It has been some time since I described a discovery I had made in a charity shop, and the journey of discovery on which it could lead. My previous discoveries have included Playing Cards, a Kitchen Ladle and a collection of Regency Music.
It was in a glass case, it looked very tatty but old, the initial glimpse suggested a couple of hundred years or so old.
It was a small tray, the base of which was a picture, clearly of eighteenth century date. On initial examination it could be seen that the picture looked as if it was a print of a young couple. The rest of the tray was faded and discoloured, but immediately suggested something interesting, that it was not a professionally made object but something made by an amateur. I naturally bought it immediately and took it home for examination.
Cleaning it confirmed what I had expected, the base had been decorated with a section cut from a larger print and then coloured, probably in watercolour. It was in excellent condition, having been protected by a sheet of glass, now heavily scratched from long use. The same could not be said for the sides of the tray. Made from thin wood they had been covered with ribbon and the top protected by a length of metal braid.
Whilst I was now pretty certain, that the box was of eighteenth century date, there were some things I could do to help confirm this. The first was to identify the print. Here the British Museum website proved invaluable. It allows you to enter a series of criteria to search their huge collections. It was a print, it was probably eighteenth century, the style looked to me to be French, and the young woman seemed to be feeding the young man cherries. I therefore entered these terms and in the few moments discovered this;
The print dates from 1784 and shows a scene from a French comic opera ‘Les Sabots’, with the hero and heroine Colin and Babet. The opera was written by Jacques Cazotte, an unusual author who was claimed to be able to predict the future, and is supposed to have given detailed descriptions of what was to happen to his acquaintances during the revolution. This skill didn’t help him though, as he was guillotined in 1792.
The sides of the tray were decorated with what appears to be a ribbon with a woven pattern, probably a floral sprig and the top is covered with a metallic braid folded over the wood. This suggests that the tray was made at home of material readily available, and is typical of some of the craftwork done by the ‘accomplished ladies’ of the eighteenth century. Prints were used to decorate just about everything on which they could be stuck, from small items like this tray, to furniture and even entire rooms.
The tray was probably used on a dressing table, to hold small objects.