Category Archives: Lace

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

 

 

The Cost of a Fine Lady

The Groans of Husbands.

If any one doubts that we live in the Age of Toys—at an epoch when taste runs more than ever before in the way of articles of embellishment and luxury—he must entertain that doubt at a distance from this metropolis. Indeed, we know not exactly where he will be able to “lay the flattering unction to his soul,” since even the small villages and incipient settlements in the country take their air from New York, and follow as nearly as possible in the footsteps of those who follow the Parisian setters of fashion. The taste or fancy obeys, too, the law of all propensities and habits, of being stimulated by gratification to larger demands. We have been growing steadily in this respect for a dozen years, and now reach a stature in extravagance that enables us to look over the heads of most of our transatlantic neighbors, and take to ourselves the proud consciousness of outdoing them in almost everything.

Look at the dresses of our ladies; observe them in the ball-room or at the opera; or at a simple home reception. That opera shawl is worn by a poor man’s wife; it is merely an imitation of ermine, with chenille [sic] fringe of pink, white or blue, yet it costs twenty-eight dollars. Observe the dress of the lady in the private box, of blue chene silk, with uncut velvet flounces, painted with rich clusters of flowers, and fringed with silk; she paid, last week, $120 for the dress material, besides $20 to her mantua-maker. The India cashmere shawl she has thrown off so carelessly, cost fifteen hundred dollars. The lady near her wears one with a scarlet centre, for which her husband, who has since advertised his goods as “selling off under cost,” paid $1200 to the importer. Her dress is of brown silk with fringed velvet flounces in a tartan plaid pattern; she purchased it some time since for ninety dollars, and it was thought a bargain. She and her friend are going to a party after the opera. Their head-dresses are “very simple,” –one has a head-piece composed of imitation pearls and delicate white ostrich plumes, mixed with bows of scarlet velvet ribbon looped with pearls, and chenille; there is a fall of white blonde lace upon it; the bandeau across the back of the head is also of mock pearls, and the ends of the ribbon are about half a yard in length. The price was only twelve dollars. The other has a bandeau of black velvet, wound with gold cord, and a fall of guipure lace; a bunch of golden grapes and leaves at the sides is mixed with red velvet flowers, and the streamers are of black crimson velvet ribbon.

fall colored headdress and bouquet red velvet leaves gilt mid 19th c

If you go to the morning reception of one of the ladies, you will probably find her attired in a blue chene silk, with flounces of “dead velvet” flowers; its price unmade was $110. At a party given by one to her fashionable friends, she would wear a dress of white Montante silk, with a border a yard deep of brilliant flowers, wrought in velvet or satin, with the rich tints of their summer bloom—the waist and sleeves trimmed to correspond; this “love of a dress” was got for one hundred dollars unmade, and was a Christmas present from a relative. A friend of hers, who wears a white silk, brocaded with gold in waving figures, and paid for the material $150, feels some self-complacency in her evident superiority.

brussels lace mantilla2

The bride, who is receiving the compliments of her visits, wears a scarf of Point d’Alencon that cost her father $1,500. The Valenciennes flouncing, a quarter of a yard deep, on the dress of one of her friends, is worth $100 a yard. Her mother wears a cape of Point d’Aiguille without ground, for which Stewart charged her $160; and her sister a collar and sleeves of Point d’Alencon, of which the price was $150. The elderly lady, who is giving her a word of advice about her future life ,wears a collar of flat point lace, with raised flowers, wrought in the most delicate needle work, for which she gave forty dollars, and thought it a bargain. Another young lady sports flounces of Point d’Aiguille at $70 the yard; and dangles from her gloved fingers a point d’Alencon handkerchief exquisitely worked in buttonhole stitch, with a centre piece of a few square inches of linen cambric, for which her papa gave a check for $200.

venetian lace handkerchief

Her aunt has one in French work, richly and heavily embroidered, that was only ninety dollars. Her cousin wears a white taffety silk dress with three flounces ornamented with broad wreaths in satin or gorgeous flowers—cost $85. Or would you study the tastes of our ladies on a fine day in Broadway! You will see, perchance, a cape of Russian sable from Genin’s at sixteen hundred dollars; or one of Hudson Bay sable at half that sum, or down through several gradations to $200, with victorines and cuffs to match from $85 to $200, in addition. In the evening again, you may see the latest importation of luxury in a Turkish scarf of muslin, embroidered with a gold and pink silk, worth $100, with dress to match, bought for $150, spangled with stars of gold, and having a wreath of delicate embroidery at the bottom. The handkerchief that matches this costume is wrought in a heavy pattern of silver and gold, representing birds of paradise and flowers, with a centre of linen cambric, and was “thrown away” at twenty dollars.. The head dress, which cost the same, is a barb, embroidered with silver, gold and colored silk. The fan is of white chene silk, painted with wreaths of flowers, and finished with heavy silk fringe. This was only fifteen dollars, and is so recently imported that it is not yet in the market. Its peculiarity is that it can be slipped up to the end of the handle, and expanded in a parasol at the owner’s pleasure.

