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





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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 252016

I am delighted to see that Pen & Sword are now promoting my forthcoming book on pre-release! What it means is that you can all relax, safe in the knowledge that this year all your Christmas shopping nightmares have been eliminated – because the book comes out at the end of November, and you can organize all your shopping in advance by clicking on the pre-order page here! £11.99 can’t be bad for a rip-roaring tour through the brothels and bagnios of 18th Century London, accompanied by lots of juicy bits about royal shenanigans, randy rakes, and some very naughty courtesans….!

When the book comes out I will immediately be doing a 21 day lecture-cruise on the Boudicca to the Cape Verde Islands on what I am assured is an adult-only cruise! So, I have prepared three new talks linked to the book, and am really looking forward to adding them to the usual repertoire.In bed etc

Funnily enough I am getting a lot of interest from W.I.s about the talks, whereas one of the U3As has objected to my use of the phrase “tarts with hearts” in the promotional material, which is a shame. Ah well, you cannot please everyone…

Currently my list of talks include:

  • Jane Austen – Fact & Fiction
  • Pride & Prejudice, from printed page to the silver screen
  • Gardening 1603 to 1837 (from Tradescant to Brown and Repton)
  • Eat Drink and be Merry – the story of food and drink in the 18th Century
  • Everyday life in Georgian England
  • Sight-seeing and tourism in the 18th Century
  • Sport, games and entertainment in the Georgian Era
  • The Golden Age of Satire
  • The art of Paper-craft – from cut-outs and silhouettes to paper ball-gowns
  • Astley’s Circus
  • Bristol Blue and Nailsea Glass
  • Slavery and the abolition movement in Britain
  • The early years of the Royal Academy
  • Royal shenanigans, from German George to Randy Regent
  • Scandalous liaisons (Fallen women and the New Female Coterie)
  • Courtesans and Celebrities
  • Rakes and Roués of the Regency era

but I always seem to be adding to the selection!

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….


Jul 072016

I have blogged before about the mania for riding those excruciatingly uncomfortable ‘hobbies’ or velocipedes, and recently came across a delightfully scurrilous etching on the British Museum site. It is called “Exercising a hobby from Wales to Hertford!!,” and is by the British printmaker J Lewis Marks. It shows the Prince of Wales (later, King George IV) and Lady Hertford (Isabella Anne Ingram Shepherd, 2nd Marchioness of Hertford) riding one of the new velocipedes. 3 Exercising_a_hobby_from_Wales_to_Hertford!!It came out in March 1819 when the craze for riding hobbies was at its highest and the British Museum site, without a hint of irony, describes the scene thus:

“She bestrides and grasps the pole, but sits on his knee, he leans against her to hold the handle-bar. He wears military uniform with cocked hat and pumps; she is very décolletée, and wears a triple ostrich plume in her hair.”

The coat of arms of the Second Marquess.

The coat of arms of the Second Marquess.

Given the highly suggestive depiction of ‘the pole’, the unflattering portrayal of the Prince, and the public cuckolding of the Marquess of Hertford,  it is amazing that the caricaturists got away with it – especially when you remember that the writer Leigh Hunt was fined heavily, and sent to prison, for having the audacity to publish a poem in which it was suggested that the Prince was  fat, and covered in blubber like a whale….

Anyway, a month later the publishers came up with a modified version based on the first print, but just as explicit:4It was entitled “A p****e, driving his hobby, in Herdford!!!”.   I don’t think I need add any other comment….

The artist was obviously warming to his theme, and brought out a third depiction of the couple, this time with a reference to flagellation.

5In a print called ‘R…l hobbies’ the voracious Lady Hertford remarks “Come up you idle fellow. I’ll make you drive it home” as she whips her royal lover. He remarks to his brother the Duke of York, passing by in the opposite direction,that ‘he doesn’t think he will be able to push it home’.

And I thought ‘Spitting Image’ was near the knuckle!

