Hands in Jackets… Just What Was Going On With That?

pres_pierce.jpgIt’s a gesture that seems to be commonly attributed to Napoleon who supposedly had either a damaged hand which he hid or an ulcer which he massaged. I’ve never seen proof positive of either. In any case, while discussing a former co-worker’s distant relation to President Franklin Pierce, I came across this photo. As it turns out, this was not an unfamiliar pose in art and photography of the time. So exactly what is going on here? What is the significance of the gesture. Twelveoaks and I did a little brainstorming and offer a few of our theories below. Feel free to contribute more or comment on the ones below. I might animate the best theory for posterity.

Mystech Theories:

  • Secret gang sign
  • Recent nipple-piercing still tender
  • Particularly bristly armpit hair
  • Hates Paparazzi, reaching for a gun
  • Poor Circulation Plague that only infects one hand
  • Sneaking snacks to pet Sugarglider hidden in breast-coat pocket

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8 Responses

  1. implementor says:

    I vote for fried chicken drumstick hidden in vest pocket, which is brought out and eaten when people aren’t looking.

  2. Mystech says:

    I think that theory has merit… leading a nation is hungry work and photographs (of the era) and paintings took a long time to complete.

  3. Tara says:

    It’s a forgotten gem of history that President Pierce was an accomplished sleight-of-hand artist. He often entertained at parties by pulling coins out of the spittoon and also popularized the “soft veto” by which the bill in question would simply disappear, never to be seen again. (A team of antique-restorers would many years later find several bills crammed behind the ornamental scroll work panels that adorned the sides of Pierce’s desk).

    This portrait memorializes his most famous trick, wherein, during a tense meeting with house leaders, he produced the Vice President seemingly out of his waistcoat. Scholars still debate as to how the illusion was accomplished, but the most popular theory, based on his stiff posture and odd arm position, is that the VP was concealed within a hidden compartment in the chair.

  4. Imperatrix says:

    Well, I know that I for one hide my hands in photos when I have a particularly ratty looking set of nails and haven’t seen the manicurist in a while. Red looks the worst when it’s starting to chip.

    I could probably shed some historical light on the whole thing, but this is much more fun. 🙂

  5. Mystech says:

    You may be on to something there. It’s well known that personal beauty practices were still quite primitive (George Washington hid is wooden teeth, after all). Perhaps the poor quality nail polish of the day, combined with the active lifestyle of the era, made nail chippage all the more common and difficult to maintain.

  6. gieseppi says:

    I don;t know I heard that the crime rate in those days was so bad that everyone was keeping their hand on their wallet to keep pick pockets from getting them.


    When you had cold hands you couldn’t go to the store and buy a pair of gloves because they hadn’t invented a “pair” of gloves yet all you could buy was a glove. To keep your other hand warm you had to stick it somewhere and your jacket was probably one of the more socially acceptable places to stick it

  7. Mystech says:

    I see strong historical evidence for the former in the works of Charles Dickens. I mean, good lord, those novels are crawling with pick pockets!

    As for the later, I’d almost forgotten that Benjamin Franklin’s revolutionary design calling for a PAIR of gloves instead of the single glove known in the past had not yet been widely adopted.

    See, who needs the History Channel? 😉

  8. MasterTwisted says:

    Looking for a stick of gum.

    No, wait; getting a pen to write a check for the artist.

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