carved conch parure tiara and bracelet

If you have a fancy for jewelry you may easily count up a fortune on the persons of our belles. That set of diamonds, consisting of necklace, bracelet, brooch and ear-rings, is worth $8,500. The pearl set which adorns the maiden of sixteen, cost $1,845. The sprigs represent the buds of the cotton plant. The gold and diamond bracelet pap bought at $1,800; it is superbly set in black enamel and gold—now the favorite setting. The one with the stone cameo representing a Grace holding a delicate wreath over her head, is worth $1200. But the prettiest device is one mama selected on Broadway the other day; quite new! It is a massive gold rattlesnake with glistening scales of diamonds, sparkling like imprisoned sunshine. It may be worn as a girdle, or a necklace, or in five folds around the wrist as a bracelet. On the top of the head is a cluster of large diamonds; the eyes are brilliant rubies, and the sharp teeth are of gold. The price of this captivating creature was but $800. You may see a superb necklace of eighty-seven diamonds in gold festoons, that cost $1,300; and that fashionable bracelet of broad green enamel, bordered with diamonds, representing bows of ribbon confined with braided bands, studded with brilliant gems, was bought at $1500. The set of large sapphires, with diamonds clustering around them, confined by a rope of chased gold, was $2,140. The diamond ring which sparkles on that lady’s finger, of five and a half carats, is worth $1500; and the ear-rings set in black enamel, $1600 the pair. You may see, also, a new style of necklace, formed of a network of black enamel and diamonds, with pendant shafts of gold headed with gems; the price of this, with a corresponding brooch, was $1300 The set of larger diamonds are worth fifteen thousand dollars. The prevailing fancy this winter has been for coral sets, exquisitely wrought. Look at that magnificent rose colored set, representing Cupid embedded in flowers, and birds in the ear-rings hovering over the rich clusters of blossoms. Its price was $550.

carved conch parure necklace and earrings and brooch

You have perhaps seen B.’s gold tea set—consisting of tea urn, tea and coffee pots, sugar bowl and cream pitcher, with twelve cups, saucers, and spoons—for $15,000. Or the gold dinner set, with fish, crumb and pie knives, preserve spoons, fruit basket, grape scissors, sugar tongs, and eighteen knives and forks for only $1,000. We do not yet use gold very generally, but if you take tea with Mrs. A__, she will show you a new tea set of six pieces worth $800—which was hung on her Christmas tree, and point you to a silver epergne with four branches, for the centre of her table, that cost $600; you will have water or lemonade handed you in a tankard and goblet of richly chased silver, on a slaver to match, of the finest workmanship, representing vintage scenes—price $335; and before you leave, the lady will ask your admiration for her last present of two paintings on porcelain—one representing Rubens’ Children, the other by Corfalis—a Festival of Artists—for which the connoisseur is to pay $325.

silver gilt epergne

Smaller articles of luxury are on the same scale. The fish knife and fork used at a dinner, with full length figures of bacchantes on the handles, were not purchased under $85; the crumb-knife with a chased horn-of-plenty for the handle—for $45. The plum cake at the wedding party you attended last week—weighing 75 pounds—with its frost work ornaments six feet high, cost $100; the pyramid, 3 ½ feet high, with classic figures supporting the roof of a temple crowned with wreaths of flowers, $50; meringues in baskets and other attractive forms, $15 each, the boned turkey in jelly, pedestal and all, $15. Your imagination will supply the innumerable articles that must accompany and keep in countenance these elegant trifles.

It will thus be seen that fashion and society in our city, require expensive aids, and embellishments. Ladies are beginning to complain of the enormous taxes levied on “position and advantageous connection;” their husbands have groaned long under the burden. One tells us she is compelled to forego parties though she loves them dearly, and is well fitted to adorn and enjoy them; she really cannot afford to spend two hundred dollars on a dress and its accompaniments, and must, therefore, give up the pleasure. Another who has lightened her purse and oppressed he heart to be splendid, is half sick with chagrin, because another has eclipsed her in extravagance. Many who really have no wish to cramp their means and beggar their children for such empty triumphs, complain that their friends will drop them if they are not magnificent, and that cold shoulders are turned on any thing in the way of a shawl and dress under $500, or an inferior set of sables. There is certainly no doubt that profuse expenditure in dress, furniture and living, is made the test of respectability and the passport to society in our city. The veriest booby or the silliest woman, who can shine in what money can purchase, may command respect denied to worth, excellence and talent, when allied to moderate means.

This is not as it should be. We do not object to the toy mania when it does not break the limits prescribed by nature and reason. Let the rich spend their wealth in luxuries, trifles and in superb decorations, and let others admire the gewgaws if they choose; but let not the better riches of mind and heart be less prized—infinitely superior as they are. Let such of our dames as can afford to indulge their tastes be magnificent; but let the “public opinion” that would exclude from society those who can not afford more than simple elegance, be crushed out of existence. It is unworthy of republicans—unworthy of Christians—unworthy of intelligent beings.

N.Y. Express.

Alexandria [VA] Gazette 21 January 1857: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Strong words, indeed, when everybody knows that the whims of the upper classes give employment to the poor even though the rich may be a trifle careless in paying their bills to impoverished seamstresses. The expensive caprices of the aristocracy also give those less fortunate something to read in the papers on wet afternoons. This article, for example, on “The Cost of a Curtsey,” telling of the expenses attendant on being present at Court, and this one, on “Where that $10,000-a-Year Dress Allowance Goes” must have inspired much amusement and a hearty thankfulness among the working classes that they had not the worries and cares of the wealthy.

