Rediscovering Virginia Mallen Chauvenet’s c. 1895 Battenberg Lace Coat

The Golden History Museum’s ongoing Legacy Inventory Project continues to bring to light forgotten pieces of Golden history. A particularly charming artifact was rediscovered recently, a unique Battenberg Lace coat handmade by Virginia Mallen Chauvenet, wife of the first president of the Colorado School of Mines, Dr. Regis Chauvenet. Donated to the Golden Pioneer Museum (now the Golden History Museum) in 1970, this garment occasioned much interest not only for its uniqueness but also for the story of how the coat came to be.

Lois Ehlers modelling coat

Donor Lois Ehlers wearing Virginia Chauvenet’s lace coat.

Journalist and long-time Golden resident Irma Wyhs captured the tale for the February 23, 1970 edition of the “Golden Transcript”.  She wrote that Mrs. Chauvenet visited the old Daniels and Fisher Store in Denver in the 1890s and was captivated by an expensive Battenberg Lace coat. She visited the store several times but the coat’s price had not been reduced, so Mrs. Chauvenet, who had learned as a young girl to make Battenberg Lace, resolved to create a copy of the coat for herself. In order to study the details of the pattern, Mrs. Chauvenet frequently visited the store to examine the coat.

Irma’s story continues: “Mr. Fisher took notice of these visits and, at last, he questioned Mrs. Chauvenet about it. She explained that she liked the coat very much but thought it was in a somewhat extravagant price-range, so she was making a copy of it for herself. One might expect the story to end right there as present day knowledge indicated that proprietors of stores rather frown on the practice of copying their merchandise. However, Mr. Fisher was unpredictably understanding. He not only went along with Mrs. Chauvenet’s ingenuity, but he also told her that she might come into the store and sit there and work for short periods ever so often if it would help in the copy. Accordingly, the coat was finished and to this day, some 75 to 80 years later, it is a very elegant and very lovely garment.”

Mrs. Lois Ehlers, sister to Virginia Chauvenet’s good friend Osie (Smith) Coolbaugh, donated the coat to the museum.

What is Battenberg lace anyhow?

It’s a form of tape lace created by basting decorative woven cloth tapes into a pattern. Whenever the tape crosses itself, it’s stitched together to hold it in place. Spaces formed inside the cloth tape pattern are filled with decorative stitching to complete the pattern. Battenberg lace is of American origin and was said to be named in honor of the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Beatrice to Prince Henry of Battenberg.

–Vanya Scott, Curatorial Assistant