Friday, September 23, 2016

Recounting a Great Recounting

Imagine this: prices are skyrocketing, in part because of import/export laws. People are finding it hard to afford bread. The country is deep in debt. What do you as a member of government do?

Have everyone bring in their coins and give them new ones.

Really, that’s what happened in 1816 and 1817 in England. The so-called Corn Laws were keeping the cost of grain artificially high and preventing other countries from bringing in grain at lesser prices. Things were looking wobbly economically. Parliament in its wisdom decided the best way to stabilize the economy was to standardize the coinage, and to do that they needed new coins.

The Coin Act of 1816 ordered the Royal Mint to put forth new silver coins to replace the old ones. Master of the Mint, William Wellesley-Pole, older brother of the Duke of Wellington, came up with a daring plan. (He added the Pole part of his name as a requirement to receive his inheritance from a distant relative). He had to create new coins, get everyone in the entire country to trade out their old ones, and bring the old ones back for destruction.

Not easy by any imagining. Right away, he ran into trouble. To begin with, the Royal Mint had no record of the coins it had previously cast, so he had no examples on which to build. Joseph Banks, head of the Royal Society, gave him some old coins, and Wellesley-Pole started the Royal Mint Museum, which is still in operation today.

For another, the old coinage had been cast in such a way that the designs and denominations were rubbed off over time, until no one was sure what was worth what (one of the reasons Parliament wanted to have new money minted). Wellesley-Pole used the latest engraving and printing processes.

Then there was the fact that Parliament wanted him to keep this whole endeavor strictly secret until it was time to redistribute the coins. (You can imagine how robbers eyes would gleam if it were known new coins were being transported around the country.)

Finally, there was the matter of the Prince Regent. He had to approve the design of each type of coin. To ensure success, Wellesley-Pole contracted with the great Italian engraver, Benedetto Pistrucci to design the faces of the coins. And they were literally faces—then as now, English coins carried a bust of the reigning monarch. Normally, Pistrucci would have had his subject sit for him to create the bust, but King George wasn’t in any shape to comply. (He was quite mad at this point.) So, Pistrucci set up the coin based on other portraits. Shall we say, they were not his finest work? His initial design has been dubbed the “bull head George” (the coin at the top of the post). I’m sure you can see why. It was roundly criticized, and another design prevailed. This St. George and the Dragon was used then and in 1915, as shown on the coin.

Wellesley-Pole also prevailed. He managed to have cast new silver coins and a new gold coin, the sovereign, which was worth 20 shillings as opposed to the new defunct guinea, which was worth 21 shillings. He also had cast crowns and half crowns. All coins were cast to specific standards, bagged and crated, and distributed by 1,000 agents through banks all over Britain.

The effort at last met with high success. Approximately 57 million coins were exchanged, with no robberies and no riots, over the course of two weeks. And the coins remained in circulation until 1971.

Well done, Wellesley-Pole, well done. I’m happy to recount your triumph.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Regency Fabrics, Part 11

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

Today we have four fabrics from April 1810; their overall condition is moderately good, with some degeneration/fading of the dyes and foxing on #3 and #4.

No. 1. A French flowered muslin, calculated for morning dresses or lounge wraps. Sold by Waithman and Everington, No. 104, Fleet-street. 

My comments: Well, being at war with France had evidently not stopped the fashion for French things, though it's not clear if this is an actual import or just in a French style. The flowers and ribbing are woven into this loose-woven muslin, which would definitely require a lining. But I imagine it was very dainty and pretty when new.

No. 2. A figured double twilled jonquil sarsnet, adapted for the Circassian robe and Austrian tunic, now such distinguished articles in a fashionable wardrobe. The French frock, with silver fringe, is particularly elegant when composed of this material. It is sold by D. and P. Cooper, No. 28, Pall-Mall.

My comments: Oh, this is lovely stuff, and not as acid-yellow as my scanner would make it out to be. It's beautifully smooth and silken, and would drape beautifully. I did a little looking around for a description of just what a "Circassian robe" might consist of, and could not find a definitive description; the consensus seems to be that it was somehow "oriental" in appearance, perhaps featuring tassels or other eastern-influenced designs.

No. 3. An entire new rock-coral muslin for round robes or spring pelisses. The delicate and elegant union of shade which distinguishes this article, renders useless all further remark. It is sold by T. and J. Smith and Co. No. 43, Tavistock-street, Covent-Garden.

My comments: This is a much more tightly woven muslin than in No. 1--it would have to be, in order to be printed on. The print is sharp and clear though the lighter brown sections are a little wobbly.