John Lewis Marks was a satirist, etcher and publisher who was active in London between 1814 and 1832. His earliest etchings were usually published by Tegg, but in 1817 Marks opened his own publishing house in Bishopsgate. During the following years he sold and published his etchings from establishments in Fleet Street, Picadilly, Finsbury and Smithfield. Much of his notoriety arose from a series of prints made in the early 1830’s (at the time of the Reform Bills)  with some flagrantly racist comments aimed at the German-born wife of the King (William IV). Previously, he had published a number of prints  which were decidedly anti-George IV in his various conflicts with his wife (the unloved and unlovely  Caroline of Brunswick).

I am grateful to the British Museum for the use of the prints.

Jul 022016

Picture1I know exactly what my ancestor Richard Hall was doing 220 years ago – he was playing a game with his children Anna and Benjamin. The game was published by Bowles in 1795, and I still have it. The canvas backing is coming apart a bit, but the print is still legible and the game combines a geography lesson with a variant of ‘snakes and ladders’.

The top section is simply a map of the known world, which still had large areas of Canada and Greenland as blank and, as can be seen in the close up, Tasmania was shown as being part of the Australian mainland because the Bass Straits were not discovered until George Bass circumnavigated what  turned out to be an island in 1798.



At the foot of the map are the instructions for the game – each player had a counter and moved his piece the number  shown on the spin of what was called  a teetotum. This was  a spinning top with numbered sides, used because in respectable households (of which Richard Hall’s was definitely one!) dice were frowned upon because of their gambling connotations.  By moving the counter the appropriate number of spaces he or she would land on different numbered places around the world.

Picture3Each  place was given a brief description and, as in Snakes and Ladders, sometimes you had to miss a turn, sometimes you had an extra go, and sometimes you were sent back to square one. The object was to be the first to reach London: “capital of Great Britain and greatest commercial city in the world”

Land on Constantinople and you caught the plague and were sent to Newfoundland to endure quarantine for two goes;  land on Mecca and you had to return from whence you came as an atonement for your folly; Botany Bay meant a compulsory stay for four turns while you make the acquaintance of the convicts.

Some of the stops have delightful snippets of information:

….“Gibraltar, the precious Rock of Old England, taken from the Spaniards in 1704”

…. “Otaheiti, discovered in 1767, where several missionaries have been sent to convert the natives to         Christianity”

…. “Delhi, where Khouli Khan murdered 70,000 Indians in one night”

…. “Calcutta – one of the richest countries in the world, but take care to avoid the Black Hole”

Picture4As you can see, the game started at the Azores (“belonging to Africa but subject to the Portuguese”) then went to the Canaries for its second stop, (“excellent wines, canary birds and Teneriff Peak – the highest land in the known world except in Borneo” ) and then on to the Senegalese coast alongside Cape Verde Islands, where you had to be “aware of the trade in gums, gold dust and Negroes. Before you proceed, take the Slave Trade into consideration.”

Interestingly, I will be giving a talk on Georgian entertainment as one of nine talks on board the Fred Olsen cruise ship “Boudicca” when she sails to Cape Verde in November, and I thought it would be fun to include details of the game, particularly as we will pass close to the first three stops shown on the map.

Carington Bowles first published his  “Bowles’s Universal Atlas” in 1780. He appears to have re-issued the atlas with revisions just prior to his death in 1793. He was succeeded by his son Henry Carington Bowles (1763-1830),  shortly after he formed a partnership with Samuel Carver. The firm was re-named ‘Bowles and Carver’ and continued trading at No. 69 St. Pauls Churchyard. One antiquarian map site states that: “Most publications by this firm are rare and ‘Bowles’s Universal Atlas’ is no exception”.  OK, this isn’t the Universal Atlas itself, but the ‘Geographical Game of the World’ is based on the August 1795 copy of the Atlas, and I have not  been able to find many other copies. Harvard University have a digital view of the game here. Indeed because their high definition scan shows the entire image far more clearly than I can with a photograph,   here is their image:

Courtesy of Harvard Library

Courtesy of Harvard University  Library

I will be interested to know of any Museums or collectors who can give me any more information….