Bertie Beats Typhoid!

Also, a Napoleon cannon and a nasty ass cane.

In 1871, when he was 30 years old, the Prince of Wales (a.k.a. Albert Edward, Bertie, and eventually King Edward VII), came down with typhoid fever while staying at an estate in North Yorkshire. Edward’s father Albert had died of typhoid only 10 years earlier, so naturally this news caused massive concern in London both to his mother, Queen Victoria, as well as to the English people. But happily good news prevailed, and Edward survived.

A relieved nation celebrated his recovery with a Thanksgiving Service in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in February 1872. Before the service, carriages brought Victoria, Edward and members of their party to Temple Bar, where they were received by the Lord Mayor of London and a collection of other city dignitaries who then escorted the royals to St. Paul’s. It was quite the event, judging by this account of the day featured in the March 16, 1872 edition of the Illustrated London News. It may have also included a bit of comic relief, if this description of the dignitaries is anything to go by:

“They had mounted the troop-horses, brought for them by soldiers of the Royal Artillery, in the square of the Inner Temple. Wearing, as they did, their robes of office, the performance of getting on horseback was not quite easy to some of them; but the Lord Mayor, who was attired in his grand robe of state of violet-coloured velvet with deep ermine tippet, and wore his furred three-cornered hat, bestrode his steed with becoming dignity, and like a skillful horseman.”

The rare 18k gold and enamel locket above commemorates the event. Made by E. and S. Watson, it bears the arms of the City of London and features the words “Royal Reception Committee” on the front, with the date and “Thanksgiving Day” engraved on the back. 19th century images of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales appear inside.

Various commemorative medals were also created to celebrate the day, including this one, designed by J.S. and A.B. Wyon. In it, figures representing Britannia and the City of London invite the Queen and Prince of Wales to enter St. Paul’s. The reverse shows the interior of the cathedral, flanked by the words “For the recovery of HRH The Prince of Wales,” and the date.

Yes, that IS Napoleon being shot out of tiny golden cannon. Circa 1820, this tiny (under an inch), exquisite little pendant is crafted from three colors of gold with turquoise details that, when pressed, propel a miniature figure of Napoleon from the cannon. It was created during the Bourbon Restoration of France, when tensions were still simmering in France and monarchists were trying to reverse the changes brought on by Napoleon and the French Revolution.

These delightful Sneetch-like creatures are actually 19th century Indian rose water sprinklers, made of silver in the form of storks. According to the Harvard Art Museums:

“Rosewater was traditionally sprinkled on guests in India because it has cooling and refreshing properties. The tradition of using rosewater came to Mughal India from Iran, where, in the festival of Ab Pashan, rosewater was sprinkled to invoke the memory of rainfall, which would put an end to famine. The custom was gradually incorporated into the Rajput court, where it was used in both ceremonial as well as religious festivals. It is now used in India to welcome arriving guests.”

This exquisite set of hair pins features two spheres of pierced and chased gold, with multicolored enamel accents. They’re by Lucien Falize, who I just realized I already talked about a few newsletters ago, dur. I guess I have a type, and that type is Lucien Falize. *heart eyes* But come on, these things are gorgeous.

19th century canes and walking sticks were often amazingly specialized — there was one available for almost every conceivable purpose, with tools concealed in the shaft or handle that could assist with one’s work, perform a task, or even store one’s saké and chopsticks. There were canes for doctors, sailors, bird catchers, jewelers, magicians; canes that could hold your newspaper, transform into a clothesline, tune your piano or measure your horse. There were even gross, supposedly “erotic” ones that would squirt water in your hand.

Some of them could also MESS. PEOPLE. UP. Gun canes and sword canes were common, but there were even blow dart canes and also particularly evil ones — with names like the “Terrible,” “La Diabolique,” or “La Redoutable” — that released razor blades or tiny metal barbs from their wooden shafts that were designed to slice an assailant’s hands to ribbons if they tried to grab it. And the above cane, known as the “Bad Boy,” conceals an extremely nasty straight razor.

There really is an incredible range of examples out there, so if you would like to see more, I recommend you have a root through the full M.S. Rau catalog here, and also look through this extensive collection that was sold at auction in 2015.

That’s it for now. Have a good week, everybody! xxx

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A lizard’s leg amulet, the Colmar Treasure, and secret porn

Photo by Jean-Gilles Berizzi, courtesy of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux.

Hey all, deadlines have been kicking my butt, but I didn’t forget you! This week I’m starting by shouting out the Metropolitan Museum of Art AGAIN, so apologies for two NYC-centric posts in a row. But seriously, an exhibit just opened this week that is a must-see if you’re in the area. Plus it’s at the Cloisters, so even better.