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.

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Hallowe’en Supper Frocks: 1894

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

PRETTY FANCIFUL GOWNS SUITABLE FOR THE FESTIVAL

The Picturesque Frocks a Brunette, Chatain and Blonde Will Wear to a Hallowmass Party.

Halloween, perhaps, more than any other fete, supplies possibilities for picturesque and effective gowns, and the end-of-the-century girl is not the one to let them slip by.

A very fashionable wardrobe now owns, along with other dainty evening toilets, a Halloween supper frock, which may be made in any mode, but which, to be just the thing, should suggest, in some way, night itself. Tints vague and intangible, hinting of darkness or the white cool moon, are preferred over glaring dark colors.

As to ornament, there may be some curious jeweled night fly fastened somewhere, perhaps spangled in the hair; and if flowers are used, they too, must propitiate the powers of night in wanes and thick perfume.

The dread witches, who on All Halloween have the threads of fate in their keeping, are said to be difficult ladies to please, but somehow one hopes they will smile on the wearers of the three charming gowns here shown, and provide them suitable husbands. The originals of these dainty costumes, which were suggested by three famous French pictures, were all made by a nimble-fingered New York girl for a Halloween supper. They are to be worn by herself and two sisters, three distinct types; and along with their exceeding effectiveness, they have the merit of having involved comparatively little expense, being all fashioned from materials at hand, some lengths of a marvelous Chinese drapery, a few yards of thick liberty satin bought in better days, and a thin, scant, old tambour muslin slip, relic of a long dead great-mamma and tea cup times.

FOR A BRUNETTE

The first dress shown was for the dark, handsome elder sister of the little Cinderella dressmaker—the type that goes with stiffness and stateliness and rustling textures. It was of the liberty satin in a dim luminous tint, too blue for gray and too gray for blue, and that will show off the wearer’s rich skin to perfection. The girdle drapery of graduating ribbon lengths and bows was of a faint dead sea rose color. This subtle and delightful tint, together with black, repeats itself in the simple but decorative embroidery at the bottom of the wide skirt. The tiny chemise gamp is of white muslin, and the short balloon sleeves are stiffened with tarlatan. To be worn with the dress, as well as the next one, both of which were entirely uncrinolined, were petticoats of hair cloth, with tucks of large round organ pipe plaits, to hold the skirt out in the present approved fashion.

FOR CHATAIN [Brown Hair] COLORING.

The second gown, though perhaps not quite so enchanting as the first, was more suggestive of the witcheries of Halloween. It was of the Chinese silk drapery, in the copper red, and with a fantastic patterning of black bats. The girdle and low neck decoration are of black velvet, and square jet buckles fasten the latter down at intervals.

The very daintiest feature of this paniered gown, however, which in style recalls somewhat little beflowered Dolly Varden, is the undersleeves, made to show off a rounded young arm and drive envy to the soul of womankind. For every woman who is a real woman has a weakness for lace, and these adorable undersleeves were made of the charming old net lace embroidery in back stitch of the long ago.

It came, like the tambour muslin, from grandmamma’s garret, where, when Halloween is over, it is to be hoped, it will be carefully put back.

A GOWN FOR A BLONDE.

The third and last dress, a tiny hint of the Directoire period, is the tambour muslin slip itself, sinfully modernized. Once white, it is now evenly mellowed to a soft caressing yellow, which is further accented by a puffing of pure white chiffon about the neck and skirt bottom. The sleeves are of a rich heavy brocade in black and white, and the belt and crescent ornaments are of silver.

This costume is to be worn to the supper by the little dressmaker herself, and its scant picture lines are sure to become her slim, shortwaisted young figure.

And may the ghost of sweet dead grandmamma not come back to reproach her for desecration.

Nina Fitch.

The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 28 October 1894: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Desecration, indeed….  One frequently sees examples of ancient garments re-made into fancy dress or some “amusing” pastiche; a practice which makes Mrs Daffodil’s blood alternately boil and run cold (something that takes rather a bit of doing, given her line of work.) We can only fervently hope that the antique lace and tambour muslin were, indeed, “put back” or, if not, that Grandmamma haunted the offender mercilessly.

While questioning the appalling statement that only “real women” have a “weakness” for lace, Mrs Daffodil will also adjudge the addition of antique lace to an otherwise standard Bat Queen or Empress of the Night fancy-dress costume to be utterly unnecessary.

“Night” was a popular figure in fancy dress. We see an interpretation of that character at the head of this post. An illustration and description of another version follows. Whimsical though the idea is in principal, in real life, wearing a stuffed owl must be a trifle cumbersome:

By way of preparation for it we present for our readers’ inspection a costume representing Night.

It is satin, in two shades of purple. The lighter used for lower skirt has beaded surface. The plain falls over in a plaited back and draped front; wide panel ornamented with stars, butterflies [moths?] and a very demure owl; smoke-colored vail, dotted with stars, covers the crown of hat, held by a crescent and owl; this draping over the right arm and breast, is thrown over the left shoulder and arm. Willkes-Barre [PA] Evening News 6 January 1886: p. 3

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.

 

The Sale of Mrs Lincoln’s Wardrobe: 1867

Mrs Lincoln's wardrobe for sale

Mrs Lincoln’s wardrobe for sale in the New York showroom.

