London’s Albany: An Exclusive Address for the Regency Era Bachelor

One of my favorite parts in developing a character is trying to determine where they live. I’m currently writing An Unexpected Countess and my hero, the Earl of Hartwick, would rather chew glass than live under the same roof as his father. After looking at a number of options, I decided Hart would live in one of London’s most exclusive addresses during the Regency era for a fashionable bachelor, an apartment-type building known as Albany. One of the best things about this building is that it has survived and continues to be one of London’s most exclusive residences. It’s located on Piccadilly next to the Burlington Arcade and is set back from the street by a private courtyard. For over two hundred years a sense of privacy has been valued here. Today, I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

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Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827

Albany was originally designed by Sir William Chambers in 1774 as a residence for the first Lord Melbourne and his wife. In 1791 the Duke of York and Albany proposed a house swap to Lord Melbourne and an agreement was reached. The Duke, who was the second son of George III, and his wife lived there until 1803, when compounding debt forced him to sell the house to a young developer named Alexander Copland for £37,000.

Copland recognized the need for small London residences for fashionable gentlemen who didn’t wish to live alone in large townhouses and wanted to be close to the clubs and shops of St. James, as well as the Houses of Parliament. He worked with the architect Henry Holland to convert the mansion into a subscription house with a small garden behind it. Holland added two parallel buildings to the mansion and divided the entire structure into 69 apartments (or sets as Albany residents refer to them). The sets in the attached buildings are accessed from a 100ft. passageway known as the Rope Walk.

500px-The_Albany_by_Thomas_Shepherd

Drawing by Thomas H. Shepherd, c. 1830, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The sets were marketed exclusively to wealthy, well-connected gentlemen who were either bachelors or men who did not live with their wives. Some of the notable residents in the early nineteenth century include Matthew “Monk” Lewis, Lord Byron, and George Canning. Residents had an option to lease or buy a set. In 1814 Lord Byron took a seven-year lease at £110 per annum, with the option of purchasing the set for £1900 within one year.

Occupants were, and still are, subject to certain rules and regulations established by a group of Trustees who are elected from among the residents. Some of the original rules stipulated that residents could not alter any part of the building structure and owners could not rent or sell chambers without the consent of the Trustees. And it was understood that no women or children were permitted on the premises, although there is a rumor that Byron’s lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, managed to enter this forbidden land dressed as a page-boy. It wasn’t until the 1880s that the ban on women was finally lifted and beginning in the twentieth century women were permitted to reside there.

In the early nineteenth century a standard set contained an entrance hall, two main rooms in the front of the unit, and two or three smaller rooms in the back. Each set came with a wine and coal cellar in the basement and accommodations for a servant on the upper floor. In 1818 gaslights were installed in the building, and in June of 1820 the Trustees agreed that the parish should light the entrance from Piccadilly, the courtyard and the portico of the mansion.

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London’s Albany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Regency history buffs might find it interesting to discover that in 1804 Henry Angelo’s fencing school was located in Albany’s courtyard, and in 1807 the pugilist John Jackson might have used the same apartment. For a short time Jane Austen’s brother Henry, of the banking firm Austen and Maunde, also had his office in the courtyard.

I love that this building has retained its sense of the past and hasn’t changed much in over two hundred years. According to one of its current residents, there is such a sense of decorum that uttering a friendly hello to a neighbor as you pass on the stone stairs or the Rope Walk is frowned upon. For the residents of Albany, a nod or a hat tip to a lady is the appropriate greeting.

References:

British History Online: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp367-389

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester. 2010. Print.

New York Times Magazine, London’s Best and Most Secretive Address. November 11, 2013. Print.

‘Mother M.’ at the Ridotto in 1777

A number of years ago, I met two women who share my love of Georgian history, and we became fast friends. Their names are Sarah Murden and Joanne Major, and they’re historians and genealogists. If you’ve been reading this blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know an ideal day for me is one spent at a museum. And one of my favorite museums is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m there every chance I get.

