Last week Loretta showed us an 18th c. French necessaire that she'd seen on her recent junket to London. One of our loyal readers, Mike from the U.K., was reminded of a similar piece in his family. He has generously shared photos of it, and gave us permission to share them with you as well.
This Victorian necessaire de voyage, or traveling case, was made c. 1870 – roughly a century after the French version – and in that hundred years, a lady's personal necessities increased dramatically. Fashioned from patterned coromandel wood and brass, with brass locks and fittings, this box is much larger (34cm wide x 20cm high x 24cm deep) and contains many more items. The side trays that open outwards contain everything a lady could possibly need while traveling, including concave and convex hand mirrors, nail files and scissors, buttonhole hooks, medicine spoons, brushes for hair and clothes, and combs. Many of the implements have carved mother-of-pearl handles. Numerous jars and vials, all of cut glass with engraved silver tops and lids, once contained cosmetics and lotions, and a puff of swansdown for applying powder sits in its own engraved silver box. There are even small hooks to screw into the guest room door for hanging one's peignoir with style!
Everything sits in fitted velvet trays that are perfectly engineered to swing open for access. Inside are special hidden spaces and drawers for stashing jewelry or love-letters. Every piece is marked with the crest of a family who identity is now forgotten. Once closed and locked the case was protected by its own custom-fitted leather case. Mike tells us that the closed case is quite heavy – and that's with all the jars empty.
Such a necessaire de voyage not only shows how much more lavish a Victorian lady's toilette must have been than her 18th c. counterpart, but also hints at several larger changes in society. By 1870, the upper classes could travel on a much grander scale, in larger coaches across better roads, as well as by steamship and train. There were many more servants in an upper class Victorian household than in a Georgian one, and the growing responsibility of a lady's maid is reflected in this case's complexity. It's also the golden age of house parties, when the well-to-do visited one another's country houses for weeks of lavish entertainments, and life was definitely lived at a more leisurely pace than today. Can you imagine trying to get a case such as this through an airport security checkpoint?
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.