Not Silk, Plaid

When not intimidated by his second wife, James Black railed against her spendthrift habits. “I’ll not cover her back in silk out of my money,” he thundered during an atypically long monologue. After Black’s death in 1870, the oft-wed Widow Black traded her usual taffeta for a riotous plaid dress, immortalized in a luxurious settingContinue reading “Not Silk, Plaid”

Sea Otters: Dying to be Worn

Sea otters have the misfortune to be born with plush pelts boasting up to one million hairs per square inch. Hunters prized their skins as “blacker, thicker, and glossier” than their cousins: the beaver and land otter.  When fashion dictated the Manchu nobles of the Chinese Qing dynasty (1644-1912) dress in sea otter skins, the animals’ demise wasContinue reading “Sea Otters: Dying to be Worn”

Chloroform – Fit for a Queen

Although Queen Victoria and Prince Albert considered anesthesia for the birth of their seventh child, Arthur, they waited for Leopold’s birth in 1853 to ask Doctor John Snow to ease Victoria’s labor delivery with chloroform. The good doctor used a reclining “open-drop” chloroform application for the queen’s treatment rather than the steampunk inhaler he hadContinue reading “Chloroform – Fit for a Queen”

Don Timoteo’s Adobe

Adobe, Spanish for “mud brick,” refers to both the air-dried bricks of earth, water, and straw or dung as well as the buildings constructed from those bricks. For centuries, adobes have served as building materials, especially in arid locations. In 1830s Marin County, California, Timothy Murphy built a two-story adobe home, headquarters for his frequentContinue reading “Don Timoteo’s Adobe”