Travelers in Georgian times were expected to provide their own eating utensils or flatware. These sets were called "Nécessaire" and include anything from a lowly bone-handled knife and fork to a sort of elaborate dressing case that includes gilded silverware and a cup. At first the forks in these sets were two tined and looked more like a meat fork. By Regency times forks had begun having three tines. The handles might be silver or ivory. The fiddle shaped handle was all the rage during the Georgian period. An individual place setting of flatware was also taken along to parties as hostesses did not begin providing silverware for all their guests until the late 18th century. When, during the Regency, London surpassed Amsterdam to become the richest city in the world, hosts flaunted their wealth with large dinner parties and huge sets of silverware and a variety of specialized serving pieces.
It is described as containing glass bottles, tweezers, a pearl-handled sponge, a spoon, bodkin and scissors. And of course it is topped by a travel clock!
As I have mentioned in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman my ancestor Richard Hall was a great fan of the jeweller and entrepreneur James Cox. He was his exact contemporary (they were born a couple of years apart and died within a few months of each other). Richard frequently records that he ‘took tea’ with James and as a regular visitor to his museum at Spring Gardens there is every likelihood that he would have seen this piece. It is described as being a nécessaire incorporating “an automatom watch, dating from the 1770′s with a moss agate case mounted in gold and set with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds; silver; and mirror glass; dial: white enamel, with frame pavé set with paste jewels. It is held at the Metroplitan Museum of Art.
The Royal Collection also holds an example of a James Cox nécessaire, with the explanation: When the lid is opened, a watch and automaton are revealed. The watch face is surrounded by an outer circle set with ten jewelled roundels; these spin individually around the watch face as the outer circle rotates. This appears to have been a favoured device and is found on other watches and clocks by Cox, including examples sent to the Emperor of China. A painted chinoiserie scene hides the back of the mechanism. Below this a second compartment is fitted with various cosmetic bottles and implements. Agate, gold, silver, coloured paste, pearls, glass, gouache are all used in this piece. It became part of the Royal Collection when Queen Mary gave it to her husband (George V) on Christmas Day 1925.
Another example found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.The description is that it is made of gold and agate by French watchmaker Joseph Martineau senior, who was active in London between 1744 and 1770.
But the heyday of the necessaire was surely inthe Victorian era. Theboxes developed into beautifully engineered cases which held a multitude of fine things, which were intended to be used rather than merely looked at. Lift the lid on this splendid coromandel and brass case and the sides automatically open out and the front drops down to reveal a positive cornucopia of goodies – cut glass scent bottles, brushes, mirrors, sewing implements and indeed everything a lady could possibly want on her journey right down to a screw-in hook (in case your host did not provide one for your silk peignoir on the back of the door.