Friday, January 31, 2014

So Many Smiths!

It will likely come to no surprise to those of you who regularly read or write books about the nineteenth century that the blacksmith was a key figure still.  Various articles of metal, such as horse shoes and hanging bells, still needed to be created, and most were still manufactured by hand.  But I ran across a phrase this week that intrigued me.  A children’s book on English trades segregated blacksmiths, whitesmiths, and brightsmiths.  And that called for some research (lovely, lovely research!).

It turns out that a blacksmith specialized in iron and steel.  Steel was still created in small batches and was very expensive until well into the century.  Often in stories and movies, blacksmiths wield a mighty hammer over their anvils to produce everything from nails to hand-and-a-half broadswords.  Some, however, created finer items like locks and keys.

The whitesmith, on the other hand, might specialize in tin or other lighter-colored metal.  Brightsmiths took the duller metals and created items polished to a high sheen.  While a blacksmith worked on metal heated in a forge, whitesmiths and brightsmiths worked on cold metal.

The trade book I mentioned listed the key tools of the smith as the forge for heating the metal, the anvil and block for holding it, and the hammer, tongs, hole punches, and pinchers for manipulating it.  While I have often seen the trough of water used in movies for cooling the metal, the author insisted that it was used for sprinkling on the coals to make them produce more heat.

To become a smith, a young man would apprentice.  Perhaps he might start with stoking the fire or separating the metals his master would need for the task at hand.  Later, he would move up to shaping the metal himself, simple pieces at first and then more complicated ones as his skill progressed. 

Wrought iron was a very popular material in the early nineteenth century.  It was used inside and outside the house for various decorations.  Hinges, gates, chandeliers, and weather vanes might all be made of wrought iron and were sometimes gilded, like these gates at Hampton Court. 

A smith who caught the fancy of the aristocracy might do quite well for himself.  Be he a blacksmith, whitesmith, or brightsmith.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Okay, What is the Shocking Truth about Women’s Blouses?

I knew you were all dying of curiosity about what shocking pronouncement I might have on the subject, so I couldn’t leave you in suspense, could I?

As I’ve been reading ladies’ magazines from the summer of 1917 and paying especial attention to the advertisements, I noticed a surprising thing: the many ads for, of all things, underarm hair removal. Yes, you heard me correctly. Like this one, from McCall's July 1917 issue:

And this one from The Delineator, also July 1917:

And that doesn’t include the ads for antiperspirants and deodorants and talcum powder (some of which, by the way, are quite lovely (sorry that the image is a trifle crooked--I didn't want to damage the magazine while scanning it. This one's from McCall's, by the way):

This surprised me at first—underarm hair removal? Really? But as it says in the ad, ladies’ blouses made of sheer batistes, cottons, and linens were all the fashion. Here’s a couple from the same issue of The Delineator. Look closely and you can see that the sleeve fabric was indeed very sheer:

And that doesn’t include bathing suits, some of which were sleeveless by now (also from July's The Delineator):

Underarm hair would be clearly visible in both cases...and definitely not “dainty” (a favorite adjective from this era, it seems)...hence, hair removal products. Maybe I’m clueless, but I’d just never thought of this as an early twentieth century problem...but evidently it was.

And this is part of why I take such joy in research: because you don’t know what you don’t know, and filling in all those gaps in knowledge is such a wonderful thing. Even when it involves underarm hair. I don't think I'll be writing any scenes in which my characters fret about this problem--at least, I don't think I will--but it certainly was interesting to learn about. This is not the kind of history that ever makes it into the history books...but it's history just the same--how the people before us lived. It's my favorite kind of history, and I hope you've enjoyed all the shreds of it that Regina and I try to bring to you.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Stranded Indoors and Bored? Beggar My Neighbor!

Oh, but it's cold and snowy in many parts of the country!  Here, we're back to our usual bleak, gray winter days, when it seems the sun is never going to shine again.  Winter in nineteenth century England could be as dreary, keeping ladies and gentlemen indoors for days at a time.  While some braved the cold to make calls, others languished at home with family members.  One of the ways to pass the time was playing cards and parlor games.  We've talked about whist and consequences. But there was another, rather all-or-nothing card game that could get, well, a bit tense, if you had the wrong frame of mind.

