Monday, September 23, 2013

Keys to the Castle - Mystery Artifact Revealed!

Last week's mystery artifact produced some interesting speculation, including a guess that it was a kit for testing for gold (great idea, RJD)!  Paula R. was closer with her guess that it was a sewing kit, even while noting "why it's on chains, though, I can't imagine!"  Kim S. and Jen W. ultimately knew the answer why it is a sewing kit on chains - this piece is an item called a chatelaine.

Chatelaines were both a decorative and functional piece of jewelry, worn hanging from the waist.  To the top hook, often adorned with a medallion, were attached chains from which hung useful items including keys, pocket watches, a vial for perfume or smelling salts, spectacle cases and writing implements.  Some chatelaines were used as needlework kits, similar to ours, which contains (from top to bottom in the photo) a scissor holder (with missing scissors), a round pin cushion, and a thimble-holder shaped like a tiny bucket.  Although we have no proof, I would speculate that the threaded top piece on the same loop as the pincushion used to screw into a hollow and cylindrical needle case.

The name chatelaine derives from "La Chatelaine," which translated from French indicates the mistress of the castle household (or, as I prefer to translate it, "She Who Holds the Keys to the Castle")!  This well-written blog discusses the etymology of the name, along with a wealth of fascinating information about chatelaines:

I think the discussion of nurses' chatelaines was most interesting, especially in the author's comparison of nurses' chatelaines to the modern-day practices of nurses in the children's hospital where she worked.

This blog also includes these fabulous cartoons from the 19th-century British Punch Magazine:

(I think the first might be my favorite)!

This blog, from Montgomery County near our old stomping grounds in Maryland,  showcases a really beautiful example:

Unlike with our chatelaine, the Montgomery County Historical Society is lucky enough to have a full provenance (history of ownership) of the artifact.

I leave you with a few more beautiful chatelaine examples.  This first one is from the collections of the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, created in France in the early 19th Century:

And this one, possibly my favorite artifact of all time, ever :

Any steampunk enthusiasts out there?  This incredible artifact, dating from 1887, can be found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One more link, just in case anyone out there has been inspired to purchase a handy chatelaine of their very own (no joke - I'm beginning to think this is the perfect item on which to keep all my keys to the museum and various collections rooms!):

Although I have to admit, I'm having trouble deciding between the thistle and the pewter heart . . . .

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