Monday, April 24, 2017

Portland Place in 1815

Monday, April 24, 2017

Portland Place 1815
Portland Place description
Loretta reports:

Not until I read this entry about Portland Place did I know there was such a building as Foley House, or the rules that once existed about building in the vicinity. Not surprising. So many great London houses have disappeared, some with virtually no trace. However, I did manage to find an old engraving online (please scroll down), from Old and New London, one of my oft-consulted Victorian guidebooks to London’s history (complete, apparently, with various Victorian myths).

Portland Place is still an impressive street, though you will see more than a couple of carriage rattling around on it these days. And the road is paved, yes.

Portland Place description  

Images from Ackermann's Repository for April 1815, 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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Elegant Block-Printed Cotton Gown, c1805

Sunday, April 23, 2017
Susan reporting,

This elegant - and adaptable - gown is on display in the Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home exhibition (currently at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg through 2018; see other articles from the exhibition I've mentioned here, here, and here). The photo, right, shows the dress as it appears in the exhibition, and gives you an idea of just how much other printed gorgeousness is on parade in this amazing exhibition.

There are several features that make this dress unusual. First is the fabric itself, a block-printed cotton that was intended to mimic lapis, reflecting the era's interest in nature as inspiration for design. The fabric was printed with a curved hem border design (called "to form" or "a disposition") to be incorporated into the garment's finished design when made up.  Also of interest is the fact that the dress has a pair of matching long sleeves or mitts to offer extra options to the wearer.

Here's the collection's placard:

"This small-scale spotted pattern was printed especially for a gown of this style. The red borders outlining the hem of the curved train and the skirt front are printed to the finished shape, not stitched on separately. The remaining red trimmings around the sleeves and neckline are cut from the printed yardage and stitched in place.

The red and blue printing technique is usually known as the "lapis style," named for the semiprecious stone with a blue ground. The printing method involved printing a mordant (color fixative) for red in with a resist paste before dyeing in indigo blue.

This graceful gown exemplifies the neoclassical style with a raised waistline and skirt falling close to the body. The bodice closes by means of a drop panel fastening in place at the proper right shoulder. Removable matching mitts could be used to cover the arms down to the wrists for warmth or protection from the sun."

The dress is also proof that not every woman in early 19thc Britain - an era much-beloved for the costumes shown in many Jane Austen-inspired films - dressed in plain white cotton muslin. Prints and color were available for ladies who wished to stand out from the crowd, and those who understood the practicality of a dark print and its ability to mask a bit of dirt between laundering.

Woman's gown and mitts, printed to shape, Great Britain, c1805. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg.
Photographs upper and lower left courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.
Photograph right ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of April 17, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The day in 1881 when the mastodons left the British Museum.
• "We lost our appetite for food": why 18thc hangriness might not be a thing.
• How a generation of consumptives defined 19thc romanticism.
Samuel Adams, "Curer of Bacon"?
• The 1906 menagerie on Bleeker Street, NYC.
Image: The Queen's House Tulip Stairs are the first
geometric self-supporting spiral stairs in the U.K.
• The secret family of the Duke of Wellington's nephew.
• When Bram (Stoker) met Walt (Whitman.)
• Pioneering French midwife Angelique du Coudray.
• The 12thc Irish Cross of Cong was made to encase a fragment of the True Cross.
• Countering war-time fabric shortages: keeping khaki kool during World War One.
Image: Fifty years ago organizers tried to keep Katherine Switzer from running the Boston Marathon because she was a woman; this week, at 70, she ran it again.
• Memories of 1775: "About one o'clock, the minute men were alarmed."
• Snapshots of Victorian seaside life.
• "You are so saucy": John Adams replies to his wife Abigail's famous "remember the ladies" letter, April, 1776.
LIFE magazine's mysterious quarter, and the Birth of a Baby, 1938.
• Joseph Priestley of Birstall, UK invented the rubber eraser 247 years ago this week.
Image: Wool and rainbow-striped woman's festival costume shoes from Mexico, c1932.
• "When that April with his showers sweet....": Chaucer's Canterbury Tales may have taken place this week in April.
• Some things never change: in 1743, undergraduate James Otis wrote this letter to his father to ask for money for commencement expenses and sundry "entertainments."
• What sadly happens when you store gunpowder in the over, "out of the Way of Children", 1757.
• Built by Vikings, medieval Irish monks, or Native Americans? Six mysterious stone structures in New England.
Deadline, and seven other words that originated during the American Civil War.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Video: Cycle Skating—A Roaring Twenties Craze

