parasols. But no matter how much hunting I've done this evening, I can't find an actual example photographed to show the use. This late 19th c. parasol from the Museum of Fine Arts has the tilting-capability, but alas, the image on the website makes it look more like it was awkwardly shut into a carriage door than used against the sun.

I did, however, come across a satirical print and a fashion plate that show tilted parasols. These images are both earlier than the Spitzweg painting, but it's entirely possible that what was high fashion in 1808 had filtered down to become an acceptable (and useful) accessory for young girls in 1841.

The lady on the left of this 1808 fashion plate, right, is obligingly holding her parasol tipped down to show the hinge in the shaft. The bell of the parasol could then be adjusted to best shield the user from the sun, whether directly overhead or rising on the horizon.

I hesitated to include the tiny, cropped image, lower left, since the web site on which it appeared included no identification or date; I'm guessing it's from a fashion plate of about 1810. But it does clearly show the tilt at its most extreme angle, standing upright to act as a definite shield against the sun, and from the little lady's expression, I suspect it might have also been used to avoid being seen, a fashionable diversionary tactic against unwelcome advances.

The print, top, also shows a lady with a tilted parasol. She's walking along the beach at Margate with a gentleman defined only as "Lord", and she may (or may not!) be his Lady. But she is using her tilted parasol not only to shield her face from the sun that must be rising over the water, but also perhaps to protect her delicate complexion from the morning breezes off the water as well - even if it looks like a giant pinwheel in her hand.

The print humorously depicts a small social misunderstanding between an aristocrat (who seems to have been given the Duke of Wellington's distinctive profile) and his dandified tailor; the print proves how clothes truly did make the man. It's titled A Meeting at Margate, or a Little Mistake, and here's the amusing caption:

{A Polite Bow from both Parties}Lord: Sir, your face is quite familiar to me. I must have seen you somewhere before, will you do me the honor to tell me your name? Taylor: Yes, my lord, I have had the honor. I - I - I - made your Breeches. Lord: Oh! Oh! Major Bridges, I am very happy to see Major Bridges."

Top: A Meeting at Margate, or a Little Mistake, 1803, by Robert Lauries and James Whittle, publishers. Horace Walpole Library, Yale University
Right: Morning Walking Dresses, 1808, fashion plate from La Belle Assemblée.
Bottom left, Detail of a fashion plate, c. 1810.

UPDATE: Two of our readers have sent me links showing 19th c. tilting parasols in their own collections.
Here's a link to an 1860s carriage parasol from Ithilwyn:
And another 1860s marquise parasol used with a reproduction mourning dress from Samantha McCarty:
Thank you both for sharing!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sea Pines School for Girls 1916, on old Cape Cod

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Sea Pines School for Girls
Loretta reports:

In the past year and a half, I’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time on Cape Cod, MA.  Though the Cape has changed a great deal since my girlhood—not nearly so wild and rustic as it used to be—some of the past remains.  So I did pause when I saw this ad.  As far as I can make out, the building is still there, albeit turned into an inn.  It does remind me of the grand resort hotels from the Victorian-Edwardian eras, most of which have vanished.  (Here, here, and here are examples of those still in operation.) Apparently it was still operating as a school into the 1970s, so it must have been successful.  In any event, the Reverend Bickford gets a fine write up in the 1919 American Biography, and on the next page, so does the school.

Image from The World’s Work, August 1916 advertisements. Bio from American Biography: A New Cyclopedia, Volume 6 (1919).  Both courtesy Google Books.

Clicking on an image will enlarge it.  Clicking on a caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"A Sunday Stroll" on a Summer Morning, 1841

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Isabella reporting,

I recently came across this delightful painting on Twitter.  If ever there were a painting that said "summer day", this is it, and what better picture to feature on an August day? (As always, click on the image to enlarge it.)

The artist is Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885), and he's known today as a German romanticist painter of the Biedermeier era. What I find fascinating is that he was entirely self-taught. Trained as a pharmacist, he took up painting while recovering from an illness, learning through studying and copying Old Master paintings. In his late twenties, he received a sizable inheritance, and the pharmacist became a full-time artist. He liked to tell stories within his paintings, and often combined a caricaturist's gift for satire with a finely finished artistic realism.

This family heading out on their Sunday walk is a perfect example of Spitzweg's work. Having shed his coat from the heat, the rotund father with his bushy sideburns proudly leads his wife and children through the gently blowing tall grass. It's early in the morning, and the sky is pale and the clouds are downy. The ladies in their huge bonnets have tipped their parasols to shield themselves from the rising sun, and Papa himself has balanced his hat on his walking stick to offer makeshift shade. The son is lagging behind, playing with something (I'm not sure what - a lantern? a bug-catcher? a kite? Anyone else know?) bobbing on the end of a long stick. I particularly like the smallest girl, her bonnet all that's visible of her as she hangs on to her father's hand.

