Home  / DH1040, 2019.4.3

Carved chinoiserie bracelet and case owned by Catherine Dickens

Collection

Object

Object number (per part)

DH1040, 2019.4.3

Object name (per part)

bracelet

Production organisation

Philips

Production date

1856-1869

Label

This carved chinoiserie bracelet was owned by Catherine Dickens. Catherine Dickens’s Will lists various special items in a cabinet that she bequeathed to her grandchildren, Beatrice Dickens and her siblings and it is possible this bracelet is one such item. The backs of the pieces reveal that if this bracelet was made in China then the clasps were added after by a British jeweller, as a Chinese piece wouldn’t have been clasped in that way. Chinoiserie, from 'chinois' the French for Chinese, was a style inspired by art and design from China, Japan and other Asian countries in the 18th century.

The bracelet is accompanied by a retailer’s display case made by the jeweller Phillips of 23 Cockspur Street, London. On 16 August 2018, the jewellery expert Charlotte Gere visited the Museum and viewed this item: "The container is definitely specifically for this item; nothing else has ever been in it. Phillips is the maker of the container and they were the very best jewellers of the day. [...] The Phillips retail display case is quite revealing. The firm moved to 23 Cockspur Street in 1855-6 and in 1869 changed their name to Phillips Brothers & Son. [...] The case mark hasn’t got the Prince of Wales feathers – these are added after Phillips gets royal warrant so it must be early. It is possible that it is too early to develop the idea that Charley Dickens sourced the item from a trip to China. Although we shouldn’t dismiss the idea."

Physical description

Carved chinoiserie bracelet of either ivory or bone made of five linked rounded plaques each one showing a scene of people standing between two buildings with decorative tree branches at the top and bottom. The central plaque is the largest, flanked by two slightly smaller ones, and finally two slightly smaller ones at each end. The bracelet has a copper toned clasp and silver toned pins holding the plaques together. The bracelet is accompanied by a retailer’s display case made by the jeweller Phillips of 23 Cockspur Street, London. The date range for the production of the case is 1855/6 – 1869.

Object history note

Catherine Dickens’s Will lists various special items in a cabinet that she bequeathed to her grandchildren, Beatrice Dickens and her siblings and it is possible this bracelet is one such item. The backs of the pieces reveal that if this bracelet was made in China then the clasps were added after by a British jeweller, as a Chinese piece wouldn’t have been clasped in that way. Chinoiserie, from 'chinois' the French for Chinese, was a style inspired by art and design from China, Japan and other Asian countries in the 18th century. The bracelet featured in the V&A exhibition on Charles Dickens 1970 and is listed in the catalogue.

On 16 August 2018, the jewellery expert Charlotte Gere visited the Museum and viewed this item. These are some of her comments about it: "The container is definitely specifically for this item; nothing else has ever been in it. Phillips is the maker of the container and they were the very best jewellers of the day. Dickens cites the names of real jewellers in his novels, but never cites Phillips as far as Gere is aware. There is Storr and Mortimer in Little Dorrit,
The backs of the pieces are how it would have come from China and the British jeweller would have just did the end clasps. A Chinese piece wouldn’t have been clasped in that way. Gere has never seen Phillips importing Chinese products. But he was a big importer. The case is called a ‘retailer’s display case’. It would have been made specifically for individual pieces. Often, they would be displayed by the owner. These cases need to be protected very carefully from the light, as they fade. A Chinese expert will know what the story is on the Chinese pieces of the bracelet.
There are various ways of dating Phillips things. Gere thinks this comes from early in his career. The Phillips retail display case is quite revealing. The firm moved to 23 Cockspur Street in 1855-6 and in 1869 changed their name to Phillips Brothers & Son. This is an unusually tight date range for an unmarked piece and should help us date it.
The case mark hasn’t got the Prince of Wales feathers – these are added after Phillips gets royal warrant so it must be early. It is possible that it is too early to develop the idea that Charley Dickens sourced the item from a trip to China. Although we shouldn’t dismiss the idea."

Credit line

Purchased with support from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund (National Lottery), the Art Fund and the Dickens Fellowship.
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