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Patches and patch boxes

Posted by on February 28, 2014

The two old patchboxes

The two old patchboxes

Clearing the house after 37 years has meant the rediscovery of all kinds of interesting and half-forgotten items.Among them are two small patch boxes. One is oblong,probably ivory, about 4.5 cm. in length with a hinged lid.The top is decorated with a small glass cartouche, which may once have held a tiny lock of hair.Inside the lid is the original rectangular mirrored glass, now damaged, which I assume was once glued in place. The base is lined with pink silk velvet. It contains one metal and one ivory [or bone] toothpick. Although these imply one use the box was put to, it may also originally have been a patch box. This is suggested in a letter dated 1938 which was given with the box, to my husband’s godmother from her two elderly cousins.

‘Cousin Nan and I are sending you a wee patch box which belonged to your ancestors, and we hope you will like to keep it, it is so quaint and very old. The little things inside were for putting the patches on the cheeks. I think that powdered patches were far more becoming than the lipstick or red and green finger nails used by so many foolish people nowadays!’ It is signed, ‘Your affectionate Cousin Mab’.

It is an interesting observation on the use of green nail-varnish in the 1930s. I thought that was a much more recent fashion trend. No doubt Mab would be horrified by all the make up that is worn today.
The other box is lozenge shaped and made of tortoiseshell. The hinged lid is embellished by an oval cut out with, under glass, the portrait of a lady in 18th century dress.Inside the box is lined with red silk velvet and also contains an oval sheet of glass, once mirrored, now damaged and detached from the lid.This was very likely also a patch box, but no letter exists describing it and we do not know who the original owners -or donors- were.
It is extraordinary that these small items should have survived relatively undamaged over the past 250 years or so. They were obviously luxury items of the day, but kept carefully more for their sentimental value as such objects were often given to young women as tokens of affection.
The fashion for wearing patches was at its height during the late 1600s to the early 1800s.Black patches of gummed silk, which varied in shape and design,were popular with fashionable women [and some men] especially in the 1700s.A gift of a patch box was often an expression of love and admiration and the most expensive ones were made of precious metals, such as gold, or hand painted porcelain.
In 1649, the year King Charles 1 was executed and the Puritans came to power, a Bill was put before Parliament calling for the banning of ‘The Vice of Painting and Wearing Black Patches and Immodest Dresses of Women’ but it was never passed as it was considered impossible to enforce.

One Response to Patches and patch boxes

  1. Diana Devlin

    Shall expect to see you sporting a ‘patch’, Susie! Lovely mementoes.

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