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As the metal work which originated at Dinant was bronze, and not brass, Dinanderie is a phrase that should only be applied to objects wrought in bronze, although it certainly has been used in later days in connection with other metals, specially copper and brass.
There were, for many generations, notable craftsmen who worked in bronze, and some of the very greatest pieces of metal work in Europe are in this material. One has only to think of the magnificent tomb of Maximilian in Innsbruck, with its gigantic figures of knights surrounding it, and of the amazing shrine of St. Sebald in Nuremberg, to recall two of the grandest examples of bronze work that Europe contains.
All who have visited Italy and Spain will be familiar with the superb bronze decoration of the various cathedral doors, with the knockers and handles that adorn these doors, with the fonts and lecterns that are to be found inside the cathedrals, with the smaller objects intended for altar use, such as the boxes, reliquaries, altar crosses, censers, candlesticks and croziers, with the dragons that form the top ornaments of the spires, and with the bells which hang beneath them. Many of these are wrought with superb craftsmanship, and are objects of the highest value from an artistic point of view.
It is not given to the modern collector to be able to obtain such objects as these. He can enjoy and appreciate them in their places, and he knows the wonderful work contained in many of the door panels and the exquisite beauty of the shrines and the reliquaries. Occasionally, however, he is able to obtain some of the smaller examples of fine bronze work, and there were two collectors in recent days-Mr. John Edward Taylor and Mr. William Newall-who were fortunate enough to gather within their grasp many wonderful examples of bronze work, and to give to their successors the joy of discovering that the objects which they had selected with wise discretion in early days had become enormously enhanced in value, and fetched very substantial sums. Quite recently a wonderful knocker in bronze, the work of the great Paduan bronze worker of the sixteenth century, Riccio, an object only eleven inches long, fetched two thousand five hundred guineas, and although this price was not equaled by other things in the same collection, yet there were many objects that Mr. Newall had brought together that fetched very high prices. A salt-cellar went for four hundred and forty guineas, some of the figures fetched from eight hundred to a thousand guineas apiece, a fountain realised one thousand eight hundred guineas, and a pair of gilt altar candlesticks three hundred and forty guineas, and a fine inkstand two hundred and fifty guineas.
Among Mr. Taylor's collection there was one figure which fetched nearly seventeen hundred pounds, a German mortar that fetched six hundred, a single candlestick that fetched nearly sixteen hundred, an amazing inkstand, only ten inches high, which fetched L3,255, and many candlesticks, figures and groups which went for very big prices indeed. The inkstand had been bought as recently as 1888 for L204 10S the other inkstand came from the Spitzer collection in 1893, when it sold for seven hundred pounds, but each of these two items in Mr. Taylor's sale realised over three thousand and this price was exceeded by some of the bronze figures, and many of the others came very close to it.
More remarkable still, perhaps, was a pair of large andirons, of sixteenth century Venetian work; which have been traced in three different collections, where they fetched first of all about a hundred and eighty pounds, then about four hundred, and then about a thousand, selling in 1912 for very nearly ten thousand. In the case of a pyx of copper gilt, there was very much the same state of affairs. At one time it sold for a hundred pounds. In the Taylor collection it fetched three thousand two hundred and fifty-five, and a pair of candlesticks, far older, going back to the thirteenth century, sold as recently as 1892 for eighty-two pounds, and a very few years later five hundred pounds was gladly given for them.
To the collector who has some money to invest there are chances with regard to bronze things almost unequalled, but the greatest care is needed in purchase, because there are innumerable forgeries, and, moreover, the collector must be possessed of what the French call flair, in order to detect fine things at a glance. It is impossible for me, in these columns, to explain the difference between a genuine old bronze and a modern one.
I have myself been taken in by what appeared to me to be a genuine bronze but which turned out to be imitation, and there are only a few men whose judgment can be relied upon with absolute certainty in such a determination, so clever are the modern forgeries. At the same time, there are few things more beautiful than a fine Italian bronze, with its exquisite surface, and the wonderful colour of what is called its patina, and there is hardly any field open to the collector who is possessed of a certain amount of money at his disposal, more interesting than the collecting of such objects, especially those that are Italian or French, in bronze or in bronze and enamel.
Smaller English collectors can derive a good deal of joy from objects of much less importance. There are bronze mortars yet to be found in curiosity shops worth careful examination and often worth purchase, and, to descend to lower levels still, there are objects in brass (such as a collection of candlesticks), and in copper, that are very decorative in the room, especially when set against old oak, and are well worth acquiring. Few things light up a room better than brass and copper, and where set against black oak, dark paint or paneling, a group of treasures in brass, copper and bronze gives a luminous effect to what might otherwise be a dingy corner in a room and brightens up the whole effect of the place. Such a thing as a brass warming-pan, a skimmer, a bronze bell, a brass figure, a group of candlesticks, especially those with a broad circular saucer in the centre which protected the hand of the person who carried it from the hot grease, is a source of delight and a pleasure to look at. To some people it is almost a sacrilege to lacquer this sort of thing, but to those who have few opportunities of keeping them in order a coat of lacquer is an advantage and saves endless trouble and elbow-grease, and for those who do not scorn small returns the collection of old English candlesticks and mortars gives a pleasing opportunity.
There is a steady and increasing demand for objects in metal. Old candlesticks bought for a few shillings are often worth as many pounds; but here again the collector must be on the alert, because the forger has been ahead and candlesticks one sees on farm-house mantelpieces have often been placed there by a local dealer for the wayfarer to admire and eventually to purchase at a price wholly beyond their original value.
For persons who wander about the country and visit all the old curiosity shops there is great joy in searching for pieces of Italian bronze and trying to detect them by means of their exquisite surface and their wonderful colour and, failing to obtain these, bringing home in triumph some bit of old English brass or copper work purchased perhaps for a very small sum, and tending to delight the eye in the room of the collector and eventually, if he sees fit, to yield him a handsome profit on his original investment.
One of the greatest and ablest collectors of bronzes in modern time is Mr. J. P. Heseltine. His collection of Italian bronze figures now belonging to Mr. Alfred Spero, one of our cleverest young experts, is almost unrivalled and includes specimens of paramount importance.