early records

Not every awesome artifact here at MCHS is in the official, accessioned collections. When an organization has existed for 70 years, even the early records of the group have a certain cachet. Our institutional records contain the first book of meeting minutes, scrapbooks of clippings and photographs, files of correspondence, and the like, which are now bona fide historical documents in and of themselves. Here’s the first paragraph of the minutes of our first meeting (transcribed, with additional notes from that meeting, below):

1944 minutes first meeting

On June 29th some residents of Mont. County, interested in its history, were invited to Glenmore, home of Mrs. Lilly Stone, to form a county branch of the Maryland Historical Society. . . . Mr. J. Barnard Welsh of Rockville spoke of many records and papers in the county that should be cataloged and placed in safe keeping. . . . It was decided to hold a meeting in Bethesda at a later date and every effort be made to contact everyone interested in the history of Montgomery county and invite them to attend the meeting.

Recently, in sorting through the shelves of museum reference books we’ve accumulated through the years, I came across this handy pamphlet: “How to Organize a Local Historical Society.” I’m a museum-history nerd, so I thought that was interesting: early museum instructions!  Then, even better, I realized that this was OUR early museum instruction book. Published in November 1944 – just a few months after our first meeting – by the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), this pamphlet was the property of Lilly C. Stone, the Montgomery County Historical Society’s founder.

1944 AASLH pamphlet cover

Mrs. Stone made notes throughout the book, highlighting important points, detailing specific members and organizational plans, and filling in the sample “Constitution and Bylaws” with the relevant information. It’s nice to see that we have been a “Society,” not an “Association,” since the beginning (she crossed out “Association” and noted “Soc.”):

1944 pamphlet org name

Naturally, I was pleased to see some emphasis placed on the proposed duties of the curator:

1944 pamphlet curator

Along with the notebook of handwritten minutes, this annotated pamphlet gives us additional insight into the way early meetings were conducted. I’ve always loved the fact that, as the Recording Secretary noted, most meetings concluded with a musical entertainment; for example, at our fourth meeting (November 22, 1944), “Mrs. Ferdinand Morina sang several numbers accompanied at the piano by Mrs. J. Dunbar Stone. The meeting [then] adjourned and all lingered a short time for refreshments.” Additions in ink to the AASLH’s proposed order of business indicate our early members’ choice to start each meeting with a salute to the flag, and a prayer invocation.

1944 pamphlet order of business

A lot of things have changed since our earliest days – our annual meetings no longer include either prayer or song, take that how you will – but this essential element has remained: We still, as the 1944 pamphlet instructs us, “gather together and carefully preserve and file the historical materials” of our county’s long, diverse history. Lilly Stone might not have envisioned exactly what her Society would become, but I hope she would be pleased to know that seventy years on, the artifacts and records of her county are still being cared for by dedicated volunteers, members, and staff, all of us in some way “residents of Montgomery County, interested in its history.”

 

. . . And with that, dear readers, I will leave you. This is my final post, as I move on to a new job, and new collections to play – er, work with. These past five years of highlighting our fabulous and varied things have been a pleasure, and I hope you have enjoyed reading my posts as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing them. “A Fine Collection” may continue in the future under new authorship, or perhaps my successor will start his or her own blog (or other platform) for sharing our Historical Society’s great artifacts, photos, and archives; keep an eye on this space, and on our website, for updates.  In the meantime, remember to look at all the things around you with interested and analytical eyes.  Who made it? Who used it, wore it, played with it, broke it? Who saved it, and why?  Artifacts – and the stories and people behind the artifacts – matter!

-Joanna Church

Of course I have to finish with one last Bonus Artifact. Here's the final image from "The Life of Luther," 1853, owned by Joseph H. Bradley II of Chevy Chase.

Of course I have to finish with one last Bonus Artifact. Here’s the final image from “The Life of Luther,” 1853, owned by Joseph H. Bradley II of Chevy Chase. The End!

We have two contrasting artifacts for you today! First, a ladies’ bustle, from the mid-late 1880s:

T2074

Many people have a sense of what a bustle was: a method of supporting a fashionably large skirt in the back. But as a fashion trend, the bustle was not static. Bustles of the early 1870s were wide, drawing the still-full skirts toward the rear. Around 1880 the trend faded somewhat as skirts grew narrower, but as that decade progressed the bustle came back, high and narrow and creating almost a right-angle with the wearer’s back. The undergarments used to create these different silhouettes were many and varied; some were full petticoats or crinolines with the bustle built in, while others were separate accessories. They could be made of steel hoops, layers of fabric, ties and springs, padded rolls, or stiffened hair-cloth (here is a nice assortment of historical examples, and the Metropolitan Museum online collection shows a variety of options).

