Why Regency Era Husbands Would Have Loved Online Shopping

I love when I run across bits of history that show me how similar we are to the people who lived two hundred years ago. Today, I’m writing about a select group of individuals that many of you may know. They are the husbands, boyfriends, and fathers of women who shop. You can easily spot them, sprawled out on the chairs and sofas in clothing stores. They are the ones looking thoroughly bored or completely engrossed with their phones. Some might even be asleep. I have a soft spot for these men, who think enough of the women in their lives to patiently endure such torture.

While I’m accustomed to seeing these poor souls in the stores I frequent, I was surprised to run across such men in a caricature that was printed in 1808. The etching, entitled Miseries of Human Life, is by Isaac Cruikshank and was printed in England. It illustrates the trials endured by husbands while they waited for their wives to finish shopping.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The caption reads:

During the endless time that you are kept waiting in a carriage while the ladies are shopping having your impatience soothed by the setting of a saw close to your ear.

So Regency era gentlemen had to endure the sound of the saw, and today’s gentlemen must contend with the music blaring in some of the shops they sit in. I suppose it’s true, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

*This post is dedicated to all the men who patiently sit in shops and wait for the women in their lives. Stay strong, my friends.

Would You Have Given Up Your Jewelry to Fight Napoleon?

If your country asked you to give up something to help fight the enemy, would you do it? Between 1803 and 1815, citizens of Prussia were called upon by members of the royal family to donate their gold and silver jewelry to help finance their country’s efforts in the Napoleonic Wars. In exchange for their precious jewelry, they were given jewelry cast in Berlin iron.

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Berlin iron is a metal that was produced in the Prussian royal foundry. It is a black-lacquered cast iron material that was originally used to make objects such as utensils, candlesticks, and medallions, as well as larger objects such as garden furniture, and fencing. The iron was coated with black lacquer to prevent it from rusting. It is that black appearance that gives Berlin ironwork the look of mourning jewelry. Ironwork jewelry was also produced by iron jewelers such as Johann Conrad Geiss.

Berlin Ironwork Bracelet, ca.1815

Berlin Ironwork Bracelet, ca.1815

Prussian citizen’s wore their ironwork jewelry with a sense of patriotic pride. Many pieces bore slogans like “I gave gold for iron” and “for the welfare of our homeland.” This gentleman’s ring features a center medallion with a pair of clasped hands. This symbol represents loyalty and solidarity. On the ring are inscribed the words “there is an echo in France when we say the words honor and Fatherland.”

19th Century Ironwork Men's Ring

Early Berlin ironwork followed fashion and was typically neo-classical in design. Many pieces included cameos and classical figures.

Berlin_Iron_Necklace_l early 19th century

Around 1815, the designs began to change to feature more natural elements.

 Berlin iron_necklace

By 1825, ironwork jewelry remained in favor and pieces were being designed in the gothic revival style.

Berlin Ironwork Bracelets from the V&AI wonder how many people today would give up their jewelry if their country asked them to?

Resources used:

 

 

Mourning Pictures – An Expression of Grief in the Georgian Era

Portrait of Catherine Lorillard, ca. 1810

I confess, I have a fascination with mourning customs of the Georgian era. I’m not sure how this interest developed, but I do know that I am drawn to objects that helped people express their grief at the loss of those they loved.

Recently, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to see their exhibition entitled, “Death Becomes Her.” This exhibition focuses on the history of mourning attire from 1815 to 1915. There were a number of items that intrigued me. The portrait above was one.

This portrait is of Catherine Lorillard, who was the daughter of the New York City tobacco magnate Peter A. Lorillard. She was born in 1792 and, according to family history, died from cholera while in her teens. The portrait is dated ca. 1810.

Most early nineteenth century silk embroideries illustrate scenes from mythology or pastorals, copied from prints. Memorials, usually called mourning pictures, often included full-length figures standing at grave sites in landscapes appropriately featuring weeping willows. Catherine’s portrait is also a memorial, but in a different, possibly unique form.

It was almost certainly painted posthumously, because the drape over her head is a symbol of death. Her head and neck were painted by a professional artist, perhaps based on a portrait from life. The embroidery was probably by one of her female relatives.

Her expressive portrait, painted in oil on silk and embellished with silk and silk-chenille threads, is unlike any other needlework picture I have seen. What intrigued me most about this memorial, was that it focused on Catherine and not on the images of those she left behind, mourning her at her gravesite. I could understand her family wanting to have this piece as a way to keep Catherine close to their hearts. And for me, it gave me the opportunity to look into the eyes of the girl who must have been missed terribly by her family and friends.

Resources:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

A Shocking Way to Entertain Guests During the Regency Era

 

Electrifying Machine

When you’re entertaining, you want your guests to have a good time. While good conversation over a meal and then cocktails afterwards can be the makings of an ideal dinner party, sometimes we have an urge to do something a bit more memorable. Our Regency era counterparts were no different, and in the early nineteenth century one way you could make an impression on your guests was with a spark of electricity.

