Tag Archives: holidays

A Vexillogical History of Salem

What am I writing about? Flags for the July 4th weekend of course: I had to look up that word and thus am using it, despite the fact that it is somewhat intimidating and I could easily have chosen something easy and alliterative like flags of our forefathers. But once I discover a new word, I want to use it, so here we are: vexillology is the study of flags, and like many other aspects of life (including food, drink, architecture, industry, and myriad forms of material and intellectual culture) Salem’s flag history is so notable that you can almost tell its history through flags: we have a famous colonial flag defacement, a Revolutionary symbol, many claims of “first flags” in foreign ports, a notable expression of Civil War resistance, and lots of other interesting flags which illustrate particular trends and times. Salem’s vexillogical history is a a variation on the device used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Grandfather’s Chair, which told the tale of the “Endicott Flag” in vivid detail.

A fanciful view of Endicott ordering the defacement of the English Ensign by cutting out its cross of St. George, Ballou’s Pictorial, 1855; Some flag illustrations from So proudly we hail : the history of the United States flag (1981) by William R. Furlong and Bryan McCandless.

Flag history is often “patriotic history” which of course is a contradiction in terms, so there is a lot of lore and legend that needs to be cut out, just like St. George’s cross. It’s best to stick to the primary sources. John Winthrop reported that on 5 November 1634, “At the court of assistants complaint was made by some of the country (Richard Brown of Watertown, in the name of the rest) that the ensign at Salem was defaced, viz. One part of the red cross taken out. Upon this, an attachment was awarded against Richard Davenport, ensign-bearer (who was ordered to cut out the cross by John Endicott), to appear at the next court to answer. Much matter was made of this, as fearing it would be taken as an act of rebellion, or of like high nature, in defacing the king’s colors; though the truth were, it was done upon this opinion, that the red cross was given to the King of England by the pope, as an ensign of victory, and so a superstitious thing, and a relique of antichrist.” Certainly Endicott was not alone in these sentiments: popery and the cult of the saints were right at the top of the “traditions” or relics which were the focus of intense Puritan opposition in both old England and New England. The “crossless flag” did not really take root, but symbols like the pine tree began to appear on banners in the next century, both within and without the cross, eventually inspiring the famous “Appeal to Heaven” flag of Washington’s Cruisers. There were so many interesting regimental flags used during the American Revolution, but the only one I would find with ties to Salem is that of Major Israel Forster of Manchester-by-the-Sea: there are several extant examples, one in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum (see above) and the other which sold at auction in 2014. There are no references to the Forster flag in the PEM’s digitized catalog and collections, and I’m also curious about a flag with one star and many stripes which was long displayed in the Essex Institute’s Plummer Hall: I don’t know why it is often so difficult to find objects that were in the old Institute in the new PEM!

The Historic Forster Flag at Doyle’s auctions, 2014; 1915 postcard featuring the “mysterious” flag in the Essex Institute.

The history of the recognition of the American flag seems very intertwined with that of Salem’s maritime history: all the old-school maritime historians assert that the first time the US flag was spotted in many Asian and African ports was on a Salem ship. This would be a great topic for an academic paper, perhaps even a dissertation: you can certainly assess how important flying the flag was in all sorts of contemporary images, like George Ropes’ Launching of the Ship Fame (1802). The flag you see here, with its circle of stars, represents a common configuration in the nineteenth century up to the Centennial, but there was no standard, official design for the (expanding) stars and stripes until 1912 so there were all sorts of interesting arrangements up to that time. The Fame flag is very similar to that in a watercolor painting memorializing the American prisoners of the War of 1812 who died in the massacre at Dartmoor Prison in 1815, among them nine Salem sailors. About a decade later, a young Salem sea captain was gifted a flag by a group of Salem ladies for his first overseas voyage in command: this was William Driver, who made his Salem fortune and then retired early to Nashville, where his brothers operated a shop. He brought his flag with him, displayed it proudly until the onset of the Civil War, and then hid it in the attic until Union troops captured the city. His “Old Glory” became the symbol of resistance and triumph, both during and especially after the Civil War. What comes after is a bit more complicated, because there are actually two Old Glory flags: a large banner in the collection of the Smithsonian which is generally accepted as “official” and a smaller one in that of the Essex Institute/Peabody Essex Museum. It is quite clear, however, that a Salem-made flag was at the center of both storms at sea and on land.

