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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!