Exhibit Highlight: The Smoking Cap of the Lord Mayor of London

February 23rd, 2012 by jmiele
In 1911, an elderly widow named Winifred Tyer lived on the outskirts of town on Spring Grove Road in Andover.  Her wealthy husband, Henry George Tyer, had died nearly thirty years before, yet she still corresponded on stationery under the heading:
Mrs. Henry G. Tyer
100 Spring Grove Road
Andover, Massachusetts 01810
Winifred’s beloved son, Horace, had passed away in 1907.  Mrs. Tyer was left with a rather extensive collection from her husband’s colorful past, and that she still remembered him proudly and fondly is to be expected.  In 1911 she donated much of the collection to the newly-formed Andover Historical Society.  One of those items is displayed in the current exhibit, Common Indecency.
The object is a Turkish-style fez made of deep purple velvet, also called a smoking cap.  It originally belonged to Henry George Tyer’s uncle, Sir John Musgrove.  Musgrove made his fortune in real estate, and by 1850, he was in the booming textile business.  In November of that year, Musgrove was elected Lord Mayor of London, a post discrete from the position of Mayor of London, and largely a ceremonial title.  On May 1st of the following year, John Musgrove, along with the rest of London, attended the opening of the Great Exhibition at the recently constructed Crystal Palace.  Queen Victoria herself opened the festivities under a great canopy of royal purple trimmed with silver before countless spectators.  The intention of this exhibition was to create “an occasion which might be celebrated by the whole human race without one pang of regret, envy, or national hate.”(London Times, 2 May 1851)  As was customary for an elected Lord Mayor of London, Musgrove was, upon leaving his position in 1851, granted a knighthood.
Henry George Tyer was born in Hackney, London, a neighborhood populated by middle class merchants.  He emigrated to New Brunswick, New Jersey, and started a business in rubber.  Throughout the 1840s and 50s, Tyer was granted no less than six U.S. patents for his novel rubber weaving techniques, and in 1856, he established the Tyer Rubber Manufacturing Company in Ballardvale, and soon afterward he opened a shop in Andover.  His biggest seller was, unsurprisingly for New England, a “Compo” shoe guaranteed to keep out melting snow.  Tyer became big enough in the business that he even found himself peripherally involved in legal action against the more famous Charles Goodyear over patents.
In 1881, when his uncle John Musgrove died with no heirs, Henry Tyer inherited his estate, as the oldest living male relative.  Amongst the vast amounts of money and real estate, Tyer inherited some personal effects, including the fez.  Before Musgrove’s estate could be entirely settled, however, Henry George Tyer himself passed away, leaving Winifred to inherit everything.
In 1988, possibly because of the hat’s festive look, it was put on display for a Christmas exhibit.  Little was known about the piece at that time; it was dated to circa 1880s – probably because this was when Musgrove and Tyer both died.  In 2004 the fez was reexamined by the Andover Historical Society.  It was found to contain “some small bugs and frass in [the] brim…bugs looked old and long dead.”  It is beyond question that in the late nineteenth century, smoking caps were considered very stylish in England, particularly among “aesthetes” like Oscar Wilde who frequented opium parlors.  However, the fez currently on display must date to before 1881.  The fact that it has such an unusual provenance strongly suggests it was either made for or purchased from the 1851 Great Exhibition.  Often, the simple fact that a particular object has been preserved rather than thrown away makes an argument for its past.
Consider this painting of Victoria opening the ceremony.  In the foreground are some officers dressed in purple coats, and wearing hats in much the same style as the one on display.  Could one of these attendants depict the Lord Mayor himself, standing at a respectable distance from her majesty?
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Crystal_Palace_-_Queen_Victoria_opens_the_Great_Exhibition.jpg
It is entirely possible that the fez was made or purchased later as a novelty by the Musgroves.  But the other possibilities are very intriguing indeed.
James Miele, AHS Staff
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