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18th century corset

18th century corset

poor corset maker


Thomas Paine's Father, Joseph Pain (the e was added when Thomas Paine arrived in America) was a staymaker, a profession of the lower middle class of the sixteenth century. Francis Oldys (1791) describes the staymaker's lot:


The art of staymaking require patience, skill and the Quakerly ability to sit for hours in busy silence, cutting, and shaping woolen cloth, boning between each row of stitching, and lining the patterned stay with linen. Women of the notable classes wore stays or corsets, stiffened with whale bone and laced at the rear, especially underneath their mantuas, a style of dress called the robe á l'Anglaise by foreigners.


For his labor Paine earned about 30 pounds a year. This was much better than a day laborer who earned one pound a year or a schoolmaster whose annual pay might be between ten and twenty pounds. The rich of the day like the Dukes of Northumberland and Bedford could look forward to generous incomes in excess of 50,000 pounds a year.


Thomas Paine apprenticed with his father in the tedious art of staymaking for seven years but did not join him in partnership as was expected. For while the popularity of the mantua would continue for another forty years the staymaking business declined for Joseph Pain. The business climate in Thetford was changing. As the wealthy Lords of Grafton acquired more control over the town, regulations protecting small businesses were no longer enforced. Sons and apprentices of freemen could no longer expect to be admitted into the trades. Competition among tradesmen grew and many diversified their businesses. Carpenters began doing upholstery while ironmongers made cabinets. On 30 pounds a year, Joseph Pain lacked the resources to compete with his fellow tradesmen leaving young Thomas without employment.


After Paine's rise to fame his detractors often ridiculed his humble beginnings, calling him "Tom the bodicemaker."


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