J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, December 31, 2010

What Stays

Earlier this season, Historic New England reported:

We were surprised to find that one of the most popular museum objects [in our online collections] was not something of great monetary value, such as a work of art or a piece of furniture, but a humble eighteenth-century homespun corset.

Why? It turns out that a website, larsdatter.com, which lists material culture available on the web, posted a link to the corset [on its page about women’s stays and corsets]. This caused a flurry of hits as word spread—presumably among the electronic community of people who make authentic costumes for theater and re-enactors, and who prize rare survivals like this for the historical evidence they contain.
The collections database currently includes 34,000 images and more than 130,000 records.

Here’s another set of stays from colonial New England, this one made for a child and preserved at the Pocumtuck Valley Historical Association in Deerfield, Massachusetts.


Susan Holloway Scott said...

As every blogger knows, there are certain words that make search engines go through the roof. On our own blog (www.twonerdyhistorygirls.com), we've found that any post with either "stays" or "corset" in the title will always draw visitors galore. Not sure they're entirely costume historians and re-enactors, but hey, a visitor's a visitor.

J. L. Bell said...

I know that phenomenon. Then again, lots of reenactors are truly interested in undocumented unmentionables. Once I was on the advisory board of the 18cWoman email list, and I joked that its motto could be, “Smart women talking about their underwear.”

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Then you won't be surprised to learn that I'm in the 18th Century Woman group, too -- and yes, historical underwear IS an endlessly fascinating topic. *g*

But I don't think that's the POV of the environmentally over-wrought commenters (aka Mr./Mrs. Anonymous) who want to roast us soundly for writing of stays reinforced with whalebone, and therefore glamorizing the slaughter of innocent whales. Sheesh.

Karen said...

It's a bit surprising, though, that the one link caused such a jump in popularity. (I'd linked to their collections site from several pages in the new 18th century sections of my site -- heck, that's not even the only set of stays in their collection that I've linked to! -- but I suppose I'm flattered to be credited for causing a "flurry.") ;)

J. L. Bell said...

I was a bit surprised myself, since when I went to your site I thought I’d see a lot about that particular set of stays. But instead you have so many! And other stuff, too. Ah, well, the ways of the internet are mysterious.