ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
article # 170
by Katherine Palthey
(click on photos to enlarge image)

- PART 1 -

Marie Antoinette's necessaire
One of the most famous Necessaires in France belonged to the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), and is displayed in the International Perfume Museum of Grasse.
The IPM of Grasse recently underwent major renovation and has reopened with over 50,000 objects in its collection. It is organized into 5 sections, each dedicated to a different theme and country tracing back over the last 4000 years.
The Museum covers every aspect of the history of fragrance, materials, manufacturing, industry, business and design, and is nestled in the luxury perfume capital of Grasse.
Marie Antoinette's second travelling case was a perfect match to their existing collection of necessaires, and was successfully purchased at auction in 1985 for almost 600,000 F.
This rare acquisition includes over 50 extraordinary items rich in detail and history. But what impressed me the most was the warm welcome I received when researching the provenance and details of the hallmarking on the pieces.

Curators Chloé Fargier and Christelle Aulagner were of the utmost value in researching MA's travelling case.
Their assistance in the documentary department and during the private examination of the precious objects in the necessaire was extraordinary!



"Necessaires" have existed since the 14th century but they were referred to as "boxes" or "cases" rather than what we refer to today as necessaries. Proof in France of the oldest "necessaire" was in 1387 with King Charles VI's toiletry case including 3 combs, a brush and a mirror. By the 15th century it was the nobles that enclosed toiletries and objects into small travelling boxes, and at this time we started seeing the introduction of decorations including bone, ivory, amber brushes and gilded mirrors.
By 1538 Parisian Silversmith Jean Cousin supplied François 1st with a box including 3 ebony combs, mirror, scissors, and a brush to clean the combs. Each piece was delicately gilded and incrusted with rubies and turquoise stones. On the cover of the case was a clock embellished with a large sapphire.
By the 17th century we see the terms: "cassette de nuit" (night cases) for toiletries. In addition to the toiletries, these boxes now contained water basins, plates, cups, pitchers, bottles, candlesticks and other daily items needed when travelling. It wasn't until 1718 that the term "necessaire" was used in a letter from the Duchesse d’Orleans: when she referred to one of her belongings: "a small case or necessaire where we have everything to have tea, coffee and chocolate milk in gold and enamel."
After this time, France began to see the most expensive and elaborate necessaries made for every fashionable activity such as sewing, drawing, writing smoking, scientific use, etc. By the time Marie Antoinette reached Versailles in the 1780’s, these different uses were combined in one single set, resulting in enormous travelling “necessaries”. The French at this time had become world masters of this art as shown by the luxury items and prestigious accessories made in gold, silver, crystal and porcelain. Some of the items were miniaturized and everything was made with the finest workmanship requiring several different manufacturers such as goldsmiths, ivory turners, ebony carvers, upholsters and craftsmen in porcelain and wood.


Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette
According to several sources including Madame Campan's memoirs, a duplicate travelling case was ordered by the Queen in April 1791 for her sister Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen of the Austrian Netherlands. At this time in France under Louis XVI reign, the King and Queen were losing popularity, forced to leave Versailles (October 1989) and were since under house arrest in the Tuileries in Paris. They were constantly watched, threatened and ultimately wanted to escape. The real story was that Marie-Antoinette (MA) originally wanted to send her own necessaire to her sisters in the Netherlands as she apparently could not live without this luxury. Madame Campan (her confident and most important first attendant), had advised her that if she sent her own necessaire in advance, the public would realize that she indeed is planning to flee. Mme Campan convinced her not to take this risk, so Marie Antoinette decided instead to order a copy of her original case under the presumption that it would be a gift for her sister and that she would bring it to her in Brussels. After announcing this loud enough in front of the guards, this eliminated most suspicions... but as we know not all...

Madame Campan
Madame Campan
The Queen ordered the second travelling case in April 1791 from the same Royal Cabinet-maker Palma and Silversmith Jean-Pierre Charpenat both based in Paris. However, in May when MA realized she may flee at any moment, this "gift" for her sister was not ready and would take a few more weeks. Not wanting to wait, MA announced that she would just send her own case as her sister was very impatient. Her original case was cleaned out and sent in mid-May to her sister Christina in the Netherlands. In 1794 it went to her brother in Italy (Milano hallmarks) before finally returning to France during the early 19th century. Records show it was subsequently purchased by the Louvre in 1955 for 1,4 million francs. It is this original case that is displayed in the Louvre today.
Louvre Museum: Marie Antoinette's original necessaire Louvre Museum: Marie Antoinette's original necessaire
Louvre Museum: Marie Antoinette's original necessaire


