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Buckles for a Dandy…. or a Judge!

Some beautiful buckles have just arrived at Moorabool.

A Dandy of the later 18th century –
Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Shoe Buckles were a 17th century invention, before which shoes were tied in place. As the 18th century progressed, they developed into extravagant displays of wealth & status. At the end of the century, in France where the buckles of the Aristocracy were very large & bright, the Revolutionaries seized on them as a symbol of the Aristocracy, and one of their slogans to shout aloud was “Down with the Aristocrat Shoe Buckles”!

A Chelsea-Derby miniature Dandy, circa 1770, in our stock here>>

Fashion changed in the late Georgian period, and buckles on shoes decline in the early 19th century. The Victorians and Edwardians did re-visit the idea, reproducing the earlier styles but adapting to the modern shoe. But one area of shoe-wearing kept the tradition going strong – the Court of Law. This archaic dress code, with the wig, robe, and shoes of antique design meant a small number of firms in England were still producing such pieces into the 20th century.

At Moorabool, we have a choice for you – Scottish, Dandy, or Judge!
(Or could there be a Scottish Dandy Judge out there somewhere, for whom we have one for every occasion….)

Scottish Silver, Edinburgh 1919, makers mark for Thomas Kerr Ebbutt

The first is this magnificent pair of Scottish Sterling silver buckles. They are solid, cast into a mould and then hand-tooled with Scotch Thistles. Little surprise to learn they were made in Edinburgh, although their date of 1919 is surprising – they are an example of ‘historical’ pieces, made by the Edwardians in a much older style.

‘Paste’ stones with a sparkle….

The second pair are simply ‘Splendid’, and well worthy of a modern day Dandy. They’re large, suitable for a man’s shoe. Ladies buckles were similar, but smaller. In the Georgian era, men really knew how to dress – silks and satins, cane in hand and stylish shoes with bold buttons was the ‘in’ look. The Macaroni, a mocking term for such dandies which soon became their label, would seek to out-do each other with the ‘Bling’, and shoes were an important part of the costume.
This bold style, with large sparkly stones packed together, are known as ‘Artois’ buckles, named after the brother of the French King Louis XIV. The Comte d’Artois had come to Britain as ambassador at the time, and would have been seen in all the in-circles amongst the gentry; it’s no coincidence the French fashions he brought with him were mirrored by the English.
The Royal buckles would have been a feast of diamonds; these examples are glass ‘paste’. While the Victorians knocked out endless imitation ‘costume jewelry’ pieces in paste, when it was first developed and marketed in the Georgian era it was regarded as a luxury man-made stone, advertised by the jewelers alongside their diamonds.

The same applies to the ‘gild’ that appears along the edges; this is ‘Pinchbeck’, an alloy that appears as bright as gold, but is in fact an alloy of copper and zinc. Christopher Pinchbeck, a London watchmaker, had invented the metal in the earlier 18th century. Its inclusion in buckles would have lowered the cost of the item – but also afforded more strength and durability than the 18-carat gold that was used at the time. Once again, the Victorians used the technique as a way of making ‘cheap ripoffs’ look expensive – but in the Georgian era, Pinchbeck was a luxury material.
‘Lux’ is a great word to describe these beautiful Dandy buckles.

The final pair are the serious ones…. these date to around 1910, and are definitely out of date fashion-wise – but are absolutely necessary in the world of Law. This set includes the shoe buckles alongside the smaller side-buckles for your ‘breeches’ . They are in the Georgian cut-steel style, and would have been a part of the costume of a Judge or Magistrate, alongside the required wig & robes. The box has the makers name – Ede & Ravenscroft – which indicates they must have belonged to someone very important, as this firm is regarded as the ‘best of the best’.

Ede & Ravenscroft are regarded as the Oldest Tailors in the world, having gained the Royal Warrant from William & Mary in 1689, then maintaining it by making the Royal Robes of Office for every British Monarch since.

They have always been the most desirable robe/wig/hat maker for those needing traditional formalised outfits. Their address at 93 Chancery Lane, which they still inhabit, is very convenient to the Inns of Court and the English legal system – their main clients.  As an English newspaper put it, “….one of the oldest tailoring firms in the world, still family-owned and still enrobing the nation’s bigwigs, literally.”

In 1902, Ede and Son merged to make the partnership shown on this box; the name changed again in 1921 to Ede & Ravenscroft. These buckles can be dated to this Edwardian – George V period, 1902-1921.

You’ll find a few more on our website, too – including some very inexpensive Victorian & later Buckles >>


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Row your Boat – Local Regatta Trophies 1879-81

Yacht 1879 Colac Regatta Prize

A Row about Rowing!