George Ropes, The Launching of the Ship Fame, 1802, Peabody Essex Museum; Memorial to the victims of the Dartmoor Massacre, Dowst Family, Skinner Auctions; “Old Glory” at the National Museum of American History.

A few sought-after 13-star flags with Salem provenances have surfaced over the past few decades, including one which belonged to shipmaster Parker Brown and the so-called “Hancock & English” flag from the Mastai Collection, a period flag which was modified by the addition of the 1880 presidential candidates which once graced the cover of Time magazine (July 7, 1980: second from right in top row, below). There was a considerable expansion in the commercial use of the flag over the second half of the nineteenth century, and it was a favorite banner for Salem’s entrepreneurial merchant/photographer/author Frank Cousins, who featured flags and political souvenirs in his shop, and advertised his wares with flag posters and trade cards. From the Centennial on, it’s all about parades as well, which called for a variety of festive flags. Salem excelled at one particular form of July Fourth celebration in the twentieth century—bigger and bigger bonfires—and flags were always on top of these impressive constructions: this has always struck me as a bit problematic as presumably they would burn. A blaze of glory, perhaps.

13-star Salem flag, Heritage Auctions; Frank Cousins Bee-Hive flag, Bonsell Americana; 1896 parade flag, Cowan’s Auctions; July Fourth Bonfire, Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.


A Juneteenth Tour

I learned about Juneteenth ridiculously late, from a student! It was about five or six years ago (only!) and I was talking about Salem’s Black Picnic, an old tradition recently revived, with a brilliant African-American student and she said “that sounds like Juneteenth” and that was that. I don’t remember whether I feigned acknowledgement out of embarrassment or not but inwardly I was mortified by my ignorance. Yes, I was trained in European history, but I’m an American too! Since that time, I’ve used my focus on local history here to learn more about African-American history in Salem: I’m still lacking the big picture but fortunately I have wonderful colleagues at Salem State who help me with context and filling in the blanks. I started putting together my own African-American history tour of Salem about three years ago, and it began (and ended) with Hamilton Hall, where the Remond family lived and worked for decades. This was more familiar territory for me, and the Hall remains my main window/entry/initiation and orientation point for Salem’s African-American history; its centrality is particularly marked this year because of a special exhibition on view all summer long: Unmasking & Evolution of Negro Election Day and the Black Vote. The creation of Salem United, Inc., the organization that revived the Black Picnic at Salem Willows in 2014, the exhibition draws connections between the colonial traditions of Negro Election Day, nineteenth-century African-American parades and picnics, and the Civil Rights struggles of the twentieth century. Salem, United Inc. President Doreen Wade’s enthusiasm for this history is so infectious that her history is transformed into ours.

Scenes from the exhibition: our host and guide Doreen Wade, reproduction dress for Negro Election Day royalty & the jelly bean test for voting from the 1960s, the Brick Hearth Room, very much the center of the Remonds’ activity in the Hall.

