England in the 18th Century was a lively hub for culture, science and industry. The Act of Union of 1707 brought England and Scotland together, politically if not popularly, and Great Britain began forging its infamous overseas empire.
Advances in technology and agriculture placed Britain at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, bringing the masses into the rapidly expanding cities. Political power and influence was in the hands of an elite few, with the nobility at the top followed by the wealthy landowners – aka, the Gentry. Although the beginnings of a middle class, as we would know it today, were emerging at this time there was a huge wealth divide that separated the rich and the rest.
Derby-Chelsea Porcelain miniatures were my first love affair in antique jewellery, and we have a little collection of them here at Butter Lane Antiques. These charming figures were produced in two English factories, located respectively in Chelsea and Derby, between 1745 and 1784. Their rarity is down to the short window of production (less than 50 years), and the delicacy of the pieces. They are made from moulded porcelain, hand painted, with hardstone seals at the base. Gold bails were commonly added for wear as pendants.
The “well to do” of 18th Century England – the aforementioned Gentry and nobility – would exchange these fobs as tokens of love or affection, with the most commonly depicted figure being Cupid. The bases are often hand carved with the sweetest designs or faux Heraldic Crests. The seal pictured [image 2] depicts a winged heart over Globus cruciger – seemingly carved by an amateur. The mixture of symbology here is wonderful – I read: “Love holds dominion over the whole world”.
Each figure also features a motto, in French, above the base. Some examples include: “Mon Amour Est Badin,” or “My love is playful”; the excellent play on words “Signe D’Amour,” or “Seal of love” (yes, that is the swan [image 3]!); and “L’Argent Fait Tout,” or “Money is everything”. Okay, that last one is a kind of strange love token…
There is a wonderful book, Bryant’s “The Chelsea Porcelain Toys” (1925), in which a number from our collection feature. Here is what Bryant had to say on our beer-drinking Cupid [image 4]: “Cupid sitting on a green tree-stump, holding with his left hand a foaming mug above his head. He has a blue drapery over his left shoulder, falling behind and round his waist, the lining painted with a striped gold and crimson pattern, his quiver lies on the ground behind him. The base is white and concave, with the motto in red, “MON AMOUR EST BADEN.” Our Cupid has a slightly different colour scheme, but the cast figure is otherwise identical to Bryant’s, even down to the motto.
The earlier figures were made in the Chelsea factory (between 1745 and 1769) and there is evidence to suggest that a collection of some 300 moulds was transferred from Chelsea to Derby in the early 1770s. The Derby factory was known for using brighter, more vivid colours in their paintwork, which I suppose explains the variations on colour.
These love tokens provide fascinating insights into the lives and luxuries of bygone era. For me these little miniatures epitomise the idea of sentimental jewellery and I’m so glad that some of these delicate pieces have survived to this day!