The Folger Files

I spent Friday in that particular circle of academic heaven known as the Folger Library in Washington, DC.

photoThe Folger Library is beautiful and absolutely uplifting to walk through. It smells divinely of dust and old paper and leather. The Folger’s reading room is full of Tudor woodwork and Tudor manuscripts and their basement holds  an enticing array of microfilms from the British Library.

The Folger is also rather exclusive–unlike the plebeian British Library, British Museum and National Archives of England, which require a mere driver’s license and a couple of forms signed before allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to handle as many 12th-century charters as they wish, the Folger insists upon a letter of intent describing precisely what the person wants to view, plus two references from professional academics (sent from an institutional address) before allowing non-academic-affiliated researchers to view items in their collection.

This exclusivity bemused me the first time I encountered it. But I suppose it’s understandable; one can’t be too careful when it comes to those independent researchers. Turn your back on them for two minutes, and they start folding Queen Elizabeth’s letters into paper airplanes and running naked with them through the stacks.

But! I can definitely tell you that their collection is worth the hoops that one must jump through to get access to it.

I initially went to follow up on a lead of possible tailor’s bills in the Stiffkey Estate Papers collection. A dead end, alas. However, I did get to see and photograph my own copy of the 1600 Inventory of Elizabeth’s wardrobe of robes. The ink was a faded brown, hard to read in many cases, but oh, the mouthwatering descriptions of petticoats, kirtles and cloaks! I can’t wait to transcribe them all and start linking them to entries in the wardrobe accounts in DressDB

I also got a look at Freyle’s 1588 tailor’s book.  Unlike Alcega, Freyle includes several patterns for breeches laid out alongside doublets, jerkins, sayas and ropillas. I’m looking forward to making a pair up to see how they look in wool and silk.

He also had a layout for a farthingale that was slightly different than Alcega’s, though the pieces looked to be about the same when laid out, and some patterns for women’s sayas that had high necked doublet bodices with a distinct fish in the front seam under the bust. All in all, a fascinating find!

After these two highlights, the rest of the day passed fairly quickly in inventory-fishing. I’d requested a large number of inventories and household accounts in the hopes that some of them would include apparel in the inventories. I struck out with most of them; they included napery, drapery, bedding and household textiles, but no apparell. One item of interest was the prevalence of red-and-green fringe in the decoration of furniture and bedding; it brought to mind the remarkable amount of red and green fringe sold by the haberdasher William Wray. Red and green, much more than red fringe, green fringe or black fringe, was a popular item in his inventory.

There were only two docs that repaid my investigation. The first  were the Inventories of Elizabeth Berkeley, a set of three wardrobe inventories of her wardrobe taken in 1605, 1611 and 1617. I’d transcribed them in haste the last time I’d been here, and hadn’t had the wherewithall to photograph them. The three inventories themselves are intriguing; not only do they illustrate the evolution and change in a woman’s wardrobe over time (more waistcoats and jackets as the years went on, no farthingales bought but the three she had retained for 20 years, night gowns referred to as loose gowns in some inventories, and other interesting linguistic wardrobe hints, but the garments themselves reveal much about a woman’s wardrobe of the early 17th century. Striped canvas bodies, for one.

The second were the household inventories of the Townshend Family. Almost all of the inventories focused on household furnishings, but there was an inventory of my “Lord’s Apparel” and my “Ladies Apparel” which will be interesting to transcribe.

Other than that, it was merely the odd mention of a shirt, or ‘His wearing apparell, 4 pounds.’

Except for one curious entry in the Inventory of the goods of George Cope taken at the time of his death (1572). It was a long inventory, with only a few lines devoted to his clothing. But take a look at the last line:

Item in the same chest, ii gownes of cloth thone garded with velvet thother with black silke buttons     vis viiid
Item ii Clookes vis viiid
Item a rede taffitye dublet xs
Item a doublet of rewed canvas iiis iiiid
Item iiii letherne Jerkins xiiis iiiid
Item iiii payre of hose xxs
Item ix shertes wherof iiii whyte sherts ii blacke a blewe one edged with golde & one with silver xis

If I’m reading that right, George had two black shirts and a blue one as well. Something I’d never see before in inventory entries.

After finishing with the various inventories, I went downstairs to try my luck in the microfilm room. I had two references to Harleian manuscripts from the British Library that I hoped to get a look at: One was the Probate Inventory of Leicester, and one was a wardrobe account. Unfortunately, all I had were the manuscript numbers and folios, and the 126 rolls of microfilmed Harleian manuscripts were organized by manuscript volume. I didn’t have the means to find out what manuscripts were in which volume just then, so instead I picked a roll of Lansdowne manuscripts at random, sat down and started scrolling through.

Talk about luck! I happened upon the 1559 household inventory of Thomas Cawarden, King Henry VIII’s Master of Revels. It was fairly disorganized, hats and crossbows and furniture and kitchen supplies following eachother higgledy-piggledy, but a couple of entries caught my eye while I was photographing: A reference to a farthingale of satin de bruges, for one. I look forward to transcribing this one, definitely.

I’m going  back tomorrow to try my luck in their card catalog and see what I can find amongst the catalog that hasn’t yet made it into their online catalog, Hamnet. I’m told there’s a considerable number of interesting items from the continent hiding in there.

And here, to make you all terribly jealous, is a Short panorama of the glory which is the Folger Library Reading room.

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