Secretaires

When our habits change the furniture and furnishings we surround ourselves with also change. A sad truth of modern life is that many eat their meals in the comfort of an arm chair beside the television and so demand for the dining table diminishes. A similar fate effects the secretaire and the bureau. In the age of emails and the internet few need the writing surface or book storage they provide any more.

I fully appreciate that in the modern home a large piece of ‘brown’ furniture that serves no useful purpose will not be on many lists of intended purchases, but it just seems such a shame for the poor old secretaire. What a wonderful piece of furniture it is.

During the 18th century the most fashionable item of writing furniture was the bureau, but the chest with a straight fronted writing drawer continued to be an alternative. Two buttons at each side of the drawer dropped the front to reveal a writing interior every bit as exciting as that of the bureau. The secretaire drawer gradually increased in depth and the chest was often surmounted by a bookcase.

The usefulness of the secretaire bookcase or secretaire cabinet ensured that it continued to be made throughout the 19th century, with infinite variations of detail in the style of pediments, glazing patterns and surface decoration.

The French developed the secretaire à battant in the late 18th century and it is generally considered more sophisticated than the British version. It was a full, flat, fall front cabinet, resting on a chest of drawers or cupboard, often constructed as one piece rather than two separate. As with everything though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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Pembroke Tables

The Dowse Chest. This is a chest of drawers named after a twentieth century auctioneer from Sheffield who commissioned a chest of drawers with special handles and a new design of drawer closing. Through the following centuries the chest was always referred to as the Dowse Chest, with auction house catalogues using its proper name. I wonder just how special that would be. My grandfather has a street named after him, but this would be a piece of furniture.

All fantasy (except Dowse Avenue) but it makes you wonder how excited Lady Pembroke must have been, or perhaps she took it all in her stride. The history books never tell us that do they.

The use of a proper name in the description of a piece of furniture usually derives from an original commission and in this case the Countess of Pembroke required a “type of breakfast table with small drop leaves” and that is what she ordered. Eating breakfast from her table must have done her a power of good, because born in 1737, she continued to eat breakfast until her death, in her nineties, in 1831.

The Pembroke table is exactly as the Countess described. The drop leaves are usually about half the size of the top and four legs support the top, which usually boasts a drawer and a dummy drawer. Later, in George III reign, some Pembroke tables had a centre pedestal instead of four legs.

The Pembroke table is a very useful and an often underrated item. It can be used as a decorative side table, displaying ornaments and photographs, or as a small dining table seating four in comfort. This table was made from the mid 18th century and continued through the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Tinplate Toys

When I watch our older grandchildren playing with their toys they just don’t seem to cherish them in the same way that I remember cherishing my childhood toys. Now maybe I was just a sad old toy cherisher or maybe attitudes have changed slightly. If attitudes are changing and us oldies cared more for our toys, just imagine then how much those late Victorian and Edwardian children must have cherished their exciting new tin plate toys.

The best tinplate toys combine fine detailing, period styling and renowned makers and it was in the early 19th century that they began to exceed the popularity and manufacture of their wooden counterparts. They are amongst the earliest mass produced toys available.

The toys were made from sheets of tinplated steel which was cut out, shaped and then decorated, making them cheaper and easier to produce than the wooden toys of the period. The late 19th and early 20th centuries are considered the ‘Golden Age’ of the tinplate toy.

Many of the important makers were German, with the most sought after including Marklin and Bing although the American makers Marx and Strauss are also keenly collected.

Before the 1890s tinplate toys were hand painted which ensured a high level of detail. This detail included boats with portholes that opened and very realistic rigging and motor cars with lamps, doors that opened and rubber tyres. These examples, although inexpensive in their day, are amongst the most highly prized by collectors in the saleroom.

From the 1900s the painting was largely replaced by the printing technique of colour lithography which used a transfer. It was faster and more economical but it made the toys lighter and less complex. However the prices for such examples are still relatively high, depending of course on type size and condition.

As with most collectables the key to value is rarity, quality and condition and this coupled with the desire of ownership ensures that the tinplate market is always very buoyant.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Dessert Glass

Before lockdown my only claim to fame was that I could produce an edible scrambled egg. Since lockdown I am a new man. I can make very palatable crumble, with a mixture of fruits and jams, including marmalade. I do a chocolate banana on a biscuit base and a sponge pudding with a particularly saggy bottom. All these come with lashings of Birds own, extra thick. I love desserts and my dessert cooking journey is in its infancy. Now I am on the lookout for some dessert glass.

