Artifact Corner: Ink and Inkwells

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at two ink wells from the 19th Century. These two pieces would be considered traveling ink wells given their small size. They would be easy to pack and travel with. Both are made of dark hardwoods. The first is made of walnut, with a glass liner to hold the ink. The second is also a dark hardwood, with a mother of pearl disc set in the center of the topper. The second one is missing the glass lining on the interior. This is unsurprising, as the glass liners can often fall out and break. Let’s take a look at the fascinating history of ink!

So, what is ink? Ink is made by taking something to create the color, and mixing it with an oil that would allow the color to blend nicely and adhere to the surface that was being written on. Ink for writing was developed by both the Egyptians and the Chinese at roughly the same time, about 4,500 years ago. The Egyptians would make their ink by blending charcoal with a type of oil. This is why most inks you see from this time period were black in color. Most Egyptian writings have black text for the body of the document, with red ink for the headers or key words. Charcoal and other carbon based inks were inexpensive to make, and made them fairly accessible. Other colors were harder to come by, and therefore used sparingly. The Egyptians used reeds that they carved a stylus on the end of as their pens. The Chinese also used carbon based dyes. They typically mixed the dye with an animal glue and sometimes even added incense or other scents to the ink. The mixture would be dried into sticks. Some of these sticks could be elaborately decorated, as we see here. The stick would be ground against an ink stone, and then a small amount of water would be mixed into it. The ink would then be applied to paper with an ink brush.

By the Middle Ages, the scribes and scholars were looking for ways to improve the ink they used. In this time there were dozens of recipes for what was known as iron gall ink. An iron gall is formed when a gall wasp lays it’s eggs in the bud of an oak tree. A round gall will form around larva, and when the wasp is ready, it will bore a hole in the gall and fly away. The gall is now ready for harvesting. The gall contains tannic acid which when combined with iron sulfate creates a strong black pigment. The only downside to this ink is that is is corrosive, and over time can eat through the paper it is written on. If you’d like to try your hand at making gall ink here is a 13th Century recipe for ink made with gall nuts:

Preparation time: Approximately three days.
1. Take a pot and fill it with eight pounds of rainwater.
2. Add half a pound of small gallnuts and crush them.
3. Put the pot on the fire and boil until the water with the gallnuts is reduced by half.
4. Take three ounces of gum arabic and grind it.
5. Add the gum to the mixture.
6. Boil until reduced by half again and remove the pot from the fire.
7. In a separate pot, take four ounces of vitriol and one pound of warm wine and mix them.
8. Add the mixture little by little to the ink while stirring.
9. Leave to rest for two days.
10. After the two days, stir the ink everyday four times with a stick.

Modern inks have actually transitioned a bit back to it’s early roots. Today the primary pigmentation is also a carbon (or soot) based colorant. Unlike the earliest inks, today we have a bunch of additives in the ink we use, including drying agents. Our ink wells are in very good condition. The wood has developed a nice patina from being handled for over one hundred years. We are so lucky to have these beautiful pieces in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 35 – Chickering Piano

Hi Everyone and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at this beautiful square grand piano, made by Chickering & Co. A former museum director in the 1950’s reached out to the Chickering Company to see if they could gather more information on the piano’s origin. They sent the company the serial number on the piano, and the information that Chickering provided was very detailed. The response stated, “was finished and left the Chickering Factory June 17th, 1835, delivered to Jonathan Chapman at #52 Chestnut Street, Boston. The price paid was $400.00.” Jonathan Chapman owned a piano store, and this lovely square grand piano was purchased by John Webb. John was Henry Webb’s brother and the Uncle of Fannie Webb Hall. He bought this piano as a gift for his niece, Fannie. Let’s learn a bit more about the Chickering Company, and the design of the square piano.

The Chickering piano company was founded by Jonas Chickering and James Stewart in Boston, Massachusetts in 1823. In less than 10 years the partnership with Stewart was dissolved, and Jonas Chickering partnered with John Mackay. Mackay was a ships captain, and he helped to export their pianos to South America. In his return trips he brought back stunning South American hardwoods for use in the manufacture of the pianos. Their partnership ended in 1841 when Mackay and his ship were lost at sea. Jonas Chickering brought his three sons into his business in 1852, and less than a year later, Jonas Chickering died. From 1853 onward Jonas’ three sons ran the company which was now known as Chickering and Sons.

