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By Rebekah Johnston on

A spittoon fit for a royal saloon

Rebekah Johnston shares one of the more unusual finds from the Wolverton Works archive, which has recently been audited by a group of volunteers.

The Wolverton Works manufactured royal trains and luxurious carriages for the very wealthy, including some of those kept here at the museum. As well as drawings of carriages and their components, the archive contains designs for the interiors of these highly decorated trains, including their furniture. Amongst the drawings of mahogany dining tables and intricate lamps, we discovered designs for a less glamorous piece of furniture: the spittoon.

Spittoons, once common to many public areas in Britain, were used to catch spit, phlegm, and the juice from chewing tobacco. Usually made of brass, they had an outer rim with sloping sides, leading down into a heavy-based bowl. Providing the spitter had good aim, the spit would hit these sloping sides and slide down into the bowl.

As strange as it might seem, the spittoons found in the Wolverton archive were as elaborately designed as the lavish carriage interiors. This drawing shows a spittoon designed for a royal saloon, probably for Edward VII.

The royal spittoon has an unusual hinged lid, operated by the upright handle
The royal spittoon has an unusual hinged lid, operated by the upright handle at the back of the bowl.

The drawing below is similar to the royal spittoon, but it includes notes that reveal how extravagant these spittoons would really have been.  The bottom of the bowl was to be separated from its supporting feet by “thin felt.” The upright handle would have been a “brass rod” topped with an “ivory knob.” The bowl itself was “to be filled with white sand.” As incredible as it seems to us today, these spittoons would have fitted in perfectly with the luxurious interiors of the Wolverton carriages.

This spittoon...
An elaborate spittoon design.

The Wolverton Works archive contains many other fantastic drawings of the interiors and fittings of the carriages produced there. You can come and see the Wolverton archive for yourself. The archive catalogue is listed on this page under ‘Wolverton Works’ and details of how to come and view material in Search Engine can be found here. You can also find out more about our world class collection of royal carriages here.

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