Our example was originally cataloged as a “child’s bustle,” but while children’s fashions often copied adults’, this bustle was in fact designed for an adult.  Its narrow width (six inches wide) and pronounced shape put it in the mid 1880s.  The waist tape is printed with the manufacturer’s label, now hard to read, but with enough left to inform us that it is one of Christopher C. Shelby’s designs:

T2074 label

Mr. Shelby, of Passaic, NJ, patented a number of “New and Useful Improvements in Bustles” in the 1880s; I’ve not found a definite patent design match for our piece, but it closely resembles this patent from 1888. Even better, similar items can be found in other museum collections, such as this 1884 “New Phantom” model at the Victoria & Albert Museum. (You can also learn how to make your own, here!) The ribs of this bustle are designed to collapse inward when you sit down – likely considered by many women to be a definite “improvement.” Here’s our bustle on a dressform, showing the resultant silhouette (imagine sitting in this if it didn’t accordion inward), and below that is an 1883 Harper’s Bazaar fashion plate, showing the bustle effect in use in “ladies’ walking and evening dresses.”

T2074 in action

Walking (left) and evening (right) dresses, from Harper's Bazaar, December 1883

Walking (left) and evening (right) dresses, from Harper’s Bazaar, December 1883

As for who wore this particular bustle, that’s not entirely clear. Donated by Bob Eckman, it was found on the third floor of a home in Rockville during 1980s renovation work, and we presume it was left there by a previous owner. This Queen Anne style house, at 114 W. Montgomery Avenue, was built around 1890 by Edwin Montgomery West (born 1862), a master builder locally famous for employing the “Rockville Bay” window on many of his homes. West lived here with his family until 1909, at which point they moved to Virginia and sold the house to Judge Winfield Scott Magruder. Judge Magruder’s daughter, Daisy Valeria Magruder (1881-1970), lived here the rest of her life. However, Daisy was a little young for an adult-sized, fashionable bustle of the mid-late 1880s. It could have been brought to the house by her mother, Eleanor Magruder, but I personally favor West’s wife, Olivia Bogley West (born 1873), or even better West’s sister Frances O. Green (born 1860), who lived here along with Edwin and Olivia. Age-appropriate Frances packing away an out-of-fashion accessory in the attic, then forgetting it when the house is sold, makes sense to me… but I’ve not found much information about her that could help to confirm or deny.

***

I wanted to throw in another artifact today, and I could have gone a few different ways: Another 1880s fashion piece? Something else forgotten in an attic? But instead I decided on this item, with a similar function but, er, in the opposite direction: A bandeau brassiere from the 1920s.

T1674

This silk and satin bra, made by the Modishform Company of New York (size 38), was donated by Eugenie LeMerle Riggs, who described it as “a bra designed to flatten, 1922-23.” Indeed, there’s not much room in this garment; the only concessions to the shape of the body underneath are two minor tucks in each side, and the manufacturer’s name is a nod to the wearer’s desire to achieve a “modish form” or silhouette.  Not every woman indulged in a binding brassiere in the 1920s, of course (or in a bustle in the 1880s, either), but the flat-chested fashion wasn’t limited to high-living flappers. The 1927 Sears, Roebuck catalog featured a variety of bandeau bras, “confining” brassieres, and a “Boyshform Brassiere” (fun fact: that company sued Modishform in 1922 for trademark infringement), which “is very popular, as it gives your figure that smart boylike appearance that so many women desire.”

T1674 detail

Unlike the possible bustle-wearers listed above, we know a fair amount about this bra’s owner. Eugenie LeMerle (1904-2003) grew up in Washington, DC, and graduated in 1931 with an architecture degree from what is now George Washington University, where she was voted one of the “six most beautiful women” on campus. She had a brief career as a ballroom dancer, before marrying George Riggs and moving to Ashton to raise a family. She donated a lot of her fashionable clothing, from various decades, to our collections.  In other words, I can well believe she was concerned with presenting an appropriately boyish silhouette during the 1920s.  This isn’t the best pose for showing off said silhouette, but how can I resist adding this fabulous photo of Eugenie LeMerle in 1923?

Framed photograph of Eugenie LeMerle, 1923. Donated by Eugenie L. Riggs.

Framed photograph of Eugenie LeMerle, 1923. Donated by Eugenie L. Riggs.

***

Whole books have been written about women’s undergarments, fashionable silhouettes, and what both mean for culture, social mores, feminism and femininity, and the like.  In other words, if these artifacts have whetted your appetite, there is much more to learn!  To get you started, here are some larger online exhibits of undergarments: The Victoria & Albert Museum provides a nice overview of late 19th century shaping undergarments;  the Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History features a little more about the history of the bandeau bra; and the Museum at FIT has an exhibit (open through November 2014, if you want to visit) titled “Exposed: A History of Lingerie,” which includes an online version.

***

Bonus artifact! Men’s fashions have not been immune to the need for shape-enhancing (or –reducing) undergarments. However, we don’t have anything along those lines in our collections. Instead, enjoy a look at a now-rare form of support garment for men: a pair of sock garters from the 1950s, intended to help the well-dressed gentleman keep his non-elasticized socks from sagging unbecomingly about his ankles.  These were purchased as vintage pieces by MCHS volunteer Mary Lou Luff, for display in one of our exhibits.

t2413ab

It is a common misconception that “no one is really from DC” – and, by extension, that no one is from Montgomery County. Yes, the area is home to many newcomers . . . but ask around, and you* might be surprised by the number of people you meet who grew up here, whose parents are from here, and who can claim a few (or many) ancestral generations with ties to the DC area. I admit, even I am sometimes pleasantly surprised when I meet a fellow County native. Recently we had a minor electrical problem in the office; the technician who came out was more than happy to tell us historians about growing up in Glenmont in the 1960s.

This brings us, in a somewhat roundabout way, to today’s artifact: a wooden desk chair, believed to have been used in the Glenmont Elementary School. It was donated in 2006 by Robert Faber, who said it had been purchased by a friend when Glenmont E.S. closed, and later given to him because he’d attended the school himself.

F2006.21.01

The chair is made of wood (pine?), with metal screws and a brass-colored metal brace where the arm of the desk meets the back. The back is 32″ tall; the little attached desk surface is 11.5″ by 12″. There is a stencil on the underside, ending in 17, but it’s not terribly legible; I can’t tell if it represents a manufacturer, or was simply an inventory number (and, sadly, it does not appear to read “Glenmont E.S.”). Based on the number of similar examples to be found online, this was a fairly standard, common school chair design in the early-mid 20th century.

F2006.21.01 underside

Ours has been refinished, sometime between the school’s close-out sale and the Historical Society donation, and it looks great – but, delightfully, the refinisher left the underside of the desk alone. Though there are no helpful names or dates carved in, there’s still evidence of the chair’s original use: scratches, pencil scribbles, and even a few faint vestiges of dried-up gum.  This was definitely a used piece of furniture, not something that sat idly in a supply closet.

F2006.21.01 desk detail

The Glenmont school was located at what is now the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road, just north of Wheaton. (On the map below, from 1948, Randolph Road hasn’t yet been extended to Georgia.) It opened in 1926, with 125 students from Aspen Hill, Glenmont, Layhill, and Wheaton in attendance. Enrollment rose over the next few decades, and the school was enlarged several times – including a 1946 addition, designed by local architect V.T.H. Bien in a modern style. By the late 1970s, however, demographic changes meant enrollment was dropping at once-bustling suburban schools. Many Montgomery County public schools closed their doors in the 1970s-80s; Glenmont was one of them, closing in 1977.

The Glenmont area, including the school (in pink, just below the "GlenmontT" name). From the 1948 Klinge Atlas of Montgomery County, MCHS Library collections.

The Glenmont area, including the school (in pink, just below the “Glenmont” name). From the 1948 Klinge Atlas of Montgomery County, MCHS Library collections.

By the 1990s some of the school had been torn down, but pieces remained; Bien’s addition, for example, was used as a commercial fitness center for many years. (Photos of the school’s various buildings, including the Bien addition, can be found in this architectural survey – although, note that the first page includes an inaccurate opening date for the school.) Construction of the Glenmont Metro Station, begun in 1993 and finished in 1998, negatively impacted the site; in the early 2000s, historic designation for the remaining buildings was denied. Today, nothing of the school physically remains – although, in development plans for the area, the corner is still sometimes called the “old Glenmont School site.”

