With Hammer in Hand

[:caption]Dominy Shops

Next time you visit (or in some cases, the first time you visit), take one of the beautiful house tours, visit our current exhibitions in the Galleries, and walk the gorgeous garden, but while you’re here don’t miss one of the most interesting, permanent exhibitions at Winterthur on the second floor of the Galleries—The Dominy Shops. Winterthur’s Dominy Clock Shop and Woodworking Shop are reconstructions of the Dominy family’s Long Island workshops, including their tools and equipment.

Three generations of the Dominy family of East Hampton, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, functioned as craftsmen from 1760 to 1850. Nathaniel Dominy IV (1737–1812) was a woodworker and metalworker producing tall case clocks, furniture, and repairing thousands of pocket watches. His son, Nathaniel Dominy V (1770–1852), practiced all forms of woodworking. His activity included work as a furniture joiner, millwright, house carpenter, cooper, and supplier of agricultural tools to farmers in East Hampton township—Sag Harbor to Montauk. Nathaniel V’s son, Felix Dominy (1800-1868), was trained to be a clock and watchmaker. He worked primarily as a maker of tall case clocks and repairer of pocket watches over a short time span from 1815 to 1828, when technological unemployment forced him to forego craft activity and take a job as keeper of the Fire Island lighthouse.

Direct descendants of the Dominy craftsmen kept together and preserved the craftsmen’s shop equipment, tools, and manuscript material on their original site until 1946, thus preserving the only complete record of craftsmen working in colonial America and the New Republic.

Twenty-three years ago, Eliza Werner of Sag Harbor was a catalyst in bringing my book With Hammer in Hand to the attention of Charles Keller and Glenn Purcell, which led in 1991 to their collecting of objects made by the Dominy craftsmen. The result of their persistence, energy, and passion for local East Hampton and Suffolk County history, has been new discoveries of Dominy-made objects, thus making possible, identification of the full range of the craftsmen’s production and unlocking of additional interpretation of Dominy family manuscripts.

Survival of the Dominy shop equipment and tools, combined with extensive accounts, letters, and receipts chronicling their craft production, business activity, education, social life, and political views, provide unique insights about craftsmen working in rural and urban communities of colonial America and the New Republic; barter economies; transfer of shared Western craft technology and equipment; and an example of early nineteenth century technological unemployment. It’s an important and fascinating aspect of our country’s history that should not be missed.

slide Dominy Clock Shop 6-2003 resized

For those who are not able to visit Winterthur, the Winterthur Library’s Dominy holdings were digitized and made available online through the University of Wisconsin’s digital repository, at the request of the Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The repository includes a brief description of the Dominy project, as well as browse and search functions for researchers interested in pursuing details about the collection.

Post by Charles Hummel, Curator Emeritus, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

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Sleuthing in Rare Books to Reveal an Art Lover’s Interest, Part Two

The works of art in my possession were not purchased with a view to selfishly enjoying them; for, believing that collections of good pictures serve as educators in art and tend to foster a refined and healthful taste, I have freely opening my gallery to the public.

Philadelphia industrialist William B. Bement wrote this in the dedication of an elaborately illustrated catalogue of his art collection and the homes where it was housed, which is part of Winterthur Library’s rare book collection.

Cover, Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Cover, Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Yet, as a counterbalance to this insistence on public spirit, Bement also stated that the catalogue was made so that his far away family and friends could: “see the evidence of my success in life, the direction of my tastes, and the sources of enjoyment provided for myself and family in our declining years.” He made sure the illustrated work included images of his homes and commercial operations. In Bement’s estimation, the collection served simultaneously as evidence of personal wealth and his civic largesse.

As a dissertation fellow, I worked with materials in the rare books collection—such as Bement’s catalogue—to study how nineteenth-century collectors’ socio-economic backgrounds affected their tastes for art, as discussed in Part 1 of this blog post. Why do scholars need to know about collectors’ decisions and what motivated them? The production of art can—like any other good—be at least partially explained by the economic theory of supply and demand. Collectors constitute demand and their preferences have a formative effect on the art that artists can sell and therefore choose to create and supply. Understanding demand for art in the nineteenth century can help scholars understand how and why artistic styles took a certain form during this time. While there are several theories (e.g. those by Thorstein Veblen and Pierre Bourdieu) about collectors’ motives more generally, there is limited available evidence about nineteenth-century collectors. Bement’s catalogue is, therefore, a valuable source.

The Philadelphia businessman’s decision to select Charles Callahan Perkins to write the catalogue text—to praise and contextualize the collection—is a telling choice. Perkins, unlike Bement, was born into an established family with significant wealth. A Boston Brahmin, he attended Harvard and studied art in Paris and Rome after graduation.  He later dedicated his life to writing about art and advocating for its support in the United States.  He was central to the incorporation of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and helped bring influential art and design treatises—such as Charles Locke Eastlake’s Hints on Household Taste —to America.

Perkins’s preface to the catalogue tries to link Bement’s personal acquisitions and luxuries to a narrative of national improvement and ascendency. He writes, “It augurs well for American taste and American art that collections like this are possible here. It is said that the best pictures painted in European studios now find their way to this country, for the merchant princes of this wealthy land can outbid royalty itself for the possession of purchasable treasures.” Bement’s choice to purchase European art rather than American-made works does, however, throw a wrench into Perkins’s patriotic narrative. The critic navigates this obstacle by insisting “this influx of foreign pictures has had the best effect upon American artists, for it has stimulated them to rivalry, with results that have created astonishment in those who have watched the country’s aesthetic progress through the last decade.” He concludes with a reminder that Bement does not only collect European art: “The American pictures in the Bement gallery (about one-fifth of the whole number) bear out the truth of this statement.”

The art critic supports this assertion with—on average—lengthier and more enthusiastic descriptions of the American paintings in the collection. Consider the text dedicated to a marine painting by William Trost Richards similar to one now in the Metropolitan Museum: “This is the sea itself—no painted likeness.” It continues along these lines for half a page until concluding with an extended quotation of a Lord Byron poem beginning: “Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form/Glasses itself in tempests; in all time.” This depiction of the sea invokes God’s own creation, and the implication of Perkins’s rapturous description is that Bement is doing God’s work by acquiring beautiful objects.

Picture of sea

William Trost Richards, New Jersey Beach, 1901, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 1/4 in., Metropolitan Museum of Art

William Trost Richards, New Jersey Beach, 1901, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 1/4 in., Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ironically, despite Bement’s love for his collection and his professed belief in its importance for the public good rather than just private enjoyment and gain, he did not bequest his art to any institution. The collection was sold soon in 1899—two years after his death. The auction catalogue still exists from the sale held by the American Art Association in New York. Any art that ended up in public collections—such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s The Cherry Picker in the Walters Art Museum—had to be bought at auction. According to annotations in the auction catalogue, the art dealer Michel Knoedler purchased the marine painting by Richards.

