Before the Swiss Army Knife, Victorian women wore ornate multitools

Here's a device to add to your steampunk fiction: the chatelaine, a popular accessory from the 19th century. Part practicality, part fashion accessory, the chatelaine was the perfect way for women on the go to carry all of their tools.

Collectors Weekly has a fascinating interview with Genevieve Cummins, who co-authored a book about this forgotten bit of Victorian Era fashion. The term "chatelaine" first appeared in 1828, and while the cartoon up top is certainly an exaggeration (it's from Punch magazine, after all), the item was worn about the waist and held chains with all sorts of items a woman might need at the ready: eyeglasses cases, scissors, keys, seals, tiny notebooks, perfume bottles. A nurse's chatelaine might hold a thermometer while a seamstress' might include a thimble and a tape measure. Women might have different chatelaines for running errands and for doing work around the house. Cummins even mentions a chatelaine holding a tiny paintbox and another for play golf, complete with scorecards and a pencil.


All the famous jewelers of the day, including Tiffany and Fabergé, manufactured chatelaines at one point or another, and some were more ornate than practical. (Cummins says that she has seen enormous steel chatelaines with up to a dozen attachments, however.) Eventually the chatelaine fell out of fashion in favor of pocket watches and larger purses. Cummins says that no museum has a collection that shows off the range of chatelaine styles that existed, but she has taken up collecting them on her own. You can see photos of several of the chatelaines she has found at Collectors Weekly.

The Killer Mobile Device for Victorian Women [Collectors Weekly via Neatorama]

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