The buildings are gone, but thanks to a devoted PTA, much of Glenmont E.S.’s history can be found here at the Historical Society. In addition to our little chair, the artifact collections include 1960s-70s trophies, awards, and plaques, likely displayed in the lobby until the school’s closure. In our archives we have PTA scrapbooks and albums, from 1926 through 1977, filled with photos, programs, handbooks, meeting minutes, dance tickets, and more – all of it giving us information on faculty, students, facilities, curricula, and student activities. What I have not yet found in this great resource is anything that shows or references our chair and its friends. One 1942 photo (detail below) from the PTA scrapbook shows similar chairs in use, but they have metal legs; perhaps that means the all-wood chairs dated from earlier in the school’s history. Do any Glenmont alumni remember sitting in wooden chair/desk combos in their youth?

Glenmont Elementary School students, 1942. From the G.E.S. PTA scrapbook, MCHS Library collections.

Glenmont Elementary School students, 1942. From the G.E.S. PTA scrapbook, MCHS Library collections.

*Unless “you” are already aware of the high number of natives, of course.

Today we have two bottle cappers for your enjoyment. They are of similar vintage, but were used in the county at different times.

DSC00264

Bottle cappers are tidy little machines that use leverage to force a metal bottle cap onto the mouth of a glass bottle, thus sealing in the liquid contents. Similar items are made today for use in home beer brewing, and indeed the vintage versions are often associated with the Prohibition era, at least in the popular imagination. A patent search for “bottle capper” shows that these types of tools started popping up in the late 1910s – perhaps in anticipation of the Volstead Act? And while I did not find anything along these lines in 1890s-1900s household catalogs, a bottle capper was available from Montgomery Ward in 1922, and the 1927 Sears catalog (image below) offered several “bottling goods,” including two capper options.  Though hardly definitive, these few sources would seem to indicate that bottle cappers did become more, ah, useful to the average consumer once commercial liquor was unavailable. Keep reading for more on the liquor angle, at the end of this post.

1927 Sears bottling goods

***

Standard D Since 1923

(Special appearance by non-accessioned mid 20th century soda bottles)

From our collections, first up is this sturdy bottle capper, 17” tall, made of iron, and marked “Standard D Since 1923.” (An internet search has found a few other examples with the same mark, but so far no additional maker info or history.) It was donated in 1962 by Alice, widow of Henry H. Griffith (1862-1951), along with an assortment of farm and household tools; other than noting “used at Crow’s Content,” the Griffith family home in Laytonsville, Mrs. Griffith provided no specifics.

DSC00276

 ***

Next we have a lighter, steel bottle capper, 16.5” tall; it’s likely also from the 1920s or 1930s, though it has no manufacturer’s name or other helpful marks. Donated recently by Jane Sween, this capper originally came from her husband’s family in Frostburg, but was later used in 1970s Bethesda for a Girl Scout project: bottling home-made root beer. Along with the capper, Mrs. Sween also donated the box of metal and cork bottle caps – purchased from Community Paint and Hardware in Bethesda – from the same project.

no makers mark

box of bottle caps

One gross of cork-lined metal Kerr Bottle Caps – “The perfect seal for all home bottling uses.”

***

These two examples are of similar height and size, are based on the same general design (both can be screwed to a table or work surface, for example), and perform the same function, but they operate a little differently. The “Standard D” Laytonsville capper is all-in-one; the bar handle can be turned one way to raise the mechanism, and the other way to lower the capper onto the bottlecap and force it closed.  Our Frostburg/Bethesda capper has a removable ratchet-style handle, which can be slid onto the base at the appropriate height, then levered downward a few inches onto the bottle.  This 1929 patent for a similar mechanism explains some details.

???????????????????????????????

As usual I turned to the internet to find video of the artifact in action, and ladies and gentlemen, I have found a winner: newsreel footage of a bottle-capping race, circa 1920. These “home brewers” are using machines similar to our “Standard D;” the winner capped twelve bottles in nine seconds. You must watch.

