Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Papier-Mâché Folder from The Crystal Palace, 1851

Click image to enlarge.

Souvenir of the Great Exhibition
Jennens and Bettridge, 1851
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A folder like this one, made of papier-mâché, would have been made as a decorative way to contain note or blotting paper. Items such as these folder perfectly lent themselves to being made as souvenirs or commemorative objects which would have been both affordable and useful.

This one dates to 1851 and was made as a souvenir of the Great Exhibition. The front of the notebook is set with a view of the Crystal Palace which has been reverse-painted under glass. The reverse of the painting has been silvered which serves to turn the painting into a mirror and affords a certain sparkle to the Crystal Palace—replicating how the massive glass structure must have really looked when reflected in the sunlight.

The folder itself is crafted of japanned papier-mâché which has been decorated with mother-of-pearl roses—a technique popularized around 1772 when Henry Clay of Birmingham invented a new method of manufacturing japanned items in the Chinoiserie style. Clay’s method involved the pressing of sheets of heat-resisting paper into wooden moulds. The resulting object was smoothed, providing a warp-free surface ideal for japanning—a decorating technique wherein pigment is suspended in a varnish medium in an imitation of oriental lacquer. Inlay of mother-of-pearl had long been the favored adornment for these pieces. By 1825, the firm had patented this inlay technique. And, soon, the Asian-inspired scenes gave way to decidedly Western themes of flowers, castles, landscapes, animals and naturalistic patterns.

This is just one of the many different papier-mâché articles which were offered as souvenirs of the Crystal Palace. It was made by Jennens and Bettridge, who had bought Clay's factory in 1816. The duo also had one of the main displays at the Great Exhibition—showcasing their wares and directing people to their souvenirs. 

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