Artifact Corner: 1860’s Women’s Fashion

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at three lovely portraits taken in the 1860’s. The first is of Betsey Delord. This picture was taken in 1864, following the death of her second husband, William Swetland. This was not uncommon to hire a photographer to document important events in people’s lives, including funerals. Betsey is pictured in front of our gate, leading up to the front door of the home. The second portrait is of an unknown woman, probably again taken around the mid 1860’s. She is seated and holding a purse and a handkerchief. In this portrait we can see the intricate detail on her skirt, which is adorned with lace and silk or satin ribbon. The third and final portrait is of a young man and woman, again probably taken in the mid 1860’s. The man is standing, while the woman is seated. All three of these portraits show women in clothing that would have been considered some of their finer clothing, since they were having their portraits taken. Let’s explore women’s fashions in the American Civil War period.

Every woman in the American Civil War period would have gotten dressed in the morning in pretty much the same way. You would start with a chemise. A chemise is a cotton or linen undergarment that was worn to protect your body, and your outer clothes from sweat. The next garment that you would don would be a pair of drawers. Drawers were just coming into fashion in the early to mid 1860’s, and so some women would have chosen not to wear them, but that was a personal preference. These would be worn for warmth, and also comfort under crinoline skirts. Then you would put on your stockings. No self respecting woman would leave the house without her stockings, which would come above the knee, and be held in place with garters made from a variety of different materials. The next step is to put on your corset. There are so many misconceptions in regards to corsets, that we simply do not have time to go over all of them in this video. Maybe we will have another artifact corner dedicated to dispelling some myths about them? A corset in the 1860’s was not designed to make your waist smaller, it was designed to support your body, and all of the layers of clothing you were wearing. If your corset was made to measure, it should fit quite comfortably. Following your corset, it was time for a petticoat, or an underskirt. This was the layer that would protect your skin from our next garment, the cage crinoline or hoops. If you were an upper to middle class woman, you would most definitely be wearing these hoops. If you were lower or working class, you may not have these in your wardrobe. That did not mean working class women did not still try to achieve the fashionable silhouette of the time. Many women without the means would simply wear multiple petticoats to fill out the shape of their skirts. And that completes our undergarments.

The next step was to cover the foundation garments a bit further. Women would wear a corset cover, or a camisole. This was to protect your outer garment from anything on the corset that might snag it. Next you would put your skirt on. This would be held up, often times with suspenders. The average outer skirt required up to five yards of fabric to make! Next you would put your bodice on. Then you would put your shoes on. Once you were done, it was time to add decorative items like jewelry, or hair pins. You would also want your gloves and bonnet. If it was hot outside, you would carry a folding fan made of sandalwood. If it was raining or bright and sunny, you may want to add a parasol to your ensemble. And if it was cold, you would bring a shawl or a mantle to ward off the cold. A woman would also not want to leave the house without her purse or bag. In this period, it was considered gauche for a lady to wear make up. That’s not to say that women didn’t add a little color here and there to their cheeks and lips using beet juice or alkanet, a common weed that provides a lovely red dye. They would also extenuate their pale skin by powdering their faces with rice powder, zinc oxide, or pearl powder (which was a mixture of chloride of bismuth and French chalk). Chloride of bismuth is not a safe thing to put on your face, it can cause headaches, loss of appetite, and serious skin irritation, so please do not try any of these concoctions on yourself.

Our portraits are of younger and older women, dressed in their best clothes to have their picture taken. Their garments are very typical of the time period, and the details are really beautiful. We are so lucky to have these lovely portraits in our collections. If you are interested in seeing a replica Civil War ladies garment up close, come visit us at the museum. We have one on display for the season, and we are open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 to 3. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Victorian Matchbox

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a very early Victorian Match box. The box is made from cardboard, with a paper label on the top of the box. The paper label says “L. Miller’s Never failing damp proof Improved American Friction Matches, 7th Avenue, between 17th & 18th Streets, NY.” On the back of the box there is sand glued to the cardboard for striking the matches on. Matches are a relatively new invention, let’s learn a bit more about them.

