Category Archives: shopping

Hints for Earth Day Economies: 1859-1903

Although Monday was, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed,  “Earth Day,” a time to take stock of how we use the resources of the planet, there is never a bad day to reflect on consumption and its consequences. There has been a societal move against “fast fashion” and a resurgence of “Make Do and Mend.”  Mrs Daffodil will, therefore, “recycle” several posts on the subject of domestic economy in dress, on the clever makers-over of tired garments, and the second-hand clothing trade.

One would go far before one would discover a more ingenious clan than these Southern Ohio ladies and their cunning tricks of skillful fingers.

Although this lady, who traded in second-hand silks and this gentleman, who prospered in left-over laundry, are an inspiration to all of us.

Some clever gentlemen took a leaf from the ladies’ domestic economy books and learned to update and repair their wardrobes.

A fascinating tour of a 19th-century “recycling” firm and an examination of the “rag trade.”

The second-hand trade was a boon to actresses, and the buying, selling, and hiring of costly gowns worn by the Four Hundred, was a practice well-known to the upper echelons of Society.

The second-hand clothing trade extended even unto royalty, as we see in this peep at Queen Victoria’s stockings.

One of Mrs Daffodil’s heroines is this resourceful lady, who set herself up as a “Dress Doctor,” long before Hollywood costumer Edith Head co-opted that title.

Of course, selling one’s evening dresses involve some unwitting “recycling,” as this lady found to her dismay:

Not long ago (write “X and Z” in the Globe) a lady in dealing with the proprietress of a second-hand clothing business, sold to her several evening dresses, which were perfectly fresh and good, but which she could not wear again, as her friends knew them too well. They had probably been worn three times each. The second-hand wardrobe lady remarked, by the way, that all her purchases were for the colonies. Seems odd, does it not? But to return. A few days after the gowns were sold their original owner missed a very pretty old-fashioned diamond clasp, and, inquiring of her maid, discovered to her tribulation that it was in one of the evening dresses she had sold. “Sewn firm on the left shoulder, my lady,” quoth the maid. She proceeded diplomatically to work, sent the maid to the shop, and, in consequence of her operations there, became again the possessor of her discarded gown at exactly seven times the price she had sold it for. The diamond clasp was still in it, its safety being due to proximity to a mass of crystal trimming which formed an epaulette, the clasp having been added with a view to making the whole mass look “good.”

Otago Witness 9 February 1893: p. 42

 

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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When Jane Met Lucy: 1910

the shoppers, william james glackens 1907-1908

The Shoppers, William James Glackens, 1907-1908 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-shoppers/hAG8x65bfr6-oA

At the hat counter in the oval of the same mirror they recognized each other.

“I thought you were dead,” said Lucy.

“I wish I were,” said Jane; “but aren’t you going to kiss me?” They kissed.

“How glad! What a time since we have seen one another. Not since we left college. Are you married?”

“Two months ago, and I’m madly happy. And you? Divorced?”

“How did you know it?”

“I said that haphazard. Let me look at you, Jane. You are just the same with your serious air, cynical smile and passionate eyes. Do you remember how jealous I used to be of your eyes? And how do you find me?”

“Not changed in your face; but your body has expanded and you have become beautiful.”

Lucy is a frivolous creature and likes to be in the midst of a crowd. Shopping is her delight. Jane hates a crowd; it makes her nervous and she often ends by buying something she doesn’t like, merely to get away. And now she has no one to care how she is dressed. They get into a corner to continue their chat. Lucy says: “And you can’t help loving your divorced husband still?”

‘I can’t help it and I don’t want to,” Jane replies.

“Have you done anything since your separation to see him again?”

“Nothing. I left town and lived among strangers; so I have never even heard what has become of him. Besides, I suffered too much in my pride through him to risk further humiliation. Once I wrote and asked him for an interview—but changed my mind and tore my letter up.”

“You were right, Jane, quite right,” and Lucy squeezes Jane’s hand affectionately. “You must promise me not to give way again. I am sure you suffered worse afterward.”

Let’s not talk about it any more. Tell me about yourself. Your husband—is he young?”

“Thirty-eight.”

“Just the age mine would be. Dark?”

“Fair, with a beard and moustache.”Mine was fair, too. I always wanted him to wear a beard, but he refused.”

“You didn’t know how to manage it. A man prefers obeying to commanding. Mine insists that I shall dress very well.”

“Mine always accused me of spending too much. God knows that I am not so fond of fine dress. Is yours authoritative?”

“Not the least in the world.”

“Mine tyrannized over me. Capricious?”

“The most even-tempered man I have ever met.”

“Can such different men exist?”

“They may be made so,” Lucy said with a triumphant smile. It’s like this. Alfred Lyons, my husband—What’s the matter Jane? Hold up, people are looking at us. Jane—”

But Jane hears nothing. She has become livid; her eyes close and her face contracts. She utters a cry and then, with a mechanical gesture—the gesture of a sleepwalker—attacks her friend’s face with her steel pins.

“The heart,” she says in a dull voice, “let me strike her heart.”

She is conquered, disarmed and carried away through the crowd in an unconscious state.

Clara Belle.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 20 March 1910: p. 56

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil may have too suspicious a mind, but she wonders precisely what part Lucy played in serious, cynical, passionate Jane’s divorce.

It is always a mistake to leave town in the wake of such an affair. One needs to be on hand to witness or scupper the important events of the day. Had Jane been in town, it would have been an easy matter to invite Lucy for a congratulatory cup of tea—poisoned, of course, with some unremarkable toxin such as  foxglove, so that the Coroner would bring in a verdict of previously undiagnosed heart-disease.  Mrs Daffodil is certain that, had the the news of Lucy’s marriage been broken through the medium of neighbourhood gossip and been wept over in private, instead of being so insouciantly announced at the hat counter, Jane would have escaped both public embarrassment and the private asylum.

 

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 True Cost of China-painting: 1887

hand painted cornflower plate

Limoges plate, hand-painted with cornflowers.

RATHER EXPENSIVE

A Fair Young Decorator’s Husband Deals in Facts and Figures.

“What do you think of it?”

A young housekeeper was exhibiting to an investigator a handsomely decorated plate which leaned against a neat easel on the mantel of her pretty drawing-room.

“Beautiful.”

“Guess where it came from?”‘

“France, perhaps.”

“No. I bought the plate down town and decorated it myself.”

“An excellent idea! You can now have as handsome a dinner set as there is in New York at a mere trifling cost.”

“That shows what you know about it,” interposed the husband of the fair artist, with just a trace of sadness in his tones.

“I don’t see why you say so, John,” retorted the latter.

“Let’s figure the cost. I probably have kept a closer watch upon that department of the business than you have done.”

“Well, begin.”

“In the first place, the plate itself cost you $3?”

“I know,” returned the artist, with an air of triumph; “but you can’t cut a decorated plate like that for less than $5.”

“That may be so,” continued the husband cruelly. “Next you bought about an ounce of liquid gold, which cost $3.75. You used about half that amount.”

“Not all on that plate, John. You know I spoiled about as much as I used.”

“I know you did, my dear, and you ruined about $3 worth of carpet with the stuff; but I didn’t intend to reckon that in this table. Then you bought a book of instruction which cost $2.50 more. And you took six lessons on the design you painted, at $1 a lesson. If you paint any more plates, you will have to take more lessons. Isn’t that so?”

“Yes, but I will only need one or two on each plate from this time on.”

“I haven’t mentioned the paints and brushes you bought They cost $10 more, but will probably answer for some time to come in your future work. I’ve not finished yet. It cost $1 to have the plate fired. Now, let’s see what the cost is:

Plate………. …$3.00

Gold……………$1.87

Carpet spoiled…$3.00

Lessons………..$6.00

Book…………..$2.50

Paints…………$10.00

Firing…………..$1.00

TOTAL             $27.37

“That is just shameful, John. You know my next work won’t cost me nearly so much.”

“We’ll see about that,” continued her husband. “Your plate will cost $3; gold (barring accidents) say $1, lessons $2. paint, say $1, and firing $1. That makes $8. Pretty high price to pay for a $5 plate, eh? This doesn’t include the expense of a headache, backache and loss of temper which a painting always produces in you. Neither does it take in the amount of vexation your illness always causes me. No, my friend,” added the husband, in conclusion, as he turned to the investigator, “I find it cheaper to buy my china. I am afraid a whole dinner set would leave me nothing to buy food to dine on.”

Monongahela [PA] Valley Republican 3 November 1887: p. 1

hand painted fairy plate

Meissen plate probably hand-painted by an amateur china-painter from a published design. https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/43805829_a-small-meissen-circular-plate-pale-yellow-border-the

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: China painting was touted as a genteel hobby, eminently suitable for ladies’ delicate hands and aesthetic sensibilities, although its proponents elided over the costs. Importers of fine china were also less than sanguine about the craze and had their methods for dealing with enthusiasts.

The China-Painting Craze.

“You say the price of this beautiful hand-painted dinner set is $175?”

“Yes, madam.”

“And the price of this plain set of the same ware if $171, only $4 difference/”

“Yes, madam.”

“Then, how can that be real hand-painting? Surely it must cost more than $4 to decorate a set like that. The figures are exquisite.”

Both dinner sets were of Limoges ware. They were displayed in a Broadway crockery house. The decorated set had delicate figures traced on each of the hundred or more pieces.

“I assure you, madam, that it is genuine hand-painting,” he replied. “The slight difference in price does not arise from the cheapness of the painting. It comes from the highness of the tariff.

“Well, I thought so,” said the lady. “I’ve done some painting on china, and I know such beautiful work as that could never be had for $4 a set.”

“Just as I thought, too,” said the dealer, when the lady had gone. “She is one of them.”

“One of what?”

“The women with the china-decorating craze. I told a little fib about the tariff, or rather, stretched the meaning. It is our tariff on customers, and not the customers tariff, that makes the small difference in price. We charge within a trifling amount of as much for plain Limoges and other high-grade chinas as we do for the richly-decorated sets, simply to keep the plain sets out of the reach of persons (principally women, by the way) who otherwise would buy them and make their own hand-painted decorations. Few persons can tell real art-work from dabs on china, any more than they can on canvas. If we gave the china-decorating cranks a chance we’d soon have the market flooded with real Limoges ware, hand-painted by home talent. By making the plain sets almost as expensive as the imported hand-painted sets, we shut out these amateurs. This course is pursued by the trade generally.”

The Jewell County Review [Mankato KS] 1 December 1887: p. 7

 

 

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 Jewel Detective: 1910

 

THE JEWEL DETECTIVE.

Workings of a Secret System by Which American Importers of Precious Stones Keep Tab Upon Tourists Abroad and Hold Up the Hands of the Government in the Suppression of Smuggling.

She was a handsome, middle aged woman of evident taste and refinement and that decided something of air and manner which inevitably indicates the wealthy American to the calculating eye of the European shopkeeper, A glimpse of her as she moved slowly down the jewelry section of the Rue de la Paix, in company with her slender, fresh faced daughter, was enough to start a flutter behind each glittering store front.

Suave, frock coated proprietors, smiling, buxom proprietresses along that famous street beyond Cook’s watched her eagerly, sometimes even going so far as to murmur a respectful invitation from the doorway as she paused a moment before some wondrous display. To them she was the legitimate summer prey, one in the annual flight of the gold laden from the Golden Republic across the seas. For such they were accustomed to spread, their nets and prepare their lures.

“Will Madame be pleased to enter? Madame is not obliged to purchase.”

But Madame gave no answer, intent singly upon the windows and pursuing her way like one who knows her own mind, until she stopped before a certain shop near the end of the row”.

“This is the place,” she announced.

