Friday, May 29, 2020

What’s in Your Cabinet?

We’ve talked about La Belle Assembleé, Ackermann’s Repository, and Godey’s Lady’s Book for ladies magazines of the nineteenth century, but I recently came across one I hadn’t heard of before. The Ladies Cabinet of Fashion, Music, and Romance was published monthly in England in the mid-nineteenth century. It offered stories (some rather gothic), poetry, and fashion news, featuring columns on the latest looks in Paris and London. I’ve perused through several digitized issues and haven’t located the “music” part, but it may be that the sheet music was meant to be removed and so would not be found in extant versions. 

The Ladies Cabinet had several things going for it. At a modest schilling per issue, it was favored by those in the middle class. It was also apparently small, being called by some “pocket sized.” Unlike many of the other ladies journals of the time, which were edited by men, it was purportedly edited at least for part of its life by a pair of sisters, Margaret and Beatrice de Courcy. However, some think those might have been pseudonyms, and the sisters might have been men as well.

Still, some newspapers of the time applauded it as being by women for women. Critics called it prudish, the poetry melancholy and sentimental, and the fiction harking back to an earlier era. The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor, calls it “high quality” with “beautifully engraved fashion coloured plates.” Though the National Portrait Gallery in London carries several of these fashion plates, the prestigious art gallery notes they were “badly drawn and crudely coloured.” I’m no art critic, but I must admit the print above doesn’t have the detail or elegance shown in the ones our dear Marissa shares from other sources.

Perhaps most intriguing is that, in creating the magazine, the editors claimed to be offering an antidote to cholera

The Ladies Cabinet ran from 1832 to 1870, but several sources noted that, from 1840, the contents were identical the new monthly Belle Assembleé. Interesting that the two audiences didn’t seem to coincide.

Now, may I offer you something that probably isn’t the antidote to cholera or any other health surge plaguing the world. I’ve collected the three novels in my Spy Matchmaker series into a boxed set.

In Regency England, one man is known as the spymaster, recruiting his daring agents from among the best and brightest of the aristocracy. From the eager, newly initiated to the world-weary campaigner, these are men used to accepting challenges, righting wrongs. Perhaps their greatest challenge awaits: finding the perfect bride.

You can find it at fine online retailers such as


Tuesday, May 19, 2020


I love to walk on the beach. Even more, I love to look for treasures as I walk.

Living my entire life on or near the coast of Massa-chusetts, I’ve kind of taken it for granted that any walk on a beach of my home state might turn up treasures beyond a pretty scallop shell or a tumbled piece of rose quartz. This part of the US has been settled since the early 1600s, and over years of beach strolling, I’ve found my share of prizes: clay pipe stems, shards of pottery and glass (and a few intact pieces!), interesting bits of metal from fishing weights to the working mechanism of an oil lamp. My favorite finds include a tiny plate from a doll’s tea set, several ink bottles, and a large piece of early seventeenth century redware pottery.

So it was with great delight and fellow-feeling that I recently devoured Lara Maiklem’s Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames. Mudlarking is the term (dating back to the 18th century) for rummaging around on the shore of a river or harbor, looking for lost and cast-off items that might be of use; in the last several years, it has more or less become the act of wandering the edges of the Thames at low tide (the Thames below Richmond—where Hampton Court Palace is—is subject to the tide) looking for…well, treasure. Of course, “treasure” is a relative term, so while some do their mudlarking with metal detectors, looking for money or jewelry, others (like Ms. Maiklem) mudlark for the sheer love of history, of connecting to the past through the bits and bobs she finds on her mudlarking trips.

And what bits and bobs she finds! The Thames has hosted human settlements back to the Neolithic, so her collection spans everything from stone tools to Bronze and Iron Age finds, through Roman coins and mosaic tiles to medieval potsherds, Tudor jewelry, eighteenth century Chinese porcelain, and so on up to the present era.  

The book is divided into sections about each stretch of the Thames. In each, Ms. Maiklem entwines the history of that part of the river with accounts of some of her visits and what she has found, juxtaposed with snippets of autobiographical and family history that lend a personal and often moving edge to the narrative. It’s a lovely, absorbing read, and I know that when I finally get back to visit London, I’m going to find a mudlarking trip to join. In the meanwhile, however, there’s always the beach right here…

Have you ever been mudlarking? Where did you go, and what did you find?

Friday, May 15, 2020

A Cover for An Artist

Have you seen the lovely graphics so many authors use on social media and their blogs? I must admit to jealousy. While period paintings abound, and can often be used royalty free, it’s harder to find actual pictures of historical places and things without pesky reminders of the modern world. Lovely Regency-built townhouses sport television disks. Stately interiors betray electrical outlets. And who decided to park a BMW in front of Boodle’s!

All that said, it takes a talented artist to make a modern photograph look as if it depicts the nineteenth century, particularly the idealized nineteenth century we love to embrace in our romances. That’s only one of the reasons I’m so tickled with the cover for The Artist’s Healer, the third book in my Grace-by-the-Sea series. As I have mentioned, my little spa village on the Dorset coast is modeled after a real village, West Lulworth; its horseshoe-shaped cove on the Channel; and Lulworth Castle on the headland. It’s relatively easy to find a photograph of the village streets, but I hesitated to use them because of the modern touches like curbs and street signs on poles.

“Let me worry about that,” my artist, Kim Killion of The Killion Group, said.

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry at all.

I give you the cover for The Artist’s Healer, featuring landscape artist Abigail Archer.