Even though the museum is massive, I have my favorite pieces I visit every time I’m there. So I was really surprised when I asked Sarah who they were writing a biography about, and she texted me a picture of a portrait I’ve stared at countless times. It’s the portrait of Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and I think she’s divine! When you study a portrait long enough, you begin to wonder about the person who sat for it. Now I knew two people who could tell me about Grace, and what I found out from reading their book was even better than I imagined! I asked them to stop by my drawing room and share a fun snippet from their research with you. So snuggle up with a cup of something warm. Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her relations were no wallflowers.

Ridotto - Grace (Met Museum)

Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

And now, I give you Sarah Murden and Joanna Major…

Thanks, Laurie, for asking us to stop by and tell you an interesting tidbit about what we discovered while researching our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Grace Dalrymple Elliott (c.1754-1823), was a celebrated courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child. She was also, for a time, the mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley after she had been divorced by her husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot. Grace had hoped for a marriage proposal from her Earl but none was forthcoming.

Her maternal aunt, Robinaiana, had been luckier in her career as a mistress, for her own lover, also an earl, had eventually made her his countess. Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough and 2nd Earl of Monmouth, married Robinaiana Brown at St James’s in Piccadilly on the 3rd December 1755, and so Grace grew up with her aunt’s example before her. Although Robinaiana had already borne several of the Earl’s children, it was their youngest surviving child, a son born after her marriage, who inherited the earldom. His elder siblings were left to make their way in the world as best they could.

And so Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough, found herself during April of 1777 (a year after Grace’s divorce) one of the persons of ‘present fashion’ who were in attendance at a Ridotto at the Little Theatre on the Haymarket, chaperoning her daughter Harriatt, born illegitimately before her parent’s marriage.[1]

Ridotto - Haymarket (British Museum)

A Masquerade at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, ascribed to Grisoni, ca 1724 (The Victoria and Albert Museum)

Also present at the Ridotto was Lady Worsley, who was to court controversy herself some five years later and become an important presence in Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s life.

Ridotto - Lady Worsley-2

Lady Worsley by Sir. Joshua Reynolds, ca 1776 (Harewood House Trust, via Wikimedia)

Little Theatre, Hay-market

The RIDOTTO on Monday evening served at once to display the taste of the Director of the evening’s entertainment and the insufferable dullness of the polite world, when unmixed with souls of less fined composition. Nothing could be more splendid that the disposition of the lights and the stile [sic] of the theatre, which was wonderfully converted into a large, elegant and commodious room, capable of receiving at least four times the quantity of persons present, whose gross number could not have exceeded two hundred, or two hundred and fifty. It was at the same time hardly possible for the insipidity and want of cordiality observable in the company to be exceeded. The only way of accounting for this latter circumstance, is the recollection, that they were mostly persons of title and ton, there being only half a dozen ladies of known cracked characters and very few of the bourgeois discoverable. One of the latter, in order to mark beyond a doubt his habit of living and seat of residence, caught a well-dressed fille de joie round the neck and smacked her as loud as the sound of a double bass, in the sight of every beholder; and two of the former (Mother M. and Mrs. F) probably actuated by a fear that their shrivelled faces and coarse necks should make it be imagined that they were not votaries to Venus, came in apparently filled with the juice of the grape; indeed if they had but just staggered from the altar of Bacchus, they could not have seemed more ripe for riot and folly.

Ridotto - The Ridotto Pubblico (Met Museum)-2

The Ridotto Pubblico at Palazzo Dandle by Francesco Guardi, ca 1765-68 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Among the persons of present fashion, were the following:

The Duke of Dorset, Lord Carlisle, Lord Egremont, Lord E. Bentinck, Lord Malden, Lord Villars, Lord Palmerston, Lord Grosvenor, Lord Chesterfield, the Countess of Peterborough, Lady Worsley, Lady Harborough, Lady Cork and Company, Mrs Lascelles, Miss Mordaunt, Mrs Middleton and Mrs Phillimore, Lady Fleming, Miss Payne, Lady Sherrard, Sir Thomas Clergys, Mr Damer, Messrs Hares, Mr Smith, Mr Mead, Mr Middleton, Mr Stanhope and many others.

