Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Ancient and Modern


One of the questions I am most frequently asked about our collection of costumes at the Maddermarket is 'What is the oldest item in your wardrobe?' We are very lucky to have quite a lot of original pieces dating from the Victorian and Edwardian eras but we have nothing wearable from earlier than that any more. Several years ago we had a dress known as The Suffield Dress. It was a sack back gown dating from around 1770. It was incredibly small and fragile and was eventually auctioned off. I can't find any pictures of our dress but it looked abit like this

Robe a la Francais, Amsterdam 1740-60

However, we do have a item that dates from about 1760 and it's so small and insignificant looking that you wouldn't give it a second look which is precisely the reason these things are so hard to come by. It is a Dorset Cartwheel button.

An example of the Blandford Cartwheel

If you would like to know more about the history of the Dorset button have a look at this link


After rummaging around in the theatre archives, I came across the Sotheby's auction catalogue from March '97. In it was a photo of the back view of the Suffield dress and a description.

Item 148. A brocaded silk sack backed open robe 'The Suffield Dress' circa 1750, of ivory silk, densely brocaded with silver and gold file and frise metal threads and scattered with large blooms in 
predominantly purple and pink silks, triple engageants with gold lace, has been re-lined, silk is fragile in places; the stomacher is formed from matching fabric. This gown was donated to the theatre by Dowager Lady Suffield after the 2nd World War. Est £800 - 1,200

At the same time, our local paper the Eastern Daily Press ran this cartoon

There was also mention made of the Sotheby's costume sale in the Independent here;

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