Artifact Corner: Umbrella

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at an absolutely stunning umbrella. This piece likely dates to the early part of the 19th Century. It is made from multiple materials. The canopy is made of silk, the shaft is made of wood, the ribs are made of steel, the handle is made of brass and ivory. The ferrule, or the tip of the umbrella is also made of brass that has an engraved design on it. The handle has a name engraved in the ivory, Matthew Lane, who appears to hail from Troy, NY. We do not know who Matthew is, or why his umbrella ended up in our collections, but I’ll talk about that more in a bit. First let’s learn a bit more about umbrellas.

The English word “umbrella” comes from the Italian word “ombrella”, which traces its origins from the Latin word “umbella”, which is then derived from “umbra”. These Latin terms translate to shade or shadow. Like the word “parasol”, which is a combination of the French words “parare” and “sol” to mean “shield from the sun”, the umbrella was originally used to give oneself shade from the heat of the sun. Almost every ancient culture had umbrellas. Ancient Egyptians made umbrellas out of palm fronds, feathers, and stretched papyrus. In Mesopotamia, a similar picture is painted by artifacts from around the same period. Hindu culture assigns great importance to the umbrella with the chatra, a symbol in Hinduism closely connected to divinity and fortune. China made use of umbrellas and parasols as protection from both the sun and rain, but this practice was also con ned to the upper classes. Women in both Ancient Greece and Rome had parasols to protect them from the sun, but they were also a sought after fashion accessory. Records of umbrellas in Europe’s Middle Ages are extremely rare. Cloaks were the oft-cited instrument that medieval European people used to cover themselves when caught out in the rain. Umbrellas came back into fashion in Europe around the 16th Century. They were mostly used by women, until the mid to late 18th Century, when men started to adopt the practice of carrying one.

So, who is Matthew Lane, and why do we have his umbrella? Well, property records indicate that a Matthew Lane was selling, leasing, and buying a lot of property in Rensselaer County and Clinton County NY in the 1830’s. So, he seems to be a mover and shaker in the Albany area as well as up in our neck of woods in the 1830’s. If our research is correct, Matthew Lane’s father was a Revolutionary War veteran, and a very prominent businessman in Troy from the late 1700’s. So, Matthew and his family would have been well known in the area from the 1790’s through the 1860’s and 70’s. In 1832 our Frances Henrietta Delord was being courted and then married prominent businessman and Albany resident Henry Webb. Did they connect at a party perhaps, and he gifted them this umbrella on a rainy night? Did they somehow all meet in Plattsburgh at a social gathering? We simply have no records of it, so the umbrella’s history is still shrouded in mystery.

This umbrella is in good condition given it’s age and likely use. The silk has torn in some spots, most typically the wear spots on the piece, but the mechanical aspects still work. The handle, ribs and shaft are all in good condition. This is a truly stunning piece and we are so lucky to have it in collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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