Chickering was America’s first piano manufacturer. Prior to Chickering, all piano’s were imported to the United States. Chickering’s pianos became the standard by which all other pianos made in the United States were judged against. In 1850, famed showman P.T. Barnum contracted Chickering to make a piano for a concert that he was planning. Barnum persuaded Jenny Kind, known as the Swedish Nightingale to preform across the US, and her accompaniment was to be a Chickering piano. In the audience for the concert in NYC was Henry E. Steinway, recently arrived in America from Germany. Steinway paid little attention to Jenny Lind, the star of the show, and instead went directly to the piano. He was studying it so intently that he needed to be removed from the stage so that the performance could begin. Steinway was mesmerized by the beauty and quality of the instrument, and thus a rivalry was born. Steinway became Chickering’s biggest competition for piano manufacture and sales.

Our piano is known as a square grand piano. These pianos were also called coffin pianos due to their similarity when the lid was closed. These pianos were good for producing a big sound, but being small enough to fit into most homes.The strings in our piano run parallel to the keyboard as opposed to perpendicular like most modern pianos. The sound that is produced is softer and a bit more muddy than a modern grand piano. Unfortunately, our piano is not able to be played. The soundboard has a large crack in it, rendering it unusable without restoration. Our piece is a beautiful example of the earliest American pianos, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 34 – Annual Register

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a very special book. This is the Williams’s New York Annual Register for 1831. This book has a leather spine, and a printed paper over board cover. The leather spine of the book is tooled and lettered in gilt. The book was printed by Jonathan Seymour, a fairly well known printer in New York City. This book is in quite good condition even though it’s almost two hundred years old. Let’s explore a bit more about the New York Annual Register.

The New York Annual Register was designed to be a guide for people of business in the 19th Century. In a newspaper advertisement from 1836, the sellers boasted that, “It is a work of general reference. The professional man constantly requires it, the man of business should never be without it, and to the statesman and political economist, desirous of procuring correct data, it is invaluable.” This book contains a myriad of subjects from civil and judicial appointments, agricultural forecast, land valuations, town and village populations, merchant locations, and advertisements, just to name a few. In the same newspaper advertisement it claims to inform the reader of “the names, Masters, &c. Of packet ships owned in the city of New York, steamboats employed on the North and East Rivers, Long Island Sound, and the lakes; with other useful information not contained in previous volumes.” The book also contained historical facts. You can see at the bottom of this page that it says, “Oct. 1, 1807 First successful application of steam to the purpose of navigation, in a voyage from N. York to Albany, by Robt. Fulton, in the Steamboat Clermont.” We’ve done another artifact corner video on Fulton if you’d like to learn a bit more about him and his steamboats.

This particular book was owned by Henry Webb, the husband of Frances Henrietta Delord Webb. Henry Webb and his family were merchants. Henry specialized in crockery, porcelain wares, and home goods. He had a store on State Street in Albany in the 1830’s and 1840’s. In the 1830’s there was just as much of a desire for goods from around the world as there is today. In order to get goods from around the world, he needed to know other merchants, ships masters, etc. This book would have proved to be very useful for a store owner in the 1830’s. The book also provided the total revenues from not only New York State, but also the country as a whole. This information was important for predicting economic downturns, or shifts in foreign and domestic imports and exports.

We are very fortunate that today, if we have a question, we can simply look it up online. Our predecessors did not have that luxury. This book was a valuable source of information on a large variety of topics, all in one place. While I have not been able to find what the price was for the 1831 volume that we have in our collections the cost for the 400 page volume that was published in 1836 was $1.50, which is about $45 today. Given the amount of data that needed to be collected for this book, I think that’s a very fair price. This is a fantastic book that gives us a really in depth look at the state of business in the early 1830’s. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot

Artifact Corner: Episode 33 – Fanoline

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. March is Women’s History month, and to commemorate that, we will be spending this entire month focused on the stories of women. Today’s artifact is a medicinal product created by the last member of our family to live in our home, Fannie Webb Hall. Let’s explore Fannie’s life, and her invention, Fanoline.

