Monday, February 28, 2011

Victorian Resources for the Curious Steampunk (and the re-creationist)

Greetings, dear visitor.  Please have a cup of tea, or cordial, or, if you are currently enduring the grippe, as I am, I do have a small selection of remedies you may try ... perhaps a cup of bracing Peruvian Wine of Coca (wondrous sustaining powers) or perhaps you may wish to indulge in a pinch of Siberian Catarrh Snuff (I normally don't touch the stuff, but this is guaranteed to produce immediate relief of sore throat, nasal catarrh, hayfever, or cold in the head).

I thought today I could recommend a very small sampling of interesting resources for the steampunk looking for inspiration from the past, or the Victorian recreationist seeking ideas.  I am an avid bookhound, and I would like to share with you a couple of my favourite resources for day-to-day aspects of Victorian life.

As a costumer, the first couple of things I will recommend to you relate to costuming.  Alas, these largely involve women's attire, but gentlemen, I do have suggestions for you later.

The first book is Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazar 1867 - 1898 (published by Dover). 
This book contains 1000 illustrations, giving excellent black and white drawings of the variety of fashions current during the specified years.  It's a great resource for inspiration to make / craft your own outfit.  Dresses, cloaks, hats, parasols, hairstyles, are all shown here.  Many outfits are shown in front and back views.  For those interested, children's outfits are also shown periodically.

The book second is Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Woman 1840-1949, by Kristina Harris (published by Schiffer).
This text is geared for the fashion collector, to give information on authenticating garments and on appropriate pricing.  However, this book provides actual photographs (many in colour, often on modern models) of period garments.  This book is good for the dieselpunk as well as the steampunk, with its inclusion of garments from the first half of the 20th century.

Admittedly, these books are geared for women's costumes.  Alas, there is less available for men (and, as a gal, I've been spending my pennies on women's fashion).  However, men can find similar information in Men's Clothing and Fabrics in the 1890's (another Schiffer guide for fashion collectors, though admittedly limited to a single decade) and Men's Fashion Illustrations from the Turn of the Century (another Dover book).
Men's fashion information can also be gleaned from the following two resources.  

One of the best views into day-to-day living is the old-fashioned catalogue.  Two reproductions which are easily available are two North American department store catalogues, both from Chicago (and both published by Skyhorse Publishing):  Sears Roebuck & Co Catalgue from 1897 and the Montgomery Ward & Co Catalogue from 1895.
These volumes are fascinating.  In the Victorian years, you could order everything from dry goods (tinned foods, flour, sugar, salt) and drugs, to shoes, dresses, suits, coats, and undergarments, to carriages, furniture, and farm equipment, to valises, trunks, and guns.  A stroll through one of these volumes is truly a stroll through the daily life of the North American Victorian person.  Men, you can find sections in here on suits, vests, coats, shoes, shirts, hats, and undergarments.  Here's a wee taste for you:
These catalogues provide an endless supply of ideas and inspirations for makers, costumers, those seeking character ideas, recreationists, and those wanting to decorate a space or make their artwork more accurate in detail.  I lost hours wading through the sections - guns, farm equipment, cookware, undergarments, personal items, purses, luggage, carriages, fashion, furniture, pocketwatches, jewelry, hats, etc.  My favourite remains the "drug department", which makes for a highly entertaining read.  Sears Roebuck sold an alarming array of quack cures, all "guanteed immediate results" and "guaranteed harmless" (two of which I mentioned above, in today's welcome to my salon).   I won't spoil your fun by listing all my favourites.  Perhaps I will save that for a separate entry on quack cures.

Another similar resource, which I lucked into used from, is The Victorian Catalogue of Household Goods (published by Studio Editions)
This is essentially a wholesale catalogue for retailers - it lists no prices, but has detailed drawings of everyday household objects and ornate luxury items.

