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CONTENTS List of Subscribers






Chapter I

From Imitation to Innovation: The Origins of Japanning in the West


Chapter II

Enter the Dragon: Tinplate Working and the Japanning Trade


Chapter III

A Lion of the District: Papier MâchÊ and the Japanning Trade


Chapter IV

Japanning and Decorating


Chapter V

Not a Bed of Roses: Workshops, Factories and Labour


Chapter VI

Clever Accidents? Design, Taste and Criticism


Chapter VII

The Decline of the Midlands Japanning Industry


Chapter VIII

The Birmingham Japanners


Chapter IX

The Wolverhampton Japanners


Chapter X

The Bilston Japanners


Chapter XI

Japanners in London and Oxford


Chapter XII



Chapter XIII

Other Western Japanning Centres


Chapter XIV

Notes for Collectors


Directory of known Artists and Decorators




Select Bibliography






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22. Papier mâché tea caddy, decorated with ‘bronze’ landscapes (see p.74ff); impressed ‘JENNENS + BETTRIDGE’, c.1845. 20.5 x 33.5 x 20cm PRIVATE COLLECTION

RECTANGULAR OR SQUARE TEA CADDIES AND OTHER BOXES. These were mostly made in the same way as their wooden counterparts. If their sides were to have ogée curves, then they were cut from a very thick section of pasteboard and shaped on a lathe. This might involve as many as a hundred and twenty layers of paper and forty stovings, carrying the operations over a considerable number of days and, of course, adding greatly to the cost of the finished article (plates 22 and 155). Boxes of regular shape were sometimes made by wrapping sheets of paper around a greased core of the appropriate shape, but in addition to being cut half-way through the process like vases, they were horizontally divided after the final stoving to form a box and a perfectly fitting lid to which a top and base were fitted by the cabinet maker. Card cases were similarly made (plate 23) and Jennens & Bettridge used this method to make tall candlesticks, though they left the hardwood core in place for added stability. 32

SNUFF BOXES. In his notes to accompany the exhibits at the Great Exhibition, Robert Hunt, a japanner, described how some snuff-boxes were ‘made by glueing pieces of paper, cut to the sizes of the top, bottom, and sides, one on another, round a frame or mould which is afterwards removed.’36 This method was much like that used for card cases (see above). FURNITURE. Furniture was seldom made entirely from papier mâché because, despite its strength, it was not really suitable for the legs and frames of chairs and sofas. These were mostly constructed from wood as in ordinary furniture-making and chair-backs and other parts were then infilled with panels of papier mâché. In fact to describe Henry Clay’s furniture as papier mâché is not strictly accurate, for it was merely veneered with a thin layer of that material (p. 241). In the 1840s or 1850s, Woodward and Midgley (qv) made chair legs entirely of paper by layering it round an appropriately shaped

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Chapter III – A Lion of the District

mould which they removed after stoving, filling the cavity with pulp. Regrettably, we know neither how successful this method proved nor whether any examples have survived to the present day, but it appears not to have been used to any great extent. The joint between wood and papier mâché was often a source of weakness, and it is not uncommon to find that chairs have been repaired at this point. This problem was largely overcome by chair-backs made wholly from pasteboard which had been steam-moulded to curve both horizontally around, and vertically away from the sitter (plate 12). This was made possible by a patent (#11,670) granted to Theodore Hyla Jennens, of Jennens & Bettridge, in 1846, two years after the chair design was registered, which involved placing the panels in a chamber or vessel and admitting steam from a boiler. Its purpose was two-fold: once pliable, the panel could be compacted to make a stronger sheet, or it could be pressed into a pre-formed shape. Chairs made in this way stand out as being one of the few products which show any real understanding among manufacturers of the unique plasticity of the material with which they worked. No other contemporary material was capable of being used in this way, yet sadly such understanding was rare in the history of the industry. The author of an article in the Journal of Design and Manufactures in 1850, went even further by suggesting that although papier mâché is ‘the fittest substance for a tea tray ... [it is] most unsuitable for a sofa or a wardrobe, where its peculiar characteristics are not called for.’37

1786, and a similar one granted to the Birmingham buttonmaker, Obadiah Westwood, only five days later, this had certainly become common practice, and one which, according to Westwood, brought the variety of pulp goods into line with the range of those made by the best method. As with other stovings, great skill was required of the stover. John Haddan, in one of his patent specifications prepared almost sixty years later (see below) said that it was ‘well known’ that the length of time required to stove the oiled pulp ‘can only be ascertained by the opening and examination of a small portion of a sheet after being dried.’39 On the whole however, he found that one minute at a temperature of 55oF was sufficient for a sheet 3⁄8in. thick. In 1805, when Thomas Jones, a Bilston japanner, drew up his patent specification for new methods of making pulp articles by means of presses or stamps (#2830), he provided the earliest detailed pulp recipe to have survived to the present day.40 His preferred recipe required the pounding and pulping of 100lbs rope and about 20lbs rags for small articles, or about 110lbs of rope to about 10lbs rag for larger objects, to which he sometimes added vitriol (sulphuric acid) or something similar, to make a weak acid, though for what purpose he did not say. The invention which Jones sought to protect was adapted from standard paper-making methods. He placed a wire sieve, the shape and size of the intended object, in a deep, neatly fitting wooden frame, poured in the pulp and covered it with

By 1870 ready-made panels and ‘blanks’ had largely replaced the labour-intensive hand-made sheet-method of making papier mâché, and firms like McCallum & Hodson which continued to paste by hand became the exception rather than the rule. Papier mâché made from pulp – the ‘common’ method The methods for making pulp changed little during the course of the japanning industry, although by the 1780s, the ingredients had extended to include a mixture of linen, silk, cotton, sailcloth, rope (tarred or otherwise), flax, hemp, wool, and so on – in fact, any material which was commonly used in standard paper-making. The coarseness of some of these ingredients caused hard particles and ‘throw up blisters, and presents, generally, an unlevelled and “curdled” appearance’ in the finished articles;38 in consequence of this, and their brittleness, pulp goods were said to have been made by the ‘common method’. Their production was not confined to smaller and less prestigious makers as most larger firms, including Jennens & Bettridge, are known to have made ‘common’ goods. The fragility and limitations of early pulp-based papier mâché were partly overcome by oiling and stoving pulp in the same manner described by Clay in his pasteboard patent of 1772. To judge from the details of a later patent which Clay took out in

23. Papier mâché visiting-card case, the markings of its pearl decoration carefully selected for the flowers and leaves depicted (see p. 50); c.1845. 10.5 x 7.5cm PRIVATE COLLECTION


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34. Tin tea caddy with a hinged lid (cf. pl. 80), and snuffers tray, both with crystallised grounds; probably made at the Old Hall, Wolverhampton, c.1835. 9 x 13 x 11.5cm and 25cm respectively WOLVERHAMPTON ARTS AND HERITAGE (BANTOCK HOUSE MUSEUM)

‘BRIGHT-CUT’ or INCISED DECORATION. This method of decorating japanned tinware was introduced in about 1780, and it closely resembled the patterns of contemporary ‘brightcut’ silver. No records have been found which describe the technique although, clearly, it involved the use of variouslyshaped gravers or burins. Since no trace of varnish is ever found in the incisions, it would appear they were made after the object had been japanned and stoved, but before the varnish had hardened, thus ensuring clean-cut edges. The absence of any protective layer of clear varnish over the cut parts begs the question of why the exposed metal has not succumbed to rust, but until such time as a contemporary explanation is discovered, the answer must remain a mystery. Bright-cut decoration appears to have been confined to workshops in Bilston and Wolverhampton; it is found on small articles like snuffboxes, tea caddies and bottle stands (plates 36, 296 and 303). It may be significant that Wolverhampton was also an important centre for the manufacture of cut-steel toys, some of which were similarly bright-cut. CRYSTALLISED TINWARE. Crystallised surfaces were similar in appearance to the patterns made by frost on a window. The means of producing this decorative effect was patented (#4146) in 1817 by Louis Felix Vallet, who described himself as a ‘gentleman’ of Walbrook, in London.ix As the decoration could be applied only to pure tin or tinned metals, it was undertaken prior to any other form of ornamentation. The article, after being cleaned with a solution of

