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Stamp Act Spoon, 1766


One in 8.5 Million

250 years ago today, the British Parliament repealed the controversial Stamp Act of 1765.


In order to help fund the expense of defending its American colonies, Great Britain instituted a tax on printed paper used by the colonists. Many in America opposed the Stamp Act, not because the tax was high, but because without representation in Parliament they had no voice in the decision. In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry introduced the “Virginia Resolves,” which argued that Virginia was subject to taxation only by a parliament to which the colony itself elected representatives. Eight other colonies followed Virginia’s lead and passed similar resolves by the end of 1765.


Among those opposed to the act was Landon Carter (1710–1778) of Richmond County. His form of protest was more personal. When he directed his agent in London to purchase several tablespoons for his home, he ordered that if the Stamp Act was repealed, the spoons should be made of silver. If the act was not repealed, the agent was to send him cheap bone or horn spoons.


The act was repealed on March 18, 1766, and Carter’s agent had the silver spoons engraved with Carter’s initials, the date 1766, and the triumphant inscription “Repeal of the American Stamp Act.” The controversy over the Stamp Act brought to light a growing schism between the colonists and their king.


Stamp Act Spoon

Gift of Elizabeth Carter Guest Hollerith and John Wellford Guest in memory of their mother, Carol Randolph Wellford Guest (Accession number 1972.12)

The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at

Color Our Collections!


Despite considering myself a very serious grownup, I still can’t help getting excited when I open up a new box of crayons with its rainbow of colors ready for the picking. That excitement is part of why I’m so pleased that the VHS is participating in this year’s #ColorOurCollections event from February 1 – February 5, 2016.

When considering which collection pieces we’d use to create our series of coloring sheets, we began by exploring the Society’s collection of wallpaper books. These rare books are actually folders of large-scale lithographs designed to advertise wall embellishments available to wealthy home decorators in the late 1800s. Our first selection is a detail from one of Jules Desfossé’s Papiers Peints featuring a cherub holding a bouquet of flowers; it’s easy to picture a decoration like this adorning the walls of an elegant European home.

Our next selection is one of the Society’s most popular three-dimensional artifacts: our 1946 Wurlitzer 1015 “Bubbler” Jukebox. I’ve taken countless visitors past this piece in our Story of Virginia galleries, and its glowing colors and bouncing bubbles never fail to bring a smile to their faces. This particular model features 24 song titles for listeners to choose among, and was one of Wurlitzer’s most popular models. My favorite story about this particular artifact, though, is that one of its owners supposedly traded a milk cow for the jukebox – something that I imagine would prove more entertaining than livestock.

Next, we have an illustration from the German book Slovenly Peter Reformed, by Heinrich Hoffman. This image is a staff favorite here, mostly because its unusual nature. The cautionary tales in this rare book (translated from the original German for American readers) reminded children of the dire consequences of their misbehavior. The unfortunate Peter, seen here, loses his friends after refusing to keep up his grooming habits. In fairness to Peter’s peers, I too would avoid anyone with such terrifying fingernails!

Our last selection is an image from our collection of 156 drawings by Civil War journalist Edwin Forbes. This drawing, “Dispatch Bearer,” depicts a rider bearing a message galloping past the artist; lines of artillerymen can be seen in the background of the image. Forbes spent two and a half years as a part of the “Bohemian Brigade” during the Civil War; these non-combatant artists and journalists documented the reality of the war for public consumption.

Below, you’ll find printable versions of coloring sheets we’ve created for you to download and cover in whatever colors spring from your imagination. I can’t wait to see how coloring enthusiasts around the country (and world!) transform these images from our collections into bright, vibrant works of art.

This activity offers us a chance to show a few gems that visitors aren’t likely to see by browsing our website or touring our galleries, and illustrates the diversity of our holdings. Use the accession numbers on the coloring pages to learn more about these selections on our online catalog, and please share your finished masterpieces with us on Facebook and Twitter using the #ColorOurCollections hashtag. At the end of the week, we’ll randomly select a name from the submitted sheets to win a prize pack full of Virginia Historical Society goodies, so be sure to post your photos by Friday, February 5, 2016.

Happy coloring!

Caroline Legros is the School Program Coordinator at the Virginia Historical Society.

The Darling of Miller & Rhoads


The following blog was written by Meika Downey who just completed her Hollins Univeristy J-term internship in the public relations and marketing department at the Virginia Historical Society.


Lizzie Oglesby

As an intern visiting from Roanoke and living in Richmond for the month, I wanted to do some research in the archives of the VHS. While researching in the library, I was eager to find something that was local to the city to write about. I began a preliminary search for women during World War II and soon discovered Richmond native Martha Brayton, who worked in the Miller & Rhoads department store from 1948 to about 1959, during the store’s economic boom years.

After serving five years in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, Martha resumed her civilian life with an honorable discharge as a captain in 1946. Upon returning to her family home at 3211 Seminary Avenue in Richmond, Martha became involved with her local community by teaching youth theater and music and by providing children’s costumes. Enthralled, Martha opened the Little Theatre Costume Shop, which supplied nearby communities with costumes from 1947 to 1948. Having had experience and a passion for working with children, Martha sold the shop in 1948 and accepted a wonderful job offer as the new Youth Coordinator at the Miller & Rhoads department store in downtown Richmond.

Martha was widely successful in her post as Youth Coordinator and made a point of interacting with the Richmond community. During her time at Miller & Rhoads, she introduced the department store to new progressive youth programs. Among them, Martha developed children’s camps at the store and procured contracts with local camps to be completely outfitted by Miller & Rhoads. She brought in considerable revenue to the store and her efforts were a chief contributor to the franchise’s expansion to Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and Roanoke in the late 1950s.

Martha was beloved by her community, as indicated in this note and drawing given to her by a child, presumably in 1955. The year on the note is hard to read; while it looks like “1925,” which isn’t possible, it is more likely “1955.” (Call number: Mss 1 B7389 a)


Martha Brayton hosts one of her youth fashion shows at Miller & Rhoads. (Call number: Mss 1 B7389 a)

Martha showcased Miller & Rhoads’ fall and spring children’s lines by organizing youth fashion shows. She also frequently rented out the store’s various rooms for children’s and community events, including her popular Bingo game night. However, perhaps Martha’s greatest achievement was her creation of the “Fawn Shop,” which served as a store only for children where they could buy Christmas and holiday gifts for their families. All of the merchandise that Miller & Rhoads provided was sold at prices that kids could afford, ranging from $.15 cents to $1.98. During the month of December, Miller & Rhoads annually made more than $2,000 from the Fawn Shop, largely consisting of pennies, nickels, and dimes. This successful venture was repeated every year and earned Martha a thriving reputation. Though she never married, Martha thought of Miller & Rhoads and the city’s children as her family, even after she retired.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove posts that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.





Miller & Rhoads: “Where Christmas is a Legend”

An early photograph of a young boy visiting Legendary Santa (Virginia Historical Society, 2002.440.8)

The holiday season is characterized by tradition and often times these traditions have been routine with our families for years and years. For many Richmond families, one of these timeless holiday traditions is visiting the Miller and Rhoads Legendary Santa, or fondly known by many as The Real Santa.


My first job in high school was working for Legendary Santa as an elf. I experienced firsthand how invested families from Richmond (and beyond) are in the tradition of Miller and Rhoads and Legendary Santa. For many, visiting this Santa goes back three or four generations. It was never surprising when visitors would come in from other states, dressed in their best, just to visit and take the annual Santa photo. Over the years, as families have grown with additional generations, the tradition continues.

 “The Miller and Rhoads Santa with his flowing white hair and red velvet, fur-trimmed suit, established a Santa Claus standard, which no other has ever reached.”          -Louise Lipscomb, Memories of Miller & Rhoads, Style Weekly, September 1986

Thinking back to my fond memories of visiting “the Real Santa”, along with my memories of working with him for many years, I was interested in what the VHS had in the collection about this timeless Richmond (& Virginian) tradition. I found a multitude of books and magazine articles that have been published chronicling the impact and nostalgia that surrounds the once department store giant, Miller and Rhoads. I was surprised by some of the information and statistics that I found.

Legendary Santa opened to the public in the late 1930s. In 1942 alone, it is estimated that Santa saw 15,000 children. Santa photos actually did not exist in the beginning, there was an artist on site who would sketch children visiting with Santa, and sell these sketches for $1. These sketches led to photographs being taken. During the Christmas  of 1987, Legendary Santa saw a total of 120,000 people between Thanksgiving and Christmas (Thrower, Miller & Rhoads Legendary Santa). With statistics like these, it is no surprise that Legendary Santa is such a deep rooted tradition for Richmonders and beyond.

“At Christmastime, in addition to seeing the models and hearing Eddie Weaver play carols, we had to watch Santa Claus eat lunch in the tearoom.”      -Style Weekly, September 16, 1986


If you enjoyed reading about the days of old department stores, then you will love our new exhibit that opened on December 19th, Looking Good: Fashion in Virginia, 1930-1970. See items from the bygone days of shopping in Virginia at department stores like Miller & Rhoads, Thalhimers and Montaldo’s, including the original Tearoom sign from Miller & Rhoads.


Interested in learning more about Miller & Rhoads? Visit the Virginia Historical Society Pusey Museum Shop for books and other related items.

Julie Sjostrom is a Visitor Services Associate at the Virginia Historical Society.

A Summer Intern’s Introduction to the Archives at the VHS


Below are the reflections of our summer 2015 intern from the University of Virginia, Institute of Public History, Sarah Hainbach.

As an intern in the Collections Division of the VHS this past summer, my work centered around processing the business collection of the twentieth-century firm M. F. Neal & Company. I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed when I first encountered the five boxes of the collection. What was M. F. Neal & Company? Why were its papers at the VHS? Were they historically valuable? I learned that the company was a family business begun in Richmond in the 1920s in order to provide flavors for cigarettes and candy. The collection contained fascinating records of business trips around the world, intriguing links to the tobacco and food industries, and intimate notes between the Neal family members who worked for the firm. However, what I imagined to be the standard components of a VHS “business collection” were missing. Where were the company bylaws, the board meeting minutes, and the tax ledgers? Without these documents, was this really a business collection?  

I took my questions to my supervisor, veteran VHS archivist Laura Stoner. She explained that collections of small family businesses are often missing the more “official” paperwork, because the larger corporations that buy them keep those documents in their own archives. In exchange, family business collections often come with an extra bonus. Personal papers, from correspondence to photographs to school assignments, become intermingled with professional papers when a family runs a business. Desk drawers at work become storage for personal items as well as work-related ones, and when the desk is cleaned out and its contents are sent away to be archived, the VHS acquires both professional and personal artifacts. Laura pointed out that this phenomenon can add another layer of interest to the business collections at the society. By studying the history of Richmond and Virginia businesses, we also learn about individuals’ and families’ pasts. The two categories combine to create a full slice of life. In reality, divisions between the different sectors of our lives—home and work, school and play, family and friends—are not clearly defined. Keeping personal papers with business collections (but in a separate series) reflects this fluidity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the less traditional components of the Neal Collection are the more visually interesting. Below, see an advertisement for the company in the nineteenth century, when it was known as Neal & Binford.

 Mss3 N2455a FA2 Series 1. Box 1Mss3.N2455a.FA2.Ser1.Box1_NealBinford

Mss3 N2455a FA2, Museum itemMMs_front

Although M. F. Neal & Company did the majority of its business with tobacco firms, its work in chocolate left behind, to me, the most interesting materials. The company’s president, Thomas D. Neal, kept souvenirs from his trips to chocolate factories, including old M&M wrappers. One package describes Mars chocolate as “a nourishing food.” Another proclaims M&M’s as the “official snack food” of the 1984 Olympics. These artifacts could prove useful to food historians (and chocolate lovers) everywhere. Did people in the 1980s really believe that chocolate was good for them? When did the pendulum start to swing the other way, toward kale salads and green smoothies? With the M. F. Neal & Company collection and other small-business records from the food industry, hopefully we can learn more about American food history and American business history in general.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove posts that are offensive, threatening, or insulting. 

“One of Your Boys”


William R. Martin (right) included this photo in a letter.

I am often intrigued by the VHS’s twentieth-century collections, although (or perhaps because) I am surrounded daily by the papers of Revolutionary-era heroes and Civil War legends. Recently I paged through some of the papers of the Virginia Home for Boys (now the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls), founded in 1843 as the Richmond Male Orphan Asylum, and was drawn to the wartime story I found there. John G. Wood and his wife, Bessie, co-superintendents of the home from 1929 to 1956, saved stacks of letters spanning decades as evidence of their monumental legacy.

The correspondence includes career updates, wedding invitations, and birth announcements. But perhaps the Woods’ legacy is best seen in the letters they received from former residents serving in the military during World War II.

From the Boys’ Home to the Service

The service flag that hung at the boys’ home during the war must have been quite the sight. Joseph W. Benninghove, a former resident, wrote to Bessie from his post with the U.S. Navy about the remarkable number serving from the boys’ home—by his count, some forty former residents had joined by 1943, each represented by a star on the Woods’ flag. “If many more go in,” he wrote, “you will have to get a new and larger service flag. I hope that no more gold stars have been and will have to be added.” Over the course of the war, men from the home were stationed everywhere—from New York to California, Panama, Great Britain, and the Philippines, and even Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Benninghove’s letter implies that at least one gave his life.

