Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Christmas! We Come Bearing Gifts!

Happy Christmas, my dears!  Marissa and I will be taking the next two weeks off to spend time with family and friends, but before we go we wanted to wish you a very merry Christmas and a wonderful, productive, prosperous New Year! 

And bring you presents.  J

The first is my usual Christmas bonus, but this year with a twist.  While I contributed to the bonus, it was actually conceived and created by the talented authors at the Historical Romance Network, of which I am a member.  For your perusing pleasure, we have an annotated list of more than 60 historical romance novels set around the winter holidays.  The list is organized by era, title, and heat level, so you can find just the right book for you!  

The second is a must-see online exhibit called Beauty, Virtue, and Vice from the American Antiquarian Society library describing how women and beauty were perceived based on prints from the nineteenth century.  Fascinating!

Finally, we offer this short video showing the places key to Jane Austen’s life.  I do love the narrator’s dry voice, particularly where he talks about the “gloriously overgrown” kitchen pump at Steventon.


Enjoy your holidays, my dears!  We remain, as always, your humble servants.  See you on January 6th.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fashion Forecast 1832

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1832? As I said for 1831, BIG was in...and that trend would continue for the next several years. The dresses on this plate from February’s La Belle Assemblee’s aren’t too enormous, but I would like to know how the lady at right got her puffy dress sleeves into the sleeves of that coat! Note also the white fur boa in center:

Also from La Belle Assemblee are an Opera Dress and an Evening Dress. Note the interesting sleeves on the Opera Dress with its lappets, and the pleating on the deep ruffle edging the Evening Dress’s skirt. I’m glad to see that the Opera Dress doesn’t include a large hat or headdress, as several earlier Opera Dresses from Ackermann’s did...for which I am sure opera-goers seated behind were grateful! (April):

Prints were truly coming into their own, as can be seen in this trio of dresses from June’s La Belle Assemblee. The Carriage Dress at center is of especial interest, with an elaborately dagged pelerine capelet over gigot sleeves. And the hats! Millinery would also follow the trend of exuberance in the next few years, with lots of plumes, frills, ribbons, and flowers:

Here are a charming Ball Dress, again with sleeves in lappets and a pink overskirt, which must have been lovely when its wearer was in the middle of a lively dance. And I’m trying to decide what the seated lady in the Opera Dress is holding in her hand—doesn’t it look like a feather duster? (Court Magazine, July 1832):

Here’s a print of great interest, from the September issue of Court Magazine: a bride and bridesmaid, probably inspired by the marriage in August of King Leopold of the Belgians (Victoria’s uncle and husband of the late Princess Charlotte of Wales). And yes, the bride is wearing white with a veil draped around her hat, contrary to those who say that Victoria herself established the fashion with her own wedding in 1840). Both dresses are in the current style with full skirts and sleeves, but show a good deal of restraint in ornamentation:

Also from September’s Court Magazine are a Dinner Dress, Evening Dress, and Morning Dress, with their descriptions: Dinner Dress. A pink watered silk dress, à colonnes satinées; body with pointed folds, and bow of gauze ribbon; short sleeves, with epaulettes trimmed with blonde; white tulle Zephyr scarf. White crape hat, and pink feather. Evening Dress. A gauze muslin dress, striped green and pink, with a small running pattern over the stripes; body with small pelerines, trimmed with rouleaux. Cap open behind to show the hair, and trimmed with green gauze ribbon. Morning Dress. A chaly [challis, maybe?] dress, with small bouquets over a white ground; high body, crossed over, and epaulettes on the sleeves. Blue watered silk capote [a type of bonnet], with an alöes.[the plant, perhaps?]

Aren’t these Court Magazine prints wonderful? From October’s number are a Ball Dress and Evening Dress; the skirt of the Ball Dress decorated with quite outrageous bows around the skirt, and the green Evening Dress with enormous gauze oversleeves and a pink polka-dotted turban:

This plate from December’s Court Magazine is described as a Carriage Dress, but it’s hard to see anything of the dress because of the enormous caped and fringed mantle covering most of it, with a definite paisley design around the hem—perhaps made from an Indian textile or at least copied from one?

What do you think of 1832’s fashions?

Friday, December 12, 2014

How a Smart Lady Dressed Well

Marissa’s new series on fabrics got me to thinking about how a lady in the nineteenth century went about choosing her gowns.  I will admit that a large percentage of my closet was built from other people’s castoffs.  Goodwill, Value Village, Bargain World, and the local Methodist Church rummage sale have decked me out in fine style for many years.  In nineteenth century England and America, a lady had several choices for finding the perfect outfit.

