Category: 20th Century

Easter Bonnets of the Late 19th Century

“The Easter bonnet has long been recognized as woman’s particular weakness.”
The Illustrated American, 1886.

Spring Bonnets, Der Bazar, 1882.
(Met Museum)

In the nineteenth century, Easter Sunday was an occasion for ladies of all classes to don their most fashionable bonnets.  Some of these bonnets were specially bought for the holiday.  Others were old bonnets made up with new trimmings.  In either circumstance, Easter bonnets were as essential to celebrating Easter as were eggs and bunnies.  An 1889 edition of the Ladies Home Journal even went so far as to declare that it was “an accepted fact that every woman who can buy or make a dainty bonnet for Easter-day must wear it.”[…]Continue Reading

The Dogs of Alexandra of Denmark: A Tour of the Kennels at Sandringham

Portrait of Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales, with Facey by Luke Fildes, 1893.
Portrait of Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales, with Facey by Luke Fildes, 1893.

Alexandra of Denmark married Queen Victoria’s son and heir, Albert Edward, on March 10, 1863.  She was a noted dog lover marrying into a family of noted dog lovers.  The resulting menagerie of canines which she accumulated as Princess of Wales was a diverse collection which rivalled even that of her royal mother-in-law.  There were Basset Hounds, Wolfhounds, Dachshunds, Collies, Samoyeds, Fox Terriers, Pugs, Pekingese, and Japanese Spaniels – to name just a few.  They were housed in luxurious kennels at Sandringham House, the Prince and Princess’s home in Norfolk.[…]Continue Reading

Classical Cats: The Feline Muses of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel

The Piano Lesson by Henriëtte Ronner-Knip, 1897.
The Piano Lesson by Henriëtte Ronner-Knip, 1897.

One does not have to be a fan of classical music to be familiar with the works of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.  The two rivals were part of the Impressionism movement in classical music, a movement inspired by Impressionist painters like Monet, Manet, and Renoir and poets such as Verlaine and Baudelaire.  They were also renowned cat lovers who famously allowed their feline muses to prowl at liberty amongst their papers while composing such masterpieces as Clair de Lune and Boléro. […]Continue Reading

Aphrodisiacs, Elixirs, and Dr. Brodum’s Restorative Nervous Cordial

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.(Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust)
Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

During the 18th and 19th century, patent medicines were everywhere.  These various powders, potions, elixirs, and cordials were primarily peddled by quacks, some of whom purported to be doctors from respected universities like St. Andrews in Scotland.  The claims they made on behalf of their products were extraordinary.  According to advertisements of the era, a restorative cordial or tonic could do practically anything, from curing dropsy in children to curing impotence in men and hysteria in women.  Some even proclaimed that they could cure a fellow of the desire to engage in that “solitary, melancholy practice” so common to the male sex (i.e. Masturbation).[…]Continue Reading

The History of the Lorgnette

Lady with Lorgnette by Unknown Artist, 1830s.
Lady with Lorgnette by Unknown Artist, 1830s.

A lorgnette is, quite simply, a pair of spectacles mounted on a handle.  The precursor to modern opera glasses, lorgnettes were a common sight during the 19th century at the theater as well as the opera.  And since the name lorgnette derives from the French word lorgner – meaning “to ogle” or “to eye furtively” – one can only imagine the many uses to which a curious socialite in the balcony might have put them.  Whether employed to sneakily spy on a rival across the way, stealthily investigate a young gentleman down in the pit, or to merely watch the action on the stage, a lorgnette was an indispensable accessory for the 19th century lady about town.[…]Continue Reading