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Vinaigrettes

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Dating back to the 18th century, sterling silver vinaigrettes have a rich history. Craftsmen primarily designed these small, decorative containers to hold aromatic substances like vinegar, spices, or perfumed sponges.  These were then used to mask unpleasant odours.

18th Century Origins

In the 18th century, vinaigrettes gained popularity when personal hygiene and sanitation practices weren’t as advanced as today. Their primary purpose was to provide a means of refreshing oneself in environments with strong odours or poor sanitation.

Design and Craftsmanship

Craftsmen favoured sterling silver for crafting vinaigrettes due to its non-reactive nature, preventing any chemical reactions with the aromatic substances. They created intricate and ornate designs, often incorporating engravings, embossing, and sometimes enamel work.

Functional Features

Vinaigrettes typically had two compartments: one for holding a small sponge soaked in aromatic substances and another for storing a solid perfume or a small container of vinegar. The lid of the vinaigrette featured pierced or grill-like openings, allowing the scent to emerge while preventing direct contact with the aromatic substances.

Fashionable Accessories

As personal hygiene and etiquette gained importance in the 18th and 19th centuries, both men and women carried them as fashionable accessories. They often wore these small silver containers as part of a chatelaine or attached them to a chain.

Symbolism and Sentiment

People sometimes exchanged vinaigrettes as tokens of affection or friendship, featuring secret compartments for hidden messages or locks of hair. Some vinaigrettes incorporated thematic designs, including symbols of love, mourning, or religious significance.

Decline in Use

Advances in hygiene, sanitation, and changing societal norms in the mid-19th century led to a decline in the practical use of vinaigrettes. Despite their diminished functional utility, vinaigrettes continued to be popular as decorative items and collector’s pieces.

Collectability and Antiques

Collectors and enthusiasts highly prize antique these items for their craftsmanship, historical significance, and often elaborate designs. Some vinaigrettes are considered valuable not only for their aesthetic appeal but also for their connection to a bygone era of etiquette and personal care. In modern times, although vinaigrettes are no longer essential for practical use, individuals continue to appreciate them as small, exquisite examples of silversmith craftsmanship. Collectors of silverware and historical artefacts often actively seek them out.

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