Mystery object IDENTIFIED! – Endean posing chair, c. 1888

A few days ago I posted this object, which was transferred to us from another museum last year. It was identified as a photographer’s posing stand and as I want to do an exhibition about how Victorians dressed for the camera some day, it seemed like it could be useful even though I wasn’t sure how it worked.

It consists of a round wooden platform with a central stool, and another stool on the outside edge of the base that is adjustable in position and height, with a removable back rest. The stools have been recovered with blue velvet upholstery at some point and the base was also recovered with a floral patterned carpet and gold fringe trim – presumably replacing something similar that was original to the piece.

Underneath the platform there is a bar that attaches the two stools, as well as wheels that allow the whole platform to be easily moved around.

The back of the smaller stool that is at the edge of the platform can be tilted and the back rest raised and lowered.

I thought this plaque which is on the back of the stool said ‘Indian Chair’ but it’s actually ‘Endean’ after the inventor’s last name Theodore Endean. Once this was determined, the history started unfolding…

19th century photographers were usually concerned about their subjects moving, especially their head, during the exposure time of taking a photograph. It’s one reason why so few sitters smile in photographs from this time because it’s hard to hold a smile for long. So this chair aided in keeping the sitter still and comfortable.

I received a lot of information from two people who saw this post – Marianne Dow and Lynne Ranieri. Both independently determined that it was an ‘Endean’ chair, not an ‘Indian’ chair, and then found references to its inventor and the object, which filled in the whole story.

Thomas Endean (1853 – 1913) was born in England to a Scottish mother and French father. He came to the United States as a child and learned photography in New York. He worked as an itinerant photographer and won prizes for his work in St. Louis and Germany before settling in Cleveland Ohio in 1886. He set up his studio at 122 Euclid Avenue, and within a year had taken out French, English, and Canadian patents for a posing chair he had developed. In 1888 he applied for the American patent for his chair, and received his patent in February 1889. As the chair in our possession has ‘Pat. Applied for’ on the plaque, it most likely dates from 1888.

Photographs by Theodore Endean, late 1880s – 1890s

Bloomer Costumes in Oneida New York

I came across this c. 1860 photo a long time ago that shows women wearing Bloomer costumes. I originally thought it was perhaps a girl’s school sporting activity, but I just found the backstory. Turns out it’s the Oneida community – a Christian communist sex club that existed in upstate New York between 1848 and 1880. While the group promoted equality between the sexes, eventually the free love utopia part didn’t work out and so in 1880 the group turned their energy towards industry and founded Oneida Flatware Ltd. 

Is There a Museum of Folk?

I don’t know of a museum that specializes in European folk dress – those strange costumes worn for specific carnivals or traditional ceremonies. I am sure European regional museums collect local garments, but wouldn’t it be great to see these pulled together into one spectacular exhibition and catalogue! I don’t even know of any good book that covers this information…

Gilles costume from Carnival of Binche, Belgium – a local festival held in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday where men and boys dressed like the two pictured here, throw oranges to (and at) spectators.


Jester festival commemorating the battle of Murten in 1476 when the Thun army captured Charles the Bold’s court jester. The jester, called Fulehung, chases crowds through the streets of Thun, Switzerland and hands out candy to kids.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Photographer William Notman

Some of the earliest fashionable images of Canadians come from photographs taken by William Notman’s studios. Notman was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1826 and became a partner in his father’s wholesale woollen cloth business in 1851. In 1856 he was caught ‘cooking the books’ and fled to Canada where he worked with Ogilvy & Lewis, a Montreal wholesale dry-goods merchant.

In November 1856, Notman opened a photography studio to supplement his income during the winter months when shipping was halted. He quickly built an impressive clientele drawn from Montreal society, and in 1860 presented an album of photographs of Montreal to the Prince of Wales during his famous tour of Canada. The following year he received a royal warrant from Queen Victoria.

In 1866, Notman opened a studio in Boston, and in 1868, studios were added in Ottawa and Toronto (the Toronto studio in partnership with employee John A. Fraser.) A studio in Halifax followed in 1869, St. John, N.B. in 1872, and Albany, New York in 1877. More American studios were later added in Newport, R.I., Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and New Haven, Conn.

Notman’s son William M. joined the business in 1873 and when he became a partner in 1882, the company’s name was changed to William Notman & Son. In 1883, John Fraser bought out Notman’s share of the Toronto studio and renamed his firm Fraser & Sons. Fraser then moved to Boston, leaving his sons to run the business, which they sold in 1886.

In 1891 William Notman & Son opened a studio on Madison Avenue in New York a few months before William Notman died from pneumonia. William M. ran the business until his own death from cancer in 1913. The business then passed to William’s younger brother, Charles who resold the business to a film company in 1935. Upon Charles’ death in 1955, the Notman archives were donated to Montreal’s McGill University.

Fall Fashions

The most famous footwear felling of a fashion model was Naomi Campbell in blue moc-croc platforms by Vivienne Westwood in 1993, but in the 25 years since, towering platforms and heels have taken down many a model:

The New Look before 1947

I love this picture of Elsie de Wolfe’s party in Paris from July 1939 because it shows how the postwar ‘New Look’ silhouette was already underway before the war stymied style and forced a different direction in fashion for the duration of the conflict: