Gentle Readers, your Humble Proprietress is recovering from surgery and so shall share photographic images of antique and vintage buttons in lieu of a lengthy article.
Of buttons, Collector’s Weekly writes, “As long as human beings have needed to keep their clothing fastened, buttons have been there to do the work.” Buttons may be utilitarian, however, even well into the era of mass production, they were made to be reused on the garments of succeeding generations, resulting in little works of art that please collectors’s eyes today.
Many still recall our grandmothers’ button jars or boxes filled with delightful miniature wonders of carved shell, shiny metal augmented with brilliant cut-steel embellishments, luminous glass, light and fancifully shaped celluloid, and bakelite of eye-watering colors. I was born in 1963, my father in 1928, and my father’s mother in 1891. Some of my earliest memories are of Nanny, as I called her, sewing on a black Singer treadle machine richly decorated with Victorian gothic revival red and gold designs. As Nanny pumped the ornate foot panel in a soothing rhythm, I played in a pool of buttons scooped from the sewing machine’s cabinet drawers. I remember, especially, bakelite raspberries, as tart red as the real fruits, and a large navy blue button shaped like a bundle of roses. I have recently obtained a white version, seen below.
I’m especially fond of celluloid, a composition plastic made of cellulose dinitrate blended with pigments, fillers, camphor, and alcohol, that was invented in the mid-1800s and meant to mimic ivory. In some colors, it produces a soft, comforting glow when illuminated, rather like a glass of apple juice or beer.
And then there are the metal picture buttons. Oh my.
“When old Francis died in 1913, Dad sent him off in a hearse pulled by four black horses followed by mutes carrying ostrich feather wands and a procession of friends and family in the deepest mourning possible.”—Barbara Nadel
Unless otherwise noted, all images from the Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
New Year’s Eve was celebrated on 31 December for the first time in 45 B.C. when the Julian calendar came into effect.
Happy New Year, Gentle Readers. Thank you for following me on this journey this far. Leave a comment, if you can. It is always deeply appreciated. And heed Benjamin Franklin, who advised, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
In about 1849, a mother and child were photographed in a New York town where visionaries struggled to change the world.
A long inscription is penciled inside the case of this daguerreotype: “The picture of Flora and her mother, taken when she was three years old at McGrawville, Cortland Co., NY.
“I’ll think of thee at eventide/ When shines the star of love/ When Earth is garnished like a bride/ and all is joy a-bove/ and when the moon’s pale genial face/ is shed or [sic] land & sea/ and throughs [sic] around her soft light/ t’is then I think of thee. EM
“Flora & I are in the parlor as I write this, talking of the war, etc. etc. Henry …?… is buried Thursday Oct. 30th, ’62.”
The sentimental verse is likely based on “Better Moments,” by poet Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867), printed in 7 July, 1827’s New-York Mirror and Ladies Literary Gazette, Volume IV, as well as and in the New Mirror’s Poems of Passion in 1843. Willis’s poem includes the lines: “I have been out at eventide/ Beneath a moonlit sky of spring/ When Earth was garnished like a bride/ And night had on her silver wing.” It is uncertain whether variants of Willis’s poem existed that included the stanza scriven in the case, or whether the writer “borrowed” a few lines of it for his or her own poetic creation.
McGrawville, Cortland County, New York, was once home to New York Central College, an institution of higher learning founded by the antislavery American Baptist Free Mission Society in 1848 and which held its first classes in 1849—a date congruent with the fashions worn by Flora and her mother.
The college “opened its doors to any student able to pay the modest tuition regardless of sex, race, or religion. Blacks constituted an estimated half of its enrollment,” explained historian Catherine M. Hanchett. “Some came from New England, from Virginia, from Canada West [Ontario]. Some where fugitive slaves, others newly freed. Several were members of prominent black families.”
The college employed at least three Black professors—Charles Reason (1818-1893), George Boyer Vashon (1824-1853), and William G. Allen (1820-aft. 1878), the latter of whom was at least two-thirds white, but who would cause scandal by asking for the hand of a Caucasian student, Miss Mary King.
