Great, Strange, and Rarely Seen Preview

Tonight is the reception for Great, Strange, and Rarely Seen: Objects from the Vault at the Albany Institute of History and Art.  Please come if you can!  Or come later, but you really should come.

To whet your appetite, I've taken a few pictures of my area of the exhibition (and have permission to post them).

Puttin' on the Glitz: Evening dresses of the 1920s.


Two dresses that did not make it in: the first one I dressed was this Neoclassical cotton gown, extremely similar to one at the New York State Museum that I examined for my thesis and therefore also very like the one that I sewed.  It didn't fit the mannequin, strictly speaking, but because of the drawstring construction I was able to make it look like it fit.

And this one, an afternoon dress made of lace and a panel of a chiné print taffeta.  (I was thinking it was a lingerie dress that happened to include that odd silk, but while trying to dress it - it came close but didn't close in the back - I realized it was more structured than that.)

A Lock of Hair: Memorial and craft hair jewelry.

On the left are the memorial pieces: brooches, rings, and pendants with the hair of a deceased person; on the right are pieces that could have been made at home or could have been bought from a store or catalogue.  In the case by itself is a high-quality retail horsehair bracelet from Lemonnier et Cie.

Vested Interest: Men's waistcoats.

This vest, interestingly enough, looks exactly like one that Lady Annabelle of Didmarton saw in Charleston. I still don't really know what to make of that.

Supposedly, these two were worn by Edmond-Charles Genêt, the first ambassador to the US from the Republic of France and (more apropos to most of you) the brother of Henriette Campan, lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette.  The story that goes with the one covered with little insects on the left is that Henriette and Marie Antoinette embroidered it, but it seems really, really unlikely.  In the back you can see a very American tamboured unbleached linen vest and a 1750s brocaded a-la-disposition waistcoat.

Head Gear: Hair combs, tiaras, and aigrettes.

I surprised myself when I started researching combs: my instinct was that the earlier combs were small, but actually until the 1830s they tended to be very broad and worn under the hairstyle, in the back.  (You can see it in the painting if you come!)  I originally had about half again as many items in this section, but it  looked a bit cluttered.

Fan-tastic: Women's fans.

I love the fans.  It was extremely difficult to get the number of them down to a manageable level. 

An autograph fan signed by pretty much anyone who was anyone in 1895 Albany, and a very pretty little number from the 1920s.

Two sets of original & revival styles - the upper ones are an 1820s brisé horn (imitation blonde tortoiseshell) fan and a sequined 1910s Neoclassical revival fan; the lower are an eighteenth century fan painted with one of those pastoral scenes and a florid 1850s revival of a style that's technically a little earlier than the pastoral one.

I hope you go to see it, and if you do, please tell me!


  1. Holy Waistcoat Twins!!!! I have been flipping back and forth between yours and mine and there is NO DIFFERENCE that I can see (other than that you had a decent camera, haha). The fabric pattern is the same...and even the pattern on the pocket flaps faces in the opposite direction from the pattern on the bottom trim like the Charleston waistcoat...what the heck. Do you have any info on yours? I wonder if these are then an example of ready-made clothing from the same shop? I wish I'd gotten a better shot, I can't tell and don't remember if the Charleston waistcoat had death's head buttons like yours seems to. I am blown away! I don't know about you but I have never seen or heard of surviving 'duplicate' items of 18th century clothing. This is fascinating...I feel like someone should re-unite the two like lost siblings...

    This looks like a beautiful exhibition! I so wish I lived close enough to come see it! I would probably drool all over the case full of fans and have to be escorted out.

    1. It's so bizarre! I don't think there was anything much about the provenance, but I will check. I don't think I've ever heard of duplicates like this either. That they were both ready-made seem the most likely option, I think, but it's just so strange.

  2. Is there any evidence that pre-printed patterns for embroidery designs were commonly available? I have no idea. It just reminds me a bit of the "suggestions for decoration" for garments common in 19th century Ladie's magazines.

    1. I don't know about the availability of pre-printed patterns (though I wouldn't be surprised, given the number of professional design books in the period), but the thing is, there isn't any embroidery on the waistcoat. The body is a smallish woven design and the border pattern is I think from the same cloth but woven near the selvages. I think it's quite possible that the fabric was made specifically for waistcoats, but it seems like the border fabric was used in exactly the same way, and the dimensions look the same as well.

  3. Oh! Okay. I took for granted that the pair of waistcoats were embroidered! The ready-made scenario makes quite a lot of sense in that case.


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