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Of Certain Old Pendants
( Original Published 1913 )
From time to time I have picked up certain small ornaments in the form of pendants intended to hang from fine chains upon a lady's breast or bodice. The material is silver; the silver has been gilded where it shows, and where it does not show, the cause of that is a covering in enamels. These ornaments are full of interest, and, to me at any rate, mystery, too. They are small, from an inch to an inch and a half in height; they are slung by fine chainwork, which sometimes includes small or seed pearls ; they are set with what are precious stones, or seem to be, but stones that are not very valuable, and with pearls of the less shapely and costly sort. The points of mystery are, what were they made for ? why in certain unvariable designs ? and for whose wear ? You may see something like them in jewellers' odds-and-ends trays and cases ; but as they are counterfeited and forged, what you may see, though it gives an idea of the jewels I am writing of, may not be the real thing in itself.
They used to seem to me to have been made for the necks of ladies who were the wives or daughters of members of knightly orders. Thus the most frequently seen shape is that of the " George " and the " Lesser George " worn by Knights of the Garter-I mean the central part of the Garter jewel, the figure of St. George on horseback spearing the dragon ; or that of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, which has a similar centre-piece. Another form is that of the white elephant, which is the centre-piece of the jewels worn by Knights of the Danish Order of the Elephant. Another is the dove of the " Order of the Holy Ghost." Another form is that of a slung hunting-horn, which perhaps represents the Bavarian Order of St. Hubert. The Bavarian Order of St. George also includes the figure of a knight attacking a dragon, however; so does the Russian Order of St. Andrew, and the Sacred Order of Siam has for centre the figure of a white elephant. And as there are quite a score of European orders of chivalry which have badges which I have never seen reproduced in the kind of jewel I am now writing of, I must perhaps give up the idea that the object was for wear by ladies who were wives or sisters or daughters of members of knightly orders. Because, for another reason also, these pendants repeat designs which, so far as I can learn, are not representative of such orders ; for example, " the pelican in its piety " and " the mermaid." Yet I seem to remember having read of Knights of the Pelican existing in the past. At any rate, there is a mystery about this type of ornament, and I have searched several books likely to contain information, but to no avail. But when I turned to " Chats on Old Jewellery and Trinkets," by Maciver Percival (Fisher Unwin, 5s. net.), I found quite a store of information, some of which I had already discovered or conjectured for myself, and some which I had not. For instance, the book gives a picture of a parrot pendant-I have seen one of the real things ; of a ship pendant, a lizard pendant, and of a "pendant in form of a pelican with her young." The bird is enamelled white, with portions of the metal showing through as feather marks. Now I once acquired a pendant like that, and it was washed incautiously ; the result was that the enamel disappeared from the feathers, leaving the gilt silver that was under the enamel visible as a whole. " The pelican in her piety " was a favourite subject with bygone jewellers, by the by ; it represents the old belief that the pelican feeds her young with flesh and blood torn from her own breast.
Put aside the cheap modern imitations of these things, done upon a very thin and flimsy foundation ; if you find one of better mass and quality, the enamel brilliant in colour, and a little translucent, and the " bed-rock " material silver-gilt, it was probably made in the seventeenth century in imitation of what was then the real thing-viz. a Renaissance jewel of the sixteenth century. But a Renaissance jewel of the sixteenth century of the kind is the rarest and least findable of objects ; it was made in gold, set with really precious stones, and enamelled translucently; if you wish to see the original real thing, you can do so in the Waddesdon Bequest room at the British Museum, a wonderful pendant indeed, that only a Rothschild could afford to buy.
So that now your best hope is to come across a seventeenth-century imitation of a sixteenth-century pendant. " Still," the book says, " a collector should never despair." He seldom does, I fancy; hope springs eternal in him. "There is always a possibility of finding treasures where least expected, if the knowledge of what to look for has been gained. But there are baits cast for the bargain-hunter; these beautiful things have been copied, and also the general style has been imitated. These inferior copies are often of small specimens, as these have a better chance of sale as personal ornaments than there would be for pieces of greater size." And yet " even the cheapest copies of these things are far prettier than most of the jewellery which can be bought in the ordinary way, and are much more suited for artistic people to wear."