Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Traveling in Style: Mrs. du Pont's Travel Case, c. 1920

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Isabella reporting,

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.


Hels said...

I agree that lavish touring automobiles, private train cars, and first-class accommodations meant that a family had to have every essential item packed in transportable and stout cases. And not just for makeup, perfume and manicure sets. I have seen gorgeous drinking sets in leather cases, each compartment allocated to a glass, to bottles and cocktail mixing shakers. And the clothing/shoe trunks were sensational... and heavy.

I wonder how people travelled, once even wealthy families didn't have clusters of live-in staff any longer.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hels - If celebrity gossip columns are to be believed, I think "rich folk" still travel in grand style - except now the lady's maid has been replaced by a personal assistant and a stylist, and instead of a private train car, they're traveling in a private jet, with piles of Louis Vuitton luggage.

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