Have you ever heard of a tussie-mussie? Spellcheck certainly hasn’t. Before cities had adequate fresh water and sewers, when horses filled the roads, the air was full of the foul smells of body odor and worse. A tussie-mussie was a fancy container that 18th- and 19th-century ladies could carry sweet-smelling flowers in to fight the ambient stench. Collector Irene Deitsch, who wrote Tussie-Mussies: A Collector’s Guide to Victorian Posy Holders, tells us about them.
In her book, Deitsch organizes her tussie-mussies by their materials—sterling silver, silverplate, gold, ivory, glass, porcelain, mother-of-pearl, straw—as well as their styles—handheld vs. lapel pin, bosom bottle vs. three-legged tripod. While some of these objects may be admired for their beautiful enameling or intricate etching, many are also windows into the courtship customs of privileged young ladies during the Victorian Era, particularly in England. “Some have flirting mirrors on them,” Deitsch says, “so a young women carrying a tussie-mussie could see who was behind her.” Others sport small flat surfaces holding thin sheets of ivory, upon which the names of gentlemen desiring a dance would be written.
Learn more about tussie-mussies and how they were used, and see a gallery of lovely examples, at Collectors Weekly.