Sep 292017
 

The new catalogue from Mark Goodger contains a remarkable Regency sewing box and, being a sucker for antique boxes, I am delighted to showcase it. From the outside, it all looks fairly straight-forward – a kingwood box with ornate brass inlay to the front and top, standing on four turned wooden feet. But open it up and there is an absolute gem of  a sewingbox/writing case.

The website has this description:”Opening the door to this exceptional sewing and writing cabinet reveals gold tooled leather book spines, these are in fact three drawers that are disguised as four books with a divider. The books are labelled “British Poets Vol I” & “II”  and “British Classics Vol I” & “II”. This impressive regency cabinet contains its original interior. The bottom drawer is paper lined and has a single large compartment for storage. The middle drawer contains several compartments stocked with sewing supplies including thread spools, thimbles, pincushion, tape measure and a fitted tool pad with tweezers, scissors, pricker and needle case. The top drawer features two inkwells, pen tray and other compartments for storing other writing supplies.”

The contents have obviously been assembled as a labour of love
by the recent owner – and make a fascinating display of utensils appropriate to a box made
in the Regency period – probably around 1815.
I think it is really fabulous – it is only just over 9 inches tall, but has been beautifully restored.
Two centuries on and it is a remarkable reminder of how exquisite the workmanship of the
time could be. Who else thinks this would make a rather nice present for Christmas?
Well, at £4,500 maybe not – but it is a sumptuous delight for the eyes. Thanks, Mark!
Jun 272017
 

I recently came across the webpage of the Corning Museum of Glass and was rather taken with this beautiful item called the Thompson Goblet,  made at the Newcastle factory of the Beilby’s in around 1765.

William Beilby was originally apprenticed in Birmingham and used his knowledge of enamelling to develop a range of fire-enamel paints which fused with the glass. So, no wearing off, or scratching. The results are wonderful, and later in the year I will do a proper blog on Beilby and his legacy.

This particular glass was made in conjunction with his sister Mary Beilby and the coat of arms apparently belonged to one Beilby Thompson of Micklethwaite Grange at Collingham, in Yorkshire. He was a  prosperous landowner who served as a member of Parliament from 1768 to 1784 and again from 1790 to 1796. Needless to say, works by Beilby are ludicrously collectible!

 

Just as another example, here is another goblet, made circa 1762 and now in the National Gallery, Victoria. Quite stunning!

Jun 102017
 

I know, I know, I am a sucker for old boxes but here is one which really is absolutely splendid. It was made in 1840, so it is a bit later than my usual period of interest, but I think it is so good that it is worth show-casing! The craftsmanship is incredible – and I love the shape of the basket.

You can make out the tambour roll-top mechanism, which slides back to give access to the compartment for sewing paraphernalia inside. Or I suppose you could have used it for baubles, bangles and beads. Whatever, it really is beautiful, and the brass inlay is amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It appears, (where else?!) on Mark Goodger’s Hampton Antique’s site here.

 

He describes it as being “a stunning rosewood with ornate symmetrical maple inlays. With a rosewood carrying handle, and four brass ball feet….. it measures 10.75 inches  (27.30 cm) in width, has a depth of 5 inches  (12.70 cm) and is 4.75 inches (12.06 cm)  high.”

Memo to children: you won’t go far wrong if you save up and give this to Dad for his birthday……

 

 

Sep 102016
 

 

brunn gun

I am not normally that interested in militaria, but every so often come across something which catches my eye – in this case a pair of beautiful pistols on the Metropolitan Museum site, and made by Samuel Brunn in 1800/1801.

The Museum site describes the pair of pistols as being “among the finest known examples of English Neoclassical-style firearms. Each stock is inlaid with engraved sheet silver and embellished with heavy cast-silver mounts. This decoration was inspired by contemporary French Empire firearms, such as those by Boutet. Several of the motifs are based on ancient Roman sources. On the sideplate, for example, the Nereid riding a sea-leopard derives from an engraving of 1762 depicting a wall painting in the recently found ruins of Herculaneum. On the trigger guard, the oval medallion representing Hercules with a defeated Amazon is copied from a well-known antique gem. The Medusa head on the butt also derives from Classical art, but here the idealized model has been transformed into a grimacing, almost humorous caricature of the legendary gorgon.”

The  pistols are sixteen inches long, and are made out of walnut wood and steel, decorated in sterling silver. The silver decorations were probably made by silversmith Michael Bennett, who was active in London until his death in 1823, operating from premises at 36 Cock Lane, Smithfield.

Samuel Brunn had originally bought a share in the business of John Knubley, who had traded at 7 Charing Cross in London. Knubley was the son of a gun-maker and had originally traded in Otley, Yorkshire before moving down to London in 1771, and had built up a successful business until his death in 1795. For two years Brunn was in business trading as “Knubley, Brunn & Co, Charing Cross”, probably in partnership with Sarah, John Knubley’s widow. Brunn then sold  his share to John Mallet, who continued to operate at Charing Cross until 1803. This emphasises the importance of the area around Charing Cross as a centre of exquisite gun-making.

brunn card

Brunn  then set up on his own and operated as “Samuel Brunn, sword cutler and gun-maker” at 55 Charing Cross between 1798 and 1804. He then moved to adjoining premises at 56 Charing Cross and remained there between 1805 and 1820. He was appointed “Sword Cutler and Gunmaker  to the Prince of Wales” in 1800 and remained in that post for eleven years. It is quite possible that these pistols were made for the Prince. He also made pistols and swords for various other members of the Royal family. Between 1797 and 1809 he was Contractor to Ordnance, in other words he was commissioned to make trade muskets, cannon locks, pistols and broadswords for the Board of Ordnance. He was also described as being ‘Cutler to the Patriotic Fund’. ‘The Patriotic Fund’ was founded on 28 July 1803 at Lloyd’s Coffee House – is still going strong – and was launched in order to give grants to those wounded in service to the Crown and to set up annuities to the dependents of those killed in action. It also commissioned the manufacture of high quality swords to be awarded to servicemen who showed exceptional courage and bravery – which is presumably how Samuel Brunn got involved…

It looks as though Samuel continued to operate until 1820 but then at some stage fell on hard times. A newspaper report in 1831 refers to bankruptcy proceedings against Samuel, who by then had fallen from grace to the extent of being described as a ‘chapman’ i.e. a pedlar:

Bunn bankruptcyA sad end for a distinguished craftsman. Presumably when Napoleon was finally defeated the Board of Ordnance were no longer stock-piling weapons, and the Patriotic Fund were no longer dishing out ceremonial swords as a reward for war heroes, so like many other sword cutlers Samuel Brunn found himself on the scrap heap. There is some suggestion that he moved to Bath, where he spent his final years in straitened circumstances. I cannot find a record of his death.

Jul 302016
 

 

Eye brooch with diamond tera drop, shown courtesy of the V&A

Eye brooch with diamond tear drop, shown courtesy of the V&A

 

Eyes on an ivory patch box, 1790's.

Eyes on an ivory patch box, 1790’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It  may not be to everyone’s taste, but it became the fashion after the 1790’s to commission a miniature painting of one of your lover’s eyes, usually on ivory, but sometimes on parchment, so that it could then be mounted as a pendant or locket and hidden from view – for instance behind a lapel. It was a way of declaring love, but keeping the recipient of that love totally anonymous.

Allegedly it originated with the Prince of Wales, when he fell for the charms of Maria Fitzherbert in 1784. There was no way he could admit his affection for the lady, who was after all twice married – and a Roman Catholic. Aware that their union would never be permitted Maria had fled to the continent, hoping that the Prince’s ardour would diminish. It didn’t – and as a declaration of his love he allegedly sent her a brooch containing an image of his princely eye. She reciprocated.

The Royal Marriages Act expressly forbade any union between the royal lovers by declaring that any marriage ceremony would be invalid unless it was made with the consent of the King.. It didn’t stop the pair going through a wedding ceremony on December 15, 1785 and it is interesting to conjecture that the Prince wore the ‘lovers eye’ on his jacket even when denying point blank to this father George III that such a ceremony had taken place.