As for the original usage of both these machines, let us assume that the Griffiths and our friends in Frostburg were bottling only non-alcoholic beverages – at least until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Others, of course, were not so law-abiding. Montgomery County Police records from the 1920s – early 1930s include a number of raids on home stills and arrests for “possession of intoxicating beverages with intent to sell.” For example, here is an entry from the Takoma Park Police station log, dated August 4, 1932:

1932 police log

MCHS Library collections

Aug 4, 32. Report of raiding the home of [redacted], Hollywood Park near Colesville. There we found about 150 bottles of beer and 100 empty bottles, and about five quarts of whiskey. A six gal. crock of beer was in the making which was destroyed, and some coloring. Time 11 PM. [Officers] Snyder & Barnes & Hobbs.

Though this police report does not list all the equipment discovered in the midst of this illegal operation, our anonymous whiskey entrepreneur would have needed a way to seal all those bottles. . . it seems probable that a bottle capper was involved.

Meet the newest addition to the Beall-Dawson House, and your curator’s new favorite artifact: the Walker family’s melodeon.

melodeon

This is a four-octave, lyre-leg rosewood melodeon, almost certainly made by Mason & Hamlin in the late 1850s. When upright, it measures 30” tall, 31” wide, and 17” deep. This style includes a single lamp stand (the red velvet circle at right), an engraved brass latch to hold the lid open at an angle (it’s rather loose now; the lid should be standing taller), and other decorative yet functional features, though it lacks the carved music stand that other manufacturers employed. It appears to have all original parts, and it’s almost complete, but unfortunately the missing bits – a board inside, and a broken-off foot – mean it neither plays nor stands on its own. Happily, a convenient wall helps with the latter issue, and it doesn’t need to be playable to be a lovely addition to our Parlor.

top view

The manufacturer’s label has been removed from the bellows, but it is an extremely close match – using both the catalog image and known examples in modern collections – to Melodeon No. 9, made by Mason & Hamlin in the mid 19th century. Ours is marked 605 on the case and 629 on the works, which would place it in the late 1850s in the maker’s number sequence, as noted here.

f20140401

From the 1863 Mason & Hamlin catalog. Our example matches, in octaves and size, “No. 9 Four Octave, Portable,” for $60.

A melodeon – also known as a portable or collapsible organ – is a small reed organ, an American invention that uses vacuum or suction of air over reeds to create sound . (Note that it’s the opposite, then, of the English harmonium, which uses air pressure over the reeds.) The vacuum bellows mechanism was invented in the 1830s, patented in 1846, and used by a number of organ manufacturers in the mid to late 19th century.  Melodeons have what one collector describes as “a bright reedy tone with little voicing” – see the bottom of this post for links to examples.  To this non-musician, they sound like what they are: tiny organs.

melodeon, insides

Larger reed organs, known as parlor organs, were common in middle- to upper-class U.S. homes in the Victorian era. In contrast, melodeons were small and compact, lacking the decorative tops so often found on parlor organs; as such, they were both easier to place, and cheaper to buy. Some were made in “piano style,” with fixed legs, and others were designed to be portable (relatively speaking), with a detachable stretcher and folding legs – perfect for teachers, itinerant musicians, families moving out west, or anyone who wanted organ music on the go. Here’s ours in traveling mode, with the legs folded underneath on iron hinges:

melodeon, folded

Melodeons were popular in the 1840s-60s. Two mildly famous examples: John Brown gave one to his daughter in 1857; the Alcott family had one at Orchard House. By the 1870s, manufacturers were turning their focus to parlor organs and pianos, and sales of new melodeons dropped – but that doesn’t mean the old ones weren’t still played, even into the 20th century. (Check out this website’s photo series for some lyre-leg examples in use over the decades, as well as lots of parlor organs in situ.)

Our instrument is an example of just that: use long after its manufacture. It was donated earlier this year by Joe Snyder, who knew that his grandmother, Fidelia “Della” Seward Walker Snyder (1871-1960) of Browningsville, owned and played the melodeon around the turn of the last century. The local newspaper noted several occasions when Miss Della Walker plied her talents; for example, she sang the opening hymn at Edward Watkins’ 1900 funeral, and at the 1904 wedding of Emory Purdum and Alma Molesworth, she “accompan[ied] with a popular march suitable to a home wedding.”

f20140401-7

The story goes, Miss Walker brought her melodeon with her to churches and events around the area – but even folded up and ready to go, the thing weighs at least 50 pounds. Thus, she had a driver, a young man from the neighborhood named Preston Snyder (1885-1967), who conveyed musician and instrument when necessary . . . and in November 1908, Della and Preston were married. After a few years in D.C., they moved to a farm in Travilah; the melodeon went with them, eventually inherited by their daughter Carol.

