Lydia Blackmore, The Historic New Orleans Collection
Arthur Breese (A. B.) Griswold & Company advertisement by John William Orr, engraver; wood engraving from Jewell’s Crescent City Illustrated, New Orleans, 1874. The Historic New Orleans Collection
“Bride of Lammermoor” platter, 1836, earthenware manufactured by Davenport Pottery, Staffordshire, England, and retailed by Henderson & Gaines, New Orleans. The Historic New Orleans Collection
Center table, ca. 1861, manufactured or retailed by William McCracken, New Orleans, rosewood, marble and brass. The Historic New Orleans Collection, acquisition made possible by Clarisse Claiborne Grima Fund
Postcard depicting the interior of Ephraim Offner’s store, ca. 1910. The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Charles L. Mackie
The streets of old New Orleans, like the streets today, were lined with shop windows offering tempting glimpses of fashionable goods from around the world. Parlor suites, elaborate silver services, crates of attractive ceramics, swaths of rich textiles and mannequins dressed in the latest fashions provided models of style which consumers aspired to replicate in their own homes. Lydia Blackmore, decorative arts curator for The Historic New Orleans Collection, will take us on a shopping expedition through decades of New Orleans’ style. Her introduction to New Orleans’ shopping environment will be punctuated by images of beautiful consumer goods sold in that city.
In the early 19th century, silversmiths and jewelers working in the French Quarter made frequent trips across the Atlantic Ocean to familiarize themselves with the most fashionable trends, acquire merchandise to import and obtain inspiration so they could create similar objects in the latest trends. Early china importers on Charles and Canal Streets filled their windows with colorful, transfer-printed earthenwares and sleek, glimmering porcelains from New York; Staffordshire, England; and Le Havre, France.
By the middle of the 19th century, these cramped shops in the French Quarter had reestablished themselves in more spacious edifices on or near Canal Street. Silver retailers, including Hyde & Goodrich and their successors, A. B. Griswold & Company, Edward A. Tyler and M. Schooler, employed craftsmen in their stores to fulfill custom orders, which were sold alongside the popular silver patterns produced by northern manufacturers. China emporiums up the street were filled with all types of fancy and plain ceramics, available to shoppers at a variety of price points.
By the mid-19th century, the first blocks of Royal Street had been aptly designated as “Furniture Row.” Store after store offered parlor suites, dining sets, beds, carpets, curtains, mirrors and miscellaneous “fancy goods” in the latest 19th century revival styles. Retailers such as Prudent Mallard, William McCracken and Henry Siebrecht filled their warehouses with shipments of furniture manufactured in New York, Boston, Cincinnati and France. New Orleans retailers employed craftsmen to assemble, upholster and install new furniture, as well as curtains and wallpaper, for their customers in the city and further up the Mississippi River.
By the turn of the 20th century, department stores had become the shopping district on Canal Street. Many of these emporiums, with departments dedicated to women’s clothing, men’s furnishings, toys, stationery and “bric-a-brac,” had begun as dry goods stores. D. H. Holmes, Godchaux’s and Maison Blanche became paragons of the shopping experience in New Orleans, providing the newest goods from around the world at increasingly affordable prices.
During the same time period, old things gained value in the antique shops which were established on Royal Street. These antique stores, such as Waldhorn’s, Keil’s and Manheim’s, carried on the legacy of earlier retailers by importing antiques from France and the Northeast. In order to meet increasing local demands for historic furnishings, they sold imported antiques alongside pieces which had originally been purchased on old New Orleans’ shopping thoroughfares and subsequently passed down for generations.
Lydia Blackmore earned a bachelor’s degree in history, with a minor in anthropology, from the College of William and Mary. Her undergraduate thesis was “ ‘Just IMPORTED and to be SOLD’: Methods and Acquisition and Use of Knives, Forks, and Silver Spoons in Eighteenth-Century Virginia.” Ms Blackmore then earned a master’s degree and certificate in museum studies from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur program in early American material culture. Her Winterthur thesis, “Objects for President!: Campaign Material Culture and Populist Politics, 1828–1848,” connected material culture to cultural history and politics.
Ms Blackmore helped research and stage historic interiors, and inventoried and reorganized the metals and lighting collections for Colonial Williamsburg in 2009 and 2010; gave public lectures and tours of the United States Supreme Court in 2010–2011; and participated in planning and researching “FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950–2000” for the Smithsonian Institution in 2011 before returning to Winterthur for objects research from 2011 to 2013. Ms Blackmore returned to Virginia for cataloguing, curatorial and interpretation at the Lee-Fendall House (1785) in Alexandria (2011); Gunston Hall (completed 1759), George Mason’s home in Lorton (2013–2014); and for a private collection of political flags and textiles in Falls Church (2013–2014). New Orleans’ Classical Institute of the South acquainted January’s speaker with the Gulf’s furnishings in 2012, when she catalogued objects from five, privately-owned plantation homes. She returned in 2014 as the decorative arts curator for The Historic New Orleans Collection, where her duties run the gamut from research, preservation, curation and interpretation to museum planning.