Mar 192018

Yup, I am a sucker for 18th Century boxes, and a trip to the website of Mark Goodger Antiques never disappoints. Here he has a fascinating apothecary’s box, manufactured by Ireland & Hollier in the last decade of the eighteenth century. The label has the details: Ireland & Hollier, Apothecaries & Chemists, N22 Pall Mall. Family Medicine Chests complete and genuine. Patent Medicines etc” 

The site describes the cabinet as being an antique ‘Duke of York’ medicine chest, made of mahogany with a brass escutcheon and door latches. It has doors to the front and back, secured by brass latches and also by a special locking mechanism  which engages when the lid is closed. I had not heard of the ‘Duke of York’ as a type of medicine cabinet before. Mark’s site description says this of it: “In the early years of the nineteenth century the so-called Duke of York medicine chest became popular…The name derives from a medicine chest in the Wellcome Collection originally thought to have belonged to the Duke of York, younger brother of George III.”

However it turns out that the name was a misnomer, because the chest in the Wellcome collection was made in 1789, whereas the Grand Old Duke died in 1763. But the name stuck and there are all sorts of variants – some with double doors front and back, some with extra doors at one or both of the sides. This one is lovely, with four drawers inside, one of which contains two lidded pill compartments. It also contains three glass bottles. Opening the rear compartment reveals eight bottle compartments complete with bottles, some of them still containing traces of their original contents. Some are labelled and reveal a fascinating cornucopia of exotic ingredients. There is ‘James Powder’, Best Indian Rhubarb, Carbonate of Potash, Colocynth and Dr Gregory’s Pills, Calomel,  Dover Powder and Jalap Powder. No home should be without them!

Sir William Forbes, Copyright Glasgow Museums.







Adding to the interest is that the owner of the box has been identified as Sir William Forbes, a prominent Scottish banker who lived between 1739 and 1806. His wife had a weak constitution, having had 13 children over an 18 year period, and Sir William decided to embark on a Grand Tour in the hope that the Mediterranean climate would prove to have restorative qualities. The couple set off in June 1792, returning to Edinburgh exactly a year later. His diaries even record encountering a problem in Naples when he ran out of ‘bark’ – presumably Jesuit’s Bark (ie quinine). As Mark says on his site it is tempting to think that the chest which is now for sale was the same one which was carted round Europe during their tour. As it happened Lady Forbes soldiered on for another ten years, dying in 1802.


William Forbes Bank One Guinea proof note (1825).


Sir Willam was a partner in the Scottish banking house known as Forbes, Hunter, & Co, later becoming part of the Union Bank of Scotland. It issued its own bank notes and was well-respected. Sir William was highly regarded by the Government, advising Prime Minister William Pitt on such varied matters as bills of exchange, the need for a new Bankruptcy Act, and so on. In 1803 he published his “Memoirs of a Banking House” and after he died he was buried at Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The Union Bank developed  and flourished with other take-overs and mergers,  and eventually it joined up with the Bank of Scotland, ending up as part of the Lloyds Bank group. 


Jan 112018

I see that there is an auction next week under the umbrella of the Sotheby’s series “Of Royal and Nobel Descent” – and with a whole host of Nelson memorabilia on offer it is bound to be of interest. The highlight, picked up in the national press, is a piece of the Union flag flown from the Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar. This  is expected to reach £100,000. *

The catalogue calls it an “evocative and impressive relic of Nelson and Trafalgar” and  gives the following explanation:

“Nelson’s ships sailed into battle at Trafalgar flying the national flag rather than just their squadron colours, as a result of an order issued by Nelson in the days before the battle: “When in the presence of an Enemy, all the Ships under my command are to bear white Colours [i.e. St George’s Ensign], and a Union Jack is to be suspended from the fore top-gallant stay” (10 October 1805). HMS Victory consequently flew two Union flags and a St George’s Ensign, which were returned to England with the ship and the body of Nelson.”

The catalogue continues “… battle ensigns, unique patriotic mementoes of Nelson’s final and greatest victory, were later woven into the solemn and dignified series of ceremonials that marked his state funeral in January 1806. The body lay in state at the Painted Hall at Greenwich for four days before processing upriver in a funeral barge with a flotilla of naval escorts, disembarking at Whitehall Stairs and resting overnight in the Admiralty. The following day, 9 January, a vast procession followed Nelson’s remains to St Paul’s Cathedral, the site of the funeral. Incorporated into the funeral cortege was a group of 48 seamen and Marines from HMS Victory, who bore with them the ship’s three battle ensigns and were, according to one eyewitness, “repeatedly and almost continually cheered as they passed along”.

They did rather more than cheer – they then shredded the various flags and kept them as souvenirs, and over the years several have come up for sale.

Also in the auction are some impressive paintings of the Battle of Trafalgar and a plethora of Nelson memorabilia – everything from medals commemorating Trafalgar and the Battle of the Nile, to dinner plates and pill boxes….






There are also printed ephemera and pieces of jewellery…


and enough statues, sculptures and portraits to satisfy any enthusiast.


I will be interested to see what some of the Lots reach on 17th January – you can see the Sotheby’s catalogue online here or you can buy the catalogue itself  from Sotheby’s for just under £30 here. All images shown here  are provided courtesy of the auctioneers.


*Post script: the piece of flag actually sold for an unbelievable £297,000 – nearly three times the estimate placed on it by the auctioneers! Given that the piece measured 36 inches by 34 inches, that is one very expensive piece of material…

Dec 162017



I know, I know, I have a thing about boxes, especially if they consist of tea caddies and I have often blogged about them. But here is a sensational example of a caddy set, in a beautiful wooden box, shown on Mark Goodger’s Hampton Antiques site.

The box is a beauty, veneered in Mahogany with a chequered tulip wood cross banding all round. The top has a gilded carry handle but it is when you open the lid and look inside that you see the real quality – a matching silver gilt service. The Hampton’s site describes it as “a tea caddy, jug, and caddy bowl; each with square pyramid-shaped cut-glass sides, radiating design to the bases, and silver gilt reeded band. The jug features an interesting Greek key handle.”




There is also a pair of matching silver gilt sugar tongs. The silver gilt edging  to the glass has an 1803 hallmark and the silversmith is given as William Rudkins, He died in 1807 and his burial is noted at St Luke, Finsbury. He was 57 years old when he died and had previously practised as a silversmith from Gee Street in Middlesex. His son James was also a silversmith.


I cannot be sure about the maker of the glass ware, but my hunch is that the pieces may well have come from John Blades, Glass Manufacturer of 5, Ludgate Hill. I have come across other pieces  which resulted from a shared Blades/Rudkins cooperation. John Blades opened his Ludgate Hill showrooms in 1783 and remained there until his death in 1829. He was appointed Cut Glass Manufacturer to George III and was known as ‘the great glass man of Ludgate Hill’. The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait of him wearing the robes of the Sheriff of London and Middlesex. According to the Burghley Collections site his was the first glass company to open a branch in India, in Calcutta, and was famously commissioned to create a great glass Gothic tomb for the Nabob of Oudh. So now you know! More to the point he made wonderful chandeliers, and was a master of manufacturing the sort of glassware shown in this caddy box.

The whole thing makes for a beautiful  item – I don’t have a spare £9,500 – unfortunately! But if I had, it would be my Christmas present to myself. Stunning.


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.








7  1800



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





16                     15

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.

12  book

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.”

4 3























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….


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…