gossamer_sample_ closed_final  

 The most recent addition to my collection is an exquisite sample envelope for Henry Tetlow’s GOSSAMER face powder.   

 Gossamer debuted in 1888 and the sample envelope in the photo has a copyright date of 1895, which means that it was available during the “Gilded Age”.    

gossamer_sample_open_final   

 The term ‘Gilded Age’ was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The name refers to the process of gilding an object with a superficial layer of gold and is meant to make fun of ostentatious display while playing on the term golden age.”    

MARK TWAINS WASHINGTON

Mark Twain

 ”What is the chief end of man?–to get rich. In what way?–dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”
– Mark Twain-1871     

 Mark Twain’s quote accurately sums up the Gilded Age; it was an era during which every man was a potential Andrew Carnegie.  The Americans who achieved great wealth flaunted it in ways that would have cost them their heads in 18th Century France.   One of the most outrageous examples of enormous wealth, coupled with a profound lack of taste, was at a dinner party thrown by Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish to honor her dog – who arrived sporting a $15,000 [$389,637.70 in today’s dollars!] diamond collar.  

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Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish

 To put that kind of money into perspective, while Mrs. Fish’s spoiled pooch wore diamonds, many human Americans wore rags. In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year [$28,818.49 current U.S. dollars]; of this group, the average annual income was $380 [$9,125.85 current U.S. dollars], well below the poverty line.  

 Of the women who would become well-known during the Gilded Age, one would leave her mark on history – and that woman was Jennie Jerome.  

Jennie_Jerome_before marriage

 Jennie was born Jeanette Jerome in Brooklyn, New York on January 9, 1854.  Jennie’s first marriage was to Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of John Winston Spencer-Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough and Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane.  The couple wed on 15 April 1874, at the British Embassy in Paris.   

Lord_Randolph_Churchill

Lord Randolph Churchill

  Jennie had the money and the time to indulge her wild side. There was a persistent, unverifiable, rumor that she’d had a tattoo of a snake twined around her wrist, which she would hide with a bracelet when required.  

 Even if the rumor of a tattoo is false, Jennie’s wild side would lead her into numerous affairs while she was married to Lord Randolph Churchill. Among Lady Randolph’s conquests were Karl Kinsky (aka Karl, 8th Prince Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau) and King Edward VII of England.  

snake tatoo

 Lady and Lord Randolph had two sons: Winston (born less than eight months after the marriage) and John.  Jennie’s sisters believed that John’s biological father was Evelyn “Star” Boscawen, 7th Viscount Falmouth.  

 Known in society for her intelligence and wit, Jennie’s affairs not only provided her with excitement, but they enabled her to make the kinds of connections that would help Lord Randolph, and later Winston, in their careers.  

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John, Jennie, and Winston

 Lady Randolph played a limited role in her sons’ upbringing – a hands off approach to child rearing was typical of the day for women in her social circle.  Winston had a nanny, Mrs. Elizabeth Everest, whom he adored – however he worshipped his mother.  He’d frequently write to Jennie, begging her to visit him, which she rarely did.  Their relationship changed after Winston became an adult; the two became friends and allies. Winston came to view his mother as his advisor and political mentor.  

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Elizabeth Everest

 Lord Randolph died in 1895 at age 45, reportedly of syphilis, although given his symptoms it’s been hypothesized that he actually succumbed to a tumor deep within the left side of his brain. The hypothesis of a brain tumor is credible, particularly when you consider that neither Jennie, nor her sons, exhibited any signs of syphilis.  

 On July 2, 1900 Jennie married George Cornwallis-West, a captain in the Scots Guards who was the same age as her son Winston!  Neither John nor Winston was particularly thrilled with Jennie’s choice of a husband, primarily due to the age difference.  Even with the difference in their ages, the marriage lasted for twelve years; the couple was separated in 1912 and was divorced in 1914.  

 Jennie remained single until June 1, 1918 when she was married to Montague Phippen Porch, a member of the British Civil Service in Nigeria.  If John and Winston were dismayed by her marriage to Cornwallis-West, they must have been apoplectic when she wed Porch — he was three years Winston’s junior!  

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 Personally, I think the “boys” should have lightened up.  It sounds to me as if Jennie aged chronologically, but retained a youthful outlook and personality that drew the younger men to her. Perhaps a man her own age couldn’t have kept up with her!

Jennie was 67 years old when she slipped while descending a friend’s staircase; she was wearing new high heeled shoes.  She broke her ankle and gangrene set in and her left leg was amputated above the knee.  She died soon afterward in her home in London following a hemorrhage of an artery in her thigh (a direct result of the amputation). 

heated_scarf

Six years later there would be another freak clothing-related death of a prominent woman.  On September 14, 1927 Isadora Duncan (whom many consider to be the creator of modern dance), was riding in an open car when one of her signature long, flowing scarves became entangled around one of the vehicle’s open-spoke wheels and rear axle, breaking her neck.  