This group of silverplate trophies are an interesting insight into the origin of Australian’s obsession with Sporting Events, which were used as a means of bringing the newly established colonial communities together and giving them a sense of ‘Pride of Place’ that is still very active today.

Australian Trophies

Moorabool recently discovered this trio of interesting local trophies, all won by a Mr R. D. Booth, Banks Club.

The first (on the right, above) is an elaborate fine-quality piece of English electroplate, engraved with fruiting vine & with handles dripping with grapes – a curious choice for the prize for the 1879 Colac Regatta. Most probably, it was simply a case of what was available in the English imports at the Melbourne jewler’s shops.

1879 was the first year that the event was held on Lake Colac, the largest inland lake in Australia. It required quite an effort to organize, with boats being transported overland from Ballarat, Geelong, and even Warrnambool to compete. The freshly laid Colac – Geelong railway connection allowed the logistics of transporting them such a long distance.

The Colac Regatta, 1879 – from the Australasian Sketcher, 1880

There had been an earlier ‘regatta’ on Lake Colac on March 29th, 1879; the newspaper reports on it wax lyrical, describing a crown of 2,500 people from Geelong, Ballarat, Melbourne, and everywhere in-between all having a jolly good time: the Colac Herald reports on April 1st 1879 the “flags of all nations were blowing”, and the sight of all the boats & flags “…brought to the recollection of many the youthful remembrances of bygone years.” – in other words, the gathering was a time of bonding by the settlers over memories of the ‘Old Country’, a nostalgic celebration of what was commonplace in Europe, but a first on this far-away picturesque Australian lake in the Western District of Victoria.

“Old and Infancy; the youth and beauty of Colac and district were there, all eager to witness the interesting excitement of aquatic contests”….

Colac Regatta 1879
A Colac Regatta of the 1880’s

“One or two slight mishaps occurred during the day which tended to amuse those present more than mar the proceedings, and were caused by the capsising (sic) of three boats…. “
One of these was the Maiden Sculling Race: ” only two started. At the start both men pulled away together, but the ripple of the water was too strong for the frail craft pulled by Parkinson, and the result was that he came to grief by the boat swamping when about half the distance had been pulled….. (he) swam to one of the posts and clung there until he was rescued by one of the boats of the Colac club.”

Yacht 1879 Colac Regatta Prize
A Yacht on the 1881 Melbourne Regatta Prize

Fine entertainment indeed! And it was this ‘ripple of water’ caused by ‘a strong breeze blowing incessantly during the day (meant) the water was rather too much ruffled for the rowing contest….”

The success of this regatta showed the potential for a regular event to be held on the lake, and also the inappropriate nature of the windy season at the start of the year; and so the committee decided to schedule one for the same year. This second event has gone down in history as the official ‘First Regatta’, held on December 13th.

Booth's 1879 Colac Regatta Prize
Booth’s 1879 Colac Regatta Prize

This event built on the experience of the first, and was a major event for the town. The Most Hon. George Augustus Constantine Phipps, Marquess of Normanby, GCB GCMG PC, in his role as the Governor of Victoria attended until the 8-oared race, after which the crowd cheered him to his special train which was to take him ‘back to town’ (Melbourne).
The Australasian covered the spectacle on December 20th, 1879:
“That an inland town so far removed from at least two of the principal boating centers should have attracted such numerous entries … speaks volumes for the exertions of the committee to provide first-class sport on their beautiful lake.”
The boats were again brought by train:
“Several first-class yachts were brought down by rail from the golden metropolis at considerable trouble and expense, while two eights (from Melbourne and Geelong) … made the eights the feature of the day”.

Our cup was a prize for this 8-oared race, and was awarded to the Banks Club as 2nd prize, this cup going to R.D.Booth, the no. 6 in the boat.

The ‘Banks’ club is a famous Melbourne rowing club, established very early, in 1866 on the ‘banks’ of the Yarra River in Melbourne – from where it still operates, producing many champion rowers for the present Australian sporting world. It is the ‘Banks’ club not because of the location, but due to the Bankers who were the founders: only Bankers were welcome to join, and the fees per annum were rather high – £1/1/ to join, then £2/2/ per year – a substantial amount in today’s money. But with secure bank-jobs, and the captain a manager, money wasn’t really a concern – unlike the working class Footscray crew, as we will explore later on in this article.