Detail of Page 36, Valuable Modern Paintings, The William B. Bement Collection (New York: American Art Association, 1899).

Detail of Page 36, Valuable Modern Paintings, The William B. Bement Collection (New York: American Art Association, 1899).

Its current whereabouts are unknown. With his art collection scattered, houses long since demolished, and company absorbed into a large conglomerate, the only remaining evidence of Bement’s success in life, tastes, and “sources of enjoyment…in [his] declining years” is this catalogue. As a result, it is within the walls of the Winterthur Library that the detective work into gaining insight into the past and understanding the 19th-century art collector’s mind can continue.

 Post by Diana Greenwald, Dissertation Fellow, Winterthur Museum

Posted in Uncategorized, Library, Academic Programs, American Culture Studies, Prints, Photos & Drawings, Paintings, rare books, art collections | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Influences from Abroad: Biedermeier Chairs in a New York Town House

Side chair, probably New York, 1825‒40. Mahogany, cherry, ash. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1957.7401

Side chair, probably New York, 1825‒40. Mahogany, cherry, ash. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1957.7401

Located within the Empire Parlor at Winterthur is a unique pair of side chairs. With distinctive double-balloon backs, incurvate stiles, and elegant scimitar legs, these chairs stand out from other pieces in the room.1 They are constructed primarily of mahogany and represent the aspirations of a social class that used interior décor, and especially furniture, to denote status and wealth through novelty. Unlike other classically inspired chairs, many of which pay homage to the Greek klismos design, these two, with their voluptuous silhouettes and dramatic curves, reflect forms more typically associated with Biedermeier furniture of Central Europe.

The front legs of the chairs are cut from solid mahogany while the rear legs, which become the stiles, combine solid wood and veneer construction. From the base of the leg to the seat rail, the rear legs are solid. Continuing up from the seat rail, however, the stiles are veneered, with the veneers extending beyond the stiles and onto the edge of the back, gracefully connecting these structural components. The front side of the seat back is veneered with a piece of crotch-grain mahogany that, laid horizontally, visually extends the double-balloon shape and heightens the geometric nature of the chair. Around the edge of the back, layered and shaped veneers frame the center panel and form an abstracted tripartite design.2  With the exception of the raised veneers, the backs of these chairs are mainly planar, relying on the rich figured wood for ornament, a device commonly found in Biedermeier furniture.

detail of chairA combination of the words bieder, meaning honest, and Meier, a comment Germanic surname, Biedermeier furniture was popular between 1815 and 1848. Emphasizing fine surfaces and stylized interpretation of neoclassical forms, the furniture found favor among middle- and upper-class consumers. Unlike the formal interiors of nineteenth-century America, with suites of matching furniture, Biedermeier interiors were designed for relaxed and comfortable living. As one historian noted: “In the same [Biedermeier] room, one could just as easily eat as read, practice a handcraft, talk or make music; the occupants could also rearrange the lightweight chairs and create groupings. The Biedermeier interior was . . . an inhabited space and said a great deal about the personal interests of the inhabitants.”

It is this type of living space that is depicted in János Boros Nepomuk’s painting Kastélyszoba, which is believed to illustrate a room in the bishop’s residence in Pecs, Hungary. Here chairs of various forms surround a table adjacent to a large L-shape sofa, suggesting that the furniture has been assembled for a small gathering. Biedermeier interiors frequently mixed chairs and sofas of assorted styles and forms in the same space, all united through their upholstery. In America, such eclecticism in furniture was rare.3

Some Biedermeier designs harken back to the French taste and goût grec of the Napoleonic era, but others are fanciful and more playful. Winterthur’s chairs appear to be related to several found in European collections, including one constructed of walnut by Josef Nepomuk Geyer of Innsbruck, Austria, now in the collection of the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna (Museum of Applied Arts). Like the Winterthur chairs, the Geyer example features elegantly shaped stiles that flare into a double-balloon back, which, in this case, is open rather than solid, giving a light and delicate appearance to the chair. Layered veneers frame the outer edges of the back, drawing attention to the dramatic curves, not unlike the Winterthur examples.

János Boros Nepomuk, Kastélyszoba (Castle Room), Hungary, 1842. Oil on panel. Courtesy of Art Net

János Boros Nepomuk, Kastélyszoba (Castle Room), Hungary, 1842.
Oil on panel. Courtesy of Art Net

Conspicuously absent on Geyer’s chair, however, are knees on the front legs and an apron beneath the seat. Both are common features on American chairs, and their presence on the Winterthur examples suggests a domestic origin for the pair. The Winterthur chairs are so unusual, however, that at least one scholar has questioned their New York attribution. Charles Venable noted that “since the provenance of this set of chairs is unknown and the secondary woods of ash and cherry are common to both Europe and America, one cannot be certain if these chairs were actually made in this country or simply imported.” 4

Although much furniture was imported to the United States, thousands of immigrant European craftsmen worked in the furniture industry in the nineteenth century. Within the more than 3,000 cabinetmaker shops in New York City in 1855, at least 61 percent of the employees were German by birth. Other cities boasted significant numbers of German craftsmen as well, with more than 550 cabinetmakers and turners of German origin in Philadelphia in 1850. With such high numbers, it seems likely that Biedermeier designs were well known in American workshops. 5

Detail of the graphite inscription on the underside of the seat rail

Detail of the graphite inscription
on the underside of the seat rail

Close examination of one of the Winterthur chairs yields an intriguing notation scrawled in pencil on the bottom of a seat rail. It reads “36 Bond St” and was perhaps a note intended for a delivery man. Whether this marking refers to Bond Street in New York is unclear, but a Bond Street address in the city is consistent with the high quality and exotic design of these chairs. The first house at 36 Bond Street was constructed in 1833 for Samuel B. Ruggles, a prominent lawyer and politician involved in the development of NewYork’s railroad network. Perhaps best remembered as the donor of the land now known as Gramercy Park, Ruggles also represented the United States at several assemblies and conferences in Europe. 6

In 1839 he sold the Bond Street town house to Abraham Schermerhorn, a politician, businessman, and partner in the shipping company of P. & A. Schermerhorn. Well-connected in New York City, Schermerhorn’s daughters married members of the city’s elite, with one becoming Mrs. William B. Astor. Ownership of these chairs by either family seems plausible, as they could have afforded furniture of this quality and were likely familiar with Biedermeier designs through their business connections in Europe.

Early nineteenth-century New York was considered an architectural backwater, a connotation that changed with a series of construction projects in the 1820s and 1830s.With the growth of commerce and industry in lower Manhattan, wealthier residents began moving uptown toward Washington Square, Bleecker Street, and Bond Street, expressing their sophisticated aesthetic tastes in architecture through handsome town houses. James Silk Buckingham took note of these new dwellings while visiting from England in the late 1830s: “The interior of the principal houses may be described as spacious, handsome, and luxurious, with lofty passages, good staircases, large rooms, and costly and gorgeous furniture.”7 Such homes were ideal for entertaining and typically followed a double-parlor floor plan. Frequently called drawing rooms, the parlors were often separated by pocket doors that, when opened, created a large room ideal for social functions. Hosts could also adapt the space by closing the doors and removing or inserting furniture in various configurations. With heavily abraded backs, Winterthur’s chairs appear to have been moved frequently and were likely placed against walls when not in use.

As purchased by Henry Francis du Pont, these two chairs were part of a set of six, and one can only hypothesize as to how the set may have functioned in its original context. Six chairs would likely be too few for use at a dining table, though one cannot be certain that the six purchased by du Pont were not once part of a larger set. It seems probable that the Winterthur chairs were intended for a parlor setting, where they would be well-suited for tea and socializing. Whether constructed in Europe or America, these two chairs are particularly striking examples of nineteenth-century domestic furniture representing a preference for fashion and novelty in interior design.

Their Biedermeier design illustrates the austere refinement and worldly taste of their owners and highlights the diverse decorative tastes of an American consumer market.

Post by Willie Granston is a Lois F. McNeil Fellow in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.

Notes

((1. These chairs were part of a matched set that was likely purchased in 1933 from C. K. Johnson of Greenwich,
Connecticut. In March 1990, four of the chairs were deaccessioned and sold at auction.))
2. At some point the backs of both chairs were broken from the stiles, and the effects of the graceful veneering were
destroyed by unsympathetic repairs. On the tripartite design, see Angus Wilkie, Biedermeier (New York: Abbeville, 2006).
Wilkie suggests that the tripartite detail may be an interpretation of the feathers on the Prince of Wales badge. The
design on these chairs does not seem to align with that observation, however, and the subtle decoration may simply be
a Biedermeier design motif that has been inadvertently ascribed to a specific printed source.
3. Wiklie, Biedermeier, 17. For the arrangement of Beidermeier rooms, see Vienne 1815–1848: Un Nouvel Art de Vivre à
l’Époque Biedermeier (Paris: Atelier Philippe Gentil, 1990), 54, 31.
4. Charles L. Venable, “Philadelphia Biedermeier: Germanic Craftsmen and Design in Philadelphia, 1820‒1850”
(Master’s thesis, University of Delaware, 1986), 80.
5. Venable, “Philadelphia Biedermeier,” 27. Because microscopic analysis cannot distinguish between European and
American cherries or ashes (the secondary woods) and because of the uncertainty that surrounds the originality of the
corner blocks, scientific investigation cannot shed light on the origin of these chairs.
6. Sara Mascia, Stage 1A Archaeological Assessment: 32 –40 Bond Street, Manhattan, New York (Westport, Conn.: Historical
Perspectives, Inc., 2003), 13. One wonders whether it is coincidence that Henry Francis du Pont purchased the chairs
in Connecticut, where Schermerhorn died and was buried in 1855. One must wonder why the chairs left New York.
Were their shapes considered too passé or were they simply family favorites taken to Connecticut?
7. Catherine Voorsanger and John K. Howat, Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825 –1861 (New York: Metropolitan
Museum of Art, 2000), 431. For more on Buckingham’s trip, see Alan Nevins, American Social History as Recorded by
British Travellers (New York: Henry Holt, 1923), 310.
Posted in Uncategorized, Du Pont Family, Decorative Arts, Furniture, Design, Academic Programs, Students & Alumni, House, Delaware Antiques Show, museum collection, biedermeier | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Sleuthing in Rare Books to Reveal an Art Lover’s Interest

Cover, Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Cover, Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

 

Unlike Henry Francis du Pont, most art collectors don’t leave records explaining why he or she decided to purchase one work of art or another.  Understanding demand for art during a particular time period can help scholars determine how and why artistic styles took a certain form and what that reveals about that time period in history.

To explain specific artistic acquisitions, scholars studying collectors in the nineteenth century must do a little sleuthing and rely on inference based on the limited available evidence about the content of collections and biographies of collectors. Winterthur’s rare book collection has, however, yielded a particularly valuable source for understanding the art collection of William Bement, a self-made man who helped build an industrial conglomerate, amassed a large art collection, and served as director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The source is the Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement.

William Barnes Bement (1817–1897) was born in New Hampshire and raised in Connecticut. He was the son of a blacksmith and worked as an apprentice in his father’s shop. He eventually developed an expertise in making machine tools and moved to Philadelphia after being offered a partnership with a firm there.  The firm became one of the first and largest machine tool manufacturers in the country, operating under the name of William B. Bement & Son by the 1870s. It is now a constituent part of Pratt & Whitney.

Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement is a large leather-bound catalogue that is embellished with gold leaf and printed on thick, high-quality paper stock. The hundreds of illustrations are, according to Bement’s own foreword, “made by phototype process, and, being printed in ink, will last as long as any printed matter.” No expense was spared to commemorate Bement’s expensive real estate holdings and art collection. Using methods from the study of material culture, one can speculate about why Bement made the selections he did and the personal meaning that his art collection held for him.

bementThe first image in the catalogue is its frontispiece, a three-quarters view portrait of the collector. Placing this image before the presentation or discussion of any art is a clear statement of what unifies this collection: Bement himself.  The next series of images is dedicated to the industrialist’s real estate holdings: a house at 1814 Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia and Bay-View Cottage in Lake George, New York. Both exterior and interior views of his Philadelphia home create an image of splendor.

Philadelphia Residence (A.), Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Philadelphia Residence (A.), Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Library, Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Library, Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Each artwork in Bement’s collection receives its own two-page spread with an image and description. There is no clear organizing principal or explanation of the order in which works are presented. However, to detect the relative importance of these paintings to their owner, one can consult the interior photos in the catalogue. Returning to the image of Bement’s library, one can see a large painting hung in the center of the wall beyond the doorway and a medium-size bronze statue. This painting is given a place of pride in the center of a sightline and is larger than all the works surrounding it. This placement suggests it was important to its owner.

