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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

About Battersea Enamels

( Original Published 1913 )

I am examining two bits of " Battersea " recently returned to me by an artist in repairs. The wounds of time, where the vitreous surface had flown off, leaving the basal metal visible, have been skilfully doctored; the broader cracks are filled in. Fine hair-cracks remain, but those are almost a guarantee of " Battersea." Now those two beautiful old wine-labels " tickets " was the contemporaneous term-announcing " Claret " and " Madeira " in unmistakable English, generous in size, curved to the decanter, quaint in shape, artistic in the design, and lovely in the colour of the ornamentation, transfer-printed, too, seem perfect again, and, though I picked them up for only seven shillings apiece, there is no dealer or collector who would not acclaim them as fine specimens. They were lying about loose in a shop in Hammersmith Broadway.

Dainty Wares. Let us be grateful to the memory of Alderman Sir Stephen Theodore Janssen, of the City of London, for what he caused to be done in York House, Battersea, when the first half of the Georgian century was coming to its close. Never elsewhere, I vow, were enamels distilled and fired so graciously frivolous and dainty as these. Limoges had produced Gothic pictures and altar-ware in enamels that are splendid and costly beyond compare; Genevan enamels had been gorgeous in hue. Germany had produced enamels bad in design and colour-bad with the special unfitness of Germany for true art. But the Battersea enamels were graceful, gentle, courtly -like sonnets and Elizabethan lyrics-the Herrick's " Hesperides " and the Gautier's " Emaux " in that kind. Copper, and then a coat of liquid glass and tin, and then the transfer-printing or brushwork, the colours, and the gold. Colours of turquoise, purple, orange, grey, grassy green, and rose, upon bonbon boxes, watch cases and dials, needle-cases, thimble and nutmeg holders, patch-boxes, snuff-boxes, decanter-tickets, brooches, toothpick-cases, coat-buttons, sleeve-links, crosses, medallions, salt-cellars, candlesticks, inkstands; such were the dainties and delicatessen which an Alderman, rotund with City banqueting, from York House, Battersea, sent forth. Study the fine collections in the National Museums at South Kensington and Bloomsbury. You will then recognise the ware whenever you see it waiting for a collector. The Schreiber collection at South Kensington and the Franks collection at Bloomsbury taught me to know those two forlorn little treasures in the Hammersmith Broadway shop.

" Battersea " Characteristics,-The candlesticks and the salt-cellars are particularly individual. Usually the candlesticks are white or cream-colour in ground, dotted over with flowers, and in shape resemble Queen Anne silver candlesticks. The flower-painting resembles " Chelsea." The salt-cellars are round in shape, raised upon small claw-feet of gilt metal, painted with flowers or figure-pieces in panels or " reserves," and adorned with Sevres-like gilt wreathing. But the most indicative thing on pieces of " Battersea " of flat or nearly flat shape-box-tops, watch-faces, brooches, medallions, etc.-is the transfer-printing.

One of the valuable life-lessons you get from collecting is never to be cocksure, so I will not go so far as to say that transfer-printing was never done on enamels except at Battersea; perhaps, to a small extent, it was done at Bilston, where also, a little later on, enamels were made. But Bilston enamels were inferior in every way. I know, of course, that a large proportion of Battersea enamel-work was hand-painted. But, since it would puzzle anybody to name a Continental enamel-works where transfer-printing was done, I say that transfer-printing decoration does, as a rule, guarantee an enamel as being " Battersea."

"Transfers" You will remember that transferprinting was done from paper impressions, which had been taken from engraved copper-plates, the still-wet ink of the impression being carefully pressed and set off upon the enamel, porcelain, or earthenware surface of the object. This was from the first, and always, a characteristically English method. M. Roquet, who had painted enamels at Geneva, coming to London, and writing in French a book on " The State of the Arts in England," in 1755 wrote in his chapter on English porcelain that three or four china-works existed in the London suburbs, the chief being at Chelsea, and added that at another establishment near, " some of the objects are painted in cameo (` au camayeu') by a species of impression." Au camaieu would be the proper art term in French to describe the effect produced by transfer-printing, a process of decoration which was seldom successfully imitated abroad.

Tests. If you come across an enamel transferprinted in black, puce, or rose-pink, which suggests an engraving printed in monochrome, whether afterwards coloured up or not, the odds are great that you have found a bit of " Battersea," unless it be a modern forgery from Paris. But the forgeries (there are plenty of them) lack the daintiness and grace of the originals; the colouring is too crude and vivid, the whole appearance is too fresh, and the absence of cracks and showings of the metal is a sure warning, for hardly a piece of " Battersea " quite perfect is now extant. Moreover, the engraving done by the forgers is poor; the work of Robert Hancock's burin at Battersea, like that of Ravenet's, was sure, clear, and masterly.

The Rarity. Battersea enamels are now rare; buy whenever you can. The earliest-dated piece is of 1753. A business crisis occurred at the works in 1756, and a sale of stock and goodwill was announced. Maybe the fabric struggled on till 1775, but there cannot have been much output after the crisis. The latest-dated piece of English-made enamel extant seems to be a snuff-box painted with a ship and the words, " Brave Nelson is no more "-he died in 1805. But that cannot have been enamelled at Battersea.