The Myrtle Tyrrell Kirby Fashion Plate Collection comprises 650 images of nineteenth-century fashion plates from the Macpherson Collection of the Ella Strong Denison Library at Scripps College. The collection was donated to the Denison Library in 1948 by Scripps Trustee Benjamin Kirby (1876-1957) and is named for his first wife, Myrtle Tyrrell Kirby (1881-1942). In addition to the Myrtle Tyrrell Kirby collection, the digital collection includes 65 fashion plates donated to the Denison Library by Elliot E. Lawrence.
The full-color fashion plates in the Kirby collection were culled from a variety of women's periodicals and other mass-circulating works published between 1789 and 1914. The images are primarily from France, Britain, America, and Spain, and depict scenes of nineteenth-century middle- and upper-class life with an emphasis on the leisure practices of bourgeois women, men, and children. A number of plates also derive from trade journals for tailors, who used the images to create made-to-order garments for fashionable men.
Many of the fashion-plate images in this collection circulated in nineteenth-century women's periodicals or in bound collections. Prints from the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century were often colored by hand until the mid-1800s, when lithographic techniques allowed for colored illustrations to be reproduced quickly and at low cost to printers. By the middle of the nineteenth century, many images in fashion periodicals were being mass-produced as full-color lithographs, a trend that continued through the early years of the twentieth century.
Fashion-plate images are fascinating archival documents that give us insight into the dressing habits and tastes of middle class women and the high society lifestyle to which they often aspired. They chronicle the development of the fashion industry throughout the nineteenth century and fashion's own story of the rise of industrialization, as made-to-order garments were replaced by ready-to-wear clothing for all but the very rich. Fashion images help to tell the history of women's clothing and the body as, over the decades, hems rise and fall, skirt styles balloon and recede, and elaborate undergarments mold flesh into forms and silhouettes of idealized beauty. Fashion plates from the nineteenth century bear witness to the importance of fashion in our recent past and, as widely circulating precursors to photographic images in modern-day fashion magazines, anticipate fashion's role in today's mass-media, image-driven culture.
Included in this collection are seven prints by French draftsman, lithographer, and painter, Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet (1792-1845), a contemporary of Antoine-Jean Gros. Known for his nostalgic view of Napoleon Bonaparte's First Empire, Charlet created a body of lithographs that made his work "influential in the propagation of a mythic view of the Napoleonic era" (Oxford Art Online: Charlet). The prints seen here as part of this collection, illustrate scenes of the political and military life of Napoleon as well as examples of French infantry uniforms.