Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Treasures of the Sea

    I think I could have been quite happy with an upbringing in a Victorian household, where there were servants to do all the menial tasks of carrying hot water, lighting fires and lamps, and scrubbing and polishing miles of flooring,  and where the ladies were encouraged to show their varying skills in making their 'amusements'  and stitching a fine seam!   The ladies' magazines of the period were full of examples of craft work as well as all the sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery works and designs, and some of them were quite popular so good examples can still be found in the sale rooms and antique shops.  I guess that some, like the feather pictures and the sand pictures, were so expert that they must have been produced by small fairly professional workshops, but they are hardly ever dated or signed so they are somewhat difficult to identify - I know some of the feather bird pictures were done in Denmark and Germany - but how did they get here?
    It was in Regency days when there was great interest in nature, the world beyond the windows of the parlour, that birds, butterflies, ferns, flowers, both dried and simulated in other materials, became the vogue and some of the young ladies became very proficient and their work is very attractive for decorating small rooms and choice corners.   If you can group three or four together in their original frames (often Holbein, in black and gilt,) they add some charm and interest to your decorations.   Amongst my favourite examples are the little shell boxes and ornaments with pearly tints, which you can often find in seaside towns in bricabrac shops or fairings collections.  The very best examples of shell work were to be found in the romantic shell grottos which were added to gardens in the late 18c. with elaborate designs of hundreds of similar shells arranged in complicated patterns.  These 'rooms' were furnished with grotto chairs, often silvery or golden painted elaborate armchairs with dolphins and ribbed seats and backs waiting for Neptune to take his place!  There was one on Ebay the other day and it fetched many hundreds - they are rare as they often rotted in the damp surroundings of cave-like retreats.  Most collected and valuable,  are the 'Sailors Valentines' which were made by the natives of Barbados and other tropical islands with their local shells and made in various sizes in mahogany framed boxes with matching lids, to be traded with the sailors who wanted pretty souvenirs to take home to their wives and sweethearts, so you find quite a lot with very sentimental messages in the centre.    They open out to make a very pretty wall hanging and are now quite rare and very collectable.  Princess Margaret had quite a collection in her house in the Caribbean which her friend  Colin Tennant gave her as a wedding present and that of course upped all the prices.
                                                               A Sailor's Valentine
         A small hinged double box of shells, hung from two scallop shells (the clasps for a ladies dress belt).

Shells in formal floral arrangements in glass domes, Sailors valentine, small double, still hinged,
 a seaweed arrangement in a basket under shelf, and half of a large Valentine below.
The other half is under the matching bracket the other side of the atrium window together with another matching seaweed picture.  That's plenty!  I was so lucky to find my valentines at a reasonable price;  the little double case was offered to me by a doll's house collector who wanted to buy some new items for her collection and needed a bit of cash, and the other larger pair I found in a back room of an Aberystwyth dealer where it had not been appreciated by the local townsfolk and was under £100 - quite a bargain!
Seaweed pictures are often rather tatty but these were a matching pair which were just right for my display.

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