A Taste for Poetry: R. & W. A. Bartow, Asher B. Durand, Mozart’s Librettist, and British Verse

Poetry got people excited in the 19th century. Some readers appreciated its literary value, and others enjoyed it as a fashionable pursuit. It could cross the line between highbrow intellectualism and pop culture. Poetry set a certain tone and created a mood. A love of literature, the allure of fantasy, the pleasures of the mind, or the swing of cultural zeitgeist—all of this and more informed society’s passion for poetry.

Pleasures of Hope 1820 title page

Title page, The Pleasures of Hope and Other Poems by Thomas Campbell, published by R. & W. A. Bartow, 1820. Michele Pekenino was an engraver who worked with Asher B. Durand on Bartow editions. According to Durand’s son, “Pekenino wrote an elegant script and boasted that [one of] Napoleon’s treaties had been engrossed by him.” It is possible that Pekenino was the unnamed engrosser for plates like this one.


A sampling of poetry volumes published by W. & A. Bartow. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

The firm of R. & W. A. Bartow eagerly jumped on the poetry bandwagon. The youthful brothers Robert (1792­–1868) and William Augustus Bartow (1794–1869) had left the family farm in their early 20s to resell goods as commission merchants before joining the book trade—Robert in New York City and William in their Southern office in Richmond, Virginia. Reprint editions of British poetry were a safe bet in the American marketplace, and the siblings knew a good money-making opportunity when they saw it. (Foreign copyrights would not be protected under United States law until 1891.) In 1821, the Bartow firm published its most ambitious project—The British Poets, in Sixteen Volumes—which included works by Robert Burns, William Cowper, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Gray, and others in handsome leather-bound volumes with gilt stamping and marbled endpapers. The series—like other volumes of poetry produced by R. & W. A. Bartow—featured fine engraved frontispieces and portraits of the authors.

A. B. Durand after Richard Westall

Asher B. Durand, after Richard Westall. Frontispiece, The Pleasures of Hope and Other Poems by Thomas Campbell, published by R. & W. A. Bartow, 1820

Asher B. Durand (1796–1886) produced some of the Bartows’ illustrated plates. These were mostly copies of British book illustrations, including many by the artist Richard Westall (1765–1836). But the frontispiece in Mark Akenside’s The Pleasures of the Imagination, published by R. & W. A. Bartow in 1819, was an original piece “drawn by Durand” and engraved by “P. Maverick, Durand & Co.” Durand began his artistic career as an engraver working first as an apprentice and later as a partner with Peter Maverick (1780–1831). After the pair parted ways in 1820, Durand continued to work under the Bartow imprint. Durand’s brother John (1792–1820), who died at age 28, also made some engravings for Bartow editions. Asher B. Durand, who switched to painting in the 1830s, has been named as the artist of a lost oil portrait of the Bartow brothers’ mother, Clarina Bartow, née Bartow (who married her second cousin Augustus), which once belonged to Robert, but this attribution is undocumented.

Robert Burns by Pekenino

Michele Pekenino, Robert Burns. Illustration for The Works of Robert Burns, vol. I, published by R. & W. A. Bartow, 1821

Durand’s friend Michele Pekenino engraved authors’ portraits for the Bartows’ British Poets series. In The Life and Times of A. B. Durand (1894), John Durand recounted the Italian’s lively interactions with his father and Robert Bartow:

One more correspondent . . . who annoyed and yet amused him [was] . . . an Italian named Michael Pekenino; he was a stipple engraver and had a table in the studio of my father, who harboured and helped him along mainly because he was a foreigner and unused to the ways of the country. “Pekenino,” said my father, “sharpened a graver in the most wonderful manner. He told me that if he could engrave like me, he would go to———with the greatest pleasure,” as he expressed it in his Dantean phraseology. Pekenino was often employed by New York publishers, and particularly by a Mr. Bartow, for whom he engraved the heads of certain English poets to illustrate editions of their works republished in this country at that time. How the Italian regarded his patron may be gathered from the following specimen of his English, taken from a letter dated May 22, 1822:

Dear Asher,—

Intreating Heaven, threatening Hell, cannot induce that adamantean Bartow to send me some money, and what is most infernal to my circumstance, I cannot get an answer from that obstinate being—in better terms, mortal stone! That publisher of poets did not . . . soften his heart at all in reading them! . . . I will write to him once more yet. I will, and it will be the last he shall receive not arrainged [sic] in good English.

Durand and Pekenino also engraved each other’s portraits, “Pekenino making his engraving after a portrait by [William] Jewett, while my father made his after a portrait of Pekenino drawn by himself,” explained John Durand. When Pekenino needed money before his return to Italy, he unabashedly took advantage of the craze for Simón de Bolívar, and “the plate of my father’s head being in his possession, he erased the title of ‘A. B. Durand’ and . . . substituted the title of ‘Bolivar.’ Many were sold.”

The Minstrel London 1816

James Mitan, after Richard Westall. Illustration for The Minstrel by James Beattie, published by John Sharpe, London, 1816. The scene in this British edition is the source for the frontispiece engraved by Robert C. Bruen for R. & W. A. Bartow’s reprint (pictured below).

Robert C. Bruen apprenticed with Peter Maverick along with Asher B. Durand and was also an engraver for R. & W. A. Bartow. Sadly, Bruen “became deranged, and in the winter walked upon the ice of the river into the water and was drowned,” according to William Dunlap in his 1834 book on American design.

R. C. Bruen, engraver, The Minstrel

Robert C. Bruen, after Richard Westall. Frontispiece for The Minstrel by James Beattie, published by R. & W. A. Bartow, 1821. This copy of an earlier British engraving is accompanied by a portrait of the author by Michele Pekenino in the Bartow edition.


Richard Westall, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, 1813. Oil on canvas. NPG 4243 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Although the Bartows did not include Lord Byron (1788–1824) in their British Poets series, they did not overlook him. And why would they? Byron was yesterday’s bad boy rock star. As his paramour Lady Caroline Lamb famously put it, he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” His works were sure to sell. In 1819, at the suggestion of his Italian mistress Teresa Guiccioli, Byron wrote The Prophecy of Dante in Ravenna. It was first published in America in 1821, and that same year, R. & W. A. Bartow issued La Profezia di Dante, an Italian translation of Byron’s work by the colorful poet, librettist, and Italian émigré Lorenzo da Ponte (1749–1838).

It was rare for the Bartow firm to publish original material (in this case, the added translation into Italian). The risk-averse brothers ensured the book’s profitability through a number of subscribers, whose names are printed at the back of the volume along with the number of copies they ordered. The impressive list includes prominent New Yorkers with connections to Da Ponte, such as Clement C. Moore, William Harris (the president of Columbia College), and members of the Livingston family. Perhaps Da Ponte solicited many of the subscribers, and the Bartows served as what was later known as a “vanity” publisher. In any case, the book was clearly a success because it went into an enhanced second edition the following year that included a frontispiece engraved by Pekenino and an appendix with Da Ponte’s own verse.

L. da Ponte by N. Rogers artist, M. Pekenino engraver

Michele Pekenino, after Nathaniel Rogers. Lorenzo da Ponte. This portrait of Da Ponte is the frontispiece of Byron’s La Profezia di Dante, 2nd edition, translated by Da Ponte and published by R. & W. A. Bartow in 1822.

In Europe, Da Ponte was known as Mozart’s librettist for Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosí fan tutte and was a friend of Casanova. Debts prompted his move to New York City in the early 19th century, where, like the engraver Michele Pekenino, he was part of the city’s community of Italian émigrés. One day in 1807, Da Ponte met the writer and scholar Clement C. Moore (1779–1863) in a New York City bookshop, and a friendship ensued. Moore’s father was president of Columbia College, and the connection eventually led to Da Ponte’s appointment as the college’s first professor of Italian. The irrepressible Da Ponte also brought Italian opera to New Yorkers and opened an Italian bookshop on Broadway. His collaboration with the Bartow brothers must have been a thrilling moment for the young publishers.

Profezia, 2nd ed.Da Ponte was inspired to translate Byron’s The Prophecy of Dante when a pupil gave him a copy after the death of a beloved son. This account is from Da Ponte’s memoirs:

I not so much read, as devoured, all four cantos, without once putting aside the book from my hands. A certain analogy . . . between Dante’s experiences and mine, inspired me with a will to translate that work into Italian verse, and I straightway applied myself to the task. But to escape a spot that reminded me at every instant of the causes of my grief, I suggested to my student-guests withdrawing with them to some country place. . . .The retreat of ours was situated on a country estate belonging to the illustrious and honorable family of the Livingstons. . . . I rose from bed in the morning at sunrise and spent an hour reading some Italian prose writer or poet, now with my pupils and now with my children. I made my rural breakfast in their company, and a half hour afterwards, I would find some spot, now under a peach, now under an apple tree, and still weeping, translate a portion of that poem which would ever add a touch of sweetness to my tears.

Da Ponte dedicated the translation to “Madamagella Giulia [Julia] Livingston,” who was one of his host’s daughters. In Lorenzo da Ponte: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Man Behind Mozart, Rodney Bolt writes that “Lorenzo sent La Profezia de Dante to Lord Byron with a letter begging forgiveness for his audacity, but confessing he had not been able to withstand the temptation to translate it. No reply from Byron exists, but Giacomo Ombrosi, the American Vice-Consul in Florence, wrote to Da Ponte praising the translation and saying that he had delivered a copy to the poet on encountering him in Livorno.” If they knew, the Bartows must have been delighted.

The firm of R. & W. A. Bartow was just one of many publishers of verse in a great age for poetry. Today, we remember their work as we celebrate National Poetry Month.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Fresh Farm Milk from a Historic Estate: How a New York City Garden Club Helped the War Effort in 1918

Cows Grazing at Nevis

Dairy cows at Nevis, Journal of the International Garden Club, June 1918

It was time to step up. One hundred years ago, America had entered the First World War, and patriotic civilians were eager to contribute on the home front to help defeat the Germans. Meanwhile, milk prices in New York City had skyrocketed, and the local dairy industry was accused of price fixing. The most vulnerable victims of this controversial price hike were poverty-stricken families living in Manhattan tenements. Thankfully, a group of philanthropic horticultural enthusiasts joined with the New York City government, a well-known dairy expert, and a historic country estate to do their part in the war effort by providing fresh milk to needy mothers and children.


Sydney Percy Kendrick (British, 1874–1955). Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman, ca. 1930. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Aymar Johnson, 1978.02. This posthumous portrait was painted from a photograph taken of Zelia in evening dress before a 1920s function in London and was given to Bartow-Pell by her daughter.

A few years after the International Garden Club (IGC) had established its Bronx headquarters at the newly restored Bartow mansion in bucolic Pelham Bay Park, the United States was at war. Subsequently—inspired by the British Red Cross using country houses as hospitals—the group decided in March 1918 “to offer its club house and grounds for an open air and convalescent hospital for our returning wounded, to be run in cooperation with the Red Cross Society, the Fordham Hospital and the New Hospital built by Columbia University which has been taken over by the Federal Government,” the club’s Journal reported. The charge was led by IGC president Zelia Hoffman (1867–1929), but soon she received a letter politely informing her that the army medical corps had declined the club’s proposal. “My dear Mrs. Hoffman,” wrote Lt. Col. C. H. Connor, “I sincerely regret that we cannot, at this time, give you a definite acceptance of your very generous and patriotic offer, but the Red Cross is not in a position to state as to just how much of this work, in the care of convalescents, will be delegated to them. The present attitude of the War Department is that they expect to treat most of the wounded in France. . . . Those who can never go back as soldiers will be returned to the United States where they will be treated in military hospitals.”

IGC Milk Committee

Journal of the International Garden Club, June 1918

But the IGC was determined to make a difference. So they teamed up with the Mayor’s Committee of Women on National Defense on another urgent wartime cause—providing milk to poor families in New York City. Mrs. Hoffman—who held leadership positions in both organizations—sent a letter to prospective supporters asking for donations:

The most serious question of the moment is the need of cheap milk in the crowded tenement district on the East Side. . . . The price of milk has become prohibitive owing to War conditions, and as a War Measure, the Mayor’s Committee of Women on National Defense for the Bronx is arranging to pasture several hundred cows on the available meadow-land through the Bronx. Motor trucks will carry the milk daily to stations on the Upper East Side, where it can be sold at a reasonable rate to these people of the crowded tenement section. The saving of our infant population and the maintaining in health of our little children is as necessary a War measure as the care of our wounded, and for this purpose a supply of good, cheap milk is an absolute necessity. Several motor trucks will be needed at $900.00 each to carry the milk every day to the stations, and gifts of these and contributions are asked towards the purchase of cows and for the labor to maintain them during the duration of the War.

Mayor's Committee Officers

Officers of the Mayor’s Committee of Women on National Defense, New York, 1918

From the start, publicity was limited “to the bare statement of work accomplished,” Elisabeth Marbury, spokeswoman of the mayor’s committee explained. “To establish milk stations and to feed the babies struck us as more commendable than to portray dairy farms à la Marie Antoinette herding cows with gilded hoofs and be-ribboned horns.”

New York Tribune

New York Tribune, January 8, 1918

But there was more to the sky-high milk prices than the war. A seemingly endless stream of newspaper articles chronicled a price-fixing scandal that engulfed the New York dairy industry beginning in late 1917, and this led to investigations by the district attorney, who indicted dairymen on conspiracy charges for violating anti-trust laws. The New York Times quoted Mayor John F. Hylan in December 1918: “When we find men combining to extort blood money at the expense of little children, then it is time for public officials to persistently pursue these culprits to the end that the violators of the law pay the penalty, the price of milk be reduced and the lives of little children saved.”