potash, soap or any other alkali, was rinsed in water, and heated ‘to a temperature which the hand can bear.’29 It was then lightly brushed or sponged with acid to create the frosted pattern; any acid was suitable, but Vallet recommended a combination of sulphuric and nitric acids. Further applications could be made until the desired effect was achieved. Andrew Ure, writing in 1839,30 explained how, once the crystalline spangles had begun to appear, it was possible to achieve finer variegations of pattern by sprinkling the surface with water, by blowing cold air onto the surface through a pipe, or by running over it with the pointed flame of a blow pipe. Whatever method was used, great care had to be taken to avoid damaging the thin film of tin-plate. The metal was finished with a clear varnish tinted with pigments such as verdigris, lake, blue, or yellow, which allowed the pattern to show through, and polished in the usual way (plate 34). The crystallised effects were generally enhanced with touches of gold leaf, sometimes with border stripes, and later, with printed decoration (plates 35 & 181). In 1827, Ryton & Walton of Wolverhampton advertised as ‘manufacturers of Vallet’s chrystalised [sic] articles’, they were ‘the chief if not the only makers’31 of such goods – at least during the first half of the century. Snuffers trays bearing the mark of the Birmingham retailers, Mapplebeck & Lowe, were perhaps made in Wolverhampton, and together with teacaddies, are among the objects most frequently found with crystallised decoration.

ix. A similar, but slightly more complex method had earlier been patented in France, by M. Allard in c.1814, where the effect was known as Moiré Métallique.


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35. Tin tea canister with lift-off lid, printed in black over a yellow crystallised ground, lettered above the foot-rim ‘J Bartlett & Son, Bristol, Tinplate Decorating Co., Neath, Gowers Patent’; late nineteenth/early twentieth century. 14.5cm

36. Tin tea caddy with incised decoration; made in Bilston or Wolverhampton, 1780–1800. 12 x 14 9cm PHOTO © VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM, LONDON (Museum No. W.72-1919)


Pearl decoration ‘A favourite material for ornamenting papier mâché is mother-of-pearl, and the artist cannot certainly be accused of want of liberality in the use of it.’ Cyclopedia of Useful Arts, Charles Tomlinson, 1854

japanners had used it in the late seventeenth century to decorate furniture made in imitation of eastern lacquered goods, and second, Birmingham, as the centre of the English pearl industry, had several shell-dealers and a number of established pearlworkers making buttons, ornaments and other luxury goods

The earliest mention of pearl in connection with the Midlands japanning industry is found in a patent (#1180) granted to Henry Clay in 1778, for making papier mâché buttons which amongst other things, might be ‘inlarged [sic] with pearl, stones, mettal and various other ornaments.’ In other words, the paper buttons were set into pearl mounts as distinct from later products in which pearl formed part of the decoration of the japanned surface. Eight years later, Obadiah Westwood suggested that his paper buttons might be ‘inlaid with pearls’,32 but was unclear about whether he meant beads rather than decorative motifs cut from flakes of pearl. Whatever Clay and Westwood intended, neither patent appears to have much in common with the more familiar form of pearl decoration – introduced in the 1820s – which became almost synonymous with Victorian japanned ware (see plate 41). A dusting of tiny pearl pieces, in imitation of Japanese makii effects, is sometimes found on late eighteenth/early nineteenth century goods such as tea caddies and trays (plate 37), but except for those items, pearl was seldom used by early Midlands japanners. This is surprising on two counts: first, English

37. Oval papier mâché tea caddy, the surface powdered with pearldust in imitation of ancient Japanese lacquer; probably Birmingham, late eighteenth century. H: 11.5cm COURTESY OF SWORDERS, STANSTEAD MOUNTFITCHET


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of oil which he had smeared on his wrist for the purpose. He pressed the leaf down and smoothed it with a pad of cotton wool wrapped in fine linen. When the work was dry, he gently removed any excess leaf with a swab or brush.

