Objects In Use Nᵒ.1: Equipage - Displaying Workmanship & Craftswomanship in the Eighteenth Century

A gilt metal equipage with enamel adornments and watch, made in Birmingham, c. 1770.
Sold at Bonhams in 2011 for £3,250.

These items are generally called chatelaines but the name 'chatelaine' was a Victorian invention; during the eighteenth century these articles were called equipage. Equipage was hung from women's dresses at the waist and were produced to both hold and display useful things that a lady may need to hand, such as watches, seals, thimbles, scissors, needle cases, other sewing tools such as button hooks, note cards, perfume bottles and bonbonnières.

The example, above, was almost certainly made in Birmingham, and possibly in a manufactory like John Taylor's.

Equipage in use is seen in this 1742 painting.

Portrait of Miss Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, 1742.
Frick Collection.

Equipage was noted in a 1747 poem called The Bassette-Table by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

Behold this equipage by MATHERS wrought
With fifty guineas (a great pen'orth!) bought!
See on the tooth-pick MARS and CUPID strive,
And both the struggling figures seem to liue.
Upon the bottom see the Queen's bright face;
A myrtle foliage round the thimble case;
JOVE, JOVE himself does on the scissars [sic] shine,
The metal and the workmanship divine.*

Equipages were often articles of overt display so the craftsmanship was important in making them stand out and to be admired. It is interesting that Montagu outlined a conversation about the design and making of the equipage, such as the 'myrtle foliage' and 'workmanship divine', as this was something important to the owners of these items. The fine workmanship of the maker was admired and displayed, and, taking that Montagu's poem related to experiences she observed, discussed with others.

As well as being decorative adornments, equipage held and displayed useful items such as the thimble case and scissors noted by Montagu. Decorative and essential needle crafts were something many women were proud of, and several portraits included women at these employments (image below). Portraits of men also depicted them with objects of their pursuits, such as their collections of coins or fossils, or their favourite snuffbox. Equipage had various uses for women, but one use was in placing the tools of their needlework on display, promoting it as either a useful or pleasurable pursuit, and also keeping these essential tools to hand.

Lady Jane Mathew and her Daughters, artist unknown c. 1790.
Yale Centre for British Art.

Below is one such equipage, made in gilt metal and enamel and included an etui, a container which could include useful articles, this one including scissors and a knife, a bodkin, needle case and strips probably used as rulers. 

The making of these gilt metal and enamel equipages will be explored in a post published tomorrow.

Equipage with two hooks with egg-shaped containers and etui, made in Birmingham, c. 1760.
Wolverhampton Museum Collection.

2020All text belongs to the author and is taken from PhD, contact mappingbirmingham@gmail.com.
* Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Six Town Eclogues. With some other Poems (London: M. Cooper, 1747), p. 22. Mathers was an eighteenth-century toyshop keeper who sold, and likely made, a variety of adornments.
- For information on Victorian chatelaines, see: Jessica Rose Hartley, 'Glittering Baubles: An Examination of Chatelaines in Britain, 1839-1900', in The Journal of Dress History, 4 (2020), 45-71.
- Other chatelaines here and here.

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