Category Archives: Reconstructing the Regency

Reconstructing the Regency, or Protecting the Pound Coin with a Regency Toy!

The new One Pound Coin is being lauded as the most secure, most difficult to forge, coin ever produced. One of the many features is the ‘hologram’ on the obverse, just below the Queen’s head. This is a small feature that shows a £ sign when viewed from one direction and a figure 1 when viewed from another.

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Picture from the Royal Mint

However this isn’t a true hologram, rather it is a physical picture cut onto tiny ridges, one image is on one side of the ridge and one on the other. You can feel the ridges if you run a fingernail over the feature.

This type of picture is called an anamorphic picture, a picture that can only be viewed from a particular direction. The most famous example of this is the skull in Holbein’s picture ‘The Ambassadors’. However this type of anamorphic picture was developed much later and by the Regency was a children’s toy, and is described in The Boy’s Own Book published in 1834. The instructions are far from clear, if you would like to try and make one I give them here.

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Naturally, as soon as I discovered these instructions I wanted to make one, so I began by working out the geometry.

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Then I selected two suitable pictures (from the British Museum online catalogue) and printed them out.

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These were then cut into correctly sized strips, that was what all the geometry was about, and pasted onto the base sheet.

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When dry the strip was folded in a concertina fashion, the images are completely mixed up.

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But viewed from the side one picture becomes clear.

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And the other can be seen from the other side.

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So to protect the most advanced coin of the 21st century, you need a child’s toy from the 18th!.

 

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Regency Pot Plants, or Learning to Love a Hyacinth

On her first morning at Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland came down to breakfast, Henry Tilney was already there, in order to prevent him teasing her about her fears of the night before she changes the subject by looking at some flowers.

“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”

“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”

“Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”

“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”

Catherine had arrived at Northanger about the middle of March, so the hyacinths were probably not cut flowers, but ones in pots or glasses. Glasses for hyacinths were available at the time, William Cobbett in The English Gardener (1829) advises;

In water-glasses, the hyacinth makes a very agreeable show in the house during the most dismal part of the winter. Get blue glasses, as more congenial to the roots than white ones, fill them with rain water, with a few grains of salt in each, and put in enough water to come up the bulb about the fourth part of an inch. Change the water carefully every week, and place the plants in the lightest and most airy part of the room, or green-house, in which you keep them.

 However by March, and particularly in a house like Northanger Abbey which had large and extensive glass houses, the bulbs would probably have been grown in pots, so that they could be changed as soon as the flower began to fade.

Flowers were often grown in pots and, if you had a large collection, could be displayed in a fashion that seems strange to a modern reader, as Louisa Johnson in Every Lady her own Flower Gardener (about 1840) describes;

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We recollect once seeing a very interesting collection of more than two hundred species, growing in a high state of perfection, in the house of an amateur living in Brussels. The room containing them was fitted up much in the same way as an ordinary library, with abundance of light shelves round the walls, and a large table in the middle of the room, on which were placed the pots containing the plants. At night, the room was lighted up by an elegant glass lamp, and it was heated by one of those ornamental stoves which are so common on the Continent, Altogether, it had a very handsome appearance.

However, in smaller room she advises to use pot stands rather than stages, (the pretentious term jardinière didn’t come into England from France until the mid-nineteenth century). A Regency, or perhaps a facsimile of a Regency, plant pot stand is to be found in Lytes Cary, a country house in Somerset.

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Courtesy National Trust

I didn’t have the material to make a curved front, so settled on an angular form. Painted black with a gold chinoiserie pattern.

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Cobbett says that there were over a thousand varieties of Hyacinth available in his day, so I felt justified in using a range of colours, to give an impression of the display admired by young Catherine Morland.

