My post earlier this week featured costumes from Downton Abbey currently on display at Winterthur Museum. As I noted, the costumes and life of the fictional Crawley family are contrasted with their real-life contemporaries, the wealthy American Du Ponts. The Du Ponts qualify as "old money," whose immense family fortune was based in industry dating back to the late 18th c.
One object in particular seemed to me to represent the luxurious lives of the very rich in the 1920s, regardless of which side of the Atlantic they called home. This beautifully crafted travel case, covered in crocodile or alligator leather, belonged to Ruth Wales du Pont (1889-1967), below right, wife of Henry Francis du Pont. (As always, please click on the image to enlarge it for detail.) Traveling for the Du Ponts and their two daughters meant lavish touring automobiles, private train cars, and first-class accommodations as they divided their time between Winterthur, their 175-room estate near Wilmington, DE, houses in Florida and Rhode Island, and an apartment in New York City.
Here's the exhibition description of the case:
Ruth Wales du Pont's traveling case was custom-made for her by Albert Barker Ltd., London, manufacturers to His Majesty King George V. It is quite heavy, and carrying the case would have been part of the [lady's] maid's duties. Inside the expensive leather shell we see an array of required items for looking immaculate, including 10 gold-plated and capped glass cosmetic and perfume bottles, a seal, a sealing wax container, an address book, an ink well and sketch pad, a mechanical pencil and a pen, a match box, an ash tray, a photo case, a clock, thimble, needle case and pin cushion, 2 clothes brushes, a shoe horn, a button hook, 2 lipstick cases (including one with a lipstick), a hair brush and curling iron, 2 combs, a hair pin box, soap case, 2 tooth brushes, a mirror, a jewelry box, and a manicure set.
The travel case is currently on display at Winterthur Museum as part of the exhibition Costumes of Downtown Abbey, now through January 4, 2015. See here for more information.
Top: Crocodile or alligator leather case, c. 1920, Albert Barker Ltd., London. Wintherthur Museum. Bottom: Portrait of Ruth Wales du Pont and her daughter Pauline Louise, by Harrington Mann, 1921. Winterthur Museum.
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.