DMDA Handling Collection

Early plastic minaudière, France, c. 1920–25, DMDA Handling Collection

Handling History

Dress accessories are carried in the hand or worn on the body. The DMDA outreach activities facilitate an embodied understanding of history through the actual physical handling of these objects. The DMDA thus promotes learning through the meshing of sight and touch. Visitors will gain a nuanced understanding of the objects’ scale, weight, portability and the dexterity required to handle them.

Amongst their many attributes, dress accessories can not only be practical, ornamental, prestigious, sentimental, symbolic, ritualistic, and extravagant, but also class indicative, signifiers of worth, taste and knowledge. They provide extraordinary clues to the past, that can live again in our own hands.

The Handling Collection

The DMDA has an extensive handling collection with a range of qualitative, representative examples from all object groups. These include chatelaines, button hooks, hat pins and hat pin holders, quizzing glasses and lorgnettes, portable scent containers, powder compacts, watch chains, vesta and cigarette cases, nutmeg graters, shoe and dress buckles, patch boxes and more.

The collection was purposefully acquired in support of the aims and objectives of the DMDA and is still growing. Where appropriate, objects from the handling collection may be used to aid laboratory and ‘destructive’ research in cases where museum objects are not available (see ‘Research Network’). They are also key to our public engagement events, which we offer regularly in the form of community and school workshops.

The physical apperception of the objects also fosters a sensory literacy of the many different materials from which they are made. How can you distinguish early plastics, glass from faux enamel, by actually handling them? In this way, our audiences gain an appreciation of the material literacy of past consumers and materials’ significance for the functionality, fashionability, and commercialisation of dress accessories. In short, the DMDA is a unique museum that – in addition to its digital form – reanimates these objects in their dialogue with the body.

Forging Connections

Historical dress is an immersive topic for visitors of all ages, and, additionally, its small and ‘unusual’ manifestations frequently prompt individual memories and multiple questions.  We encourage biographical, poetic, and emotional engagements with our handling collection. The remembrance of the past and the experience of these objects by young and old is an invaluable resource for the curation of our exhibits. The stories that they tell are not just presumed to be fixed and static, but continually evolving and emerging through the public’s reaction to them. Their curation in the digital galleries will capture these individual stories to which they give rise. In this way, young and old are invited to help us to retrieve unexpected and lost aspects of the past and to forge new perspectives for the future.

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