A SINGULAR SPECTACLE

Which has already too large a share of public attention and notoriety, is the exhibition which has been going on for weeks in a small room, upstairs, corner of Houston street and Broadway, of Mrs. Lincoln’s wardrobe. It is a disagreeable subject, and would not be adhered to, only to correct some misstatements and misapprehensions.

No one can look at the collection and imagine that the object in exposing them was to sell them, or make a large amount of money by their sale. With the exception of the lace and camel’s hair shawls, and a few odd pieces of jewelry, there is nothing which any lady could wear, or which in its present condition, would not be a disgrace to a second hand cloth shop. The dresses, those that have been made up and worn are crushed, dirty, old fashioned, and most of them made and trimmed in the worst way. The skirts are too short for any but a very short person, and the commonest muslins, barreges and grenadines are made extremely low in the neck and would not be available for any purpose. There are some brocaded silk skirts in large heavy patterns which have been made but not worn, but these are unaccompanied by any waist, while the price upon them, and all the other articles, is exorbitant. Had the purpose been merely one of sale it would have been better effected through any large dry goods or jewelry house, who would have taken, as they frequently do, the India shawls and diamond rings at a fair valuation, but the display evidently had another object, and for the sake of Mr. Lincoln and his family, the Union League Club, or some other organization, ought to buy up the goods and transfer them to Chatham street as soon as possible.

Daily Eastern Argus [Portland, ME] 1 November 1867: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although in receipt of a pension granted by Congress, Mrs Lincoln had a terrible fear of poverty and conceived the idea of selling off some of her clothes anonymously. When this was discovered, the President’s widow was savaged by both the Northern and Southern press for selling her “cast-off” clothes. Here is another piece, quoted by Mrs Lincoln’s former dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, in her 1868 memoir, Behind the Scenes.

“The attraction for ladies, and the curious and speculative of the other sex in this city, just now, is the grand exposition of Lincoln dresses at the office of Mr. [W.H.] Brady, on Broadway, a few doors south of Houston street. The publicity given to the articles on exhibition and for sale has excited the public curiosity, and hundreds of people, principally women with considerable leisure moments at disposal, daily throng the rooms of Mr. Brady, and give himself and his shopwoman more to do than either bargained for, when a lady, with face concealed with a veil, called and arranged for the sale of the superabundant clothing of a distinguished and titled, but nameless lady. Twenty-five dresses, folded or tossed about by frequent examinations, lie exposed upon a closed piano, and upon a lounge; shawls rich and rare are displayed upon the backs of chairs, but the more exacting obtain a better view and closer inspection by the lady attendant throwing them occasionally upon her shoulders, just to oblige, so that their appearance on promenade might be seen and admired. Furs, laces, and jewelry are in a glass case, but the ‘four thousand dollars in gold’ point outfit is kept in a paste-board box, and only shown on special request.

“The feeling of the majority of visitors is adverse to the course Mrs. Lincoln has thought proper to pursue, and the criticisms are as severe as the cavillings are persistent at the quality of some of the dresses. These latter are labelled at Mrs. Lincoln’s own estimate, and prices range from $25 to $75—about 50 per cent less than cost. Some of them, if not worn long, have been worn much; they are jagged under the arms and at the bottom of the skirt, stains are on the lining, and other objections present themselves to those who oscillate between the dresses and dollars, ‘notwithstanding they have been worn by Madam Lincoln,’ as a lady who looked from behind a pair of gold spectacles remarked. Other dresses, however, have scarcely been worn —one, perhaps, while Mrs. Lincoln sat for her picture, and from one the basting threads had not yet been removed. The general testimony is that the wearing apparel is high-priced, and some of the examiners say that the cost-figures must have been put on by the dress-makers; or, if such was not the case, that gold was $250 when they were purchased, and is now but $140—so that a dress for which $150 was paid at the rate of high figures cannot be called cheap at half that sum, after it has been worn considerable, and perhaps passed out of fashion. The peculiarity of the dresses is that the most of them are cut low-necked—a taste which some ladies attribute to Mrs. Lincoln’s appreciation of her own bust.

“On Saturday last an offer was made for all the dresses. The figure named was less than the aggregate estimate placed on them. Mr. Brady, however, having no discretionary power, he declined to close the bargain, but notified Mrs. Lincoln by mail. Of course, as yet, no reply has been received. Mrs L. desires that the auction should be deferred till the 31st of the present month, and efforts made to dispose of the articles at private sale up to that time.

“A Mrs. C__. called on Mr. Brady this morning, and examined minutely each shawl. Before leaving the lady said that, at the time when there was a hesitancy about the President issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, she sent to Mrs. Lincoln an ashes-of-rose shawl, which was manufactured in China, forwarded to France, and thence to Mrs. C __., in New York. The shawl, the lady remarked, was a very handsome one, and should it come into the hands of Mr. Brady to be sold, would like to be made aware of the fact, so as to obtain possession again. Mr. Brady promised to acquaint the ashes-of-rose donor, if the prized article should be among the two trunks of goods now on the way from Chicago.”

A detailed description of the New York visit and clothing fiasco by Elizabeth Keckley may be found here.

While Mrs Lincoln was known to be eccentric and erratic, (it has been suggested that her lavish spending was a symptom of a mental illness), few there were  who sympathised with the lady in her grief for her three dead sons and her murdered husband. Even her surviving son, Robert, felt compelled to lock her away as insane.

Mrs Lincoln had been very close to Elizabeth Keckley, her dressmaker and confidante, but when Mrs Keckley published her book about life in the White House, to, as she stated, “attempt to place Mrs. Lincoln in a better light before the world” and to “explain the motives” that guided Mrs. Lincoln’s decisions regarding what became known as the “old clothes scandal,” she was excoriated for violating the former First Lady’s privacy.  This led to a break in their friendship, although it is possible that they reconciled before Mrs Lincoln died. Mrs Lincoln spent her last years depressed and in ill-health, dying at her sister’s home in Springfield, Illinois in 1882.

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.

 

Mrs Daffodil on Flowers

A miniature flower painting by Jan Frans van Dael, mounted as a brooch. http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=jewellery&oid=156467

Since the Family is away on holiday over the week-end, Mrs Daffodil is taking this opportunity to take a brief holiday of her own, possibly paying a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show and returning, refreshed, Wednesday next.

She has posted on floral themes many times, so, to while away the hours for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers who will be counting the moments until a new post appears, here are some posts pertinent to the topic of flowers.

Strange Flower Superstitions of Many Lands

Queen Adelaide’s Flower-Acrostic Dress

The Wild-Flower Wedding

A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners

Funeral Flowers for Young Helen

Napoleon and the Gardener

A very recent post: The Black Rose

And Mrs Daffodil’s favourite gardening story, “The Occasional Garden,” by Mr H. H. Munro [Saki]

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers a delightful and restful week-end with well-filled picnic hampers and unclouded blue skies.

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.

The Lost Story of the William and Mary: A Guest Post by Gill Hoffs

william-and-mary-shipwreck-gill-hoffs

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to welcome author Gill Hoffs, whose new book The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson, has just been released.

Mrs. Daffodil is a creature of the land and shudders at the horrors of shipwreck. Yet, what we see in these excerpts are snap-shots of life on an emigrant ship, the alien impression the survivors made in England, and descriptions of Frisian emigrant clothing. Even in the wake of this maritime tragedy, we catch glimpses of fashion and adornment.

The following is excerpted from “The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson” (Pen & Sword, 2016, all rights reserved, available from http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Lost-Story-of-the-William-and-Mary-Hardback/p/12290).

When reading about Victorian maritime disasters in old newspapers while conducting research for my book The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ (Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015 http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Sinking-of-RMS-Tayleur-Paperback/p/10677), one shipwreck stood out as particularly odd among the thousands reported. The William and Mary was an ordinary vessel with a common name, which set sail from Liverpool in early 1853 without any sort of fanfare or special treatment. Nothing distinguished the parties of Irish, Scottish, English, Dutch and German emigrants on board, nor the captain and crew, from any of the thousands of others leaving port that month. But within a few months the William and Mary would provoke outrage in newspapers around the world.

The accounts I read at first bemoaned the loss of over 200 passengers and a handful of crew, hoped for the salvation of a group who might have made it onto a raft as the ship went down before the captain’s eyes in the shark-infested waters of the Bahamas and hinted at their dissatisfaction with the captain and crew’s ‘hurry to yield to the instinct [of self-preservation]’ (Freeman’s Journal, 31 May 1853). Then, according to articles published just a few weeks later, the truth came out – or, at least, a version of it.

* * *

The author first introduces us to the hygienic challenges faced by emigrants.

This was the age of the crinoline and women and girls wore voluminous skirts and – if they had them – giant bloomer underpants that went past their knees. Poorer women stiffened their multiple petticoats with rings of horsehair or rolled newspaper and stored precious items, such as money and important papers, in their corsets and stays while still aspiring to the impractical wasp-waisted ideal. Outfits were constricting, heavy, not easily changed in such cramped quarters and even less easily cleaned despite this being extremely desirable given the numerous vomit and food stains that would quickly accumulate on the many layers of fabric. Depending on the state of the lodging houses where the emigrants had previously slept and the state of the straw that made up their ‘donkey’s breakfast’ bedding, there would likely be fleas and similar pests annoying them on board.

* * *

Yet life on board ship had some pleasant moments:

Once the emigrants had found their sea-legs, the voyage became more tolerable and occasionally even enjoyable. According to Haagsma [a survivor who wrote about the ordeal], ‘we entertained ourselves with music or in other ways’. Those with an instrument would gladly show off their prowess with a melody, some passengers – or occasionally, sailors – would sing and dance and there would be a celebratory mood for a while at least as people let loose with a jig. There were restrictions regarding who could go where on the ship, none more so than for the Frisian women, who were forbidden from going on deck with bare feet. But Captain Stinson appears to have taken a shine to at least one of the young women, as Haagsma later related: ‘One evening, at the request of the captain, a Friesian girl was dressed in national or rather provincial clothing and presented to him, which he, the mates and others enjoyed very much. They were especially impressed by the gold ear-pie[ce] with the lace bonnet. The captain called her “a soldier with a southwester.” The gold ear-piece he said was the helmet and the southwester, that you can easily guess.’