In preceding centuries dessert was considered an important occasion in its own right. These were times when the wealthiest members of society would celebrate with parties incorporating large and varied amounts of food.

Desserts would often be served away from the table in buffet form. This could be directly after dinner or later in the evening. The atmosphere would be something that we might expect at a cheese and wine party today.

The kind of treats on offer included candied fruit, marshmallows, crystallised citrus peels and almonds. They would be served in glasses on tall stems known as suckets, that resemble drinking glasses. They would also be served on footed and stemmed plates and saucers known as tazzas and comports.

Jelly and ice creams were served in glasses that were shorter and thicker with practically no stem. The custard cup is a variant on the jelly glass, but this time with handles. Custard cups were used for dishes like egg custard and baked egg trifles.

Sometimes all of these dishes would be placed on large, stemmed salvers placed to form a pyramid. Is it possible, I ask myself, to conjure up a picture of anything more delicious? What are we left with today? A wonderful wealth of marvellous glass to collect.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Jennens and Bettridge

Last weekend saw my wife and I entertaining one of our grandchildren and me suddenly remembering papier-mâché at school. Out came the flour and water and in no time we had a couple of bowls covered with sticky strips of paper and a mess everywhere. I started to explain to our little charge about papier-mâché furniture, but interest in the subject soon waned.

Papier-mâché furniture became popular in the Victorian period of the 19th century. The decoration is japanned or varnished onto a mostly black background.

Papier-mâché furniture was produced by a number of makers but they largely remained anonymous. However, Jennens and Bettridge is one company whose name is synonymous with papier-mâché. In 1816 they took over the firm of Clays in Birmingham and from then on began the great age of japanned papier-mâché for which they are now famous.

Their earlier pieces tended to be smaller items such as bottle coasters, writing slopes, trays, glove boxes and fans. Once the market had accepted these smaller items they began to experiment with larger pieces which included furniture like dressing tables and cabinets.

Pieces by Jennens and Bettridge do carry the company mark, usually impressed on the reverse beneath a crown. No other papier-mâché companies are known to have signed their wares.

Decoration is usually hand painted and elaborate, showing flowers, birds or on occasion even full landscapes. Giltwork was commonly incorporated into the design and used on borders and rims of furniture. Mother of pearl inlay was another typical feature and this was introduced by George Souter at Jennens and Bettridge in 1825.

The condition of japanned papier-mâché items is a crucial factor in estimating their value. Papier- mâché needs to breath and is liable to crack and warp if not given sympathetic conditions. The effects of central heating can be truly devastating on a piece. Beware, because restoration is very difficult and often unsuccessful.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Tureens

In today’s fast living world the dining room rarely functions as it’s name suggests it should. There is little wonder therefore that the poor old tureen, once a highlight of the room’s table, has died a death. I find this a great sadness as I love the tureen.

Tureens were introduced in the early 18th century, reflecting the French fashion for serving stews, soups and sauces. It is said that the tureen was named after the 17th century Vicomte de Turenne, who ate his soup from his upturned helmet. In fact, the term derives from the French “terrine”. The tureen became associated with a show of wealth and was often the most richly ornamented and expensive piece in the dinner service.

Soup tureens were introduced c.1720 but examples pre-dating 1750 are rare. Generally of heavy gauge silver, they were set on four cast feet, with cast scroll ring drop handles at the sides and a domed cover. Some of the rare early tureens from the 1730’s and 1740’s by famous French silversmiths are among the most magnificent pieces of Rococo silver made.

Tureens from the late 18th century are generally oval and on a single pedestal foot. They were influenced by architects such as Robert Adam who was producing designs to match the dining room furnishings. The early 19th century Regency tureens were by contrast much heavier and more richly decorated with lion mask handles and Classical ornaments. However this was the time when gradually fewer silver tureens were made and the ceramic became much more fashionable.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Motto Ware

Last night, as part of our life on the edge lifestyle, my wife an I were watching a re-run episode from the Vicar of Dibley series and somebody said “better a flawed diamond than a flawless pebble”. I thought it was a wonderful motto and tried to recall ever having seen it on a piece of Motto Ware.

Motto Ware was first introduced at Aller Vale, near Newton Abbott. The Aller Vale Pottery was founded in 1881 by John Philips.

Motto Ware is essentially everyday household items inscribed with light hearted sayings and rhyming mottos, often extolling the virtues of hard work and sober living. All production was without mechanisation, the clay was dug locally, the Pottery hand thrown on a wheel and the paints and glazes made on the premises.

