Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Object of the Week - Bonbonnière

In the 18th century, when regular trips to the dental hygienist weren’t really an option, what was a lady to do about the bad smell of gingivitis emanating from her lips? To mask this problem, 18th century women would carry around sugar coated nuts or herbs that they could slip on the tongue. But of course, a fashionable lady would need something beautiful to contain the mints - so what was basically a ‘tic tac’ box turned into a fashion accessory to be shown off in society. Known as a Bonbonnière, from the French for Bonbon meaning sweet, these small ornate boxes came in various forms from standard box shapes to animals and figurines.

Cecil Higgins collected various Bonbonnière’s the finest of which were made at the Chelsea Porcelain Factory. This one from the 1760’s is particularly lovely.

Chelsea Bonbonnière, about 1755-1760 (7.5cm tall)

In the form of a mans head it is made from porcelain painted with enamels, the gilt collar opens to reveal even more decoration with painted sprays of flowers inside and out.

Side view

Cecil Higgins bought the Bonbonnière in October 1937 during the height of his museum collecting from one of his regular suppliers, Hyam & Co Antiques on Brampton Road, London. It was a profitable day for the company that specialised in ‘Old China and Pottery’, as Higgins spent nearly £200 on porcelain including a pair of Bow dancing figures, a Ludwigsburg Gallant and his Lady, and a Alcora teapot in the form of a hen with a chick on its back.

Unfortunately whilst the ladies who carried Bonbonnières may have had more pleasant smelling breath, the sweets - largely made of sugar - would have done nothing to help the initial cause of the problem, as sugars' potential to rot teeth was not widely known.

Victoria Partridge,
Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art

No comments:

Post a Comment