Thursday, 8 December 2016

Filigree Nutmeg Grater**

Silver filigree nutmeg grater, probably Samuel Pemberton, c. 1800.
Held at Birmingham Assay Office.
Find out more about Birmingham filigree here. This delicate object was made to be carried on the person, and would have held a nutmeg in the larger compartment [see below], and had a surface for grating which opened the other side. It was fashionable over the eighteenth century to carry nutmegs which could be grated into coffee, chocolate, punch and other alcoholic drinks. Nutmeg was beautifully fragrant, it was expensive -so was a sign of prestige - and some believed it to have medicinal qualities too.

Showing the opening of the grater, with a section
to hold the nutmeg and another for the grater.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Birmingham Enamel Box Nᵒ.1

Lid of enamel box, transfer printed in red and over-painted
in orange and purple. Birmingham, c. 1750-1755.
Held at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery.

The base is gilt copper, which has been
elaborately ornamented.

This enamel  bonbonniere (for sweets) has been transfer printed; the original engraving thought to be by Robert Hancock from a print by Laurent Cars [below], itself copied from a painting by Watteau [also below] called Les Fetes Venetiennes. The scene has been altered slightly, and the couple on the box dance by a river. The base is designed to imitate a basket, complete with handles. It is probably an early example of Birmingham's transfer printing - it has been slightly over-painted, suggesting that it was produced before the technique was mastered. It is though that Robert Hancock was apprenticed in Birmingham, and there are several years after the typical end of the apprenticeship and him being placed producing transfer prints for the Battersea enamel factory in London.

Les Fetes Venetiennes by
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721).
Painted c. 1718-1719.

Print of Les Fetes Venetiennes, by 
Laurent Cars (1699-1771).
Date of production unknown.

Height: 3cm, Diameter: 5.9cm  EM131

A box with the same imagery was sold at Christie's in 1996 (no picture available) and was described:
'A Birmingham enamel snuff-box 1751-56 Oblong, printed and painted on the cover with Les Fêtes Venitiennes, after Hancock from an engraving by Laurent Cars after Watteau, the slightly waisted sides with figure groups on islands including Infancy, the interior cover printed and painted in sepia with Infancy and Youth after Hancock after Boitard, the base with Autumn after Watteau, with engraved basketweave mounts and shaped thumbpiece 3 3/8in. (8.5cm.) wide'.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A John Wilkes Lock**


Birmingham made 'detector' lock, John Wilkes, c. 1680. V&A.

This lock is from about 1680 and is one of three Birmingham locks made by John Wilkes at the V&A. The working of the lock is described: 'The master of the house could select, by turning the small knob at the top of the lock, the number of bolts (1 to 4) that he wished to put into operation. When set at number four, which is maximum for locking the top four bolts are locked out by just turn of the key, but four turns of the key are required to withdraw these, i.e. one at a time. There is however literally a "sting in the tail" of the top bolt, the one last withdrawn, for it triggers off the twin anti-burglar bottom bolts, and these can only be unlocked by a reverse action of the correct key.'*

Similar locks (or at least parts of them) are held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the MET Museum in New York [below]. The layout and workings are slightly different, but overall the designs are very similar.
Lock,  John Wilkes (of Birmingham), c. 1680. BMAG.

Birmingham lock, c. 1680. MET Museum.
Attributed to John Wilkes as the lock is unsigned.
See more John Wilkes locks here.
*From V&A website.