Sunday, July 14, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Queen Mary’s Menthol Case, 1908

Menthol Case, 1908
Given to Queen Mary when
Princess of Wales.
Gold, Enamel, Moonstone.
The Royal Collection

Designed sometime between 1896 and 1908 by Henrik Wigström for Fabergé, this beautiful box was given as a gift by The Duchess of Roxburghe to Queen Mary (when she was still the Princess of Wales) on Christmas of 1908. A large cabochon moonstone tops the case, set in two-tone gold. The sides are resplendent in careful enamel-work in white and a pale blue which perfectly matches the stone. Gold ribbons and swags adorn the enamel.

A menthol case is rather a peculiar idea to modern eyes. Menthol—a minty crystalline compound derived from peppermint or other mint oils—was often carried for medicinal purposes. Menthol is a solid at room temperature, but becomes an oily balm when slightly heated. Menthol was used to heal chapped lips, clear sinuses, combat bad breath, aid ailing stomachs, as a topical analgesic and even to prevent itching. It would make sense to keep this useful compound near to you when your medicinal options were rather limited. Since menthol tended to be messy, cases such as this kept a lady’s bag oil-free.

I wonder if it still smells like menthol. I suppose I’ll never know. The case is on display in the Royal Collection at the Queen’s Gallery at 
Buckingham Palace. If any of you ever get a chance to sniff it, let me know. 

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