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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There are a lot of great things at our museum, but we are sadly (from this curator’s point of view) lacking in the area of diverse flatware. Our silver collection includes teaspoons aplenty, but no oyster ladles, sugar shells, pickle forks, fish slices, or other useful forms. An exception is the delicate little salt spoon owned by Julia Prout Vinson Anderson (1864-1950) of Rockville. This 3.25” sterling silver spoon combines two of my favorite artifact qualities: highly specific function, and clearly marked identification.

gs0049 Gorham salt spoon

For many centuries table salt was served from small dishes, known as salt cellars (or simply “salts”), often using spoons such as this one. In the late 19th century some additives were developed that kept salt from clumping and sticking, thus making possible the salt shaker, but refined housekeepers included salts and salt spoons on their tables into the 20th century. At informal or family meals, one or two “master salts” might be sufficient; at a formal dinner, however, individual salt cellars could be employed. The Social Mirror: A Complete Treatise on the Laws, Rules and Usages that govern our most Refined Homes and Social Circles (1888) included this rule for “ceremonious dinners”: “A salt-cellar of some pretty or fanciful design should be placed at each plate.” No matter how many salt cellars are in use, each should have its own spoon – for, as the same source noted, you should “never use your own knife, fork or spoon to put into a dish from which others must be helped,” or from which the contents might be returned to the main container after the meal. Hence, the addition of both salt cellars and their accompanying spoons to the vast array of ‘necessary’ tableware available to the discerning 19th century host or hostess.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.

The 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog featured a page of silver plate salt accessories, with both shakers and cellars available. This boxed set conveniently contained both options.

 

As for our spoon itself, it is marked with both the maker and the owner. The back is stamped with the marks used in the late 19th century by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Rhode Island: a right-facing lion passant, an anchor, and a Gothic G (these marks subtly copy British silver hallmarks, but they’re not quite the same), plus the “STERLING” required on American-made sterling silver flatware.

Gs0049 hallmarks

The bowl of the spoon is gilded, and the handle features an attractive (if you’ll forgive a personal bias) pattern with clean lines and just a hint of frou-frou. I’ve not yet been able to identify the pattern name, as Gorham has produced a LOT of patterns over the years; if anyone can name our little fan/sunburst handle, please let me know! Without a pattern name and the year it was introduced, it’s difficult to date the spoon more specifically than “late 19th century.”

Like a lot of silver flatware, this piece was also engraved with the owner’s initial. That’s not always as helpful as it might seem; we have many pieces in our collection that are unidentified, since a set of initials, by itself, can only take you so far research-wise. Happily, in this case we know that the spoon came from the Vinson family of Rockville, and specifically (according to the donor, Mrs. Anderson’s grandson) from Julia Prout Vinson, who married George Minor Anderson in 1901. We don’t know if this was part of a wedding gift or not (remember, as Julia’s teapot shows, presents given before the marriage were marked with the bride’s maiden initials); Julia married rather later in life than was typical at the time, and perhaps she provided herself with some fine tableware for single-girl entertaining in the 1890s. Either way, it shows that she and her family were concerned with setting a good table – and could afford to do so.

Gs0049 handle detail

April is National Poetry Month, so in honor of this occasion, here are two books of poetry from our collections.

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At left is a collection of William Wordsworth‘s poems: The Poetical Works of Wordsworth. With Memoir, Explanatory Notes, Etc., published by Belford, Clarke & Co, circa* 1885. The cover and spine are embossed with red, black, and gold accents, and the pages are edged in gold; it’s a nice volume, designed as much for display/presentation as for reading. On the endpaper, a nice floral pattern, we find this ink inscription: “Jennie Rice from her friend James M. Nourse”.

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Jennie Longstreet Rice (1871-1941) was the daughter of George and Elberta Rice of Darnestown. The Reverend James M. Nourse (1840-1922), a cousin  to the local Nourse family, was the minister of Darnestown Presbyterian Church from November 1883 through May 1885, at which point he was called to the First Presbyterian in Alexandria, Virginia. In November 1885,  Miss Rice, age 15, was “received by examination” as a member of the Darnestown Presbyterian Church. Those facts come from church records; our book here adds another, more personal element to the story. The Darnestown Presbyterian Church, founded in 1855, was an important part of the religious and social life of the community; in the 1870s-90s, the minister was also the principal of the nearby Andrew Small Academy (which Miss Rice probably attended). Thus, Miss Rice likely encountered Rev. Nourse and his family in and around the neighborhood, and it seems probable that he also helped her prepare for her church membership examination. This handsome edition of Wordsworth – his favorite poet? Hers? (Or simply the nicest book available at the shop?) – may have been a parting gift, as Rev. Nourse left the community and moved on to his next assignment.

Next, continuing our Poetry Month theme and throwing in National Library Week for good measure, is the book on the right: a small, somewhat tattered volume of William Cullen Bryant’s works, “collected and arranged by the author,” and printed in 1857. Bryant was an American poet and journalist (and, fun fact, the namesake for NYC’s Bryant Park).  The book appears well-read, or at least frequently handled, and indeed it was a library book. Pasted inside the front cover is a printed label reading, “Dawsonville Library Association. No. 66. No Book shall be kept from the Library more than Two Weeks. Without renewals of the same, the holder failing to return, shall pay Four Cents a day for extra use.”

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I’ve not yet found any reference to a 19th century Library Association in Dawsonville (and perhaps this book originated in, say, Dawsonville, Georgia, rather than Montgomery County’s town), but it’s possible that this Association was an offshoot of the delightfully-named Dawsonville Literary Sociable. The activities of this lively group were recorded in the late 1870s-early 1880s by pseudonymous correspondents** in the local Montgomery Advocate. The Literary Society (as it was later known, though I can’t help but prefer “Sociable”) held officer elections and operated as a formal club, but in essence these meetings were well-organized house parties, designed to enliven the winter months with food, music, dancing, out-of-town guests, and – the ostensible point of the whole thing – readings and orations.

Not to be outdone – and conveniently helping to tie today’s books together – nearby Darnestown also had a Literary Society. In January 1883, Dawsonville correspondent “Johnny Reb” had “the pleasure . . . , accompanied by a fair damsel, to be present at the meeting of the Darnestown Literary Society last Friday evening.” After the “regular programme” of readings and songs, “chatting was renewed with increased vigor” and, essentially, a lot of young people spent a lot of time flirting until it was time to make their way home through the snow. In February 1883, the Dawsonville Literary Society received an invitation from their Darnestown counterparts “to attend, en masse, an entertainment . . . which was accepted by unanimous vote.”

Here's your geographical orientation: Dawsonville and Darnestown both lie along modern-day Route 28, which follows much the same path now as it did in the 19th century.  The Darnestown Presbyterian Church is at the intersection of 28 and Turkey Foot Rd, with the village itself closer to the Seneca Rd intersection; Dawsonville was at the intersection of 28 and 121. From the 1879 Hopkins Atlas of Montgomery County.

Here’s your geographical orientation, using the 1879 Atlas and the modern-day names for the old roads that appear here: Dawsonville and Darnestown both lie along modern-day Route 28. Darnestown is near the intersections of Turkey Foot Rd. and Seneca Rd.; Dawsonville was at the intersection of Rts. 28 and 121. From the 1879 Hopkins Atlas of Montgomery County.

The full text of the extant “society columns” – which also include wedding and death announcements, business updates, and weather news – can be found in our Library, in Jane Sween’s History of Dawsonville and Seneca, Montgomery County, Maryland (1967/1993); some excerpts also appear in the article of the same title and author in The Montgomery County Story, Vol. XI, No. 2, available in our Museum Shop. To whet your appetite for polite 19th century youthful antics (in case your copy of Jo’s Boys is not easily at hand), here’s the description of the December, 1879 meeting, as composed by “Toney”:

Eight months or more have passed since your humble servant occupied a position in your columns, as reporter of the doings of Dawsonville Literary Sociable; so hope you will give space to a brief description of the meeting which occurred Saturday week at the “Hermitage”, the residence of Mr. F. A. Dawson, one of its most prominent members. The wind though cold and boisterous during the day lulled when “Sol” donned the veil of night, leaving, however, Mrs. “Luna” and her dear little bright cherubs to twinkle in his absence to the merry throng that lined the different roads leading to the mansion. The entire building was ablaze with lights, all the rooms on the lower floor having been transformed into a spacious hall with cheerful fires to greet the chilled guests, who were received by the modest and pleasant Miss A.L. Dawson whose cordial welcome dismantled (if any) the slightest feeling of restraint worn by anyone. The agreeable Messrs. Hickerson and Balch aided in dispatching guests to the second floor where dressing rooms had been tastefully filled up with everything necessary to the comfort and vanity of women, or make an old bachelor ashamed of his lot. As early as 7 P.M. guests began to assemble in the South Parlor and up to 7:40 P.M. were continually arriving, filling the entire hall to repletion. Taking a survey of the room I concluded that I had never seen a brighter, handsomer and more tastefully dressed bevy of ladies in my life. The gentlemen also looked remarkably well.