A typical piece of Motto Ware will have a yellow slip ground covering most of the piece, leaving edges, spouts and handles in the dark brown slip. The most common pattern is the “Scandy” pattern, which is highly coloured stylised feathers. Sgraffito is the name given to the pattern which forms the letters of the motto. It simply means scratching through the yellow slip to form the letters.

Motto Ware was made until the mid 20th century. Examples are fairly easy to find and generally they are undervalued. An investment opportunity awaits the collector perhaps?

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Clarice Cliff

One of my favourite designers and, due to our generational differences, someone I have never met, is Clarice Cliff. I have written about her more than once over the many years of my weekly missive and I have, I am sure said rare shapes, rare patterns and rare colours are by far the most expensive of her products. I have also said that the mundane pieces never attract a great deal of interest.

However, I have never really discussed Clarice herself. What an amazing woman she was. Unlike her four sisters Sara, Hannah, Dorothy and Ethel, Clarice had a goal for herself and she was determined to achieve it.

At the age of 17, due to a shortage of workers caused by the First World War, Clarice Cliff began a job as an apprentice lithographer with the A J Wilkinson factory in Burslem. Here she began to learn the techniques of modelling, gilding and decorating. The girls who worked with Clarice at this time recalled that she was never really one of them. When they left for home Clarice stayed behind practicing and modelling because she regarded her work as more than just a job.

For a female to become a designer in the 1920’s was really unheard of and it was largely due to her incredibly strong personality, amazing talent and her association with one of the Shorter brothers who owned the factory.

When the brothers purchased Newport Pottery, the adjoining factory to their own, Colley Shorter quickly recognised Clarice Cliffs talents. He became her protector, her sponsor, and her lover. By 1927 he had set her up in her own small studio and on 21st December 1940 he married her.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Goldscheider Figurines

The Goldscheider Porcelain Manufacturer and Majolica Factory was founded in Vienna in 1885 by Freidrich Goldscheider. It quickly earned itself international acclaim becoming one of the leading ceramics companies in Europe opening branches in Paris, Florence, Leipzig and Berlin. Freidrich worked with his sons Walter and Marcell who would later move to America and England respectively to continue expanding the business after Hilter’s regime forced the family to flee Austria in 1938.

The Goldscheider factories are probably the most well known of the potteries who made the beautiful Art Deco figurines that were so popular in the 1920s and 30s. The figurines depicted elegant, slim-lined and fashionable ladies typically displayed in movement, whether it was mid-dance, an acrobatic stance or simply a sweeping gesture, with dramatic curves that allowed their flowing dresses and sleeves to produce eye-catching, decorative features for the pieces.

The large flat areas of the extended dresses, scarves or sleeves were decorated with intricate, colourful designs that contrasted with the light, porcelain-like skin tones of the women. A high quality of detail and skill in the artwork as well as a characterful and appealing face all add value to these figurines. Erotic subjects are particularly popular. Damage or poor restoration can dramatically reduce desirability and thus value.

Many talented designers worked with Goldscheider at this time and work by two of the best, Stefan Dakon and Josef Lorenzl is particularly desirable. Dakon and Lorenzl worked on a huge range of these stylish and stylised women, working not just in ceramics but also in the more desirable and expensive bronze and ivory.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Royal Dux

My wife loves elephants. I have nothing against the elephant and as our home is covered with them, I have little choice. I have to admit that some of the models are really quite lovely, especially those from Duchov.

In 1853 in the town of Duchov a factory was founded and the story of Royal Dux began. After several years of producing utility ceramics the factory was bought by Eduard Eichler and became E Eichler Thonwaren Fabrik. Success followed with the production of terracotta, faience and majolica items, winning a Silver award at the 1878 Paris Exhibition.

A pink triangle became the trademark in 1900.The raised triangle has an acorn in the centre with the inscription ‘Royal Dux Bohemia’, which is still used today.

The Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession were probably the most successful periods for Royal Dux production. The company won awards in Exhibitions in Milan, Liberec and St. Louis, having representatives and showrooms all over Europe.

The Art Nouveau production is the most collected period. Pieces from this period are very recognisable with their fleshy colourings and attention to facial detail. Classically modelled maidens abound, along with shell shaped vases and bowls, elephants, dogs and Arab figures on camels and horses.

The World Wars affected production, output ceased in the first war and in the second, the German government took over. After the war it was taken over by the new communist government of Czechoslovakia, but today it is privately owned.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website