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Quizzing Glasses: A History by Candice Hern

Miss Thorpe, however, being four years older than Miss Morland, and at least four years better informed, had a very decided advantage in discussing such points; she could compare the balls of Bath with those of Tunbridge, its fashions with the fashions of London; could rectify the opinions of her new friend in many articles of tasteful attire; could discover a flirtation between any gentleman and lady who only smiled on each other; and point out a quiz through the thickness of a crowd.
Northanger Abbey

Eyeglasses as we know them today, with side pieces that rest on the ears, were invented in 1727 by an Englishman named Edward Scarlett. Until that time, reading aids were often perched precariously upon the nose or were hand held. A “quizzing glass” was a single magnifying lens on a handle which was held up before the eye to enable closer scrutiny of the object in view. The quizzing glass is not to be confused with the lorgnette, which has two lenses, and more often than not a correctable (prescription) lens rather than a simple magnifier. A monocle is also a single-lens device but is meant to fit into the eye socket and therefore does not have the longer handle of the quizzing glass, which was held in front of the eye.

Left: Detail of Les Deux Incroyables, Antoine Charles Horace Vernet, ink and wash, 1794. Right:
The earlist examples of single-lens hand-held reading devices date back to the 12th century and were simple affairs with bone or brass handles used by scholars and clerks. It was not until the mid-18th century that they developed into a fashionable accessory, designed and worn as a piece of jewelery. (See Fig. 1) The quizzing glass generally dangled at the end of a long ribbon or chain around the neck and was held up to the eye to “quiz” (stare, glance, look at quizically) people and objects. The wearer would sometimes glare at a person through his or her quizzing glass as a manner of set-down or mockery, as seen in the detail from Vernet’s “Les Deux Incroyables” shown in Fig. 2.

The term “quizzing glass” came into use toward the end of the 18th century. It is sometimes assumed that quizzing glasses were used only by men as they are most often associated with fashionable dandies of the Regency and Victorian eras, such as “The Exquisite” shown in Fig 2. However, the fashion prints of the Regency show ladies wielding them with as much aplomb as Beau Brummel. And those ladies are not the elderly dowagers one might imagine using such a device, but fashionable young women. In fact, the quizzing glass is such a common feature in fashion prints that it must be assumed that it was an extremely popular accessory. Most prints and portraits of women wearing quizzing glasses show them on a long gold chain around the neck. Men are frequently shown with a quizzing glass on a black ribbon, though gold chains are also used.

A quizzing glass was as much a piece of jewelry as it was a functional vision aid. They were made of gold, sterling, pinchbeck, and other base metals, and were sometimes quite elaborate in design. The handles might be jeweled, or hold secret vinaigrettes or lockets (see Fig 3). The handle or its loop was often swivel-mounted to make it easier to lay flat when hung from a chain. Though the lenses were generally standard sizes, the handles were of varying lengths. (See Fig 4) Of course, the longer the handle, the more delicious the set-down.

Quizzing glasses were almost always set with a magnifying lens, though some may have been set with a corrective lens since fashionable ladies and gentleman did not like to wear spectacles in public. Quizzing glasses were obtained from opticians and were usually kept in protective leather cases. (See fig 5) It is likely that the opticians set the lens in frames provided by goldsmiths or jewelers.

Quizzing glasses reached a peak of popularity during the first two decades of the 19th century. Around the 1830s, lorgnettes became more popular for women. Quizzing glasses continued as a fashionable accessory for gentlemen through the beginning of the 20th century when monocles supplanted them in popularity.


Candice Hern is the author of several Regency Romance novels and an avid collector of period fashion accessories. Her newest book is Lady Be Bad, part of her ‘Merry Widows’ series

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The Face of the Jane Austen Centre 2013

Jane Austen Centre guide Elle

The face of the Jane Austen Centre 2013

Jane Austen Centre guide ElleEvery year at the Jane Austen Centre we select a member staff to represent us in marketing and advertising as the Face of The Jane Austen Centre.

Our staff enjoy the process. We get in a professional photographer and spend quite a bit of time getting the look just right.

Elle is wearing her guide costume plus a bonnet made from velvet. She is accessorised with a lace fan, lace gloves and a string of pearls. Normally our guides don’t use these accessories but we all now feel that they should! We will invest in a few more important items for everyone to wear.

You might remember seeing other members of staff in the same role. 2 years ago it was Becca our Online Giftshop manager, last year it was Jennie the Centre Manager and this year it’s Elle one of our guides. She looks great don’t you think?
Photo by Owen Benson

 

Colours in Regency Fashion

Colours are always integral to fashion and the names given to the new shades of the season as imaginative as they are confusing. Where trend gurus of 2006 push aubergine, petrol, raspberry, mustard, and moss on us; their counterparts of two centuries ago were not slow in urging its female readership to wear coquelicot, canary, pomona, jonquil or puce. But what did the colours really look like?

While ivory, rose, peach and lavender are quite easy to figure out, others are more obscure. Many colours were named after plants; roses being rosy red and lavender a delicate pale greyish purple. Slate, a dark grey reminiscent of paving stones, was popular for riding and walking dresses, while light purples, such as violet or lilac, adorned many a modest maiden. In Jane Austen’s time dyes were expensive, pigments made of natural substances and the resulting hues rather muted compared to our modern artificial dyes, hence even a bright yellow would not be as bright as we would imagine. Few pigments were colourfast; many faded in the sunlight or ran in the wash.

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Film Costumes up for Auction on Ebay

Grab yourself some film costumes bargains!

Anne Eliot's Spencer

An unusual auction of original film costumes from Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Miss Austen Regrets go under the Ebay hammer starting tomorrow 15th of March. In a surprising move BAFTA and EMMY award winning designer Andrea Galer has decided it is time to move on these much loved items.

In colaboration with The Jane Austen Centre Online Giftshop, Ms Galer has handpicked many costumes and accessories that are likely to be fought over by Austen and film fans.

Andrea Galer says, ‘Having made these costumes which have helped Sally Hawkins and Oliver Williams really feel their way into character, I no longer need to own them. In moving them on I want other people to be able to feel that connection with the skills and materials of the past.’

David Baldock, Director of The Jane Austen Centre in Bath says, ‘Having worked with Andrea in the past we were lucky enough to have been able to purchase a number of her film costumes. These costumes now enhance our exhibition display. The costumes and accessories have been of immense interest to fans of Austen and Regency fashion.’

Everyone can get involved as all of the items will start the auction at 99p! There will be a total of 21 lots spread over a 2 week auction window.

You can find all these items until Sunday 25th of March 2012 here:  http://stores.ebay.co.uk/thejaneaustencentre

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Fingerless Mitts: A Regency Must

 

I have found your white mittens; they were folded up within my clean nightcap, and send their duty to you.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
August 24, 1805

Period Mitts, including a pair owned by Princess Charlotte (far right)Among the fashion items in Kensington Palace are a pair of hand-embroidered mittens owned by Princess Charlotte, daughter of George 1V and Caroline of Brunswick  (the Princess Diana of her day) who died tragically young in 1817 while in childbirth. Read more: Mail Online

Your average 18th century mitt would have a thumb (or rather half a thumb), but not have any other fingers. It would sometimes extend not just over the hand but over part of the fingers as well. This meant that it would keep you warm (or protected from the sun in the summer) but not hinder your movements at all. You could do things like write, draw or do needlework with mitts on. And combined with a muff, they were quite enough even for venturing outside in the winter.”
Mitts & Fingerless Gloves



Several websites offer instructions for making your own mitts, including a crocheted pattern in our crafts section:Lacy Mitt Gloves. A firsthand look at mitt construction can be found here: Making 18th Century Mitts, while a pattern for sew mitts can be purchased from Kannick’s Korner. Velvet and lace Mitts can be purchased from our Jane Austen Centre shop in a variety of colors.

Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs.

This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.


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Ladies’ Useful Accessories

From Mamma– A Mariner’s compass
From Aunt– A silver Vinagrette
From Augusta– A gold twisted ring
From Miss Ramsey– A leather purse
Emma Austen Leigh, 1815

During the Regency, friends would exchange small gifts at Christmas or Twelfth Night. These tended to be useful items or homemade tokens of remembrance. They might be accompanied by a riddle or short poem, like the needle bag Jane gave to a friend in 1792:

This little bag, I hope, will prove
To be not vainly made;
For should you thread and needles want,
It will afford you aid.

And, as we are about to part,
‘Twill serve another end:
For, when you look upon this bag,
You’ll recollect your friend.

Chatelaine
Chatelaine, 1765-1775 Victoria and Albert Museum no. C.492:1 to 7-1914, Wikimedia Commons

Jane’s neice, Emma Austen Leigh, kept a diary list of all the gifts she was given over a period of years. It included jewelry, purses, knitting boxes and workbags along with a selection of fashionable accessories and mending tools.

The chatelaine is a device which clips to the waist band or belt of a dress for holding such items as the mistress of the house would need with her throughout the day. It might include her seal, watch, scissors, thimble, a vinaigrette, and a key holder.

Chatelaines were worn by men and women and might be made of silver or steel. They could be as plain or as decorated as the owner wished. The term originally meant the mistress of a large estate or Castle and literally means “the keeper of the keys.”

A vinaigrette is a little tightly sealing box with a second pierced lid inside to contain a bit of gauze soaked in vinegar, lavender water, or other scent. Sniffing the contents were meant to revive someone feeling faint or give relief from unpleasant odors. It might be kept inside a reticule or be equipped with a loop and hung about the wearer’s wrist or from a chatelaine. Vinaigrettes were made by silversmiths specializing in boxes so they usually also made snuffboxes. There were smiths in London who did this type of work, but most boxes were made in Birmingham.

Treat your friend to a Georgian style gift at our online shop – click here!

Reprinted with persmission Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!

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Austen’s Appeal

With the upcoming release of Northanger Abbey, the last of Jane Austen’s six major novels to be filmed in the past few years, there is much questioning as to why Jane Austen, long the staple of high school English Literature classes, has become so wildly popular. In a world filled with rudeness and disrespect, she has gained not only a loyal following (though there has always been a faithful remnant), but worldwide media acclaim such as she did not experience even during her lifetime!

P&P Video Cover

Many people claim that it is the movies made in the last five years that have caused this meteoric rise in popularity, making Jane Austen a household name and her works blockbuster successes. However, twenty years ago the same books were transferred to film without the same results. Better actors you say? Well, there is something to be said for that, as well as the fact that these new movies have larger budgets. I think, though, that the real answer lies in a changing mindset of today’s women. Without interest in these stories, the movies would never have been made. Continue reading Austen’s Appeal

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Gloves

“I was very lucky in my gloves–got them at the first shop I went to…and gave only four shillings for them; upon hearing which everybody at Chawton will be hoping and predicting that they cannot be good for anything, and their worth certainly remains to be proved; but I think they look very well.
Jane Austen, 1813

During the 19th century, ladies always wore regency gloves outside (so did gentlemen). In addition, they wore them for the most part indoors as well (always at balls, for instance). Made of cotton or kid, they were protection for the hands against dirt and the elements. Continue reading Gloves