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More On Nails

Posted on 20 April 2018

 With grateful thanks to a knowledgeable collector of needlework accessories, we are most pleased to be able to add to the information in our previous blog post, We're Trying To Nail It.

The following information is based on some of the thoughts and observations we have received on the use of nails as a measurement:

Nail tapes were usually marked by hand whereas inch tapes were usually printed. Therefore if it is possible to establish when the printing of sewing tapes began, it may prove to be a clue to when the use of nails as a measurement began to decline.

The development of needlework boxes may also have a bearing on the change from nails to inches. After the 1840's needlework boxes were rather different in style and shape from earlier ones and a movement towards mass production might have heralded the change over to inches. A maker of many measuring tapes, Edward Dean, advertised himself as a 'tailor's measure maker' between 1846 & 1851. By 1861 he advertised that he was a 'measuring tape maker'. Unfortunately to date we have not been able to establish if and when he marked in nails or inches.

Nails proved to be a popular means of measuring accurately. If you had a tape or ribbon, which was a yard long, it could with four folds in half, give you a nail  measure (2.25 inches). Trying to fold a yard of tape to measure an inch accurately is much less easy, if not impossible.

Nails as one sixteenth of a yard were still used on dressmaking paper patterns as yardage requirements until quite late in the 20th century.

Our needlework specialist finished her comments with some remarks about linear measurements, which she has gleaned over a number of years and which she feels are likely to be true. Namely a wise housekeeper in times gone by would have kept a yardstick by her door, so when the pedlar called, his measure could be checked. Some of the pedlar's yardsticks could be 'a bit short one end', which is possibly the origin of the extra bit at each end of modern wood and plastic rulers.


We're Trying To Nail It

Posted on 03 April 2018


We have decided to feature the fitted needlework box, which appeared on our latest stock list, as the Object of the Month for April as this gives us the opportunity to discuss ‘nails’more fully . This is the unit of cloth measurement, which is used on the tape measure in the box and which can be found on many tape measures from the 19th century.

Last month we said in our description of the needlework box and its fittings that the nail, which equals a sixteenth of a yard – 2.25inches, was probably named after the practice of knocking brass nails into the counter of fabric shops as a measuring guide. But on reflection, we think this is too simplistic and that the nail as a unit of measurement goes back many centuries, to the time before a universal system of measurement existed. It evidently was in common use in Elizabethan England.  Shakespeare has Petruchio complaining in The Taming of the Shrew about the quantity of fabric in Katherine’s gown:

“Thou liest, thou thread, thou thimble,

Thou yard, three-quarters, half-yard, quarter, nail!”

It was only with the introduction of the Weights and Measures Act of 1824 in Britain that uniformity was achieved with the introduction of the British Imperial System. Prior to that weights and measures tended to be imprecise, with many measurements based on human morphology such as a foot, hand, pace or nail.  Some descriptions of a nail suggest that it is the distance between the thumbnail and the joint in the thumb, which could give rise to any number of different measurements!

We are always pleased to find Tunbridge Ware tape measures marked in nails, especially when they are in their original needlework boxes. We also find a number that are not now associated with a box and perhaps never were. But as yet, we cannot establish at what date the tapes were no longer marked in nails.

Do any of the Tunbridge Ware needlework enthusiasts know the answer to this? If so, please help us nail it and let us know.

We’re Looking for a Piano…..

Posted on 26 February 2018

 ......With apologies to the musical, Salad Days

Dealers and collectors of antiques will often tell you that they never forget the things they failed to buy. We are no exception to this. We have never forgotten the Tunbridge Ware needlework box in the shape of a grand piano, which we turned down shortly after we had started dealing.

At the time it had seemed expensive and we also did not know exactly what we were looking at. Some 30 years later we realize just how rare it was; it has taken us all this time to find another! We are delighted to offer it to you as our Object of the Month for March.

This has got us thinking about these piano boxes and their Palais Royal counterparts from Paris. By comparison with Tunbridge Ware examples Palais Royal boxes are relatively common but nevertheless still hard to find, sought after and highly prized, when fitted with beautiful needlework tools of elaborately carved and engraved mother of pearl.

The location in Paris known as the Palais Royal was built in the 17th century as a private house for Cardinal Richelieu. On his death in 1642 the property passed to King Louis XIII and acquired the name Palais Royal. It eventually became the property of the Duke of Orleans and in 1784 an arcade was opened in its gardens.

