Throwback Thursday: The (Un)lucky Bracelet

I was reading about George VI the other day and read that before he married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, he was in love with a woman called Sheila Chisholm.

Sheila was an Australian. Yes, I thought that too, an Australian woman named Sheila, but then I read that she was THE Sheila. The original Sheila!

Sheila was a socialite and model, born in New South Wales in  1895.

Here she is pictured wearing a bracelet given to her by the Italian actor, Rudolph Valentino with whom she allegedly had a fling.

Margaret Sheila Mackellar Chisholm | Laughing Heart

It was Valentino's lucky bracelet.

He died of a ruptured ulcer just six months after giving it to her. He was 31. 

It is said that she thought he'd died because she had taken his luck. 

Rudloph Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguella.

Rudloph Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguella.

When Valentino died, Hollywood mourned the man who had come to embody the 'Latin Lover'. 

Sheila married three times: Francis St Clair-Erskine, Lord Loughborough; Sir John Milbanke; and Prince Dmitri Alexandrovich of Russia and died in London in 1969. 

Throwback Thursday: Foxtrotting often

This cigarette case was a gift from Edward VIII (when he was Prince of Wales) to Pinna Nesbit Cruger.

Pinna Nesbit Cruger gift from Edward VIII | Laughing Heart

Pinna was a film actress whom Edward met in 1924 while on a visit to North America. The two danced together frequently during his visit. 

Pinna Nesbit | Laughing Heart

The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that she was a 'damned attractive woman'. No conclusive evidence exists that they were lovers, but the cigarette case suggests that Edward liked her a lot. 

In a Missouri newspaper, published in 1925, an article on the pair reads:

'[They were] passionate adherents of the foxtrot and the one-step,' and they 'one-stepped and foxtrotted often.'

It sounds as innocent as it does scandalous. I'll leave you to make up your minds. 

The case is gold and the thumb piece set with circular and single-cut diamonds. The inside lid is engraved: 'Pinna 1924 love - EP'. Edward VIII signed off with 'EP' when he was Prince of Wales. 

Eventually the two moved apart and on and as we know from History, Edward found Wallis Simpson ('found' being a gross oversimplification of 'met, loved, abdicated for)  and moved on to other gift-giving successes. 

Throwback Thursday: Give the angry man a hat

I've always believed it's bad idea to apologise with a gift. 

A gift is a symbolic, shorthand way of publicly expressing a private feeling. If there is one occasion to avoid shortcuts and symbols it is during an apology. 

Plus, who wants to be reminded of the time they were wronged? Plus, an apology gift has never worked...or has it?

One historical figure proves me wrong: Samuel Pepys. 

Samuel Pepys

Generally speaking, the diary of a civil servant is unlikely to arouse or sustain high levels of interest. The diary of Samuel Pepys is different.

Born during the English Civil  War, Pepys lived through the Great Fire of London, survived both the plague and numerous extramarital encounters and wrote all about it in his diary.

One diary entry contains our historical gift. 

Sunday 1st November 1663

(Lord’s day). This morning my brother’s man […]  brought me as a gift from my brother, a velvet hat, very fine to ride in, and the fashion, which pleases me very well, to which end, I believe, he sent it me, for he knows I had lately been angry with him.

It’s not clear what brother Thomas did to make Samuel angry but the velvet hat was able to placate him. 

It seems like a fitting gift given that both sons took an interest in fashion. Thomas followed his father into the tailoring trade and Samuel placed a number of orders for clothing with Thomas. One such order includes a rather opulent 'gowne of purple shagg, trimmed with gold'. 

Sadly, Thomas followed a less fortunate path than his brother, dying young and in debt. 

I tried to find a picture of a velvet hat from around that time but didn't have much luck. I found this picture on Pinterest which gives an overview of hats between 1600 and 1700. 

1660s fashion Laughing Heart

The National Maritime Museum is holding a major exhibition on Samuel Pepys, his life and times. It runs until the 28th March. Find out more

If you're interested in reading the diary of Samuel Pepys, I'll put a link to it below:

Marble gifts

A woman picked up ceramic dish in a shop last week. It had a grey and white marble pattern printed on it.  She said to her friend:  ‘I love this. Marble is really on trend right now’.

I wanted to creep up behind the woman and say very close to her ear: ‘Marble has always been on trend. In fact, it’s been trending pretty consistently for the past 5,000 years.’

There is something very dispiriting about objects which pretend to be real objects. Like desks which look like wood but aren’t wood. 

I kept my mouth shut and exited the store.

You’ll have to take my word for it, but I loved marble before it had its recent renaissance (I think ‘renaissance’ it too much to describe incidents like this and this)  

It is an amazing material.

There’s a marble table in the House of the Wooden Partition in Herculaneum. Also known as a cartibulum, this marble table is older that eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed the town in A.D 79.

It is amazing to think that this marble table has survived the risks of excavation, plunder and time. Still in situ, you can touch it and it feels just as smooth and cold as it did 2,000 years ago.

Marble is a good metaphor for potential and, as symbolic gifts go, I think it’s a much better gift than paper, cotton or linen for an anniversary.

It its natural state it’s pretty nice but with time, shaping and polish it could be transformed into something truly spectacular. As Michelangelo said ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set it free’  

Here are my favourite marble gifts  






Throwback Thursday: Foundling heart

The gifts of the rich and royal are easy to research and write about.

For every king, queen or statesman there are at least fifty books which document their lives in minute detail. From Tutankhamen's footwear to the near 1kg book on the 'scenes and times' from Queen Victoria's reign, some scholar or bureaucrat has recorded it. 

But this embroidered heart, just an inch tall and wide, affords a glimpse into the lives of the those at the far end of the fortune spectrum.

Red heart token © The Foundling Museum

Red heart token © The Foundling Museum

This heart, a token, was left with a baby by its mother at the city’s Foundling Hospital sometime between 1741 and 1760.

When a desperate parent applied to have their child admitted to the Foundling Hospital, the capital’s first orphanage, the child had to undergo a medical exam. 

If the child was healthy and admission was approved, it was renamed, given an admission number and baptised. 

But parents were also asked to ‘affix on each child some particular writing, or other distinguishing mark or token, so that the children may be known thereafter if necessary.’

The token was filed away as a link to the infant’s past should they ever be reclaimed. A parent who couldn't read or write but who found themselves in a better position and able to look after their child could say: 'My baby was the one left with the blue and yellow ribbon'. 

Some left poems or coins with their babies, others left buttons or scraps of cloth.

This mother left a heart.

A very small number of the thousands of children admitted to the orphanage were reclaimed by their parents but stories do exist with happy endings.

Like the boy connected with this coin.

Innocency in Safety

The boy, Oliver (renamed Luke) was taken in by the Foundling Hospital in 1758. His parents left a yellow ribbon and this Charles II coin with the words ‘Innocency in Safety’ and the initials of the child’s parents, RL and ED. Oliver’s parents returned for him a few years later.

But the red heart is still in the care of the Foundling Hospital (now a museum) exactly where it was dropped off almost 300 years ago in Brunswick Square.

By 1790, 18,000 tokens, including the red heart, were left unclaimed.

I visited the Foundling Museum last Friday. 

There are hundreds of tokens on display and a fantastic exhibition 'The Fallen Woman' which includes petitions from women who applied to have their babies taken into the care of the Foundling Hospital.

 I took photos of three hearts.

As I looked at each token and at exhibition pictures of children who had passed through the Foundling Hospital through the years, I realised the token wasn't really a gift at all. The tokens exist as a symbol of the highest gift from parent to child: the chance to have a better life. 

The Foundling Museum

40 Brunswick Square

London WC1N 1AZ

T: +44 (0)20 7841 3600