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Great Exhibitions

Posted on 28 June 2018

It is wonderful that the north of England is having its very own Great Exhibition this summer with drone displays and virtual dinosaurs roaming Newcastle. This has got us thinking about The Great Exhibition of 1851, which for those interested in antiques today represents something of a watershed, when new materials, ideas and inventions were brought to public attention.


Whilst we mostly think of the very fine items that were exhibited in 1851, the exhibition itself generated production of modest souvenirs such as paper telescopic viewers showing Queen Victoria at the opening ceremony in Hyde Park in May of that year. The demand for souvenirs also continued once Sir Joseph Paxton’s glass pavilion had been re-located to Sydenham Hill in 1854. Our Object of the Month for July is one such momento – a simple whitewood painted pot with a printed view of The Crystal Palace at Sydenham. 


It is however for fine workmanship that The Great Exhibition is really known. It proved to be a real opportunity to promote the Tunbridge Ware industry with Edmund Nye, and Henry Hollamby exhibiting fine examples of their work. Both makers exhibited views of Bayham Abbey Ruin and the marquetry found on the blocks featuring tropical butterflies and birds from the Nye/Barton partnership all resulted from 1851.


A fine piece of craftsmanship that we have recently discovered is a grand piano by Schneider of Vienna inlaid with Tunbridge Ware floral borders, reminiscent of Nye’s work. It was recently auctioned in Kent from the Colt Clavier Collection. According to Colt it had been exhibited in the Austrian section at the Great Exhibition. 


We are now wondering if there are other un-identified and undiscovered examples of Tunbridge Ware inlay decorating exhibits from The Great Exhibition.  Who knows what might turn up!