Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pudding Cap

Object: Pudding Cap, Reproduction
Accession #: 2005.0042EC

In the eighteenth-century children of both sexes were dressed similarly in petticoats and kept their hair long. Bibbed aprons were also popular. It can sometimes be difficult to determine if a child in a colonial portrait is a boy or a girl. Around the age of five a male child would be "breeched" and dressed in their first pair of breeches. 

A unique article of clothing specifically intended for toddlers learning to walk were pudding caps - padded helmets protecting them from injury due to accidental falls and bumps into furniture.

There are multiple theories to how the nickname of “pudding” came about.  One source from the UK states that the padded rolls showed a similarity to the shape and size of a sausage named black pudding, a popular food still enjoyed today.   A curator at Colonial Williamsburg claims the source of the name came from the caps “resemblance to the shape of pudding or pudding bowls.”

Regardless of where the name came from, many of the pudding caps shared a similar construction.  A simple cap was made of a horseshoe shaped roll that tied around the head in the back, typically with four triangular flaps that attached/ tied at the top of the head with ribbon. Horse hair and other materials were used for stuffing and padding the cap.   The ties in the back and at the top allowed for adjustments to accommodate a growing child’s head.  Many of the pudding caps were designed for everyday wear and tear; made out of dark fabric to disguise stains and dirt.   For a more grand styled pudding cap, leathers, silks and fur trims were frequently in fashion.

The reproduction pudding cap at Wilton is made of a combination of green velvet and leather, showcasing the prosperity of the family.  This item is currently on display in the nursery, where it would have been worn by one of the many Randolph children of Wilton.

Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America : the Colonial Williamsburg Collection. Yale University Press, 2002. 160-167. eBook. 

"'Pudding' safety hat." Museum of Childhood. N.p.. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <>. 
Image Credit 
Chardin, Jean-Siméon. The Young Schoolmistress. 1735. Painting. The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <>. 
          Wilton House Museum 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Standing High

Object: Chest of Drawers,  c. 1740-1760

Accession #: 1909.0003

The Queen Anne period, according to one historian, was known for “its elegant simplicity achieved by beauty of the line.”  This mahogany high chest in Wilton’s collection was made in Massachusetts and gives is an example of a piece from this period. Much of the population and wealth of New England was concentrated in eastern Massachussetts, in and around Boston, and northeastward along the coast through Salem, Marblehead, and Ipswich. The high chest of drawers was introduced from England into Boston in the 18th century.

This high chest of drawers has many distinct features that point toward Marblehead as its possible place of origin. According to one historian, “No town in colonial America capable of supporting a cadre of furniture craftsmen has been less appreciated than Marblehead, and no Massachusetts town has a higher percentage of surviving pieces signed by its known cabinetmakers.”  This same historian brings out three distinct features of Marblehead high chests which are present in this one which stands in the master bedchamber of Wilton.  An incised semicircle at the perimeter of the fans points to Marblehead. In addition, the drawer bottoms’ grain runs from front to back which is “indicator of Marblehead work prior to 1780.” The historian, writing about Marblehead high chests, continues by pointing out that “virtually every piece documented or attributed to Marblehead has either widely spaced double beading or a single bead on the inside edge, with the former appearing just over half the time.” This high chest in Wilton’s collection has double beading. 

Though Wilton was constructed with eleven closets the Randolph family would have used chests of drawers for storage of household linens and clothing. Closets were used to the storing of household goods, not clothing, in the eighteenth-century. According to one historian, “the most commanding piece of furniture in a colonial American home was the high chest of drawers" testament to the owners taste and wealth. Not only could you afford such an elegant piece of furniture, but you had the wherewithal to fill its many drawers with costly garments and textiles. 

This particular high chest of drawers was donated to the Wilton collection by Jessie Dew Ball du Pont whose generosity continues to live on through the Jessie Ball du Pont Religious, Charitable and Educational Fund established in her will.

Lindquist, David P. The Big Book of Antique Furniture. Krause Publications. Iowa, 2002.
Obbard, John W. Early American Furniture: a guide to who, when, and where. Collector Books,
Inc. Paducah, 2006.
Widmer II, Kemble and Judy Anderson. “Furniture from Marblehead”. Antiques Magazine. May
Cheek, Mary Tyler Freeman and Ralph B. Draughon, Jr. “Who Was Jesse Dew Ball dupont?”. 
“High Chest of Drawers”. Decorative Arts Trust. 30 October 2013.