Saturday, February 28, 2015

Unusual Artifacts: A Crystal Memorial Slide, 1700

Memorial Slide, 1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Though rather unsettling at first, this gold slide with an enameled skeleton holding an arrow is quite attractive. Within the slide, the initials “IC” are shown on a background of hair under rock crystal. The reverse is engraved, “IC OBT 6 JUL AETA 3 YE 8 MO.”

This is the perfect example of a Seventeenth Century commemorative memorial jewel. Such memorial jewels were a staple of the Eighteenth Century in more romantic forms, but these early examples take a more realistic look at death. Imagery such as skeletons, skulls and winged hourglasses were frequently used for such jewelry and hair from the deceased was almost always incorporated.

From the inscription on the reverse, which is partially in Latin, we can see that it was made in memory of a child with the initials “IC” who had died on the 6th of July (in an unknown year) who was aged three years and 8 months.

The slide is fitted with two flat loops at the back through which a ribbon of silk or woven hair would be threaded, enabling it to be worn around the neck or wrist.

Masterpiece of the Week: Bust of Tsar Alexander III, 1900

Bust of Tsar Alexander III
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII (1844-1925), acquired this bust by Fabergé of Tsar Alexander III. The miniature bust, dating to 1900, is carved of smoky quartz and mounted on a column of nephrite applied with the imperial double-headed eagle. Obviously, the portrait was created after the Tsar’s death in 1894.

The piece was central to Queen Alexandra’s collection of Fabergé miniatures. Her Majesty was the Tsar’s sister-in-law. It’s possible that the bust was a gift to her from the Dowager Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

Another bust of Alexander III, cast in gold, was included as the “surprise” inside Fabergé’s Alexander III Commemorative Egg, given to Maria Feodorovna at Easter 1909 by Tsar Nicholas II.

The Tsar and Tsarina frequently visited with their British royal relations, showing close dynastic ties, in England, Russia or Denmark. Queen Victoria recorded such a visit paid by Alexander III (then the Tsarevich) and Maria Feodorovna (Minny) in her Journal on July 1, 1873:

“The Csarevitch led me in [to dinner], as 36 years ago his Grandfather, the Emperor Nicholas had done. He is very goodnatured. I wore the Russian order, & sat between him & Minny.” 

Victoria is said to have mourned deeply when she received word from the new Tsar Nicholas II, that his father, Alexander II, had died. He wrote “dearest beloved father has been taken from us. He gently went to sleep.”

The Home Beautiful: The James Wyatt Armchair, 1805

Oak Armchair
C. 1805
The Victoria & Albert Museum

There’s something wholly English about this open armchair of oak, with cluster-column legs. Crafted in the Gothic Revival style, it is decorated with a turned ring at half height, and square armrests which enclose gothic tracery carving . The back is pierced and divided by cluster-columns into three arcades with tracery carving, The top rail forms a pediment which surrounds further tracery motifs.

The chair is said to be the work of the architect James Wyatt (1746-1813) who may have made it for one of the interiors that the Prince Regent, later George IV, commissioned for Carlton House in London. Records show that the Gothic Library at Carlton House, was supplied with a set of oak seat furniture in 1808. This chair may belong to that set.

Curiously, the chair bears the inventory mark of Windsor Castle. The mark was added about 1835, indicating that this chair eventually ended up at Windsor around the time of William IV. Eight matching side chairs are still in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Why or how this one escaped is something of a mystery.

Sculpture of the Day: A Lion After Landseer, 1874

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Among the most famous public sculptures in Britain are the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer. Those celebrated lions have inspired multiple works of art including this handsome paperweight of blue pressed glass.

The lion was created through a new technique of press-molding glass with the aid of a hand-operated machine. This technique—developed originally in the U.S. in the 1820s--made the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century the beginning of true mass production of pressed glass in the U.K..

This beautiful piece heralds from John Derbyshire's Regent Flint Glass Works at Salford, Manchester. The concern was not long-lived, however, during its few years of production it manufactured some of the most sought-after paperweights in Britain. The best known of the collection is this lion. Others which were inspired by Landseer also proved to be big sellers. These included based on the master’s paintings of a greyhound and a collie.