“Yes,” nodded her daughter. “We saw it here, and yon remember he asked a hundred francs less than the woman in the Plaza Spagna, in Rome, wanted for hers, which was ten stones shorter and awfully skimpy. Oh, mother, I do hope he hasn’t sold it!”

They entered, to the despair of neighboring rival dealers and the delight of the one. A question brought relief, for “it” had not been sold, and the proprietor, shrewd, named the former price to a centime.

“It” was revealed as a shimmery, resplendent necklace of pearls and diamonds, and the two women presently embarked upon the operation, dear to the feminine soul, of allowing a clever salesman to sell to them something they already had decided to buy.

While they were engaged in examining the gorgeous rope of jewels, comparing it with other inferior pieces laid out for background, listening to the soothing patter of the proprietor and prolonging the negotiation in divers pleasant ways, a man sauntered in from the street.

He was dressed in respectable but unobtrusive style. A casual observer would have set him down indiscriminately as a German, a Hungarian or a Continent travelled Englishman of moderate means and would have forgotten him the next moment. The one definite note in his appearance was the absence of any. He was eminently ordinary, retiring and colorless–except as to his eyes. A close observer might have dwelt upon those eyes, which were habitually lowered. They were small, clear and sharp as flashes from polished steel. The face in repose was commonplace behind its trim Van Dyke. With the eyes open and at work it was wonderfully alert, nervous and ferretlike.

jewel detective

Making the Bargain.

The assistant in the shop left the fascinating game in progress with a sigh of regret and came forward to attend the new customer. It appeared that he desired a watch charm, something novel and not too expensive. The assistant produced a tray of trinkets and the stranger took a seat at the further end of the counter, where he began a deliberate and silent selection. The assistant, scenting a long sale and a small one, gave to him only perfunctory attention, absorbed in the masterly tactics of the proprietor.

“No, Madame, I could not make it less than forty thousand francs. But remark the saving. I can give you a bill of sale for half the amount, which, at sixty per cent. will mean a payment of only twenty-four hundred dollars in duty. Thus the necklace will cost you a trifle more than ten thousand dollars, and you could not duplicate it in your country for fifteen–no, not for twenty. But Madame, attention! I have something else here. Observe this magnificent pendant. As an inducement I will add this for two thousand francs, which is absolutely worth ten.”

And so it went. The women compared, discussed, bargained in a well bred, distinguished manner; the proprietor plied his trade; the assistant watched breathlessly and the odd customer attended strictly his search for a three franc watch charm that suited him. None of the others considered him for a moment; a state of affairs with which he was quite content. He remained in the shop until the women had completed their purchases, when he finally chose a trifle and departed as inconspicuously as he had come.

The women had not recognized the stranger, and they would have been properly astonished had they known the amount of miscellaneous Information he possessed concerning them. It would have been a distinct shock to them had they learned that this same quiet person had been at their elbows, through half of Europe; that he had followed them into jewelry stores in Rome, Genoa, Interlaken, Vienna, Innsbruck and Berlin; that he was familiar with every chapter in their hunt for a stunning necklace at a bargain; that he was aware of the date on which they were booked to leave for home and the name of the steamship.

They would have been somewhat uneasy could they have guessed that after leaving the Rue de la Paix the mysterious nondescript hied himself to the private office of the special agent of the United States Treasury department resident in Paris, with whom he left a memorandum embodying all the essential facts concerning the transaction of the day.

Two weeks later the handsome, middle aged American woman and her daughter, after signing declarations for the revenue officers to the effect that they were bringing nothing dutiable, landed upon a Hoboken pier. A search of their baggage revealed nothing of special interest to the officers, but they were not permitted to leave with other fellow passengers in like case.  Inspectresses took charge of them, and in spite of protests they were subjected to a search. The result was humiliating and disastrous, for the necklace was discovered, together with lace and other valuables worth some $25,000. In addition to confiscation of the property they were compelled to pay a heavy fine, besides enduring arrest, unwelcome notoriety and court hearings.

When the affair with its attendant lessons for such an attempt to defraud the government of its legal dues had passed, the two women, mortified and shamed, remained in ignorance of the method by which customs officials had so unerringly detected them for smugglers among the hundreds of first class passengers. In New York there were, and are, four men who could have told them that method in all its details Those men are the employers of the keen eyed watcher, and no one of them had, or has, the slightest official connection with the government.

 The End of the Trail.

A luxurious, mahogany furnished office, at No. 182 Broadway, forms the rendezvous once or twice a week, for the group. They are all serious minded business men and they meet behind the sober sign board of a dignified business concern. While there they transact certain affairs with all the secrecy and precaution of Nihilist plotters. By training and profession they are importers of jewels; by necessity and enterprise they are directors of one of the most remarkable detective systems in the world. They come together to confer in their capacity as officers of the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association.

From this quiet office, apparently given over solely to the common concerns of commerce, is controlled a band of secret agents which covers the highways and byways of Europe, and in which the man with the ferret eyes is a trusted member. From here issue orders which place every wealthy American tourist in Berlin, Madrid, St. Petersburg, Naples and similar accustomed haunts under an espionage of which he is blissfully unaware. Here are read and discussed reports on the doings of hundreds of men and women who are wont to believe that for three months of the year at least their comings and goings are unnoted.

The “jewel junta” and its employe, the jewel detective, represent a most remarkable private attempt to hold up the hands of the United States government. Smuggling has cost American dealers millions of dollars, but no others have suffered so heavily and so consistently as the dealers in precious stones. Now the importers have entered the game in person and are actively engaged in running down the perpetrators of a species of crime which was threatening their very existence.