One can see several figures cloaked in black set against a background of elaborate architecture around the edge of the horizontally oriented canvas. These details match Sortie of the Grand Council by Louis Claude Mouchot.  The Great or Grand Council—part of the government of Venice—met in the Doge’s Palace. This image of a politics at a historical moment in a famous setting is typical of nineteenth-century academic French painting. Interestingly, it is this kind of painting—and not the now-famous Impressionism—that was considered by most nineteenth-century Americans to be the most accomplished European art of the day. Sortie of the Grand Council was described in the catalogue as  “a canvas freighted with so much of import that ‘grand’ is not too strong an adjective to apply to it… grand in its pictorial elements of architecture and costume, grand in the…movement of its figures, grand in the simplicity of its lines, grand, also in its human suggestiveness.”  It has, however, since disappeared. The only record of it is the reproduction in Bement’s catalogue.

Louis Claude Mouchot, Sortie of the Grand Council, 1872, reproduced in Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Louis Claude Mouchot, Sortie of the Grand Council, 1872, reproduced in Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

 

What could this grand painting mean to its owner? Why would a machine tool maker in Philadelphia want an image of historic Venetian government? Clues come from Bement’s other holdings, which were mostly academic European works. First, these paintings were “certified” as good. These artists, and sometimes the specific paintings Bement owned, had won prizes and medals at important foreign exhibitions.  Second, he owned several images of men negotiating, both in political and commercial settings—like Belgian painter Theodore Ceriez’s Talking Politics, which is now also missing. Tellingly, the importance of commerce and negotiation to Bement’s own life is emphasized by his choice of image to conclude the catalogue: the “Industrial Works” of William B. Bement & Son. He may have loved his art collection, but business was his most important legacy.

Theodore Ceriez, Taking Politics, n.d., reproduced in Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Theodore Ceriez, Taking Politics, n.d., reproduced in Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

 

Philadelphia Residence (A.), Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Philadelphia Residence (A.), Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Post by Diana Seave Greenwald, Research Fellow. A forthcoming post will examine the text that Bement and a professional art critic wrote for the catalogue.

Posted in Uncategorized, Academic Programs, Students & Alumni, American Culture Studies, Art Conservation, art collections | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


“Stand Fast in the Liberty”: A Rare Waistcoat Belt

Belt for a waistcoat, linen, 1770–1800. Museum purchase with funds drawn from the Centenary Fund 2013.38

Belt for a waistcoat, linen, 1770–1800. Museum purchase with funds drawn from the
Centenary Fund 2013.38

On September 6, 1776, Peter, a slave from Salem County, New Jersey, ran away from his master’s property wearing “a white jacket with a belt before.” Charles Sherry, a convict servant, escaped from William Scott of Dumfries, Virginia, on February 7, 1777, wearing “a greenish coloured coat and jacket, with a belt round the bottom of his jacket.” On November 29, 1781, Jesse Vickars broke out of jail in Newtown, Pennsylvania, wearing “a red belted waistcoat.” These excerpts from newspaper advertisements describe a specific type of man’s garment known during the late eighteenth century as a belted waistcoat or belted jacket, which comprises a waistcoat body, cut square at the bottom, and a matching, detachable belt fastened to buttons on the waistcoat and worn around the belly. Evidence of belted waistcoats exists not only in descriptions of runaways dating to the late eighteenth century but also in uniform prescriptions of the Continental Army during the American War for Independence and in paintings of the period. Previous to this study, however, no belted waistcoats or corresponding belts were known to survive in American museum collections. The printed linen band purchased by Winterthur at the 2014 Delaware Antiques Show may be the first identified material evidence of such a garment.

Not knowing the specific purpose of the band at the time of purchase, the museum acquired the piece with the intention of conducting further research. The previous owner, Sumpter Priddy III, thought that the textile might be a “stock” that buttoned around a man’s shirt collar. Winterthur’s Senior Curator of Textiles Linda Eaton suggested that it might be an armband. My conclusion—that this band is a belt for a waistcoat—emerged following a conversation with Alden O’Brien at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum and a review of the textile’s size and six buttonholes. O’Brien encouraged me to think about a man’s waist in relation to the dimensions of the band.   At 17.5 inches, the length corresponds to half of a 35-inch waist, a practical size for an adult male.

Henry Benbridge, Captain John Purves and His Wife, Eliza Anne Pritchard, oil on canvas, 1775–77. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1960.582

Henry Benbridge, Captain John Purves and His Wife, Eliza Anne Pritchard, oil on canvas, 1775–77.
Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1960.582

This consideration led  me to a painting in the Winterthur collection, Henry Benbridge’s Captain John Purves and His Wife, Eliza Anne Pritchard. In the portrait, the South Carolina military officer wears a belted waistcoat decorated with embroidered florets around the belt’s two central buttonholes. Upon measuring the distance between the central buttonholes of the Winterthur band, I verified that it does match typical buttonhole spacing for waistcoats of the eighteenth century. The two buttonholes at each end of the belt may have attached to buttons on the side of the waistcoat.

detail of belt

Historical evidence supports this interpretation of the object’s dimensions and buttonhole arrangement. An advertisement for a runaway, from a 1773 edition of The Virginia Gazette, mentions “a blue Waistcoat and a Half Belt and yellow Buttons.” “Half Belt” likely refers to a fabric belt that wraps around the front half of the waist, covering only the belly. Because of its length, Winterthur’s belt could be described as a half belt. A Continental Army uniform prescription written by the Marquis de Lafayette during the winter encampment at Valley Forge clarifies that such belts were detachable and reveals that they might be secured with ties: “If we could get materials enough it would be possible to have a large belt out of the jacquet and independent of it, which could be tide upon the belly.”

Printed on one side of the Winterthur belt is a border pattern as well as a rewording of Galatians 5:1, from the New Testament, “Stand Fast / in / the Liberty / Wherewith Christ / has / made you Free.” Sumpter Priddy has associated this verse with early American Methodism, as John Wesley, the English founder of Methodism, used the exact wording in letters to three different followers in the 1770s. The verse, however, also has ties to the American Revolution. At least five New England preachers mentioned it in sermons about American liberties delivered between 1773 and 1778. In Boston, 1773, Simeon Howard’s sermon to the city’s Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company focused on the verse. His commentary on defending liberty is striking: “Now for men to standfast in their liberty means, in general, resisting the attempts that are made against it, in the best and most effectual manner they can.” An even more compelling example is a sermon delivered to the First Battalion of the Philadelphia Associators by Jacob Duché, rector of Christ Church inPhiladelphia, on July 7, 1775, titled “The Duty of Standing Fast in Our Spiritual and Temporal Liberties.” It was dedicated to George Washington and the recently established Continental Army and frequently referenced Galatians 5:1. Advertised in Philadelphia newspapers and reprinted across the Atlantic, the sermon gained widespread popularity. In light of this evidence, I speculate that the Winterthur waistcoat belt may have been made in support of the ideology expressed in one of the radical sermons.