Prior to the invention of the friction match, getting a fire started was hard work. There were a number of different ways to start a fire. One way was to use a glass lens to focus the suns rays on some dry tinder. The obvious problem with this method is that you need the sun to start a fire. The other and most prevalent way was to use flint and steel. By hitting a steel striker against a piece of flint, sparks will be created. You can catch those sparks on a piece of char cloth, which is 100% plant based cloth that has been cooked in an oxygen starved environment. The char cloth will hold the spark while you transfer it to your tinder pile, allowing you to start a fire. With practice, this method of starting fire can be fairly fast, but it requires a number of pieces that you’d have to carry on you at all times. Another method was to start a friction fires, by rubbing two pieces of wood together. This method is very labor intense, and requires a lot of patience. If the weather was bad none of these methods was very reliable, and starting a fire could be very difficult. A more reliable and portable method was being sought out across the world.

The friction match was invented in 1826 by John Walker, a chemist in England. He had been trying to solve the problem of portable fire for some time, developing different chemical concoctions for making a quick and easy fire starter. Walker stumbled upon the invention when he scraped a stick coated in some of these chemicals against the hearth of his fireplace. The match head was a mixture of sulfide of antimony, chlorate of potash, and gum. He used camphor to help improve the smell. He sold them at his store in boxes of fifty for one shilling. Each box with a piece of sandpaper for striking the match head on. Walker’s invention was a huge leap forward, but still dangerous. Bits of the match head would fall off while lit, and caught carpets, drapes and even dress hems on fire. For some reason, Walker did not patent his new invention, and in 1829 Scottish inventor Sir Issac Holden had duplicated and improved on Walker’s recipe. Holden also did not patent this invention, and a London based entrepreneur named Samuel Jones got a hold of the recipe, and patented them. He began selling them as “Lucifer” matches, and the name stuck, so much so that matches are still called Lucifers in Dutch to this day.

Match boxes from the early Victorian period are fairly rare, because they are made of paper, and were often thrown out after the matches were all used. Our match box no longer contains any of the original matches, and is in slightly rough shape. The corners are starting to come unglued. Hardly surprising given the rough life it must have had, and it’s age. We hope you enjoyed this look back at fire starting and match making. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Portraits by Ezra Ames

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at two portraits painted in 1812. These portraits are of the Webb brothers, Thomas and Joseph. Thy are the brothers of Henry Webb, who married our Frances Henrietta Delord. Their daughter, Fannie Delord Webb Hall inherited her father’s estate, and these two portraits were a part of it. Both of these painting were done in 1812 by the artist Ezra Ames. Ames’ portraits are in The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Zimmerli Art Museum. Ames is a fantastic early American portrait artist. Let’s learn a bit more about Ames.

Ezra Ames was born in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1768. He began his carrier as a carriage painter, but quickly began to diversify his talents. He learned miniature portrait painting as well as engraving. By 1790 he was working in Worcester, Massachusetts, taking literally any job that he could get. He was taking commissions and painting things like fire buckets, ear trumpets, fences, mirror frames, drums, clock faces, and various items of furniture. By 1793, it became clear that there was not enough work for Ames in Massachusetts. So, he moved to Albany, NY. Thankfully, there were not many other portrait artists in Albany, and Ames had plenty of work.

In 1794 Ames married a woman named Zipporah Wood, and settled into life in Albany. He started to get recognition for his works, and therefore more prominent clients. He was unofficially known as the “official” New York State Portrait painter. He painted the wealthy of New York, as well as legislators and even Alexander Hamilton. The Chautauqan Magazine describes his importance in this way; “(he) was the most noted portraitist in the state, outside New York city. The sure and fluent ease of his brush, his keen characterization, his pure, fresh coloring, are all remarkable for this early period. His portrait of Governor George Clinton, exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1812, won him wide notice; but he did delightful work some years earlier, and many even finer canvases are scattered through the middle states, in private hands.” Ames continued to paint until about 1820, when he slowly worked into retirement. He passed away in 1836, leaving behind three children, two of whom also became artists. He is buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery.