For me, this exhibition was about the power of place: I was really moved by the exhibits in the Brick Hearth Room (last photo above), where the Remonds, who struggled for personal, professional, racial, and citizenship recognition for so long, worked, adjacent to where they first lived. The connection between past and present also felt appropriate to me: the distinguished historian of slavery Ira Berlin asserted that Negro Election Day “established a framework for the development of black politics” and who am I to argue with that? It was a special day at the end of May, recognized in twenty or more cities throughout the northeast from the mid-eighteenth century, on which resident African-Americans celebrated, made merry and wore dress clothes (sometimes belonging to their masters), elected notable “kings” or “governors” from among their own, and enjoyed a brief interlude of freedom and agency. To me, it looks like the medieval and early modern festivals of Europe, where everything was turned upside down for a day and peasants elected a “Lord of Misrule,” but it had African roots: I guess the drive for those on the bottom to live like those on the top for just a brief spell is universal. Negro Election Day is well-documented in Salem by most of its famous diarists. In 1741 Judge Benjamin Lynde identified May 27 as a day of “fair weather” and “Election: Negro’s hallowday here at Salem; gave Scip 5s. and Wm 2s. 6d.” indicating both recognition and a form of engagement, and William Pynchon seems to have had a similar attitude in 1788 when he went “to election at Primus’s flag,” indulged in the ale and pies offered at the festivities, and watched the dances. In 1817, the Reverend William Bentley noted “the still bewitching influence of what they call election” in his diary, but by the nineteenth century Election Day seems on the wane, replaced by more formal organizations like the Sons of the African Society in Salem with its dignified meetings and parades, and eventually by the Black Picnic at Salem Willows from 1880. While eighteenth-century white observers seem to be bemused by Negro Election Day, the nineteenth-century perspective seems more mocking, as you can see in the political commentary below: like a negro election King to-day but back again to-morrow. Besides the juxtaposition of objects in the Remond space, the most poignant exhibit in the Unmasking & Evolution exhibit for me was a photograph of a minstrel show at Salem Willows: apparently while the Black Picnic was happening, white Salem residents actually organized a performance with children in blackface to mock them. It’s quite an image on its own, but I think we need a bit more information about it. I can’t unsee it, and it reproduces badly here, so you should see it for yourself.

A minstrel show at Salem Willows—the exhibit caption says 1885 but it looks quite a bit later than that?

Obviously there is some rich history—American and African-American, both, together— encased in Hamilton Hall, in general and in particular this summer, so it’s the perfect place to start a Juneteenth tour. Some other suggestions: 8 High Street, where Clarissa Lawrence, fierce educator and abolitionist, lived among a small community of African-Americans, Aborn Street, where Salem’s first African-American teacher, Charlotte Forten, taught, at the former Epes School at number 21R, Oak Street, where Charlotte lived with Caroline Remond Putnam, daughter of John and Nancy Remond and an extremely active entrepreneur, abolitionist, and later suffragist, Higginson/Derby Squares, where the Remonds and other African-Americans had a succession of profitable businesses, and finally Harmony Grove Cemetery, where you can see the very striking and solitary grave of John Remond. And then to the Willows, of course.

Mrs. Nancy Remond was known for her Election Day cakes, which she offered not only during election week (last week of May) but all year long, Salem Gazette; John Remond’s grave stone in Harmony Grove Cemetery; more information about Salem United and the Black Picnic in Salem Willows is here.


Salem Soldiers at Andersonville

It is during the weeks around Memorial and Veterans Day that I feel the absence of an active Salem historical society or museum most keenly. Don’t get me wrong: there are dedicated interpreters of the past in our city. Salem has a wonderful veterans’ agent (a SSU history grad) who does an amazing job marking these days and creating initiatives which reference the past while also attending to his present duties. And there is a Salem Historical Society consisting of avid historians who provide important resource and reference roles and highlight moments when they can, but it has no collections and no official commemorative role. Everything is in Rowley, of course, and the “official” purveyor of all things historical seems to be Salem’s tourism office, Destination Salem, though if you go to its website and consult the timeline of “Salem’s History” you would not know that Salem had experienced any war after the War of 1812: no Civil War, no Spanish American War, no World War I or II, no Korean War, no Vietnam War, no wars in Irag and Afghanistan.

Of course, Salem men (and women) participated in all of these wars: these wars are part of “Salem’s History”. I have tended to focus on the Civil War in my Memorial Day posts in the past, perhaps because its aftermath and collective mourning are the origins of the “holiday”. I also use these posts to come to some understanding of this war and its impact personally: I’m not an American historian and I don’t have grounding in the historiography of this conflict, but I can see and feel, as we all can, that it is still with us. This year I want to highlight a source that has given me new insights into the experience of Salem men during the Civil War: Patriots of Salem. Roll of Honor of the Officers and Enlisted Men during the Late Civil War, from Salem, Mass. compiled by Thomas J. Hutchinson and Ralph Childs (1877).