No. 4 A double twilled imperial striped muslin, appropriated for morning wraps, evening frocks, and tunics. This article takes precedence of the plain cambric and pea-spotted muslin. It is sold by T. and J. Smith and Co. as above.

My comments: A very pretty ribbed muslin; the weave is fairly tight though lining would definitely be required under dresses.

Friday, September 16, 2016

More Happy Returns of the Day

I can hardly believe Marissa and I are still blogging after she first approached me to join her in this venture, which we launched in September 2007. Over the years I’ve enjoyed writing about odd activities such as the hobby horse, pedestrianism, and other fun facts I uncovered researching. But choosing my five favorites? That was really, really hard! So, I admit to cheating a little.

One of my favorite series of posts was when we all took the Grand Tour together. You helped me identify places you’d like to visit, I researched the locations, and together we discovered the wonders of Paris, the beauty of crossing the Alps, and the amazing architecture of Roman and Venice.

Another favorite series talked about real-life nineteenth century heroines, women who lived in that time who did outstanding things. Posts about Ada Byron, the first computer engineer; Eleanor Coade, whose stonework is still copied; and Mary Anning, who discovered a dinosaur, were particularly fun to write.

Finally, I loved writing the series of posts on seashore towns in the early nineteenth century, but it was during that research that I discovered the Shell Grotto, which is now on my ever-growing list of places I want to see in England. 

And now we’re off on another year together. Where do you want to go next? What would you like to see us talk about? You have been a quiet bunch in general, but we really do want to hear from you.

Now’s your chance. Speak up. What do you want more of? What do you want us to try we’ve never tried before? The Grand Tour and nineteenth century heroines posts came about because one of you made a suggestion. Let’s hear your thoughts as we begin our tenth year blogging at Nineteenteen.

Picture credit: Cobatfor

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Happy Birthday to Us, for the Ninth Time

Believe it or not, NineteenTeen is turning nine this month! Woo hoo!

  • cue confetti and noisemakers
  • light candles on cake
  • crank up volume on Victrola
Doing anything for nine straight years, especially maintaining a blog, means pretty much one thing—we do it because we’re wicked history geeks and are having fun trying to convert all of our readers to the joys of history geekery. So to celebrate our ninth birthday, Regina and I are going to take a trip down memory lane and recall some of our favorite posts. They may not be the most viewed, but they’re the ones on topics that most fascinated us for whatever reason, or from which we learned the most as we researched and wrote them, or simply had the most fun with.

And you know what? Picking just five (well sort of) was hard. There are so many others I would have liked to include—the stories of Queen Victoria’s and Princess Charlotte’s turbulent teen years still fascinates me, and I had great fun writing the series about my trip to England last year. I expect there are others that I would probably look at and say, “Oh, yeah—that one was so much fun!” except that between Regina and me there are now close to nine hundred posts in our archives. That’s a lot of posts.

So here you are, in no particular order...

Aside from having fun with the post’s clickbait-style title, I like this post a great deal because it was fascinating to put together the ads and the fashion prints I’d been studying.

Poodle Skirts and Pet Rocks

I had way too much fun thinking this one up—it all sounds so plausible...I mean, can't you just see a teen-aged Queen Victoria having a spitting contest with Lord Melbourne?

I just adore this woman and all her contradictions. I could have added a dozen more anecdotes of her life--some hilarious and some touching (like her habit of occasionally sneaking down to her kitchen to play cards with her cook and kitchen maids.)

Duty Calls, Part 1 and Part 2   

For me these are two of the more important posts I’ve written because they shine a light on the very real cultural differences between the 19th century and the 21st, and inform how I create characters for my stories.

You Want to Dance with Me? I Want it in Writing

 Mostly because I like showing my pretties. ☺

Now, what about you? Have we posted on a topic that has fascinated you or taught you something that you didn’t know? And is there anything we haven’t touched on that you’d like to know more about?

Excuse me. I’m going to go eat some celery and try not to think about cake...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cowboys with Benefits

What do you think of when you think of cowboys? Pintos and paints? Finely tooled leather boots? A Stetson set at a cocky angle? Charm and power rolled into one?

How about books, recipes, and silver necklaces?

Yes, it seems having your first Western out calls for quite the party. First up, thanks to those who played the Cowboy Name Game! The winner of the autographed copy of A Rancher of Convenience is sharyonda. Congratulations! E-mail your physical address to, and I’ll send that right out to you.

But wait, there’s more!

