During the days when sanitation and hygiene were not really top priority it became necessary to do what you could to combat the offensive odours which were ever present. Thus, the vinaigrette was born, and found to fit the bill perfectly.
|The intricate interior of a Victorian vinaigrette. Click here to view on our website.
|The finely engraved exterior.
|Victorian Woman fainting of neurasthenia. Image via.
Most often made in silver, they were often embellished with enamelling or jewels. The inside of the box would be gilded to protect them from corrosion.
The interior of the box itself would have a pierced and hinged inner cover, beneath which would sit a sponge soaked in vinegar and camphor mixed with other heady aromas, such as lavender or roses. This little box could be easily transported and ready to use whenever the need arose. Used by ladies and gentlemen alike, by the early 1800s it was mostly seen as an accessory for the fairer sex.
|The sponge interior, which would hold the scent. Click here to see this piece on our website.
During the Georgian and Victorian eras, I should imagine these items were almost a necessity rather than a luxury.
The height of demand for these items coincided with what became known as The Great Stink. This occurred during the unusually hot summer of 1858 when the smell of the open sewers became unbearable. It got so bad they even shut parliament. The result of the Great Stink did mean the development of a sewer system and the invention of the flush toilet. Alongside such ingenious solutions was the rise in popularity of the vinaigrette.
Often given as a token of affection, these little boxes would sometimes be intricately designed and engraved. A suitor might even have the initials of his intended inscribed upon it. Perhaps slightly more personal than receiving a bottle of Chanel No. 5 today.
You would sometimes find these attractive vinaigrettes suspended by a chain, or attached to a chatelaine. This would make them very convenient to use on an unsavoury coach journey, in a crowd situation, or on a stroll through town. Today, I sometimes think how nice it might be to have one of these silver cases on your person while travelling on a crowded mid-summer tube or train. Maybe it’s time for a comeback.
Although made throughout Britain, most examples found are from Birmingham, where silversmiths often specialised in small novelty silver items.
They were produced in large numbers from the late 1700s and this trend continued for the next hundred years or so.
We have a large range of antique silver vinaigrettes both in the shop and online, a selection of which can be viewed by clicking on this link.