If we flew back in time to a city in the 1700's, one of the first differences to hit us would be the smell. There would of course be no traffic exhaust or extractor fans wafting kebab cooking over the pavements - and not so many pavements - but Georgian England had its own powerful pungencies. Bad drainage and open sewage were two of the main causes for stinking cities. Roll-on deodorants had not been invented and toothbrushes were a rarity.
Despite all this, for many people the C18th was a very civilized time: the reigns of George II and George III saw some of the best painting, music and ceramics Britain has ever produced. But how were the pervading city smells to be counteracted? One answer was the vinaigrette.
Vinaigrettes (not to be confused with modern salad dressings) are small boxes, usually silver, designed to hold a sponge filled with perfume. The idea was to hold them to the nose to overcome the prevailing odours. The sponge was held in place by an engraved and fretted plate through which it could release its refreshing scent. Birmingham silversmiths were particularly adept in producing them. For makers such as Cocks and Betteridge they were a main line of production. The inside of these small boxes, often less than an inch in length, was sometimes gilded, while the outside was often engraved with flowers or scrolls and could include a cartouche for the owner's crest or monogram. It is likely that they were used more by women than men; snuff-taking for a man might have served the same purpose.
A good collection of vinaigrettes was included in Horner's Acle auction on 28th March 2009. These attractive boxes provide an insight into our history, as well as attesting to the high achievements of silversmiths in Georgian England.
The sale also included the usual high quality entry of about 500 lots of varied items including a part collection of Lowestoft china, exceptional collection of jewellery, a selection of silver, clocks & watches, paintings, ceramics, furniture and collectables.
It was held at Acle Gallery on Saturday March 28th. For full sale results, visit our catalogue and results pages.