According to an exhibition catalog listed in Les boutiques de musées, nécessaires—boxes containing necessities of one kind or another—started out holding eating and food preparation utensils. By the 18th century they’d developed into elaborate cases for all manner of items, including scientific equipment.
This late Rococo example, in the Victoria & Albert Museum, was made in 1766. The accompanying sign reports that the materials are "agate, gold and silver gilt; gold mounted bottles and implements in silver, ivory, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell.” Though inspired by French goldsmiths and probably made by a German craftsman, the box, we are told, is “a distinct London type.”
What the sign at the V&A didn’t tell me was what was inside. Happily, there is an entry at the website with more information: “The contents include five bottles with stoppers, a pencil and an ivory writing tablet, scissors, a mirror, a comb, a brush, toothpicks, a tongue scraper, a bodkin combined with a spoon for ear wax, and a file combined with a pair of tweezers.”
Unhappily, though offering several views in sharper focus than mine, the V&A did not take the objects out of the case and photograph them for curious Nerdy History Persons. This is a pity, as I know we'd all like to see exactly what milady's necessities looked like.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.