Milk was universally recognized as essential to infant, child, and maternal health. In January 1918, the Times reported that former President Theodore Roosevelt “wanted to see the most radical action taken to secure an ample supply of milk to every child in the city.” And Alice Lakey (1857–1935), a prominent activist for “pure food” who had helped enact landmark consumer protection legislation, believed that the “use of dairy products” was a “war duty [so] that other foods may be conserved for the fighting forces,” the Times reported in a story on the National Milk and Dairy Farm Exposition in May 1918. “It is our desire to acquaint all women with the food value of milk,” she said.

Dairy cow at Salisbury, Red Cross 1918

Dairy cow at the American Red Cross Hospital Farm, Salisbury, England, 1918. Captain Frank S. Peer of Ithaca, N.Y., director, is shown with a Jersey cow. This was the breed favored by Edward Burnett, the dairy expert who advised the IGC at Nevis. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-anrc-10205

Mrs. Hoffman and the IGC forged ahead with their plans for a dairy, and they worked quickly to find a suitable location. According to the IGC Journal of June 1918:

E. Burnett

Brady & Handy, photographers. E[dward]. Burnett, detail from composite portraits of the 50th Congress Massachusetts Delegation, 1887–89. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-127916

Mr. Edward Burnett, the eminent dairy expert, was invited to cooperate and inaugurate the work. Owing to the expense and lack of time it was found impracticable to construct cow stables at Bartow, and it was decided to lease a private place with an already established dairy. Mr. Burnett was directed to purchase the cows and has been able to obtain some very fine specimens. The War Committee of the Garden Club has been most fortunate in obtaining the beautiful old Hamilton place “Nevis” at Irvington on the Hudson, with an up-to-date dairy just built.

Edward Burnett (1849–1925), a Harvard graduate and former U.S. congressman from Massachusetts, was an agricultural and dairy expert who advised wealthy estate owners and worked alongside Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) at Biltmore, George Vanderbilt’s massive estate in North Carolina. Shortly before America entered the war, Olmsted’s son Frederick Jr. (1870–1957) and the IGC had discussed creating a master garden plan for the grounds at Bartow, so perhaps it was through the Olmsted connection that Burnett joined the IGC dairy project.


Nevis, the former Hudson River estate of Alexander Hamilton’s son James, Journal of the International Garden Club, June 1918

Nevis, 1861

Nevis, the home of James Hamilton, The Art-Journal, August 1, 1861

Although the IGC was unable to house a dairy at Bartow, they found the perfect solution at Nevis, the former estate of Alexander Hamilton’s son James (1788–1878) in the suburban village of Irvington. Nevis, which was named after the elder Hamilton’s birthplace, featured a large Greek Revival house built in 1835 and 68 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River. A modern dairy, ample pastureland, and close proximity to New York City were just what the IGC needed. Fortunately, they were able to lease the house, and in September 1918 Zelia Hoffman reported:

We started on May 1, 1918, and for three months—May, June and July—have sent between six and seven thousand quarts of the very best certified milk to New York, this being a daily average of about seventy-two quarts. The cost of production has been about two-thirds of what it would have cost to have bought the same amount of milk, and it would have been impossible to have obtained such milk as 98 per cent of all milk sold in New York now is pasteurized (that horrid condition of a wonderful natural product), and certified milk of the kind we have been producing can only be obtained in small quantities at a very high price.


Sidebar from “Putting Baby’s Welfare on the City Map,” New York Tribune, June 16, 1918. The New York Nursery and Child’s Hospital was one of the recipients of milk from the IGC’s dairy in the summer of 1918.

Quart bottles were “sold [at cost] and given away to patients of the maternity center, Union Settlement, 237 East 104th Street.” In addition, “24 quarts a day have been sent to the Vanderbilt Clinic, department of Social Service.” A third beneficiary was the New York Nursery and Child’s Hospital, whose nursing superintendent Miss Rye Morley wrote: “My dear Mrs. Hoffman, I want very much, in behalf of our babies and mothers, to extend to you our very sincere appreciation for the generous supply of milk, which comes to us daily . . . I cannot tell you what this means.”

Before and After

Illustrations from “Putting Baby’s Welfare on the City Map,” New York Tribune, June 16, 1918. Journalists urged public officials, women’s organizations, and others to support infant and maternal health during wartime.

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to celebrate the work of the IGC Milk Committee under the leadership of Zelia Hoffman and their contribution to the health and well-being of women and children during the First World War.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Portrait of a Patron: Isaac Bell and Saint-Mémin

Isaac Bell with partial mat

Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. Isaac Bell, 1797. Charcoal (black chalk?) and white chalk with pink wash. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Lent by Alison Hess, great-great-great-granddaughter-in-law of the sitter

Who originally slept in Bartow-Pell’s Lannuier bed?

Isaac Bell (1768–1860) and his wife, Mary Ellis Bell (1791–1871), of New York City commissioned the bedstead from Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779–1819) upon their marriage in 1810, and the cabinetmaker completed it between 1812 and 1819. Lannuier was trained in Paris and arrived in New York City in 1803 knowing how to make furniture in the newest and most fashionable Classical style. He died prematurely in 1819, but in his brief career he became the finest cabinetmaker in the United States, making pieces of incredible refinement, sophistication, and beauty, which survive today in museum collections. He was patronized by the wealthiest strata of American society, who were eager to be in step with international style.


Charles-Honoré Lannuier. French Bedstead, 1812–19. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Henry S. Peltz and Mary Nevius. Photo by Richard Warren

A portrait of Isaac Bell by another French émigré, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852), is now on display at Bartow-Pell, thanks to a recent loan from a descendant.

Isaac Bell 1797 engraving

Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. Isaac Bell, 1797. Engraving. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Isaac Bell was born in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1768, the son of a prosperous merchant. As Loyalists, the Bell family moved to New York City and thence to New Brunswick, Canada, during the American Revolution, but Isaac Bell returned to New York in 1792 and made a handsome sum by sailing as supercargo—the officer who managed and sold the ship’s cargo—on three voyages to China beginning in 1798. In 1810, when Isaac Bell and Mary Ellis Bell married, the much-younger bride was a youthful 19 years old and the middle-aged groom was a wealthy merchant. His successful shipping company filled the coffers of the couple’s bank account and allowed them to indulge in top-quality luxury goods for their home at 14 Greenwich Street in the “newest fashion” (or, as a French-English dictionary translated the phrase in 1800, “dans le goût le plus moderne”). Neoclassicism was the choice of modern, cultured people in the early 19th century. The Bells were enthusiastic patrons of the new style, and the couple’s timing could not have been better for commissioning articles of sophisticated beauty in the classical taste by the best artists and craftsmen. Their stylish home featured a set of chairs by Duncan Phyfe, Lannuier’s bedstead as well as a pair of card tables by him, and a portrait of Mrs. Bell by John Vanderlyn (1775–1852). And, of course, there was the 1797 portrait of Isaac Bell by Saint-Mémin. According to Lisa Sturm-Lind in her book Actors of Globalization: New York Merchants in Global Trade, 1784–1812, “Bell was rich and popular and socialized with New York City’s best circles. He was an intimate friend of Alexander Hamilton who frequently dined at his home.” Today, Bell’s papers are housed in the Archival Collections of the Columbia University Libraries.


John Vanderlyn (1775–1852). Mary Ellis Bell (Mrs. Isaac Bell), ca. 1827. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Evangeline Bell Bruce, Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington


Edme Quenedey. L’appareil du physiognotrace, reproduction of an original ca. 1788 drawing in the Bibliothèque National de France, Paris. From Edme Quenedey des Riceys (Aube): Portraitiste au Physionotrace by René Hennequin, 1926–27. Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

L’Amérique ou la guillotine? During the upheavals of the French Revolution, it’s no wonder that Saint-Mémin, a member of the nobility, chose to go into exile. He eventually joined other French émigrés in New York City, where there was a booming market for luxury goods and a wealthy merchant class with a passion for everything French. The savvy jeune homme with a talent for drawing and a penchant for technology quickly turned to engravings and physiognotrace profile portraiture to earn a living in the New World. The physiognotrace, a mechanical device that allowed artists to trace a sitter’s profile, was invented in late 18th-century France by Gilles-Louis Chrétien (1754–1811), a cellist at the court of Versailles.

Saint-Mémin had been born in Dijon to a wealthy Burgundian family of art collectors and bibliophiles. As a teenager, he joined the Gardes-Françaises, a select regiment that served as palace guards for Louis XVI under the ancien régime but disbanded after the fall of the Bastille in 1789, and the family fled to Switzerland a year later upon the abolition of the nobility. In October 1793, Saint-Mémin, his father, and their valet arrived in New York City, and within the next few years, the fledgling artist began his career as an engraver and portraitist. Ellen G. Miles, the author of Saint-Mémin and the Neoclassical Profile Portrait in America, suggests that he may have received some training at the art school in Dijon founded by the French painter François Devosge. It is also possible that he took art lessons at the École Royale Militaire in Paris, where he could have acquired drafting skills for making maps and precise topographical drawings. In addition, Saint-Mémin taught himself the art of engraving from an encyclopedia (almost certainly Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie).

Saint-Memin self-portrait

Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. Self-Portrait, 1801. Engraving. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-13324

Saint-Mémin’s first works were engravings of town plans, but in 1796 he began a year-long partnership in New York with fellow French émigré Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit (1763–1846), who had sat for Chrétien, the inventor of the physiognotrace, and his partner Edme Quenedey (1756–1830) in Paris. In New York, Saint-Mémin and Valdenuit offered profile portraits made with the “celebrated Physiognotrace of Paris, and in a style never introduced before in this country,” which they promoted in the January 1797 New York Daily Advertiser and in other newspapers. Their shrewd marketing targeted well-to-do clients swept up in the Francophile craze of the new American republic and attracted the public’s attention with the novelty of new technology. A sitter could buy a set that comprised the original portrait, the engraved plate, and 12 engravings. The drawings were often housed in gilt-wood frames with reverse-painted black verre eglomisé (glass) mats ornamented with gold leaf.


Advertisement for Saint-Mémin’s portraits. Aurora & General Advertiser, Philadelphia, January 8, 1799. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-13727


Christopher Scheiner (1575–1650). Engraving of a pantograph in Pantographice, seu ars delineandi, Rome, 1631. Scheiner was the inventor of this mechanical device, which could copy and re-size an image.

According to Miles, “In the partnership, Valdenuit made the drawings and Saint-Mémin the engravings.” Using the physiognotrace, the artist began by outlining the sitter’s profile in graphite on paper that had been coated with a pink wash made of water, white chalk, and a little red pigment to produce a smooth surface. Then he completed the drawing by hand in black chalk or charcoal with white chalk highlights. The engraver reduced and copied the finely detailed, large-scale original to a copperplate using another machine called a pantograph. Sitters loved the results, which produced accurate likenesses before the age of photography. Saint-Mémin and Valdenuit initiated what would become a highly popular trend, and demand for profiles began to rise. Soon other artists in America started using similar devices, including Charles Willson Peale, who made silhouette portraits at his museum in Philadelphia with a machine that combined a physiognotrace and a pantograph. After Valdenuit returned to France in September 1797, Saint-Mémin continued the business in New York on his own. The drawing of Isaac Bell on loan to Bartow-Pell was made in 1797, a year in which both Valdenuit and Saint-Mémin produced original chalk portraits. Bell’s likeness was made when he was in his late 30s, well before his marriage in 1810.

Theodosia Burr, 1796

Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. Theodosia Burr, 1796. Engraving. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Theodosia Bartow Burr Alston (1783–1813) was the daughter of Aaron Burr and a relative of Robert Bartow on her mother’s side.

In 1798, Saint- Mémin moved with his parents and a sister to Burlington, New Jersey. He established his portrait business in nearby Philadelphia and enjoyed even greater success than in New York. However, competition increased as profile portraits grew in popularity, and in 1803 Saint-Mémin began working as an itinerant artist, traveling from his home in Burlington to pursue new clients in Baltimore, Washington D.C., Richmond, and Charleston. By 1810, he was back in New York, and his artistic career was winding down. Finally, suffering from eyestrain, he stopped engraving and limited himself to painting a smattering of now-lost portraits and landscapes. As a portraitist in Federal America, Saint-Mémin had produced more than 900 profiles from 1796 to 1810. His sitters included famous people such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as French émigrés, Native Americans, military officers, and well-to-do Americans from fashionable society. After the fall of Napoleon and the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, Saint-Mémin returned to France and stopped working as an artist. In 1817, he became director of the museum in his native Dijon, a position he held until his death in 1852.


Intaglio portrait of a Woman. Roman, late 1st century B.C. Sard (a type of chalcedony). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charles Butt Gift, 1997. The origins of profile portraiture can be traced to classical antiquity and objects like this intaglio.

Profile portraits were commonly used in antiquity on Greek vases and on Greek and Roman coins, medallions, cameos, and relief sculpture. Some of these objects later became popular as Grand Tour souvenirs that could be placed in a cabinet of curiosities. These ancient profiles also inspired portraits, engravings, commemorative medals, and other works during the Italian Renaissance and in 18th-century France. The influence of Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801) contributed to the mania for profile portraiture in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although the tenets of physiognomy—which argued that physical features were linked to character traits—had been introduced in antiquity, Lavater’s essays, first published in German in the 1770s and translated into French and English over the next decade, captured the public imagination and inspired a further passion for profile portraits and silhouette likenesses.

Although Saint-Mémin is well known for his role in introducing the physiognotrace to the United States, he was more than just a technician using a mechanical device. In 1921, art historian Theodore Bolton enthused: “Saint-Mémin’s portraits are of great beauty . . . [and] impress the present writer as do those of Holbein, Clouet and Ingres. This statement is not minimized by the fact that the profile was placed with a machine. Only the mere outline could be obtained in this manner and Saint-Mémin’s power is shown in the assurance of his line and the perfection of his drawing.”

Objects that once belonged to Isaac and Mary Ellis Bell, including those at Bartow-Pell, are fine examples of how a patron of the arts embraced the “newest fashion.” Now, two of these pieces have been reunited.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Fashion Passion Redux: Making Reproduction 1850s Undersleeves

Reproduction Undersleeves

Reproduction undersleeves based on ca. 1855 designs

Wearing a new dress is fun—and accessories are part of the excitement. Who doesn’t want to create the perfect look? That hasn’t changed over time, and it is as true for historical interpreters as it is for trendy fashionistas. Besides, accessories can make all the difference in getting historic costuming just right.

Lady in Green Dress

Young Woman in Green Dress, ca. 1857. Ambrotype with applied color. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program

In the 1850s, stylish new dresses often had “pagoda sleeves.” These shortened sleeves had wide, flared bottom openings and were almost always worn with undersleeves (also known as “engageantes”) to modestly cover bare arms, protect from the sun, and add a bit of embellishment. The undersleeves were usually paired with a matching collar or a chemisette, a sleeveless underbodice worn to fill in the area above the neckline of the dress. Undersleeves have been worn during various periods of fashion history. But what did they look like in the 1850s? This is the question I asked myself after making a reproduction dress with pagoda sleeves. The undersleeves would be my next sewing project.

Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan

Theodore E. Pine (1827–1905). Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan, 1858. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis D. Gregg, 1950. In this portrait on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell, Mrs. MacFarlan wears pagoda sleeves and lace undersleeves with a matching collar. Her husband engaged in various lines of business, and, in the mid-1850s, he was an auctioneer. In May 1855, he presided over a sale of large quantities of textiles that included “undersleeves, collars, bands, chemisettes, in sets,” according to the New York Herald.

I started my research with the collections database of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, where I found many examples of undersleeves from the right period. Next, I turned to fashion plates and articles from women’s magazines published in the 1850s, such as Godey’s, Peterson’s, and Graham’s. I also took a look at some paintings from the period, including the 1858 portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel T. MacFarlan by Theodore Pine (1827–1905), which is on long-term loan to Bartow-Pell from the Met. Finally, my research took me to photography and the numerous ambrotypes and daguerreotypes from this period, such as the splendid images in Joan Severa’s indispensable books My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America and Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840–1900, which also include the author’s superb scholarly text.

Undersleeve styles in the 1850s were variations on a couple of general designs. One mimicked the bottom line of the pagoda sleeve and was open and flared at the wrist. These styles often used gathers sewn into an embroidered or lace insertion to create a deep, flounced edge. Another design gathered the undersleeve’s fullness (or “puff”) into a cuff at the wrist. Some engageante styles even featured two or more puffs. “There is no absolute fashion for sleeves,” Godey’s declared in August 1855. “Nearly every one follows her own fancy, though puffs, or wide frills from the elbow are considered the style. Undersleeves are also puffed, the fall of lace or embroidery that finishes them about the wrist coming from a loose band of insertion, à la duchess [sic], below the puffs.” Engageantes at this time were typically held in place by elasticized bands above the elbow. In May 1851, for example, Godey’s advised its readers that “a small gum-elastic bracelet . . . will be found the neatest support for a demi-sleeve.” According to Joan Severa, undersleeves were sometimes tacked down with a needle and thread.

Godey's July1855

Godey’s Lady’s Book, July 1855

Women had a choice of fabrics and trims. Period sources describe undersleeves made of lightweight or sheer textiles such as fine muslin, batiste, cambric, grenadine, tulle, and netting. Valenciennes, Alençon, and Venetian (guipure) lace were used both for the body of the sleeves and as trim. Engageantes were typically white, but black was worn for mourning, and Peterson’s Magazine advised in December 1850 that for winter warmth, they could match the fabric of the dress. Aunt Ruth, a character in “Cousin Clarissa,” an 1853 short story, had “no time to spare for her dress. . . . She just looks sidewise at white spencers and under-sleeves and collars, and puts them from her. She can never be seeing to them, starching them and making them white. So she puts on under-handkerchief and under-sleeves of black silk lace.” In May 1851, on the other hand, Godey’s stated: “In-doors, no undersleeves are needed for summer, particularly for young ladies, but for a street costume, there is every variety of undersleeves.”


Undersleeves, American, ca. 1855. Cotton. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Bergen Glover, 1961

In addition to various types of lace, whitework embroidery—including broderie anglaise (also known as eyelet lace)—was extremely popular on flounces, borders, and insertions. And Vandyke points, so-called because they resemble the V-shaped scalloped collar edges found in 17th-century portraits by Anthony Van Dyke, were commonly used in embroidered and lace borders in the 1850s. Ribbons and velvet were sometimes used as trim.

Embroidery patterns Graham's June 1856

“Neat and easy worked patterns for embroidery.” Graham’s Magazine, June 1856

Undersleeves were often made at home from patterns published in Godey’s and other women’s magazines. In 1857, a short story in Peterson’s Magazine describes a young lady who spent so many hours “embroidering undersleeves, etc.,” while her fiancé bent “over his study-table” that the couple grew apart. Undersleeves were also offered for sale in shops, along with collars and chemisettes. The New York Herald reported in November 1853 that “American ladies appear to value a dress only in proportion to its cost,” and the most expensive undersleeves and collars could cost up to $30. No wonder women often made them at home. Now it was my turn.

Peterson's May 1857

The ladies in this fashion plate wear pagoda sleeves with white undersleeves. Peterson’s Magazine, May 1857


Detail of reproduction undersleeve

I decided to make my undersleeves out of muslin with an insertion of whitework embroidery and a deep whitework flounce. I scoured eBay for just the right vintage or antique embroidered textile fragments. After I had those in hand, I bought the right shade of white muslin to match, which I would use for the top part of the undersleeves. My modern muslin was not as fine as many of the semi-sheer period versions, but it was more practical (and would be covered by the dress sleeve, anyway). Meanwhile, I bought a pattern from a company that specializes in historic clothing. But I needed to adapt the pattern’s simple design since it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, so I started by sewing a plain muslin mock-up. After that, I was ready to assemble all the pieces and make the finished product. Thanks to the Vandyke points on the whitework flounce, I did not need to stitch a hem. The last thing I had to do was make a casing at the top and thread in some elastic. My undersleeves were finally ready. I still need to make a matching chemisette, but in the meantime, I have an eBay find that will do. I’m almost ready for the runway or maybe even a spread in Godey’s.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Sleeping Beauty: A Romantic Ruin Awakes

Early 1900s

The dilapidated Bartow mansion in the early 20th century

In 1914, the beautiful old Bartow mansion was falling apart. Overgrown ivy crept up the walls and over the windows of the derelict old stone building. Broken glass panes allowed rain, snow, wind, dirt, insects, and small animals to enter the stately high-ceilinged rooms. Dense vegetation ran wild over unkempt and neglected grounds.

A host of grand 19th-century country houses once stood in what is today Pelham Bay Park. Why is the Bartow mansion the only one that remains? This is the story of how a historic gem was rescued by a group of horticultural enthusiasts, preservationists, Social Register grandees, and public officials during the years before the First World War and beyond.

The Bartow family and other estate owners sold their properties to New York City for parkland in 1888, and many of the buildings in the new Pelham Bay Park were subsequently rented to tenants. Around 1894, the socially prominent Turnbull siblings leased the Bartow mansion from the city for $40 a month and hired a retinue of servants to run the place. But the buildings in the park were hard to maintain. When a special legislative committee questioned Bronx Parks Commissioner August Moebus in the late 1890s, he testified: “There is not a house there [in Pelham Bay Park] that is in good condition. . . . it is only a blessing to find somebody that will occupy them to save the expense to the city from putting [in] a caretaker.” The fateful shadow of demolition loomed: “Q. If these are old ramshackle buildings that you would not live in if they were a gift, and each of them occupy several acres of ground of the park, why do you not tear them down and give the people the ground? A. That is just what I intend to do, and I am about to do it now.” However, the commissioner quickly regained his composure and corrected himself, adding that the houses were “too good” to be left unoccupied and at risk of being “burned down” if left unattended. Besides, he had not heard any complaints from people who had been “prevented from going into any portion of the park.” Hmm. Was Commissioner Moebus really a sympathetic preservationist?

Bartow Home for Crippled Children

Overgrown ivy covers windows in this undated postcard.

The Turnbulls gave up their lease by the summer of 1904, and, on June 1 of that year, the Parks Department gave permission to the Manhattan-based Day Home for Crippled Children to use the Bartow mansion and grounds as a summer campus for about 40 students with disabilities. The recently established institution—located at Madison and 133rd Street—served “children who are physically unfit to attend the public schools.”

During the summer the children are all taken to Bartow and spend their vacation in a spacious old house, surrounded by fields, on the Sound. Desks are discarded and lessons given out of doors for two hours each day. Nature study and light manual work take the place of the regular school routine, the boys doing weaving, basketry, and chair caning, while the girls embroider. The good food, medical care, and happy outdoor life work a rapid improvement in the health of these frail children. “A School for Crippled Children,” New York Times, March 1, 1908

Bartow Home for Crippled Children, 1904, probably July 4

The Day Home for Crippled Children used the old Bartow mansion for its summer program from 1904 to 1914.

It was an age of burgeoning social responsibility. Philanthropic Manhattanites joined in the zeitgeist and organized fundraisers for the Bartow program. In addition, the mansion hosted several blind children from the International Sunshine Society during the summer of 1904. Other former estates in Pelham Bay Park also welcomed underprivileged children. The Hunter mansion, for example, was the summer home of the Little Mothers’ Aid Association, which provided excursions for tenement girls who labored long hours in the family home as “housekeeper, nurse, and family drudge” while their mothers earned meager livings in low-paying jobs (Social Service, July 1903). In 1912, the “Bartow Summer Home for Crippled Children” was still renting the “old Turnbull mansion” from the city, but an SOS appeared in the New York Times: “Funds are urgently solicited, in view of repairs to the home and providing instructors for vacational work for the beneficiaries, who are of all races, colors and religions.” Time was running out for the old house. Would it survive?

Herbaceous Garden frontispiece and title page

Frontispiece and title page from The Herbaceous Garden (1913) by Alice Martineau. The well-known horticulturist and garden writer William Robinson wrote the introduction.


Sydney Percy Kendrick (British, 1874–1955). Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman, ca. 1930. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Aymar Johnson, 1978.02

The Bartow mansion was skating on thin ice, but an upper-crust English garden writer and friend of the British royal family was about to change everything. Her name was Alice (Mrs. Philip) Martineau, and, in September 1913, she set sail for America to work on a gardening commission, promote her recent book The Herbaceous Garden, and give a series of drawing-room lectures to fashionable society. Most importantly for Bartow-Pell, Mrs. Martineau’s ideas—which she shared with the well-connected Yankees she encountered during her trip to the States—prompted the formation of the International Garden Club (IGC), led by the socialite and anglophile Zelia (Mrs. Charles Frederick) Hoffman, who was president of the Newport Garden Club and likely attended one of Martineau’s talks on gardening. The two ladies probably mingled socially as well. The following spring, in 1914, the new club, which was modeled on the Royal Horticultural Society, announced that it would lease the old Bartow estate in Pelham Bay Park to establish a garden “that would be for the joy and the instruction of all the people of New York,” according to a May 1914 article in the New York Tribune.” Martineau supported this mission, declaring that: “Gardening is something everybody can have a taste of. It isn’t only for the exclusive few.” The IGC chose the Bartow property because it was “the most historical of all these properties in Westchester. It still has the old Pell graves and the remains of the Oak under which according to tradition John [sic] Pell purchased this part of New York from the Indians.” (Journal of the International Garden Club, August 1917)

Despite the IGC’s democratic view, gardening had become a trendy pastime for wealthy women, and garden clubs were proliferating in “summer colonies such as Southampton, Stockbridge, Lenox and Newport,” according to the Tribune article.

With May in the air, women are turning from the tango to gardening. Women who own gardens are absent from the city directing their gardeners, and the more energetic are themselves digging and planting, clad in knickerbockers and rough jackets, or in smocked frocks. . . . The unusual interest in gardening this year among wealthy women of New York is due to the enthusiasm of the members of the new International Garden Club. Their optimism is irresistible.

Photo from 1915 bylaws

The governor of New York, Charles S. Whitman, was among the dignitaries who attended the opening day of the International Garden Club on May 1, 1915. The ceremonies included a replanting of the historic Treaty Oak.

Although gardening clubs were often women’s organizations, both men and women originally belonged to the new IGC, including a number of bold-face names. Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, was honorary president, and members included Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Astor, Henry F. Dupont, Mrs. Henry Clay Frick, Mr. and Mrs. Archer M. Huntington, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Duchess of Newcastle. In its lease agreement with the city, the club agreed to restore and maintain the house and grounds, establish experimental gardens, offer monthly lectures and exhibits, form a library, establish a certificate program for gardeners, provide free instruction to teachers for public-school gardens, and assist other horticultural societies and garden clubs. Members could rent rooms, dine, and attend special receptions. The board soon hired the white-shoe architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich to oversee the restoration of the house and to design a walled sunken garden. In the new age of the automobile, the beautifully renovated property even became “a mecca of motorists,” the New York Sun reported in May 1915.

IGC Journal Aug 1917

The International Garden Club published an ambitious horticultural journal from 1917 to 1919. The first volume included photographs of the newly refurbished mansion and gardens.

In 1918, the bellicose new Bronx Parks Commissioner Joseph Hennessy tried to oust the IGC from the park, claiming that the club was “an exclusive institution on thirty acres of public park property” and that its role as an “educational institution” was “only a pretense,” but the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of the IGC. After World War II, period rooms were installed and the mansion opened its doors as a historic house museum.


Today, the Bartow-Pell Conservancy continues to preserve the house and gardens and provide dynamic educational and public programs. This sleeping beauty is wide awake!

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Theodoret and Sarah: A Bartow Love Story

It was an ill-fated Gilded Age romance. Theodoret, the handsome youngest son of Robert and Maria Bartow, fell in love with Sarah Elliott Marshall, a blond Southern beauty from Natchez, and married her in 1886. Although this privileged couple seemed to have it all—including a lovely young daughter—their story has a tragic ending.

Maria Lorillard Bartow was 45 when she gave birth to her ninth and last child, Theodoret, at the Bartows’ elegant country estate on a spring day in April 1846. When Theodoret was 19, he followed in the footsteps of two of his elder brothers and enrolled at Columbia College (class of 1869). He studied at the School of Mines and joined the Delta Phi fraternity but apparently never graduated. In 1870, at age 26, he was living at home with no profession. Ten years later, in 1880, Theodoret and his brother Reginald Heber, both bachelors, were still living at the Bartow mansion following the death of their mother three months earlier. The census listed the brothers’ occupation as “gentleman.”

However, things were about to change for Theodoret. In 1882 and 1883, New York City directories listed him as a “broker” at 7 Pine Street in the financial district. Theodoret Bartow was now in his late 30s. It is unknown why he started to earn a living after so many years as a gentleman of leisure. His widowed mother’s assets had been transferred to a trust shortly before she died. Was there a cash flow problem after her death? Or was Theodoret simply ready to embrace a modern professional lifestyle and experience the excitement of Wall Street? At this time, he lived part-time in New York City. Newspaper gossip columnists give us a peek at his movements. The New Rochelle Pioneer divulges that in October 1882, “Mr. T. Bartow for some time past sojourning at the LeRoy Place, has taken up his winter quarters in New York City.” Another big change was on the way. In June 1884, the New York State Legislature authorized the “taking of lands” to create Pelham Bay Park, and landowners would be forced to sell their properties to New York City, which the Bartows did in 1888.

Hawkswood LOC HABS

Hawkswood (Marshall house). Photograph by Arnold Moses, October 12, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

One of the neighboring estates was Hawkswood, a grand property with an imposing Greek Revival mansion that overlooked Long Island Sound and City Island. For many years, it was owned by Levin R. Marshall, a very rich Southern plantation owner and businessman from Natchez, Mississippi, whose granddaughter would become Theodoret’s bride. After Marshall’s death in 1870, his widow, Sarah Elliott (or Elliot) Marshall, inherited Hawkswood, which, like the Bartow estate, would be sold for parkland in the late 1880s.

Sarah Marshall’s step-granddaughter and namesake from Natchez married Theodoret Bartow in 1886. In fact, we know that Theodoret and his soon-to-be brother-in-law William H. Jackson were already “well-acquainted with Levin Marshall, late of the town of Pelham,” according to Marshall’s will, for which the younger men served as witnesses in 1870. One assumes that Bartow met and wooed his bride-to-be when she was staying with her relatives up north. (Similarly, Levin Marshall’s son William St. John Elliott Marshall married another neighbor, Elizabeth Stuyvesant Fish Morris of Oakshade, but that’s a separate story.)

32362r Lansdowne 1938 LoC

Lansdowne, Sarah Elliott Marshall’s childhood home in Natchez, Mississippi. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1938. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, Reproduction Number LC-J7-1234

Sarah Marshall, the daughter of George M. Marshall and Charlotte Hunt, was born at Lansdowne, her parents’ plantation in Natchez, on July 6, 1856. Her father had  graduated from Princeton and fought in the Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh. Ironically, Sarah’s grandfather Levin Marshall (who, as a wealthy planter, owned hundreds of slaves at his Southern properties), “was a neutralist [who] moved permanently to New York [during the war],” a Marshall descendent wrote in a 1996 letter in Bartow-Pell’s archives. And indeed, federal records state that Marshall was deemed loyal to the Union, and his estate received compensation for “stores and supplies” taken from his plantations and used by the Army of the United States. “As a child, Sarah was educated at home by a governess and sent to school in New Orleans when she was older,” according to the letter in Bartow-Pell’s files. It would have been natural for her to visit relatives in New York since “people traveled from Natchez to New Orleans to New York frequently.”

On April 24, 1886, the New Rochelle Pioneer reported: “Mr. Theo. Bartow has left for the South where on the 28th inst, he will be married to a Miss Marshal [sic], of Mississippi.” Did he take a train, a steamboat, or a combination? That very year, an article in the New York Times subtitled “Boat and Rail from New-York to New-Orleans” argued that a mixture of both was best for leisurely travel: “But the trip must be taken in the right way, and the right way is not to go direct through by rail. Neither is an all-water journey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers altogether pleasant. A combination of the two is a happy medium.” Although it is tempting to adopt the romantic notion of Theodoret traveling down the Mississippi by steamboat to meet his bride, the railroad—which was fast and efficient—would have been more suitable for an impatient groom.

American Etiquette 1889

Wedding scene, American Etiquette, 1889

The happy couple married at Lansdowne on April 28, 1886, according to the New York Evening Post. Theodoret had turned 40 a couple of weeks before the wedding; Sarah was almost 30. The ceremony would have taken place in the plantation’s parlor, which Lansdowne’s website describes today as “almost unchanged since the house was built.” The officiant was the Right Reverend Hugh Miller Thompson, who was soon afterward named the Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi. American Etiquette (1889) helps us imagine the scene: “Weddings at home vary little from those at church. The music, the assembling of friends, the entree of the bridal party to the position selected, are the same. An altar of flowers and place of kneeling can easily be arranged at home.” Following the fashion of the day, Sarah perhaps wore a gown of “white silk, high corsage, a long veil of white tulle, reaching to the feet, and a wreath of maiden blush roses with orange blossoms.” The groom would either wear full morning dress with white gloves or full evening dress, depending on the time of day.

Theodoret house Merrick

Home of Theodoret and Sarah Bartow, later known as the Bonnie Hame-Skyfield house, Merrick, Long Island. Merrick Historical Photographs, Merrick Library

Theodoret and Sarah likely lived at the Bartow mansion when they were first married. But in 1888, the year in which the property was sold to New York City and Theodoret received his portion of the proceeds, he bought about four acres of land in Merrick on Long Island, a pretty property that also included a stream. The following year, he built a large three-story house and stable (later known as the Bonnie Hame-Skyfield house, which was demolished in 1960). The couple settled into their new community, and, in 1890, Theodoret joined the vestry of the recently organized Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, where a Lorillard cousin and close friend of the family, Hermann H. Cammann, was warden. To top it all off, the couple must have been elated upon the birth of their daughter, Theodora Carlotta Lorillard Bartow, on December 13, 1890.

Theodora Carlotta L. Bartow

Theodora Carlotta Lorillard Bartow

Sadly, these blissful times would soon end. When baby Theodora was only 8 months old, Theodoret died at age 45 on August 18, 1891, in Richfield Springs, New York, a well-known spa town with mineral springs and a number of hotels. The burial records of the Episcopal Diocese of New York list his cause of death as “Bright’s Disease,” which is an old-fashioned term for a variety of kidney diseases. Treatment in the 19th century included spas, bloodletting, and unusual diets, none of which had any proven benefit. His sister Henrietta died from “Bright’s Disease” in 1901.

Ads for Richfield Springs 1882

Advertisements for spa hotels in Richfield Springs, New York, in Outing, September 1882

More heartbreak was on the horizon, for about a year later, on September 21, 1892, Sarah followed her husband to the grave. The 36-year-old widow and mother died of cancer (“carcinoma”) in New Rochelle, perhaps at the home of her sister-in-law Henrietta Bartow Jackson. The unhappy event is described in a letter at Bartow-Pell: “Both of her parents were with her and in a letter home [to Natchez] her mother wrote that ‘it was the saddest death I have ever been called upon to witness.’”

Sarah and Theodoret’s toddler daughter was now an orphan, and William H. Jackson, who was married to Theodora’s aunt Henrietta Bartow, was named as guardian in Sarah’s will. The Jacksons lived on Pelham Road and had no children of their own. Theodora was a pretty child, and documents show that she was well taken care of by her aunt and uncle. Dancing lessons, medical bills, and items from Lord & Taylor are some of the expenses noted in the guardianship accounting records. As heir to her mother’s estate, Theodora would inherit diamond jewelry, real estate, and financial investments when she turned 21.

Theodora C. L. Bartow

Theodora Carlotta Lorillard Bartow (1890–1899)

In 1899, tragedy struck again when 8-year-old Theodora died on May 30 of a ruptured appendix. The estate she was too young to inherit then passed to her aunts, uncles, and their heirs. She was buried with her parents in the Bartow plot at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church near today’s Westchester Square in the Bronx.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Spills: Let There Be Light


What in the world are spills?

A British dictionary published in 1855 defined a spill as “A strip of paper rolled up to light a lamp or cigar.” The word loosely derives from “spile,” a small wooden peg. Although “spills” had been around for a long time, the term was not in use until the 19th century, when it first appeared in British dictionaries. Americans seem to have picked it up a little later, and in 1877 Webster’s defined a spill as: “A small roll of paper or slip of wood for lighting lamps, and the like.” For many years, people simply used expressions such as “pieces of paper,” a “paper match,” a paper “candle-lighter,” or a “neatly twisted paper cigar-lighter.” Wax tapers were also commonly used to light lamps and candles. “You should have some wax tapers on purpose to light your candles with, as paper makes a dirt, and flies about the room; besides it generally sticks to the candle and causes it to burn dim,” Robert Roberts recommended in his 1827 House Servant’s Directory. And in 1848, Chambers’s Information for the People pointed out: “It is always safest to light candles and lamps with a small wax taper, which can be at once blown out.”

DP266324 MMA spill vase

Spill Vase, 1830–70. Probably made in Bennington, Vermont. Parian porcelain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. Charles W. Green, 1947, 47.90.16

Spills were usually placed in vases on the mantel to provide easy access to the fire from which they were lighted. In 1869, Catharine Beecher and her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe advised: “Lamps should be lighted with a strip of folded or rolled paper, of which a quantity should be kept on the mantelpiece.” Spill vases were made of glass, ceramic, and other materials and can sometimes be seen in paintings and drawings of the period, such as John Carlin’s painting Forbidden Fruit (1874).

Before the invention of matches, lighting fires was difficult. People had to use a tinder box, which contained a piece of flint, a steel striker, and tinder, such as charred rags. These items would produce a spark that could ignite a brimstone (sulfur)-coated “match” with which to transfer the flame. Vigilance was the order of the day if one wanted to keep the home fires burning. The safety match (which was made with red phosphorous) made life a lot easier, but it was not in common use until after 1860.

1878 Godey's spills

“Fancy Spills,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1878

People made spills at home from writing paper, old newspapers, and even colored paper. In 1850, Eliza Leslie wrote: “They should be made of waste writing paper cut into long slips, and folded, and creased very hard. If of newspaper or any other that is not stiff enough, the flame will run along them so fast as to endanger your fingers.” Although Leslie advised against making spills out of newspaper, a story published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1876 described an impoverished woman using newspaper spills as a light source for nighttime reading because she had no candles.

Fancy ornamental spills combined home décor with practicality. Nineteenth-century craft gurus provided instructions in magazines, just as Martha Stewart would do today. “To make ornamental spills, bright coloured papers, and also gold and silver paper are needed,” Cassell’s Household Guide directed in 1869. And Miss Matty Jenkyns, a character in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 novel Cranford, excelled in making “candle-lighters, or ‘spills’ (as she preferred calling them), of coloured paper, cut so as to resemble feathers.”

People who like to curl up with a good 19th-century novel will find other scattered mentions of spills. Sometimes they are even used as clues in Victorian detective stories, such as in “The Blue Dragoon” (1855): “The police had not smoked, and, therefore, the thieves could be the only persons who had thrown the spill on this spot.” And there’s this riveting passage from After Dark (1856), a collection of short stories by Wilkie Collins, the master of the sensation novel:

“Give me two minutes,” says I, “and don’t let anybody come near the door—whatever you do, don’t let anybody startle me again by coming near the door.”

I took a little pull at the thread, and heard something rustle. I took a longer pull, and out came a piece of paper, rolled up tight like those candle-lighters that ladies make. I unrolled it—and, by George! there was the letter!

Cranford, 1892 edition

Illustration by Hugh Thomson from an 1892 edition of Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Spill vases flank the mantelpiece.

Spills are now largely forgotten, but their history can inspire us as we light our candles this holiday season: “I love candles. A wax candle is one of the prettiest and most graceful things imaginable. . . . How reliable it is; the instant it is held to the spill it lighteth cheerfully, and when its services are no longer required, how . . . amiably it allows itself to be put out” (The Welcome Guest, 1860).

Margaret Highland, Historian

The holidays are here, and what better time to experience the festive beauty of light? Please join us for Bartow-Pell’s annual Candlelight Tours and Victorian Carolers on Saturday, December 9, 6–8 p.m. Details on www.bpmm.org


Victorian carolers perform at Bartow-Pell’s annual Candlelight Tours.

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