The exhibit “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy” features a collection of jewelry and coins that was discovered hidden behind a wall of a house in Colmar, France in 1863. The pieces date from the early to mid-1300s, when the plague was sweeping through Europe and Jewish communities in France and elsewhere were being scapegoated and murdered in huge numbers. The Colmar cache is believed to have been carefully hidden away by a Jewish family that unfortunately did not survive the pogroms.

The standout piece of the collection is the wonderfully delicate Jewish ceremonial wedding ring pictured above, which dates to between 1300 and 1348. Jewish wedding rings are a custom that goes back hundreds of years, and they usually feature a tiny golden building that symbolically links Solomon’s lost temple in Jerusalem with the home of the newly married couple. The words “Mazel Tov” (Good Luck) or the initials “MT” are often inscribed somewhere within the design, and the Colman ring spells it out in Hebrew letters with accents of red and green enamel (although most of the green has been lost over time).

The cache is on loan from the Musée de Cluny, and this exhibit includes additional items of Judaica from the Met Cloisters and other private collections. It’s up until January 2020, but if you can’t make it in person, you can view the exhibit items here.

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Macbeth (IV, i)

Circa 1690 and possibly German, this well-preserved lizard’s leg is set in filigree silver with beaded detail. It was most likely carried as a protective talisman, and may have been suspended from a chatelaine (remember them?) along with other good luck charms.

These earrings are actually two Victorian whistles that were carved out of bog oak and later equipped with earring wires. And the whistles work! They’re also fitted with Stanhope lenses, which are little optical devices, invented by René Dagron in 1857, that allow you to peek through and view a microscopic image. In this case, there’s only an image in one of the whistles — it’s titled “A Memory of Rothesay” and features illustrations of Rothesay, Scotland, which was a popular Victorian tourist destination.

And in case you were wondering, bog oak is oak that was buried in peat for hundreds or thousands of years. Preserved from decay by the bog and exposed to minerals and tannins in the water, it eventually darkens with age to a deep black color. The Victorians used it extensively in jewelry, and it often served as an alternative to jet in mourning items.

This fairly innocuous little Swiss 18k gold and enamel seal has a secret. Circa 1840, it’s set with a lid that opens to reveal a couple… well, “embracing in a forest,” to use the dealer’s polite description. And surprise! It’s actually an automaton — if you wind that little ball-shaped mechanism at the center of the seal, the couple hops into action. Or rather, he does. She just kinda stands there.

Just FYI, if you need like a billion antique taxidermy glass eyes, you are SO in luck. Plus the auction house has even thrown in a late 19th-century plaster cast of a brown trout! Such bargains to be had, out there in the wide world of totally random auctions.

Also, fans of the whimsically anthropomorphic tableaux created by Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter may be interested in these contemporary pieces featuring a mouse fishing and hunting.

Ok that’s it for now. TGIF, seriously. xxx

Behold the kraken!

An octopus chatelaine, a stressed-out dog, and some owls

This Gorham octopus chatelaine is included in the “Jewelry for America” exhibit that recently opened at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Chatelaines, which are essentially a central pin or clip with various hanging attachments, were a way for women — who have historically been denied pockets — to keep their essential everyday tools close at hand. Scissors, pencils, pincushions, watches, and perfume bottles were all in heavy rotation on many chatelaines, variations of which go back centuries. Women of all classes used them, and, because the attachments were so easily swapped out, they could be highly personalized. There were chatelaines for nurses, needleworkers, painters and various other specialities, with some made in base metals, and others — many of them created by the great jewelers of the time — that were clearly meant for show. They’re a fascinating subject, and I highly recommend this Collectors Weekly interview with Genevieve Cummins, who literally wrote the book on chatelaines.

The Met’s version (above left), in sterling and hallmarked for 1887, doesn’t have any of its attachments. Another version of this chatelaine (above right) sold at auction in Connecticut in 2012, and that one — which sold well above estimate for $10k — is listed as containing all the original attachments from Gorham: A match case, nail file/buttonhook, vinaigrette/perfume bottle, walnut- or pecan-shaped case, calendar with ivory pages, circular pin cushion, writing pencil and scissors. Except for the nut and pencil, they all feature an undersea motif complete with fish, crabs and seashells.

The Missouri Historical Society also has one of these chatelaines, but theirs is sadly missing an eye, and some of the attachments — which include a compact, perfume bottle, mirror, whistle, and pin holder — may be later additions, since only two of them appear to have an undersea theme.

Insect jewelry was extremely popular in the 19th century. The Victorians were obsessed with studying the natural world, and that interest presented in jewelry as well. Spiders, beetles and butterflies were ideal subjects for designs that showcased brightly-colored gemstones and precious metals, and this 14k flying bee (or moth?) brooch is a particularly nice example. Dating to between 1882-1898, it’s hallmarked for St. Petersburg, Russia, and features ruby eyes and a body of cabochon-cut garnets and rose-cut diamonds, with sapphires and diamonds lining the wings.

A delightful set of sterling silver owl condiments, with chased feather detail and glass button eyes. The set consists of one large sugar caster, one salt shaker and two small pepper shakers. Hallmarks tell us they were made by London silversmith Charles Edward Brown, and the caster dates to 1867, the salt to 1870, and the peppers to 1871. The set was retailed by Asprey and retains its original fitted box.

Circa 1900s, a particularly beautiful hinged snake bangle in 18k yellow gold with ornate scrollwork on a bed of blue enamel that winds its way around the body of the snake. A pear-shaped garnet surrounded by rose-cut diamonds crowns the head, and 15 opals are set down the snake’s back.

I have no idea what’s going on here, but I like it. This cheerful 19th century elephant/parrot hybrid creature is made of brass and stands around 6” high. It’s from South India, and I’ve done some rooting around and there’s a creature in Thai Buddhist mythology called the Nok Hussadee, which has the body of a bird and the head of an elephant. It’s one of many fantastical animals that live in the mythological Himmapan Forest, which, according to legend, sits in the Himalayas on the border of India and Nepal. I don’t know if that’s who this little guy is — the Nok Hussadee sounds pretty fierce — but I love him.

In this installment of Ridiculous Dog Faces in Jewelry, we have a French 18k gold and enamel brooch, circa 1875, that features a sensitive portrait of a greyhound who spends too much time on Twitter.

Ok, that’s it for this week’s unexpectedly zoological edition. Have a good day, everyone! xxx

Pierrot, alien glass and a busted Maserati

So at first I was all NOPE, but now that I’ve looked at it a lot, I think I love it?

Circa 1850, a Victorian pendant depicting Pierrot, the sad Commedia dell’Arte clown, in 15k gold and silver, with a face of carved moonstone (with some chipping to the chin) and a black enameled cap set above a diamond collar with a cabochon ruby pendant.

Christie’s is currently holding an online auction, “The Moon and Beyond: Meteorites from the Stifler Collection,” that includes this 60-carat faceted piece of Libyan desert glass. It’s an example of impact glass, which was formed when a meteorite slammed into the earth 29 million years ago. The impact created such intense heat that it melted the sand on the ground, which then hardened into glass as it cooled. There are other types of impact glass (or “impactite”), and their appearance differs according to the terrestrial material at the area of impact, so examples can range from yellow Libyan desert glass, to beautiful, bright green moldavite from the Czech Republic, to industrial diamonds in northern Siberia. There’s a good rundown here, if you’re so inclined. Fun fact: A carved scarab of desert glass takes pride of place in this pectoral belonging to the pharaoh Tutankhamun.

I’m deliberately choosing to ignore the fact that there’s an alien trapped inside that thing, by the way.

A frosted silver and glass prize awarded by the Birmingham Agricultural Exhibition Society to a Robert Bemen in 1849, with the delightfully specific inscription:

1849 | To Robert Bemen, Esq. | the Breeder & Exhibitor | of the best Pen of | Long-woolled Sheep, | not being Leicesters.

Go big or go home. This estate cuff bracelet is 18k with pavé-set diamonds and cabochon-cut Colombian emeralds, and there’s also a ring and earrings if you have unlimited funds. 

Just fyi, this auction also includes a pop art portrait of Lindsey Lohan in the form of a mixed-media polymer cake — why would anyone WANT that??? — as well as these brilliant Balinese polychrome lacquered chairs that are right out of Labyrinth.  

I warned you early on that I might be throwing a car or two in here, because car auctions are my jam. There’s always something interesting on offer (and they usually have an exhausting amount of esoteric info in their item descriptions, which is DEFINITELY my jam), but it’s not often you see a complete wreck pop up among the vintage Aston Martins and Jags. But here we are! This totally beat 1961 Maserati 5000 GT Coupe by Ghia will be on offer at the RM|Sotheby’s Monterey, Ca. auction on August 15-17. It’s a one-of-a-kind car; only 34 5000 GTs were made, and this is the only one that had a special one-off body created by Ghia’s Sergio Sartorelli. Sartorelli was head of the Ghia style prototyping department, where he designed various iconic Karmann Ghia and Fiat cars, as well as some prototype Lambretta scooters. It was his work on the scooters that brought him into contact with the creator of the Lambretta, Ferdinando Innocenti. Innocenti liked Sartorelli’s work and asked him to design him a custom 5000 GT.

So that’s the sad, decrepit car you see above. It was gorgeous in its day — Ghia showed the car at the 1961 Turin Auto Show and it got rave reviews, but Innocenti later sold it, and after that it bounced around Italy for a bit and eventually disappeared. People on car forums spent years trying to track it down through Italian tax records (such touching optimism) to no avail. But, surprise! Apparently the car landed in Saudi Arabia sometime in the 1970s, where its owner — not knowing what it was — let it sit parked outside for decades until his death. His heirs came perilously close to scrapping it — the spray-painted Arabic on the driver’s side door says “abandoned” — but somehow a random conversation in a pub in Manchester, England led to it eventually being identified as the fabled 5000 GT chassis no. AM103 018.

So now it’s available for a full restoration, and I’m absolutely green with envy over whoever gets to buy it. The estimate isn’t listed, but I’m thinking maybe $750k - $1m to buy, and then another $1m to restore. It’s a huge project and will take years (and an extremely skilled shop) to bring it back, but how rewarding would that be?

Ok, that’s all for now. Have a good day, everybody, and try not to melt. xxx

Treasure, treasure and more treasure

(And a guillotine ring.)

This past Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found. Consisting of nearly 4,000 items, the pieces are entirely military-related. No jewelry or coins or domestic items are included, but the pieces are still beautifully crafted of gold and silver, and many are inlaid with specially-cut garnet accent stones or feature extremely fine filigree work. According to the excellent dedicated website, they were made in the 6th and 7th century AD and buried in the mid 7th century (650-675 AD). They’re now on display at two museums — the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

The hoard was discovered by a metal detectorist who was searching a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England. This area was originally the seat of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, which, according to the Birmingham Museum, was “militarily aggressive and expansionist during the seventh century, under kings Penda, Wulfhere and Aethelred.”

The pieces in the hoard are of the highest quality and craftsmanship, so they’re believed to have belonged to high-ranking soldiers or the aristocracy. A third of the fragments in the hoard were originally part of an extremely fancy gold helmet, and some of the pieces may also be battle trophies — there are over 90 sword pommel caps (the tip of the sword hilt that anchors it to the blade) that were clearly ripped from their original swords.

There’s also a strip of silver gilt metal (pictured above) that may have been part of a reliquary or Bible cover that features an inscribed Biblical verse in Latin (with two misspellings!) that says “rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be scattered and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.” That strip and two crosses make up the only religious items in the hoard.

Interestingly, many of the pieces (including one of the crosses) in the hoard were damaged prior to burial — they were deliberately bent or folded, possibly so they would fit into a smaller space. And experts are baffled as to who buried the hoard and why — was it Christians or pagans? Spoils of war or simply buried treasure? It’s still a huge mystery. The hoard website offers these words from Beowulf:

One warrior stripped the other, looted Ongentheow’s iron mail-coat, his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too, and carried graith to King Hygelac; he accepted the prize, promised fairly that reward would come, and kept his word. They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless to men now as it ever was.

In 2012, the field where the hoard was found was replowed and another 81 pieces were unearthed. In total, the hoard was valued at £3.285 million and jointly purchased by the Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils. The detectorist and the owner of the field split the money, and no longer speak to each other.

If you want to read more, there’s a great article here from National Geographic.

Oh and this is unrelated, but while I have you here — if you haven’t watched Detectorists yet, please do. It’s about as quietly perfect as a tv show can be.

Circa the 1880s, a gorgeous niello bangle with a buckle motif

Niello is a deep black or gray metal amalgam that is fused onto another (usually lighter-colored) metal to create a decorative pattern or background. The technique — which goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians and possibly even earlier — involves incising a design into metal and then filling the carved recess with the niello alloy in powder or paste form. The piece is then heated (to harden the niello) and polished to bring out the contrasting shades of metal.

This bracelet is silver, with a background of deep gray niello emphasizing a contrasting pattern of teeny tiny stars (with some stripes on the buckle). Gorgeous.

[Side note: The strip of Staffordshire Hoard silver gilt mentioned above, with the Biblical inscription about scattering thy enemies? The main inscription was also done in niello.]

Not old, but I dunno, seems timely.

Next week, Guernsey’s is presenting “A Century at Sea,” a two-day-long maritime auction in Newport, RI. The sale is loaded with interesting, unusual items, including artifacts from famous ships like the Lusitania and the Andrea Doria, as well as posters, ship models, menus, match tins and compacts (I actually have my eye on these) and tons more. There’s also a porthole from the wreck of the Canadian ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland, which sank in a boat collision on the Saint Lawrence River in 1914, as well as an illuminated cane that was used by one of the survivors of the Titanic and mentioned in the book A Night to Remember by Walter Lord.

Above is a wing-shaped piece of jewelry featuring Colombian emeralds set in lead. It was recovered from the wreck of the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which sank during a hurricane near the Florida Keys in 1622 and was discovered by American treasure hunter Mel Fisher in 1985. The Atocha was estimated to have between sixty and seventy pounds of emeralds on board when it sank, including the Atocha Star emerald, which weighed in at 25.87 carats when recovered by Fisher. Only 10% of the emeralds have been recovered, and overall, only around half of the Atocha treasure has been found so far.

Ok, that’s enough randomness for now. Happy Wednesday, everybody! xx

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