Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Mary Helen Hering Middleton Tiara – An Accessory from Imperial Russia

by Carin Bloom, Dottie Stone, and me!
Original Tiara

     I was asked by Middleton Place National Historic Landmark House Museum to recreate a tiara in their collection.  When first shown to me, I was a bit intimidated.  I mean, look at it!?  Wow.  The detail.  Well, I do love a challenge and something that can expand my jewelry making abilities!  Usually, I channel my muse to help me figure out how to put together or improve my products and offerings and this was no exception.
     My mind started to ponder - how could I recreate this piece?  It is intricate, and as many know, I use ready-made findings, pieces, antique, and vintage items to create my jewelry.  The base was the immediate concern, but I found something that I have used before, and it would work to give the same feel of the original.  I then got started!

Just started and added the Amethyst paste stone that I set to the base

     This was a challenge in that I had to do my best to match the original – with cupids/putti and all.  The original has a large dark amethyst stone in the center, with aquamarine stones in the rest of the piece.  The aquamarine was very light.  I created two of these lovely tiara – one with aquamarine paste and one with clear paste – to try to match it.  I also had to enamel paint the little vintage feather plume brass castings that I found for this purpose, and I also painted the cupids the same gold color as the base.

Plumes modified and painted

    Setting the stones, cupids, and plumes
     To understand who wore this wonderful piece, I asked Carin Bloom to help me out with understanding the woman whose head this was upon.  Carin is the one who asked me if I could recreate the tiara back in the spring.

Mary Helen - Photo courtesy of Middleton Place

     "Mary Helen Hering Middleton was born in Jamaica to a Captain in the British Army, Julines, and his wife Mary Inglis, a prominent Philadelphian. Captain Hering owned sugar plantations on the island but wanted to raise his children in Philadelphia, a plan that was derailed by the outbreak of the American War for Independence. The family moved back to England instead. As fate would have it, England is where Mary’s husband, Henry Middleton of Charleston, SC, would eventually find her. The two met when Henry was on a visit to Bath in 1793, and though Mary had many suitors, her brother Oliver championed for Henry Middleton to win Mary’s hand. The couple were married on November 13, 1794.
     Mary and Henry stayed in Europe for the next five years, living mostly in England – though they spent a year in Paris – and had three sons. By October 1799, they were bound for the United States arriving after a three-month sea voyage. Mary was raised in high society in England, and was an asset to her husband’s political career in Charleston. Though she wasn’t a fan of the climate of coastal South Carolina, she made the best of her time, dedicating herself as a mother to 11 surviving children. She enjoyed the company of her husband’s sisters and was well-received among both the Charleston elite and the wealthy of northern society due to her family ties to Philadelphia.
     When Henry Middleton was appointed by President James Monroe to the post of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia in 1820, Mary Helen packed up her family and made the voyage to St. Petersburg. Her upbringing certainly made her a fine companion for Henry, and though she might have been free to stay home as her husband traveled to Russia, Mary Helen chose to accompany him. Louisa (Mrs. John Quincy) Adams wrote that this choice on her husband’s behalf would “permit him to live as a minister should live.” For an Ambassador’s wife, life was a whirlwind of social and political engagements for which she needed to be properly dressed and accessorized.
Czar Nicholas I - gifted portrait to the Middletons

     For a decade Mary Helen accompanied her husband in matters of state and society, and the House Museum at Middleton Place National Historic Landmark is fortunate to retain within their collections several pieces attributed to Mary Helen’s life; not just clothing and accessories, but furniture, ceramic, flatware, d├ęcor, and a variety of household goods that all graced the Middletons’ St. Petersburg home. The most notable of her personal items is the tiara that she wore at the court of Czar Nicholas I. Stunningly fashioned in gold with enamel accents and golden cherubs, the tiara is set with one large amethyst and several delicately pale aquamarines. As the staff of Middleton Place Foundation seek to expand our story into areas of the site beyond the museum itself, it seemed a natural fit to start with the tiara as a jumping-off point for re-creating some of the historic pieces in the collection for sale in the Museum Shop.
     Middleton Place was so happy to partner with me for this massive undertaking, sure of the quality and craftsmanship that I lovingly include in my work. The Foundation sent as detailed photos as they could, to ensure that I would have every opportunity to create a piece truly inspired by Mary Helen’s court attire. The results are phenomenal, but don’t take my word for it – check out the photos of both pieces!  Middleton Place was so happy to have gotten a chance to work with me on this project, and the bonus of being able to help my rescue horses is the icing on the cake. 

