Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Unusual Artifacts: Harry Randall's Dressing Case, 1840-60

Dressing Case of Harry Randall
This and all related images from the
Victoria & Albert Museum

This dressing case was used by the leading music hall comic and “pantomime dame” Harry Randall (1860-1932) as a make-up box. The fine quality of the box and its handsome fittings mark of the status that Randall reached as a performer. Curiously, this was the only personal possession of Harry Randall's that was preserved by his family.

Randall's first professional appearance was in 1884 at Deacon's Music Hall in Islington. He was very close friends with champion dancer Dan Leno and, like Leno, Randall became known for his comedy character songs and his pantomime dames, several of which he performed in pantomimes with Leno. He became so well known that his name was used in the rhyming slang for 'candles' which became known as “Harry Randalls,” or simply “Harrys.”

The wooden dressing case boats inlaid brass edging to the lid and sides. The lid of the box is lined with ruched and padded blue velvet, around which there is a dark blue leather border stamped with a gilt foliate pattern.

The box contains a removable wooden tray divided into six compartments, three of the compartments are lined with blue leather; two with pads of blue velvet and one without lining but with a wooden lid with a silver knob.

The tray contains a wooden lidded compartment, two small round glass jars with silver lids, a long glass tray with a pierced and chased silver lid and a compartment with indentations for tweezers, a corkscrew, a button hook, an awl, manicure scissors and a nail file with a mother-of-pearl handle. The main body of the dressing case has four deep compartments, three containing silver-lidded jars, and one empty with a wooden lid with a silver knob, similar to the wooden lid in the tray but not the same size.

The case was made in London between 1840-1860 by J.J. Mechi. It is marked:

'No.4 LEADENHALL ST. LONDON. J.J.MECHI. To prevent fraudulent imitations signs all his articles thus without which NONE ARE GENIUNE.'

When the case was donated to the V&A, the donor, a relative by marriage to Harry Randall, wrote: "I am the current custodian of his travelling box in which he kept his make-up. It has been passed down through the family originating from his sister in law Mrs Annie (Nancy) Randall who was married to Alf Randall, Harry's brother. She had everything belonging to Harry Randall, his make-up box, his scrap book, his chair and his sheet music. After my Great Aunt Nancy died everything of Harry's was thrown out, except his make-up box which my father's sister kept. At this time it still had his original make in on the jars but when my father's sister died and I became the new owner of the box, all the make-up had been washed out by my aunt, unfortunately."

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