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Monday, January 31, 2011

Another consuming interest of mine is the weather

And we are having lots of it here. I know it's not 18th century but at the moment I can think of nothing but Cyclone Yasi which is the biggest cyclone I can remember having seen, as it gathers intensity and bears down on the north of the state.

I daresay the 18th century had its fair share of extreme weather moments - snow etc. Which made the clothing easier to wear than it would be here. I can't imagine what it must have been like for my great grandmother in her corset and petticoats. A Queensland summer is not to be treated lightly. I expect there was plenty of fainting from it.

For now, I am radar watching and praying for divine intervention. Cyclone Yasi.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Not a patch on this beauty

My little enamel patchbox has many secrets. I make up stories about the woman who owned it and the person (a lover) who gave it to her. Because it is undoubtedly a gift.

'Efteem the giver' is says on the top - the 'f' being used as an 's' prior to the 19th century (or thereabouts). No-one would buy a patchbox for themselves with such a motto.

The enamel is cracked and the mirror is a replacement of the original but it was love at first sight.

Living in Australia, the antique shops aren't exactly full of these kinds of things. I'd seen pictures, read about them (along with snuff boxes and Bilston or Battersea enamels) and lo and behold there was one in front of me. Well there really wasn't any question, it was coming home with me.
I wonder who she was, where she lived, what she was like, what her favourite colour was and whether she had a favourite patch she wore.

And while patches always seem quintessentially 18th century to me, I wasn't really surprised to discover that the Romans used them. I mean what didn't they do!

Patches were the 18th century equivalent of beauty marks and were traditionally little pieces of gummed black silk taffeta, velvet and sometimes even leather or paper used to draw attention to a particular facial feature, and flatter the complexion.

They were originally used to cover up smallpox scars in the 17th century and over time developed into many shapes including round, square, heart, star, crescent moon, and even reportedly a coach and horses - my mind boggles as to just where that one was placed on the face. I suspect the forehead is the only place large enough but that seems ludicrous. About as ludicrous as mouse skin eyebrows. Ok there are aspects of the 18th century that don't appeal.

These "Court plasters" as they became known, were given different titles depending on where they were placed on the face or bosom. Renowned for her exacting research, novelist Georgette Heyer, refers in her novel "The Convenient Marriage" to a small square of black taffeta near the eye as the "murderous" and mentions another named the "roguish".

In England and France patches were known as 'mouches' (flies) or mushka in Russia.

I found the following information at

"The usage of the mouches was already known to the 17th century, and was the object of a well precise language, much like the language of fans or flowers, it is at the 18th century that they will become the symbols of the costume. Women used their beauty patches to convey a secret message. Madame Du Barry, a courtesan of Louis XV, apparently defined the meaning of the placement as so:
They carried all of the names:

Close to the eye, she names herself provocative or fascinated.
On the corner mouth, this is the lover and kissable.
Above the lip, she is flirty.
Under the lip, she becomes mischievous or flirty.
On the nose, sassy, impudent or strapping.
On the forehead, the majestic or haughty
On the cheek, this is the gallant or flirty one.
On a wrinkle or laugh line, she is cheerful and playful
On the chest, this is the generous one.
On a button, the receiver.
Or well on the chin, would not at all this be the discreet one?

By the mid 1800s, patches began to lose favor, they were no longer worn, but their boxes were still being produced. More recently, several companies revived this old fashioned beauty secret. Places like Caswell Massey and Sephora carried them. About a dozen black silk cut outs that you lick & and apply to your skin. Little figurals included spades, stars, crescent moons, hearts, and even tiny flies, a nod to mouche. You can get beauty patches from"

Mmmm flirting figures in that list rather prominently! Quel surprise. There is more information on placement and names at with a rather amusing illustration of a lady with patches plastered everywhere. But, as I don't understand French I was lost. I would love to hear from anyone out there who can translate the page for me. And there's more at

I've also seen vintage patches from the 50s or possibly earlier listed on eBay made of velvet - they'd look like those velvety hairy moles - mmmmm. Think I'll stick to my eyebrow pencil!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The British Museum opened to the public this day in 1759 at Montagu House

For which many of us are profoundly thankful!
While the British Museum was founded in 1753 as a result of a bequest in the will of Sir Hans Sloan (1660- 1753), the physician, naturalist and collector, it first opened to the public on 15 January 1759.
Not wishing his collection of 71,000 items to be split up, Sloan bequeathed his collection to King George II for the nation in return for a payment of £20,000 to his heirs.  The gift was accepted and on 7 June 1753, an Act of Parliament established the British Museum.
The British Museum opened to the public on 15 January 1759 . It was first housed in seventeenth-century Montagu House, Bloomsbury on the site of today's building. Entry was free and given to ‘all studious and curious Persons’.
Having been one of those curious persons I am grateful.  And since I don't live in the UK, I enjoy their website as well.

Monday, January 10, 2011

More French Court Dolls

A man dressed as a woman?
I have been reading M. Francois Theimer's book "Les Poupees Royales de la Cour de Louis XVI" et autres amusements de la Noblesse des XVIIème et XVIIIème siècles. Which translates as The French Royal Court Dolls of the Louis XVI period and other 17th and 18th century amusements of the nobility
It was not inexpensive but given the paucity of information on these particular dolls it seemed the only way to find out more. And I wanted to know more.   They fascinate me, these mute little witnesses of this period that absorbs me so much.
The book has wonderful photos and an English translation and the author has obviously done a massive amount of research on the topic including visiting the many and varied owners of the dolls from Europe to the US. I've enjoyed it greatly and am still absorbing all the information.
The dolls themselves date from the 18th century and all look different enough to be actual representations of real people.  
The dolls seem to fit into four family groups - all centre around Marie-Antoinette. And their creator/owner would seem to have had a lot of information about the subjects including physical anomalies. 
They are anatomically correct (common even in children's dolls in that period) - and include hermaphrodites and one that M. Theimer states is a man dressed as a woman - perhaps being the Chevalier d'Eon. (A subject in himself.)
And just what their purpose was no one seems to know. The article I referred to previously in Doll Reader magazine was useful in pointing me to M Theimer's book and had some interesting photos but apart from that I wasn't impressed with the author's opinions. So what was their purpose?
Having collected dolls myself and done all sorts of wacky things with them, I probably have a wider understanding of the activities of collectors of little articulated figures than non-doll people. (My dioramas have included a Barbie Tupperware Party diorama, a Santa Baby scene complete with lingerie clad doll under a Christmas Tree waiting for Santa and an Office Christmas Party. Yeah ok doll people are different.)
In the meantime there they are, waiting patiently for someone to tell their story.