A Peek at the Past


Old stereoviews have such intriguing sets. They show many articles of everyday life, such as you find today in antique stores or see artfully displayed in historic sites. But there’s nothing quite like seeing them surrounded by the people who originally used them.

I can get lost on Flickr or Pinterest, just playing voyeur. But of course it’s pictures that show sewing that are especially fascinating! The theme of this 1860s photo, an exasperated mother mending her child’s torn pants, was a favorite for humorous stereoviews and postcards for many decades.

What do we find here? Mother sits on a stool by the fire with her sleeves pushed up while she works, wearing one of those pretty headdresses that fill the pages of Godey’s and Peterson’s. She’s mending the pants which already have one patch (badly done to be obvious, since no neat seamstress would ever flaunt that), and glancing sternly at the culprit.

The little boy waits shame-faced on the table, wearing only his shirt, stockings and shoes. His little sister sits on the floor against a three-legged stool, playing with her doll. The older brother is wearing a suit and lying on the floor with a whirly wooden toy.

The image on other side of the card.
The image on other side of the card.

Clothes are drying over the fire, and the mantel holds candlesticks, plates and an unidentifiable object. Bowls are stacked on the table and the bellows hang below dippers and a frying pan.

But wait! There’s more! Why waste the carefully staged scene on a single card? A quick search turned up a superior version, which was also tinted. The photographer captures more of the props in this one.

Here the family has moved a bit. Now Mother’s pagoda sleeves are down (no visible undersleeves), little sister has recrossed her legs, and older brother is sitting on a crate. You can clearly see the saw by the door, and a lamp and dried vegetables (?) hanging from the ceiling. A wooden bucket waits under the table for slops (or perhaps a trip to the well), a colander hangs by the chimney, and a covered dish just shows behind the bowls.

What have I missed? Something, I’m sure. Or just my time-traveling self, peeking in the door to say hello!

A version with more goodies and – yes – color! (Courtesy W. Wiggers)

Recipe for Disaster

Let’s hope she’s well-ventilated.

It’s so much fun to read housekeeping manuals and other domestic how-to books from days gone by. You come across many strange things in cookery, cosmetics, and cures: some fun, some funny, and some frightening. I found this delightful mixture in an old book on my shelf, The Complete Dressmaker, 1907.

A very highly recommended cleansing fluid may be made from the following:

Gasoline . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 gallon

Ether . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 teaspoonful

Chloroform . . . . . . . . ..1 teaspoonful

Ammonia . . . . . . . . . . . .2 teaspoonfuls

 Alcohol . . . . . . . . . . . . ..1 gill

Mix well and do not use near a fire or light, or in a closed room. (Seriously?) This fluid cleans silks and woolen materials, leaves a new finish and does not shrink the fabric or give white goods a yellow tinge. It may be used on the most delicate colors and fabrics and is very inexpensive.

Pour into a china washbowl sufficient of the fluid to cover the material or article to be cleaned; wash as you would in water, rub the soiled spots with an old, soft brush; a toothbrush will answer this purpose on a flat surface. Wring the material out of this fluid and rinse in a second portion. Wring out again and hang out in the air until the fluid evaporates.

Or the haz-mat team arrives.

In all fairness I should admit that the contents, if I knew them, of many products we use today would be just as shocking to a non-chemist like myself.  Still, this is one recipe I’ll let pass.