Sunday, September 13, 2009

An OPULENT Period in Hannibal's History

I must have been a Victorian in my past life because I love to buy things, lots of beautiful things. I especially love to buy at auction and from auction sites such as eBay. eBay is a godsend availing anyone to a plethora of antiques and art at prices well below what retail or even wholesale markets offer.

So, Laura Hawkins House-Victorian Interior, what should this home look like?

We enthusiasts of the Victorian era know that interiors back then were opulent, to say the least. We know the Victorian era to be a materially extravagant one - a materialism triggered by the industrial revolution.

This revolution brought the means to manufacture goods quicker and cheaper with steam-powered machines. Wealth was being created in this country at an enormous rate (income tax was not yet a concept) and with it came new-found money and more affordable possessions. Hand-made items were replaced by machine-produced ones, and chemical dyes replaced natural pigments for fabrics and paint, making bright, rich colors commonplace. Decoration, which once was the domain of the rich, became available to the masses.

The Duffy-Trowbridge Stove Manufacturing Company
located on the "other side" of the tracks was the
largest stove manufacturing company in the midwest
around the turn of the century.
The factory supported hundreds of Hannibalian
and emcompassed nearly two city blocks.

From top to bottom are the Moulding Room,
the Sample Room and the Mounting Room in the stove factory.

But with the industrial revolution came filth. The massive increase in the number of factories and people migrating to cities in search of work resulted in major environmental and household pollution (and illness). The pollution came in the form of dirty smoke (from burning coal) from chimneys and factories. This smoke would block out light and cover streets and houses. In additon, many of the streets were dirt roads supporting mere planks along its outskirts for pedestrians to walk upon.

This was the Beggs-Goodson Wagon Factory, also located on
the "other side" of the tracks in Hannibal.
This leading Hannibal factory for farm and freight wagons
was established in 1901. The manufacturing center was
producing 3,000 wagons annually by 1905.

In reaction, the Victorians came to view the interiors of their homes as an escape from the filth outside. So, their new wealth was used to furnish interiors to make their homes a beautiful part of their lives. As the Victorian era progressed, interiors became more elaborate with another influencing factor - the rise of the British Empire. The colonization of India, Australia and Africa fueled an interest in oriental rugs, sensuous fabrics, brass accessories and tropical houseplants.

Armed with all this information, choosing interior d├ęcor for the Laura Hawkins house had become a fun part of this entire project. So let’s step back to the pre-Victorian era in the 1840’s when Laura was a girl ...

Back then, furnishings were rather plain. They were hand-made treasures passed on to subsequent generations. So, wouldn’t it make sense that the interior of Laura’s house be a combination of earlier family treasures and the Victorian grandeur of Laura’s later years?

Let’s start with the color scheme of the house. The house was built in 1897 and by then rooms (particularly more public rooms like the parlor) used rich jewel tones of blue, red, green and purple. Additionally, walls were adorned with oriental and floral-inspired wallpaper and floors (polished wood, of course) were adorned with richly patterned oriental rugs.

This turn of the century Anatolian carpet from Turkey
will grace the dining room floor of the Laura Hawkins house.

Antique Qom (city of Persia, now Iran) area rug.

To keep the “filthy” environment out of their private home lives (and to retain interior heat), Victorians layered their windows with dark heavy drapes. Ivory lace curtains were used to allow in natural light while keeping outdoor scenes out of view.

Damask Period Drapes...

This period pattern belongs to a set of drapes going into the house.

Accessories used in a Victorian home are what excites me the most. The Victorians surrounded themselves with personal treasures – photos adorned with ornate frames, souvenirs from foreign countries such as polished brass, peacock feathers and tropical plants in oriental urns, and ornate lamps...

Antique banquet parlor lamp.

For dining, Victorians set out the finest (most ostentatious) utensils and sets they could afford. These things were as much for show as for their intended use (in some cases, frivolous).

Antique Reposse Tea Service.

And of course, chandeliers were grand and highly decorative...

This turn of the century chandelier will grace the small dining room.

Victorians loved to collect paintings...

John Brown George painting. John George (1831-1913) was one of
19th-century America's most skilled and popular painters of children.
In some circles, he was dubbed the "Boot Black Raphael".

Victorians relished Renaissance style paintings.

Such was the "gilded age", as Twain so coined it in his novel of the same name and of whom he named a principle character "Laura Hawkins".
In contrast to the glorious public rooms, the less public rooms (kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms) were more ascetic with muted, creamy shades, and floors were often painted to match the trim.

We plan to add a feature of display in the Laura Hawkins house - the attic. With few exceptions (Anne Frank attic, for example), attics would not normally be a draw for your historical house enthusiast. Imagine this though ... Laura moved in with her son and family during her final years and wanted (no, demanded) to be surrounded by cherished treasures from her childhood and earlier adulthood. This was agreed to and many of the items were kept in the attic.

