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Friday, December 31, 2010

French court dolls

I remembered an article I read in an old issue of Doll Reader which featured a group of carved wooden jointed dolls of french nobility, called French Court dolls. 
I tracked it down (Dec 1995/Jan 1996) and have found even more dolls than those cited after exhaustive searching online. The author of the article, John Darcy Noble, mentions that he knew of 18 such dolls. The article itself contains photos of 12 of these silk clad creations. I have since found one sold by Thieraults which is purported to be Marie-Antoinette.
But these are not dolls as we know them, certainly not likely to have been for children. No, these look like the playthings of adults. They look like marionettes but they have never had strings attached. Their incredibly elaborate carved hairstyles and very individualistic faces are quite striking.  
In common with dolls of the era they are complete with genitalia - and some have strange anatomical features. One has twin penises, several are hermaphrodites and one seen by the author had three breasts all in a row. One has a head that opens to reveal a cavity. 
The author suggests they are virtual portraits of real people used in some kind of puppet play by the nobles of Marie-Antoinette's court. 
They are believed to have been owned by the Princess de Lamballe. (What provenance and evidence there is he doesn't say.)
But this is what I don't get. From all I have read the Princess de Lamballe was rather modest and proper - indeed supposedly prudish.   However, the author states that the Princess owned houses of ill repute in Paris as well as one of the two openly erotic theatres. This is news to me. It sounds like the tales spread about the nobility to inflame the people. But it doesn't accord with any of the reading I have done about her character. So who is right? If you can shed some light on this I'd be pleased to hear from you. 
In the meantime, pictures of french court dolls coming up!  I am currently reading a book about them so more posts on these amazing dolls are inevitable!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Tis the season...

Yes well it's over for another year and I am glad it does only happen once a year because I am exhausted.
But we made the effort and it was lovely in spite of the rainy weather.
My sister took care of the decorations to lovely effect with metres of red chiffon and some dangly bits.
Today is scones, tea and macarons.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

le book review - Seventeenth and Eighteen Century Fashion in Detail by Avril Hart and Susan North

I had seen this book at a craft show earlier this year and it looked lovely. Lots of lovely close ups of details of beautiful mantuas and sacques, flounces, trims, draping.  Just gorgeous.  And good line drawings of the whole dress or garment.
But I put it back because there were NO photos of the whole garment.  WHY?
I don't know. It seems a seriously deficiency to me.
However given that these items from the V&A collection are in fact very old and not suitable for display perhaps placing them on manniquins for the photos would be too much activity for their fragile nature. le sigh.
But since I love detail and love this era I gave in for Christmas and treated myself (something I do a lot of).
(What a strange word 'treated' is! It sounds a tad wrong, like it should be 'trat' like 'seated' or 'sat' only that would sound worse.)
And I DO love those lovely detail photos. I haven't read it right through yet but the cover alone is enough to take my breath away.  Divine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Puce, fleas and Marie-Antoinette

Puce. It's a colour. Yes but what colour?

Puce is a colour I have found a tad confusing over the years. And it seems I'm not the only one.

I first stumbled on the colour puce in a Georgette Heyer novel. The context never made it sound like a colour anyone with pretentions to fashion would countenance. We would list any "puce sightings or references" we stumbled across since it is not a colour many people refer to. I still have a little chuckle whenever I hear or read of "puce" in everyday life. And in fact I have always thought of puce as a pinky purple brown colour.

In French, puce literally means "flea", fleas generally being dark reddish-brown or dark purplish-brown.

Apparently the first recorded use of puce as a color name was in the 14th century, in the French language but it certainly seems to have became more common after the late 1780s, when King Louis is widely regarded to have coined the term to describe the colour of one of his wife's dresses.

I found not only an article on puce but also with a painting of Marie-Antoinette in what I can only assume is a puce coloured dress with another photo of a fabric and lace fragment of one of her dresses in a light fawn colour embroidered with jasmine. The painting is almost identical to another earlier painting of her in a blue dress. Check it out at - Colourwatch: Pondering puce.

So what colour is puce? Well I think it's rather in the eye of the beholder!

