Saturday, May 6, 2017
Establishing the status-setting fashion of the day
When the industrial revolution took place in the mid -19th century, a wealthy middle class emerged. These Victorian-aged bosses of industry, professionals, hard-working merchants and those educated aristocrats all had to keep up a front and, in turn, had a hand in establishing the status-setting fashion of the day.
The Victorian gentleman wore black - black suits, overcoats, gaiters and hats. White vests were reserved for evenings or formal wear. To offset this sombre colour, he acquired a collection of elaborate accessories. Probably the best known is the watch or vest chain.
The earlier chains were heavy as they consisted of two long chains fastened together by a ring that held a much shorter chain with a crossbar at the end. This bar slipped into a buttonhole in the vest, and the long chains held a pocket watch on one end and accessories on the other. These were worn across the front of the suit coat and ended in a pocket on each side. The links of the chain, though often gold-filled, were also made of gold and came in various designs. These were known as Alberts or double Alberts, after Victoria's consort. Although available in different lengths, the chains were meant to be worn draped as opposed to pulled taught. The fancy or ornate crossbars tended to be worn from the inside-out to make them visible, while the standard bars were usually worn so they were not visible. The Albert-style pocket-watch chain, the pocket watch itself as well as the charm, locket or fob such as a pocket knife, watch key, compass, cigar cutter or fraternal symbol have all become interesting and, often, quite valuable collectibles.
For the Victorian gentleman, vest-chain accessories were many and varied. Gold and silver pens and pencils were popular. For those who smoked, there were gold cigar cutters. Choice sometimes ran to a gold or silver toothpick - the pick screwed into the handle to completely enclose it. How about your own personal swizzle stick? The swizzle end would retract into the barrel once one had stirred one's cocktail, and it was then tucked away into a vest pocket. Charms set with diamonds and other precious stones were frequently given as gifts. Sometimes the charm indicated the profession or hobby of its wearer. Lodge pendants have become a collectible entity unto themselves, as have items with armorial designs and patterns.
Watches for gentlemen in Victorian times were often thick and heavy. These turnips, as they were called, are far from scarce. Most every estate will have one or two tucked away, and though many have little value, others can be worth thousands of dollars. Recently, a Waltham pocket watch came to light that was destined for a garage sale table. The watchworks themselves were commonplace and not terribly exciting, but they were housed in a 14-karat yellow gold closed case that weighed two ounces. This old watch was worth $1,800 in gold value alone in today's marketplace. Pocket watches with complications such as a "moon phase" dial or those watches designated as "railroad" grade are invariably worth a great deal more than the standard type. Watch cases could be plain, engine-turned or engraved. The engravers delighted in portraying views of romantic cottages, famous castles, a woodland stag in a wooded landscape or exotic floral and even "naughty" fantasies. Often, the more elaborate the engraving, the more valuable the pocket watch. As noted, the material used to make a watch case can having a huge bearing on the value. Gold-filled cased watches usually have much less value than a solid gold or sterling silver-cased pocket watch - but not always. Proceed with caution before discarding one of these old "turnips."
Another accessory that was sometimes attached to the chain or kept conveniently in the vest pocket was the match safe - a device that was used to house vesta matches or "lucifers." Often, these are improperly identified today. However, they are another collectible item that form their own category.
Collar buttons, shirt studs and cuff buttons and links became important in that day. Hardly ever worn today, these items are often set aside as useless when clearing an estate. A Victorian gent's studs and links were often made of gold or silver and set with gem-quality jewels. These things vied for importance with the watch chain. A close second was the tie or cravat pin. A gentleman could select a large but simple pin or a more elaborate one made with precious stones. Men's rings in that day were large and impressive. Often, a ring was made with an initial surrounded with diamonds, all set in gold. Others might contain a cameo or tiger-eye stone. Fraternal emblems were also in demand.