Frances Delord Webb was born in Albany on the 11th of February, 1834. She was a healthy and happy baby girl. Sadly, her birth was extremely difficult for her mother, also named Frances. Fannie’s mother contracted child bed fever, and less than a month after Fannie’s birth, her mother passed away. Her father Henry, now a widower, decided that it would be best for Fannie to spend the first few years of her life with her grandmother, Betsey. Fannie’s early childhood was spent in Plattsburgh, being dotted upon by her loving grandmother. At the age of four, Fannie moved to CT with her Aunt to start her formal education. Her father wanted only the best for his young daughter. Fannie’s upbringing stressed service, caring, and devotion to faith, which was common for young women in the mid 1800’s. She was a good student and an avid reader. She continued to visit her grandmother in Plattsburgh, but not as often as Betsey would like.

On October 12, 1846, Fannie’s father Henry passed away at the age of just 51. Fannie writes to her Grandmother about the loss of her dad stating: “I am left an orphan. But I have many kind friends who I know love me. But no one can fill a father’s place.” This, coupled with the loss of her mother must have effected Fannie deeply. Thankfully her Aunt and Grandmother did their best to console Fannie, and she grew into a compassionate and intelligent woman. Frances completed five years at Hartford Female Seminary, and then another year in Philadelphia at a French finishing school. It was around this time that she met her future husband, Frank Hall. Frank was in seminary school, and the young couple had to wait three years before Frank graduated and they could be wed. On May 14, 1856 the two were married in Hartford, CT.

In the subsequent years, Frank and Fannie endured many trials. Frank served as a chaplain in the Civil War, leaving Fannie on her own. By 1863, Frank and Fannie had moved to Plattsburgh. Fannie cared for Betsey and her step father William in their final years. William passed away in January of 1864, and her beloved grandmother Betsey died on May 23, 1870. Now, Fannie focused on making herself useful to the residents of the city of Plattsburgh. Fannie studied medical books extensively. She devoured all of the latest medical texts, and used that information to help the less fortunate of the city. She opened a section of the home up to the public, and treated those who could not afford to go to a doctor. She never charged for her services, and was always willing to help anyone in need. It was her interest in medicine, and philanthropy that lead to her creating Fanoline.

So, what is Fanoline? Fanoline is a kind of all purpose ointment meant to soothe skin irritation. On the back of the container it states that this can be used to treat, “Eczema, Fever-sores, Piles, Burns, Corns, Sore eyes, Chapped hands and lips,” just to name a few. It also boasted to be an antiseptic, and could be applied to wounds before bandaging. Like many things in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period, this was touted to be a multipurpose product. Some of the ingredients include Spermaceti (which is a whale oil), paraffin wax, and almond extract. Fannie and Frank created Fanoline, and produced it in their home. It was marketed from 1890 to 1900, and sold well throughout Upstate NY and all of New England. A 25 oz container of Fanoline sold for just 25 cents.

Fannie cared deeply about helping people. Her creation of Fanoline was an extension of her desire to ease pain, and better the lives of those around her. She continued to care for her fellow neighbors and friends until her death on October 4, 1913. Fannie devoted her life to the service of others, and in doing so, left a legacy of selflessness and care. We are so lucky to still have some remaining boxes of Fanoline, a testament to a remarkable woman. Thanks for spending March with us, and learning about some of the professions and individual women that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 32 – Portrait of Mehitable

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. March is Women’s History month, and to commemorate that, we will be spending this entire month focused on the stories of women. The artifact that we will be looking at today is a very special portrait of a woman in our extended family. This is a portrait of Mehitable Nott Webb Deane, painted in 1767 by artist William Johnstone. Mehitable was the mother of Jospeh Webb, Jr., who was the father of Henry Webb. Henry Webb married our Frances Henrietta Delord, and their daughter, Fannie Webb Hall was the last member of our family to live in the house. In this portrait, we see Mehitable with her son, Jesse, who is aged about two years. Mehitable is wearing a glorious gown, most likely made of silk, in a rich earth tone. You can see how the artist has used shading to suggest the sheen of the fabric, and the beautiful draping in the skirt. Let’s learn a bit more about Mehitable and her life.

