Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: A Diamond Floral Brooch, 1800-1900

Diamond Brooch
The Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victorians loved flowers, and, as they did with many things, assigned special meanings to different flowers in what was called, “The Language of Flowers.” Floral pieces were often the inspiration for jewelry during this time period. Here’s another example of that genre of jewelry-making.

Diamonds set in silver and backed in yellow gold, comprise the design of a single flower. The origin of this pin is unknown as is the maker and, actually, its date of creation. The Victoria & Albert narrows the age range between 1800 and 1900 and lists the piece as having been made, simply, in Europe.

The brooch was a gift to the V&A by an American donor.


At the Music Hall: Only a Rose, 1925

Red rose out of the east Tell the love I love least. "Who knows?
Red rose out of the west
Tell the love I love best "Love is a rose"

Only a rose I give you.
Only a song dying away,
Only a smile to keep in memory
Until we meet another day.

Only a rose to whisper,
Blushing as roses do,
"I'll bring along a smile or a song for anyone"
Only a rose for you.

A popular sentimental favorite, “Only a Rose,” was a hit at music halls and has been recorded dozens of times since its 1925 debut in the musical, “The Vagabond King” by Rudolf Friml and Brian Hooker.

The Art of Play: A Steiff Monkey, 1910

Monkey (Chimpanzee)
Steiff, 1910
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Monkey! Mohair Monkey! Okay, it’s not actually a monkey, it’s a chimpanzee, but the German toy makers, Steiff referred to all their early simian soft toys as “monkeys.” Who knew the difference?

This chimp features fully jointed arms, legs and head, so that he can sit or stand. His arms are exceptionally long and slightly bent at the elbows to make sure he was in full monkey mode. As with most of Steiff’s animals, a great deal of attention was paid to the details. His fingers and toes are clearly defined and rigid, built atop metal prongs.

The curators at the V&A believe this toy—which still retains its trademark button in the left ear—was made as an automobile accessory, designed to sit on the radiator cap of a motor. How interesting. He seems to have held up well and is in pretty good condition for being over one hundred years old.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: A Drawing from the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection

Watercolor over Printing Ink
Late Nineteenth Century
Part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In 2010, George Speaight bequeathed his impressive and comprehensive collection of Punch & Judy artifacts to the Victoria & Albert Museum. This drawing was among the objects in the collection, one of a series by the same unknown artist.

A hand-colored, water color over printing ink drawing, it depicts Mr. Punch, his wife, Judy, and their ill-fated baby in the moment in the puppet show when Judy urges her husband to spend some time with the tyke. As we know, Punch’s parenting skills are lacking, and he eventually tosses the uncooperative child out of the window. For the briefest of moments, however, they appear to be a happy family. The scene, of course, turns sour rather quickly.

The other drawings in the series depict Punch’s discarding of the baby, Judy’s violent reaction, Punch’s overtaking of Judy, Punch’s escape from the Constable, his introduction to Toby and Joey the Clown who taunts Mr. Punch with sausages, and Punch’s inevitable encounter with Jack Ketch, the hangman.

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 279

Ulrika Rittenhouse ran her fingers through her long, loose, ginger hair. She felt quite decadent and wild, being out in public with her hair down and her head uncovered. As the effects of the drug that Arthur had given her began to wear off, she began to feel exhilarated and she purred as the smooth skin of her face and wide, masculine neck began to tingle with the cool dampness of the foggy evening.

“Quit your noise,” Iolanthe grumbled as they walked together.

“It’s just too delicious, really,” Ulrika sighed. “My body feels alive as if I’ve just plunged into an icy lake.”

“You’re an odd woman,” Iolanthe shook her head.

“At least I’ve never killed anyone.” Ulrika sniffed.

“You’d do well to keep quiet.” Iolanthe barked.

“If you want me to be still, Iolanthe, really, why did you ask me to come with you?” Ulrika grinned.

“I regret it deeply.” Iolanthe muttered.

“I can’t say I’ve ever been in this part of the Quarter,” Ulrika continued.

“It ain’t for the likes of you,” Iolanthe replied. “It’s really all just too exciting! Think of it, any moment, a vicious man could jump out onto the banquette and overpower us.”