Confectionery, wines and musick [sic] were provided. The first was good, the second but very la, la! and the third not only scanty, but most careless and indifferent.

About four o’clock all the company had retired.[2]

Ridotto - ticket (British Museum)

Admission Ticket to a Ridotto at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, ca 1787 (British Museum)

Possibly not the best of nights, then! One hopes that ‘Mother M.’ the lady of cracked character was not ‘Mother Mordaunt’, Grace’s Aunt Robinaina, and ‘Mrs F.’, was not Lady Fleming, the mother of Lady Worsley who retained her former title after her remarriage to Edwin Lascelles, Baron Harewood. What is known, however, is that not many years after this Robinaiana’s son, Charles Henry Mordaunt (by that time the 5th Earl of Peterborough and 3rd Earl of Monmouth), was called as a witness in Lady Worsley’s divorce case. The purpose was to testify to her dissolute character.  And Lady Worsley’s lover, Maurice George Bisset, after abandoning her eventually married Robinaiana’s daughter Harriat (present at the Haymarket the night ‘Miss Mordaunt’ was listed above).

If Robinaiana was indeed ‘Mother M.’, her husband’s actions that year might certainly have given her cause to turn to the ‘juice of the grape’. For, proving the old adage that ‘there’s no fool like an old fool’ to be all too true, the 4th Earl of Peterborough gave the gossips of the day some scandalous revelations to pass around the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the ton.

And to find out what that gossip was you’ll have to read our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott in which we reveal all, not only about Grace but also her hitherto unknown relatives. For Grace’s maternal family has been overlooked in every history of her ever written, until now, and they are central to Grace’s story and fascinating in their own right. An Infamous Mistress is available now in the UK from Pen and Sword Books and all other good bookshops, and in America it will be published in the springtime although it is available for pre-order now.

book cover front

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/An-Infamous-Mistress-Hardback/p/11613

http://www.amazon.com/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835

[1]Ridotto, an entertainment consisting of music, dancing and sometimes gambling. The term was introduced to England ‘in the year 1722, at the Opera-house in the Haymarket.’ Oxford English Dictionary

[2]Morning Chronicle, 16th April, 1777

 

A Peek Inside the Dining Room of Historic Lansdowne House

 

One of the sad parts about researching historical places, is discovering that a beautiful building had been torn down. I was recently reading about Berkeley Square in London and became intrigued by one of the late Georgian era’s prominent homes, Lansdowne House. It was designed by renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam and located on the southwest corner of Berkeley Square.

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A fun fact about the house is that it was situated sideways, giving Devonshire House a direct view of Berkley Square through the gardens of both homes.

Lansdowne House was originally designed for Prime Minister John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792). Lord Bute was a tutor and a friend of the young Prince George. Upon George’s accession as King George III, Lord Bute was made Secretary of State. In 1762, he became Prime Minister.

In 1765, Lord Bute sold the unfinished property to William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), the 2nd Earl of Shelbourne. Lord Shelbourne was also a Prime Minister and was in power during the end of America’s War of Independence. The house was completed from Adam’s designs in 1768. In 1784, Shelbourne became the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, and the house became known as Lansdowne House. Lansdowne was a leading Whig statesman and his house became a meeting place for Whig social and political circles in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

The central block of the house stills stands at the corner of Fitzmaurice Place and Lansdowne Row. In 1930, two of the wings of the House were demolished, and it was converted into a club. The dining room, or “Eating-room” as Adam labeled it, was in the south wing and was bought by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Owing to the restrictions of the space, the long walls were reversed when they were installed in the museum. I have been lucky enough to visit this room on two recent trips to The Met.

Shelbourne_House_1765 later Lansdowne House

The dining room is the lower left room.

The ceiling was designed by Adam and created in plaster by Joseph Rose.

Ceiling of Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The carvings were executed by John Gilbert and the marble chimneypiece was supplied John Devall & Co., London. The oak floor in the room is original.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The niches originally held nine ancient marble statues acquired by Lord Lansdowne in Italy from the artist Gavin Hamilton. Unfortunately, they were sold off individually during the Lansdowne sale of 1930. The niches in the museum have been filled with plaster casts.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Sadly, the original furniture that was designed by Robert Adam for this room and executed by John Linnell, no longer survives. However, thanks to museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we are still able to take a peek at a room that would have been lost to us long ago.

