Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Dame Joan Evans Micromosaic Brooch, 1820 - 1830

Brooch of silver and micromosaic
Rome, C. 1820
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Nineteenth Century, works of micromosaic were most closely associated with Italian craftsmen.  Panels of these intricate mosaics were popular souvenirs brought back by travelers to Rome.

This brooch from the collection of Dame Joan Evans was made from such a panel which was brought from Rome to England.  The panel consists of minute pieces of colored glass arranged on a surface of mastic or cement using tweezers. Set in a silver-gilt filigree, the mosaic depicts a bird, possibly a pheasant. The silver-gilt resembles spirals of string string, almost like a bird’s nest.

The Home Beautiful: A Chippendale Mirror, 1762-5

Chippendale Mirror and Girandole, 1762-5
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This exceptional Eighteenth Century mirror was designed to serve double-duty as a girandole or a sconce with three arms to support candles and reflect the candlelight to increase the light in a room.

A work of Chippendale (1718-1779), dating between 1762 and 1765, this mirror boasts an elaborately-carved Rococo frame adorned with flowers, leaves, bull-rushes and birds (probably cranes). The carved pine frame was gilded creating a surface which, when combined with the brass fittings and mirror, also served to reflect light.

Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) engaged a team of engravers to prepare his designs, so its difficult to say whose specific hand created this piece.  The glass—as with most large sheets of glass at the time—was most surely imported from France.  This complex design incorporates both smaller and larger sections of glass. The smaller sections were crafted from off-cuts from the larger pieces—economically utilizing as much of this expensive material as possible.

Unusual Artifacts: A Dalmatian Hairpin, 1850-1900

Hairpin of Silver
Dalmatia, 1850-1900
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The hairpin has been a part of a woman’s daily life since antiquity.  Though these clever little items have fallen out of favor today, in large part, they enjoyed a long and happy existence, rising above their utilitarian roots to become decorative and even coveted objects of great monetary and personal value.

Here, we see a small hairpin which dates between 1850 and 1900.  Made of cast silver, it heralds from Dalmatia, Croatia and takes the form of a bird standing on a flat vertical triangle.  The bird depicted here is thought to be a cockerel—a traditional symbol of fertility.  Such a pin would have been used to secure a headpiece to a rather complicated coiffure.

When we think of Dalmatia, we tend to have images of spotted dogs.  In the Nineteenth century Dalmatia was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire—stretching from from Trieste (now in Italy) to the borders of modern Albania. 

At the Music Hall: Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing, 1932

Let's all sing like the birdies sing,
Tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet.
Let's all sing like the birdies sing,
Sweet, sweet sweet, sweet sweet.
Let's all warble like nightingales,
Give your throat a treat.
Take your time from the birds,
Now you all know the words,
Tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet.

Let's all sing like the birdies sing,
Bubbaboo ba-bubbaboo ba-boo.
Let's all sing like the birdies sing,
Tweet tweet tweet - my that bird sings sweetly.
Let's all warble like nightingales,
Ah, Mimi...c'est magnifique!
Take your time from the birds,
Now you all know the words
Tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet

Let's all sing like the birdies sing,
Tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet.
Let's all sing like the birdies sing,
Sweet, sweet sweet, sweet sweet.
Let's all warble like nightingales,
Give your throat a treat.
Take your time from the birds,
Now you all know the words,
Tweet, tweet tweet, tweet, tweet.

This popular music hall song extolling the virtues of melodic avian creatures has endured to this date in large part because of its longtime association with Disney foolishness.  The song was written by Robert Hargreaves, Stanley J. Damerell and Tolchard Evans in 1932 and was a favorite of performers during the 20s because of its cheerful theme and easy lyrics.

I’m posting this video clip from a Disney cartoon.  I’m not entirely happy about it.  But, it’s what one typically associates with this song.  

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 231

Chapter 231 

Why are you back here?” Eudora Stover barked at Orpha.

“Quiet!” Orpha spat.

“You were the one said what we needed to do was to keep ourselves apart.” Eudora said.

“I’ve come to check on my investment.”

“Meaning you failed.” Eudora smirked.

“However could you mean?” Orpha scowled.

“Well, where’s the man?” Eudora said. “Clearly, the Duke and his fancy man didn’t meet your demands.”

“Maybe they did.” Orpha wrinkled her nose.

“If they did, you’d not be here. You’d be buryin’ the baron—your brother.”

“Perhaps I’ve already done it.”

“Nah,” Eudora shook her head. “You don’t look satisfied. Either they did what ya asked, and your baron won’t come to see ya, or they’re too smart for ya. I’d guess the latter.”


“Come, then, Orpha. You can’t fool me. Ya failed. Let’s just bring those tots back to their ma’s, then. We’ll find another way to get what we want.”

“When did you go soft?”

“I always had a soft spot in me heart for little ones.”

“Is that so?” Orpha chuckled. “It’s not evidenced in the treatment of your own children. I trust you’re keeping these cleaner than your own.”

“They’ll be just fine, don’t you worry none ‘bout it.” Eudora said.

“Where’s Hortence?”


“In the middle of the day?”

“She were up all night waitin’ for you to come back with blood on your hands. You know what she thinks? She thinks that your good friend, Lady Constance, has betrayed ya to save her own hide. Did ya really think she’d go to the Duke of Fallbridge and do what ya said?”

“If she wants her child back, she won’t stray from our agreement. So…so maybe it will take longer than we thought. I’m a patient woman.”

“Are ya, then?” Eudora sniffed. “That’s why you’re back here and not waiting for your baron to be delivered to ya.”

“They won’t do it in the daylight. Nevertheless, they’ve gone to the palace, the Duke and Dr. Halifax.”

“Oh, ain’t that just fine? Just what we need. The horse guards to come and put us with ol’ Hutch.”

“That won’t happen.” Orpha shook her head. “I’m sure that Lady Constance will know I’m serious. She’d not dare betray me. I’ll see to it. And, furthermore, she’ll see to it that the Duke and the Doctor keep the Queen out of this.”

“How do ya figure to do that.”

“Bring me a knife and the child called Fern.”

“Lady Constance’s daughter.”

“Also my niece. Remember. The baron is my brother.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“Do as I say or I’ll practice on your own children!” Orpha snapped.

Did you miss Chapters 1-230? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 232.

History's Runway: The Exotic Bird Bodice, 1700-29

Bird Bodice
Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Women’s clothing of the Eighteenth Century was particularly complicated to put on and uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time, yet, fashion and propriety dictated that, at formal events, a woman should be outfitted in a certain way.  Nevertheless, when at home, a woman could dress a little less uncomfortable and would often wear an informal bodice such as this one under a loose robe which was left open at the front. 

What we see here is only the front of a bodice.  The back has long since been lost to time.  

The yellow silk bodice is adorned with an embroidered pattern in colored silks of exotic birds, large blossoms and leaves rendered in a chinoiserie style. The background is cord quilted, a quilting technique wherein thin cords are inserted between parallel lines of stitching.

It was made between 1700-1729  by an unknown embroiderer.  

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Martin-ware Tobacco Jar, 1903

“If Martin-ware [… has] not the transparency of porcelain nor the elaborately and costly ornamentation of Sèvres [it is] pure and honest art work.”

Cosmo Monkhouse, the renowned British art critic described the work of the Martin Brothers' studio in “The Magazine of Art” in 1882 with the above statement. The studio was founded by the allegedly eccentric founder Robert Wallace Martin and his siblings Charles, Walter and Edwin who, together, enjoyed a life of artistic experimentation with the forms of the flora and fauna of the sixteenth-century potter Bernard Palissy.

The brothers' works, known as Martinware, relied on grotesque and peculiar forms which demonstrated  a quirky amalgam of fantasy and imagination—producing a series of anthropomorphic lidded wares, known overall as “tobacco jars.”  

