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About Nic Saintey
Nic Saintey is a director and a specialist in ceramics. His effervescent nature and wide experience has seen him regularly appear as an expert on the BBC's Bargain Hunt and Flog It programmes
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The material published in this web log is for general purposes only. It does not constitute nor is it intended to represent professional advice. You should always seek specific professional advice in relation to particular issues. The information in this web log is provided "as is" with no warranties and confers no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.

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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The original ‘Portland’ vase was a tour de force of Roman cameo glass making that was first recorded circa 1600 and has since then had a colourful history. Amongst these was Cardinal Barberini the nephew of Pope Urban VIII whose family retained the vase for 150 years before it was sold to clear the gambling debts of the Princess Barberini-Colonna to a Scottish antiques dealer called James Byres in 1780. He treasured the vase so much that he had sixty plaster copies made by James Tassie which he sold along with the original.

 a pair of wedgwood pale blue jasper ware portland vases

A pair of Wedgwood pale blue jasper ware Portland vases (FS18/514)

Passing via William Hamilton it was purchased by the eccentric Dowager Duchess of Portland who was said to be ‘intoxicated only by empty vases’. On her death in 1785 her son the 3rd Duke of Portland purchased it at auction allowing Josiah Wedgwood to make porcelain copies of it provided he didn’t bid for it. Unfortunately even before Wedgwood got his hands on it, it was broken twice, and presumably this was when the beautifully carved, but obviously errant base was stuck on.

 wedgwood's copy of the errant base added to the original portland vase before 1785

Wedgwood's copy of the errant base added to the original Portland vase before 1785 (FS18/514)

The 4th Duke of Portland left it with the British Museum for safe keeping where in 1845 whilst on view, it was comprehensively smashed by an intoxicated Irishman. It was glued together, although thirty seven pieces could not be found. The 7th Duke failed to sell the vase at auction, but subsequently sold the vase to the museum in 1945, luckily the missing pieces were found shortly afterwards.

detail of a wedgwood portland vase showing the myth of peleus and thetis

Detail of a Wedgwood jasper ware Portland vase showing the myth of Peleus and Thetis (FS18/514)

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013 10:46:06 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
Comments [0] Early Porcelain | General | Glass | Trackback

Review Entries for Day Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It was the mid 17th century before glass was really considered as a useful medium to drink from - before this period the English drank from a variety of metal, wooden and leather vessels – this led to a contemporary French source suggesting that ‘we were wont to drink from our boots’. I wonder which troubled mind was the first to consider melting sand with a flux and various chunks of vegetable matter – it all seems a bit arbitrary to me?

Whilst the variation in the shape of the foot and the bowl of an antique wine glass can seem infinite it is the form of the stem that is generally used to age a glass. Dating from the late 17th century the first generic type of English antique wine glass is known as the baluster and tends to have a heavy stem with large bead like swellings known as knops. Excise duty on glass during the 1740’s led to a stem that although similar in form was thinner and often had decorative bubbles within them these required less material and are often referred to as balustroids or lighter balusters. Although more delicate than their counterparts it was suggested in a clever piece of marketing that they were designed to allow gouty fingers a good anchorage!

                     antique wine glass -  a light baluster circa. 1740                       antique wine glasses - two single series air twists circa. 1750-60
Perhaps the most technically beautiful forms of antique wine glass were the airtwist - popular from the mid century and the opaque twist stem in the 1760’s and 70’s. Although produced with straight and knopped stems they literally enclosed an intricate spiral of air or fine spiralling webs of predominantly white glass.
 
The Excise Act of 1777 doubled the tax on glass and so the only way open for makers of antique wine glasses to further reduce the volume of glass in a stem was to shave off tiny diamond shaped slithers to produce a faceted stem.
 
I am in utmost admiration of the latent beauty of an antique wine glass and how fit for purpose it is, but what perplexes me more than anything is considering their age and delicacy and that their sole purpose was to transport intoxicating liquor to eager lips. How in the devil did so many survive?
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009 7:07:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, April 06, 2009

Originally conceived with a more practical purpose in life glass has always been sought after since the earliest times to quote a contemporary source it took 'a rare kind of Knowledg and chymistry to transmute Dust and Sand to such a diaphanous pellucid dainty body as you see a Crystall-Glasse is' to put it more bluntly who woke up one morning and decided 'hey you know what, I'm going to heat up a pile of sand and mix it with some wood ash or burnt seaweed and see what I get' ?

Whilst the Romans and Egyptians certainly used this high status medium to produce things of a more 'artistic' nature it was the Venetians that picked up the ball and ran with it particularly those on the island of Murano. There are two schools of thought as to why this highly skilled process was restricted to Murano rather than elsewhere on the lagoon. Some consider that the high temperatures involved in glass making led Venetians to fear immolation, but being surrounded by water and stone buildings that surely can't have been the case - it seems more likely that it was easier to guard and maintain the profitable secrets of glass making by restricting production to the smaller island of Murano.

 

 murano glass 'lucy' by juan ripolles           murano glass abstract face form vase       murano glass 'camilla' by silvio vigliaturo

 

 
As innovators they seemed second to none producing dainty glasses, brightly coloured beads and complex paperweights, however it was the twenty century that saw Murano produce glass as sculptural art in it's own right. If one puts aside the technically painful skills involved in moulding, manipulating and joining molten glass without cracking or blurring the constituent parts, if one ignores the fragility of the finished product (both part of the attraction for some) then one can marvel at the vivid colours of Murano glass, a medium that never fades and remains as bright as the day you bought it.
 
The first fifteen lots of our forthcoming July auction are from a collection of Murano glass, so is it art darling - of course it is, but you make your own mind up. Unlike some contemporary art I defy you say that a monkey could have done that? What monkey would be stupid enough to burn sand and seaweed?
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Monday, April 06, 2009 8:19:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, December 15, 2008

I am always fascinated by the ethereal process that turns practical household objects into 'Art' or desirable 'Antiques'. Sounds like an alchemist's dream doesn't it? So it is that antique wine bottles are keenly sought, and strangely not for their contents as they are invariably empty!

A recent sale at our rooms in Exeter was a good demonstration with prices from a few £100's to just shy of  £3,000 for a Cornish example bearing a seal for 'T.Lanyon Gwinier, 1721', not bad for rubbish I would say.

 an antique wine bottle

 

Strictly speaking these were high status items used for decanting and serving the contents of a gentleman's cellar, hence their owner's desire to mark them. Early examples circa 1680-1720 were hand blown into wooden moulds and are often referred to as 'onion bottles' in deference to their shape although I can't help thinking the next evolution in shape circa 1720-40 known as 'the bladder'  has a more appropriate resonance for an antique wine bottle.

As I blog another antique wine bottle with local connections has appeared on my desk this example is charmingly marked for 'I.Y at ye Dock' and research suggests that it was almost certainly made for James Yonge a second generation naval surgeon from Devonport.
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Monday, December 15, 2008 4:41:59 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, December 08, 2008

Nic Saintey will start blogging shortly.

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Monday, December 08, 2008 5:13:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
Comments [0] Art Pottery | Early Porcelain | Early Pottery | General | Glass | Modern Ceramics | The Antiques Business | Trackback

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