Friday, March 22, 2019

Hobnobbing with the Nobs

File:Dukning i Stensale - Livrustkammaren - 87355.tifEver read a scene where a character wonders which glass to drink from or how to introduce one friend to another? In the early nineteenth century, members of the aristocracy didn’t have to wonder. They had been trained in the art of proper social etiquette since they were born, were surrounded by people who practiced it with some level of success. But the middle classes grew as the century wore on, and more and more people began trying to be seen as polished ladies and gentlemen. Where there is need, there is a booming business for instructions, and instructors.

My heroine, Charlotte Worthington, in Never Kneel to a Knight is one such instructor. Her job is to make sure her charges show to advantage among the aristocracy with whom they are attempting to hobnob. Other mushrooms (as those who suddenly come into wealth were called) turned to books. Etiquette books provided a knowable set of rules that promised to elevate you in the eyes of those around you. “Never dance with a gentleman to whom you have not been introduced.” “Moderate your tone when speaking—neither mumble nor shriek.”

Unfortunately, some of the advice was so specific or so vague as to be useless. I had Lord Snedley’s Guide prove such a diversion in my Lady Emily Capers. This fictious lord advised things like the following:

File:Dukat bord. Matsalen - Hallwylska museet - 30710.tif“On her first introduction to a gentleman, a young lady would do well to keep her eyes on his chin, unless of course he should have a pock or wart there. Raising her eyes to his will make her appear forward and staring at his feet will make the fellow uncomfortable. I also advise against staring at birthmarks or protrusions of any sort.”

“It is the darkest sin imaginable to make your hostess odd numbers at table, especially on a Tuesday.”

“Always treat a guest in your home with the greatest civility, unless of course you catch the fellow slipping silver up his sleeve or ogling the picture of your great-aunt Bess. Then, by all means, throw him out on his ear.”

“The truly fashionable are never found at home unless suffering from bilious gout or the need to hide from creditors.”

You can find more sayings of Lord Snedley here.

And may I practice polite etiquette by alerting you to two upcoming delights? Next Monday, March 25, I will be guest-blogging at Number 1 London.  As you may know, that address was the home of the Duke of Wellington. Online, it’s the home of fabulous historian and travel maven, Kristine Hughes Patrone, and I am honored to be her guest, talking about boxing during the Regency period. Try not to get lost in the gorgeous pictures she posts of England!

And be sure to come back on Tuesday, when we have a special guest blogger of our own. “Debut” author Charlotte Henry, also known as the Incomparable Shelley Adina, will be here next week to introduce her new book and share some exciting tidbits about researching her location in Cornwall.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Regency Fabrics, Part 23

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.

Today’s four samples are from the  November 1811 issue of Ackermann’s Repository. The overall condition of my copy is excellent; the page itself is free of foxing and is only slightly toned, and the fabrics themselves seem to be in excellent condition as well.

Here we go!
No. 1.  A fawn-coloured lustre for evening or half-dress. This appropriate article has not before been introduced of this becoming and delicate shade. It is usually trimmed with swansdown, or other light skin, or with falls of thread lace; and is sold by Mr. George, No. 19, Holywell-street, Strand. 

My comments: Oh, lovely! This appears to be a woven silk of a slightly uneven but still beautifully smooth hand, and the color is indeed becoming. I’m sure it drapes very well, and while fairly opaque, would do best over an underskirt.

No. 2. A new sea-weed printed cambric, whose warmth of colouring renders it particularly adapted for the approaching winter season.  It is calculated more immediately for the domestic or morning robe, and is worn with lace cuffs and frill. Sold by Waithman and Son, corner of Fleet-street, Blackfriars.

My comments: Heh—another vintage quilting fabric look-alike, looking very American Civil War era to my eyes. The weave is smooth and even and the printing very sharp and precise.

No. 3. A checked ladies’ Merino cloth for habits, German coats, pelisses, &c. It is similar to that represented in the walking figure of the present Number of this work. The trimmings most fashionable and consistent for coats of this article are, Spanish silk braid and frogs, with divers kinds of fur, happily contrasted with the colour of the cloth.

My comments: A cozy, lightly flocked woolen, not so heavy that it wouldn’t fall nicely. Very curiously, while the check pattern isn't visible to the naked eye, it can been seen when scanned. I cannot tell if the square pattern was woven in or printed as it just doesn't show up in person; also, the scan makes it look like the contrasting check is a sort of faded acid yellow, which is not apparent in regular light--the fabric appears a uniform vanilla color.

No. 4. A Persian kerseymere, worked in tambour, first introduced in this country by the late Persian ambassador, and is much in vogue with our male fashionables. Some gentlemen trim the waistcoat, formed of this unique article, at the collar and breast with a border or edging of sable; it has a most comfortable and becoming effect during the winter months. This article, together with No. 3, is furnished by Messrs. Maunde and Co. wholesale and retail drapers and mercers, in Cornhill.

My comments: Similar in texture but slightly lighter in weight that the woolen in No. 3...but that yellow...and the black, white, and orange pattern...! The yellow is brighter in natural light than it appears to be under the scan. I’m trying to picture a gentleman’s waistcoat made of this and trimmed with fur, and expect that Beau Brummel would have had to have a brief lie-down in a darkened room with a cold compress on his forehead had he spotted one of his friends wearing it.

And an interesting side note on this month’s samples: in the next month’s issue is a note that reads We forgot to mention in our number for November that the Persian Kerseymere, No. 4,  furnished us by Messrs. Maunde and Co., is worked in tambour by a society of unfortunate, but industrious French immigrants, residing in the west of England. An interesting footnote on many I feel a story coming on about an impoverished but nobly-born French emigré and the foppish earl who falls in love with the fabric of his new waistcoat and moves heaven and earth to find out whose dainty hands stitched it? Stay tuned...

Any thoughts on this month’s fabrics?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Never Kneel

To a Knight, that is! I’m excited to report that the 5th book in my Fortune’s Brides series, Never Kneel to a Knight, is now out in ebook and print and available at fine online retailers.

When the thoroughly poised Charlotte Worthington requests that Miss Thorn and her cat Fortune find her a position, she never dreams the savvy employment agency owner would reunite her with Matthew Bateman, her brother’s former bodyguard. Matthew is about to be knighted for an act of valor, and he and his sisters could use some polishing if they’re to enter Society after his elevation. Yet how can Charlotte maintain her calm, cool demeanor as their sponsor when she harbors a secret love for him?

Matthew Bateman cannot forget the beauty who is miles out of his league. Once a boxer called the Beast of Birmingham, Matthew would like nothing better than to be worthy of Charlotte’s hand. As old enemies and new ones attempt to bring him low, can Matthew prove to Charlotte that their love is meant to be?

Here’s a little taste:

Charlotte inclined her head. “Our approach for your sisters is settled, then. What about you?”

Matthew frowned. “Me? I’m fine.”

She was watching him. “You’ve been told what will be expected of you at the prince’s levee, then?”

By no less than three lords, all of whom had seemed certain he’d embarrass himself even with their wise counsel. He shrugged. “More or less.”

She puffed out a sigh. “Come now, Beast. You must know there are expectations for your behavior.”

He could feel his frown deepening. “Like what?”

“Like introductions, for one. How do you bow to the prince?”

He rose and inclined his head.

She stood and put her hand on his shoulder. “Deeper. He is the sovereign.”

“And I’m a knight,” Matthew reminded her. “Or I will be soon. Don’t I deserve some dignity? If you’re supposed to keel over for a kingly sort, do you at least kneel to a knight?”

“Never,” she said. “Your obeisance is tempered by the elevation of the person you are greeting. Knights, even the hereditary ones, are at the very bottom.”

“No, that’s reserved for us common folk,” he said.

Either the tone or the look on his face must have said more than he’d intended, for her eyes dipped down at the corners, and she removed her hand from his shoulder. “Now, then, you and your sisters may need to brush up on Society’s expectations, but you know many things I’ve never been taught.”

“Like what?” he asked, struggling to see her as anything less than perfect.

“Like boxing,” she said with certainty.

Matthew snorted. “Fat lot Society needs to know about that.”

“Some know far more than they should,” she informed him primly. “But my point was that you are an expert in that area. For example, how would you go about besting me?”

His brows shot up. “What? You think I fight women?”

She laughed, a warm sound that made him want to move closer, as if he’d stepped through the door of his own home for the first time in a long time. “No, of course not. But you must have a strategy. Appearing before the prince is no different. You have to know what you hope to achieve.”

Matthew stuck out his lower lip. “All right. But when I fight, I mostly think about staying alive, avoiding injury.”

She frowned. “All defense? No offense?”

“Well,” he allowed, “I did have one particular move that served me well. I can take a punch better than most, but if a fellow was especially trying, I’d wrap him up.”

“Wrap him up?”

“Yeah, like this.” He reached out and wrapped his arms about her, pinning her against his chest. Her eyes were wide in surprise, but he didn’t see any fear in the grey. She fit against him as if she’d been tailored just for him.

He knew he should let go. Yet everything in him demanded that he hang on, hold her close, all the days of his life, no matter the cost.



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Children of George III: Ernest

It’s been a while since we’ve met another one of George III’s numerous brood. As it happens, we’ve already met this particular son. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

The king’s fifth son and eighth child, Ernest Augustus, was born on June 5, 1771 at Buckingham House. His childhood seems to have been uneventful; it was spent growing up at Kew with his numerous siblings and sharing a household with his two younger brothers, Augustus and Adolphus. Ernest was a handsome, boisterous boy; unlike most of his brothers, he would never become corpulent, but remained lean his whole life.

At fifteen and still with his two younger brothers in tow, Ernest was sent to study at the University of Göttingen in Hanover, and received his earliest military training there as well. By 1792 he was commissioned as a cavalry colonel, being an excellent horseman and shot, and went on to fight against the French in several battles over the next few years, receiving a saber wound to his head (that would eventually result in a loss of vision in one eye) and other wounds. Though he would continue to serve in the military for another twenty years, returning to the continent and eventually attaining the rank of field marshal, his battle days were past.

However, his interest in politics was just beginning. When his father awarded him the title of Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale in 1799, he took his seat in the House of Lords and actually got involved. A dedicated Tory unlike his brothers Prinny and the Duke of York, he voted against bills for Catholic Emancipation and other liberal legislation and became a leader of the conservative end of his party. Also unlike his brothers, he was circumspect in his personal habits, which may have backfired on him as he acquired a reputation as a sinister figure who preferred to enjoy his vices privately. Rumors likely circulated by political opponents whirled around him, reaching their apex in the scandal around the death of his valet, Joseph Sellis.

The army and politics kept him sufficiently busy until 1813, when he became smitten by a cousin, Princess Frederica of Meckenburg-Strelitz. Though she was already married, the marriage was not a success and discussion of a divorce was underway when the princess’s husband died unexpectedly—a fact which became more grist for the rumor mill after Ernest and she married in 1815. Since Queen Charlotte did not approve of the marriage and would not receive her daughter-in-law, the couple eventually moved to Germany and had a son.

Over the next decade and a half, lurid rumors of murder and assault continued to circulate around Ernest, many of them probably politically motivated as he continued to involve himself in politics, being especially active in questions involving Ireland during the 1820s. The issue of the line of succession to the throne was an especially fraught one; after Prinny’s death in 1830, Ernest was next in line for the throne after young princess Victoria, and rumors that her life was in danger from her wicked uncle were rife even after she came to throne; only the births of her first children put those rumors to rest.

On the death of his older brother William IV Ernest became the king of Hanover, since Victoria as a female could not inherit the Hanoverian throne. He left England within the month to take up residence in his new kingdom, where he ruled according to his highly conservative bent (though he did eventually approve a more liberal constitution for Hanover.) He wasn’t very popular, but wasn’t unpopular either, and was appreciated for the fact that he kept Hanover out of the reaching grasp of Prussian expansionism. He died in 1851, at the age of 80.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Free, Free!

No, I’m not being redundant, although I am being enthusiastic. Until March 13, you have two ways to read one of my books for free.

1.  Sign up for my e-mail alert. I don’t call it a newsletter, because it’s not chatty. I figure you get enough of that here. 😊 What it will provide is a notification when a new book is out or an older book is on sale. I do not share your e-mail with anyone, and neither does MailChimp, my alert distributor. And after signing up, you will be directed to a webpage where you can download a free copy of my Regency novella, “An Engagement of Convenience,” originally published in Summer House Party

2.  Head to your favorite online e-book retailer and download a copy of The Husband Mission, book 1 in my Spy Matchmaker series. Lord Wescott cannot understand why he’s under surveillance, but it seems to be connected to the intriguing Katherine Collins. He’s been encouraged by England’s spymaster to marry, but what wife can compare to espionage? Unless, she’s up for a little espionage too.

Here are the links to the U.S. stores for your convenience (but it’s free in the UK, Australia, Canada, and India, too):

If you’ve read both, thank you! Feel free (see what I did there) to share with your friends and family. “An Engagement of Convenience” will remain free for a few months when someone signs up for my alert, but The Husband Mission will only be free through March 13, because Never Kneel to a Knight launches the very next day. Squee!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A Good Habit to Emulate

I was so excited to acquire this La Belle Assemblée print! Riding habit prints aren’t all that uncommon (Ackermann did several, as did several of the French journals of the time) but this one is just so much fun: the saturation of the colors, the pose, and the fact that the person wearing the riding habit is, yanno, actually on horseback...!

Let’s look at the details.  The text at the bottom reads:

A French Lady on Horseback in the fashionable stile of Riding in the Long Champs & Elisée at Paris.
Engraven from an original drawing taken on the Spot for La Belle Assemblée.
Or Bell’s Court & Fashionable Magazine for March 1807

The text (from the April 1807 edition) reads Parisian Costume No. 3. Represents a Parisian lady, mounted in the most fashionable style, for the Long Champs and Elisées, at Paris.—An equestrian habit of fine seal-wool cloth, with elastic strap; the colour blue (but olive, or puce, are equally esteemed), with convex buttons of dead gold. The habit to sit high in the neck behind, lapelled in front, and buttoned twice at the small of the waist; a high plaited frill of cambric, uniting at the bosom where the habit closes. A jockey bonnet of the same materials as composes the habit, finished with a band and tuft in front. Hair in dishevelled crop. York tan gloves; and demi-boots of purple kid, laced with jonquil chord.

Isn’t it pretty? Note the long trained skirt (to keep the limbs modestly covered when riding side-saddle, the gold buttons detailing the back of the bodice and along what looks like decorative pockets to the side. The jaunty jockey cap decorated with a flower of the same fabric and the brim curling over the ears (excellent if one is wearing pretty earrings!) and the elegantly severe lapels—all wonderful. I’m also interested by the safety strap, to keep our stylish equestrienne safe in her (not illustrated, oddly enough) saddle. I’m only sorry we don’t get a glimpse of the purple kid demi-boots!

The one point I have to question is the “from an original drawing taken on the spot” part, as there is a basically identical print from an 1805 Journal des Dames et des Modes...but as we have seen before, copyright law as we know it was basically non-existent in the 19th century...

I hope you enjoyed today’s eye candy!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Oh, What a Knight!

A knighthood. Sounds like something King Arthur bestowed (and likely did). But being knighted wasn’t just something from medieval times (as we detailed here). During the early part of the nineteenth century, many gentlemen were knighted for various services to the crown, but the type of knight mattered in the level-conscious Society.

At the bottom of the knighthood ladder was the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, begun in 1725 for military or civilian service to the King. At ceremonial events like crownings or royal christenings, Knights of the Bath wore almost fuchsia silk cloaks emblazoned with a large gold sunburst with a center showing three crowns and the motto “Three joined in one” in Latin. In 1815, the order was split into three classes to include more military heroes from the war with France.

Near the top of the ladder was the Order of the Garter, founded in 1348. At ceremonial events, they wore deep blue velvet cloaks and short-brimmed hats with white ostrich plumes. Their emblem was an embroidered garter (see the buckle in the picture?) with the words “Shame on him who thinks ill of it” in Latin in gold.

Not to be outdone, the Prince Regent founded his own knightly honor in April 1818. The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George awarded commanders serving on the Continent. Their ceremonial garb were blue silk cloaks, and their emblem was a silver star surmounted by a crimson cross, a picture of St. George slaying the dragon, and the words “Token of a better age” in Latin.

While quite showy at times, none of these knighthoods was hereditary. You might be Sir William Pompousface, but your son would be Mr. Pompousface. A baronetcy was considered a hereditary knighthood. You would become Sir William, and your son would become Sir Frederick. Note that neither is Sir Pompousface. A baronetcy was not considered an aristocratic title like duke, earl, etc. And you had to do something rather special to earn it.

Like save the Prince Regent’s life.

Such is the case of my hero in Never Kneel to a Knight, available for preorder now. Some of you may remember Matthew Bateman and Charlotte Worthington from Never Vie for a Viscount.

When the thoroughly poised Charlotte Worthington requests that Miss Thorn and her cat Fortune find her a position, she never dreams the savvy employment agency owner would reunite her with Matthew Bateman, her brother’s former bodyguard. Matthew is about to be knighted for an act of valor, and he and his sisters could use some polishing if they’re to enter Society after his elevation. Yet how can Charlotte maintain her calm, cool demeanor as their sponsor when she harbors a secret love for him?

Matthew Bateman cannot forget the beauty who is miles out of his league. Once a boxer called the Beast of Birmingham, Matthew would like nothing better than to be worthy of Charlotte’s hand. As old enemies and new ones attempt to bring him low, can Matthew prove to Charlotte that their love is meant to be?

Preorder now from fine online retailers such as


And look for more information when the book launches in mid-March.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Universal Advertising Sheet, Part 1

As a corollary to my collecting Ackermanns! all the Ackermanns! early 19th century fashion prints, I’ve accumulated a number of the advertising supplements that were published along with Ackermann’s Repository and La Belle Assemblée...and they’re worth having a look at.

Concealed within the floridly-written, column-inch-gobbling ads for hair oil and patent medicines and ladies’ stays are tidbits that can be surprising and amusing, and definitely open a new window onto the world of fashionable London in those years.

For example, in The Universal Advertising Sheet for La Belle Assemblée dating December 1813, we have the following:


Is desirous of obtaining a situation as Attendant on one or two Ladies, where she would be required to make Dresses and other Needle Work. Her Family are very respectable, and the most unexceptionable References can be given.
Letters directed, post paid, to M. A. at Mrs. Dovey’s, No. 7, Edward-street, Portman-square, will receive attention.

I wonder what M.A.’s story was? Was she an orphan? An eldest daughter in a large family? The writer’s mind begins to teem...

And for those coffee aficionados among us (raises hand...) – instant coffee and creamer! Not to mention samples!


Sold at his manufactory, No. 79, Great Titchfield-street, Mary-le-Bone, London; and by various Grocers, Druggists, &c. in Tow and Country, in Half-pint Bottles.
Turkey.................5s. 6d
Bourbon...............3s. 6d.   Bottles included
Plantation.............2s. 6d
A small tea-spoon full of the Essence, put into a coffee cup of boiling water, with sugar and cream, instantly makes a cup of strong clear coffee.
The Essence of Coffee, made from October to April, will keep for years in any climate.
Sold also as above, HAWKINS’S PRESERVED CREAM, which will keep good in any climate, and is equal to new Cream for enriching the Flavour of Coffee and Tea. Price 2s. 6d the Half-pint Bottle.
It being impossible to make good Coffee without Pure Water, HAWKINS’S PORTABLE FILTERING VESSELS are recommended, prince 4s. and upwards.
In order to give the Public an opportunity of judging for themselves, Coffee from the Essence and Preserved Cream will be made at any hour of the day, at 3d. per cup, including a biscuit.

Including a biscuit? I'm in!

This one piques my interest...


Mrs. Morris respectfully informs those Ladies that have honoured her with their commands for several years past, and the Nobility at large, she continues to make large supplies of her celebrated Patent Invisible Petticoats, Elastic Opera Under-dresses, Waistcoats, Hunting and other Drawers, for winter, made of Vigonia and real Spanish Lambs’ Wool; article for which safety against colds warmth, and comfort, cannot be equaled, and at the same time will add much less to the size than any other article that can possibly be worn for warmth; all of which are warranted never to shrink by washing....

I would love to know what a Patent Invisible Petticoat was made of. My fantasy writing instincts are all a-quiver...

And last, here’s a bit of a surprise...


