Artifact Corner: Saw Mill Lithograph

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at a lithograph from 1869. This is a portrait of the R.W. Adams Steam Saw Mill, in Clinton County, NY. This picture would have been published as part of a set of lithographs from all around Clinton County. We are not sure why they separated and saved this particular image, but the timber industry in the North Country was booming in the mid to late Victorian period. Let’s take a look at the history of the timber industry in New York, and and learn a bit more about the R.W. Adams Steam and Saw Mill.

As Europeans began to settle in New York, they need raw materials, and the most pressing need was for lumber. Cutting down tress by hand, and then sawing them into useable parts was incredibly laborious and time consuming. So, any place that had a source of running water, which could be converted to power a mill, quickly became a hub for industrial activity. Saw mills began to spring up all around New York City, and throughout the Hudson River Valley. Any excess timber that was not being used or sold here would be shipped to England and Ireland for sale. The first documented sawmill in the Adirondack region was at Queensbury in Warren County, just south of Lake George. The mill was built in 1764 by Moses Clement. Another sawmill was constructed in 1767 at Willsboro in Essex County, located on the shore of Lake Champlain, by William Gilliland, and a third was erected in 1772 in Ticonderoga, Essex County. The primary species of tree harvest in New York was the white pine, but spruce and white cedar were also sought after. Small scale lumbering began as early as 1803 in the Adirondacks, but by the 1820’s, the timber industry had exploded. By the 1830’s the large old growth pines had almost all been harvested. Pine trees grow incredibly straight and tall, and are therefore perfect for ships masts, which were in high demand still in the early 1800’s.

Early saw mills were relatively simple structures. They were mostly an exposed upright saw powered by a water wheel. Eventually, mills operated two saws working simultaneously, which were referred to as a gang mill. Early sawmills were constructed next to rivers or other bodies of flowing water, which provided power for saws as well as an easy route for shipping trees to the mills. Once the lumber was harvested the easiest way to transport it was by floating it on a body of water, rather than trying to drag it through the mountains. The R.W. Adams and Company Saw Mill began work in 1865. They owned six square miles of land from which they harvest their timber. Operations at the mill lasted until a fire swept through the mill in May of 1877. The entire production was destroyed. The mill was rebuilt, but never operated under the same name. The peak of the logging and timber industry in the Adirondacks was during the 1860’s and 1870’s, the same time the Adams mill was in operation. Logging still continues in the North Country today, but not nearly to the same scale that it once did.

Our picture is in good condition, with some minor staining. The lines are still sharp and clear on the piece, likely because it has been stored away from light, and in acid free paper. It gives us a glimpse into the industrial past of Clinton County, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
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Artifact Corner: Mirrors

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a couple of mirrors that we have in our collections. Our mirrors are from the late Romantic era through the Victorian period. Mirrors would have been used not only to see your reflection in, but also as a way of spreading light. When our museum was a home, they had no electricity, so evenings were lit by candles and oil lamps. Putting a candle in front of a mirror will help radiate the light further through the room, making the long winter evenings a bit more enjoyable. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of mirrors.

Humans have always wanted to see what they looked like. The first mirrors used by humans were most likely pools of dark, still water, or water collected in a vessel. The earliest manufactured mirrors were pieces of polished stone such as obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. Examples of obsidian mirrors found in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) have been dated to around 6000 BCE. Mirrors of polished copper were crafted in Mesopotamia from 4000 BCE, and in ancient Egypt from around 3000 BCE. Polished stone mirrors from Central and South America date from around 2000 BCE onwards. By the Bronze Age most cultures were using mirrors made from polished discs of bronze, copper, silver, or other metals.

