To my mind, historians have to be acquisitive – history is basically curiosity – a getting-hold-of the answers to the questions one has about the past. In my case, these acquisitive tendencies can take a very literal form — I get my teeth into an idea, and if that idea can be relatively cheaply fleshed out with maps, prints, antique knitting paraphernalia or, as of a few weeks ago, early twentieth-century postcards, then I snap up all the examples that I can. From the sheer volume of mass-produced objects that they adorned, it seems that by the turn of the 1900s the Newhaven fishwives had achieved a quite extraordinary ubiquity as icons of Bonnie Scotland. What is written on the back of these cards is often as interesting as the images on the front:

There is so much here that intrigues me. I intend to write about it.

Meanwhile, I find myself in the unnusual position of having finished a pattern before photographing the sample. This weather does not really lend itself to the kind of styling I had in mind. But my fishy design is coming very soon – take a wild guess at what I’ve called it:

24 Comments on “acquisitive

  1. At first glance, I thought you meant inquisitive. Then I looked up the word “acquisitive” and found a word that describes my behavior when I get excited about something…thanks for broadening my vocabulary this morning!

    And I can’t wait to see the new pattern!

  2. Have you been able to tell if that black and white striped skirt is actually an oiled cloth apron?

  3. Your pattern must be called herring. but here in wisconsin I would probable have to call it alewife after the small fish in Lake Michigan.

  4. I would guess that it is called “Herrin” Have just finished “Paper Dolls” a little extra gift for my daughter at Christmas. There is an error in the pattern;row 40 decrease round size 6. K2, k2together around would not leave 108 sts. K1,”k2tog knit1″ until end of round does leave 108 sts.

  5. those baskets are wonderful. there’s a tradition here of adirondack pack baskets that look much more comfortable to wear than the fishwife’s. (the design came from native black ash work.) i love the half round carrier.

  6. And my Irish gran always referred to a loud rude woman as fishwife. I like the reference to the different styles of beards.

  7. Those postcards are treasures. I hate to sound too ignorant, but did they carry the fish in their aprons, and then pack them into the baskets? How did that work? And they were fishmongers? I don’t think we have a similar tradition in New England. It would be fun to find out though.

  8. Here is a very tenuous comment – there was an article on radio a few months ago, maybe more, about the Newhaven fishwives and some of it was commentary from the fishwives themselves – they must have been the last of them. I know this isn’t very helpful – it was either Radio 4 or Radio Scotland and although I would have plumped for Radio Scotland because of the local link it might well have been 4. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful and it may be that you heard it and know about it already.


  9. Herrin would be quite a good name – as it is the German word for mistress, too.

  10. I’m partial to old postcards as well… I’m not ahistory buff, but I love the snapshots of life… not dense, not intimidating, just cheerful and usually light hearted pieces of a long gone vacation!

  11. My best guess would be Caller Herrin – rather a lovely and unusual name for a garment, I think. I look very much forward to seeing it!

  12. I see we have two Naomi’s here…

    Kate, did you know that you can “like” Fishwife on Face Book? I just did and look forward to the information and conversations there.

    Naomi in Vancouver

  13. by weird coincidence last week I bought a little book about furniture in the second hand charity book shop at goldenacre and after I’d paid for it I found a postcard of newhaven fishwives tucked in the back……….

  14. “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”, the words of the wonderful Zora Neale Hurston…

  15. I find my interest in history akin to a love of gossip. It’s the tidbits that delight the most. The overheard details.

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