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06 July 2014

Sentimental Gifts for the Traveller

A bespoke gift box by Parvum Opus
A bespoke gift box by Parvum Opus, jacketed in an Italian
wood-block print style paper by Rossi

Today, I'm delighted to share two recent and memorable commissions, courtesy of our thoughtful and generous clientele. Perhaps these will serve to inspire as we merrily make our way the summer graduation and wedding season. 

The first, seen above and below, is a bespoke box commissioned as a gift for a friend embarking on a long-term travel adventure. Before presenting it, our client filled the box with one hundred stamped post cards. I was struck by the simplicity and warmth of this gesture-- a beautiful invitation to keep in touch as her friend's adventure unfolds. The diminutive box, having travelled along, will make a charming souvenir long after the post cards have been sent, a reminder of the bonds of friendship. I admit that this project will be on my mind as my own friends and family set off on their own exploits!

A bespoke gift box by Parvum Opus

The next project is similarly adventure-related: this one is a travel escritoire, or traveller's writing set. Contained in the small hinged box are compartments for stationery, a small German Kaweco Sport fountain pen and refill cartridges, postage stamps, address labels, and a travel journal. Besides the requisite blank pages, the hand-sewn journal includes pages for recording addresses, birthdays and anniversaries. It also includes a map of world time zones and stellar constellation charts for the northern and southern hemispheres-- a must for every adventurer, wouldn't you agree?! Of course, all of these functions are easily replaced by the apps on most smart phones, but for many of us, hand-written notes in a paper journal make a denser, more romantic and memorable souvenir of a long trip than typed notes in a phone or laptop.  

A bespoke travel writing set  by Parvum Opus
A small traveller's writing set, made with a butterfly
and flower print paper made in Italy, also by Rossi.

This project was created for a client whose friend was off for a year-long sabbatical. The box is small and sturdy enough for travel, and is intended by the gift giver to act as a stand-in for a special writing desk that will be sorely missed during the long journey. Given the clear and imaginative directives from our client, I think it turned out beautifully, and can only imagine how lovely it would be to come in from a day's work in a far-away land, and sit down to write with such thoughtfully given tools at hand. 

A bespoke travel writing set  by Parvum Opus
The writing set as it appears when closed:
a clear elastic band holds the lid in place during travel.

A bespoke travel writing set  by Parvum Opus

Along with these projects, we have made countless traveller's picture frames and hand-bound journals for clients wishing to send a bit of home along with their loved ones, and we always enjoy these heart-warming collaborations. This sort of work is a great pleasure for us, and I hope that you'll be as inspired by these gestures of friendship and camaraderie as we have been.  

28 April 2014

A Collection of Antique Islamic Pottery
Our May 2014 calendar illustration: an Iranian fritware beaker, 
from the 12th-13th centuries. Image copyright Parvum Opus

When I was searching for subjects to paint for our 2014 calendar, I came across the beautiful beaker you see above in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I was instantly drawn to the colors and imagery in this ancient piece, although I had no knowledge of this category of objects. It's one of the things I love most about creating our calendar: a piece will catch my eye, and then, wonderfully, lead me down a path of investigation and discovery that I may have missed otherwise! 

An Iranian fritware bowl with a horseman, female figures, 

and pseudo-kufic inscription, late 12th-early 13th centuries.

Image courtesy the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

This class of pottery is referred to as Islamic stonepaste or fritware, among other names. According to Wikipedia, "frit is a ceramic composition that has been fused in a special fusing oven, quenched to form a glass, and granulated." Islamic pottery of this period incorporated frit with the clay to produce a mixture that could be fired at a lower temperature than pure clay. Interestingly, a 'how-to' book on this specialized form of pottery survives. It was written in about the year 1300 by Abu'l Qasim bin Ali bin Muhammed bin Abu Tahir. Abu'l Qasim was member of an important family of potters as well as a historian to the Mongol court. His recipes for fritware and lusterware are part of a larger work entitled The Virtues of Jewels and the Delicacies of Perfume. 

An Iranian fritware ewer, ca. 11th-13th centuries.
Image courtesy The Louvre.

I came across a scholarly translation of this work by J. W. Allan, and found myself marveling at these words, written so long ago. Below is an intriguing excerpt, could it perhaps be the recipe used by the potters to create our beautiful beaker?? 

