Wednesday, January 14, 2015

For the Expensive and New Beverage

Object: Tea Caddy, c. 1752
Accession #: 1900.0023a-b

Europeans were introduced to tea from China in the early 17th century. It was initially esteemed for its medicinal purposes. Later, the hot beverage was served in coffeehouses of England exclusively for the enjoyment of the gentlemen gathered there. It was not until the late seventeenth century that tea began to be served in a domestic setting and was sipped by everyone in the household alike. When tea began to be served in the home, “[the] change meant that suddenly every hostess required the proper equipment for serving the expensive new beverage, and the ownership of an extensive tea service became an important symbol of one’s social position.” In the early 18th century, serving pieces were generally made of silver while cups and saucers were made of porcelain. In 1784 La Rochefoucauld pointed out that, “It is also the custom for the youngest lady of the household to make the tea.” Expensive tea leaves were stored in a tea canister, often kept in a wooden or japanned tea chest.­ The brewing of the tea was carried out by the host or hostess, or one of the their daughters. Tea leaves were brought to the table in a small “kind of cabinet,” called a tea caddy.

One such tea caddy that was used for this purpose by an 18th-century household is this English Repousse George II Silver Tea caddy in Wilton’s collection. Made by S. Herbert and Co., its inverted pear shaped body has, on the back, a cartouche containing a tree and cartouche containing 3 trees and the phrase “patior ut potiar,” on neck of caddy. This motto roughly translates to : I suffer that I am obtain, and is that of the Spotswood family. A molded bird serves as a finial on the lid. As one historian describes,
One of the most engaging aspects of the rococo silver is the delightful rocaille heraldic engraving in which the coat of arms is displayed in an asymmetrical cartouche of pear or shell shape, surrounded by shell ornaments enriched with the airy, playful pattern of C-scrolls and delicate sprays of realistic leaves and flowers.
The inverted pear shape of this tea caddy is also characteristic of the ­­Rococo style.
As serving tea at home became popular, “silver lent importance to the new custom, as well as serving as a display of the host’s wealth.” Tea chests and caddies were also made of exotic woods such as mahogany, fruit wood, ebony, or rosewood. Tea chests were equipped with a sturdy lock, reflecting the expense of tea leaves. The guardian of the tea caddy’s key might take it everywhere with them to ensure safe keeping. The same fashions followed in the colonies so that by the middle of the eighteenth century its residents consumed a lot of tea. As in many households, the Randolph family served tea to the family as well as guests. It lent to their wealthy status as they could afford to serve their tea in silver pots after brewing it from tea leaves stored in a silver or wooden tea caddy fitted with lock and key.
Works Cited
Breed, Thomas. Tea Consumers, Tea Trade, and Colonial Cultivation. University of Minnesota: James Ford Bell Library. 16 October 2014.>

Guzler, Liza. Q&A with Liza Guzler. Williamsburg Marketplace. 16 October 2014.

Pettigrew, Jane. A Social History of Tea. National Trust Entreprises Ltd. London, 2001.
Phillips, John Marshall. American Silver. Chanticleer Press. New York, 1949.
Ward, Barbara Mclean, ed. Silver in American Life.  The American Federation of Arts. New York, 1979.
“Francois de La Rochefoucald”. Wikipedia.            <>

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

To Keep One's Self Warm

Object: Warming Pan, ca. 1770-1800
Accession#: 1900.0061

Winter presented a difficult time for families simply trying to keep warm, including the Randolphs. As one historian states, “for most American colonists, winter could be anything from inconvenient to challenging to deadly.” The fireplace provided the only source of heat until Benjamin Franklin invented the wood stove. A fireplace gives but takes away, as much of its heat goes up the chimney and pulls cold air back in to replace it. So heating a room could be a somewhat unsuccessful venture. The following quote, from the Farmer’s Almanac (1784), gives advice on how to keep warm during winter:

Take a piece of wood, fling it out the window into the Yard;  then run downstairs as hard as you ever can; when you have got it, run up again with the same measure of speed; keep throwing and fetching up until the Exercise shall sufficiently heated you.  Renew as often as the occasion shall require!

