Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kristen: 19th Century Motif, Arrows

I pinky swear promise that this post wasn't inspired by The Hunger Games movie. Totally mean it. Definitely was not looking at Katniss when I thought about writing this.
Ah, The Hunger Games

All joking aside, the arrow functioned as a motif in women's clothing/jewelry throughout the 19th century. It's amazing how once I start to look for a common thread, I find it woven throughout! Before I delve into documentation of its use, I first need to research its importance to the ladies who would have daintily shoved it into their hair.
The first and most obvious examples relate to Cupid's arrow. Here I found a poem in Godey's Lady's Book from April 1857, entitled "Cupid's Arrows" by J. Howard Smite, excerpt:

Shooting wanton with his arrow ,

Drawn from quiver deep and narrow,
Cupid stands,

In his plaid and bright-hued kirtle,

On a tiny new-born myrtle
Which expands.

Barbed arrows , sympathetic,

With a polar power magnetic,
Weave those bands;

Arrows were poisoned, erect, thrust into the breast of an unsuspecting mother/father/lover. An arrow to the heart could deliver a passionate love or a world-ending insult. Seriously, Godey's has so many mentions of just the word "arrow," that I found examples in every year from the mid 1850's through the Civil War.
Godey's 1865

Yet the Roman Revival brought another layer of symbolism to the love-entwined arrow: Diana. As the Roman goddess of the hunt (Greek: Artemis), she is depicted with her quiver, arrows, and crescent moon. (I'll be doing a post about crescent moons later!) She is strong, quick, and clever. I can understand the 19th century woman looking to her as inspiration!
 19th century

Visual Documentation
In order to fully understand the scope of the arrow functioning as a motif, I must examine the period before the Victorian Era. Two Nerdy History Girls has already written about the topic of arrows in the hair, from 1805-1830. I shall include a bit of their research as an introduction to the 1850-1870 time period. These paintings show an affection for the style, one that is also seen during the Civil War.

I completely understand an early 19th century opinion towards the arrow. It is simple yet complex in its meaning; the ladies also enjoyed a Roman revival in the sheer empire-waist dresses of the time. Such a style gently complements an elegant figure, especially if dabbed generously with sponges to achieve that extra-sheer look (no, seriously).

My next step was to find photographic documentation of the arrow during the 1850-65 time period. Alas, I had no such luck! I hunted (haha) through hundreds of tintypes, carte de visites, daguerreotypes, and just about everything in between. Were the arrows too small to see? Placed in the back of the hair or side of a bonnet? I was able to scare up a few photographs, though most are a bit later than I'd like:

From my past experiences with research, I've discovered that sometimes certain elements of documentation take longer to acquire. If I did not have many other examples, I would not have written this post. Sometimes the most compelling forms of evidence pop up later during other searches. Patience, O researching one!

Written Documentation
Luckily I have other forms of evidence that lead me to believe that the arrow existed. The magazines of the mid 19th century contain so many examples of the arrow, specifically in the context of jewelry. I've included a few years before the war too, as it shows the continuity of the symbol.

Godey's Lady's Book, June, 1857
The dress, however, that perhaps attracted the greatest attention was that of the beautiful Cemtesse Castaglione, consisting of a gown of red satin, covered with bouillonnes of red crape below, and a lace tunic above. The coiffure was composed of two red feathers, fastened in the middle at the point of the forehead, and turning backwards round the ears. This lady wore at the fancy ball of Mdme. Walewska a costume yet more remarkable. The robe and corsage were of cloth of silver, the latter perfectly tight and considerably decollete, with extremely short sleeves, and no ornament or trimming whatever, but a large diamond heart; the former displaying an under skirt looped up at one side, so as to display the ankle, round which a bracelet was clasped. On the head five diamond hearts were held together by an arrow transpiercing them, and a flowing veil completed the costume.

Godey's Lady's Book, June, 1858
La Coiffure Diane
THIS ornament for the hair is at once new and tasteful. It is composed of large beads, etc. Among the wedding presents of the Princess Royal there was a very elegant headdress of pearls and rubies. It is to be found already at Bailey's, and will be much in favor for the watering-place season, from its novelty and simplicity. It is kept in place by an arrow , of gold or silver. A necklace of the same style accompanies it. Necklaces are once more in decided favor, and answer admirably with the low, or Vandyke corsage.

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1860
And this was why— because of the jockey-club scented notes, and the flattery, and the protestations, and the sort of shy, silent bliss of reveries and dreams— because of the lock of oiled hair I kept in my writing-desk, and the ring, deviced by two hearts transfixed by one arrow , I wore on the “engagement-finger” of my left hand— because of that very natural feeling, common to all hearts, which makes us all want somebody to love and to love us, till sometimes the glamor so blinds our eyes that we mistake the dross for the fine gold— because of all this, for one twelvemonth of my life I walked in a blissful dream along a path of roses.