5 eye painting on ivory 1790

10 eye ring

 

 

 

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From being a symbol of secret or forbidden love it went on to become a more general way of carrying a memento of a loved one and often the picture of the eye would be mounted  within a gold frame which also had a compartment holding a lock of hair. In time many became remembrances of a deceased lover, and in that case the eye was usually framed in pearls (signifying tears… typical  of those mawkish Victorians….).

Eye  pendant from the 1830's.

Eye pendant from the 1830’s, with clouds below…

Mostly the eye in question was of a lady – a few exist of male eyes with bushy eyebrows and the occasional hint of side-burns, but more usually the eye belonged to a woman and was painted to be kept by a man. Rarely is it possible to identify the sitter – that was, after all, the whole point of it. Indeed the eye was sometimes surrounded by clouds as a way of disguising other facial features (such as the bridge of the nose).6

Some of them are fascinating pieces of jewellery, and the portraits were set into brooches, rings, lockets, pendants, small boxes, toothpick cases, and other small items. They mostly date from the  period 1790 to 1850 and perhaps as few as a thousand are known to exist. There are however many fakes, reflecting their high value and collectability. One of the largest collections belongs to Dr and Mrs  Skier, from Birmingham Alabama, and for anyone wanting more information it may be worth referring to the definitive book based on their collection entitled “The Look of Love – eye miniatures from the Skier Collection”, published by D Giles Ltd in 2012 and available on Amazon here.

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Jul 212016
 

1As is my custom I spend many a happy hour browsing the Hampton Antiques site, usually as a device to get out of writing, or house-work and other unpopular chores. I came across this lovely sewing case, believed to have been made in 1815 and described as being “An Early 19th Century japanned sewing cabinet, with chinoiserie decoration on each side in beautiful warm tones against a contrasting black. Unusual arch shaped top standing on shaped bracket feet.
The lid lifts to reveal several compartments for thread spools, pincushion, thimbles and further storage. Once the lid is lifted the double doors can be opened to reveal four drawers with bone handles, each beautifully decorated and lined with matching green paper.”

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It is twelve inches high and some ten inches wide and my mother, who was expert at embroidery, would have adored it!

I find boxes like this absolutely fascinating. It would always have been a high-end luxury item and it is always fun to conjecture who might have owned such a piece. It really is a treat, and it looks to be in superb condition. Mind you, at £4,800 it jolly well should be! Still, dreaming is free….

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May 242016
 

caddy 1I make no apology for ‘plugging’ the website of what used to be Hamptons Antiques – now simply known as “Mark Goodger” – because some of the items really are of amazing quality. I think that this pair of tea caddies, decorated with Etruscan motifs by the doyen of 18th century japanners, Henry Clay, is a case in point.

caddy 2  caddy 3

 

 

 

 

Henry Clay specialised in decorating papier mache items, from trays to table ware, from knife boxes and dressing cases to small pieces of japanned furniture. He was originally based in Birmingham but moved to London and established a workshop at 18 King Street in Covent Garden, where he attracted a variety of royal and aristocratic clients. Eventually he was given no less a title than ‘Japanner in Ordinary to His Majesty and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’. One of the clients was Robert Child of Osterley. This gentleman was able to indulge his passion for fine things because in 1763 he became head of the family bank – Child & Co – and received an income of £30,000 for his troubles. Osterley Park, in Isleworth, was the estate which he inherited from his brother, and he had it extensively re-modelled by the architect Robert Adam. An inventory of 1782 specifically mentions ‘a Pembroke table richly Japanned by Clay’ on which this pair of tea caddies would have stood.

Osterley Park House, courtesy of the National Trust.

Osterley Park House, courtesy of the National Trust.

It is extraordinary how the precise history of the caddies can be traced – the table itself was designed for the Etruscan Dressing Room, and is still on display. The caddies remained in the family until Osterley Park was given to the National Trust in 1949 by George Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey.  At the same time, he gave his sister, Lady Joan Child Villiers, this beautiful pair of caddies. Lucky lady, I say. For the last thirty years they have belonged to an avid collector of tea caddies, and have recently come onto the market. They really are exquisite.

caddy 4The Mark Goodger website describes the pair as being “A rare pair of George III papier mache oval tea caddies, attributed to Henry Clay. Decorated using the grisaille method, with classical figures in the Etruscan style. Each caddy is decorated with bands of classical anthemions, one has a chevron pattern, the other a floral decoration on the lid. This was done purposely, probably to enable the caddies’ owners to distinguish which caddy contained green or black tea. Each features a solid silver handle stamped “HC”, bearing the assay office mark for Birmingham. The gilt metal-rimmed tops open to reveal tin foil lined interiors, which retain their original silver-handled floating lids.”

GrisailleA quick look online tells me that the ‘grisaille method’ is a classic style of decorating using nine shades of gray  – well, anything from white through to black, with everything in between – to give a monochrome effect. And if you don’t believe me,  this shows all nine of the variations.

The caddies were made in around 1790 and stand four and a half inches tall. And if I had rather a lot of money to spare (I am afraid you need £16,000, with postage on top…) they would be sitting on my dining room sideboard faster than you could blink…

Nov 012015
 

2 silverThis post owes everything to the information given to me by the award-winning author Lynne Connolly. As ‘Lynne Connolly’ she writes historical romance, and as ‘L.M. Connolly’ spicy contemporary and paranormal romance. From my point of view, her added significance is that she is a direct descendant of a most remarkable woman called Hester Bateman. Hester was not just a success in a man’s world, she is renowned as one of the greatest silversmiths of the eighteenth century. Hers is a most remarkable story and I am most grateful to Lynne for helping me tell it.

Bunhill Row today, showing houses just down from where Hester had her workshop

Bunhill Row today, showing houses just down the road from where Hester had her workshop

Hester (in all probability she dropped the ‘H’ in conversation and was known as ‘Ester’ within the family) was born in 1708, and was baptised on 7 October of that year. Her father’s name was either John Neden or John Needham and she appears to have had little formal education. It has been suggested that she was wholly illiterate, which makes her subsequent business success all the more astonishing. At the age of 24 she married a wire-maker and chain-maker called John Bateman and proceeded to bear him six children in a short period of time. This meant that when her husband died in 1760, probably of tuberculosis, she found herself at the age of 52 with half a dozen children to bring up, and a business in which she had had no formal training. Interestingly, John bequeathed the tools of his trade to his widow, suggesting that maybe she was already well-versed in the world of making silver. But Hester must have been a determined lady: she could have taken the easy option and have sold the business – probably not for very much, since gold chain makers were ten-a-penny, and once the stock had been sold there would have been little or no goodwill. Wire-making was one of those ‘background’ trades involving the drawing of silver through a narrow gauge to produce a thin wire. As the century progressed, more and more silversmiths used the output of people like John Bateman to supply ready-made panels of metal decoration which could be applied to other silver products. The skills of people like John Bateman were absorbed into a sort of mass production process – but it was an anonymous and not particularly well-paid skill.

5 hallmarkInstead of selling up, Hester decided to carry on the business on her own and to launch it in a completely new direction. Within months of her husband’s death she registered her initials ‘HB’ with the London Goldsmiths Company. This was on 16 April 1761 and the records show that she traded from 107 Bunhill Row.

3 caryThe actual premises no longer exist, but Bunhill Row appears on the left of the map by Cary dating from 1795. Little of the output from her workshop exists from the early years – quite possibly because she had yet to establish a name for herself and was reduced to selling her pieces to other silversmiths. They would then over-stamp the sponsors mark with their own. But what is clear that she moved the business away from making wire and chains and instead became a silver-smith, making items such as spoons, forks, tea pots and decorative objects. After 1774 she was joined in the business by two of her sons, Jonathan(1747-1791) and Peter(1740-1825). Hester continued to head the business until her retirement at the age of 82. She died four years later in 1794, but by then the dynasty was well established and involved her daughter-in-law Ann (married to Jonathan), their son William and grandson William II.

During the thirty-year period when Hester was at the helm the business developed into one of the most successful silver-smithing businesses in the country. Hester’s items are renowned for their neo-classical designs, often adorned with bright-cut engraving, and with beaded edges and piercing. Her mark appears on tea-pots, jugs, caddies and sauce boats. She made decorated wine labels and inkwells, she made salt cellars and mustard pots. Trays, salvers and a vast array of household goods were produced. All had one thing in common: Hester’s attention to design and her absolute dedication to quality. She may not have been able to read or write, but she certainly knew how to impose standards of excellence. Along the way she must have been able to pick up a knowledge of book-keeping and accounts because without this she would never have survived. The soaring price of silver ingots in the period when she was in business meant that she would have needed to have kept a close eye on stock levels, mark-ups and so on. She exploited the ‘added value’ which her skills could bring, and she quickly became highly respected in what was a somewhat closed world of male silver-smiths.

The family became experts at using the latest technology to roll thin-gauge strips of silver (useful in competing with the new process of making Sheffield plate). They were brilliant at machine-punching decorations through the metal, at hammering, raising, planishing, burnishing and engraving. The only thing they do not appear to have tried their hands at was casting (and hence no examples of cast silver candle sticks with the mark HB are known). The sons had their own separate maker’s marks (WB, PB JB etc) but it is the silver which carries the mark HB which is perhaps the most collectible of all. Indeed she is rated as one of the finest silversmiths of her generation – with good reason.

Photo by Fin Fahey

Photo of St Luke’s Church, by Fin Fahey

This remarkable woman was buried at St Luke’s Church, Old Street, London. Her legacy can be found in museums and galleries throughout the country. Her Verger’s Wand is apparently still in use at St Paul’s Cathedral, while examples of her work are found at the various Livery Companies in the City. She made her mark (literally) in a world dominated by men. As far as is known, she never left the very small area of London where she lived and died. She showed a gritty determination to succeed in a business where women were almost unknown, and all this despite an education which did little to prepare her for the challenges which she met and conquered.

Hats off to Hester – and a sincere ‘thanks’ to Lynne Connolly for bringing her to my attention.

Lynne’s next book is due to be published on 1 December and will be called Reckless in Pink, set in 1750’s London.  Her website is at http://lynneconnolly.com

Finally, I am grateful to Daniel Bexfield Antiques (website here)  for some of the additional information about Hester and her family.

Silverware by Hester, shown courtesy of the Museum of Birmingham, with its neo-classical lines so reminiscent of Sheraton and Hepplewhite.

Silverware by Hester, shown courtesy of the Museum of Birmingham, with its neo-classical lines so reminiscent of Sheraton and Hepplewhite.

 

Jul 272015
 

S1Considering that I live less than twenty miles away from Saltram House I find it remarkable that I have only just got around to visiting it! It occupies high ground overlooking Plymouth, and although much of the original estate had long since been sold off, enough remains to provide a lovely area for walks and so on.

S2It really is a Georgian gem – which is no doubt why it was used in Ang Lee’s version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.

S14I visited on a wet and windy day so the gardens were not at their best, and the orangery looked somewhat forlorn, but the main building is  fabulous, with elegant symmetry, Robert Adam designed interiors, a fine display of early Worcester porcelain, enough paintings by local boy Joshua Reynolds to fill a gallery, a splendid library and some extraordinary chinoiserie not least in the form of hand-painted Chinese wallpaper and some remarkable mirrors which were apparently made in Britain, exported to China for “finishing off” and then re-imported in order to match the paper.

Reynolds pained by fellow Royal Academician Angelica Kauffman

Reynolds pained by fellow Royal Academician Angelica Kauffman

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The link to the National Trust site is here.

Here are a few more images of this fascinating house:

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I have always heard that chamber pots were "hidden" in pieces of furniture, and this proves it!

I have always heard that chamber pots were “hidden” in pieces of furniture, and this proves it!

The chinese rooms were especially impressive:

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Mar 102015
 

I always look forward to getting the latest catalogue through from Hampton Antiques, because there are some wonderful and often original items to look at. As usual I drool over their apothecary’s box, complete with all the tools of the trade, and boxes containing all manner of goodies. But I think the item which most caught my eye in the current catalogue was  this watch box, dating from around 1815, in the shape of a castle turret. To me it is the epitome of High Regency – ornate to the point of being flashy, beautifully crafted, and of course highly functional.az1

It is only five inches high; the lid has a bone handle and can be lifted out in order to access the watch, and the whole thing is beautifully decorated with pen-work. I love it, so if anyone has a spare  £695 now is the chance for you to make me extremely jealous!

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