This essentially was a shopping precinct with a parade of about 150 shops, cafés, salons, museums and a theatre. All classes patronized the parade with the nobility and gentry mixing freely with the lower orders. The Palais Royal became one of the most important market places and social venues, offering everything from gambling and prostitution to the most exclusive shops, selling amongst other things exquisite Palais Royal boxes.

This description of the Palais Royal immediately brings to mind the Parade in Tunbridge Wells, which albeit on a smaller scale in a provincial setting, provided a very similar environment for trade and social gatherings. Like the Palais Royal, the Parade was an important market place, although its souvenirs were generally of a more modest nature.

Palais Royal boxes were of such quality that they soon became sought after throughout Europe, with needlework boxes in particular, on well-to-do ladies’‘must have’ lists. The miniature grand piano was an especially appealing shape. Unfortunately due to war and the uncertain political situation in France these boxes were often difficult for English ladies to obtain.

 It is not therefore surprising that the ever-enterprising Tunbridge Ware makers saw an opening. In the early 19th century they emulated their French counterparts by producing a piano-shaped needlework box, although judging by their present-day scarcity, very few were made.

We certainly are very thrilled that we have found our piano, which unlike the one we saw some 30 years ago, still retains some of its Tunbridge Ware fittings – a real bonus. We love it and hope you do too!

A Red Letter Day: A Mystery Solved

Posted on 03 February 2018

 Like many collectors we find Tunbridge Ware a fascinating subject, not least because of all the unanswered questions it can pose.  So as and when the occasion arises we like to ask questions in our blog, hoping that someone, somewhere will come up with a credible answer.

Sadly this rarely occurs but earlier this week we had a red-letter day, when we received an email about our Object of the Month for February and our last blog post, Cottages With No Name. Now thanks to Tunbridge Ware enthusiast, Kevin Mansfield, the mystery surrounding the location has been resolved.

Kevin has discovered that the view with the small, beamed cottage has an interesting story attached to it. In 1847 it was announced that Shakespeare’s Birthplace was to be auctioned. This focused considerable public attention on the provincial Midlands location of Stratford upon Avon, a fact that did not escape those running tourist locations in the metropolis.

In response to this, Royal Surrey Geological Gardens, which provided a 15-acre entertainment area for Londoners, decided to add a Shakespearian element to their attractions. Alongside exotic animals, balloon rides, boat trips, and even a dramatic re-enactment of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, London’s very own Shakespeare’s Birthplace was replicated.

In July 1847 The Times reported that a perfect facsimile of the cottage had been built, complete with borrowed period furnishings, and that this was now open to the public. This remained a popular tourist attraction for some time but was probably dismantled, when the gardens lost their appeal, with interest switching to The Great Exhibition in 1851.

One of the money raising schemes attached to the replica cottage was the sale of prints – which show a cottage identical to that appearing on the Tunbridge Ware view on our Object of the Month. It therefore suggests that there are indeed two views of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. One of the replica cottage, dating to circa 1847-50 and the other later known version, probably produced for Shakespeare’s tercentenary in 1864.

To read more about this fascinating discovery please go to https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/victorian-replica-shakespeares-birthplace/




Cottages With No Name

Posted on 01 February 2018


The view on our Object of the Month for February is an unusual one in that, unlike most post 1860 views, it cannot be readily identified. The image is of a pair of small half- timbered cottages, which the late Ken King suggested in his 1981 listing, were in Tonbridge. But to date no positive identification has been made.

It is of course perfectly possible that the building no longer exists. But on the other hand it could also be that it never existed but was an adaptation of another view.

Following the publicity surrounding the restoration of Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1864, Henry Hollamby was probably encouraged to mark the event with a Tunbridge Ware view. As a result he created a mosaic of the half-timbered building, which showed considerable detail, comparable to that found on his view of The Pantiles. Indeed it seems that the two views were intended as a pair as they are often found as panels in matching frames.

Hollamby’s view of Shakespeare’s Birthplace was well received at its time of production. An article in the Sussex Advertiser of 1882 tells us that this view attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales at the Bath & West of England Show at Tunbridge Wells in 1881.

We therefore suggest that the cottages with no name, which have very similar detail to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, especially in the beams on the front, were in fact an adaptation of the Shakespeare view. The acclaim, which Hollamby received for his Shakespeare view may well have inspired him to adapt it to produce a view of rustic but imaginary cottages.

If of course you can positively identify the cottages with no name, we would be delighted to know!

Turning Over A New Leaf

Posted on 16 January 2018


Traditionally January is the month when we often decide to turn over a new leaf. Frequently we make resolutions to improve; whether it is to become slimmer, richer, wiser, or whether to tackle any other aspect of our lives that we feel is wanting.

Our blog about January’s Object of the Month is not however demanding that we mend our ways but is merely to point out that many of us have erroneously described the Tunbridge Ware implements for handling paper as letter openers or page-turners.

Ian Spellerberg’s book Reading & Writing Accessories: A Study of Paper Knives, Paper Folders, Letter Openers and Mythical Page Turners explains quite clearly that the so called ‘letter opener or page-turner’ with a wide blade and a blunt edge is designed to flatten the creases of a book’s uncut pages and then be used to gently tear them apart.

In Victorian times uncut pages were common in books and by the end of the 19th century the paper knife was nearly always included as part of a complete set of desk accessories. The smoother the surface of the paper knife, the easier it was to cut folds in the leaves of a book.  Highly polished examples of hard wood such as the ebony to be found on our Object of the Month, were ideally fit for purpose. The longer paper knives were also eminently suitable for newspapers, which too often arrived with their pages uncut.

So in Victorian times, should you have wished to turn over a new leaf, it was the paper knife and not the page-turner that would have been your essential implement.

Happy Christmas

Posted on 19 December 2017

Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who has supported us via the web site, at the Edenbridge Galleries and at the fairs we have attended in 2017.

If by chance, you have not yet completed your Christmas shopping, you will find gifts galore at The Edenbridge Galleries, which will be open until 4pm on Saturday 23rd December. (Re-opening on Tuesday 2nd January). In particular you will find a splendid selection of Tunbridge Ware to tempt you, including a number of interesting pieces only added to our stock this week - so recent that they have yet to be photographed!

But should you not make Edenbridge before Christmas, please do come to see us at The Mayfair Antiques & Fine Art Fair at The London Marriott Hotel between the 4th & 7th January 2018. To download a complimentary ticket for the fair please visit our Events Page.

In the mean time we would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas  and a healthy and prosperous New Year.


A New Town View

Posted on 19 November 2017


In the 1820’s Tunbridge Wells was changing. Hitherto it had been a place attracting visitors to the Wells for health and recreation but by the 19th century it was becoming a place for permanent residents.

The changes to Tunbridge Wells in the 19th century came about with the appointment of the young London architect, Decimus Burton. His plans helped to recapture the popularity that the town had lost as a holiday resort by turning it into a desirable residential location. The first commission that Burton undertook was to design a new church, which was built in the gothic style. Holy Trinity Church opened in 1829 and this was soon to be followed by the development of the Calverley Estate.

Quite apart from the remaining Decimus Burton architecture, which can be seen in Tunbridge Wells, we are also fortunate to have some of his buildings depicted on Tunbridge Ware. A wonderfully detailed view of the town from Mount Ephraim was created in mosaic, with the silhouette of Holy Trinity Church on the skyline.  (If you would like to remind yourself of this view, please take a look at the footer of each page on our website). Holy Trinity Church was also featured separately with a close up view, as were The Calverley Hotel and Farnborough Lodge at one of the entrances to the Calverley Estate.


These new town views tend to turn up infrequently on Tunbridge Ware. We are therefore pleased to feature Holy Trinity Church on the tea caddy, which is our Object of the Month for December.

Tunbridge Tutmania

Posted on 30 October 2017


It is a strange coincidence that we have decided on the 4th November 2017 for a Tunbridge Ware study day at Edenbridge. We plan, amongst other things, to discuss our Object of the Month for November but we did not at the time of fixing the date, realize the significance of our choice.

The date we have chosen, is in fact, exactly 95 years to the day since one of the most important archeological discoveries of the 20th century was made. On 4th November 1922 Howard Carter uncovered the first of 16 steps, leading to Tutankhamen’s tomb, which had remained untouched for some 3,000 years.

Following this incredible discovery, there began a craze for all things Tutankhamen. The impact on art and culture was enormous. Egyptian motifs appeared on clothes, jewellery, hairstyles, fabrics, furniture and in architecture. Everybody wanted a little bit of ‘Tut’; America in particular was obsessed. Even President Herbert Hoover called his dog King Tut!

So when we first saw our Object of the Month, which is an extraordinary Tunbridge Ware frame, standing over two feet tall and made up of 46 three-dimensional pyramids, we knew at once that it had been made in the 1920’s in response to the Tutankhamen craze. Whoever would have thought that Tutmania would feature on Tunbridge Ware! 

At The Beginning: Some Home Thoughts From Abroad

Posted on 19 October 2017

We are very pleased that our Object of the Month for October has now found a new home, where it continues to be a topic for discussion. But we thought before we move on to the next Object of the Month you might like to read some comments most kindly sent from a Tunbridge Ware enthusiast, who is now living overseas but still enthusiastically following our discussions.

"Your Object of the Month is certainly intriguing and I hasten to give you my immediate impressions. First of all, the shape is unprepossessing as you say and the lack of any attractive external decoration would suggest to me a date earlier than 1700; the obvious attraction of the piece are the portraits inside; these are "secret" images, otherwise they would be on the outside, and are no doubt of political significance; if the male portrait is indeed of Charles II, I can see no reason to have hidden it. There are numerous silver tobacco, counter and other royalist boxes dating from the Restoration period with a bold portrait of King Charles on the lid; these would proudly show where the owner's loyalties lay and hopefully curry favour in high places.

It is conceivable that the box was a personal memento between husband and wife, rather like a locket, but I would dismiss this on the grounds that the male portrait is more "official" than romantic or sentimental and the object itself does not lend itself to being worn, i.e. like a locket or a ring.

If it dates from after 1700 and were made to commemorate a visit of the Queen to Tunbridge Wells, I would question why the King's portrait was also included. Again, to make it marketable or just as a one-off commemorative piece, I would expect the portrait(s) to be on the outside. As regards the male portrait, I do not recognise Charles II: the King's wig was always depicted with curls and was decidedly more becoming than this one.

You were specifically asking for comments on the date of the box: the rounded rim and base of the object are identical to the silver tobacco boxes of the late 17th century; later boxes in silver from Queen Anne onwards  had sharp edges and no rounding off. The style of the male portrait immediately brings the images of Charles II boxes to mind, but the collar is not, in my opinion, one to be associated with royal dress of the period. Clearly, there is always an argument that commemorative items can be produced long after the time they relate to, but, in this case, it seems unlikely that the subject of a later commemoration should be hidden inside the box and no date or other inscription attempts to record the event in question".

Our reply to these comments was as follows:

"Whilst the female image is on the inside of the box, the male is actually on the outside on the base. The King’s portrait would have been included as he too visited Tunbridge Wells in 1660 and again in 1663. The 1663 visit was with Catherine of Braganza.

We are fairly confident that the portraits are intended to be the king and queen, backed up by the British Museum. Unfortunately copyright issues prevented us from putting the images from the museum on our web site but prints from the 1660’s by William Faithorne (king) and Weneslaus Hollar (queen) can be located on the British Museum website".

And finally a postscript from overseas;

"I am however, still unhappy about his wig and its lack of curls! The BM image is quite clear on this. To have a portrait made without curls would, I suspect, be the equivalent of having one’s photo taken today as one comes out of the shower. Hardly royal etiquette!

It is also a bit surprising that his picture was stuck on the bottom of the box, almost hidden from view, but the Tunbridge maker may have thought this a better solution than creasing it into the inside of the lid.

I would have expected the royal visit in 1663 to have given rise to a number of souvenir boxes, in which case one would have thought that this particular box would have been better thought out. This makes me wonder whether the box had already been made before the idea of a souvenir occurred to the maker and he then improvised, when he realized there was an opportunity to upgrade an unsold item of stock; this would also explain why other souvenirs of the royal visit do not appear to have been produced. He would then have used the images, which came to hand and not necessarily the best available. People would have understood that they represented the royal couple and their visit to Tunbridge Wells.

A Stuart King without curls and wearing a collar without any sign of armour is a difficult one to digest, but these are details and I think you can be reasonably confident that your box dates from the second half of the 17th century".



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