Ear Pick and Nail Parer thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery

Ear Pick and Nail Parer

1400-1500 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Manicure instruments like this, which are now rare, would once have been owned by everyone with aspirations to fine living.Here the handle is twisted like a corkscrew, with a small cup-shaped depression at one end, which acts as a a spoon to remove ear wax. It is joined to a small knife, with a sharp lower edge, which was used as a nail parer. The blunt upper edge, with slight serrations towards the top, was possibly used as a nail file. The word IHS inscribed in Gothic script on the knife blade represents the abbreviated name for 'Jesus' in Latin. This inscription was understood as a protection against all evils, and was written, painted or woven on a huge variety of objects, ranging from brooches and small implementslike this, to carpets and dishes. Sixteenth-century writers, echoing the classical authorities, advised that nails should be long enough to protect fingers but short enough to allow them to grasp tiny objects.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Silver
Brief Description
Ear pick and nail parer, silver, England, probably 1400-1500.
Physical Description
The handle is twisted like a corkscrew, with a small cup-shaped depression at one end. It is joined to a small knife, which was used as a nail parer. This has a blunt upper edge, with slight serrations towards the top, possibly used as a nail file. The lower edge of the nail parer is sharp . The words IHS are inscribed in lower case Gothic script on the knife blade.
Dimensions
  • Height: 0.6cm
  • Width: 7.8cm
  • Depth: 0.5cm
Marks and Inscriptions
IHS and a star
Historical context
The name of Jesus and its abbreviations, such as IHS was understood as a protection against all evils, and was written, painted or woven on a huge variety of objects, ranging from brooches and small implements such as this one, to carpets and dishes. The effigy of Sir Richard de Willoughby, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench under Edward III in Willoughby Church, Nottinghamshire, wears a girdle pendant inscribed IHC (=IHS) and the present nail file may well have hung as a pendant from a girdle too, although, as it does not appear to have any holes or hooks for attachment, it is more likely that it was kept in a case, as part of a toiletry set. During the 15th century hygiene was seen as benefiting from regular expulsion of the ‘poisons’ that were produced within it. As a result cleaning the ears was perceived as facilitating the ‘purging of the brain’, and the aristocracy had specific objects for cleaning the ears made of silver or gold and enamel, often hung on chains
Summary
Manicure instruments like this, which are now rare, would once have been owned by everyone with aspirations to fine living.Here the handle is twisted like a corkscrew, with a small cup-shaped depression at one end, which acts as a a spoon to remove ear wax. It is joined to a small knife, with a sharp lower edge, which was used as a nail parer. The blunt upper edge, with slight serrations towards the top, was possibly used as a nail file. The word IHS inscribed in Gothic script on the knife blade represents the abbreviated name for 'Jesus' in Latin. This inscription was understood as a protection against all evils, and was written, painted or woven on a huge variety of objects, ranging from brooches and small implementslike this, to carpets and dishes. Sixteenth-century writers, echoing the classical authorities, advised that nails should be long enough to protect fingers but short enough to allow them to grasp tiny objects.
Bibliographic References
  • Marta Ajmar-Wollheim and Flora Dennis (eds.), At Home in Renaissance Italy, London 2006, p. 180-181.
  • Joan Evans, Magical Jewels, 1922.
  • Campbell, Marian. A silver knife-shaped toiletry implement. Antiquaries Journal. 1990, vol. LXX, pt 2. p.467
  • Sophie Page and Marina Wallace, Spellbound: magic, ritual and witchcraft, Ashmolean, 2018, p. 31, fig. 21
Collection
Accession Number
M.44-1996

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record createdDecember 19, 2006
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