Friday, July 27, 2012

Fashions from Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 2

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we recently stumbled across a bound volume of Godey's Lady's Book from 1853.  Once a month now, I'll post the collection of fashion-related plates and articles that appeared in each monthly issue.  I'll begin with January, in hope and anticipation that you costuming ladies out there might find inspiration for a new winter project.  This will give plenty of time for plotting and planning and sewing in advance of the season!

I apologize in advance for the quality of the images.  Although I have a scanner, I've discovered that there's no way I can preserve the integrity of the already fragile binding of the book and lay it flat.  That means photos are the only options, and even those are difficult to achieve because of the tightly bound pages.  I've done my best to ensure that everything is as clear and visible and undistorted as possible, but if there's something you really can't read or see and would like to have clarified, just let me know and I'll see what more I can do.  I've set the images up so that if you click on them, they'll link you to their flickr page, where you'll be able to enlarge them all considerably and thus more easily read each one.  Enjoy!

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 1
I love this one: children's fashion for January 1853.
Description is below.

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 6

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 9
"Centre Table" ladies fashions for January 1853.
Description is below.

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 7

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 3
Sontag cloak in black velvet.

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 4

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 5
Gentleman's smoking cap.

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1853 8
Notes on NY and Philadelphia fashions for January 1853.

If you'd like to use or re-post or share these images, you're certainly welcome to do so.  The only thing we ask is that credit is given where due: please provide a link back to this blog with the re-posted picture.  Thanks!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Visit to Lyndhurst

Lyndhurst, Tarrytown, NY.
June 2012.

The first weekend in June, we attended an afternoon garden party at Lyndhurst, one of the first of the major 19th-century Hudson River Valley estates.  The mansion, built in stages in the grand Gothic Revival style, sits on 67 rolling acres on the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, NY, just north of New York City.


The property was originally purchased in 1838 by William Paulding, mayor of New York City, who commissioned renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis to construct "a country villa 'in the pointed style'."  The estate, officially called The Knoll, became known colloquially as "Paulding's Folly" because of its unique turrets and unconventional, asymmetrical architecture.  As our guide explained, it is built in limestone quarried by the nearby prisoners of Sing-Sing prison; during the period, the material was known as "Sing-Sing marble."


George Merritt, a successful New York merchant and businessman, acquired the property in the 1860s, immediately commissioning Davis to double the size of his original design.  With the addition of the north wing, which included the four-storey tower and imposing new dining room, the mansion house assumed the appearance it has today.  Merritt was also the one to give the estate the name it still bears (though slightly shortened) to this day: Lyndenhurst, after the linden trees that pepper the property.

The children's one-room playhouse, complete with
child-sized furniture inside.

In 1880, notorious robber baron Jay Gould purchased the estate as a family retreat from the hustle and bustle of his New York financial and railroad empire.  Its function as a country home primarily maintained for family time and recreation is reflected in some of the property's most unique features: an adorable play house for the children, the country's first private bowling alley, a full-sized indoor pool, and a 19,000-square-foot glass-and-steel-framed greenhouse.

The music room, where the Gould's received their distinguished guests.

The painted ceiling of the music room, designed to mimic Italian frescoes.

The mansion's interiors - largely a product of Merritt's time and much admired by the Goulds, though over time slightly modified by them - are stunning, characterized by vaulted ceilings, a pretty incredible set of stained glass windows including many Tiffany creations, and an art collection showcased in a truly medieval Gothic-styled gallery. 

The house's famous gallery, with amazing vaulted
ceiling and Tiffany windows (which unfortunately didn't
come out in any of my pictures).

The library (yes, please!).


Much of the furniture was purchased with the house by the Goulds and thus dates from Merritt's period; as a result, it harmonizes beautifully with the overall designs of the interior spaces.  If you're interested in seeing some period photos from both Merritt's and Jay Gould's tenure in the house, take a look at this page.

The formal dining room.

The dining table and chairs were designed specifically for this
room by the house's architect, A.J. Davis, in 1864, when he
added this room as part of the new wing.

Philanthropist and first daughter Helen Gould Shepard inherited Lyndhurst upon her father's death in 1892.  Active in numerous organizations from the American Bible Society to the YMCA/YWCA, Helen took a keen interest in maintaining the property for her family of adopted children.  When she died in 1938, her younger sister Anna Gould took control of the estate.

Anna Gould's bedroom.  The vaulted ceiling is painted
in stars of gold leaf.

A Tiffany lamp at Anna's desk in her bedroom.

Lyndhurst is now owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to whom it was gifted by Anna Gould, Duchess of Talleyrand-Perigord, at her death in 1961. The grounds and garden are free to visit and open to the public every day year round; the house itself requires an admission ticket and is available for tours Fridays-Sundays.

Jay Gould's custom-designed desk, with dozens and dozens
of little drawers to secret away his business papers.  The doors
of drawers (you can see one on the right) fold into
the desk so that the whole can lock securely.

If you'd like to learn more about Lyndhurst, its series of extraordinary owners, and the social changes that influenced its construction and preservation, you'll enjoy the America's Castles episode that featured the mansion.  Parts one and two of that documentary can be found on YouTube.


And just as a side note, part three of that same episode of America's Castles looks at Frederick Vanderbilt's Hyde Park estate, which we profiled in this earlier post.


For more interior and exterior photos of this gorgeous national treasure of an estate, see our flickr set.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

149th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

As many of you here in the States experienced the weekend before last, the weather on the day of our attendance at the Battle of Gettysburg reenactment (July the 7th) was pretty unbelievably hot.  The actual temperature that Saturday reached exactly 100 degrees, with a heat index of between 105 and 110.  No "excessive heat warning" could adequately describe how HOT that really felt.  We had already pre-purchased our tickets, however, so we trooped out to the grounds at around 10:00, well-armed with multiple bottles of water, umbrellas, and sunscreen.  Ashley arrived dressed for the period, but even the summery weight of her sheer cotton dress was no match for the virtual oven we were walking in and she ended up exchanging her four layers of 1860s dress for one layer of 2012 dress in about an hour.  It was a valiant effort, but with baking quite literally from the outside in in that heat, it was next to impossible not to overheat, so she reluctantly gave in.  In other words, sorry, no in-costume pictures from this event.  :-(

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Period musicians entertain the spectators between scheduled events.

The annual reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg is organized and sponsored by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, who donate a portion of the proceeds from the event to local organizations and charitable causes.  Because no firearms can be discharged on National Park property, the annual reenactment is held on the outskirts of the town on privately-owned farmland.  The property and the surrounding area are lovely and very picturesque, with rolling hills of green fields, groves of trees, and farmhouses and barns perched comfortably into the landscape.  One could easily imagine that that was just what the opposing armies themselves saw almost 150 years ago when they walked into town and into sight of each other.  Even the heat was, in this case, historically accurate and helped to contribute to the atmosphere of the event (for better or worse...!).

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Saturday morning's cavalry demonstration.

We arrived just in time to watch the cavalry battle demonstration, and were shocked at how sparse the attendance was.  After hearing so much about this event, we were fully expecting crushing crowds of spectators and reenactors, but people had obviously (sensibly) been deterred by the heat and were strategically timing their attendance throughout the day to avoid standing out in the sun any longer than they had to for specific programs.  A decent audience appeared (pretty suddenly!) just in time for the demonstration, which was skillfully executed.  This being our first Civil War reenactment, I was most interested simply in noting the differences between what we typically see on the battlefield at our Rev War events, and what was being shown here.  We were especially looking forward to seeing this portion of the programming, as two of our Civil War ancestors (though not the one who was actually at Gettysburg) were members of a cavalry unit.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Saturday morning's cavalry demonstration.

Following the mini battle, we wandered through the extensive sutler row in search of treasures and thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the vendors, many of whom had nearly empty tents due to the low attendance and were very eager to engage in friendly conversation.  Ashley made a purchase and I was tempted by some fabric, but after spending a minor fortune at Needle and Thread the day before, I nobly left it behind.  Finally overwhelmed by the oppressive heat after about an hour of shopping, we decided to leave for an air-conditioned lunch break and return in time for the afternoon programs.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Sutler's row...nearly deserted in the heat.

Refreshed from lunch, we returned to the battlefield site in time to witness a renewal of marriage vows in 1863 style.  There was originally a real wedding scheduled to be performed, in view of the public, but the couple backed out at the last minute because of the heat.  As the pastor proceeded through the vow renewal ceremony of a volunteer couple that stepped in instead, he paused periodically to describe the finer points of a mid-nineteenth-century marriage ceremony.  A question and answer session followed, in which he went on to discuss the differences in the language of the vows between then and now, the tradition of walking the bride down the aisle, and the negotiations of marriage contracts that went on prior to the actual celebration of a marriage.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
A Civil War renewal of vows.
(Ignore the microphone.  It was a BIG tent.)

In between this program and the next, we toured the extensive "living history village," which featured an impressive variety of reenactors representing period organizations (like the Christian Commission), demonstrating period activities (I admit, I loved the toys and games!), and sharing period crafts and hand-made products (like the quilt below, *sigh*).  I was so impressed by the depth of knowledge displayed by these folks, and thoroughly enjoyed chatting with many of them and hearing them share their enthusiasm for the period and the hobby.  I wish some of the larger Rev War events that tend to draw the bigger public crowds would consider doing something like this "living history village," to give those of us who have a predominantly non-military impression a chance to share and discuss some of the civilian details of 18th-century life.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
A lovely quilt in progress.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
One of the activities of the Christian Commission was to write letters
home for soliders who were either wounded or had never learned to write.

Next came the highlight of the day: a delightful fashion show presented by Carolann Schmitt.  Carolann is the founder and proprietress of the Genteel Arts Academy, which holds periodic conferences and workshops relating to the fashions of the 1860s.  The fashion show began, of course, with ladies' garments, discussing first the ubiquitous Victorian wrapper (I love that print)...

Gettysburg battle reenactment

...and then moving on to the underpinnings, including the chemise, drawers, corset, and underpetticoat.

Gettysburg battle reenactment

This was followed, of course, by the addition of the cage crinoline and a tucked petticoat, before finally adding...

Gettysburg battle reenactment

...a very lovely sheer multi-color gingham dress complete with accessories.  So pretty!

Gettysburg battle reenactment

We then were treated to a glimpse of additional fashionable options of the period, including the basque (huzzah for stripes!)...

Gettysburg battle reenactment

...and another sheer dress and drawn bonnet ensemble.

Gettysburg battle reenactment

Finally, a gentleman in summer linen and an unlined waistcoat completed the show.  Carolann's narration throughout was very nuanced and interesting and addressed an impressive variety of fashion-related subjects, from textile production to popular fabric choices to construction details of the garments to the fashions appropriate for certain age groups.  It was a most excellent program and definitely my favorite of the day (you're not surprised, I know...!).

Gettysburg battle reenactment

We had been looking forward to seeing the full-fledged battle that afternoon, but they pushed the time later into the early evening because of the heat.  By that point, though, we were sweltering and physically couldn't stand the heat any longer, so we were forced to give in and call it a day, very sorry to miss the main event.  Plans are already well underway for next year's 150th weekend, however, which promises to be bigger and better, so chances are we'll be back soon to make up for leaving early this year!

Additional photos from the reenactment, as well as the rest of our Gettysburg weekend trip, can be found on our flickr page.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Tintype Photo in Gettysburg

Tintype at Victorian Photography Studio, Gettysburg
Ashley in a tintype photograph.
Taken at the Victorian Photography Studio in Gettysburg, July 2012.

While visiting Gettysburg a week and a half ago, we were looking forward to the opportunity to have a wetplate photograph taken in costume.  We had received a few recommendations before arriving and were excited to find that there are several experienced wetplate photographers in town.  During a chat with Frank Orlando at the visitor's information center upon our arrival, he highly recommended the Victorian Photography Studio and happily shared some of the photographs that they've done for him.  Their website has an excellent reservation page that shows available times, so I used that that night to make my appointment for the following day.  Very convenient!

Since Gettysburg is such a busy tourist town, the studio offers some wonderful choices for families who are looking for a memento of their vacation to the 1860s.  They have a closet full of costumes and accessories appropriate for all ages, and even offer a digital photography option, which manipulates the photo to look "antique" like a tintype.  But for those of us who are always interested in preserving the authenticity of the time period, the Victorian Photography Studio offers exactly what we need!

Victorian Photography Studio, Gettysburg
Cory preparing the metal plate for my tintype photograph.
Victorian Photography Studio, Gettysburg

From the moment I walked in, the entire staff were so gracious and accommodating.  I arrived with my own clothes and Tish (co-owner with husband, Del) kindly offered her dressing room for me to change.  My wonderful photographer, Cory, was very helpful in deciding details such as whether or not to wear my glasses and how to sit.  Before I posed, he showed us how he prepares the metal plate with the collodion emulsion to make its surface receptive to light.  The plate must remain wet through the development process or it will not be light sensitive.

I sat very still while Cory did his magic and then we watched as he dipped the plate into cyanide and my photo began to appear!  The plate is then heated to dry and additional coats of oil are added to protect the image.

Victorian Photography Studio, Gettysburg
The negative image on the plate is soaked in chemicals to develop.
Victorian Photography Studio, Gettysburg

We were all very interested to see how my sheer, light yellow gown would appear in the final plate.  I know very little about photography, but apparently, as Cory explained, yellow and other light colors usually appear completely dark when using this process.  Since this photography process only detects certain colors, it is always difficult to say for sure what colors people were wearing in Victorian photographs.  The gown came out light, but the fabric looks so much heavier than the sheer cotton that it is.  Below is a photo that Rebecca took during the process.  Isn't it amazing how different the tintype looks?!  This just goes to show that you can never judge a gown by its tintype!  :-)

Victorian Photography Studio, Gettysburg
Ashley sitting very still for the tintype photograph.
Victorian Photography Studio, Gettysburg

Thank you to the Victorian Photography Studio for your most excellent and impressive service and for so kindly allowing me to share my experience here.  And a huge thank you to Cory for giving me such a fine plate to display!

The pictures included in this post were taken by us during the sitting and were done with the generous permission of the folks at the Victorian Photography Studio.  Thank you, and we look forward to seeing you again soon!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Going Antiquing at the Booksale

Here in New England, May through October is the traditional season for library booksales.  Many of our regional libraries hold massive sales with hundreds of thousands of volumes, featuring books old and new, on every subject under the sun.  Quite often, they also feature special rare and antique book rooms with treasures that have been priced by local antiquarian book dealers.  Today, we made a bunch of pretty nifty discoveries and came home many pounds heavier for all the books in Ashley's trunk!

By far my most favorite find was an 1853 bound volume of Godey's Lady's Book, which includes all of the original color plates.  If there's sufficient interest, let me know and I can try to start scanning or photographing the issues (or at the very least the plates) and posting them here on the blog. Here's a quick sample:

Godey's 1853

Godey's 1853

Godey's 1853

Godey's 1853

Another pretty exciting discovery were two early Harper and Brothers printings of Charlotte Bronte's The Professor and VilletteThe Professor is dated 1864 on the title page; Villette is undated, but I'm assuming it must be from about the same time because of the consistent type, layout, and binding.  As you can see, "Currer Bell" is still listed as the author on the title pages of both.

1864 Harper editions of Villette and The Professor

My other thrill was finding two 1953 London newspapers - one The Sunday Times and one the Daily News - covering the coronation of Elizabeth II.  The Daily News paper is a special commemorative issue with loads of neat pictures.

1953 London papers from the Coronation of Elizabeth II

Ashley's highlight of the day was bringing home a 1900 edition of The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, which collects quotations from Thomas Jefferson on over 9000 topics and arranges them alphabetically to form a catalogue of the president's thoughts.

Jeffersonian Cyclopedia

All in all, a pretty successful booksale day!