However, during the night when one might not be energetic enough for such an exercise and is ready for some rest, a warming pan might be filled with hot coals. It would then be used to warm the beds before being occupied.

Usually made of copper, warming pans were circular with a hinged cover that was perforated and etched with landscape designs or flowers. It would also be fixed with a handle made of oak. Better quality ones had handles made of mahogany that were “richly carved with elaborate designs.” An example of a warming pan similar to what might have been used by the Randolph family is this one in Wilton’s collection. It is made of brass, copper, and wood and has a long handle which ends at a round pan with hinged lid. 

Originating in England in 1740, warming pans were preceded by stone water jugs that would be filled with hot water. Similarly there was a foot warmer which was a pierced tin box in a wooden frame that was filled with coals and placed in coaches or in rooms. They might also have been used in church and set in the bottom of the box pew to keep worshipers warm. Warming pans were hung by the fire place for ease of use in one’s bedroom and as one historian attests, “Their burnished faces added glory to the stern faces of Colonial interiors.” They were inserted constantly and repeatedly into the bed as to not scorch the sheets, which might have been linen at that time. The Randolph family had as many as 5 bedrooms that each might have taken part in this luxury which would have been a treat for whoever was the first to hop into bed. 

Works Cited

Jennings, George Wilson. House and Garden, Volume 34. “Keeping Warm in Colonial Winter:

Robinson, David. “Coping with the Cold”. Colonial Williamsburg. 21 November 2014.

“How Hampton Citizens Lived in Colonial Times: Part 4: Colonial Fireplace: Source of Heat and
Light”. Lane Memorial Library. 21 November 2014. <>

“Keeping Warm in the Winter”. The Senate House. 21 November 2014.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Sophisticated Art of...Tatting?

Object: Tatting Shuttle
Accession#: 2008.0010

This brown tatting shuttle in Wilton’s collection is made of ivory or bone and a faded white thread is wrapped around middle. This simple yet important tool is what holds the thread and is held in the right hand like a pencil, blade uppermost. The thread leaves the shuttle on the side furthest away from the holder. To form the knot, the shuttle is passed over and under a taut thread held in the left hand. So the stitch or knot is made by the movement of the fingers. More elaborate designs may be made with more than one shuttle being utilized. A tatting shuttle can be made of bone, ivory, mother of pearl, or tortoise shell. Two oval blades are connected in the middle forming a spool-like tool.

Real lace, “the manufactur[ing] of which was a sophisticated art,” is composed of many kinds of ornamental knots and stitches of which the tatting knot is one. The word tatting does not seem to appear in print until 1843 and the origin of tatting is unclear. The knot may have originated about 2000 years ago when sailors used a large shuttle to weave heavy cords into fishing nets. This technique then might have been passed onto weavers who used a finer stitch to weave lace. According to one historian, “lace making was a thriving business in Europe” catering to the royalty who could afford garments trimmed with lace. Children and handmaidens were taught to tat edgings which were bought by weavers to be added to garments that were then sold for large sums of money.

Anne, 2nd Countess of Abermarle
by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The commonly held belief, however, is that tatting evolved from the “old craft of knotting.” Practiced toward the late seventeenth century in Western Europe and the British Isles, it was particularly popular with the ladies of French and English courts. Around 1760, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted a portrait of Anne, 2nd Countess of Abermarle, engaged in the craft. Lengths of thread were knotted at quarter inch intervals. The pre-knotted thread was added to other fabric. A shuttle was used to manipulate the thread. The technique of tatting starts with a similar smaller shuttle which merely is the holder of the thread as it is in knotting.

