Antique Personal Possessions by Silvia Druitt is a 1980 publication covering collectible personal items from 1860 to 1930. The book, measuring 10 X 7.5 inches, has just 128 pages (including small bibliography & index) and features illustrations — black and white throughout the text and 32 color plates — by Mary Camidge and Mary Sims.
If the 70 years seems like a lot of ground to cover in such a rather slim book, consider the breadth of collectibles included.
Here are the chapters (topics):
- Toiletries and Dressing Table (vanity collectibles such as perfume, cosmetics, etc., as well as vinaigrettes, smelling bottles, soaps, and razors)
- Hair (lotions & potions such as fixatives and pomades, hairbrushes, curlers, hairpins, etc.)
- Accessories (jewelry, hat pins, fans, visiting cards and card cases, muffs, handbags and purses, chatelaines, lorgnettes and glasses, stocking suspenders, etc.)
- Sewing and Writing (sewing accessories and sewing machines; pens, pencils, stationery, writing desks, etc.)
- Smoking (snuffboxes, pipes, cigar cutters, cigarette holders and cases, cases for matches and/or wax vestas, smokers’ lamps, and other tobacciana)
- Excursions (travel items, such as luggage, trunks, and baskets sets, muff and pocket warmers, damp bed detectors, travel clocks, battery lighting, thermos flask, umbrellas and parasols, shoes, skirt lifters, etc.)
- Children (pottery sock dryers, baby bottles and feeders, diapers and safety pins, teething sticks and rings, nightlights, rattles, infant spoons, learning to write educational items, dolls and toys, etc.).
To Druitt’s credit, she notes in the book’s introduction that any such study or indeed collection of these items is limited:
In writing of personal possessions in the nineteenth century it is inevitable that one should find oneself speaking almost entirely about the more privileged sections of society, as it was their possessions, in the main, which survived. Such possessions as belonged to the very poor were liable to be handed on and on, to the point of destruction. The many examples taken from the periodicals and magazines reflect the same trend, less accentuated as the period progressed.
The accuracy of such realities is noted; but still, that’s a lot of collecting categories to attempt to cover in one book. However Druitt does a fine job. As she should; the author was, at least in 1980 when the book was published, employed by the Hampshire County Museum service, “an expert on the period covered.”
If you’re looking for in-depth information, you’ll probably want to get a guide book dedicated to a specific collectible category; but the beauty of this book is the context of seeing all these items with their contemporaries, gaining perspective on life a the time, the practicality &/or impracticality of the objects, and the desires of the people who used them.
The brevity is also tantalizing… At least for a history nerd like me. For along with the collectibles in context are a myriad of clues for those who love to learn about history and culture.
I have a modest collection of vintage vanity items, including cosmetics etc., and this book taught me more about dirty tricks in ye olde beauty business; but I’d never really thought about collecting many of these other items… Like skirt lifters or chatelaines — mainly because I rarely see them.
And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of, let alone seen, pottery sock dryers or damp bed detectors. If I have, I likely didn’t recognize them. Considering them now — without the diapers angle, even — reminds me just how damp yesteryear was… It may be easy to romanticize delicate ladies drenched in lead-based cosmetics fanning themselves as they await the next gentleman listed on their dance cards, but to know the complete picture, we ought to at least remember that the ride home was cold and damp. As was the house when they got home. And need I remind you of the plumbing situation?
Since this book is now out of print, you’ll be looking for used copies; as it was published in the UK, most copies at Amazon and eBay are located in the UK, so US collectoras should look closely & consider shipping before committing to any purchase. But wherever you find a copy of Antique Personal Possessions, I think it’s worth it.