Queen Victoria’s Cast-off Stockings On Sale in New York: 1881

TOE-MARKS OF A QUEEN

Victoria’s Old Stockings Sold in New York

Its Belles Coveting Royalty’s Cast-Off Clothes.

The following decidedly curious advertisement appeared in a morning paper last week:

“Ladies desirous of purchasing articles from the wardrobe of Queen Victoria can do so by calling on Mrs. Martin, __ W. Fortieth street”

A Mercury reporter found the designated address to be—most appropriately, perhaps—an English basement house let in lodging-rooms, of which Mrs. Martin occupied a back parlor, with a very obese bed in a very contracted alcove, squeezed into the genteel semblance of a book-case. When he shut the door after him, the bed came tumbling down with a violent clatter, and a stout lady in a dingy red wrapper, who was reading a newspaper at the window, said: “Drat it!” with much vehemence. The reporter apologized to both the bed and himself, and explained his errand. Having jammed the bed up again, Mrs. Marti made assurance certain by rolling an arm-chair against it, and, sitting down in it said:

“THAT WAS MY ADVERTISEMENT

You saw, sir, and you could have seen many others if you had so pleased. It’s not the first, nor the second, nor yet the tenth, and I have the receipts to prove it, not to mention the ladies who has bought of me, if I was so disposed as to name them—some of the first ladies in the land, sir, and I’m not ashamed to say it. Not that it’s any wonder, for the chance they get is not one that comes to them every day.”

“You mean the chances of purchasing the cast-off clothes of a queen,” observed the reporter.

Mrs. Martin surveyed him with a glance of suspicion and replied: “Who said cast-off clothes? If they don’t suit them, they don’t need to buy them, do they? Which, as far as that goes, the

CAST-OFF CLOTHES OF A QUEEN,

As you call them, young man, is a deal better than some folks’ best. Look at this hosiery now,” and she handed the reporter a black ball from the mantel. The ball unrolled into a pair of silken hose of the finest texture, which presented the appearance of having invested the Royal extremities a couple of times at most. If the irreverent suggestion may be permitted, however, Her Majesty’s pedicurist had been derelict in the performance of his duties about the time she wore those stockings, for at the point of each great toe the delicate fabric had been cut, evidently by the pressure of a sharp edge. The heels and toes were white, or rather had been before Her Majesty’ had walked in them without slippers. The size of the pedals which had filled them was evidently that of an ordinary woman’s and the measurement in other particulars, as far as the reporter was permitted to make it, was in proportion. Altogether, they did not present any particular difference, except in absence of newness, to similar objects which are displayed to the vulgar gaze on those plaster of paris works of art which have become an attribute of most of our dry goods store windows, and the reporter said so. But Mrs. Martin pointed to the white band in which the upper portion of them terminated and remarked, “Don’t they?” And, indeed, woven in the band in open work, were the

INITIALS “V.R.”

Surmounted by a crown. This regal stamp, Mrs. Martin assured the reporter, is permitted only upon articles manufactured from the Royal wardrobe, and in corroboration she produced several other pairs of stockings, which she declined to unroll, however, all of which bore the same mark. It likewise existed on some cambric handkerchiefs, which she took out of a hairy trunk. Her collection, she stated, had included several sets of underclothing, gloves, lace and plain collars, fans and cuffs and shoes and slippers. Most of these had been already disposed of. Such as remained were of a character to be held sacred from the gaze of man.

This led quite naturally to the interesting point of their origin and destination .According to Mrs. Martin, every three months witnesses a complete renewal of Queen Victoria’s wardrobe. In spite of the popular impression that this consists mainly of muslin caps and black gowns, it is really very extensive, and much of it is almost unworn; still it has to give place to the new supply. It falls the perquisite, says Mrs. Martin, of the Maids of Honor, who, in fact, receive no other reward. These exalted, but frugal ladies sell it in a lump and divide the money it brings among them. The method by which it is disposed of partakes of that species of mystery G. W. M. Reynolds use to revel in when he prodded the effete and profligate monarchy with his red-hot pen. [Reynolds was a journalist and the author of Mysteries of London, a sensational fictional mystery serial exposing the sordid underbelly of London society.] The discarded garb of Britain’s greatness having been packed in bundles, is transported by night to the residence of a Mrs. Marks, who receives it from the trusted carrier and returns the money. She does with it what ladies and gentlemen, who deal in cast-off clothing, plebeian or regal, the world over, do with their wares. Mrs. Marti rejected with much scorn the suggestion by the reporter that she was an agent of Mrs. Marks, and held forth certain vague suggestions of relationship with a Maid of Honor as an explanation of her possession of the precious relics she traded in; the said lady being wealthy in her own right, so that she was able to forego her share of Mrs. Marks’ cash and send her portion of the Queen’s wardrobe to Mrs. Martin, whom “she had always thought a good deal of.” Who her generous connection was, Mrs. Martin answered the reporter was a secret wild horses could

NOT TEAR FROM HER.

The Queen’s wardrobe finds a ready sale in London, at comparatively enormous prices, to ladies who desire to possess some souvenir of their Sovereign. In free America the demand is equally great, Mrs. Martin says, and there is no reason whatever to doubt her. Her customers are all natives, but they gush over the remnants of royal finery with as much fervor as any full-fledged cockney toady ever could. “The first thing they do is to kiss them; the next is to try them on; then they commence to criticise them; but there’s one thing they never do, which is to refuse to pay the price I ask. I never had but one customer haggle with me. I found out afterwards she was the wife of a man who has a museum and who wanted the things to exhibit. I made him pay for them, you may be sure. He has got a full set, dress, lace cap and all, down to the shoes and stockings, but they cost him all they were worth. Never mind how much that was. If people want to know my prices, they can ask ’em, young man. That is what I advertise for. There was a carriage with a liveried coachman at Mrs. Martin’s door when the reporter got to the corner. Another republican admirer of monarchical customs was about to pay her respects at second hand.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 June 1881: p. 10

Another view of the royal stockings.

Another view of the royal stockings.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The custom of allowing the maid the mistress’s cast-off clothes is one that extends even into the lower middle-classes. However, even in titled houses, misunderstands may arise about these perquisites in such wise that Mrs Daffodil has known an acquisitive maid to pack her bags and flit before she is called upon to assist the police with their inquiries. There was a thriving second-hand trade in all cities, including Paris, where this dealer found that the cachet attached to certain names materially improved his business.

Hints for Old Clothes’ Dealers

It is reported that a dealer in second-hand clothes living in the Quartier Latin in Paris has hit upon a somewhat ingenious idea of disposing of the garments which are too old-fashioned or too dilapidated to fetch anything like a good price. Attached to the various articles hanging outside his shop are modestly-written cards containing announcements like the following: “Pair of trousers worn by M. Guizot on his arrival in Paris”—“Overcoat belong to Mr. Littre before he became celebrated”—“Dressing gown formerly belonging to Alexander Dumas”—“Vest worn by M. Thiers when President of the Republic.” It is, perhaps, needless to say that those interesting relics are rapidly bought and proudly worn by the economical students notwithstanding the scepticism of some of the purchasers. “Would you have me believe,” said a young artist one day, as he inspected a velveteen coat, “that this belonged to Victor Hugo? Plainly, it is too small for him.” “Do you think,” replied the unabashed dealer, “that Victor Hugo would have sold so good a coat if he could have worn it with any degree of comfort?”  And the bargain was struck. Richwood [OH] Gazette 29 March 1877: p. 1

You will find another story of the rag trade here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

For stories of Victorian mourning, coffins, crypts, and crape, please see The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

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One thought on “Queen Victoria’s Cast-off Stockings On Sale in New York: 1881

  1. Pingback: The Healer of Pearls: 1902,1912 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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