As if that fantastic little story weren’t enough, there’s more! Della’s father was George Washington Wesley Walker (1837-1915) of Browningsville, a well-regarded music teacher, organist, and choir director. Professor Walker was a self-taught musician, who later studied formally with William Mason*. He played the organ at Bethesda Methodist Church [which is in Browningsville, not Bethesda] for over fifty years, and his home Mendelsohn Terrace was the center of all things musical in the Browningsville/Damascus area.  Late in his life, Professor Walker summarized his career as having “taught the people to sing in 49 different churches and 69 halls during fifty years of his life.” Several of Walker’s children carried on the tradition; in addition to Della’s performances, we know that Alice Walker gave piano lessons [edited to add: She was also head of the music department at the Shenandoah Normal School], and in 1884 William Walker started the Browningsville Cornet Band, the longest-running band in Montgomery County.  (For some Walker photos (including Prof. Walker, though not Della herself), visit this family website about Della’s nephew, Wesley Day.)

f20140401-3

One thing that intrigued me as I researched the melodeon’s history was the fact that, as it was made in the late 1850s, it was so much older than Della Walker herself. A few sources indicate that in the early 20th century, Professor Walker had a sideline in piano and organ sales; perhaps he purchased a used instrument for his daughter? Then I found this tidbit: In a 1938 article, written by Walker’s granddaughter Mary Browning Scanlon, the author noted that “Young George decided that the hymn singing [at Bethesda Methodist] could be improved upon, so he bought a melodeon and began studying for himself. In 1858, at the age of 21, he organized his own singing class.” Aha! The timing fits! Now, it’s entirely possible that by the time Della was a young woman her home was filled with stray keyboards, and she chose one from the family stash that had the nicest sound or was the easiest to carry . . . but it would be pretty great if her little melodeon was also her father’s first major instrument.

***

As noted above, Della’s melodeon is not currently playable. But thanks to the internet you are not left hanging, wondering what it sounded like. Here’s a Mason & Hamlin melodeon in use, and as a bonus here’s one by Waters, another melodeon manufacturer.  (The first-linked gentleman has lots of vintage instrument videos; you can while away many an hour if you’re so inclined.)   The piano restorers of the world have you covered if you want more mechanical information – enjoy a video tour of a restored Mason & Hamlin, or a video explanation of organ mechanics (look for “Play Video” under the heading “Organs and Melodeons”).

 

* William Mason, son of famous hymn writer Lowell Mason, taught music at the Normal School in Florida, NY, which Prof. Walker attended in 1870.  Lowell Mason’s work was important to Walker, who kept a photo of him on display at Mendelsohn Terrace, along with one of the 1870 Normal School class. Perhaps coincidentally, our melodeon’s maker, Mason & Hamlin, was founded by Henry Mason – another of Lowell Mason’s sons.

T1025 and T2373

Today we have a pair of paper folding fans, dating from the 1890s. They are both 13” long, with paper leaves over a wood skeleton; the guard sticks are pronged, and embellished with a woven cotton cord (here’s a parts-of-fans glossary if you’re interested). The printed designs are natural/floral in theme, with a vaguely Asian air. Each was owned by a young woman from the area, carried as an accessory at parties or dances, and then saved as a souvenir.

***

T1025 one side

T1025 other side

In March 1894, Mary Briggs Brooke (1875-1964) of Falling Green, Olney, signed and dated her fan; she was 18 years old.

T1025 detail

“Mary Briggs Brooke March 94 -“

Though – somewhat despite the odds – it has retained its tassel and fringe for over 100 years, Miss Brooke’s fan is fairly worn and used in appearance; the paper is soft and tearing along the folds, and the ends are detached altogether (though still connected at the rivet). It’s not clear if the condition is due to a hard season of dancing and parties in 1894, or if the fan was a favorite dress-up plaything for Miss Brooke’s niece (who also lived at Falling Green for much of her life) or other younger relatives. The fan was donated to MCHS in 1964 by said niece, Mary Farquhar Green.

***

T2373 one side

T2373 other side

In contrast, our other fan was clearly used often by its owner (though it, too, could have been a dress-up favorite in later years). Maude Wagstaff (1883-1973) of Takoma* Park, DC, turned her paper fan into a kind of autograph book: The folds of the paper are decorated with signatures, dates, doodles, and inscriptions from friends and family members.  Dates noted across the fan include “Summer of 96,” “Summer of 1897,” “Fall of 1900,” and “Oct. 27th 1900” (or possibly 1910).  Her own name appears near one end.

T2373 Maude

T2373 dates and lighthouse

T2373 WBA poem

Again, we don’t know the specifics of Maude Wagstaff’s social life during those years – though, since she was only 13 or 14 in the summer of 1896, we can imagine her having a grand time fluttering her giant paper fan at her first ‘grown-up’ party – but in this instance we do have a photo that could relate to a summer of autograph-fan-using opportunities: here she is (on the right) with two friends, Louise Green and May Davis, at Marshall Hall, Maryland, around 1905.

beach

In 1912, Miss Wagstaff married photographer Will Hazard; they moved to Garrett Park, and later to Takoma Park (Md). Over the years the fan was saved, and perhaps played with by her children and grandchildren; it was eventually donated to MCHS by one of those grandchildren, Patricia Barth.

***

In our collections we have many elaborate and costly fans, carefully preserved by owners and descendants for a variety of reasons, and representing styles and fashions that can be found with relative ease on museum, collector, and auction websites. In contrast, inexpensive souvenir-type fans were not necessarily designed for the long haul, and while our two examples survived, many did not. The value here – for the owner and her heirs – is likely to be sentimental, not monetary, and even the most precious reminder of the past can fall victim to time when it’s simply made of paper, sticks, and string.  …In other words, so far my internet searches for like items have come up short, and I’ve only able to find one other example online: an “autograph book” fan at the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.

But when in doubt, check the Sears catalog! In 1897, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was pleased to offer two sizes of “Japanese folding fans,” featuring decorated paper leaves and a “strong split stick outside,” the ends “handsomely corded.” The 13 inch version, essentially matching both of ours, sold for six cents each. (Still a bargain today, they would cost $1.65 in 2013 money.) Interestingly, although this style was “New” in 1897, the 1902 catalog’s “Complete Assortment of Fans” does not include anything along these lines; perhaps “handsome cording” was already out of fashion.

1897 Sears folding fans

 

*Today the Takoma neighborhood of DC leaves off the “Park,” but the 1900 census puts the Wagstaff family in “Takoma Park,” Washington, DC.

Although most of the Beall-Dawson House is furnished with period-appropriate antiques – with a focus on items from Montgomery County – the museum is not filled with original-to-the-House furnishings. However, thanks to Dawson descendants, MCHS does have a number of family pieces on display throughout the House. Some are more easily overlooked than others, so let’s take a look today at one of the smaller artifacts that you may not have noticed: A silver plate cake basket, which can often be found in the Parlor.

Gs0003

This pedestal-footed basket dates from the last quarter of the 19th century, probably 1870s-90s. It features a scalloped beaded edge; a flange pierced in a formal geometric design accented with leaves, which curves downward into a plain center well; and a bail handle with stylized design, centered with a plain oval cabochon. The bowl is a foot across, and with the handle raised the basket is nearly a foot tall.

Gs0003 top view

Gs0003 detail

Because there is no maker’s mark, it is difficult to pin down a more specific date. The round bowl and pedestal foot are typical of the 1870s-80s, but only in the most general sense; for example, the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog included eighteen different cake basket options of different sizes, shapes, and designs, including pieces similar to ours. There’s nothing about our basket that shouts out a particular year or fashion. That’s not to say that this is a generic or boring piece, however. The ornate design, including both engraving and piercing, would likely put this at the higher end of the price scale. A triple-plate silver basket, without piercing, in the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalog was available for $3.25 ($83 in 2013 dollars); the 1896 Marshall Field options ranged from $4.50 ($124 in 2013) to a “silver, engraved, gold-lined” option for $14.40 ($397 in 2013).

Three of the cake basket options from the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog, showing the variety of styles. (The bottom basket's description is cut off; it's "satin [finish], bright-cut, 10 1/2 inches high," selling for $5.35.)

Three of the cake basket options from the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog, showing the variety of styles. (The bottom basket’s description is cut off; it’s “satin [finish], bright-cut, height 10 1/2 inches,” selling for $5.35.)