This is such a great source, and if you cross-reference it with other sources (like the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database maintained by the National Park Service and local and genealogical sources—I have some key references here) you can glean both broad and specific perspectives of Salem’s contribution to the Union effort, which was great: over 3000 men served in the war and there were myriad support efforts at home. The compilers of Patriots of Salem endeavored to produce a register, “in neat and compact form” to be utilized “for future reference” and kept in every home, as a memorial reminder of sacrifices made. They succeeded: the volume is a great expression of both commemoration and local history. As its subtitle indicates, it includes rank, age, date of mustering in, date of discharge and the cause thereof for every Salem soldier, as well as a list of prisoners of war, the wounded and killed in action, and those who died in service. Because the book has been digitized by the Internet Archive, you can also search its contents and make up your own list of who was at Antietam, who was at Wilderness, who was at Gettysburg: noting that William L. Purbeck of Church Street and the 5th Massachusetts Battery died at the latter battle at age 18, I searched through all the sources to find his dying words: “Who shall care for Mother now?”

Monument to the 5th Massachusetts Battery at Gettysburg, c. 1880. Huntington Library.

The majority of Salem soldiers were discharged due to “expiration of service,” thank goodness, but records of desertion, suffering and death are embedded in the text: apparently a detachment to Louisiana was a veritable death sentence, due to disease rather than combat. I was thoroughly unprepared for the number of Salem men who ended up at Camp Sumter at Andersonville, the most notorious of the Confederate prisoner of war camps: 31, of whom 20 died there. I know I have cited a much smaller number in previous posts but my blog is so unwieldly now I can’t find them. Twenty Salem men died at Andersonville, from June 22 to September 15, 1864. This time frame is significant: most of the Salem men were among the nearly 10,000 prisoners of war transferred to Andersonville from other southern POW camps beginning in June, and by the end of that month a reported 30,000 Union soldiers were being held in a camp which had been built for 10,000. Patriots of Salem does not list the precise causes of death of the 20 Salem men who died at Andersonville, but the most common conditions were typhoid, dysentery, scurvy, gangrene, and above all, “chronic diarrhea”. On the very day that the photographs below were taken, July 17, 1864, Privates Charles W. Coney and George W. Cross, both Salem shoemakers from the 14th Massachusetts, died: two losses among nearly 13,000 at Andersonville.

Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia, July 17, 1864, Library of Congress.

 


Circa 1775

For Patriots Day, I endeavored to find Salem houses built in 1775, but it turned out to be a bit more involved task than I envisioned. I was just going to walk around and look at the Historic Salem, Inc. plaques, then I decided to consult the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s MACRIS database, which gave me a very workable list. The former overruled the latter for many of the houses I encountered however, so “circa 1775” is the best I can do. Salem houses are sometimes tricky to date just by apparent style: there is a conservatism that dominates the quarter century after the Revolution when it comes to you average dwelling (as contrasted to the Federal mansions which rose at the same time). Several “Georgian” cottages were built in 1806 or even 1826. So these houses are very “circa” for the most part, in the most flexible sense of the word, and I’m not really going to be able to answer the question behind this post: how many people in Salem were confident enough to build a house after five+ years of escalating conflict and tension over representation and sovereignty in British America?”

First up is the Wendt House on Crombie Street: this house has been the object of consternation for decades. First it was threatened my Holyoke Mutual Insurance Company, which threatened to demolish it for parking spaces, then it was saved by Historic Salem, Inc. (HSI), now it is threatened again (not so much its form but its LIGHT) by a large apartment building proposal. Below, Summer, Cambridge and Hight Street Houses: 51 Summer Street is dated 1771 by Historic Salem, followed 6 Cambridge Street and 8, 14 and 21r High Street.

And over on the other side of town: a Briggs Street house which MACRIS dates to c. 1775 but for which HSI has a more precise history, a Daniels Street House which is a great example of the “conservative” trend I spoke of above, and 19-21 Essex Street, which has been through many transformations. Such a cool house, and pretty substantial even without its later additions, indicating that even though the political times were turbulent, the economic future perhaps looked a bit more promising from the perspective of 1775.

19-21 Essex Street in 1985, MACRIS.


Christmas Suffragist Style

A great friend gave me the lovely gift of a Suffragist ornament the other day: I prominently placed it on my tree and went out to look for more. We were going to have no ornaments this year, just lights (actually, I didn’t even want a tree, or lights, but my husband did), and there is no way I was not going to put that lady on my tree and she needed company. It seems appropriate to go out of this year the same way I went in, in the company of Suffragists. I’m sorry that the ladies did not get their due in this challenging year, but I certainly learned a lot about the Suffragists in general and Salem women in particular on all these #SalemSuffrageSaturdays: two more to go! One thing I learned about the Suffrage movement in general, in both the United States and Britain, is how sophisticated it was in terms of visual messaging: the colors, the images, the products. Everything they produced or inspired still looks good.

Suffragist Christmas Ornaments (+ Joan of Arc, a very important Suffragist symbol herself) fron the Peabody Essex Museum Shop and RosieCentral .

 

Christmas cards from the Museum of London and the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection (a great resource!)

 

Tea Towels from the Radical Tea Towel Co.

 


The Dance Will Go On!

There is no contest for me: my favorite Salem event has always been the Christmas Dance at Hamilton Hall: I have never missed it in all the years I’ve lived in Salem, even in the one year I had to go alone. Last year I was in terrible pain from sciatica, but I still hobbled over there and stayed for as long as possible. It’s just that important to me. Anything related to Hamilton Hall is a women’s history topic, very appropriate for my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts, as women have worked in the Hall, danced in the Hall, held fairs and other fundraising events in the Hall for a variety of causes, and supported the Hall in myriad ways for its two+ centuries. Women continue to support the Hall through two major fundraising events which date to the period right after World War II, when the Hall was in dire need of repairs: the annual Christmas (now Holiday) Dance and Lecture Series, traditionally held on Thursday mornings in February and March. I served as President of the Hall for six years, and on its board before and after, so I know how very, very important the funds from these events are: when we received the checks from the Dance Committee (all ladies) and the Ladies’ Committee which runs the Lecture Series, we breathed a sign of relief. The Hall was built by subscription, and incorporated only in 1986: at that time it had a very small endowment, and it still does: events have always supported it, making an event-less 2020 a very precarious time. But as always has been the case, the ladies rose to the occasion: the Lecture Series will be virtual, increasing accessibility for many people as it always sold out in a week or so, as will the Holiday “Dance”, with some very special patronesses.

I’m so happy about this invitation and event! It combines two endeavors which are very important to me: the preservation of the Hall and its traditions and the showcasing of some remarkable women of Salem who have not received the attention they deserve. There’s a long tradition of naming patronesses for dances at the Hall; these hostesses ensured the success of everything from military balls to debutante assemblies. When the Christmas Dance began, patronesses (and now patrons) became as integral to its popularity as the famous bourbon punch (which I am now realizing that I’ve referred to as rum punch in posts past. What can I say? It always knocked me out). I was a patroness about ten years ago and it was not only an honor but also great fun: waiters with silver trays of champagne kept coming over and people bow and curtsy to you—what could be better? When the chair of the Dance Committee notified me that this year’s dance would go on virtually with patronesses from the past , I was thrilled: what a perfect way to recognize the Suffrage Centennial in this challenging year! I was happy to put forth some candidates, but the ladies of the Dance Committee made their choices, and it was all their idea. I’m just thrilled to see Margery, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah (Symonds), Nancy, Louise, Clarissa and Sarah (Sherman) get their Salem due! Especially Nancy, whom I think of whenever I step inside the Hall, toiling away in the hot downstairs kitchen on the Rumford Roaster, while everyone was dancing in the ballroom upstairs.

Post-war Patronesses in a photo belonging to my friend Becky Putnam: staring directly into the camera, while in a perfect curtsy, third from the left, is her lovely mother Rosamond Putnam; Debutantes in 1969 in curtsy—-sorry for the quality but I wanted you to see the extended-front-leg curtsy which I found difficult to do when I was a patroness—they do too, although they really had to go low! My two favorite Hamilton Hall dresses: left is vintage Ceil Chapman from the late 1950s which I wore in 2004; right is from 2017. For some reason I cannot find a photo of myself as a patroness–if anyone has one, let me know! Even though there will be no dance IN the Hall this year, it is still as dressed up for Historic Salem’s virtual Christmas in Salem tour. Here is Jetsan, who belongs to current Hall president Michael Selbst, exhausted from his decorating efforts. 

