Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Video: Lace in 18thc Virginia

Friday, May 27, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Today nearly all lace is produced by machine, and as a result it decorates everything from lingerie to t-shirts and doll clothes. Lace has lost some of its cachet - but once handmade lace was as valuable and treasured as a piece of fine jewelry. This video from George Washington's Mount Vernon features Sarah Woodyard, journeywoman mantua-maker (one of our favorite historic tradespeople from Colonial Williamsburgand Cynthia Chin of Mount Vernon. Using reproductions made in the shop as examples, Sarah explains the importance of lace to fashionable 18thc Virginians.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Wanstead House, Its Heiress, & Her Unfortunate Choice in Men

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Richard Westall, Wanstead House
Loretta reports:

The clipping from the Annual Register sent me off in 2NHG search of more, as you’d expect, and boy, did I find a story, straight out of melodrama: Young Heiress Ruined By Fortune-Hunting Scoundrel.

A site devoted to Wanstead House tells the story here.

Annual Register May 1823
Further searching led me back to a beautifully illustrated site for Wicked William Pole-Tylney, which Isabella had very recently called to my attention for an altogether different nerdy historical reason (a lovely post on coaching inns). And which included an advertisement for the auction of the house’s contents the previous year.

Geraldine Roberts, who’s written a book about Catherine Tylney Long, The Angel and the Cadoutlines the heiress's story on her website, with many fine images, including the (rare) one of Catherine below.

William Pole-Tylney
Catherine Tylney Long
Image at top: Richard Westall, Wanstead House, undated (I’d guess about 1790s), courtesy Yale Center for British Art.

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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What to Learn from Miss May, 1781

Monday, May 23, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Last month Loretta and I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual conference of the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Ostensibly our topic was busting a few historical myths that turn up all too often in historical romances, but because it was us and we like to talk, we made several other points about research as well. Two of our favorites: popular prints can be great sources of historical information, and, conversely, don't take everything you see (or read) at face value.

This print, right, would've made a perfect example. Pretty young women seem to have always been used to illustrate the calendar months, and this lady coyly glancing over her shoulder represents May, 1781. She's one of a set of twelve prints that could have been purchased together or individually. Hand-colored prints like this were increasingly popular in the 18thc, whether framed or simply pinned to the wall, where they added a touch of fashionable gentility in homes and businesses that couldn't necessarily afford paintings.

Miss May is dressed so elegantly and so on-trend that she could almost be considered a fashion plate. Strewn with woven flowers, her silk dress was called an Italian gown, with a close-fitting bodice, long narrow sleeves, and a great deal of fullness in the back. Open in the front, the gown would have been worn over a matching petticoat. She's also wearing a sheer embroidered apron that's purely decorative, as well as a ruffled kerchief. Her silk-trimmed straw hat is tipped forward over a pleated cap, and hanging beside her is her hooded cloak, also trimmed with lace.

So what about her appearance and attire is a faithful representation of women's dress in 1781, and what's exaggerated? It's safe to say that her tiny little foot in its tiny little shoe wasn't really that tiny; surviving shoes from the period prove that English women's feet were in proportion to the rest of them. Her dramatic hairstyle was accurate (see our earlier posts here and here on 18thc big hair), but to make her hair and hat more stylishly impressive by comparison, the artist seems to have shrunk her face. And that ample posterior? That, perhaps surprisingly, is accurate, and would have been achieved with the help of a false bum or rump - pillow-like enhancements that were tied around the waist to support the skirts and give a come-hither wiggle to the walk. (See more about false bums here.)

But there are other things to learn from this print, too. Because it's May and spring is here, the lady has not only put aside her cloak, but opened the windows in her house, too. Of course those windows have no screens; wire screens don't become affordable and widely used until the 19thc, and even then they're much more common in America than in Europe (they still are.) The window behind the lady appears to be tall enough to be used as a doorway when raised, leading to a path through the park.

There's also another indication that May has arrived. The scene in the street that the lady is watching is a May Day (the first of May) celebration called the "Milkmaid's Garland", which is also illustrated in the painting, right. To quote the Victoria & Albert Museum's caption:

"One of the ancient customs observed on May Day that persisted until the early 19thc was the 'Milkmaid's Garland.' The milkmaids would dress in their best clothes and dance in the streets for their customers. A donation from the customers and from passers-by was expected. A 'garland' - a pyramid of borrowed silver tankards, plates, and flagons decorated with flowers - was paraded by the milkmaids or carried, as in this painting, by a porter."

I'm sure that the grotesque figures also dancing in the street - probably with oversized masks - have something to do with an 18thc May Day as well, but I haven't discovered exactly what. Does anyone among our scholarly readers have the answer?

Left: May/The Twelve Months, published by Carrington Bowles after Robert Dighton, London, 1781. The British Museum.
Right: Detail, The Milkmaid's Garland, or the Humours of May Day, by Francis Hayman, 1741-1742, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of May 16, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The Swan with Two Necks and other important London coaching inns in early 19thc London.
• The First Children who led sad lives.
• The hidden messages of colonial handwriting.
• The deadly pain medicine sold by skeletons.
Image: A Victorian book called Pleasing Stories for Pleasant Children naturally begins with King Herod ::shudder::.
• "Novelties that Create Fun" c1920.
• "This faithful machine": the literary history of word processing.
• Who could marry whom - a matter of concern to the law.
• The insults that sparked duels in Alexander Hamilton's America.
• Who let the dogs out?
• Art history project replicates hair styles worn by Porch Maiden caryatids on the Athenian Acropolis.
• Eavesdropping on Weimar: the true story behind the bestseller & movie Grand Hotel.
Couture copies in America.
Image: An 18thc snapshot of the grim conditions for bound coal miners in Scotland who have escaped from their master.
• The worst epidemic in 18thc North America (and it's not what you think.)
Workhouse diets: paucity or plenty? Part two here.
• An important part of the early slave trade, Narragansett Pacers were one of America's earliest and most reliable breeds of horses.
• The biggest cat painting in the world.
Image: The severed head of Medusa stares out from this 1911 silver-gilt relief.
Airships over London, in war and in peace.
• A conspiracy unraveled: the murder of Captain Joseph White, 1830.
Isaac Newton and the apple: the story and the myth.
• Glorious watercolors of tulips, the favorite flower of the 17thc.
Image: John Adams' "Miss Adorable" letter to Abigail, 1762.
• "Time me, gentlemen": Dr. Robert Liston, the fastest surgeon of the 19thc.
• The flattering tricks of 19thc portraiture.
• A visit to the blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green - an infamous Regency landmark.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Video: Food Shopping Tips for 1950

Friday, May 20, 2016
Interior, Marden-Abbott Store
Strawbery Banke Museum
Loretta reports:

Today's video called to me because I grew up living behind the shop, that is to say, behind a small Mom and Pop store. In those days, what today we’d call a convenience store was "the corner store," which Worcesterites called a spa—and no, I have no idea why.

The main articles on offer at our place were canned goods, bread, milk, soda, cigarettes, and penny candy—and then, a few years after the store opened, there was a snack bar, too, which became very popular. In any case, neither our shop nor even the supermarkets, as they were then, were anything like today's mega-super-duper-supermarkets. A tangerine was about as exotic as things got in the produce aisle.

Though my parents set up shop a decade or so later than today’s video, we girls learned these same shopping principles, at home and in Home Economics classes. No, the boys weren’t taught, although, if the video offers a clue, they could have used the lessons.

Image: Interior of Marden-Abbott Store (WWII era)  at Strawbery Bank Museum, courtesy me.

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.

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