Their aim is not to interfere with or to supplant the regular official machinery already in operation for the detection of smugglers. But for years they have seen the government fight a losing fight against disregard for certain laws among a large and growing class of prosperous Americans. The government was pretty well able to take care of the professional smuggler–the man or woman who took up the hazardous occupation of a goods runner and braved the gauntlet of the customs habitually. With the vast increase in foreign, travel during recent years, however, a new and very much more complex element was introduced. What of the well-to-do citizen, or, more especially, the wife and daughters of the well-to-do citizen who could see no wrong in swearing falsely and would adopt any expedient to evade the payments upon articles purchased abroad which the laws of the land declare must be met?

It was through the unprofessional and pre-eminently respectable smuggler that the importers of precious stones began to feel the heaviest losses. They were confronted by promise of a time when every prospective purchaser of gems would save the money against the summer trip abroad, spend it there and bring back the property in defiance of all safeguards. The government, in response to repeated complaints, added to its secret service force abroad and attempted to watch the jewelry firms and other sources of smuggled valuables. But the result was far from satisfactory and the importers themselves finally conceived the idea of lending a hand in aid.

Then was formed the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association, which undertook to furnish the government with additional information concerning foreign purchases of jewels. The association discovered that there was ample opportunity for its activities, and slowly it built up its present competent system. It now has feelers all over the ground where American tourists annually expend vast sums far from home. It is responsible, though its “junta” and its agents, for scores of arrests each year, and it is making smuggling a much less attractive and profitable occupation for the homecomer who considers himself or herself exempt from the law.

The Eye Always Open.

When you walk down the Rue de Rivoli or Rue de la Paix next time in search of that diamond tiara for your wife, remember that you are being watched as closely, if with less deadly purpose, as you would be should the Parisian police trail you for a desperate criminal. As long as you are in the jewelry district and you bear the outward marks of prosperity, you are an object of intense interest to some lynx-eyed individual who sees in you a possible smuggler.

And you may be sure that if you make a considerable purchase you will be no stranger to the customs men when you land in New York. They will know all about that tiara, and so probably will the members of the “jewel junta” at No. 182 Broadway. If you declare the purchase and pay the legal duty, well and good. Otherwise—look out.

Should you decide to procure your valuable gift in some other of the centres of the jewelry trade, at the marvellous shops of Venice or Florence or Lucerne, you will run an equal chance of surveillance. In the Parisian shopping districts agents are particularly numerous, for here the wandering American is most likely to be tempted by the gorgeous window displays. But the jewel detective is omnipresent.

The detective may be either a man or a woman. In either case you seldom will be made aware that you are being watched. The agents employed are persons whom the “junta” can trust implicitly and who understand their business. Many of them are engaged exclusively in the work of detection. Others work on cases that fall directly under their notice. All, or nearly all, mingle unsuspected with the tourist horde. They may be themselves in the guise of wealthy Americans or they may be natives and residents of Europe. The “junta” needs many sharp eyes and is quite indifferent to the personal tactics of its agents so long as results are produced. Sometimes an agent bungles, but not often.

An excited gentleman rushed into the office of the American Consul General in a European capital one day this summer and demanded explanations, protection, trouble and battle ships all in a breath.

“I’m being followed, I tell you,” he shouted. “I want to know what it all means. Things have come to a pretty pass when a citizen of the United States is dogged all around Europe by a scamp who watches him wherever he goes.”

The Consul calmed him and heard his story. It seemed that the citizen’s wife and daughters had noticed a red-faced man who seemed much interested in their shopping expeditions during their stay in Paris. His interest had not ceased there, for he had turned up again when they made the tour of the stores in Brussels, and again in Budapest he was still at their heels, appearing mysteriously whenever they approached a jewelry shop.

When the Consul understood the situation he smiled. “There is a very simple process by which you can rid yourself of this particular follower,” he said.

“How? What?”

“When you catch sight of him next time just shake your finger at him. I’ll go bail he never bothers you again.”

“I can’t expect that to frighten him,” protested the citizen.

“Yes, you can,” returned the consul. “When he seems that he’s been noticed, that you are aware of his espionage, he’ll leave you quick enough.”

“You do you make out he is?”

“You’d have to ask that question of a few estimable gentlemen in New York,” returned the Consul. “Unless I’m much mistaken he is one of the agents of the precious stone importers, and it is very rarely that they pick one so stupid as to allow himself to be discovered. He’s been watching you in expectation of witnessing a purchase of jewels. Let him know that you have noticed him and he will disappear, for his usefulness has ceased so far as you are concerned.”

“Do you think that will end the matter?”

“No,” said the Consul. “Frankly, I don’t. It will end it for him, but some other agent, more circumspect and skilful, is quite likely to be on your case to-morrow.”

“It’s an outrage,” exclaimed the citizen.

“Very likely, from your point of view,” said the Consul, with a shrug. “But you certainly can’t blame the agents and I don’t see how you can blame the importers. The enforcement of the revenue regulations means life or death to them. They are simply rendering efficient aid to Uncle Sam, in their own interest, of course, but incidentally in the interest of law and order.”

Usually the jewel detective works on a roving commission. It is his custom, on reaching a large city, to obtain lists of those who are stopping at the leading hotels. The detective, being versed in his craft, soon winnows out the useless names and finds the available material among the Americans who are likeliest to make considerable purchases. These he watches, and if any are wont to linger in the vicinity of the jewelry stores he is keen on the scent immediately. Probably some one party or individual will attract his particular attention. Observing that Mrs. Blank is intensely interested in the subject of diamond stomachers, and is in the habit of pricing them wherever she goes, he comes naturally to the conclusion that Mrs. Blank is very apt to buy a stomacher before she leaves Europe.

He accordingly attaches himself, unobtrusively, to the company of Mrs. Blank. He may follow her for a month or two months, even longer. Whenever she has any negotiations with a jeweller the detective makes it his business to find out what that negotiation was. When he finds a sale he promptly notifies the Treasury agents, who are hunting for just such information themselves, and the news is transmitted to the port at which Mrs. Blank will land in this country. In New York it is Collector Loeb who ultimately receives all such reports. Then the detective transmits a full account of his efforts to the “jewel junta” and casts about him for fresh opportunities.

The Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association is a country-wide body and seeks to strengthen the barriers against jewel smugglers on all the borders of the United States. Most of its members have their businesses in New York, where ninety percent of the precious stones imported into the country pass in. But the discoveries made by its secret agents have frequently found full fruition far from the metropolis.

A woman jewel detective employed by the “junta” once stumbled upon a large transaction involving a sapphire and diamond necklace. The sale took place in Paris and, as usual, she attempted to discover the steamship by which the wealthy Chicagoan who made the purchase would return to the United States. She watched him during his stay in the French capital, but without learning anything of his plans. He did not visit Cook’s or any of the steamship offices and he was upon the eve of departure by train for the South when she was forced to present her incomplete case to the Treasury agent. A government revenue man was put upon the Chicagoan’s track and followed him to Marseilles, thence by P. and O. steamship to Bombay, then to Colombo, Singapore and Yokohama, where he lost him.

He picked up the trail again where it led aboard a chance tramp to South America, followed, found the scent at Valparaiso, hurried on to Panama, Vera Cruz and Mexico City, and was in time to notify the proper officials on the Mexican frontier when his man started by train for Chicago. The necklace was found neatly sewed inside the Chicagoan’s straw hat and was promptly confiscated.

Their Own Police Bureau.

Thus a case started by a jewel detective is likely to be finished far from the beaten path of travel. Numerous instances of attempted smuggling from Canada have been prevented. The smuggler is traveling chiefly for pleasure, of course, but having heard direful tales of the strict custom supervision in New York he bethinks him that he might just as well return by a roundabout route where the officials are less curious. He does not know, poor man, that the detective “spotted him at the time he made his purchases and that a warm and intimate reception awaits him.

The “junta,” as members of the trade have come to call—or miscall—the executives of the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association, is composed of Mr. Ludwig Nissen, president; Mr. Alfred Krower, vice president; Mr. Arthur Henius, treasurer, and Mr. George Whitehead, secretary. These four constitute the association’s directing bureau in its real work, the maintenance of the foreign detective force. They have acquired the subtlety and shrewdness of so many successful police chiefs in the course of their effective co-operation with the government.

Mr. Nissen, the president, has been the formulative force in the association. It is he who keeps the books wherein the names and reports of the various agents are recorded. Those books would make interesting reading if they should ever be opened to inspection. Mr. Nissen has but recently returned from Europe, where he was occupied with the reorganization of the staff.

“We have been subjected to some criticism in certain quarters for our participation in the enforcement of the revenue laws,” said Mr. Nissen a few days ago, “but the fact remains that our efforts cannot possibly annoy any one except actual violators of those laws. The smuggler, private or professional, is a criminal, and we are bound to do all we can to suppress him.

“The spread of smuggling as a general practice among American tourists has reached an alarming extent. It is due, I think, to the American tendency toward lawlessness and has found its readiest growth in the very class where it should have found the least. The prosperous man looks to the laws of his country to protect his property. When such a man takes to breaking laws himself he is undermining the efficiency of the very thing he demands and leans upon. It was to check private smuggling that we entered the field to lend what assistance we could to the government.

“In this I think I can say we are serving not only our own interests and those of the government but those of American merchants at large. If we are able to deter a traveller from spending abroad it means so much more money in this country, not necessarily for the jeweller but for all tradesmen, and hence for artisans and workingmen.”

Smuggling Poor Business.

In regard to smuggled jewels Mr. Nissen made a remarkable point, which was emphatically concurred in by the two other association officers who were with him in his office. He stated flatly that jewel smuggling, even if successful, did not pay in actual dollars and cents.

“I have never seen an article of jewelry purchased abroad and smuggled into this country which could not have been duplicated right here in New York for less than the purchase paid,” he declared. “The foreign dealer invariably charges an American a higher price than the American dealer would, and the article, moreover, is usually inferior. He plies his trade by representing to the tourist that American dealers have to pay sixty per cent duty on all goods and hence have to add that sixty per cent to their sale price.

“That is not so. Unset jewels are imported at but ten per cent duty and rough jewels come in duty free. These are the only kinds that we importers handle. The American dealer consequently fixes his price at the wholesale cost of the stone, plus ten percent duty, plus workmanship and a reasonable profit. The European dealer has the same wholesale and practically the same workmanship items to start with, but he expects a hundred per cent profit from the free handed, credulous tourist.”
Mr. Nissen and his associates were one in declaring that whatever improvement has been brought about recently in the matter of the prevention of jewel smuggling has been due to Collector Loeb, without whom, they said, most of the work of their detective force would be unavailing.

“I cannot emphasize too strongly,” said Mr. Nissen, “that we are under the greatest obligation to the man who is now Collector of the Port of New York. Before he entered the office the association was of slight value in the warfare against smuggling. Frequently in the past we have presented perfectly reliable information concerning private smugglers only to have it set aside or to stand helplessly by while a settlement was effected and the criminal went his way rejoicing.

“Mr. Loeb, on the other hand, has welcomed our co-operation and has acted vigorously and honestly with every case we have called to his attention. As long as he is in office we have a fair chance of putting an end to the pernicious and dangerous practice of smuggling.”

The Fort Wayne [IN] Sentinel 24 September 1910: p. 27

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: When one thinks of the enormous expense involved in hiring a vast network of invisible jewel detectives—their commissions as well as travelling and lodging expenses—one wonders if those millions of dollars of trade and duties lost to smugglers were ever actually recouped. Mrs Daffodil does not like to spoil a thrilling story, but she has a nasty, suspicious mind and suspected that stories like these were designed as more of a deterrent than an actual account of gemological espionage. If ladies thought that every nondescript stranger was surreptitiously noting their purchases, they might be less likely to sew diamond necklaces into their underthings. Mrs Daffodil, who likes to be thorough, has found some evidence, in the form of sworn testimony in hearings on gem tariffs in 1922, that there was, in fact, no such network of lynx-like eyes. At that hearing, Mr Roland G. Monroe, representing the Precious Stones Importers Protective Association, complained of a lack of smuggling convictions, and asked for an appropriation of money so that the Customs department could  hire “a special squad of at least six men” to assist with enforcement. While there really was a Precious Stones Importers Protective Association lobbying for lower duties on gemstones, one suspects that any “special squad” of the U.S. Customs Department was not given an unlimited expense account to dog the steps of rich Americans from Paris to Vienna.

Mrs Daffodil has written about smuggling before in “I’m a Smuggler,” and The Widow’s Baby.

 

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 Rat in the Muff: 1891

How a Shrewd Though Youthful Shoplifter Utilized a Tame Rat.

“There have been many extraordinary stories told of the ingenuity of thieves in the pursuit of their nefarious calling, but a case which occurred while I was at Chatham recently beats anything I ever heard,” remarked a newly arrived Englishman to a Philadelphia Inquirer man.

“A girl was brought before the police court on the charge of robbing milliners’ shops. She was only fourteen years of age and of very innocent appearance. What puzzled the magistrate was that none of the witnesses ever saw her take anything, or at least they would not swear to it, although after she had left a shop where she had been making a purchase articles of value were missed.”

When arrested nothing was found upon her. The magistrate said he could not convict the girl on mere suspicion, and then began to cross-examine her himself in a kind, fatherly way which touched her heart, and she broke down and confessed that she was guilty, and explained her methods to the astonishment and amusement of the Court and spectators.

“It seems that she had a tame white rat which she carried about with her in a muff. She would enter a shop full of girls and women and ask the price of some article. and while looking at it contrive to drop the rodent on the floor.

“Any one can imagine the result. Those near the door dashed into the street, while the employees jumped on the counters and chairs, wrapping their petticoats tight round their ankles and ‘screamed like mad.’ as the prisoner expressed it, amid the laughter of the court, in spite of the assurances that the rat was quite tame.

“In the scrimmage she would quietly help herself to what she wanted, catch the rat, put it in her muff, apologize and walk off. The magistrate said that on account of her youth, and as she had voluntarily confessed to the thefts, he would give her one more chance and bound her over In the sum of  £50—$250 of your money—to come up for judgment when called upon.

“Of course her friends soon entered the required bonds and Mary Barton will have to find some other place to practise on the weakness of her sex. The tame rat dodge won’t work in Chatham any more.”

The Evening World [New York NY] 27 June 1891: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One hopes that the ingenious Mary fashioned a handsome collar from some of her spoils for her amiable pet. The poor creature is lucky there was not a mouser on the premises of the millinery and that Mary did not try loosing her pet in a bakery full of rodent-hardened men with peels.

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.

Madame Nordica’s Homesick Pearl: 1914

Lillian Nordica with pearls and tiara

Mme. Lillian Nordica with some of her famous pearls, and a charmingly simple tiara. http://www.lilliannordica.com/lillian-nordica

HOW NORDICA’S “RESTLESS PEARL” WON ITS WAY HOME

The Strange Story of the Famous Singer’s “Homesick” Gem, Its Curious Influence on Her Career, and the Tragedy That at Last Ended Its Wanderings.

While the body of Mme. Lillian Nordica, the greatest American prima donna, is making its way to her native country for burial a strange story precedes it. Since her lonely death at Batavia, Java, the story became current in the Dutch town in the South Seas and, passing from lip to lip, has arrived in New York. It is a tale of mystery and its chief figure is a restless yellow pearl.

The prima donna loved jewels. When she died it was found that she had collected a round million dollars’ worth of them. In her collection pearls were her favorites. The costliest and most beautiful object in her jewel box was a three-strand necklace of creamy pearls whose value is $105,000. Another and smaller necklace was of pearls, but held in the light they flung out-blueish rays. The greatest Brunhilde preferred the rich shades of the larger and more valuable necklace. It was her wont to hold these favorites of hers in the sunlight or in the strong light and exclaim: “Look at the yellow beauties!”

The singer, like Calve, loved yellow. It was the color of sunshine. It seemed to her to hold charm of life, to hold and reflect it And that was why, according to the strange story, she bought the pearl in which, this story centres.

It was a yellow pearl and was her first great jewel. She bought It in the early jewelless days while she was studying in Paris and while the world of music was waiting to be conquered by her.

It lay in a jeweler’s window In the Latin quarter, displayed at an absurdly low price. Passing the shop with another music student she saw it, lingered and admired it. Against her will it lured her within the shop. She asked to see it, and the jeweler placed it in her hand.

“Look,” she said, “it is like a great yellow eye! How can you sell anything so beautiful at that ridiculous price?”

The French shopkeeper shrugged his expressive shoulders. “It is the absurd, the ignorant superstition, mademoiselle. It has it that this pearl brings to its owner success, but with it many tears and much unrest. But of those La Belle American need not be afraid.”

“Will it bring failure?” Lillian Norton–for that was Nordica’s name–laid the pearl upon the counter and gazed at it with mingled admiration and misgivings.

“But no, mademoiselle! On the contrary, I have it from the man who sold it to me that the person who owns it will have the great success. He will grow rich and famous, but the tears and the unrest–he said he was not happy in the home. He was marrying, he said, his third wife. The others he said have parted from him in the life. He was about to marry the third and he would not have in the home a disturber. He sold me the pearl for a little less than I offer it to you, a very little less, Mademoiselle.”

“It’s like Balzac’s ‘Peau de Chagrin,’ isn’t it? But I’m not superstitious,” said the young American. “I have no husband. I have only my ambition, and if this does disturb them I shall not care.”

“He is only restless, Mademoiselle,” reiterated the shopkeeper. “He have come from the waters of Java, The natives say the deep yellow pearl is ever homesick for its native waters. It will never let its owner rest until it is back at home.”