Researching the provenance of Marie Antoinette’s duplicate travelling case has proven extremely difficult. On June 20th 1791, Marie Antoinette and her family did escape, but were captured at Varennes and brought back to the Tuileries in Paris. We do have evidence that states MA brought along a large necessaire when escaping- one of the very reasons the Berline carriage was so incredibly heavy and slow. The real question is whether or not the duplicate case was finished at the last minute and MA brought it with her as well. MA did have several necessaries, but as pictured below, this is really a very close copy of her original case. During their escape at one of the Post stops in Chaintrix, MA gave out two silver handled bowls "écuelles" to Mr. Lagny, the Postmaster who welcomed them and helped them with changing their horses. What we do know is that after the capture and return of Varennes, most of MA's belongings were then seized and put into the Royal Mobilier. The rest of her belongings were stored in the Royal Mobilier when she was transferred (empty-handed!) to the Temple in August of 1792. Royal documents prove that one particular item Number 94.50, "The Queen's travelling case", was removed from the Mobilier Royal on 12/17/1794 to be brought to the Monnaie for melting down. However, there has never been a trace of this case ever entering the Monnaie or of its melting down.
After this point, we lose its trace until 1955 when the Louvre presented MA's original necessaire. The existence of a second identical necessaire was known, and rumors started spreading in Paris of the value of this second case. It wasn't known for sure until 1985 when the duplicate case was stopped at customs from leaving France. The previous owner, Mrs Carteault, tried exporting the case but it was stopped and quarantined. Mr Carteault wanted it back in France and. after legal action, the Ministry of Culture decided to prohibit this case from ever leaving France. This limited any lucrative international buyers and when Mr Carteault put his case up for auction in 1985, Grasse saw the interest to invest. Grasse wanted to tie this into their existing collection of luxury cases. Being of such high value, the Ministry of Culture helped Grasse to purchase this by pre-emption (a legal right in France to purchase special items over any last bids) Grasse paid: 150,000F and Ministry of Culture 421,362F.
Marie Antoinette's Necessaire: Grasse Museum Marie Antoinette's Necessaire: Grasse Museum
Marie Antoinette's Necessaire: Grasse Museum
Marie Antoinette's Necessaire: Louvre Museum Marie Antoinette's Necessaire: Louvre Museum
Marie Antoinette's Necessaire: Louvre Museum
What is important to understand here is that when comparing the content of the second case to the case that left the royal Warehouse in 1794 - it's evident these are the same case. Then comparing the case to the Louvre's case, it becomes obvious that this must be the mysterious duplicate case the Queen ordered. In comparing the photos above, we can definitely see their resemblance in size, objects and manufacture details. They have items made at the same time by the royal silversmith Jean Pierre Charpenat and by the royal cabinet-maker Jacques Philippe Palma. The inside design of the two cases is remarkably similar and hold intricate compartments for over 150 items.
This second necessaire in Grasse have some explicable differences: the signatures on the items and on the outside case aren't those of MA, understandably if it was a gift for her sister. Also, there are several very small pieces missing, which knowing the pillaging amount even at the royal level can be explained. The sterling "ècuelle" two handled bowl with cover compartment (Grasse, front left) has a later replacement, which can be justified by the fact that the original piece was given out as a gift during the royal family escape to Varennes.
MA's second travelling case was indeed ordered in 1791 but had silver pieces made in Paris from 1787 to 1791. It was handmade by the Royal Cabinet-maker Palma in veined mahogany from Cuba with gilded brass hinges and corners. The locking system is a complex two turn system with a cloverleaf shaped key which latches down in 4 places. It includes over 50 items such as desk accessories, glasses and bottles, silver cutlery, porcelain tableware, candlesticks, bed warmer, coffee, tea and chocolate pots and their spirit burner.
It measures 77x44x16,5 cm (30”x17”x6,5”) and weighs over 40 kilos (100 pounds). There are no official signatures or armories on this case as it was destined to be a gift to MA's sister. Concerning just the sterling pieces, most hallmarks are of the silversmith Jean Pierre Charpenat, which coincides with the inscription outside of the travelling case: "PALMA. EBENISTE ET FAISEUR DE NECESSAIRE. VEILLE RUE DU TEMPLE. EN FACE DU CY-DEVANT PALAIS CARDINAL. No. 722. FAIT TOUT CE QUI CONCERNE L'EBERIE A PARIS" (although Jean Pierre Charpenat's address is different from that on the Louvres' case, the explanation is simple: Paris in 1790 changed the numbers on the buildings from 34 to 722. Based on this address, JP Charpenat did create this case in 1791 for the Queen).
Just to note: it takes over 2 1/2 hours just to disassemble in the Grasse Museum each intricate compartment and then remove and reassemble the items for display!!!
MA's second travelling case detail of MA's second travelling case



Chocolate Pot, Spirit Burner and its fitted Toddy Beaker
Three of the most interesting pieces in the Queens Necessaire are the Chocolate Pot ("Chocolatière"), the Spirit Burner ("Réchaud à vin") and its fitted Toddy Beaker ("Goblet à Bouillon").
Rare by their size and quality of workmanship each are presented below.

