Etui with fittings, South Staffordshire, England, ca. 1770. Enameled copper, gilt-copper, cut ivory, steel. Bequest of Sarah Hewitt, 1931-6-105-a/h.

One Woman’s Fancy is another’s Necessaire.

This charming little object-an étui or case, is also called a necessaire. It literally held objects that might be necessary to women of social status, wealth or social pretensions.  Inside, a variety of objects, all very small, are fitted in with the skill of someone who not only knows how they are made but has thought about how their shapes can be put together.  This necessaire includes scissors, useful for cutting thread, if one needed to mend something, or perhaps even an errant hair, a pen knife and tweezers.  It also has the place to hold some thread, and a needle case.  The small pencil and ivory tablet, while they could be used to record something to remember, were more often used as a re-useable dance card with pencil to inscribe the names and order of the gentlemen who asked the owner to dance. 

The outside of the case shows the end user with its feminine delicate rococo scrolls, and images of Diana, the huntress and her dog-a combination of a woman with flare and the dog, when used with a woman,  a symbol of her fidelity.  The object would therefore most likely have been given as a token of affection from a husband to wife.  The concept of a little hand-held accessory evolved into cigarette cases and compacts of the 1920’s but there, the symbolism was more risqué as women stepped out more on their own, and no fidelity was implied.

The case, of enameled copper, is a product of the burgeoning industrial revolution in England. Newly rich merchants- from trade and from industrial products of the Midlands (the central area of England northwest of London) wanted objects that suggested the latest in fashion, but were not necessarily anxious to patronize foreign or London goldsmiths to get these objects, especially when new industries in cities of the Midlands such as Birmingham were producing very good alternatives.

Staffordshire was home to both ceramics and other factories.  Birmingham was a big center for cutlery production-knives, steel-tined forks, and scissors that could be adapted to these miniature fittings.  Enameling was also booming with the firing kilns in that area –for candlesticks, snuff boxes and other objects. In addition the merchants of enamel colors were in that region.  The art of painting on these small boxes often overlapped with the skills of those who painted enamel portrait miniatures, watch-backs and ceramics.  With a strong watch-making industry in London, and Frederick Zincke, a German enamellist who was a court favorite of George II painting enamel miniatures in London during the first half of the eighteenth century, the enamel industry took off by the 1760’s further north as well.  Some of the enamellists who came to England from continental Europe found their way up to these northern enamel factories for additional or steadier income after George II’s death in 1760. There, they and local talent produced enamels in large quantities from tried –and- true designs, but also added new motifs and new fashion influences. 

This étui is the combination of the suggestiveness of French rococo with the skills of the English cutler to produce a personal accessory of fashion and practicality.

Museum Number: 
1931-6-105-a/h