Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Literary Treasures

This morning, the Two Nerdy History Girls shared the news that a very special little piece of literary history is coming up for auction on 10 July, and it's such a unique treasure that I couldn't help but pass the word along.

This subdued yet stunning blue odontalite (a popular early-19th-century turquoise substitute) ring with its gold setting (and original box) was once treasured and worn by Jane Austen and bequeathed to her sister Cassandra at her death.  It is tiny - only a size 5 1/2 - and its simplicity, as the auction catalogue observes, is consistent with what we know about Austen's subtle taste in jewelry and fashion.  The ring has been passed down through generations of women in the Austen family for almost two hundred years, kept so close and guarded a secret that its very existence was unknown outside the family until now.  One can't help but feel a bit sad to see it depart from that venerable genealogy after so long, but we can only hope it will continue to be lovingly cared for wherever it travels next.

Ring owned by Jane Austen.
Sotheby's lot 59, 10 July 2012.
Image linked from Sotheby's online catalogue.

Also up for auction that same day (in case you just happen to have some extra funds lying around, of course!) are four additional lots (55, 56, 57, and 58) of first editions of all but one of Austen's novels.  With initial print runs that numbered from only about 1,000 (Sense and Sensibility) to 2,000 (Emma) copies, these are rare, highly-sought after collector's finds, as the $31,000-$47,000 auction estimate for Pride and Prejudice alone attests.  The early publishing history of Austen's works is fascinating; check out this excellent post from The Cataloguer's Desk if you'd like to learn more.

And as if that wasn't enough of an embarrassment of English literary riches, the same catalogue also includes two pencil drawings by Charlotte Bronte.  The first (lot 60), "Derwent Water," is titled, autographed, and dated in the author's own hand.  The other (lot 61) is a portrait of a young lady, inscribed beneath by Patrick Bronte, stating it to be "By my daughter Charlotte."  A 1907 collected edition of the works of the Bronte sisters used this sketch as the frontispiece for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, suggesting it was an image of Anne Bronte, but as the auction catalogue indicates, that attribution is questionable.  What is perhaps most fascinating about this particular piece, though, is the fact that it was drawn on the reverse of another pencil sketch, a corner of which remains to tantalize the imagination.

A pencil sketch by Charlotte Bronte, dated to approximately 1835.
Sotheby's lot 61, 10 July 2012.
Image linked from Sotheby's online catalogue.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Celebrating in Revolutionary Style

Kensington Rev War day
Camp in the morning, waiting for the townsfolk to arrive.

This weekend, our regiment was asked by the townsfolk of one of central CT's historic towns to come and help them celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of their Congregational Church.  On Friday night, we were treated to a lovely dinner with the parishioners while we entertained them with some pretty rousing renditions of some of our groups' favorite 18th century traditional, tavern, and sea songs.  We also joined them for a dance before saying farewell until the next morning.

Kensington Rev War day

Saturday's big event gave the citizens of this fair town a taste of military and civilian life during the Revolutionary period.  We set up our kitchen fly and a mini encampment, along with a number of "stations" that focused on particular aspects of the period.  Our group is pretty unique in the very wide variety of period interests, talents, and skills each individual contributes; every person has joined the group for a different reason, and it is at times like this weekend's show that this delightful diversity of knowledge and interests comes forward to be shared. 

For example, this weekend's program featured a drilling demonstration; a discussion with a period military surgeon, complete with all the tools of his trade, coffin included; a full foodways demonstration by our lovely Mistress J, who not only prepared lunch, but also two stunning pies in the Dutch oven, much to the delight and awe of the townsfolk;

Kensington Rev War day
J watching over her pie.

an interactive games station with everything from draughts to ninepins to the game of graces, which entertained young and old alike;

Kensington Rev War day
R and Ashley demonstrating the game of graces.

Kensington Rev War day

a children's drill with wooden muskets;

Kensington Rev War day
The young folks are recruited and drilled.

a clothing display and fashion show hosted by us and Mistress R (sorry, I didn't think to ask anyone to take pictures during the fashion show!);

Kensington Rev War day
The clothing table.

a canon-firing demonstration (with the help of another local Rev War group), and a full-fledged Continental vs. Brits skirmish to conclude the day, with the 54th Regiment of Foot (our go-to "Rent-a-Brits"!).

Kensington Rev War day

We all had a lovely day and thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone who stopped by to visit the camp.  The kids were especially (and impressively!) enthusiastic about learning, asking questions, eagerly trying out activities, and listening intently as they moved around the site.  Many thanks to our host community and congratulations on your 300th anniversary!

As always, additional photos can be found in this event's flickr set.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Revolutionary Rock Ford

This past weekend we enjoyed an excellent encampment at Rock Ford Plantation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Prior to our plans to attend this year's event, most of the members of our regiment had never heard of this lovely property and we were as excited to learn about the place itself as we were to be part of this large reenactment weekend.  Below is a review of the encampment; a separate post about the plantation home will follow soon.

Rock Ford Plantation, Lancaster PA
Rock Ford Plantation in Lancaster, PA
June 2012

We arrived on the property early Saturday morning, hoping to enjoy breakfast with our regiment before the public hours began.  It was a picturesque drive along the lovely fields of rural Pennsylvania to the Lancaster County Park property.  We had some initial issues reaching the site due to a bunch of misleading signs and mutiple closed-off entrances to the park, and then some additional troubles with parking.  In the end, we all arrived in camp a little frustrated and sad to have missed breakfast, but at least we were able to get a good chuckle out of our story for the remainder of the weekend.

Rock Ford Plantation, Lancaster PA
The Continental camps at Rock Ford Plantation
June 9, 2012

Besides the initial parking issue, we all had a wonderful time!  It was quite warm on Saturday, but luckily overcast enough throughout most of the day to keep much of the direct sun off of us.  The encampments were set on the beautiful grounds of the Lancaster County Park which surround the Rock Ford estate.  The grounds not only provided us with some gorgeous, scenic strolls, but also an ideal camping area.  The staff and volunteers organized this event superbly and provided both reenactors and visitors with an exceptional experience!  It was also lovely to meet some of our blog readers over the course of the weekend (hi!) and we are so glad that you stopped us to say hello!

Saturday morning we all headed to the sutler area for one of our favorite pastimes - shopping!  With about two dozen sutlers selling all types of 18th century wares, almost everyone in our group came back to camp with some purchase.  Predictably, I spent most of my shopping time with Burnley & Trowbridge and purchased some stunning changeable silk taffeta.  Rebecca also found some silk for a petticoat, in a color she has been looking for, and a new printed neckerchief.  In the afternoon, the ladies enjoyed some quiet time in camp together discoursing on fashion and plans for upcoming distaff events, while the men headed to the battlefield.

Rock Ford Plantation, Lancaster PA
Preparing for battle at Rock Ford Plantation
June 9, 2012

Since we are both still fairly new to the reenacting community, we are continuously learning more and more about the ins and outs and skills of camp life.  Preparations for Saturday dinner provided us with an excellent opportunity to practice our cooking skills.

Rock Ford Plantation, Lancaster PA
Some members of our group were a little skeptical of Rebecca's cooking skills.
June 9, 2012

After dinner clean-up, many of us opted to change into better (and dare I say, cleaner!) attire for the evening festivities.  We all assembled at the Rock Ford Barn where we were met with snacks and refreshments.  Inside, some found a reprieve from the heat and enjoyed the displays of rifles upstairs (many of our men were excited to have the opportunity to handle some of the originals).  Outside, under a large tent, we all gathered at tables and enjoyed each others company and the sounds of a lovely group of musicians.  We were also fortunate to have some dancing that evening and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to dance with some men in uniform!  ;-)

Rock Ford Plantation, Lancaster PA
Clothing demonstration at Rock Ford Plantation.
June 10, 2012

The heat and humidity were more intense on Sunday, but it was still lovely to be outdoors enjoying our 18th century ambiance.  In the morning, we all joined a small crowd in front of the house for a clothing demonstration given by Lindsey of Adventures of a Costumer and Three Graces Historical Clothing.  During the demonstration, two ladies simultaneously dressed, one being a gentry woman and the other being a working woman.  Afterward, we enjoyed browsing the sutlers again before convening back in camp for our midday meal and to begin cleaning up.  This day we followed our men to the battle where they defeated the redcoats and we joined in cheering "huzzahs!"