Our portraits were painted of two of the Webb brothers when they were merchants in Albany. Sadly, both of the brothers passed away shortly after these portraits of them were painted, and are the last images we have of Joseph and Thomas. These are both beautiful examples of early American portraiture, and we are so fortunate to have them in our collections. If you’d like to see more of the amazing artwork in our collections, the museum is now open for tours Fridays and Saturdays from 10 to 3. We hope you enjoyed this look at these beautiful portraits. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Children’s Primer

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a book that was published in 1885 by A. S. Barnes & Company of New York and Chicago. This is the Child’s Health Primer for primary school children. This book was designed as an educational text book for young people on the subject of health. Let’s take a look at schooling in the late 19th Century, and the lessons that this book taught to children.

Schooling in the 19th Century was very different from what we experience today. In the early 19th Century, only wealthier families could afford a comprehensive education. Most poor families relied on Church schools, or other charitable organizations that offered very basic instruction. Here in the United States, Massachusetts was the first state to make education mandatory in 1852. Other states followed their lead, but it wasn’t until 1930 when all of the states adopted this law. The law required that children be given a basic education from kindergarten through eighth grade. The most common subjects taught were reading, writing, grammar, rhetoric, geography, and arithmetic. The average number of days children attended school was around 132, which is less than the 180 or so days kids attend per year today. This was mostly because children living in rural areas were likely needed to help on family farms at certain points in the year. A modern hold over for this is the summer break that we all enjoy today. The average rate of attendance in schools was only around 59% of students.

So, let’s take a look at what we would be learning if we were students in the 1880’s studying health with this book. When looking at the table of contents it is pretty clear that this book was designed to warn young people about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. The first three chapters are fairly straightforward in regards to human anatomy. The next six chapters focus on what effects alcohol, tobacco, and opium have on the body, both young and old. The one chapter that seems like an oddity in the book is the chapter on distilling. The primary lesson one gleans from reading this is that alcohol is “bad” and “a poison,” and yet chapter six is basically a step by step instructional on how to distill spirits. It seems a bit odd, and is definitely not something you would find in an elementary school text book today.

This book belonged to Fannie Delord Webb Hall. She was a self taught pharmacist, and an avid member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Given the context, it now makes a lot of sense why we have this book in our collections. The book itself is in quite good condition. There is a bit of wear on the cover, but the spine and pages are in great condition for being 136 years old. This book is an interesting look back at the education system in the late 19th Century, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Frank Hall’s Saddle

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at Frank Hall’s Civil War saddle. Frank Hall was married to Fannie Delord Webb Hall in May of 1856. The young couple took a long honeymoon in Europe and then settled in Luzerne, NY. Frank had studied theology at Princeton University, and was offered a pulpit in Luzerne. But, in May of 1861 the Civil War broke out. The 16th NY Volunteer Regiment was one of the first to be mustered in New York State. When the war began, they were one of the first regiments to be shipped out. For every 100 soldiers, there was supposed to be a chaplain, although this was not always possible. By the Fall of 1862 the 16th NY’s chaplain had resigned due to illness. Frank Hall was nominated by the men to be their new chaplain, and the invitation was sent to Frank. He mulled this decision over and decided he needed to serve his country. By the end of 1862, Frank was headed to war.

Normally at this point I would be discussing something about the history of saddles or talking about some of the battles Frank was witness to, but, for this Artifact Corner, I thought we’d let Frank speak for himself. He wrote home to Fannie, and we have so many letters from Frank during this period. His writing was very matter of fact, and often he was writing on horseback while battles were happening. Some of his sentences feel disjointed, but are almost like stage direction. So, here is what Frank saw from his saddle while serving the men of the 16th NY.

Dec. 12th, 1862
Waiting to cross the Rappahannock writing on horseback right by the side of the Major.

The musketry at the upper pontoon bridge has just commenced and the heavy batteries have just boomed and oh what a scene. Over this vast plain the multitude are spread and waiting to cross artillery, cavalry & infantry everywhere. Oh how those guns sound. We are crossing under the cover of a mist but the sun shining brightly all the while.
Oh How beautiful it was, but night, beautiful, no! Wartime. We came down in heavy columns from the woods to cross and several regiments were thrown across followed by the thundering wheels of the artillery regiments. But in the first regiments their pickets they came suddenly upon the enemy. Live of battle – we are starting – we are waiting on the bridge – just over Gen. Franklin just past – we are forming in line of battle & oh what a scene in this waste plain………

Fredericksburg in flames and wild confusion of whirling platoons and heavy cannon………it was perfect uproar, but my splendid horse Zollicoffer, it seems as if I could put anywhere. He is perfectly trained. Oh, if you had seen the signal fire from hill top to hill top last night. The whirling half circles of light & the return from the signal corps past over. Oh it was beyond description…… Our skirmishers are out in front of us. Now we move. There, just over there, a shell has burst, a beautiful little cloud of smoke against the blue sky.

The old chaplain of the fifth Maine regiment has just ridden up to me and handed me an unexploded shell. I have just ridden over & am standing by the side of a dead rebel, his head is all torn open. Poor man, he has paid the penalty. Now I am standing by the body of another, fuse burned up – & there is a dead horse – now I am by another dead body, who they say is an officer – work will commence soon – ………

We marched down to White Oak Church & then to the banks of the Rappahannock. We halted some time at White Oak Church – The old Chaplain of the 5th Maine has just come up to me with the fly leaves of a bible taken from the knapsack of one of the dead rebels to the right & he has read to us 3 verses of the 26th chap of Deut. From the blood stained leaves.

A squadron of cavalry has just past & my man Edo Winslow has just moments ago picked up a sword bayonet. Our Colonel has just cried out “Premiers to the front.” There, way off to the left go an immense body of our cavalry – There is a fellow looking through his glass, resting it on the back of a fellow soldier. The soldiers are all laying down or sitting, & the skirmishers are going steadily forward, cautiously.

The cannons booming most fearfully, up here where they were then laying the bridge. The colonel and I had ridden up together (now the skirmishers are firing briskly. Now we are not sure whether we are going to have another Antietam or whether the rebels have already, or are going to skedaddle).

Frank’s time in the Civil War, albeit brief (he only served a little over six months), really stayed with him. When he left the 16th NY volunteers he brought home all of his gear, including his horse and saddle. During the Civil War only two chaplains received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service during the war. Frank Hall was one of them, for his work bringing injured soldiers off the front lines. This saddle has seen better days. The leather is deteriorating, but that will happen after almost 160 years. It is a reminder of the invaluable service that non-combatants offered during the American Civil War. If you’d like to learn more about Frank’s time in the Civil War and read all of his journals and letters, we have them compiled in a book that is available for purchase on our website. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Medicine Bottles

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at two different medicine bottles that are in our apothecary. Both of these are glass bottles with paper labels. The first bottle is a tincture of Arnica from the druggist H.W. Cady here in Plattsburgh. The second is of Cherry Balsam also sold by H.W. Cady. One herbal we still use today for it’s curative purposes, the other, not so much. Let’s learn a bit more about these two medicines, and why we have them in our collections.

Fannie Delord Webb Hall was a self taught pharmacist, and she and her husband built an extension on their home, so that she would have a place to help the citizens of Plattsburgh. Fannie treated anyone who came to her door free of charge, and often was the only place the poor residents of Plattsburgh could go to receive medical assistance. In her small shop at the back of the home, Fannie kept all of her medical supplies, medicines, and medical texts. She was an avid reader who kept up to date on all of the latest medical improvements and best practices. Her goal was always to better the lives of the people in her community, and medicine was one way she accomplished this.

