Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Objects of the Day, Museum Edition: Three of George III’s Dress Coat Buttons, 1780

Three of George III's Dress Coat Buttons
Mounted as Brooches
Gold, Enamel, Pearls
The Royal Collection
Queen Mary (wife of George V) tucked these precious little beauties away in her magazine of pretty things. She came by them quite honestly, having been bequeathed them by the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1916. At first glance, they appear to be three small, attractive, yet peculiarly matching, brooches. Further inspection (and the documentation that goes with them) shows otherwise.

King George III had, surprisingly, a passion for buttons. In fact, he was known to have crafted a button or two in his lifetime. Mrs. Papendiek, the keeper of the wardrobe of Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, wrote of the king’s love of buttons, “for in his youth one of his favourite occupations had been turning and button-making. Of a German in Long Acre he had learned how to make the loop and attach it to the button. And when in 1784 a Mr. Clay showed him his newly perfected button, for gentlemen’s mourning attire, the King is said to have exclaimed, ‘Send me several sets of buttons, for as I am called George the button-maker, I must give a lift to our trade.’”

How charmingly odd.

Though George III usually dressed quite somberly, on special occasions, he would be known to drape himself in diamonds from head to toe—creating a rather dazzling effect. Always included in his finest suits were magnificent buttons. It is from a set of George III’s buttons that these brooches come. Brilliant blue enamel and gold-set pearls added just the right amount of opulence to many a suit. When the men’s fashions turned away from bejeweled elements (and what a sad day that was), these buttons (twenty-two in total) were given to Queen Adelaide (wife of William IV) who made them into a suite of jewelry which consisted of two necklaces, five brooches and a pair of earrings. I’m sure George III would have approved.

Upon Queen Adelaide’s passing in 1849, the suite of jewels was bequeathed to her niece, Princess Augusta of Cambridge, (A.K.A. the aforementioned Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz) by whom they were bequeathed to the ever-interesting (and one of my favorite Royals) Mary of Teck. I’m not sure what became of the other two brooches, the necklaces and earrings. No doubt, they’re hidden away somewhere at Windsor Castle.

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