A colorful beaded smoking cap – the perfect gift for Father’s Day (in the 19th century)!

In the second half of the 19th century, the Mohawks near Montreal were producing large numbers of needlework items – smoking caps, purses, pincushions, etc – for sale to tourists. In addition to sales in Montreal and Niagara Falls, they travelled extensively throughout North America, selling these items at fairs, exhibitions, Wild West shows and Indian medicine shows. For many of these shows, the performers were adorned with this type of beautiful beadwork.

Our Glengarry-style red wool cap was probably worn by its donor, William Watts Ball (1868-1952) of Charleston. He married Faye Witte in 1897 – perhaps they purchased this cap on a wedding trip.

This style of beadwork evolved from the Iroquois tradition which began in western New York in the late 18th century. The Mohawks used large clear beads as well as red, blue, green and yellow beads. The Tuscaroras near Niagara Falls created similar objects for sale, but preferred small clear and white beads.

These little bags or purses are probably all Mohawk beadwork as well. They display several of the shapes used for bag construction. These must have been popular souvenirs, since ours came from three different donors. The National Museum of the American Indian has several hundred little bags attributed to these Native Americans.

TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from our textile collection.  Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our Historic Textiles Gallery and some may be just too fragile to display. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on TEXTILE TUESDAY! #TextileTuesday