“Some day,” said the singer, “I may restore him to his native waters.”

Laughing, she departed with the yellow, eye-like pearl.

But before she left she asked another question:

“Just where did the pearl come from?”

“From one of the atolls in the Gulf of Borneo, madame. We have traced its history. I warn madame that it is superstition but it is not happy.”

The singer laughed.

Hitherto Lillian Norton’s life had been one of poverty, of hard work, of grim determination and unflagging resolve. But she overflowed with Yankee grit Born on a farm in Maine, the granddaughter of Camp meeting John, a revivalist whose resonant notes shook woods or shores where he camped and sang of a Summer; a shopgirl in Boston until she was discovered by a vocal teacher who heard her singing as she re-arranged the goods on the counter; too poor to rent a piano, practicing with the aid of a pitch pipe for two years; three years of barnstorming, concert work, these had been her experience when she came to Paris to study and fell in with the restless pearl. But her face was turned to the East. In her soul was an unconquerable resolve.

Yet from the moment of her purchase of “the restless pearl” troubles beset her. She made her debut in a village in northern Italy and the Italians groaned at her. Bruised but not beaten she returned to Boston. Boston refrained from hisses, but not from severe criticism. To New York she went and sang in the Academy of Music. New Yorkers were a shade kinder, but they, too, lacked enthusiasm. It was far from a triumphal entry into her own country.

To Europe she returned, taking a new name to hide the old defeats. No longer was she Lillie Norton. She had become Lillian Nordica.

To Paris came Fred Gower.  Gower was a young American whom Professor Bell had sent to France to introduce his telephones A countryman told him of the struggles of a beautiful and talented young American and her mother to keep their brave heads above the waters of debt and penury while the daughter strove for grudging recognition from the arbiters of musical destinies in Europe. Fred Gower met the Widow Norton and her daughter and with the daughter he fell in love in the rash, headstrong way of his temperament.

They were married. Soon they discovered themselves to be unhappy. Friends of both diagnosed the case as one of hopeless incompatibility. The artistic temperament and the bent of the inventor and promoter formed a clashing discord.  [Gower did not want his wife on the stage and went so far as to burn some of her music and destroy some of her clothing.] The discord rent the nerves of the singer. It set the temper of the inventor and promoter out of tune. There was a rumor of continued differences, of a possible separation. But chance or fate strangely intervened.

Fred Gower was an amateur balloonist He had made several successful journeys in the upper airs. In one of these he had crossed the English Channel. Yet from the tour of the upper currents conceived and carried out at this time he never returned. The collapsed balloon was found floating in the channel.

But, as though the oracle of the restless pearl had spoken truly, triumph came soon after for the singer. She was permitted to sing at Bayreuth. She was the first of the American prima donnas to be permitted the honor. The Germans applauded her. With the stamp of German recognition upon her she went to England and sang at Covent Garden. Again success! She went to St. Petersburg and sang for the royal family. Among the million dollars worth of jewels is a bracelet presented her by the Czar. In New York, where she had been coldly received, a furore greeted her. In Boston fortune turned a full-faced smile upon her.

Still, according to the story of the restless pearl, homesick for its South Sea waters, there must be tears. They came. They followed closely upon her marriage to Zoltan Doehme, an Hungarian tenor, whom the critics appraised as “a man of moderate vocal ability, but of undoubted grace of person.” Again discord. Alienation, silence, the invocation of the law. By successive steps the pair descended from the heights of happiness.

Zoltan Doehme was a teacher as well as a singer. Geraldine Farrar was one of these who benefited by his instruction and criticism. When separation came she aligned herself with her friend, Mme. Nordica, rather than her master. Divorce followed upon eight years of the prima donna’s second marriage.

During this time of slow severance of the bonds that had been forged in love, Mme. Nordica gave her confidence to Frau Wagner’s shoulder. The widow of the German composer patted the proud head bowed upon her shoulder. “Tears.” said the widow of Wagner. “Lieber Himmel. Es ist immer dos selbe. You are like Wagner. You are a genius. He was a genius. And genius is always lonely, always dissatisfied. Their souls never rest”

There followed a period in which Mme. Nordica’s energies were focussed solely upon her art Fame followed her glorious voice, and artistic appreciation, but not always–indeed not often–peace.

Twice she severed her connection with the Metropolitan Opera House management She appeared under the direction of various managers in opera. She made long concert tours.

Five years ago she took a third husband. He was George W. Young, a banker, who had a short time previously been divorced. Nor had the courtship been a calm one. Again there were tears and unrest. The former Mrs. Young lent the element of turbulence.

After her third marriage the prima donna became interested in a method of reduction that was in vogue in France. She introduced it in America. Her own figure became girlish through the treatment. And perhaps her power of resistance was lessened.

Her last marriage would have seemed to be a haven from the turbulence of the great singer’s life. Her home crowned a hill at Ardsley on the Hudson, overlooking a wide valley and almost within sight of Harmon, where her dream, a Bayreuth of America, was beginning to become a realization. Often, standing on the veranda, her splendid eyes sweeping the soothing scene, she said: “I have come to the Peaceful Valley of my life.” It is pleasant to think of the diva at this time, to linger upon this tender phase of her turbulent existence.

Her assets were a husband to whom she was devoted and of whom she was intensely proud, a home that was a place of peace, fame that had spread round the civilized world, and the glittering mass of her million dollars worth of jewels.

Mme. Nordica’s jewels, according to careful appraisement of their value were:

1 three-strand pearl necklace of cream-colored pearls…. $150,000.

1 three-strand necklace of blueish pearls…. $100,000

1 long necklace of graduated emeralds, alternating with diamonds, with pear-shaped solitaire diamond pendant… $500,000

1 diamond necklace of graduated stones… $125.000

Earrings to match each necklace…$10,000

Bracelets and rings, chiefly set with diamonds, pearls and emeralds. $110,000

Odd pieces and uncut stones, including a curious deeply yellow pearl… $5,000.

