Thursday, March 27, 2014

"My Party Dress:" Mrs. Eddy Visits the House of Pingat, 1878

This sumptuous Victorian silk brocade and silk satin dinner dress by the House of Pingat was purchased in Paris by Mrs. Augustus Newland Eddy (Abbie Louise Spencer, 1850-1909) while traveling with her father in 1878. According to the donor’s family, Mrs. Eddy wore this dress for a portrait painted by G.P.A. Healy. One can only imagine how she felt being painted wearing such a grand dress! (From the Chicago History Museum Collections, more here)

In addition to the survival of her dress, we can also glean something of her knowledge of French haute couture based on entries in her travel log or daybook. Indeed, she referred to this as her “party dress.” Her account also indicates a substantial amount of time was spent shopping not only for herself but others, including Chicagoan Mrs. Marshall Field.
September 13: Arrived in Paris at noon…. Ordered Dell’s [Mrs. Arthur Caton] black dress and Arthur’s suit. 
September 14: To Pingat. Ordered Mrs. F’s dress [Mrs. Marshall Field], Dell’s cloak and mine. To Grange & Majantus. Ordered my bronze dress.  
          September 16: Ordered Dell’s blue dress.
September 17: Ordered my party dress. Bought corsets, shoes…

A photo of Mrs. Eddy with her husband and son, wearing her Pingat dress survives, in addition to the Healy painting.

As noted by the Chicago Historical Museum: Abbie was "the wife of Augustus Newland Eddy, a manufacturer and merchant who later became a member of the Chicago Stock Exchange, she enjoyed traveling abroad and after 1900 made annual trips to Europe. Mrs. Eddy favored French fashions and became highly knowledgeable about the dressmakers and shops in Paris. In addition to her donations of European couture, the Chicago History Museum has many of Mrs. Eddy’s journals and scrapbooks which speak of her visits to Europe’s leading houses of couture. Eventually, many of her friends turned to her for advice on where to shop while in Europe, and Mrs. Eddy would often suggest the houses of Worth, Pingat, Virot, and Doucet."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Perfect New England Pairing: Printed Gown and Quilted Petticoat, 1760s+

Exhibit highlights "From the Elegant to the Everyday: 200 Years of Fashion in Northern New England" at the Saco Museum
Gown, 1770-1790
probably Portsmouth, NH
printed cotton, linen
Warner House Association, Gift of Charles Sherburne Penhallow

When this gown was made, printed cotton fabric was considered a luxury and
was highly fashionable-only a fine silk would have been more costly and
desirable.  The printed design was achieved using a separate wooden block
engraved with the pattern for each color.  During the 18th century, there
was no workable solid green dye-the only way to make green was to print blue
on top of yellow.  If you look closely, you can see where the two colors did
not line up exactly in the printing process, and a bit of the blue or yellow
is visible along the edges of some of the motifs.  The original petticoat
for this gown may have been either of the same printed fabric, or of a
contrasting solid color like this quilted example.

Quilted petticoat, 1760-1800
England or New England
silk quilted to a worsted backing, woolen batting, linen waistband
Warner House Association

Quilted petticoats were available ready-made in the 18th century, although
women did make their own at home as well.  The product of professional
quilting shops in England, many local milliners would have stocked them for
their clientele.  The silk exterior made them fashionable garments, but the
wool batting and backing made them warm, which was particularly appealing
during cold New England winters.  They first became stylish in England in
the mid-18th century, but women in chilly climates continued to wear them
into the early 19th century.  This petticoat is quilted in a pattern of a
meandering floral vine.

Guest Blogger, Tara Vose Raiselis
Museum Director & Exhibit Curator
Dyer Library/Saco Museum

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Revolutionary War Patriot Samuel Cutts and His 1780s Suit

A fine, trim suit worn by Revolutionary war patriot, Samuel Cutts (1726-1801) c. 1780s, will be on view at the Saco Museum, Saco, Maine, from 14 March – 6 May 2014. The narrow cut of the blue silk coat with matching buttons reveals an elaborate silk brocade waistcoat beneath, sporting tiny brass buttons. The fabric for the coat was most likely English but cut and tailored in New England/New Hampshire, while the vest was probably pieced together from a kit. The slim cut of the breeches underscore that this was not the garb of a man involved in physical labor. The ensemble emphasized a lean silhouette with shallow pockets or artificial flaps, all serving to eliminate bulk. There are no coat skirts or extraneous material.

