Sunday, October 28, 2012

New York Milliner Robert Dudley & the Merrimac Hat Company

Milliner Robert Dudley (1911-1992), for Merrimac Hat Co., c. 1940-45
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
This fashion post started out as an intense, passing interest and has morphed into something much more - a research journey with no end in sight. (Aren't all research projects that way if you really assess them?) Inspired by the current exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Stephen Jones Hats: An Anthology (brilliantly and playfully organized by the V & A, the exhibit next traveled to Bard and is now at PEM until February 13, 2013). Colleagues at PEM have kept me apprised of the layers of the exhibition and its rich public outreach: collaborations with Massachusetts-based milliners, a New Hampshire-based hatbox fabricator, the fabulous examples of historic head adornments which were taken from PEM storage and juxtaposed with objects in the permanent galleries, lecture series, gallery talks, how-tos, trunk and fashion shows. You may not think you are a "hat person" but this endeavor will have you looking at "toppers" from a new perspective.

Imagine the delight, then, a few weeks after attending opening events lead by Stephen Jones, co-author, Oriole Cullen and Lynda Hartigan, Chief Curator of PEM, when I stumbled across three modest, but delightful hats from the Merrimac Hat Company (later Corporation) of Amesbury Massachusetts.
Vintage hats from The Collector's Eye,
Stratham, New Hampshire

Amesbury is perhaps best remembered historically for the high-end carriages produced there and exciting transformation are currently underway to celebrate that important manufacturing center. Hat production is less known and yet the Merrimac Hat Company was for some time one of the largest (possibly the largest) hat factories in the United States. In business for a century, it was reported by D. Hamilton Hurd in his 1888 tome The History of Essex Country, that at that time, the factory employed 169 hands, of which 118 were men and 51 were women. The business sold product valued at $283,000 in the mid 1880s.

After taking home the hats, inspection revealed two of the three were labeled from Merrimac. The 100% wool, saffron colored "play topper" is appealing and timeless. 

The most extravagant statement of this small cache, is a bold, unlabeled reprisal of the masculine top hat, here it is softened. Constructed of black velvet, with thick, layered tangerine silk ribbons forming the design, the hat guides the eye upward. As may be see in the 1940s image from the Metropolitan Museum (top), Dudley mastered the challenge of presenting a hat which worked within a masculine archetype but with a feminine twist and appropriate scale. Although the hat pictured below may not be a Robert Dudley confection, it is certainly a hat which would be worn by one with confidence and a bit of panache, and immediately signaled a high-end, trend setting designer. 

The New York-based Dudley designed for Merrimac in the 1940s and 1950s. With several seminal hats in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum and archives, including sketches, at the Fashion Institute of Technology, he was and is, an intriguing figure.

Private Collection, blue velvet hat, c. 1950s
1960s conical "turban." Note use of "vestigial" net
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
According to his New York Times obituary: 

Dudley studied at the Eastman School of Music and had come to New York City intent on a career in the theater. He decided instead on a career in millinery after he used an old felt hat to create a new one for a friend. His large clientele included many theater and society figures and he designed hats for several films, including "Rebecca."During the 1940's and 1950's he operated the Chez Robert salon at Saks Fifth Avenue and his own shop, Robert Dudley Originals, on the East Side of Manhattan. Mr. Dudley then became an interior designer and was active in the field until his death.

He died in Manhattan on September 24th, 1992 at age 87. His obituary was published nearly two decades ago on November 4th.

Related on-line articles:

Merrimac Hat Factory, Amesbury, Massachusetts
Full text of Robert Dudley's obituary Dudley; Milliner, 87

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Late 19th c. Child's Four Button Ankle Boot(ie)

This recent find is from the Collector's Eye in Stratham, New Hampshire. A child's four button ankle boot, from the late 19th century, it is fabricated of a very soft, very worn, light brown kidskin. The heel, toe and sole are worn through and abraded. Lined with linen, it is more akin to a bootie than a shoe or boot in that there is no hard sole. It mimics fashionable adult footwear of the time with its ankle height, finished buttonholes and prominent buttons, made possible by the inventions of James Morley, who patented an industrial button-sewing device around 1880, among others. Note the gentle "scalloping" of the extra leather flap at the button placket. The adult version of the high button ankle boot, despite the time consuming lacing of the boots, remained a style statement until about World War I.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What were they drinking in 1793? Egg Rum & Egg Brandy