Update:

Victoria Hinshaw, from the wonderful historical blog Number One London, was kind enough to let me know that the Drawing Room of Lansdowne House is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After visiting the Dining Room, I now have an itch to see the Drawing Room.  To continue with my love of Lansdowne, Victoria’s blog has posts on Lansdowne Club in London and Bowood, the Lansdowne’s country home. Check out her blog and search for these subjects: http://onelondonone.blogspot.com

Resources used include:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20499/lot/35/

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shelbourne_House_1765.jpg

http://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/john-stuart-3rd-earl-of-bute

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait.php?search=apnpgno=3938&eDate=&1Date=

 

What’s Inside the Traveling Studio of an 18th Century Miniature Portrait Artist?

Miniature Portrait Painter's Box. Probably United States ca. 1790s. Mahogany with brass fittings.

Miniature Portrait Painter’s Box. Probably United States ca. 1790s. Mahogany with brass fittings.

This late eighteenth century artist’s box is like a portable portrait studio. It’s believed to have belonged to an unknown American traveling artist and contains all the tools and materials they would need to paint portrait miniatures on ivory with either powdered color or watercolor. I came upon this treasure when I went to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of portrait miniatures. It’s an area of the museum that isn’t very big, but I could spend a great deal of time there simply admiring the faces of the past.

Miniature Portrait Painter's Box

Inside this artist’s box are two palettes, one in ivory and one in porcelain. There are gums for binding pigments or glazing, and brushes that have quill ferrules and bone handles. Also housed within the drawers are slivers of ivory cut into ovals and squares, pieces of paper, a brush rest, sponges, chalk, and galipots for water. The box also contains drawing instruments for the artist to accurately measure the small panels; two pairs of compasses, a wood rule, styluses for tracing, and agate burnishers to seal the edges and backs. Some miniature portraits could be as small as 40mm x 30mm, so the artist also kept an eyepiece to magnify their work and help them create the intricate details.

Miniature Portrait Painter's Box Lid

Since the portraits were so small, the artist was able to use the lid of the box as an easel, which could be raised to an angle with brass struts. The ivory would have been secured on the baize with common pins, and a container of them can be found in this box. And finally, several completed ivory portraits were kept within the box to showcase the miniaturist’s skill to prospective sitters.

James Peale Painting a Miniature by Charles Wilson Peale, ca. 1785

A similar box is depicted in the portrait above. It is by the well-known American portrait painter Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1817) and shows his brother, the famous American miniaturist James Peale, at work (ca. 1785).

Resources:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

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

A Luxury Hotel in Regency London

I’m trying to squeeze in one last trip before summer vacation is over, and I’m challenged with finding a charming place to stay. Today, going online to search for a hotel is relatively easy, and I am a bit obsessive about reading guest reviews to help me find the perfect place for us to rest after a busy day seeing the sights. All this research had me thinking about travel during the early nineteenth century. Where did the fashionable people stay if they were planning on spending a brief amount of time in London?

Temple of Concord with rockets bursting overhead in Green Park. 1814

Temple of Concord with rockets bursting overhead in Green Park. 1814

During 1814, London was full of foreign dignitaries who had come to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at the Prince Regent’s Grand Jubilee celebration. When Napoleon sailed for Elba, France’s King Louis XVIII left Buckinghamshire for London and took rooms at Grillon’s Hotel on Albemarle Street. Another popular hotel among foreign royals staying in London was the Pulteney Hotel.

The Pulteney Hotel’s name came from Pulteney, Earl of Bath, who had resided in the building before it became a hotel. The Pulteney was located on the west corner of Bolton Street at 105 Piccadilly. It was close to Green Park, Hyde Park and St. James Park where many of the Jubilee celebrations were held.

Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, in her fetching bonnet.

Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, in her fetching bonnet.