Rock Ford Plantation, Lancaster PA
Ashley washing up in camp.
June 10, 2012

If you would like to see some additional photos from our weekend at Rock Ford Plantation, please visit our set on flickr.  Also, stay tuned for an upcoming post about General Hand and our visit to his Rock Ford house.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Threaded Bliss

A Peachy Linen English Gown, 1770-1780

peachy-pink linen English gown, 1770-1780
Colonial Williamsburg, May 2012.

Yet another long-delayed project post from a gown finished last summer...

The pattern: Draped by me.

Construction details: The cut of this gown is almost identical to that of the blue and white striped linen gown, so the construction process is exactly the same as well.  Because of that, I won't bore you with repeating the details (including identical interior shots!) again, but be sure to check out that earlier post if you're interested in reading more.

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011
The fitted "English" back of the gown, with the en fourreau pleats
that extend from the shoulders to the waist.
South Britain, October 2011.

peachy-pink linen English gown, 1770-1780
Colonial Williamsburg, May 2012

The fabic: A super-lucky Denver Fabrics find from a couple of years ago.  It's a lovely, summery light-weight linen in a peachy-pinkish color.  Very nice to work with, though both its blessing and its curse is that, like all good linen, it holds a crease quite well!

Finishing the look: I finished the gown last July and wore it for the first time during our shoe workshop.  With our breathtakingly busy schedule that week, though, picture-taking time was scarce and I'm not surprised, looking back in the picture file now, to find that we never got a picture of it then.  The second time I wore it was for our "1776: South Britain Comes Alive" event in October.  For that outing, I paired the gown with my newly completed black silk bonnet and a white self-checked linen apron and matching kerchief.  As I explained in the bonnet post, this overall look was inspired by the Stubbs painting that served as one of my bonnet inspiration sources:

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011
The "Stubbs"-inspired look.
South Britain, October 2011.

Detail from George Stubbs, The Haymakers (1785).
Image linked from the Tate Gallery.

On our recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg last month, I brought out the gown again, this time adding a simply-trimmed straw hat with forrest green silk taffeta ribbons and a self-striped cotton lawn kerchief to help dress it up just a teensy bit.

peachy-pink linen English gown, 1770-1780
Colonial Williamsburg, May 2012.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Random Notes In Historical Fashion This Week...

Just a couple of quick, random notes about some current goings-on in 18th century fashion and textiles:

- This week's podcast by Colonial Williamsburg features journeyman Mark Hutter discussing the art and skill of tailoring in the 18th century.  Mr. Hutter addresses a range of interesting topics, from the difference in skill sets between those who practiced mantua-making and those who were tailors; the invention of the sewing machine (did you know mechanized sewing was being attempted in the mid-18th century?); the types and varieties of men's garments, and the art of achieving a perfect period fit.

Colonial Williamsburg tailor
Journeyman tailor Mark Hutter interprets and actively practices the
art of tailoring at Colonial Williamsburg.
4 July 2010.

- Rabbit Goody of Thistle Hill Weavers is holding a hands-on workshop/seminar on "Everyday Fabrics of the 18th Century" at Eastfield Village in NY this summer, 17-19 August (you might recall this is where we had our shoemaking workshop last summer).  The three-day workshop will explore the availability of different kinds of fabrics during the 18th century, how and where they were used, and how to identify textiles today.  Registration is now open here.  Due to scheduling conflicts, neither of us is able to attend, but we thought it sounded very intriguing and something our readers would be interested in hearing about.  If anyone does go, please let us know how it is!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Carryin' the Banner: Newsies on Strike in 1899

Newsies on Broadway
Newsies at the Nederlander Theatre, NYC.
2 June 2012.

Having always lived within an easy commuting distance of New York City, we grew up watching and listening to musicals, both live and on film and PBS. When Newsies was first released in 1992, it became an instant favorite with us and has remained one of those go-to happy-mood-making soundtracks for both of us for twenty years. From the beginning, we were confounded that it wasn't turned into a live show, and being casual followers of theatre news, we've spent years keeping eyes and ears out for any hint that that might happen. Imagine our delight when news came out a couple of years ago that a stage version was in the works and potentially headed for Broadway. After a successful regional theatre run, Newsies the Musical finally arrived on the Great White Way a couple of months ago, and this past weekend, we finally got to see it! We've been reading nothing but positive, almost giddy reviews of the show since it opened and we were not disappointed! The star of the show (Jeremy Jordan as "Jack Kelly") is superbly cast, the music is Alan Menken (of Oscar-winning Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast fame) at his best, the book is a hoot and a half, and the choreography impeccably executed by a cast of truly awesome dancers. Originally slated for a brief four-month limited engagement, the show is now officially listed with an open-ended run, so if you have plans to be in NYC any time in the future, go see it!

The cast of Newsies in the new Broadway production.
Photo linked from

While this might not seem a typical blog post topic for us, it does actually have some relationship to history! Newsies is based on the New York newsboys strike of 1899. For the latter half of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, young boys were the primary distribution apparatus for the newspapers of New York City and across the country. Home delivery was not yet introduced, so poor, often homeless boys worked as independent contractors, purchasing with their own money a bundle of papers to sell each day. Because they weren't official newspaper employees, they had no labor rights and were not compensated for any unsold papers at the end of the day; as a group, they were unorganized and their measly pay of about 30 cents a day perpetuated their ragged, dirty, and desperate existence. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, there were periodic strikes by newsboys angling for better pay and more humane treatment, but it wasn't until 1899 that they became organized enough to effect significant change.

Brooklyn newsies in 1908.
Image linked from wikipedia.

In 1899, the two largest New York papers, Joseph Pulitzer's The Evening World and William Randolph Hearst's The Evening Journal, refused to drop the higher prices they had introduced during the Spanish American war, when newspaper circulations were consistently good because of steady war news.  As soon as the war ended, however, circulation began to decrease, making the wartime price a hardship for the newsies, who found it increasingly difficult to make a profit at the end of each day when left with unsold "papes" on hand.  With the help of a handful of charismatic leaders, including Kid Blink, Jack Sullivan, David Simmons, and Spot Conlon (yes, they were all real!), the newsies formed a union of their own and went on strike, rallying with more than 5,000 of their number.  Press coverage from the other New York papers covered the strike news with delightful, gloating detail, obviously with thorough enjoyment as they watched the two biggest rivals struggle with circulations that dipped by more than half.  In the end, both Pulitzer and Hearst refused to budge on the price, but they did agree after two weeks to begin to buy back any unsold papers.  It was a marginal triumph for the exploited young workers, but a triumph nonetheless.

Interested in learning more?
If you'd like to learn more about the real-life newsies and the child labor conditions of turn-of-the-century New York, check out these resources:
- Kids on Strike!, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti;
- The Bowery Boys post on the newsboys strike of 1899 includes a set of fantastic photos and period images of newsies and their turn-of-the-century world;
- the NYPL has a page to help trace original 1899 newspaper articles that covered the strike.

And if you'd like to see and hear more of the new Broadway musical version of Newsies, take a look at:
- the musical's official website;
- the cast of Newsies performing on "Good Morning America";
- 2012 Tony Awards clips for Newsies.  And don't forget to watch the Tonys on Sunday night, where Newsies has been nominated for 8 awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jeremy Jordan), and Best Original Score (Alan Menken and Jack Feldman).

Newsies on Broadway
Newsies at the Nederlander Theatre, nominated for 8 Tonys!
2 June 2012.

Friday, June 1, 2012

This Week in Genealogy: "Parental Wrath"

As we delve deeper into our genealogy research, we've started stumbling into some interesting stories.  Some are touching, like our great-uncle who owned a tavern that once belonged to his father.  Veterans returning home from WWII would find open arms waiting for them there, with assistance to help them get back on their feet; if they had no where to stay, he would let them board in the rooms above, paying only what they were able.  Some of our stories are disappointing, like our great-great-grandfather who seemingly abandoned his wife and eight children, disappearing to who knows where, never to be heard from again.  And some of our stories are heartbreaking, like our other great-great-grandfather who fought bravely in the cavalry during the Civil War.  He was wounded and captured, but made it home at the end of the war.  He married and had nine children, but was soon after admitted to a state hospital where he died several years later.  His wife passed away only two years after he did, leaving the children in the care of her brother, who had his own large family to support as well. 

But sometimes, the stories we find are just plain funny.  This example, in the article below, was published in the New York Times in 1902.  The young lady in the story is a member of a family which married into one of our family lines.  The story itself is amusing, but the prose and especially the quotes from her father make the article all the more entertaining!