If she had enough money, she might hire a seamstress, taking designs in her favorite ladies magazine to show the seamstress what was wanted and picking out fabric and notions.  If the seamstress was sufficiently famous or the lady and seamstress had a longstanding relationship, the lady might allow the seamstress free rein in coming up with both design and fabric, and spend the requisite amount of time being pinned and fitted so the gown was exactly what she wanted.

If a certain amount of economy was required, and the lady was handy with a needle, she might instead make the gown herself, perhaps going by patterns handed down from mother to daughter.  If new material was too costly, she might pick apart an older gown and repurpose the pieces.  This exhibit from Carlyle House in Alexandria shows how easily a heavy-skirted gown from the late eighteenth century might have been made into the more narrow-skirted fashions of the early nineteenth century.

Though “store-bought” clothing was still a ways away, a thrifty lady might consider going to a second-hand shop to purchase a used gown.  We've talked before about how ladies maids might sell their mistress’s castoffs for extra income.  If she was certain she ran in different circles from the lady in question, she could feel free to purchase a gown and refurbish it as needed.

But I bet she didn't get as good a deal as the five-dollar-a-bag sale at the local Methodist Church rummage sale.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ack’s Back! Or, Regency Fabrics, Part 1

One of the coolest bits of my dear Ackermann’s Repository is that for about the first six years of its existence, from 1809 to some time in 1815, it not only published fashion and other prints of various scenery, but also plates which had actual fabric samples from British cloth manufacturers, in an effort to support the cloth industry. As was stated in the first issue in January 1809 (which alas I do not own), “Patterns afford the manufacturer an opportunity of circulating a new article more extensively in one day, than can be done by sending a dozen riders with it through the country. It will likewise afford persons at a distance from the metropolis the means of examining and estimating the merit of the fabric, and of being made acquainted with the tradesman from whom it may be purchased.” In other words, advertising is a beautiful thing. ☺

These plates included both dress fabrics and upholstery or household use fabrics; in addition, there were a few plates with paper samples for artists. So if a young lady was smitten with a certain figured sarsenet, she could go directly to the warehouse that carried it (addresses of where to purchase them were thoughtfully included) and buy her new spring dresses.

I thought it might be fun to take an up-close look at some of these from my collection. I’ll periodically post them in chronological order, and include the printed description if I have them. Quality and state of preservation will vary—remember, the art of dyeing was not advanced—and I’ll try to give you an idea of both, as well as my observations of the weight and feel of the fabrics, which might not always translate via a scanned image. I hope these will be of use not only to writers of historical fiction, but also to anyone with an interest in early 19th century fashion and textiles. And, you know, they're just kind of cool to look at. Enjoy!

From April 1809—overall condition appears to be good, without much fading or change in 200 years:  


The pattern No.1 and 2. is a new description of furniture calicoes, and the scarlet colour is equally novel and striking. For many years genius and ingenuity have been employed in devising the best means of producing a scarlet dye for calicoes; and with the aid of perseverance, they have at length triumphed in achieving so valuable a discovery. In this stuff the scarlet is judiciously contrasted with a grey blue design, which not only gives it (when made up into curtains or bed furniture) an extremely rich and noble appearance, but also produces a most desirable relief to the matt and burnished gold ornaments which generally accompany them. This splendid article is the manufacture of Mr. Allen, whose private ware-rooms No. 61, Pall-Mall, contain a great variety of the most beautiful furniture cottons ever shewn in this country, after new and chaste designs of his own; and, as we understand, at very reasonable prices.

My comments: Today, I would call this a very lightly glazed chintz--it is about of that weight and slightly glossy appearance

The new and elegant article, No. 3. is denominated Scotia silk, from being manufactured in Scotland. It is a mixture of cotton and silk. The extravagantly high price of the latter, which still continues on the advance, must render an economical article like that before us, a most desirable object, as it exhibits all the appearance and face of silk, at very little more than half the price. It is half-yard wide, and is in great request for pelisses and dresses. It has been introduced by Mrs. James, inventor of fashions for ladies, 15, New Bridge-street, Fleet-street, where it may be had in a variety of colours. 

My comments: The scan isn't adequately conveying the sheen of this sample, which is quite lovely. It's a fairly light-weight fabric but tightly woven and completely opaque, and would probably drape nicely.

No. 4. a spotted muslin, is a very fashionable article; it is either worked by the hand, which of course must render it very expensive; or, like the pattern exhibited in our work, is the produce of the loom; in which case, it comes very little higher than plain muslin of the same quality. It is furnished us by Messrs. T. and J. Smith and Co. No. 34, Tavistock-street, Covent-garden. 

My comments: This almost reminds me of a dotted swiss, but with the dots on lines. It's a lighter muslin weave, so would definitely require a lining.

What do you think?  Do you want more of these?