Mehitable was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1732. Wethersfield was founded in 1634 by a group of puritan men, and quickly grew to be a commercial and shipping hub in New England. Mehitable’s father was a sea captain, involved in trade in the British colonies. The other major industry in Wethersfield in the 1730’s was the growing of red onions. A common saying at the time was that you could “smell Wetherfield before you could see it.” This was the town Mehitable was born into. In 1749 she married a prosperous merchant named Joseph Webb, Sr. They built a large and beautiful house in 1752, and settled into married life. Mehitable gave birth to six children, three boys and three girls. Sadly, in 1761, after 12 years of marriage, Joseph died at the age of 34. Mehitable was now alone with six children to care for.

Life for a single mother in the 18th Century was challenging to say the least. Mehitable continued raising her six children, and kept the home and family business running. Mehitable contracted the services of a lawyer to help her manage the family affairs named Silas Deane. Deane was new to Wethersfield, and an ambitious young man. Two years after Joseph’s passing, Mehitable and Silas Deane were married. A year after they were married, Mehitable gave birth to their first child together, a boy named Jesse. And now we arrive back at the portrait of Mehitable. There is a story behind this painting, that is not only intriguing, but also quite sad.
How much of this story is fact and how much is fiction is hard to fully know. But the legend that has been passed down with this painting is compelling. The story is as follows:

Mehitable and her new husband, Silas, commissioned portraits by William Johnstone. Silas’s painting was completed and Mehitable’s was not. As Johnstone was working on Mehitable’s portrait, she was consistently losing weight, and becoming more gaunt. Mehitable was dying of consumption, or tuberculosis. One of the tell tale signs of this disease was dramatic weight loss. You can see the halo around her face, and the legend states that this was because every time Johnstone had Mehitable sit for him, he would have to repaint her face due to her weight loss. Johnstone never finished this portrait of Mehitable. She likely passed away before he was able to complete it, and Mehitable’s portrait was tucked away, until it was passed down to her great granddaughter, Fannie Webb Hall. Fannie and her husband moved into our home in Plattsburgh, and Mehitable’s portrait came to live in Plattsburgh.

Mehitable died in 1767, at the age of just 35. She left behind seven children. Her eldest child was 18, and her youngest was just 3 at the time of her death. Her eldest son went on to fight in the American Revolution, and was George Washington’s aide-de-camp. Her children and grandchildren went on to be well educated and successful members of early American life who moved in very influential circles. This is a very large and impressive portrait for the time. This piece is in fantastic condition, and a prized artifact in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 31 – Butter Churn

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. March is Women’s History month, and to commemorate that, we will be spending this entire month focused on the stories of women. Our artifact this week is something that would have been in almost every home for hundreds of years, a butter churn. Our butter churn is made by the Haxstun Ottman Company from Fort Edward, NY. This piece of pottery is easily date-able, because the Haxstun Ottoman Company only lasted for five years, from 1867 to 1872. It is a stone glazed jug with a wooden lid and plunger for agitating the cream. Let’s take a look at the making of butter, and women’s roles in processing raw materials.

Life on a farm was very hard work. The divisions of labor meant that women were almost always responsible for making food for the family. While today we can simply go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients needed to make dinner, a woman two hundred years ago had a much harder time putting dinner on the table. One of the many tasks that fell to women was the making of butter. Milk and cream are very perishable items, especially when you have no system of refrigeration. Turning the cream into butter and meant it could last longer in your families larder. When making butter, you will add salt, which is a natural preservative.

So, how does one turn cream into butter? Making butter requires a little bit of preparation. First and foremost, your churn and any other tools you will be using must be clean. To clean your butter churn, you can make a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water. Scrub your churn thoroughly. The cream that you will be turning to butter needs to be at room temperature, between 55 to 65 degrees. If the temperature is too high, the butter will be loose and not separate fully from the buttermilk. Once your churn is clean, and your cream is up to temperature, it’s time to start churning. Do not fill up your churn more than 2/3’s full, because your butter will fluff up a bit in the churn. The average time to churn butter is about 30 minutes of nonstop and rapid motion, which can be very tiring for the person churning it.

Once the butter has become firm, it is important to rinse the butter. The butter should be placed in a bowl and stirred in cold water, repeating this process until the water remains clear. This removes any remaining buttermilk, which can cause the butter to spoil more easily. Now you can place your butter in a mold or any other small container. Butter can last as long as two weeks without refrigeration, as long as it is kept in a cool place. It was often consumed before it had the opportunity to go bad.