Martinware Bird, 1903
Glazed Pottery on wooden stand.
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Some art historians conjecture that the Brothers Martin were inspired by the traditional English owl-shaped pottery jugs as their wares often took on fantastical fowl forms.  Martin-ware birds are not of any known species—evading classification.  The heads are often made to swivel in odd directions, further adding to their whimsy.

Here, we see an example of a Martinware Tobacco Jar and lid in the form of a bird.  Like its pottery brethren, it features a large head - tapering towards the feet.   It was made in 1903 to be displayed on a wooden stand.  Marked “Martin Bros London & Southall 11-1903,” this jar, like other similar examples is known as a “Wally Bird” and was meant to appeal to a society that was growing to appreciate Japanese-inspired art.

The tobacco jar joins one of its owl brothers.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Gold, Jade and Ruby Necklace, 1825

Gold, Jade, Rubies, Chrysoprase
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made just four years after the coronation of King George IV, this necklace of gold filigree withcannetille (fine gold work of thin or flattened wires in rosette patterns) andgrainti (spirals and volutes of gold wire) decoration, is set with jade, chrysoprases and rubies and shows emerging resurgence of Gothic style which dominated the era for awhile.

The work of an unknown artist, this necklace most likely comes from France. It is curious to note that the earrings were not made at the same time as the necklace and, in fact, were not purposely made to match. These were purchased at a much later date and just coincidentally matched the necklace.

Print of the Day: Mr. Punch's Fancy Ball, 1844

Click image to enlarge.

Mr. Punch's Fancy Ball
Unknown Origins, 1844
The British Museum

The oversized comic scene shows traditional Punchinello characters gathered for a fancy ball and dance. The engraving is printed on two folding sheets and dates to 1844. We’re not sure who produced this wood engraving. Though the title is printed along the bottom, there’s no mention of artist, engraver or publisher. Even the date is not printed, but rather was added later in pencil.

Mr. Punch's Puzzles: The Riddle of the Week

Once, again, Mr. Punch, with my help, is offering up a true Victorian riddle.  The first person to answer correctly--by posting in the comments--will receive public congratulations.  Some week, I may offer a nifty prize from our online store.  (Why do I always say "our" online store, as if I'm more than one person?).  But, this week, I don't feel like it.

So, here's this week's riddle.  We ask that you don't Google the answer.  Mr. Punch would not find that sporting at all.  Give it a shot and see what you can come up with.  Here we go... No cheating...

This week's is a really "Punchy" one as it comes straight from my Mr. Punch's Pocket Book from 1860.

My first is a fruit that's mellow;
My second is a fish that's yellow;
And my whole by a swell fella
Is used as an umbrella.

And the answer is...

Are you ready for it?

A pear-a-sole (parasol).

Oh, for the fun of 1860!  Congratulations to Darcy and Gene for their clever answers and thanks to all of you who attempted this difficult riddle.  Come back next Friday for another, and easier, of Mr. Punch's Puzzles.

Mr. Punch wants you to always know “the way to do it,” so why not check out our “That’s the way to do it!” products which are available only at our online store.  

Friday Fun: A Surreal Czech Mr. Punch

I first shared this bit of weirdness with all of you in 2010, but I felt it was time to trot it our again...

Jan Švankmajer, 1966
I really should call this “Friday Freakiness” in this particular instance. This is weird. It’s not weird in a crying-in-the-corner kind of way. It’s weird in a “Hey, it’s 1966 and look how surreal we can be,” kind of way. Odd, yes, it is, but nevertheless fascinating.

This short film from 1966 entitled Punch and Judy(though Judy is nowhere to be seen) is the work of famed Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer who credits much of his artistic sensibility to the puppets he played with as a child. It really is an interesting film in a very 1966 kind of way. It just seems to me to be an awful lot of trouble over a Guinnea Pig.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 230

Chapter 230 
Too Sweet

Of course, we are not suggesting anything sinister.” The Queen clarified.

“I did not think that Your Majesty would.” Robert smiled. “However, Your Majesties are not the only ones who would like to see the Baron Lensdown put in his place.”

“I have no doubt.” Victoria replied. “The man is a nuisance. You are both aware that he is a volatile person.”

“I know very well.” Punch sighed. “I seen what he can do.”

“Ah, yes.” The Queen said softly. “I know you have, dear Mr. Punch.” She sighed. “I hope that those closest to us know that I have never been one to judge a man based on his birth—at least not as much as my mother would. Still, while some men who are not of aristocratic birth are able to become the finest of gentlemen—like our lovely doctor here, others are not. The baron was a workhouse boy who was given every advantage by those who adopted him. Yet, he remained low. Had he been born in a palace or a gutter, he’d still be low. People are what they are. I’ve long heard rumblings of his misdeeds and lecherous behavior. Albert hears more than I do. Well, now, it seems, he’s designs on some of my ladies in waiting. We can’t have that, can we?”

“No, Your Majesty.” Punch shook his head.

“In part, I’m concerned for the virtue of these women, but also, and Prince Albert is certain this is the case, the man is vying for a spot within the court and hopes to gain entrance through the boudoir.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me.” Robert sighed.

“Lady Lensdown is a queer woman, however, she’s not disagreeable. What brings her to your home?”

“Well, Your Majesty, she came to us, really, to tell us that she’d seen the woman called Orpha Polk meeting for tea yesterday with Lady Constance Hamish,” Punch replied honestly.

“Oh…” The Queen raised her eyebrows. “Lady Hamish is also present at your home. Is she not?”

“She is.” Robert nodded.

“Is she as much of a fright as her mother?” Victoria asked.

“That’s rather difficult to say, Your Majesty.” Robert shook his head.

“What is your opinion of the woman?”

“I don’t trust her.” Punch replied plainly.

“You must tell us everything, dear Mr. Punch.” The Queen smiled. “I know there’s something that I’ve not been told.”

“It is true,” Mr. Punch sat up straight. “We have shielded your majesty from some unsavory details.”

“Tell…” The Queen winked.

“I wouldn’t know how to begin…” Punch looked at Robert.

“Some of it, Your Majesty, is quite…shocking.”

“All the better. Go on, lads, tell us.” The Queen leaned forward.

“I…” Punch began.

“Would one of these wee cakes help loosen your tongue, Mr. Punch?” Queen Victoria asked.

“Might just.” Punch chuckled.

“By all means, then.” She gestured to the trolley.

Punch raised his eyebrows.

“Gobble ‘em up, Mr. Punch.” The Queen giggled. “But, be quick, we must get it all resolved before my husband joins us. Sweet cakes for sweet gossip.”

“It’s not too sweet, Your Majesty.” Robert winced.

“In the end, dear doctor, it always is.” The Queen winked.

Did you miss Chapters 1-229 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 231.


Drawing of the Day: Mr. Punch and the World, 1843

Click image for larger size.

Punch and the World
John Leech or After John Leech
Britain, 1843
The British Museum

Since Friday’s tend to be “Mr. Punch” days, I’ve been trying to find new Punchinello related antiques to share with all of you. Here’s a drawing by John Leech (or in the style of John Leech) which dates to 1843. Of course, we know that Leech, among his many other successes, was known for his work with Punch Magazine. It’s possible that this drawing was created “after Leech” to match other illustrations in the publication.

Created for a November, 1843 edition of Punch, this study for an original drawing depicts Mr. Punch and the world—literally. Punch stands next to a figure with a globular head. The exact meaning of this satirical scene is somewhat lost to modern eyes, but, as with all Leech or Leech-inspired works, it is brimming with charm.

This pencil version was later inked and refined for publication.

Object of the Day: Mr. Punch's Pocket Book, 1860

Last week, I showed you an object from the British Museum—the etched frontispiece from Mr. Punch’s Pocket Book of 1872, and, at the time I teased that today I’d be showing you my own example of this annual almanac. 

So, here it is. I’ve had to take pictures instead of scan the pages because, frankly, this book from 1860 is in pristine condition and I don’t want to be the person to damage it. Forgive me, if the pictures are not as crisp as they should be.

Mr. Punch’s Pocket Book, as I mentioned before, contained everything that a gentleman could need throughout a year, especially if he traveled a lot.

The annual publication was produced from about 1843 to 1881 and contained a variety of useful information as well as carefully selected articles which had appeared in Punch throughout the past year. Each edition featured gilt-edged pages nestled in a red box-grain sheepskin folder. The frontispiece of each unfolded and, until about 1880 was hand-colored, or at least augmented with hand color. 

The frontispiece for the 1860 edition features a comic drawing of women in “new” swimming costumes entitled, “Swimming for Ladies.” As usual, the frontispiece corresponds to one of the articles featured at the end of the pocket-sized publication.

The frontispiece leads to the title page which usually features Mr. Punch holding the Pocket Book, and, typically, the baby poking his head out from it. The idea, of course, is that since this publication is an offspring of Punch, it would be like his baby.

The front page reads:

FOR 1860 
The Illustrations by John Leech and John Tenniel 

This book has never been used. It has remained untouched since 1860. The ledger pages are blank. The articles are not dog-eared. It’s nearly perfect. I especially enjoy the articles in the back of the book as well as the little society stories, jokes and riddles.

Many thanks to my parents for finding this remarkable gift for me. I’m so enchanted by it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Bert-ificence

"You're slowin' us down, Pops."

Image:  Benificene, 1840, Charles Cope (1811-1890), Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857, to the Victoria & Albert Museum.

You know you want to have a Bertie Dog mug, tee-shirt, tote bag or water bottle. You know you do. So, take a look at our online store. 

Mastery of Design: The Hamond Earrings, 18th C.

Russia, Early Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This pair of square pendant earrings is set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies and foiled pink sapphires. Each one drips with three small, pierced pearls. Earrings of this style were the height of fashion with the Russian aristocracy of the early Eighteenth Century.

This example was made by a local silversmith and, thusly, has no marking. However, more celebrated jewelers made such pairs for export to France and Britain.

While the style remained popular well into the Nineteenth Century with the rural population, the aristocracy dropped it like a burning porcupine toward the middle of the Eighteenth. Wealthier families of the later part of the century wanted to show their international understanding and preferred to adorn themselves with styles popular in Europe. The Great Exhibition also helped solidify an international style which was adopted throughout empires.

Her Majesty’s Furniture: Queen Victoria’s Jewel Cabinet, 1851

Jewel Cabinet, 1851
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty
Queen ELizabeth II
Displayed by Elkington, Macon and Co. at the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, this remarkable jewel cabinet was designed by Ludwig Gruner and constructed of oak, silver, copper and porcelain to resemble an over-sized reliquary.  Designed to hold Queen Victoria’s extensive collection of jewels, the cabinet also featured Victoria’s favorite portrait of her husband, Prince Albert, as well as miniature portraits of the six children she bore prior to 1851.  The front of the cabinet also sports the Queen’s coat of arms as well as the crest of Saxe-Coburg for Prince Albert.   The portraits were painted by Andreas Deckelmann and Otto Wustlich.  After the Great Exhibition, the cabinet was given to Queen Victoria and she cherished it always.  Now, it is equally cherished as part of the Royal Collection. 

Print of the Day: The Horse Guards, Whitehall, 1936

The Horse Guards, White Hall
Freedman, 1936
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This attractive print is one of a set of six which were designed in 1936 to be printed on menus for The Orient Line. The illustration of “The Horse Guards” is signed and dated, “Barnett Freedman, 1936.” Freedman (1901-1958), a well-regarded illustrator of the 20s and 30s, found much success as a commercial artist.

The others in the set are:

Buckingham Palace from the Mall
The Tower of London
Windsor Castle, Norman Gate
St. James's Palace
Hampton Court Palace