The grooming accessories used by Regency women reflected the growing movement towards a more natural approach to body-care and make-up.
The beginning of the 19th century marked important changes in the history of fashion
in Britain. In the space of a few years, the appearance of both men and women altered enormously compared to the previous century, revealing new attitudes to dress and personal grooming which seem normal today, but were quite radical at the time.
Out went the everyday powdered wigs that typified the 18th century, along with many of the other trappings that people commonly donned to present themselves in
public. Heavily scented toilet waters, for example, which both sexes used to conceal body odours, were used less due to the increasing habit of regular washing with soap and water.
Women began to forego heavy doll-like masks of make-up and strove for a simpler style based on 'natural beauty'. In some quarters, young women were encouraged to avoid even the merest flush of rouge, though it was generally accepted that older women might justifiably use a considerable amount. In between the extremes, the new art of make-up was largely concerned with how to disguise the fact that it was being worn at all.
AIDS TO BEAUTY
'Natural beauty' still called on cosmetic aids, and perfumes, face-powders, patches to cover pock marks, Spanish wool and other preparations for rouging the cheeks, continued to sell as well as ever. It was simply that subtlety and delicacy were now paramount.
Perfume continued to be worn daily, though not as the cover-up it had been. Now it was applied primarily to enhance cleanliness and also to act as a restorative and a protector against infectious diseases. It was believed that eau-de-Cologne had health-giving properties if a little were drunk and, among the well-to-do, small perfume-filled smelling bottles or vinaigrettes were almost universally carried.
Hairbrushes and combs found a new place on the dressing table now that hair was revealed instead of being flattened and covered by a wig. And along with the brush and comb went small, pretty pots that held various preparations to make the hair look sleek and glossy after being washed.
Many of the containers used on the dressing table were finely made ornamental pieces, fashioned from silver, porcelain or cut glass. Some accessories were kept in specially designed cases called etuis. One kind of e'tui was specially made to hold a set of scissors, nail file, tweezers and a silver pencil-holder.
Many of a woman's favourite and most used hair and makeup accessories were backed with silver. Even the ground glass Stoppers of her perfume bottles were capped with silver.
Of the many assorted implements and containers that appeal to the collector of antique grooming accessories, the only ones that present no difficulty in dating are those made in hallmarked silver - providing, that is, you go out armed with a good book on hallmarks.
SMALL SILVER ITEMS
However, even with silver there may be problems, as many of the smaller items, like toothpicks or the caps on the glass stoppers of small smelling bottles, were too tiny to be marked. Though a great many items were made in silver, such as silver-handIed shoe-horns, soap dish lids, perfume bottles and so on, it is not always easy to value them accurately without a great deal of knowledge, as some items are great rarities, eagerly sought by specialist collectors, while others are relatively commonplace.
The best approach in this field is to seek the advice of a reputable dealer, especially if you intend to spend a large amount.
GLASS SCENT BOTTLES
Glass and ceramic containers may be even more of challenge for the new collector. Scent bottles, for example, are quite easy to find but have long been produced in imitation of antique styles - though there are a few clues that you can follow. At the end of the 18th century, Bristol blue glass and opaque white glass were frequently used for small, flat scent bottles.
The Regency period also saw a much greater use of cut glass, even though this was expensive to produce. Here, one of the treasures to come across would be one of the large cut-glass bottles decorated with cameos made by Apsley Pellatt.
Another type of glass which became fashionable in the early 19th century, and which has been used for scent bottles ever since, is 'Bohemian' glass with its coloured overlays of amber and red. Cheap bottles were also made in the glass associated with the Nailsea factory, with swirls of colour set in clear glass.
HORN AND TORTOISESHELL
Many of the cheaper pieces of dressing-table equipment in the Regency period were made of horn - usually stained in imitation of the much more expensive tortoiseshell. Horn, though, does not catch the light quite like tortoiseshell does, and it is fairly easy to learn to appreciate the difference.