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Written by Elena
(3/22/2003 3:32 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, JA questions - nails and bread., penned by Anielka
] ...Were there tools for manicures or nail fashions? Did different classes of people have different length nails to show their relationship to manual work? Were finger-nails polished with buffers etc.? Did people rub chalk underneath to whiten them? Was there such a thing as a nail brush to remove ink from the delicate fingers of lady authoresses? (- question inspired by unlikely ink on fingers in Rozema's version of MP). I tend to imagine JA with a perfect set of plain-cut, clean nails, just long enough to help with needlework.
I'm sorry I'm without a clue about JA's nails, though I'm sure your picture is quite right. But, if it helps, some time ago I've looked into the question of gentlemen's nails for War and Peace - which is ours - period. A-hem. There were several kinds of brushes, differently looking, to keep nails in fine fettle. At least one of brushes described had an ivory handle with flat and half-round end, which was used, I imagine, to push surrounding skin off the nails - to make them look longer. Tolstoy was positive: nails should be absolutely clean and almost long. A piece of suede(? - prepared young deer) was taken up any time, during a friendly talk or just any free minute, to polish nails. Dandies could spend hours at nails. (Rousseau - earlier period - comments upon one of his acquaintances who was suspected of whitening his face, and decided that a person who spent two hours a day at his nails was able to spend a few minutes covering skin blemishes.) Chalk is a novel idea to me...
About ink stains. In one recipe I've read "you may use cream of tartar to remove ink from linen and skin". Sensible, as tartrates form stable ferric complexes - the ink of the period was iron gallate - colourless and soluble. Cream of tartar precipitates inside wine tubs, and probably easy-to-get.
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