Wooden Victorian wall pockets in a lattice design
When I think of wall pockets, my mind doesn’t conjure up the images I saw on the auction-house website. The wall pockets in my head were ceramic and small, with a wide mouth culminating in a “V” shape to hold water for flowers.
The auction house had posted a photo of a wooden structure in a lattice design, flat with a wide pouch extending from its middle. It was described as a Victorian wall pocket. So where do you put the water?
When I got to the auction house, I could not find the thing. Several times, I walked the furniture room, along wide aisles (they were not as tight as usual) but found nothing. Then I slowed my pace and finally found two of them propped on the seat of a sofa. The sofa was situated against a backdrop of thick furniture. A set of upholstered bar stools blocked it on the left side and another sofa holding two very heavy-looking mirrors sat in front of it.
I removed one of the bar stools and took out both wall pockets to take a closer look. One was more decorative than the other, and held a sky-blue panel painted with the words “Home Sweet Home” and forget-me-not flowers. The lattice was attached with brass hammered pins. The other had flowers decoupaged on a board with the lattice attached by thumbtacks.
These were certainly not made for holding flowers in water. While folks in the Victorian era did use glass and other materials to make wall pockets, the ones at auction were made for a different purpose.
These held such things as newspapers, magazines, letters, cards, mail, pocket watches, candles, matches – even “rosewater to perfume a room,” according to one site. They were hung on a wall in a conspicuous and easy-to-access place. These resembled the wooden floor-model magazine racks that were once so common.
The wall pockets were apparently pretty popular. The Manship House Museum in Jackson, MS, noted this entry from an 1875 household guide: “Hence, ‘wall-pockets,’ ‘catch-alls,’ and all the numerous class of conveniences classed under the head of ‘trouble-savers,’ are voted the most popular inventions of the day.”
Wall pockets date back to the 18th century and were made by some of the finest porcelain makers in Europe, according to Collectors Weekly. Another article noted that they were first made in this country around 1876 in Pittsburgh, PA, and a glassmaker named Washington Beck patented the first glass wall pocket. Along with porcelain, the holders were made of ceramics, majolica, metal, beaded fabric and papier-mache.
Wall pockets retained their popularity well into the 20th century, especially in the 1930s, when they were made both in this country and in Europe. Wall pockets seem to have been even more popular in this country in the 1940s and 1950s, and were made by some very famous pottery makers. This was around the time when they were once again used for flowers.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote of the prevalence of wall pockets – which she described as “gaudy” – in African American homes during the Depression. She wrote dismissively of several in a home in Mobile, AL, along with the contents of the home:
“On the walls of the homes of the average Negro one always finds a glut of gaudy calendars, wall pockets and advertising lithographs. … I saw in Mobile a room in which there was an over-stuffed mohair living-room suite, an imitation mahogany bed and chifferobe, a console victrola. The walls were gaily papered with Sunday supplements of the ‘Mobile Register.’ There were several calendars and three wall pockets. One of them was decorated with a lace doily. The mantle-shelf was covered with a scarf of deep home-made lace, looped up with a huge bow of pink crepe paper … It was grotesque, yes. But it indicated the desire for beauty. And decorating a decoration, as in the case of the doily on the gaudy wall pocket, did not seem out of place to the hostess.”
Victorian wall pockets were created in all shapes (and sizes), including animals, people, angels and cherubs, and flowers. Some were made of fabric to store sewing items. This one has needlework and beadwork, and some beaded ones were used to hold pocket watches. This pair of Royal Doulton Burslem English wall pockets are shaped like harlequins, and this circa 1900s majolica one is in the form of a cicada. Here are some lovely examples of wooden wall pockets.