24 October 2012

William Cripps, Silversmith

A William Cripps silver tea caddy, 1750, from the permanent collections at the V & A.
This is January's illustration from our 2013 desk calendar, painted in watercolor. 
Each year, our bindery produces a desk calendar celebrating beautiful antique objets d'art from around the world. January's illustration, which I've painted in watercolor, features a sterling silver tea caddy by the English silversmith William Cripps. Born sometime in the early eighteenth century, he was apprenticed to David Willaume for seven years between 1731 and 1738. Willaume was the son of a master goldsmith, and enjoyed the patronage of the wealthiest clients in England from the latter part of the reign of William III to the end of George I's reign.  With such an illustrious apprenticeship, Cripps became an accomplished master metalsmith himself, working in the Rococo style for his appreciative and widespread clientele. William Cripps died in 1767, leaving behind a treasury of stunningly crafted silver pieces.

A silver epergne by William Cripps, 1754, from the Rienzi collection
True to its Rococo nature, the tea caddy I chose for our 2013 calendar is a tangle of disparate design motifs. At the foot is a fabulously cast dragon or dolphin engulfed in ocean waves. The tea caddy's equator is encircled by deeply chased cartouches featuring bunches of fruit and vines, and the beautifully formed lid, shown below but not included in my painting, is topped by a delicate butterfly.

A closer view of William Cripps' tea caddy from 1750.
For the Parvum Opus calendar, I always choose motifs that I imagine would sit beautifully on an elegant desk, either in reality or, as is the case here, on a dream desk. Painting these exquisite objects allows me the great pleasure of a good long meditation, careful study, and deep admiration for the maker's art. To compliment the masterful Late Baroque silverwork in Cripps' caddy, I've conjured a simple posy of begonias and creeping vines from my garden. I wonder if Mr. Cripps would approve?!

Our 2013 desk calendar in situ. The Stafforshire milk jug was featured in last year's calendar 
and is a favorite piece of mine... More images are available at www.parvumopus.com

A more humble but very charming porringer by William Cripps, 1763.

Above, hallmarks for William Cripps, with his "WC" mark, a date letter for 1761-1762,
and both the Leopard's Head Crowned and Lion Passant marks.



18 October 2012

Anatomy of a Well-Dressed Desk part 3: Inkstands

Man Writing a Letter, Gabriel Matsu, 1662-5, National Gallery of Ireland

In this, the third installment of our well-dressed desk series, I have a collection of stunning inkstands to share with you. In the days before ballpoint pens, a well-appointed desk would have been fitted with a tray or stand to accommodate the tools of correspondence: quill pens, a pot for ink or writing fluid, a pounce shaker for setting the ink (pounce materials included powdered salt, minerals or cuttlebone), a pen wiper to clean the pen nib, and a taper holder for light and melting sealing wax. Later examples may have included compartments for sealing wafers and extra gold or steel nibs for dip pens which replaced quills.

Inkwell and stand, by A. Risler & Carre, French, ca. 1880
Porcelain, silver and glass: the seated figure holds the inkwell in the form of a frog
and in the hood is a receptacle for seals or stamps

None of these tools are necessary today, of course, but they are irresistibly beautiful to look at and to use. Vintage dip pens and beautifully hued inks are easily acquired, simple to work with, and always make notes and letters that bit more charming to their recipients.  

Antique inkstands may be found in a wide range of materials and styles, and provide an aesthetic and functional arrangement for one's writing tools. Matched sets are not necessarily an indication of quality: a group of tools collected with purpose or intention can make a lovely grouping on an elegant desk.
A mismatched but much loved tool collection on one of my desks:
inkwell loaded with my favorite green ink, pen wipe, pen knife for envelopes, 
a fountain pen and a tiny sterling pounce pot for flowers. Stamps are
stashed in the papier mache snuff box just visible on the right.
Some antique inkstand components can be repurposed for contemporary use: we may not need a compartment for sealing wafers, but stamps will fit nicely, and many pounce pots make a perfect receptacle for a small arrangement of flowers.  In selecting the few inkstands to include here, I've decided to choose only the most miraculous pieces... There are an incredible number of charming inkstands to be seen and had, but here are some of the finest of their kind, just for inspiration. Where better to begin than with the great Paul Storr?

