My Blog List

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

    07 February 2014

    For the Love of "Useless" Art

    A detail of an 18th century French porcelain vase from the Sèvres Manufactory, designed by Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis (1699 — 1774) and featured in Luke Syson's January 2014 TED talk. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Those of us who love and collect decorative arts objects know that simply seeing and engaging with them can bring a great deal of satisfaction into our daily lives. But what draws us into certain classes of objects and repels us from others? How do we define quality and beauty in a time in which simplicity and elegance are the rule?

    Today I'd like to share a brilliant TED talk given by Luke Syson, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Curator in Charge of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He takes us along on a (hilarious) journey from repulsion, to familiarity, to acceptance, and finally to admiration of the Sèvres vase you see above. Most interesting to me was his thesis that in our Modernist culture, fancy or imagination has been sequestered into our screen lives while everyday objects have become more and more unremarkable, leaving little space for "useless" objects in modern life. 

    There is much to think about here, but I hope most of all that you'll be lucky enough to find yourselves on a journey similar to Luke Syson's, with a fancy pink elephant of your own opening the door to the appreciation of another...and another... 


    18 January 2014

    Happy New Year!

    A set of stacking desk organizer trays and matching pencil holder
    in Turquoise Florentine paper.

    Warm New Year wishes from Parvum Opus! It's been much too long since I've treated myself to the pleasant task of posting here to share the latest news from the bindery. It's been a cheerfully chaotic couple of months at Parvum Opus, with new projects, new tools, new bindery assistants, and a new online shop.

    A desk blotter and pencil holder in hand-marbled paper made in France.

    With so much going on in the bindery, I thought it might be nice to begin this year's posts by sharing some recent projects with you today. All of the materials you see in these designs were chosen by our wonderful clientele. Often it happens that we source materials for a bespoke project and end up so smitten by a color or pattern that we add it to our permanent collection. 

    A pair of accordion files for one of our favorite clients...
    made with Florentine papers.
    And a desk set in Aqua Japanese paper for another dear client.

    Each year we add to our palette of papers and book cloth colors, and it's great fun for us to see how cleverly clients combine them. 

    The latest in paper options at the bindery.
    Our beautiful Italian book cloth range.

    No detail is too small! Inspired by the great designer Roger Banks-Pye
    and the desire to use every scrap of gorgeous paper, we've added
    these playful matchboxes to our range of products. 

    At this moment, our bindery's book presses are full of more projects that I will be happy to share very soon. I'm very grateful to have had the privilege of working on interesting projects with so many charming and creative people from all over North America and the UK last year, and we're looking forward to continuing our fulfilling work this year. I hope that 2014 brings health, friendship and joy for all of you.  

    12 November 2013

    A Collection of Silver-Gilt Mounted Porcelains

    The glorious Howzer Cup, a masterpiece of craftsmanship, consists of a Chinese brush pot, ca. 1630-50, mounted in England, ca. 1660-70, probably by the Swiss goldsmith Wolfgang Howzer. I especially love the hounds on the lid and handles. Image courtesy the Victoria and Albert Museum.

    Today, with the help of the venerable V & A Museum Collection, I have assembled for you a collection of beautiful Chinese and Japanese porcelains, all featuring silver gilt mounts. Just imagine how exotic these porcelains would have seemed to 16th century Europeans. Asian porcelain pieces decorated with underglaze blue began to arrive in England in the 1560s, amid great speculation as to the nature of the mysterious material. Some people speculated that it was a precious stone, or perhaps made from crushed sea shells. Understandably, the owners of such high-status objects went to great trouble to enhance the value of their porcelains even more by commissioning elaborate silver-gilt mounts for them. I suppose when we take great care in framing an important painting, we continue this tradition in some small way. 
    A Japanese Imari cup, mounted in France ca. 1720. This is the watercolor illustration I did for September, from our 2013 desk calendar. From the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection.

    Asian porcelains were also enormously popular in France. When Siamese ambassadors visited Versailles in 1686, King Louis XVI himself received the delegation, and fueled a fever for all things Asian, bringing porcelains like the Japanese Imari piece above to the height of fashion. 
    A Chinese ewer, ca. 1560-86 with later English silver-gilt mounts.
    Image courtesy the V & A Museum.