Beggar My Neighbor.

According to expert Barry Rigal, author of Card Games for Dummies, Second Edition, the game could also be called Beat Your Neighbor Out of Doors and Strip Jack Naked.  Sounds friendly, doesn't it?  This was a game played at a "round table" as opposed to the four-sided whist table for more serious players.  Up to six people could join the game.  One player dealt the cards as evenly as possible among the group.  The other players didn't take up a hand, but squared up his or her cards, face down, on the table.

The player at the left of the dealer turned over the top card on the individual pile.  If it was a numbered card, play would continue on to the next player.  If it was a face card or an ace, the next player had to turn over a certain number of cards--four for an ace, three for a king, two for a queen, and one for a jack.  If none of those cards was a face card or ace, the first player took away all the cards facing up.  If one of them was a face card, the play progressed to the next player, who had to do the same thing.  The player who ended up with all the cards won.

As you can imagine, play could get a little boisterous.  If you've ever played the modern game of Uno with cutthroat intensity, you will understand.  Me, I advocate Patience.

The game.  Patience was another name for solitaire in nineteenth century England.  When it comes to Beggar My Neighbor, I'm an all-or-nothing kind of gal.

And if you are looking for something interesting to do in the cold, allow me to draw your attention to the new gadget to the upper left on the blog.  I was under the impression that "followers" to the blog received our posts via e-mail.  I have lately been informed that such is not the case.  Therefore, Marissa and I have added an e-mail subscription option to the blog.  Put your e-mail address in the box, and Feedburner will send you all our posts from NineteenTeen.  I've signed up myself, just to see how it all works.  I do not believe we have access to your e-mail address or any other information about you, but I will let you know if I discover otherwise.  Given that it's taken me nearly seven years to figure out that we don't have an e-mail subscription, I can say with confidence that your e-mail addresses will be safe from me for some time to come.  :

Now where are those cards?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Not the Nineteenth Century...and Not Ackermann's Repository

This January finds me doing something I don’t usually do—namely, working on a couple of projects at once. One of those projects is a story set in the United States in 1917, just as the country has entered World War I on the Allies’ side.

Now, the cool thing about working on a story set in the 20th century is that there’s even more of a wealth of research material than there is for the 19th, my beloved Ackermann’s notwithstanding. My favorite research medium for details of everyday life in other times is magazines. As with any historical source, one has to be careful. Magazines often portray life in an idealized manner—how their readers want to see themselves and their lives rather than how they really are. But even so, they’re a rich source of the kind of details of everyday life that it’s hard to find elsewhere.

So I’ve accumulated a tidy stack of back-issues of several magazines from the summer of 1917. Mostly they’re magazines that would have appealed to a female audience: I’ve got issues of McCall’s Magazine, Today’s Housewife, The Modern Priscilla (lots of needlework patterns), Women’s World, The Delineator, Ladies’ World, Needlecraft, Collier’s, The Literary Digest, and The Independent. The Delineator is an especial delight with very high production values and many pages of fashions for each month, many in color (hmmm, I sense a Fashion Forecast for 1917 coming up....) Most of them have short stories or serialized stories, and I’ve enjoyed reading some of these. But most of all, I think I love the ads. Especially this one, from the July 1917 issue of McCall's Magazine:

The text reads:

They bow to you--discriminatingly well-dressed American woman! It is a new name--one which we will make it worth your while to remember. In your mind we would have you associate the name with all that is fine in workmanship and all that is graceful in shoes.

Keds for you will cover all daytime occasions--home wear; golf; tennis and all other outside games; for ordinary walking or "hikes"; for yachting and riding wear; and plenty of other styles just as prettily suitable for wear with morning frocks and daintiest house gowns, at home or on the country-club porch.

She travels many miles a day--the woman going about her household duties; but she is perfectly content to walk on the journey of loving service when she wears a shoe as pretty as it is comfortable. These trim Keds sum up excellence in their flexibility, durability, and delightful comfort--qualities very desirable to active feet.

