Toilet service, London 1925-9, mark of John Paul Cooper, Museum no. 33-E-1984
Not only does the frame of the mirror look good, with its shagreen (shark skin) covering but it could reflect a good-looking owner if he or she were properly preened! John Paul Cooper, who designed and made this service, described shagreen as 'a material possessing some of the qualities of both mother of pearl and leather. Its little nodules of concentric rings give one, when the skin is particularly translucent, the feeling of looking deep down into a pool of sea green water'.
Soap box, London 1710, mark of Andrew Raven, Museum no. 702-1926
One way in which wealthy men and women could preen effectively was by using soap, despite the fact that in the early 18th-century soap was a smelly mixture of fats and alkali. Soap was normally shaped like a ball, hence the spherical box.
Silver lace, silver wound on a silk core, with silver sequins, English or French, mid 18th century, Museum no. T.147-1984
Lace was used to decorate dressing tables and costume - in February 1671 the tailor William Watts sent Charles II a bill for 'a pink culler lutestring coat smeared all over with silver lace' for Nell Gwyn.
Mace, London 1694-5, Mark of Benjamin Pyne, Museum no. 808-1897
This is a larger, heavier and harsher reminder of power, designed not just to impress but to intimidate. Ceremonial maces evolved from medieval metal clubs topped with at least four arc-shaped blades designed to tear armour. By 1500 the warhead disappeared, replaced by a round or flat ended knop. The mace turned 180 degrees and over the next 300 years the former handle, now facing up, grew into a large ornate head expressing the mace’s civic or legal purpose. This mace was set out at the hearings of the Court Leet of St Andrew, Holborn.
Horse-racing cup, London 1868-9, mark of Stephen Smith and Sons, CIRC.326&A-1959
In the 19th century, displays of athleticism also earned men public acclaim and the winner of a horserace could be rewarded with such a cup. Its winner would have been proud to have been affiliated with overt Englishness elaborated in no uncertain terms on the cup’s decorative scenes: victorious battles, plentiful arrangements of oak leaves and acorns, all topped patriotically with the figures of St George and the Dragon.The post race presentation was as much a part of the theatre of sport as the competition.
Curry comb, Alkmaar, The Netherlands, around 1770, Simon van Welsaden (possibly), Museum no. 29-1934
No self-respecting rider would be seen with an untidy horse. This Dutch curry comb of about 1770 has a series of sharp, serrated blades underneath for grooming a horse’s coat.