The Chocolate Pot has a removable cover engraved in circular forms; with the center hole and its pivoting cover for receiving the "moussoir" stirring wand. The pouring handle is removable and screws into the side at a 90° angle. The handle has a left hand thread on the ferrule so that when pouring it doesn't loosen or unscrew. The stirring wand unscrews into 3 individual pieces for storage. Both the stirring wand and handle are handmade from ebony and ivory. This chocolatière set facilitated the stirring, frothing and serving of hot chocolate. It stands 11.8 cm high, 7,2 cm wide, weighs 355 grams and fits neatly over the spirit burner for warming.
In examining the "Chocolatière" three hallmarks are present:
. Chocolate pot hallmark Chocolate pot hallmark Chocolate pot hallmark .
1. "JPC": Makers mark: Jean Pierre Charpenat, Paris Royal Ebeniste specializing in custom made necessaries for the Royal Families, 1782 to 1804
2. "A Crowned": Paris Charge for large silvers 1783 to 1789 under Tax Farmer Henri Clavel's term. (note that starting in 1791 in France, the Tax Farmers were abolished, so not all the pieces including this one have their proper countermarks)
3. "P Crowned": Paris Community Mark 1787 for standard of fineness 950/1000.
The Spirit Burner serves as a heater for wine, water, tea, coffee, chocolate milk and any sort of small liquids during travelling. It uses a type of alcohol inside the burner for heating and stands on three legs with a neck to fit both the chocolatière and the hot liquid pot. Inside the top ring, we note three tiny L shaped hooks where these containers are placed onto snugly. The burner handle unscrews like the chocolatière and is also in turned ebony and ivory. The stand and integrated burner measure 8 cm high and weighs 240 grams. The Toddy Beaker that fits on this burner has a similar ebony turned handle but the cover is finished with an ebony carved finial. The beaker measures 11 cm high and weighs 254 grams. When the beaker or the chocolatière is placed on top of the spirit burner the ensemble only measures about 18 cm high – or a little over 7 inches!
The hallmarks are the same as the "Chocolatière", but in addition to the above noted three, 4 others are found on both the spirit burner stand and the beaker:
. spirit burner hallmark spirit burner hallmark spirit burner hallmark spirit burner hallmark .
4. Paris Charge for small silvers 950/1000: 1783-9 under Henri Clavel, LL intertwined
5. Paris smalls countermark 1786-9: eagles head facing left (also inside of beaker lid and again on each smaller piece like the burner snuffer and the twist off screw)
6. Minerve 1st on inside collar of burner container, and again on the outside top ring of the spirit burner stand (Silver 950/1000 after 1838: is not unusual to see several more recent hallmarks after the revolution as proof of the items quality or for resell)
7. countermark "fly" on beaker bottom and also on burner stand. This was an unusual hallmark under Henri Clavel, the most frequent countermark for small silvers being the eagles head or birds head facing left. This exact "fly" countermark was not found in my Beuque Dictionary of 1925 but rather in the Tardy Dictionary of 1985, page 131..
Ms Christelle Aulagner and Ms Chloé Fargier; The International Perfume Museum of Grasse; Interviews, documentation, examinations and photos.
With immense gratitude, this research could never have been done alone!

- Parfum et Flacons au XVIII Siècles, Musée International de la Parfumerie, Grasse, 8 Place du Cours
- Etats des Objets Renfermer dans le Nécessaire de la Cidevant Reine, pour être Portes à la Monnoye, Archives Nationals, 02 410, pg 139-141
- Descriptif du Nécessaire de Marie Antoinette, Mr Corteault, 1985
- Indispensables Nécessaires, Reunion des Musees Nationaux, Paris 2007, 49 rue Etienne-Marcel, 75001, Paris
- International Hallmarks on Silver, Tardy, 6 rue Milton, 75009, Paris 1985
- Dictionnaire des Poinçons, Emile Beuque , Imprimerie Courtois, 11 rue Rébéval, 1925
- Le Nécessaire No. 107 - Catalogue de Vente le 14 juin, 1985, MM Monnaie, Serret et Portier, Cabinet de Fommervault Experts, 17 rue Drouot, 75009 Paris
- Marie Antoinette, Reunion des Musees nationaux Paris 2008, 49 rue Etienne-marcel, 75001, Paris
- Memoirs of Marie Antoinette, Madame Campan, Book 6, Chapter V,
- La Drame de Varennes June 1791, G. Lenotre, Librairie Académique Perrin & Cie
- Les Dernieres Jours de Marie Antoinette, Frantz Funck-Bretano,
- Cartel Detailler Coffret Marie Antoinette, Musée de Grasse, Service des Ateliers, 2011 Musées de Grasse, website:
- Les Grands Orfèvres de Louis XIII à Charles X, Claude Frégnac, Librairie Hachette, 1965
Katherine Palthey
- 2013 -
images of Marie Antoinette's necessaire are copyright of International Perfume Museum of Grasse