Saturday, February 28, 2015

Unusual Artifacts: A Crystal Memorial Slide, 1700

Memorial Slide, 1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Though rather unsettling at first, this gold slide with an enameled skeleton holding an arrow is quite attractive. Within the slide, the initials “IC” are shown on a background of hair under rock crystal. The reverse is engraved, “IC OBT 6 JUL AETA 3 YE 8 MO.”

This is the perfect example of a Seventeenth Century commemorative memorial jewel. Such memorial jewels were a staple of the Eighteenth Century in more romantic forms, but these early examples take a more realistic look at death. Imagery such as skeletons, skulls and winged hourglasses were frequently used for such jewelry and hair from the deceased was almost always incorporated.

From the inscription on the reverse, which is partially in Latin, we can see that it was made in memory of a child with the initials “IC” who had died on the 6th of July (in an unknown year) who was aged three years and 8 months.

The slide is fitted with two flat loops at the back through which a ribbon of silk or woven hair would be threaded, enabling it to be worn around the neck or wrist.

Masterpiece of the Week: Bust of Tsar Alexander III, 1900

Bust of Tsar Alexander III
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII (1844-1925), acquired this bust by Fabergé of Tsar Alexander III. The miniature bust, dating to 1900, is carved of smoky quartz and mounted on a column of nephrite applied with the imperial double-headed eagle. Obviously, the portrait was created after the Tsar’s death in 1894.

The piece was central to Queen Alexandra’s collection of Fabergé miniatures. Her Majesty was the Tsar’s sister-in-law. It’s possible that the bust was a gift to her from the Dowager Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

Another bust of Alexander III, cast in gold, was included as the “surprise” inside Fabergé’s Alexander III Commemorative Egg, given to Maria Feodorovna at Easter 1909 by Tsar Nicholas II.

The Tsar and Tsarina frequently visited with their British royal relations, showing close dynastic ties, in England, Russia or Denmark. Queen Victoria recorded such a visit paid by Alexander III (then the Tsarevich) and Maria Feodorovna (Minny) in her Journal on July 1, 1873:

“The Csarevitch led me in [to dinner], as 36 years ago his Grandfather, the Emperor Nicholas had done. He is very goodnatured. I wore the Russian order, & sat between him & Minny.” 

Victoria is said to have mourned deeply when she received word from the new Tsar Nicholas II, that his father, Alexander II, had died. He wrote “dearest beloved father has been taken from us. He gently went to sleep.”

The Home Beautiful: The James Wyatt Armchair, 1805

Oak Armchair
C. 1805
The Victoria & Albert Museum

There’s something wholly English about this open armchair of oak, with cluster-column legs. Crafted in the Gothic Revival style, it is decorated with a turned ring at half height, and square armrests which enclose gothic tracery carving . The back is pierced and divided by cluster-columns into three arcades with tracery carving, The top rail forms a pediment which surrounds further tracery motifs.

The chair is said to be the work of the architect James Wyatt (1746-1813) who may have made it for one of the interiors that the Prince Regent, later George IV, commissioned for Carlton House in London. Records show that the Gothic Library at Carlton House, was supplied with a set of oak seat furniture in 1808. This chair may belong to that set.

Curiously, the chair bears the inventory mark of Windsor Castle. The mark was added about 1835, indicating that this chair eventually ended up at Windsor around the time of William IV. Eight matching side chairs are still in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Why or how this one escaped is something of a mystery.

Sculpture of the Day: A Lion After Landseer, 1874

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Among the most famous public sculptures in Britain are the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer. Those celebrated lions have inspired multiple works of art including this handsome paperweight of blue pressed glass.

The lion was created through a new technique of press-molding glass with the aid of a hand-operated machine. This technique—developed originally in the U.S. in the 1820s--made the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century the beginning of true mass production of pressed glass in the U.K..

This beautiful piece heralds from John Derbyshire's Regent Flint Glass Works at Salford, Manchester. The concern was not long-lived, however, during its few years of production it manufactured some of the most sought-after paperweights in Britain. The best known of the collection is this lion. Others which were inspired by Landseer also proved to be big sellers. These included based on the master’s paintings of a greyhound and a collie.

Gifts of Grandeur: Queen Mary's Fabergé Column, 1900

Column and Frame
Fabergé, 1900
Presented to Mary of Teck
by Queen Elizabeth,
The Queen Mother, 1946.
The Royal Collection

Everyone wants to make a good impression on her mother-in-law. Sometimes, that’s not an easy task. Sometimes, it’s downright daunting. Consider, if you will, if your mother-in-law is the Queen Consort and the wife of King George V. That was the situation Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon found herself in when she married “Bertie,” also known as The Duke of York (also the future King George VI).

The woman who would later be called, “The Queen Mother” wasn’t as meek and quiet as she appeared in public and was, in reality, quite sharp and savvy. She knew that Queen Mary had a great passion for jewels and art and they bonded over their mutual attraction to the work of Fabergé.

On May 26, 1946, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother presented her mother-in-law, Queen Mary (the then-Queen Mother) with this magnificent Fabergé creation from 1901. The object of Nephrite, two-colour gold, guilloché enamel, rose diamonds, mother-of-pearl features a delicately carved green column which supports an elaborate frame of diamonds.

This remarkable piece was the perfect addition to Mary of Teck’s existing collection of Fabergé and was rumored to have been one of her favorites. Though part of the Royal Collection, this frame and stand still appears to be on display within the State rooms at Buckingham Palace. 

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

What a great way to make a good impression.

Precious Time: The Romilly Pastoral Watch, 1760

French, 1760
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This watch is truly a treat for the eyes. A masterpiece of enamelled gold is a quarter-repeating watch with panels meant to imitate moss agate. The reverse is painted with a playful interior scene of a handsome flute player surrounded by three others. The composition is quite intricate as a large armoire is shown to the left near a square stone column. These are counter-balanced by a cascade of pale purple silk taffeta which flows into the composition from the upper right.

Made in France, it’s a grand example of the practice of painting portrait miniatures in enamels which developed out of the decorative work of goldsmiths and watchmakers in the French cities of Blois, Châteaudun and Paris. This delicate watch is the work of the celebrated Jean Romilly.

Ephemeral Beauty: Grind Your Coffee

Click on the image to love a lassie, a bonnie hee-land lassie.

Well, what have we here? This nifty little trade card with its wordy backside dates to 1889 and was made exclusively for Arbuckle Brothers of New York City—hawkers of coffee which appears to be coated in eggs and sugar.

The obverse depicts various scenes of Scotland, including a Scottish, Lassie, High Street, a Highlander and Edinburgh Castle. Published by Joseph Knapp of New York, it’s a great example of the high quality of their printing.

It would appear that this was the tenth installment in a series of cards promoting Ariosa Coffee which took buyers on a nice, flat trip around the world. Each card included drawings of native people and places and a brief description of each location (printed in teeeeeeny, tiny type).

I’ve spared your eyes by typing out the copy. Meanwhile, I’m now cross-eyed.

Let’s look, shall we?

One of 50 views from a trip around the world.



     It will pay you well to keep a
small coffee-mill in your kitchen
and grind your coffee just as
you use it, one mess at a time.
Coffee should not be ground
until the coffee-pot is ready to
receive it. Coffee will lose more
of its strength and aroma in one
hour after being ground than
in six months before being
ground. So long as


remains in the whole berry, our
glazing, composed of choice
eggs and pure confectioners’ A
sugar, closes the pores of the
coffee, and thereby are retained
all the original strength and

has during 25 years set the
standard for all other roasted
coffees. So true is this that
other manufacturers, in recom-
mending their goods, have
known no higher praise than
to say, “It’s just as good as

And, then, on the next column, we get the tenth installment of our sugar-coated, coffee-based trip around the world. Let’s put on our kilts and go to…


     The point commanding at a
glance the view of all the most
noted features within and around
Edinburgh, is Calton Hill, at the
summit of which is Nelson’s Monu-
ment, its top 350 feet above the sea,
and where, every day at one o’clock
an electric time signal indicates the


     Edinburgh Castle is on a rock
which was the site of a stronghold
before the earliest dates of Scottish
history, and is connected with many
of the stirring scenes recorded in
the annals of this interesting
country. The entrance to the Cas-
tle is by an esplanade on the east.
This is the only entrance. On leav-
ing the confines, a continuous route
leads through the time honored
chain of streets, the Lawn Market,
High Street, with its narrower por-
tion called Nether Bow, and Can-
nongate, to Holyrood Palace.

     The Scott Monument is an ele-
gant structure in the form of an
open crucial Gothic spire, supported
on four early English arches which
serve as a canopy for the statue. It
is about 200 feet high. Under the
central basement arch is a marble
statue of Sir Walter Scott with a
figure of his favorite dog at his

     St. Giles’ Church is a Gothic edi-
fice with massive square tower ter-
minating in open stone work in the
form of a crown, and is noted
as the scene of many remarkable
events. Behind the church is Par-
liament Square. This occupies the
site of an ancient cemetery where
the reformer, John Knox, was
buried. The Hall of Parliament
House is very beautiful with its
stained glass windows, pictures and

     Holyrood Palace is renowned for
legendary romance as to its origin
and for the actual tragic incidents
of royalty within its walls. On the
way to the Queen’s Drive, Craig-
miliar Castle is seen in the distance,
where Mary Queen of Scots often

     Population 1889 (est.) 271,135