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Nineteenth Century Book Readers Want for Christmas

And the shopping season is upon us!  In case you have yet to make your list for your family and friends or yourself, I thought it might behoove us to look at some of the lovely things out there for aficionados of the early nineteenth century.

No writer epitomizes early nineteenth century England more than Jane Austen, so it’s no surprise to find a plethora of Austen-themed items in the offing.  Take this cute tote bag from Café Press.  And yes, I do on occasion randomly (mis)quote the great Jane. 

The Jane Austen Gift Shop in the UK is also offering a number of lovely pieces, including a tea towel that says “Keep calm and read Jane Austen.”  Watch for timing of overseas purchases to make sure they will arrive in time for your gift-giving.

Then again, if you simply want to live like Jane, you can find modern merchandise recreating the era, such as these reticules on Etsy.  

Then there are gifts for those of us who write, whether our thoughts on the day or the great American novel.  Try this fountain pen-inspired necklace, also on Etsy. 

Or perhaps a journal with that old-fashioned feel.  

Finally, for the geek in all of us, I give you the perfect glasses, with lenses that angle 90 degrees so you can read in comfort from any direction.  

Please add to the list, my dears!  What are you hoping for this Christmas?  What else should savvy readers of stories set in the nineteenth century long to receive?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

And Speaking of Bandalores...

A few days after I discovered (to my enormous glee) that yo-yos were all the thing in the 1790s, I happened upon an article in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts magazine MFA Preview. There’s a very fine exhibit of the work of Spanish artist Francisco Goya on display there right now, but what really grabbed me was a reproduction of a sketch he made some time in the mid 1820s that’s part of the exhibit—I don’t have permission to reproduce it here, but you can see it in the exhibit preview slideshow on the Museum of Fine Arts website. The sketch was made sometime between 1824 and 1828, when Goya was living in Paris, and is entitled “Locos Patines”... or “Crazy Skates”—and it shows a rather alarmed gentleman wearing roller skates. Yes, roller skates—and if you look carefully at the background, you’ll see someone riding a hobby-horse, the precursor of the bicycle.

So of course I had to look into the history of roller skates, which actually date back to the mid-18th century and were first seen either on the London stage in 1743 (presumably in a dance number!), or in the Netherlands at some point in mid-century on the feet of an anonymous gentleman who wished to go ice skating in the summer, depending on who you ask. A John Joseph Merlin seems to have been making an early form of in-line skates in England in 1760, and the first patented skates appeared in France in 1819, also with an in-line wheel configuration (which makes sense, if you consider that people were indeed trying to ice-skate without ice.) An English patent followed in 1823 for the Volito, another in-line skate design, with wheels in graduated sizes which enabled easier turning (that's it, above right.) By the late 1850s, public roller skating rinks were opening in London.

Curiously, all the internet sources I researched state that skates with four wheels situated two on either side of the foot weren’t invented until the 1860s in New York...but there in the Goya sketch in the 1820s we have skates with just that configuration. I have the feeling there was a great deal of experimentation going on with their design...but who knew that roller skating was another popular 19th century pastime!

I wonder if the young Princess Victoria ever tried roller skates? :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Thanksgiving Ms.tery

Happy Thanksgiving!  As we have in the past, Marissa and I will be out next week spending time with families and friends.  Hope you get an opportunity to do the same.

In the meantime, I wanted to divulge the solution to a little mystery that presented itself recently.  A sharp-eyed reader (bless you, my dear!) spotted a problem with my November release, The Bride Ship.  Every time the word Miss should have been used, the word Ms. was inserted instead.  Ms., while originally coined around the dawn of the twentieth century, did not come into favor until much later when it was championed as the most appropriate way to identify a woman regardless of her marital state.  While once it may have been used as the abbreviation for Mistress (as opposed to Master), it is now the female equivalent of Mr. 

No historical writer worth her salt would use it in a book set in 1866.  No historical editor with any sense would allow it.  So how did it appear in The Bride Ship?

Many hands touch a book before it is published, and the process varies from publishing house to publishing house.  In the process I’m most familiar with, writers submit a manuscript, which is edited by an editor looking at bigger picture items like plot, characters, and pacing.  Her job is to make that book as strong as possible.  A copyeditor then checks facts, word usage, and continuity.  Her job is to make the book as accurate as possible.  The writer revises based on comments, and everyone takes another look at it.  Finally, a proofreader goes through it to catch any possible typos or grammatical errors.  Her job is to make it as clean as possible. 

I approved a manuscript (ms) with Miss in it.  My editor approved a ms with Miss in it.  The copyeditor approved an ms with Miss in it.  The proofreader msapplied an obscure rule on titles to change every last instance of Miss to Ms.  It is a very clean ms, just not an entirely historically accurate one.

