I 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.
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.
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.
The 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.”
A 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…