Early 19th-Century Style

By Karen Parr-Moody


With the combination of the British Edwardian Era (1901–10) and the French Belle Époque (1871-1914), up through the worldwide Great Depression, the first few decades of the 1900s brought seismic shifts, aesthetically and socially, to Western civilization. Champagne was perfected and absinthe was sipped. American dancer Isadora Duncan fomented the rise of interpretive dance and performed from continent to continent. The commercial production of automobiles boomed. It was a time of prosperity.


King Edward VII ushered in the century with his appointment in 1901. As a leader of the fashionable elite, he traveled widely and set a style of art and fashion, as he was a lighthearted lover of luxury and beauty who surrounded himself with the fast set of the nouveau riche.


The king, known to intimates as “Bertie,” was exacting in his dress. By day – for the racing meetings of Epsom Derby or Royal Ascot – he could be seen wearing a grey top hat with a cigar in his mouth. Like all aristocrats, he wore a black silk top hat in the evenings (photo, right).


Tricornes were replaced by top hats at the end of the 18th century, and from the Edwardian Era until World War I they continued to be a fashion must-have of upper-class men. Until around 1900, such hats were made of felted beaver skin; afterward, they were made of silk.


In the photo, left, is a silk top hat of the collapsible variety, with its original case, that was made in Nashville ($58; T-101; it is very fragile and the dealer suggests it is probably best used for display). Collapsible top hats date to the 1812, when they were patented by a London hatter called Thomas Francis Dollman and were often called opera hats due to the practice of storing them, in flattened form, under one’s opera seat.


A gentleman coming down for breakfast in the early 1900s might have worn a top hat, but it would not have been black, as grey was the color of choice for daywear. And he would have sat down to breakfast, likely before a silverplate egg coddler, as seen in the photo, right ($89, T-101). While there is no record of when egg coddlers were invented, they became popular in Europe in the late 19th century.


This particular egg coddler comes complete with a burner and was created to hold four eggs. Dating to the Edwardian Era, it has a plain round body and four ball feet. It was made by Mappin & Webb of Sheffield in 1907.


The slag lamp, as seen in the photo at left, was extremely popular during the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts periods of the early 1900s ($148, T-101). The filigree floral and leaf designs that decorate this particular lamp base and shade comprise the nature-inspired motifs of both artistic movements. Around the lamp’s shade is a framework of sleek lines and flowers.


Slag glass, also known as marble glass or malachite, is a type of opaque, streaked press glass that originated in England in 1878. Slag lamps were made by many companies, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Roycroft and Steuben.


Art Nouveau, the French term meaning “new art,” described the decorative arts period that began in the late 1800s and lasted until the Roaring Twenties. On the heels of the Victorian look, and slightly overlapping Art Deco, Art Nouveau was a product of many influences and a precursor to modernism, with silhouettes that tended to include the fluid lines of nature, as seen in this female statue, photo right ($275; T-101).


Her flowing and sensuous form is typical of the Art Nouveau style. The figure is made of spelter, a zinc alloy that was used to create many Art Nouveau and Art Deco figures and lamps that resemble bronze.


In the photo, left, is a marbleized celluloid dresser set that includes manicure scissors and a shoe horn, along with a hair receiver and a pillbox made of amber glass; it dates to the Great Depression ($40; Booth T-271). The hair receiver is an interesting item in this set; while they are seen into the 19th century, they were common fixtures in the Victorian Era, identified by a hole in the lid for inserting hair. Hair receivers led to the creation of "ratts," which were small balls of hair inserted into a hairstyle to add volume and fullness.


The items of the early decades of the 20th century are fascinating to explore. As with all period items, these intrigue antique collectors for their history and beauty.



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