Costume Jewelry in the Georgian Era

A few days ago, I went shopping for a birthday gift for a friend. She likes to wear rather large statement pieces of jewelry, and I found a perfect necklace for her at Henri Bendel. Today, wearing costume jewelry is quite common, but did you know there was something similar to costume jewelry during the Georgian era? It’s true. In the 18th and 19th centuries, all that glittered was not gold.

Although the Merriam-Webster dictionary dates the term “costume jewelry” to 1927, jewelry made out of inexpensive materials to resemble gold and fine gems dates back much earlier. The first type of fake jewelry I’d like to discuss is paste stones, which are fake gem stones. Paste is a particular type of imitation gem stone that is made out of glass with a high lead content and has been around since the 18th century.

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A paste demi parure, ca. 1820. Courtesy of Bonhams.

 

According to Collector’s Weekly, “in 1724 the French jewel designer Georges Frédéric Strass created ‘paste,’ a kind of leaded glass that he cut and polished with metal powder until it appeared to shimmer like a diamond in the light. These white ‘diamante’ or ‘strass’ were a hit with glamorous Parisian high society.” Eventually the popularity of paste spread.

During the Georgian era it wasn’t technically possible to cut and polish diamonds the way we can today, and diamond jewelry had to be made around the shapes in which the diamonds were found. The advantage to using paste was that these stones could be cut and polished into the shapes jewelers needed for their designs. Therefore, some of the most exquisite pieces of Georgian jewelry are made out of paste.

Paste earrings from my private collection, ca. 1775-1790.

Early paste stones were backed with either clear or colored foil to reflect the light. The backs of foiled paste stones are “closed” which means the back of the stones are covered with silver or gold to protect the foil backing. If you look into the center of a white paste stone, you may see a black dot that was placed there to help the piece resemble a diamond.

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White paste earrings, ca. 1790. Courtesy of Three Graces.

I think it’s worth noting that you wouldn’t have been embarrassed to wear paste jewelry. The people who wore these pieces would not have been poor and weren’t wearing them to deceive people into thinking they were wearing precious gemstones. The settings they were placed into and their high sparkle made them very desirable in their own right.

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Lozenge-shaped cross in openwork decorative scrollwork set with paste stones, ca. 1809. Courtesy of Three Graces.

If you own antique paste jewelry, it’s important not to get it wet—especially if there is foil behind the stones. The moisture could ruin the stones’  appearance. Brushing the jewelry with a soft dry toothbrush is an ideal way to remove any dirt. You can also polish your piece with a soft dry cloth. Another thing to keep in mind, paste stones are softer than many natural gemstones, so they should be stored separately.

Another form of Georgian “costume jewelry” is Pinchbeck. Pinchbeck resembles gold but is made from a combination of copper and zinc. The formula for this metal was developed by Christopher Pinchbeck, a London clockmaker who lived from about 1670 to 1732.

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A bloodstone and pinchbeck fob seal. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Pinchbeck was an affordable substitute for gold, and records indicate that travelers often carried jewelry and accessories made from Pinchbeck if they felt they were at risk for robbery during their journey. Their more expensive pieces were kept safe at home.

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18th century portrait miniature with pinchbeck locket frame with engraved border. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Pinchbeck could be worked into the same intricate designs as gold, and it retained its yellow color unlike other gold substitutes of that period which were prone to fading. In the mid-19th century Pinchbeck’s popularity waned when nine karat gold became legal,which allowed buyers to purchase jewelry made from a less expensive type of gold. And about that time the plating process known as electro-gilding was invented, adding to Pinchbeck’s decline.

So the next time you look at a portrait from the Georgian or Regency eras, consider that the jewelry worn might not be what it appears.

References used:

http://www.bonhams.com

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/paste

http://www.georgianjewelry.com

Goldemberg, Rose Leiman, Antique Jewelry: A Practical and Passionate Guide. 1976.

 

 

A Peek Inside the Dining Room of Historic Lansdowne House

 

One of the sad parts about researching historical places, is discovering that a beautiful building had been torn down. I was recently reading about Berkeley Square in London and became intrigued by one of the late Georgian era’s prominent homes, Lansdowne House. It was designed by renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam and located on the southwest corner of Berkeley Square.

lansdowne_house_greenwood%27s_map_london_1830_edited

A fun fact about the house is that it was situated sideways, giving Devonshire House a direct view of Berkley Square through the gardens of both homes.

Lansdowne House was originally designed for Prime Minister John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792). Lord Bute was a tutor and a friend of the young Prince George. Upon George’s accession as King George III, Lord Bute was made Secretary of State. In 1762, he became Prime Minister.

In 1765, Lord Bute sold the unfinished property to William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), the 2nd Earl of Shelbourne. Lord Shelbourne was also a Prime Minister and was in power during the end of America’s War of Independence. The house was completed from Adam’s designs in 1768. In 1784, Shelbourne became the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, and the house became known as Lansdowne House. Lansdowne was a leading Whig statesman and his house became a meeting place for Whig social and political circles in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

The central block of the house stills stands at the corner of Fitzmaurice Place and Lansdowne Row. In 1930, two of the wings of the House were demolished, and it was converted into a club. The dining room, or “Eating-room” as Adam labeled it, was in the south wing and was bought by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Owing to the restrictions of the space, the long walls were reversed when they were installed in the museum. I have been lucky enough to visit this room on two recent trips to The Met.