Silver cake baskets were a common sight in upper-class U.S. and European households in the 18th and early 19th centuries. (Here’s an example from 1788, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, made by Hester Bateman of London.) With the introduction of electroplating in the mid 19th century, cheaper silver plate and mass-produced examples came onto the market, so middle-class families could think of adding a stylish, elegant cake basket to the sideboard or tea table.

The image that comes to mind today might be of a round birthday-type cake squeezed under the handle and then perched precariously on the bowl, but these dishes were used for the display and serving of small tea cakes, which are certainly a better fit for the form.  I’ve not so far found any historic images of one in use, but they’re mentioned in entertainment guides and cookbooks of the 19th century, such as the following two table/menu guides (from this handy source, compiling descriptions of appropriate ways to hold an afternoon tea):

A pitcher of ice-water, with small tumblers surrounding it, may occupy one corner, and a basket or plate of cake the other.

“Arrangement of Table, and Bills of Fare, for Tea,” from The American System of Cookery, Mrs. T.J. Crowen (1847)

Variation [on the Afternoon Tea] on a more elaborate scale is the weekly ‘At Home,’ which has grown in popularity with many hostesses . . . . The menu may include both tea and coffee or tea and chocolate. There may be one or two kinds of dainty sandwiches and baskets or plates of fancy cakes . . . . A dish of fine bonbons may also be passed.

Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes, Christine Terhune Herrick, editor-in-chief (1905)

Although many sources suggest that cake baskets fell out of fashion in the early 20th century, the 1927 Sears catalog offered a few examples (including a $4.00 ($53 in 2013) gold-plated pedestal dish, headed “Gifts that add to the table’s charm”), and one still might bring out Grandma’s antique upon occasion:

 An old-fashioned cake basket lends a certain stately dignity to the tea table and a finely etched or cut glass plate is lovely for sandwiches.

Alice Foote MacDougall’s Cook Book, Alice Foote MacDougall (1935)

 

The basket was donated in 1985 by Amelia Somervell Farmer (Mrs. William T.) Nicholson, daughter of Priscilla Beall Dawson Farmer (1879-1947). Priscilla was the daughter of John and Amelia Somervell Dawson, who lived and raised their family in the Beall-Dawson House; Priscilla lived here until her 1914 marriage, and – since she and her husband lived in Redland, a few miles away – she stayed closely involved with the family home. When she donated the basket to the Historical Society, Mrs. Nicholson indicated that it was originally from the Beall-Dawson House; our then-Director noted “how delighted we were to have the silver compote come back to the House . . . . Each piece that has ‘lived’ here before has special meaning.”

When Margaret Dawson (Priscilla’s sister, who lived in the House all her life) died in 1937, her belongings were first inventoried, and then sold. Some of the Beall and Dawson family pieces in our collections can be found on one list or the other – for example, John Dawson’s desk was purchased at the 1937 estate sale by Mrs. Nicholson, and donated to us many years later – but this cake basket is not easily identified. Possibly Priscilla had already taken ownership of the basket before her sister’s death, though the particular circumstances aren’t known; Mrs. Nicholson told us only that it was from the House.  Was it one of many similar pieces, part of a set, or a particular favorite?  If it’s a tad earlier than I think, perhaps it was a wedding gift for Amelia and John (married 1871), passed on to their daughter; if it’s rather later than the estimated date, it might have been a wedding present for Priscilla herself (1914).  Amelia Dawson died relatively young, in 1896, and maybe her children were given a chance to choose a favorite piece, a reminder of their mother, for their own.  At this point, we really don’t know.

 

A side note on condition: Yes, our friend here is not looking shiny and new. In part this is because some of the silver plating is wearing thin, exposing the plainer metal underneath. Our previous silver curator believed that there was a deliberate gold tint to the leaves on the piercing, which now simply looks rather discolored. The basket has been poorly polished in the past (including by MCHS); in the photo below, what at first glance looks like some kind of white inlay is in fact layers of polish residue that was left behind. We have not polished this piece in some time, because over-polishing will help to remove the plating that’s left, and because cleaning, polishing, and coating museum silver requires a very particular regimen which, as the National Park Service’s Conserve O Gram notes, “should not be undertaken lightly.” For now we’ll leave it be, rather than doing a quick – but, in the end, damaging – fix with commercial polish.

DSC00075

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers