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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Battersea Enamel

Author: Ethel Hall Bjerkoe

( Article orginally published January 1958 )

It is probable that but a small number of collectors possess much of the lovely Battersea enamel. Battersea is a borough of southwest London on the south side of the River Thames. There in 1750 Stephen Janssen opened a small factory in which he made exquisite items in enamel on metal jewel and patch boxes, picture or mirror knobs, perfume flasks, small tea chests, plaques for use behind the ring handles of furniture, even an occasional piece of jewelry. The factory was discontinued in 1755. After its closing, enamelled metalware was made at other small factories in the locality and is often referred to as Battersea. The quality of these later articles, however, does not equal that of the true Battersea of the Janssen factory.

Although it is possible to trace the history of enamelling back to a very early date, the process must have followed the invention of glass-making, for the glaze used in enamelling is practically the same as glass and is colored or made opaque by the use of metallic oxides.

The process of enamelling was introduced into China from Constantinople in the thirteenth century and the Chinese examples of enamelling on metal are divided into three categories - cloisonne, champleve, and Canton. The technique, however, differs little in any country; the design only is characteristic for each. While true enamelling is a metallic art, the term is also applied to the glazing or "enamelling" of porcelain, pottery and glassware. The Chinese were using enamels for decorating porcelain and pottery as early as the Sung Dynasty.

Cox says in "Pottery and Porcelain" (in describing the decoration of these wares), "we have traced enamel decoration...from the ancient Near East as it spread east to China, and west as it also came back from China to the Near East in return, and thence to Europe."

Enamelling was practiced in England at an early date by the AngloSaxons, who doubtless learned the art from the Celts and the Romans, since many examples of late Celtic and Roman enamel have been found buried in England.

Precious metals have been used by many factories as the foundation of trifles and jewelry to be enameled. At the important, though small, works of Janssen, however, copper was generally the foundation of the many beautiful little articles decoratively enamelled. The work of the Janssen factory was well executed and compares favorably with that of the famous French fabriques at Lille and Limoges.

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