The Castlereagh Inkstand, Paul Storr for Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, London, 1817-19,
cast, chased, embossed, engraved and raised gold over a wood support in the stand
From the V&A Collections Catalog:

"The Castlereagh inkstand is a magnificent memorial to diplomacy in the age of Napoleon. Its origins are set out in an inscription on the stand:

'This inkstand is composed of the gold taken from the portrait snuff boxes which were presented by the SOVEREIGNS of Europe whose Arms are engraved hereon to Viscount Castlereagh upon the signature of the several treaties concluded in the Years 1813, 1814, & 1815' ." What an poetic act, for each man to contribute a very personal and important piece of gold, to then melt these pieces together to form one solid mass, and then to use that material to create something so rich in beauty and significance. Brilliant.
A detail of Paul Storr's exquisite workmanship-- note the crispness of the chasing on the inkwell. 
The inscription is partially visible below.
"Castlereagh's tireless efforts as Foreign Secretary to negotiate the alliances and treaties which culminated in the Treaties of Paris in 1814 and 1815, and the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, made him one of the principal architects of the defeat of Napoleon and of the reconstruction of Europe. The arms engraved on top of the platform of the inkstand are those of the four great Continental powers--Austria, Prussia, Russia and restored Bourbon France. On the sides are the arms of the Roman States--Bavaria, Portugal, Saxony, Sardinia, Hanover, Sweden, Württemberg, Naples, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands."

And now, for something completely different from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, an inkstand of exceptional, if over-the-top craftsmanship. This inkstand has everything:

"The form and decoration of this inkstand whimsically imitate Japanese art, and it is a vivid illustration of the work of Parisian goldsmiths at the height of the craze for things Japanese. The inkpots resemble stacked porcelain bowls, whereas the penholder at center mimics a flaring bronze vase. The highly decorative colored enamels reproduce more than thirty Japanese ornamental patterns borrowed from lacquer, ceramics, prints, fans, and textiles."

Paul Legrand for Boucheron Inkstand, Paris, 1876
Silver, enamel, gilt, 9 3/16" x 13 1/4"
From the MFA Collections Catalog:

"Silver, partially gilded, decorated in champlevé, basse-taille, and cloisonné enamels, with cut out base supported on four cast turtles, enameled with geometric patterns, naturalistic scenes, and facsimile prints surrounding a sea with carp. Fitted with a drawer etched and parcel-gilt in three colors. Base supports four shaped letter racks in geometric patterns flanked by two rolling blotters topped with "shi-shi" dogs holding brocade balls. Removable central section has a vase-shaped pen holder decorated with female figures, plants, and field mice in kimonos, flanked by nesting boxes enameled in landscape and geometric motifs. Removable lids topped by a beetle and a wasp in gold and basse-taille enamel." Did they leave anything out? I don't think so, but I admire the Parisian exuberance here!

A third fine inkstand, this one from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, incorporates a combination of Kangxi period porcelain (ca. 1700) and mid 18th century French mounts:
"From the mid-1600s onward, Europeans began to import larger quantities of porcelain from China and Japan. In the 1700s, dealers of luxury goods called marchands-merciers purchased the porcelain at auction or from the East India companies and passed it to metalworkers to decorate. The porcelain was often modified to take gilt bronze mounts, sometimes creating completely new forms."
Inkstand from an unknown maker, Chinese Kangxi porcelain, French mounts.
Hard-paste porcelain, wood painted with vernis Martin, gilt bronze
8" x 14" x 11"

From the Getty Collections Catalog:

"A marchand-mercier commissioned French craftsmen to add a lacquered base and gilt bronze mounts to Chinese porcelain wine cups and figures, creating this inkstand. The two outer cups contain an inkwell and a sand shaker. The central cup once held a sponge for wiping the pen nib. In the 1700s and earlier, writers sprinkled sand on wet ink to speed drying."

A closer view of the central cup which would have held a sponge for cleaning the pen
Lastly, how could I resist this jewel, which will be familiar to devotees of the Antiques Roadshow:

John Eames Inkstand, 1805, London
Possibly a gift to Lord Nelson from his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton

This inkstand, made by a silversmith known to have made silver for Lord Nelson is hallmarked 1805, the year Nelson died. Since he died in October of that year, it remains possible that Lady Hamilton presented him with this gift early in the year. It features nautical motifs which would have made it an appropriate gift for him, including an inkwell in the form of a celestial globe, and a sander in the form of a terrestrial globe, all resting on a tray supported by four dolphins. At the center is a lonely figure leaning on an anchor-shaped taper stick, and at her feet is the inscription:"Horatio from Emma".
A closer view of the central figure and taper stick
Is this Nelson's inkstand? There may be no way to know for sure, but even without the romantic and historically significant provenance, it must still rank among the finest silver inkstands made in that period.  

15 October 2012

Objects of Vertu, No. 1: Universe in a Box

Astronomical Compendium by Christopher Schissler, 1561
from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Leather case dimensions: approx. 9cm diameter, 2.4 cm tall
Today we begin a series on objects of vertu, the very finest pieces in decorative arts history. The object of our affection today is a fantastic Astronomical Compendium made by Christopher Schissler in 1561, signed on the outside wall:  'CHRISTOPHORVS SCHISSLER FACIEBAT AVGVSTA VINDELICORVM ANNO DOMINI 1561' (Christopher Schissler made this in Augsburg in the year 1561). This compendium is part of the permanent collection (medieval and renaissance) of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Schissler was born in 1531 and set up his own workshops in Augsburg in the 1550s.

According to the V&A: "This compendium was made by one of the most celebrated scientific instrument makers of the 16th century. Christopher Schissler's workshop was famous in his own time. He supplied precision instruments of exquisite quality including globes, astrolabes, sundials, armillary spheres, astronomical compendia and surveying and drawing equipment. Schissler's clientele was international. Many of his dials are laid out for English or Italian latitudes. In 1571 Schissler travelled to the Dresden court of August I, the Elector of Saxony, in order to set up and demonstrate his instruments. He also visited in 1583 the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague who was well-known for his fascination with clocks. Instrument makers had to be excellent mathematicians, artists, engravers and metalworkers."

A view of the compendium with one of the leaves open

From the V&A Collections Catalog:
"Pocket-size astronomical compendia were produced in Augsburg and Nuremberg, southern Germany, from the early 16th century by specialist instrument makers. This one contains the universe in a box! Provided its owner had a basic understanding of mathematics, astronomy, astrology and geography, he or she could use the various dials, tables and maps to plan journeys, predict the time of sunset in many towns in Europe (very useful when travelling), make astrological predictions, measure the heights of stars and configure the positioning of the stars for any time in the past or future.

Instruments were also made as treasury items. By the 1560s, it was fashionable for wealthy gentlemen to have a sound understanding of all branches of learning, from arts and literature to mathematics and the natural sciences. This compendium was not simply a functional timepiece but also a work of art, bought for its craftsmanship and ingenuity. Astronomical compendia were housed alongside automatons, clocks and astrolabes in Scientifica, collections celebrating human ability to control nature. They were designed to impress as well as educate."

A view of the closed compendium

Again, from the V&A's detailed descriptions, we can see just what went into this masterpiece of metalwork and engineering. (At the risk of providing too much information, I include the following to illustrate Schissler's enormous astronomical and mathematical knowledge and skill as a craftsman--all packed tightly into this beautiful piece...)
"It has hinged leaves at top and bottom creating 6 surfaces for dials and maps:
Top leaf:
(a) Quadrant for measuring angles and heights with alidade, or revolving index carrying the sights and showing the degrees cut off on the arc of the instrument. The quadrant is surrounded by engraved moresques filled with a black lac.
(b) Map covering much of modern Germany extending west as far as Brussels in Belgium, North to Lubeck, south to Lucerne in Switzerland and east to Krakow in Poland. The place names are orientated so that south is at the top of the map.
Body section:
(a) Sundial for five latitudes with compass in the centre.
(b) Table of latitudes for various places shown on the map and spring drum to hold gnomon taut.
Bottom leaf:
(a) Conversion table for 'equal' and planetary hours.
(b) Various chronomatic tables including one giving phases of the moon according to age.
[Case] Circular red leather case with stamped and gilt decoration of symmetrical flowers and stems. Inside the case are 2 compartments for the weather vane and the tripod plummet stand. On the side is a hinge for lid (the lid has become separated).
[Lid] Circular red leather lid with stamped and gilt decoration of symmetrical flowers and stems. On the side is a loop for the clip on the base (the base has become separated).
[Plummet Stand for Compendium] Tripod plummet stand for astronomical compendium, copper-gilt, engraved with moresques and hinged at top and bottom.
[Weather Vane for Compendium] Weather vane for astronomical compendium, copper-gilt, cast with baluster stem and swivelling top"

A view of the closed compendium and box

Objects of vertu are among the greatest achievements in the decorative arts. Sadly, the they are in our past--time means something different now, and the time necessary to devote one's life to acquiring the skills and patience to create these masterpieces is gone. They belong to a time when human labor and the human experience of time was different to our own. We are now devoted to mastery of a different sort, but whether one could characterize this shift as an evolutionary one remains to be seen: I adore the "Sky View" app on my iPhone, but I am convinced that the lucky owner of this astronomical compendium had a much deeper understanding of the workings of the night sky than I could ever hope to glean from my modern tool.
I find this type of object so appealing not only because of its physical virtuosity, but for its connection to extraordinary people who endeavored to continually educate themselves, to understand their place in the world and, indeed, the universe. With all of the extraordinary gadgets contained within this piece, the most miraculous is the romantic humming memory of happy hours spent by its maker on the one hand, its owner on the other, each one deeply engaged with the movements of the earth, the moon and the stars in the sky. With ancestors such as these, perhaps there's hope for us yet.


05 October 2012

On Marginalia: A guest post on Palimpsest


A fresh bunch of newly-jacketed Mirado Black Warriors from our bindery

I've had the great privilege of writing a guest post on a wonderful blog that I enjoy called Palimpsest. Lito Apostolaku, based in London, writes beautifully on writing instruments and more here, on topics as varied as antique inks to Samuel Pepys to Charles Dickens. My post for Palimpsest is about my favorite pencil, the Mirado Black Warrior, but the part I'm most eager to share with you is the poetry of Billy Collins on marginalia--
"...we pressed a thought into the wayside, planted an impression along the verge..."--lovely! To visit Palimpsest, just follow the link below.

03 October 2012

George Booth and the Cranbrook Press

Today I'm celebrating George Booth, founder of historic Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and the Cranbrook Press, an Arts & Crafts bindery and press. His life story is a fascinating one, and worthy of much more attention than is practical in this forum. He was one of a rare breed of people who, having attained enormous wealth, used it to create something enduring and beautiful for the community. Perhaps this post will entice you to read more about the him and his extensive cultural contributions.

Top: The Cranbrook Press in the attic of the Detroit Evening News Building, ca. 1901
Bottom: The press served as a meeting place for the Society of Arts and Crafts in 1906
George Booth established the Cranbrook Press in the attic of the Evening News building in Detroit where he was publisher, to gratify his "strong desire for work most agreeable to my tastes and inclinations that combined the beautiful with pleasant labor and inspired by the record of the ancient printers and the modern endeavors of Wm. Morris."

At the Cranbrook Press, every detail of bookmaking was lovingly raised to the highest craft standards, from the hand-made papers, to the woodcuts, to the simple but excellent bindings.
A 1902 New York Times article  described Booth's work:
"Mr. Booth is a publisher who employs in his main business the fastest running machinery, at the same time giving vent to his love for the durable and artistic by printing and issuing a few books which he hopes will live for all time. With this end in view, a hand press was procured, type selected, and a printer found who had learned his trade before the days of linotypes. Mr. Booth at once began the designing of letters and other ornaments, choosing for his models the interlaced patterns used by the early Venetian bookmakers."

From "Cranbrook Tales" by George Booth, 1902
"Mr. Booth dwells particularly upon the world's indebtedness to Gutenberg, Caxton, Morris, and other great men, his own aim in the Cranbrook work being toward their lofty ideals of perfection."

From "Something About the Cranbrook Press and on Books and Bookmaking" by George Booth, 1902

In the article, Mr. Booth is quoted: " It seems quite enough to print the thoughts of great men in any form that all may read, but somehow it seems better still to put such thoughts into enduring monumental forms, to do which we are required to pay the further tribute of faithful, painstaking labor- the labor which is a pleasure and a life-long satisfaction."

A woodcut from The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers by William Caxton, and the last page of the same, published in 1901. Note the mention of George's father in law, James Scripps, who came from a long line of bookbinders in England.
The Cranbrook Press only operated in this form for two years, due to the pressures of Mr. Booth's work as one of the most prominent newspaper publishers in the country at the time. In its short life, the press exquisitely produced limited editions of titles including the following:

The First Published Life of Abraham Lincoln by John Locke Scripps, 1900
The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers by William Caxton,1901
Three Wise Men: Extracts from the Celebrated Works of M. Aurelius Antoninus, Francis Bacon and Benjamin Franklin, 1902
Utopia by Sir Thomas More, 1902

A woodcut from "Three Wise Men" published in 1902
A great admirer of William Morris and his Arts and Crafts ideals, George Booth went on to become a founder of the Arts and Crafts Society in Michigan, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. His work with Architects Albert Kahn and Eliel Saarinen produced even more "enduring and monumental forms" in his own arts and crafts mansion, Cranbrook House, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum and the rest of the Cranbrook educational Community.

In everything he did, George Booth celebrated Morris' notion that the objects that surround us, from books to architecture, when made with pleasure and imprinted with the human spirit, in turn bring great pleasure and improve the lives of those who use them. Indeed.

To read a digitized version of Cranbrook Press and Some Books and Bookmakers by George Booth, follow this link: