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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at this beautiful clock that is in our dinning room. The body of the clock is made from mahogany with brass accents, and a hand painted dial or face. The dial has delicate flowers around it with a larger cardinal at the center top. This clock was made in 1810 by a local furniture maker, Nathan Taylor. Taylor is a local to our area. Nathan Taylor was born in Peru, NY in 1765. He became a furniture maker, and spent quite a bit of time working in Troy, NY. By the 18-teens Taylor was involved in local politics, and an upstanding member of Clinton County’s society. He sold some of his goods at other people’s stores in Plattsburgh, but his actual workshop was in Peru. He was also the Post Master in Peru for some time. Nathan Taylor passed away in June of 1865 and is buried in the Peru cemetery. Let’s learn a bit more about Grandfather clocks.
In the 1650’s Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens wanted an accurate clock to help him track the movement of stars and planets. Clocks of the time period could lose as many as 15 minutes over the course of the day. Huygens attached a pendulum to the workings of a wall clock, which meant that now his clock lost less than a minute a day. A huge improvement over prior clocks. The first “Grandfather” clock was made in the 1670’s and is attributed to a British clock maker named William Clement. At the time it was called a long case clock or a floor clock. Clements created the “royal pendulum,” which was 39 inches in length, and took a full second to swing back and forth. This style of clock movement was a large improvement because it only varied by no more than 10 seconds a day. This clock was so accurate that a minute and a second hand could be added. This clock movement was now enclosed in a wooden case that was between six to seven feet tall, hence the name, long case clock.
In 1685, the first long case clocks crossed the Atlantic and came to the American colonies. About ten years later, these style of clocks were being produced in the colonies. These new and far more accurate clocks were cutting edge technology in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Because of this, they were insanely expensive. Only the extremely rich could afford them. Like most technology, the longer it’s on the market, the cheaper it becomes as production techniques improve. By the late 1700’s long case clocks were becoming more affordable, and therefore, more common in people’s homes. So, why did long case clocks come to be known as grandfather clocks? In 1875 a songwriter named Henry Work wrote a song called “Grandfather’s clock,” which became an incredibly popular hit all across the United States. The opening lines of the song are as follows:
“My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more”
Our clock case is in good condition, but the clock itself has seen better days, and would need quite a bit of repair work to get it back to working condition. The painting on the dial is still quite lovely, and in good condition. We hope you enjoyed this look back at the history grandfather clocks. Thanks so much for stopping by.
Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot, www.bensound.com
Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at an incredibly beautiful child’s tea set. It is the loveliest shade of pale blue, with handmade, hand painted flowers. This set was made sometime in the 1840’s, so this is an early Victorian piece. This set belonged to Fannie Delord Webb Hall, the last member of our family to live in the house. The set was purchased by her Uncle, John Webb. This was an expensive gift. We are not certain of this tea sets origins, but the quality of the porcelain, the hand painted flowers and the beautiful glaze are hallmarks of a talented craftsperson working for a well established manufacturer. Fannie must have been delighted when she opened this exceptional present. Let’s take a look at presents for children in the Victorian period.
The Victorian Era was the beginning of what we might term today “consumer culture.” This is not to say that people did not buy goods prior to the Victorian Era, because they did, but the Victorian Era saw this level of consumerism sky rocket. With the advent of factories and mass manufacturing, buying items could sometimes be cheaper than making it yourself. The same was true for toys and games for children. In previous years, toys were most often handmade with materials that were either discarded or no longer needed. Dolls could be made from scraps of cloth or even corn husks. Toys were also passed down from generation to generation. Toys that were ripped or broken were mended and repaired until they couldn’t be salvaged any longer.
In the mid 1800’s toys that were manufactured became all the rage, and if your family was well to do, you would buy your child a toy. Toys ranged from train sets, to dolls, to hula hoops, to bicycles, and so much more. If you had the funds for them, you could purchase almost anything in toy form, just like today. Despite all of the advancements in manufacturing, the working classes and poor still could not afford mass produced toys. Even if they could afford them, most lower class and poor children did not have the time to play with toys even if they had them. Child labor laws were non existent in the early Victorian period, and children as young as five would be working anywhere between 8 to 12 hours per day. This left them little time for the frivolity of toys and playing games.
Our tea set is something that only a very fortunate few would have been able to own in the early Victorian period. It was a very pricey item, that is also highly fragile, and was being given to a child to play with. This set is in quite good condition given it’s intended use and it’s age. It does have repair work done to it. Some of the saucers have been broken and mended, and some of the flowers have been broken off and been lost to time. Despite this, the colors of the set remain just vibrant and cheerful as the day the set was made. We are so lucky to have this beautiful little glimpse into a Victorian child’s world. Thanks so much for stopping by.
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, www.bensound.com