Fittingly, the college also served as a stop along the Underground Railroad that assisted escaped slaves heading to Canada.
A smallpox epidemic in 1850 led to the deaths of some of the college’s African-American students—all were buried on the campus beneath tombstones extant today. Illness at the school seemed persistent, as student William Austin wrote to his family on 23 May, 1852, “There has been and is at present a considerable sickness among students but Mumps and Measles are to blame but I think they will not injure me.”
Otherwise, Austin found the nearby villages and the college bucolic. “This is a beautiful section of country, somewhat uneven, but just enough to awaken mankind to the romantic beauties of nature,” he wrote. “The boarding hall is some thirty rods [165 yards] from the college so that we have a pleasant walk to get there to meals which are at 6 1/2 o’clock in the morning, at noon, and at 5 P.M. The Ladies all room at the hall. The Gentlemen at the College.”
Throughout its existence, New York Central College faced constant racist and misogynist criticism from both southern and northern states. It was “an institution confessedly established for the purpose, figuratively speaking, of whitening the blacks and blackening the whites,” pronounced the Buffalo Courier of 4 July, 1851, during a state funding appropriation battle. “It is said that one of the professors, an accomplished and skilled teacher, has crispy hair and a southern skin,” the Orleans Republican of Albion, New York, snickered on 9 July. The article continued with a quote from a Mr. A. A. Thompson, who was of the opinion that “‘Rather than give $4,000 [in state money] to that vile sink of pollution … they ought to give it to a mob that would raise [sic] it to the ground.’” Later in July, the Albany Argus called the college, “an institution repulsive in its objects and character.”
However, one female graduate had another opinion of the school that recognized her innate equality. Angeline Stickney wrote of her alma mater, “I feel very much attached to that institution, not withstanding all its faults, and I long to see it again, for its foundation rests upon the basis of Eternal Truth—and my heartstrings are twined around its every pillar.”
The inscription states that Flora was three when the daguerreotype was taken in McGrawville, which, when fashions are considered in tandem, makes the approximate year of her birth between 1848 and 1850. On 30 October, 1862, the writer was in the parlor with Flora, then in her teens, speaking about the ongoing Civil War. The indecipherable surname of Henry, who was buried that day, might lead to a breakthrough, but thus far no guesses of mine have yielded results.
How was Flora’s family connected to McGrawville? Was she the child of a teacher, an administrator, abolitionist Baptists, or simply part of a local Cortland family? Where did Flora and her people go after leaving McGrawville? Why did the burial of Henry raise memories of the more than decade-old daguerreotype, and what motivated the writer to pencil the poem and message in the case at that time? These questions remain stubbornly unanswered. Ω
“Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”—Beckwith’s Almanac
Harriet Leonard Hale, scion of an old and venerable New England family, was the third child and only daughter of Russell Hale. Hale was born 22 July, 1799, in Glastonbury, Hartford County, Connecticut, and died 13 April, 1849, in that same place. Harriet’s mother, Harriet Ely, was born 17 April, 1803, in Agawam, Massachusetts, and died 2 September, 1880. Russell was the son of Thomas Hale of Glastonbury (10 June, 1768–12 Feb., 1819) and Lucretia House (1771–24 September, 1835). The Hales descended from Samuel Hale, born 1 July, 1615, at Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, England, who came to Connecticut as a young man, married Mary Smith in about 1642, and died in Glastonbury on 9 November, 1693.
Harriet Hale was born 14 April, 1833, in Glastonbury. Her two older brothers were Robert Ely (1827–1847) and Henry Russell (1830–1876). The 1850 Census of Glastonbury included Harriet Ely Hale as a widow, together with her daughter Harriet and her son Henry, a farmer. It is the only census that Harriet Hale Fox appeared on, as the one compiled a decade previously, when she was seven in 1840, listed the names of household heads only.
