5 Things You May Not Know About Samuel Johnson

Dr. Samuel Johnson, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Dr. Samuel Johnson, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Samuel Johnson became famous after publishing the Dictionary of the English Language. It all began in 1746 when a group of publishers approached him to write the dictionary, which was one of the first. Because of it, Trinity College awarded him a doctorate and thereafter he was known as Dr. Johnson. Johnson also committed to finish the dictionary in three years, but it took nine years to write and was not published until 1755.

After it was published, Johnson did not become rich for all his hard work, and “the reward of his labour was only fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds.” This was because “no royal or noble patron extended a munificent … to the man who had conferred stability on the language of his country … [and] when the expense of amanuenses, and paper and other articles, [were] deducted, his clear profit was very inconsiderable.” Moreover, in 1756, Johnson was arrested for an outstanding debt, and eventually wrote to the publisher Samuel Richardson, who loaned him six guineas, after which the two became friends.

There are also five other interesting things about Johnson. These include his opinion of the Scottish race, his illnesses, his odd behavior, his love for his wife, and his tea drinking. Continue reading

Popular Fashion Terms for the 1860s

Cutaway View of Crinoline, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Cutaway View of Crinoline, Courtesy of Wikipedia

aumônière—a purse or a pouch.
basque—a close-fitting bodice that extends from the shoulders to the waist and frequently includes a short continuation below the waist.
basquine—a tight-fitting corset-like underbodice created from heavy fabric or material.
bouffant gown—primarily reserved for formal or special occasions, these gowns had a wide, full skirt resembling a hoop skirt or having petticoat supports underneath.
bouillonné or bouillon—Gathered or shirred bands of fabric that usually form a bubble.
chemisette—a short undergarment worn over a chemise. Also known as a tucker.
Continue reading

Hats to Fit a Man’s Personality in the Georgian and Regency Era

Hats were Named for Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the late Georgian and Regency Era, hats were more than an element of fashion. There were so many hat styles, any man of any shape or size could find a hat to fit his physical features. But hats were not just designed to fit a man’s physical characteristics; they were also designed to fit a man’s personality. In fact, it was noted that “a man may be readily summed up … approved of or condemned by his immediate fellows [by what hat is put upon his head.]” For this reason men wanted to wear the right hat to give the right impression.

Some hats were unique just like their wearers. Others were elegant, and some “exceedingly comfortable” or “admired for the ease and simplicity of style [more] than for any peculiar character[istic].” Certain hats offered nothing more than nice proportions, whereas some hats were noted as being gentlemanly or displaying “character.” Among the hats designed to fit the eighteenth and nineteenth century man’s unique personality were the Clericus, the Eccentric, John Bull, the Regent, and the Wellington. Continue reading

The Celebrated Pig-Faced Lady

Tanakin Skinker, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Tanakin Skinker, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the 1600s, the idea that a pig-faced lady existed captured the imagination of people in France, England, and the Netherlands. The idea was rooted in a fabled woman named Tanakin Skinker. She was supposedly born with a pig snout due to witchcraft. By the 1700s, the belief in pig-faced women transitioned from fiction to fact after people began to report a pig-faced woman existed. Then, between 1814 and 1815, portraits of a pig-woman surfaced, along with reports that a pig-face lady resided in the affluent Marylebone and lived in Manchester Square.

The fervor that a pig-faced woman existed was supposedly further encouraged when:

“[A]t the illuminations for the battle of Waterloo … a carriage was observed, and in it a magnificently dressed female with a pig’s head. She was subsequently seen driving about in different parts of London … and the driver of the carriage always succeeded in eluding the curiosity of the crowd. Many persons said that it was someone wearing a theatrical mask.”

However, many people believed whoever was in the carriage was real and the pig-faced lady. This belief was partly brought to life when a print was published by Fairburn. It “sold for a shilling, [and provided] … a portrait of the pig-faced lady, her silver trough placed on a table beside her.” Continue reading

Women’s Dress Fashions for October 1897

Ladies' Collarette with Collar Rolled Medici Fashion, Author's Collection
Ladies’ Collarette with Collar Rolled Medici Fashion, Author’s Collection