Ms.tery solved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Still Here, Part 3

A few weeks ago we looked at the birth of the let’s see what items that were on the shelves of Piggly-Wiggly that we might still recognize today! Parts one and two of this series are available here and here.

As we head into cold season...Luden’s Cough Drops have been soothing coughs for a long time now. (Women’s World, August 1917)

Of course, if we want to keep germs at bay, we should have reached for the Lysol in the first place...(The Delineator, May 1917)

 Yes, they still make film, even in this digital age.  (The Red Cross Magazine, August 1917)

Spicing up sandwiches since 1867... (Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1917)

Though national Prohibition had not yet arrived, there were enough "dry" counties around... (Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1917)

Hmm. Shampooing with it?  (McCall’s Magazine, August 1910)

I just love this one--6,175 games played with one deck. Someone actually counted?  (Collier’s Illustrated Weekly, March 15, 1902)

And this week’s grand prize winner: I never knew that baked beans could be scientific...did you? ☺ (The Youth’s Companion, September 20, 1917)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Locating Our Winners

Congratulations!  We had 10 commenters last week (one who sent via Facebook because of difficulties posting here), and a total of 20 books up for grabs, which means everyone won!  Emily W, jewel allure, Kim Ellis, Diane Spigonardo, Chemystress (Patricia Z), Miss Monica, Daisy, Jennie Coleen561, QNPoohBear, and Chris Heidegger, please e-mail me at to let me know which of the books you’d like, first come, first served. (I know QNPoohBear wants a copy of Ballrooms and Blackmail, and Chris would like The Husband Campaign.)  I will also need physical addresses for those of you who want one of the paperbacks. For those choosing e-books, I will let you know how you can get a copy for free.

Be patient with me--I’m about to go on 6 unexpected days of travel with limited access to e-mail, but I’ll respond as soon as I can, and I’ll send out all the books when I return, around November 20.

In the meantime, I wanted to share an online resource that might help you visualize life in early nineteenth century England.  Whether you love reading books or writing books or both, it helps to be able to locate the action.  In nineteenth century London, where was fashionable Bond Street in relationship to the famous ladies club Almack’s and could you get from one to the other in a pinch?  Would the number of curves near Kensington Palace have slowed down someone racing a mail coach? What was the fastest way to get out of town when chased by an angry father?

For answers to these questions and more, try the MOTCO database, a collection of antique maps and prints of London, the Thames, and other parts of Britain.  Maps cover London and its environs in 1746, 1799, 1830, and 1862. The helpful folks at MOTCO have even indexed them by place names so you can pinpoint exact locations you’ve heard about. 

Among the maps, one of my personal favorites is Richard Horwood’s 1799 map of London, Westminster, and Southwark, which claims to “shew” every house in the town.  The gigantic map is laid out at 26 inches to a mile and set up online in a total of 32 squares.  I printed them out on 14- by 11- inch paper and had my youngest son put them together like a puzzle.  The resulting map was over five feet long and resided on the wall of my entry way for several years while I plotted various stories. 

When you have a mother who writes historical novels, you never know what’s going to end up on your walls or on your shelves.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Great Silence

Today we are observing Veterans Day in the U.S....but we’re not the only country to observe a holiday. This day marks the 96th anniversary of the day that hostilities ceased on the Western Front in 1918, marking the end of World War I, and is the 95th anniversary of Armistice Day (now called Remembrance Day) in Great Britain, which was first observed in 1919.

The first World War had an almost incalculable effect on England. A bit over 2% of the population were killed in the war—slightly over 700,000...but those 700,000 were a large chunk of the male population between the ages of 18 and 35...effectively decimating a generation of young men, among them the best and the brightest, the future leaders of the nation. And with the loss of a generation of young men, a generation of young women became spinsters, many of them never marrying, or emigrating elsewhere. Add to that the effects of the global influenza pandemic, and it’s plain to see that England had a great deal to mourn.

Yet when the first anniversary of the 1918 Armistice approached, no formal observation of the day had been planned...until Prime Minister Lloyd George was told about a letter sent to the London Evening News by an Australian journalist named Edward Honey, proposing that the first anniversary of the Armistice be observed by a nation-wide five-minute silence, something that could be done by every man, woman, and child no matter where in Britain they were. Lloyd George was very taken with the idea, and convinced King George V to decree a modified form, a two-minute silence. An announcement from the king appeared in all major newspapers on November 7 stating:

Tuesday Next, November 11, is the first anniversary of the Armistice which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four previous years and marked the victory of Right and Freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently with to perpetuate the memory of the Great Deliverance and of those who have laid down their lives to achieve it. To afford an opportunity for the universal expression it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities. No elaborate organisation appears to be required. At a given signal, which can be easily arranged to suit the circumstances of the locality, I believe that we shall interrupt our business and pleasure, whatever it may be, and unite in this simple service of Silence and Remembrance.

