ENAMEL AND STAMPED BRASS FURNITURE HANDLES English, ca. 1785-88
ALBUM OF FASHION ENGRAVINGS SHOWING HAIRSTLYES AND HEADDRESSES
The rise of a commodity culture in eighteenth-century England was spurred by an expanding consumer base and a concomitant demand for novelty. In response, manufacturers targeted an aspiring middle class with an increasing range of stylish material goods. These handles and the compilation of pocket book engravings perfectly illustrate the significance of fashion in the larger market place and its acknowledged relationship to innovation.
Pocket booksósmall leather bound folios of useful information, calendar pages and fashion platesówere created especially for a wide female audience. Titles such as
Carnanís Ladies Compleat Pocket Book and
The English Ladies Pocket Companion or Useful Memorandum Book
circulated amongst a readership both urban and provincial; the engraved plates disseminated changes in style and thereby renewed interest in pursuing the latest fashions and promoted constant consumption. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurs used those same images to sell everyday household objects. When seen in comparison with certain plates from this rare album of pocket book illustrations, it is easy to see how small bust portraits were well suited to decorative applications. The delicately colored enamel centers of these handles featuring young women in au courant hats of the mid- to late 1780s are set into stamped brass mounts. This latter development in the manufacturing process, introduced in London around the middle of the eighteenth century, allowed for quicker and less expensive production of attractive furniture hardware. The examples seen here are very similar to commode handles depicted in a trade catalogue from Birmingham, England, in the Downs collection at Winterthur Museum, illustrated in Early American Metalwork by Donald Fennimore (1996), fig. 16. Trade cataloguesólike pocket booksówere instrumental in informing clientele of new merchandise.
As very few copies of ephemeral pocket books were preserved, this rare album with its unbroken chronological series of headdress plates is an extremely unusual survival. Presumably assembled in the early nineteenth century from several different editions of annual publications, it records a total of 238 different depictions of hairstyles and hats in twenty-eight pages. Full catalogue information is available on request.