The Frances Jones Poetker Collection

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The Frances Jones Poetker Collection includes over 250 bouquet holders as well as a handful of boutonnières and brooches. In the nineteenth century bouquet holders were considered both a fashionable ornament and a functional object. They were valued by the wearer as a symbol of taste, fashion, and status and in some instances as a commemorative object.

On May 2, 1835, The New York Mirror reported on the invention of an “ornament called a porte-bouquet; consisting of a small stick of carved ivory, sandal-wood, or jewellery [sic], hollow at one end, with folding leaves to receive the stalks of a nosegay.” Bouquet holders were available in a variety of materials, sizes, and designs concurrent with the fashions of the time.

Item from the Poetker CollectionIn Domestic Floriculture published in 1875, F. W.Burbidge described bouquet-holders as “made of various materials and are [sic]very elegant. The more valuable kind are made of gold, or silver, filigree work, often jeweled and are in some cases very costly.”

These holders were fabricated from materials ranging from metals such as brass, copper, gold-gilt metal, and silver to porcelain, glass, enamel, mother-of-pearl, ivory, bone, and straw.

While many were mass-produced in England during the nineteenth century, there are also examples of custom and semi-custom bouquet holders in the Poetker Collection made by skilled silversmiths and jewelers. Two dozen bouquet holders have identifiable hallmarks that pinpoint their individual maker and country of origin. The earliest engraved bouquet holder in the Poetker Collection dates to 1841; several were made as late as 1914.

Many of the bouquet holders have a ring on a chain attached to the handle so they could be worn on a finger. In addition, some have a pin on a chain attached to the vase to secure the bouquet in place.

A Bunch of Flowers: Poesy, Posy, Nosegay, or Bouquet

Item from the Poetker CollectionMany words in the English language have changed meaning over time. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word posy was derived from poesy which in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries stood for a poetic composition. By the eighteenth century posy related to a thoughtfully gathered bunch of flowers. Later in the nineteenth century the word posy signified the motto engraved on a finger ring.

The Chicago Daily Tribune issue of April 23, 1892, discussed its meaning: “posy originally meant verses presented with a nosegay, then came to be applied to the flowers themselves, and finally became the brief poetical sentiment, motto, or legend inscribed upon a ring for the finger.” Today, when we hear posy we associate the word with a bunch of flowers with “sentiment” especially when used during the Victorian Era. In American newspapers and periodicals from the nineteenth century, the word nosegay is frequently used to illustrate a bunch of flowers with beautiful scent.

The Language of Flowers

Item from the Poetker CollectionThe nineteenth century was a time of scientific discovery that showcased precise floral and botanical illustrations. Publications appearing early in the century introduced readers to exotic plant species and detailed their particular natural characteristics. Many flowers were associated with human qualities, temperaments, and emotions, which led to the development of what is known as the “language of flowers.” Although many variations existed, lexicons that defined the language of flowers became widely available. Thanks to a number of popular floral dictionaries, the general public became familiar with the sentiments attached to each flower.

Newly introduced flowers, knowledge of botany and development of taste in flower arrangement influenced fine arts and decorative arts in the nineteenth century, and bouquet holders were not an exception. The Frances Jones Poetker Collection includes a variety of bouquet holders that incorporate in their designs the plants, fruits, and flowers fashionable at the time.

This bouquet-holder depicts currants, indigenous to northern Europe and America. According to one floral dictionary of the time, currants sent the message, "Thy frown will kill me"!

Researched and written by Veronica Conkling, 2010 Enid A. Haupt Fellow in Horticulture. This information may change as the result of ongoing research.