At age 18, Harriet wed blond, bearded, and bespectacled Henry Fox, a man twelve years her senior, on 5 October, 1851. He had been born in East Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, 19 April, 1821, and was the son of Leonard Fox (1792–1866) and Hannah Nicholson (1795–1894). The Fox family had been in New England since emigrating from London in the 17th century. Members of the clan participated in the Revolutionary War, and Leonard Fox fought in the War of 1812.
The 1850 census of Hartford included Henry Fox, a cooper—a maker or repairer of barrels and casks—who dwelt on a farm with his parents; his brother Clement (b. 1817), who was also a cooper; sister Lucy A. (b. 1826); brother Leonard (b. 1825)—a burnisher; and sister Eliza (b. 1831).
It was at about this time that Henry went into business with his paternal cousin Dudley, the son of Solomon and Clarissa Low Fox. The cousins appear to have been exceptionally close all of their lives.
Dudley, who was born 8 May, 1823, was a silversmith and a tinner. In the early 1850s, the Hartford Courant ran adverts for H&D Fox, selling tinware and stoves out of a shop at 49 Main Street. Other adverts mention the sale of cleaning fluids, brass and sheet metal for bespoke projects, and cooking pots and pans.
After marrying, Henry and Harriet quickly produced two daughters—Lucy Ely (8 October, 1852-20 March, 1910) and Julia Helen (2 November, 1854-26 Feb., 1946). These little girls were aged just four and two when they lost their mother.
“As they drove off the bridge into the water, they began to apprehend the extent of their danger.”
The Wethersfield Ferry, now known as the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, is the oldest still operating in the United States. It began in 1655, more than a century before the founding of an independent nation, as a raft propelled by pole across the Connecticut River. Later, its movement was powered by a horse on a treadmill, and by steam after 1876. The ferry is today part of the Glastonbury-Rocky Hill Ferry Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The sixth of August, 1856, was a day busy with misfortune. Beckwith’s Almanac kept a running daily list of things that happened in the Hartford area—many of them macabre. For instance, on the sixth, “Patrick Sheridan, a well digger, and one of his assistants, were at work at the bottom of a well which they had been digging for a Mrs. Ely, in Fair Haven, when the earth suddenly gave way, and buried them with sand and stones nearly thirty feet below the surface.” In Hartford, “An unfinished house…belonging to Sam’l J. Tuttle, was set on fire and burned down.” The entry about Harriet reads: “The wife of Mr. Henry Fox, of Hockanum, was drowned at the crossing of the Wethersfield Ferry.”
Another, and almost completely erroneous report appeared in the 7 August Courant: “The steamer Granite State reports that as she was passing Glastonbury this afternoon, a woman by the name of Fox, wife of Henry Fox of Chester, either jumped or fell off the dock and was drowned.”
Thanks to court records of Fox vs. Town of Glastonbury, a suit in which Henry sued the town for negligence leading to Harriet’s death, the full and correct story of that day can be detailed. The scene was set by conditions reported in Beckwith’s Almanac: “Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”
In his opinion on the case, Judge David Curtis Sanders recounted, “An inlet from the Connecticut River, called the cove, runs up to the main land in the town of Glastonbury. About twenty-seven rods from its mouth, a highway had been laid through this cove to the Wethersfield ferry, and a causeway constructed thereon for the accommodation of public travel. The causeway…was raised about two feet above the ordinary surface of the water.”
Sanford continued, “The water in the cove, along the sides of the causeway, was ordinarily about one foot deep, but in times of freshet it frequently rose so high as to submerge the causeway, and render its passage perilous and sometimes impossible.”
According to the judge, at about 3 p.m., Harriet was at the reins of a horse and wagon, headed for the ferry crossing. With her was Dudley Fox’s wife Clarinda Grant, whom he had married in New Britain in 1844. Both women resided “about a half mile from the east end of the causeway.”
As noted by Beckwith’s, the river was swollen and turgid, and Judge Sanford writes that water was already covering the causeway. “The deceased and her companion stopped in front of the house of Mrs. French, a short distance from the causeway, but in full view of it, and there observed that the water was running over [it]…. The deceased inquired of Mrs. French whether people crossed there that day, to which Mrs. F. replied they had, but that she had not before noticed that the water was over the road. The deceased then inquired of Mrs. F. if she would dare to cross. Mrs. F. replied that she would be afraid, unless she had a very gentle horse; and the deceased remarked that their horse was perfectly gentle.”
Harriet then guided her wagon toward the causeway, where, according to Sanford, “the cove and the condition of the water in it could not have escaped their notice. They saw, and observed, that the causeway was entirely submerged, that a swift and strong current of turbid water was passing over it, that there was no rail or visible object of any kind, above the surface of the water, on the sides of the causeway, by which to be protected or guided in their course.”
In the middle of the causeway was a bridge raised about 2.5 feet from the level of the causeway. Sanford notes that the wagon made it to bridge, the water having been as high as “the hubs of the fore wheels of wagon.” What occurred next could only have been recounted by Clarinda to the court, as only she was privy to it: “On the bridge they stopped, noticed and remarked on the height of the water and the rapidity of its current, and felt some degree of alarm, but concluded to proceed. As they drove off the bridge into the water, they began to apprehend the extent of their danger and became frightened; the horse stopped; they urged him forward with the whip, and becoming more frightened, they probably tried to turn around and went off the causeway, nearly at right angle with it, into the deep water on the north side.”
The wagon sunk—Harriet, Clarinda, and the horse with it. Two boys in a boat nearby saw the incident and managed to haul Clarinda from the river, but it was too late for Harriet.
Judge Sanford opined that although “a majority of us are of the opinion that the town had been culpably negligent” for not erecting a fence or railing along the causeway as was demanded by law, the court found that “however negligent the defendants may have been, the unfortunate woman who lost her life contributed to the production of that result by her own culpable imprudence and indiscretion.” Harriet and Clarinda had “voluntarily assumed the risks and all the consequences,” the court concluded. One can imagine what a stinging slap this was for the widower and father, Henry Fox.
The body of 23-year-old Harriet was buried in Glastonbury’s Green Cemetery. She sleeps there today, beneath a weathered stone, with Henry by her side. Her husband would live another two decades before he joined her.
“Mr. Fox had a fad of using the head of a fox whenever he could and Mrs. Baker recalls very distinctly his cutting the fox on pieces of cork.”
By 1860, Henry had returned to his family home. The census enumerated him with his parents, Leonard and Hannah, as well as his brother Leonard, Jr., who was a mariner, and his daughter Lucy, aged 7. Henry listed his occupation as schoolteacher; his business with cousin Dudley ended some years before. Henry’s second daughter, Julia, was not with the rest of her family in 1860. She lived up the street with Dudley, Clarinda, and their young daughter for a number of years—why this was so is unknown.
In 1854, Dudley Fox had built a fine house at 177 Naubuc Avenue in East Hartford, “producing tin, pewter, and silver-plated goods from a small shop next to his home,” notes a Rootsweb site on American silversmiths. “The inventory of the full contents of the shop found in the East Hartford Land Records dated January 20, 1868, reads, ‘17 Rolls of Stock about 1,300 lbs. in the front of Store also 15 Rolls of Stock 1000 lbs. in Back Room together with 500 lbs scrapes or cuttings. 5 shelves of wooden chucks. 3 Lathes in Running order, one Large Press & Die, One Small Press & Dies, One Drop Press & Dies, One Large Press Down Seller, Two Squaring Shears, One Small Laze Folding Machine, One Drop Press down below, 2 Melting Kettles, also Sett of Copper or Brass Molds for Castings.’”
Additionally, Dudley was postmaster for Hockanum from 12 May, 1865, to 27 November, 1867. During this tenure, to comply with an 1860 federal requirement that stamps be thoroughly cancelled to prevent reuse, Dudley created a whimsical running fox that is beloved by philatelists today.
W. J. Duffney has written extensively about Dudley and his running fox, however, in his work, Duffney misidentified Julia as the daughter of Dudley and Clarinda, rather than that they served as Julia’s foster parents after her mother drowned. The second cousin mentioned by Duffney, “Mrs. Baker…who for a time lived with [Dudley’s] family,” was Julia Fox after her marriage to Isaiah Baker, Jr. (6 June, 1856-30 Nov., 1923).
Duffney reports, “In 1920, collector J. Arthur Ritchie wrote to Hockanum requesting answers to a series of questions that he proposed. It was about this time that the Running Fox fancy cancellation first came to public attention. Isaiah Baker, Jr., sent a short but informative response to the query. He wrote that ‘Mrs. Baker [said that] Mr. Fox had a fad of using the head of a fox whenever he could and Mrs. Baker recalls very distinctly his cutting the fox on pieces of cork, striking same on a pad of black ink and cancelling stamps on envelopes. She knows they quickly wore out, or the eyes of the fox would fill, and he was very fussy about having that clear, so new ones were frequently made.’”
When Dudley Fox died in Hartford, aged 66, on August 23, 1889, “His funeral was a rather large event. Organizations of which he was a member — the Putnam Phalanx, the Eastern Star Lodge, the Improved Order of Red Men, the Masonic Lodge of East Hartford, and St. Thomas’s Church—had representatives serve as bearers. Fellow jewelers of the city closed their shops in his honor and the flag on the Putnam Phalanx Armory flew at half mast. It was said that Dudley would be long remembered, and he has been, not just for his ‘frank and open-hearted’ character, but for making the marvelous Running Fox fancy cancellations,” Duffney noted.
In 1870, the census of Saybrook, Middlesex County, Connecticut, enumerated Henry Fox as a coal dealer. Both daughters were with him, grown into teenagers. Also listed in the household was “Hattie B.,” a new Mrs. Fox. She was Harriet King Bidwell (1833–1902), eldest daughter of farmer Julius Bidwell (1805–26 Feb., 1889) and his wife Rhoda Cook (16 Dec., 1810-8 Nov., 1863). Hattie was baptized 2 July, 1837, at an East Hartford Congregationalist church by the Rev. Mr. Spring.
From the censuses, we know that Henry did not marry Hattie before 1860, and that he was her spouse by 1870. Their union lasted less than a decade. The Courant reported the “sudden” death of Henry Fox on 8 June, 1874, at the rather ironically named Deep River, Middlesex County. He was 53.
Before 1880, Hattie Bidwell Fox relocated to Massachusetts, where she worked as a dressmaker in Holyoke. She died at age 69 and is buried in Green Cemetery, although not with her husband and the first Harriet.
After their father passed away, both Lucy and Hannah became schoolteachers. On March 10, 1881, Julia married Isaiah Baker. He was a member of the Masonic Order, who served as an officer of the rather pompously named Charter Oak Lodge of Perfection in Hartford. Lucy married insurance agent Charles McCloud Webster (b. 1847) on 13 September, 1882. Julia and Isaiah had two children—Helen Eunisa (1885–1959) and Leverett Chase (1892–1975). Lucy and Charles had four children—Raymond Wing (b. 1884), Harold McCloud (b. 1886); Zulette Hale (b. 1888); and Florence Pease (b. 1892). Ω
In Britain in the 1800s, the widow’s grief of Queen Victoria helped spur the creation of mourning jewelry, but in the 1600s, the impetus was the judicial murder of an anointed king.
Charles Stuart, later King Charles I, was born in Fife, Scotland, 19 November, 1600, to then King James VI of Scotland, later James I of a unified Britain, and his wife Queen Anne of Denmark. He was a second son, never meant to rule. Yet, Charles had the role of heir foisted on him at the death of his beloved, handsome, and accomplished older brother, Henry, Prince of Wales, who died unexpectedly in 1612.