* **

When the survivors of the William and Mary were landed, many had only the clothes on their backs. These were far from fashionable to the English eye:

The Frisians made an impression on the English, particularly when they had to take a break at the yellow-brick station of Ely to allow the cattle to change trains for London. ‘We had to remain there until two thirty and meanwhile toured the city, to the great amusement of the residents. The wooden shoes and silver ear ornaments [traditional Frisian dress] caused people to stare at us,’ recalled Haagsma, who was impressed with what he saw of England, saying ‘at Peterborough … they have a station 160 feet in length. The beautiful scene across hills and valleys, along woods and creeks soon disappeared. They were covered by the dark evening fog, which alas prevented the inquisitive traveller from seeing any more. But I know this, that we passed through tunnels three times, which are the result of the iron will of English enterprise.’

* * *

[In Liverpool as] in Ely, the traditional dress of the Frisians drew attention. Roorda wrote, ‘On our arrival the inhabitants of Liverpool expressed very great bemusement at the clogs that we wore and particularly the oorijzers [a type of head covering] which the women in our company wore, yet nobody was unfriendly to us and the owners of our lodging in particular were always very generous and forthcoming.’ Dutch people wore thick woollen socks with wooden clogs and would have clattered across cobbled streets, whereas many of the inhabitants of Liverpool (and the poorer emigrants) would have gone without any kind of footwear due to the extreme poverty there.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, came to Liverpool a few months later to work as US Consul and was shocked to see people out with bare legs and feet even when there was snow on the ground, turning their skin raw and red.

Trijntje [Catherine Tuininga Albers de Haan], who survived the William and Mary wreck, but lost her bag of keepsakes, including her dead children's clothing, during the rescue. It was she who had been told by her Mother to make sure she kept her oorijzers so she could show her social standing. Copyright Christopher Lindstrom

Trijntje [Catherine Tuininga Albers de Haan], who survived the William and Mary shipwreck, but lost her bag of keepsakes, including her dead children’s clothing, during the rescue. It was she who had been told by her Mother to make sure she kept her oorijzers so she could show her social standing. Copyright Christopher Lindstrom

Even more startling was the hair of the Frisian women, which the English found shockingly short:

Haagsma said, ‘The Frisian women with their bonnets aroused the pity of the English and they said, “O, God, those women have no hair”.’ They did, but at that time they cut their hair fairly short, especially compared to British women and wore it under a thin white cloth cap held in place by an ornate metal headdress. These were symbols of wealth and locality and one Frisian woman, 39-year-old Trijntje de Haan, was under strict orders from her mother not to lose hers. Her granddaughter later recalled, ‘there was her head dress which consisted of a lace cap with a gold chain over the brow to hold the lace in place and ending at each temple with loops of lace held in place by engraved gold knobs which completed the decoration. Almost the last advice grandmother had received from her mother was this, “No matter how poor you may become, Treen, never give up your head-dress, for without that you will lose caste and your social standing”.’

The oorijzer, sometimes translated as “ear iron,” was originally a frame of iron. (Mrs Daffodil actually knows a young lady blacksmith who has forged one. It looked rather like a bed-spring.) The frames eventually were made in silver and gold, becoming, as mentioned above, a status symbol. The English did not quite understand the nuances of this fashion:

Class and social standing were of great importance to the Victorians, but while some felt reassured by their knowledge of their place in society – generally those in the upper classes – many felt trapped or hobbled by the strictures and snobberies of the system. This was another reason some found the idea of emigration so attractive: the social mobility and chance of a fresh start elsewhere offered opportunities to many that would be denied them if they stayed at home. Thus Liverpool and other ports became inundated with those seeking a better, or at least different, life.

Not everyone was happy about this. Nathaniel Hawthorne was displeased with the busy atmosphere of the city, saying ‘The people are as numerous as maggots in cheese; you behold them, disgusting and all moving about, as when you raise a plank or log that has long lain on the ground and find many vivacious bugs and insects beneath it.’

Mr Hawthorne was, undoubtedly, a gifted writer, but his distaste for foreigners is rather uncouthly expressed and in a manner not unknown even to-day.

* * *

If you wish to find out more about the passengers and crew on the doomed voyage of the William and Mary, please see  http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Lost-Story-of-the-William-and-Mary-Hardback/p/12290 or contact Gill at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk or @GillHoffs on twitter.”]

Mrs Daffodil was intrigued by this passage shared by the author:

A storm tossed the William and Mary about, emptying emigrants from their bunks onto the deck and the ship was holed on first one rock then another, allowing water to gush into the hold. What happened next was brutal and bizarre and if it wasn’t for the kindness of a local wrecker, the true story of Stinson and his crew’s loathsome actions that could easily be interpreted as an attempt at mass murder would have been lost at sea along with over 200 passengers – which is probably just what Stinson hoped would happen.

Wholesale murder at sea foiled by a kindly local wrecker is something Mrs Daffodil would pay to see…

Many thanks, Gill!

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.

The Bridal Veil: 1886

Brussels wedding veil 1890

THE BRIDAL VEIL.

A pretty, dark-eyed girl began to work it, whose lover was over the sea. She was a French girl, and came of a good family of lacemakers.

“I’ll work my own bridal veil in my leisure time,” she said. “So when Walter comes to marry me I shall be a gay bride.”

But she never finished the veil. Walter came too soon. She married her English lover—as poor as herself—and went with him to London, and the half-finished bridal veil went along, carefully folded away at the bottom of a trunk, and, for the time being quite forgotten.