Egg Rum and Egg Brandy: The Cold Winter of 1793
On Monday May 20, 1793, there were a number of special alcohol purchases which appear in the Gen. Montgomery Store Daybook. They include postmaster Moses Dow’s 1 quart of Mallago (Malaga) wine, a glass of ginn [sic] and of particular interest, one 1/2 bowl of egg rum.  A few days earlier the purchase of “egg brandy” was noted.  According to food historians, this concoction was related to our contemporary eggnog, being a drink of egg, wine and milk/cream with many historic European antecedents. 
Egg brandy or egg rum as recorded in the Daybook, was in Colonial America somewhat different than its British counterpart in that it substituted the British use of wine for brandy or rum. It was quite popular in the Colonies, especially in the colder parts of the region where the egg beverage (egg, cream or fresh milk and brandy or rum) was rich, tasty, filling and was usually flavored with nutmeg or allspice. In a rural area like Haverhill, the ingredients – fresh cream and eggs, brandy or rum and spices-- would have been readily available. Given the fact that this was served at the Store, it is likely that it was served cold and not warm such as a posset, which required heating and carefully balanced ingredients, as well as appropriate ceramic serving vessels, frequently with a spout.
While it might seem too heavy for serving in late May by contemporary tastes, it was no doubt much lighter in concentration. However, of particular importance in the selection of this variant of “eggnog” was the fact that weather reports for May of 1793 reveal that it was the second coldest May to be recorded (in the North American Review, for example) until the famous cold of 1816, which many referred to as the year “without summer.”  The unusual cold of April and May, which reportedly froze buds and kept the ground hard well past usual planting dates, would have also changed patterns of trade, travel, purchase and even the number of ventures out of doors to the Store. The weather, not surprisingly, changed the routine of daily life not only in Haverhill but throughout New England.
Although contemporary receipt books and accounts appear not to list an egg brandy or rum (most likely because it was an understood, standard beverage) there was a close relationship between them and an eggnog and a syllabub. The creation of a syllabub required time and careful beating of eggs and cream, whereas the preparation of this "egg rum" or "egg brandy" one can easily imagine being created in the store along with the frequently mentioned bowl of grog.  (Grog was also a rum –based beverage, frequently mixed with other spirits or citrus or other juices or diluted.)

From a forthcoming article on General Montgomery and the 1793 Daybook.

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH., USA

Comparative Syllabub Recipes

To make whipt syllabubs

Take a quart of thick cream, and half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges, or lemons; grate in the peel of two lemons; half a pound of double-refined sugar, pour it into a broad earthen pan, and whisk it well; but first sweeten some red wine, or sack, and fill your glasses as full as you chuse; then as the froth rises take it off with a spoon, and lay it carefully into your glasses, till they are as full as it will hold.
From Charles Carter The London and Country Cook (London: 1749)

A Whipt Syllabub

Take two porringers of cream and one of white wine, grate in the skin of a lemon, take the whites of three eggs, sweeten it to your taste, then whip it with a whisk, take off the froth as it rises and put into your syllabub glasses of pots, and they are fit for use.

From Amelia Simmons American Cookery: or the Art of Dressing Viands, Poultry….Adapted to this Country and All Grades of Life (Albany, 1796)

Further information on the derivation of the term “egg nog” may be found on numerous historic food ways websites and in reproductions of historic cookbooks such as that of Amelia Simmons by Applewood Books.

Images courtesy:
^ Haverhill Historical Society, General Montgomery Store Daybook, 1793
^ Pouring a syllabub, Journal of the Early Americas (see link below for further information)

Great sites to explore:
Colonial Williamsburg:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Elizabeth Wentworth Warner's c.1760-1770s Brocade Shoes

The owner of these pink and green brocade shoes (c. 1760, with later alterations) was most likely Elizabeth Wentworth Warner (July 30, 1739-August 1793/November 1794, posted in two New Hampshire papers, the Oracle and the Gazette). 

Despite somewhat careless alterations at some point in their history, they have a contemporary appeal with a cheery palette. One can easily imagine wearing them today.  Elizabeth was the daughter of Hunking Wentworth, she married Captain Samuel Warner (August 21, 1737- September 10, 1771; Jonathan Warner's brother) on October 8, 1761.  She was twenty two and Captain Warner was twenty four; he died a decade later when she was thirty two. The mother of Elizabeth Warner Sherburne, Elizabeth Wentworth Warner died at 54/55 years of age.

Without a fuller biographical account, it is difficult to “read” Elizabeth’s shoes. They were clearly stylish when new with a pointed toe and tongue, richly patterned brocade silk of a foliate pattern of predominate pink, green and earth tones, and a heel of about 1.5 to 2 inches in height. They would have required a buckle for closure.

At some point, most likely during Elizabeth’s life given the nature of the alterations, the original heel was apparently cut down transforming it into a flat or a slipper.  The sole appears original, has no rand, and is of a substantial leather.  However, the inner sole (or lining) is of a heavy leather that does not appear to fit the interior of the shoe well.  The existing heel seems to be covered (somewhat sloppily) with a solid portion of the brocaded silk that covers the rest of the shoe. Women frequently altered their shoes to keep up with the trends of the day, so the transformation of a heeled shoe into a flat would make sense given the transition into the Neoclassical style, which embraced a low slipper-type shoe. 

