Published in "The Review of the Charlotte Mary Yonge Fellowship"
Edition Number 6 – Winter 1997

The Essence of Vanity Fair

OUR Editor's comment, in the last Newsletter, on my small contribution to the Worksop Meeting reported inaccurately my reference to the patch-oulii (sic) vases which were offered for sale at the Fancy Fair in The Daisy Chain. In fact the technique is called potichomanie (from the French "oriental-porcelain-vase-craze"). You stuck covered scraps onto the inside of clear glass vessels, so that they faced outwards. The effect was intended to resemble Japanese porcelain. The two "splendid vases", as yet unfinished, part of the loot discussed by Flora and Ethel, under Margaret's passive gaze, were "in an Etruscan pattern", not remotely Japanese in appearance one would think.

Grand ladies, and those aspiring to grandeur, became potichomaniacs. When writing, in 1855, to "dear Grand-mama" (Charlotte Liddell, nee Lyon), eight-year-old Harry Liddell, brother of Alice and son of the later Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, reported "Mamma can do the Potichomanie so beautifully she has got a very handsome pair of Vases with a gold rim round the top and she has made a beautiful flower pot". Try to imagine the scene, over scissors and paste, at home in Dean's Yard, Westminster.

Intrigued, I pursued patchoulli in the OED. It is "an odoriferous plant native to Silhat, Penang and the Malay Peninsula", yielding an essential oil from which a "penetrating perfume" is made. How wonderfully exotic! And what an item for a Fancy Fair, in a little potichomanie jar, encased in its own wool-work bag, crocheted in close, firm double-stitch.

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