Booth's 1879 Colac Regatta Prize
Booth’s 1879 Colac Regatta Prize

In 1879, Banks Club packed their 8-oared clinker outrigger boat onto a Colac-bound train, and took on the teams of the Corio Bay Club (Geelong), Civil Service Rowing Club (Melbourne), the Ballarat Rowing Club , and the Barwon Rowing Club (Geelong). The prize total for this 8-oared, “about 2 mile” race was £105 – with first price being a decent £80. However, as only 5 entries were received (they were hoping for 8) this was reduced to £60 for first, £20 second and £5 third.
The crew of 8 and their cox were all ‘weighed in’, with R. Booth being on oar no. 6, as recorded on our cup. They made their way out onto the lake towards a start position, all five crews trying to line up in a pesky breeze with limited success – and when the question came from the small steamer bearing the race official “….Are you all ready?”, several replied no – but the whistle was blown, and those not ready scrambled to catch up; Banks careered into Ballarat in the scramble, nearly fouling them, and the others gradually pulled away towards their goal. Like the Olympic commentators of today, the reporter described the flow of the teams as they pull up, then drop back…. “Ballarat seemed overmatched from the jump, and were in addition badly steered…. after the first half mile the Banks and Corio forged ahead gradually, Barwon having retired from the foremost position…”
Then it all came unstuck for Banks:

When about half the course had been traversed, No 7 of the Banks caught a crab, and this accident, together with the advantage already possessed by Corio, enabled the latter to secure a lead of about a length, which was maintained the remainder of the journey, and Corio were proclaimed the winners by about a length.”

More suitable prizes for the occasion are the other two cups. These are splendid English silver plate examples, the base with coiled rope, the support modelled as three oars lashed together with a ribbon. These are marked ‘Lee & Wigfull Sheffield’, a manufacturer who specialised in sporting trophies, but only formed in 1879: these were brand-new designs from a freshly-formed English company.
The cups are engraved with scrollwork framing panels to either side – one with a very nicely executed small sailboat. Once again, these were won by Booth as part of the eight oared race, and then the four oared – but this time on their home turf – in the Melbourne Regatta of 1881.

This event took place on the ‘Salt Water River’ – nowdays known as the Maribyrnong, flowing into the Yarra not far from its mouth. 7-8,000 spectators cheered them on, and The ‘Illustrated Australian News’ for 12th March 1881 carried the report along with an engraving of the winning moment for the Footscray crew, winning the Clarke Challenge Cup. This silver cup, valued at 100 guineas, was the most valuable race trophy in the world at the time, and is still held by the Footscray Club. It has two oarsmen perched on its shoulder, holding aloft their equipment on an angle – complimenting our trophies which would have sat alongside it, as prizes for the ‘Amateur’ races in 1881.

The Footscray crew dominated the race – as they had in their wins the previous 2 years – and this caused problems with the other teams, as these men were “…men who gained their living by manual labour”. This was seen as an unfair advantage, as the other teams didn’t, rather being ‘amateurs’ – ie most probably Clerks, or some other sort of desk-job. The issue raised was these ‘amateurs’ were unable to compete with “..those whose daily vocations are such that they may be said to be in training all year round.”! As a result, a definition of Amateur was arrived at, and applied to certain race classes,

1881 Melbourn Regatta - Banks Team wins

Our trophies relate to the footnote at the bottom of this article, “The Banks Club won the Junior Fours and Eights in excellent style,…”. And on our smaller example, the committee has chosen to make a point about the amateur vs workman debate by inscribing

Maiden Clinker –
Four Oared Race –
Bona Fide Amateurs …. Won by Banks Club

Robert D Booth was an interesting character who loved his rowing: he has been described as ‘one of the greatest oarsmen of his time’. He was a bank clerk with the Commercial Bank when he joined the Banks Club, during which time he won these three trophies. Soon after, he was a part of the Melbourne Club. He represented Victoria in the ‘Intercolonial’ events for may years, beginning with a win in 1878 against NSW . His list of placings is impressive, with barely a 2nd-place marring the list of first place prizes. In 1887, he was part of the crew who won the title for Victoria against NSW on Sydney harbour. An interview with the Sydney Morning Herald on May 30, 1887 gives us a fascinating insight into this true Australian sportsman:

Mr. Robert D Booth, stroke of the Victorian crew, is a clerk in the employ of the Union Mortgage and Agency Company, Victoria, and a broad-shouldered, sinewy young man, affording in his person a good argument that the pen is not necessarily incompatible with muscular development. Mr. Booth’s physiognomy is an infallible and open index to his temperament A subdued, unostentatious manner, it is impossible to dissociate from it determination and tenacity of purpose, resettled by the square-cut features and resolute chin. Mr Booth, interviewed by our representative, said that he all along expected a close race, and the opinion was not shaken by the brave appearance presented by the New South Wales crew on Saturday. As to the victory and details of the race, he so as reticent and becomingly modest, although Mr Booth allowed himself to say, in a moment of excusable enthusiasm,that he never doubted the result for a moment, in spite of the opinions expressed in the press…..

