Smelling Sweet in the Regency: Part 3 (Making Sense of Making Scents)

At the end of Part 2 in this series, we left our Regency heroine in her family’s still-room surrounded by the materials she has gathered for making a new supply of perfume. What has she harvested? Not apple blossoms, for gathering those would destroy the fruit crop. But perhaps roses? Violets? Lavender? Other herbs from the herb garden? Natural scent sources include flowers, buds, leaves, fruits, rinds, roots, wood, resins and bark of plants and trees, as well as animals.

Lavender, by Jeromecold – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Her choices are limited, in part because of England’s climate. If she lived in the south of France, near Grasse or Nice, she would be in the heart of some of the world’s best “perfume lands” and could have her pick of richly aromatic flowers and fruits, including orange blossom and jasmine. But even then, there are flowers she cannot use. In the Regency, there were not yet any “synthetic” scents that could substitute for an elusive natural fragrance, and there are a number of those—scents that defy extraction by any known method. (The reason can be a low concentration of fragrance in the material, but most often, it’s because the extraction process itself alters or destroys the scent.)

Lily-of-the Valley is one such flower. Its scent is very popular today and was even in earlier times. So how did Floris sell a scent under this name starting in 1765? They created a unique blend of other fragrances to approximate the desired scent. Floris’s formula for its famous Lily-of-the-Valley perfume was a highly guarded secret. The perfume was later taken off the market (I have not discovered when, but think it was pre-Regency), but it was re-launched in 1847 and has been sold ever since. The timing makes me suspect they took advantage of the development of chemical synthetics which began in the late 1830’s).

Other flowers that defy scent extraction include honeysuckle, pinks/carnation, sweet pea, lily, magnolia, lilac, mignonette, wallflower, sweet hawthorn, wood violet, muguet and gardenia. Modern chemistry has developed substitutes. Many people who are sensitive or allergic to “perfumes” are actually reacting to the chemicals in modern synthetic scents, so these are good ones to steer clear of in that case!

Lilac, by Marisa DeMeglio from NYC, USA – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Whatever our heroine has chosen, she’ll need a significant quantity. (Wild strawberry might be great, but where will she harvest enough of it?) To capture the fragrance of the materials, she’ll need to make essential oils, but she might also have a home-made supply already stored on hand or have purchased some if she requires an imported scent. (Such oils could also be used to flavor foodstuffs, especially confectionery.) Most interesting perfumes are a mix of more than one scent, so having a good “nose” for creating pleasing combinations (or good recipes to follow) is helpful along with the store of oils.

She will also need a quantity of alcohol, and one of the many things she’ll need to know, or need to have noted in the recipe she consults, is whether that alcohol should be distilled from wine, vegetable or grain sources. Some essential oils only work well with a particular one. Purified alcohol that won’t add any fragrance to the mix is ideal. It may be used both for the extraction and for creating the oils –some oils, including rose, orange, and jasmine can be considered unpleasant in concentrated forms, causing headaches and other symptoms until diluted.

In Part 2 we mentioned the four methods of extraction that were in use during our period. Great advances in the techniques were developed later in the 19th century, which helped to lower the cost of commercial perfumes, as did the introduction of synthetic scents. But our heroine would choose whichever method she knows will fit the material she’s chosen.

For instance, lavender or peppermint (which both grow well in England) and rose leaves are sturdy enough to be distilled. This process using heated liquid and condensation can be dated as far back as 1200 BCE in Mesopatamia (where, incidentally, it was being used for perfumery). Our heroine’s still might be as small as this pottery still seen at Ham House (courtesy Deana Sidney via Sharon Lathan),

but given the amount of liquid in some recipes (for instance, one for rose water calls for 4lbs of rose leaves and 20 pints of water), much larger ones must also have been in use. The Ham House inventories from the 17th century list “pewter stills with glass heads” and also note chafing dishes and Bain Maries for heating the stills. I wish we could see those!

Large home-made modern-day stills follow the same age-old principle

The other methods are also ancient –getting into all of them technically is another whole side-tunnel. (See how many rabbit tunnels this topic has?) But many flowers are too delicate to undergo distillation, even when kept above the water by a sieve—either the heat or the liquid/steam destroys them. Their essential oils are extracted using either maceration (rose petals, violets, etc), which involves repeatedly mixing the flowers into grease such as lard or an oil such as distilled bitter almond, or absorption (the most delicate, such as jasmine), where the flowers are spread on grease coated-plates or cloths soaked in oil. In both cases, the fragrance transfers into the grease (pomade) or oil and can be further processed with alcohol from there. Citrus fruits, such as lemons or oranges, best yield their fragrant oils by expression (also called cold-pressing) –the grating of the rinds and applying pressure to break down the material.

Once our heroine has invested the time and effort to have a store of essential oils, she is ready to mix her scents. Whether she decides to make “eau de parfum” or “eau de toilet” is a matter of how diluted with alcohol or scented water her finished product will be –the process to make them is the same until that step. She might have smelled a lovely perfume on someone she’d like to try to copy (perhaps at Almack’s in London she caught a whiff of Princess Esterhazy’s scent?), or she may have a recipe on hand. Depending on the quantity she is prepared to bottle and store, she might have to adapt the quantities to what she can manage.

This recipe is one for “approximating” the oldest perfume still being used today, Eau de Cologne, which lent its name to the more generic term “cologne” as a particular strength of perfumes and to “cologne alcohol,” a term used for the alcohol distilled from wine. Based on an Italian formula from the 17th century, Eau de Cologne was first made commercially as a wash and body rub in Cologne, Germany in the early-to-mid 1700’s and became popular after the French court adopted it. Like the French kings, even Napoleon is said to have bathed in it. The original recipe is still secret, but these are agreed upon as basic ingredients:

Oil of bergamot2½ oz.
Oil of lemon (hand-pressed)6 oz.
Oil of neroli pétale3½ oz.
Oil of neroli bigarade1¼ oz.
Oil of rosemary2½ oz.
Alcohol30 qts.

The bergamot and lemon oils are dissolved in the alcohol and distilled, and the rosemary and two types of blood orange are added afterwards. Also key is that only alcohol distilled from wine will give the desired results.

Have you ever used Eau de Cologne? (I remember being given tiny bottles of it as a child.) Do you have a favorite scent you enjoy? Or do you use essential oils for aromatherapy? Or are you allergic, or have you given up using scents in view of the many events that now prohibit them? Please leave me a note in the comments!

Coming in Part 4 (May 24): The Art of Perfumery, Scents for the Sexes, and the Truth about Bay Rum!

Posted in Daily Life, Gail Eastwood, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Something About Napoleon

May 5 was the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte. He died on St. Helena, a remote island in the Atlantic off the west coast of Africa. Once the resident of the opulent Tuileries Palace, Napoleon ended his days in Longwood House, a damp, windswept house on St. Helena.

David - Napoleon crossing the Alps - Malmaison1

In my books, Napoleon is usually depicted as a megalomaniac tyrant who thought his military genius was superior to the Duke of Wellington (How could he?). He was certainly that, but this week, I must also acknowledge that Napoleon did achieve monumental things.

The Napoleonic Code was certainly the greatest of these achievements. His rule rewrote and revised civil law into a clearly written, accessible form that has strongly influenced laws of other European countries, as well as other countries around the world. The code established equality for all (male) citizens. For the first time since classical antiquity, the code decriminalized same sex sexual activity, as well as other private acts between individuals, like blasphemy, witchcraft, heresy, sodomy.

Napoleon also created a national bank, cut taxes, reformed education, and guaranteed freedom of religion, even for the Jews, ending restrictions imposed on them. He supported the arts and the sciences.

Because he wanted Paris to rival the grandeur of ancient Rome, he improved the roads, built monuments and fountains, bridges and canals. He improved the city’s water and sewer systems. Some of his improvements include the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the column in Place Vendôme, and beginning construction of the Arc de Triomphe.

There is no doubt that Napoleon in his prime was a man of great genius, as well as high energy, confidence and ambition. Unfortunately his thirst for power overcame good judgement. Had his army not met Wellington’s in Spain, had he not invaded Russia, had he not underestimated Wellington and the Allies at Waterloo who knows what other great things he might have done?

What do you think? Do Napoleon’s accomplishments outweigh his thirst for power? How should we be remembering him 200 years later?

And now for an amusing change of subject, but still about Napoleon, take a peek at this video.

Posted in History, Regency, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Smelling Sweet in the Regency: Beyond Floris, Part 2 (Still-room Magic)

The heroine in my current work-in-progress, an earl’s daughter, is an athletic, active, outdoors-y sort of young woman but she does have one bit of domestic expertise. After her bookish sister has lectured on the medicinal properties of some spring flowers, Honoria tells the hero, “I do have some skills in the still-room, but I will confess I am more likely to make an essence of violets to flavor biscuits or sugar drops, and to turn the cowslips into wine before I would use them as medicines.” (Yes, her sweet tooth has a role in the story. <g>)

17th century still room

Making wines and distilling flavor essences as well as making medicines were all tasks performed in a large home’s still-room (alternatively “stillroom”, and “still room”). As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, well-to-do Regency people who didn’t wish to purchase expensive perfumes from merchants like Floris might make their own scents in their estate still-rooms as well.

Exactly what was a stillroom?

I love this description from Wikipedia: “a working room, part science lab, part infirmary, and part kitchen.” It was always a separate room, really a small “auxiliary kitchen” that provided space for making herbal remedies and other health products, creating essential oils, brewing and distilling beer and wines, making jams and preserving food by fermentation and pickling, among other functions, all out of the way of the business taking place in the main kitchen. It would usually be equipped with its own fireplace/stove, work table, still, shelves and storage cupboards or dresser and racks for hanging dried herbs, etc. Finished products might be moved to a storage room or stored in the stillroom if space allowed.

The name is a shortened form of “distillery room.” According to author Sharon Lathan (whose wonderful article (The Georgian Kitchen) includes a section on the still-room), The History of Hengrave claims “The earliest recorded “still-room” was at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, in 1603….” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary dates the word (not hyphenated) to 1710. But distillery rooms are ancient. They were not only features in medieval castles (sometimes as a separate structure), but even date back as far as the Romans and Greeks, who had dedicated rooms for creating herbal medicines and distilling essentials oils from plants including roses, lavender, and rosemary.

Definitions of the still-room as “a room connected with the kitchen where liqueurs, preserves, and cakes are kept and beverages (such as tea) are prepared” (Merriam-Webster) are referencing the modern role the stillroom took on when its former functions gradually became obsolete. Some 21st century hotels and restaurants still have a “stillroom” used for these later purposes, and lists of equipment and definitions can be confusing because of this fact. But the most basic purpose of the stillroom is intact –it removes these functions and procedures from the busy main kitchen and gives them their own space.

Late period still-room at Tatton Hall (photo: wikimedia commons)

What changed? The commercial availability of items that were at one time made in the still-rooms of estates—medicines, perfumes, cosmetics, cleansers, alcoholic beverages, even the essential oils used in all these things and as flavorings for food. As physicians and apothecaries (even barber shops, as we saw in Part 1) became more numerous and widespread, the need for these items to be made at home diminished, and in many cases, including perfumes, the quality of the commercial products (at least then) was better than could be achieved at home because of the greater access to ingredients. By the mid-19th century (1860’s) references relegate the still-room to the province of the housekeeper or stillroom maid, but also note that “our grandmothers” used to be the ones who presided there –in other words, the lady of the house in the Regency part of the century and earlier.

For centuries, the lady of the manor was responsible for handing down the precious knowledge from previous generations and teaching her daughters the skills to produce the life-saving substances the household and all its dependents (staff, servants, tenants…) needed. Treating illnesses and preserving food were skills that also enhanced a young woman’s value as a marriage partner. Work in the still-room required the ability to read the receipts, keep records and follow precise procedures, so an educated woman was still required even after the responsibility devolved to servants. In the later 19th century, the position of stillroom maid was a possible precursor to one day becoming a housekeeper, a very respected position.

Starting the process…

Let us now picture our young Regency miss in the still-room at her parents’ country estate, with a basket full of flowers she has gathered from the garden or the fields. Perhaps she has a family receipt for a particular scent that her mother and grandmother also enjoy, or perhaps she plans to experiment with such a receipt to try to create a new scent that will be her own.

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

What will she need?