Friday, April 21, 2017
Loretta reports:

Don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of cycle skating, until somebody somewhere posted this British Pathé video. As often happens, I put on my history sleuthing hat to find out more. To my further surprise, I learned that cycle skating wasn’t exactly new in 1923. When it was new, according to this Scientific American article from March 1870, was half a century earlier.

Cycle-Skating - The New Sport of 1923, British Pathé TV.
(You can watch the same video with music here.)

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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Two Tales in Silver from the Museum of the American Revolution

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Susan reporting,

As I wrote here last week, the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, PA is filled with stories, large and small. Like all good storytellers, the museum's exhibits often show their message instead of telling it, and leave it to visitors to make meaningful connections between historical artifacts. Here are two exhibits featuring handcrafted silver, and while their purposes couldn't be more different, their stories are nonetheless intertwined.

To the above are two of an original dozen camp cups, elegantly displayed by the Museum in a tumble of gleaming silver. According to the museum's placard, Philadelphia silversmith Edmund Milne supplied Washington with "12 Silvr Camp cups," fashioned from "16 Silvr Dollrs" in August, 1777. The cups would have been used by Washington as a hospitable commander-in-chief. To be sure their glorious pedigree would never be forgotten, a later owner (the cups descended through the Washington family) had each one engraved with the inscription "Camp Cup owned and used by General Washington during War of the Revolution."

Of course, given that I still have the characters of my next book, I, Eliza Hamilton much on my mind, I thought of young Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, an aide-de-camp to Washington. I wondered if he ever drank from one of these cups, or if they were reserved only for exalted guests - other generals, visiting dignitaries, foreign diplomats, members of Congress - rather than lesser officers serving as part of the general's military family.

Regardless, it's easy to look at the cups and imagine them being used by Washington and his guests, a determined effort to maintain gentlemanly appearances no matter how grim the circumstances or meagre the camp fare. That silver would have reflected the candlelight or fire, and the toasts to liberty and freedom that were drunk from them would have helped seal the camaraderie of these elite men who were risking so much for the sake of the Revolution. Afterwards the cups would have been washed and polished and carefully put away, most likely by one of the general's enslaved servants who were brought with him from his plantation household at Mount Vernon.

In another gallery not far from the cups is another example of the silversmith's art, below. John Drayton (1738-84) of Drayton Hall Plantation in South Carolina was a gentleman of great wealth and taste, a devout member of his church, an ardent patriot, and a loyal supporter of General Washington. Like the general, he was a planter and a substantial landowner.

And, like General Washington, he was also a slaveowner.

This was his branding iron. Here's the information from the museum's placard:

"Although the Continental Army fought to secure independence and liberty, these rights did not extend to all members of society. Many Americans owned slaves. In 1770, an estimated 61 percent of South Carolina's population was enslaved. This branding iron is marked for Revolutionary John Drayton of Drayton Hall Plantation, located near Charleston. A gruesome reminder of slavery, this silver-headed brand was used to mark Drayton's slaves as his property."

Although this branding iron is a modern reproduction of the original in the collection of Drayton Hall, it's still a "gruesome reminder." Crafted either in London or Charleston, the original brand (and the reproduction) was made of silver - a precious metal here used for the basest of purposes. The cast letters of John Drayton's name were bold and unmistakable, as was the brand's message, burned into an enslaved person's flesh: I own you.

Liberty and freedom, indeed.

Above: Camp Cups, made in Philadelphia by Edmund Milne, 1777. Museum of the American Revolution.
Below: Branding Iron (reproduction), made in South Carolina or England, c1790. Reproduced from original courtesy of Drayton Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation. Museum of the American Revolution.
Photographs courtesy of Museum of the American Revolution.
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