60. Detail from plate 120, showing the use of variously coloured bronze powders. WOLVERHAMPTON ARTS AND HERITAGE (BANTOCK HOUSE MUSEUM)

Two early nineteenth century teaboards made in Henry Clay’s workshops show how the process could be varied to produce different results. In the first example, the fine details of its chinoiserie design were painted in size and the metal leaf was attached according to the method described above (plate 60). By contrast, although the leaf was attached to the second tea-board in the same way, it was laid in larger patches and the detail of its ‘Indian’ style ornament was afterwards picked out or, to coin the workmen’s terms ‘etched’ or ‘pencilled’, on the surface of the gold leaf with a camel-hair brush dipped in asphaltum varnish (plate 62). GILDING WITH METAL POWDERS. Metal powders were used from the late eighteenth century until about the mid nineteenth century, and usually in combination with metal leaf (plate 63). They were not really powders but tiny flakes of metal leaf which were strewn over a sized surface and brushed or rubbed in to create a speckled or glittery effect similar to the maki-e or ‘sprinkled pictures’ of twelfth-century Japanese lacquer.

There were three types of powder: ‘true’ or pure gold powder, Dutch or 61. Straight-edge papier mâché tray sprigged in gold leaf, the underside lettered India in red ‘counterfeit’ gold powder, and aurum script, c.1810. 59.5 x 78cm mosaicum. True and counterfeit WOLVERHAMPTON ARTS AND HERITAGE (BANTOCK HOUSE MUSEUM) powders were made by grinding the metal leaf in honey and leaving it to Timing was crucial, for if the leaf was laid on when the size was stand in water until the particles had separated from the honey too wet, it would wrinkle, and if the size was too dry, any joins in and settled; the water was poured away and the glistening flakes the leaf would show. When the size was sticky, but too dry to were left to dry on a sheet of paper. The method for making leave any trace on the finger, the leaf was picked up on the gilder’s aurum mosaicum was altogether different and involved adding tip, or with a ball of cotton wool, and laid on the work. To avoid quicksilver (mercury) to melted tin; when cool it was ground with the leaf curling up on itself or wafting away on his merest breath, sal ammoniacus (ammonium chloride) and sulphur. The result, the gilder sometimes gave the tip, or cotton wool, greater however, after further re-heating and cooling, was similarly, a adhesion by running it lightly through his hair or across a patch ‘mass of bright flaky gold powder’.109 70

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62. King-gothic tray decorated in dead-gold with pencilled details; impressed mark: ‘CLAY/KING S T/COVT GARDEN, c.1825/30. 28 x 38cm COLLECTION OF ASTRID DONELLAN

63. Concave king-gothic tray painted with exotic birds on a bronze ground, their wings highlighted with fine flakes of metal leaf, c.1835. 46.5 x 65cm PRIVATE COLLECTION


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Chapter IX – The Wolverhampton Japanners

199. Papier mâché lady’s cabinet decorated with mother-of-pearl, and lined with purple velvet. Gifted to Wolverhampton by a daughter of the japanner Joseph Jones, it is perhaps the cabinet he decorated for Walton for display at the Great Exhibition (see p. 213); c.1850. 34 x 40 x 39cm © WOLVERHAMPTON ARTS AND HERITAGE (BANTOCK HOUSE MUSEUM)


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Chapter IX – The Wolverhampton Japanners

The fiasco ‘afforded much chaff and amusement, but it embittered Haselar’s life for a long time ... He was consequential in manner, and took himself very seriously.’53 These details apart, the tray has significance as the only example of japanned ware which is known to have been painted by Edwin Haselar and is thus among the very few articles of papier mâché and tinware which can be reliably attributed to any one painter. Despite Walton’s comments in 1853 that ‘Materials were high, Trade was bad and the Competition fea[r]full’,54 his firm showed a range of goods – albeit somewhat limited – at the Dublin Exhibition of that year. A more varied range of paper and tin goods, including trays, screens, vases and tables, was sent to the Paris Exhibition in 1855. Later in the same year, Walton was granted a patent (#2717) for improvements in papier mâché trays. The object of his invention was to prevent japanned surfaces from being ‘readily scratched and injured by hot bodies placed thereon,’55 – an interesting aim in view of similar claims made by earlier manufacturers concerning the strength and durability of japanned surfaces (see p. 27). He did this by making the upper surfaces of trays, urn- and teapot-stands of glass or enamel. Curiously, despite the vulnerability of the glass-topped and so-called ‘Patent Crystal Trays’ (plates 200 & 201), they appear to have survived in greater number than their enamel counterparts.

200. Walton’s Patent Crystal Tray, one from a graduated set of three, with a papier mâché rim, wooden base, and a painting inserted beneath glass; the trays are numbered ‘522 F864’, ‘1576 F864’, and ‘F523 F864’; c.1850. 79.5 x 61cm © WOLVERHAMPTON ARTS AND HERITAGE (BANTOCK HOUSE MUSEUM)

Despite her deep mourning for Prince Albert from 1861 onwards, Queen Victoria was touched by an invitation from the 201. Engraved paper label on the base of a Patent Crystal Tray (see above). ‘widows’ of Wolverhampton to unveil a © WOLVERHAMPTON ARTS AND HERITAGE (BANTOCK HOUSE MUSEUM) commemorative statue of her late husband, and agreed to perform the ceremony in 1866. The town was thrown into a flurry Clearly then, Walton & Co. were still a dominant force in the of decoration, and three temporary triumphal archways town in 1866, yet after showing in Paris in 1855, they did not symbolising Wolverhampton’s trades were built along the take part in any further international exhibitions. They were processional route. One arch was hung with iron tubes, edge not even represented at the South Staffordshire Industrial and tools and ropes, ‘but the most prominent and important part’ Fine Art Exhibition held in Wolverhampton in 1869. It is was bedecked with ‘coal-vases, baths, papier mâché-goods, 56 difficult to establish why, particularly since the Old Hall was and general hardware ... arranged in a very artistic design’, described that year as ‘the most interesting, if not the most from the Old Hall and Loveridge factories – the two leading extensive manufactory’57 in the town. Maybe Walton & Co. japan houses in the town. 195

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Chapter XII – Products

usually ebulliently painted with flowers and, by mid century, they incorporated pearl decoration and landscape vignettes (pl. 270). As seen in Chapter VIII, cabinets of this type were made in Birmingham by makers such as Halbeard & Wellings, Richard Turley and, in particular, by McCallum & Hodson. Of course, there are anomalies like the cabinets-onstands made by Jennens & Bettridge in the 1850s, which straddle both the early and late forms of the second category, but their extremely glossy surfaces, and the style of the drawer knobs (plate 158), indicate their relatively late manufacture (plate 270).

Finally, there are small cabinets made entirely of papier mâché, which were designed to stand on tables. Generally described as ladies’ cabinets, they are the type most frequently found by collectors today. The majority were made in Birmingham between 1840 and 1870, and their decoration reflects the styles that were currently popular, from extravagant flower sprays to restrained Moorish motifs. However, two fine examples, seen in plates 185 & 199, were made by Frederick Walton & Co., at the Old Hall in Wolverhampton. Similar, but less expensive, cabinets were made from pulp in the 1880s by such firms as Ebeneezer Sheldon.

268. Papier mâché bonheur-du-jour, on a japanned wood stand, with painted and pearled decoration which includes a view of Windsor Castle; c.1850. 99 x 66 x 56cm

269. Chiffonier with papier mâché panels and a wooden frame; c.1845. 135 x 85 x 35cm COURTESY OF BONHAMS


270. (Opposite) Cabinet on stand, believed to have been made in Birmingham, in 1859, and painted by William Backham for his sons, Charles and Henry (cf. pl. 158). 137 x 89 x 53cm COURTESY OF S. & S. TIMMS ANTIQUES LIMITED, AMPTHILL


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Chapter XII – Products


Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware c.1740-1940  

A long overdue history of this fascinating decorative art, illustrated with stunning colour throughout