“Since you’re broader than most men, I don’t fear for my safety and I don’t want you thinkin’ that I do.”

“You are too cross,” Ulrika shrugged. “What’s troubling you? Is it that you’ve been in prison? Is it that your son is still at Edward Cage’s house? Is it because you’re failing miserably? Or is it that you’ve jumped at a message from Marie Laveau like you’re her servant?”

“I am no one’s servant!” Iolanthe spun around and spat fiercely. “I answer to no one! I’ve only responded to Marie’s note because I’m curious as to what she has to offer me!”

“Certainly, you are.” Ulrika nodded. “So, what wicked business do you think the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans is about now? She’s certainly not fond of you. What could she want with you now?”

“I don’t know, Ginger,” Iolanthe snapped. “That’s why we’re goin’!”

“I do hope her home is near,” Ulrika took a deep breath. “My legs are growing weary.”

“You are annoying, aren’t you?” Iolanthe hissed.

“Some people find it alluring.” Ulrika winked.

“I’m not among them.” Iolanthe grumbled. ‘Marie’s house is just over there.” Iolanthe pointed.

As they approached the door, they heard the sounds of a baby crying.

Iolanthe’s eyes widened. “She couldn’t have!”

“Oh,” Ulrika laughed. “It’s just too glorious. Marie Laveau has succeeded where the great Iolanthe Evangeline has failed!”

Iolanthe drew back her arm and slapped Ulrika across the face.

Ulrika squealed.

Just then, Marie opened the door and grinned at the two women. “Ain’t no use punishin’ the girl for speakin’ the truth, Iolanthe. Now, come on inside and see what I have for you.”

At that very moment, Mr. Punch stood strangely still in the center of the tiny apartment above the Routhe’s dress shop.

Adrienne, Robert and Mama Routhe watched with increasing fear as Punch seemed frozen in time like one of Edward Cage’s wax effigies. Though his figure seemed still, the many voices within him were quite active.

“Mr. Punch,” Julian said in a voice that only Punch could hear, “You must compose yourself.”

“Take what you can!” Scaramouche squeaked over Julian.

“I…” Punch’s voice responded. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Gather yourself up and carry on!” Julian said firmly.

“Make ‘em suffer!” Scaramouche argued, his voice growing stronger and deeper again.

Adrienne looked desperately at Robert. “We’ve got to do something.”

“I know.” Robert nodded. “But, how can we reach him?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-278? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 280.

Card of the Day: A Royal Visit to H.M.S. “Victory”

After the First World War, the damage to Britain was considerable, and over the course of the following several years, King George V and Queen Mary made a point of surveying the state of the Empire. Some of the damage was directly related to the War, some of it was due to neglect of historical properties which had been ignored during more turbulent times.

The twentieth card in the series of commemorative cards produced by Wills’s Cigarette Company in 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary depicts a visit from the King to Lord Nelson’s famous ship, H.M.S. VICTORY.

The reverse of the card reads:


A year or two after the War, it was discovered that Nelson’s famous flagship, the “Victory,” was sinking at her moorings in Portsmouth Harbor, and that the timbers of the hull were in perilous condition. She was accordingly moved permanently into dry dock, and thorough measures were taken to restore her. A careful study of naval records has enabled the “Victory’s” appearance at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Admiral’s quarters, to be reproduced. On July 26th, 1924, before holding the Naval review at Spithead, the King and the Prince of Wales went over the famous old man-of-war, and inspected the work of reconstruction.

The Victory Today
BBC News

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Souvenir of the Coronation of King George VI

Coronation Mug
W.T. Copeland & Sons, 1937
Portrait by Marcus Adams, 1934
The Royal Collection
Always devoted to her family, Queen Mary, despite the loss of her husband, King George V, took great pride in the ascension of her son, “Bertie” as King George VI and, frankly, great relief in the fact that her eldest son, David, abdicated the throne after refusing to give up his American socialite “girlfriend,” Mrs. Simpson.

Ever since her early childhood, Queen Mary had positioned herself as something of a family historian and took the task quite seriously. She would often say with pride that by the time of the ascension of her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, she was the only living person who remembered multiple generations of the Royal Family and could, without any hesitation, recite the names and circumstances of even the most obscure members of the family.

