Trash or Treasure: Dresser set staple of another age
Pretty and practical, women’s dresser sets were once found on the vanity of any genteel Victorian lady. Marianne Sweet recently brought a set she inherited to DuMouchelles where appraiser and historian Joelle Del Rose took a look and told Sweet and the others gathered a bit of the social history behind the once-popular accessories.
“I have inherited a porcelain vanity/dresser set (tray, bud vase, and 3 containers for beauty implements),” Sweet wrote in her email to the column asking for help determining a value. “It belonged to my grandmother – she received it as a wedding gift on 5/15/1918. The only provenance that I have is shown on one of the photos. My mother wrote “Mom’s Dresser Set Wedding Gift from U. Paul 5/15/18” on the shoebox (!) she packed it in when my Grandmother moved from Hornell, NY to our home in Detroit in 1977. This set is 101 years old, and in beautiful condition. I am quite interested to find out if it has any significance or value.”
Del Rose said the sets usually included matching items with a variety of accessories: tray, brush, small mirror, comb, atomizer, manicure set, button hook, hat pin holder, powder puff, even a shoe horn. At the minimum, sets had a brush, comb and hand mirror. Materials ranged in price and workmanship but included silver, glass and porcelain, with Limoges especially prized and still collected. “It’s rare to find a porcelain set in good condition with all of its pieces,” she added.
Sweet told Del Rose that she had unsuccessfully searched for a similar set on eBay and other sites. “I have found pieces but no complete sets and have never found the pattern,” she added.
Del Rose identified it as a ladies toilette set, adding that Sweet’s five-piece set included a larger tray, a hat pin holder (probably not a vase, as she originally thought), a small bowl, pin tray and a hair receiver. “I went to a historic conference on Victorian women and they explained the symbolism of the hair receiver,” the appraiser explained. “Hair was a woman’s crowning beauty at the time. To be considered really beautiful then women had to have a full head of their own hair. Hair receivers were used to hold hair saved from a brush until it could be used to make hair pieces later.” Hair receivers, she added, fell out of favor with the rise of the flapper and newly short hairstyles.
Sweet’s set is marked Nippon, which is the older name for Japan, Del Rose explained. “Unfortunately, sets like these don’t hold a lot of value in the current market,” she told Sweet. “Porcelain sets like yours were aimed firmly at the middle class market but you can see some really beautiful examples of sterling sets or others by top makers in museums such as the Victoria & Albert in London.”
She valued Sweet’s set at $100, which didn’t deter her. “I think I’m going to keep it anyway,” she said.
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About this item
Item: Dresser set
Owned by: Marianne Sweet
Appraised by: Joelle Del Rose, DuMouchelles
Estimated value: Approx. $100