To begin, she’ll need an “essential oil” that captures a fragrance for the basis of her scent design. More than one if she plans to create a mix. Common flowers, herbs, spices and fruits are her most likely available sources—she wouldn’t have access to the exotic ingredients the commercial perfumers would have, like these:

48 aromatic oils from India shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851

She’ll need to know which of these ingredients are easier or harder to work with to produce the oils. In our period, there were four ways to extract those: 1) distillation, 2) expression, 3) maceration, and 4) absorption. So, she’ll also need to know which of these methods works best for the substances she’s planning to use.

In Part 3 (May 10), we’ll look at Recipes and Family Skills –how scents were made (including why Lily-of-the-Valley would not be one your heroine could make at home!).

Lily-of-the-Valley

Meanwhile, what stillroom skills have you practiced? Have you ever canned your own produce, made beer or wine, created a tincture, or even distilled an essential oil? There is a movement to go back to home-made perfumes and remedies today, because of all the chemicals now used in commercial products. (Some commercial businesses are also catering to this trend.) I would love to hear about what you’ve done!

P.S. Sharon Lathan’s article (The Georgian Kitchen, linked above and here) has some great photos I’m not sharing here because of copyright concerns. Well worth a look, however! She also includes a great list of items that a stillroom might produce. Since my focus in this series is specifically on scents, I resisted sharing that here. (rabbit hole side tunnel!!)

I also found these on another source that was slanted much later than Regency, but still pre-dates refrigeration and was based on records from various estates: “some products of the Stillroom could be Cherries in Brandy, Strawberries in Madeira, dried Apricots, and pickling anything from onions to cabbage. Spicey chutneys influenced by contact with the Indian sub-continent and Piccallili. In those days there was also the need to pickle eggs, as hens naturally go ‘off lay’ during winter.”

Pickled eggs are not a favorite of mine, but cherries in brandy? Yes, please! Perfumes, soaps and medicines were only part of the magic being practiced in the still-room.

Posted in Food, Gail Eastwood, History, Regency, Research | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Inheriting a Peerage (workshop)

Join me!

Who doesn’t love a twisted inheritance plot? They’re fun, high stakes, high angst, great external plots, and just plain delightful. But they’re also legal quagmires and can be hard to get right if you don’t want to spend your free time parsing obscure legal books and case law (and it’s seriously no fun when reviews point out that your plot isn’t just implausible, it’s legally impossible!). Lucky for you, this is literally what I do for a living at the day job (read, explain, and implement obscure rules, regulations, and laws).

I gave an in-person workshop on this topic several years ago (and boy was it hard to cram it all into a 45 min talk), and now I’m going to be offering it as an online workshop through the Beau Monde. This is the absolute best format for this kind of workshop. We’re going to take a whole month to luxuriate in the topic. We’re going to go deep into case law. We’re going to talk about real cases. And I’ll be able to answer all your questions and give you the legal citations from the Peerage Law Handbook to back up your wacky inheritance plot. We’ll make sure that if you’re ever challenged about your plot being unrealistic or fantastical, you can point to a real case and legal precedent.

What will we cover?

Well, everything I can think of to talk about and show you real examples of from the Peerage Law Handbook.

  • The creation of a peerage (and why that matters)
  • What the heck is in fee simple
  • Procedures on claims
  • How (and when!) to dispute a claim
  • What does it mean when the “blood has been enobled”
  • Who can dispute a claim
  • Why women can inherit some titles, but not others
  • What are co-heirs
  • How two brothers can both inherit a title
  • How/why does a title go into abeyance, and how does it come out
  • Can the King really take back your title and lands
  • Why are there two Earls of Mar
  • Does it matter if the peerage is English, Scottish, Irish
  • When can titles be broken apart and inherited by different people
  • Can an illegitimate child inherit a title
  • And so much more!

Registration is open now. Class begins May 1st. Join me! I promise it will worth your time and money. You don’t have to be an author, either. I’m happy to have readers who want to know more about the topic join us, too.

Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Regency, Research, Writing | 1 Comment

Smelling Sweet in the Regency: Beyond Floris (Part 1)

(This rabbit hole sprouted a few tunnels and wound up as a multi-part series! I hope this topic interests you as much as it did me.) We’ll start with Floris first, before we explore everything else.