But behold, according to the story that comes from far away Batavia, the influence of the “restless pearl.” Restless itself, it begot restlessness in its possessor. Not content with her triumphs, Mme. Nordica conceived the plan of a round-the-world tour. She would girdle the world with song, she said, then spend the remainder of her years in her peaceful valley.

Seven months ago she began her world tour. Christmas she spent aboard the vessel Tasman. Three days later in a terrific storm the vessel went ashore in the Gulf of Papua– near an atoll where pearl fishers dived! When the prima donna was rescued her nerves of steel were broken. She wept as a babe that would not be comforted. Weakened by fright and exposure to the elements, she yielded first to nervous prostration, then to pneumonia, A Dutch physician combatted her desire to continue her journey.

“But I shall go mad if I wait here,” she cried, and against his protest sailed for Batavia. There, during three weeks she seemed to regain her lost strength. Her nerves of steel were returning. But a relapse occurred. On May tenth she died on a stormy night far from her peaceful valley.

When an inventory of her belongings was taken before the body started its long homeward journey. May 17, most of the million dollars worth of jewels were found. But the yellow pearl was missing.

Those who accompanied her and who had been, at her bedside at Thursday Island, remembered seeing it. It had lain on the stand beside her bed. Its rich color she said comforted and cheered her. It had been among her effects when she sailed for Batavia. But when the life force passed from the majestic Brunhilde, the yellow pearl vanished. Was it stolen by a pilfering servant? Had some unguessed power replaced it in its native waters?

Whatever it may be according to the Batavian legend the restless pearl is at last, like its owner, at rest.  Homesick, it had found its home.

The Austin [TX] American 14 June 1914: p. 24

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is a pity that Madame could not have simply dropped the petulant pearl overboard, recovered her health, and finished her world tour in peace.  Let this be a cautionary tale for those who would disregard knowledgeable jewellers’ warnings about unhappy pearls….

Despite the idyllic “peaceful valley” picture painted above, her marriage with her third husband, Mr George Young, seems to have been as unhappy as those with her first two spouses.  She pointedly mentioned a sum of $400,000 she had already given Young in the will disinheriting him, which she made shortly before her death.

Despite her lack of marital success, Mme. Nordica attracted jewels from admirers all over the globe, such as this diamond tiara, the gift of New York opera-goers.

madame nordica's american tiara 1896

Madame Nordica’s American Tiara

The diamond tiara that is to be presented to Madame Nordica on the opening of the brief spring season of opera is now on exhibition at Tiffany’s.

Although it is a particularly beautiful jewel, of exquisite workmanship, I fancy Madame Nordica will value it less than the roll of parchment that accompanies it, on which are inscribed the names of the people who have chosen this way of showing their appreciation and pride of the American woman who, through indomitable pluck and courage and the hardest kind of study, has made herself the greatest lyric artist on the stage of the world to-day.

As each subscription was limited to ten dollars, several hundred names appear on the artistically-illumined roll of parchment.

Mrs Astor’s name heads the list and is followed by the names of Mrs. Vanderbilt, Mrs. George Henry Warren, Mrs. Ogden Goelet, Mrs. Belmont, Mrs. Henry Sloane, Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, Mrs. George De Forrest, Mrs. Elisha Dyer, Mrs. Gambril, Mrs. Kernochan, Mrs.Havemeyer, James Otis, Mrs, Cooper Hewitt, Peter Marie, Mrs. Townsend Burden, Mrs. Orme Wilson, Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Buchanan Winthop–in short, everybody who is known in the social and artistic world seemed so delighted to send their subscriptions that the office of treasurer of the fund, held by Mr. Otis, made that gentleman a very busy man.

The Illustrated American, Vol. 19 4 April 1896: p. 481

Given Mme. Nordica’s initial cool reception in New York, this little diamond tribute must have been most gratifying to the prima donna.

 

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 Shoe Clock: 1925

shoe clock 1922 Washington Times 23 July p 25

Seven o’clock is breakfast hour and means mules fashioned from soft, red leather.

Eight o’clock is hiking time and time to wear high-laced cordovan boots.

Nine o’clock and the morning’s canter to show the English riding boots.

Ten o’clock marks the beginning of golf, best played in gray and white leather sport shoes.

Eleven o’clock brought a hurried trip up town and the white linen, black leather-trimmed oxfords just matched a black voile frock.

Twelve o’clock is luncheon time, so white embroidered slippers were chosen to accompany a maize linen dress.

One o’clock on a cool day suggested a dark crepe dress and black patent slippers with a pleasing cut pattern on the toe and instep.

Two o’clock and afternoon bridge. Pink chiffon frock and dainty white kid slippers with the popular instep strap.

Three o’clock is reception hour. White kid slipper with unusual trimming in patent black leather made quite a hit.

Four o’clock is the hour for garden parties and white kid French shoes with cuff of green leather and bow of white ribbon were as cool as the garden.

Five o’clock–tea at the hotel–drooping black hat–lace gown and snappiest of footwear in black patent slippers with rosettes of ribbon and beads.

Six o’clock–time to dress for dinner and theater and dance–time to don brocaded slippers of silver brocade.

The Washington [DC] Times 23 July 1922: p. 25

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Frankly, Mrs Daffodil does not know even quick-change artistes who wear this many outfits in a day.

Mrs Daffodil would add just a few more to the list of essential footwear:

1 a.m.–feet slipped from silver brocade evening slippers under the night-club or supper-room table–swollen from a riotous evening of dancing.

2 a.m.–gum-shoes for lady cat-burglars or those hoping to avoid awkward questions from waiting parents or spouses.

3 a.m.–comfy woolen bed-socks to send one quickly off to slumberland, so one can rise for a hearty breakfast around noon. The red leather mules will then be deployed, while the hiking boots and riding boots are shoved under the bed or to the back of the wardrobe. Eight o’clock “hiking time?” One thinks not.

 

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.