If you are interested in the social history of Victorian London, then I strongly recommend reading Molly Hughes' autobiography, A London Family: 1870-1900 (published by Oxford University Press).  You will likely have to look for this in used condition.
This is a combined publishing of three separate books by Mary Vivian Hughes (M.V. Hughes): A London Child of the 1870s, A London Girl of the 1880s, and A London Home in the 1890s.  This book is a very personal and somewhat rambling work, but I found it a compelling read, and it gives a view into the era from a first-hand point of view.

A modern text which gives an excellent view into domestic social history is The Victorian House by Judith Flanders (published by Harper Perennial).
This modern work gives a detailed view into the domestic life of an average English Victorian household, by taking you from room to room.  While the focus is on the new Victorian middle class, you also see glimpses of the life of the serving class, as well as the upper class.  It provides intimate details gleaned from contemporary diaries, letters, domestic texts, cookbooks, and novels.  If you like to see how the daily life was lived, I can't recommend this book enough.

This by no means pretends to be anything close to a comprehensive list of resources.  However, I thought I would share the resource book which I have discovered, and which have entertained me and provided me with extensive information about what is truly a fascinating time period.  And perhaps I will assist someone in finding the book they were looking for.

Carry on, good people, in your steampunk endeavors.  As for me, my catarrh is worsening, and I must make myself another hot tisane with honey and lemon (perhaps I shall try that Siberian Snuff ... my neighbour insists that her husband's brother swears by it). 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Calling Cards

Ah, the lovely calling card.  I strongly recommend that steampunks should create and carry upon their persons calling cards (also called visiting cards) and a pen. (Or have a reputable stationer create a set for you.)

Calling cards, or visiting cards, were a Victorian social requisite.  When going visiting, the Victorian lady, gentleman, or person of note or ambition) would ensure they had their card upon their person.  Cards would be left at a house (either in person or by a servant), to convey their intention to visit, or to leave a message.  Cards would be left on a silver platter or basket or similar device if the person was not at home, or was not receiving.  Calling cards could be used for introductions, to further acquaintance, or to send messages, announce one's arrival or departure from town, or to send congratulations or condolences.  The calling card was a handy little device for communication.  It could be as simple as just your name on one side.
There could be an elaborate design around the name:
They could include your photo:
or be exceptionally frilly or whimsical:
They could also be a cunning way to let a lady (or, in today's world, a man) know of your interest (and some are definitely less high-brow than others):
For a wide variety of actual Victorian styles, this website has a lot of images:

I think the calling card is perfect for the steampunk world.  You can put your name and address (and / or email address) on them, and keep a pen handy to add a personal message, a phone number, your Facebook name, or some such.  You can give one to whomever you wish.  They can be simple or elaborate, and as classy or as playful as you like.

I decided to create my own calling card, so I have a handy way to give my information to people, no matter where I am.  I have some printed with just my name, and the city I live in, and I have another set which also has my email address, where a street address would have been on a Victorian card.  
I used one of the fonts I found online.  The background is a very washed-out version of an image I found online of a set of patina-ed brass gears sold by Objects and Elements.  The card back is plain, to allow me to leave a message, write my cell number, etcetera.  

Of course, I needed a case to carry my cards in:
And a silver plate to receive them (not that I have a doorman (human or automaton) to receive them for me ... yet).
I just wanted to bring calling cards to your attention, if you weren't familiar with them, and perhaps plant a seed to create a calling card of your own, to suit your personality, or your persona.

Back from Vacation

My apologies for the lack of posts, in the past couple of weeks.  I took an airship for a wee vacation for a week.  The flight was excellent, if stupendously chilly, at that altitude.  The wintry views were amazing, and clear almost the entire way.  I indulged in a bit of shopping and some research at my secret lair ...  I have now returned, relaxed, recharged, and feeling very good.  Regular posting will recommence shortly.
Inspiration garment I saw on my travels.
Thank you all!

The Steam Wench

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ephemera Fun

Greetings, good folks.  I thought I'd chat today a bit about ephemera, and the place it can have in steampunk.

Ephemera is the transient paper detritus with which we have surrounded ourselves for generations, and which were never meant to be kept beyond their short time of use ... tickets (train, omnibus, airship, fair, exhibit), receipts, postcards, pamphlets, notices, posters, etc.  I have taken this also to include, for my steampunk purposes, other paper items (not necessarily included in the dictionary definition) which have a temporary lifespan (passports and other travel documents, and letters) or which don't tend to endure, such as paper money.

Ephemera can be an excellent enhancement to a costume or persona, if you really want to get into a character's world.  What would your character have upon his or her person, in addition to clothes, shoes, hat, gloves, parasol, goggles, pocketwatch, and other obvious decorative accoutrements?

Below are a few cool vintage images of Victorian ephemara I've found while prowling online (yay image Google!)
Visitor Pass to Photographic Society meeting
Football match ticket c. 1880
Assorted railway tickets and passes (specimens)
Chicago-Northwest Railway Ticket c. 1880
Steamboat and ferry tickets - early 1900s
Telegraph form
Undoubtedly your steampunk persona would have money, paper and or coin, tucked in a purse or wallet, or in a document case or pocket.  She also may have a ticket, if she is traveling, for the conveyance she took or will be taking (train, airship, omnibus, ship).  If traveling in a different country, she may well be carrying a passport.  Passports have been in existence in for centuries - for a brief timeline of United Kingdom passport history, look here:  She may be carrying tickets for a show, exhibit, or fair which they have seen or plan to see.  Maybe her purse is crammed with receipts (just as it is nowadays!) or she has a hotel bill tucked in his wallet.  Perhaps she has a postcard from a friend or loved one tucked in their valise.

I have decided to try to create some of my own ephemera.  My first experiment was in November.  Since I was going to Steamcon II in Seattle, I decided to create airship tickets to get there and to leave, and decided to play up where I was coming from and where I would return to.  Some browsing online found me passenger Lady Drummond Hay's 1928 airship ticket for the Graf Zeppelin's first trans-Atlantic flight. 
I used this as my template, downloaded some cool Victorian/Edwardian style fonts, played with wording, and came up with an airship line for the Girl Genius world, Luftshiff Wulfenbach Transkontinental.

I left some fields blank to be completed by hand, and the cabin details in the top right will be manually completed as well, with circles around the selected options (as per the original.  I also filled in some fields with a mock typewriter font, to simulate the form being partially completed by typewriter.
Apologies for the weird large spacing of these - conversion from pdf to jpg resulted in large borders.
My next, more recent project, in the past month, was to create a passport for my character.  Attached below is the only United Kingdom passport I could find from the era when I did an  image Google.  
I also found this United States passport from 1916 (with extension stamps dated for 1917 and 1918).  
I elected to combine the two, with my preferred elements of each, to create my own.  At the top is the UK coat of arms as of Victoria's reign.  I removed the  excess verbiage in the body, and modified it slightly, using some elements from the American passport.  I also decided to include a descriptive section, as in the American example, and I will be attaching a photo on the upper left, as in the American, since photos existed then, and it seems a good step.

I decided to have the lower coat of arms be the City of London arms, since the Foreign Office was based there, and it was the main place to have passports issued.  Alternately, one could decide on other cities allowed to distribute passports, and modify accordingly.

Below is the final product.  The first one is blank, which I will complete manually, once I've mastered a decent Victorian hand, and the other is an example of it completed, using another computer font to fill out the details.

I also hope to add some stamps and images showing the passport has been "vis├ęd" by various country consuls, as shown on the reverse side of the period passport above:

My future plans include creating ticket stubs, pamphlets, and flyers, and likely more.  

I want some period reproduction paper money for my character.  I looked into producing my own, but realized I wasn't interested enough to go to the work of making it and then making it look worn like real money ... so I went the easy route, and purchased some from Professor Otto.   I am eagerly awaiting its arrival by post!