Travelling is an activity that human beings love to undertake. In different eras, the significance of the travel takes however different dimensions. On the above-mentioned quotation of Francis Bacon, travelling in the early seventeenth century is thought to be an important part of a man’s life, especially for his education and his overall experience. However, men were travelling since the Antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages: for economic reasons (e.g. merchandising), for conducting wars and expanding empires (e.g. the foundation of colonies) or for pilgrimage (e.g. Christians going to Jerusalem).
Historical Context of Travelling
Tokens of the experiences during the travelling adventures of a Renaissance and an early seventeenth-century European are several objects of the material and table culture. These can be for instance representative drinking vessels made from materials such as coconut or nautilus shells. Other objects of the dining culture, which often have a representative function, are those that take the form of ships made of silver. Those are made since the Middle Ages, have a symbolical use and often represent in an ideal or freely-artistic way how people undertook their journeys. Particularly during the seventeenth century, Europeans were quite active in trading with Asia, Africa and parts of the New World, so that travelling became an established habit. Influences on the diet, like the regular consumption of coffee and tea in Europe, reflect the impacts of journeys on different aspects of life.
A new era for travelling appears with the eighteenth century. The century of the Enlightenment raises travelling to a very important activity for the young members of aristocratic and noble families across Europe when reaching adult age. Intellectual, cultural, artistic and scientific interests were closely bound to these journeys. Every young man – but also sometimes women (see e.g. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) – should visit places like Italy and even Greece and other places of the Ottoman empire, like Istanbul/Constantinople. These journeys took the name of “Grand Tour”. By this, it was meant that people undertook long journeys, passing through every possible, interesting city of the European continent and having as destination the Italian peninsula and even further. All this is connected to the development of modern scientific disciplines like Archaeology and Art History but also to the search of the Western civilisation’s roots.
In the nineteenth century, there is an abundant production of books giving advice on how one can travel in a safe and comfortable way. These testify that the Grand Tour was still an activity en vogue, especially if one considers the evolution in the means of transportation. Among the published guides on this matter, there is also a traveller’s guidebook written by William Kitchiner and published around 1828 (third edition), entitled Traveller’s Oracle or Maxims for Locomotion. The author advises the travellers among many other things to bring their own knife, fork and spoon with them. He characterises that as a “no small comfort” (Kitchiner 1828, p. 71), a declaration that says a lot on the conditions that still prevailed in eateries in the UK and continental Europe in the early nineteenth century.
This information is of interest with regards to the relation of antique silver and silver productions to the activity of travelling. The connection is not at once obvious and the title of some objects like for instance “travelling necessaire” can be sometimes misleading. Let us explore in closer detail how exactly antique silver is connected to travelling and to some objects made of silver.
Travel and “Travelling Necessaires”
Our focus here is on this complex object of the early modern era called “travelling necessaire” or “etui” or “case”. This means shortly a case, which can be transported and which contains the most necessary objects for the travel (the necessaries or “nécessaires” in French). These were most often made by precious materials like silver, gold, porcelain, glass and other. Travelling necessaries, although of an older origin, became a kind of a mirror of the commercial and social habits of the eighteenth century. The popularity of the Grand Tour within the upper classes and noble or the fact of being away on diplomatic and military missions, increased the demand for travelling necessaires. Moreover, such cases were offered as a gift – from a man to a woman and vice-versa. These necessaires are thus sometimes more witnesses of the sumptuous life-style in the eighteenth century than objects that were used.
Travelling necessaires – in French “nécessaires de voyage” – have a long history in continental Europe and notably in France. They appear in written sources since the late fourteenth century, while in the sixteenth century, Francis I of France (1494-1547) owned such an object of an astonishing quality. The word used for them in French was initially “étui”. Since the seventeenth century, the preferred wording for such objects was “cassette”. In the first quarter of the eighteenth century, the new word used was “nécessaire” (in a letter of the duchesse d’Orléans in 1718).
The name „nécessaire de voyage” is thus rather given and used since the early eighteenth century. The theatre author Beaumarchais even mentions such an object in his play The Barber of Seville (1775): “Bartolo, criant: Qu’est-ce aue j’entends donc? Le cruel barbier aura tout laisse tomber par l’escalier, et les plus belles pièces de mon nécessaire !… » (III act, scene V). Such cases, used for sets made for drinking coffee, tea and chocolate while on travel, they were quite often mentioned in dictionaries of their time as “furniture” (“meubles”). However, their increased popularity throughout the eighteenth century enriched their character. They gradually contained a selection of toilet articles, writing equipment, cutlery and other items for several uses. The number of their forms, their contents and their uses was very rich throughout this century and merchants sold them in abundance.
Such a case presented by Helga Matzke, made for Margravine Philippine Auguste Amalie of Brandenburg-Schwedt (1745-1800), shows the great popularity and the different functions that these objects continued to have at the turn of century.