|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
( Article orginally published September 1963 )
The Victorian gentleman wore black -- black suits, overcoats, gaiters, and hats, reserving colored or white vests for formal events. He lightened this decorous choice by the use of rich and elaborate accessories. The self-respecting head of a household carried a cane, frequently goldheaded, as he strolled to his office. Canes were usually ebony sticks; handles were straight, square crooks, round crooks, or pear heads. Those of gold, or gold plate, were handsomely engraved; pear heads were elaborately embossed. If space in the design permitted, the owner's name was engraved in it.
Men's rings were large and impressive--perhaps an initial outlined in diamonds on a black onyx stone, or a cameo of the tiger-eye variety.
Vest chains were heavy, consisting of two long chains fastened together by a ring which held a short chain with a bar at the end. This bar slipped into a buttonhole in the vest, and the long chains, watch on one end, accessories on the other, were worn across the front to a pocket on each side.
Vest chain accessories were many and varied. For the man who smoked there were gold cigar cutters. There were also gold toothpicks. The one pictured here screws into the handle and can be completely enclosed. Gold pencils and silver pens were often used. Charms hung from a short chain were popular. Sometimes the charm indicated the profession or avocation of its wearer - a horseman might choose a stirrup; a seaman, a "reliable compass." Fraternal emblems were in demand. For those who could afford them, there were large lockets of gold or platinum, finely engraved, flashing with diamonds. No one can deny that the man of the 1860s and 1870s did not put up an impressive front!
Silver match boxes made convenient pocket pieces. There were also tobacco boxes, quite similar to the match box pictured, but a little larger, and opening from the side. Necessary collar buttons, shirt studs, and cuff buttons became important. Some buttons had solid posts; others separated by pressing on the little buttons on each side. The moss agate cuff buttons shown here are of the latter type. Studs in solid gold or plate, or of diamonds, vied in importance with the watch chain. A close second was the tie pin. The conventional gentleman might select a large but simple Ascot pin like the one pictured; his sportier fellows liked a tie pin as flashing as their studs. All kinds of designs were used-stars, crescents, birds, and. wishbones-all jeweled.
Watches for men were thick and heavy, and flippantly called "turnips." Here the engraver did his finest work. Landscape, floral, and conventional designs were equally popular. Many cases were contemporarily listed as "18-K or plump quality."