As unofficial Royal historian, Queen Mary made sure to collect items which were important to the family, even amassing a collection of the souvenir items which had produced to commemorate special occasions such as weddings and coronations.

The portrait by Marcus Adams
Taken of the Duke and Duchess of York with
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose
The Royal Collection
This mug by W.T. Copeland and Sons, produced in 1937, was a favorite of the Queen’s. Made to commemorate the coronation of Mary’s son, “Bertie,” the mug is adorned with a 1934 portrait of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and their children, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose beneath images of the Palace of Westminster and the Thames and surrounded by roses of England and thistles of Scotland.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mastery of Design: Gold and Diamond Bracelet Clasps, 1770

Bracelet Clasps
French, 1770
Gold, Diamonds, Blue Paste
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In the late, Eighteenth Century, bracelets were usually worn in pairs. The height of fashion at the time, strings of pearls, beads or both comprised most bracelets. These strings were held together by elaborate clasps such as these.

Designed to be worn one on each wrist, these clasps provided both a practical purpose in securing the bracelets as well as a purely decorative function. This set of clasps has long been associated with Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), consort of Louis XVI of France. Made of gold and European-cut diamonds set into deep blue paste, one clasp bears the initials of Marie Antoinette while the other depicts a “trophy of love” surrounded by doves, a quiver of arrows and a hymeneal torch (so named for Hymen, the Greek god of marriage).

Friday Fun: The Start of Martin Bridle’s Punch & Judy Show

Professor Martin Bridle
Martin Bridle, one of the foremost Punch & Judy professors in Britain, doesn’t perform much anymore, but when he does, it’s certainly a treat. Each professor begins his (or her) own show a little differently, usually with a lot of spectacle and color. Martin Bridle’s joyful opening involves a host of unique characters and music before the introduction of Joey the Clown who, in turn, welcomes Mr. Punch.

Enjoy this video shot by Melbourne’s Professor Whatsit, Chris van der Craats.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Albert Smith’s Mr. Punch

Mr. Punch
Albert Smith
Britain, Late Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Dear Mr. Punch always looks basically the same from puppet show to puppet show. Each professor’s figures are slightly different from one another. Of course, he has his large nose, jutting chin, round belly and hunchback. But, sometimes his hair is white, sometimes its brown or ginger, and his expression and costume depend on the wishes of his “master.” Typically, he is outfitted in crimson with gold details, occasionally, he also wears blue. But, he’s always recognizable as Mr. Punch.

This Mr. Punch is one of a set of figures created and used by late Punch and Judy Man, Albert Smith who performed throughout London. This puppet, as was the rest of the set, was made in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century. He wears a suit of red corduroy with blue velvet sleeves and metallic gold trim. Beneath his “hunch,” a sleeve of red velvet conceals the professor’s arm. His hands, legs, feet and head are carved from wood which has been painted.

This figure is a little battered, but he would be. Punch gets about some very rough business. In light of that, it’s rather amazing that he’s in such fine condition. Clearly, this puppet was well used and well cared for.

He came to the Victoria & Albert Museum—with his original slapstick as well as his other puppet companions—in 2001 as a gift from the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild.

Antique Image of the Day: A Fabergé Frame with a Photo of Queen Mary While Duchess of York, c. 1896

Frame and Photograph
Photo of Queen Mary while Duchess of York
taken before 1896.
Frame of Red and Yellow Gold, Enamel and Ivory
by Michael Perchin of Fabergé.
The Royal Collection
Before Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (the future Queen Mary) became engaged to the Duke of York (the future King George V), she was engaged to his brother, the Prince of Wales. Following “Eddy’s” death, Mary traveled with her family for awhile, and upon her return to England, struck up a friendship with George, another of her “Wales” cousins, as they bonded in their shared grief. Queen Victoria, though she was rather repelled by the Princess when she was a child (citing the girl’s large head and unusual height as being rather unnerving), had grown fond of Princess “May,” as a young woman and found her to be a most suitable match for her grandson and a brilliant potential Queen Consort.

George and Mary were wed in 1893, and, by all accounts George was especially fond of his wife. The future King was said to always keep a photo of his wife close at hand. This particular photo of Mary—looking quite beautiful—was a favorite of his. He kept this photo in a radiant frame of yellow and red gold, crimson guilloché enamel, and ivory by Fabergé. The framed photograph sat on his desk for many years during the conclusion of his grandmother’s (Victoria’s) reign as well as his father’s (King Edward VII). Upon George’s ascension to the throne, he brought the photo with him and placed it in plain view in his Audience Chamber at Buckingham Palace.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 278

Steady on, Dear Punch.” Robert said quickly. “Adrienne, what’s happened? Where’s the child?”

“I don’t know.” Adrienne shook her head slowly. “Nellie took him.”

“Nellie?” Punch squawked. “What’s she got to do with it?”

“She came with two men—they were wearing masks. They overpowered Mama Routhe and she—Nellie--took the child.”

“Where was Charles?” Robert exclaimed.

“He’d gone to get milk.” Adrienne explained. “He’s presently in pursuit of Nellie and the men.”

“He ain’t gonna find them.” Mama Routhe mumbled.

“Why not?” Punch spat.

“Cuz, Sir,” Mama Routhe wrung her hands. “That woman weren’t actin’ on her own, she was workin’ for someone—someone a lot more powerful than she.”

“Who?” Robert asked.

Adrienne shrugged despondently.

“Iolanthe?” Robert continued.

“No, I don’t think so.” Adrienne said. “She seemed glad to be free of Iolanthe.”

“That Edward Cage, then?” Punch asked. “Would he employ such a woman to do his bidding? After all, he must know her from his association with that Ogress.”

“It’s possible,” Adrienne whimpered. “I feel so dreadful.”

“It ain’t your fault,” Marjani said, hurrying over to Adrienne to comfort her. “You ain’t hurt, are ya?”

“No.” Adrienne whispered.

“It ain’t her fault.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “It’s my own fault.”

“No, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne said.

“If we’d just left the child where he was.” Punch began to cry. “If I hadn’t insisted that he come with us. Edward Cage isn’t a good man, but he wouldn’t hurt that baby. I was selfish, and now the little fella’s in danger. Stupid! Stupid, Mr. Punch! Naasir said the child couldn’t be mine. He said it wasn’t meant to be.”

“I don’t understand,” Adrienne said quickly. “How did…”

“He came to me. I can’t ‘xplain it.” Punch replied. “I can’t ‘xplain nothin’ cuz I’m so bleedin’ stupid!” Punch slapped his leg with his open palm.

“Stop,” Robert put his arm around Mr. Punch’s shoulders. “This isn’t your doing. And, you’re not stupid. I insist that you stop saying that of yourself.”

“But, it’s true, Chum.” Punch moaned.

“Where’s the man who beat the Devil?” Robert asked. “This isn’t like you!”

“I can’t beat nothin’ no more,” Punch cried. “I can’t. It’s over.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-277? If so, you can read them here.

Card of the Day: The Consecration of Liverpool Cathedral

Following the Great War, King George V and Queen Mary set about attending a series of events intended to show the British people that their daily lives would eventually return to normal and that, as a nation, there was still much to celebrate.

The nineteenth in the series of Wills Cigarette cards commemorating the Silver Jubilee of Queen Mary and King George V depicts the consecration of Liverpool Cathedral. This Anglican Cathedral was not completed until 1978. Upon completion, it was ranked the largest in Britain and the fifth largest in the world. Today, the Cathedral retains its traditional Gothic architectural roots, but also realizes that times change. The interior of the Cathedral is brilliantly lit with colorful fiber optic lights and adorned with neon.

The reverse of the card reads:

Liverpool Cathedral (which is one of the world’s largest cathedrals) was consecrated in the the presence of the King and Queen on July 19th, 1924. It is the third Anglican cathedral to be built in England since the Reformation. The architect, Mr. (now Sir) Giles Gilbert Scott was twenty-one years old when his design was chosen from more than one hundred others. About forty-five Bishops including the Heads of the Church in Asia, America, Scotland and Wales attended the dedication. The Service was superb in the solemn ecclesiastical ritual. In the picture Lord Derby and Mr. Arthur Henderson, then Home Secretary, are standing beside the King and Queen.

The Cathedral Exterior

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Jasperware Stickpin, 1795

Jasperware and Gold
Wedgwood and Sons
The Victoria & Albert Museum
 Made by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons in 1795, this gorgeous stickpin features a jasperware plaque of Princes Alexander and Constantine of Russia in profile. The traditional Wedgwood blue and white palette is beautifully offset by the ovoid gold frame and pin.

This pin is part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Ceramics Room as opposed to the jewelry collection, showing that stickpins cross between media and show themselves as important objects –artistically and historically—in a variety of spotlights.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Nap Field

“Even if I had thumbs, there’s no way you ladies would get me out there with a rake.”

Image: The Hay Field, Thomas Armstrong, 1869, The Victoria & Albert Museum

Mastery of Design: A Pavé Turquoise and Diamond Necklace, circa 1850

Turquoise, gold, diamonds
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Turquoise jewelry was quite popular in the mid-Nineteenth Century. The stone was loved for its rich color and its symbolic properties of unifying married couples. Usually set in yellow gold, turquoise rarely was combined with diamonds. That’s what makes this necklace so spectacular.

It’s a masterpiece of meticulously set pavé turquoise from Russia with Rose-cut and Brilliant-cut diamonds. The central bow is a later edition, coming ten years later—around 1860. The bow is certainly English in origin, while the necklace itself may be Russian. Due to its high quality workmanship, it is considered one of the most magnificent pieces in the jewelry collection of the V&A.

Gifts of Grandeur: An Italian Micromosaic and Gold Diadem, 1840

Italian, 1840
Gold, Glass
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made in 1840, this masterpiece of gold and glass micromosaic has been made in a traditional Roman style and depicts a scene of Roman ruins—a popular subject worldwide during that era. There’s some debate as to the origin of the piece as a while. The gold and mosaic work is clearly Italian, however, some feel that the diadem itself was assembled into its present form in France.

Using only the smallest pieces of colored glass, the medallion centerpiece of the tiara contains more than 5000 pieces of glass per square inch. A diadem such as this would have been worn atop a lady’s upswept hair. This particular piece would have been an interesting visual contrast to the many pieces of diamonds and gemstones which dominated the time period and would have caused the wearer to stand out from the crowd like a Roman goddess.

The Reverse (showing the unfortunately places Museum Item Number)

The diadem retains its original presentation case.

Precious Time: A Necessaire and Watch, 1770

Necessaire and Watch
James Cox, 1770
The Victoria & Albert Museum
There’s a fine line between absolutely hideous and truly beautiful. This object sits firmly on that line. I can’t quite decide if I like it or not. It’s certainly ornate and regally-made. With its Gold-mounted agate casket, settings of pearls and paste gems, clockwork mechanism and sounding carillon, it is a work of art. But, perhaps it’s a bit too much, and a little confused. Adorned with shimmering insects and resting on feet of gilt elephants, this necessaire with a watch surmount offers a lot of visual stimulation which makes it simultaneously gorgeous and frightening.

This is the work of the jeweler and goldsmith James Cox who was celebrated for his lavish objets de vertu, and applauded for his constant inclusion of automata and watch movements. The uppermost portion of the necessaire contains a drawer which opens to reveal a range of personal articles such as tweezers, scissors, a pencil and penknife. There’s some debate as to whether or not Cox made all the objects in this necessaire, but he did produce a good many of them.

In the late Eighteenth Century, when this was produced, the growing upper-class showed their wealth by indulging in opulent objects such as this. This was more of a status symbol than it was truly practical. And, while it’s certainly overwrought, it is beautiful in its own way.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 277

Mr. Punch shuffled through the fog, keenly looking forward as he searched for his chums. “Probably eaten up by them witches what’s always poppin’ out of the mist like the crocodile. Least, the croc is easily bested. Just pull him off the professor’s hand. That’s all trickery, but these women are real. Creepin’ out o’ corners like some kind of crawly vermin. Hit ‘em all. Hit ‘em all with me stick and make sure they stay on the play-board. Only there ain’t no play-board. Ain’t no booth. Ain’t no professor. Ain’t no endin’.” He muttered as he trudged along.

He took a deep breath and continued his chattering rant. “’Twas easier, it were. Bein’ a puppet, thinkin’ o’ nothing and sayin’ only what was said for ya. I miss it, I do. Always the same, it were. Always knew what was comin’—Scaramouche, sure, but I could knock his head off his shoulders. Judy with her harsh ways. I’d always teach her a lesson. The doctor—gave him his own med’cin. Pretty Poll’—she weren’t so pretty after all. The constable were easy to finish, and Jack Ketch, well…he were a fool, he was. Started the same, ended the same—each time. I always beat the Devil! Huzzah! But, I don’t think I’m beatin’ the Devil this time. It’s all different. Sure.”

Punch paused to watch a mother and her children hurry past. One of the children, a little boy with dark curls and large, bright eyes, clutched a soft toy figure of a soldier in a red coat. For a moment, Punch thought that the boy grasped his own Mr. Punch.

“No,” Punch muttered, shaking his head. “Weren’t me. I’m not here. But, I am. Still, I ‘spose when I gave up the things I already knew, I gained so much more. Who’d have thought Punch would be friends with the Doctor, with the constable, with the baby, even? Who’d have thought that Punch would be friends with anyone? That were worth it.”

Ahead, through the fog, Punch saw two figures—one tall and sandy-haired, the other, squat and dark.

“Chums!” Punch shouted.

Robert turned around.

“Dear Punch?”

“Here I am, Chums.” Punch exclaimed as he ran through the mist, embracing Robert and Marjani at once in his wide-open arms.

“You mustn’t, Mr. Punch.” Marjani whispered. “Ain’t fittin’ to embrace me in the streets.”

“Why?” Punch smiled.

“Sir, I’m a colored woman.” Marjani said.

“I don’t care.” Punch shrugged. “You’re me chum and I love you.”

Marjani smiled. “Oh, you are somethin’, Mr. Punch. I love you, too.”

“As do I,” Robert nodded.

“Got ‘way from Ulrika and Iolanthe, did ya?” Punch asked, blushing.

“We did.” Robert sighed. “God knows where they’ve gone now.”

“Let ‘em go.” Punch shook his head. “Let ‘em go to Blazes.”

“Where’s Barbara? Was she in danger?” Robert asked.

“Who knows?” Punch grumbled. “She can go to Blazes, too, and use Arthur and his simple chum as kindlin’. I told her to get out of me house. I’m through with all that foolishness. Told her to keep the bleedin’ diamond and just go away.”

“Good.” Robert smiled.

“Now, let’s go get our baby and leave.” Punch said.

“Yes, Sir.” Marjani nodded. “It’s this way.”

Robert and Punch followed Marjani to the Routhe’s Dress shop. As Marjani opened the back door, she took a deep breath and Robert could tell that she was suddenly ill-at-ease.

“Something’s wrong.” Robert whispered to Marjani. “You sense something?”

“Yes, Doctor.” Marjani said softly.

“No, no.” Punch shook his head, he ran in the door and raced up the stairs to see Adrienne slumped over a table—in tears. Mama Routhe stood behind her, wringing her hands.

“No!” Punch screamed. “It ain’t so. The baby ain’t gone!”

“Oh, Mr. Punch, I’m so terribly sorry.” Adrienne said quickly.

“No!” Punch shouted. “It ain’t true! Naasir tol’ me that the baby couldn’t be mine!”

“Naasir?” Robert raised his eyebrows.

“It can’t be true!” Punch sobbed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-276? If so, you can read them here.

Card of the Day: The British Empire Exhibition, Wembley

In 1924, the Crown attempted to recreate Prince Albert’s triumphant Great Exhibition of 1851 eith a similar exhibition of British Arts in Wembley. King George V took as keen as interest in this Exhibition as his grandfather had in the 1851 extravaganza. The event is showcased in the eighteenth in the series of commemorative cards produced in 1935 by Wills Cigarette Company for the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

The reverse of the card reads:


One hundred thousand people saw the King inaugurate the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley on April 23rd, 1924. Their Majesties drove from Windsor and on reaching the Stadium, the head of the Empire was asked by his son, The Prince of Wales (who was President of the Exhibition), to declare open this “picture of our Commonwealth of Nations. Within 220 acres of ground, the Exhibition comprised, as the King said, “a vivid model of the architecture, arts and industry of all the races which come under the British flag.” Seated opposite Their Majesties are the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.

The Stadium Entrance, 1924

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Souvenir of the Coronation of King George VI

After Edward VIII abdicated, British merchants scrambled to replace all of the Coronation items that they were selling for Edward with items bearing the likeness of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother). Happily, in my collection, I have a number of both George VI and Edward VIII objects. However, I don’t have this one.

Tuscan China, 1937
Photo by Marcus Adams, 1934
Acquired by Queen Mary, 1937
The Royal Collection
Produced in 1937, this coronation mug was created as an upscale souvenir and wasn’t meant to be used on a daily basis like many of the others. This mug is special in that it shows the King and Queen’s two young children, Princess Margaret Rose and Princess Elizabeth. Of course, we know that Princess Elizabeth would grow up to have a variety of her own coronation mugs when she was crowned Queen in 1953.

Another thing that makes this little cup special—aside from the attractive portrait of the little princesses by Marcus Adams—is the fact that it was purchased and added to the Royal Collection by the girls’ grandmother, then-Queen Mother, Mary of Teck. “May” was quite devoted to her family and has a special fondness for her granddaughters, so I find it very sweet that she took the time to obtain this item for her own collection.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mastery of Design: The Famous (or Infamous) Fabergé Cigarette Case, 1908

Cigarette Case
Enamel, Diamonds, Gold
The Royal Collection
Ah, the Royals are a sophisticated bunch, really. In 1908, the Honorable Mrs. George Keppel (Alice, also the great-grandmother of Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall) presented this cigarette case of two-color gold, guilloché enamel, brilliant and rose-cut diamonds by Fabergé to King Edward VII. You see Alice was the favorite of the King’s many mistresses. I wonder if it was because she had good taste in cigarette cases.

One of Fabergé’s finest examples of the Art Nouveau style, the case features a sinuous diamond-set snake which wraps around both the front and reverse of the box. It’s quite striking set against one of the most spectacular enamel colors in the history of Fabergé. Of course, the design was not purely decorative. A snake biting its own tale was a symbol of unrelenting and eternal love. A sweet gesture had it not come from the King’s mistress.

And, here comes the odd part. This is one of the only items in the Royal Collection to be presented to the Crown twice. You see, in 1910, shortly after the death of King Edward VII, his widow, Queen Alexandra, gave the case back to Alice Keppel. Some say she gave it back so she wouldn’t be reminded, some insist she returned it quite amicably so that Mrs. Keppel would have a memento of the late King. Since Alexandra knew of Edward’s many lady friends, she was certainly acquainted with Alice. So, who knows her real reasons?

Twenty-five years later, in 1936, Mrs. Keppel presented the same case to Queen Mary (who doubtlessly admired it and who had an impressive collection of her own Fabergé), to make sure that the case would always have Royal ownership.

Very sophisticated.

Unfolding Pictures: Queen Mary’s Blue Jay Fan, 1893

Jay Feather Fan
Feather, linen, tortoise shell, silver, enamel, diamonds.
Presented to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck
(later Queen Mary) as a wedding gift, 1893.
The Royal Collection
Throughout her life, until she became Queen, Mary was affectionately called “May” or “Princess May.” She acquired the nickname through her punctual Sprintime birth as well as the fact that it’s the natural shortened form of “Mary.” Even as a child, Princess May, preferred the arts over all other pursuits and while her brothers and Wales cousins were romping around the Royal pond, she was busy enjoying the art of her Kensington Palace surroundings.

Mary of Teck, as I’ve noted dozens of times, enjoyed collecting things above all else. She had an impressive collection of almost every conceivable kind of art. Fans were a personal favorite of Mary. Here’s an unusual example.

This fan features a leaf of the small blue wing feathers of a jay which have been backed by large black tail feathers. It’s supported by blond tortoiseshell sticks guards, with the front guard bearing the monogram MAY in silver-set diamonds beneath an enamel silver gilt crown which has also been set with diamonds and enameled in white and red. The silver-gilt pin sports glittering diamond heads. This lovely fan was presented to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck on the day of her 1893 wedding to the future King George V by Count and Countess Henry Larisch.

Made in Vienna, it is preserved in its original box which still retains fragments of the trade stamp of the Viennese firm Gebrüder Rodeck.