Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sèvres Porcelain...

Some of you will recall my fondness for Wedgwood China (Post One and Two). I do collect other styles of china as well, and have recently come into possession of two Sevres-style porcelain and ormolu garnitures. They would have originally belonged to a clock with matching porcelain panels. Alas, the clock was not with the garnitures when I found them.

I had never really been a huge fan of Sevres, finding much of it, like Limoges, slightly twee and gaudy. However, somehow these two ended up coming home with me on a recent sojourn and are now in the drawing room...

This prompted me to look further into the provenance of the items. They are stamped and dated as early 19th century pieces. They are definitely not as fine as some Sevres garnitures...

and the Sevres clocks that go with them...

The history of Sevres porcelain starts in 1738 when the Marquis Orry de Fulvy, brother of the Minister of Finance, obtained a licence to manufacture Saxon styled porcelain
At that time the brothers Dubois, who were arcanists that fled from Chantilly, had already experimented to produce porcelain at the Chateau de Vincennes. Together with Gravant, they succeeded to produce a type of soft paste frit-porcelain around 1745.
Sevres porcelain history starts in 1738 when the Marquis Orry de Fulvy, brother of the Minister of Finance, obtained from the French king Louis XV a licence to manufacture porcelain in the Saxon manner
At that time the brothers Dubois, who were arcanists that fled from Chantilly, had already experimented to produce porcelain at the Chateau de Vincennes. Together with Gravant, they succeeded to produce a type of soft paste frit-porcelain around 1745.
Sevres porcelain history starts in 1738 when the Marquis Orry de Fulvy, brother of the Minister of Finance, obtained from the French king Louis XV a licence to manufacture porcelain in the Saxon manner
At that time the brothers Dubois, who were arcanists that fled from Chantilly, had already experimented to produce porcelain at the Chateau de Vincennes. Together with Gravant, they succeeded to produce a type of soft paste frit-porcelain around 1745.
Sevres porcelain history starts in 1738 when the Marquis Orry de Fulvy, brother of the Minister of Finance, obtained from the French king Louis XV a licence to manufacture porcelain in the Saxon manner
At that time the brothers Dubois, who were arcanists that fled from Chantilly, had already experimented to produce porcelain at the Chateau de Vincennes. Together with Gravant, they succeeded to produce a type of soft paste frit-porcelain around 1745.
from Louis XV.
Sevres Porcelain traces its roots in France to early craftsmen in Lille, Rouen. St. Cloud, and most notably Chantilly. In 1738 the workers from Chantilly migrated to the Chateau de Vincennes near Paris and formed a larger porcelain factory. French King Louis XV, perhaps inspired by his mistress Madame de Pompadour, took an intense interest in porcelain and moved the operation in 1756 to an even larger quarters in the Parisian suburb of Sevres. Sevres was also conveniently near the home of Madame de Pompadour, Chateau de Bellevue, built in 1750, and the King's own Palace at Versailles.

From the outset the king's aim was to produce Porcelain that surpassed the established Saxony works of Meissen and Dresden. Though the French lacked an ample supply of kaolin, a required ingredient for hard-paste porcelain (pate dure), their soft-paste porcelain (pate tendre) was fired at a lower temperature and was thus compatible with a wider variety of colors and glazes that in many cases were richer and more vivid.
Unglazed white Sevres Porcelain biscuit (twice fired) figurines were also popular. However, soft-paste Sevres Porcelain was more easily broken. Therefore, early pieces of Sevres Porcelain that remain intact have become rare indeed.
Despite the popularity of the pieces nowadays, the Sevres Porcelain factory suffered financial hardship on many occasions. In part this may have been due to the king's insistence that only the finest items be created - as only a limited number of European nobility could afford the extravagant prices demanded for such works. King Louis XV and his heir, invested heavily in the Sevres enterprise. In the end, the Sevres factory produced items by royal warrant and thus the well-known Sevres mark was born. King Louis XV even enacted laws that severely restricted other porcelain production in France to try to create a monopoly for his Sevres Porcelain. The king even hosted an annual New Year's Day showing for French nobility in his private quarters at Versailles and encouraged them to purchase the pieces.

