As the industrial revolution progressed in the 19th century, new techniques became available in the production of papier mache, making possible its use for more and more items from trays and boxes to chairs and pianos and even carriages. In 1772 Henry Clay patented a more durable yet lightweight product he referred to as “heat-resisting paperware,” which could be carved, cut and lacquered like wood or metal. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a large tray made by his firm around 1800 in its collection. Early pieces with the impressed Clay mark are highly sought-after today.
Clay and Company, along with Jennens and Bettridge, became one of the leading British manufacturers of papier mache. Founded by Henry Clay in 1770, the firm, given the title of Japanners to King George III and the Prince of Wales, was acquired by Jennens and Bettridge in 1816 and lasted until 1864, when the interest in paper mache began to decline.
This pretty, small, shaped dish must have been produced to fulfill a variety of purposes. I’m sure the well-stocked 19th century household would have had several of these dishes in various sizes. Part of the charm of this piece is not only the decorations and the colors, but also its sweet shape. It certainly would have been a marvelous piece to give as a present.
The design is based on an overall abundance of white enameled flowers protruding between leaves painted in gold leaf. In the center is a cartouche filled with greenery against a light gold background. Several more cartouches were placed on each side of the dish with both large and small flowers and leaves. The background color is a deep, rich, wine-red that serves as a good foil for all the flowers and gilded leaves. The excellence of the factory is seen in the quality, shape, and painting of this charming piece of papier mache. The Clay impressed mark appears on the bottom.
It is in excellent condition for its age and type: it would have been handled regularly over its life of some 200 years. Although it has a few minor losses and some age crazing in the edge of the flat bottom panel, it is still in remarkable condition. However, these paint losses or minute nicks do not detract from the decorative effect of this delightful early piece.
It measures about 4-5/8 inches by 2-3/4 inches, and it is 1 inch high.
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