By Nick Marmol, Creative Director of PORTERO.com
An important European travel tradition, dating back to the 1700s, was The Grand Tour; a hiatus between formal schooling and their work life for young male aristocrats; a “gap year” that spanned from at least a few months, to two-to-three years abroad. The Grand Tour was an important milestone for young wealthy men, who got a chance to not only travel and see important sites in Europe, but to also have theopportunity to be exposed to the arts, and different cultures. They traveled to study ancient Europe, like ancient Italy and Greece.
At the end of the 18th century, with the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, travel across Europe ceased. However, once the war ended, The Grand Tour saw a revival in the early 19th century. The main difference between this Victorian Grand Tours and the Classic Grand Tours, was the invention of easier methods of travel. Instead of traveling by carriage, a Grand Tourist could travel by train, which made the once very-exclusive Grand Tour more affordable to those in the Middle Class.
The Grand Tour served as a great exchange of culture and cultural artifacts, that would not have otherwise been available to the young man. It was not uncommon for a Grand Tourists to return home with trunks, like this vintage Louis Vuitton wardrobe, full of books, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and other objects he could display around his house and office; making The Grand Tour a symbol of wealth and freedom. Below are some examples of some of the items Grand Tourists may have collected during their travels:
1. Antique Victorian Cameo Brooch $889. Before there were photographs, there were cameos. Cameos first came into vogue in the 17th century, and stayed in style throughout the Victorian Era. Queen Victoria was a fan of cameo herself, and they were so popular that at some point, the demand for the stones was so high they started to run out. Fortunately, there was lots of lava from Mt. Vesuvius available to make more. Cameos were a popular souvenir during The Grand Tour because Grand Tourists could take back home with them pictures of what or whom they had seen.
2. Antique Victorian Horse Brooch $695. Before the invention of motorized vehicles, people used to travel long distances on a carriage pulled by horses. A young aristocrat would undoubtedly been well-versed in equestrianism, and probably had a favorite horse he would use for shorter travels. Images of horses were a popular souvenir, because they not only symbolized elegance and freedom, but they also represented the journey made by the Grand Tourists.
3. Antique Victorian Diamond Ring $1,895. While on The Grand Tour, young gentlemen would undoubtedly bring back some gifts for their female family members and betrothed; like this Victorian Navette cocktail ring, made with old mine cut diamonds.
4. J.W. Benson Demi-Hunter Pocket Watch $1,670. A gentleman’s outfit is not complete without a good watch. Pocket watches, like this one from the now-difunct house of J.W. Benson, makes for a great accessory to show off your good taste, and to impress your acquaintances.
Today, in a way, The Grand Tour still exists; with more and more young people, men and women alike, taking time after high school or college to explore Europe, Asia, Latin America, or even Africa. To quote Saint Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”