Here is a splendid and extremely rare candle holder from the eighteenth century, made during the heyday of British enamelwork. It is lavishly decorated with landscape scenes surrounded by raised and gilded rococo scrolls. Not only is this a rare shape in British enameling on copper, but it is elaborately decorated. There are three scenes in the pan and two on the socket, plus one on the snuffer. All are very fashionably done with a great deal of artistic skill. One scene shows a harbor with workers in the foreground and a large sailing ship in the distance, another shows two cows next to a ruined Roman colonnade, and the third shows some cattle and a herder resting beside a river with a church on the opposite shore. The scenes on the socket continue these themes with two fishermen on the shore of a lake next to a Gothic portico, and a solitary man looking across the water at two buildings that resemble Roman mausoleums. The snuffer has a scene of a fisherman standing by a lake with a building on the opposite shore. Fanciful subjects, all connected with water, and they exemplify the sometimes playful approach that British enamel decorators took to their work. Between the scenes are colorful sprigs of flowers. (It even has a few drops of melted wax still in the pan!) The base of the circular socket that holds the candle has a thick wire holder meant to support the snuffer, but when the snuffer is in place the bottom edge rests on the pan. It looks like someone bent the wire upward to fix this, but it couldn’t be bent far enough to make it work. Even now the snuffer sits on the pan surface when it is placed on the hanger. Another odd thing—there’s no handle for the pan, and there’s no sign it ever had one. The purpose of a chamber candlestick is to be portable—so someone can pick it up off a table in the parlor and carry the lit candle along the dark hallways to the bedroom for nighty-night. Tall candlesticks were meant to sit in place, but chamber candlesticks were meant to be carried, and handles were almost a necessity. Nearly all of them had handles or at least finger rings. I don’t have any explanation for why this one has no handle, I simply point it out. There is damage, mostly confined to the extreme outer edge of the pan, where there are small chips and dents all around. Gold paint has been added there to disguise some of the damage. Other than that, there is a very small section of missing enamel just above the wire hanger—obviously the place where the snuffer would hit it—honest wear, in other words. The bottom edge of the snuffer has a small chip. The scenes and the decoration, by contrast, are in wonderful shape. Only a handful of British enamels were ever marked, so any attribution to a particular maker or even a particular region is pretty much guesswork, but this piece has all the hallmarks of work from Bilston—though Birmingham might be another option. The pan is nearly five inches across. The Nellie Ionides Collection contained an enamel chamber candlestick with a simpler shape and less ornate decoration, and the Schreiber Collection has one very similar to that, but I haven’t been able to find another published example of this particular shape. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a snuffer that’s eerily similar to this one, probably made by the same person, but they don’t have the candleholder that it goes with. Other than that one incomplete example, I haven’t been able to trace this particular shape, and if anyone knows of another example I’d welcome that information. It seems to be a true rarity.

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Polychrome, White

Laureate Antiques

C.1765 Bilston Enamel Chamber Candlestick & Original Snuffer Birmingham


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