Friday, July 27, 2012

Two 18th Century Etui Cases

The day we went to Portobello was very damp with on and off showers. When the weather was decent we browsed the stalls along the street. When showers started, we would venture into the little shopping arcades. The streets were so crowded it made umbrellas hopeless.

One of the arcades - blue awnings (I don't remember the name) - had a basement. We went down to explore. 

It was kind of too warm and uncomfortably close. I almost went back up. Lucky I didn't or I would have missed seeing these two lovelies.

The shop owner was kind enough to let me take pictures. I would have loved to buy them but they were thousands of pounds, and my husband was giving me this look like, really Caroline? I can dream right?

This brown case was my favorite. The seller explained to me that it was 1770's toroiseshell with inlaid silver. The green leaves are apparently some very interesting material, but slap me, I can't recall what he said they were.

I thought it was so charming! I love the little swags and stars and squiggly bits.

The case opened and closed perfectly and still had ALL the inner bits (clockwise): scissors, needle case, pencil with silver back end, pocket knife (or perhaps "pen knife", for sharpening your pencil or quills), file and two ivory sheets on a hinge. 

My experience (and common sense) tells me that one rights on the ivory papers with the pencil. I have seen many, many examples of this, all the way up to the Victorian era, where ladies would have ivory papers in a book on their chatelaine. However, the seller had a more gristly explanation. He said they would use the thin ivory sheets to slice the skin for blood letting. Forgive me, I don't mean to be contrary, but wouldn't it make sense to use the knife?...

This second etui dates from the 1760's. The seller said the green is sharkskin and the chinoiserie design is gold. It too has the same implements inside. Below, you can see a better illustration of the ivory sheets. This etui had a particularly lovely little scissors with gold handles. Sorry for the finger shadows :)

Even though I wasn't able to come home with them, I'm thrilled for the photos to study. I am such an experience whore, too. I love to know that I have now experienced holding and touching these and now I will always know what it feels like. It is so fascinating to have the same memory as someone who lived two hundred years ago, who used one of these when they were new - the weight of it in my hand (by the way, they're quite heavy! Almost like an iphone, to compare), the click as it opens, using my nails to pry the little pen knife open. So amazing!


  1. What a treat, what a treat!! How nice of the shop owner to allow the pictures and the time it took. I was completely unfamiliar with these little items until now. Appreciate the description of their weight and I am with takes you back in time to touch something that belonged to someone make a connection with our past:)

    1. It was so nice, everyone I asked was more than happy to let me take pictures.

  2. Thank you for sharing and adding tidbits that make the items have that "ah ha" moment. ie the size of an iphone.

    1. Happy to share! Just to clarify, they were about as heavy as my phone. The gold one a little heavier. The size was a little smaller, like maybe a bottle of foundation.