Glass began to be used for mirrors in the 1st century CE in Rome, with the development of soda-lime glass and glass blowing. Glass mirrors continued to evolve and improve throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

During the early Renaissance, a fire-gilding technique developed to produce an even and highly reflective tin coating for glass mirrors. The back of the glass was coated with a tin-mercury amalgam, and the mercury was then evaporated by heating the piece. But this was an expensive and laborious process, which meant that these pieces carried a hefty price tag. It wasn’t until 1835, when German chemist Justus von Liebig invented a silvered glass mirror process, that mirrors became more affordable. His wet deposition process involved the deposition of a thin layer of metallic silver onto glass through the chemical reduction of silver nitrate. This silvering process was adapted for mass manufacturing and led to the greater availability of affordable mirrors. Currently mirrors are often produced by the wet deposition of silver, or sometimes nickel or chromium (the latter used most often in automotive mirrors) via electroplating directly onto the glass substrate.

Mirrors are used for so many things in our lives today, not just to check our reflection. Our three mirrors are in good shape, and look incredible when you have candles flickering in front of them! They harken back to our homes history before electricity, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Ice Box

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at an unassuming box that sits next to a wall in our kitchen. This is an ice box from the 1870’s. It has a wooden exterior, and the inside of it is lined in either zinc or tin. Inside the zinc or tine box you would place ice and the foods you needed to keep cool. An ice box like this was not necessary during the winter, for those of us who live in a northern climate. It was most likely only really used from late Spring through early Fall. Let’s learn a bit more about ice boxes and the history of refrigeration.

The dilemma of how to preserve foods have been with us through almost all of human history. Since we as a species settled down, and started farming, we needed to find a way to make our food stuffs last more than a couple of days. There are many ways to preserve food, and we won’t go into all of them in this episode, but a very effective way was to keep it cold. Mold can not grow, and therefore spoil your food, at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. While our forbearers likely didn’t know the exact temperature that mold would grow at, they knew keeping food cold would make it last longer. The first recorded use of refrigeration technology dates back to 1775 BCE in Ancient Sumer. It was there that the region’s King, Zimri-lim, began the construction of an elaborate ice house fitted with a sophisticated drainage system and shallow pools to freeze water in the night. The Greeks and Romans would use snow placed in deep storage pits keep their food cool. Using ice houses or ice pits was a common practice throughout the Middle Ages, particularly in warmer climates.

The first form of artificial refrigeration was invented by William Cullen, a Scottish scientist. Cullen showed how the rapid heating of liquid to a gas can result in cooling. This is the principle behind refrigeration that still remains to this day. Cullen never turned his theory into practice, but many were inspired to try to realize his idea. Thomas Moore, an American businessman, created an icebox to cool dairy products for transport. He called it a “refrigiratory” until he patented “refrigerator” in 1803. In 1876 German engineering professor Carl von Linde patented the process of liquefying gas that has become part of basic refrigeration technology. His findings led to his invention of the first reliable and efficient compressed-ammonia refrigerator. Refrigeration rapidly displaced ice in food handling and was introduced into many industrial processes. In 1927 General Electric introduced the “Monitor-Top,” which became the first refrigerator to see widespread use – more than a million units were produced. The compressor assembly, which emitted a great deal of heat, was placed above the cabinet. These refrigerators used either sulphur dioxide or methyl formate as a refrigerant. Up until 1929, refrigerators with vapor compression systems had caused several fatal accidents when the toxic gases leaked. Research was initiated to develop a less dangerous method of refrigeration, leading to the discovery of Freon, which became the standard for almost all domestic refrigerators. Freon is not the most environmentally friendly, and so most modern refrigerators use a chemical cal HFC-134a.

Our ice box was a very common thing to have in your home in the 1870’s. Refrigeration technology took some time to take hold, and an ice box was not complicated to own or operate. Our ice box is in good condition, even though the hinges are a little worn. It is a wonderful glimpse into the late 19th Century kitchen, 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: 1830s Letter

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a letter that Henry Webb sent to his future wife, Frances Henrietta Delord. He sent this letter to her on August 4th, 1832, which we can see in the top right hand corner of the letter. He opens the letter by addressing Frances as “My Beloved French Girl.” He was writing her a little over a week before their wedding, which took place on August 13th in the Gold Parlor Room. At the time he was sending this letter, he was tending to his business in Albany, preparing to be away for his wedding and his honeymoon. Letter writing was the only form of communication for Henry and Frances in 1832, and pretty much everyone else! Let’s learn a bit more about the history of letter writing.