The President, Mr. Cass F. Eastham, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called roll, which showed the society composed of twelve honorary and thirty-one active members all in the enjoyment of good health and liberty. . . . The business before the meeting was soon dispatched, Miss Gertrude Dade was added to the active list as a member and Miss Vallie W. Allnutt’s invitation was gladly accepted unanimously by everyone with thanks to meet at her pleasant home on Saturday January 3rd 1880. The secretary then called Miss M. C. Darby to open the evening’s programme, who read XIX Psalm; Miss Lille Dyson entertained by reading “Pondering”; Mr. B.F. White, declaimed “Charge of the Light Brigade”; Miss Nellie Allnutt read “Quality Hill”; Miss Susie Darby read “Antique Beau”; Mr. W.M. Hickerson read “The Deacon’s Story”; Miss Annie L. Dade recited “Buttercups and Daisies”; Miss Marian Cross read [not transcribed]. Miss Vallie Allnutt by request closed the programme by reading “The Rose.” The entire programme was creditably rendered and pleased the audience judging from the applause each participant received.

The Messrs. Heck, Mullican, Darby, Poole and Galeen of Darnestown then entertained to the great pleasure of all, with choice vocal music. Among the bright faces I noticed Miss Maud Hepburn of Washington; Miss Bessie Dawson of Arlington Heights; Miss Annie White of Loudoun, Va.; Misses Veirs, Scott and Hall of Poolesville; Miss Maggie Beall of Darnestown; Mr. Upton Darby of Seneca; Mr. Smoot of Washington; Milton White of Baltimore; Samuel Veirs of Rockville; and Mr. [?]. Wade of Barnesville. All vying with each other in general parlance when the announcement of supper caused a temporary stop. The pleasant hostess, Miss Gue, assisted by her bright sister Mary soon had served from waiters a luncheon tempting to the most delicate, winding up with a confectionary collation. After many congratulations and expressions of pleasure experienced the company left for their respective homes with hearts both light and gay.

*This edition has no copyright date, but several other collections by Belford, Clarke & Co., with similar covers, were published in 1884-85.

**These columns were collected in a scrapbook by an unknown individual; many are undated now. They are variously signed “Toney,” “Uteuty,” “Wild Bill,” “Johnny Reb,” “Delgrada,” and “Ivanhoe,” who may all be the same person; the authors frequently identify themselves as “an old bachelor,” and there are other literary similarities.

Today’s post goes out to “the baseball enthusiasts of the community [who] are looking forward to a summer of excellent sport.” That’s how the Washington Post described Rockville’s sports fans in a March 7, 1909 article at the start of the baseball season. On Rockville’s team was second baseman Russell Brewer; here is his glove.

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This is a left-handed fielder’s glove, made by the A.J. Reach Co. of Philadelphia. A one-inch strap, or webbing, connects the thumb and forefinger, likely dating it to around 1910. The well-worn leather looks gray, but it was originally white; this glove clearly saw a lot of game use.  It was donated by Mr. Brewer’s daughter, Virginia Brewer Cobey.

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The use of gloves in the outfield wasn’t original to the first years of the game; needing a padded glove was viewed as pretty wimpy. (According to this article in the Smithsonian Magazine, one of the first players to wear a glove tried – and failed – to find one that would be invisible to fans.) By the 1880s gloves were accepted equipment, however, and soon inventors and manufacturers were coming up with new and improved gloves (more padding, deeper webbing…) In our 1890s-1900s team photos from Rockville, many fielder’s gloves and catcher’s mitts can be seen.

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The owner of this glove, William Russell Brewer (1880-1941), was born in Rockville to John and Virginia Russell Brewer. He attended the Rockville Academy, and by late 1900 had started his career as a bank clerk at the Montgomery County National Bank, a few blocks from his home. In 1910 he married Maude Stalnaker; they stayed in Rockville until 1921, when he resigned his post as cashier at the Montgomery County bank to take a vice-president position with Liberty Trust Company in Cumberland, Md. In the 1930 and 1940 Cumberland censuses, he’s described as a bank president.