Spunky Abigail Archer is determined to see her friend, Jesslyn Denby, restored as spa director, even if that means ousting the new physician. A shame she must submit to the fellow’s attentions as he attempts to heal her recent wounds. Doctor Linus Bennett came to the little village of Grace-by-the-Sea with his young son to escape a troubled past. He’s not about to lose his post to some crusader, but the pretty painter awakens feelings he’d thought long buried. As the French edge ever closer to the little village, could Abigail be just the prescription for healing Linus’s wounded heart?

You can preorder The Artist’s Healer ahead of a June 29, 2020, release date at fine online retailers:

And I do hope you enjoy the upcoming Memorial Day holiday as well as you can right now. I will be taking next Friday off to celebrate. Look for the next post from me on May 29.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Keeping Away from the Joneses, La Belle Assemblée Style

Leafing through one of my La Belle Assemblée albums for something to blog about, I found this Summer Walking Dress from the July 1809 issue—and had a bit of a chuckle.

Here’s the original text:

A round robe of jaconot muslin, high in the neck, to lace up the back with coloured lacing, finished round the collar with scollop edging; long sleeves trimmed to correspond, a broad lace let in round the bottom between two rows of small tucks. Sash of corded ribband. Purple and green shot short pelisse, trimmed with broad scollop lace, confined tight to the figure with green band to correspond. Steel clasp. A half handkerchief of green figured silk round the neck. Fine worked or lace tippet handkerchief, edged with scollop lace, and ornamented with tassels, thrown carelessly over the back. Bonnet of figured sarsnet and lace, with pendant end [and?] tassel on the left side.   Shoes of pale green kid. Gloves of York-tan.

Aside from wondering just what sort of corset the model was wearing (or why the artist had no idea of how to depict the female bust), I was, of course, struck by the bonnet. I think I’ll have to run one of these up instead of using my quilt stash for making masks. Worn with an 1860s crinoline, it would do a fine job of aiding in maintaining physical distance, don’t you think? Throw in the parasol, and no one could get within six feet of you. Of course, a crinoline and parasol in the grocery store might be somewhat awkward…

On the other hand, the whole outfit looks quite comfortable and unfussy, and that little face curtain would definitely aid in keeping the sun off one’s complexion in ssummer. So perhaps there isn’t much to be amused by after all...

Friday, May 8, 2020

A Caricaturist’s Guide to the Season

I recently discovered a fascinating cartoon online, originally from Harper’s Bazaar in 1870, but entirely apropos for the earlier nineteenth century. Take a look at this:

The Coming Season offers a wealth of insight into how at least this particular artist (and the editor who approved the drawing to run) saw the London Season.

In the four corners and center, the caricaturist imagined the five types of ladies who might be taking part in society this Season: the debutante (“Coming out”), the lady on her second Season (“Came out last Season”), the seasoned campaigner (“Not shelved yet”), the lady who has weathered a few too many Seasons (“Didn’t come out yesterday”), and the lady who is determined not to be back next year in a single state (“Will conquer or die”). And it seems to me that everyone except the debutante is showing more skin. Hm.

But the smaller pictures are even more interesting:

  • The older woman studying a peerage guide (“The Dowager’s Stud Book”)
  • Her counterpart musing on the sort of husband she wants for her daughters (“Four girls to commoners, the fifth must have a coronet”)
  • The young lady between them with what appears to be a monstrous bouquet nearly as large as she is
  • The young lady giddily tossing her books in the air as she leaves the schoolroom for Society
  • The young lady dipping a deep curtsey in “A royal salute”
  • Her counterpart tossing out shoes and boots as she searches for the perfect item (“Apropos de bottes”).

Two that most intrigue me are in the lower middle, left and right. One is a collection of beauty instruments labeled “Engines of War.” I recognize curling irons (when they really were made of iron and heated over a flame such as in a lamp to curl your hair), powder puff, comb, hairpins, and possibly a makeup brush for rouge, but I’m not entirely sure about the zigzagged piece running through. My grandmother had something like it that pulled her hair back from her face and held it in place. Any other suggestions?

Finally, the sketch opposite it across the picture shows a braided something kicking a hamburger-patty-shaped something off the ledge. As the picture is supposed to show changing fashions, I can only conclude that braided false hair pieces had overtaken false buns in 1870.  

All in all, an interesting take on the Season. Which part is your favorite?

Friday, May 1, 2020

No Need to Cry “May Day”—Museums Offer Free Content Online

Happy May Day! I hope you are staying safe, healthy, and sane! To assist with the last, I thought you might like to know that a number of museums are sharing online content that makes the hearts of history geeks go pitter-patter.

For example, the British Museum is sharing tidbits from its extensive holdings across the ages and the world. One caution: if you move through history too fast (okay, I might have been a bit giddy!), you might experience a little motion sickness in this interactive platform. 

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has partnered with Google to provide a perspective on historical fashion in Fashioning a Nation. 

And then there’s the maritime museums. Le sigh. As you may remember, I’m a big fan of tall ships, the tall-masted sailing vessels of bygone years. My dear Marissa once took me to visit Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport (can you tell she knows me well?), so I was particularly delighted to learn that the museum, which recreates a nineteenth-century seafaring community, is making many of its delights available for online viewing. 

The Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, is posting excerpts on its Facebook page from the 1892 diary of Ernest W. Perkins as he sails from Boston to Buenos Aires on the barquentine Mabel I Meyers. Fascinating!

The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, home of my beloved Lady Washington, has also posted a number of videos on its Facebook page showing how to set sails. Oh, but it makes me want to be on the Lady right now!

Have you seen other museums offering online options related to the nineteenth century? Please share!