Hey y’all! Gambled Away, my anthology with Molly O’Keefe, Jeannie Lin, Isabel Cooper and Joanna Bourne, releases in just a few days. So I thought I’d do another installment on nifty items I came across during the research for it! (You may remember part 1, featuring guillotine earrings, E.O. wheels, season tickets carved out of ivory, and more.)
1. This beautiful seal fob of a bird flying out of a cage with the words “LA LIBERTÉ”. I would give anything to know the story behind commissioning it. It could be a mourning seal, because of the clouds, but I’d like to believe that it belonged to someone who got out of a bad situation and had it made to celebrate. I like to imagine that my heroine Maggie, who loves pawnshops and secondhand markets and French Revolution-y stuff (she and her best friend run a 1780s and 90s-themed gambling den), bought this somewhere and uses it as her seal.
This Pinterest user has an enormous board for seal fobs AND one for rings, check them out for tons more incredible intaglios.
2. Wax jacks! OMG I had never seen a wax jack before I researched them for a scene in this book (the same scene I was researching seal rings for, for obvious reasons), and WHOA they look cool. Like I am in LOVE with these things. They use a spool of very, very thin fine wax candle to provide just enough heat to melt sealing wax without overheating it and causing it to turn black or harden and crack.
Kathryn Kane has done a great blog post explaining their use, so I’m just gonna link to pictures of really pretty ones I would like Lex Luthor to buy me when we’re married: omigod! ooooh! so cool! AUGH PLEASE CAN I HAVE IT?? And here’s a much less fancy one, like my not-rich heroine might have at home.
3. Voyeuse chairs. I discovered my first voyeuse chair in one of the period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum and I plotzed. Voyeuse chairs are chairs that have an armrest on top of the back. There actually is debate about who the armrest is for—some people say it’s for a friend to watch your play over your shoulder (which just makes me think of Tracy Belmanoir and Frank Fortescue and get VERY EMOTIONAL), and some other people insist ferociously that they were ONLY for you yourself to watch friends’ play and that they’re intended to be sat in backwards, leaning on the top.
There are also low ones, called voyeuses à genoux, for ladies to kneel on in their skirts since they can’t straddle a chair. I’m not sure why this is more comfortable than sitting sideways, but hey.
Personally, I think some chairs would be functional for sitting in backwards and were probably used for that, but others because of their proportions (the height of the back for example) simply don’t make sense that way. For example, look at this beautiful armchair (Maggie’s business partner’s favorite chair looks just like it). You can’t sit in it backwards, and the way it’s balanced, I feel like kneeling and leaning on the back would be uncomfortable and potentially tip over the chair, and also not to state the obvious but IT HAS ARMS. So to me that’s pretty conclusive proof that these chairs were used in a variety of ways (like honestly what have humans ever manufactured that people DIDN’T find a variety of ways to use anyway) and I can keep my image of Tracy and Frank and use the chairs that way in my book. Some of my faves besides that amazing green one:
I do love sitting backwards and this one looks hella comfortable; here’s a voyeuse à genoux; Another one, very rococo and stunning; I freaking adore this one; this is a slightly different style but imagining a Georgian dandy lounging in it is KILLING me; this is arrestingly lovely and looks GREAT for sitting backwards in…
Honestly I could do this all day so I’m gonna stop there.
And I highly doubt this one is Regency but I just have to link because it’s so beautiful.
5. Ballet stuff! Ballet was kind of different in the Regency than it is now; the style we’re familiar with was just being developed and dancers were just starting to occasionally dance en pointe. In the 1850s a historian wrote about two rival Regency dance styles:
M. Taglioni père founded a new school of dancing, very different from the style and philosophy of the school of the Gardels and Vestris. These two schools offered a poignant contrast: Vestris taught grace, seduction; he was a sensualist; he demanded provocative smiles, almost indecent and shameless attitudes. […] The school, the style and the language of M. Taglioni père propagated quite the contrary: he demanded facility of movement, levity, elevation above all, du ballon; but he didn’t allow his daughter one gesture, one posture lacking in decency and chastity (décence et pudeur [I would probably translate pudeur as modesty, not chastity]) […] Vestris wanted his pupils to dance as in Athens, like bacchantes and courtesans; M. Taglioni demanded a naïveté which was almost mystique and religious. One taught pagan dance; one could say the other professed the dance as a catholic.
