OLD GROOMING ACCESSORIES
After the powdered wigs and beauty patches of the 18th century, Regency men adopted a healthier, more natural approach to personal grooming.
The beginning of the 19th century is an important watershed in the history of fashion. In the space of a few years, the appearance of
both men and women changed radically. Men started to wear trousers instead of breeches, the powdered wig went out of fashion and regular bathing with soap and water became a common practice among the middle and upper classes.
In male fashion, the habits of Beau Brummell set the example for all to follow. His grooming routine included frequent 'country' washing for personal linen, a little abrasive rubbing to improve the circulation, tone up the skin and brighten the cheeks, and thorough brushing of the hair to give it vigour and sheen. Surprisingly, hairbrushes had not been a standard piece of equipment for the toilet table before the last quarter of the 18th century. 'When it came to perfumes for men, Beau Brummell tolerated only a little eau-de Cologne, although less refined men still used Hungary water, orange-flower water and other preparations which had been popular throughout the 18th century.
Facial hair would not become acceptable in good society until the reign of Queen Victoria, so
razors and shaving equipment were very much to
the fore on a gentleman's dressing table. The open cut-throat razors of the early years of the
19th century were already very similar in appearance to those used by 20th
century barbers, as were the shaving brushes made of
pig's bristles or badger hair. Shaving brushes are known to have been introduced from
France in the mid-18th century, but they caught on only very slowly in England. Many gentlemen and barbers continued to use a sponge to lather the face.
By the 1820s, dressing-table sets consisting of mirrors, hairbrushes, silver-topped jars, manicure sets, toothpick cases, razors and shaving brushes were commonplace in male dressing
rooms. Often, wealthy aristocrats would place an order at a leading London silversmith like Storr and Mortimer for a
complete matching set which was neatly boxed in a brassbound travelling case. Luxury sets like this would generally be well looked after, although many of the individual items might be replaced over the years.
Men's grooming accessories from the Regency period a not too difficult to find but you will have to
go to specialist dealers, particularly those who deal in small silver objects of this era. Most dealers carry a number of fine,
exquisite pieces by famous silversmiths which are beyond the average collector's means, but you
may also find small, fairly plain toothpick holders and even tiny silver toothpicks (which
were too small to have a hallmark) which are interesting and affordable.
Hairbrushes with silver, tortoiseshell or ivory backs will be expensive and will almost certainly
have had their bristles replaced more than once. The unadorned, classic style of Regency accessories has a timeless appeal which
has never been out of fashion with gentlemen of taste, so usable objects like these are
always sought after. Moreover, there is a peculiar pleasure in owning an object that can
still be put to its original use after more than 150 years. There is no difficulty in
dating silver objects by their hallmark, so do check this carefully before buying.
Authenticating tortoiseshell is more of a problem since substitutes have been produced since the 19th century; stained horn was an early substitute and celluloid and plastics have been used more recently. Tortoiseshell, however, has a particular translucence when it catches the light which imitations do not have.
Ivory and bone were used extensively. The more valuable ivory is a hard, dense material with fine parallel grains; it becomes brittle with age. Bone looks similar but is softer.
Identifying and dating razors is not too difficult. Blades made during the
18th century were of a cruder and more dangerous design than the cut-throat razor blades that started to appear around 1800. In the older ones there was little or no differentiation between the
wedge-shaped blade and the tang, the shaft of the blade which is attached to and pivots on the rivet through the handle.
Makers' names and the words 'cast steel' engraved on the tang can be useful in identifying early
19th century razors. You may also come across ones marked with days of the week or, with luck, a set of seven, as these were popular gifts from the 1820s to the Victorian era.