During the Georgian era electricity was a hot topic. Benjamin Franklin completed his famous experiment with lightning, and Luigi Galvani was studying the reactions of muscles to electricity. By the later half of the eighteenth century, friction machines were used for generating electric shocks to amuse spectators at public exhibitions. In England, popular interest in electricity led to arguments about the propriety of demonstrating these effects in public. A political controversy arose along party lines in Parliament, with the Whigs championing the scientific demonstrations and the High Tories claiming that it was blasphemy to expose God’s secret before an “ignorant populace.”

By the early nineteenth century, electrifying machines became hugely popular and eventually cheap enough to find their way into the homes of the gentry. Scientific experimentation was one of the few areas of Regency life in which women could participate on something approaching an equal footing with men. Therefore, using an electrifying machine was an ideal activity to entertain both the male and female guests during an evening at home.

The watercolor painting at the top of this post shows a fun glimpse of Regency life. It’s dated May 25th 1817 and was painted at Dynes Hall in Essex, England, by a young English woman named Diana Sperling. Diana enjoyed capturing scenes of everyday life. This painting depicts an evening after her brother-in-law, Henry Van Hagen, had purchased an electrifying machine, possibly to entertain his family and friends.

He is shown cranking the machine to create friction, which would carry an electric shock through the string. His wife is behind him, apparently having no desire to take part in the experiment. Henry’s mother starts the chain of guests and has the honor of holding the machine’s string. When enough friction was created, all the guests would receive a shock. I suppose this was considered a novel way to have fun. My favorite part of the painting shows Diana’s sister Isabella, leaning against the wall. It appears as if she is either swooning or cannot believe her family has convinced her to take part in this odd experiment.

I recently held a dinner party for a few friends, and I think they would have been shocked if I suggested we have a go at running electrical current through our bodies for amusement. I think enjoying cocktails and amusing conversations probably was entertaining enough.

References used include:

Longford, Elizabeth, Mrs. Hurst Dancing and Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823, (c. 1981)

Jago, Lucy, Regency House Party (c. 2004)

 

How a Fashionable Lady Showed Her Status in Society

If you walk through any major city across the world, you’ll most likely see women dressed in the latest fashions with the most expensive accessories. The well-trained eye can spot them a half a block away, carrying that rare designer handbag that costs as much as a car or sauntering along wearing a pair of red-lacquered sole shoes. Wearing fashionable accessories like these carries a certain cachet and silently informs the world that you’re financially successful.

While this sounds like a twenty first century concept, in reality, it isn’t. Women throughout history have been using fashion and beauty accessories to announce their status in society. Only back then, many of these items would have been kept at home, displayed on or near a dressing table where visiting guests would see them. I recently attended the “Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and thought you might be interested in seeing some of the lovely accessories they had on display.

British Toilet Service 1683-84

During the Renaissance, containers in various sizes and shapes were used store an array of beauty items. These containers were either laid out on a table that was designed solely for the toilette or one that was multifunctional. This is how the cosmetic box slowly gave way to the dressing table. The British toilet service pictured above is ca.1683  and is made of gilt silver and glass. The various items are decorated with chinoiserie scenes, which were popular at the time. This set would have been displayed in an aristocratic lady’s bedroom or in a smaller connecting room.

Wig Cabinet

I thought this item was fun. It’s a wig cabinet, ca. 1685. After Louis XIII began to wear a wig in 1624, elaborate cabinets were made to store and protect these hairpieces. This cabinet is embellished with marquetry of pewter and mother-of-pearl on horn over paint, simulating tortoiseshell. It contains drawers for combs, brushes, perfumed powder, powder bag, and pins.

By the early eighteenth century, the European elite sought out luxury goods that would proclaim their social status. One such item, intended more for display than any utilitarian purpose, was the nécessaire. It is a small box made of precious materials, designed to hold miniature implements and personal grooming tools. Based on paintings of the period, it most likely was displayed on a dressing table along with other precious objects. Here are three that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had one display:

German Necessaire ca. 1700-1725

German Necessaire ca. 1700-1725

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This German nécessaire dates from 1700-1725 and is made of wood, tortoiseshell, gold, glass, and ivory.

British necessaire by John, Barbot ca. 1760.

This nécessaire is one of a pair made by the British craftsman John Barbot around1760. It is made of gold, agate, diamonds, rubies, wood with gold piqué ornaments; and gilt-brass mounts.

French necessaire 1775-1800

And finally, this French nécessaire dates from 1775-1800 and is made of shagreen on wood; gold, porcelain, glass, and steel fittings. This portable nécessaire holds numerous personal grooming items, from tweezers and an ear spoon to scent bottles.

Sources used include:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table Exhibition (2013-2014)

Adlin, Jane, Vanities Art of the Dressing Table (2013)

How To Spy On A Suitor Without Looking Like You’re Trying

fatwomanspyImagine attending a performance at the Theatre Royal, and you discover the object of your affection is sitting in a box to your right. You have no desire to make a spectacle of yourself by leaning out of your box to see who they are with, so you take out what appears to be a straight-barrel spyglass and point it at the stage. While it looks as if you are focusing your attention on the performance, the ingenious spyglass you are holding is allowing you to watch the people in the box to your right. Now you can stare to your heart’s content and no one will be the wiser.