Spitzweg remains a beloved painter in Germany, and he had the dubious distinction of being one of Adolph Hitler's favorite artists. Spitzweg's popularity has also made him a favorite target of art thieves, who have marked his work as among the most frequently stolen in the history of art.

But today, all I'd like to concentrate on are those straw bonnets in the tall grass and the lavender-blue sky of a long-ago summer morning....

A Sunday Stroll, by Carl Spitzweg, 1841, Museum Carolino Augusteum, Salzburg.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Fashions for August 1826

Monday, August 4, 2014

Promenade dress
Loretta reports:

As my books and posts probably make obvious, I spend a lot of time perusing ladies’ magazines from the early 1800s.  For the blog, I may choose a fashion because it’s bizarre.  Or it may be because it’s a year I haven’t done for a while.  In this case, I chose because I liked the dresses, the art, and the grace of the poses.  Fashion was getting more structured in the 1820s, yet these plates manage to look airy, somehow.  The pelerine on the blue dress looks like a fall of lace rather than the stiffer little cape one sees in the 1830s.

I can’t decide which is my favorite, though.  What about you?

Evening dress
Dress description

Dress description

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the online source, where you can enlarge further.  My apologies for the weird placement.  Blogger limits my flexibility with images.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of July 28, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014
Fresh for your browsing pleasure - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• Four-legged 19th c. star athletes: endorsement deals, paparazzi, and glory.
• A splendid masquerade given by the Danish king at the Opera House in the Haymarket, 1768.
Tarot mythology: the surprising origins of the world's most misunderstood cards.
• Gangs of New York: 19th c. recruitment of the Irish "straight off the boat."
• This envelope once contained a medal for a soldier of Napoleon's army.
Image: What a way to travel: Louis Vuitton's 1923 bookcase trunk.
• The seventy-four cats that guard the Hermitage Museum's artistic treasures from mice.
• Remembering World War One: digital composites of WWI photographs superimposed on modern images.
• In church attics, new clues to the private lives of early Americans.
• Beautiful summery paintings featuring women in gardens.
• How 18th c. ladies played - and changed - the game of cricket.
• Fedoras to mullets: decades of fashion words explained.
Image: "I'm just going to write because I cannot help it." - Charlotte Bronte's manuscript of Jane Eyre.
• The fascinating daily routines of famous creative people in history.
• In 1894, singer Anna Held demanded 40 gallons of milk each day "for bathing" as a guest at he lost New Netherland Hotel, NYC.
• "My Well-Beloved Valentine": marriage, medieval and modern.
• When gin was full of sulphuric acid and turpentine.
Image: An amazing Palladian-style Georgian dollhouse.
• "Hearts do break in silence, without a word or a sigh": a Civil War diary from Dixie, 1863.
• Sinuous passementerie braid decorates this 1890s woman's royal blue jacket.
• Victorian vegetarianism.
• "The impudence of this woman was astonishing": the surprisingly helpful Honorable Elizabeth Harriet Grieve.
• "Health and Beauty Hints," published in 1910 and online here, offers tips on achieving the Edwardian beauty ideal.
Image: 16th c. man's doublet with incredible embroidered detail.
• Summer entertaining tips from writer Edith Wharton.
Honey in the ancient world.
• As the men dug up old graves in the Kentucky graveyard, something knocked from inside a coffin.
• Who knew that beneath downtown Los Angeles lies an abandoned underground railway?
• Inside Fulham Palace, a Tudor oasis in the middle of modern London.
• Georgian secrets of cosmetic art, including hair care.
Image: Suffragist Emmeline Pethick Lawrence rejoicing on her release from Holloway Prison, 1908.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Video: A Prototype for a Very Early Mobile Phone, 1946

Friday, August 1, 2014

Isabella reporting,

The British Pathé archives have provided some of our favorite Friday Videos, including this, this, and thisWhile this one makes old-fashioned sexist jokes about how women like to talk and shop and men sneak out to the pub for a pint, it does seem uncannily prescient about modern cell-phone usage. The post-war walkie-talkie is a little unwieldy, true, but having a cell-phone in case of an emergency is almost always the reason/excuse most people have for first buying one, just as using them to report to friends about what's in stores is, fortunately, much more common. Still, I think I can safely say that very, very few American women today ever call anyone to report a sale on offal.

Video courtesy of the British Pathé archives.
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