This political purpose connects the belt to other material culture of the period referencing American liberty. In 1775 militiamen of the newly formed minute battalions in Tidewater and northern Virginia wore linen hunting shirts with Patrick Henry’s slogan “Liberty or Death” sewn onto the breast. Metal “45” pins showed support for John Wilkes’s radicalism in Parliament and his advocacy for the liberties of the thirteen American colonies. The 1775 satirical mezzotint A New Method of MACARONY MAKING, as practiced at BOSTON depicts such adornment. Apart from clothing, American militiamen and Continental soldiers showed their support for independence, General Washington, and the Continental Congress on powder horns, weapons, cartridge boxes, and other accoutrements— all examples of the material culture of display.

A New Method of MACARONY MAKING, as practised at BOSTON, ink on laid paper, 1775. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1957.1260.

A New Method of MACARONY MAKING, as practised at
BOSTON, ink on laid paper, 1775. Bequest of Henry Francis
du Pont 1957.1260.

As a conspicuous expression of political ideology, Winterthur’s waistcoat belt certainly fits into that culture. As a rare surviving artifact, perhaps more important is the possibility that its identification as a waistcoat belt might lead to further study of this heretofore largely unrecognized article of male clothing.

By Matthew Skic, Lois F. McNeil Fellow in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Decorative Arts, Academic Programs, Students & Alumni, American Culture Studies, Members, Delaware Antiques Show, museum collection | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


The Custom of New Year’s Calling

Looking to kick the New Year off right? Why not skip the bacchanalian revelry of New Year’s Eve and re-create the centuries-old custom of calling on friends on New Year’s Day? Popular in the 1800s, calling evolved from a Dutch tradition of observing New Year’s celebrations into a more refined practice of men, sometimes armed with small gifts of candy and flowers, visiting women who received visitors during certain hours. They gained admission into reception rooms with calling cards, and once inside they stayed only 10 to 15 minutes in order to make the rounds. These open houses featured refreshments, light fare, and more importantly, eligible young women.

This 1868 illustration in Harper’s Weekly shows a well-attended New Year’s reception with people conversing in small, intimate groups with a stocked table in the corner. Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Library

 

 

 

 

 

Father Time says goodbye to 1898 in this unused calling card. John and Carolyn Grossman Collection, Winterthur Library

Father Time says goodbye to 1898 in this unused calling card. John and Carolyn Grossman Collection, Winterthur Library

On New Year’s Day 1857, Samuel Edward Warren, a 25-year-old single professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, recorded a full day of calling in his journal. At 11:15 a.m. he ventured out. He deviated from the formula somewhat by calling upon both women and men, including the mayor, with a dinner break intermission. At one house, he was entertained with the story of a southern student who “when he saw snow for the first time, set a ball of it by his stove to ‘dry’ it to send it home as a curiosity.” Although Warren did not meet his future wife on this day, he was introduced to several new people and invited to future social gatherings, which prompted him to judge the day “very pleasant.”

Samuel Edward Warren’s first page of his January 1, 1857, entry listing some of the day’s calls. Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Samuel Edward Warren’s first page of his January 1, 1857, entry listing some of the day’s calls. Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Women who wanted to dress properly for their New Year’s reception could consult the January 1854 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book

Women who wanted to dress properly for their New Year’s reception could consult the January 1854 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book

By the late 1800s, an increasing population resulted in a frenetic new pace to calling, with competitions among men to visit the most number of houses and women to collect the most calling cards, and unsurprisingly, a rise in intoxication. Etiquette manuals began addressing these problems around 1880, albeit with conflicting advice. One manual suggested women send personal invitations to gentlemen, while another considered this in poor taste ignoring the open house concept. Announcing open houses in local newspapers was, however, acceptable. Nonetheless the tide was turning: Godey’s Magazine lamented in 1897, “the good old custom of keeping open house on New Year’s Day, has, like a great many old-time customs fallen into desuetude” and that in large cities calls “are considered extremely bad form.” France was noted as still observing New Year’s calls as people there had not abused the practice.

 

Despite its waning by World War I, the du Pont family in the greater Wilmington area honored their French heritage by continuing the custom. The Winterthur Archives contains receiving lists of various years between 1935 and 1969 (Henry Francis du Pont died in 1969 at age 88). A compulsive list maker, H. F. du Pont recorded names and locations of relatives in the extensive du Pont network who received visitors between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on New Year’s Day. With sometimes as many as 14 houses on the circuit, the du Pont women occasionally joined forces to reduce the number of visits the men had to make. In early January 1959, H. F. du Pont revisited an earlier suggestion of holding one large cocktail party at Longwood instead, but two cousins protested the change, citing the inconvenient late afternoon time for out-of-town visiting relatives and the size of the party hindering the ability to make real connections. One cousin stated he found “a surprising generation becoming more interested in family history and traditions.”

H.F. du Pont’s list of treats for the 1955 New Year’s reception Winterthur Archives

H. F. du Pont’s list of treats for the 1955 New Year’s reception. Winterthur Archives

Tradition prevailed, as it does today, with the family still visiting on New Year’s Day.

Post by Jeanne Solensky, Librarian of Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera

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Christmas without Toys?

Miniature tea set (teapot shown) Netherlands, between 1775 and 1875 Engraved silver Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont1964.1359.001-.010

Miniature teapot shown, Netherlands, between 1775 and 1875, engraved silver. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1964.1359.001-.010

 

 

 

Toys! What a wonderful time of year to think about toys! Why do toys make us so happy? Well, they engage our brains in a fun way and stimulate our imagination. Many toys are purely for entertainment; they have moving parts, make sound, or have flashing lights. Some are used for sport or physical activity, such as bikes and jumping ropes. Others spark imagination, such as building blocks or coloring and drawing books. How many toys serve the purpose of teaching life lessons? More than you think. Some of the most beloved toys of our childhoods, worn by repeated use, were cherished because they were fun and gave us years of unending entertainment and lasting memories. Did we realize while we were enjoying these toys that we were also learning valuable skills?

It is difficult to imagine a time when toys were not part of a child’s world. As recently as the early 17th century, children were thought to be born with sinful and inherently evil natures. Parents and society believed that these natures had to be conquered by the force of strict discipline, by teaching goodness through prayer and going to church, and by reinforcing good manners. The few toys that did exist, such as spinning tops and playing cards, were shared by adults and children alike.