His later ensemble on view at Saco, provides valuable contrast to the suit in which he is depicted two decades earlier (c. 1763) in a painting by Joseph Blackburn at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One would not surmise that Cutts would “become something of a hero among local radicals” just a decade hence. [1]
Cutts, of Portsmouth's Committee on Safety, greeted Paul Revere at the conclusion of what is frequently considered his “other” ride at Stoodley’s Tavern in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Revere’s ride on 13th December 1774 along the Boston Post Road was cold, icy and dark. Occurring months before his more legendary ride on April 18, 1775  Revere road to warn the citizens of New Hampshire of a potential British troop landing. With a tad more aggression, Revere's "Portsmouth Alarm" could well have ignited an earlier start to the American Revolution. The ensuing raid on Fort William and Mary by the seacoast area militia, is still considered by many as the initial strike of the battle for independence.
As noted by Revolutionary War authority J.L. Bell “ If we want to spotlight the moment when the political conflict in New England turned military, then we might want to look at the shots fired at Fort William & Mary at New Castle near Portsmouth in December 1774. Nobody was killed there, but that confrontation got closer to being fatal than the Salem raid [referring to what is popularly known as Leslie’s Retreat].” [2]

The suit is on loan from Strawbery Banke Museum ( The mannequin was created by Astrida Schaeffer of Schaeffer Arts (

[1] For detailed account of the Portsmouth Alarm, see Thomas F. Kehr

[2] For more on the American Revolution and pivotal moments, see J.L. Bell

For an overview, see

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Single Shoe by Georgian Cordwainer James Davis, c. 1760s

This c. 1760s white silk shoe is labeled James Davis, Shoe Maker, near Aldgate, London. Numerous elegant examples of Georgian shoes by James Davis alone, and in partnership with Thomas Ridout, are found in North American collections including those at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, The Warner House, Historic Deerfield and Strawbery Banke Museum. The images here are all from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession #1976.96.1

This particular shoe may have been a wedding shoe. It reflects the transition from the earlier Rococo to the Neoclassical. The smooth silk provides the perfect ground for bright floral flourishes at key visual points – toe and heel. Measuring 9 inches (22.9 com) from heel to toe, they would be roughly equivalent to a women’s size 6.5 (USA), 4.5 (UK) or 37 (EUR) today. In other words, these could be worn today. When I look at the shoe, I imagine the pair as they were originally, but a close look will reveal a fragile state: in several places, the silk is abraded and shattered, and threads are unraveling. If you look closely at the downturned tongue in the third image, you will note many small pinholes resulting from the use of buckles.

 James Davis and Thomas Ridout, affixed labels to their shoes by the mid-18th century. The label notes that the shop location was near Aldgate, located within the heart of the Ward of the Cordwainer. Indeed, Ridout and Davis were probably at the height of their production, when, in 1763, the late Medieval Aldgate was taken down.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Exhibit: From the Elegant to the Everyday: 200 Years of Fashion in Northern New England

Please join us for the opening of  
From the Elegant to the Everyday: 200 Years of Fashion in Northern New England
 14 March 2014, 5:30

Curated by Saco Museum Director, Tara Vose Raiselis, the garments and accessories are drawn from the collection of the Saco Museum
as well as other institutions in Maine and New Hampshire. 

An exhibition of over 50 costumes will focus on the clothing worn by the inhabitants of northern New England from the 18th through the 20th centuries. It will include not only examples of "best" dress, but also items of everyday clothing. Fashionable attire was not confined to just special occasion garments or the clothing of the elite; even ordinary clothes reflected the current style of their day. In addition to outerwear such as 18th-century cloaks, ladies' gowns of the 19th century, and 20th-century men's suits and military uniforms, there were be a wide variety of accessories on view as well.

For more