Nº. 1 of  6

The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged 1700s:

Dummy Boards

Dummy boards were life-sized wooden cut outs painted to resemble various figures found in upper-class homes between the 17th and 19th centuries. They would be stood in the corner of rooms and on darkened stairways to surprise unsuspecting guests.

[Sources: Images: 1-3 and 6, 4, 5, | V&A]

A gatepost from Marton Grange Farm, the childhood home of Captain James Cook who ‘discovered’ Australia, with ‘J Cook’ carved into it. Now in The Captain James Cook Museum in Marton, Middlesbrough.

A gatepost from Marton Grange Farm, the childhood home of Captain James Cook who ‘discovered’ Australia, with ‘J Cook’ carved into it. Now in The Captain James Cook Museum in Marton, Middlesbrough.

The London Monster
The London Monster was the supposed perpetrator of a number of alleged attacks against women in London between 1788 and 1790. Within two years there were over fifty reports of predominantly wealthy women being accosted by a large man who would first shout obscenities at them before stabbing them in the buttocks in an apparent act of piquerism. Some versions of the tale describe the man having offered the woman fake flowers to smell before stabbing them in the face with a spike concealed in the petals. In each case the attacker had fled the scene before help arrived.
Some women, upon hearing that The Monster only attacked the most beautiful women, would lie about having been attacked themselves, and some went so far as to fake wounds. Fear of The Monster lead to a number of men being falsely accused, in fact, it was deemed necessary to establish a No Monster Club, the members of which would wear a pin attached to their lapels to show that they were not The Monster. The fact that The Monster might easily have obtained one of these for himself appears to have been overlooked. Armed vigilantes began patrolling the streets and women began to wear copper plates over their petticoats to protect themselves.
A £100 reward was offered for the capture of The Monster but the false accusations continued, culminating in the arrest of Rhynwick Williams. Anne Porter, a victim of The Monster, told her admirer, John Coleman, that she had seen her attacker in the park. Coleman pursued the man, Williams, and confronted him. Williams insisted he was innocent but given the climate of panic, no one believed him. He was charged with defacing clothing - a crime which, at the time, carried a harsher punishment than assault and attempted murder. He was sentenced to six years in prison. 
Reports of attacks continued while he was there, leading some historians to believe that perhaps The Monster was merely a case of mass hysteria.
[Source: The London Monster]

The London Monster

The London Monster was the supposed perpetrator of a number of alleged attacks against women in London between 1788 and 1790. Within two years there were over fifty reports of predominantly wealthy women being accosted by a large man who would first shout obscenities at them before stabbing them in the buttocks in an apparent act of piquerism. Some versions of the tale describe the man having offered the woman fake flowers to smell before stabbing them in the face with a spike concealed in the petals. In each case the attacker had fled the scene before help arrived.

Some women, upon hearing that The Monster only attacked the most beautiful women, would lie about having been attacked themselves, and some went so far as to fake wounds. Fear of The Monster lead to a number of men being falsely accused, in fact, it was deemed necessary to establish a No Monster Club, the members of which would wear a pin attached to their lapels to show that they were not The Monster. The fact that The Monster might easily have obtained one of these for himself appears to have been overlooked. Armed vigilantes began patrolling the streets and women began to wear copper plates over their petticoats to protect themselves.

A £100 reward was offered for the capture of The Monster but the false accusations continued, culminating in the arrest of Rhynwick Williams. Anne Porter, a victim of The Monster, told her admirer, John Coleman, that she had seen her attacker in the park. Coleman pursued the man, Williams, and confronted him. Williams insisted he was innocent but given the climate of panic, no one believed him. He was charged with defacing clothing - a crime which, at the time, carried a harsher punishment than assault and attempted murder. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Reports of attacks continued while he was there, leading some historians to believe that perhaps The Monster was merely a case of mass hysteria.

[Source: The London Monster]

Dirty Dick

Nathaniel Bentley, more commonly known as Dirty Dick, was a fairly wealthy 18th century dandy, known as the Beau of Leadenhall Street, who, following the death of his fiancée on their wedding day, refused to ever wash or change his clothes ever again, and lived out his life in squalor. 

His house and warehouse shop became so filthy over the years that he became a celebrity of dirt to the point where letters addressed merely to “The Dirty Warehouse, London”, would be delivered directly to Bentley without question.

A pub which Bentley once owned adopted his legend and recreated the look of his warehouse by using dead cats and cobwebs as decoration. As was described in 1866, Dirty Dick’s was:

A small public house … without floorboards; a low ceiling, with cobwebs festoons dangling from the black rafters; a pewter, bar battered and dirty, floating with beer, numberless gas pipes tied anyhow along the struts and posts to conduct the spirits from the barrels to the taps; sample phials and labelled bottles of wine and spirits on shelves- everything covered with virgin dust and cobwebs.

It is thought that Bentley might possibly have been the inspiration behind Charles Dicken’s Miss Havisham. 

[Sources: Wikipedia | Dirty Dick’s Pub | Spitalfields Life]

The Potsdam Giants

The Potsam Giants were a Prussian infantry regiment composed of taller than average soldiers. After Frederick William I ascended the throne of Prussia in 1713, and began channelling more money into the military, an increasing number of taller men were recruited.

The original required heights was 6’2”. One of the tallest members was James Kirkland (above left), who measured about 7 feet tall, whilst another member, Daniel Cajanus (above centre) was estimated to be between 7’8” and 10 feet tall, and made a living exhibiting himself.

With the king needing hundreds of recruits each year, and once confessing that “"The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers - they are my weakness," he began to take them by any means. He gave money to fathers of tall sons and landowners who would offer him their tallest farm hands. Foreign rulers would send him their tallest soldiers to encourage friendly relations and if men were not interested in joining, the king simply had them kidnapped. He even forced tall women to marry tall soldiers so they would produce tall sons.

The regiment never saw battle, and many would have been unfit for it due to the complications of their gigantism, but were made to parade in front of the king, led by their mascot, a bear, to cheer him up on his sickbed. He also enjoyed painting their portraits from memory and showing them off in an attempt to impress people. The regiment was disbanded in 1806.

[Sources: Wikipedia | Images and here]

Nocturnal Amusements of the 18th Century
No, not sex. It would seem people in the 18th century had better stuff to do. Like stabbing one another in the butt and slashing one another’s faces with knives… 
According to Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, one “diversion practiced by the bloods of the last century” was Sweating:

these gentlemen lay in wait to surprise some person late in the night, when surrouding him, they with their swords pricked him in the posteriors, which obliged him to be constantly turning round; this they continued till they thought him sufficiently sweated.

Then, “somewhat like those facetious gentlemen some time ago known in England by the title of Sweaters,” were Chalkers. In Ireland Chalkers were “Men of wit … who in the night amuse themselves with cutting inoffensive passengers across the face with a knife.”
[Sources: Hypervocal | From Old Books]

Nocturnal Amusements of the 18th Century

No, not sex. It would seem people in the 18th century had better stuff to do. Like stabbing one another in the butt and slashing one another’s faces with knives…

According to Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, one “diversion practiced by the bloods of the last century” was Sweating:

these gentlemen lay in wait to surprise some person late in the night, when surrouding him, they with their swords pricked him in the posteriors, which obliged him to be constantly turning round; this they continued till they thought him sufficiently sweated.

Then, “somewhat like those facetious gentlemen some time ago known in England by the title of Sweaters,” were Chalkers. In Ireland Chalkers were “Men of wit … who in the night amuse themselves with cutting inoffensive passengers across the face with a knife.”

[Sources: Hypervocal | From Old Books]

Guillotine Toy
Following the bloody conclusion of the French Revolution “The toy shops put on the market little guillotines with which little patriots could behead figures of aristocrats. There still survive some specimens of this pretty and diverting machine, of which one bears the date 1794 [above]. 
In December, 1793, [one man] asks his mother in Frankfurt to get him such a toy guillotine for his son … and in her reply he certainly got some home-truths. In her decisive manner she wrote to him by return post: ‘Dear Son, Anything I can do to please you is gladly done and gives me joy;—but to buy such an infamous implement of murder—that I will not do at any price. If I had authority, the maker should be put in the stocks and I would have the machine publicly burnt by the common executioner. What! Let the young play with anything so horrible,—place in their hands for their diversion murder and blood-shedding? No, that will never do!”

Guillotine Toy

Following the bloody conclusion of the French Revolution “The toy shops put on the market little guillotines with which little patriots could behead figures of aristocrats. There still survive some specimens of this pretty and diverting machine, of which one bears the date 1794 [above].

In December, 1793, [one man] asks his mother in Frankfurt to get him such a toy guillotine for his son … and in her reply he certainly got some home-truths. In her decisive manner she wrote to him by return post: ‘Dear Son, Anything I can do to please you is gladly done and gives me joy;—but to buy such an infamous implement of murder—that I will not do at any price. If I had authority, the maker should be put in the stocks and I would have the machine publicly burnt by the common executioner. What! Let the young play with anything so horrible,—place in their hands for their diversion murder and blood-shedding? No, that will never do!”

(Source: 50watts.com)

Peter the Great’s Dwarf Wedding
As was the vogue in the early 18th century, Peter the Great harboured a partiality for oddities and curiosities; a passion that lead to the establishment of his Kunstkamera, a cabinet of curiosities dedicated to preserving “natural and human curiosities and rarities.” The museum boasted an impressive collection of deformed human and animal skeletons, the tsar having issued a macabre proclamation demanding all deformed stillborn babies from every part of Russia to be sent for displaying as examples of accidents of nature.
This provides some context for Peter’s more disturbing fascination with little people, which culminated in his organising an elaborate wedding for the royal dwarf Iakim Volkov:

“The tsar … had instructed Prince-Caesar Romodanovsky to round up all the dwarfs in Moscow and send them to St Petersburg. Their owners were told to provide smart outfits for the dwarfs in the latest Western fashion, with plenty of gold braid and periwigs … On the day about seventy dwarfs formed the retinue for the wedding ceremony, which was accompanied by the stifled giggles of the full-sized congregation … a spectacle made all the funnier by the fact that most of the dwarfs were of peasant extraction with coarse manners. At the feast … the dwarfs sat at miniature tables in the centre of the room, while full-sized guests watched them from tables at the sides. They roared with laughter as dwarfs, especially the older, uglier ones who hunchbacks, huge bellies and short crooked legs made it difficult for them to dance, fell down drunk or engaged in brawls.
On one level, the dwarf wedding was just an entertainment. Being amused by the vertically challenged may offend modern sensibilities, but dwarfs were a standard feature of early modern European courts … The 6 foot 7 inch tsar loved his contingent of resident dwarfs, who were liable to surprise guests by leaping from pies (sometimes naked), dancing on tables or trotting in on miniature ponies, as well as performing domestic duties … But like all Peter’s mock spectacles, the dwarf wedding also operated on a more symbolic level. [It] suggested that the full-sized guests were watching caricatures of themselves, miniature ‘lords and ladies’ clad, like them, in unfamiliar Western dress. Peter’s courtiers … still had a long way to go before they were fully fledged, ‘grown-up’ Europeans.” (Peter the Great: A Biography by Lindsey Hughes, pp.90-2)

[Sources: Cabinet of Curiosities | Kuntskamera | Peter the Great: A Biography on Google Books | Image Source]

Peter the Great’s Dwarf Wedding

As was the vogue in the early 18th century, Peter the Great harboured a partiality for oddities and curiosities; a passion that lead to the establishment of his Kunstkamera, a cabinet of curiosities dedicated to preserving “natural and human curiosities and rarities.” The museum boasted an impressive collection of deformed human and animal skeletons, the tsar having issued a macabre proclamation demanding all deformed stillborn babies from every part of Russia to be sent for displaying as examples of accidents of nature.

This provides some context for Peter’s more disturbing fascination with little people, which culminated in his organising an elaborate wedding for the royal dwarf Iakim Volkov:

“The tsar … had instructed Prince-Caesar Romodanovsky to round up all the dwarfs in Moscow and send them to St Petersburg. Their owners were told to provide smart outfits for the dwarfs in the latest Western fashion, with plenty of gold braid and periwigs … On the day about seventy dwarfs formed the retinue for the wedding ceremony, which was accompanied by the stifled giggles of the full-sized congregation … a spectacle made all the funnier by the fact that most of the dwarfs were of peasant extraction with coarse manners. At the feast … the dwarfs sat at miniature tables in the centre of the room, while full-sized guests watched them from tables at the sides. They roared with laughter as dwarfs, especially the older, uglier ones who hunchbacks, huge bellies and short crooked legs made it difficult for them to dance, fell down drunk or engaged in brawls.

On one level, the dwarf wedding was just an entertainment. Being amused by the vertically challenged may offend modern sensibilities, but dwarfs were a standard feature of early modern European courts … The 6 foot 7 inch tsar loved his contingent of resident dwarfs, who were liable to surprise guests by leaping from pies (sometimes naked), dancing on tables or trotting in on miniature ponies, as well as performing domestic duties … But like all Peter’s mock spectacles, the dwarf wedding also operated on a more symbolic level. [It] suggested that the full-sized guests were watching caricatures of themselves, miniature ‘lords and ladies’ clad, like them, in unfamiliar Western dress. Peter’s courtiers … still had a long way to go before they were fully fledged, ‘grown-up’ Europeans.” (Peter the Great: A Biography by Lindsey Hughes, pp.90-2)

[Sources: Cabinet of Curiosities | Kuntskamera | Peter the Great: A Biography on Google BooksImage Source]

Cemetery Gun

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”


The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.


Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.


Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.
[The website that this is from also has a Tumblr, so go follow them!]

Cemetery Gun

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”

The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.

Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.

Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.

[The website that this is from also has a Tumblr, so go follow them!]

(Source: Slate)

Peter the Wild Boy
Amongst William Kent’s depiction of George I’s court, which adorns the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, is the above image of a smartly-attired but bushy-haired youth: the mysterious Peter the Wild Boy. Peter’s story is as sad as it is curious.

In Germany, in 1725, a ‘naked, brownish, blackhaired creature’ was found living in a woods near Hamelin. He walked on all fours and exhibited uncivilised behaviour. As an honoured guest at a banquet of George I, this feral boy aroused the curiosity of the king by gorging on vegetables and rare meats and eating noisily with his hands – behaviour which had him attributed with his title of Peter the Wild Boy. By royal request he was taken to England where he became an instant sensation, providing a remedy to the tedium of court life and inspiring such satirical works as The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation (attrib. Jonathan Swift).

Peter appealed especially to the Princess of Wales, who essentially kept him as a pet. Though he was inclined to sleep on the floor he was dressed in a fine suit each morning, whilst vein attempts were made to properly educated him – though physically healthy “he could say nothing but his own name and a garbled form of ‘King George’. [Thus], Peter could not to live up to the popular interest invested in him and a fickle public quickly abandoned him in favour of the next unfortunate”1. 

Consequently, in 1728 he was taken to live in the country. Here “He developed a taste for gin and loved music, reportedly swaying and clapping with glee and dancing until he was exhausted. But he never learned to speak and his lack of any sense of direction gave cause for concern”2.

He was also prone to wandering. On one occasion, in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was mistaken as a Highlander and arrested; in 1751, he went missing for such a period of time advertisements were placed appealing for his safe return. When a fire broke out in goal in Norwich, some 100 miles from the farm on which Peter lived, and the inmates were released, one aroused particular curiosity due to his remarkable appearance and the strange sounds he uttered, leading some to describe him as an orangutan. He was identified as Peter the Wild Boy, returned to the farm and fitted with a collar bearing the inscription: ‘Peter, the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble.’

Peter died in 1785 at the age of about 70. A portrait of Peter as an old man was published in Caulfield’s Portraits of Remarkable Persons, and matches the last description of him as having a full beard. He was buried at Northchurch and his grave can still be seen in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church. A modern assessment of Peter’s condition might be read here.
[I wrote this myself (for a change) however I am heavily indebted to this, this and this. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing Peter’s portrait with my very own eyes and I recommend it very much]

Peter the Wild Boy

Amongst William Kent’s depiction of George I’s court, which adorns the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, is the above image of a smartly-attired but bushy-haired youth: the mysterious Peter the Wild Boy. Peter’s story is as sad as it is curious.

In Germany, in 1725, a ‘naked, brownish, blackhaired creature’ was found living in a woods near Hamelin. He walked on all fours and exhibited uncivilised behaviour. As an honoured guest at a banquet of George I, this feral boy aroused the curiosity of the king by gorging on vegetables and rare meats and eating noisily with his hands – behaviour which had him attributed with his title of Peter the Wild Boy. By royal request he was taken to England where he became an instant sensation, providing a remedy to the tedium of court life and inspiring such satirical works as The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation (attrib. Jonathan Swift).

Peter appealed especially to the Princess of Wales, who essentially kept him as a pet. Though he was inclined to sleep on the floor he was dressed in a fine suit each morning, whilst vein attempts were made to properly educated him – though physically healthy “he could say nothing but his own name and a garbled form of ‘King George’. [Thus], Peter could not to live up to the popular interest invested in him and a fickle public quickly abandoned him in favour of the next unfortunate”1

Consequently, in 1728 he was taken to live in the country. Here “He developed a taste for gin and loved music, reportedly swaying and clapping with glee and dancing until he was exhausted. But he never learned to speak and his lack of any sense of direction gave cause for concern”2.

He was also prone to wandering. On one occasion, in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was mistaken as a Highlander and arrested; in 1751, he went missing for such a period of time advertisements were placed appealing for his safe return. When a fire broke out in goal in Norwich, some 100 miles from the farm on which Peter lived, and the inmates were released, one aroused particular curiosity due to his remarkable appearance and the strange sounds he uttered, leading some to describe him as an orangutan. He was identified as Peter the Wild Boy, returned to the farm and fitted with a collar bearing the inscription: ‘Peter, the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble.’

Peter died in 1785 at the age of about 70. A portrait of Peter as an old man was published in Caulfield’s Portraits of Remarkable Persons, and matches the last description of him as having a full beard. He was buried at Northchurch and his grave can still be seen in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church. A modern assessment of Peter’s condition might be read here.

[I wrote this myself (for a change) however I am heavily indebted to this, this and this. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing Peter’s portrait with my very own eyes and I recommend it very much]

Nº. 1 of  6