But bankers need hobbies just like the rest of us, and “R. Brewer, 2nd base” can be found in newspaper reports of Rockville games from spring 1900 – when, as a Rockville Academy student, he served as “secretary and treasurer” of the school team – through the 1911 season.  In 1901, the Post described the (probably just out of school) team as “considerably elated” over beating the Maryland Agricultural College team; they basically sent out a call for other teams to ‘come and play.’  Throughout the decade they played against other local towns, as well as the U.S. Marine Barracks team, the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital team, a team from Woodward & Lothrop’s department store, and others. This circa 1905 photo, below, shows the Rockville team in uniform; your man Russell Brewer is either the gentleman in front at the far right, or the player behind him.

Circa 1905.  Donated by Virginia Brewer Cobey, who identified her father; other players currently unidentified.

Circa 1905. Donated by Virginia Brewer Cobey, who identified her father; other players currently unidentified… although: your devoted blogger has become so involved in the lives of deceased Montgomery County residents that she recognizes at least one, maybe three people in the photo. Eddie Dawson is in the back row second from left, and I swear his brothers Harry (in the straw boater?) and Somervell (back row second from right?) are here as well.

Mr. Brewer’s teammates remain fairly steady throughout the 1900-1911 era; it reads as if the Academy team stayed pretty tight after graduation, replacing an equally steady 1890s team sometimes known as the Rockville Athletics. On September 5, 1909, the Post reported,

The Rockville Athletics, who so well represented Rockville on the diamond ten or twelve years ago, and the present Rockville team played at the fair grounds this afternoon and the youngsters got the verdict by the score of 7 to 2. . . . The game was a splendid one, and the old fellows showed that there is a whole lot of baseball still in them.

Russell Brewer played 2nd base for the “present team” in this game, along with his brothers Nicholas, George, and John (and, since we’re tracking Dawsons, Eddie and Somervell; Harry was featured on the 1890s teams, but he didn’t play in 1909).

Who doesn’t enjoy an old baseball team photo? So here are a few more for you: two views of the Athletics*, from 1893 (top) and 1896 (bottom), and Rockville’s African American team, circa 1900. (Donors, and player names when known, can be found in the captions.)

1893 team. Donated by Mrs. W.S. Nicholson.  Players: Wardlaw Mason, James Kelchner, W. Frank Rabbitt, Eugene Harriss, Upton B. Dawson, Roger Shaw, Sol Rabbitt, Somerville "Weegie" Bean, Carey Kingdon, W. Brooke Edmonston, Leonard Nicholson, Charles "Sibby" Jones, Harry Dawson.  Bat boy, in the center: Mannie (last name unknown). At left in the background is George Meads.

1893 team. Donated by Mrs. W.S. Nicholson. Players: Wardlaw Mason, James Kelchner, W. Frank Rabbitt, Eugene Harriss, Upton B. Dawson, Roger Shaw, Sol Rabbitt, Somerville “Weegie” Bean, Carey Kingdon, W. Brooke Edmonston, Leonard Nicholson, Charles “Sibby” Jones, Harry Dawson. Bat boy, in the center: Mannie (last name unknown). At left in the background is George Meads.

"Amateur Champions of the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia, 1895-96," taken 1896 at the fair grounds. Donated by Mrs. W.S. Nicholson. Players: Eugene Harriss, Charles Jones, [Harry] Dawson, Roger Shaw, Leonard Nicholson, Sol Rabbitt, Mr. Beard, Carey Kingdon, Mr. Hall, Mr. Claggett, Mr. Eagle, James Kelchner, Byron Kingdon.

“Amateur Champions of the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia, 1895-96,” taken 1896 at the fair grounds. Donated by Mrs. W.S. Nicholson. Players: Eugene Harriss, Charles Jones, [Harry] Dawson, Roger Shaw, Leonard Nicholson, Sol Rabbitt, Mr. Beard, Carey Kingdon, Mr. Hall, Mr. Claggett, Mr. Eagle, James Kelchner, Byron Kingdon. (There’s lots of player overlap between 1893 and 1896… but they have new uniforms.)

Circa 1900.  Donated by Rosie Wood; players currently unidentified.

Circa 1900. Donated by Rosie Wood; players currently unidentified.

There are even more photos (not only of Rockville!) in our library, along with more information on both white and African American players, playing fields, and game statistics – plus lots of scope for additional research on our local teams. If today’s post whetted your appetite, sports fans, then come on in!

 

*Presuming the “R.A.” on the uniform stands for Rockville Athletics, not Rockville Academy.