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What a Lady Might Carry in Her Reticule, Part 3: Coin Purses, Fans, Vinaigrettes

March 7, 2021

by Candice Hern

What a Lady Might Carry in Her Reticule, Part 3: Coin Purses, Fans, Vinaigrettes

The final installment in Candice Hern's video series, "Things That Might Be Kept in a Reticule," is now available online. —Editor

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The third and final video in this series features items I consider to have been essential to ladies of Jane Austen’s time: items that most women would have carried in their reticules at all times.

Reticules were generally draw-string bags made of fabric. They were simple open bags with no compartments or separators. So, whatever you tossed in the reticule would just float around inside. Diaries, perfume étuis, and cosmetic cases offered their own protection, but what about money? If the reticule was small, one might just toss a few coins inside. But with a larger reticule, one that might have carried some or all of those other items, and a lady would want to keep her money separate and easily accessible. They didn’t have wallets yet, but they did have coin purses. I show three types of coin purses in this video.

reticule part3 image

Coin Purse
(Image courtesy of Candice Hern)

Another essential item was a fan. For evening gatherings, especially, a fan would be needed to cool off in a crowded room. It could also be used to send signals to a certain gentleman, such as “follow me” or “we are watched” or “kiss me.”  The fans I collect are called brisé fans, a modern term that means pierced or broken. These fans have no folded silk or paper leaf. The fan sticks are their own decoration, pierced with lovely motifs. Brisé fans were made of all sorts of materials. I own fans of ivory, bone, green horn, tortoiseshell, and more. Judging from the ladies’ magazines of the day, ivory pierced fans were among the most popular. In this video I share two ivory fans and one of mother-of-pearl.

The final essential item to be found in a ladies’ reticule was a vinaigrette—not a vial of salad dressing, but a tiny hinged box with a sponge inside that had been soaked in various aromatic substances dissolved in vinegar. The sponge was protected by a pierced or decorative grill. The vinaigrette was used as a sort of smelling salts. After all, with tight lacing, one never knew when a swoon would come upon one. The most common British vinaigrettes are made of sterling, with the interior gilded to prevent discoloration from the acetic acid of the vinegar, which does not affect gold. I have dozens and dozens of these little treasures. It’s one of my favorite collections.

Copyright Candice Hern

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Candice Hern is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical romance novels set during the English Regency, and her award-winning website is often cited for its extensive Regency World pages.