If you don’t already know, Floris was the premiere London supplier for perfumery in the Regency, and it is still operating at 89 Jermyn Street in its original elegant St. James location, still family owned and heading into the 9th generation of management! Sadly, I missed a chance for a virtual tour via Instagram just over two weeks ago led by the current family “nose.” How far we have come from Regency times!

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27045701

The shop was founded in 1730 by an enterprising immigrant barber from the Spanish-owned island of Minorca, Juan Famenias Floris. Originally employed in a London hotel, he soon seized the opportunity to open his own barber shop in the midst of the men’s clubs district where business was sure to thrive.

He met Elizabeth Hodgkiss in London and after they married they lived above the shop, soon expanding the business to sell perfume and hair combs imported from Minorca, as well as shaving brushes, hatpins, toothbrushes, fine-tooth combs and razor straps all made on the premises, plus scented mouthwashes, hair products and shaving products. Floris recreated scents from his homeland for clients using a refreshing alcohol base, offering among others jasmine, orange blossom, and ‘Lavender’, the one that made him most famous (still available today).

He and Elizabeth had seven children. When the sons were old enough, they studied the perfumery arts in France. Son Robert traveled through France, Spain and Italy to source and send back exotic ingredients the perfumes required. The firm’s website shows one of Robert Floris’s “crossed” letters (written in two directions to save paper) from this pre-Regency era.

Combs, a simple item we take for granted today, were difficult to make in pre-industrial times, hand crafted from ivory or tortoiseshell. (for a look at some Regency combs, see this 2018 post of mine) The fine quality of combs provided by Floris actually earned them their first Royal Warrant (of 17) in 1820 as ‘Smooth Pointed Comb-makers’ to George IV, not long after his ascension to the throne. The much-photographed shop front on the ground floor dates from that time, proudly exhibiting the original coat of arms that came with that first warrant.

Although the beautiful Spanish mahogany cabinets inside the shop are Victorian (purchased from the Great Exhibition in 1851), the flavor of what the shop must have been like earlier is still preserved, down to the iron boot-scraper outside the door. (There is also now a small museum room at the back.) Many famous (and infamous) personalities from British history have been connected with the shop. According to Floris, Admiral Lord Nelson kept a room on the third floor for Lady Emma Hamilton and would write orders to be placed for her while he was oversees. As you might imagine, Beau Brummell would discuss his current fragrances at length with Mr Floris. Wikipedia says “Mary Shelley, whilst abroad, sent friends instructions to purchase her favourite combs and toothbrushes from Floris.”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37074064

Perfumes from Floris were a luxury item for the wealthy or for very special gifts. The well-heeled patrons could purchase perfume by bringing their own bottles to be filled with their fragrance of choice. (We’ll take a look at those bottles in a later installment.) A wealthy aristocrat in Regency London could commission the parfumers at Floris to create a custom scent especially for them. How decadent do you want to get? Naturally, having something that no one else had or could have was an essential mark of status. The formulas were recorded in the company’s special ledgers and archived so they could continue to be made on demand for each customer.

Interestingly, Floris in recent years has revived this “bespoke” service from their past. London Perfect has a 2017 interview with Edward Bodenham, the latest descendant to be put in charge of perfumery at Floris, where he talks about the process.  The company has also revisited its extensive formula archives to issue its recent “Ledger Series” of eight scents, which includes two available in the Regency era, Stephanotis (1786), and Red Rose (1807). Some of the products still on sale date back to the mid 18th century, such as White Rose, Limes, Lilly of the Valley and No. 89.

But having a unique scent was not an exclusive luxury reserved for only the wealthiest in society. Many a young Regency miss (or her brother) from a reasonably prosperous family might have worn a scent of her own, or at least of her family’s, devising, created in the still-room at home. We’ll take a look at this aspect of the topic in part 2 of this series in two weeks.

Meanwhile, do you ever use perfume? Have a favorite scent? Have you ever had a chance to visit Floris in London? Please let me know in the comments! Oh, and P.S.! My last post (March 5) was only “out front” for two days because of a scheduling mix-up, but it included the reveal that I’m offering a free Regency short story now to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. Here’s the link for that if you’re interested: Gail’s newsletter

Posted in Frivolity, History, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Regency Resources – Gifts from the Pandemic

We are pulling through a very unique year in history, the year of COVID-19. Vaccines are here and many of us, myself included, have received them. But this year (plus) of isolation came with some benefits, putting Zoom front and center in our vocabulary.

