The Regency Wardrobe - research & making - Bejewelled
The Melbourne Cabinets
Standing in the Upstairs Drawing room at Firle Place, Sussex is a pair of cabinets attributed to Thomas Chippendale the Elder, c 1771. They are the most important pieces in the room; two ambitious marquetry cabinets in the Neoclassical style, originally paired with a commode that is now at Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire. The pieces were probably made for the use of Elizabeth, wife of the 1st Viscount Melbourne, in 1771, for their London townhouse, Melbourne House in Piccadilly, considered one of the grandest townhouses in Regency London.
This is what they look like today:
“The cabinets passed by descent to Lord Melbourne’s daughter Emily Lamb (1787-1869), and thence to the Cowpers of Panshanger, Hertfordshire, by Emily’s marriage to Peter Clavering-Cowper, 5 Earl Cowper of Panshanger (1778-1837). After the death of the childless 7th Earl Cowper in 1905 the cabinets passed to his niece Imogen Grenfell (1905-69), who married Henry, 6th Viscount Gage in 1931. When Panshanger was sold in 1952 some of its contents, including the cabinets, were brought to the home of the Gage family, Firle Place, Sussex.”.
- Burlington Magazine June 2019
But they didn't always look like they do today. Here is a paragraph again from the Burlington magazine:
"As on other Chippendale furniture of the 1770s, the marquetry is made from a combination of naturally coloured and artificially dyed woods. The dominant veneer is holly (Ilex aquifolium), both in its natural white state (for the ground) and dyed in colours (for the detail). Because of the generally small size of holly trees, and because of the difficulty of obtaining unblemished white wood, the veneers used for the ground are narrow, and multiple sections were needed to make up the wider pieces. Holly was the marqueteurs’ preferred wood because its whiteness allows dyes to produce true and intense colour, while at the same time it is dense enough to work cleanly and to engrave well, but not so hard as to be difficult. The next most abundant veneer is what the French call bois satiné (Brosimum rubescens), used here for the crossbandings and mouldings. This provides a lively, somewhat variegated, red/pink/orange framing to the panels of white holly. Other self-coloured woods are South American purple wood (Peltogyne spp.), padouk (Pterocarpus spp._ from Asia or Africa, European barberry (Berberis vulgaris), boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and mulberry (Morus nigra). The colours produced with dyed holly were reds and pinks of various hues, blue, yellow, orange and three shades of green. The dyes used were the same as those used to dye cloth. The reds, pinks and orange were dyed with brazil wood or madder. Indigo was used for blue and to make green,, indigo was mixed with fustic (wig tree, Rhus continus) in different proportions to make different shades. Plain yellow was made with fustic alone. Where shadow was wanted to create shade and perspective the edges of the veneers were dipped into hot sand to darken them."
This is a digitally rendered impression of what it is now believed the cabinets would originally have looked like, in the 18th century, the veneers have darkened and changed over the centuries, until becoming as we view them today
The Sevres Melbourne dessert service is displayed inside the cabinets
Images and text from the Burlington magazine 2019
To read more about the Melbourne cabinets at Firle Place please click here
Miniature cabinets and beautiful boxes in the Regency era
Having been introduced to the Melbourne cabinets and knowing already that I wanted to make a piece, as part of The Regency Wardrobe collection, directly inspired by an attribute of the house and its contents I realised I wanted to make a piece of furniture, the first attempted by The House of Embroidered Paper. I had to look to something smaller than a cabinet meant to display a Sevres dinner service but research showed that, during the Regency, cabinets weren't all taller than people.
A collector for example might have stored his fossils and mineral specimens in a beautiful miniature.
Regency inlaid figured mahogany collector's cabinet with 20 drawers, 18¼'' x 8½'', 24½'' high
But equally a lady might have stored her jewels in a jewellery box similarly designed with doors and drawers, often even more skilfully and decoratively rendered as an example of the furniture makers' art.
(Below top) "Superb and very rare Regency, rosewood and mother of pearl inlaid antique antique jewellery box with writing slope of sarcophagus design. The hinged domed top which opens to reveal small compartments above panelled inlaid doors enclosing 3 inlaid drawers. The bottom drawer is a leather surface writing slope with ink wells and pen tray."
(Above bottom) "Regency Rosewood Jewellery box of sarcophygus form. This lovely larger than usual jewellery box dates to a time of pure elegance and sophistication, Regency England. A time when furniture was being influenced by architecture, all things nautical and Egypt. This box is of sarcophygus outline...The whole is of lovely Rosewood and highly figured with mother of pearl decoration. It opens to reveal a fitted interior with lift out section in original red silk with various compartments for different pieces of jewellery. The lid has a lovely fold out compartment again lined in red silk where letters or documents would have been stored. The whole provided with a fully working lock and key." - http://www.harbourantiques.com/MISC223.htm
And here is another beautiful example:
And in the Regency such decorative boxes were used not only for jewellery but also for keepsakes and often for craft materials. For example:
"English Regency 19th Century Tortoiseshell, Bone, Mother-of-Pearl, Abalone, and Sterling Silver Sewing Box, complete with a mirrored interior lid along with the original sewing accoutrements including awls, thread, thimbles, seam rippers, spools, original pearl, brass, abalone and semi-precious stone buttons, a bodkin, a sterling tape measure with silk tape, and charming mementos including a tiny silver metal candlestick and slipper, cufflinks and other personal treasures belonging to the original owner" - https://cmarianiantiques.com/item-4212/?print=pdf
On this site http://emilyhendrickson.net/regency/regency-crafts-and-pastimes/ the list of crafts mentioned as having been practised during the Regency includes several references to materials having often been stored in a special box. Likewise the tea drunk by the wealthy would have been stored in lovely wooden boxes; so that it could be locked, because of the value of tea in the 18th century
For more examples of jewellery boxes, tea caddies etc from the period please see my Pinterest account:
I acknowledge that the Georgian and Victorian examples of decorative boxes that follow are at the top end of production but it's interesting to compare the types of decoration used pre and post Regency. The latter, as shown above, tend toward painted effects or inlay - using, for example, mother-of-pearl - whilst the more elaborate use of raised metal work and veneer on the two examples that follow is not only quite extraordinarily ornate but also reflective of how fashion likewise changed, broadly from decoration (frills and layers), to a more minimal look, then returning to even more decoration, between these three periods.
For occasions such as The Great Exhibition of 1851 Victorian craftspeople were capable of true magnificence; this piece has such an interesting back story that I had to include some of it below:
Dressing Case from Asprey, Displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851
"This large antique dressing case is veneered in Kingwood, retaining its original vibrant colour and finish. There are applied ormolu panels to the lid and front fascia of the case that depict Neptune and other mythical sea creatures. The two large ormolu side handles are in the design of fish, elaborately entwined. The centre piece to the lid bears the name ‘Annie’, belonging to Annie Gambart, the 16 year old wife of the famous Victorian art dealer, Ernest Gambart. The interior of the dressing case is lined and ruched with its original claret red velvet. The interior rims are inlaid with a delicate brass foliate design accompanying the gilt engraved hinges and lock. The main compartment holds 13 heavy gauge silver-gilt topped, cut glass bottles and jars; these include four spring-loaded perfume bottles, two powder jars, two toothbrush jars, a soap jar, two lotion jars, a spring-loaded travelling inkwell, and a spring-loaded jar for liquids and creams. Additionally fitted are a silver-gilt perfume bottle funnel, pin cushion, match vesta/striker and nib blotter both in the form of bound books. All the interior pieces bear the matching ‘Annie’ cipher. The silver was manufactured by Thomas Diller and hallmarked London, 1848. The interior facing of the perfume bottles are engraved with, ‘Asprey - 166 Bond St’. The front panel of the dressing case drops forward to reveal a fitted tool tray to the reverse, as well as a brass plaque engraved with, ‘Asprey - Manufacturer - 166 Bond Street’. The set consists of a stiletto tool, button hook, corkscrew and nail file with handles of White Cornelian, mounted with gold and inset with turquoises, three pairs of gilt handled scissors with a design of entwined sea serpents around the handle shank, a gilt engraved retractable pencil and White Cornelian pen with a matching ‘Forget-Me-Not’ design of inset turquoises surrounding a ruby, a mother of pearl scaled penknife, a gilt engraved pencil lead case, a gilt engraved pair of tweezers, a gilt engraved ribbon threader, a fretworked mother of pearl shoe horn and matching miniature hand mirror bearing the ‘Annie’ cipher. ...two small gaps in the tool