Textiles & Costume

The P.D. Corset Manufacturers box

I’ve had an image from this corset box as my avatar for years now, but have never properly shown you the box.  So here it is!

I came by this box in a rather interesting way.  It all started when I bought a beautiful early 20th century fan off of TradeMe (eBay for NZ).  I paid for my win, and awaited it with great anticipation.  My parcel arrived wrapped in layers and layers of bubble wrap and brown paper and tissue – very safe!  When I unwrapped it all, it revealed this box.  A corset box!  So exciting!  What an amazing surprise!

Unfortunately, when I opened the box, the surprise wasn’t nearly so good.  There was no interior bubble wrap or tissue paper, and the fragile fan had rattled around in the much-too-big-for-it corset box, and a number of the sticks were broken!  Much sadness ensued.

Luckily the seller was very honourable and we came to a mutually amicable settlement regarding the damage to the fan.  So I didn’t get a pretty fan out of the deal, but I did get a corset box.  And I’m pretty happy with that.  I’ve seen dozens of beautiful fans since, and bought a few, but this is the only corset box I have ever seen for sale in New Zealand.

While the box was much too big for a fan, it’s not very big in the grand scheme of things.  It’s 3 inches wide, 16 inches long, and 2 2/4 inches tall.  I remember how surprised I was the first time I saw a corset box: I had always imagined they would need to be as wide as the corset lying flat, and a few inches tall, but most corsets rolled up and fit into a narrow rectangle just like this box.

According to my very poor translation of the box, P.D. Manufacturers Royales de Corsets was registered in 1883.  The side of the box (which I neglected to photograph) informs me that P.D. corsets won the Médaille D’or in Paris in 1889 and the Grand Prix in Brussels in 1897 (these are trade show or exhibition medals), so the box dates from post 1897 – probably between 1900 and 1905.

I do wonder if the box is original to New Zealand, or a later import?  P.D. Corsets were certainly imported into New Zealand starting in 1894, and remaining popular until WWI.  Te Papa has a couple of examples in their collection, one of which is just about the right size to roll up and fit perfectly into this box.

PD Corsets Otago Witness, 31 May 1900, via Papers Past

Based on advertising and the examples in Te Papa’s collection, I suspect P.D corsets were a low to mid end corset brand.  They made the corsets lower and middle class women wore everyday, not the gorgeous examples of absolute best-wear for the richest women corsets that we see in most museum collections.

The particular corset that went in this box was white (the end of the box reads Blanc).  The box also bears the numbers 10 (inches tall?  That really doesn’t make sense for a 16″ tall box) and 23 (waist measure?)

I’d love to recreate a P.D. corset from the advertising images and the one in Te Papa.  It would go perfectly with my box!

I find the artistic design of the box fascinating.  There is so much going on!

There is the suitably curvaceous goddess, leaning on a cog (is she the goddess of manufacturing?  Why does she have Mercury’s staff?), the lion with his banner/scroll with an image of a knight slaying a dragon or monster (is it Perseus?  St George?  Why does he appear to have wings?).   The sea, with commerce and trade going on, and barrels of P.D. corsets being unloaded (I totally need to find more excuses to use the phrase ‘barrel loads of corsets’).  The bananas and cactus and tropical foliage, and tropically attired sailors (because tropically attired sailors are so topical for corsets).  The laurel wreath.  The bamboo border.  So much stuff!  So very late Victorian!

And there is a lot of information too: cities where the company has branches, mottos, claims: it’s all very information embellished.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out much further information about the P.D. company: Australian and New Zealand newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th century are full of advertisements for the corsets, but other than that there aren’t many mentions.  Anyone know more?  Even if not I do hope you’ve enjoyed seeing this box and all its details!

18 Comments

  1. How neat is that!! I had no idea corsets came in boxes. I wonder if 10 is the length of the busk? I made an Edwardian corset years ago from a Past Patterns kit. It had a 12 inch busk, but manages to be 17″ at the longest part (back side, over the hip). Thanks for posting such detailed shots of the box cover.

  2. St Michael?
    Not that it explains the rest of it. So wonderfully random! At least it seems so to me. 🙂

    • Ash says

      I agree, the scroll looks like it most definitely should be Michael defeating Lucifer as a dragon (Although why that’s appropriate for corsets…!)

    • Ash says

      I agree, the scroll looks like it depicts the archangel Michael defeating Lucifer as a dragon (A popular image for cathedrals, although why that’s appropriate for corsets…!)

        • I’m pretty sure St Michael is different than the Archangel Michael – an angel, after all, is not a human, and a saint is. But I think there are St Michaels.

          • That’s my reasoning, too, but there’s a confusing factor: there’s a golden figure of Archangel Michael on top of the church on Mont St Michel… Which is why I called this one “St Michael”, though normally I don’t.

  3. Bring it over some time and I’ll do a proper translation for you.
    The blonde is Madeleine, who is the personification of la France; a new woman is chosen each year to represent her.

      • Yes, was posting from my phone, so couldn’t check the name (why did I have it stuck in my head as Madeleine? I would have checked if I was on my laptop).
        Also, was reading on phone, so didn’t pick up that they were based in Brussels. (The detail pictures chop it up so much I couldn’t see that information clearly, and the English ad calls them French…).
        Translation offer still applies – but context is important, as demonstrated thus far… 🙂

  4. I won’t even attempt to guess at any of the representations…so Victorian though you have to love it….which I do! Thanks for sharing and I am so grateful that this box ended up in the hands of someone who could appreciate it and be willing to share it.

  5. I’m pretty sure the 10 would be busk length and the 23 waist size.

  6. Lisa F. says

    What a great find even though your original purchase was battered about.

  7. Moving side to the damaged fan, this is delicious! You can tell that added a new treasure, so special, so nice!

  8. Barbara Brooks says

    Read with fascination your article about the P.D. corset box. I have an exquisite P.D. corsets sachet for want of a better description. The ‘envelope’ is quite small, 7x11cm, and I’m guessing that it may, at one stage, been a scented drawer sachet. Now it is quite delicate and has no perfume. Not much information on it beyond the name of the company, trade mark, ‘Bruxelles-Paris’ and advertising mottos – ‘for true fit and style you must wear P.D. Corsets – P.D.’ And ‘First, Last and Always Best’. The clothing style on the model suggests early twentieth century.

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