While searching for a Christmas-themed image or object in our collection to write about I ran across an early advertising piece that immediately caught my attention. It is a cardboard image of a shoe - a beautiful red shoe decorated with flowers - and being a lover of both shoes and flowers I needed to investigate more.
Text printed on the shoe reveals that the card is from the J.P Cook Boot and Shoe Store located at 173 Dundas Street. Joseph Patrick Cook was the second generation of Cooks to operate a shoe store; his Irish-born father Philip had been a shoemaker in London since the 1860’s. Research shows the Cook’s had stores in at least three different locations on Dundas Street, between Richmond and Clarence, and in later years at 483 Richmond Street, just north of the Grand Theatre. In 1905 Joseph formed a partnership with C.J. Fitzgerald of Brooklyn, New York to establish the Cook-Fitzgerald Co. Ltd., a shoe manufacturing business located on the north side of Carling Street between Talbot and Ridout. The firm would later move to the southeast corner of Richmond and Bathurst streets.
This past season I worked on a part of our collection that I have to admit creeps me out a little bit. The idea that someone took the time to collect and create a wreath fashioned from human hair seems to me to be highly eccentric, not to mention strange! However, as I began to examine and carefully clean these Victorian oddities I gained a new appreciation for the artistic craftsmanship and the varied and intricate designs demonstrated in these works of art.
Examples of hair art or jewelry made from hair date back as far as the 12th century, but it was during the Victorian era that it became extraordinarily popular. Much of the increased interest can be attributed to two events - the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, in 1861, and the American Civil War. The war left thousands of mourning families looking for ways to respectfully honour their dead family members. Queen Victoria took mourning to a whole new level, dressing in black until her death in 1901. It is said she always wore a piece of jewelry made from Albert’s hair. It is during this period that mourning, and the social demonstration of mourning became fashionable.
Usually displayed in a place of honour in the parlour, a hair wreath could combine not only the tresses...