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.
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!