And at eleven o’clock on the morning of November 11, 1919, all England was silent. Trains stopped running, ships in British waters cut their engines. Motor traffic came to a halt, telephone operators unplugged their switchboards, pedestrians on busy streets halted, workmen laid down their tools, and schoolchildren stood wide-eyed and silent under the gaze of their teachers. For two minutes, everyone remembered.

Although the name of the observation has changed and Remembrance Sunday has taken its place, the two-minute silence is still observed every year...and while the last living veteran of the war died in 2012 (a woman named Florence Green, age 110!), Britons still remember.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Free Books!

Yes, you read that right. I’m so excited about the publication of The Bride Ship that I’m giving away a handful of it and other books. If you leave a comment on today’s blog, even a “hi, I’m here!” kind of comment, I will enter you in a drawing for your choice of the following:

A paperback copy of The Bride Ship

A paperback copy of The Husband Campaign

An e-book copy in the format of your choice of Secrets and Sensibilities, the first in my Lady Emily Capers series

An e-book copy in the format of your choice of Ballrooms and Blackmail, the most recent in my Lady Emily Capers.

If you already have all of the above, choose one to give away to a friend or family member for Christmas.

I have five copies of each of the books up for grabs. All you have to do is say hello, tell me why you like the blog, suggest something for the future--anything. That’s the only way I’ll know your name so I can list it when you win. Feel free to let others know about this giveaway, so they can get in on the action too.

And do come back next Friday when I will announce the winners.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Bride Ship Launches!

After waiting more than 30 years to write this story, I can’t believe it’s here!  The Bride Ship launches today!  A few folks received early copies through the Love Inspired Readers Service or Amazon (who surprised me by releasing the book Saturday), and I thank you for the kind reviews many of you left.  I was a little nervous straying from my beloved Regency period but Booklist, the magazine from the American Library Association, called The Bride Ship “a captivating, adventure-filled romance that effectively conveys the grit and gumption required by those who settled the American far west.” 

As you can guess by my recent posts, the book takes up when Mercer and his Belles leave New York for Seattle.  And one of his Belles is Boston socialite Allegra Banks Howard.  Here's the blurb:

What was his brother's widow, his first love, doing on a ship full of prospective brides headed out West? Clay Howard had been tasked with escorting the Boston belle home, but he didn't anticipate Allegra being so strong-willed, or that he'd wind up traveling with her just to keep her from leaving without him! 

Allegra Banks Howard isn't going to let Clay interfere with her plans for a new life with her daughter on the frontier. True, Allegra needs his wilderness savvy, but if Clay thinks he can rekindle what they once shared, he had better think again. Because risking her heart for a second chance at being his bride isn't something she'll undertake lightly…. 

Here’s an excerpt:

Allie didn't remember reaching the bottom of the stairs aboard the Continental. The touch of Clay's hand on her arm drew her up.

“Be reasonable, Allegra,” he murmured, offering a smile that would once have set her to blushing. “I have no intention of being an annoyance. But I think we both agree it’s my duty to protect you.”

“Duty?” Allie shook her head. “This journey was my choice, sir. You have no duty to protect me from my future. I can handle myself on the frontier. You forget, my ancestors civilized Boston.”

Clay snorted, dropping her arm. “Is that your reason for going? You think the fine citizens of Seattle need to be civilized? There isn't a fellow in the Territory who will thank you for it.”

“On the contrary,” Allie insisted. “Mr. Mercer assured us that we will be welcome additions to the city, serving to bring it to its full potential. He, sir, has a vision.”

Clay rolled his eyes. “Spare me. I've spent the last hour watching how easily Mercer’s plans fell apart. No one seemed to know who had paid for this voyage and who hadn't. It wouldn't surprise me if Mercer had skipped town with your money. You've been duped, Allegra. Admit it.”

Anger was pushing up inside her again. Why were her ideas never taken seriously? Why was she always the one who had to bend to another’s insistence?

“Just because you dream small, Clay Howard,” she told him, “doesn't mean other men have the same narrow vision. And neither do I. I will pay you back every penny you spent to buy our tickets, I will allow you to spend time with Gillian as you requested, but I won’t listen to another word against our plans. Do I make myself clear, sir?”

Any Boston gentleman who had borne the brunt of her anger would have begged her pardon, immediately and profusely. Clay merely lowered his head until his gaze was level with hers. Something fierce leaped behind the cool green.

“Don’t expect me to jump when you snap your fingers, Allegra,” he said. “I paid your passage because this trip seems to be important to you. But I won’t nod in agreement like a milk cow to everything you say. I've been to Seattle. I know the dangers of the frontier. I owe it to Frank to protect you from them.”

As if in agreement, the Continental shuddered, and a deep throb pulsed up through the deck. Allie was tumbling forward, her feet not her own. She landed against something firm and solid--Clay.

His arms came around her, and she found herself against his chest. His gaze met hers, seemed to warm, to draw her in. She couldn't catch her breath. Once, she’d dreamed of his embrace, his kiss.

Heat flared in her cheeks at the memory, and she pulled herself out of his arms. “You owe Frank nothing, Clay Howard. And you owe me less. If you insist on coming to Seattle with us, you’d better remember that.”

To read more of Allie and Clay’s story, visit my website, where you can also find links to buy the book at online retailers and bookstores near you.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Things That Go Bump in the Manor House

Happy Halloween!  Will you be dressing up today for work or play?  Perhaps escorting little ones around for treats?  Telling spooky stories or watching horror movies?  Well, as we’ve discussed before, Halloween might not have been a typical celebration in nineteenth century England, but that didn’t mean the lads and lasses back then didn’t enjoy a good scare!

Every town, it seemed, boasted its local ghost or grisly creature.  Black dogs, either evil or kindly, were popular.  Take the story of the Mauthe Doog, from Peel on the Isle of Man.  The large, curly-coated spaniel was said to haunt Peel Castle, to the point that it would come into the guard room each night and settle by the fire.  The tale was immortalized by Sir Walter Scott in Peveril of the Peak in 1823, only he made out the dog to be a large mastiff.  Either way, hundreds of tourists flocked to the castle for a chance to see the fearsome pet.

Most of the great houses had resident specters.  At Arundel Castle, the Blue Man haunts the library, looking for a good book.  (Does it never end?)  Residents of Kenilworth Castle have spotted the ghost of a little boy in the stables as well as ghost horses and, ahem, ghost chickens!

Be careful out there tonight.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Introducing...the Supermarket!

As we’ve seen in previous posts, WWI impinged on daily life in America possibly more than any previous war...especially in terms of what and how Americans ate. We’ve discussed how American women were urged to grow their own food, learn to make substitutions, and observe days without wheat, meat, and other abstentions.

Another aspect of food conservation, interestingly, was how food made it into households in the first place. Before the war, women might have stopped into their local grocers if it was close by and if they needed just one or two things. But more commonly, and certainly for larger orders, the usual thing to do was telephone in your shopping list or send a note to the store. Grocery clerks would gather together your order, which usually involved weighing out measures of dry goods like beans or flour and packaging them up, and sometime later, a delivery truck would appear with your groceries, complete with a boy to fetch them into your house. And of course, payment was handled by account—no cash exchanged hands at delivery.

But in 1917, part of the campaign for food conservation was also fuel conservation: as the cost of fuel rose, so did the cost of grocery deliveries...which of course got added into the price of items. Ladies’ magazines of the time had several suggestions, as can be seen in the article above from October 1917's The Delineator: buying larger amounts of staples to reduce the number of deliveries (and as a corollary, going in with neighbors to do the same), doing your own marketing every few days and carrying your purchases home rather than having groceries delivered; buying produce, eggs, and meat directly from farmers (and again, clubbing with neighbors to do one big weekly trip to nearby farms.) Some stores also tried changing how they did business, encouraging patrons to come in themselves to make their purchases and to pay on the spot, rather than purchasing on account.

Meanwhile, in Memphis, Tennessee, a quiet revolution was taking place. In the fall of 1916 a man named Clarence Saunders opened a new kind of grocery store. There were baskets at the door for customers to use. All the merchandise was laid out on open shelves, and prices were clearly marked. Nary a grocery clerk was in sight, until you were ready to bring your purchases to the counter to be paid cash, right there on the spot. And then you carried your purchases home. Saunders called his store Piggly Wiggly (no one is quite sure why)...and the idea took off as the country went to war, the cost of fuel rose, and the former grocery clerks all enlisted.

Saunders franchised hundreds of independently owned stores operating under the Piggly Wiggly name...and while produce and meats weren’t sold in them (meaning that independent green-grocers and butcher shops would stay in business for decades longer), the prototype of the modern supermarket was born.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Go West, Young . . . Woman, Part III

We left the lucky ladies of the Mercer expedition ready to set sail into what were soon to be troubled waters.  The good ship Continental left New York on January 16, 1866, with a complement of 100 passengers.  Approximately 50 were ladies under the escort of Asa Mercer, Seattle’s Emigration Agent Extraordinaire.  Most of the others were married couples, children of the couples or widowed mothers, or single men who had paid Mercer for the privilege of sailing to Seattle.  One was none other than a reporter associated with the New York Times.

Roger Conant had come from a well-to-do family.  He’d studied law and fought for the Union before becoming a reporter for the Times.  But the reports he sent back from the Continent are not the unbiased, analytical commentary one might expect.  Conant delighted in looking for the salacious, the remarkable.  He didn't have much use for Mercer and tended to poke fun of the ladies, calling them Fair Virgins and teasing them about their love life.  Thanks to Conant's journal, published as Mercer’s Belles, and the journals of several of the ladies (such as Flora Pearson Engle), we know quite a bit about what befell Mercer’s maidens on that fateful journey.

And what an amazing journey it must have been!  Remember that these were women who had rarely set foot outside their little villages.  Now they were making call at exotic ports like festive Rio de Janeiro, the forlorn Straits of Magellan, and the wild Galapagos Islands. To make matters even more exciting,
everywhere they went, men begged them to stay!  The ship’s officers set up a round of flirtations, so determined to win the hands of their fair passengers that Mercer had to set up rules against dallying aboard ship.  No one paid him the least mind.  The military officers of Chile tried to appropriate them to teach there instead.  And the good citizens of San Francisco offered them lucrative jobs and marriages to remain behind in the City by the Bay.

Mercer’s hands were full trying to keep his charges contained.  Unfortunately, he had other problems, as his financial troubles hadn't ended in New York. Some would-be passengers were left behind, and they claimed he had bilked them out of their savings to finance his bride ship.  One woman even sued him for selling her furniture to pay his bills.  At one point, he asked several of the women to sign promissory notes, according to Conant, saying that their husbands would pay the price for them once they reached Seattle.  And just when he must have thought he was nearly home free, Holladay pulled a fast one when they reached San Francisco, refusing to allow the Continental to continue on to Seattle. 

Faced with the need to ferry his dwindling set of ladies north, Mercer wired to the Governor of Washington for funds.  What came back was a telegram congratulating him on his accomplishments, but lamenting that the state coffers were empty.  Mercer had to pay his last pennies just to read the refusal.  The story goes that he sold some of the women’s goods to pay for their hotel bills before finding some lumber schooners whose captains were willing to carry the ladies to Seattle for the pleasure of their company.

Only when they reached Seattle did some of the women learn that Mercer had bartered for their lives.  Conant claims that such stellar characters as men named Humbolt Jack, Lame Duck Bill, Whiskey Jim, White Pine Joe, Bob Tailed, and Yeke showed up demanding someone’s hand in marriage.  When the ladies refused to so much as speak to them, they vowed vengeance on Mercer.  Other fellows were more practical about the matter.  Conant tells of a stranger who arrived in town, claiming to have a farm far outside the city.  He asked Mercer to provide him with two or three women to take back with him, so he could see which would be more suitable for his wife.  None of the women agreed to accompany him. Imagine that!

Mercer went so far as to hire the cookhouse at Henry Yesler’s Sawmill to address the citizens of Seattle.  The Reverend Daniel Bagley officiated.  While many a cry was raised against the young man, a sufficient number of the ladies under his escort attested to his character.  In fact, one of those ladies went and married him. 

Whether Mercer was a courageous fellow out to civilize the wilderness or a cunning charlatan out to gather his fortune, the legend of the Mercer belles has fascinated the people of the Northwest for generations.  Some of you may remember a television program back in the late 60s--Here Come the Brides.  That was loosely based on Mercer’s expeditions, although, as you can see, Asa Mercer was no Bolt brother. I fell in love with the story as a child, and I’ve been waiting all my life to tell it.  Look for the first book in my Frontier Bachelor series, The Bride Ship, to be out in November.  We’ll be sure to whoop it up here on Nineteenteen when it’s out.

Because there really is nothing better than going West, young woman. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Bandalore by Any Other Name

It is a truth universally acknowledged that historical research is probably the most fun you can have with your corset on.

I was doing research on Eton in the early nineteenth century a week or so ago, and was on the website Open Library reading a book called “A History of Eton College 1440-1910” by Sir H. C. Maxwell Lyte, and happened to skim over this passage:

Among the minor games popular at Eton at this period and for some time afterwards was that of bandalores. A bandalore was a disc of box-wood, with a deep groove in its outer edge, round which a string was coiled, and the art was to send it flying through the air, unwinding the string as it went, and by giving a jerk at a particular moment to bring the disc back again to the hand, recoiling the string on its return journey. Michael Hicks Beach writing to his mother in his sixteenth year says:— “I have three excellent bandylores and did throw one of them out (which has a string about four feet and a half long), one hundred and fifty-nine times without missing.”

I thought about that for a moment, trying to picture just what this bandalore “game” was...and then it hit me.

It was a yo-yo. They were playing with yo-yos in the late 18th century!