The tops of Keds are of the firmest and finest of cool canvas, giving these shoes full elastic support. Then they have rubber soles which make them delightfully flexible and durable. No shoes are more comfortable or prettier for warm-weather wear.

Ask at your shoe shop to be shown Keds. They mean style, service and economy for all the family--styles for husband and kiddies included.

Yes, Keds were introduced to the world in the summer of 1917. I totally had to have my heroine wearing a pair of her new, deliciously lightweight shoes in their honor...and who would have guessed that the Keds brand has been around for nearly a hundred years? By the way, check out the fashions in the illustration: oh, those risque bathing suits!

I’ll be featuring more ads in future posts...including the shocking truth about ladies’ blouses. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Rag and Bone Man Cometh

I don't know about you, but I never have enough rags for housecleaning.  I am very kind on my clothes, and those I do outgrow, I generally give away.  But in nineteenth century England, another sort of person craved rags and sundry materials:  the rag and bone man.

Rag and bone men wandered the city streets looking for any refuse they might turn to a profit.  In some neighborhoods, they would walk along with a sack on their backs or perhaps with a horse and cart, calling "Rags!  Bones!  Bottles!"  Anyone who had something to give away or sell would come out and hand the material to him.  As many as 1,000 rag and bone men worked in mid nineteenth-century London alone.

In poorer neighborhoods, rag and bone men gave children incentives such as goldfish, rubbing stones, and poor-quality China cups to bring out materials.  In wealthier neighborhoods, it was often the servants who traded, bringing out their mistress's cast-off clothing or the drippings from the household meals.  Extra income from selling such items was the perk of the lady's maid and cook.

What did the rag and bone men do with their odd treasures?  Paper at the time was made from linen and rag, so any material of that sort went to the paper manufacturers either directly or through a trader.  Clothing in good condition could be sold second-hand at shops or fairs.  Bones were ground up for fertilizer or made into glue if broken; if whole, they could be used to decorate a variety of household items such as the handles of hunting knives.  Marrow could be used for making soap. Any metal could be sold for reuse as nails or ornaments.

Even given all these possibilities, the trade wasn't lucrative.  One estimate put the income of a rag and bone man at six pence per day, less than $2.00 a day at today's prices.

Perhaps I should be more generous with my rags after all!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chair Amie

Of course, after telling you that we’re going to be branching out of the 19th century, here I am with another Ackermann picture and post. But can you blame me?

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Pocock’s Reclining Patent Chair, from the March 1813 issue of Ackermann's Repository:

The accompanying text reads: Our engraving this month represents an elegant fashionable fauteuil chair, upon Messrs. Pocock’s patent reclining principle, to incline the back to any position, with double reclining footstools, which slide from under the chair to extend it when the back is reclined to the length of a couch. A reading-desk is attached to the side, and contrived to swing round in front of the chair. The whole is designed with classical taste, in the present improved fashion of modern furniture, by the ingenious inventors, Messrs. Pocock’s, of Southampton-street, Covent-Garden.

I did a little research, and it seems that the Pocock company specialized in furniture for invalids, perhaps like some of these that we’ve seen recently. But in this case they put their know-how into a more mainstream piece of furniture...and oh, what a piece!

The foot rest is retractable, probably tied in to the mechanism that reclines the back, so that the chair doesn’t necessarily take up all that much space...but the ornamentation! Those winged, pot-bellied lions in front are adorable...and the swiveling reading lectern is wonderful, if a tad precarious-looking perched as it is on the serpent’s coils. I wonder if any of these were actually built and sold by Messrs. Pocock?

Well, I totally know what I want for Christmas next year. ;) How about you? 

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Hereby Resolve . . .

Did you make any resolutions as the New Year dawned?  A writer friend, Elena Greene , tells me she thinks more of plans than resolutions.  I have many plans for 2014--write the final two books in my Mercer Brides series for Love Inspired Historical, write Priscilla's story to continue the Lady Emily Capers that included the rewrite of La Petite Four this year, downsize to a smaller house, and work on rebuilding my physical strength, which has proven highly unreliable of late.  I found myself wondering, however, how those in nineteenth century England and America thought about such matters.  So, of course, I did a little research.  (Lovely, lovely research!)

The 1828 Boston literary magazine, The Bower of Taste, edited by Katherine Augusta Ware, had this to say about New Year's resolutions:
We began the year just passed away with prospects full as flattering, with friends as kind, with health as good, and mind as free as now.  We made resolutions at the commencement of the last year, which have, many of them, been long since forgotten.  We complained then, that the year had been too short for the consummation of all our wishes, and formed plans which would, if carried into execution, have essentially bettered our condition; but we forgot that the next was to be as short as the one we had just passed, and that our resolutions were now no better than before.
Guilty.  I always seem to dream up far more than I can possibly do in a year when those twelve months are stretching out before me.  Then again, I am a big believer in setting your sights high.

In 1895, R.G. Hazlett, General Secretary of the Good Templars of Toronto, exhorted all members of the society to be "more kind and patient and long-suffering with our Brothers and Sisters . . . even to those who are not as agreeable to us as some others."

Well said, Mr. Hazlett, especially the agreeable part. 

My favorite piece of lore concerning New Year's, however, dates from 1893, when eighteen-year old M. Henry of South Wales won a prize from a London literary magazine for the following poem:

"The old year now is dead and gone
And as we watched him dying
How many keen regrets arose
To give us cause for sighing!

And so we say that we will treat
The year that's coming better
Good resolutions make--and mean
To keep them to the letter.

But soon, alas! we shall find out
The reason why we make them--
They're made on New Year's Day, because
There's all the year to break them!"

Whatever your plans for 2014, I wish you the very best in fulfilling them all!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Some Thoughts for a New Year

Happy New Year, NineteenTeen readers! Regina and I hope that your holidays were happy and that the new year will bring you all that you hope for.

What 2014 is bringing in here on our blog is an expansion of format. As neither Regina nor I are writing books set exclusively in 19th century England any more, we decided it was time to branch out a bit. So expect to see a lot more variety in topics here in the coming months—bits and pieces connected to my research on the US in the World War I era and Regina’s on...but no, I’ll let her tell you about that. And other things, something funny that struck me just this morning.

In common with a great deal of the rest of the US, this winter has been darned cold on and off in New England where I live (of course yesterday was unusually warm, but we’re back in the deep-freeze today.) As a backyard bird-watcher, this bitter weather means I’m refilling all my feeders frequently to keep my aerial friends in munchies.

So yesterday, I decided to take advantage of the milder weather to go out and top everything off. While my daughter filled the finch feeders with nigella seed, I got a couple of suet cakes out of the garage and started to unwrap them to put into the suet feeders. As I did, a stiff sliver of plastic from the edge of the container drove itself a quarter-inch under the nail of my left index finger. At first, I felt only a quick lance of pain. I looked at my finger and saw the protruding sliver, and pulled it out...and yow, did that hurt—more than it had going in. It’s been throbbing on and off ever since, sometimes quite painfully...and that got me thinking about life experience and being a writer.

I’ve somehow managed to live to my present ripe old age without having shoved anything under a fingernail before (amazingly enough since I do a great deal of gardening). I understood in theory that it hurts...and now I know it. But before yesterday I didn’t know how it hurts—that it hurt worse coming out than going in, that it would throb painfully well afterward, that it would leave a reddish-purple line under my nail. If someday I decide I want to write a medieval torture scene (unlikely, but you never know) or a scene where a girl’s hand slips while she hems the dress she plans to wear when her best friend marries the man she herself loves, I will be able to do so much more realistically, much more precisely. I’ll be able to make a reader feel that moment, because I’ve now felt it myself. In fact, I might have never written about that experience, if I hadn’t gone to feed the birds yesterday. It’s a little thing, but it could lead to richer, bigger ones. It’s a new color in my palette.

So what’s the point of this rather rambling anecdote?

Two things. One, if you’re going to write, you need to experience things. I will here exhort any budding writers among you to not say “no” to new experiences. Go to new places, meet new people, do new things, even try new foods. And think about them while and after you’re experiencing them. Everything--everything--is grist for the writer’s mill.

The second point? Be careful. Shoving things under your fingernail hurts. :)

Happy New Year, my friends!