An Iranian bowl, similar to our inspirational beaker, with a horseman, 

female figures, and pseudo-kufic inscription. 

Image courtesy the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

"§25. The vessels are then coated with a glaze frit which has been ground up, finely sifted, and dissolved in water, and are stood on top of a broad-meshed sieve, which is the lid of a trough, so that excess of colour drips away. They are dried in the sun. If they want a green ground they coat on a mixture of ten parts powdered glaze to a quarter of a part of [a mithqal of] roasted copper. The craftsmen call this tini. It comes out of the firing transparent green, like green glass. If they use one part of [brayed] lajvard to forty parts of glaze frit it becomes transparent blue like a sapphire. If for every ten [or: two] parts of glaze frit they add 1 part of maghnisiya it comes out black as shabeh, and if they add less it comes out a red the colour of an eggplant. If they want an opaque colour such as turquoise they add for every man of ground tin ten dirhams of ground roasted cooper [sic: copper?], and coat this on. If they want lajvard colour they add [to the glaze frit] ten dirhams of Sulaimani lajvard and daub and coat the vessels with that. If they want a greyer tone they put in less lajvard and add a small amount of red sirinj. If they use an absolutely plain colour the vessels come out of the heat white."

A Persian pottery vase , ca. 17th-18th centuries.
Image courtesy Kaminski Auctioneers.

"§27. Those that come out of the firing white they paint with the enamel of two firings, or with lajvard, or with pure turquoise. [Or they are translucent and require no enamel painting.] The enamel is composed as follows: Take one and a half mans [or: parts] of red and yellow arsenic, one man [or: part] of gold and silver marcasite, one batman [or: half a part] of Tisi [or: Tabasi or Cypriot] yellow vitriol and a quarter [of a part] of roasted copper, and mix it to a paste and grind it. A quarter of this is mixed with six dirhams of pure silver which has been burned and ground [with sulphur] and is ground on a stone for twenty-four hours until it is extremely fine. Dissolve this in some grape juice or vinegar and paint it onto the vessels as desired, and place them in a second kiln specially made for this purpose, and give them light smoke for seventy-two hours until they acquire the colour of two firings [which is like gold]. When they are cold take them out and rub them with damp earth so that the colour of gold comes out. Other people add certain preparations like sirinj and zanjar to this enamel. In fact, shadanaj stone with roasted silver serves the same purpose. That which has been evenly fired reflects like red gold and shines like the light of the sun."

How wonderfully descriptive! One can find poetry and beauty in the most unexpected places, even an old 'recipe' book.

18 April 2014

Bridge, anyone?

Parvum Opus provides custom made to order bridge sets
The new Bridge Set by Parvum Opus... Designed with the 
encouragement of some of our very knowledgeable and 
enthusiastic bridge-playing clients. 

After a hectic holiday season, spring brings a host of new projects and the bindery is buzzing with activity. Along with a new range of desk pads, desk organizers and and gift boxes, we've created two new game sets: a bridge set, shown above, and a playing card set, below. 

Parvum Opus provides custom made to order boxed playing card sets
Our playing card set features ribbon-tabbed card lifts 
for easy card removal- an elegant solution, don't you think?

While playing card game sets may seem to be a bit of a non sequitur for a bindery specializing in desk accessories, the design and development process has been quite familiar for us. We had several requests for bridge sets before the holidays, but only now have had the time to design all of the necessary elements. As it turns out, the skills we've until now put toward the production of our archival boxes and desk organizers have come in handy in designing these intricate boxes. 

Refillable bridge scoring tablets, made by hand and available
'a la carte' as a set of four. Making these is like making 

tiny desk blotters-- such fun! 

It was a wonderful collaboration with our clients as we elevated every detail of our bridge and card sets-- as my personal experience with cards is limited (!), their guidance was invaluable. Parvum Opus game sets are made to order in an array of beautiful papers from around the world. We hope that they make bridge and poker night even more enjoyable for our clients, just as our desk accessories make their work spaces more enjoyable.    

Bridge Set and Playing Card Boxed Set by Parvum Opus
Our Bridge Set and Playing Card Set. For more details,
we invite you to visit

11 March 2014

A Beautiful Tartanware Book: Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake

Image Copyright Parvum Opus
One of my favorite things: Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake,
published in 1874 by John Ross and Company, Edinburgh.
Images copyright Parvum Opus.