In late March of 1814, the Pulteney Hotel played host to Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg. Catherine was the widowed sister of Tsar Alexander I, and her hotel arrangements had been made by the Russian Ambassador, Count Lieven. It cost 210 guineas a week for her stay.

Tsar Alexander I of Russia

Tsar Alexander I of Russia

On June 7th, Tsar Alexander I arrived in London for the victory celebration and was invited to stay in the Duke of Cumberland’s apartments at St. James’s Palace. He declined the invitation and decided to join his sister at the Pulteney Hotel instead. Upon his arrival at the hotel, he stepped out onto the balcony to acknowledge the cheering crowds who had gathered in Piccadilly to see him.

What was it like to be a guest at the Pulteney Hotel?

While staying in London, guests had access to the well-trained Pulteney footmen. These footmen could assist you in delivering your calling cards around town to announce your arrival. Should you decide to shop along fashionable Bond Street, these footmen would carry your growing stack of purchases. And, if you were without your own carriage and understood the importance attached to handsome equipage, the Pulteney could arrange the hire of the expensive but necessary carriage to drive you about town during your stay.

After all those visits and all that shopping, you would hope you’d be able to have a restful night’s sleep. But during the early nineteenth century, London was not a serene place. In Sisters of Fortune, a biography of the Caton sisters by author Jehanne Wake, there is an excellent description of what life was like for someone residing at the Pulteney.

“The Pulteney Hotel, for which the highest prices in London were extracted from guests, was all that was most comfortable, but there was no rest to be had there. At first, the sisters took a suite of rooms arranged with their bedchambers at the back overlooking the mews. Over the cobblestones from about half-past six o’clock every morning came the dust carts with their bells and the dustmen with their chants of ‘Dust-ho!’ Then came the porterhouse carts rattling with pewter pots; then the milk carts; and then the vegetable sellers so that ‘the succession or cries, each in a different tune, so numerous when mixed with the stables housed there and stirring for the day, meant that there was an unholy noise throughout the morning.’ This cacophony was not well received by women who had only gone to bed at three o’clock in the morning. Next they moved to a suite at the front of the hotel, looking out onto Piccadilly. From about midnight…until about five o’clock in the morning a steady flow of carriages drove up and down Piccadilly, taking their occupants to and from routs and balls and gamming clubs. Should there be one half hour’s quiet, it was sure to be punctured by the watchman’s call reporting on the state of the weather.”

With a night like that, I wonder how many stars the Pulteney would have received had their guests been given the opportunity to give it a review.

Sources used include:

The Power of the Quizzing Glass

photo-1

The quizzing glass or quizzer was a popular accessory during the Georgian and English Regency eras.  It consists of a single round, oval or oblong lens rimmed in gold, silver or pinchbeck.  Some of the handles are quite elaborate and might even have compartments containing such items as vinaigrettes or a lock of hair.  The loop of the handle often swivels to make it easier to lay flat when hung from a chain.  Depending on the owner’s needs a quizzing glass was either set with a magnifying lens or a corrective lens.  The lenses were made by opticians and were most likely set into frames provided by goldsmiths and jewelers.

The quizzing glass appears to be an innocuous item that would have been used to assist a person who had poor vision, but when you look deeper you discover it was much more than that.

I first became enamored with antique quizzing glasses when I read Slightly Married by Mary Balogh.  The novel introduced the powerful and coldly disciplined Wulfric Bedwyn, the Duke of Bewcastle, who had the ability to intimidate people by simply studying them through his quizzing glass.  Georgette Heyer also featured this Regency accessory in some of her novels such as An Infamous Army, The Corinthian, and Devil’s Cub.  Maybe it’s because of stories like these that people often associate quizzing glasses with haughty English aristocrats or dandies.  But the popularity of using lenses for more than reading might actually have begun in France with the use of the lorgnette.

The lorgnette is a pair of glasses a person would hold up to their eyes by a handle and was popular in France during the late eighteenth century.  Lorgnette comes from the French lorgner, “to peer at.”  Frenchmen began using them for unashamed observation of feminine beauty.  In an article entitled “Les Lorgneurs” by Mercier, published in the Tableau de Paris in 1793, there is a wonderful description of how bold these Frenchmen were.