I spent some time in the past year looking for entertainment on the internet, rewatching all the Austen movies I could access, finding Regency-related video on Youtube, and, of course, zooming with friends and family. In so doing, I came across two resources that have come to us through the gift of Zoom.

Jane Austen and Co.

According to their website, “Jane Austen & Co. is a free public book group devoted to reading texts written by historical female authors. Part of the Jane Austen Summer Program, our mission is to bring engaging and informative humanities programming to local libraries within the Triangle Region of North Carolina and beyond.”

Affiliated with the University of North Carolina, their programs were presented in person before this past year, but with the pandemic, the group went virtual. This meant interested attendees could come from all over the world.

In 2020, during what I consider the dark days of the pandemic, they presented a series of zoom lectures called Staying Home with Jane Austen, covering food, dress (the author of Dress in the Age of Jane Austen), family (with Sonali Dev), and servants (with the author of Longbourne).

In 2021 they’ve started a wonderful series called Race and the Regency. The first presentation was Lord Mansfield and the Slave Ship Zong, a talk by Danielle Christmas, an Assistant Professor at UNC. Second, Remixing Pride and Prejudice, a Conversation with Author Ibi Zoboi. Zoboi wrote Pride, a reimagining of Austen’s classic in the Afro-Latino neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Third was I Hope White Hands, Wedgewood, Abolition and the Female Consumer. This one was pretty fascinating, telling how Wedgewood produced wares with anti-slavery images and slogans that were very popular with their female customers.

There is more to come from the Race and the Regency series. On April 9, Professor Lyndon Dominique will be discussing Political Blackness in The Woman of Colour. The Woman of Colour is an 1808 novel about a biracial heiress who travels from Jamaica to England to marry according to her father’s will. On April 13, Damianne Scott, a professor at University of Cincinnati, will present Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte is Playing to the Masses and It is About Time.

What is lovely about the Jane Austen and Co. events is that they are recorded and available after the presentation, so you can tune in to all of these. For free!

The Georgian Group

My UK friend, Louise Allen, who writes non-fiction books about the Regency as well as Regency Historicals, told me about The Georgian Group, specifically about a virtual presentation about Vauxhall Gardens. Oh, my gosh, this is a wonderful resource!

The Georgian Group’s website says “The Georgian Group is an English and Welsh conservation organisation created to campaign for the preservation of historic buildings and planned landscapes of the 18th and early 19th centuries.” They’ve been in existence since 1937 and are active in saving these historic places even today.

  • Their series of lectures is virtual this year, because of the pandemic, so it is possible to attend without having to travel to London (which would be nice, come to think of it). They are weekly. Take a look at some of the topics, just for April. April 6- Follies, An Architectural Journey. April 13- The English Landscape Revolution. April 19 –Permeability and the Picturesque: British Country Houses at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century.

Look here for the complete list. It is impressive.

There is a charge for each lecture or you can join the organization and attend for free.

Even if you are not able to pay for the lectures there is a lot of information on the website: an online archive of their journal; an introduction to Georgian Architecture; a bibliography.

I just learned that there is an American Friends of the Georgian Group. Their membership is a little steep and their events seem to all have been live, but there is some interesting content on that site as well.

The thing is, these enriching resources would not have been available if not for the pandemic. As awful and confining as it has been, some really nice things have happened–gifts from the pandemic!

What are some of the gifts from the pandemic that you’ve received? Any other good Regency resources? Let us know!

Posted in History, Places, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Waistcoats, Fun and Fashionable

One of the many things I love about the late eighteenth century is men’s waistcoats. In my opinion, they pretty much reach their zenith of beauty and design during the 1780s/1790s. As men’s suits become plainer, their waistcoats hang on as the major garment for adornment and design. Fanciful embroidery rules the day, often pictorial in nature, sometimes incorporating spangles, bullion thread, lace and netting overlay, and even paste/glass gems.