Women would churn butter, make bread, make beer, and all of the other staples of life on a regular basis. Each of these processes was time consuming and labor intensive, but utterly necessary for keeping the family running. You too can churn your own butter today, but it would be much easier to use a modern stand mixer. Our butter churn is in lovely condition, with beautiful hand painted blue foliage on the side. It hearkens back to a time when a woman work feeding her family, was never fully done. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 30 – Servant’s Bell

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. March is Women’s History month, and to commemorate that, we will be spending this entire month focused on the stories of women. Today we will be looking at an industry that employed more than half of working women in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the domestic service industry. Our artifact for this week is a brass Victorian table top service bell. There is a floral motif on the base of the service bell, and there is a push lever with a spring wrapped hinge that allows the bell to ring. This bell would have been rung to summon a servant or caretaker. Let’s take a look at what life was like for women in the service industry in the 19th and very early 20th Centuries.

Throughout history, women have tended to the needs of homes and families. Today’s arrangement of women holding down full time jobs, raising a family, and tending to the home are an absolute historical anomaly. Even the impoverished characters in historical literature had their domestic help, and would not have been expected to clean their own homes. People with even small means would have domestic servants. This was made possible by the abundant number of unskilled laborers in the US during this time. Even someone with little to no education, such as women and children, could become a domestic servant. For the people joining this workforce, there were no guidelines or protections for employees. In 1912 a domestic servant with decades of experience in the industry anonymously published an account of life as “hired help.” She writes;

“There is often no Sunday out until after four and no evening out until after eight. Foreign girls do not go into housework for this reason. They prefer the fixed hours of factory and shop work. Ladies are sometimes not honest in money matters concerning the girls they employ. I have known many nice girls to work for little money—two dollars and a half or three dollars a week—and one week out of every five or six the lady would forget, or pretend to forget, to pay for. If the girl has given no written receipt for her wages, she sometimes has no proof of what is due her.”

To put this into context, that meant working seven days a week for a wage of $2.50. In todays money, that would mean that you were working seven days a week for $68.84. And even then, according to the author, you might not even be paid fairly every week.

House work in the 19th Century was very labor intensive. The people doing the work of maintaining the home had none of the modern convinces that we have today. No vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, modern cooking appliances, washing machines, or even hot water on demand. If you could afford to hire help, you would. A family with modest means would hire a “maid of all work.” This single woman was responsible for all of the cooking, cleaning, and creature comforts of the family she was caring for. A woman named Hanna Cullwick kept a journal of her life in domestic service from 1853 to 1893. In one entry, she describes her average day;

“Opened the shutters & lighted the kitchen fire. Shook my sooty thing in the dusthole & emptied the soot there. Swept & dusted the rooms & hall. Laid the hearth and got breakfast up. Clean’d 2 pairs of boots. Made the beds & emptied the slops. Clean’d and washed the breakfast things up. Clean’d the plate, clean’d the knives & got dinner up. Clean’d away. Clean’d the kitchen up; unpack’d a hamper. Took two chickens to Mrs Brewer’s & brought the message back. Made a tart & pick’d and gutted two ducks & roasted them. Clean’d the steps & flags on my knees. Blackheaded the scraper in front of the house; clean’d the street flags too on my knees. Wash’d up in the scullery. Clean’d the pantry on my knees and scour’d the tables. Scrubbed the flags around the house & clean’d the window sills. Got tea for the Master and Mrs. Warwick…Clean’d the privy & Passage & scullery floor on my knees. Wash’s the dog & cleaned the sinks down. Put the supper ready for Ann to take up, for I was too dirty & tired to go upstairs. Wash’d in a bath & to bed.”

From Hanna’s own words we can see that she did all of this in a day, and she was not the only servant in the home, because she says that Ann took the supper up, because she was too dirty. It’s clear that life for the average woman in the service industry was very long, very hard, and not financially rewarding.

Maids were meant to do all of their work quietly and out of site, and because of this, their contributions to our society have been overlooked. We owe a debt of gratitude to these women for keeping our world running. Our service bell is a small reminder of the hard work and dedication of so many women. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 29 – Backgammon

Hi everyone and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a backgammon game from the early to mid 1800’s. This game board has an oriental motif on the exterior, and beautiful gold and red painted points on the interior. We still have the original checkers and dice for the game. Let’s explore the game of backgammon.

