Revisited Myth #128: A “chin protector” strip sewn across the edge of a quilt to protect against the oils of grandpa’s beard, and this is evidence of a very old quilt.

August 27, 2017

General agreement from blog readers says that it doesn’t take a beard to create stains on the top edge of a quilt. Hands and faces can do damage easily, which is why a bed properly made folds the top sheet over the blanket or quilt–sheets being frequently laundered and blankets/quilts not so much. After reading the following comments by experts, we can safely conclude that most of this statement is fact, just not the part about the strip being useful in dating the quilt.

Barbara Brackman, quilt historian: “Several years I wrote this about the topic. See below. And I’ve attached a picture of a comforter from about 1910 with a pink feedsack chin protector from about 1940. [above]
Chin or Beard Protectors: Some of the most functional quilts and comforters, those used as everyday blankets, have an extra piece of fabric covering one edge. We call these cuffs “Chin Protectors” or “Beard Protectors”.  The women who remember sleeping under them tell us the cuff was added to the edge of the quilt that was pulled up under a man’s scratchy chin to protect the patchwork from wear, sort of like a celluloid collar extending the life of a shirt. The chin protector could be replaced when it frayed. To be fair to men, we must point out that people of either gender can wear out a quilt’s surface by pulling at it every night. A better name for these unquilted additions might be “hand protector.”

Observation indicates that the extra border, a cuff covering both the top and backing of the quilt, is most often made of a fabric produced after 1900. The housekeeper might have added a chin protector to an 1880’s quilt, but it usually looks like that extra piece was stitched in place in the 20th century.  Chin protectors, like sleeves for hanging, are often a later addition that is of little use in dating the quilt.”

 The International Quilt Museum posted this response from their curator on their Facebook page:
“Sarah asked if we had any comments on the quilt myth mentioned in the second half of the post. Here’s what one of our curators had to say: A “beard guard” or “whisker guard” is something seen on quilts somewhat regularly. It was a way to help keep the area at the top of a quilt clean. It protected the quilt from oils – whether from a beard or from hands. They were used at various times in history, so it isn’t a clue to a particular date, period or region.”
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Revisited Myth # 127: People didn’t smile in pictures because of the long exposure times required.

August 16, 2017

Martha Katz-Hymen at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation wrote about this belief. It is true, but it isn’t the whole story.

It is true that people rarely smiled in old photographs because it is harder to hold a smile than a relaxed face, and photographs were not a quick “click” in the early years. But that is only one reason. The other is cultural.

“But an article by Nicholas Jeeves, recently published in the Public Domain Review, suggests that, when folks frowned, they did so for reasons as economic, social and historical as they were technological. Mark Twain thought as much. In one of his letters, collected by Jeeves, he wrote:

A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.

Twain wasn’t the only believer in the idiocy of the style. Look back at painted portraiture — the tradition photography inherited — and you’ll rarely see a grinning subject. This is, in fact, Jeeves’s subject. “By the 17th century in Europe,“ he writes, “it was a well-established fact that the only people who smiled broadly, in life and in art, were the poor, the lewd, the drunk, the innocent, and the entertainment.’

Read the whole article: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/why-didn-t-people-smile-in-old-portraits/279880/?google_editors_picks=true

And read Nicholas Jeeves entire article, below. Jeeves is an artist, writer and lecturer at Cambridge School of Art. One excerpt: “A walk around any art gallery will reveal that the image of the open smile has, for a very long time, been deeply unfashionable.” http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/

 

Previous comments:

  1. Brian Leehan says:

    Looking forward to reading the linked article. I have always heard it was the “formality” of poses in portrait paintings that influenced poses people struck in early photographs (as is mentioned in this posting). Never thought about the issue of long exposure times for photographs – which makes a lot of sense, too. Of course, sitting for a portrait to be painted of you involves a LOT more “exposure time” than an early photograph, so perhaps it’s all inter-related. I’ve also heard that people were reluctant to smile because of the state of most people’s teeth in the 19th century. I think I can recall one or two photographs I’ve seen, total, of a group of soldiers in the field during the Civil War where one or two are smiling – usually with a closed mouth. I think one of those was with a soldier smiling and showing teeth, but he was in a larger group and is was hard to discern the state of his teeth. I just recall being surprised to see a photo from that period where someone was smiling broadly enough to show teeth.

  2. Melissa Nesbitt says:

    I discuss this on my tours frequently. Glad to know I’m getting it right. I often wonder what future generations will think of us from the 20th/21st centuries who not only smile but do all sorts of goofy poses.

    • Mary Miley says:

      Or no teeth.

      • therealguyfaux says:

        Candid photos of Queen Victoria, taken late in life, once short exposures had become possible, show her to have had a Terry-Thomas/David Letterman gap. (Of course, these were family photos– back then, nobody would have “paparazzi’d” the Queen!) At least in her case, SHE may have wanted to play down her dental condition in her photos, at any rate; But I’m sure maintaining the “stern visage of Vic” would have been advised to her, in any event, as looking more “regal.” (Remember, this is a somewhat prematurely-matronly thirtyish woman we are talking about, in the earliest photos of her.)

  3. Curtis Cook says:

    This reminds me of a recent comedy movie “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (spoiler alert: there aren’t a million ways depicted in the film, but it feels like they go through forty or so).

    In one scene the male and female protagonists are passing along a midway at a county fair and see a travelling photographer. The woman says she heard a rumor that some guy down in Texas had actually managed to hold a smile long enough for it to show up on film. They agree that the very idea is ridiculous, but at the end of the film the guy gives her a copy of the rumored photo… and it really does look unnatural.


Revisited Myth # 126: “A boot of ale” derives from the custom of using old boots as drinking vessels.

July 22, 2017

The myth says that the expression “a boot of ale” comes from the custom of cutting off the top of old boots and using them as serving containers. (How the top of an old boot transformed into a vessel is unclear–to me, at least.) 

As most of you who work at or visit colonial-era museums know, the American colonists drank out of leather vessels called jacks or blackjacks. These were lined with pitch to make them waterproof and are very sturdy. Decades ago, my stores in Colonial Williamsburg sold reproductions, and I believe they still do. These large leather jugs and mugs made such an impression on the French visitors to England in the 17th century that they reported that Englishmen drank out of their boots! A funny story, not meant to be taken literally. (Waterer’s Leather in Life, Art, and Industry, 1946, London) 

Why use leather to make a drinking vessel? It’s an English tradition. In medieval England, there was little glass manufacture, so aside from wood, pottery, or tin, what are you going to use to make a mug or goblet? (Yes, gold and silver, but those are for the nobles, not taverns or average folks, so let’s not go there.) Leather worked very well. Still does. But not boots.

 

Comments:

  1. Can you tell us about bootlegging, then? It must come from the same origin. I can’t imagine it’s a reference to carrying liquor in the boot of one’s car. I’m reading your novel, so it’s on my mind! Well, actually I’m listening to the audiobook from Audible, but I still call that “reading”.

    • Mary Miley says:

      The word first appeared in the 1850s in Maine and of course it refers to smuggling liquor. But this seemed odd to me because Prohibition didn’t start until almost 70 years later. That is, except in Maine, the first dry state, where it became illegal to manufacture or consume liquor in 1851. Because Maine shares a border with Canada, the law was easily flouted. Ordinary folks wanting to smuggle liquor into the country could hide a couple bottles in their pants legs in Canada and walk into the United States.

    • Andrew says:

      It’s not about the ‘boot’ of a car, but a literal boot, where flasks of whiskey would be hidden and carried across the border. I live in one of the major cities known for it’s role in the prohibition.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Looking at your illustration/example above, you can’t blame anyone for jumping to a conclusion that people were drinking out of their boots! Except for the stitched handle, that example looks very much like an inverted riding boot. Perhaps they were made from the same leather stock, and from a similar pattern.

 


Revisited Myth # 125: The word “bar” comes from the cage or bars that barred people out of the bartender’s space.

July 11, 2017
  1. This statement is part myth, part true. Allow me to dissect.

    I went to the Oxford English Dictionary (the 13-volume 1961 edition at my local library) for this one and perused 3 dense pages of definitions for the word “bar.” It’s not as simple as it sounds. Under nouns, there are 3 main segments: 1) “a piece of any material long in proportion to its thickness or width.” 2) “That which confines, encloses, limits, or obstructs. (a material barrier.” and 3) “a rail or barrier.” The 28th definition under #3 says “in an inn or other place of refreshment”, the word can mean, “A barrier or counter over which drink or food is served out to customers in an inn, hotel, or tavern.” Earliest written usage comes in at 1592. 

    As a verb, the word “to bar” has no references that are specific to a tavern or inn. There is the phrase, “to bar out,” which I know well from the 17th and very early 18th centuries when it referred to students (male, of course) “barring out” the teacher at Christmas to force him to give them time off from classes. This barring out was often very violent, involving guns and hammer & nails, and usually drunk students, but seems to have had no relation to bartending.

    I checked the 1972 OED supplement, which had nothing to offer as regards our query.

    I surmise from this that the word “bar” originally meant the counter or barrier. If a taproom bar in the 17th or 18th centuries had a grill or cage to lower that kept people out when the tender of the bar wasn’t there, that did “bar out” people, but I don’t take that to mean it’s the origin of the word–which is what some docents in taverns tell their guests. I believe the origin of the word is the barrier or counter. 

    I’m not going to the mat on this one, so if you disagree, let’s hear it!

    Joe Greeley says:

    I have access to the online edition of the OED and besides the above mentioned entry I found this:
    11. A transverse piece of wood making fast the head of a wine-cask. (If a cask is lying horizontal, wine is drawn from ‘below the bar,’ when it is more than half empty.)

    1520 R. Whittington Uulgaria 13 b, This wyne drynketh lowe or under the barre, Hoc vinum languescit.

    1576 W. Lambarde Perambulation of Kent 331 All the emptie hogsheads..,and for sixe tunne of wyne, so many as should be dronke under the barre.

    1611 R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues, Empeigner le bout d’vne douve, to pin the barre of a peece of caske.

    There’s also the Bar behind which prisoners on trial stand and might have some connection also in the sense of ‘barrier’. That goes back to 1400.

    • Mary Miley says:

      Hmmmm. That is interesting, isn’t it? Still, I don’t think that would supersede the bar as a counter in an inn. Although it could be a secondary, related meaning that bolsters the prinicipal meaning.

  2. Steve says:

    What if it’s the metal bar that inevitably that runs around the outer bottom of the counter. standers at the bar often relax a leg on this bar. so is that why it’s called a bar ?


Revisited Myth # 124: Taverns were brothels.

July 2, 2017

Cindy Conte, Curator of Historic Michie Tavern, Virginia, wrote, “On a recent episode of Pawn Stars a person was selling an 18th-century tavern license.  The context of the letter included the word “entertainment,” and both the buyer and seller came to the immediate conclusion that this  letter referred to an 18th-century brothel. As you know, in the 18th century the word entertainment referred to “maintenance or provision; the term covered eating, drinking, and lodging.”   “Entertainment” was the catchword of tavern keeping. The majority of public house proprietors were licensed to keep an ordinary for the “Entertainment of travelers and Strangers,” and their house signs were embellished with the motto. Tavern owners advertised genteel or “good entertainment” at their houses.  The Moravian supervisors of the Salem, NC tavern even agreed in 1800 that “the word Tavern must be removed from the sign and the word Entertainment substituted.” (Kym S. Rice, “Early American Taverns:  For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers”.)

Yes, Cindy, I’ve often heard docents at taverns slyly intimate that their building was really a brothel. The myth here concerns the titillating implication that all or many early American taverns were really brothels. While there may have been some genuine examples in early America  (sometimes termed “disorderly houses”), they were certainly the exception. Outside large cities like London and colonial seaports like New York and Philadelphia, genuine brothels were rare, not because people were more virtuous back then but because the population wasn’t large enough. Read Harold Gill’s article on the topic as it existed in Williamsburg, VA at http://history.org/Foundation/journal/Autumn01/Demimonde.cfm?showSite=mobile.

 

Previous Comments:

  1. Jean says:

    Mary, I am so glad to read this! In the 1860 Federal census, my great-great grandfather s occupation is Tavern Keeping. So far, no one has suggested that he ran a brothel, if that happens I’m prepared!

  2. James “Jake” Pontillo says:

    Are you sure you have the reference from the Oxford correct : correct? I found this at the Online Oxford Etymological Dictionary :

    bar (n.2) Look up bar at Dictionary.com
    “tavern,” 1590s, so called in reference to the bars of the barrier or counter over which drinks or food were served to customers (see bar (n.1)).

    At our Tavern Nites at Queens Farm we have a Bar AND Grill set up- The GRILL is not for grilling anything, it is made of wooden slates and prevents customers from stealing bottles while the barmen are busy elsewhere ( The people who come to our Tavern Nites would not REALLY steal anything, but we still have the barrier set up and we do business thru an opening in the slats.

    • Mary Miley says:

      Thanks for the warning, Jake, I’ll go back to the OED and have another look. Meanwhile, I scratched that part. I’ll revisit it later, maybe next week, in its own post.

  3. Melissa Nesbitt says:

    That was a great post. It hit me–we still use the word “entertain” today when we mean we’re having dinner guests over as in, “I’m entertaining this evening” which I would think relates to the 18th century meaning.

  4. Cindy Conte says:

    Thanks for the post! J


Revisited Myth # 123: Parents put their babies in trundle beds and pushed them under the upper bed for warmth.

June 18, 2017

Thanks to Eric Olsen, Park Ranger and Historian at Morristown National Historic Park, for this one. Seems new myths are always popping up! Let’s nip this one in the bud.

trundle_bed_smaller

“I’ve got a new myth for you that I never heard before last week. I was talking with one of our new volunteers after she had completed a tour of Washington’s Headquarters [Ford Mansion, Morristown NHP] and she was excited because she learned something new from one of our visitors.
 
The visitor told her that parents placed their babies in trundle beds and then pushed the bed underneath the adult bed with the baby still in the trundle bed! The reason for this behavior was that the heat from the adults sleeping in the large bed about the trundle bed would help keep the baby warm.
 
At this point I explained the whole concept of Old House Tour myths and plugged your book at the same time. I pointed out that parents did indeed put babies in trundle beds but not underneath another bed. By having the baby in a trundle bed next to the parent’s bed, a mother could easily reach her baby for nursing in the middle of the night. If a mother placed her baby in bed with the parents, to make it easier to reach the child when nursing time came, there was always the possibility that the sleeping parents might roll over on the baby. So it was safer to put the baby in a separate trundle bed.
 
I also suggested that if a baby was placed under the parents bed the baby would probably get a lot of dust leaking out from the mattress above. Also depending on how tight the ropes were on the parents bed, there might not have been much room for the baby.”
Thank you, Eric. The lesson here is always beware of what you hear from visitors and from other guides. Don’t repeat it before you’ve checked it out first.
 Previous comments:
James “Jake” Pontillosays:
  1. Amazing how ‘new historical facts’ are constantly being invented! Your site is great at keeping this nonsense in check

  2. …and of course, the parents couldn’t “sleep tight” unless the bed ropes were adjusted properly….(sorry, couldn’t resist…)

  3. Joe Greeley says:

    I think it sounds like a great way to induce severe claustrophobia in your children . . .

  4. It is also good to note that heat rises, so it doesn’t seem likely that putting the baby *under* the parents’ bed would transfer heat to the child anyway.

  5. Two myths people love are one’s that talk about how people in the past were so pious and simple and ones that talk about how barbaric and backward they were.

    I’d file this one under column B

  6. Is it a myth that folks in the 19th C and earlier used the phrase “sleep tight?” If so, please enlighten us with a post on that topic.


Revisited Myth #122: Blue Laws are named for the color paper they were printed on.

June 4, 2017

This myth states that the origin of the term “blue laws,” (statues regulating work, commerce, and activities on Sundays) comes from the color of the paper on which they were printed. Or the color of the book’s binding.  

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the term “blue laws” originated in 1781 in A General History of Connecticut where the author, Rev. Samuel Peters, refers to outlandish Connecticut laws of the 17th century, most of which he made up. Some think he may have made up the phrase “blue laws” as well; the Oxford English Dictionary does not provide an earlier use. It does, however, give an earlier meaning of the word “blue”– it meant indecent or rigidly moral, as seen in bluestocking (a woman with literary or intellectual proclivities) or bluenose (person who advocates a rigorous moral code).

On another note, I am unaware of blue writing paper in colonial days–I am unaware of any color other than white or near white–although I have seen blue covers on books of that period. 


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