The interstate rivalry is extremely clear in the rest of the article, a classic press-bashing that would not be out of place on the back page of today’s average paper….. Sport has not changed a bit beneath the surface!

Melbourne Regatta 1881
Melbourne Regatta 1881

Seen as an ‘entertainment’, these nautical Regatta events – along with horse races, athletic meets, and cycling, were in fact an important part of forming a sense of unity – through competition – amongst what was a large and diverse group of new arrivals to the region. The sense of pride conveyed in the various paper’s reports at the time show a healthy competition between the various regional cities, and between the States of Australia that certainly still flourishes. These trophies, as reminders of the origins of today’s rivalries, are important historical memories.

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17th Century Cutlery

Solid silver miniature sculptures…..

Rarely seen, these solid silver handles are sculptural works of art. They are Dutch, date to the mid-17th century, and have a fascinating lineage we can trace back to Renaissance Italy and the collections of the Dutch master Rembrandt himself.

“Fingers were made before Forks” is an old English saying often used to justify eating with one’s fingers. It’s also the truth – for most people. When you look at the art of the middle ages, you’ll often see the peasants in a Brugel tavern scene just shoving the food in.

Detail from painting by PIETER BRUEGHEL III (1589-1634) – knives, but no forks…..

The rich, however, had an advantage: knives. These expensive accessories were a luxury item, and allowed one to keep ones fingers unsoiled while eating…. simply chop it, then stab the morsel with the pointy end, and use this handy device to get it to your mouth. Revolutionary!
Even more luxurious and high-tech was the fork.

English silver handled fork, William & Mary period, circa 1695.
See it here >>

St. Peter Damian, an 11th century Benedictine monk, criticized a Byzantine-born Venetian princess for her extravagance :
“…such was the luxury of her habits … she deigned not to touch her food with her fingers, but would command her eunuchs to cut it up into small pieces, which she would impale on a certain golden instrument with two prongs and thus carry to her mouth.”
Shocking indeed!

English Silver knife & fork,
curiously by a cutler named ‘SPOON’ – circa 1700. See them here>>

A fork, when used with a knife, allowed a rhythm to eating, with both hands occupied – very civilised indeed, but only for those with the means. It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries, and the age of mass production, that cutlery as we know it becomes an everyday item for all society.

Dating to the ‘privilege period’ is the collection of solid-silver handled cutlery pieces we recently discovered in a Melbourne collection. Examine the photos – when no blade is visible, they are nothing short of sculpture. Small-scale 360-degree sculptures in the Baroque manner, and obviously intended to impress. There were perfectly functional cutlery shapes, also in luxurious materials such as ivory available at the same time- but to have your knife and fork with St George slaying the Dragon on it was a whole other level…..

Moorabool’s 17th century Dutch silver ‘figural’ cutlery handles.
‘Charity’ handle, Dutch 17th century
See it here >>

Their design is ancient looking, medieval or Middle Ages. The figure of ‘Charity’ could well be a Roman goddess from 2,000 years ago! So where does their design originate?

Unsurprisingly, there’s a link to the Classical world, as the Italian Renaissance artists drew much inspiration from the classical past that surrounded them. Of note here is Francesco de’Rossi, il Salviati (1510-1563), an Italian artist of great merit. His designs for luxury goods are well known due to original sketches being treasured and replicated extensively, engraved and copied and used as inspiration by artisans ever since.

Salvati’s knife handle designs of the mid-16th century, engraved by Cherubino Alberti in the early 17th century.
Rembrandt’s version of Salviati’s original, done while in his possession circa 1620

The Dutch connection comes through the fascination the Low Countries had with the Classical past. Italy was a destination for anyone seeking Culture, and back in Holland, designs seen abroad were appreciated and incorporated. Artists often did the ‘Grand Tour’, and collections contained drawings and paintings of the results. Over time, these were assimilated by artists back in Holland, even if they never went to Italy themselves…..
One such artist was Rembrandt – and amongst his drawings are a remarkable series of Designs for Knife Handles. When we consider where & when he operated, we have an intriguing link to the Dutch great master – he had seen such handles, and owned some Salviati sketches of them, and created his own studies in pen & wash. This shows the great interest in these luxurious Baroque pieces from Italy – and naturally the Dutch craftsmen were able to create something to satisfy this curiosity, in the form of Ivory and Silver handles.

The series of handles we have at Moorabool are complete with their original fittings – three with knife blades and one with a fork. These are very helpful in dating the pieces.
First, the fork is the early 2-prong form. This appears in the earliest examples of the 15th century, and disappears in the early 18th century.