I tried to post this in puce but it wasn't easily readable! 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Oooooooo it's a date for the Abbey Medieval Fair

SOOOOO I must have an 18th century dress of some description.  No dear reader, it doesn't have to be a medieval one. Apparently last year Captain America came.  Wouldn't mind meeting him myself.

Should I perhaps have a persona?  I believe that to be de rigueur for such occasions.  Mmmmmm I already have the passion for patch boxes and mother of pearl gaming counters, so why not collect myself a persona.

Suggestions anyone?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tea for me

Isn't this teacup and saucer just a feast for the eyes? 
My boss gave it to me for my birthday. It's called Turkish Delight Mandarin.  I'm sure the ladies of the 18th century would have admired it!  And yes it was made in China! 
The Turkish Delight range has some lovely sets - check them out at T2. 
More pics coming soon!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I so badly want a sacque back gown or a robe francais

But being something of a bombshell figure-wise it's not easy.  It doesn't have to be of re-enactment standard, I'd settle for feeling a bit 18th century.  And I'd only be able to wear it in winter here since it's so very hot and frequently humid in summer.  And I want it in a cotton, and all in one piece since layers here even in winter would probably kill me.
The search continues!

Tea and macarons darling?

I had lunch with a friend today and we went to the local farmers' market afterwards, having promised ourselves a macaron for desert!
Along the way we tested chocolate brownies, chocolate fudge and even chocolate coated macadamias!
But oh my stars!  The macarons!  What a feast for the eyes they had at Monsieur Macaron.  And the BIG dilemma - which one to pick. Being me I decided one wouldn't be enough and anyway I wanted to take a photo of their gorgeous loveliness so you could see how delightful they are!

I chose chocolate (well duh!), strawberry, pistachio, lavender and mango.  My friend made her selection and then the stall holder gave us each a champagne one to try. Another Oh My Stars moment. Just perfect.
So here dear reader is a picture of these lovely creations. They reminded me of the luscious scenes in the movie Marie Antoinette.  Enjoy!  I plan to!  With my lovely colleagues!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hatpin making

Yes well since I declared this Christmas was to be handmade, recycled or repurposed, I figured I'd better get a wriggle on or no one would get anything.  Since my lovely friend LaLa loves hats as much as I do, I decided she needed a hat pin.  (And since she isn't into blogs she won't read this ahead of time and see what she is getting.)

So having plenty of STUFF on hand to make jewellery etc I tried out a few different combinations before coming up with this one.  I think it will go with a variety of hats  and is nice and long so it can skewer plenty of hair.

I started out using E6000 glue but it takes too long to set so I went back to Araldite which bonds anything within cooee.  Now off to check out what 18th century hatpins looked like.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

OMG My first follower and vintage things

I feel giddy. What a rush. Thankyou Vivien!

I've been trawling though my vintage bits and pieces. They all tell me stories. Like the little 'ladies leg pocket knife' that was my Grandmother's.  That's it next to my Georgian patchbox. Such an elegant leg in its striped stocking! That's my other Nan and Grandfather in the frame behind.

A little more recent

OK I am wandering off topic a little. But when you aren't a size 8 and you find some vintage clothes that fit, you are entitled to feel a little giddy and want to tell the world.

This year's Vintage Fashion Fair was full of lovely, lovely stuff and best of all I found a nice 20s style black day dress. It isn't actual 20s, wrong material, wrong types of stitching and hemming but it will go nicely with my cloche and black patent shoes.
I also scored a lovely aqua velvet bow chapeau with veil, and a mass of old lace and ribbons for my many and varied projects.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Monogrammed mother of pearl gaming counters c1785

