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Patterns of the Fair: Demorest's monthly magazine, the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and analysis of fashion advertising art

  • Sally Sims Stokes (a1)

Fashion magazines contain hidden delights ripe for investigating. One can explore overt content and covert messages in fashion magazine advertising art by probing the periodical and its promotional images for historical or social clues and for the advertiser's manipulative methods. Art librarians can apply and encourage the use of analytical techniques in connection with fashion advertising art from any era or region of the world. The focus here is on a single firm, the Demorest Fashion and Sewing-Machine Company, best known for its paper sewing patterns, and how in a single volume of its monthly magazine it promoted the purchase of fashion goods in connection with a world's fair: the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Comparing a 19th-century fashion engraving with a related photograph; and viewing a magazine advertisement as a set of repeating patterns according to a 21st-century process, fractal-concept analysis, together yield a trove of information and prompt further ideas for alternate and peripheral lines of inquiry.

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1. The honorific ‘Madame’ was in the mode of the day, and implied Paris chic, even though the Demorests professed their products to express ‘American’ style.

2. Ellen Demorest employed both African American and white skilled seamstresses. See ‘General city news: masquerade party’, New York Times, 25 December 1867.

3. Crombez, Thomas, ‘Digitizing artist periodicals: new methodologies from the digital humanities for analysing artist networks and page numbers’, Art libraries journal 39 (2014): 8 .

4. Superior quality digital issues of Godey's are now available in a subscription database,; one can also view many volumes, including 92 and 93, for 1876, in HathiTrust. Leslie's issues also in HathiTrust. The big Leslie's book, too, is available in HathiTrust. Demorest's is part of the American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals Collection, an EBSCO database.

5. Burr, Samuel J. and De Vere Burr, S., Memorial of the international exhibition (Hartford, CT: Stebbins): 350 .

6. The classic 19th-century text for such studies is Brown, Richard, The principles of practical perspective; or, scenographic projection (London: Samuel Leigh, 1815).

7. From the photo, one can discern what was nearby. The United States Centennial Commission's Official catalogue: Main Buildings and Annexes (Philadelphia: John R. Nagel, 1876) offers numbers and grid positions. This catalogue is freely available online. The Demorest exhibit, number 868, was located in the American section, grouped with clothing and dry goods merchants, well situated and in clear view along the interior promenade.

8. Wilson, Kenneth, Wasserman, Jason Adam and Lowndes, Florin, ‘Picture and social concept: a fractal-concept analysis of advertising art’, Visual communication 8 (2009): 444 . Some will find the structure reminiscent of Krathwohl's Affective Domain Taxonomy for assessing the way a person responds to an idea or phenomenon.

9. Wilson, Wasserman and Lowndes, 429.

10. Ibid., 428; also see Takashi Iba and Taichi Isaku, ‘Holistic pattern-mining patterns’ (paper presented at the 19th Conference on Patterns of Programs, Tucson, AZ, October 2012),

11. Wilson, Wasserman and Lowndes, 429.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid, 439. Wilson and colleagues do not assume that the artists who designed the advertisements understood the effects their messages might have on the consumer.

14. Ibid., 431.

15. Ibid., 442.

16. Ibid., 441.

17. Ibid., 442.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid., 436–37.

20. Ibid.

21. Additional information about the patterns appears in volume 12 of Demorest's on pages 307 and 311.

22. See Emery, Joy Spanabel, A history of the paper pattern industry (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) and Kidwell, Claudia Cutting a fashionable fit (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979).

23. See Brown, Julie K., Health and medicine on display: International expositions in the United States, 1876 –1904 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 14 ; and “Philadelphia and suburbs: at the grounds”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 July 1876, which mentions the ‘mysterious secrecy’ observed by the Fair's medical bureau regarding heat-related illness or death at the fairgrounds.

24. Recent research by Abhishek Das, Harsh Agrawal, Devi Parikh, and Dhruv Batra of Virginia Tech and C. Lawrence Zitnick of Facebook explores the differences between the ways human beings and neural-network-based artificial intelligence interpret what an image shows. Their 17 June 2016 paper, ‘Human attention in visual question answering: do humans and deep networks look at the same regions?’ is available at

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Art Libraries Journal
  • ISSN: 0307-4722
  • EISSN: 2059-7525
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