An 1829 pair of toe shoes belonging to Marie Taglioni, the dancer who popularized the pointe craze, showing no signs of padding in the toes. Apparently she would go through 3 or 4 pairs of shoes in a performance which would then have to be repaired!
I also discovered Charles Didelot‘s “flying machine”!!! Didelot was apparently the first choreographer to make it look as if his dancers were en pointe, because he would put them on wires which would lift them into the air, and as they were lifted they would appear to balance weightlessly on tiptoe. He invented his flying machine in 1795 or 6 and used it in performances for the next few decades and I think this would be a great backdrop for a romance:
I cannot find an image of it though! This crummy little image of a pulley system by D’Hermand that I suspect was a few decades earlier is the best I can do.
You can see Regency ballet costumes in this 1810 image of Mme Vestris and her future husband (and it definitely looks as if they’re en pointe there, doesn’t it? So clearly when I write about this I need to do a LOT more research).
6. The earliest extant mechanical pencils are from two recovered shipwrecks, once from 1791 and one from 1805. I couldn’t find an image of the pencils themselves but a historian has recreated them here!
7. A frank on a letter signifies the right of the franker to send mail for free, a privilege accorded to peers but also used by various government agencies, etc. In the Regency, a frank was just the franker’s signature on the outside of the piece of the mail. Serendipitously, this means that autograph collectors saved them and there are many still extant. (I would LOVE to read a romance about a frank collector and the man whose signature she has set her sights on!)
For example, there are lots and lots of examples of Alexander Hamilton’s signature out and about, even beyond his own voluminous correspondence, because he franked the Treasury Department’s mail when he was Treasury Secretary! Check out this beautiful example (and note the “FREE” printed or stamped in the upper right). And this one sold for $10,500!
And now I want to go researching the history of stamps but I’m NOT GOING TO. Instead I’m going to sign off! I am actually in Scotland today (:DDDDDDD) so won’t be answering comments until I return next week. Thank you for your patience!
To close, here is the back cover copy for Gambled Away:
Get revenge. Pay a debt. Save a soul. Lose your heart.
Spanning centuries and continents, five brand-new novellas from beloved historical romance authors tell the stories of men and women who find themselves wagered in a game of chance and are forced to play for the highest stakes of all: love.
“Gideon and the Den of Thieves” by Joanna Bourne
London, 1793 – Soldier of fortune Gideon Gage has come home from halfway around the world, fully prepared to face down a ruthless gang to save his sister. But there’s one member of the gang he could never have been prepared for: fascinating Aimée, driven from her own home by the French Revolution and desperately in need of his help.
“Raising The Stakes” by Isabel Cooper
California, 1938 — When the flute she won in last night’s poker game unexpectedly summons an elven warrior bound to her service, two-bit con artist Sam takes quick advantage. With Talathan’s fairy powers at her command, her shakedown of a crooked preacher is a sure thing…but would she rather take a gamble on love?
“All or Nothing” by Rose Lerner
England, 1819 – Architect Simon Radcliffe-Gould needs someone to pose as his mistress so he can actually get some work done at a scandalous house party. Irrepressible gambling den hostess Maggie da Silva would rather be his mistress, but she’ll take what she can get…
“The Liar’s Dice” by Jeannie Lin
Tang Dynasty China, 849 A.D. — Lady Bai’s first taste of freedom brings her face to face with murder. A dangerous and enigmatic stranger becomes her closest ally as she investigates the crime, but can she trust her heart or her instincts when everyone is playing a game of liar’s dice?
“Redeemed” by Molly O’Keefe
Denver, 1868 — After agonizing years in the Civil War’s surgical tents, Union doctor James Madison has nothing left to lose. But when beautiful, tortured Helen Winters is the prize in a high-stakes game of poker, he goes all in to save her—and maybe his own soul.
Tell me about a favorite object! I will give a copy of Gambled Away to one commenter chosen at random.