Often secreted in the recesses of fine antiques shops or street-side vendor stalls, Grand Tour boxes provide a fascinating link to the past. Seeking out these hidden gems and restoring their lost luster opens doors to imagining the previous owners who once held them so dear.
Sometimes, it is the most diminutive thing that finds lodging in the heart. For collectors such as Rose Ann Kendrick, history-rich Grand Tour boxes offer unique insight into an aristocratic rite of passage and, perhaps, a captivating source of mystery. Who can help but wonder what treasures dear to someone’s heart were contained in such lovely cases?
Delicately embellished with painted or mosaic scenes, the objects originally were collected as souvenirs during a tradition more than a century old, known as the Grand Tour. Young members of nobility traveled the world as a formative experience, returning as cosmopolitan figures prepared to take their places in the upper echelons of society. The boxes collected during these watershed journeys featured the historic sites their owners visited.
“I love the unique, and these are beautiful,” Rose Ann says. “I find the boxes to be very Victorian and interesting— with the places where these sons of kings traveled. Whenever my daughter and I find one, we get so excited. My favorite has a painting of Napoleon’s tomb.” Within chambers belonging to the lady of the house, alongside silver-backed brushes and flagons of perfume, the artfully wrought items were themselves showpieces. They also served as places of safekeeping for a perfectly matched strand of pearls, the faintly scented petals of a dried rose, or a beribboned lock of a loved one’s hair.
These ornamental trinkets reveal the hallmarks of the skilled artisans who created them—from the remarkable design work and beveled-glass sides to silk pillow linings and intricate ormolu details. Individual brushstrokes on the smallest scale render edifices with painstaking precision, bestowing immortality to landmarks from long ago. But the boxes are most beloved for the sentiments they have long held—perhaps faded by the years, yet still lending a warm glow of fondest remembrance.
Styling Yukie McLean
To learn more about Grand Tour boxes, see “Keepsakes of the Heart” on page 75 of the July/August 2014 issue of Victoria.