- Place of origin:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Silver, room 69, case 4
In the seventeenth century, male fashion favoured clean shaven features, and by the 1680s a new type of straight razor, with a narrow folding blade, made the process easier. The French barber Jean-Jacques Perret published a work on the art of shaving in 1769 -- a treatise intended to promote a razor with a protective L-shaped guard along one edge of the metal blade that he had designed himself. This case, with its toilet and shaving implements (the razors are of the folding type), is a well-preserved and early example.
Tortoiseshell was used in the Netherlands as a background to silver openwork on bookbindings and caskets. The tassel and shell-like motifs, together with the curling, interlaced 'c' shapes which decorate this casket and its implements seem to be an interpretation of fashionable seventeenth-century designs such as those by the French-born designer Daniel Marot (1661–1752), who worked principally for the courts of Holland and England.
[Case and shaving set] Silver and tortoiseshell, on a ?wooden core; steel, glass, honestone and possibly carnelian used in the manufacture of the instruments
[Shaving Set Mirror] Rectangular mirror, the glass set in a silver holder with applied silver ornament, set with a circular polished stone, probably carnelian.
[Shaving Set 2-sided Comb] Long teeth of tortoiseshell; the central section decorated and reinforced with a pattern of silver strapwork.
Place of Origin
Marks and inscriptions
Small capital letters 'E T' in a rectangle.
Boar's head facing right.
A 'V' in a shield, surmounted by a crown.
'universally' and 'universally approved'
Height: 33.5 cm Of box, from base to top of raised handle, Width: 8.5 cm Across casket, Depth: 10.5 cm Across casket
[Case and shaving set] Height: 28.6 cm lid closed, does not include handle, Width: 13 cm at widest point, Depth: 11.5 cm at widest point, Width: 11 cm width of base of foot, Depth: 9 cm depth of base of foot
[Shaving Set Mirror] Length: 16.6 cm, Width: 9.5 cm, Thickness: 0.8 cm
[Shaving Set 2-sided Comb] Length: 16.5 cm length of central strip into which comb teeth are set, Width: 3 cm width of central strip to hold comb teeth, Length: 10.5 cm length of comb teeth running along frame, Width: 10.5 cm total width across of comb teeth
[Shaving Set Razor (one of 6)] Length: 16 cm unopened, Width: 2.5 cm unopened, Thickness: 0.7 cm
[Shaving Set Razor Sharpener] Length: 17.5 cm measurement includes handle, Width: 2.9 cm maximum dimension, Depth: 1.2 cm
[Shaving Set Scissors] Length: 18 cm, Width: 5.5 cm maximum at handles, when scissors closed.
Object history note
Nothing is known of the object's early history. Import marks stamped on the silver handle and rims of the casket show the object left the Netherlands, where it was probably made, at an unspecified date and in the nineteenth century travelled across Europe only to return to the Netherlands before 1881. In that year, it was purchased by the Museum from Samuel Wilson, 393 Strand, London, for the sum of £40, when it was described as a late-seventeenth-century dressing case from Portugal. A Museum nominal file ('Mr Wilson', file no. RP/ 1881/3099) records it was one of three objects bought at the time from the dealer, Wilson, in order expand the collections with 'specimens of work of a school hardly represented in the Museum'. The casket was described in the file by J. C. Robinson as 'I think Portuguese work of about the end of the 17th century, a specimen of very original design and beautiful execution of its epoch'.
The other two objects purchased were silver caskets, 190-1881 and 192-1881.
All the blades on the six razors are nineteenth-century replacements, probably made in around 1845 by William and Samuel Butcher of Sheffield (see Lummus, 'More Old Razors', p.373 (razor no.10 for the term 'universally approved' stamped on the handle of a razor), and http://www.taylors1000.com/manufacturers/manufacturers_w.htm). The Sheffield provenance of the razor blades, however, is not proof that the case and its contents were in England at this date because Sheffield steel was widely exported. (See Himsworth, The Story of Cutlery for the importance of the Sheffield trade.)
Historical significance: Portuguese trade links with India and the Americas meant tortoiseshell was a material used by craftsmen across Portugal's territories in caskets and furniture. However, it was also typically used in the Netherlands as a background to silver openwork on bookbindings and caskets. The tassel and shell-like motifs, together with the curling, interlaced 'c' shapes which decorate this casket seem to be an interpretation of fashionable seventeenth-century designs such as those by the French-born designer Daniel Marot (1661–1752), who worked principally for the courts of Holland and England. See for example his design for a mirror frame and for a bed canopy in his Nouueaux Liure d'Ornements, ca. 1702.
Historical context note
The Romans were clean-shaven and had associated beards with foreigners, or 'barbari' (barbarians). Debates over the desirability of a beard as a symbol of masculinity continued into the sixteenth-century (see for example Andrew Boorde's grotesque contribution to the argument for a clean-shaven chin in The Treatyse answerynge the boke of Berdes). In the seventeenth century, male fashion favoured clean shaven features, and by the 1680s a new type of straight razor, with a narrow folding blade, made the process easier (see Sherrow, Encyclopedia of Hair, sub. nom. 'shaving'). The French barber Jean-Jacques Perret published a work on the art of shaving in 1769 -- a treatise intended to promote a razor with a protective L-shaped guard along one edge of the metal blade that he had designed himself. This case, with its toilet and shaving implements (the razors are of the folding type), is a well-preserved and early example (for a slightly later example, see the Portuguese set, dated 1730 - 40, formerly in the collection of the late Earl of Rosebery: Mentmore, lot no. 1818).
Silver and tortoiseshell, on a ?wooden core; steel, glass, honestone and semi-precious stone (possibly carnelian) used in the manufacture of the instruments
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Carré, Louis. A Guide to Old French Plate. London: Chapman & Hall, 1931; 2nd edn London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1971. SBN 413283208
Rosenberg, Marc. Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen: vol. IV: Ausland und Byzanz. Berlin: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1928.
Lummus, Henry T. More Old Razors. In: Antiques, 11.5 (May 1927), pp.372-374.
Himsworth, J.B. The Story of Cutlery from Flint to Stainless Steel. London: Ernest Benn, 1953
Boorde, Andrew. The treatyse answerynge the boke of Berdes, compyled by Collyn Clowte, dedycatyd to Barnarde barber dwellynge in Banbery. London: Robert Wyer, ?1543.
Mentmore: Catalogue of Works of Art and Silver sold on behalf of the Estate of the late 6th Earl of Rosebery and his family, vol. II: Auction catalogue, Sotheby, London, Monday 23 May, 1977: 'Objects of vertu, rings, tortoiseshell [...]'.
Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. London / Westport Conneticut: Greenwood Press, 2006.
Perret, Jean-Jacques. La Pogonotomie ou l'art d'apprendre a se raser soi-meme. Paris: Dufour, 1769
Marot, Daniel. Nouueaux Liure d'Ornements, Pour l'utillitée des Sculpteurs et Orfeures. The Hague, n.d.; facsimile edn L'OEuvre de Daniel Marot: Epoque Louis XIV. Paris: Armand Guérinet, n.d.
See particularly plates 38 and 68.
Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the V&A (National Museum of Korea (Seoul) 02/05/2011-28/08/2011)
Labels and date
Travelling razor set
Silver, tortoiseshell, steel
Possibly Portugal, early 17th c
This dressing case is more a functional item than a treasury piece but still represents the height of luxury. The tortoiseshell case is covered with silver strap-work and shell ornaments, and contains a mirror, comb, pair of scissors, three pairs of razors and a hone (file), all mounted in silver.