Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Self-Storing Parasol, c. 1900 (?)

I'm in seasonal slow-down mode right now, which means it's going to be a little quiet around here for the next few months. Of course, I can't ever really stop making things, so I'll pop every so often with whatever little project I've been working on.

Today's post is about an antique parasol frame I just acquired. I collect antique parasols and, well, let's just say I have a few. I bought this one because it has some unusual and unique features.

Parasol frame, c. 1900-1910 (I think). The canopy is a dusty
purple-grey color, and was probably originally just purple. The
canopy is detaching from the ribs, so it's not open all the way here.
The colors in these photos are not great, sorry! These are just some quick snaps, I'm too excited to get out a real camera. The canopy is a dusty, grey-purple color. An area under the rosette on the handle, where the rosette is coming loose, shows that the color was once much lighter and less grey.

The canopy has separated from the ribs in three or four spots, and is threatening to come off from several others, so I didn't open the frame all the way for these pics. Some mis-matched stitching indicates that someone once tried to reattach the canopy to the rib points. Besides the big tear you see here (more on that later), the fabric is in pretty good shape, showing some initial splitting in just two panels.

The brass ribs are formed in a relatively modern fashion:
hollowed out undersides, formed out of folded sheet metal.
Older ribs are made of solid rods.
The frame is in excellent shape. The hollowed out shaping of the ribs and spreaders make me think this frame is rather late, relatively speaking, maybe 1900 or 1910; I haven't researched when shaping metal like this was developed, so I'm really just guessing. But that date makes the size of this parasol (the canopy is about 24" across when open) unusual and contrary to the popular belief that parasols were quite large around 1900 (which supports what I've been told and often repeat: there are no "rules" when it comes to parasol sizes).

There's a tilt hinge!
The frame has a tilt hinge (also called a Marquis hinge), which the seller didn't mention and I'm delighted to find. Tilt hinges sort of disappeared as parasols got larger through the 1880s (you don't really need one with a large parasol) so this is yet another unusual feature (but a logic one for such a small canopy).

There are several sets of numbers and letters imprinted on
the handle and the handle's end caps.
The handle, which appears to be a hollowed out section of bamboo, has several stamps on the body and the end caps, that I'll have to investigate further. There's a large and probably very modern paper tag hung around the frame, and also a tiny cloth tag stitched to canopy, next to one of the ribs. The paper tag has some mysterious numbers on it, and the cloth tag has "45.5 Houston" written on it.

The large (and smushed) rosette attached to the handle.
The rosette is very large and more than a little smushed. It appears to be a strip of fabric, folded in half lengthwise, and sewn in circles around a knot in the cord. It's attached to the handle with a band of matching fabric.

The canopy fabric is probably very wrinkled taffeta.
The seller described the fabric as "crepe" and it certainly has the look and feel of crepe paper. But it's definitely silk, so I went to my copy of All About Silk, by Julie Parker, to see what it might be. It's definitely not what we modernly call silk crepe, it's much stiffer. I'm of the opinion that it's a taffeta weave, a very fine and thin one. So why does it look so wrinkled? Read on.

The canopy unscrews from the handle...
The frame unscrews from the handle. Here you can also see the two tags, both of which are quite cryptic.

...and then goes into the handle!
And this is why I got so excited about this parasol! The handle is very fat, and hollow. That fact, the very wrinkled nature of the canopy, and the length of the upper frame, indicated to me that the canopy was meant to be stored inside the handle! I've seen a handful of umbrellas-inside-walking canes (which, to my knowledge, would only have been carried by men). This would be the first parasol I've seen that comes with it's own case.

The tear in the canopy is supports my conclusion.

The tear in the canopy, probably cause by shoving the
canopy into the handle.
It's not consistent with the usual age-related splitting, and it looks as if the fabric caught and was pushed down, resulting in a tear. The opening at the bottom of the handle is brass and slightly dented, and I can imagine the fabric getting caught on this.

This is as far as it would go without forcing it.
This is as far as it would go in without some force, so I left it there. This method of storage probably explains why the fabric is so incredibly wrinkled. Eventually I'm going to replace the canopy fabric, most likely with taffeta, and how the new canopy will look after being stored like this will confirm or deny my assumption that this is how it was meant to be stored.


  1. What nifty sleuthing and what a nifty parasol. Would that they'd make some like this today! There's plenty of bamboo around...

    Very best,


  2. What a fantastic find! I do hope you blog about recovering it. I plan to attempt my first parasol recovering project sometime in the next few months and your post on the subject are very helpful!

  3. It looks like this parasol might have been part of a museum collection to me. The fabric label, tag, and painted number are all typical labelling systems used by museums. Maybe this was deacessioned at some point? Very cool find!

  4. sewingandsundry: that's certainly a possibility! When I have a chance I'll take better photos of the tags and send them to folks who work in museums.

  5. I love finding little treasures like this! Our ancestors were so ingenuous sometimes.

  6. Do you know where I could buy parts to repair or replace a spreader in my Victorian parasol?

  7. Hi Jtknits. I've looked every so often, but I'm afraid I haven't been able to find a source for replacement parts. The best option I know of is to cannibalize parts from broken antiques, or from modern frames (I have some broken frames reserved just for this purpose). The tricky bit is finding parts (spreaders or ribs) that match the size of the originals.

    A friend of mine does have a repair method for breaks, but I have yet to see how reliable it is.

    This became a rather long comment. Looks like I should do a post on repairs!