Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Lady's Nécessaire

Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Loretta reports:

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.


Hels said...

The items you described are necessary for getting through the day, I suppose - pencil, ivory writing tablet, scissors, mirror, comb, a brush, toothpicks, file combined with a pair of tweezers etc. Except for the bottles with stoppers, they are objects that women might well carry in their handbags today.

But the box is so beautifully crafted and the materials so expensive that it should be called a lady's luxury, not a lady's nécessaire. I would give my husband's salary for one of those *sigh*.

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

So, women have been saying to their husbands, "But I NEEEEEED this!" for a very long time! ;-) Not that a woman couldn't buy her own, because she neeeeeds it!

Regencyresearcher said...

You do find the most wonderful things.
It is a pity that the museum didn't remove and photograph each item individually. Some of those combination items would be fun to see, I'd also like to see the ivory note pad with pencil. That item has always intrigued me.

Chris Woodyard said...

I'm ready to slap the curators of necessaires everywhere with an ivory writing tablet! The museum sites I've searched have lovely photos of the cases/boxes, but not of the little articles within. It's only the commercial sites who lay them out for the viewer. Here's a similar example from Christies.

http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4622729. I also recommend searching for keywords "Palais Royale necessaire"--there are a number of antique needlework tool sites out there that nicely illustrate these items. Curators--take note, please!

Chris Woodyard said...

Sorry--that is keywords "Palais Royal necessaires." No E.

LorettaChase said...

Chris, thank you for the Christies link. I was dying to see the contents, and this at least gives an idea!

Lauren Hairston said...

Let's send a letter to the V&A! I'd love to see photos of the contents. This is so cool!

Steve said...

Further to this, a picture of an ivory writing tablet:


(Look for James Follett's piece on Jane Austen's wordprocessor beginning "On Wednesday I paid a visit to Jane Austen's house at nearby Chawton in Hampshire" for a description of its use)

LorettaChase said...

Steve, thank you for the links! This is fascinating!

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