Sunday, August 6, 2023

Museum Room : 06/08/2023 & Snuff Boxes

It occurred to me that I still needed to introduce and post about my progress with the Museum Room, so before it got too polished, I wanted to show a sense of the process.

The idea of the Museum Room started with the antiques I've collected over the years needing a proper place to live, and where they were scattered around the house wasn't conducive to displaying them or keeping them in good condition. So, with that in mind, I cleared out a small spare room which previously contained a wasteland of boxes and set about trying to make it a viable miniature museum for myself. 

One goal I had particularly in mind was to have things displayed, or at least not packaged away where I'd never look at them, so that they could be enjoyed and appreciated. Eventually, I'd like to label them with relevant information to mimic what you'd find in a real museum. 

So, let's take an extremely brief tour of what we have so far:

The door is situated in the middle of the room, which is a narrow rectangle and upon opening it, you can see a nice pile of papers I have yet to catalogue. Beneath is a lovely glass-topped table which, once the rest of the room is shipshape, I am hoping to find a more prominent place for.
The middle shelf (disregarding that dangling, disconnected wire!) was the setting for the front of my business card, and the set dressing still needs to be taken down.
Some items, like the bone saw and anything particularly delicate, have been put back in storage, but a few of the wet specimens remain while I find a place for them.
Turning to our right, there is one of the luckiest finds I've ever had whilst shopping for furniture: a 20th-century Globe Wernicke with a corner unit and extra storage underneath. 
Globe Wernicke's were initially designed as portable and infinitely customisable bookshelves, and they still fill that office today, being very useful for my purposes with their glass fronts; they will make excellent places to display objects, especially with their lovely dark colour. 
I particularly want the room not to have a modern and sleek appearance; these bookshelves help keep an antique feel.
However, one downside to the glass is that I can't photograph through it. That being said, there's enough room to hold most of the books I want on display without having to lie them sideways. Except for the one on top, that's not its permanent place, so I'll let myself off. 
Turning now to our left, what we're greeted with isn't a particularly pretty sight, but it is a necessary one. This is the "utility" side of the room, where I can keep all the artefacts that need to be wrapped or boxed. 
The desk and chair are probably permanent fixtures as I need somewhere to do the cataloguing, but they fit the desired appearance well. 
I still have a lot of work to do: I'd like to paint the walls a different colour, tidy and find a home for the acid-free paper (which you can see is presently on the floor!), but this is a long-term project, so we'll see how it goes! 
I'm excited to see this gradually come together and to have a record of my own progress. Undoubtedly, I'll look back at this post in a few years and be glad to have it documented.

To supplement these Museum Room posts, I would like to post a couple items from my collection: Today, Snuff boxes! 

These are three relatively recent acquisitions, 19th-century paper mache snuff boxes. I suspect the first one might be turn of the century, as the border seems to be in the art nouveau style and the font of the "Help yourself!" corresponds. I find the text very charming, as it can either be read as an invitation or a sarcastic remark.
The third box is minuit! I didn't realise snuff boxes came in such a small size, especially with the level of detail shown by the inlaid design. Perhaps it was for someone who couldn't afford much snuff or was trying to cut back, so they bought a smaller but still stylish box. 
All of these boxes still have the smell of tobacco lingering on them, leaving me with no doubt that they were snuff boxes. Despite not smoking or partaking in tobacco myself, I find these objects compelling as they were such an ingrained item that most 19th-century men would have on hand. They were personal objects, as shown by an endearing addition to the second box: 

The initials E.A.L have been scratched into the underside of the lid of this box. What name they stood for is lost, but we do know that whoever owned it was determined that people would know it was his.
I wondered if the metal oval on the lid was a place for initials to be engraved; perhaps E.A.L couldn't afford to have it done or didn't want to for one reason or another. Or the oval is merely decorative.

Whatever may be the case, these little boxes have a lot of story to tell as practical domestic objects which bare the Victorian taste for making mundane items beautiful, and they are a part of my collection that I hold very dear.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

W. Woods Areca Nut Toothpaste

Potlids are a staple of 19th-century pharmaceutical antiques, with the most common, in my experience, being toothpaste containers. Some time ago, I was lucky enough to find a fragment of a lid while mud larking that still had some of the text on it. 

Pot lid fragment.

I guessed from the word "Enamel" that it must've been from a toothpaste pot, but I didn't look into it any further until I came upon the full version of the very same lid in an antique shop and recognised it from my fragment.

Woods Areca Nut Tooth Paste.

It's a particularly fine example, with only a slight crack on the left-hand side and free of any chipping. Although the rest of the lids in my collection have broken rims and evidence of repair, this one is nearly perfect. 

The found shard on top of the whole lid demonstrating the similarity.

W. Woods also made a larger pot lid at a higher price of one shilling or 1s. 
The smaller and more common lids, possibly because their smaller size makes them less likely to break, were a sixpence or 6d. 

W. Woods & Son was a Plymouth-based chemist that operated, as far as I can tell, throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. But according to "Antique Bottles Collectors Encyclopaedia", their pot lids get found all over the globe. This could be because they were exported, or people visiting other countries brought their toothpaste. I imagine it to be both. 

Other toothpaste, such as cherry flavour, existed, but areca nut seems to have been the favoured ingredient. The areca or betel nut was used in Arabia prior to its introduction to Britain in the 1800s. Traditionally, the nut is chewed to promote the strength of teeth and gums, though it leaves a blackish pigment in its wake. To counteract the staining, English pharmacists included betel nut charcoal in their toothpaste, though this rendered the actual benefits of the nut useless. So whether the areca nut toothpaste was effective at all is doubtful. 

(More on the usage of betel nut in toothpaste can be found in "Journal of the History of Medicine: Vol. 39, January 1984, Toothpastes Containing Betel Nut (Arec a catech u L. ) from England of the Nineteenth Century" By Peter A. Reichart - where I got my information for this post) 

Various potlids from my collection

Pot lids are a varied area of antique collecting, which I find particularly interesting as they encompass a day-to-day aspect of 19th-century life. They were items that would be kept in the house and considered ordinary, but thanks to the text that remains on them, a lot of history can be teased out of a small piece of ceramic.