Sevres Porcelain may have given Meissen and Dresden a run for their money, but the French Revolution saw the works practically out of business due to the economic devastation of the new French Republic.
Under Napoleon Bonepart, a new director was named for the Sevres operations: Alexandre Brongniart. He resurrected Sevres. Soft-paste porcelain was eliminated altogether thanks to the discovery of kaolin near Limoges. The market started to open up to the middle classes with more reasonably priced items being made, and for the next forty years business boomed. Today the factory is still in operation making fine contemporary china.

Maybe we should turn the 'Wedgewood Room' into a 'Porcelain Room' in general...

For a good potted history of Sevre go to http://www.antique-marks.com/sevres-porcelain.html

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas...

Wishing each and everyone of you a very merry Christmas, and the best for 2011. We hope that this festive season is one of joy, and that you are all surrounded by the warmth and love of friends and family.

I will be working right through the Christmas and New Year period, dealing with the ill and infirm, and the victims of trauma. Let us remember in our merriment those for whom Christmas is not such a joyous time, those for whom food and shelter is a luxury, and let us seek out those on the margins of society: let us find joy of generosity and true charity this festive season.

Blessings +
David and Peter Lord Cowell

Here is a video clip of the Westminster Cathedral Choir singing Morten Lauridson's beautiful setting of O Magnum Mysterium.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

God rest ye merry criminals...

May God bless the criminals who decided to make our Christmas just a little more special by breaking into our garage and burgling us. I pray that you find the peace and fulfilment that your lives obviously lack and with the grace of God start to work for the betterment of your community, not to its detriment. +

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Family Silver...

Today I took the family silver (above and below) out of the cabinets to give it a good polish and decide what, if anything, we would pack up before the open homes (aside: Open homes are one of the most ghastly torments that One must endure in order to dispose of One's property. One has all and sundry invade One's inner most sanctum, passing all manner of ill-educated comments about One's taste and allowing the criminal 'fraternity' to size up your entire estate. Avoid them at all cost if you can).

Above and Below: Other bits of silver on display or locked away...

If one is in the market for investing in Silver then one need go no further than the London Silver Vaults...

The London Silver Vaults is a wonderful place to shop for antique silver.

World famous, the London Silver Vaults have long held a reputation as a must-see destination in London, attracting Collectors, dealers, and tourists from around the world for over 50 years. Situated in Chancery Lane amidst London's legal district, the Silver Vaults reflect a true part of traditional England, depicting the quintessential brilliance and superiority of English Craftsmanship in Silver, unsurpassed the world over.

Home to the largest collection of Antique Silver in the World, the Vaults, situated below ground, date back to 1882 when the nearby Chancery Lane Safe deposit was opened and used by London's wealthy and elite in order to safeguard their household silver, jewellery and personal documents. Merchants in nearby areas such as 'Hatton Gardens' (centre of the Diamond trade,) would use the vaults each night to put away their valuable pieces and collect them again in the morning ready for their daily trading. As the vaults became more reputable over time, trading transpired from the building itself with many of the original clientele being replaced by silver dealers who required secure premises for their valuable stock.

During the Second World War, the building above the Vaults was destroyed by bombing and almost a decade later a new building emerged in 1953, known today as Chancery House. Today the vaults consist of over 40 shops open to the public, and it is from whence my engagement set of cufflinks and signet ring (Silver, Gold, Diamonds and Caversham polished Sapphires) came ...


There has been a quality control of goods made of silver since the 14th century and the organisation that regulates the craft, Goldsmiths Hall, has given England and the world the term "hallmark".

Every piece of silver made must be sent to the Assay Office for testing to ensure that it is of the required standard of sterling silver and, provided it conforms to that standard, a series of symbols are stamped on to each separate part of each article which today, and for the last several centuries, can show the place and year of manufacture, as well as who made or sponsored the item. With the help of a pocket-sized hallmark book and a little bit of explanation from someone who knows how to "break the code," it is great fun and also a way of perhaps finding a piece that was made in a year or city that might hold particular relevance and provide the perfect gift or commemorative item.