They give an author a means of expressing character via clothing. Is the hero conservative in his clothing choices? Does he let himself have a little fun with a waistcoat depicting ballooning, fanciful beasts, humble rural landscapes and hardworking farmers? Is he peacock who lets his waistcoats run riot with lace and spangles? My novelette, Temptation Incarnate, has such a hero. My cover artist and I had a blast figuring out that we could add a pattern to his waistcoat (even if the detail is almost impossible to see; we did it for US!).

Recently, Zack Pinset (Regency gentleman extraordinaire) gave a wonderful online workshop about Regency men’s clothing (follow the link and enjoy!). I immediately learned new things about men’s stockings from him (I had no idea about the channel for a tie/internal garter on some of them!). But it was his section about waistcoats that really caught my eye. Before the workshop was even over, I’d found the book he shared and pounced. My copy arrived last week, so I thought I’d share some highlights of Gilets Brodés modéles du XVIII.

Below is an example of a pre-embroidered waistcoat. This is how most of these would have been sold. They would have been imported from China or France, in a one size fits most pattern that would be cut and altered to fit the wearer. It comes complete with pocket flaps and buttons.

Fanciful Fungus
Insects and arachnids. Very suitable for your scientist hero.
Mussels and coral
An idyllic rural scene

If only my French were good enough to read the book … *sigh*

Posted in Clothing, History, Isobel Carr, Regency, Research | 1 Comment

Is It Lord Byron?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Byron%20prin%20croppedt.jpg


Is it Lord Byron?

Where I sit while writing there is the above picture on the wall. I discovered it in a local antique store 17 years ago, advertised as an 19th century hand-drawing. I wrote about it in a 2006 Risky Regencies blog, but thought it would be fun to revisit the topic, especially since I glance at it at least once a day.

Believe it or not, I passed it up after first seeing it in the shop, then decided I was nuts and went back and purchased it for about $40.00. I remember refraining from saying to the cashier, “Do you think this is Lord Byron? I really think this is Lord Byron.” Surely she would have charged more.

When I went to England in June 2005, I looked everywhere for a similar portrait of Byron, especially when we visited Newstead Abbey, Byron’s estate, but I never saw anything like it. So, again, I am leaving it up to you. I have reversed some well-known Byron portraits and put them in black and white, for comparison.

Is my sketch Lord Byron?

This is what I imagined. A young Regency miss was infatuated with Lord Byron. Perhaps she even glimpsed him in Mayfair, at a ball or the theatre. She and her girlfriends sighed over his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, bought engravings of his portrait at the local print shop. She did what I did when I was a teenager. She drew her own picture of Byron, putting him in exotic dress, like she would have imagined Child Harold to wear.

Of course, when I was a teenager, the hearthrob I drew a portrait of was Paul McCartney of the Beatles. I’d scan that too, if I knew where it was. When I went on a search for it, I found all sorts of other things (including my photo of William Shatner as Captain Kirk) but no Paul McCartney. (I should search again….)

Weigh in here with your opinions. Do I have a portrait of Byron?
Confess. Who would you have drawn in those tender years of infatuation?

Cheers!
Diane (who, alas, has not had an infatuation since the one she had for Gerard Butler years ago. Any suggestions?)

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Automatons and a New Story!

1774 Elephant Automaton at Waddesdon Manor (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) For a video, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YEPhe2Gp0Y

This is the third time I’ve written a blogpost here that references automatons. Can you tell I think they’re super cool? But I have a very exciting reason to be writing about them again! I have a new story –a Regency romance short story—that I’ll be giving away free to my newsletter subscribers, in which the hero turned out to be a collector of automatons. Yay!

Why am I so excited about “Lord Corsham’s Collection”? (Besides the automatons, that is.) To understand, hear my confession: I am not by nature a short story writer. My story ideas always seem to be long. Even when I think I’ve got one that can be told in the length of a novella (and won’t take as long to write, ha-ha), the idea inevitably spins itself into a full-length novel. Lord of Misrule, for instance. When I started that book, I thought for sure it could be a novella. It takes place during the twelve days of the Christmas season. Who knew so much could happen in such a short span of days?

“Lord Corsham’s Collection” is different. I woke up one morning with the opening lines in my head, and knew right away this was a short story, the capture of a single hour that changes everything for two lonely people. My first!! I had so much fun writing it and am excited with how it turned out. If you are interested in reading it and are not signed up for my newsletter, you can fix that by clicking here (or sign up at my website: https://www.gaileastwoodauthor.com). I’d love to share the story with you as soon as it’s ready and also keep in touch with you!

The Huntsman Automaton, at Waddesdon Manor
(Courtesy of Jonathan Cardy, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Designing the collection that features in the new story was part of the delicious fun, and the story includes an author’s note afterwards in case you want to learn more. Just to tempt you, today I’m offering you some pictures of real automatons and a video link or two to share my fascination. Automatons have been popular with the wealthy since the 16th century, but their biggest “golden period” actually postdates the Regency, in the second half of the 19th century. In the years since I last posted about them here–2015 and 2017, I’ve learned so much more about them, the history of who made them, and the different sorts of forms they could take– anything from a small pocket watch

“The-Barking-Dog-Watch” by Piguet & Meylan, Geneva, c.1810 -Image courtesy of Sotheby’s via http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/9368

 to a snuffbox (which might have a singing bird that pops up, or all sorts of other types of automation)

Singing bird box by Jaquet-Droz & Leschot, 1794. The center oval opens to reveal an opening through which a tiny feathered bird emerges to “sing”, opening its beak and moving its wings. (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

to larger than life-sized replicas. These might be covered in jewels, real or paste (see Isobel’s post just prior to this one, for more about fake jewels). The jewelers and watch-makers involved in producing automata were not always up-front about which they were using, to be sure.

The automatous action(s) offered could be anything from copying life-like movements and sounds to animated scenes (even erotica, but I’m not showing you those! <g>). Check out this video of the famous Silver Swan automaton that is now in the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Co. Durham, England. 

Or, try the spectacular Golden Peacock Clock (a whole group of figures) still in Russia, where it was first sent and assembled as a gift for Catherine the Great!

The book I’m currently working on, which is Book 3 in the Little Macclow series, takes place for the most part over an even shorter span of days than Lord of Misrule. So far, no one’s collection of anything figures in the tale. Will A Little Macclow Wedding turn out to be a novella? Well, we’ll see, but it isn’t feeling like one so far. My hero and heroine both have some growing to do and lessons to learn, hearts to change. I don’t think either one of them is going to yield easily or quickly. If you’re signed up for my newsletter you’ll be kept up-to-date on how this one progresses and you’ll be first to know when it comes out, too!

Do you have a passion for collecting anything? If so, what is it, and how do the people around you feel about your passion? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

(Unattributed photos are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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Everything Must Sparkle

I want to apologize for missing last month. As you know, there was kind of a lot of stuff going on, and frankly, I was just too distracted.

I recently got a fascinating new research book: The Sparkling Company, Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World. It was put out by the Corning Museum of Glass, and it’s a deep dive into all the ways glass was used during the era. It would be a fantastic book for anyone looking to know more about the industry and uses of glass for a book (perhaps one of your protagonists owns a glassworks of some kind?). I’m sure we’re all familiar with it’s more mundane uses (windows, drinking glasses, mirrors, lenses, and jewelry), but there was some really interesting information in the clothing section.

Yes, they covered things like paste shoe buckles and buttons, but they also featured some more obscure uses such as “foil stones” (aka foil-backed paste) being sewn directly to clothing. This style was popular in both France and England in the 1780s (there are numerous reports of both the Prince of Wales and his sisters wearing garments decorated in this style).

Detail of a man’s suit, c. 1780s

Another type of glass that was a popular embellishment was jet (frequently described as “jais” or “geais” on fashion plates. This was simply small glass bugle beads that were usually black (though sometimes they are described as of “diverse colours”), and were one of the few things considered appropriate for mourning clothing (when you’re supposed to be sad, but you just need a little sparkle!). You see them combined on clothing with steel sequins/spangles, which would reflect the light, but not in a super flashy way.

Detail of a fashion plate, 1798 showing a headdress with jet beads.

They also used tiny seed beads strung together to create pictures on everything from shoes, to garters, to ridicules (sometimes called “sablé”). I usually think of this as a more Victorian form of decoration, but these examples are from as early as the 1730s.

Beaded mule, c. 1730-1770

And because you all know how much I love a fancy, naughty, garter…

Beaded garter, c. 1730-1770.

Posted in Clothing, History, Isobel Carr, Plot bunnies, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | 3 Comments