It may have been forgotten in earnest, during twelve years, for aught I know; certainly it lay that long unnoticed. A lovely ten year old girl was the fairy that broke its long sleep at last. She had dark eyes, like the little peasant of twelve years ago, but Walter’s golden hair.

“Oh! the charming lace!” she cried, clapping her hands and dancing delightedly, as Elise shook it out of the folds. “Dear mamma, what is it‘? and who made it? and why is it but half done? Can I have it for a dress for my doll, mamma?”

The pretty, dark-haired matron laughed and shook her head, and half sighed, and she pressed the delicate fabric to her lips. Then she told her child the history of its making.

“Mamma, teach me to work it,” she said one day. “My fingers are much finer and tinier than yours.”

After that she would bring her little work-basket to her mother’s side and work at a veil for her doll. The facility with which she learned the graceful art was astonishing. At the age of fifteen so expert was she that Elise did not fear to let her take part in the creation of the bridal veil itself, but they worked at it now and then as fancy seized them.

* * * *

Louis Riviere was from France, like Adele’s mother—that had been a bond between them from the first —for Adele loved her mother’s country for her mother’s sake, though she herself was proud of being called English ; and she also loved the young Frenchman.

The happy weeks and months grew into years. Adele was seventeen; it was agreed and promised that when spring-time came she would be Riviere’s bride.

“We must finish the bridal veil,” cried Elise, eagerly. “I tell you, Monsieur Louis, no lady of your proud house ever wore a lace more exquisite and rich. Ah! shall I not be proud when I look at my beautiful child in her marriage robes, and think of the poor little peasant girl of long ago, who toiled at the lace to earn coarse bread so far away over the sea?”

Louis turned quickly at these words, a look of displeased surprise in his dark eyes.

“What peasant girl, madam?” he questioned, uneasily.

“Myself,” she answered, happily, not marking the look or the tone. “What was I but a poor little lacemaker when my generous young lover married me, the father of Adele?”

He answered nothing, and Elise went merrily chatting on, but Adele noticed his suddenly downcast air and gloomed eyes, though she was far from suspecting the cause of either.

His haughty family pride had received a blow. He conceived an absolute but violent dislike to the bridal veil.

“I detest the sight of it!” he cried one evening in a moment of self-forgetfulness, and when he and Adele were alone. “If, indeed, you love me, never work at it in my presence, Adele; and if I dared ask one special favor of you it should be__”

He paused suddenly. She was listening in great surprise.

“Well,” she said, “it should be ___”

“Wear any other veil in the world but that one to be married in!”

She folded her work and let her fair hands fall on it in her lap; one could see those little hands were trembling.

“You ask a singular favor,” she said, with forced quietness. “Are you not aware that my dear mother worked this veil?”

The hot, impulsive temper answered instantly, without a thought: “It is for that reason I hate it!”

“You did not know when first you sought me for a bride that mamma was a lace-worker in France; if you had, perhaps you would not have loved me. Since you have learned this fact you have regretted our engagement. You need not speak; I have seen a change in you—I feel that it is so! But there is no harm done,” she went on, with simple dignity, “since I have learned the truth before it is too late; and so,” she held out to him a little trembling hand, which he took mechanically—“and so I will grant you the favor you covet, my friend. Your bride shall not wear my darling mother’s bridal veil”—here he kissed the hand, and she drew it quickly away—“but that is because I shall not be your bride.”

No need to dwell upon what followed. His prayers, his protestations—humble at first, then angry his tears that had no power in them to sap the strength of her resolution.

Her parents questioned her in vain. She had quarreled with Louis; that was all they could learn. And before a chance for reconciliation came Elise was smitten with mortal illness and died in three days, and Adele, overwhelmed by the awful calamity, was prostrate with brain fever.

At this juncture a summons came to Louis from France, demanding his immediate presence there. Strange changes had taken place. Two of the three lives that had stood between him and the titles and estates of the Marquis de la Riviere had been suddenly swept away, and the third, a frail, delicate child, lay dying. The present marquis, himself a feeble old man, was also at the point of death, so they sent in haste for Louis, as the heir of the dying nobleman.

The news bewildered him. His heart swelled with exultation and delight, but it sank again. Adele! Had he lost Adele?

“I care not for rank or wealth, unless she shares them!” cried his heart. “I will go and implore her pardon.”

A few weeks later he wrote, informing her fully of his strangely altered fortunes and imploring her to pardon and accept once more as her true-love the love of the Marquis de la Riviere.

And the letter never reached her. The house to which it came was empty and deserted, the late happy home was broken up, and the little English girl, for whom a husband and title and fortune were waiting in sunny France, was earning a sorrowful living as lace-maker! Such are some of the strange realities of real life more wonderful than any fiction.

* * * * *

Many a gay belle and brilliant beauty had spread her net to secure the splendid prize of a titled husband. Foremost among the many, Rosalind Hale; she was the fairest and wealthiest of them all; and her golden hair was not unlike Adele’s. She arranged charades, tableaux, plays—in which he should sustain a part with her. It never occurred to her that he was at once too good-natured and too indifferent to refuse.

The tableaux were suggestive enough. One, upon which Miss Hale had quite set her heart, was that of a bridal—need it be said that Louis was the bridegroom, herself the bride‘?