The law imposed on silver hallmarking is very strict and if the standard does not comply the article will not be hallmarked and probably destroyed.

A false hallmark has always been treated with the utmost severity within the law. Historically, a silver smith was pilloried for their first offence and they would be pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables. If they offended again, a limb would be hacked off and, until the 1720's, the death penalty was the sentence meted out to persistent offenders. The reason for this seemingly Draconian behaviour was that the manufacture of silver and gold was allied to the minting of currency. Therefore, by debasing these metals one was, in effect, undermining the coin of the realm, which was a treasonable offence - the ultimate quality control!

The Hallmarks
The Britannia Standard Mark

From 1696 to 1720 the standard of silver was raised from 92.5% to 95.8% pure. It was denoted by the figure of Britannia and the ‘lion’s head erased’.

The Lion Passant
Sometimes called the Sterling Mark, the lion passant, the mark for ‘made in England’, first appeared on English silver and gold in 1544. For two years it was crowned, but has been struck ever since in its present form, with minor variations, by all English Assay Offices.
Assay Office Marks
The Sheffield Rose (formerly Crown)

Used from the inception of the Assay Office in 1773 , the Crown was the town mark of Sheffield. Because of possible confusion with the Crown mark used after 1798 as the hallmark for 18ct gold the mark was changed on January 1st 1975 for a rose which had incidentally, been used as the gold mark of Sheffield when the Assay Office there was entitled to test the mark gold after March 1st 1904. Between 1708 and 1853 the crown is often incorporated with the date letter struck on small objects.

The Birmingham Anchor

When the Birmingham Assay Office was established in 1773, largely due to the representations of the great Midlands industrialist, Matthew Boulton, the mark of an anchor was adopted as the town mark. By tradition, it is said that Birmingham and Sheffield tossed for the marks derived from the sign of the Crown and Anchor tavern in London - where the promoters of the two new offices met. On the occasion of the Assay Office’s bicentenary in 1973, Birmingham struck a special anchor with a ‘C’ on either side of the stock, to indicate two hundred years.

London Leopard’s Head

The first hallmark to be used was the leopard’s head, in the year 1300. In that year, a decree by Edward I laid down that silver or gold could not be made or sold unless it was marked by the leopard’s head or ‘The King’s Mark’ as it was then known. This mark became ‘crowned’ in 1478 and remained ‘crowned’ until 1821. Since 1821, the uncrowned leopard’s head has remained as the distinguishing mark of London.

Edinburgh Castle & Thistle
Scottish hallmarks have been regulated by statute since 1457 but the earliest known example dates only from 1556 – 7. The Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City of Edinburgh was thought to be in the 1490’s and the earliest surviving records date from 1525.
Dublin -- Hibernia and Harp

The hallmarking of Irish silver began towards the middle of the 17th century. The mark of origin is the Harp Crowned and it appears with a date letter and maker’s mark. In 1731, the figure of Hibernia was added.

The one piece I would like to add to our collection of (mainly Georgian) silver is a cow creamer...

I have coveted one ever since I saw this episode of Jeeves and Wooster...

Aunt Dahlia is determined to get a silver cow creamer for Uncle Tom, but Sir Watkin Bassett beats her to it. So Dahlia enlists Bertie to steal the creamer for her. Bertie is reluctant to get involved in the matter, having had some past experience with Sir Watkin, but it seems he has no choice in the matter.

Arriving at Tottleigh Towers (actually Highclere Castle in Hampshire), Bertie finds Gussie once again on the outs with Madeline Bassett, and himself blackmailed by Stiffy Bing, who also wants him to steal the cow creamer so that her fiance, "Stinker" Pinker, can seemingly find it and impress her uncle, Sir Watkin. Roderick Spode has different ideas, and warns Bertie off, threatening bodily harm if anything happens to the cow creamer. All seems lost until Jeeves puts his mind to the matter, discovers some evidence to get rid of Spode, and manages to settle the matter of the cow creamer to the satisfaction of Aunt Dahlia...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Red Tape...