    Asian porcelain was so sought after in Europe, that objects of lesser quality, like the one above, were treated to the same gilt-mounting treatment as finer pieces. Porcelains like this ewer were made in large quantities in the southern city of Jingdezhen for local use and export alike. In 1557, according to the V & A, the Portuguese began to deal in porcelain in Macau, and although the vast majority of pieces went to Lisbon, the English pirates did what they could to increase the flow of these objects to England. The ewer may be rustic, but it still has a certain charm, don't you think?

    The Trenchard bowl, Chinese porcelain
    painted in underglaze blue, with English silver-gilt mounts.
    Image courtesy the V & A Museum.

    The Trenchard bowl, shown above, was featured in our 2011 calendar, and has an interesting history. From the V & A: "By tradition this bowl was a gift from Philip the Fair, Duke of Burgundy (1478-1506) and his wife Joanna 'the Mad' to Sir Thomas Trenchard of Wolverton, Dorset, in gratitude for his hospitality after their ship was wrecked off Weymouth in 1506. In fact, we can tell from the date of the mounts and of the porcelain that it reached England much later, during Elizabeth I's reign (1558-1603), probably as part of a load of porcelain seized from a Spanish ship." 

    A Chinese porcelain cup, ca. 1573-85, with later English mounts, marked 1585.
    Image courtesy the V & A Museum.

    Having trained as a metalsmith, I'm amazed by the ingenious buckle-like mechanisms used to attach these fanciful metal armatures to the delicate porcelains. Like the exotic natural crystals, coconut shells and sea shells that were similarly "enhanced", these pieces of porcelain would certainly have made impressive additions to cabinets of curiosities. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have been there to see them?! 

    21 October 2013

    A Visit to Alan Lloyd's Beautiful Shop

    The entrance to Alan Lloyd's fantastic shop in Kendal

    Hello Hello! Well, it's been a few weeks since my last post, and I have exciting news to report. The bindery is humming with interesting work, and our 2014 desk calendars are flying off to their new homes even faster than last year's. Amid all this, we decided it was high time to update our website for our wonderful clientele. And so, with great effort from our talented designer, Parvum Opus, has been completely redesigned. It's had great reviews so far-- we invite you to take a peek and let us know what you think! 

    One of the many treasure-laden shelves in Alan's shop.

    A pair of charming travelling inkwells. 

    I've also had the great pleasure of making a wonderful new long-distance friend, Mr. Alan Lloyd, who, for the last 25+ years, has owned and operated this gem of a shop in Kendal, England. It's the sort of shop that I adore: tiny and characterful, and absolutely bursting at the seams with gorgeous pens, inkwells, inkstands, pen wipes and more. 

    Another pair of travelling inkwells, this time in the
    whimsical form of hats and umbrellas:
    the inkwell is in the hat, and the pen is in the umbrella handle.

    A boar bristle pen nib wipe in an appropriate form.

    Alan’s shop features beautiful new pens, limited edition pens and vintage pens along with their appropriate inks and accessories. It also houses a fantastic collection of antique inkwells, pens and pen wipes that Alan has acquired over the years. These are incredibly rare and almost impossible to find now, so it’s wonderful to be able to see these pieces up close and hear about their histories from the erudite Alan.

    In the corner of another display: 
    circular pen nib wipes in  a feminine style.

    18th Century treen pen wipes:
    the laces on these tiny boots would have provided the wiping surface.

    These inkwells and pen wipes, often from the nineteenth century, evoke romantic musings about their original owners. In a time when most people could neither read nor write, we can only wonder along with Alan, whose desks they adorned, and what sorts of letters came from those desks.

    A 19th century red ceramic inkwell

    Alan shared a story that resonated with me: he said that as a 10-year old boy, he was in the habit of carrying 3 pens in his jacket pocket. Of course, most young boys have no real use for 3 pens—it was obviously just something about them that he enjoyed. I think anyone who counts him/herself among the family of collectors can recall a similar early passion for objects… For me, it was books, pens and Japanese paper- no surprises there...

    One of the many beautiful antique pens in Alan's shop

    A pair bird-shaped inkwells in another corner of the shop

    My dear husband travels to Kendal frequently on business, and had the privilege and pleasure of both discovering Alan's shop and meeting Alan in person. He took all of the pictures you see here on his last visit. I look forward to joining him on one of his trips to Kendal soon: I’m sure I’ll find some way to occupy my time while he works…