Gifts of Grandeur: Queen Mary's Fabergé Column, 1900

Column and Frame
Fabergé, 1900
Presented to Mary of Teck
by Queen Elizabeth,
The Queen Mother, 1946.
The Royal Collection

Everyone wants to make a good impression on her mother-in-law. Sometimes, that’s not an easy task. Sometimes, it’s downright daunting. Consider, if you will, if your mother-in-law is the Queen Consort and the wife of King George V. That was the situation Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon found herself in when she married “Bertie,” also known as The Duke of York (also the future King George VI).

The woman who would later be called, “The Queen Mother” wasn’t as meek and quiet as she appeared in public and was, in reality, quite sharp and savvy. She knew that Queen Mary had a great passion for jewels and art and they bonded over their mutual attraction to the work of Fabergé.

On May 26, 1946, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother presented her mother-in-law, Queen Mary (the then-Queen Mother) with this magnificent Fabergé creation from 1901. The object of Nephrite, two-colour gold, guilloché enamel, rose diamonds, mother-of-pearl features a delicately carved green column which supports an elaborate frame of diamonds.

This remarkable piece was the perfect addition to Mary of Teck’s existing collection of Fabergé and was rumored to have been one of her favorites. Though part of the Royal Collection, this frame and stand still appears to be on display within the State rooms at Buckingham Palace. 

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

What a great way to make a good impression.

Precious Time: The Romilly Pastoral Watch, 1760

French, 1760
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This watch is truly a treat for the eyes. A masterpiece of enamelled gold is a quarter-repeating watch with panels meant to imitate moss agate. The reverse is painted with a playful interior scene of a handsome flute player surrounded by three others. The composition is quite intricate as a large armoire is shown to the left near a square stone column. These are counter-balanced by a cascade of pale purple silk taffeta which flows into the composition from the upper right.

Made in France, it’s a grand example of the practice of painting portrait miniatures in enamels which developed out of the decorative work of goldsmiths and watchmakers in the French cities of Blois, Châteaudun and Paris. This delicate watch is the work of the celebrated Jean Romilly.

Ephemeral Beauty: Grind Your Coffee

Click on the image to love a lassie, a bonnie hee-land lassie.

Well, what have we here? This nifty little trade card with its wordy backside dates to 1889 and was made exclusively for Arbuckle Brothers of New York City—hawkers of coffee which appears to be coated in eggs and sugar.

The obverse depicts various scenes of Scotland, including a Scottish, Lassie, High Street, a Highlander and Edinburgh Castle. Published by Joseph Knapp of New York, it’s a great example of the high quality of their printing.

It would appear that this was the tenth installment in a series of cards promoting Ariosa Coffee which took buyers on a nice, flat trip around the world. Each card included drawings of native people and places and a brief description of each location (printed in teeeeeeny, tiny type).

I’ve spared your eyes by typing out the copy. Meanwhile, I’m now cross-eyed.

Let’s look, shall we?

One of 50 views from a trip around the world.



     It will pay you well to keep a
small coffee-mill in your kitchen
and grind your coffee just as
you use it, one mess at a time.
Coffee should not be ground
until the coffee-pot is ready to
receive it. Coffee will lose more
of its strength and aroma in one
hour after being ground than
in six months before being
ground. So long as


remains in the whole berry, our
glazing, composed of choice
eggs and pure confectioners’ A
sugar, closes the pores of the
coffee, and thereby are retained
all the original strength and

has during 25 years set the
standard for all other roasted
coffees. So true is this that
other manufacturers, in recom-
mending their goods, have
known no higher praise than
to say, “It’s just as good as

And, then, on the next column, we get the tenth installment of our sugar-coated, coffee-based trip around the world. Let’s put on our kilts and go to…


     The point commanding at a
glance the view of all the most
noted features within and around
Edinburgh, is Calton Hill, at the
summit of which is Nelson’s Monu-
ment, its top 350 feet above the sea,
and where, every day at one o’clock
an electric time signal indicates the


     Edinburgh Castle is on a rock
which was the site of a stronghold
before the earliest dates of Scottish
history, and is connected with many
of the stirring scenes recorded in
the annals of this interesting
country. The entrance to the Cas-
tle is by an esplanade on the east.
This is the only entrance. On leav-
ing the confines, a continuous route
leads through the time honored
chain of streets, the Lawn Market,
High Street, with its narrower por-
tion called Nether Bow, and Can-
nongate, to Holyrood Palace.