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Reconstructing the Regency – A Parminter Picture

Of all the buildings of the late eighteenth century, none is so remarkable, or so charming as the delightful ‘Cottage Ornee’ called A La Ronde. Not only is the house, a bizarre sixteen sided structure, wonderful, but it was decorated by its first owners, the Misses Parminter. The Parminter ladies were well travelled and very talented, and the house still contains many examples of their remarkable craftsmanship.

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I am currently teaching a class on the Regency using objects and, having seen A La Ronde, remembered the curious way in which some pictures were mounted. This provided an excellent reason to visit the house again, so I could examine the pictures and try and recreate their technique.
The technique is now called ‘block mounting’, pasting a picture on a piece of wood. However the Parminter cousins added a decorative border. So to begin.

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I first cut a suitable size piece of wood, larger than the print I wished to mount, and painted the edges. Then I pasted on a sheet of coloured paper.

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The print was then pasted in the middle of the board, and a decorative border, made from gold paper trimmed within pinking shears into a series of chevrons, added.

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I chose a suitable late eighteenth century print by a publisher called Carrington Bowles (incidentally he seems to have had a thing about hats, just about every lady he drew wears a big hat, even if she isn’t wearing anything else!).
For two independent ladies I chose an image of two Georgian Sportswomen.

Miss Trigger you see is an excellent shot, And forty five notches Miss Wicket’s just got

With young Catherine Morland in the background.

There is plenty of further inspiration to be found at A La Ronde, perhaps I will try something else in the future.

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The Dangerous Kitchen, a Charitable Discovery

In some of my earlier blogs I have talked about discoveries in charity shops. Well the other day I found something else.

Hanging in the widow of a small shop was a rather battered ladle, even in the poor light of the window I could see that the bowl was of copper and it was obviously of some age. I didn’t even bother examining it closely but happily paid the two pounds requested.

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Back home, and after a vigorous polishing, I realised it would make an excellent addition to my collection of objects that illustrate Regency and Victorian life. The bowl is of a heavy gauge copper, whilst the handle is of iron. The detailing of the hook at the end is slightly asymmetrical which would suggest it was hand forged. All this makes me think the ladle is of some age, nineteenth or even eighteenth century.

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Cleaning revealed that the bowl showed signs of tinning, covering copper in tin was essential when cooking as copper salts could leach into the food and poison it. Modern copper vessels are now coated in steel as tin was a soft metal and could easily be worn away in use (that was one reason why wooden spoons were so popular). Copper vessels had to be re-tinned at regular intervals, and letters and diaries often mention having to send pots and pans to be tinned, and complaining of the expense.

So if the food was cooked using poisonous implements, and contained poisonous ingredients such as Laurel, and was served on lead-rich pewter plates it is a wonder that our ancestors survived the eighteenth century.

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Reconstructing the Regency – The Red Books of Humphry Repton

As part of a series of classes I will be giving on Regency life, using objects rather just pictures, I am reconstructing various objects that are either very rare or only survive in pictures. Amongst the rare, and fragile, items are the Red Books of Humphry Repton

Recently there have been a series of exhibitions commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great landscape gardener, Capability Brown. So naturally I want to talk about his successor, who was mentioned in Mansfield Park.

“Your best friend upon such an occasion,” said Miss Bertram calmly, “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.”

“That is what I was thinking of.” said Mr. Rushworth. “As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day.”

If Mr Rushworth had employed Humphry Repton, instead of having to spend his money divorcing his newly married wife, who had run off with Henry Crawford, there would have been a Red Book produced for Sotherton.

The Red Books, so called from the colour of the leather in which they were bound, were Repton’s innovative method of attracting clients. As well as plans and descriptions of what he proposed doing to the estate, there were before and after paintings of what the view looked like now, and what it would look like when Repton’s works were carried out. Much of this had been done before, but what made Humphry Repton’s pictures remarkable was that before and after were to be found on the same illustration. You first saw the landscape as is at present, then you raised a paper flap and the view turned into what it would be.

