Google the word ‘nécessaire’ and you come up with two rather different types of item, both of which got their name from the fact that they were ‘necessary’ when travelling.
The first items are simple containers for everyday utensils such as cutlery or sewing materials. In the early part of the Eighteenth Century it was not uncommon to find that your host expected you to bring your own table implements and it was really only in the second half of the century that people splashed out on knives and forks for the entire assembled company. In particular, if you called at an inn it would be prudent to have with you your own set of feeding implements. The cutlery would be held in a small case or clasp, such as in this French example from the late 1600’s. It is described as a ‘Nécessaire de bouche de chasseur’ and contained three items namely a bodkin, a knife, and a two-pronged fork. These are elaborately engraved as can be seen from this picture, shown courtsey of Expertissim at their site at http://en.expertissim.com/.
Another example of a small portable cases is this Georgian nécessaire on the left containing a sewing kit, pocket knife and pencil, taken from the Lang Antiques website at www.langantiques.com In a way it was the Swiss Army knife of its day and in time these handy and beautifully ornate containers evolved into modern handbags – something in which you could keep make-up, cigarettes etc. On the right is a splendid Stafforshire-ware enamel nécessaire described as being ‘painted with figures by a lakeside palace, a courting couple and floral bouquets, reserved against a pink ground with raised white and gilt ornament, gilt-metal mounts, the interior with five various implements including a fruit knife with steel blade, an ivory notelet, a pencil and a folding ruler’ (extract and picture courtesy of Carters Price Guide to Antiques). Other containers were associated with writing implements, sewing kits etc.
I also came across this delightful necessaire (or étui ) show-cased on the site called Possessions of a Lady’
Fine and beautiful as these things are, they are in a different league from the other nécessaires – the travel cases which are more like a portmanteau, and which evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries. More of those in my next post!