The very extensive costume collection at the Oysterponds Historical Society is well augmented by an extraordinary array of fashion accessories, of which a small portion is on view in this exhibition. Although we have included jewelry, combs, fans, purses or reticules, parasols, and a few other items such as a lorgnette, a card case, two pairs of gloves, and a posy holder – there are still entire categories of our holdings that will have to wait for future exhibitions. These include shawls, shoes, lace, and hats (in the early years of the Society there was actually a small gallery in this building called “the Bonnet Room”).
Jewelry is one of our more modest collections – presumably because jewelry was easy to hand down from generation to generation, and because it was valuable and could be sold. However, it is the jewelry with no intrinsic value – the jewelry made of human hair - that is the highlight of our jewelry collection. Hair jewelry was a painstakingly intricate craft, but one filled with intense meaning for the women who created these delicate, but somewhat bizarre objects.
Two of the paintings – the large portrait of Cynthia Tuthill and the tiny miniature portrait of Cleora Griffin – depict Oysterponds women in the 1830s wearing large tortoise shell combs in their hair. The selection on view gives an indication of just how popular these stylish combs were in the nineteenth century.
Fans were ubiquitous in the days before air conditioning. They were not only practical accessories, but were sometimes seen as accessories to flirtations - and were often very beautiful works of art as well. The Oysterponds Historical Society has a large number of fans, but owing to space constraints only five are shown here. The Society also has a fine selection of purses, bags, or reticules – some made by young Oysterponds women. Rather curious types of purses, called “miser purses” are included in the display. Parasols were manufactured in enormous numbers in the nineteenth century. Like fans, they had a very practical purpose. However, with their beautiful fabrics, fringes, and skillfully carved handles, they became important fashion accessories as well.
A sample from the exhibition