Tuesday, February 14, 2012

courtship "tools" of the 19th century

In honor of Valentine's Day, let's take a look at a variety of items in the 19th century that was used to help courtship remain pure and innocent- or restrictive, depending on how one looks at it.

Note: I'm not sure who exactly wrote the article "Valentine's Day antiques reflect Victorian values," but it was either a Dr. Lori of the Discovery Channel show "Auction Kings" or Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson.  Either way, what I am about to discuss is taken mostly from the "Treatures" column of the Pocono Record.

The courting lamp

What, exactly, was it?
Resembling a typical oil lamp of the day, the courting lamp was enhanced with graduated markings on the glass to indicate minutes. The marks showed the amount of time left before the fuel source expired...Of course, the reasoning behind such a lamp was to keep track of two un-chaperoned lovers. As the fuel burned out and time grew short, the lovers would be warned of the impending darkness. When the fuel was gone and the light was extinguished, the young male suitor had better be on his way home!

 Here are some examples of courting lamps I have found on the web.  Where, exactly, are these markings of which the above mentioned article speaks?

image source: Writing in the Blackberry Patch
image source: Through My Back Door
The love seat

So you think you know what a love seat is, right?

Think again.
Victorian love seats had two sections presented in an elegant S-shape curved form. This allowed a couple to sit together but not too closely. As antiques reflect society, the love seat exemplifies the Victorian interest in a controlled courtship.
image source: One of a Kind Antiques
image source:  Lovely Unique Weddings
image source: http://www.middlefieldma.com/
Hair "crafts"

Yes, Victorians made many trinkets, objects, and art pieces out of human hair.  According to the article:
Victorian women saved their hair in a small ceramic bowl with a hole in its top called a hair receiver. After accumulating a good amount of locks, the hair would be used to make a hair picture or bracelet. These hair crafts were the result of years of saving actual human hair.

Intricately woven hair crafts became love gifts from 1850 to 1910. Hair jewelry was used for sentimental remembrances and as gifts to loved ones. On Valentine's Day, women believed that giving their beloved a hair bracelet or hair watch fob would serve as a love charm and ensure a long and happy relationship.

One of the most popular and beloved antiques is the hair picture. These hair pictures were devotional objects coveted by families. One of the most common Victorian Valentines featured the symbolic rose or forget-me-not flowers made from hair locks of one's beloved....

[F]ramed hair pictures grew from love signs to memorials. Images made of hair related to the lover's lifestyle, occupation or hobbies including landscapes featuring family homesteads, anchors to symbolize a marine, or still-lifes of fruits or flowers symbolizing the bounty of love and long life.
The following items are, indeed, made out of human hair:

image source: Thread for Thought
image source: thisnext
image source: Forbes.com
You can read the entirety of the article "Valentine's Day antiques reflect Victorian values"  here.

The courting bench

While not mentioned in the article, I thought I would share a tidbit I learned while on a tour at the 19th century Edmondston-Alston House in Charleston, SC:

Apparently the "courting bench" was a long, rocking-chair like contraption that young lovers used to bend the rules about sitting near each other.  The young man would sit  at one end and the young lady at the other end, where they could converse at a "safe" distance.  But they could also "bounce" slightly down the rocking bench, eventually making their way closer and closer to each other.  If they were really lucky they might actually end up sitting next to each other.

While I am not sure this is the "correct" use for the bench, that is the story we were given at the Edmondston-Alston House.
image source: Carolina Joe
Happy Valentine's Day everyone!


  1. i like the idea of hair crafts!

    and i've seen one of those love chairs in a museum, too. was fascinated to hear the story behind!

    happy valentines day!

  2. I adore those love chairs. I'd give anything to have one for my house!!

    I've heard of the hair crafts, but never seen such amazingly intricate examples,. So romantic, and a little strange... ;-D But in a very good way! The flower one at the end is so cool.

  3. Ooh I like the love seats. Very different.

  4. I just got myself a 19th century chinese carved love seat with dragons and some kind of flower carved in the seats. A fabolus furniture :) Would have posted pictures if that was possible here.