Monday, September 12, 2022

A Pair of Silk Satin Shoes by Francis Jacobs, c. 1840s

According to a paper label adhered to one of his shoes, Francis Jacobs was a mid-19th century ladies shoemaker, with shops at 32 Rue de la Paix, Paris, and 179 Regent Street, London. He counted members of royalty among his clients.

Selected as participant in several European expositions, Jacobs was known for the grace and comfort of his Ladies boots. In 1842, worked with noted physicians inventing a system to help strengthen and straighten the ankles of children. Called the "Contreforte." the boots were made to secure the child's foot without causing discomfort or restricting their movements. 

The silk satin shoes shown here are no doubt examples of Jacobs more common production. They have thin narrow leather soles, and one shoe features a paper label. The shoes were purchased from Finn Wicks Costume, and, in the sale lot, there were two dresses which indicated that the owner/wearer of the shoes was Hanah Elizabeth [Holmes] Woodward (born 1813-died 1849). 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Olivia Emeline Lane Dresses, c.1827-1835: Hand Sewn in Stratham, NH

 Olivia Emeline Lane Dresses, c.1827-1835, Stratham, NH 

I recently spent time trying to untangle some of the storyline and chronology for a box of Lane family textiles housed at the Stratham Historical Society, Stratham, NH.[i] The memories and names mentioned in aging handwritten labels seemed in need of clarification. After pondering the various and somewhat cryptic notes and using a variety of online and published sources, I am fairly comfortable with the identity of the wearer of these two charming child’s dresses and their maker: the dresses were worn by Olivia Emeline Lane (14 November 1825- 4 September 1905) and made by her mother, Hannah French Lane (1802-1841).

The two dresses exhibit design details found in dresses c.1825-1830s throughout New England and would be perfect for a child of three to seven or eight years of age, depending on size. Both dresses are entirely hand sewn, with high waists and bodice and sleeve flourishes. Simple drawstrings and buttons serve as back closures. 

One features diminutive Van Dyck trim and a very skillful mending on the sleeve. 

According to the family notes that accompany the garments, the textiles for the dresses were spun and woven by Olivia’s mother, Hannah. Close inspection of the fabric reveals slight imperfections and slubs indicative of home weaving. The likelihood that the material was homespun is furthered by the fact that Hannah was married to Charles Lane (1796-1884). Charles was a son of Jabez Lane and the couple likely lived in his father’s house. Jabez’s father was none other than the renowned New Hampshire shoemaker, Deacon Samuel Lane. Thanks to the work of scholar Jerald Brown and the efforts of the Lane family to preserve their family papers (housed at the New Hampshire Historical Society), we know that female members of Samuel Lane’s household produced flax and wove high quality linen.
[ii] Their work was in demand at various market days. It is not unlikely that later generations retained the tradition, and perhaps the workspace.

After Hannah's death in 1841, Charles remarried. His second wife was Elizabeth Berry Lane, and it appears that her descendants preserved these very special items, as well as a ‘best bonnet’.  

[i] The Lane dresses are housed at the Stratham Historical Society, in Stratham, NH. For information, see Stratham Historical Society at

The author thanks Andra Copeland, Skip Stearns, Bruce Kerr and Teddie Smith of the Stratham Historical Society for their assistance throughout the summer of 2022.

[ii] For a guide to the Lane Family Papers at the New Hampshire Historical Society, see:

For a comprehensive account of Samuel Lane, see Brown, J. E., & Garvin, D.-B.. The Years of the Life of Samuel Lane, 1718-1806: A New Hampshire Man and His World. (Univ. Press of New England, 2000).  For an account of Lane and additional 18th century New England shoemakers and their business, see Alexander, K., Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Found in Collections-Old York Historical Society

Found in Collections:

A little fashion myth busting - not all women had small feet. Museum and family collections are skewed toward small sizes for a wide variety of reasons but careful research and observation tells a more balanced story. For example, here, a woman’s roughly size 10 to 10.5 (by current American sizing) dancing slipper in the classical ‘sandal’ style, was worn c1820s in Maine. Green kid leather and silk, with silk ribbon ties from the collection of Old York Historical Society. 

Thank you to Peggy Wishart, Collections Manager, Old York. 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

“I have labored very hard to keep up courage....": Logbook Entries From An Unidentified Female Hand


This summer, I have been researching account books, day books, ledgers and logbooks at the Phillips Library and found the following of interest. The first part of the log is from a logbook kept from Boston to Havana on the Bark Altorf with Captain Snelling, 1845-46.


Then, at the back of the logbook is an earlier journey from Boston to New Orleans on the Ship Victoria. This voyage begins in 1839 on Sunday 20 January and the log entries are written by an as yet unidentified female hand, possibly the ship captain's wife or the first mate's wife. [Ship Captain’s Wife’s Logbook/Journal 1839, Log 1145, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum] Typically throughout the day or watch, she records the weather, the wind, the sea swells and any unusual occurrences as one would find in comparable logs. There are many unanswered questions about the author of this portion of the logbook but what caught my interest was the uncommon role an unnamed female played in the trip. Three days into the voyage, on Wednesday 23 January, she expresses her fears as she confides:


“I have labored very hard to keep up courage so that I may not be laughed at. We have had very bad weather.[sic] Since I left my dear sweet home.” 


It has been fascinating to follow her through terrible seasickness [“I cared not if I lived or died”] to feeling hale and hearty [“everything tastes good even the salted beef” she reported on Sunday 10th of February]. In addition to gaining her sea legs, she eventually feels comfortable above deck knitting, mending, drinking tea or reading her Bible.


I’m not sure what I will be doing with entries such as this, but it does help me with understanding a wider range of female authorship and voice, which is the current focus of my next two book projects, one set in the late 18th century and the other, in the early 19th.