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It must be said, however, that Humphry Repton had a major character flaw, he was a dreadful snob, always sucking up to his wealthy or titled clients, he was referred to as oleaginous (oily), and was more than happy to approve of his clients more morally doubtful schemes, such as this for enclosing a common and turning it into the park associated with a fashionable villa.

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Which reminds me of the famous verse;

            The law is hard on man or woman

            Who steals the goose from off the common

            But lets the greater villain loose

            Who steals the common from the goose

 View from my own cottage before

To create a facsimile of a Red Book illustration I first downloaded high resolution scans from the websites listed below. I decided to take the pictures showing how he improved his own house. I printed both the before and after views at exactly the same size, on heavy cartridge paper.

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Then I cut out the tab and frame of from the ‘before’ view, this was then pasted over the ‘after view.

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By lifting the flap you can see how he improved his garden, planting rose bushes, enclosing the village green and getting rid of the geese and inconvenient disabled poor people.

A great gardener but not a very nice man.

 View from my own cottage after

Repton’s books can be found on the University of Wisconsin website:

Sketches and hints on landscape gardening, 1794.

Observations on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1803.

Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1816.

 

 

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Reconstructing the Regency – The Weymouth Cyclorama

As part of a series of classes I will be giving on Regency life, using objects rather just pictures, I am reconstructing various objects that are either very rare or only survive in pictures. One of the strangest is the Weymouth Cyclorama.

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In the collections at Weymouth Museum is a small cardboard box containing a roll of paper. The paper roll consists of a series of printed views of the Dorset coast, which have been stuck together on a linen backing to give a continuous picture of the coast from Portland Bill to Lulworth Cove as seen from the sea. From the steamships that are shown off Weymouth, I would date the roll to about 1825-30. It must have been part of a very expensive tourist souvenir.

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The box lid describes it as a Cycloramique View of Weymouth Bay, and incudes a drawing of the viewer. Clearly it was intended to turn the roll so the pictures moved in front of the viewer as though they were passing along the coast.
I naturally wanted to reconstruct the viewer.

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From high quality scans of the cyclorama images I was able to print off all the images and mount them together in a single strip. Even at ten centimetres high the strip was nearly four metres long.

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Then it was necessary to reconstruct the turning mechanism, I had no idea of how the original worked, but after several sessions of trial and error I created this.

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The surrounding box both contains the winding mechanism and holds it at a suitable distance from the viewers eyes. An internal partition gives a suitable frame for the view.

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The box was finally decorated and, by tuning the knobs, you can experience a voyage along the Dorset coast as it would have been nearly two hundred years ago.

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Reconstructing the Regency – The Dandy Toy

As part of a series of classes I will be giving on Regency life, using objects rather just pictures, I am reconstructing various objects that are either very rare or only survive in pictures. Of these toys are the rarest as they were usually played to pieces.

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I recently came across a print of 1818 entitled The English Ladies Dandy Toy, it shows a lady playing with a child’s toy, a Jumping Jack. This is a very ancient toy, which works by pulling the string making the legs move. The cartoon is probably a skit on the ‘Dandy’, the hyper-fashionable men of the early nineteenth century, suggesting that they are little more than toy boys for the ladies of the period, not real men.

 Dandy Toy detail

The ‘Dandy Toy’ the lady is holding is clearly a caricature of the dandy of the period, a thin, corseted waist (men wore tighter corsets than women at this time!) and the very high neck cloth which could prevent the men turning the head.

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I naturally wanted to make a ‘Dandy Toy’, so took an outline plan of a jumping jack, then adapted it to something approaching the toy the lady is holding. This was then stuck to a sheet of card and painted.

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Finally it was cut out and fitted together with modern paper fasteners (the original would have used wire) and linked with heavy thread. And there I had a ‘Dandy Toy’.

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And here is one being used in a brilliant fashion, indeed just as one might be used today. To distract a child as it is being vaccinated. A contemporary view of the way in which one of the most important medical advances of all time was implemented.

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