So, what is Arnica? Arnica Montana, also know as wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, and mountain tobacco, is a member of the sunflower family. It originated in Europe, but is now found in East Asia, Europe, and North America. The Arnica plant’s flower and stems can be used for medicinal purposes. Arnica is primarily used as an anti-inflammatory. It can be used to help with muscle strain and reducing the healing time of severe bruising. Because of this, many sports medicine doctors today use Arnica to treat athletes. Arnica can be applied topically to the area of injury or soreness, but should never be applied to an open wound. Arnica can also be taken internally, for things such as concussions, but in very small doses. Like most medicines, ratios are very important. If you ingest too much Arnica, it could make you very ill.

Our second bottle contains a substance called Cherry Balsam. This title is a bit deceptive. While this medicine did contain a cherry extract to flavor it, the primary ingredients in this concoction were alcohol and opiates. Each druggist would have their own ratio of opioids, and therefore each bottle of Cherry Balsam could contain completely different ingredients. Cherry Balsam was used to treat minor concerns like colds and coughs, all the way up to incurable diseases like consumption, better known today as tuberculosis. While this elixir may have helped with the discomfort of the patients ailment, it was not actually helping the problem. This was purely pain and symptom relief, thanks to the myriad of drugs in it. In the Victorian period, drugs such as cocaine and heroin were commonly used in medicine. They do provide temporary relief from pain, but they are highly addictive, like modern pain killers.

Our bottles no longer contain their original contents. We have so many bottles from the late Victorian/early Edwardian period, that contained substances that can be life threatening if consumed. Therefore, we had all of the contents safely disposed of. Victorian medicine could be dangerous, so before trying any medicinal recipes or herbal remedies, please consult your doctor! Our bottles and their paper labels are in quite good condition, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. For more information about medicine in the mid to late 1800’s come visit us at the museum. We will be opening for the season June 25th! Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Calling Cards

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at a very small, and seemingly insignificant piece of paper. This is a calling card for Fannie Hall, the last member of our family to live in our home. It is a heavy card stock, with black engraved letters that states “Mrs. Francis B. Hall, 17 Cumberland Avenue,” on the front, and is blank on the reverse. It is quite simple and elegant in its simplicity. We have a handful of other calling cards as well. All of these cards are from the late Victorian to early Edwardian period, which was the heyday of the calling card. Let’s learn a bit more about the history and social etiquette of calling cards.

The origins of the calling card or visiting card date back to the 18th Century in France. They could be used for a myriad of different reasons. They could be sent as a thank you for a lovely dinner, to offer condolences, or for something as simple as a hello. Their popularity quickly spread from mainland Europe across the Atlantic, and became very popular on the East coast of the United States. The earliest calling cards were white card stock with black engraving, similar to the ones used by Fannie Hall. Other popular motifs or illustrations on calling cards included, floral borders, greek key borders, urns and birds.

As printing technology advanced in the Victorian Era, calling cards became more elaborate and vibrant. The social etiquette behind calling cards was also becoming more elaborate at this time. In a book written by John H Young called, “Our Deportment,” he says this about calling cards:

“To the unrefined or unbred, the visiting card is but a trifling and insignificant bit of paper; but to the cultured disciple of social law, it conveys a subtle and unmistakable intelligence. It’s texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of leaving it combine to place the stranger, whose name it bears, in a pleasant or a disagreeable attitude even before his manners, conversation, and face have been able to explain his social position.”

Similar to a business card today, the appearance of your calling card was indicative of your social standing. Most calling cards in the Victorian period simply had your name and your address, with some type of colorful decoration. Your calling card could be your first impression on a prospective employer or even a potential romantic partner.
Calling cards were very much a tradition of the upper and middle classes. If you were heading to visit a friend or relative, upon ringing the bell, a servant would answer the door, and you would hand them your card. If your friend or relative was home, they would be given the card, and you would be brought in to see them. If they were not home, the card would be given to them upon their return. Calling cards also became a means for young men to court women. If a gentleman was unknown to a woman, he would send along his card. If she was interested in meeting with him in person, she would send her card to him as the formal invitation. If she had no interest in meeting with him, she would either send nothing in response or send his calling card back in an envelope with no other information. Sending someone back their own card in an envelope was a polite declination of their attentions. You could also leave a set of initials on a calling card which would be code for the reason for their visit. Here are some examples:

• p. f. – congratulations (pour féliciter)
• p. r. – expressing one’s thanks (pour remercier)
• p. c. – mourning expression (pour condoléance)
• p. f. N. A. – Happy New Year (pour feliciter Nouvel An)
• p. p. c. – meaning to take leave (pour prendre congé)
• p. p. – if you want to be introduced to anybody, send your visiting card (pour présenter)

Our calling cards were not for courting. Most of these are late Victorian, and by that point, Fannie and Frank Hall had been married for decades. These calling cards were from family and friends that came to call on the couple for a visit. They are all in quite good condition, and a lovely example of a forgotten social etiquette. We hope you enjoyed this look back at calling cards or visiting cards. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Adoration of the Magi

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a beautiful painting that is hanging above the mantle in our Gold Parlor room. The title of this work is the Adoration of the Magi, and like most Renaissance paintings it features a religious theme. This piece was painted around 1640, and has been attributed to the Flemish artist Frans Francken, or it might have been painted in his style by one of his apprentices. It was standard practice in the Renaissance for painters of note to have apprentices and students who studied under them and aided them in their work. Because of this it can sometimes be hard to tell if a work was done by the master artist exclusively or if it was done in cooperation with an apprentice. This piece is a good example of a late Renaissance painting. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of Renaissance art.

The Renaissance period begins in the late 14th Century and runs through to the 17th Century. The term Renaissance refers to the revival of classical art and literature in Europe during this time period. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, art, architecture, and literature had seen a dramatic shift. Gone were the hyper realistic sculptures and paintings of natural forms, like this sculpture of Augustus of Prima Porta, from the early 1st century. In their place was highly stylized works like this page from the book of Kells. Figures of animals and people were now represented in two dimensions, with an emphasis on intricate scroll work. These pieces were known as Illuminated manuscripts. This style was very popular in Britain and Northern Europe.

In the later half of the 1200’s, an artist by the name of Giotto was born, and the art world in Europe would be changed forever. Giotto is considered the father of the Italian Renaissance. He is the first artist to begin to paint with a depth of field, a foreground and a background, as you can see in this painting titled The Annunciation. The impact of his work is felt throughout Europe, and a seismic shift in both religious and secular art began. Following Giotto we have some of the most famous artists in history creating some of the most beautiful art piece in Europe. These giants of the art world were based mostly in Italy, which became the epicenter for the Renaissance. Here are just a few example of some of the amazing works by some of the Renaissances most talented artists. Fra Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child painted in 1460 in Florence, Italy. Sandro Botticelli’s La Primavera, painted in 1482 in Florence, Italy. Michelangelo’s Pieta, sculpted in 1499 in Rome, Italy. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, painted in 1503 in Florence, Italy. And there are so many more brilliant works of art, by so many other artists in so many other countries across Europe during this time period.

Our painting came to us thanks to the travels of the Delord family. Frances Henrietta Delord and her husband Henry Webb spent over a year in Europe for their honeymoon, and brought back many travels from the Continent. The artifact is oil paint on wood. Wood was a very common canvas material for this period. We have had the painting professionally cleaned. Thanks to a couple of hundred years in rooms only heated by fire, the painting had darkened considerably, and the colors had become muted. With all of the soot and dust from hundreds of years removed, the colors are again vibrant. We hope you enjoyed this look back at some of the amazing works of art created during the Renaissance, including this treasure in our own backyards. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Victorian Desk Thermometer

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at this table or desk top thermometer, comprised of a figure holding a shield and an axe. All of the pieces are cast metal, covered in gilt, and then screwed together. The thermometer is affixed to the shield, and along side it are etched the temperatures ranging from 40 to 80 degrees. Clearly this thermometer was meant to be used indoors. This piece is Victorian and came to us via the Webb family. Let’s take a look at the history of thermometers.