To celebrate the publication of all three of the Lone Star Cowboy League: The Founding Years books, my publisher is offering free on Amazon a collection of recipes related to the stories plus extended excerpts. Here’s one of the recipes to tantalize you, courtesy of Louise M. Gouge.  

Still here? Good. Because there’s even more!

To highlight all the fabulous Western romances available this month, my publisher Love Inspired is offering a chance at a copy of five books plus a beautiful silver necklace from Montana Silversmiths. 

Do not enter on this blog! You have to go to the Harlequin site to enter. Click here, and good luck!

Because, who knew cowboys came with benefits?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Launching a Rancher

It’s finally here! My first official “Western” romance arrives on bookstore shelves today. A Rancher of Convenience is the third story in the Lone Star Cowboy League: The Founding Years series, following Renee Ryan’s Stand-In Rancher Daddy and Louise M. Gouge’s A Family for the Rancher. However, you don’t have to read those books to understand this one.

Sweet mail-order bride Nancy Bennett can’t believe it when her husband is exposed as a cattle rustler—and killed. And when the banker holding the ranch’s mortgage questions whether she can run the ranch on her own, the pregnant widow has nowhere to turn. Until steady foreman Hank Snowden proposes marriage.

Racked with grief about his role in Lucas Bennett’s death, Hank resolves to do right by the man’s wife and child. So it’s natural for him to step in as Nancy’s newly minted husband. But the marriage of convenience may become more than a mere obligation…if only Hank and his bride can brave the first steps toward elusive true love.

Reviewer John Charles at Booklist had this to say about the book: “A smartly crafted, emotionally engaging love story that also admirably celebrates the inner grit and outer gumption needed by the women who settled the West.” 

I had some trouble naming Hank in this story. You see, he arrived with the name Clyde Parker, which I didn’t cotton to. Changes to the story necessitated that Clyde be a crotchety older rancher, so my cowboy told me he’d rather be named Hank anyway.

Wonder what the name of the cowboy in your life might be? Play my handy dandy little game below. If you share the results in the comments before 9pm Eastern Time on Thursday, September 8, I’ll enter you in a drawing to win an autographed copy of the book.

You can find A Rancher of Convenience at fine stores near you and online.

The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)

Friday, August 26, 2016

High Capability, Mr. Brown

[First, congratulations to Dawn Pearson, who won the three autographed books from last week. Many of you guessed here and on Facebook. The answer to the question as to the actor I had in mind as my physical model for Simon Wallin in the upcoming A Convenient Christmas Wedding was a young Val Kilmer. Thanks for commenting, all!]

August 30 marks the 300 year anniversary of the birth of an extraordinary man, for whom we can credit much of the landscape of 18th and 19th century English estates. That man was Capability Brown. Suitable name for a fellow who specialized in landscaping, don’t you think?

His first name, however, was actually Lancelot. Capability was his nickname, possibly because he is quoted as having said that his landscapes had great capabilities. Born in 1716 in Northumberland, to a father who was a land agent and a mother who worked in the great house of Kirkharle, where he first apprenticed and then became a gardener when he was 23. After a few other assignments on various estates, he moved to the great house at Stowe, where he tutored under the landscape master William Kent and was given greater and greater responsibility for the landscape and architecture. He would go into business for himself and ultimately serve as Master Gardener for George III at Hampton Court.

Brown had a simple idea for his landscapes—combine elegance with comfort. Ornamental ponds were placed so as to resemble a natural river winding through the estate. Buildings were tucked in around plants and not the other way around. Some say his work was underappreciated because it so closely resembled nature that no one knew how hard he’d worked to achieve the effect!

Whether he simply provided plans for the landowner to follow, sent a foreman to make sure the work was done to his specifications, or oversaw the work himself, Brown contributed to more than 260 projects during his lifetime. Nearly 60% of those projects are still in place today.

Brown himself did not do well financially, alas. It seems he sometimes allowed his clients to determine what his work was worth, occasionally earning less than he would have been paid otherwise. He died when he was only 66, collapsing from his work.

But he certainly left his mark on the English landscape. Not surprisingly, a number of locations are celebrating his 300th birthday. For more information, try

The Capability Brown Festival, managed by the Landscape Institute 

National Trust links to sites celebrating the anniversary 

Blenheim Palace Festival site 

Harewood festival site 

All I can say is that when it comes to gardening, there’s very little capability and a whole lot of brown at my house.

And speaking of houses, Marissa and I sticking around our houses on vacation next week leading up to Labor Day weekend. But I'll be back right after Labor Day to celebrate the launch of A Rancher of Convenience. :-)