Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Place for Everything: A Victorian Lady's Traveling Case, c. 1870

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Susan reporting:

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?

Many thanks again to Mike for these photographs!


Shannon said...

Oh, I love the pictures and I also love the idea. Some people are so lucky to have such things kept through the generations.

Hels said...

I love it too. Partially it is extremely useful to have mirrors, nail files and scissors, brushes and combs etc on hand.

But also because it shows that just because an object is useful, it doesn't have to look like rubbish. The cut glass with engraved silver lids are to die for, as is the large engraved silver box itself.

My bathroom drawer looks like a rubbish bin, full of plastic bits :(

Genevieve Graham said...

Ooh I want one of those. Of course there are a few things I'll have to pick up to put in the drawers, but at least I'd have that gorgeous case.

Isobel Carr said...

Whenever I see something like that in an antique store, I feel an overwhelming urge to posses it. Sadly, they’re always WAY above my means, LOL!

LaDonna said...

Now that is amazing.I totally want one too!
But can you imagine being the poor ladys maid who had to look after all those little hooks and bottles and lids? I'm always loosing stuff like that in hotels, but it's just plastic. If you lost one of milady's crystal bottles of shampoo, you'd get the sack.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I agree with La Donna: I want one. This is a great picture and post. One of my books takes place in Victorian London. If Mama goes traveling, now I know what she takes. (It may be a series.). You really come up with such good information on this blog. Thanks for sharing.

Anne Danko said...

Beautiful! I agree with Shannon; it's wonderful that it has been kept by the family. It is so indicative of changing technology and the change in women's lives. ...and yes to LaDonna, the poor maid. Thanks to the reader who let you post this!

Aurora raby said...

I really enjoyed this post-thank you. I have an identical box but sadly without the beautiful and amazing contents it feels to be a ghost of it's former self.It was made by or sold by Leuchars of Piccadily -and has three brass initials on it. EPG I think to be Lady Edith Payne Gallwey who married in 1871 Sir William Payne Gallwey 2nd baronet 1807 MP for Thirsk in Yorkshire.

Inherited from my grandmother who made frocks for presentation of debs at court -guess she was given it by one.

Ana said...

I love necessaires like this.
Marinni is a real treasure trove for things of that sort, I love her posts c: .

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