“He will speak, now, surely,” she thought, as she blushed and trembled before him, While the curtain came slowly down. But no, he only bowed as he led her from the platform; and then one of the buttons of his coat caught in her bridal veil. As the marquis stopped to disengage the lace suddenly he uttered a strange cry. It was Adele’s bridal veil.

“I borrowed it of a lace-maker,” Miss Hale said, in reply to his anxious questioning. “I had ordered one like it; but her health is bad and she failed to have it finished in time. So I made her lend me this.”

“Oh, no? very thin and worn and sad,” she said in reply to another question of Louis’; “with fine eyes, but too dull and pale to be called pretty. But an exquisite lace maker. I shall be glad to give you her address if you have any work for her.” Yes, he had work for her—work that they would share together; the blessed work of binding up an almost broken heart, of restoring love and happiness to both their lives.

Pale and thin and somewhat careworn still was the bride of the marquis on her wedding day; but to his eyes—the eyes of faithful love—it was still the sweetest face in the whole world that smiled and wept beneath Elise’s bridal veil. And he kissed the old lace and blessed it, because through it he had found her again.

The Otago [NZ] Witness 2 January 1886: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Suggestive tableaux, indeed!  There is a bit of Blanche Ingram in Miss Hale, although fortunately there is no Bertha Mason Rochester to tear Elise’s veil. One hopes that the Marquis, who, we may observe, is no Mr Rochester, ate a good deal of humble pie before Adele took him back.

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.

 

“I’m a Smuggler”: 1896

A Custom House Story.

New York World.

One of the best story tellers in the custom house is Colonel Dudley F. Phelps, chief of the law department. Like Collector Kilbreth, Colonel Phelps’ stories have the merit of actual experience. Colonel Phelps never tells a story twice. He told one altogether new last Saturday afternoon when business was done and the young civil service clerks had folded up their desks and gone home.

“One of the funniest and most perplexing situations I have ever had to confront in my office here,” said the colonel, “turned up several months ago. One very dull autumn afternoon a clerical gentleman of especially solemn mien came in. He introduced himself as Mr. So and So, whom I knew to be the pastor of one of the most fashionable churches on Fifth avenue.

“’You are the law officer, I believe, sir,” said the distinguished gentleman.

“’Yes, sir.’

“’Shut the door,” said the reverend gentleman hastily.

“The door was shut.

“’Lock it.”

“It was locked.

“’Sh—h,’ said the Fifth avenue pastor. ‘I’m a smuggler.’

“’Why, my dear sir, it can’t be possible,’ said I.

“’True, indeed, sir,” said the reverend gentleman, wiping away a tear. ‘And I will frankly tell you the story.’

“’Last June my congregation voted that I should have a vacation and they decided that I should take a trip abroad, sir. I was very much delighted and I concluded that I would take my two daughters, two lovely girls, sir on my voyage with me.

“’Now, my dears,’ said I. ‘Now, my dears, mind you, no smuggling when we return.’

“’Oh, papa,’ said they, ‘everybody smuggles. That’s half the fun of a trip abroad.’ And they were such good girls, sir—such very good girls. But they promised. And we went abroad and we had a delightful time.

“’Then came the time to return. We were in London.

“’Now, my dears,’ said I, ‘I must again warn you not to smuggle.’

“’But everybody smuggles, papa,’ said they.

“’Now, my dears!’ I said, ‘promise me,’ and they said, “we promise, papa, we won’t smuggle.’

“We had a beautiful voyage over, sir, a charming voyage; and when we arrived off Sandy Hook I called my two daughters to me and I said:

“’Now, my dears, promise me you will not smuggle.’

“’But every woman on the ship is smuggling,’ they said, ‘and it is such fun.’

“The customs officers examined our baggage, and I was proud, sir that they found nothing contraband in my daughters’ trunks. Now, sir, it has always been my practice to kiss my two darlings good night when bedtime comes. So I stole up to their room—and imagine my surprise, my consternation, my shame, sir. There sat my two lovely girls ripping out the lining of my overcoat, and pulling therefrom, sir, yards and yards of fine lace—duchesse lace, they called it.

“’Oh, my dears,’ said I, ‘you promised me you would not smuggle. Oh, think of the shame of it.’

“’We didn’t smuggle, papa!’ said they, ‘you smuggled,’ and here is the lace, sir. I smuggled it. Let the dreadful consequences be visited upon me, sir! But shield them, for they are two such good girls. Here it is, sir. And he poured into my lap a great bundle of lace.

“I tried to calm the old gentleman,” continued Colonel Phelps, “for he had worked himself up into a great state of excitement, and I told him that under the circumstances I thought the government would take no action in the matter. The duty, I told him, would be only about $20, and Uncle Sam would probably waive that in the case of two such lovely girls—such very good girls. So I returned him the lace. But he insisted on paying the duty. Then I told him that if he insisted he might send $20 to the conscience fund. The next day a messenger brought the good man’s check for $20 for the conscience fund.”

The Galveston [TX] Daily News 11 January 1896: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “conscience fund,” as one might surmise, was for just such delicate situations as these. Engagingly, the funds so received were known as “duties from unknown hands.”

One can only imagine the merry dance those “two such good girls” led the unfortunate parson: exceeding their dress-allowances, flirting with would-be suitors in church, and contracting vastly unsuitable marriages seem the inevitable fate for girls capable of turning their doting papa into a felon.

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.