Thursday, August 29, 2013

1890's Infant's Caped Wool Coat and 1860's Blue Lace Baby Bonnet

This adorable wool caped coat was displayed on a hanger dangling precariously from the 1850's Wicker Baby Carriage. It was one of several baby garments hanging off of the carriage, and sadly, this hid the beautiful wicker curlicues from view. By removing that ugly baby "doll" from the carriage, I was able to display the various infant garments inside the carriage.

This A-line coat fastens with just a large hook and eye at the neck. The body of the coat is lined in ivory linen, while the cape is lined in ivory satin. The waist and sleeves are decorated with little cartridge pleats. The fullness at the back of the coat is controlled with two knife pleats. The coat has a weird, small, gathered attached cap-like piece, however, whose function I'm unsure of. Was this to protect the back of baby's head when baby was lying in the crook of an arm? Or was this meant to flap back onto the cape? It really is so small, and placed weirdly, so that it would be almost impossible to squeeze an infant's head in there.

Lining of the body of the coat.

Museum accession number--I think...
The mysterious, gathered floppy cap-like piece at the neck of the cape.
Back of the coat.

This blue floral lace baby bonnet was a gift of Mrs. Magenheimer, who has donated several objects to the museum. This bonnet was displayed on a yellow Styrofoam head with a yellow giftwrap ribbon bow around the neck, a distracting and rather "cheesy" setup. It is now displayed inside the1850's Wicker Baby Carriage, along with the coat.

The pleats, held with starch, were made with a double layer of the lace. Frankly, the whole bonnet seems rather large for a baby's head, as it was just a bit too small for the Styrofoam head mount. The crown of the bonnet had some dirt and grit on the surface. The whole bonnet was sprinkled with teeny yellow spheres that I originally thought were sacs of insect eggs, but that I later realized (with some help from the circulation desk) were actually paint splatters!!! The yellow paint must've been from those yellow wooden dividers around the could the person painting them have been as careless as to splatter paint onto the museum's precious objects?! I did my best to wash the bonnet, soaking it several times in cold water (and I found an insect that had been eating the starch!!) but the paint splatters still remain...

Part of me has a really hard time believing that this blue lace bonnet is from the 1860's. The fabric just seems so stiff and synthetic to me, and the pattern of the lace itself is large and clumsy, lacking the gracefully intricate designs of even machine-made laces of the era. The lace is obviously machine made, but the fiber content is difficult to determine. The lace is neither silk, linen, nor wool; all plausible options for the mid 19th century. The bonnet, although starched, has a distinctly scratchy feel. The background net is a hexagonal shape.

Detail of the two layers of the lace in the pleats, and some of the splattered paint domes.
Many more little paint domes...
Lots of dirt and grit on the crown of the bonnet.
The coat and the bonnet are now displayed inside the carriage, along with a pintucked Christening gown and a lace Christening gown. This really allows the woodwork of the carriage to "pop" against the soft shades of white and ivory. The carriage was originally placed in the far corner of the dias, but now it is more incorporated into the display by being alongside the matronly 1907-09 Blue Wool Visiting Dress, adding to the vignette-like quality the museum committee wanted me to achieve.

The final display, with the carriage placed next to the 1907-09 Blue Wool Visiting Dress. Bonnet not visible from this angle.


  1. I'm not a lace expert and I seem to have misplaced my lace ID book, but that bonnet looks pretty modern to me. Some sort of warp-knit lace, like Raschel. It could be from the mid-twentieth century in a romantic, old-fashioned style So ... at least the paint spatters aren't as much of a problem as they could be?

    Love the coat, which I've seen called simply "infant cloaks with Mother Hubbard waists". Not sure about the vestigial hood - I'm sure I saw them at my last museum job, but I can't remember. My guess would be that you're right about the baby's head lying on it. Or maybe the baby's head gets put in the hood before the cloak is fastened?

  2. ;Maybe it's supposed to just LOOK like a functional hood -- a lot of modern cape patterns have "hoods" that aren't particularly useful. I can't imagine a baby allowing something like a hood delicately placed on their head to remain. Most babies hate hats! But a cape like that would LOOK nice with a cute little hood... :-P

    1. I agree that the "vestigial hood" might be purely decorative; after all, it is lined in ivory silk, just like the cape, hinting that it was meant to be "flopped down" and seen.

    That lace bonnet so doesn't look like the right stuff. It looks like the crappy lace I avoid like the plague.
    And when you think about it, wouldn't a mother have picked a pretty soft lace to frame a baby's face? The skin of babies is pretty sensitive, and though I can't tell for sure, that lace looks irritating and scratchy.
    If you are pretty sure it's a fake, perhaps you could find a few loose threads, snip them off, group them together and have a burn test, and then you might know for sure if it's a later item.
    It just doesn't seem right to me...

    1. I agree, something about that cap is REALLY off...
      There is a black silk lace shawl that I just dug out of a box yesterday, and it had a totally different feeling to it; nothing about this bonnet screams "baby-friendly" or "antique" to me. Even after giving it several rinses, it was still unbelievable scratchy and stiff, and that crown seems far too deep to accommodate an infant's head....this museum really is full of mysteries!

    2. I think a baby would cry if mommy tried to make him wear something that flopped over his face! :-) And it would probably get ripped off by angry baby, or get messy and dirty too quickly for convenience.
      Are you going to call it as something else? Or just leave it as is? :) And a black lace shawl sounds amazing...!

    3. For now, I'm leaving it as is...I've scheduled a burn test and some questioning of the Museum Committee in the future, to further investigate. I'll post about the black lace shawl soon--it's absolutely gorgeous but sadly comes with no information, and was found at the bottom of a box!