Sunday, March 1, 2015

Chatelaines - Keys to the Castle (and a Collector's Heart!)

You may or may not be aware of my most extensive personal collection, antique and vintage purses. While my primary interest lies in the Flapper Era (circa 1910 through the mid 1930s) of beaded and mesh handbags, my collection spans a much wider range, both in eras and types.

One unique type within my collection of purses are chatelaines, decorative appendages that were often depicted throughout history with connotations of medieval times and ladies of the castle wearing their keys around their waists.  
One of the most informative and thorough resources for this facet of my purse collection is the reference book pictured above, "Chatelaines Utility to Glorious Extravagance", by Genevieve E. Cummins and Nerylla D. Taunton. The book (311 pp.) was first published in England in 1994 and republished in 1996 by the Antique Collectors' Club in Suffolk. It is hard to find (no longer in print), but I did see a couple used ones on Amazon while drafting this post, priced between $150-$175.
19thC French Enameled Chatelaine
While the history of the chatelaine is covered in this book, beginning from as early as 2000 BC and spanning to the early 20th Century, when its popularity waned, it is also filled with nearly 500 photographs and illustrations of the various types of chatelaines, as well as quotes from fashion magazines of the times. Most significant coverage spans the mid- to late 19th Century, when chatelaines were most popular.

The example of the chatelaine above is one of my own, my finest, sourced from a collector friend who sells on Ruby Lane. It is French, late 19th Century, with six appendages finished in an enameled champleved technique. The name champleve comes from the French word meaning "raised field", though this actual art method involves carving out metalwork and applying porcelain (vitreous) enamel into the cells of the metal, which are then fired until the enamel fuses. The decorative piece is then polished for its finish.
French Chatelaine appendages (L toR): mirror, key, button hook
French Chatelaine appendages (L to R): key, button hook, vinaigrette (perfume), pocket knife,  powder with down puff
The purposes of chatelaines were manufactured and marketed as varied as you can imagine, just as purses of today are found to be. Chatelaines for utility, such as sewing, were considered necessities for women whose worth was measured by her handwork abilities. The two examples below are ones I sourced in 2009, while on the hunt for a significant birthday surprise gift for my sister M, from her husband.
English 5-piece sewing chatelaine
The 5-piece sewing chatelaine above is from the Art Nouveau period (circa 1890-1910). It is marked EPNS (Electroplated Nickel Silver, a high quality plate of the period) on the back of the clip, along with two other English hallmarks. Each of the images within the collage show a little more detail of the overall chatelaine: the scissors scabbard, the thimble bucket (both the original scissors and thimble were long ago separated prior to purchase), a mechanical pencil, a pincushion, and a fanning, celluloid notepad. This is the chatelaine my BIL selected for my sister's birthday.
Victorian 3-piece sewing chatelaine
I chose to keep the 3-piece sewing chatelaine (pictured above) as my own. It has a pincushion, scissors scabbard, and thimble bucket. Though not as ornate or decorative as the 5-piece sewing chatelaine, it is also in the Art Nouveau style.

Yet another example of a chatelaine in my collection (pictured below) crosses into another of my favorite subject matters in collecting: putto, or cherub.  Putti (plural) are often depicted as chubby males (the Italian word comes from Latin putus, meaning boy), usually nude, and sometimes with wings. Though they may have wings, they are considered secular and distinct from cherubim, the biblical angels of the second highest order.
Convertible, late 19thC enameled putto chatelaine
The circa late 19th Century, French champleve enameled putto medallions are on a convertible chain with a single, mesh coin purse as its appendage The kiss lock of the coin purse opens to a divided (also chain mail), two compartment interior, for separation of valuables (perhaps a key from coins).
Detail of enamel work of putti on chatelaine
When worn fully extended the chatelaine is 17"; when worn shorter it is 8". The coin purse is 3" from top of kiss lock to the decorative balls at the base.

Chatelaines were not limited to metals in materials used.  Some were fashioned of leather and textiles, and while the appendages were most certainly metal, they may have been fine metals, such as gold or silver. Decorative trims may have included precious gemstones such as diamonds. There were chatelaines for dress, for sport, for dancing, etc. And chatelaines were not just for women either - men would also wear them with appendages such as watches, crank keys, and monocles (magnifying glass) among them.

One elusive chatelaine in my collecting efforts has been a nursing chatelaine. Although modern-day nurses may wear something that looks similar to engineering pocket protectors to carry important tools, the chatelaines of the early 1900s are a sight to behold! I didn't want to violate any copyrights by showing examples from my book, but if you Google "nursing chatelaine" and click on images just below the search box, you'll see many examples, though none as wonderful as pictured in the reference book above.

As time would prove, women soon grew to want more than what chatelaines could provide in carrying necessities at their ready disposal. Purses grew bigger, yet the fashion of carrying them on the waist remained popular into the turn of the 20th Century. I have a couple more examples of those purse-like chatelaines in my collection, pictured below.
Steel-beaded chatelaine purse, designed to clip onto chatelaine clip, over belt or waistband
This first chatelaine (above) is made of steel beads sewn onto a knitted panel on the front, and a knitted panel only for the back. The chain handle has a larger ring at its topmost point (similar to the rings that join the handle to frame), which would be clipped to the typical chatelaine clip on the waist.

My last example of a chatelaine purse is a hand-beaded rose motif (front and back) on a sterling silver frame, chain and clip with oak leaf motif. It is marked Sterling with 3 hallmarks on the inside of the frame (original lining), and it is monogrammed on the outside back of frame (Anne Vaughan Heins). The closure is what's called a plunge opening: pushing down on the button on top of the frame releases the hooked closure to allow entry.
Though not a chatelaine purse, I have a couple other items in my household, which are part of my bustline collection and collections in a hard-working laundry, and depict a chatelaine. They are a Marwal statue and framed antique print of "Marguerite" (after the 1870 painting by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste "James" Bertrand, 1823-1887). The chatelaine on her hip is what piqued my desire for the pieces initially.
Marwal statue and framed print of "Marguerite", with chatelaine
I hope you've enjoyed my sharing this small portion of my purse collection, as well as a little history on chatelaines. Many of my purses have been sourced through antiquing, but my best ones have been obtained while engaging with fellow collectors. One of those collector friends, Shara Stewart, owns a shop on Ruby Lane called "Everyday's a Gift", and her offerings are exquisite, including examples of chatelaines.

Feel free to either pin any of these images or bookmark this post as a general reference for citing the links I've provided, if interested. If you'd like to see more of my purse collection, there's a link on my sidebar of an online photo book I produced in Shutterfly. If you click on either that image or this title: "A Panoply of Purses", it will take you to the album on the Shutterfly website and allow viewing.  Once at the website, click on VIEW BOOK, then click FULL SCREEN for enlarged photos.

If you are interested, here are a couple of other posts I've shared on my purse collection:
A WWI-Era Beaded Purse Restoration - Before and After
You May Be a Flapper Girl If...

I am a member of  Antique Purse Collector's Society (APCS), and I have come to know many of its approximate 300 members through joining the website first ($25 annual membership fee), but then also meeting members personally at the annual gatherings. We have a gathering each year, and though I don't attend them all, I can't say enough about the APCS - its members, its body of knowledge, its museum-quality collections of its collective members, its source materials (including reference books written by members) - it is a genuinely good group of people, largely female, but a few good men, too. If you or someone you know collects purses, I invite you to consider the APCS. Feel free to email me for information or any questions you may have.

Thanks for your visit!
Rita C. at Panoply
Special thanks to Paula at Ivy and Elephants for featuring this post at What's It Wednesday #157).