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See Examples of recovered original parasols


Development of Mid 19th Century Parasols

Article by Marta Vincent


This article is intended to give a brief rundown of parasol types that are available, and might be appropriate to use for reenacting or living history impressions.  It would seem appropriate to use any of the styles that were manufactured, and available to your persona since you reached “adulthood”.  In other words, if you are portraying a 50 yr old woman in 1860, you might have in your possession a parasol 20 or 30 years old.  However, an 1830’s parasol would be so “old fashioned” that you’d undoubtedly not use it; but parasols from the 1840’sand 50’s really changed remarkable little through the period, so that an older woman might use her “old” parasol in the 1860’s if she were unable to get or afford a new one.  A great deal would depend upon your Impression.


Parasols from the 1840’s and early 1850’s are somewhat larger, and longer than those of the late ‘50’s and 1860’s. The ribs would be made of cane or baleen, which make them fragile, but our ancestors didn’t throw out their old things; they put them away, and many old parasols have old repairs proving that women took care of their expensive belongings.


In the later 1840’s and early ‘50’s, most parasols had folding handles, long slender sticks, silk covers and long silk fringes.  Colors ranged from browns, through greens, and blues, but nearly all dark shades.  Fringes matched or coordinated. Brocades were common, and plain silks with woven satin stripes at the edge we used. There usually was a small ivory cap on the end of the handle, and the finial at the top was often ornately carved, and could be up to 4” of more long.  Typical lengths – including the finial – could be 29 - 34” or even a bit more.


Image 1 Showing the transition of size and style from late 1840’s through mid 1860’s.

1-3 late 40’s- mid ‘50’s, 4-5 mid – late ‘50’s, 6-7 1st half 1860’s.

Midway through the ‘50’s, the parasol began to decrease in size.  As the lady’s bonnets became smaller, and closer to her head, the parasol followed suit. Sticks were shorter, and little hooks at the end became common.  Also, brighter colors appeared, and plaids, ikat ribbon types and brocades were popular.  Short fringes were still common, but ruffles, and pinked edges were coming into vogue. In this period you begin to see the tiny finger-sized hook on the end of the handle, and often an ivory ring through the finial. Also available at this time, we begin to see parasols covered in white and other light and bright colors, with hand and machine made black lace overlays.  However they are covered, the overall length is not more than about 26”, with ribs of 8” 11”.


Lace overlay,  Machine made fine lace made to fit a parasol



Here parasols start to divide into two groups.  The single most common 1860’s American parasol is a quite simple marquis (tilting) style with a folding handle.  The cover is black, and it is lined most often in black; but sometimes in white, cream or pale pink.  Earliest examples have very plain handles painted black with a ball, onion, lozenge, or plain hook at the end.  As the era progressed, the handles became more ornate, often with intricate carving; but still covered in black.  Many have ruffles around the edge, and some have two or three ruffles, and some have pinked edges.  I have never seen one of this style with fringe.  These seem to have been sold at department stores in major cities so there are many still around.  Frames were sturdy, and ribs were made of steel painted black. I’ve seen a few with fine chantilly style lace ruffles, but these may have been added by the owner.


Shows typical 1860’s types.  1-2 1st half, 3-4 2nd half.  Ivory handled bright covers are European imports, and the black marquis’ are American.  Note the carving and tassels on the later marquis.


The other main type of parasols available during this time, is similar in frame, but has brighter silk covers made of taffeta in checks, plaids, and beautifully printed “ribbon” designs. Handles often have that little hook on the end as well.  Many of these seem to have come from France and England where there was no war going on, and no shortages of fabrics.  In this group also, we see many parasols covered in white or cream, or other light and bright colors, with beautiful lace overlays.  These lace overlays are machine made specifically for parasols.  There are also white and black tatted parasol covers.  Instructions for making these were in many period publications.


Another type of began to come into vogue just post war as bonnets became tiny and perched atop the head.  It has a straight handle, and is very tiny with brightly colored silk covers, and pale silk with lace overlays.  The frames are made of steel, often with brass sticks and chip carved wood handles and finials; or lovely carved ivory or bone handles and finials.  This style can be documented to 1867.

Have fun searching for your own period parasol.  In the second half of the article, I’ll give the reader some basics on how to recover them.  It’s not as difficult as you think!

All parasols are from the collection of Marta Vincent.

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