The shape of the knife is quite distinctive, having a straight blade and a tip with a sudden taper at the end. While this is a very early Continental form, appearing in Italian pieces from the 15th century, it also appears in Dutch examples of the 17th century, before other styles take hold.

These rarities are the feature pieces of our current collection of mostly English cutlery, beginning in the 17th century and continuing into the 18th and 19th. But none have the flamboyance of these silver handles…. imagine the interesting person they must have belonged to!

See our Cutlery Collection here >>

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17th century Boxes

Amongst the early English Oak in this week’s ‘Premium’ furniture release are some ‘Bible Boxes’. These are simple products, the side planks merely overlapping and secured with a peg or nail- no fancy dovetail joins. As their name suggests, they were the perfect place to keep your large leather-clad Bible safe from being destroyed by rodents…. but also useful for anything else that might need storing, being kept safe by a basic lock & key from larger pests!

They acted as a bit of a hold-all, a way of instantly cleaning up by opening the flap & stashing items out of sight.

You could use them for your leather gloves, the linen & lace, deeds & letters – written on animal-skin velum – the every-day clutter of life, and all very tasty to rodents….

If we were to bring the concept into the modern age, the every-day life clutter I struggle with would be: iphone, ipad, various chargers for devices, gadgets, the manuals for the gadgets… the 21st clutter of life which always looks unsightly on display. We have a 17th century solution to a 21st century problem!

One particularly nice example just in is the Walnut one with Scotch thistle carving….. in itself an unusual design which must have had a significance to the original owner (usual designs are scrolls, diamonds, or foliage). Inside is a visual delight with a historical twist.

Early 19th century woodblock printed wallpaper offcuts used as lining – rare survivors!

The interiors were lined with woodblock printed paper sheets in the 17th century, as shown by extremely rare survivors. This would have become worn and tatty, and been refreshed, which is what has happened to our example – but the paper used is most fascinating, and allows us to date this refreshing to the mid 1830’s – most probably 1832!

The sides have a series of colourful wallpaper scraps pasted on – remarkable patterns which are probably rare survivors of the period, late Georgian designs. In the base is the fascinating piece of English history – a poster printed for the ‘TAUNTON Reform Festival’ , THE GRAND PUBLIC ENTERTAINMENT TO BE GIVEN AT TAUNTON on WEDNESDAY the 18th JULY 1832′.

What follows is the ‘Order of Procession’ , grouped by their trades – and what a fascinating list of long forgotten skills it is.

  • The Tailors
  • The Gardners, Agriculturists, Shepherd & Shepherdess
  • The Cordwainers
  • The Maltsters and Brewers
  • The Stonemasons, Bricklayers, Tilers and Plasterers
  • The Blacksmiths
  • The Whitesmiths, and Tinmen
  • The Sawyers
  • The Carpenters and Joiners
  • The Cabinet Makers
  • The Painters, Glaziers and Plumbers
  • (at the end)The Basket Makers and Weavers….
    and so on..;.

I’m not sure what a ‘Throwster’ was – and the ‘Whitesmith’ had me puzzled, but being combined with the Tinmen gave the answer – a Whitesmith worked with metals and a file, finishing off items that other metalmen made… and assumably was usually covered in a fine layer of his whitish filings…

Taunton was a mill town, full of wool & silk mills. The Reform Society was a ‘grass roots’ organisation of the working classes, hence the pride in their trades demonstrated in this document. They sought for a chance of better treatment from the Government of the time, asking for such things as regulated working hours and welfare for those in need. Through peaceful rallies and organised marches such as the one outlined to take place here, they were able to show a strong and pressing voice for ‘Reform’ – and of course the occasional strike and riot helped as well. The year after this procession for example, the 1833 ‘Factory Act’ was passed – intended for the textile factories at first, this meant:

  • No children under 9 to be employed
  • just 48 hours for those aged 9 to 13, and only 12 hours a day
  • Children under 13 to receive 2 hours schooling each day

A small step towards a complete change in society, which soon led to such modern concepts as health & safety, and a gradual reduction in the use of child labour…. 60 years later, in 1891 the minimum age for working in a factory was raised to…. 11!
I’m going to keep this fact in store for next time my children complain about doing their household chores….

Isn’t it amazing the discussions a simple item like a ‘Bible Box’ can result in!

See this interesting item here >>

See the ‘Premium Fresh Stock’ release here >>

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Indian ‘Alabaster’ …?