     The Scott Monument is an ele-
gant structure in the form of an
open crucial Gothic spire, supported
on four early English arches which
serve as a canopy for the statue. It
is about 200 feet high. Under the
central basement arch is a marble
statue of Sir Walter Scott with a
figure of his favorite dog at his

     St. Giles’ Church is a Gothic edi-
fice with massive square tower ter-
minating in open stone work in the
form of a crown, and is noted
as the scene of many remarkable
events. Behind the church is Par-
liament Square. This occupies the
site of an ancient cemetery where
the reformer, John Knox, was
buried. The Hall of Parliament
House is very beautiful with its
stained glass windows, pictures and

     Holyrood Palace is renowned for
legendary romance as to its origin
and for the actual tragic incidents
of royalty within its walls. On the
way to the Queen’s Drive, Craig-
miliar Castle is seen in the distance,
where Mary Queen of Scots often

     Population 1889 (est.) 271,135

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mastery of Design: A Doll's Earrings, 1690-1700

Earrings made for the Lady Clapham Doll
England, 1690-1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This set of mismatched earrings belonged to a doll.  The 
Lady Clapham doll--the be exact.  The Lord and Lady Clapham Dolls were made in the Seventeenth Century for the Cockerell Family--descendants of the famed diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) who first recorded Mr. Punch's presence in Covent Garden.

The dolls were outfitted with complete wardrobes and furnishings befitting full-size nobility.  Among Lady Clapham's accessories were these earrings.  The stud is made of brass and backed in silver while the more formal drop is a paste set in a silver mount.

The Art of Play: Princess Margaret with a Doll, 1935

Princess Margaret
Marcus Adams, 1935
The Royal Collection
In December of 1935, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) took their daughters Princesses Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret to the Children’s Studio to be photographed by Marcus Adams. The Princesses wore matching silk dresses trimmed with small flowers and delicate frills.

The two princesses sat for portraits together, and individually. Each was photographed with a favorite toy. Elizabeth chose to be photographed with her cherished plush cat while Margaret chose to have her picture taken with this large doll.

Drawing of the Day: A Costume Design for Judy, 1861-1934

The Victoria & Albert Museum

What might Judy (Mr. Punch’s lovely bride) look like were she a human lady? Well, here’s your answer. She’s stunning, yes?

Here, from the beautiful George Speaight Punch and Judy Archive at the V&A, we see a costume design for an actor playing Judy. Why? No one knows anymore. The only explanation for this drawing of pencil and watercolor on card is an inscription stating that it was designed by Clarkson Costumes ca. 1861 to 1934. Hmmm… That’s rather a large time range there.

We see that Judy is carrying a stick in her left hand (as one does when married to Mr. Punch) and dragging a doll with her right hand. I would like to interject that the “doll” is actually meant to represent the famed, embattled baby in whatever human version of the Comical Tragedy (or Tragical Comedy) of Mr. Punch for which this costume was designed. It’s all very mysterious. But, that’s the way to do it. 

Toys of the Belle Époque: A Wax “Boy” Doll, 1860

Wax "Boy" Doll, 1860
The Museum of Childhood
Victoria & Albert Museum

Dolls made to look like men or boys have always been rare. Since dolls have always been considered the stuff of girls, most doll-makers and toy manufacturers produce feminine figures, thinking that a girl would prefer to play with something in her own image. It wasn’t until the 1960’s, that dolls were made with different body types for specific genders.

In the Nineteenth Century, one basic style of doll body was crafted that was thought to support any kind of costuming and wig. The predominant body-type featured a thin waist, wide hips and narrow shoulders—all classically feminine characteristics. If a customer wanted a “male” doll, very often the look was achieved by adding a short wig and styling the figure in a “masculine” costume. Only rarely did a toymaker add a specific “make” head to a figure.

This wax doll from the 1860’s from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, shows one of the typical “cross-dressing” dolls. The body-type is clearly feminine. However, the figure has been costumed in typical male attire. Sometimes, luxurious whiskers were painted onto these female faces to achieve a look of masculinity. Despite its little suit of clothes, we can’t help but notice that this doll would look a little more natural in a nice frilly frock.

Joy in Miniature: The Lord Clapham Doll Chair, 1690-1700

Dolls Chair, 1690-1700
This and all images courtesy of:
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Museum of Childhood
At first glance at the photo, you’d think this was a full-size Seventeenth Century chair, but on closer inspection you can see that the scale isn’t quite right for a human. This miniature chair was made for the “Lord Clapham Doll,” which is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection in the Museum of Childhood.

This tiny chair of wood and cane is in the popular style of the period 1690-1700. The caning in the seats and the pattern of crosses which has been incised in the upper surface of the seat frame are identical to full-size chairs made in the same period—showing that this was made by a professional chair-maker using conventional construction methods.

In order to provide fairness to both genders, the “Lady Clapham” doll sits on a similarly-styled chair. For a doll’s chair or any miniature to survive this long is quite exceptional. As I pointed out, the scale is slightly different from the real thingf. The curators of the V&A explain, “The proportions of the chair are slightly different from full-sized chairs, and not quite to scale with the dolls, because the dolls' feet do not touch the ground.” I don’t know if that’s because dolls don’t like their feet touching the ground or if it’s just the way it worked out.

The Home Beautiful: The Thomas Risley Doll's House, 1889

Doll's House
Assembled in 1889 by one Thomas Risley
Possibly from a kit by an unknown model co.
Click to enlarge the image
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made by Thomas Risley in 1889 possibly from a kit, this villa puts me in mind of Queen Victoria’s Osborne House, though it is a doll’s house. This beauty is rendered in the style of a brick house which would have been quite the fashion about 1860—with a glass conservatory and coach house on each side.

When we hear the words “doll’s house,” we automatically imagine that this was made to be a child’s plaything. But, not. This was not for a child. It’s far too fragile. This was meant as a collectible pursuit and a hobby for an adult, and quite probably for a male with an interest in architecture and design.

Made of wood, it is painted a deep cream, with a striped yellow and white awning over the front entrance. The coach house has been made to look as if it is a brick structure, and the conservatory is constructed of real glass. A set of railings with two gates run around the front of the house. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A German Portrait Doll of Queen Victoria as a Princess, 1835

German Wax Doll
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This unusual portrait doll with a solid wax head and outer limbs on a cloth body is said to represent Princess (later Queen) Victoria. She wears a long full-skirted dress of plain ivory-colored silk, with a corsage and head-dress. The doll's petticoat of plain ivory-colored silk is gathered a the waist, and has one vertical seam and a deep hem.

Though the doll is said to be a young Queen Victoria as a princess, it’s important to note that it looks nothing like her. Young Victoria was fair—blonde and blue-eyed—while the doll is dark. Since the doll was made in Germany in her honor, it is understandable that the German maker was not aware of the Princess’ actual coloring.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Guerrilla My Dreams

"Let's just wait until he departs and we'll see if this guerrilla left any bananas behind."

Original Painting:

The Guerrilla's Departure

Creator: Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841) (artist)
Creation Date: 
Signed and dated 1828
Materials and techniques: 
Oil on canvas
Acquirer: George IV, King of the United Kingdom (1762-1830)
Purchased by George IV

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust

Image courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

To learn more about this painting by Sir David Wilkie, visit its official entry in the Royal Collection.  

You, too, could have a cup of tea with Bertie. Or, you could wear his picture proudly. Visit our online store to see our range of Gratuitous Bertie Dog products.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Monkey in a Wig Snuffbox, 1872-1922

This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Porcelain snuffboxes from the late Nineteenth Century are considerably rarer than those of gold or hardstone since, despite being made in far greater quantities, most of them didn’t have the sturdiness necessary to survive. Snuffboxes made from porcelain mirrored the shapes of those of precious metal or stone and featured painted scenes or portraits.

The largest manufacturer of these boxes was Meissen in Germany, however, this example was produced in Fürstenberg ca.1750. In this case, the porcelain was later mounted into this form. The gold mounts date to 1872 and were changed in 1922.

The box is adorned with birds on the outside. These are painted in a realistic manner. However, the interior of the box features some odd adornment which is decidedly not realistic. The animals, on the inside, are treated as people, dressed in human costume. The predominant scene is that of a monkey in a wig who is administering an enema to a prostrate cat.

That's a sentence I don't get to type very often.

This box was once owned by HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent—the wife of the Duke of Kent (son of King George V and Queen Mary). 

Royal Pets: The Companions of Frederica, Duchess of York, 1820

Frederica, Duchess of York
With a Dog and a Monkey
1820, Unknown Painter after Hüet-Villiers
Miniature: Watercolor on Ivory
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
The second daughter of Frederick William II of Prussia, Frederica, the Princess Royal of Prussia, married the second son of King George III, Frederick, Duke of York. Their marriage was beset by scandal—particularly one involving the Duke’s mistress which caused him to have to resign his posh military post.