Charles was small, sickly, and had a stammer. He was also intellectual, loved and patronized the arts, favored elaborate high Anglican worship in the age of the Puritans, and married a Roman Catholic—the delicate and beautiful Princess Henrietta Maria of France, known as Queen Mary, after whom the U.S. state of Maryland is named. Charles also believed profoundly in the Divine Right of Kings, was willful and stubborn, and refused to make the compromises that could have prevented a civil war, the destruction of the monarchy, and his own death.
As had the life his similarly-natured paternal grandmother, Mary, Queen of Scots, his own earthly days ended in execution by beheading on 30 January, 1649. His final words were “I go from a corruptible to an uncorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be.”
After his death, loyal adherents of King Charles ordered a small number of memorial rings made incorporating various Stuart motifs, portraits, and locks of the dead king’s hair. Antique jewelry expert JJ Kent, in Jewelry Guide, Volume I, wrote that a ring, “said to be one of the seven given after the King’s death, was possessed by Horace Walpole and sold with the Strawberry Hill collection. It has the King’s head in miniature and behind, a skull; while between the letters C. R. is this motto: ‘Prepared be to follow me.’”
Another of the rings was in the hands of a gentleman who wrote to Notes and Queries in June 1862, more than 200 years after Charles’s death: “I possess one of the rings alluded to [in a previous issue]. The family tradition is that it was given to a maternal ancestor, one of the Finnes family, by King Charles on the eve of his martyrdom. The portrait, in enamel, is set between two small diamonds.”
During the Commonwealth and the Restoration, Royalists created hundreds of additional rings, pendants, and other jewelry items memorializing the king. Multiple examples exist today in museums and private collections. Remarkably, new memorial jewelry for Charles was created in 1813, when his body was discovered in the burial vault of Henry VIII and Queen Jane Seymour at Windsor. The coffin was opened in the presence of George, the Prince Regent (later King George IV), and his private physician, Sir Henry Halford, who later wrote a detailed account of what transpired.
“[There was] an internal wooden coffin, very much decayed, and the Body, carefully wrapped up in cerecloth, into the folds of which a quantity of unctuous or greasy matter, mixed with resin, as it seemed, had been melted, so as to exclude, as effectively as possible, the external air. The coffin was full [and] great difficulty was experienced in detaching [the cloth] from the parts which it enveloped….
“On removing the pall, a plain leaden coffin… bearing an inscription ‘King Charles, 1648,’ in large legible characters, on a scroll of lead encircling it, immediately presented itself to the view. A square opening was then made in the upper part of the lid, of such dimensions as to admit a clear insight into its contents. [The head] was found to be loose, and, without any difficulty, was taken up and held to view…. The back part of the scalp was entirely perfect, and had a remarkably fresh appearance; the pores of the skin being more distinct… and the tendons and ligaments of the neck were of considerable substance and firmness….
“…On holding up the head, to examine the place of separation from the body… the fourth cervical vertebra was found to be cut through its substance, transversely, leaving the surfaces of the divided portions perfectly smooth and even, and appearance which could have been produced only by a heavy blow, inflicted with a very sharp instrument, and which furnished the last proof wanting to identify King Charles the First.”
Halford noted that the King’s hair appeared black, but “a portion of it, which has since been cleaned and dried, is of a beautiful dark brown colour. That of the beard was a redder brown.” More hair was then snipped for the new mourning jewelry.
JJ Kent wrote in the Jewelry Guide, “The hair at the back of the head appeared close cut; whereas, at the time of the decollation, the executioner twice adjusted the King’s hair under his cap. No doubt the piety of friends had severed the hair after death, in order to furnish rings and other memorials of the unhappy monarch.” The head was then replaced, the coffin closed and resoldered, and the vault left by all and sealed up. In 1888, it was opened again at the order of another heir to the throne, Prince Bertie, later King Edward VII, to return relics, including a piece of one of Charles’s vertebra and a tooth, which had been removed by Halford 75 years earlier. Ω