Do you enjoy the creeping, musty dread of stately homes? Do you like reading postal catalogues, gift guides and ridiculously expensive retail editorials? Do you often find yourself living vicariously through the worldly possessions of the deceased? Here is a feature for you!
In my quarantine downtime, deprived of my usual hobby of getting lost in museums in off-peak hours (thanks for the memories and terrifying atmosphere, Furniture and Woodwork wing of the V&A!) I instead mastered the art of scrolling through auction websites. I now consider myself a village expert on creepy porcelain dolls, Czech perfume bottles, Hitler death relics and silent film costumes.
I’ve decided to branch out into a new field of lifestyle journalism (retrospective retail?) in order to share some of my favourite finds for the perfect anachronistic Victorian-Edwardian Picnic at Hanging Rock dead lady summer experience! You don’t need to worry about impulse-buying because these items have all been purchased already, by lucky and strange people.
Why not start your morbid Katherine Mansfield-esque garden party off in style in this 1880s gown owned and worn by Empress Elisabeth of Austria? Yes, that Elisabeth of Austria, the Romy Schneider one – many of her possessions went up for auction earlier this month courtesy of Hermann Historica. This dress is super cottagecore (in this season, I hear) and features a whalebone bodice, brocade trimmings, and a waistline ‘somewhat taken out’ – lifestyle secrets of the rich and famous! Pair with her contemporary parasol, which supposedly comes in the colours of the Bavarian flag but still needs cleaning before you can be sure, probably.
This would also be the ideal outfit for a day solving ancient mysteries and looking anguished amongst Greek or Roman ruins – in which case you may also want to pack…
A wicker basket of travel-sized bathroom supplies, also owned by Elisabeth of Austria! This is a steal – for only about £8000, you could be the lucky owner of ‘a porcelain bedpan, a porcelain insert for a portable toilet, four packets of “Papier-Closenettes” (paper toilet seat covers) … various porcelain pots, toothbrushes, brushes and combs, a pair of tweezers, a travel shoehorn/buttonhook, hairpins, hand towel and face flannel, a thermometer, clothes pegs, a small case, a travel clothes hanger, several scented sachets, a small bottle marked “Anker-Pain-Expeller” from Rotterdam and a “Superior English Eau de Cologne” from London, plus a small box of pebbles. Also two carpet beaters’.
As the owner of a Victorian hotel, I personally really hate it when my guests run off with small boxes of pebbles, leaving no pebbles for the next visitor. I’m glad she came prepared instead. And now you can too!
But wait, I hear you say, how could you leave out the most important component of the Victorian-Edwardian dead lady – her Orientalist musk? Perfume Bottles Auction delivers with this unidentified 1883 fragrance – made in England but lacquered as if Japanese, and encased in its own silken asphyxiation tomb.
And how to preserve your time mystery-hunting in the Mediterranean for generations future? Try this leather-bound album made for storing the newfangled and probably quite overrated ‘photograph’. It’s already graced by many of the US presidents you’ll remember from your lifetime, as well as contemporary eccentric Emperor Norton!