By October of 1897, the autumn or fall season was advanced enough to require heavy fabrics, with the dominant fabrics for this time of year being velvet, broadcloth, drap d’ete (a thin wool or blended summer fabric with a twill weave), cheviot, and camel’s-hair. Coats were worn somewhat longer than they had been, on the other hand, capes were growing shorter. In some stylish wraps, a smooth back and front framed the full rippling sides. Additionally, plaits and coat laps were fashionable on almost all coats, and single bust darts tended to render coat fronts as tight-fitting as the coat’s back. The most popular collars for coats were either a Medici (fan-shaped, upstanding collar made popular in the sixteenth century by the Medici family) or a Lafayette (modified stand up collar that covered the neck, hit below the ears, and was “as high in front as the chin [would] permit, in turning the head”), both of which were similar. When it came to waists, they varied, although many had blouse characteristics and most had fanciful trim. Additionally, some had narrow clusters of tucks in front, others “a tuck-shirred yoke,” and some a yoke in back. New skirts were nine gored, but all skirts—three piece, or five- and seven-gored skirts—sported the popular fan in the back because it better accommodated narrow-width goods. Continue reading

The Beautiful Face of Regency Women

Regency Women in 1820, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Regency Women in 1820, Courtesy of Wikipedia

When Jane Austen was publishing Pride and Prejudice and Napoleon was being exiled to Alba, cosmetics were used by Regency women “to produce a healthful bloom on the countenance.” As a woman’s face, neck, and hands were frequently exposed to nature’s harsh elements, great care was taken to restore  beauty and luster back to her skin. In fact, Regency women were sometimes willing to try strange things, such as “eating chalk, drinking vinegar, [and] wearing camphorated charms,” all in the hope of whitening their skin or maintaining a youthful appearance. Despite the Regency woman’s best efforts, nature often took its toll. Regency women suffered from age spots, freckles, pimples, spots, sunburns, or wrinkles.

To correct these flaws, Regency women used the following: Continue reading

The Eccentric Mr. Martin Van Butchell

Mr. Martin Van Butchell, Public Domain
Mr. Martin Van Butchell, Public Domain

Not many people are willing to put a dead spouse on display, but that’s exactly what the eccentric Mr. Martin Van Butchell did. Van Butchell was born in 1735 and died in 1814. From a young age, he was interested in medicine and began healing patients. He studied under Doctor William Hunter, a Scottish anatomist and physician who served Queen Charlotte and was considered one of the leading obstetricians and anatomy teacher of the times. Van Butchell’s abilities to cure a wide variety of medical diseases were well documented and included such problems as “Fistulas; Piles, Wens, Carbuncles; Mattery [sic] Pimples; Inflammations, Boils; Ulcers, Aching Legs; Tumors, Abscesses; Strictures, and Ruptures, without Confinement; Burning, or Cutting.” Continue reading

Jacob Spinas and the Finsbury Murder

Murder in the House by Jakub Schikaneder, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Murder in the House by Jakub Schikaneder, Courtesy of Wikipedia

On the morning of 15 January 1870 the cry of murder was raised. Police were called to Buecker’s Hotel, on Christopher Street in Finsbury, where the constable arrested a porter named Jacob Spinas for murdering a woman whom he had brought into the hotel. The constable found the dead woman lying inside the bedroom next to the kitchen door. It was obvious that Spinas and the woman had been drinking as there were several opened bottles of wine. It was also evident the woman had struggled because the left side of her head was battered and fractured and her clothes covered in blood. Additionally, when the constable conducted a search of Spinas’s room, he discovered under the bed a bent brass candlestick covered with blood and hair. Continue reading

Chicken-skin Gloves or Limericks


Beauty was sometimes a strange process in the 1700 and 1800s. Some women went so far as to cover their faces with lard or apply masks “plastered … with a perfumed pomade to preserve the complexion.” There was also a mask of sliced veal (steeped in milk) that was applied to the face, and, of course, the ever popular milk bath that fair beauties soaked in, while those who had long since seen the bloom of youth bathed in astringents, such as wine. But, perhaps, one of the strangest beauty fashions was a practice that first began in the 1600s and was adapted by both sexes. It was chicken-skin gloves, sometimes called Limerick gloves. Continue reading

The Jolliffe Hat

The Jolliffee , Public Domain
The Jolliffe , Public Domain

The Jolliffe (also sometimes spelled Jolliffee or Jollife) was not your common hat. It got its name from Hylton Jolliffe (1773-1843) who an English politician renown for wearing oversized head gear. In fact, Jolliffe’s hats were so large, the Sporting Magazine humorously observed that “he will punt three or four of us over…his hat.” The magazine also noted how Jolliffe regularly wore large hats stating, “Who has not seen him walk up St. James’s-street with his venerable white head covered with a huge punt hat…he looks like what he is, a country Gentleman and a fox hunter.” Continue reading