Monday, December 16, 2013

The Home Beautiful: A Papier Mache Cake Basket, 1850

Papier Mache Cake Basket
England, 1850
The Victoria & Albert Museum
As I've stated at length before, I love Victorian Papier Mache and always marvel at the wide range of sturdy objects which were created with the medium. I’ve managed to collect several pieces of Papier Mache over the years. These are hard to come by. Many exceptional pieces exist in the world’s museums. Here’s one example from the V&A. 

This is what’s known as a “cake basket,” an item commonly seen at tea-time. I’d wager this was part of a set which includes baskets for bread, stands for teapots and bottles, and sets of crumb trays with brushes.

This particular item was made by Jennens & Bettridge, a decoratice design firm run by Theodore Hyla Jennens and John Bettridge between 1816 and 1864. The company was celebrated for the range of Papier Mache goods which it produced in its factory at 99 Constitution Hill, Birmingham, West Midlands and sold through their high-tone location at 6 Halkin Street West, Belgrave Square, London.

The company manufactured a range of luxurious products: writing slopes, trays, fans, and larger furniture such as chairs, tables and sofas. As you can see, the bottom of this cake basket is stamped with the firm's name along with the museum number. 

This basket, like most Papier Mache items, was made by pasting layers of paper into a mold of a specific shape. The finished object was then oiled and baked at very high temperatures, then varnished and dried in a stove. The mother-of-pearl inlay was added prior to the overall piece being painted and given its gilt adornment. Finally, the entire piece was given a final coat of varnish, followed by further stove drying and polishing.

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