JASPER TAYLOR and SON, have the pleasure of informing the Nobility, Gentry, and their numerous Friends, that by long perseverance, and at no inconsiderable labour and expence in the proper choice and selection of the Fruit, they have at length brought this admired article to the highest possible state of perfection. They now, therefore, confidently recommend it to the Public, from its great richness and utility; giving the most delicious flavour to made Dishes, Soups, Roast Meat, &c. It is an admirable addition to Fish Sauce, and is warranted to keep for a length of time in any climate. Sold in bottles, at 2s. and 4s. each, at their Family Oil and Sauce Warehouse, No. 17, Lower Holborn.

Not sure they were putting it on their fries (or should I say chips? ☺) but hey, there you go!

Did you find this interesting? Shall I post about any other ads that tickle my fancy or talk about something unexpected?

Friday, February 22, 2019

How a Historical Romance Cover Should be Created: A Distance Too Grand Cover Reveal

Very few of us pick up a book without first looking at the cover. Indeed, covers can draw you to a book you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. I have been blessed with some lovely covers over the years. (We won’t speak of the unlovely covers—they tend to get jealous.) But I have never, in working with six different publishers, been treated to a more amazing process than that for the cover of my October 2019 release from Revell, A Distance Too Grand.

Grand is set on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1871 and features a photographer heroine who wrangles her way onto an Army survey team only to discover the man leading the team is the one she thought she had left behind. As is often the case with publishers, I was asked what I thought would make a good cover and provided details on what my heroine and hero looked like, what they wear in the book, and the setting. I expected that to be that. What has generally happened in the past with other publishers is that I would get a nearly finished product at some point and beg to have any inconsistencies fixed. Sometimes timing demanded that those inconsistencies remained to publication. It is what it is.

Not this time.

I first received an e-mail from the Art Director introducing herself and explaining the process. A short while later I received another e-mail from this wonderful person who I intend to hug if I ever meet her in person. She sent a picture of an antique camera.

“Will this do for Meg?” she asked. “Answer quickly, if you can. We want to buy it, and the auction ends today.”

“Yes, yes,” I enthused. “Perfect.”

They bought an antique camera.

Friends, this doesn’t happen. If a publisher wants a suitable looking camera for a cover, someone will find some sort of clipart that sorta, kinda resembles a camera from the 1800s and force-fit it into the composition. Not this time.

The next e-mail provided pictures of a model they hoped to use for Meg. She too was perfect. I was thrilled.

The next e-mail apologized that they could not find a navy riding habit that exactly matched the picture I had sent. Would this dress do instead? I found myself looking at an antique dress from the time period, with a narrow skirt and a bustle. They were going to rent an authentic outfit from the 1870s. Sadly, Meg could not have worn it on horseback on the survey. I made some suggestions about fudging—using a modern riding habit jacket and painting on the right buttons, using a modern A-line skirt.

“Thanks,” she said. “We’ll keep looking.”

The next e-mail offered two cream-colored riding habits of perfect dimensions, also museum pieces that would be borrowed for the photo shoot.

The actual photo shoot.

I agreed the one the Art Director liked was—yes, you guessed it—perfect and waited breathlessly.

And here is the result.

To say I am delighted is the understatement of the year. This is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever had, and the most historically accurate. I feel blessed.

I hope you’ll look for A Distance Too Grand in October. If you just can’t wait, it is available for preorder in print now (I expect e-book to come) from Amazon

Isn’t it Grand?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Book or the Movie...or Maybe, the Book AND the Movie?

I’m taking a little break from the 19th century this week because I’ve been having far too much fun making book teaser videos again (bad Marissa! No cookie!) Sometimes creativity needs more than one outlet, right?

So without further ado, here’s a video I made for my adult contemporaryfantasy/romance with quilts and selkies and Cape Cod, Skin Deep:

And speaking of Skin is a good time to remind you that Barnes and Noble’s on-line #NookBookBash has just one week left to run.

What’s #NookBookBash? It’s Barnes and Noble’s special offer of over two hundred books in a range of genres—mystery, science fiction, thrillers, romance (including Skin Deep—there, you knew there had to be some tie-in!)—that you can download for free with a special coupon code... and if you like what you read, there’s another coupon for getting the next-in-series books for 25% off. You don’t need to own a NOOK device to read—you can download the free NOOK app to your computer, phone, or tablet.

Here’s how it works:

1: Visit on your desktop or device (coupons cannot be redeemed on a NOOK device or inside the NOOK app) and snap up your next favorite reads.
2: Add featured ebook(s) to the cart
3: When you’re done shopping, view your shopping cart
4: Apply Coupon Code NOOKBASHFREE below the Order Summary.
5. Complete check out. Your new books will automatically appear in your NOOK library.
6. And hey presto! You’ve got books! There are no limits—you can get as many of the offered books as you want!

To get the next-in-series book, check out the Second Book list on the same page, and at checkout, use coupon NOOKBASH25 to get 25% off those titles. The only tricky bit is that you can’t use both coupons in one transaction, so get your free books first and check out for any sequels separately.

Feel free to pass this on to your friends, but time is running out--the offer is good only through February 28, 2019, so stop by soon! Happy shopping!

And now I’ll go get back into my accustomed century.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Dissecting a Valentine

Sounds rather macabre the day after the holiday devoted to love, doesn’t it? But I was recently reminded that I have a wonderful late nineteenth century/early twentieth century Valentine courtesy of the great-great aunt who left me her postcard collection, and I wanted to share.

Here it is in all its glory:

A few things to note:

  • It’s built in layers of paper. Each layer isn’t as thick as card stock, but definitely thicker than typical stationery. They are mounted on accordion hinges of the same sort of stock. Alas, everything is pretty flat after nearly a hundred years in a photo album, but you can see where this was once a rather impressive three-dimensional anthem to love.
  • The pieces surrounding the center cherub are made from different materials. The red ribbon is silk, the white a kind of cross-grain fabric. The gilding appears to have been hand-applied. And some of the white lace is fabric bric-a-brac.
  • Nothing on the back or front indicates who created it or where.
  • Inside is a lovely poem promising life-long devotion, but no signature. I don’t know whether my great-great aunt received it from someone she loved or bought it and never sent it. Oh, the story possibilities!

All in all, it’s about 11 inches tall and 8 inches wide, and I don’t think the colors have faded much with time. Any lady would have been pleased to receive it. I am quite delighted my great-great aunt thought to leave it for me.

And now you! Happy belated Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Chairs That Go Bump in the Night: Gothic Furniture, Part 3

Time to show you the last few delicious prints of Gothic furniture from my collection of prints from Ackermann’s Repository! Part 1 can be viewed here and Part 2 here... and here we go!

These Gothic Chairs give off a shabby chic vibe, don’t they?  According to the accompanying text (after a bit of pontificating about the nature and usefulness of chairs), “There are but few specimens of the furniture of the sixteenth century, remaining; those which once belonged to Cardinal Wolsey and a few others, now in the possession of his Majesty, are the only ones known to be extant; and even these are far from being pure in their details. They are executed in ebony, with ivory occasionally introduced in the heads of the figures, animals, &c. They are totally unfit for imitation, being clumsy in their design and very heavy. The use of chairs was hardly known to our ancestors, stools and benches being generally substituted in their place: so that in designing them for modern use, we must greatly deviate from their original character.”  All of which says, “we are totally making these designs up!” as far as I’m concerned...but they’re still a lot of fun. The chair at right in particular looks like the style of chair already in common fashion, with some Olde Gothicke decoration added in. (December 1826)

A similar confession accompanies the description of this Gothic Bookcase (exact date not known, but it was published in the first half of 1827). It reads, “The library now constitutes one of the principal apartments in the country-seats of our noblemen and gentlemen. No style can be better adapted for its decoration than that of the middle ages, which possesses a sedate and grave character, that incites the mind to study and reflection. The rays passing through its variegated casements cast a religious light upon the venerable tomes on either side, the beautiful arrangements of its parts combining to produce an impressive grandeur in the whole design. Every thing proclaims it an apartment consecrated to learning. All mansions, however, are not sufficiently capacious to admit of devoting a whole apartment to this purpose: bookcases have therefore been resorted to, which form a most excellent substitute; as, while fulfilling the purpose of a library, they form handsome pieces of furniture, which can be well applied in filling up recesses and other inequalities in a room.” So again, not so much a gothic bookcase as a bookcase in the gothic style...but no matter what, I wouldn’t mind a few of long as I kept them on the bottom floor of my house!

Alas, I do not have the accompanying text for our last print from the July 1827 Ackermann’s Repository. It is labeled “Gothic Furniture” but is clearly a card table.  I love the areas for equally Gothic candlesticks at the table’s corners, the tracery on the table’s apron, and the legs modeled to look like cathedral windows—rather an amusing juxtaposition for a gaming table!

I hope you enjoyed our look at Ackermann’s ever-inventive Gothic furniture styles. Any favorite pieces?

Friday, February 8, 2019

Don’t Try This at Home—Glass-Blowing as a Profession

Glass-blowing is a big deal around my neck of the woods. Tacoma just to the north of us is home to the Glass Museum, one of the only working glass-blowing museums on the West Coast. It began as a way to honor Tacoma native, internationally renowned blown-glass artist Dale Chihuly. And you can reach it from the Washington State History Museum via the Bridge of Glass, a structure housing dozens of pieces of blown glass, with end posts boasting huge blue-green pillows of the stuff.

Somehow, I doubt the glass-blowers of the Regency period had such an illustrious and beautiful setting.

According to the Book of English Trades from 1811, glass-makers only worked in the cold months. The high heat of their furnaces would have been unbearable otherwise. These furnaces were made of giant cones of brick, about two-stories tall, with several openings. The ingredients—flint or sand, salt, and metal oxides—went in one opening; fuel in the form of wood or coal in another. The metal oxides were for color. Leave them out, and you had clear glass. Add a little lead, and you had very clear glass (the famed English lead crystal was developed in that way). Iron or copper oxide yielded green glass, cobalt oxide blue, and a sprinkle of gold a beautiful red.

Once the ingredients fused together in a runny molten mass, a glass-maker would scoop some out with a hollow tube about two and a half feet long. The glass-maker rolled the mass on an iron plate to smooth it, then began blowing into the tube to form a bubble. Blowing and turning both increased the size of the bubble and shaped it. The result would generally be some form of vessel—a bowl, a cup, a lamp cover. But the bubble could also be blown and rotated quickly to form a large disk several feet across. Where the glass-blower cut off the disk from the pipe left a little nipple. These plates would be used to create the panes for windows like those below.

The art was not for the faint of heart. Burns were common, and clothing or gloves might catch fire. But the beauty created is still amazing, whether you live in Regency London, or modern-day Pierce County.

Pictures of glass from the Museum of Glass and Bridge of Glass by Kira Picabo.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Keeping Warm...With a Good Book

The discovery of polar vortices may be a modern event, but cold weather has always been a matter to contend with. I will contend, however, that cold weather has seldom been braved as stylishly as here:

This stunning number is “The Polish Robe and Hat. An entirely new design for the Kensington Garden Walking Dress in March 1807.”  The description reads:

No. 1 – Walking Dress. A Polish Robe of purple velvet, flowing open in front, rounded gradually from the bottom towards the lapels, which are continued across the back. A chemisette of the same, with high full collar; the whole trimmed entirely round with the red fox, mole, leopard spot, or grey squirrel. A rich cord and tassel fastened in the center of the back, which occasionally confines the robe. The back and skirt cut in one; and the sleeve nearly to fit the arm. Polish cap of the same material, trimmed round the edge, and across the crown, with correspondent skin; a cord and tassels suspended in irregular lengths from the right side of the crown. York tan gloves; and primrose, or purple shoes.

Wow! The hat—the swinging cords—the purple—what’s not to love about this ensemble? It just looks sooooo cozy in an over-the-top sort of way; I’m sure this outfit would turn heads when worn on a stroll in Kensington Garden.

But since wearing a cozy purple velvet pelisse in Kensington Garden is not something most of us can do this winter, I’ve got another idea that might keep you warm—because there’s nothing better to do on a cold, blustery day than curl up and read!

Barnes and Noble is running their first #NOOKBOOKBASH--a special offer of over two hundred books, many of them first-in-series, ranging from romance to science fiction to mysteries and thrillers—all FREE with a special coupon code...and if you like what you read, there’s another coupon for getting the next-in-series books for 25% off.  You don’t need to own a NOOK device to read—you can download the free NOOK app to your computer, phone, or tablet and read 'em there.

Here’s how it works:

1: Visit on your desktop or device (coupons cannot be redeemed on a NOOK device or inside the NOOK app) and snap up your next favorite reads.
2: Add featured ebook(s) to the cart
3: When you’re done shopping, view your shopping cart
4: Apply Coupon Code NOOKBASHFREE below the Order Summary.
5. Complete check out. Your new books will automatically appear in your NOOK library.
6. And hey presto! You’ve got books! There are no limits—you can get as many of the offered books as you want!

To get the next-in-series book, check out the Second Book list on the same page, and at checkout, use coupon NOOKBASH25 to get 25% off those titles. The only tricky bit is that you can’t use both coupons in one transaction, so get your free books first and check out for any sequels separately.

Feel free to pass this on to your friends—and the offer is good through February 28, 2019, so you have plenty of time to browse. My own Skin Deep is on offer there—go have a look, and stay warm with a good book!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Football, 19th Century Style

I am told there is a substantial match of some sort happening this Sunday. The male members associated with my household are all agog. The younger male members decided to gift their father a large-screen TV and a sound bar in preparation (his birthday is on the same day). They will be coming on Saturday to install it and stay on Sunday, just to be sure it works, you see. But football matches were no stranger to the nineteenth century, even if they were a different sort of sport.

Some of the most infamous football matches in England happened on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. In one version of the sport, goals were placed at least a mile apart. Some towns even set up monuments to indicate the location of the goal. Two groups of any number of men squared off in the middle between the goals. There are anecdotal accounts of women playing as well. These opposing groups had some sort of connection. Merchants might match up against gentry, country dwellers against city dwellers, one town against another, or one guild against another. Some unlucky soul threw up a round ball of stuffed leather about the size of an inflated pig’s bladder and ran for his life while the two sides converged. The objective was to throw, kick, roll, or otherwise get the ball through the opposing team’s goal. Teams of up to 1,000 were not uncommon, and sides did not have to be equal. Any land between the goals was far game for the playing field, including church yards and cemeteries. 

In another version of the sport, popular in Cornwall and Devon, a much smaller ball the size of an orange, made from apple wood and coated with silver was fought over. The objective was to carry it by force or sleight of hand over the Parish boundary or through a particular goal. Teams were also huge and crossed town and country. At least one scholar of the sport asserts that the game was played by “gentlemen,” although another asserts that the gentry and aristocracy merely provided the silver ball and allowed their estates to be used as goals. A mayor or official generally started the match by throwing out the ball.  Games lasted approximately four hours. Sometimes the person holding the ball at the end would win a small prize, such as the silver ball itself. 

These were free-for-alls, wild pell-mell pursuits. They were so energetic that, according to the International Federation of Association Football, a number of monarchs attempted to outlaw the sport in parts of England from the 1300s through the 1600s. Says the FIFA website:

“Primitive football was more disorganised, more violent, more spontaneous and usually played by an indefinite number of players. Frequently, games took the form of a heated contest between whole villages - through streets and squares, across fields, hedges, fences and streams. Kicking was allowed, as in fact was almost everything else. Sometimes kicking the ball was out of the question due to the size and weight of the sphere being used—in such cases, kicking was instead limited to taking out opponents.”

I certainly hope the Superbowl teams will have more decorum. I’m not sure my family will. Think of me on Sunday. I’ll be the only one attempting to read around the sound of cheering.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

For the Birds...

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows that I’m—well, a bit of a bird nut.

