Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dressing the Part: Schuyler Family Receipts from Sotheby's

by Ian Mumpton

This post is perhaps better titled “Into the Collections”. Schuyler Mansion is excited to announce that we were recently able to acquire a collection of Schuyler family receipts detailing a wide variety of high fashion purchases made between 1760 and 1772. These documents were part of a collection of Hamilton and Schuyler family papers being auctioned by Sotheby's. While they were the lowest bid item in the auction due to the lack of Hamilton or Schuyler autographs, the wealth of details that they provide sheds new light on the early period of the family’s residency at the mansion, giving insights into how the Schuylers adorned and presented themselves as one of the most refined and genteel young families in the city of Albany.
One of the earlier receipts dates to 1762 and records a total of £1.14.0 paid to P.W. Butler Catharine Schuyler for “a lady’s white hat, gold spangles, loop & button & blue feather.”  The fact that this receipt mentions a “loop & button” specifically indicates that
this was probably a brimmed hat worn cocked up to one side. The blue feather and gold spangles would have completed the look in a striking style, making Catharine one of the trendiest and most elegant ladies in town.
A portrait of Mary "Perdita" Robinson by John Hoppner,
edited to represent to sort of hat described as being
sold to Catharine Schuyler in 1762. The original,
unedited version, can be viewed here.

In 1766 Philip paid of £6.2 for beaver hats for one boy and three girls. These girls were probably the three oldest daughters, Angelica, Elizabeth, and Margaret, however the identity of the boy in question is less clear. The only boy in the family at the time was little “Johnny”, John Bradstreet Schuyler, then barely a year old. Perhaps Philip purchased his infant son a hat to grow into?

The following year “Miss Schuyler” (referring to one of the daughters) and Catharine Schuyler purchased a number of refined items. Miss Schuyler purchased a cap, ruffs, and a cloak, as well as fabric, ribbon, and other trims, perhaps for the construction of a gown. Catharine likewise paid for various laces and ribbons, but also for fragrant orange blossom water.

Other receipts in the collection detail items that sound more run of the mill, but which would have served to complete the presentation of the individual as a person of substance and refinement. This includes receipts for shoes, buttons, sewing materials, lace and silk stockings (worn by both sexes at the time).

William Poyntz by Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1762).
The cap in his hand may be what of the same style
Augustus Bostwick sold to Philip Schuyler in 1770.
Hats appear in the documents yet again in a receipt from Augustus Bostwick, who in 1770 apparently sold Philip another beaver hat and a “collared hat” for one of his sons. It is unclear exactly what this hat would have been. Perhaps “collared” referred to the brim of the hat, or to a “collared” lining meant to size the hat to the wearer. Little Johnny would have been five years old at this point, his brother Philip Jeremiah two years old. It is possible that Johnny was wearing a popular type of sporting hat with a forward brim and a swash of fabric (hence the “collared” reference) wrapped around the base of the crown. These hats were more popular with young men than with boys, however Johnny would grow up to become quite the sporting type himself.

There is much more to uncover, and we are excited to begin delving deeper into the material history of the Schuyler family that is preserved in these documents. Stay tuned as we continue to explore the lives of the Schuylers in 18th century Albany!


  1. That's great! Congratulations!

    1. Thanks Jen! We are very excited to delve into these papers once they make it to the property. Hopefully it will lead to some stronger imagery of the Schuylers in person since we have so many details about the home!