Hamilton Hall Holiday Dance link: a video will be uploaded for ticket-holders on December 19 featuring the patronesses and dance history. To the Ladies!


The Mayflower Magazine

Happy Thanksgiving! Those of you who have followed the blog for a while know that I’m a big fan of graphic design and typography, especially from the earlier part of the last century. I love fonts from the entire era of print actually, and script as well now that I think about it, and paper: so when it all comes together in an integrated design, I’m pretty impressed. It’s been such a weighty few months, with the pandemic, and the election, and hours and hours of writing for me everyday: I think I’m going to get a bit lighter for the next month or so, to lift my spirits and yours! I’m beginning with this very festive magazine/catalogue from the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, titled The Mayflower. It has nothing to do with the ship Mayflower, or Plymouth, or the Pilgrims: it’s all about flowers—and the most robust lettering and chromolithography I have ever seen.

The covers might be somewhat sedate (except for this last one above), but as soon as you delve inside: wow! color—so vibrant you need sunglasses. The magazine was an advertisement for the big botanical business of John Lewis Childs, one of several garden entrepreneurs of this era and the first to establish a mail-order seed business. He created an entire town on Long Island named for his product: Floral Park. The Mayflower was published from 1885 to 1906, offering gardening tips and seed packets to an international audience as well as 2 or 3 colored plates in each issue. Childs also issued seasonal seed catalogs with the same combination of flourishing lettering and vibrant plates of perfect plants, or perhaps I should say too-perfect plants.

The Mayflower magazine covers from Magazineart.org (a great website!); many more Childs seed catalogs at the Smithsonian.


The Knave of Hearts

I have featured hearts in random ways for Valentine’s Day posts in the past: heart-shaped maps, the heart-in-hand motif, hearts seized by love during the Renaissance, hearts as emblems, the Queen of Hearts. This week I’m featuring one of her Wonderland associates—sort of–the knave of hearts: the title character of a beautiful book written by Louise Saunders (wife of editor extraordinaire Max Perkins), illustrated by Maxfield Parrish at the height of his powers, and published in 1925 in a large quarto encased in a black paper box with a gold printed title. This was Parrish’s last illustration commission, and he worked on the plates for three years, a labor of friendship for his (Cornish, NH) neighbor Louise. In typical Parrish fashion, the illustrations are positively luminous and their colors deeply saturated, but they also bear a sense of whimsy and the “everday,” as he supposedly featured items from his own household. The text presents a play, commencing with a raised curtain and involving tarts, of course, and not only is the title character—clad in “Parrish blue”—not a knave at all, but a chivalrous hero, whose theft is a plot designed to mask the shaky baking skills of the beautiful Lady Violetta.

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The Knave: All my life I have had a craving for tarts of any kind. There is something in my nature that demands tarts—something in my constitution that cries out for them—and I obey my constitution as rigidly as does the Chancellor seek to obey his. I was in the garden reading, as is my habit, when a delicate odor floated to my nostrils, a persuasive odor, a seductive, light brown, flaky odor, an odor so enticing, so suggestive of tarts fit for the gods—- that I could stand it no longer. It was stronger than I. With one gesture I threw reputation, my chances for future happiness, to the winds, and leaped through the window. The odor led me to the oven; I seized a tart, and, eating it, experienced the one perfect moment of my existence. After having eaten that one tart, my craving for other tarts has disappeared. I shall live with the memory of that first tart before me forever, or die content, having tasted true perfection.

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The Knave of Hearts: An alternative Wonderland in a book by Louise Saunders with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.


New Year’s Eve, 1920

What are you wearing on New Year’s Eve?  I’m still dealing with this bum leg, so it will likely be sweatpants for me, unfortunately, but I have to say that some version of “domestic attire” has been the norm for the last decade or so. I had much more festive New Year’s Eves when I was younger, but family celebrations at home seem to be the rule for now. I remember spending New Year’s in Rome when I was 20, dancing in some sort of tunnel wearing a dress I had just bought in Florence! There were lots of fancy country club/hotel parties later, but frankly those can be a boring. I don’t really need a fancy party, but I would like to be a bit better dressed. I did manage to hobble around Hamilton Hall at the annual Christmas Dance a few weeks ago in a drop-waisted sequin dress, so I already had that silhouette on my mind, but I decided to browse through some digital fashion collections to see what women might have been wearing a century ago as they ushered in the New Year—-the year they would become fully enfranchised citizens here in the US.

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NYE 1920 Barbier (2)

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screenshot_20191229-160225_samsung-internetFashion plate from La Moda Elegante Ilustrada, December 6, 1919, Fashion Institute of Technology; Georges Barbier’s “les belles Sauvagesses de 1920” from Le Bonheur du Jour, ou, Les Graces à la Mode, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Vogue covers and sketches from December 1919.

To my untrained eye, it looks like the “1920s silhouette” emerges immediately with 1920! Or maybe that’s just what I was looking for—and these lovely Lanvin dresses from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art seem almost timeless. For more on the House of Lanvin’s long run, check out this cool online presentation. I think most people have heard of Lanvin, but what about Clara Becht and Jacqueline Kasselman, the designers of some very stylish evening ensembles in the collection of the Cincinnati Museum of Art? I certainly hadn’t. With a very dynamic fashion periodical press in these days, I imagine that the practice of knocking off was already prevalent, so midwestern ladies could have “French” frocks for their big nights out. Whatever the source or inspiration for their evening dresses, women in 1920 did not confine themselves to the palette I am featuring here (for some reason): various shades of green and blue seem to have been popular, and there were also pops of universally-festive red. Happy New Year! I’ll see you on the other side.

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Lanvin Collage

Lanvin Gazette

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Evening Gown Collage V and A

Last EveningHouse of Lanvin evening dresses, 1920, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Lanvin advertisement in the Gazette du Bon Ton, fall, 1920; Dresses by Clara Becht and (2) Jacqueline Kasselman at the Cincinnati Museum of Art; Fashion plates of gowns by Jeanne Paquin and Madeleine Wallis with an American silk-satin dress from an unknown designer, Victoria and Albert Museum. Yet another “Robe du soir”, from the Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920.


Colonialesque Christmas

The twentieth-century American artist Walter Ernest Tittle (1883-1966) was sought after on both sides of the Atlantic for his etchings, illustrations, and contemporary portraits. Among his diverse works are magazine covers, presidential portraits, and a whole series of drypoint “international dignatories” rendered in the 1920s, but also two slim volumes—advertised as “gift books”— in which he merged both original and historical texts and images to create a “lost” world of colonial holidays:  The First Nantucket Tea Party (1907) and Colonial Holidays (1910).

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These books are gorgeous, even though the images inside are a bit…….overwrought. I’m willing to leaf past some of the colorful colonial “belles” just so I can see Tittle’s fonts and illuminations: everything works together. As its subtitle reveals, Colonial Holidays is a compilation of historical references to Christmas and other holidays, embedded in Tittle’s gilded pages. He wishes the Puritans were more joyous in their celebrations, but “time brings change” and William Pynchon’s diary reveals some holiday merrymaking in Salem during the Revolutionary War. The new Assembly Room seems to have been very busy during the extended Christmas season with concerts and dances; “the elders shake their heads with, What are we coming to?” And so many sleds in the streets of Salem!

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Tory that he is, Pynchon is not interested in George Washington’s Christmas, but patriot that he is, Tittle shows us Mount Vernon at Christmas—-no Valley Forge for his illuminated pages, but rather Christmas with the President and Mrs. Washington in 1795 and another reference to 1799–though Washington would have just died so certainly that was no festive occasion. The First Nantucket Tea Party does not have a Christmas setting per se but is also all about Colonial festivity, on the particular occasion of the return of Captain Nathaniel Starbuck Jr. from his “late long” voyage to China supplied with a chest of Chinese tea. Everyone is very excited about the tea, but for me it’s all about the amazing font used throughout the text. Merry Christmas!

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Tea Party Text (2)

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