This "rustic" collection will populate the attic and not so public areas of the house. This will be the subject of my next post. For now, here are a couple of teasers...

I don't know who this is, but I loved that it is an ancestral portrait,
circa early-to-mid 1800's.
This was an estate find from a seller in the
Kentucky-Tennessee area - the area from where Laura's family
migrated to Hannibal around 1840.

Ice skating on the Mississippi was a popular pasttime
in Laura's day. These ice skates made in 1850 would
have been similar to what Laura would have worn.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Auction


I'm finally coming up for air after what seems like an eternity of work. Do you know when you're a work addict? A couple of things will give you away...
-You don't feel like you've been fully constructive with your time if you haven't worked past midnight for several weeks in a row.
-When you have a few moments free, you don't know what to do with yourself.

So there you have it readers, the writer of this blog is a workaholic who is lucky to have an occasional hiatus to pound out Laura's journey in the most nouveau of bites (remember nouveau cuisine from the 80's?).

Construction-wise, the ceilings of the Laura Hawkins house are being replaced totally. The cracks, water stains and large chunks that have been littering the floors demand this. So we're having the ceiling plaster removed and replaced with dry wall and then smooth plastered over, the old-fashioned way. But this is not what this blog post will be about.

I'm switching from posting construction-related stuff for now and treating you to eye-candy. I'm going to show you the furnishings for the innards of this old lady.
First, I'll take you back to last summer when the contents of the Becky Thatcher House were being auctioned off.

The Becky Thatcher House, girlhood home of Laura Hawkins.
The house is located at 211 Hill Street
right across from Mark Twain's boyhood home.

Mark Twain's boyhood home,
located on 208 Hill Street in Hannibal.

The interior of the Becky Thatcher house before the 2008 auction.

In August of 2008, Hannibal was the scene of an auction of the contents of the historic Becky Thatcher house. This was done to make way for a million dollar restoration. Oh, few if any items were original to the house when Laura lived there as a child. Most of the antiques were staging props used to make the house look like it might have back in the mid-1800's (Laura's day).
Nevertheless, Becky Thatcher house items are a real draw for us history buffs and folks wanting to restore a similar house.

The widely-advertised auction held at Hannibal's Quality Inn drew a crowd of locals and out-of-towners alike. I noticed a few familiar faces, such as Henry Sweets (curator of the Mark Twain Museum), Wesley Knapp (new Director of Downtown Development), Barbara Errako Taylor (local artist and author), Candace Klemann (President of the Hannibal Arts Council), other civic leaders and some merchants who would later resell their winnings.

Members of the crowd position themselves.

One fun part of course is the pre-auction perusal.

Even these props were being sold.
This Becky Thatcher mannequin has a very mid-century
(20th, not 19th) look about it. I'm so glad it's out of that house.

That goes double for this prop, supposedly Becky's mother.

This adorable hand-carved baby bed went for a mere $235.
I passed on it opting instead for items representing
Laura's later years as a child and woman in Hannibal.

The auction begins...

I'm a regular at auctions, and when I want something badly, I will keep my head down and continue raising my arm to display my assigned number. Other bidders realize I will get that item no matter what. Sitting in the back of the room and jumping in just as everyone thinks the bidding war is over is also great tactic for throwing off the competition.
Of the two things I bid on and got, this is one of them - a hand-carved youth bed from the early 1800's. Laura Hawkins would have slept in something similar as a child. I won it for $230.

See the rocking chair on the left?
This is a hand-carved rush seat rocking chair circa 1835.
This too will go into the Laura Hawkins house.
Here is the other item - a pier mirror, circa 1875. I got it for $400.

Here's the glorious crown on that pier mirror.
Items went for amazing prices with folks "stealing" deals left and right. In looking back, I wish I'd have bid on more items, but you know what? These are props, albeit nice antique props, and we all know where the best deals for these are.
That's right, good ol' eBay.
For my next post (and I promise it will come very shortly), I'll show you some of the furnishings going into the Laura Hawkins house, compliments of this very popular auction site.
So long for now...

Amish folks are regular visitors and this group visited our town
during the auction, right after the flood of 2008 subsided.
Here they are riding the Hannibal horse-powered "trolley".
In the background is the Mark Twain Hotel
(now a restored subsidized apartment for seniors)
with the open lot about to be infilled by a new theatre.

See the sandbags on the levee in the above photo? The flood had subsided from its peak in June 2008 and the levee gates were left open.
For your entertainment, here's a video by Richard Boggs that I discovered on U-Tube about the flood in Hannibal during this period. The haunting background song is "When the Levee Breaks" performed by A Perfect Circle: