This golden basket-grate, with Bacchic urn-capped pillars, reflects the Etruscan Roman 'columbarium' or vase-chamber fashion promoted by the Rome-trained court architect Robert Adam (d.1792). The pattern was invented by him in 1775 for the Drawing Room of the Grosvenor Square mansion of Edward Stanley, Baron Stanley, later 12th Earl of Derby (d.1834). The Derby House grates - dismantled and altered in the 19th Century - later emerged at Battle Abbey, Sussex and were sold in these Rooms, 19 November 1987, lot 60. Like the Derby house overmantel mirror that originally stood above, they were presumably sold as fittings with the lease of Derby House to the Dowager Duchess of Cleveland in 1851; her son removed them to Battle Abbey following the demolition of Derby House in 1862 (James Lomax, 'Lady Derby's Looking Glass', FHSJ, 1985, pp.235-240).
Paktong, a name derived from the Chinese word meaning white copper, is a rare non-tarnishing alloy of copper, nickel and tin or zinc. Also known as 'Tutenag' or 'India metal' on account of its importation by the East India Trading Companies, it originated in China and although it first arrived in London in the 1720s, it was developed by the Chinese much earlier. The principal advantage of paktong is that whilst resembling silver, unlike unaffected by atmospheric conditions, and can be easily cast, hammered and polished. Its unusual qualities were especially suited to such purposes as chimney-furniture, a fact well recognised in 18th Century Europe (A.Bonnin, op. cit. 1924, pp.18-51) and from about 1750, a restricted number of articles including grates are known to have been made in England from this material.
Paktong appears to have been particularly favoured by Adam - whose name has been linked with the designs for several grates of paktong including at least one commissioned by the Duke of Northumberland for Syon House, Middlesex; and another supplied to the Earls of Coventry for Croome Court or their house in London and sold from the Messer Collection in these Rooms, 5 December 1991, lot 20.
Interestingly, the Croome bills reveal that in 1759-60 the Birmingham grate-maker and locksmith, Thomas Blockley (1705-89) supplied four steel stove grates for the Library, Drawing Room, State Dressing Room and Lady's Dressing Room at Croome, ranging in price from £16 5s for that in the library which was 'In the new manner' to £10 5s for the State Dressing Room grate. The 1759-60 bill also includes a 'Fender to Pattern Engd' (25 October 1760) possibly made to the design of Robert Adam, who began working at Croome in that year. It is therefore certainly possible that Blockley was responsible for other Adam designed Paktong grates.
Since its publication in Bonnin's seminal work in 1924, this grate has long been considered one of the finest examples from the 1770s. Elements of its construction, however, such as the frieze being made in one solid length rather than cast in sections and joined, as well as the fact that the finials are also cast in the solid rather than in two halves and with a visible seam - could point to a date in the later 19th Century. A close examination of the Paktong grate supplied by Adam for the Green Drawing Room at Syon House, however, reveals that it also seems to have been constructed from longer cast sections than would normally be expected - although the finials at Syon are hollow and constructed in two halves with a visible seam. A metal test undertaken by Dr. Brian Gilmour at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, confirms that this fender is indeed made of a nickel-brass consistent with Paktong; its composition is also consistent with a date of circa 1825, based on comparative tests carried out on Paktong tested with energy-dispersive x-ray flourescence analysis (XRF). Dr. Gilmour's comprehensive report is available with the Department.
Bacchic ram-heads embellish the altar-plinths of the flute-wreathed sacred urns, whose herm-tapered and hollow-capitalled pillars are antique fluted in the Roman-tripod fashion. Their pearl-wreathed and Cupid-bowed rails are antique-fretted and Grecian- flowered with triumphal palms and are inspired by James Stuart's engravings of the neck-band ornament of the Erechtheon's Ionic columns published in The Antiquities of Athens (1762) (R. and J. Adam, Works in Architecture, vol. II, 1779; and. E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, London, 2001, p. 285, fig. 423). Their lambrequin frets correspond to the en suite fender's cresting.