Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ordinary Eighteenth Century People

In researching the past, whether we're writing, costuming, or just curious, it seems much easier to find information about the elite than it does about "common folk." This is especially true for pictoral evidence--court portraits are lovely, but they don't do much to tell us what ordinary folks wore day in and day out.
Which is why I love the various versions of the Cries of London prints. I've shared some before (the Strawberry Seller and the Ballad Seller), but a friend recently pointed me to this collection, which includes even older Cries prints and a variety of other pieces associated with trades:

What I love about pieces like these are how they help us identify details of lower-class dress as well as, often, blow perceptions and assumptions about what "everyone" did out of the water. For instance--we might expect an artichoke seller to have crappy shoes or even men's castoffs, based on what many interpreters of lower-class women choose to wear. Instead, she wears sturdy, heeled shoes with relatively fashionable pointed toes--clearly women's shoes. Unanswered question: Holy moley, those are giant artichokes! Are they for real?!?

I love our "Russia or Scotch" seller, as well--he's not selling countries (ha!) but cloth (per the caption, "cloath") of the Russia (coarse linen) or Scotch (finer, lawn-like fabric) varieties. Plus, he looks so cranky. I don't know why, but his "buy my darn fabric" expression makes me laugh.

The collection includes more prints, and, perhaps even more interesting, tons of "business cards" for tradesmen and tradeswomen. Enjoy browsing!


Anachronist said...

A great entry - I love those prints as well! Indeed those artichokes are big but maybe the painter just enlarged them a bit to make them more recognizable.

Helen said...

Thank-you for yet another wonderful post! Those images are amazing. I love seeing ordinary people doing ordinary things. I don't suppose I could be an artichoke seller in camp could I? That could be fun!

Connie Keller said...

I love the artichoke seller--the artichokes almost look like pineapples. Perhaps that's part of why she's so successful, she's got the market cornered on amazing artichokes.:)

Clare S (GwT) said...

It's so refreshing to see 'ordinary' 18th century clothes for a change, rather than the upper classes or the incredibly idealised versions you see in a lot of paintings. Interesting stuff ... I'd still like to see how the reality compared to the images, though!

I've nominated you for the Liebster Award at my sewing blog: :)