Owing in large part to the fact that her marriage was strained, Frederica preferred to be by herself and spent most of her life in seclusion in their country house in Surrey. Though not a fan of people, Frederica did enjoy the company of her animals and surrounded herself with many dogs, and, as one does, a monkey.

This gorgeous portrait of the Duchess of York is a miniature on ivory styled after a larger painting by Jean-François-Marie Hüet-Villiers. We see the Duchess looking rather dour, but lovely, contentedly sitting with a canine and a simian friend.

This miniature came into the Royal Collection in 1910.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click on Image to Enlarge

After a Fashion: The Lion, the Monkey and the Two Asses Handkerchief, 1710-20

This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In Eighteenth Century France, personal items were often adorned with images which brought joy to their users. Among the most popular of these were handkerchiefs like this one with small scenes (vignettes). This handkerchief shows a scene from la Fontaine's fable “The Lion, the Monkey and the Two Asses.” Here, the lion sits on a high-backed chair at the left of the scene, with the monkey seated on the ground before him and the two mules to the right. The ornamental corner elements and the decorative border are rendered in the popular French style of the time.

The handkerchief is painted on dyed cotton chintz and was made between 1710 and 1720 on the Coromandel coast of India for export to France. 

Mastery of Design: The Monkey Face Swivel Ring, 1800-1839

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Part of the collection of Reverend Townshend, this ring is set with Sunstone (feldspar) in a swivel gold setting, carved with a cameo of a monkey's head. The ring was made between 1800 and 1839 to showcase the stone and was never meant to be worn.

Curiously, the setting is much more whimsical than those of the other stones in the Reverend’s important collection. Through the swivel setting, the monkey's face can be turned away to reveal a smooth cabochon which shows the feldspar's clarity and bright color. 

This ring, like many which were acquired by Reverend Townshend wasd originally in the possession of Henry Philip Hope (d.1839) who formed a famous collection of diamonds and precious stones—a collection which included the famous Hope blue diamond, now in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington. 

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.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Il Carnevale in Roma, 18th C.

Il Carnavale in Roma
Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Entitled “Il Carnevale in Roma,” this engraving was published by an unknown company sometime in the Eighteenth Century. 

The scene depicts a group of people dressed for a mask ball during carnival. From left to right there are two figures with who have donned costume horses’ heads, another figure wears a turkey head, there’s a clown, a Pulcinella--on a monkey--and two more masqueraders.

I must confess, I was tickled when reading the V&A's description of this piece.  They state that the Pulcinella is riding a "monkey."  Now, I know it was a typo and they meant "donkey," but I rather like the idea of a Pulcinella riding a monkey.  It seems like something one would do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mastery of Design: King Edward VII's Gaming Box

Gaming Box Belonging to King Edward VII

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click image to enlarge.

This rectangular double-hinged gold box with chased scroll and floral borders in high relief and central engine-turned panels was made between 1826 and 1836.  Though we're not quite sure how, the box ended up in the collection of King Edward VII.

The top contains four rectangular and four circular pierced gold games counters, each chased with flowers and scrolls, and each one marked as the ace of a different suit (hearts, diamonds, cubs and spades). The base of the box contains three spiral markers.

History's Runway: A Silver Tobacco Box, 17th C.

Silver Tobacco Box, c. 1655
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Western Europeans were introduced to tobacco in the Sixteenth Century when the herb was brought from the Americas.  From about 1570, tobacco was highly prized for both its alleged medicinal and obvious narcotic qualities.  By the 1630s, tobacco use was accepted (for men) as a fashionable habit for all classes though the cost was rather prohibitive for those without extra spending money.  For centuries, tobacco was chewed or smoked in a pipe, or combined with other herbs or spices to create snuff which was inhaled through the nostrils. 

Given the cost of tobacco, it was only fitting that special containers would be created for it, especially ones meant to appeal to wealthy tobacco users.  A precious tobacco box was quite the fashionable accessory.  This silver tobacco box is an excellent example of that trend.  Made around 1655, it was intended for personal use, its slightly-domed oval lid engraved with heraldic ornament—namely the crest of the Wayte Family from the Isle of Wight. It is further adorned with a cabled wire ornament at the rim and base. The back bears the inscription: “JW / 1680 / R W Jan 1st / 789.”  Though the inscription was finished in 1680 (the date of presentation), the hallmark for the creation of the box indicates 1655-1656.

The owner of this box would have carried it in his pocket.
  Due to this practice, the corded molding has been worn away.