Backgammon is a two player game. Each player starts with fifteen playing pieces, which are small and round and look like checkers. The game pieces have many names, including draughts, stones, men, counters, pawns, discs, pips, chips, or nips. To win the game, a player must move all of their pieces off the board before their opposition. The average game of backgammon lasts for about an hour of play.

Backgammon is one of the oldest games in history. The first games of backgammon are believed to be played as far back as 3,000 BCE. The game likely originated in Mesopotamia, what is modern day Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, and Syria. In 2004, one of the oldest boards was discovered in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan (Ba-low-chis-tawn) in the South Eastern part of Iran. The board is made of ebony, with checker pieces made of agate and turquoise stones. The second oldest backgammon board was discovered during a dig at a royal tomb in the historic Mesopotamian city of Ur. The Sumerians built the city of Ur in 3,800 BCE and the city thrived for over 3,000 years. The Sumerians are also credited with the creation of the wheel, the first written language called cuneiform, and the first known system of math.

Backgammon quickly spread throughout the early civilizations. People throughout China, India, Greece, Egypt, and Rome started playing backgammon, and it became immensely popular. In certain societies it was only played by the aristocracy or nobility which lead to it being nicknamed “the game of kings.” In the Middle Ages, backgammon spread throughout Europe. The first use of the name “backgammon” appears in literature in the 1600’s, but the exact origin is unclear. It may have come from the Middle English words baec, spelled b a e c, meaning “back,” and the word gamen, spelled g a m e n, meaning “game.” The famous writer of games, Edmond Hoyle, published a treatise on backgammon in 1745 with a set of rules, and even some strategy tips, that are still used to this day.

Our backgammon board is in fantastic shape retaining all of it’s original game pieces. The intricate gold work on the sides of the board are also in beautiful condition. We are so lucky to have this piece in our collections. We hope you enjoyed this look back at one of the oldest board games. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 28 – Matthew Brady Photograph

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at a picture that was taken to commemorate the marriage of Fannie Delord Webb Hall and Frank Hall. The two were married on May 14, 1856, and this portrait of them was taken right around the time of their wedding. The couple sat for this picture in New York City at the studio of one of America’s most famous photographers, Mathew Brady. Let’s learn a bit more about Mr. Brady, and the history of photography.

The first photograph is attributed to a man named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (knee-ips). He took a picture from a window on his estate in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes in France in 1826. He achieved this marvel by a process known as heliography. This simply means creating a photoengraving by exposing a metal plate coated in asphalt to sunlight. The total exposure time to produce this image was a staggering eight hours. By the mid 1830’s Louis Daguerre had been working towards shortening the exposure time, and capturing images more reliably. By 1839, Louis Daguerre and Joseph Niepce’s son, Isidore, sold the rights to both the process of creating heliographs and daguerreotypes to the French government. Daguerre also published a book called “An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Various Processes of the Daguerreotype and the Diorama,” which became an instant best seller. 29 editions and translations were released that same year. By the end of 1839, daguerreotype studios popped up all over the world.

Mathew Brady was born on May 18, 1822, near Lake George, NY. Not much is known about his early years, except that he was the youngest of three children born to Irish immigrants. In 1839 Brady and portrait painter William Page traveled to NYC and met Samuel F.B. Morse. As it turns out, our family has a connection to both William Page and Samuel Morse! William Page painted the portrait of Frances Delord Webb (Fannie’s mother) in 1832. When Frances Webb and her husband Henry Webb were on their honeymoon in France, they ran into Samuel Morse, and Frances mentions in a letter that Morse is an acquaintance of her husband. In 1839 Morse had traveled back to France and spent time studying with Daguerre. When he returned to NYC, he took on students, and Brady was one of the first to study under Morse.

By 1844 Brady had set up his own studio in NYC on the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street. Brady’s images were widely celebrated, and his popularity grew. This allowed him to photograph some very famous people of his time. He photographed many politicians, the wealthy and affluent of NY, and even literary greats like Edgar Allen Poe. Brady’s career and reputation changed with the onset of the American Civil War. Brady is widely considered the father of photojournalism thanks to his documentation of the battles between the North and the South.

