Tussie Mussie Vases: When Flowers Masked Bad Odors

In the Middle Ages (when flowers actually smelled like flowers), small bouquets, also called tussies, were worn on one’s clothing, close to the face. This combination of flowers and herbs was believed to ward off disease such as the plague. Later on, these bouquets were worn to mask the street smells of the ever-expanding cities. According to www.grammarist.com, these were also called nosegays – something worn to please the nose or sense of smell.

Early bouquets were housed in a small funnel or trumpet-like container that could be pinned to something or held in one’s hand by means of a ring attached to a chain. At the end of a second chain was a needle. It was used to secure the flowers to the container. A small amount of moss, called mussie, kept the flowers fresh and ensured that the wearer was never far away from a pleasant scent.

By the 19th century, wearing these tiny bouquets had become more of a fashion statement, especially at a time when the language of flowers was all the rage. Male callers would choose flowers based on their significance, and present them to their intended. The stems of the bouquet were traditionally wrapped in a paper doily.

Eventually an enterprising manufacturer designed a tussie mussie that could be worn as a pin or placed upright on a table by means of a spring-loaded tripod at its base. From then on, all manner of vases meant for single blooms or small bouquets of flowers proliferated.

You will find that some online sellers call these types of vases epergnes. The original epergnes were meant to be table centerpieces. They generally consisted of a large central bowl with a series of smaller bowls encircling a central stem. Although meant to display sweets and fruits, it wasn’t long before these bowls were replaced by, or combined with, trumpet vases for small bouquets of flowers and greenery.

Epergnes were usually quite large and expensive so the smaller vases became popular with the middle class. Single flower vases called posy vases often found their way onto breakfast trays and eventually onto dining tables.

Whatever you call these small vases, they were all meant to display a single floral specimen or a small bouquet of flowers. Victorian examples feature bases made of gilt metals or sterling silver, and fancy glass, such as cut crystal, cranberry and Vaseline glass. By the 1920’s the fanciful designs of the Victorian era were replaced by simpler, one colour glass vases on chrome-like bases.

This is an area of collecting with a broad range of values. Prices, which can be as little as $50 or as much as $4,000 are based on:

Age: Generally speaking, the earlier, the better but only if other criteria of value are the same.

Materials: There is a broad range of materials used in creating these objects. Small tussie mussie holders made of sterling silver are the most sought after. Posy vases and single-stem epergnes can be made of gilt metals or exotic glass.

Decoration and Detail: This is probably the most important area of price differences. The design, the construction, how fanciful and ornate a piece is makes it more or less desirable.

Maker’s marks: There are fewer marks on these objects than what you would think. If the object were made of sterling silver you would expect the purity marks to be there – but maker’s marks are not common.

Due to the high value of some of the objects to be found in this category of collecting, there are many fakes on the market. If you are considering purchasing a tussie mussie pin or single vase made of sterling silver, check for the purity marks first then examine the construction. Old pieces were built by hand with each decorative element being carefully soldered by hand. New pieces made of sterling silver are made from a mold and will not show these marks.

Brand new glass vases and epergnes, from the ornate multi-level variety to the single trumpet vase variety, are also available on the market. Like any area of collecting, you must do your due diligence.

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