Our plans to start laying down the foundations this month have been stymied by red tape and engineering delays. Hopefully we will start the build at the end of January (as virtually the whole of New Zealand goes on holiday from 24 December to 17 January). We thought starting this year was too good to be true...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Osterley Park

Osterley Park is a mansion set in a large park of the same name. It is in the borough of Hounslow, in the western suburbs of London. When the house was built it was surrounded by rural countryside. It was one of a group of large houses close to London which served as country retreats for wealthy families, but were not true country houses on large agricultural estates. Other surviving country retreats of this type near London include Syon House and Chiswick House. The park is one of the largest open spaces in west London, though it is marred by the presence of the M4, which cuts across the middle of it.

Sir Thomas Gresham, commercial agent and financial adviser to Elizabeth I, bought the manor of Osterley in 1562 and by 1576 replaced the existing farmhouse with 'a faire and stateley brick house'.

For a man of the city, Osterley not only represented somewhere green and tranquil, but also a source of income. Described as 'a most fertyle place for wheate' the estate had ample resources. Gresham established one of the first paper mills in England here.

Nicholas Barbon acquired Osterley in 1683. An opportunist, he used Osterley as security to raise a large sum of money. He died in debt and in 1713 Osterley went to Sir Francis Child in payment of his loan.

Apprenticed to a London goldsmith at the age of fourteen, by a judicious marriage Sir Francis found himself the partner and then sole owner of the firm. By 1698 he was Lord Mayor of London and had expanded his business into banking with the creation of Child's Bank.

Over the next two generations, the family's wealth and position grew. In 1761 Robert Adam, the most fashionable architect of the day, was commissioned by Sir Francis's grandson, another Francis, to modernise the house. He transformed it into what you see today, remodelling the outside and designing the interiors and a great deal of the furnishings. His vast portico makes a particularly grand statement of classical refinement.

The house is of red brick with white stone details and is approximately square, with turrets in the four corners. Adam's design, which incorporates some of the earlier structure, is highly unusual, and differs greatly in style from the original construction. One side is left almost open and is spanned by an Ionic pedimented screen which is approached by a broad flight of steps and leads to a central courtyard, which is at the piano nobile level.

Above: Robert Adam

The unity of design was carried through into the park by Francis and, on his death in 1763, by his brother Robert Child. They redirected rivers to form a chain of sinuous lakes through the Park, and created a drive which brought people in a tantalising loop before finally arriving at the House.

Not active as an MP or in running the bank, Robert Child spent a great deal of time at, and money on, Osterley. His wife was equally involved and she lived on at Osterley for 10 years after his death.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Osterley was no longer a main residence and, apart from a few brief periods of occupation, would not be so again. In 1923, the 9th Earl of Jersey inherited Osterley at the age of 13. He opened the house to the public in 1939 because he said, 'he did not live in it and …many others wished to see it'. In July 1939, the Georgian Group held a great ball at Osterley.

Adam's neoclassical interiors are among his most notable sequences of rooms. Horace Walpole sarcastically described the drawing room as "worthy of Eve before the fall." The rooms are characterised by elaborate but restrained plasterwork, rich, highly varied colour schemes, and a degree of coordination between decor and furnishings unusual in English neoclassical interiors.

Above and Below: Examples of the colourful interiors and rich plaster work

Above: The Etruscan Dressing Room

Notable rooms include the entrance hall, which has large semi-circular alcoves at each end, and the Etruscan dressing room, which Adam said was inspired by the Etruscan vases in Sir William Hamilton's collection, illustrations of which had recently been published. Adam also designed some of the furniture, including the opulent domed state bed, still in the house (below)

Below: A Lovely classical folly built on the park grounds.

Today the house is under the managemnt of The National Trust. They also have a farm shop open most days, where savy locals can go for their free range and organic comestibles.

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