Souvenir Mugs and Jugs from the Napoleonic Wars

To set the scene: 206 years ago today, on 28th February, 1815, the ex-emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, having escaped from exile on the Island of Elba, landed in France and immediately set about reclaiming his throne. His luck was to hold for 100 days. By the beginning of June he had raised 200,000 men, more than enough to match the combined armies of the Britain and her Allies. On 18th June, 1815 he would face his enemies at Waterloo.

‘British Voluntary Infantry raised 1797’, earthenware plaque, Bristol Water Lane Pottery c. 1801.

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Napoleon’s Toothbrush

What makes people want to own something that once belonged to someone famous? Is it a desire to acquire some quality of the deceased by a sort of spiritual osmosis? Or is the object more akin to a relic, something to be venerated. Or, more personally, perhaps it reminds the new owner of a precious memory of the loved one, as with the 19th century fondness for locks of hair incorporated into mourning rings, brooches, and so on.

Henry WEllcome

Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936) by Hugh Goldwin Rivière, 1906.

I was pondering this question when I visited the Wellcome Collection in London, founded by Sir Henry Wellcome, pharmaceutical entrepreneur and also founder of The Wellcome Trust which funds medical research. He was an obsessive collector of things medical and his collection is wide-ranging, not to say eccentric. It includes a number of objects only tenuously connected with medicine which once belonged to famous men – and women.

Napoleon's toothbrush

Napoleon’s Toothbrush

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