The history of writing and having a fully fledged writing system appears in multiple cultures around the world. In Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) cuneiform was used between 3400 and 3300 BCE, and shortly afterwards in Egypt we have hieroglyphs at around 3200 BCE. By 1300 BCE we have evidence of a fully operational writing system in late Shang-dynasty China. Sometime between 900 and 600 BC writing also appears in the cultures of Mesoamerica. The first letter ever written was believed to be one sent by Queen Atossa of Persia in around 500 BCE. It has been cited as the most important letter of all time by history and humanities professor Bríd McGrath, of Trinity College, Dublin. In the ancient world letters might be written on various different materials, including metal, lead, wax-coated wooden tablets, pottery fragments, animal skin, and papyrus. Through the Middle Ages, letter writing was reserved for the wealthy, because vellum (a fine parchment made originally from the skin of a calf) was very expensive. By the late 15th Century, paper was becoming more affordable, and therefore more available for the average person.

The 18th and early 19th Centuries were really the golden age of letter writing. During this time period, authors and people in power began to publish their letters. The goal was to save the letters for posterity, and potentially craft a narrative to make themselves look better or more important. Technology would change the way we communicate drastically in 1844, when the first telegraph message was sent. By 1866, a cable had been laid across the Atlantic, so that the US and Europe were linked. Information could now be transmitted across an ocean in real time. In 1876, the telephone was patented, and the technology took off like wildfire. The telephone definitely altered the way people communicated, but the invention of the internet and email truly ended the golden age of letters.

With cell phones and computers, very few of us send letters. The obvious exception is business transactions, but even most of those are now done via email. We are very fortunate that the Delord’s and Webb’s saved most of their letters and we still have them to this day. They are a wealth of information about our family, and we are so lucky to have them. Thank so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: 19th Century Rope Bed

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a bed from the 1820’s. This beautiful piece of furniture came from the Webb family. Henry Webb married our Frances Henrietta Delord. They had one daughter, Fannie Delord Webb Hall, who inherited a lot of the pieces we have in our home from the Webb family, and this is one of them. This bed is all hand turned, and the craftsmanship is superb. This bed is a rope strung bed, meaning it does not have box spring. A rope bed is a type of platform bed in which the sleeper (and mattress) is supported by a lattice of rope, rather than wooden slats. The bed would then have a mattress or two placed on top. The ropes would need to be tightened regularly, because they would stretch out. This is where the saying “sleep tight” comes from, the tightening of the ropes on rope strung beds. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of beds.

Humans have been trying to find the best way to sleep for millennia. Lyn Wadley, an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, discovered 77,000-year-old bedding made from grass-like plants called sedges. These beds of sedges could be as much as a foot thick, but were on the ground, not raised in any way. “The sedges had medicinal plants on them, presumably laid there to serve as an insect deterrent.” Fast forward a few thousand years, and and the Egyptians began building raised wooden platform beds, and then topping them with what we would consider a mattress. Around the same time, the peoples of Ancient Scotland were making raised beds from stone, and created mattresses made from wool. Sometime between 3,600 BCE to 1,600 BCE, the Persians developed the first waterbed. They filled goatskins with water, warmed them in the sun, then moved them back into the home. It seems that their waterbeds were not used for most people in Persian society, but rather mostly for the sick or elderly. Moving forward in time again, wealthy Greeks and Romans had metal bed frames with feather or wool mattresses. Average Greeks and Romans had wooden framed beds with wool or straw mattresses. The most poor of society would have just had a mattress on the floor.

