Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Catalog Data

Gilded brass, mother of pearl
5 × 1 1/4 in. (12.7 × 3.2 cm)
Renaissance Revival
Bouquet holders
France, possibly
Victorian (1837-1901)
Open vase of stamped gilded brass and mother of pearl shaft. This interesting design for a bouquet holder incorporates flora and fauna into its composition. The gold vase is formed by three leaves that spring upward in an ‘S' curve. Central veins run through the leaves to their jagged edges. Three smaller leaves surround the base, securing it to the base and handle. A long serpent coils around the vase with its head serving as the lip of the bowl. The surface of the snake's body is adorned with stamped flowers instead of scales. Below the middle, a broken link attached for a chain ending in a floral pin is missing. The vase connects to the handle with a domed band with smooth and textured chevrons in the surface. The handle is a straight spindle made of turned mother of pearl that tapers to a point. Mother of pearl handles retained a cool feeling longer than some other materials. Because of this, they were said to be appropriate for warmer months. A flat area near the bottom of the handle suitable for a band to attach a chain for a finger ring but both are missing. This feature would allow the bouquet holder to be worn from the finger or on a chatelaine at the waist to free the lady's hands while dancing.
Label Text:
Flowers used for personal adornment were a popular, almost mandatory, fashion accessory in the nineteenth century. Small bouquets, called nosegays, posies, or tussie mussies were carried by debutantes, matrons, and girls, and they were a popular gift in the mid to late 1800s among friends and suitors. They were typically created in concentric rings of flowers, tightly wound together, and were often tied with ribbon or placed in a bouquet holder depending on the tastes and fashions. By the 1830s carrying small bouquets of flowers in decorative holders was an established fashion accessory of the upper class and royalty of Europe. These small accessories, also known as posy holders, ‘porte-bouquets’, and ‘bouquetiers’ were both decorative as well as useful. By providing a water source in the bottom of the receptacle, they were able to keep the flowers fresh throughout an occasion, and they also protected the wearer’s gloves or clothing from being stained by the plant pigments. Queen Victoria helped popularize the bouquet holder, and she is seen holding one in her portrait “Queen Victoria at the Drury Lane Theatre, November 1837” painted by E.T. Parris. When the fashion of carrying hand bouquets in decorative holders caught the fancy of the wealthy and middle class, holders were copied and mass produced in a variety of sizes, materials, and embellishments. During the second half of the nineteenth century, holders might be commissioned or purchased from the stock at a jeweler or florist shop. Few were made in the United States, instead they were usually imported from Europe and Asia. They were often given as a commemorative memento of historic encounters or events by the royalty and courts of Europe, but they were also used to celebrate and commemorate important, though less prestigious, events of the wealthy and middle class. Bouquet holders reached the peak of their popularity between the 1830s and 1880s, but it began to dwindle as bouquets of long-stemmed flowers (the latest horticultural development) loosely tied with ribbons surpassed the posy bouquet style. They were not totally out of fashion until the “Roaring Twenties,” when such objects became regarded as trivial and useless. The diversity of styles and mechanisms of bouquet holders is evidence of their longevity as a fashion accessory.
bouquet holders  Search this
bouquetiers  Search this
brass (alloy)  Search this
gilding  Search this
mother of pearl  Search this
porte-bouquets  Search this
porte-fleurs  Search this
Posy holders  Search this
tussie-mussies  Search this
costume accessories  Search this
decorative arts  Search this
fashion  Search this
Victoriana  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection. Gift of Frances Jones Poetker.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Floral Fashions: From Bouquets to Buttonholes
On View:
Smithsonian Institution, Capital Gallery, AAG Cool Storage Vault (3302), Shelf 5A
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens