Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Charming Pair of Red Victorian Stockings

A short post, a trifle: Wouldn't these be a bright spot in your wardrobe on cool, cloudy days? There is something cozy and charming about these Victorian stockings.  Cherry red cotton knit stockings are embroidered with floral details, c. 1860s+. The cotton is sturdy yet soft. Examination reveals a channel runs across the top of both - most likely to contain garters. A subtle seam runs up the back.
Photo courtesy of
Photo by author

While they may not compete with these delightful French cotton stockings (c. 1870s) and their bounty of cherries, they have just enough embellishment to make them special.

Image, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Saturday, September 19, 2015

So You Like Samplers? Schoolgirl Needlework of Northern New England, Saco Museum

"Industry and Virtue Joined": Schoolgirl Needlework of Northern New England

May 9 - October 4, 2015
Curated by Leslie Rounds, Director, Dyer Library and
Tara Raiselis, Director, Saco Museum

From the Saco Museum: After the Saco Museum's successful 2013 sampler exhibit, "I My Needle Ply With Skill," and the book by the same title, the museum has been recognized as an important repository for and center of scholarship on northern New England samplers and silk embroideries. This spring and summer the museum offers a second exhibit on schoolgirl needlework, with extensively researched and documented samplers and silk embroideries from Maine and New Hampshire. 

Miss McClave, silk thread on linen sampler detail, c. 1835 (possibly Lyme, NH)
Courtesy Private Collection 

More than 130 important northern New England samplers are on exhibit including forty-one samplers from Maine and ninety-five from New Hampshire. Notable Maine needlework in the exhibition includes two almost identical samplers completed by twins Flavilla and Mary Jane Barker in Portland in 1818, reunited for the first time in nearly 190 years, as well as works from the schools of the Misses Martin and Rachel Hall Neal. "Industry and Virtue Joined" also features what is most likely the largest group of New Hampshire samplers ever gathered together in a single room. The exhibition includes twenty-one samplers from Portsmouth, significant examples of schoolgirl needlework from the Canterbury area and Pinkerton Academy in Londonderry, as well as many beautiful works from small towns across both states.

A full-color catalogue of the exhibition will be published mid to late summer 2015. Don't miss this chance to see never before exhibited samplers from the tail end of the 18th century through the mid 19th century and learn about the female academies in which they were created. 

Miss Cutter, Detail of silk embroidery from "The Lily and the Rose"
Courtesy Maine Historical Society 

For additional details:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dolly Hancock: Romance, Wedding Shoes & Revolution, August 1775

His choice was very natural, a granddaughter of the great patron and most revered friend of his father. Beauty, politeness, and every domestic virtue justified his predilection.
--John Adams on the marriage of Dorothy and John Hancock
Dolly Hancock's London-made wedding shoes. Courtesy, The Bostonian Society
Dorothy Quincy and John Hancock married August 28, 1775 at Fairfield, Connecticut, the Thaddeus Burr estate. Their wedding was held against the backdrop of the start of the American Revolution. According to family tradition and based on the style of the shoes, it is possible that she wore these delicate London-made, cream silk, low-heeled shoes. The cordwainers were Bragg & Luckin.. 

Their wedding occurred while John was on recess from 2nd Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he oversaw the war effort as President. John's widowed aunt, Lydia Henchman Hancock, was a close friend of the Burr family and spent much time at their estate. Evidence suggests she played a major role in overseeing the relationship and encouraging the marriage.

For more on the wedding and the Burr Estate, see "Burr Mansion: A Love Story" by Cathryn Prince, November 2013 in

Sunday, August 23, 2015

John Hancock's Table: Turtles, Pineapples and the Paradoxical Politics of 1768

You will always find items both useful and intriguing at the Massachusetts Historical Society ( One tasty tidbit, from the Hancock family papers, is a bill of sale dated 27 June 1768, from Oliver Wendell of Boston to John Hancock. It is bill for six turtles (a weight of 234 pounds) and eighteen pineapples. The total bill came to 16 pounds, 19 shillings. Such exotic fare was shipped from the West Indies and sold (usually dockside) to inns and tavern keepers and representatives of wealthy clientele in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, and so on.  

Courtesy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Hancock Family Papers

During the late 18th century & into the 19th,  Mr. Julien promoted the many benefits of turtle soup to his Boston clientele.
These were heady days for Hancock, caught up in the events that would lead ultimately to the Revolution and independence from Great Britain.  By the late spring of 1768 (with the Lydia/Liberty incidents unfolding), Hancock was allied with Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty in organizing resistance to the new taxes imposed on America in the infamous Townshend Duties.  In May, he had been elected to Governor Francis Bernard’s Council, the upper house of the Massachusetts legislature, only to have the people’s choice vetoed by Bernard.  Still, that same day, voters elected him to the House of Representatives.  Two weeks later, he would be elected Major of the Cadets, a new branch of the Massachusetts militia.

Such honors required a gentleman of Hancock’s station to demonstrate his gratitude through celebratory banquets and fetes.  That Hancock was planning festivities at this time of some sort is evident in Oliver Wendell’s bill for exotic fare, especially as the bill appears to several imposing sea turtles, no doubt to be served as a delicacy - turtle soup . Pineapples too had been long associated as luxury items and their appearance at Hancock's table would have heightened the sense of it being a significant celebration. Hancock's uncle, Thomas, had died by this time, leaving the 'Hancock Mansion' to his nephew-- a perfect place for entertaining with his Aunt Lydia as hostess.

For further reading:
Two excellent articles - and everything you could want to know about turtle and mock turtle soup from the University of Pennsylvania Museum:

and Uncovering Hidden Lives: 18th Century Black Mariners:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Aesop, some Paint, and the Oldest Murals this side of the British Atlantic

The first section of the Warner House Mural, circa 1720

By Jeffrey Hopper, Historic House Steward and Social Historian

We spend a considerable amount of space on this blog writing about historic clothing, but every now and again it is important to remember that this clothing was part of a larger setting. One of my jobs is to manage the Warner House in Portsmouth, NH. Constructed of brick between 1716-18, it is an English Baroque townhouse of London derivation. The design of the house spans the period in American architectural design when social entertainment occurred on two floors, not just the ground floor. After the mid-eighteenth century most American social entertaining occurs on the first or ground floor. Because of this tiered use, in the Warner House, the entrance and staircase act as a processional way to the second floor or piano nobile. Constructed with low risers of approximately 5.5 inches and approximately 12-inch wide steps, the staircase slows the visitor’s ascent. By retarding the ascent several things occur; a straighter posture can be maintained; ascending and descending can be accomplished at a ¾ turn, which is more flattering to the profile and the presentation of clothing; this ¾ turn allows for direct conversation, rather than talking to a fellow-conversant’s back; and for the Warner House visitor an additional reward of this paced ascent is that it provides a space to view the artistic taste of the owners. Painted in oil on plaster between 1718 and 1722 a series of murals fill the walls of the staircase. Although they are cruder in design than their contemporary British counterparts, none-the-less they provide a dramatic art-filled ascent unlike any remaining house from this period in the British-American colonies.  

Croxall's version of the tale circa 1740

The Dean Street images are from London houses of the 1730s, but help to illustrate the use of mural painting in British Atlantic world and the differences between the two worlds. The Dean Street illustrations are all from British History Online.

75 Dean St Staircase, circa 1732, photo circa 1912
Dean St, Gallery

75 Dean St, landing

Dean St Murals after Conservation (destroyed 1920s)

76 Dean St Murals

76 Dean St Murals another view

76 Dean St, Entrance

The article that follows is from the Summer 2015 Warner House newsletter and is part of an attempt to explain the paintings in terms of visual lessons that might have formed part of the moral, textual, political, and artistic understanding of an eighteenth-century visitor as they ascended the stairs for a summer evening’s entertainment at Archibald, a newly appointed member of the King’s Council for the colony, and Sarah, daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of the colony, Macpheadris’s new home in the 1720s.

Here is the link to the article:

Jeff Hopper is a Consultant, Historic House Steward and Social Historian

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Ultimate in Disposable Fashion? The Paper Party Dress, 1966-69

The fashion flash of paper dresses sizzled in the 1960s from about 1966-69. The ultimate in disposable fashion with no skills required. You need it shortened? No need to sew – just cut to the desired length. Need a new wardrobe for entertaining or a picnic? Just look at Hallmark or Scott Paper products. Need to coordinate an event? Buy a dress to match your paper goods!

Not only were they the ultimate of convenience, they came in bright floral prints, graphic imagery (such as Andy Warhol’s soup cans), or more formal tones for evening. I can only image how it might have been to pack for a week, tossing five paper dresses into your valise.

My sisters bought me this unopened dress, in its original packaging, as you can see from the photos. One wonders, with the advent of 3-D printing if we will see its likes again.

Exhibits & further information:
Paper dresses from swinging ‘60s show off planned obsolescence

Friday, July 17, 2015

Shoes in the Portsmouth Athenaeum’s Early Collections

Guest blogger:
Elizabeth Aykroyd
Portsmouth Athenaeum

Early in the Athenaeum’s history, proprietors and sea captains contributed “curiosities” to the small museum, which the Athenaeum maintained on the fourth floor of this building.  Many of these curiosities were in the realm of natural history, but unusual objects picked up in travels around the world also joined the collection.

Travelers were interested in folk costumes, and shoes unlike those they saw at home were collected and donated to the Athenaeum.  Those exhibited here were all given to the small museum in the 1820s.

For additional information, see

“Slipper from Calcutta”
Given by Miss Mary Humphrey,
Daughter of Daniel Humphrey
of Portsmouth.

“Pair of Slippers from the
Mediterranean”.  Given by
Oliver Briard. Probably from Spain
Leather, metallic thread

“French Wooden Shoe”
Given by Nathaniel Adams.

“Wooden Shoes from Oughee”
Given by Rev. Charles Burroughs. Although the place name was interpreted later as Hawaii, it may refer to Ouche in Normandy.

Denis Diderot’s Encyclopaedie of 1762 shows all the major crafts and industries of France, among them the art of making leather shoes and sabots, or wooden shoes.