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Silver vinaigrette in the shape of a skull, Europe, 1701-1800

Likes pomanders, vinaigrettes could be used as a vessel to hold strong smelling substances to be sniffed should the user be passing through a particularly smelly area. At a time when miasma theories of disease – the idea that disease was carried by foul air – were dominant, carrying a vinaigrette was considered a protective measure. Vapours from a vinegar-soaked sponge in the bottom were inhaled through the small holes in the top of the ‘acorn’. If a person felt faint they could also sniff their vinaigrette and the sharp vinegar smell might shock the body into action. The skull was probably hung from a piece of cord or necklace and carried at all times. It is shown here with another skull-shaped example (A641486).

Object number:

A642133

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Glossary:

Glossary: vinaigrette

Small receptacles to contain scented vinegar, formerly used by women, and sometimes men, to ward off faintness. A small container with a perforated top, used to contain an aromatic substance such as vinegar or smelling salts, especially popular for women in Victorian times to combat the aroma from the waste products common in cities.

Glossary: pomander

Small containers for fragrant spices or perfumes. A pomander was originally carried in the belief that it kept infection away.