While researching a pair of antique opera glasses this past week, I stumbled across a fun accessory I’d never heard of, known as the “jealousy glass.” It looks like a single barrel opera or field-glass, but it actually contains an oblique lens and side aperture that allows the user to discretely see what is happening to their left or right.

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The jealousy glass, also known as a polemoscope, was invented by the German-Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1637. Hevelius believed his invention could have military uses, but the viewing angle was found to be too narrow. During the 18th century, the general population began using the polemoscope to spy on other people.

Jealousy Glass c.1750-1770

As time went on and the demand for jealousy glasses increased, innovations were made to Hevelius’s original design. The jealousy glass pictured above was made in France and dates from 1750-1770. It has a brass eyepiece and blue enamel casing with white decorative embellishments. A hinged “lens cover” conceals a storage compartment that was probably used for snuff or a pomade. The oval mirror with a surrounding green cord opens to the side and allows the user to view the reflected image.

 Jealousy Glass (English, c. 1760)

Jealousy glasses were also designed with specific genders in mind. This jealousy glass is from England and was made in 1760. It was specifically designed for a gentleman and holds a number of accoutrements. The brass body is covered in green stained snakeskin, and there is a magnetic compass set into the brass cap. The core contains a gentleman’s manicure set and includes nail scissors, a hinged ivory note-slide, a pencil, folding knife, needle and tweezers with a file handle. It reminds me of an 18th century version of a Swiss Army Knife.

Jealousy Glass (French, early 19th century)

The ladies also had jealousy glasses created especially for them. This early 19th century jealousy glass was made in Paris by Bointaburet. It contains a pill case under the lid and a miniature scent bottle just 2cm wide that fits within the barrel. Should the behavior of a certain gentleman cause a lady to swoon, the bottle’s contents could help revive her.

Source used:

The College of Optometrists: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/optical_entertainment/jealousy.cfm

What’s So Rotten About Rotten Row?

It’s that well-known place people go to see and be seen. Today it might be an expensive restaurant, exclusive nightclub or even a famous seaside town. But during the Regency Era one place English aristocrats went to strut their stuff was a bridle path in London’s Hyde Park known as Rotten Row. This pathway was the ultimate place to people watch. On any given day the Prince Regent, Beau Brummell, or Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire might promenade down the bridle path for all of London to see. Quite simply, Rotten Row was the place to be.

Rotten Row

The show began around 5:00 in the afternoon when members of the ton would descend on Hyde Park for the fashionable hour. Beautifully turned-out men and women on horseback shared the bridle path with their finely dressed peers who rode in expensive carriages. One did not gallop on Rotten Row during the fashionable hour but instead walked, trotted or cantered along. This gave everyone plenty of time to find out the latest gossip, mingle with influential people and perhaps even engage in a discrete flirtation. Of course being able to show off your riding clothes, equipage and mounts was an added bonus. If you were inclined to stroll or did not have a horse and carriage, you could use the footpath beside Rotten Row and observe the spectacle going on just a few feet away.

Rotten Row

Walking in the Footsteps of History

When I was in London last year I spent a beautiful day in Hyde Park and made it a point to take a long walk along Rotten Row. If you’d like to see Rotten Row for yourself, it’s easy to find inside Hyde Park. Enter the park through the Grand Entrance, which is also known as Queen Elizabeth’s Gate. This gate is at Hyde Park Corner next to Apsley House. Just ahead and to your left you’ll see the sand and dirt bridle path which is Rotten Row. Grass and trees border the south-side. To the north, black posts separate the bridle path from a bike lane and footpath. As you stroll along Rotten Row you’ll pass an arbor, flower gardens, green space and eventually you’ll spot the Serpentine to your right.

Rotten Row

Today you can find walkers and joggers on Rotten Row as well as the Queen’s Household Cavalry. Hyde Park Stables, located inside the park, offers horseback riding as well as lessons if you’d like to ride on this path yourself.

Rotten Row

A royal commemorative plaque was erected near Rotten Row’s entrance in 1990 and provides a brief history of this notable location:

“Rotten Row The King’s Old Road Completed 1690

This ride originally formed part of King William III’s carriage drive from Whitehall to Kensington Palace. It’s construction was supervised by the Surveyor of their majesties road, Captain Michael Studholme, and it was the first lamp-lit road in the kingdom. Designated as a public bridleway in the 1730’s, Rotten Row is one of the most famous urban riding grounds in the world.”

So why would such a fashionable place have such an odd name? One of the most popular explanations is that the path was called “Route du Roi,” which is French for King’s Road. Eventually the French was corrupted by the English to Rotten Row. Although this explanation makes sense, I still find it a funny name for such a prestigious place.

Sources used include: