Thursday, June 5, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: A Victorian Clown Costume, c.1878

Click image to enlarge.
Charlie Keith's Costume
c. 1870
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

By the very nature of the job, a clown’s costumes are quickly consumed. So, finding an example of a Nineteenth Century clown’s costume, especially one in good condition, is quite a rare event indeed. The one pictured above is a remarkable example, and, one of only a few such costumes which survive.

Both printed and embroidered, this fine costume belonged to Charlie Keith (1836-1895)—a popular and celebrated clown who was also responsible for managing his own touring circus. The curators of the V&A found an advertisement for Charlie Keith's Circus in The Southport Critic. Dated June 15, 1878, the ad features an engraving of Keith wearing a costume very much like this one. And, here’s a photo from around the same time of Charlie wearing this very costume. 

The costume consists of a back-fastening, waist-length jerkin of heavy white cotton. A scalloped frill adorns the neck. The jerkin features short, puffed sleeves which are also edged with a similar frill. Upon the front is appliquéd a large satin circle printed with an image of Charlie Keith in his clown makeup and costume with his surname “Keith” printed on his neck frill. On his cheeks, red wool hearts have been appliquéd with similar patterns on his cheeks and forehead. The back is similarly adorned with the wearer’s first name. 

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