“Paris is full of these lorgneurs, setting their eyes on you, fixing your person with a steady and immobile gaze.  This behavior is so widespread that it is not even considered indecent anymore.  Ladies are not offended when they are observed arriving at the theatre or whilst taking a walk.  But should this happen when they are amongst themselves the lorgneur is considered uncouth and accused of insolence.”

In England the single lens quizzing glass became a fashionable way to observe people and objects.  It was possible to issue a set-down simply by peering through the lens of a quizzing glass with a critical eye.  Hogarth, Rowlandson and Cruikshank all caricatured its use.  And famous quizzing glass users included Beau Brummell and Charles James Fox.

The fashion was not limited to men as women also took to wearing them.  Typically a man would wear his quizzing glass about his neck with a black ribbon and a woman would suspend hers around her neck by a long chain.  In the painting below of Miss Rosamond Crocker by Sir Thomas Lawrence you can see how fashionable this accessory had become.

pic quizpic quiz_2

So the next time you are on line at a shop and some rude patron tries to cut you off, just think how fabulous it would be if you could simply peer at them through a quizzing glass to put them in their place.  Oh and by the way, the one that I wear has also come in handy when my friends are trying to read the small type on restaurant menus.  It really is quite a versatile accessory.

Sources used include:

  • Candice Hern’s Website
  • The College of Optometrists Website
  • The Georgian Index Website
  • Mercier, “Les Lorgneurs” Tableau de Paris (1793)
  • The Word Wenches Blog 

What is a Love Token?

American Love Token                  "WJ"                 1876

American Love Token
“WJ”
1876

Most people think of a love token as a small gift or gesture that expresses affection for someone we care about. In actuality, a Love Token is a coin that’s been rubbed smooth and hand engraved with initials, names or sayings. These coins were given as gifts until the early twentieth century and were symbols of promise or remembrance.  So, how did this practice start?

For centuries, coins have been carried for luck.  Unfortunately, it was easy to confuse your lucky coin with any other coin in your purse and people would accidentally spend them.  In Great Britain it became common to mark your lucky coin to prevent that from happening by bending it twice, one side up and the other side down.  These coins were known as benders and this is where the term a crooked sixpence came from.

During the late seventeenth century people also began to engrave their lucky coins.  These coins were appropriately referred to as engraved coins and many of them had simple linear designs.  In addition to marking lucky coins, people also began to engrave coins to mark births, deaths, unions and marriages.

American Love Token "FWP" c1853

American Love Token
“FWP”
c1853

Coins were also engraved by people being shipped from England to the penal colonies in Australia.  Some mention the name of the imprisoned and the number of years to be served and others have sentimental references.  A classic engraving is: “When this you see, remember me.”

It’s believed that during the late Georgian era suitors began to present engraved coins to young ladies as tokens of love.  By the early nineteenth century the custom of presenting “Love Tokens” made its way to the United States.

To create a Love Token a person would take their coin to a jeweler or engraver who would smooth out one, and sometimes both, sides of the coin.  The coin would then be re-engraved by hand with the initials of the giver, names, an important date, place or event.  They were usually given as an expression of love and sometimes were used in the proposal of marriage.  Keep in mind coins were worth a lot more in those days, so destroying your currency for someone you loved was a way to show how much they meant to you.

English Love Token "Merry Xmas" 1906

English Love Token
“Merry Xmas”
1906

In the later half of the nineteenth century, Love Tokens were also given as gifts to family members as well as friends.  Some Love Tokens have holes in them so the recipient could wear the token around her neck or on her wrist.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States Government outlawed the practice of engraving coins and the custom of exchanging Love Tokens went out of style in America.

I currently have four Love Tokens in my collection.  Unfortunately the oldest one I own, which is from 1823, does not photograph well since the engraving of the initials “MJB” is a bit worn down.  I like to believe the engraving’s worn because the lady who owned it rubbed it each and every time she thought of her one true love.

Sources used include:

  • The Love Token Society
  • The British Museum