Shelbourne_House_1765 later Lansdowne House

The dining room is the lower left room.

The ceiling was designed by Adam and created in plaster by Joseph Rose.

Ceiling of Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The carvings were executed by John Gilbert and the marble chimneypiece was supplied John Devall & Co., London. The oak floor in the room is original.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The niches originally held nine ancient marble statues acquired by Lord Lansdowne in Italy from the artist Gavin Hamilton. Unfortunately, they were sold off individually during the Lansdowne sale of 1930. The niches in the museum have been filled with plaster casts.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Sadly, the original furniture that was designed by Robert Adam for this room and executed by John Linnell, no longer survives. However, thanks to museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we are still able to take a peek at a room that would have been lost to us long ago.

Update:

Victoria Hinshaw, from the wonderful historical blog Number One London, was kind enough to let me know that the Drawing Room of Lansdowne House is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After visiting the Dining Room, I now have an itch to see the Drawing Room.  To continue with my love of Lansdowne, Victoria’s blog has posts on Lansdowne Club in London and Bowood, the Lansdowne’s country home. Check out her blog and search for these subjects: http://onelondonone.blogspot.com

Resources used include:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20499/lot/35/

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shelbourne_House_1765.jpg

http://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/john-stuart-3rd-earl-of-bute

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait.php?search=apnpgno=3938&eDate=&1Date=

 

Beautiful Furniture at the 2014 Winter Antiques Show

As a writer of historical fiction, I’m challenged with describing a world that no longer exists. One of the ways I transport my imagination into Regency England is by seeing items from that era. At this year’s Winter Antiques Show, held annually in NYC, there were many exhibitors that presented beautiful pieces of furniture.

The Hyde Park Antiques stand is a favorite stop of mine. Perhaps it’s because I am a writer, but I always find myself drawn to antique desks and books. The moment I walked in their stand, this George III inlaid Secretaire Bookcase c.1790, made in England, caught my eye.

George III Secretaire Bookcase

The allure of an antique dressing table is another siren call to me. This lovely beauty was found at Alfred Bullard. Each year, I look forward to stopping at their stand to see what treasures they have. They always have many beautiful pieces, and their staff is so knowledgeable and personable.

George III Mahogany Dressing Table

This George III mahogany dressing table, made in England c.1800, has satinwood inlaid borders on the rectangular double hinged lid. The lid hides a ratcheted, sliding hinged mirror and a fitted interior that has an arrangement of small covered boxes, open trays and wells. The table is supported on square tapered legs with brass castors that rise to shaped corner brackets.

Basin Drawer of George III Mahogany Dressing Table

One of best parts of this piece is the central deep basin drawer which was disguised as two drawers. That large round opening would have housed a wash basin and the smaller holes would have held small dishes for soap. It was interesting to see that a woman could execute her toilette using just this one piece of furniture.

The last item I wanted to feature might hold special interest for Regency enthusiasts. It is a small round table with the Coat of Arms of the Duke of Wellington and was made in England in 1830—the same year he resigned as Prime Minister.

Table with the Duke of Wellington's Coat of Arms

This polychrome painted, tilt top occasional table depicts the Duke of Wellington’s Coat of Arms and Honora from various campaigns. The arms and medals on the painted top are all honors bestowed on the Duke of Wellington. Below the motto “Virtutis Fortuna Comes” (fortune is the companion of valor) hang various medals, including the Golden Fleece and Austrian, Spanish and Indian honors. All are representative of victory titles granted to the Duke for his distinguished military service in the Peninsular War and at the Battle of Waterloo.

Antique Tilt Top Table With the Duke of Wellington's Crest

Next week, I’ll post my final highlights of the 2014 Winter Antique Show and give you a glimpse of some of the lovely portraits I discovered during my visit.

A Glimpse of History at the 2014 Winter Antiques Show

Winter Antique Show at the Park Avenue Armory

Each year, as the end of January rolls around, my heart kicks up speed knowing I’ll be attending the annual Winter Antiques Show held at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. For anyone interested in antiques, this is one of the premiere antique shows of the year. All profits from this event go directly to the East Side House Settlement, a charity that supports education in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States.

This year’s Winter Antiques Show ran from January 24th through February 2nd. Seventy-five antique dealers from across the country and abroad converged in this one space to showcase a sample of their collections. I thought I’d share some pictures to give you a glimpse of one of my favorite shows.

Since I collect portrait miniatures, one of my first and favorite stops is at Elle Shushan’s where her display of antique portrait miniatures always takes my breath away.

Elle Shushan

Another one of my favorite stops is at Kenneth W. Rendell Gallery. The gallery is in New York City and they carry historical letters and documents from the Renaissance to the present day in all fields. Their staff is always helpful and happy to answer questions. This year, I found a signature of King George III that caught my eye.

Signature of King George III

Probably one of the most extravagant items I spotted at this year’s Show, was a gold and diamond Cartier diaper pin at A La Vieille Russie. In all likelihood, it was originally used as an actual diaper pin. It amazes me what some people would put near poo.

Cartier Diaper Pin

My friends would tell you I have an addiction to coffee. I prefer to call it a love affair. When I saw this English fine double baluster coffee mill c.1760 from Robert Young Antiques, my palms started to itch.

English Fine Double Baluster Coffee Mill c. 1760

The Winter Antiques Show really is a wonderful place to spend the day if you have an interest in antiques. Next week, I’ll highlight some of the beautiful furniture I saw that I wish I had room for in my home.