Sneak Peek: Victorian Tea

ladies of the manorVery shortly, my library will be hosting a Victorian Tea program. It will be a combination historical lecture/tea party/stand-up comedy for kids ages 10 & up. Right. How about a little sneak peek at the costumes?

annaFirst up is Anna, who is a sophomore at Princeton University. She gamely stepped up to play our maid. Just in case you think we were being snobby and excluding Anna from the group shot that started this post – take heart! Anna’s photo shoot was in the afternoon, when she arrived for her library shift. The rest of the ladies were photographed in the morning. No Victorian class system at work here, no sir.

joaniThis is Joani, a junior at Princeton University. You might remember her from some previous posts (here she is as a flower, and here as a phoenix wrangler). Joani will be singing some period songs after the tea party concludes and we proceed to the parlor for games and entertainment.

marissaOur very own Miss Marissa will be keeping it real in scores of lace. Have you ever seen someone rock a straw hat so well? No, I think not.

dr danaFinally, there’s me. I’ll be playing the matron of the house. Which means I needed a really, really, really big hat. There’s actually an interesting story to the hat. It was designed by Rodney Gordon, who did all the hats for the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford.

greatgatsby74-daisywhitehatImage originally resides on Frock Flicks

To make an even further connection, F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, was a student at Princeton University (class of 1917). The Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections Manuscripts Division has his papers, including Fitzgerald’s working files on The Great Gatsby, and his personal annotated copy of the first edition of the book.

We would like to express our extreme gratitude to Cindy Thom and the ladies at McCarter Theater’s Costume Shop for locating and lending us these most excellent threads. Many, many thanks!

O Frabjous Day

go ask aliceThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, and we decided to honor the occasion at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day! Our event table was stocked with some super, yet simple-to-assemble, thaumatropes. There was also some breakdancing. Well, sort of. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see our mashup of Alice and the 1980s.

A thaumatrope is a Victorian optical toy. It consists of two images printed on opposite sides of a paper disc or card. When you twirl the thaumatrope, its two pictures appear to blend into one. Most thaumatropes are twirled using string. We decided to mount ours on pencils.

thaumatrope demoYou’ll need:

  • 1 Alice thaumatrope template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 pencil (I ordered terrific ones from Oriental Trading Company)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Colored pencils (or crayons) for decorating

We offered 4 Alice-themed templates, drawn by our amazing student artist, Aliisa Lee.

thaumatropesFirst, select a template, and use colored pencils or crayons to color it. Then, fold the template in half (along its faint grey line).

folded thaumatropeFlip the thaumatrope over, and tape a pencil to the back of one of the panels like so:

thaumatrope step 2Fold the thaumatrope closed, then secure the panels together with a piece of tape. You’ll also want to tape both sides of the thaumatrope to the pencil, to make it extra sturdy.

thaumatrope step 3Hold the pencil between your palms and roll it briskly back and forth. Your thaumatrope will turn, and the two images will appear as one!

twirlingHere’s what our craft table looked like (and, if you’d like to explain a bit of the science behind how the device works, here’s a pdf of our thaumatrope table sign):

thaumatrope work tableWe also had some pens and blank thaumatrope cards on hand, just in case kids wanted to try their hands at making one from scratch.

blank thaumatropeOn the other side of our event tent, we loaded a table with optical illusions cards, tops, Photicular bookmarks, flip books, replicas of vintage thaumatropes, kaleidoscopes, and mini chess boards.

optical illusion tableWhile color print-outs of optical illusions work just fine, I highly recommend this pack of Usborne optical illusion cards. There are 50 illusions in the pack. They’re colorful, sturdy, and the science behind the illusions is explained on the back of the cards. The deck retails for $10.

optical illusion cardsNo event is complete without a little costuming, and Marissa and I raided both our closets and the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for our garb. This was completely unintentional when we snapped the shot, but…don’t Marissa and I look like we’re going to bust out some 80s breakdancing moves?

break danceMaybe it’s the shoes? The jaunty pose? Hmmmm. What if we adjust the backdrop a little…

welcome to the 80sOh yeah. I dare you to pin it.


Many thanks to the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for the costume loans, and to Aliisa Lee for triggering some totally radical 80s flashbacks.