This very rare enamel example is of a type of necessaire set with a watch found in major institutions including The British Royal Collection, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, though none combine all of the features and designs displayed on this particular example.
There has been a long-standing association between English enamels made circa 1750/60 and the Battersea Factory, however, recent research has highlighted alternative sources for the origin of the enamel panels which decorate the present necessaire. The history of Battersea enamels begins officially in 1753 with the establishment of the York House Factory by Stephen Jansson (d. 1776) and two associates: Henry Delamain (d. 1757) and John Brooks (c. 1710- after 1756). There is evidence, however, that the enamelling of snuff-boxes and other objects had been in existence for some time before this. A. J. Toppin (English Ceramic Circle, IV, 1932) notes the existence of over three hundred apprentices to toymen, enamellers, japanners and snuff-box makers in Birmingham, London and several South Staffordshire towns between 1709 and 1757. The earliest Battersea enamels were almost entirely painted on a white ground with rural or Italianate landscapes as well as pastoral or genre scenes, with flower sprays being used for sides and bases. Some romantic scenes were derived from compositions from the work of famous artists such as Antoine Watteau's (1684-1721) La Partie Carrée, and François Boucher's (1703-1770) Pensent-ils au raisin?, these were either transfer printed and then over-painted, or painted free hand with a similar subject. Among the artists recorded as having worked at Battersea are James Gwim (fl. by 1723- d. 1769), Anthony Tregent and Simon-Francois Ravenet (1706-1774). Anthony Tregent was born in Geneva in 1721. He is the best known of all London suppliers of copper-based enamels as he signed a number of extant examples.
It is probable that most of the engravings that were used as sources for enamel paintings by artists both in London and Staffordshire were from the many books of drawings that were published in the second half of the eighteenth century. There were in particular two that were widely used, The Ladies Amusement, published in 1759/1760 by Robert Sayer (1725-1794), and The Artist's Vade Mecum, also published by Sayer in 1762 which repeated many of the scenes from the original. These contained architectural landscapes, scènes galantes and genre scenes by contemporary English artists such as Charles Fenn, who worked at Battersea, and Robert Hancock (1731-1817). The curious pyramid structures that appear in the landscapes of the top and second front drawers of the necessaire correspond with one from The Ladies Amusement 1762, p. 14. These are possibly a depiction of The Temple of Cestius in Rome, taken from an etching by Giovanni Piranesi (1720-1778) who published his Prima parte di Architettura e Prospettive in 1743, followed in 1745 by Varie Vedute di Roma Antica e Moderna. It has also been suggested that the enamelling on the base of the necessaire is of the type found on items from the St James's Girl-in-a-Swing factory of Charles Gouyn.
Charles Cabrier II, son of Charles Cabrier and father of Charles Cabrier III, was the most prominent clock and watch maker of the three namesakes. The Cabriers were a celebrated dynasty of Huguenot clockmakers who settled in London from 1685 following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. A relatively large number of their clocks and watches have survived. Apprenticed in 1719, Charles Cabrier II joined the Clockmakers' Company in 1726 becoming master in 1757 and serving in that role until 1772.
Vanessa Brett, former editor of the Journal of the Silver Society, who is researching eighteenth century toyshops writes:
'This necessaire epitomises the trinkets or baubles that in the eighteenth century were known as toys, things which Samuel Johnson described as 'a thing of more show than use, a petty commodity, a trifle'. It would have been sold in a toyshop. Although by selling such wares toy-men and their customers were scorned by high-minded men such as Adam Smith and caricatured by the playwright Robert Dodsley, toyshops were amongst the most fashionable - if not the most fashionable - shops in London and Bath. Those who could afford these things appreciated the workmanship, technical advances, and new and exotic materials that went into their making. They liked their luxuriousness, femininity and sheer frivolity - they liked them as status symbols.
The present example is a particularly delicate object - it was surely not intended for daily use; there are many more robust and more practical examples of the wares of toy-men, goldsmiths and cutlers. Rather it would have been given as a gift on a birthday, or from an admirer to a lady whose favours he was seeking or who might make the necessary introductions to advance his career, or, to use modern parlance, as a 'hostess present'. Few necessaires and étuis have survived with their original fitments intact. Invoices show how very regularly toys, and particularly watches, needed repair and how often parts needed to be replaced. This is hardly surprising given their intricacy and size.
A toy-man or toy-woman did not make anything - he or she was purely a retailer, the equivalent of a French marchand mercier. Several toy-men also described themselves as jewellers; many who described themselves as 'goldsmith and jeweller' sold toys. Some might have employed a craftsman to work in the shop and carry out repairs and alterations, but most would have sent out such work to a craftsman nearby and bought or commissioned stock from specialists. James Cox (circa 1723-1800) claimed in 1773 that for 'about seven years past [he had] employed from eight hundred to one thousand workmen'. The making and marketing of luxury goods involved a complex network of inter-related designers, craftsmen, merchants and retailers: a necessaire such as this object required the skills of many different trades. The question to ask is therefore not 'who made it' but 'who was the mastermind'? Who thought up and designed such an object, ordered the parts from the several craftsmen who contributed to the piece, and who made the container and fitted it out? The names of several hundred watchmakers, jewellers, goldsmiths, toymen, lapidaries, and snuff-box makers working in London in the middle decades of the eighteenth century are known, but usually the only visible 'signature' on mounted wares are on those that incorporate a watch. It is sometimes difficult to decide whether such a signature is the name of a watchmaker, the workshop who assembled the piece, or a retailer.
The fashion for necessaires of this type appears to have been relatively short-lived. Its design is very close to a surviving gold-mounted agate example sold Sotheby's, Monaco, 25-26 May, 1975, lot 28. From the collection of Baron de Redé and Baron Guy de Rothschild, l'hôtel Lambert and the Château de Ferrières, the watches surmounting both are by Cabrier and they have the same figures supporting and surmounting the watch. Both are in the form of a fall-front desk, have the same feet and a side drawer. The present example has an additional long drawer at the front and is mounted with English enamels - more rarely seen than the use of agate. Two pieces of similar design is not sufficient evidence to prove regular collaboration between craftsmen any more than two swallows make a summer, but they are an indication of what to look for when attempting to assess the output of a workshop. Charles Truman's discovery of the name Barbot on the carcass of a trunk-shaped necessaire in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and on other similar necessaires, supports their attribution to the workshop of John and Paul Barbot. Another example by Barbot was sold Christie's, New York, 28 March, 1979, lot 236, where the signature is illustrated in the catalogue. The present necessaire may be an addition to that group.
John Barbot (1702/3-66) described himself as a tweezer or étui case maker. His name is on the watch of a pair of gold-mounted agate necessaires set with rubies and diamonds in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; in the same museum is a jewel cabinet with enamel plaques, surmounted by a watch with the name of James Cox; a watch in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, is engraved with the name of the London toy-man P. D. Chenevix. None of these men is recognised as a watchmaker; they engraved their names on the watches to advertise the shop from which the piece was bought, the place to which it should be returned for what is today called after-sales service.
The shop of Chenevix and his wife Elizabeth Deards was the most fashionable toyshop in London; it headed a group of shops operated by her family in London and in seasonal resorts such as Bath, Tunbridge Wells and Scarborough. After Elizabeth Chenevix's death her second husband (the gold box maker Peter Russell) continued the shop until 1765, when it was taken over by Jefferys. It faced the bottom of the Haymarket, and was round the corner from Spring Gardens, where James Cox established his museum in the former Huguenot chapel in 1772. Chenevix's might well have stocked the work of Barbot, who operated from a 'stuff shop' in Broad Street, St Giles. If Barbot did indeed produce objects such as this necessaire, they could have been assembled and sold alongside stuff and lengths of other woollens such as serge and shalloon. Many craftsmen multi-tasked and operated in very different areas of trade.
Movements by the watchmaker Charles Cabrier were incorporated not only into necessaires, but also into 'a large fluted Gold Cane Head, the Bottom Swage of it bound round with a Fillet of Rubies and Diamonds, designed for the East India or Spanish Trade' advertised in 1763 by the retailer John Stamper. Cabrier's name also crops up in advertisements for the return of items looted following a fire at James Bellis's shop in King Street, Covent Garden, in 1760. One of the lost items was 'one china Equipage, opening with a Brilliant button; one Watch and Chain to match the above Equipage, the Watch by Cabrier'. Bellis described himself as a jeweller and toyman, and as a goldworker when he registered a mark in 1760. He is recorded in the mid-1740s and died in 1788; he had a second shop in Pall Mall. John Barbot and James Bellis were joint trustees in the bankruptcy of John Pyke, who had formerly worked for the toy-man Paul Bertrand in Bath. Bertrand was married to Elizabeth Chenevix's sister, Mary Deards.
In London there were numerous other toyshops and snuff-box makers, and those who advertised that they 'make and sell' étuis or équipages, several of which advertised enamels. One was Joseph Allen at the 'Hand and Snuff Box' in Cripplegate who advertised 'Ennamelling [sic] and Japanning of all kinds'. He went bankrupt in 1752, shortly before the founding of the York House factory at Battersea; he certainly knew James Cox. Anthony Tregent described himself as 'enameller' when advertising his 'New Year snuff boxes'; these incorporated a calendar and were widely sold in toyshops, see Christie's, London, 3 July, 1996, lot 57. James Tregent incorporated enamels into his watches and clocks: he was a close friend of John Deards II, the last member (and third generation) of the Deards family to run a London toyshop, on the corner of Dover Street, which, like that of his aunt Elizabeth Chenevix, was taken over by Nathaniel Jefferys (in 1783).
The rarity of the present piece lies in the use of enamel plaques and mother-of-pearl for the drawers. Whoever assembled it might have bought the enamel plaques from Battersea (active 1753-56), from Bilston (established in the 1740s) or from a man like Joseph Allen. Mother-of-pearl was frequently used in étui cases and snuff-boxes and could be bought from wholesale importers or from shops such as George Humphries' shell warehouse, where in 1766 he advertised 'shells corals fossils and other natural curiosities for cabinets or grottos or for cutting up such as tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, shells &c.' Other necessaires are differently fitted out, incorporating the work of other specialists: James Giles, for example, is associated with many of the small bottles that are found in them. A particularly elaborate example sold in these rooms 8 December, 1994, lot 16, with silver and polished steel mounts, incorporated porcelain panels attributed to the St James's factory of Charles Gouyn, a jeweller and toyman renowned for small porcelain scent bottles and figures.'
Brian Beet, 'Foreign snuffbox makers in eighteenth-century London', The Silver Society Journal, no.14, 2002. Vanessa Brett, 'The paper trail of eighteenth-century retailers', Silver Studies, The Journal of the Silver Society, no. 26, 2010; and 'Retailing gold boxes in London and Bath', forthcoming in the publication of seminar papers delivered at the Wallace Collection and the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010.
We are indebted to Vanessa Brett for her assistance with this catalogue entry.