     I am told that Middleton Place Foundation is proud to promote jewelry and accessories by K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse; there is no doubt that this piece upholds the rigorous standards of beauty and quality for which Middleton Place is known. I look forward to a continued partnership, bringing historically accurate and beautiful jewelry into the lives of modern visitors and history buffs alike!"

Finished reproduction in the clear crystal version
     *Many thanks for much of the information in this post goes to Dottie Stone, Research Associate at Middleton Place Foundation
Tiara in its case and ready for sale at Middleton Place!  
Perfect for a wedding or your costuming needs.

Aquamarine version of the tiara

Monday, August 13, 2018

Valley Forge Visitor's Center - New Video!

In a favorite kitchen at Washington HQ, Valley Forge 
(wearing the silver Forget Me Not shoe buckles)

     Had the privilege of being invited as part of the 2d Pennsylvania Regiment through the British Marines to participate in the filming of the new Valley Forge visitor center film.  The film is expected to be released in the Spring of 2020.

Filming at Thornbury Farm and CSA, West Chester, PA near Chadd's Ford

     If you have ever been on a movie shoot, and in my case I have now been on two small films meant for historic sites (the other was for Mount Vernon's 4d experience - The Whiskey Rebellion), you do a lot of sitting around while they film, set up new scenes, prepare you and others with make-up, and wardrobe checks/fixes, etc.  It can also be frustrating to have to wait around, so you make the best of the moments you have by remembering those who were there and why you are there, and meeting new friends.

Jim McGaughey (wearing his silver James shoe buckles - sorry for the shameless plug!)

     These are fun to do, but do take up time.  I went with Jim, who normally portrays a British Marine, and in this case was the aide-de-camp to General von Steuben.  We were there on Saturday for a scene at Washington's HQ house at Valley Forge.  We were told our clothing was spot on.   

In make-up

     My part came on the second day we were there.  I was a follower of the Army in the Spring of 1776.  I was given a bit of "sunburn" on my face by the make-up crew, and sent on my way.  I saw some of my shoe buckles, watch chains, as well as cuff links (sleeve buttons) on many there which was awesome!  I was also able to show off my sample watch as well so people could actually hold it to see the different between what they had.  I was actually thanked for having them made!  

With Karen Morgan, Ann Shipley (of Pottsgrove Manor), and Robin Matty (of Historic Annapolis and also a member of the British Marines)

     I would highly recommend going at least once to one of these.  It gives you insight into what the behind the scenes crew go through, and the hard work that they do for videos and films of this sort.  We had a couple of people go down from the heat and humidity while at Thornbury Farm near Chadd's Ford.  The film crew was also very cognizant of the safety rules of the National Park Service, and we had plenty to drink while there, we were given a nice lunch, and were made comfortable.

With Robin Matty, Sam Schmidhuber, and Karen Morgan

With Amy Shipley, Robin Matty, Park Ranger Beth Dhunjisha, and Karen Morgan
(Photo taken by David Lawrence - at Park Guide at Valley Forge)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Pocket Watch, Pocket Clock - Exclusive!

     I have struggled since I started to participate in reenacting/ living history with finding a watch that truly represents an original - without having to spend the dollar, Washington's, Lincoln's, Benjamins, Hamilton's for an original.  Now that doesn't mean that I haven't purchased an original - I recently did go for a gold watch on Ebay (which was a splurge) it is also French and goes with my original French watch equipage.  So how in the world could I resist the quest of offering them in my shop?  

Personification of May, 1745 by Thomas Burford (watch on her watch chain - and look at those bows on her pearl earrings!  I have reproduced those in my shop)

    Over the past few years, many come into my shop at events or asked if I sold watches since I make and/or offer watch chains and strings - but I did not want to offer anything that didn't really look as if it was something I, or my friend Kerry (an admitted Fusee watchaholic), would wear.  So I "didn't go there" so to speak as when I looked at pocket watches out there they just weren't right IMHO to give the illusion of having a real one on.  So, I consulted Kerry on this project to get the right size, weight, and face on my quest for the right one to offer to my clients (and for me to wear)!

Historical Hottie - Elijah Boardman by Ralph Earl, 1789 (watch chain)

     Exploring the possibility of offering these, I started to look for a company that could make what I wanted.  I also found a website on how to identify your original watch which I think is awesome, and I always refer to the book by Genevieve Cummins, How the Watch was Worn, of which I own a copy.  I have contacted her and purchased an original cut steel watch chain that was in her book that I hope to reproduce next year.  I also did a little light reading on the history of watches and the watch industry in England - France also had wonderful watches (my gold one is French).  But I digress.  

     I tend to be an overachiever, and when I get determined to do something that I really want to do, I am a little obsessed to get it done.  However, it wasn't something I really had to do - but didn't I?  So many watches out there that aren't quite right, but seem to be "good enough" at a fairly decent price.  I have written about watch chains, strings, equipages/chatelaines in other blog posts here, here, and here.

     So, mine isn't perfect by any means, but it is better than anything else out there (that I know of - I don't know everything).  The photos are of my samples, and I will offer these in brass and silver.

Brass watch with reproduction face

     Now, I did have to make a few concessions on mine - they are battery operated (the stem looks like it is a wind-up but it allows you to turn on and off and set the watch).  Maybe one day I can make a key wound version.

On my wool blue gown made by The Silly Sisters - in silver

     The back twists off counter-clockwise, and the watch battery can be replaced with the Sony SWSR626SW, Duracell 377, Energizer 377, or Seiko SB-AW.  

Back of watch with lid off!

     These are currently open for pre-order at $30 until 19 August 2018.  Then the retail price will be $40 each.

The silver shown with my original Victorian revival watch chain, original 18th century seal, and antique horse leg key!

     You can order them from my Etsy shop!  These are an exciting item and exclusive to me.  They are limited in number, and future offerings may have a different face!

Michael Halbert - the maker of the watch strings that I offer - 
wearing a string with his Regency suit - his watch would be in a watch pocket

Original watch in silver - the inspiration for the face on my reproduction watch

Sunday, July 15, 2018


     I'm very excited about announcing this new ring - a few years ago I came across a gorgeous, original, 18th century REGARD ring and purchased it!  Now, what is a REGARD ring you say?

Original REGARD Ring in my personal collection

     I like to use several sources for my research and reproductions including original pieces.  In the case of this ring, my original is untouched and still as it was when it was made. 

     The language of stones in the time period had special meaning for the intimate acknowledgement of love between couples.  Diamonds for constancy, sapphires for the soul, emeralds for faith, and rubies for passion.  When one sees a two stone ring set with a diamond and a ruby - it can be interpreted as an enduring passion between lovers.  Charming love tokens or rings were most cherished mementos of the Georgian era, especially if they contained a secret message.  The first letters of the words for particular gemstones would spell out, in succession, a romantic word or phrase.  These acrostic pieces were charming and singled out the wearer as one who was loved openly and dearly.  The most often seen of these phrases were REGARD, DEAREST, ADORE, LOVE, ME, AND FOREVER.  (Taken from Georgian Jewelry by Ginny Redington Dawes)

 Reproduction REGARD Ring set in Gold-Plated Brass

     My reproduction is a true faithful exact ring as the original.  I'm excited to offer it for sale!  This ring is similar to my Martha Washington inspired ring in that it is made via a wax cast mold from the original piece, and includes precious and semi-precious stones.  The stones stand for Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, and Diamond.  My reproduction offers the last stone in clear crystal so as to make it more affordable.  I could make it with a Diamond for anyone who would like that option.

 Close-up Detail - Prong Settings

Side View

     Be on the lookout soon for an ADORE ring in my Etsy shop!  

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Weekend in Colonial Williamsburg

     Every year several people from all walks of life, professions, and who enjoy the same hobby of dressing up 18th century style, get together in June for a picnic or garden party in Colonial Williamsburg.  This is the first year I have attended, and it was held indoors due to the rain/heat.  I had a lovely time!  Once you get there and settled in, it is time to dress up, eat in the taverns, go to concerts, and walk about!  Unfortunately, it seems the town closes down at 5pm, and the restaurants at 9pm.  There are; however, some evening programs and concerts that you can sign up for, and I walked past several groups who were on them.  Overall, if you manage your days right, you may just be ready to go back and relax in your room with a glass of wine to get ready for the next day.  

With Krista at the Tucker House - jewelry made by me.  Blue pearls after Mrs. Mostyn, 1759.

Took advantage of getting my Early American Life jewelry on Krista!!!

Krista and Kerry at the Market Square Tavern

In the Market Square Tavern at the Garden party - have to wear a flower hat to that!  Hat was made by Hallie Larkin

Nicki Foronda - one of the organizers of the party 

In the Market Square Tavern  common room

Robin Marie - assisted Nicki in organizing the party this year

SO much food

Behind the Market Square Tavern near the well - showing off my Montana Blue Charlotte Shoe Buckles, miniature with Southern Belle in it, and a ring from Allures d'Antan

My gorgeous clocked stockings from Penny River Costuming

Obligatory horse photograph - a matched pair of mares!  When I walked up I was given the look of love, but they were hot and tired.

In the Greenhow Store next to my book!  If you are there, buy a copy.  Can't get there?  It is available in my shop and on Amazon.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Rose Galante Paste Brooch

     The Gray Horse has collaborated with a new production partner - Rose Galante who is based in Switzerland - they offer a lovely reproduction brooch.  This new collaboration is wonderful for those of us based in the U.S. to get one of these gorgeous pieces.

     This brooch measures 2-1/2 inches tall by 2-1/2 inches wide, and has lovely Jonquil paste (rhinestones).  The price is just right too!  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The "Marquis" Knee Buckles

     The samples of the "Marquis" paste knee buckles came in, and I must say I am very delighted!  These are based upon one owned by me.  The sample that I used was actually much smaller, almost one for a doll or baby, that I upsized.  I have done this before with my Turquoise and Ruby Flower Cluster Forget Me Not Ring.  

The Marquis in Antiqued Gold

     They turned out wonderful.  The photo shoot uses a pair of breeches that are slightly off-white.  The prongs for these buckles are not as sharp as others I have seen, so depending on the thickeness of the fabric, holes may have to be made.  If the fabric is extremely thin, such as silk, a small reinforcement in the back may have to be made to the knee band.  

The Marquis in antiqued gold with a pair of the Antiqued Gold Dandridge Shoe buckles

The Marquis in Antiqued Silver with the Silver Dandridge Shoe buckles

The Marquis in Silver with the Silver Dandridge Shoe buckles

These buckles will be in the shop and for sale in the next few weeks.  The link to my shop is in the upper left hand corner of this website, SignoftheGrayHorse on Etsy.

Early American Life Magazine Directory 2018 - America's Best Artisans

     I received my copy of the July/August 2018 issue of Early American Life Magazine, which includes the directory of artisans!  I am included within these distinguished people, and my Martha Washington reproduction necklace is shown as well!  If you do not have a copy, go out and get one!  


Reproduction Martha Washington necklace sold exclusively through George Washington's Mount Vernon Gift Shop.  It is available on-line.  You can also find earrings to match them as well.

Disclaimer - Please note that I was not included in the photography sessions of the artisan's work, so had no way to consult in the context and how it was shown in the magazine.  It would not be worn, nor dress up, a farm girl's clothing unless she stole it!  But it would be worn by a prosperous middling, gentry, and/or royal lady.  Martha Washington wore just such a one in actual garnets.  My reproduction is paste (rhinestones/crystal).  

     Another of my items, a Forget Me Not Reproduction Flower ring was also accepted, but not able to be shown in the magazine.  You can find this ring available in my Etsy shop as well as George Washington's Mount Vernon gift shop (soon to also be available on-line).