How bird-nutty am I? I’ve got multiple bird-feeders strung up around my house, have a small pair of binoculars on my writing desk in the spring and fall to keep an eye on what migrating feathery friend might be hanging out in the crab-apple tree by my office window, and of course, maintain a list of birds we’ve seen anywhere around the house. Favorite visitors? Eastern bluebirds—just saw one yesterday on one of the suet feeders—cedar waxwings, flocks of wild turkeys, a tiny sharp-shinned hawk that we often see in winter watching the bird-feeders hopefully (they, ahem, like to eat smaller birds), and of course, the feisty ruby-throated hummingbirds that arrive as soon as my bleeding-hearts start to bloom. When I’m outside I talk to the chickadees; I do a good chickadee whistle, and can always bring at least one over to investigate.

It’s not just me; I’ve managed to infect my entire family with my rampant aviphilia. So I was hardly surprised when my husband announced a few weeks back, “I’m going to build an owl house.”

“That’s nice, dear,” I said.

So, we think owls are awesome. They’re fascinating creatures; their feathers have evolved so that they can fly pretty much silently (kind of important when you’re a night-time predator), and they can turn their heads through 270°—that’s three-quarters of a circle (a necessity, because they can’t move their eyes to track moving objects.) We listen at night for owls in the woods around our house (the record is three different owl species calling in one evening.) I’m personally predisposed to like them because they’re the emblem of my college (Athena and her owls, of course.) My husband is predisposed to like them because they eat squirrels and chipmunks—with which we are, unfortunately, well-supplied (I’ve asked the sharp-shinned hawk to step up and polish off a few chipmunks, but he hasn't obliged.)

The owl call we hear most often around these parts is that of the barred owl, so DH did some research on the type of nesting boxes that barred owls like, and came up with a hybrid design from a couple of different websites. He built it out of exterior grade plywood (it's a little over two feet high) stained to keep it from rotting, roofed it with leftover shingles, and installed a hinged bottom to make cleaning it out easier between tenants. Then he filled the bottom with wood shavings and some hay, and hung it in a tree out in the woods behind our house last weekend, about 12 feet up.

I'm not expecting guests quite yet; barred owls usually start nesting in March, but male barred owls are already scouting the woods, looking for likely nesting sites which they will claim and try to entice a lady barred owl to move in to. We'll be watching, though; evidently, the males decorate the areas around their nests with the corpses of prey to show females that they’re good daddy material, because nothing says “I love you” like a dead squirrel or two.

We’ll keep you posted! I made DH promise that if we get owls to nest in it this year, he will put in a webcam in next year, because owls tend to come back to the same nesting place year after year. How cool would that be?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Standing in No One’s Shadow

I have written about Ezra Meeker before. He’s something of a hero in my neck of the woods, or at least he was when I was a girl. So I was delighted recently to learn that he wasn’t the only exceptional person in the family. His wife Eliza Meeker deserves as much recognition.

Eliza Jane Sumner Meeker was born in 1833. She and Ezra were childhood sweethearts in Indiana, their parents’ farms being located nearby. Where Ezra appears to have been the visionary, Eliza was the practical one. Ezra told her he wanted to be a farmer, and she agreed to marry him when she was only 18 so long as he agreed to own the land. That proved difficult for the young couple, who had little money. In less than a year, they decided to head west for Oregon Territory. A tiny woman just over four feet tall, she carefully prepared and packed their food for the trip. Unlike many on the Oregon trail, they never ran out, and nothing spoiled in their six-month journey. And Eliza started out the trip with an infant only 7 weeks old.

Ezra was nothing if not mobile. The couple settled first in St. Helens, Oregon, but staked their first claim across the Columbia River in what would become Kalama. But Ezra wanted more, better, and so they headed north, settling on McNeil Island across from the town of Steilacoom. Still not good enough. He sold their claim, which would eventually become the site of the McNeil Island Correctional Facility. He bought land in the south end of Tacoma, what is called the Fern Hill area today but went by the charming name of Swamp Place back then. Eliza managed the garden and orchard he put in. Still not enough. He had the brilliant idea of growing hops for beer, choosing a claim in the Puyallup Valley. And he made a fortune.

That was enough for Eliza. She asked for half the proceeds of the sale of their last land claim and used the money to build herself and their six children a house, in her name. Not just any house. The Meeker Mansion, which still stands today, cost an astronomical $26,000 then and took 3 years to build. Eliza allowed an Italian painter to live with them for a year while he painted the murals on the ceilings. The house was wired for electricity long before Puyallup had any. Eliza even picked out and arranged for the furniture to be shipped, some all the way from Europe. The year the house was finished, in 1890, she donated their old cabin and land for a city park and served as the first “first lady” of Puyallup when Ezra became the first mayor.

While Ezra was busy running things, Eliza championed the first Puyallup library and was an avid supporter of the suffragette movement. She even attended national meetings. Then a blight went through the hop fields, and they lost everything. Ezra decided to seek his fortune in the Yukon. Eliza had a better idea. She dried 30,000 pounds of vegetables, which Ezra took north to sell in Dawson City. To protect her beloved mansion from being sold to pay their debts, she sold it instead to her daughter Caroline and husband, with the provision that she and Ezra be allowed to reside in the house until their deaths.

Eliza died in 1909, leaving behind a family and a legacy that would not be soon forgotten.