The experiences of the former boys’ home residents during World War II varied widely, though they often returned to themes from their shared childhood experiences. Some wrote letters only from domestic bases, like Wilson Brooking, who was stationed at Camp Somerset in nearby Maryland for the majority of the war. He expressed some frustration with his role, saying, “It seems that they just won’t let us get out and do any fighting.” He signed his letters, “One of your boys.” Others did see action abroad, like G. Herman Traylor, who wrote to Bessie Wood about witnessing important battles in the Pacific Theater. Carrying memories from the boys’ home overseas, Traylor recounted to Bessie, “We were subjected to a direct attack on the 21st of February—to tell the truth there was more fright in me then than it was when Mr. Wood and I visited the laundry room.”


Letter from Traylor, Mss3 V81954a Sect. 5, f. 6

“Hope for Peace and a Letter from You”


Card from Joseph H. Brooking. The Woods also saved a newspaper announcement of his bronze star. (Mss3 V81954a Sect. 5, f. 1)

Distance from home and the pressure of military life during wartime inspired soldiers across the nation to write reflective letters home; for the former residents of the boys’ home, that meant writing to the Woods. Many asked about Bessie’s garden and wished her good health, passed along advice to boys at the home, and inquired about former residents. The content and the tone of the letters reflects the deep love and appreciation the boys held for the Woods and the brotherhood between residents. For many, at least, the boys’ home was a true family.

Men also frequently reflected that life at the boys’ home prepared them for military service. Several mentioned that they found their fellow soldiers lacking in the discipline, obedience, and work ethic they had learned in childhood. Most of all, nearly all of the letters express deep gratitude to the Woods for the lessons they imparted.

Earl R. Fox, who was made a squadron leader and operations officer during his time in the Navy, wrote:

Words and advice you gave me seem to come in when I least expect it. Those times I came to you with my troubles, golly, you have no idea how they come back to a fellow when he is standing watch at night with nothing but your memories to keep you company.

John and Bessie Wood were parental figures for hundreds of boys, many of whom took the lessons they learned at the boys’ home into military service at a critical point in history. Like many soldiers, they wanted to make the people back home proud, and they drew comfort and inspiration during the war from their communication with family.

Marvin G. Leigers, a pilot who served in England, expressed a commonly shared sentiment of wanting to make the boys’ home proud. He wrote, “If I can carry a few bombs to Tokyo or Berlin, I’ll feel that I’m doing just a little to repay all of you who have taken such an interest in me.” Judging by the number of letters the Woods saved over the years, I’d guess that they were pretty proud of their boys.

To read much more from the World War II letters or from one hundred and fifty years of history at the Virginia Home for Boys, visit us in the Reading Room.

Candice R. Candeto is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.  Posts by Candice Candeto

What’s all the buzz about mead?


When I first heard of mead, I thought of medieval chalices containing a liquid that resembled muddy grog, but I was surprised when I first sampled this fermented honey and water beverage at Black Heath Meadery this past Spring. I discovered that it wasn’t the unappetizing liquid that I’d envisioned but a refreshing flavorful beverage packed with complex tasting notes. It was delicious!

This wonderful tasting experience is what sparked our third History on Tap program—a collaboration with Black Heath Meadery, The Queen Bee. Bill Cavender, owner of Black Heath Meadery, recreated a historic mead based on a recipe from The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook (1802) by Susannah Carter, which is in the collection of the VHS. The recipe features various spices and herbs from the British Empire—Cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and bay leaf—and from the British Isles—Sweetbriar, Rosemary, and Thyme. You will have your chance to taste this historic mead, said to have been a favorite of Queen Victoria, on September 8 at 6:00 p.m. at the VHS.

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook published in 1802. (VHS Call Number: TX705 . C32 1802)

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook published in 1802. (VHS Call Number: TX705 . C32 1802)

Tickets are currently on sale for the event ($18 for VHS members/$20 for nonmembers) and include a glass of Queen Bee mead, an additional pour of Black Heath’s Muse mead, and hors d’oeuvres. Paul Levengood, President and CEO of the Virginia Historical Society, will discuss the importance of the society’s collections; Bill Cavender will explain the mead-making process and the featured collaboration, Queen Bee; and Keith Tignor, State Apiarist, will discuss beekeeping and honey.

I wanted to do a little research on beekeeping, so I ventured into our online catalog and discovered that we actually have a large number of items in our library collection that deal with beekeeping, bees, and honey. I thought it would be appropriate to share them in a slideshow below, hoping that they’d whet your appetite for a night of history and mead.

I hope that I’ll see you next week when you can find out for yourself “What’s all the buzz about mead?”

Purchase your tickets for History on Tap: The Queen Bee.



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