In the Middle Ages, the wealthy again had beautiful wooden platforms, and mattresses stuffed with only the softest down feathers. Meanwhile the average family would have a bed with a mattress likely filled with wool, but the entire family had to share it. During the Renaissance, not much changed, except, if you were super wealthy, you now might have a room entirely dedicated to the bed, known as a bedroom. In the 1870’s a new idea was to add springs to mattresses, in an attempt to make the more comfortable. This idea didn’t really take off for another 60 years though, as innerspring mattresses didn’t gain a ton of popularity until the 1930’s. Memory foam was originally invented by NASA in the 1970s to create seats that could conform to the astronauts’ bodies for every flight, even as their body shapes changed over time. It wasn’t until the very early 1990s that it became popular in consumer products like mattresses.

I’ve slept on a rope strung bed, and the only way I can explain the experience is like sleeping on an air mattress with a slow leak. Initially it feels comfortable, but when you wake up, it’s far less firm, and very saggy. This bed is in great condition, and will stay that way, since we won’t be sleeping on it any time soon. This is a beautiful piece of furniture and history, 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: 1830s Wool Cape

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a beautiful Scottish wool cape from 1833. This cape was purchased by Henry Livingston Webb for his wife Frances Henrietta Delord Webb on their honeymoon. After they were married in our gold parlor room, they went on over a year long honeymoon in Europe. One their way home, they were in England waiting for the boat that would bring them back across the Atlantic to America. During their time in England, Henry needed to go to Scotland for business, and his wife decided to stay behind in England. While he was in Scotland, he bought her this stunning wool cape, and he bought himself a matching wool great coat. This cape is a vibrant shade of red with green, white and yellow stripes. Let’s learn a bit more about plaid or what the Scottish would call a tartan.

So, what is a tartan? According to the Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center, a tartan is “the pattern of interlocking stripes called a tartan is often mistakenly known as “plaid.” Plaide actually comes from the Gaelic word for a blanket, and is specifically used in the context of Highland dress to refer to a large length of material.  The original kilt was known as the “belted plaid” and consisted of a length of cloth (basically a large blanket) that was gathered and belted at the waist. The plaids were most often made from a tartan cloth, and so the confusion between the two terms is understandable.” Tartan or plaid fabric is now very closely associated with Scotland, but it has been used as a pattern by peoples around the world for many millennia. According to the textile historian E. J. W. Barber, the Hallstatt culture of Central Europe, which is linked with ancient Celtic populations and flourished between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, produced tartan-like textiles. Some of them were discovered in 2004, remarkably preserved, in the Hallstatt salt mines near Salzburg, Austria. Also, textile analysis of fabric from the Tarim mummies in Xinjiang, northwestern China has shown it to be similar to that of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture. Clearly this pattern has appealed to people for a very long time.

The more modern tartans that we see today did not exist in Scotland until the 16th Century. So all of the scenes of Scottish men running around in tartan kilts that you saw in the movie Braveheart, totally historically inaccurate. Sorry. For many centuries the patterns were loosely associated with the weavers of a particular area. In the 16th and 17th centuries, tartan was exported from the Highlands to the south at prices fixed in order to prevent overcharging, the prices being determined by the number and shades of color in the cloth. After the battle of Culloden, tartan fabric faced its greatest threat. An Act of Parliament was passed which made the carrying of weapons and the wearing of tartan a criminal offense. This was so strictly enforced that by the 1780’s, most weavers had given up making tartan fabric altogether. In the 1820’s it saw a revival, and has been going strong ever since.

Our cape is from shortly after the revival of tartan cloth, which is an interesting tidbit of its history. The wool itself is in fantastic condition. Wool is a pretty sturdy fabric, and holds up well, even though it’s almost two hundred years old. The silk lining at the collar and the silk draw strings on the other hand have seen better days. Silk is far more fragile, and therefore, this is not surprising. Overall, this piece is in pretty great condition, 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: Victorian Hair Combs

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at three beautiful hair combs from the Victorian Era. All three of the combs are made from tortoise shell, and all of them have signs of wear, which is unsurprising. These hair combs were regularly used, and therefore, stress was put on these accessories. These likely belonged to our Fannie Delord Webb Hall, who had thick, long, stunning hair. These must have looked incredible in her hair. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of women’s hair combs.

Hair combs have been used as far back as the Stone Age. Combs dating back to 10,000 BCE have been found made of boxwood and bone. Shubi, which is Chinese for comb, originated about 6000 years ago in China during the late Neolithic period. In ancient China, combs had a special status, a high artistic value, and were an important form of hair ornament in Chinese culture. Women in Rome also used hair combs, to hold up their elaborate and intricate hair styles. Hair combs are great for keeping updos up and adding a bit of flare to the look. Like our hair combs, many Roman hair combs were made of tortoise shell. Hair combs fell out of favor in the Middle Ages, but like so many fashion trends, came back during the Renaissance. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, women adorned their hair with hair combs made from all manor of materials. The Regency period saw hair combs being less popular, but by the Victorian period they were very much back in vogue, and Womens elaborate do’s needed that extra bit of flare. You can still find hair combs today, if you like to recreate a historic hairstyle, and now you can get them made from synthetic materials, and not harm any turtles.

Tortoise shell was considered a luxury good in the ancient world, and up until the 1880’s when the first type of thermoplastic, called celluloid was introduced to the public. It was far cheaper than actual tortoise shell goods, so quickly replaced it on the open market. Tortoise shell goods were made from the outer layer of a turtle shell, and usually comes from the Hawksbill species of sea turtle. It has been used in Asia and the West for centuries, and due to it moldable capabilities, it was highly sought after. When you heat tortoise shell, it can form a myriad of shapes, and when it cools it becomes rigid again, while holding the new shape you molded it into. Because of it amazing properties, Hawksbill tortoises were hunted in staggering numbers. Thankfully in the 1970’s the Hawksbill sea turtle was listed as an endangered species. Sadly, many countries continue to hunt them for their shells.

Our historic hair combs are made from a material that is harvested from an endangered species, so what does that mean? Because these pieces were made over 150 years ago, and were made before the species was endangered, we can safely continue to care for them and display them in our collections. All of them have some form of damage, which is to be expected, as they have likely had a lot of use and may have taken a tumble from someones hairstyle onto the floor a couple of times. Overall, they are still pretty sturdy, but we won’t be wearing them in our hair. They are beautiful reminder of women’s fashions accessories in the Victorian period, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Betsey’s Receipt Book

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a very special book from the 1850’s. This is Betsey’s receipt book, or recipe book. There are both hand written recipes, and newspaper clipping with different culinary delights. The majority of the book is written in Betsey’s hand, but towards the back of the book, you can see that the hand writing has changed, and we believe her granddaughter, Fannie kept the book and continued to add to it. Betsey’s penmanship is fairly legible, but Fannie’s can be very hard to decipher at times. In addition to all sorts of tasty delights, we also have cleaning techniques, and medicinal remedies listed in this book. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of receipt books, or recipe books.

So, why were recipe books called receipt books in the past? The word ‘receipt’ derives from the Latin ‘recipere’ meaning “to receive” or “to take.” Both ‘receipt’ and ‘recipe’ originally referred to medicinal preparations. These would be either literally prescriptions with lists of ingredients, or loose instructions for mixing herbs, plant extractions, and foodstuffs. So a receipt or recipe could be for just about anything, not just food. The first recorded cookbook is said to be four clay tablets from 1700 BCE in Ancient Mesopotamia. The first recorded cookbook that is still in print today is Of Culinary Matters, written by Apicius, in fourth century CE Rome. For millennia, people have been trying out new dishes, and when they were successful, they would pass the recipe or receipt along to their family and friends. What we would consider a recipe or cookbook throughout much of history was really the domain of the ultra wealthy. Kings and Queens, the high nobility, and the high clergy would all have recipe books for their cooks to reference. Recipe or receipt books were all hand written until the invention of the printing press. The introduction and spread of modern printing in the 15th century eventually made it viable to think beyond the wealthiest customer bases. Receipt books of all manner started to be available around the world. From cook books for the poorer members of society, such as “Plain Cookery for the Working Classes” to books intended for people who could afford to splurge on large sumptuous meals like, “Les Soupers de la Cour” or “Court Dinners,” which were meals fit for royalty.

Our book of receipts has many delightful recipes like this one for what is called a Mountain Cake. Beside it is written the word “good,” so they must have really enjoyed this one. The recipe reads as follows:

  • 1 pound of flour
  • 3/4 of sugar
  • 1/2 pound of butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon full of saleratus (which is sodium bicarbonate) dissolved in a cup of milk
  • A wine glass of French brandy
  • Fruit and spice to your taste.

That’s it. That’s the entire recipe. There are no instructions on what to bake it in, how long to bake it, or at what temperature. This is not surprising, most cookbooks of the time assumed everyone knew how long to bake a cake. They were also using wood or coal stoves in the 1850’s, and therefore, you didn’t just walk over, press a button, and set your oven to a designated temperature. A lot of cooking and baking was done by practice and experience. If you were a good cook, and used to the tools in your kitchen, you could judge how hot your stove was, and therefore how long your cake would need to bake.

This book has been handled and used quite a lot in it’s 170 plus years, and that attention has left it’s mark. A bit of the cover is missing, and the pages are fragile and dog earred. But, overall, it is in decent condition, and mostly still legible. We are so lucky to have this little gem in our collections. If you are interested in learning more about historic cooking, we have just the event for you! Our Taste of the Past event is coming back this summer. Our first tasting will be this coming Sunday, June 12th at 2 pm. At this event we try three historic food recipes and one historic drink recipe, and discuss all things historic foods. This is a members only event, but if you’re not a member and would still like to attend, you can become a member on the day. A year long membership only costs $35. We hope to see you there. And if you give this mountain cake recipe a try, please let us know in the comments! As always, thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Victorian Purses

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at these beautiful early Victorian beaded purses from our collections. Each bag was hand beaded, and must have taken so many hours of painstaking decoration. The first bag has a scene with a person, a dog, and a church in the background. Beneath it is a lovely flower motif. The second bag is a floral motif with roses, and decorative base. The second bag is topped and lined in a sumptuous blue velvet that is still soft and supple to the touch even though it’s almost 200 years old. Both closed using drawstrings to keep all of your possessions safely inside. Let’s learn more about the history of handbags and purses.

Since the dawn of human history, we have needed to carry things with us as we moved along. Whether that be food or tools or some form of currency, we have needed to carry more than we comfortably can with just our two arms. So, we used bags made of natural fibers, or animal hides to make our lives easier. Otzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old, well-preserved mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991, had a pouch attached to his belt that contained flint, a drill, an awl, and dried fungus. Another very old example was found in Germany in 2012, and is dated to be between 2,500 – 2,200 BCE, and is studded with dog teeth. Handbags were mostly used by men, and were seen as a status symbol, hence why they were richly decorated. In the Middle Ages, purses and handbags were still mostly the domain of men, but that was about to change in the Elizabethan Era. Women of every social class began carrying bags, in a wide variety of sizes.

In the eighteenth century, purses were small, unisex accessories, used to hold money and nothing else. They had more in common with wallets than what we would consider a handbags. Most women kept these purses in the pockets, which were separate from the actual garments and tied around their waists. According to James Henry Leigh Hunt, a lady’s pocket might hold her purse as well as other essentials, including “a pocket-book, a bunch of keys, a needle-case, a spectacle-case, . . . a smelling-bottle, and, according to the season, an orange or apple.” The dramatic change in women’s fashion in the late 1780s—accelerated by the French Revolution of 1789—put an end to the pocket. Bulky underpinnings would have ruined the slim line of the column like white gowns of the Empire, which emulated the diaphanous draperies of classical statuary. Small, handheld purses called “reticules”—often decorated with tassels, fringe, or embroidery— became essential accessories. The domestic ideal of the Victorian era popularized bags that depicted sentimental scenes with embroidered and beaded images of homes and flowers, similar to the ones in our collections. Women often made their own bags for a personal touch and to show off needlework skills, but you could buy these bags in stores if you did not have the needlework skills to make one. Women’s handbags began to change dramatically from season to season in the late Victorian era. Most of the designer bags that are seriously coveted today saw their beginnings in the early to mid 20th Century. Designers like Chanel, Hermes, and Luis Vuitton set the standards for women’s “it” bag. Today, there is a six year waiting list for a Hermes Birkin bag, if you can even get on the list.

Our two purses are examples of practical pieces that are also works of art. The one purse has a bit of fraying to the top of it, but this is to be expected given its use and age. The velvet purse is in fantastic condition, and looks like it’s barely been used. We are so lucky to have these charming purses in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,

Artifact Corner: Frances Henrietta’s Wedding Dress

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today, we will be looking at Frances Henrietta’s wedding dress from 1832. This is the overdress that she wore for her wedding to Henry Webb. It is made entirely of French silk lace, and is very delicate and fragile. It has a short but very full gigot sleeves, and the waistband is situated right at the natural waist. The skirts hemline would have fallen right to Frances’ ankles, allowing the wearers shoes to be seen. The dress also would have sit low on the shoulders, exposing them, and allowing the neck and the shoulders to be on display. This time period was a unique transition between the Regency Era (think about the fashions in Jane Austen novels) and the Victorian Era (which was the beginning of crinoline and bustled gowns). The lace itself is absolutely stunning, and was made entirely by hand! Let’s learn a bit more about the history of lace making.

So, what is hand made lace? Lace is a textile displaying openwork, obtained through the intersection of threads that form motifs linked by a ground. This intersection is produced either with a needle or with bobbins. The appearance of the lace depends on the technique used, its geographic origins and also the era when it was made. Needlepoint lace originated in embroidery and is used until now to create embroidery lace and re-embroider other types of lace. Bobbin lace was woven on a pillow using bobbins, hence the name. It is one of the most versatile techniques that helped to create numerous styles of laces and finest tulles. Lace making first began in Europe in the 17th Century. Lace thread was typically made from linen, and later silk or metallic gold threads, followed by cotton in the nineteenth century. Needle and bobbin laces were often named after the region or town where they were made. Preeminent lace making centers were established in Italy, Flanders, and France. The finest lace involved the talents and skills of three distinct specialists: the artist who created the designs on paper, the pattern maker who translated the designs onto parchment, and the lace maker who worked directly on the patterns to make the lace.

Making lace by hand takes incredible patience and skill. On average it could take 9 to 10 hours of labor for one square inch of lace per lacemaker. A single sleeve cuff could take up to 250 hours to complete. So, of course, lace was insanely expensive, and therefore only the wealthiest in society could afford to have their garments trimmed in lace. It was common for husbands to buy their wives lace instead of jewelry, because of how precious it was and how hard it was to make. Lace was a status symbol. All of that was a bout to change though. In 1808 in Nottingham John Heathcoat patented the bobbin net machine, the granddad of all lace looms. And after that John Levers modified Heathcoat’s machine in 1813. The original machines made only tulle net, but by 1841 lace complete with pattern, net and outline could be made on the Leavers loom. The Leavers loom is a marvelous creation, weighing several tons and making lots of noise to weave the most delicate and complex of all fabrics. It takes insane precision to load thousands of threads into the machine and physical strength to operate it. Some of these looms still use old Jacquard punch cards with classic century old lace patterns. This meant that lace could be made far quicker, and therefore, it could be made less expensively. Today, you can buy machine made lace for $5 a yard, an insanely inexpensive price for such a complex material.

Our dress is in decent condition. There is some blue staining on the lace, thanks to someone wrapping the dress is blue colored tissue paper in the 1950s. There is also some shattering of the lace, due to some UV damage to the garment that was again done in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the dress was on display in front of a window. Thankfully we know a lot more about garment conservation, and will be storing the garment correctly. It is a stunning example of fashion from the Romantic Era, and of a textile that is so labor intensive, it was worth it’s weight in gold. We are so lucky to have this dress in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,