Godey's Lady's Book, September 1860
Now, there was Belinda Bell; I saw her last week, looking at and admiring and going into fits over a pair of sleeve-buttons, gold, set with tortoises, that Abram Smith was a-wearing; and last night, to Tuttle's party, she had them very sleeve-buttons on, and an arrow stuck in her hair that I'm certain I saw in Mr. Moss' cravat not long ago.

Peterson's 1861

Arthur's Home Magazine 1863

Godey's Lady's Book, March 1865
Fancy pins and arrows of all descriptions are worn in the hair, and some very pretty ones, formed of crochet work and jet, have appeared for mourning.

Godey's Lady's Book, August 1865
Mme. Tilman, of 147 East Ninth Street, New York, has some very beautiful varieties of nets suitable both for full and demie toilette. Some are of very fine silk, studded with immensely large beads of pearl, gilt, jet, pink and red coral, malachite, bright and dull steel. The latter resembles lead, but is a pretty novelty. Others are of gold-colored silk covered with tiny pendent arrows or crescents. A very graceful style is of twisted gold and braid, every cross-bar being ornamented with a small bead.
Very attractive also are the brilliant ornaments of rock crystal set with colored jewels. Among them are daggers, swords; and arrows of gold, with rock crystal, pearl, or richly jewelled hilts or ends, intended as ornaments for the hair

Godey's Lady's Book, October 1865
Fig. 4: Bonnet of black tulle, dotted over with steel beads. A bow of tulle is caught at the back with a steel arrow and fancy ornaments. The inside trimming is formed, of scarlet velvet and white field daisies.

Godey's Lady's Book, December 1865
The latest introductions are tiny brilliant stars, bright enamelled bugs, daggers, arrows , dogs, and horses' heads of gilt, lizards, shields, delicate chains and coins, also fringes of crystal, steel, and gold. They are of very artistic workmanship, and when gracefully worked in with silk velvet and lace form the most irresistible and stylish of hat trimmings. A very attractive style of velvet hat is a long turban, formed of puffs of velvet running lengthwise and of alternate colors, such as black and scarlet, or black with blue or green, five puffs forming the hat. Much taste and skill are displayed in the arrangement of the various elements used as decorations, and among the most stylish we notice a full dahlia-like rosette formed of box-pleated scarlet velvet, traversed through the centre by a large dirk, arrow, or sword.

Obviously the arrow gained more popularity by the end of the war, as evidenced by its mention in more of the later issues. However, it is found in nearly every year before and during the Civil War. What variety as well! Gold, silver, jeweled, plain! And I shall certainly add more to this section later; I am currently perusing the German and French magazines. Did you know that the word is fl├Ęche in French, arrow in German? Of course I picked Spanish as my foreign language...

Artifact Documentation
Yet my research would not be complete without actual examples of arrow jewelry. This part was more difficult, as it is hard to exactly date each piece. As I noted previously, the arrow could be constructed with gold or silver, plain or adorned. A pin could be passed down from a family member and proudly worn. 
19th Century
Mid to Late 19th Century

Based on the materials mentioned from my documentation, a wide range of arrow types could fit into the 1860-65 time period. Also, I noticed other symbols attached to the arrows. The crescent moon is especially important, as these symbols both relate to the goddess Diana. It appears that the more research I accomplish, the more questions arise!

Final Thoughts
In case you were wondering, the arrow is still a popular symbol. Look no further than The Hunger Games franchise, in which an entire generation of American children now wish to participate in archery! We still see the prodding arrows of Cupid in February, the feathery delight of a new Robin Hood tale. Fashion has not forgotten the arrow either:

There was a point to this crazy arrow obsession. I've wanted to assemble "La Coiffure Diane" for some time, though I've lacked patience for the research. Well, it is finished! I have added it to my Etsy shop, complete with necklace and earring set. The arrow looks fetching in the hair, and I'm going to make myself a set when I regain that patience! Click here for the listing.

Before everyone in the reenacting community decides to purchase an arrow, I would like to ask a few questions to ensure that the arrow is correct for the impression at hand. After all, a fancy bejeweled arrow will look fantastic with a ball gown or silk dress, but terrifyingly wrong with a cotton work dress. There are the types of questions to ask before adding anything to an impression:

Would the person I'm portraying own such a piece?
When/where/how will I wear an arrow?
Does it make sense to wear it then/there/in that manner?
How does this relate to the rest of my clothing?
Will I be able to explain the symbol to curious spectators/reenactors?

Personally, I would like to see a wider variety of motifs represented in the reenacting community. Such diversity will not only look appropriate, but create a broader inspection of the 19th century as a whole. After all, a little learning never hurt anybody!



  1. I found this blog post researching a quiver of arrows and crescent brooch in silver with 9 ct hold. Thank you for all of the research you undertook - I found this extremely helpful in understanding the meaning of this piece!

  2. I also found this blog post researching a Sterling silver and black hills gold quiver of arrows through a crescent brooch in my collection. Very informative, thank you!



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