1800s

Caddy spoons

caddy spoon

If you have a nice tea caddy, you may also want a caddy spoon. In the early years of tea drinking in Europe and America, either the lid of the caddy was used for measuring out tea leaves, or a long-handled strainer spoon, but in the 1760s people started to use special silver spoons instead, […]

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History of wing chairs

wing chair queen anne

Wing chairs are sometimes called fireside chairs, and for good reason. Their design is perfect for enjoying the warmth of a fire while your back and sides are protected from chilly draughts. These chairs were not the earliest furniture to use this approach to keeping warm. Wings were also used on some of the high-backed […]

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Bidets past and present

antique bidet 1800

Do you have a bidet in your bathroom? It’s always been a difference between English-speaking countries and France. Bidets have never quite caught on in the USA or the UK, except for an occasional “trend” that never really went very far. Some upper class ladies in 19th century England had French-made bidets, and in the […]

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Toby jugs – comic or commonplace, English or not?

Toby jug

Toby jugs portray a character whose story is rather unclear. He reminds some people of Shakespeare’s jovial, disreputable Toby Belch, and he very likely has something to do with an old song about Toby Fillpot. Dear Tom, this brown jug that now foams with mild ale, (In which I will drink to sweet Nan of […]

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Rag rugs – hand-made craft in an industrial age

rag rug

Rugs made from strips of cloth existed well before factories began producing cheap fabric, but not in anything like the same quantity. Even in quite poor households, rag bags of the 1800s were filling up with old clothes and scraps left over from dress-making. In the factories, there were clippings and oddments to be sold […]

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Fluting machines, ruffles, and the Dudley fluter

Dudley fluter

Once in a while a reader sends me a splendid picture of a charming object. This fluting machine photograph came from George Short, and it made me curious about who, why, what, and where.  George told me it was patented in 1876, a time when fluted ruffles were a fashionable trimming for ladies’ clothing. He […]

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Historic kitchens – visiting with eyes wide open

kitchen 1500s England

Whenever I travel I look out for historic houses, especially if they have kitchens worth visiting, and enjoy picking out bits and pieces for a closer look. And yet the room often isn’t the way it would have looked at any time in its life. The picture above is of a 16th century English manor […]

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Muff warmers & other antique hand warmers

stoneware hand warmer for muff

A hundred years ago a woman going out in the cold of winter could tuck a miniature hot water bottle inside her fur muff to keep her hands warm: like Maw’s Dainty Muff Warmer in the photo. This kind of hand warmer was on sale in late Victorian and Edwardian England. The Thermos Hot-water Muff […]

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Sock stretchers, stocking airers, and sock blockers

sock blockers stretchers

In the late 1940s a Canadian housewife, Joan Colborne,† counted her sock stretchers before tackling a backlog of laundry. She “only” had four pairs and so could not wash more than eight woollen socks at a time. If socks were not stretched out while drying they might shrink. Stretchers like the ones in the photo […]

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Showers – 19th century luxury and health

Victorian shower

The earliest showers were rather like having a pail of water tipped over you from a height. By the 1880s there were some more sophisticated contraptions available. They could be fully integrated with indoor plumbing, and came complete with an array of taps and valves to adjust temperature, water flow, and more. Patent mixers were […]

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