These exquisite gaming counters make me want to run off and play roulette until the wee hours of the morning.
Not only are they a delight to the eye, they are full of history.
I feel privileged to own these little beauties and while I don't know who their original ower was, the history of gaming counters is quite fascinating.
Carved Mother-of-Pearl gaming counters seem to date back around 250 years for the european market. They were hand-engraved in China in sets of three or more shapes denoting different denominations and used as gaming chips. The most common shapes are a shuttle (leaf) shape, round, oval and both longer and shorter oblongs (rectangles). I've also seen some used as thread winders which have Dogs of Fo cut into each end. And there are other less common shapes such as delightful cartouches.
Counters were commissioned by the well-to-do including nobility and royalty as well as wealthy tradespeople.
Many were produced during the Ch'ing Dynasty, the last dynasty of Imperial China.
A variety of games were played with the counters including Quadrille, Ombre, Loo, Faro (Pharoah) and Whist.
Usually engraved on one side with family crests if you had one or monograms, the other side might depict some aspect of Chinese life, be patterened all over with a 'diaper' pattern or even a numerical amount. Some were more intricately carved than others, and some with thicker shell.
Popular designs also included chinese pagodas, people, flowers, doves, fish and other animals. Carp fish represent the common people, while animals indicate character traits. The peony, a spring flower, represents blossoming youth.
Those in the photograph were made c1785 (the Charlotte border is dated to that time) and fall into the reign of philosopher/ruler Ch'ien Lung.
See my older post below on popular pastimes.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Personal possessions of Marie-Antoinette

It's sad to think that so little survives of Marie-Antoinette's personal possessions.
A shoe, some pearls and possibly a made-over dress.
I went searching to see what the mob missed out on. Here's a list of what I found on the web.
To see her shoe - go to
Her pearls and many pearls of information about her are at
The made-over dress is on many sites including at
A dress fragment at
Musee Carnavalet, Paris (Carnavalet Museum) has locks of her hair and that of her husband.
The 1938 movie starring Norma Shearer featured costumes which were based as closely as possible to dresses still in existence. Wikipedia mentions a dress in private hands referred to as the 'rocket dress' featuring starbursts. I'll try to find out more.
If you know of any other items I would love to hear about them.

Popular pastimes

Nothing much has changed. Gambling was hugely popular in the 18th century, all sorts of games of chance. Gentlemen's clubs has betting books and everyone, I mean everyone, my dear, gambled.
Whist, deep bassett, faro, horse racing, bouts of fisticuffs. I need to do some more research on all of these games. They were forever appearing in Georgette Heyer novels.
I don't remember where I first saw mother of pearl gaming counters, I just knew I'd fallen in love. And finally thanks to eBay I now have some. Not a full set you understand, just a few. Beautifully fine, carved in China and with a monogram. M H. Did they belong to a man or a woman? They were carved around 1785 or so, with a typical Queen Charlotte border. Mmmm let's call the owner Mary-Anne Hartley!
In the main they conform to some standard shapes - leaf shaped (shuttles to the knowledgable), ovals, oblongs (short and long rectangles), and rounds. There are others of course, sublime little pieces of rococco design. Some are deeply carved and pierced around the edges, some have heraldic devices, flowers and some Chinese scenes.
The carving on my counters is not deep but it is exquisitely beautiful. How divine to have sent your chosen design off on a boat to China (often a family bookplate would have been sent) and then nearly a year later a parcel would arrive, your full set of counters carved to your specifications - all remarkably, almost identicial. I would love to know more about the craftsmen in China. What they used, how to did such fine work and all truly handmade. Counter after counter. I'm not sure but I believe a full set was around 140 counters of varying shapes. How they were used I don't exactly know but I suspect they have morphed into the current poker chip.
There is a scene in the Sophie Coppola movie Marie Antoinette where they are betting using counters but they didn't look carved. More like today's backgammon counters.
A photos of these sublime little pieces of art is just around
the corner.

You can see some of Queen Charlotte's own counters at The Royal Collection - - just type 'gaming counters' into the search engine.

Possession of a lady it said in the auction listing

That term always intrigues me. Who is she? Why is she selling the item? Was it a gift from her godmother, a lover, a child? Is she English, French, Venetian?
 And if she was of the 18th century then I am hooked. Why I don't know. Perhaps it's such a different world to mine, perhaps it's the fashions, the shoes, the contrasts. Perhaps it was reading too many romances as a girl. Perhaps I am just a rococco soul.
 The is a work in progress, an experiment. A plaything. Like the playthings of the rich of the 18th century.