Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Thank you, Miss Beers

Miss Beers was an elderly lady who lived next door to my grandfather and his partner in Muir Street, Richmond, Melbourne, for many years. Pop and Mona were very friendly with Miss Beers, although I'm not convinced that they actually knew her first name. Certainly, nobody else in our family ever heard of Miss Beers having a given name. Miss Beers apparently never married and had no family, and when she died in the 1980s at more than 90 years of age, quite a few of her belongings ended up in the hands of my grandfather. Some of these have made their way to me over the years.

In the '80s Pop gave me Miss Beers' furs. He was very determined that they went to me, I don't know why. Maybe he was just thinking that I liked old fashioned things. Maybe he even thought I was fashionable! Now, you need to know that no way can I do fur. I think it looks wonderful in vintage fashion shots, but even better on the animals. I can't touch it, and I can't help thinking about how the poor animals need their fur a lot more than I do. In a little suitcase were a short red fox shoulder length evening cape with stand up collar, a lynx pelt with a paw at each end (shudder!) which was probably meant as a trim for a coat collar, and two long fox stoles complete with heads, glass eyes and paws (double shudder). I put the suitcase up through the manhole into the ceiling cavity, and after my grandfather passed away, I gave it to the op shop. Sorry, Miss Beers.

One of the few things I know about Miss Beers is that she had some kind of connection with Helena Rubinstein. I don't know whether she was a friend, a business associate or an employee, but she reputedly had much Rubinstein paraphernalia in her house. My mother and cousin remember a lot of beauty products and make-up cases in the house, and they remember my grandfather talking about a connection. Helena Rubinstein opened her first beauty salon in Melbourne in 1902. Her London and Paris stores were opened in 1908 and the New York store in 1916, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Miss Beers was reportedly in her 90s when she died in the 1980s, so I'm guessing she was probably born in the 1890s. She would have been far too young to have been a contemporary of Rubinstein's (who was born about 1870) although she certainly may have come to know her later. One of the items that has made its way to me is a hand towel from Helena Rubinstein's salon. It is signed "Helena Rubinstein" in what appears to be the lady's hand.

 I can only imagine Rubinstein marking her own laundry by hand in her early shop in Melbourne. It appears to be a personal signature rather than a shop name printed by an employee. I wonder whether Miss Beers may have worked in this inaugural salon. She would have been a teenager during the early years of that shop, so the dates fit. I would love to know more about this connection, but probably never will.

Pop also gave me some of Miss Beers' clothes. There were three 1940s blouses, which I wore quite a bit many years ago, but I threw them away when they became discoloured with age. I also have a beaded dress from the 1940s, which I have always wanted to wear, and keep promising myself that I will as soon as I lose a kilo or two (or more like five, now).

Here I have the dress pinned onto the front of the model because it is too small to go on. There is no zipper, and it is not stretch fabric. 

Even now I can't bring myself to put this dress into my shop because I love it, even though I never wear it.

Mum has given me other of Miss Beer's bits and pieces over the years, such as these:

I love the little tin for the boot buttons. The beading needles are in a tiny packet. There are ten packs of needles bundled up here, each set wrapped in black paper, I think to prevent rusting. I wouldn't dream of opening them.

Yesterday, Mum gave me Miss Beers' sewing basket.

Inside is a little treasure trove in miniature. Here is what I found:

An assortment of bits of vintage lace:

A selection of old wooden cotton reels, mostly of silk thread.

Here is my favourite:

An assortment of tools and bits and pieces:

Clockwise from left- fancy braid, a travelling sewing kit, a wooden needle case,  a rug hook, a boot hook for hooking your boot buttons, a tape measure, thimble,  plastic buckle for a school dress, large 1940s button,  a man's mother of pearl collar button and a length of beads.

My favourites are the travelling sewing kit and the mother of pearl button, though I love the big button too. 

This little plastic kit is a hollow tube in which to store your needles The outside doubles as your cotton reels. It is less than 2 inches long.

This button is for buttoning on a man's detachable collar, it works a bit like a cuff-link.

Here is the biggest surprise in the basket. A scrunched up, raggy bit of fabric:

I was nearly going to throw this away, when I thought "I wonder what this is?" So I ironed it. Look what it was.

This absolutely gorgeous lace is extremely old, I would guess it's from the 19th century. It's only about 1/2 cm wide and is threaded with the tiniest ribbon, only a mm or so wide.

Mum still has lots of Miss Beers' other things. Maybe that will be another chapter. 
How I wish I knew who she was.

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