An exhibition combining a unique collection of “bouquet holders” belonging to a private collector in France, with fans of the same period in time – ranging from the 1830s to the 1880s – is currently on show at The Fan Museum, Greenwich until 23rd July 2006.
“Bouquet holders” often referred to as “posy holders” have not been extensively studied so far and only recently – thanks to the unique collection of Mr and Mme Kenber – have been brought back to their former glory and are now considered as interesting collectable as well as beautiful items.
Their origin seems to point to France at the Court of Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV when it was common for a lady to wear fresh flowers in her hair or on her outfit. The hygiene of the time was questionable and everything which could allow fresh flowers to keep their perfume for longer was considered valuable: Bouquet holders, as tiny vases which could be directly placed on one’s toilette were born. The fashion then spread rapidly to all the European courts, always on the outlook for all things French. The first known mention of it in Great Britain dates from 1719 and 1756 in the United States. In Russia the fashion of carrying bouquet holders made of precious stones and metals just replaced the existing custom of wearing jewellery in the shape of a flower.
In the 19th century the fashion of bouquet holders lead the makers to create more models made from a variety of materials from mother of pearl and pinchbeck to tortoiseshell and silver, gold and diamonds. In 1838 the first bouquet holder appears in the inventory of the gifts given to Queen Victoria and rapidly the bouquet holder (together with the fan) becomes a typical state present. For the christening of the Imperial Prince, the Ville de Paris offers a bouquet holder to the Empress Eugenie.
There is a sumptuous example in the exhibition of a bouquet holder (studded with diamonds and rubies) which was given to Queen Victoria while on a State visit to France in 1855. It has kindly been lent by Her Majesty The Queen and is showing at The Fan Museum for the very first time since it was last in use. Just like fans, bouquet holders were also used as commemorative items, celebrating a historical event. For the marriage of Princess Alexandra in March 1863, the maharadjah Duleep gives her a fan and a bouquet holder made of gold, crystal, diamonds, emeralds and rubies.
The shapes and materials used for bouquet holders follow the similar trends of the 19th century as well as the evolution of the styles, arts and techniques of the time. Bouquet holders can be piece of jewellery and works of art, the romantic accessories “par excellence” at a time when etiquette demanded that a lady should show refinement in both her manners and appearance. They brilliantly evoke the opulence and splendour of a nineteenth century ballroom and show how the Gothic influences so popular at the time and the heavy decorations of the Victorians can permeate society as a whole and shape the ultimate fashion accessories.