While searching for a photo of Isadora Duncan, I found the nifty photo of the plug-in heated scarf. Does it have anything to do with Isadora’s death?  Not really; I was just enamored of the advertisement.    

However, whether you favor a traditional scarf, or one of the plug-in varieties, I must advise you to accessorize with caution.  

   

 

 

I can recall seeing a photograph of the As The Petals face powder box (manufactured by the Lazell Company) in Laura M.  Mueller’s book “Collectors Encyclopedia of Compacts, Carryalls, and Face Powder Boxes”. I thought it was one of the most beautiful boxes I’d ever seen – and I hoped that someday I’d add one to my collection.  When the box finally popped up for bids on eBay I was determined to win it, and I did. At that time (several years ago), it was the most expensive face powder box I’d ever purchased (it was a little over $100). It dates from the 1910s, is in remarkable condition, and I’ve never regretted buying it.

The design on the box has always reminded me of the dancer Isadora Duncan, considered to be the mother of modern dance. Just as the woman on the powder box, Duncan had a fondness for long flowing scarves (more on this later) and she danced in her bare feet.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Isadora was the inspiration for the design on the box.

The dancer was born in San Francisco in 1877. Her family moved to London in 1899, and it was there in the British Museum that she and her brother Raymond immersed themselves in every aspect of the culture of ancient Greece.

“To bring to life again the ancient ideal! I do not mean to say, copy it, imitate it; but to breathe its life, to recreate it in one’s self, with personal inspiration: to start from its beauty and then go toward the future.” (Isadora Duncan, The Art of the Dance)

By 1910 Isadora had borne two children – Deirdre (with theater designer Gordon Craig) and Patrick (with Paris Singer, one of the heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune).  On April 19, 1913 the children, accompanied by their Scottish nanny, were being driven from Isadora’s townhome in Neuilly-sur-Seine to the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles.  The car stalled after narrowly avoiding a collosion with another auto.  The chauffeur got out to crank the machine back to life, but he’d neglected to set the hand brake. The car rolled across the Boulevard Bourdon and plunged into the Seine, where tragically the children and their nanny perished.

Isadora was devastated by the loss and fled to Corfu to spend time with her brother and sister. It wasn’t long after her trip to Corfu that she traveled to Viareggio with the actress Eleonora Duse. Duse had been involved in a lesbian relationship with Italian feminist Lina Poletti, and so the rumor mill ground out stories about the nature of the friendship between the two women.  Because some of the correspondence between them has survived, it appears that the rumors were true.

Isadora was a free spirit who refused to accept the status quo for women. In her quest for a life unfettered by conventional expectations she was drawn to post revolutionary Russia, and moved to Moscow in 1922. Conditions in the new Soviet Socialist Republic were bleak, and when the government failed to make good on their promises to her she returned to the West after only two years.

During her time in Moscow Isadora had become a Soviet citizen due to her marriage to the poet Sergei Yessenin - who was 18 years her junior.  Isadora spoke few words of Russian, and Sergei spoke no foreign languages, so it must have been chemistry that drew the two together. Yessenin was a talented and popular poet, but he was addicted to alcohol and when he was intoxicated he was inclined to rages that frequently ended in violence.  It was no surprise to anyone when Sergei left Isadora and returned to Moscow. Sadly, he soon suffered a mental collapse and was institutionalized. He was released in December of 1925 and attempted suicide by cutting his wrists (and writing a farewell note in his own blood!). When that attempt failed, he succeeded the next day in hanging himself from some heating pipes in a hotel room. Sergei was only 30.

Earlier, I had mentioned that Isadora had a penchant for wearing long flowing scarves – in fact it was one of the reasons that the As The Petals face powder box reminded me so much of her.

On September 14, 1927, Isadora wrapped a long hand painted silk scarf around her neck and got into a car with Italian mechanic, Benoît Falchetto. As the car pulled away Isadora waved to a group of friends, reportedly saying “Adieu, mes amis,  Je vais à la gloire!” (“Goodbye, my friends, I am off to glory!”). The scarf fluttered dramatically behind her, but as the car picked up speed it became entangled in the spokes of one of the wheels and tightened around Isadora’s neck.  The dancer was yanked out of her seat and over the rear of the car, and then dragged along the cobblestone street to her death.

In the years following her demise, the quote attributed to Isadora was revealed to have been false.  Because Isadora had been driving off with a handsome (and much younger) mechanic, the friend who had supplied the quote thought that the truth would be embarrassing.

Isadora’s actual last words were “Je vais à l’amour” (“I am off to love”).

Isadora was a rebel, and so she appealed to the so-called second wave of feminists during the 1960s. For an interesting take on Isadora Duncan see the 1968 film, “Isadora” starring Vanessa Redgrave [You may need an old machine -- I believe that the film is available only on VHS].