Monday, 15 November 2010

Victorian Equestrian: Louise-Léontine Massin

I collect antique side saddle related photographs and often I come across ones of 19th century celebrities (actresses, opera singers, famous courtesans) wearing riding habits. Actresses, even though many of them became rich and famous, were not considered part of "proper" society due to how they acquired their money and their profession. Since riding was considered a proper sport for women with wealth to engage in, actresses often donned riding habits (whether they ride or not) to give them an air of respectability in their photos.

Usually they are identified but a few years ago, I came across this very late 1860's- early 1870's colorized CDV photo of a woman wearing a habit which was not. I had a feeling she may have been a famous person as the photographer, Charles Reutlinger of Paris, was mostly only frequented by actresses/actors, etc.

Then not long after finding this photo, I happened across the non colorized verison of the photo and thought, yes, this MUST be someone famous, but who? Yes, normal people sometimes had doubles made of their photos to give to family and friends but what are the odds of finding an identical photo of the same person in two completely different places taken by a photographer whose clientèle were celebtrities?

Well, this lady remained a mystery until the other day when I came across an Ebay auction for yet ANOTHER identical photo of the same lady! I can now identify her as Louise-Léontine Massin and she was an actress.

Here is her mini bio from the Ebay auction:

Born in Paris in 1847, Massin worked first as a seamstress. At the age of sixteen, she joined the Folies-Marigny, and then in 1865, the Palais-Royal, where she became a great favourite of the public due to her beauty. She next joined the Gymnase before being engaged by the Vaudeville in 1872. After a tour of Russia, she returned to Paris, where in 1881 she created the role of Nana. A year later she triumphed in La Marchande des Quatres Saisons. She died in 1901 during an attack of delirium in the asylum of Saint-Maurice.

There doesn't seem to be much information around on her, especially if she rode or not. On an interesting note, I found this French website that disputes her birth date as being 1853 as her father seems to have given three various birth dates (1847, 1848 and 1853). It also states that later in life, she became destitute and was found dying in the street from hunger and the cold. It was then that she was placed in the asylum where she died a few days later.

An edit to this post, this is a photo for Lexi to show where to measure the gullet in a side saddle!


  1. Hi Lei,
    I posted something for you today on the VFG!

  2. Ooooooo....... next time I come over, I will totally bring it (yes, I'm the sad monkey that got the eBay one - surprised? I thought not.) so we can get a pic of the two together. :) I was wondering about the asylum bit, thanks for looking more into it!

  3. Thanks Pam, going to check it out now!

    LOL Jeannie, I wondered if you had gotten that photo!!

  4. Great post! Also - love your sidesaddle cover.. I have been catching up on your blog.

  5. Hi, I've been reading your blog for quite awhile, and I am in need of your knowledge. There is an auction that I go to once and awhile, and in it's up-coming auction listing, there is and ornate sidesaddle. That's all in information they give. I was wondering if you could take a look at the picture, and tell me anything about it. I feel like I should put a reserve bid on it, but I don't know what a minimum should be. I just want it to go to someone who will care for it properly. you'll have to scroll down for the picture.

    Thanks for any help you can give!


  6. Hi Lex, That is a beautiful saddle. I've never seen one with such ornate stitching all over it before.

    Usually you only see such stitching on the seat and on the safe as saddle makers thought that it gave the riders extra grip. There wouldn't have been a need to do it on the offside flap except just to make the saddle look pretty and to show off the saddler's craft!

    It has the Y shaped balance girth placement which seemed to be most popular during the mid 19th century around 1860- 1870 but sometimes saddlers used them on later saddles due to the preference of the rider.

    With the Y-shaped balance girth placement, the fancy stitching and the fact it has three pommels (you can see the small pommel on the off-side), I'd safely say that this saddle is most likely from about 1860.

    It doesn't have a cutback pommel though so it would suit a high withered horse but at the same time, it will probably have a narrow tree so probably won't fit many horses. It looks like the original rider has very thing thighs as the fixed pommel has quite an acute curve which would not fit someone with a large leg.

    When you place your bid, you will have to consider that it most likely won't fit your horse and maybe not you either unless you have very slender legs. Also test the tree and the fixed head for any movement as if you are even considering this for a riding saddle, you don't want a broken tree.

    It is VERY beautiful though and if I saw this at an auction, I would definitely bid for it just to have as a decoration if it didn't fit me or Hattie. BUT how much I bid would depend if the tree was sound or not.

  7. Thanks so much. i wouldn't have expected it to fit me or the horse (she a med-wide, I'm a wide!) If just for decoration I'm thinking $100, just so it finds a home, though probably not with me. I don't know what I'd do with it though.
    When you measure for width, what makes a narrow, med, wide? I'm used to measuring D ring to D ring in typical English saddles, but I don't know how to go about on a sidesaddle. I'll have to go back and read your post on how to properly test the tree of a sidesaddle.

    Thanks again for all your help. I'll let you know if anything comes of it if you're interested.


  8. I'd probably bid a bit higher than that depending on the tree condition and it seems to be a nice collectible saddle.

    Measuring the D rings on a side saddle doesn't really work as often they aren't set level and aren't in the same place as an astride saddle. I always measure in the actual gullet space at the front just above there the panels are tacked on.

    I'm writing a guide to buying a side saddle to be posted here but don't think I will be able to finish it in time before the auction so posted a pic on where to measure the gullet here at the bottom of the Louise-Léontine Massin blog post.

    Generally, 4 1/2" is a narrow fit, 5" a medium, 5 1/2" a medium/wide, etc. Hattie's side saddles all measure 5 1/2" in the gullet and she always takes medium/wide in astride saddles.

    I'd love to see more photos of the saddle if you are able to get to the auction. Please let me know how it goes and fingers crossed that you win it!

  9. Thanks so much for all the help. I'll definitely go to the preview and put in a reserve bid. I'll have to figure out just what I can spend on it. I'll take some pictures if I'm allowed.

    Thanks so much for all your help!

  10. I'm sorry to keep bugging you about this, but I really appreciate all the help! So when measuring the gullet, you measure the inside space, so in your picture it looks like 4.5"? And to test the tree, hold by points, try to spread; cantle against abdomen, hand on seat / waist area, other hand on pommel (not a horn) and try to push down on the seat; cantle on abdomen, hand on pommel (again not horn), other hand on fixed head, try to pull fixed head toward you (or are you looking for any movement at all, in any direction?).

    ok, one last thing, there's another used saddle for sale near-ish to me, but it looks new, so I'm guessing it's a cheap new saddle, and probably not worth my time to check out, but I thought I'd see what you can tell about it before I get too pre-judgy about stuff I don't know much about!

    Thanks Again!

  11. Greenhawk!! I miss them! I used to order from them all the time.
    As much as I love Greenhawk, that saddle is junk. They are the ones made in India on astride trees with some pommels screwed into them. They never ride right and the girth straps are often in the wrong place. Good only as decoration or for a bar stool!

    To test a side saddle tree:
    -Put cantle against your stomach (like how you would test a normal astride english saddle). Grab the fixed upright pommel and then then try to pull the fixed head towards you. If the head moves or the seat bends inwards, suspect a broken tree.

    The fixed head should not move at all as this is what gives you your purchase and keeps you on the saddle. Sometimes the leather/doeskin cover is a bit loose and that can move but the rigid structure inside should not. You can feel the leather move if it's just cover that has loosened and stretched over the years but the hard bit inside shouldn't!

    -You can also test the tree points the same way as an astride saddle by putting them between your knees and then trying to bring your knees together. This is a bit tricky with most side saddles that have a short off-side point but it can be done. It's easier with side saddles with older forked points. You can also visually inspect the tree folding the leather flap back and looking for any cracks.

    Run your fingers down any metal you see on the tree and check for any grey talcum powdery dust that comes off on your fingers (it looks like dirty plaster too). This will be aluminium that they put to reinforce the tree for jumping, disintegrating.

    Bascially, nothing should wobble/move on the saddle except the leaping head which tend to have some give from being used over the years (that's why sometimes you see them upside down). They can be tightened up by putting a washer on the screw made form leather or what I did for my off-side saddle is use an old martingale rein stop!

    I hope this all makes sense but ask away if you are not sure!

  12. You measure the gullet width just above where the panels are tacked onto the saddle. I found an old photo of mine and used Paint Shop to show where to measure from, I put it in the same article above. You don't actually measure the cutback pommel width but the gullet width underneath it.