I've had a deep appreciation for exquisitely made objects for as long as I can remember, and among my favorites are books, which I treasure for both the craft and beauty of their bindings as well as the beauty of the ideas within. My Tartanware copy of Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake is a particularly special example.

Image copyright Parvum Opus

As you can see, it features a tooled and gilded leather spine, and papier-mâché Tartanware covers. Throughout the pages, small photographs are pasted in, with lovely views of Scottish lochs and castles. When I first received this wonderful gift (thank you dear husband!), I was especially charmed by tiny mother of pearl bun feet on the back of the book. What a jewel! Given that this book's publication made Scotland's Trossachs an enduring tourist destination, it makes perfect sense that a Tartanware edition would appear.

Image Copyright Parvum Opus
If you look closely, you can see the tiny mother of pearl feet
attached with brass tacks.

Tartanware was designed primarily as souvenir ware, and originated in the early part of the nineteenth century. These small personal goods (boxes, sewing tools, desk accessories, books, etc.)were designed to capitalize on the newly mobile middle class tourist population. You can imagine how popularity of these trinkets soared with Queen Victoria's commission of two new Tartans for the royal family. 

I wish this box was in my collection: a miniature Robertson Tartanware box,
with a hand-painted picture of Balmoral before
Prince Albert made his additions, signed "Lamme Cumnock", c. 1850.
Image courtesy The Telegraph.

The Lady of the Lake is a narrative poem composed of six cantos, and was first published in 1810. It was hugely influential at the time and contributed to the Highland Revival, which culminated in 1822 with a visit by King George IV to Edinburgh for a pageant orchestrated by a vary patriotic Sir Walter Scott. I'm so glad for this confluence of poetry and craft, and that we can still enjoy the lovely books and objects born of it.

A portrait bust of Sir Walter Scott,
in the University of North Carolina collection.
Image courtesy UNC.

01 March 2014

A New Companion for My Desk

Copyright Parvum Opus
My new treasure: an antique papier-mâché snuff box.

Recently, I was the very lucky recipient of a particularly beautiful papier-mâché snuff box. It's in wonderful condition and features a lovely painting of a lady on the hinged lid. This box sits on my desk, and is perfectly sized for stamps and address labels. 

Copyright Parvum Opus

It's such a tiny thing, only about 1.5" wide and 3" tall, but the romance of it looms large in my imagination. Consider it's interesting origins: it was made generations ago, by a craftsperson most likely from Birmingham, England. Perhaps a second artist in the same workshop painted the tiny portrait onto this perfectly formed box made from nothing but paper pulp hardened with enamel. Perhaps it was a special commission for a local gentleman who would have carried it in his pocket, containing a day's worth of snuff. I can't imagine how many owners this box has known in its 150+ years, but I'm thrilled to be the most recent! 

A view of my new acquisition along with another
papier-mâché box from my collection.

Taking snuff is an odd habit, isn't it? I gather from my reading that the custom travelled from the new world to Europe with Christopher Columbus whose crew members witnessed it being used by the Taino in Haiti. Tobacco use, not surprisingly, spread quickly through Europe, and by the later 17th century, air-tight boxes made from precious materials were being crafted. There were larger examples for communal use at the table (still present in the House of Lords and US Senate), and more precious small pocket-sized versions for personal use. 

A shell-form snuff box, Capo di Monte, ca. 1750. 
Soft-paste porcelain with French silver-gilt mounts.
Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum Collections.

    If you take a moment to browse through the snuff boxes held in collections like that of the V & A Museum, you can see from the variety and quantity that there must be something in human nature that is fascinated with tiny boxes. Snuff boxes were exchanged and presented as gifts long after the snuffing craze waned, and are voraciously collected today. I can imagine that the precious scale, multi-purpose box format and the object's inherent intimate nature inspired both the artisans and prospective collectors. The snuff itself, however, is definitely not my cup of tea!

    I couldn't resist sharing this curiosity: 1894 Kinetoscope of Fred Ott taking a snuff and then sneezing, taken by Thomas Edison's laboratory. Courtesy Wikipedia