The first attempt to measure temperature was a device called a thermoscope, and was invented by Galileo between 1592 to 1593. This device used a tube filled with liquid, most often water. The water would descend in the tube as it got hotter and would rise in the tube as the temperature got colder. This system of determining temperature was very rudimentary, as it only told you that it was getting warmer or colder outside. There was no actual measurement of the thermal conditions. In 1638, Robert Fludd made a thermoscope with a scale, which could be considered the first iteration of a thermometer. Now, you could tell the temperate up to a certain level of degree. About five years later in 1643, one of Galileo’s students, Evangelista Torricelli, invented the barometer. A barometer is used to measure air pressure and used to predict changes in weather patterns. His new invention used mercury to measure these atmospheric changes, which would become important to development of thermometers later on.

The thermometer that we would recognize today was invented in 1709 by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. Fahrenheit was born in a German speaking section of Poland in 1686. He was a physicist who spent most of his life in the Netherlands devoted to the development of meteorological instruments. In 1709 he developed a thermometer that used alcohol as the liquid for measuring temperature. In 1714 he created the mercury in glass thermometers that we have all likely seen. This new thermometer was far more accurate than any of it’s predecessors. This meant that the temperature could be measured with certainty. Fahrenheit also developed the scale that Americans still use to this day to measure temperature. Fahrenheit established that 32 degrees is the freezing point and 212 degrees is the boiling point for water.

Today we use very little mercury in our thermometers due to it’s harmful health effects. Most modern thermometers use alcohol or spirit based solutions. Even more thermometers are now digital, which contain no mercury whatsoever. Our little desk thermometer does contain mercury, because it was made more than 150 years ago, and health and safety standards have changed dramatically since the Victorian era. We do have some patina on the artifact, but overall, it is in good condition. We hope you enjoyed this look back at the history of thermometers. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com

Artifact Corner: Last of the Mohicans Candelabra

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at this beautiful candelabra in our gold parlor room. We actually have two of these candelabras, the second is in our blue parlor room. This piece is gilt brass with a marble base and decorated with hanging crystals. There is a female figure, dressed in 18th Century attire, and the finials surrounding the candle holders are decorated with birds and floral motifs. It can hold five candles and the crystals that adorn the piece are meant to help spread the light around a room. Let’s learn a bit more about this piece, and the story behind it!

This piece was made by Cornelius & Company, which was founded in Philadelphia by Christian Cornelius, a dutch immigrant, in 1810. They quickly became a very popular lighting manufacturer in the United States. They made oil lamps, chandeliers, candlesticks, and candelabras. The style of our candelabra is called a girandole, which means a “branched support for candles or other lights, which either stands on a surface or projects from a wall.” This was a very sought after style for Cornelius & Co. and a popular design for homes throughout the mid 19th Century. They were best known for their bronze work, with intricate details.

The central figure on our candelabra is based on a fictional character, Cora Monroe, from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, a young woman, Cora Monroe is kidnapped by a band of Huron Native Americans, and small band of Mohican Native Americans embark on a journey to rescue her. All of this is set against the backdrop of the French and Indian War and the siege of Fort William Henry. This is a vast oversimplification of the story, and if you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading Cooper’s works! Cornelius & Co. created three chandeliers based on the novel. One is the Mohicans who are tracking the Hurons who kidnapped Cora. There are three figures, Uncas, who is standing, with Chief Chingachgook and Natty Bumppo seated on a log. For those of you who have only seen the film adaptation of this, Natty Bumppo is also known as Hawkeye, and was played by Daniel Day Lewis in the film. The other candelabra depicts Major Duncan Heyward who is also trying to rescue Cora. The final candelabra for this set is Cora Monroe, the same piece we have in our collections. James Fenimore Cooper published the Last of the Mohicans in February of 1826, and quickly became a hit with not only Americans, but around the world. Cooper’s novels were very popular during this time period, and Cornelius & Co capitalized on that by making and marketing these pieces to fans of Cooper’s works.

Our candelabras were made in the late 1840’s and are in good condition. There are a few chips in the crystals, which is to be expected after 170 plus years. The gilt work has been worn in some spots, but that is also normal. We are so lucky to have these lovely examples of early Victorian lighting in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com