The tatting knot is created by looping and tying knots that are formed on a core thread which gives, as one historian attests, “the strength and comparative firmness of the work.” In England it was called knotting, in France frivolite, and America tatting. In the 19th century, when the craft became popular, women’s fashion magazines, such as Godey’s and Harper’s Bazaar, included tatting patterns and instructions in their issues. This technique is used to trim anything from undergarments and pillowcases. Although the craft of tatting may have come later, the Randolph daughters may have been taught knotting.

Interested in lace? Visit Wilton between now and January 15 to see a site-specific lace installation as part of Wilton's current exhibition Anywhere But Now. Displacement, by Olivia Valentine, mimics the wood paneling of the house with thread in a bobbin to create a large lace piece.

Work Cited

Leslie, Catherine Amoroso. Needlepoint Throughout History: An Encyclopedia. 18 September 2014. <

Kelly, Donna.  “What is Tatting?”.Victoriana Magazine. 8 August 2014.

Nicholls, Elgiva. Tatting Techniques: Old Revivals and New Experiments. Charles Scribner’s
and Sons, New York: 1976.

Tabler, Dave. “Reviving the Ancient Art of Tatting”. Appalachian History: Stories, Quotes, and
             Anecdotes. 7 October 2011. 29 August 2014.

Image Credit

The Tatter’s Guild of Australia. 29 August 2014. < >

Wikimedia Commons. 18 September 2014.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Select Airs

Object: Music Book, Select Airs, for the Piano Forte, arranged from De Webers Celebrated Opera Der Freichutz
Accession #: 2005.0019

Lithography was invented in Germany in 1796 by Bavarian playwright, Alois Senefelder.  Greasy crayon was applied to slabs of limestone and then his scripts printed with rolled on ink.  Crayon marks were retained so well that duplicate copies could be made in unlimited quantities. Lithograph comes from the Latin for stone, litho, and mark, graph. This music book, Select Airs, for the Piano Forte, arranged from De Webers Celebrated Opera Der Freichutz, includes 23 pages of music and a lithograph of Weber’s Opera. Carl Maria von Weber, a German composer, conductor, pianist, and critic lithographed a set of Variations for the Pianoforte himself under the guidance of Senefelder.

Born in Eutin, Holstein and raised in a family of singers, Weber’s father made sure he was given an education which included literature and art. He had several music teachers, met many musicians and composers including Meyebeer. Weber's first opera, composed in 1800 when he was 14, was Die Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden), parts of which survive. The composer studied under Michael Haydn in Salzburg and later in Munich under singer Johann Evangelist Wallishauser and organist J.N. Kalcher. From 1813-1816, Weber was Director of the Opera in Prague. From 1817 he was director of the opera in Dresden, “working hard to establish a German opera, in response to the Italian opera which had dominated the European music scene since the 18th century.”  Weber’s works influenced the development of the romantic opera in Germany and Der Freichutz was an instant success in Berlin, in 1821, and within a few years was performed in every major opera house in Europe.

It has been said of Der Freischütz, “Weber’s beguiling score is full of rustic energy and vivid evocations of the natural world,” and that, “his study of aesthetics, of German folk tales and his interest in the supernatural were brought to bear on Der Freischütz. Fred Plotkin, a commentator and writer on opera, continues

Der Freischütz, often referred to in English as "The Magic Marksman," draws from German Romanticism’s use of the supernatural as a threatening presence, especially when it emanates from the forests found at the edge of villages. Weber introduced hunter’s horns and adroitly used various instruments in the orchestra to depict these natural and supernatural phenomena, and the chorus is deployed to spooky effect as the sounds of scary spirits. Weber used other instruments, such as the clarinet, to express the emotions and frustrations of young, sentimental love.

Almost 200 years after its debut, the scope of Weber’s opera continues to be enjoyed by audiences around the world. In the United States, the first opera to be performed in 1796 was Gretry’s Sylvain, in New Orleans. Although it is not known for certain that the Randolph family participated in the viewing of operas or similar theatrical productions, they did have an appreciation for music. This can be seen through the harpsichord they owned which was the most expensive item on their inventory of 1810. Music is once again enjoyed at Wilton through the museum’s free summer concert series and other events throughout the year. 

