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