‘Alabaster’ has always been the term used by us Antique dealers to describe any translucent, whitish stone…. but have we been mis-labeling it? Sometimes, different industries have different terms for the same thing; I remember arguing with a floor-tile salesman, who insisted that with tiles, ‘ceramic’ was not the same as ‘porcelain’, something I still cannot get my head around, as porcelain is surely a variety of ceramic! 
It seems we have the same issue with ‘Alabaster’. 
The term is used by geologists to describe just one type of mineral – Gypsum. This is a soft material, ie you can scratch it with your fingernail – great for quickly carving. You may well be surrounded by it right now, as it is the main ingredient in plasterboard walls! 
Antique dealers (and archaeologists) are a little more liberal in our allocation of the definition – we include Calcite in ‘Alabaster’. This is a much harder material – sometimes called ‘Onyx-marble’, a further confusion as Onyx is a completely different mineral!
Generally, if it is a fine whitish opaque stone – that lets the light through – we call it ‘Alabaster’. 

Both of these ‘Alabasters’ (Calcite and Gypsum) have the same basis: the element Calcium, which has often come from the shells of dead marine organisms. You’ll also find it forming where ground-water pools – or where it drips in caves, forming stalagmites / stalactites. 
And of course, add a little pressure & heat, and you have Marble. This much tougher Calcium-based rock is the most familiar to us, being the most luxurious building material available since ancient times. 

This brings us to today’s story; the Indian ‘Alabasters’. These are whitish carved stone items from India.

The 17th century Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most fabulous example of the Indian stonework – although the craftsmen who worked on it were brought in from all over Asia, and it owes a lot to the Persian – Moghal influence – but with a good infusion of Indian Hindu elements. The petra-dura panels of decoration is particularly stunning, with semiprecious stones sourced from as far as China (Crystal) Tibet (Turquoise) and Afghanistan (Lapis). 
It was constructed to be ‘the most beautiful tomb in the world’ for the wife of the Moghal emperor Shah Jahan, and he was himself buried there on his death in 1666. A modern estimate for the cost at the time would translate to $1.2 billion Australian Dollars!  
By the 19th century, it was in a state of disrepair – and during the British occupation and the subsequent 1857 rebellion, panels of inlaid work were prised out by British soldiers… 

In the late 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon embarked on a restoration project of the monument, and it rapidly became a tourist attraction on its completion in 1908.  Nearby towns who hosted the visitors discovered a demand for ‘souvenirs’ – and the British restoration effort had no doubt attracted a good core of cunning craftsmen, who were able to create lovely small souvenirs for the visitors. 
They’re hard to date accurately, as they were probably made for a long period of time – so a piece with a date is always helpful. This example has one such inscription to the back: 

“Given to my Mother by Lady Kimble, 1914” – not long after the completion of restoration of the Taj Mahal in 1908.

But are they Alabaster? We have to say no, not in the official definition of the word; they are the same material as the Taj Mahal, and therefore a fine white marble which is translucent when cut thin….  and because of that, they are lovely objects worthy of the semiprecious stone title ‘Alabaster’!

So they are almost alabaster, but have been left to cook a little longer!

See the Indian Marbles here >>

See all the Alabasters in stock here >>

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Swedish Royalty!

Us Rosenbergs always joked about having Scandinavian Royal blood – my Grandfather came from Sweden, and in the heart of Copenhagen there’s ‘Rosenborg Castle’, full of wonderful treasures such as the Crown Jewels and lots of Meissen porcelain. On visiting a few years ago, my father John enquired if family members got free entry; no humour was detected in reply!
Perhaps the closest we will get was found in Geelong recently, a small silver case of Swedish silver, with a series of Swedish inscriptions that pinpoint it to the Swedish royal family!

The engraved clues begin with a 5-pointed coronet crown, an arm with sword beneath, then the date 10/8/1941, with an the inscription beneath the arms reading “fran syrelse kamrater i Usala lans Jaktvardsforening” – roughly ‘From the Comrades of the Upsala Hunting Guard Association’.

The title ‘Count of Wisborg’ is an interesting one. Wisborg (or Visborg) is a town on Gotland, off the coast of Sweden. In 1892 , Prince Oscar of Sweden, Duke of Gotland and second in line to the Swedish throne, married against the wishes of the King – a shocking thing in the European Royal Circles of the period. He lost his claim to the throne, and all other titles – but was given the title ‘Count of Wisborg’, created just for him by his uncle Adolfe, Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Since this first awarding, it has been awarded three other times, all to the male-line descendants of Princes of Sweden who had married without permission from the King.

Prince Oscar Bernadotte

Prince Oscar’s marriage in 1888 caused shock in the Royal family, and a document was drawn up to ensure the remaining 3 princes didn’t follow suite – the comment was the King had lost one son and didn’t want to ‘lose’ any more…. this had the opposite effect on the population, who were quite taken by the prince who gave up everything for love. He actually headed over to England to be married, and tied the knot in a church in Bournemouth!

His wife Ebba was of noble birth – and had been a Lady-in-waiting to the Crown Princess, Victoria – but was just not titled enough to marry the second-in-line to the throne. Fortunately, Oscar had the full support of his mother, and on their wedding day, with his mother present, they were given the title of ‘Prince and Princess Bernadotte’. This comes down through the subsequent generations as their family name. Four years later, in the court of Luxembourg, they received the title ‘Count and Countess of Wisborg’.

Oscar & Ebba, Prince & Princess Bernadotte.

They lived a quiet life in Stockholm, away from the court, taking great interest in improving the lot of the poor. Both were religious and involved in numerous charity organisations. Oscar had served in the Navy, attaining the rank of Vice Admiral – achieving a voyage around the world and several trips to America. Later, he was involved in the YMCA of Sweden, and chaired the ‘Friends of Mission to the Laps’ for several years. They had five children, and enjoyed holidaying in summer on the island of Gotland: this was also the place their ‘countship’ originated, Wisby being the name of a ruined fortress nearby. Here, they stayed at ‘Villa Fridhem’, an interesting swiss-style building erected in 1860-61 for Princess Eugenie. She left it to Oscar in 1889, and in 1927 he gave it to the YMCA.

Back to our silver box; the inscription states it was dedicated in Upsala – which we take as being present day Uppsala, not far north of Stockholm. What the Upsala Hunting Guard Association was, I could not find out – or what they were hunting – but he was a military man, and this was in the middle of World War Two.

Sweden in 1941 was of course neutral; they had built up their own military as they nervously eyed-off both Russia and Germany heading towards war in the Baltic, and when hostilities inevitably broke out, managed to keep both at arms length. August 1941 was a particularly concerning time, as Germany had just invaded Russia with great success – using iron ore purchased from Sweden to build up their military – and in turn causing the union of the ‘Allies’ of England, USA and Russia, in the fight against Germany. Sweden allowed German troop trains through their country on their way to the front with Russia in Finland. Fast-forward a few years and Sweden was allowing the Allies to send troops and supplies through their territory to beat Germany into submission; ‘neutrality’ with careful concessions got them through the war.

Somewhere in the middle of this, the 82-year old Prince Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg, had an event in Upsala, along with 5 companions; as a souvenir, they had silver cases with everyone’s signatures carefully inscribed on them. As the Count’s is the first on the list, could we say this was his?

The inscriptions are beautifully done, no doubt from a calling-card bearing the originals. The skill of the engraver is very evident, and brings to mind the ease at which this person could have forged such signatures. This opens up a world of possibilities, when we consider the other aspect of Sweden’s neutrality; Spycraft! As the neutral territory between Germany and Allied countries, all sorts of interactions took place via Sweden – leading to a need for forged ‘official’ documents, useful in crossing borders. An engraver of skill such as the person who did these signatures would have been well placed and in demand…

I wonder who this interesting piece of Swedish silver was presented to… and how did it make its way to Australia? perhaps like Grandpa Rosenberg, it came with the influx of people looking for a new life in this new land of promise…

>> See this interesting piece here >>

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Mary, Mary, quite Contrary….

Mary Queen of Scots alabaster statue

A serious piece of British History has surfaced in Australia…. or has it?

In our current Exhibition is a remarkable discovery: a ‘Nottingham Alabaster’ carved figure of a Lady at prayer, a small dog at her side. The costume is superbly detailed, and allows us to date it firmly within the Elizabethan period, mid-16th century. A colleague joked ‘it’s Mary, Queen of Scots – with her dog’ – and so, a chain of research was started, with a startling conclusion.

Mary Queen of Scots alabaster statue

Mary, Queen of Scots was one of English history’s great tragedies. Imprisoned by her half sister, her story is full of intrigue and mystery until her beheadal in 1587.

A quick google of ‘Mary Queen of Scots Portrait Bust’ came up with multiple examples of her, mostly originating with the funerary image placed on her memorial in Westminster Abbey (by William and Cornelius Cure, 1606-16). Comparison with our example is remarkable -they depict the same face! We have the usual high-forehead that was fashionable in the Elizabethan era – and a squared temple, eyes at slightly varied level, long thin nose, and chin with central dimple. Even her mouth conforms nicely. It’s the Queen!

Mary Queen of Scots
left – our stone example – right- a plaster cast in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Mary Queen of Scots dog - alabaster statue

When we include the small dog off to one side, the idea that this is depicting Mary, Queen of Scots, suddenly becomes real. The tragic tale of her execution includes the discovery of her small Skye Terrier ‘lap dog’ beneath her dress, covered in blood and refusing to leave the Queen’s headless corpse…..