So I did a little more digging...and found this image, from a French fashion plate from 1791, along with the following information: The most common French word for Yo-yo at the time was "Emigrette", but it is called the "Joujou de Normandie" in a caption to a version of this image which was included in Albert Charles Auguste Racinet's Le Costume Historique (1888), a monumental six-volume work on costume (alas, the cheapest set I could find on-line was in the $3000 range!) "Joujou", by the way, means "toy", and has nothing to do with the etymology of the word "yo-yo", which is from a Philippine language...but it's an interesting coincidence, isn't it?

So there you go. Who knew that one of the hot toys for both boys and girls in 1790s Europe was the yo-yo?

Historical research rocks!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Go West, Young . . . Woman? Part II

We left young Asa Mercer prepared to travel back East to bring home more brides for frontier Seattle.  But he had a few wrinkles to iron out first.  Traveling took money, and the young professor had little.  But dozens of bachelors in Seattle were willing to invest in his scheme so long as he brought them each back a bride of good repute.  Some stories have it that Mercer accepted as much as $300 per bride, a goodly price in those days.  Whatever the amount, he left Seattle with money in his pocket and the cheers of his comrades ringing in his ears.  But his good fortune quickly evaporated.

As a child, Mercer had supposedly met Abraham Lincoln, and he was counting on his connection with the president to win him a decommissioned troop carrier left over from the Civil War as an inexpensive way to transport his bevvy of belles.  He arrived in the capital to find it wreathed in black:  Lincoln had been assassinated.  The story goes that after being shunted from one government official to another, he ended up meeting with Ulysses S. Grant, who agreed that Mercer might have a ship, if he could purchase it.

The price requested was pennies on the dollar for the worth of the ship, but still far beyond Mercer’s means.  Enter transportation magnate Ben Holladay, whose stage coaches had helped fuel the California Gold Rush.  He offered to start a shipping company, buy the ship for Mercer and carry the party of 700 women back to Seattle for a pittance.  Overjoyed, Mercer signed the offered contract and went back to recruiting among the towns between Boston and New York, which had lost not only men but manufacturing jobs because of the war.

He must have sung a good song, for ladies lined up to join his expedition.  That is, until several prominent newspapers began questioning not only Mercer’s motives, but the motives of the women interested in going with him.  Mercer, they insisted, was only gathering bits of muslin that would end up in dens of ill repute or married to brutish husbands who would all but enslave them if they weren’t scalped first.  They called the women Sewing Machines, Petticoat Brigade, and a Cargo of Heifers. One editor firmly stated that any woman willing to go all the way across the country to find a husband didn’t deserve one.  The flood of recruits dwindled to a trickle.

Days turned into weeks and then months, and still the S.S. Continental wasn’t ready to sail. Then Holladay asked Mercer for more money.  It seemed the contract he’d signed stated that if the full complement of ladies was not ready to sail on time, the price for passage went up.  Desperate, Mercer turned to families and then bachelors to try to fill out his order of passengers.  While some women, it appears, had been promised free passage (paid for by Seattle’s bachelors), he demanded that others pay full fare and more. The money he’d been given in Seattle was spent to pay for hotel fees as everyone waited for the ship to set sail.

Only when she did sail did Mercer, and the ladies, begin to realize what lay ahead.

Next week, a gentleman finds the need for a long sea voyage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fashion Forecast: October 1917

This will, alas, be the last 1917 fashion report, as the research for my story didn’t really need to go much past early autumn of that year. I’ll miss watching the clothes evolve, though—fashion changed much more quickly in 1917 than it did in 1817.

So what was the well-dressed young woman wearing in October 1917, according to The Delineator?

“PARIS STRAIGHTENS OUT THE LINES IN ITS NEW FASHION OFFENSIVE" is the headline for a page of designs from French houses (including one from Chanel, at far right.) Though the barrel skirt still appears, more hints of the coming twenties are apparent, though busts are still visible.

Coats and suits in darker, quieter hues are the big thing in this issue, as is appropriate for fall wear. Details remain subdued as well, with groups of pleats on skirts seeming to be en vogue.

Dresses too are simply adorned. Large collars in both self and contrasting colors and lapels are the big thing, as are tiered skirts. Fabrics mentioned include charmeuse, satin, silk crepe, serge, chiffon, and gabardine--while the styles are simpler, most of the fabrics are still very feminine and luxurious.

Is it just me, or do those very high collars on coats look uncomfortable?

Skirts and shirt-waists remain popular...

And look! Nursing couture!

Clothes for teen girls...not very different from the "older fashions, are they?

More teen fashions...note the girl at far left, with her knitting!

Clothes for younger girls:

More clothes for girls...and check out the mother-daughter pajamas at lower right!

Clothes for small boys, with a few of them decidedly resembling "Campbell Soup Kids!":

What do you think of October 1917's fashions?