Works Cited

Ives, Colta. "Lithography in the Nineteenth Century". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. 30 May 2013. <> (October 2004) 

Larner, Gerald. “Overture Der Freischütz”. Scottish Chamber Orchestra. 31 May 2014.
Plotkin, Fred. “Overlooked Operas: Weber's Der Freischütz”. WQXR: Operavore. 8 July 2013.
29 May 2014. <!/story/305476-overlooked-operas-der-freischutz/>  

Tommasini, Anthony. “London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus: ‘Der Freischütz’”. New York
Times. New York Times, 21 June 2013. Web. 29 May 2014. <
“Opera in New Orleans”. OperaCreole. 23 June 2014.

“Carl Maria von Weber”. Classic Cat. 5 June 2014. <

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To Permit a Sheltered Enjoyment of a View

Object: Pole Screen, c. 1770-1780
with late 19th –early 20th century needlepoint
Accession #: 1984.0051

Pole Screen in Wilton's Parlor
Eighteenth century fire screens provided protection from the intense heat of the fireplace and kept sparks from flying into the room. There is a type known as a ‘pole screen’ with a small panel and fixed to pole upon which it can be raised or lowered.  An example of one of these particular screens is in Wilton’s collection, a Philadelphia Chippendale mahogany pole screen with an adjustable rectangular frame holding a needlepoint figural scene.  In the scene is a man on his knees next to a woman with her arms stretched upwards and a castle in the proper left background.  The pole screen has a columnar support on tripod base and pad feet.  Fire screens would have helped shelter members of the Randolph family as they sat around the eight fireplaces at Wilton.  These would have especially been useful in rooms such as the parlor, study, and master bedchamber where people may have been sitting near a fire for long periods of time.

Earliest known screens occurred in China in the 2nd century B.C.E.and were made of mica or glass panels,and were used to “permit a sheltered enjoyment of a view.”  Some may have been carved and inlaid with jade, painted with landscapes, texts, memorable events or simple scenes of everyday activity.  Japanese screens were characteristically of six panels with a landscape spread across the whole instead of each frame being independent of the others like the Chinese screens.  Screens developed in Europe out of necessity to protect against drafts and the large fires of the Middle Ages.  Metal was avoided in the construction of these screens as the heat would make them too hot.  They were generally made of wood and covered with a variety of materials; wallpaper, textiles, and leather were among the most popular materials.

British Cheval Fire Screen, ca. 1730-1740
Metropolitan Museum of Art 
(acc#: 64.101.1154)
Not only were there the smaller screens on tripod feet like this Chippendale Mahogany pole screen but also ones known as “cheval screens” which stood on a pair of feet and four legged “horse” screens.  There were also larger standing screens with up to twelve leaves, which could be unfolded to cover a wide space or collapsed as necessary.  These were usually set up against a door for facilitating with the blocking of cold drafts and "provided the occupants of a room with a measure of privacy."  Smaller table top screens blocked drafts that made candles sputter and melt uneven.

By the 1860's, when heating stoves were used to warm rooms, the fire screen became a more decorative piece by placing it in front of an empty fireplace. However, during the 18th century when the Randolph family was living at Wilton, pole screens similar to this one were used for protecting those sitting near a fire from the extremity of the heat as well as the sparks that tended to fly out from these fires.  Guests and other occupants of the house would enjoy the warmth provided by the fire but not be sweltering.  Come to Wilton and see this fire screen as well as some of the other comforts enjoyed by the Randolphs and their guests at this elegant Georgian home.

Detail of needlework screen.

Anderson, Joseph. The Encyclopedia of Furniture. Crown Publisher’s Inc. New York: 1965.

Prown, Jonathan and Ronald L. Hurst. Southern Furniture: 1680-1830, The Colonial
            Williamsburg Collection. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Williamsburg: 1997.

“Fire Screen”. Ingenious Inc. 8 August 2014. <>

Image Credit