If one examines the shoes from the back, however, it is apparent that the owner had a distinctive gait which caused specific wear and tear on the shoes. Perhaps the shoes were cut down for comfort by a local cobbler and then restitched; perhaps Elizabeth had an ailment which caused her overpronation. 

At this time, the records are silent.

The author thanks Tara Vose and Carolyn Roy, of the Warner House Board and Curatorial Committee 
For further information, see Joyce G. Volk, ed. The Warner House: A Rich and Colorful History, 2006.

Images courtesy of The Warner House
Accession Number 1949 2a and 2 b.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Great Coat & Small Clothes: The 1825 Inventory of Gen. John Montgomery

There is no denying it: General John Montgomery (1764-1825) was a wealthy man. He first arrived in Haverhill, NH. from Londonderry, NH. as a trader; by the time of his death in 1825, he was one of the wealthiest and most highly regarded citizens of this significant North Country town, with the esteemed "esq." appended to his name. Distinguished for his business acumen as well as his leadership during the War of 1812, the survival of his highly detailed probate inventory is a true find.

Extracts from the probate inventory will posted on these pages periodically. The focus here will be on his clothing, meticulously listed in the 12 page document of a total estate valued at $2,901.93.

1 Military coat, 2 vests & pantaloons          10.50 
1 Overcoat                                                      4.00

1 Coat                                                             2.50
1 silk vest .50 & small clothes .25                   .75
1 Great coat and cape                                      .50
2 Linnen shirts                                               4.00
1 Silk umbrella                                              2.00

                              1 Military bridle & saddle                             7.50
Side saddle                                                     6.00
1 Military sash                                              10.00    

Miscellaneous found throughout
the house and outbuildings:
1 silver watch & gold chain                        18.50
1 Gun                                                             3.00
1 bathing tub                                                    .50
2 old pocket books                                           .34

There were numerous looking glasses, dressing and toilet tables, hairbrushes and "snuff flasks."

Most of the General's personal clothing items were listed in the "North Front Chamber" leading one to speculate that that was his chamber; while the bridles and saddles were listed in the Dining Room. Not surprisingly, the North and South Front rooms contained the most costly furnishings while the Back South "parlour" held the library, two family armorials, serving dishes, trays and so on. 

The contents of his store, library and chambers will be featured in future posts.

1. A page from the 1793 Montgomery Store Daybook, September 2. View of the Montgomery House and store, c. early 1790s
3. View of the Montgomery Store with mid-19th century alterations

Thank you to the Haverhill Historical Society and to the current homeowners for making materials accessible to the author.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What the Bride Wore: Timeless Elegance of Claire Pettibone

We have been following LA-based Claire Pettibone’s work since 2010, when her “Emma” line caught our eye in preparation for a museum exhibition.  Ms. Pettibone’s “Emma” was a natural link with the white, diaphanous Neoclassical gowns found in Numerous historic costume collections or on vintage clothing sites. Many of us associate this elegant style with the writings of Jane Austen, brought to life in the recent, painstakingly researched fashions for film.
After reviewing her recent 2012 Windsor Rose China line, we were again impressed with her ability to draw inspiration from an earlier era and transform it into our own.
A personal favorite is “Deauville.” Ms. Pettibone’s own description sums up her knowledge of the period (in this case, the 1920s): cut, style, materials and finishing. 

Claire Pettibone, Fall 2012:
“Gold embroidery on fine ivory tulle over a sumptuous pearl silk charmeuse wedding dress accented with gold guipure embellished drop waist, shoulders and neckline.
My grandmother was quite the 1920’s bohemian…her first husband was a rum-runner during prohibition, and was mysteriously killed in a “motorcycle” accident. She never talked about him, and I was a grown woman when my mom shared the scandal that my grandpa (her father) was not grandma’s first love.

I’ve been thinking about Anna Mae, and looking at the photos of her second wedding that we all thought was her first. She wore a beautiful mauve scalloped silk dress with a velvet sash at the hip, round spectacles and stylish Mary Jane’s. Grandma has long passed, but I have her wedding dress, the intricate embroidered linens she made by hand, her gold rimmed china with delicate painted roses…and a good dose of her free spirit.

The sweet and simple details of our heirlooms: lace linens, golden lockets, fine china, don’t they make lovely inspiration for a wedding dress?”

Don't forget to check out her singularly stunning lingerie collection!

Claire Pettibone - Couture Bridal l Wedding Dresses, Bridal Gowns, Fashion Designer, Veils, Accessories

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