In 1861 Brady petitioned President Lincoln himself to have permission to photograph the battles and the aftermath. Lincoln approved it, but told Brady that he would have to finance the whole thing himself. His family and friends thought this was both financially and personally dangerous, but Brady threw himself headlong into capturing images of the conflict. On more than one occasion he was so close to enemy lines that he was being fired upon. All told, Brady put himself and 23 other men in the field with cameras and portable darkrooms. In 1862 Brady opened an exhibition titled The Dead of Antietam. For the first time, real images of war were being shown to the general public. This was not an artists depiction, this was the aftermath of very violent and deadly battles. During the War he based himself in Washington DC to be close to the action. This allowed him to photograph many of the Union Generals.

Brady spent $100,000 of his own money creating 10,000 images of the war. That is the equivalent of $1,670,000 in todays money. Brady fully expected that the government would buy his works and help him defray the cost of the endeavor, but the government refused. Brady was forced to sell his NYC studio, and he fell into bankruptcy. He was never able to recover financially and in 1896 he died penniless in the charity ward of a hospital in NYC.

Brady’s work has shaped our understanding of the Civil War in a way that no other media could. For the first time in US history, people had to confront the gruesome results of war. His work also documented camp life, and preserved the images of the men who fought. We owe Brady an immeasurable debt for his work. We are so lucky to have this beautiful portrait of Fannie and Frank, taken at Brady’s studio. We hope you enjoyed this look back at one of America’s most famous photographers. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Episode 27 – Romantic Era Wedding Dress


Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. As we are approaching Valentine’s Day, we thought it would be fun to look at a very romantic day in our home’s history, a wedding. In 1832 the family prepared for the marriage of the Delord’s only daughter, Frances. At just 18 years old, Frances was marrying a merchant named Henry Livingston Webb. They were married in the Gold Parlor room of our home, and by all accounts it was a very happy day. Let’s take a look at weddings in the 1830’s, and how they changed during the Victorian Era.

In the 1830’s weddings were still a very intimate affair. Most weddings took place in the home, and the number of attendees was limited to the size of the space. This was ubiquitous amongst the classes, from the well to do to the poor, weddings most often occurred in the family home. Church weddings started to gain popularity by the 18-teens to the 1820’s, but being married in your parents home remained popular throughout the entire 19th Century. Most weddings were held mid week, with Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday being the easiest days to schedule. Frances and Henry were married on a Wednesday. This was born of necessity, since most ministers and pastors were quite busy with church services on the weekends.

So, what did the bride wear for her special day? It was common for women in the early 19th Century to simply wear their best gown as their wedding dress. If their best dress was a bit too plain, women would add extra lace and trim to spruce up the gown. The color of the gown was not important. Any color was acceptable for a wedding dress. In 1840 Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, and wore a stunning white wedding gown. Illustrations from her wedding traversed the globe, and influenced fashion in a major way. Thanks to her white dress, now brides wanted to wear white on their wedding day, shunning colorful gowns. Queen Victoria’s wedding dress still influences bridal fashion to this day more than 150 years later.

Our Frances Henrietta was a bride ahead of her time. In 1832, Frances wore a white wedding dress with a blue sash around her waist. Betsey Delord (Frances’ Mother) hired a Mantua maker, or dress maker, for her daughter’s wedding attire. The wedding dress, silk flower bouquet, and leather shoes that Francis wore cost $47.19, which is the equivalent of $2,731.24 in todays money. The silk lace overdress, the satin under dress, and the fabric for the silk flower bouquet were imported from Paris. Frances’ friend Anne Moore was her bridesmaid, and Henry’s brother John Webb was his best man for their special day.

The wedding dress, bouquet, and her leather wedding shoes are very fragile and delicate artifacts in our collections. While we have a number of paintings of Frances, her actual garments can tell us so much more about her. Her dress and her slippers highlight just how slight a person she was. She was petit in every sense of the word, and that’s not something a painting can really show us. That’s what makes textile artifacts, like clothing, so important for understanding the people we study. We have a number of garments in our collections spanning a hundred years of history and fashion. Each artifact is a unique and revealing puzzle piece that tells us so much about the person who wore it. We hope you enjoyed this look back at nuptials in the 1800’s. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,