Monday, September 12, 2011

Miss Boylston - Hunting the Elusive Tippet

Anyone who knows me knows how much I like words. So small surprise that I've been itching to do some research via Google Books and Google Ngrams ever since they became available. While I'm contemplating what impression to recreate for the Muster Day 1773 event, I'm taking this opportunity to give Google Books and Google Ngrams a whirl. For my test case, I've chosen to research the word "tippet".

As part of my research on short cloaks, I've run across the word "tippet" many times. The word has at least two meanings: as a piece of ecclesiastical wear and as a part of a woman's wardrobe. I'm not interested in researching the ecclesiastical meaning. My minimal research so far had turned up a couple of citations:
August 12, 1762 The Pennsylvania Gazette
ITEM #29127
THOMAS FITZSIMONS, Who formerly lived next Door to Messieurs Franklin and Hall Printing Office, in Market street, is now removed into Chestnut street, two Doors above Strawberry Alley; where he has just opened a large assortment of the following Goods, consisting of … dove, drab and lead coloured mantuas, ducapes, figured modes for cardinals, … a rich assortment of silver spangled stomachers, bugled ditto, gauze ditto flowered, silk flowers for stomachers, silver spangled girdles, gold and silver lace, chain and twisted ditto; a large assortment of sable and ermine muffs and tippets, black and white ostrich feathers for hats and caps ...
From the Loyalist Losses and Claims, Ontario Archives 13/67, 311 from the claim of Mary Swords of Saratoga - from a list entitled "Things Plundered from me by the Rebels" ........
Long Scarlet Cloak
Velvet Muff and Tippet
One Pair of Ear Rings French paste set in Gold
But that doesn't tell us much: just that a tippet can be fur or velvet.

Here's how I continued my research:

First I went to Google Ngrams, changed the date range to 1700 to 1800, changed the smoothing to 0 (to see spikier but more accurate dates), entered the word "tippet", and searched. I found a cluster of references to tippets in the first half of the century—around 1730—and a variety of references in the second half of the century, especially after 1760. It's possible that tippets weren't much used in the first half of the century, but it's also possible that Google just hasn't digitized the right books, or that people used tippets but didn't write about them much. Either way, Google's information may be useful.

To find out, I went to Google Books. If you look at the options in the lefthand menu bar, you will see one called "Any time". I chose "Custom range...", and entered my desired range. I figured my best plan was to choose a range that would give me only a few hits, so that I could look over all the hits in one session and go on to another range later. Since there was only one set of references to tippets in the first half of the century, I chose a range from 1700 to 1750. This search resulted in 564 hits. So much for getting just a few at a time!

Just for kicks, I started skimming the hits, and quickly found a good one: The royal dictionary, French and English, and English and French: Extracted from the Writings of the Best Authors in Both Languages. Formerly Compos'd For the Use of His late Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. By Mr. A Boyer. London. 1729. There is an entry for "tippet" that translates it to French as "une palatine". I looked up the entry for "palatine" and found this definition: "Palatine, (espéce de Mouchoir de cou pour les Femmes) a Tippet.". This French text translates as "a type of handkerchief for the neck for women". Here's the original scanned text:

How can something fur or velvet be like a handkerchief? And if it's a type of handkerchief, what specific type of handkerchief is it? Time to go back to Google Books for more searches. That means it's time to get serious about searching all the hits.

So I narrowed the range to 1700 to 1710. That got me down to just under 100 hits—manageable. (Hey, I thought the first hit was in 1730ish! Oh, turns out, if you read the documentation, that Google Ngrams leaves hits out of the graph where there are only a few.) As you may have noticed, Google displays its hits using not only titles but also "snippets" that show the search term(s) in context. That lets me scroll through hits pretty quickly. For example, the first hit is a book called "Annals of the Reformation and establishment of religion and other ... - Page 416" with a snippet "Gown, the Square Cap, and the Tippet to those that were qualified, and, in their Ministration, the Surplice. Many well meaning Men, chiefly such as had lived in die Churches abroad (where they were not used,) utterly refused these ...". That's quick and easy to skip over.

Passing over more ecclesiastical uses, I come to a book called "Culloden papers: More Culloden papers: Volume 2" with a snippet "But if you keep health, and be not too much priest ridden, its the less matter : I have sent you a gown and some gloves, suoh as you called for, tho' nothing be now wore by any people of fashion but silks, Ther are no muffs or tippets ..." (looks like the optical character recognition didn't work too well on this book). Unfortunately, the full text of this book isn't available through Google Books, so we haven't learned anything new from this hit.

Searching on, I find "Lingua tersancta, or, A most sure and compleat allegorick ... - Page 127": "hearing say he laid by a Sables Tippet for his Wife". Well, we already knew that tippets could be fur.

Searching on, I finally find that French–English dictionary again, in a 1702 edition. The definition is the same (except for some changes in typesetting).

There's a hit in Portuguese, which I'm skipping because I speak no Portuguese. There are a bunch of hits on Latin texts; not only can't I read them, but I wonder if they aren't OCR errors.

That's the end of 1700 to 1710, and between searching and writing up these results, several hours have gone by. Further searching must wait for another day. I can see that using Google Ngrams and Google Books will be time-consuming, but I'm hopeful I'll glean good information from them.

Your affectionate servant,
Miss Boylston


  1. Miss Boylston- On a quick search of period ads 1760-1780, I noticed ads for "Thread, silk and tinsel tippets", "silk and silver tippets and tubans", "Fillits and tippets", "English feather muffs and tippets", "very handsome furr muffs and with and without tippets", "tippets and ermines", "tippets @ 10s, turbands @ 5s". Though the majority of the ads just listed the offerings as "muffs and tippets"

  2. Found a "rattle snake tippet" Lady's Magazine, May 1775
    Mrs. Peabody

  3. Boston Newsletter 6-7-1764
    Being sold by Jolley Allen
    "Mecklingburg Tippets for women and children, made on purpose for summer wear"

    --Mrs. S.

  4. I just became interested in 18th century history last month. The first book I read is "Costume of Colonial Times" by Alice Morse Earle. It reads: "Rattlesnake tippets were of fine blonde stuck with flowers."

  5. JoAnne, that reference is from the lady's magazine, May, 1775. I just came across it somewhere else, so we know that a tippet can be lace, not just fur. Mrs. P.