Tuesday, October 25, 2016

From the NHG Library: "An Agreeable Tyrant: Fashion After the Revolution"

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Loretta and I both have more research books crowding our respective houses than either of us would like to admit. Yet there's always room for one more, especially when that book fills an important gap on the shelf.

I'm currently working on a historical novel set in 18thc America during and after the Revolution. (That's all I'm saying for now - everything will be revealed soon enough, with a publication date of September, 2017.) It's a fascinating period in American history, with the dramatic achievements of the war giving way to the difficult process of not only building a new country from the ground up, but also creating a national identity to go with it.

Part of that new identity was deciding what Americans should wear. Of course, for many people this meant continuing to wear what they'd worn before the Revolution, but for more fashion-conscious Americans, this was a serious question. They wanted to continue to be as stylish as their counterparts in London and Paris, but they didn't want to follow the fashion dictates of the royal courts. Displaying taste and wealth would also be a challenge in homespun. As the subtitle of this new book asks: "What's a patriotic American to wear?"

An Agreeable Tyrant: Fashion After the Revolution, above, is a new companion book to an exhibition currently on display at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C., through April 29, 2017. This beautifully written and designed book is much more than a mere exhibition catalogue, however. It contains dozens of full-color photographs of surviving garments - many shown on mannequins, complete with accessories, right - plus fashion plates, portraits, and other images from the era.

There are also thoughtful, informative essays written by experts in the field of historic fashion and textile, including lengthy footnotes to primary sources (be still my nerdy history heart!) Clothes for men and women of every class are covered, including enslaved people. And for readers who appreciate the "behind the seams" approach to fashion history, detailed, scaled patterns of garments complete the book. Congratulations to Alden O'Brien, Curator of Costumes & Textiles, DAR Museum, and her staff for creating such a wonderful book.

An Agreeable Tyrant deserves a place in every costume-lover's library, and on the shelves of American historians as well. And yes, it's an excellent resource for us fiction-writers. I've already referred to it to "dress" my characters, and I've given it the ultimate endorsement: I didn't receive this for review, but ordered it myself as soon as it was available.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy of An Agreeable Tyrant, you can order it directly from the DAR Museum's site here.

Above (left to right): Silk gauze dress, 1810; Purple silk dress, 1810; Silver brocaded evening dress, 1810s, all from a private collection. Photograph copyright DAR Museum.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Naughty Watches of the 18th and 19th Centuries

Monday, October 24, 2016
Loretta reports:

At a recent authors event, readers asked about the naughty watch a character buys in my book Lord of Scoundrels: Was this based on research or imagination?

If you Google “erotic watches,” you’ll know I wasn’t making this stuff up. So yes, the idea came from research—done in the days before Google existed, I ought to point out. These days, it would have been easier.

While I was aware of snuff boxes with erotic scenes inside the lid, the pornographic watch was news to me. I was especially intrigued to learn that watchmakers had been creating these devices as early as the late 1700s. This includes Abraham-Louis Breguet, a famous, highly-regarded watchmaker mentioned in Lord of Scoundrels.

Eric Bruton’s The History of Clocks & Watches offers a black and white illustration of a carriage watch, from which I developed the one in my book.
“It shows the time, day, date, and sidereal time, strikes the hours and quarters, and plays tunes on six bells. On the back a human figure in three parts keeps changing and below it some ‘curtains’ can be drawn aside to reveal an animated pornographic scene.” 
The watch was made in London in 1790.

Though it’s not like the watch shown in The History of Clocks and Watches, this one works more or less the same way: an innocent front, with an animated scene on the other side. Googling the subject will bring you quite a few examples, including one on YouTube—but I'll let you search, if you wish. I'm trying to keep this post at least somewhat family-friendly.

Image (not erotic to my knowledge): Chevalier et cachet watch between 1790-1799 (gift of Liz and Peter Moser, 2006), courtesy Walters Art Museum.

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, October 22, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of October 17, 2016

Saturday, October 22, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• How London's Foundling Hospital defied "gruel stereotypes."
• A 2,000 year old canister of ancient Roman face cream, including the finger marks of the user.
Emily Brontë's homely life.
• Shades of Victorian fashion: lilacs, lavenders, plums, and purples.
Black women, slavery, and the silences of the past.
Image: Lovely, evocative autochrome photograph taken in Longwood Gardens, 1915.
Male midwives and disobedient women in 18thc Britain.
• Ann Mead: the life and death of a teenaged nursemaid, 1800.
• Ominous illustrations of ventilation, 1869.
• Boston's Rat Day, 1917.
• Is this note passed between the lines at the Battle of Antietam stained with Civil War blood?
Image: Skilled needleworker Mary, Queen of Scots, embroidered this cat.
• George Washington's "racy" letter about a donkey goes on sale.
Signs of old London.
• Designer Ann Lowe: how a little-known black pioneer changed fashion forever.
Dance card from 1924 for an engineers' dance - check out the names of the dances!
• Famous illustrators depicting knitters and knitting - and here are some vintage photos of knitters, too.
Image: Appalling early 20thc anti-suffragette poster.
• Before George Washington became a general or a president, he tried his hand at poetry, with mixed results.
• In search of the lost mosque of Kew Gardens.
• A 1950s version of Yelp? The Gustavademecum, a NYC dining guide for engineers and explorers.
• The beautiful English romantic painting of Samuel Palmer.
Image: Little Egyptian faience model of a hedgehog,  made around 1300-1500 BC.
• Following the geometry of fire in the National Archives.
• The lighter side of 15thc magic.
• Monuments to some of the world's most pawsome cats.
• The history of the rural cemetery movement, which brought Victorians to picnic among the gravestones.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, October 21, 2016

(Un) Dressing Mr. Darcy

Friday, October 21, 2016
Loretta reports:

Writers as well as readers who’ve tried to work out the details of historical clothing generally appreciate a chance to see actual human beings wearing historically accurate attire.

Isabella and I have been fortunate in being able to call on the expertise of the tailors and milliners of Colonial Williamsburg. We’ve also posted what we’ve learned and seen there. Although I set my books in a later time period than the site focuses on, the historians there have The Knowledge of various eras, and have advised me on many points. But not everybody can consult with them while writing or reading a book. A demonstration like this one can answer a great many questions.

Though my current stories are later, too, than the time period recreated in this video, and the cut of coats and breeches/trousers change, as do hats, the principles apply.

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

An Englishwoman's Abolitionist Statement, 1827

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Today (especially during this election year) people wear a printed t-shirt to display their political allegiances and concerns to the world. In the 19thc, the abolition of slavery was an important and emotional social movement, and abolitionists found many ways to show their support their cause. Abolitionist motifs and slogans appeared on everything from jewelry to porcelain to printed scarves, handkerchiefs, and workbags like this one, newly acquired for the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

Although workbags originally were intended to carry a woman's sewing or embroidery (her "work"), by the 1820s they had become more general carry-alls for daily essentials, much like a modern purse. Most workbags were decorated with prettily embroidered patterns, but this one carried a more serious and somber message. Printed on the front is a copper plate image of an enslaved man in chains, while in the background others are being whipped by their master or overseer. Though this may seem somber for a lady's accessory, by the early 19thc the figure of a kneeling slave had become the unofficial symbol of the abolitionist cause.

A workbag like this was also viewed as a show of sympathy to the enslaved people themselves. While it might be considered improper or indelicate for a lady to become too deeply involved in a cause as sordid as abolition, it was acceptable for English ladies to demonstrate their emotional concern for those who suffered.

On the back of the workbag is printed an excerpt from William Cowper's 1784 poem on slavery, The Task:
   "Thus man devotes his brother, and destroys;
    And worse than all, and most to be deplored,
    As human nature's broadest, foulest blot; ––
    Chains him, and whips him, and exacts his sweat
    With stripes, that Mercy, with a bleeding heart,
    Weeps when she sees inflicted on a beast."

According to the collection's label:

"Established on April 8, 1825, the Birmingham, England, Female Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves, produced literature, printed albums, purses and workbags [including this one] for sale to help raise awareness of the cruelty to enslaved Africans and to provide money for their relief. These women, many members of the Society of Friends or Quakers, began one of the earliest Free Labor Movements specifically against the purchase of slave-made West Indian sugar. Identical objects and literature crossed the Atlantic and helped to fuel the American abolitionist movement."

Many thanks to Neal Hurst, Associate Curator of Costume & Textile, Colonial Williamsburg, for sharing this with us.

Workbag, made by the Female Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves, 1827. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
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