tray; one would have been for the needle case, and the other would have been for the finial to the White Cornelian pen...Taken from what seems to be a criminal activity report from the Great Exhibition, we read the following, ‘May 15th 1851 - Report submitted by Mr Charles Asprey concerning the theft of a silver gilt writing-instrument ornament and needle case bearing the name “Annie” from his dressing-case exhibited in the North Transept Gallery’. ...Being one of the first major dressing cases to begin its manufacture at Asprey's then new 166 Bond Street address in 1848, the project was only finally completed in early 1851. It was purchased by Ernest Gambart (1814-1902) in 1851 as a wedding gift for his 16 year old wife, Annie Gambart (née Baines) (1835-1870). Ernest Gambart was a very important, influential and indeed successful art publisher and dealer, responsible for transforming London’s art world. He created a platform to promote and sell art work on an international scale, introducing some of the finest foreign art work to the United Kingdom through regular exhibitions as well as from his own galleries. He worked with some of the most respected British and European artists of the time, to include Joseph Mallord William Turner, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rosa Bonheur, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and William Powell Frith. ...Asprey received an ‘Honourable Mention’ for this dressing case by the board of judges at the Great Exhibition. Having only been in business in their own right for just over three years, this result immediately gained Asprey great admiration and recognition for the quality of their work, thus concreting the Asprey name to be synonymous with the utmost luxury and exclusivity to this very day."
Quilling on Furniture
Whilst we might all mention veneer, inlay or applied metal work if asked to name types of decoration that have been historically applied to furniture the use of paper might be less likely to come to mind. And yet quilling is a technique that can be and was quite often applied to the surfaces of both large and small pieces of furniture. Whilst visiting historic homes over a number of years I've seen quilling covering, for example, the doors of a longlegged cabinet. At A La'Ronde in Devon there is this tiny box and lid on show at
In the pictures below and the following links you'll see examples of Georgian era and Regency period pieces.
The four pieces of furniture shown in this slide show above are sourced from (in order):
- pair of tables
- tea caddy
From a distance the Georgian table shown above might appear to be painted or colourfully veneered, it's amazing to us today that the colours and design and formed in fact of tiny rolls of paper.
"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are." "All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?" "Yes all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished." - Pride and Prejudice
Quote sourced from on:
More about the history of quilling can be found here: http://quilling-guild.weebly.com/the-history-of-quilling.html
As a lover and practitioner of this paper technique and because I know it to have been so fervently practised (by young ladies) in the Regency, including on furniture, it seemed apropriate that I might consider it here, for decorating the piece I was to make.
A Regency quilling design sheet meant for practitioners of the time to follow
nb. It's interesting to compare the fashion for curling paper to the corresponding popularity of decorative metal filigree. This latter trend can be found used both on Regency furniture and in fashion.
The influence of Covid-19
I was doing all of this research during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic and so I looked a little more than I already had into Regency era medicine.
In so doing I came across one last use that our ancestors made of the beautiful wooden (often cabinet shaped) box. That is, as medicine chests. Often similarly divided as jewellery boxes with sections and in some cases doors, Georgian, Regency and Victorian chests share many features.
"A superb 19th century mahogany medicine/apothecary’s box with its original purple velvet lining, containing a selection of 21 bottles containing various lotions and powders, including rhubarb powder, calcined magnesia, syrup of squills and ipecacuanha wine, plus many others. Also included are a set of weighing scales, various weights, measuring spoon, measuring jug, and glass mortar and pestle. There is also a copy of “Cox’s Companion to the family medicine chest“, printed in 1877, which gives instructions and uses of the various medicines found in the box..."
This is a Victorian example but it's possible to find images of Georgian and Regency medicine chests of very similar design. Please see:
nb. my consideration of Regency medicine, which even previous to the pandemic inspired the parasol Weeping willow (link to follow) also now led to my becoming inspired to make a woman's handkerchief, Atishoo (link to follow).
You'll see above that I moved from looking at the Melbourne cabinets to researching boxes of a sort that similarly contained drawers and compartments, shelves and doors, as I planned the piece I would make.
My piece was likewise destined to be exhibited in the Upstairs Drawing Room of Firle Place. It was meant to be shown alongside - therefore to compliment and reflect - the Melbourne cabinets; if contrasting with them in physical scale.
I wanted to reflect the changes in colour that the Melbourne cabinets have undergone. I'd been excited to learn of this change over time and the idea that the original look of something as seemingly constant as furniture might be hidden, it's changed outer face being what we see today. I'd already been intrigued by finding the original colours of garments Id examined in historical collections hidden under hems, often markedly different from the colour of that pieces' faded outer surface.
I'd liked the curved edges seen on the lids of Regency boxes, their velvet linings and the look of Regency painted furniture. I'd wanted to incorporate imagery from a painting I'd seen and learnt about at Firle (see below).
And for a long time previous to this I'd loved the idea of applying solid areas of quilled decoration to the surfaces of furniture, thereby reflecting this part of the history of that technique.
Whilst you will understand that I could have set about making a medicine chest or a craft box for my embroidery, and the finished piece might yet be able to claim to be either of those, I finally applied the attribution of jewellery box to my piece. Not least because, as the result of the many decorative influences I was inspired by it's finished outer surface sparkled but also of course because as part of The Regency Wardrobe collection of garments and accessories jewellery was the ideal compliment. This decision was finalised when I came across an image of a necklace worn by Empress Joséphine as part of her coronation costume (painted by Baron Françoise Gérard, see: https://www.antiqueanimaljewelry.com/post/empress-josephine) and immediately planned to make a pearl and emerald necklace and earring set to accompany the box that was now to be titled Bejewelled.
The process of making Bejewelled
I began by folding a large sheet of cartridge paper along where the edges of the box would be, working to it's exact planned size, which had been decided upon as an average of the sizes of the pieces shown above.
I then looked at particular details of the veneer work on the cupboard and reproduced certain shapes and patterns, drawing them appropriately that they might be made using quilling
I use JJ Quilling Design to source my quilling papers and so began exploring their stock for shades of brown and gold. Like a magpie I couldn't help but be attracted by their range of metallic edged papers and the copper edging of some of the shades of brown paper seemed ideal
So quilling began. The individual pieces were held in place by pins and glued together
Quilling credit to: Liz Fitzsimons, Gilly Burton, Jenny Fraser-Smith, Jane Quail
The box itself I formed from cardboard and masking tape...
...downloading and printing images of wood veneer. The surface of Bejewelled was to be covered in shades of brown as the Melbourne cabinets are seen to be today, I was saving my use of the original colours of that piece, ie white and blue and green and red, colour for inside. Hidden from view, under the surface.
Once the box was covered I could apply the quilling. The whole piece was then lacquered.
The keys were a challenge and I tried various ways of shaping them, including layering pieces of card (ever decreasing in size) in layers but in the end it was a combination of papier mache, wax, gold paint and lacquer plus rolled black paper and gold quilling that worked best.
Here you can see them in place. The handles on the drawers beneath are made of gold paper that has been rolled, shaped and cut.
Then I worked on the inside, first lining the drawers with scarlet paper tablecloth; I tried blue and green also as these colours all appeared in the original colouring of the Melbourne cabinets but red looked best and related most directly to most of those I'd looked at during my research. I made lids for some of the individual sections of the top inside area, then using watercolour inks and collage I made a copy of this painting, which shows the fete and tilting at the Quintain that took place at Firle in 1827. The artist is unknown. To understand more about this event, and how interest in Chivalry was a fashion that reached its apogee during the Regency, please click here:
And finally in the bottom right hand corner I added a drawing of the ram crest of the Gage family of Firle Place, shown below on a signet ring, with the Gage ram the family motto: Courage sans Peur.
The Regency Wardrobe will be exhibited at Firle Place, in 2021. As soon as the collection has been shown images of all the finished pieces including Bejewelled will be made visible on stephaniesmart.net
This project is being supported by: