1812, fashion, John Miner coat, menswear, Stonington, Stonington Historical Society, style, tailcoat
If I examine and exactly replicate a coat for personal use, what do I owe the museum that owns that coat– anything? I think I owe the museum any information I can share that will improve their records and help build a research file for the future.* I also think I owe them copies of the images I may take, and with digital images, that’s now incredibly easy.
But if I replicate this coat (shoulder intact) for Mr S or the Young Mr, should I give the coat to the Stonington Historical Society when we are done with it? SHS thinks I probably should, but as someone who manages collections, how many replicas do I want, and what standards do I use to judge them?
I think the best course of action is for museums to make patterns of popular or often-requested garments available for purchase, so that anyone who wants to make a replica has all the data they need. Short of that– and funds are often short for that– catalog records with as many measurements and as complete a description as possible will allow dedicated tailors and stitchers to get as close as possible to original garments.
True replicas involve recreating fabrics and using period techniques, and matching a garment measurement to measurement– and in the case of the Miner coat, there is no way to replicate its history. And the amount of work and expertise that would go into a true replica of any historic garment seems enormous– it would constitute a large donation to the museum, even if the garment had been worn.
*For those of you reading the caption on the Miner coat, yes, it needs work, and yes, SHS knows there are problems with that description. I promised to help them with their catalog record.
Lauren Stowell said:
I like your idea and agree with your thoughts here. Making a pattern would initially cost the museum, but the costuming world is starved for good patterns from originals. I think it would sell really well and generate quite a nice alternative income for the museum, plus raise the profile. Here’s hoping that happens – I’ve run into roadblocks when suggesting similar things at my local collections.
I found them a grant to apply for (and will apply for one for a garment in another collection). That would at least get these things documented and preserved and the pattern maker paid. Transforming that initial pattern into a workshopped pattern is a whole ‘nother ball game, as they say in The Right Stuff– but step one seems pretty straightforward. I hope they can take it, and that I can help these kinds of projects get started and funded.
Something I’ve actually tossed around in my head is to make pattern books based on specific collections for museums to sell, rather than trying to do a 19th century book, etc. And I have a friend who is starting up an historical pattern company, so full-size versions could also be offered. I’m not really sure how it would work – it’s not really a thing that I could do profitably as a job, so I would have to be employed well enough that I could take off time and travel without hardship – but every collection has a good handful of garments that the world would like to see, I think.
It’s interesting that SHS would like the replica, as my guess was going to be that they didn’t! As an artifact, it’s a duplicate, and as an interpreter costume it probably won’t fit anyone … but then, as a study/education piece, it would probably be excellent.
Re: not fitting, I was more thinking about exact replicas rather than this specific coat – if it’s been made for a modern human’s shape, it will probably fit other modern people!
I was surprised, too, that they would want it. In my curator shoes, I’d reserve judgement on wanting something till I saw it…what if it wasn’t sewn using period methods? I wouldn’t want it then.
And if it was an exact replica, no, it probably wouldn’t fit most people! I wasn’t able to get a chest measurement on this, but it looks very slender, and the sleeves are only 28″. While I think the chest might fit, say, the Young Mr, the sleeves would be too short, and think the shoulders are quite narrow. But he is a giant among adolescents.
That said, though, making a replica that exactly matched the size would give us a sense of Miner’s physical presence at age 19, and we could handle the garment safely.
Full size patterns would be amazing– it’s not always easy to draft something up from Arnold or Costume Close Up–but beyond what most little historical societies (or big ones) can manage or sustain. I know Wisconsin had or has patterns, but I think the NSCT patterns are a pretty nice, non-book option.
It’s interesting to think about and discuss from both sides.
What constitutes a “replica” versus a “reproduction”–and how could a garment, once customized to fit a particular person, be classified as either?
The case for intellectual property or copyright seems murkier here than even in the world of contemporary retail clothing, and suits brought against companies selling designer knockoffs have had very mixed success. It seems a museum would have a very hard time arguing that home sewists do not own the “historic” garments they make..and for what ultimate benefit?
I don’t at all mean to be combative. I genuinely wish to understand the positioning (and I’m the sort likely to champion museums and other non-profits, which all too often are targeted by others seeking easy profit).
It’s murky all right– and how do we untangle all those questions? I live on both sides of the fence.
I don’t know that there is a huge difference between replica and reproduction, but I think there are two possibilities, One is that a person re-creates this garment as best they can, but fitted to themselves. The other is that a person re-creates the garment exactly, matching all existing measurements. (And the third option is that a person uses a garment for inspiration, but fits themselves and uses very different fabric.)
In the first case, it’s not a replica so much as a derivative. In the second, it’s a replica. And as a curator, that’s the one I’d probably want more than I would the first.
Now, if I draft and scale full-size patterns based on measurements of a garment in a museum collection, then I think I should get a license or permission from the museum and should either pay a flat permissions fee or royalties based on sales. The package would then clearly indicate I’d done this with permission, and that a portion of the proceeds would support the museum.
But if I’m working from notes and images to make a garment that I wear and use, I don’t think I automatically owe money or the garment to a museum. My red milliner’s dress is “based” on the 1815 gown in the Susan Greene Collection at Genesee Country Village. It fits me, so the measurements are different, as is the fabric. I don’t think I owe them that gown, and I don’t think they’d want it!
On the other hand, I made Mr S a blue cotton and linen coat inspired by one in a Rhode Island collection. I used three extant museum-owned garments to guide my sewing, but the coat fits him, and him alone. Should that coat go to a museum? Maybe, if the museum wants to collect within a specific genre of “replica clothing.” But the responsibilities of adding to a collection are huge, and how do those new things fit within a collections policy or collection development plan?
That’s getting way more technical than I meant to, but I do think that home sewers should, as much as they can, acknowledge and support the museums and collections that provide them with inspiration and access. Culture’s an expensive business, and museums need to be sustainable. Users of all kinds can help make that possible, but nothing talks like cash.
Thank you so much for your perspective as a museum professional! There are so many factors to consider–but it really does come down to supporting the institutions that make our avocation possible and provide such insight into the past. I work as a fundraiser for a non-profit arts organization. Culture is, indeed, an expensive business. People often don’t realize how much we rely on contributions to help us keep our services free or affordably priced. It is very frustrating when people say that we really ought to generate enough revenue to pay our way without donations, but balk at paying even the subsidized prices for services. Quite aside from donating the clothing we make—when we find ourselves relying on those photos from the local history museum or asking a curator to bring out an item for us, make a donation of cash to keep that collection maintained and accessible!!