Grooming sets were popular gifts in Victorian times
Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn looks back to the 19th century to find some popular items...
really is no denying it now. With just a month until Christmas, it’s jingle all the way as shops are full of festive goodies and the parties start in earnest.
For any well-to-do lady, getting ready for a social occasion is often just as important as the event itself and this was certainly true in Victorian times.
A Victorian lady would have had a dressing table set like this one as pride of place. One of the commonest items found on a 19th century dressing table, grooming sets like this one, consisted of, at the very least, a hairbrush and a hand mirror.
Often sets consisted of much, much more – clothes brushes, combs, bonnet brushes, scent bottles, candlesticks, hat pin holders or glove stretchers could all be included! These sets were used by both men and women, although the design and content varied depending on gender.
The accoutrements for ladies were often made of silver or gold for the wealthiest women.
The less well-off would probably own an EPNS set (electro plated nickel silver), a modern method of silver plate. Designs were very feminine featuring cherubs, flowers, shells and were delicately designed.
The men’s equipment was heavier in style and generally less ornate. The style of these sets was frequently influenced by period trends such as Art Nouveau or later Art Deco.
Dressing table sets were popular gifts and usually came in a case. Later, leather or crocodile skin replaced the original big wooden cases. As the 20th century progressed, designs became less sturdy and more cheaply made.
It is unusual to find complete older sets today. One in good condition in its original case could be worth a great deal.
Fortunately, many of the items are reasonably common separately and are not terribly expensive.
The constant use of these items means that they are often in poor condition. It is not unusual to find many areas of decoration worn off through wear and tear or cleaning.
The more unusual items such as the glove stretcher or button hooks (absolutely essential to undo or do up the multitudinous buttons on clothing and shoes before the trusty zip appeared!) are still quite under priced and would be perfect collectables.