There is no known ‘devotional’ figure of this nature of the Queen known, although it is just the sort of thing she may have commissioned. We could go through her sad tale and find the time in which she would have been able to do such a commission, in the mid 16th century, for a private chapel in one of her residences, perhaps? And then, naturally we start thinking of where a piece this important should be now: the National Portrait Gallery , London springs to mind…..

But first, it’s a bit grubby and needs a clean: and suddenly, the statue of the Queen takes a completely different path….

As the layers of dirt are washed away, several areas of restoration become evident, masked by plaster; the plaster is what has stained dark. Once it is off…. we have three areas of great concern.

  1. her head
  2. the dog
  3. the cushion

The reason these appear different is because they are a completly different stone – white, instead of honey-toned. They are added to the carving.

In a twist of fate, the Queen who so tragically lost her head… has found a body!
It becomes clear from the different stone used that what we are looking at is a Victorian ‘Restoration’, where a head, a cushion, and a dog have been added to an earlier sculpture. In other words, the very details that made it into a super-rare, unheard of sculpture of Mary Queen of Scots are actually all from the fertile imagination of a Victorian trickster. They created something that probably never existed!

We do wonder when it came to Australia: certainly a long time ago…. and so, it enters the list of ‘magnificent frauds’ that made their way to Australia, sold to some gullible wealthy squatter on a trip to London, probably back in the 19th or early 20th century. We have seen a lot of other examples – the fabulous ‘Sevres’ pieces we featured a few years back are exactly the same, partially original period pieces, but doctored up to make them impressive, rare, and saleable.

Mary Queen of Scots by Cure

The origin of the head can be traced back to her memorial in Westminster Abbey. Her body was brought here by Charles I in 1612, and a magnificent marble construction with a depiction of the queen was created by the sculptors William and Cornelius Cure, 20 years after her execution and based on a small portrait miniature painted from life. This cast in turn inspired all the busts and statues of the Queen which appear in the Victorian era, when she became so popular – and when this well carved head was most likely to have been spliced onto a genuine Elizabethan relic….

Mary has been the subject of numerous films and books, and has quite a following on the web. One of the problems with the nature of information on the web is ‘anything goes’…. and in the case of Mary, we have misconception of the various plaster casts of her head as ‘death masks’. This is not the case, the plaster casts were all taken from the Cure creation, which was a re-construction from a miniature portrait of her painted from life.
Calling these busts ‘death-masks’ would be as accurate as calling this wonderful Victorian Fraud an Elizabethan Devotional Statue of Mary, Queen of Scots…. it’s not quite right.

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Radioactive Collectibles! 

Yes, these pieces are so radioactive they glow! With the help of a ‘black light’ Ultraviolet torch, these innocent yellow pieces with the whitish ‘Vaseline’ finish really put on a show. But no need to be alarmed – the radiation they emit is a tiny fraction of a percent of our everyday experience, where the sky, the ground, and the items we interact with emit some degree of radiation. It’s just that these ‘Uranium Glass’ pieces are so pretty!

Antique Uranium Glass,
Antique Uranium Glass, normal light & UV light

As a result, they’re well collected.
Originally, Uranium was a curious mineral, often a bi-product of metal mining and with no real use. Glass blowers found it gave a tint to glass, inventing a use for it – of course, the fluorescent nature under UV light was still hidden until this modern age.

Vase/Candlestick, american 20thC.
Vase/Candlestick, american 20thC.

There’s an ancient Roman instance of Uranium in glass, with some mosaic tiles in a Bay of Naples Villa having 1% Uranium Oxide. During the Middle Ages, it appears in German glass as a tinting agent, and continued up into the Victorian era, particularly in the Bohemian works of Franz Xaver Riedel, who named his product after his daughter Anna – hence ‘Annagrün’ (Anna yellow-green) and ‘Annagelb’ (Anna yellow)! This pioneering commercial effort lasted 1830-48, by which time many other European glassmakers were copying the method.
France and England were prolific in the late 19th century, and America came to love their radioactive wares.

George Davidson & Co
George Davidson & Co ‘Richelieu’ pattern,
circa 1890

Then came the Atomic Bomb, and the Cold War; suddenly the Uranium was the ‘hottest’ commodity on the planet, and a strategic resource; the US confiscated all supplies as they pushed on with their nuclear ambition.
These days, there’s plenty of Uranium around – but putting it in your glassware isn’t really done!

We have an interesting selection of Uranium Glass in stock.
See the Uranium Glass Collection here >>