When she was given the task of cataloguing the japanned ware at the Wolverhampton Art Galleries and Museums, Yvonne Jones quickly discovered two things: the subject was more complex than most people had assumed and there was little in the way of research to help her.
The eventual result is Japanned Papier
Mâché and Tinware, c.1740-1940, a substantial book of her own
which sets out to dispel some of the myths.
One of her major conclusions is that
japanning (multiple layers of varnish, baked between each
application to create a characteristic smooth finish) was carried
out in a large number of Midlands workshops. Many items are
unmarked but it is a mistake, she says, to assume that all the good
early wares were by Henry Clay and the later ones by Jennens and
At the same time she has concluded that
tinware and papier mâché were often decorated in the same workshops
and by the same craftsmen, who did not appear to regard tinplate as
an inferior product.
The high quality of the workmanship found on
both tinplate and papier mâché, and on marked and unmarked pieces,
is demonstrated by an impressive range of illustrations drawn from
auction catalogues as well as museums and private collections.
Nearly 40 Birmingham japanners are
documented, many in great detail, and another 30 from Wolverhampton
and Bilston, while further chapters cover London and Oxford
factories, as well as products from other countries which might be
confused with British wares. A separate directory lists nearly 100
known artists and decorators.
Definitive attributions may not always be
possible but cataloguers now have an impressive volume of new
information to draw on when describing anything from a simple tea
tray to those suites of papier mâché furniture which remain as
impressive today as when they dazzled visitors at the great
international exhibitions of the 19th century.
- Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware, c.1740-1940 by
Yvonne Jones, Antiques Collectors' Club, 335pp, £45. ISBN:
Yvonne Jones' research into japanning will
doubtless greatly enhance the knowledge and value of examples of
the genre for collectors and cataloguers, but meanwhile, there is
already plenty of evidence in the market that good, historic,
stylish pieces of japanned ware have a keen following.
The latest was the piece which came up in a
sale of English Furniture and Works of Art held at
Bonhams in London's New Bond Streeton March 6.
The 4½in (11.5cm) wide tea caddy is the
epitome of neoclassical elegance with its Etruscan-style decoration
of anthemions, scrolls and husks in a Pompeian palette of black,
red, ochre and dark green on a pale green ground, especially with
the addition of Wedgwood jasperware medallions inset to the front
and back. In the 1770s, when this piece is thought to have been
produced, it would have been the height of fashion on a tea table
in polite society.
On stylistic grounds the caddy has been
attributed to Henry Clay, the Birmingham contemporary of Matthew
Boulton, who perfected the art of japanning objects and small
furnishings and went on to set up a workshop in Covent Garden. It
was in Clay's Birmingham days that he is thought to have developed
the idea of setting Wedgwood's neoclassical medallions into his
This caddy was estimated at a reasonable
£3000-5000 but it ended up selling for £8500.
The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%.