The idea of integrating learning through games and play began later during the Enlightenment or “Age of Reason.” Enlightenment was a social and cultural movement of the late 17th century, which emphasized reason, scientific method, and individualism over tradition and religion. By the middle of the 18th century, the concept of Enlightenment became more widespread and began to be accepted in the home, which affected the way that children and their role were viewed.

Under the newly enlightened philosophy, it was generally believed that children were instead born with inherent goodness, purity, and innocence. It was thought that education should begin at birth and continue well into adulthood. The new parental approach included encouragement of natural growth, instilling love, and nurturing personal interests. Protecting children’s innocence from the adult world became a parent’s priority. This is where the idea of a home nursery, a dedicated place for spontaneous play and learning, came into being. The nursery was an isolated space where children ate their meals, took lessons, and slept. Child-related objects, toys, and furniture began to be made specifically for use in the nursery.

Interestingly many of those nursery toys would be similar to the ones we use today—for example, a doll. Girls could emulate their mothers by caring for a special doll, making clothes for and dressing it, and giving it “life” with imaginative play. Dolls often became cherished by the family who passed it down from generation to generation.

Doll Possibly Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, between 1832-1845 Cotton; Silk; Hair; Leather; Composite Gift of Ruth Young Buggy in memory of Caroline Bacon Willoughby Young1991.0023

Doll, possibly Philadelphia, between 1832-1845. Gift of Ruth Young Buggy in memory of Caroline Bacon Willoughby Young 1991.0023

This Winterthur doll dates from the mid-1800s. She is dressed in a silk, checked dress, bloomers, knit stockings, a laced corset with stays, two petticoats, a pocket around her waist holding a tiny handkerchief, and a large, silk, triangular scarf pinned around a net cap. Dolls such as this were often dressed in homemade clothing resembling clothes worn by the girl’s mother.

Dejeuner Paris Toys Spode factory, Staffordshire, England about 1820 Porcelain (bone china); Lead glaze Bequest of Mrs. Helen Shumway Mayer 2003.0013.136.001-.006

Dejeuner Paris Toys, Spode Factory, Staffordshire, England about 1820. Bequest of Mrs. Helen Shumway Mayer 2003.0013.136.001-.006

While young girls at this time enjoyed playing with their tea sets, they were learning important social skills, such as proper etiquette and how to be an elegant hostess in society. Using her imagination, a girl could emulate her mother and set a fashionable table, serve a meal, or host a high society tea party. Childhood playing was actually a rehearsal for adulthood.

As people began to work by the hour or week and were paid in cash, money management and responsible financial behavior were considered necessary values to leading a good life. Parents of all economic classes felt obligated to teach their children about saving. Toy banks taught the value of thrift while making the practice of saving money fun. To meet the demand for toy banks, toy manufacturers made banks from various materials in all shapes and sizes. Because the satisfying sound of clanging coins was magnified by hard materials, most banks were made of ceramic or metal.

Old Woman in a Shoe Europe, between 1800 and 1900 Cloth; Paper; Straw: Oilcloth Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1964.1376

Old Woman in a Shoe, Europe, between 1800 and 1900. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1964.1376

The socioeconomic lesson learned from the nursery rhyme “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” is conveyed in this miniature toy. This black oilcloth, open-toed slipper contains small straw dolls representing an old woman and 10 poorly dressed children with painted faces. Some considered that reading the poem (and playing with the toy) sensitized the child to the plight and life of women with large families. A life lesson taught through a toy!

Noah’s ark and animals Probably Germany, between 1850 and 1900 Wood and paint Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont1965.2107.001-.120

Noah’s ark and animals, probably Germany, between 1850 and 1900. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1965.2107.001-.120

 

 

 

Sunday was a time for rest and worship. Toys made specifically for Sunday play, called “Sunday toys,” were religious in nature and based on stories from the Bible. For children in the late 1800s, Noah’s Ark sets were a popular and treasured toy. Sometimes elaborately made, the arks carried as many as 100 pairs of animals as well as Noah and his family. This example has an ark shaped like a large house. The red roof opens on one side for storing the hand-carved, painted treasures that would go inside: 67 animals, 56 birds, and 6 human figures. While the primary lesson to be learned was that of Noah obeying God’s command, children’s imaginations often branched off into variations of Treasure Island or Swiss Family Robinson.

Between 1700 and 1900, children’s toys were not only fun but also provided important life lessons through play and imagination. The lessons emphasized appropriate social behavior, socioeconomic lessons, morality, religious mores, proper etiquette, and the value of money. While they may not have realized it, children were learning for life as they played.

Post by Roberta G. Weisberg, Senior Cataloger, and Dayle Thorpe, Volunteer in the Textile Collections Department

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Tracing Inspiration in a Beautiful Needlework Picture

The Benevolent Cottager embroidered fire screen, England, 1790–1819. Gift of Bastian family in memory of Marion Morehouse Cranston 2009.51.4 A

The Benevolent Cottager embroidered fire screen, England, 1790–1819. Gift of Bastian family in memory of Marion Morehouse Cranston 2009.51.4 A

 

Artwork at its best inspires and influences other art forms; a great piece of literature can be turned into an award-winning movie, or a painting can inspire a book. Join me as I trace the roots of an embroidered fire screen in the Winterthur collection from the English schoolgirl who created it to the poet who inspired it.

The story begins in 1769 with the publication of a poem, “The Beggar’s Petition,” by Thomas Moss. The poem begins:

“Pity the sorrows of a poor old man!
Whose trembling limbs have borne him to your door,
Whose days are dwindled to the shortest span,
O, give relief, and heaven will bless your store.
These tattered clothes my poverty bespeak,
These hoary locks proclaim my lengthened years;
And many a furrow in my grief-worn cheek
Has been the channel to a stream of tears.”

In 1788, Francis Wheatley (1747–1801), an English portrait and landscape painter, depicted this scene from the poem in his painting entitled The Benevolent Cottager.  In the same year, William Nutter (1759–1802), an English engraver and draughtsman, executed an engraving of the painting.  Nutter chose to include the eight lines of poetry that had inspired the painting. A London-based printer, Bull & Jeffryes, then published the engraving as a colored print, thus making the painting accessible to the general public. The print clearly identifies the painter, engraver, and printmaker.  The author of the poem, however, is not specified.  Jane Austen refers to the poem in the opening pages of Northanger Abbey, published in 1818, as an example of a poem commonly memorized by young women of the day.  Then (somewhere between 1790 and 1819) a schoolgirl from the Petford family of Alcester, Warwickshire, England, creates a beautiful needlework picture depicting a scene from the poem. The fire screen is brought to America in the 1830s, and, in 2009, it makes its way into the Winterthur collection.

Francis Wheatley, The Benevolent Cottager, 1788. Source: http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/the-collection/browse-artwork/2791/the-benevolent-cottager

Francis Wheatley, The Benevolent Cottager, 1788. Source: http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/the-collection/browse-artwork/2791/the-benevolent-cottager

Can you imagine the maker of our beautiful needlework picture reading Jane Austen’s novel and studying the print of The Benevolent Cottager? Perhaps she was inspired to create this beautiful needlework.

So the story of our remarkable needlework picture can be traced from the poet who wrote the poem to the artist who created the painting to the engraver who produced the engraving to the printer who published the print, and finally, to the author who included the poem in a novel.

 

 

Print of William Nutter’s engraving of Francis Wheatley’s The Benevolent Cottager. Published by Bull & Jeffryes (London), 1788. Source: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/91r2BRGGHgL._SL1500_.jpg

Print of William Nutter’s engraving of Francis Wheatley’s The Benevolent Cottager. Published by Bull & Jeffryes (London), 1788. Source: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/91r2BRGGHgL._SL1500_.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post by Dayle Thorpe, volunteer in the Textile Collection department

Posted in Uncategorized, Decorative Arts, Art Conservation, Conservation, museum collection, needlework | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Best in Class

Photo courtesy Joe Del Tufo

Photo courtesy Joe Del Tufo from Delaware Today “Festive Fashions” feature

With the holidays fast approaching, ’tis the season of Christmas traditions at Winterthur. The annual Yuletide Tour is under way, showcasing Henry Francis du Pont’s former home decorated for the season. In admiring the lavish dining room at its holiday best, it’s not hard to imagine Henry Francis and Ruth Wales du Pont’s Christmas party guests arriving in Port Royal Circle in an array of luxury automobiles of the latest design and fashion, such as a 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I.

Henry Francis and Ruth Wales owned more than 40 luxury vehicles during their lifetime, notably several Cadillacs and three Rolls-Royces, including a Phantom V. Thanks to a generous gift in 2008 from the Philip C. Beals estate of Southborough, Massachusetts, Winterthur is the proud owner of a 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Empress. This exquisite vehicle showcases classic design and engineering elements from the 1920s and 1930s—an important era in the Winterthur story that helped shape the country estate as we know it today.

This fall, Winterthur’s beloved Empress won “Best in Class” at the 9th Annual St. Michaels Concours d’Elegance in Cambridge, Maryland. The Concours featured rare pre-war grand classics with European coachwork, wood-bodied cars, and significant sports cars to 1965 as well as fashion and wooden speedboats. Distinguished within a class of pre-war open cars, Winterthur’s Phantom I was recognized for its elegant design, superlative condition, and well-documented provenance. Sporting a Brewster green body with polished aluminum trim, black fenders with ivory pinstriping, light green wheels, a light cloth top, medium-brown leather upholstery, and a wood dash, the Empress captured audiences’ attention at St. Michaels. Additionally, it successfully participated in a nonjudged 60-mile tour along the Eastern Shore of Maryland, traveling with 30 other historic automobiles from the St. Michaels Concours event. A Winterthur team comprises members of the Winterthur’s conservation, registration, facilities, and public programs departments that oversee the care and display of the car, making it possible for it to participate in such prestigious invitationals.

Photo courtesy Gregory J. Landrey

Photo courtesy Gregory J. Landrey

 

Photo courtesy Gregory J. Landrey

Photo courtesy Gregory J. Landrey

Photo courtesy Gregory J. Landrey

Photo courtesy Gregory J. Landrey

 

 

Since its founding as a British motorcar company in 1904 by Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, Rolls-Royce has established itself as an icon of automobile engineering and luxury across the globe. By the 1910s, Rolls-Royce was struggling to keep up with American demand. A lucrative American market, high U.S. duty taxes on imported cars, and the long shipment time needed for vehicles to cross the Atlantic prompted the incorporation of Rolls-Royce of America, Ltd., with the first American plant opening in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1919. Silver Ghosts were the first Rolls-Royces produced on the Springfield assembly line, and the Phantom series began shortly thereafter in 1926. The impact of the Great Depression demanded a scale back in production causing the plant to close by 1931. The 1,140 Springfield-built Phantoms are the only Rolls-Royce motorcars that were built outside of the United Kingdom.

The Empress’s story began at that very same Springfield plant with its manufacture in 1927—well before its arrival at Henry Francis du Pont’s country estate. While the chassis was constructed by Rolls-Royce of America, the body was built by the Brewster Company—a Long Island coachwork company that Rolls-Royce of America purchased in 1926 to ensure the highest standards of body fabrication for its vehicles. Brewster was the coachbuilder of choice for many wealthy Americans, such as the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the du Ponts. As early as 1922, Henry Francis had his Cadillacs fitted with Brewster bodies. The Empress was first fitted with a Brewster Lonsdale-style sedan body but was later fitted with a Brewster Ascot body. The practice of changing out bodies on Rolls-Royces and other luxury automobiles was common during this era.

As a result, there are only 28 recorded Phantom I vehicles with this Ascot body, and Winterthur’s is one of them.

Thanks to a well-documented provenance, the Empress’s ownership can be traced from its manufacture to its arrival at Winterthur in 2008. Shortly after her debut in Springfield, Henry G. Lapham of Brookline, Massachusetts, purchased her new in 1928. The Lapham’s 32-acre residence and gardens designed by the firm of Fredrick Law Olmstead (the head architectural firm that designed the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair) was in many respects similar to the country estate setting of Winterthur. In 1936, Lapham traded the Phantom I to Packard Company of Boston. That same year RE Clark, Inc., purchased the vehicle for $250. In 1940, Frederic J. Shepard II (“Fritz”) of West Newton, Massachusetts, purchased her from RE Clark, Inc. Phillip Beals of Southborough, Massachusetts, was the squadron mate of Fritz’s son, Fredrick J. Shephard III (“Eric”), in the U.S. Navy during World War II and became a close friend of the Shepard family. Through this relationship, Phillip Beals became aware of the Shepard’s 1927 Phantom I and eventually bought the vehicle in 1947 for $600 after a brief ownership by Dr. Robert C. Seamons of Marblehead, Massachusetts. The Beals family owned the Phantom I for more than 60 years, including it in their estate gift to Winterthur in 2008.

May 2016 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Winterthur Invitational—an annual historic auto display that celebrates the finest automobiles of the country-estate era. The du Pont family and the Brandywine Valley have long been associated with the automotive era of the early 20th century, from the building of early roads to Alfred I. du Pont owning the second automobile in the state of Delaware. Winterthur looks forward to welcoming visitors to the Coach House in May to meet the Empress and learn more about historic automobiles from the 1920s to 1960s. Stay tuned this spring for more information about the Winterthur Invitational.

Post by Chase Markee, Administrative Assistant, Academic Programs

Sources:

Landrey, Gregory J., Director, Library, Collections Management & Academic Programs

Rolls-Royce in America, Rolls-Royce Foundation. Accessed December 2, 2015. http://rollsroycefoundation.org/rolls-royce-in-america.html.

St. Michaels Concours d’Elegance, accessed December 1, 2015. http://smcde.org/index.html

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Life at Winterthur, Du Pont Family, antique cars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Strawbridge and Clothier’s Game of Consumerism

In the 1890s, Henry Meis of Brooklyn advertised his house furnishings store with a paper doll in a bid for future customers. Col. 121, 73x319.56 Maxine Waldron Collection of Children’s Books and Paper Toys, Winterthur Library

In the 1890s, Henry Meis of Brooklyn advertised his house furnishings store with a paper doll in a bid for future customers. Col. 121, 73×319.56 Maxine Waldron Collection of Children’s Books and Paper Toys, Winterthur Library

The youth demographic—the golden ticket in marketing. Every retailer looks to target this market to ensure future business success. It’s never more apparent than during the holidays when shopping and consumerism crescendo to an all-time high. Before social media, online advertising, and television commercials, when department stores were just beginning to take hold as a new shopping concept, stores had to come up with a creative way to capture that market and create life-long consumers. With limited technology, they turned to ideas such as paper dolls and board games.

One of the first board games marketed with this intended goal was The Game of Shopping, created in 1879 by Philadelphia-based department store Strawbridge & Clothier. In the game, players moved around plain-numbered spaces interspersed with a few illustrated spaces showing linens, flannels, black and dress goods, hosiery, gloves, and suits. Decidedly simplistic and understated, the game reflected the store’s conservative Quaker roots.

The store opened in 1868 in Center City Philadelphia and quickly expanded, gobbled up adjacent properties, and erected a five-story building covering more than one-half of a city block in 1898. The transition from a dry goods store to a department store was complete.

This 1911 postcard shows Strawbridge & Clothier’s five story building fronting Market St. Col. 274, 06x40.1 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

This 1911 postcard shows Strawbridge & Clothier’s five story building fronting Market St.
Col. 274, 06×40.1 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

A department store improved upon dry goods stores’ offerings by selling finished rather than piece goods and a multitude of products and services. Goods were no longer merely stacked in jumbles; they were artfully displayed and composed to show items together in cohesive combinations, whether in clothing ensembles or interior furnishings. Buying just one item wasn’t enough. Department stores also encouraged browsing and designed floor plans to cleverly navigate shoppers through all areas.  However, the additional inventory and services required more space, increasing property costs, which in turn necessitated higher sales.

A ca. 1900 photograph of a dry goods’ lining department, reminiscent of Strawbridge and Clothier’s early days selling piece goods. Col. 182, 09x82.5 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

A ca. 1900 photograph of a dry goods’ lining department, reminiscent of Strawbridge and Clothier’s early days selling piece goods.
Col. 182, 09×82.5 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

In 1908, a decade after opening its new building, Strawbridge & Clothier was one of a concentrated cluster of nine major department stores in Center City Philadelphia, neighboring both Gimbels next door and Lit Brothers across the street. Two street entrances on North 8th and Market streets immediately ushered people into the high-profit impulse and gift items, such as jewelry, silverware, and leather goods on the first floor. Shoppers then ascended to the second floor for the growing ready-to-wear women’s and men’s clothing departments; the third floor for furniture and pianos; and the fourth floor for carpets, sporting goods, and toys. Cheap goods, including tableware and glass, were relegated to the basement, where the soda fountain and lunchroom provided much-needed refreshments and sustenance to weary shoppers.

Services offered in the first decade of the new century included rest rooms, pay phones, parcel check, post and telegraph offices, mail order services, a bureau of information, and package delivery via horse-drawn wagons. Foot traffic was further enhanced in August 1908 with the opening of the 8th Street subway station, which deposited shoppers directly into Strawbridge & Clothier, Gimbels, and Lit Brothers—shoppers could easily spend an entire day indoors!

Despite the array of services and products and a convenient location, Strawbridge & Clothier still faced intense competition from the city’s glut of department stores and needed a greater client base. Once again, it revisited its tried-and-true board game marketing strategy to entice children, and of course their parents, to come to the store. Although the game could only compress the store’s five stories onto a flat board, it nevertheless introduced children to its departments and services and its toys, which became a permanent star attraction around 1900. It prominently featured Toyland as a destination in the board game, so kids could then dream of seeing cars, trains, boats, blackboards, drums, teddy bears, ten pins, electric merry-go-rounds, magic lanterns, and “other marvels for childish eyes and hearts.” Lucky children visiting the store could view these marvels and more. Visits to Santa during the festive Christmas season boosted toy sales. Children at home could call to listen to sounds and music from Santa’s workshop supplied by talking machines.

The game board, showing children riding the elevator, trying on hats and shoes, listening to phonographs, and eating ice cream at the soda fountain, provided players with many ideas of what to enjoy during their store visits. Col. 220, 88x132 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

The game board, showing children riding the elevator, trying on hats and shoes, listening to phonographs, and eating ice cream at the soda fountain, provided players with many ideas of what to enjoy during their store visits.
Col. 220, 88×132 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Directions on the board’s reverse outlining the simple aim of reaching Toyland. Col. 220, 88x132 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Directions on the board’s reverse outlining the simple aim of reaching Toyland.
Col. 220, 88×132 Downs Collection, Winterthur Library

Strawbridge & Clothier’s scheme of luring younger shoppers through a board game paid off as the store proudly advertised in the Philadelphia Inquirer on New Year’s Day 1909 that “this store has been wonderfully successful in the year 1908” with its “largest holiday business in our history.” A wave of prosperity continued for decades with the company constructing an even larger building in the late 1920s and expanding into the suburbs, until the owners sold out to the May Company in 1996.

Marketing to a young audience and familiarizing children with consumerism have only increased since the early 1900s, especially with TV, social media, and Internet advertising. Today the Strawbridge & Clothier’s 1908 board game seems charmingly nostalgic, but the company was certainly an early trendsetter in teaching children the joys of consumerism. Now back to that Christmas shopping list.

 

Post by Jeanne Solensky, Librarian, Joseph Downs Collection of Printed Books and Ephemera

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