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ANTIQUES

AROUND HOME : Battersea Enamel

September 03, 1989|SAM BURCHELL

ENAMEL, MADE BY fusing glass powder to a metal base, shares the beauty and decorative qualities of the precious metals. The work has been known since ancient times, but Egyptian or Greek and Roman enamel, indeed anything before the 18th Century, is difficult to find today.

For the contemporary collector, however, some of the most appealing examples of painted enamel are English, made in Chelsea and Battersea, where many rococo pieces were produced in the 18th and early 19th centuries: candlesticks, boxes of every sort (many with aphorisms and romantic sayings painted on them), decanter labels and buttons and occasionally some larger piece, such as a platter. More sophisticated enamel work was regularly produced on the Continent--at Sevres and Limoges and Meissen, for example.

The most famous factory for decorative enamels was set up in England about 1750 at York House in Battersea (a section of London) by Sir Stephen Theodore Janssen. The factory appears to have ceased production in 1756. The method chiefly used was by transfer printing from a copperplate engraving onto a background of smooth white enamel laid on a copper base. An advertisement of the day lists some of the factory's regular products: snuff boxes of all sizes, square and oval pictures of the Royal Family, as well as "other pleasing subjects for the cabinets of the curious; bottle tickets, with chains, for all sorts of liquors; watch cases, tooth-pick cases, coat and sleeve buttons, crosses and other curiosities, mostly mounted in metal, double gilt."

Soon enough, "Battersea enamel" came to be the general term describing all English decorative enamels produced in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In England, such work was usually made at Chelsea and Battersea and at some of the potteries in Staffordshire. Enamels actually made at York House in Battersea were relatively few in number and are now highly prized. Decanter labels are the easiest to find. They are larger than the usual ones, and it will cost many hundreds of dollars today to obtain an authentic enamel label (or "bottle ticket") from York House. Even a Battersea-style enamel of 1780, set in a modern gold surround and clearly not made at York House, will sell at auction for anything between $900 and $1,500. It is a tribute to the skills of the York House craftsmen that fine English enamel work--whether on decanter labels or boxes or buttons--is called Battersea enamel.

Look for enamel work at Robert Stewart Reed Antiques in Los Angeles; Richard Gould Antiques Limited in Santa Monica; Cranberry Cottage Antique Mall in Pasadena; Panache Unlimited in Fullerton; Coleman's Antiques in Manhattan Beach; Roberta Gauthey Antiques and Richard Yeakel in Laguna Beach; Collector's Thrift Shop in Santa Ana; Antique Emporium in Costa Mesa, and Mission Gallery and Hood Antiques in San Diego.

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