The Fabulous House of Fabergé

A Fabergé two-colour gold and enamel gum pot by workmaster Henrik Wigström, height 4.5cm © Toovey’s 2021.

Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) described himself as an artist-jeweller. It was his originality and flair which created the unmistakeable character that sets apart the house of Fabergé’s creations.

Fabergé were famous for their Imperial Easter Eggs made for Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian Imperial Royal family. The Romanovs gave these fabulous objects to each other and to their Royal relatives including, notably, our own Queen Alexander.

This patronage ensured that Fabergé were internationally celebrated. Fabergé made exquisite, intimate objects not only for royalty and the wealthiest in Russian, European and British society, but also pieces for the increasingly prosperous middle classes. Fabergé opened in in London in 1906.

Peter Carl Fabergé trained in St Petersburg and travelled in Western Europe before taking over his father, Gustave’s silver and jewellery business in 1870. He was joined in the business by his brother Agathon in 1882.

Peter Carl appears to have personally directed the artistic and commercial policy of the company which at its height employed more than 500 assistants, designers, modellers, gem-cutters, goldsmiths and enamellers.
Peter Carl designed some of the most important pieces including the famous Imperial Easter Eggs.

Fabergé’s business model was very progressive. He provided workshops, tools and raw materials to his direct employees without charge, and it seems likely that he shared the profits with his master craftsmen from the items made by them.

These playthings for the rich were often of a scale which enabled them to be held and admired. These were intimate pieces.

The house of Fabergé produced a remarkable range of objects employing silver, gold, enamels in a rainbow of colours, carved hardstones and jewels.

The early 20th Century Russian Fabergé two-colour gold and enamel gum pot is by Henrik Wigström. Wigström was head workmaster at Fabergé between 1903 and 1917. He was responsible for almost a hundred works now in the Royal Collection, including the Colonade Egg, an Imperial Easter Egg made for the Romanov family.

The rose gold detachable brush with its cabochon moonstone finial compliments the spherical body. The translucent strawberry red enamel over the engraved flower swags and pendants on a waved guilloche sunray ground reflects the neo-classical style which is typical of Wigström’s work. It bore not only Henrik Wigström’s workmaster’s ‘H.W.’ mark but also the mark of assay master Alexander Romanov.

A Carl Fabergé silver guilloché engraved pattern sample panel inscribed ‘C. Fabergé’ to the reverse, 15.5cm x 12.6cm © Toovey’s 2021.

The Fabergé engraved silver sample panel also dates from the early 20th century and was engraved with twenty-five different pattern squares. It was inscribed ‘C. Fabergé’ on the reverse. The panel was removed from Fabergé in London by Mr Cooper, a workshop employee, before the store closed in 1915.

The allure of Fabergé objects remains as strong as ever amongst today’s collectors and these examples realised £13,000 and £15,000 at Toovey’s.
When the revolutionary Bolsheviks came to take over Fabergé’s business in 1918 he asked only to be allowed to put on his hat as he walked out of the door. He fled in disguise to Finland assisted by the British Embassy. His wife, Augusta and their son Eugène escaped from Russia crossing into Finland through snow-covered woods on foot and sleigh under cover of darkness.

Exiled, they made their home in Lausanne on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Fabergé died aged 74 in September 1920 of a broken heart, separated from his craftsmen, beloved Russia and his remarkable business.

Art and Industry in the Work of James Giles

A Worcester porcelain plate, circa 1770, painted in the London workshop of James Giles © Toovey’s 2021

As I write this week’s column I can still see a light dusting of snow covering the garden borders. The snowdrops are bravely out and the primroses are flowering. As the bulbs poke their heads up I am reminded that spring is not far away and the abundance of summer will soon follow.

These thoughts bring to mind the extraordinary work of the English ceramic decorator James Giles.

In the 18th century scientists and collectors sought to catalogue the natural world influencing society’s awareness and engagement with nature. In response to this, naturalistic and botanical styles of decoration became increasingly popular on porcelain.

In the 18th-century Britain’s porcelain industry flourished. Unlike its continental competition our famous porcelain manufacturers were not subsidised by royal patrons. Rather, it was our inventiveness, artistry and entrepreneurial skill which created such a flourishing industry and expression of decorative art.

James Giles was an outside decorator and a leading proponent of painting and enamelling on porcelain. Giles produced some of the most richly decorated of all Worcester porcelain. It was painted in his independent London studios. I am unaware of any Worcester porcelain decorated by Giles prior to 1760. An advertisement for his studio in January 1768 states that a large stock of white goods were available for enamelling ‘to any patterns his patrons might chuse’.
His ledgers and company records suggest that much of the painted porcelain from his works was actually decorated by Giles himself. He purchased ‘white’ china not only from Worcester but also Philip Christian of Liverpool, Thomas Turner at Caughley, and William Duesbury of Derby.

James Giles is noted for his botanical and armorial wares. The dessert plate and tankard illustrated are thought to have been decorated by James Giles in his London studios. The exceptional quality of his work is still prized by collectors today and they each made £1600 at Toovey’s.

There is an abundance to his decoration of the Worcester porcelain dessert plate which dates from around 1770. It is beautifully enamelled with fruit and insect decoration framed by the blue and gilt border. Its crack is repaired with rivets, a favoured method in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A Worcester armorial porcelain tankard, circa 1765, finely painted in the workshops of James Giles © Toovey’s 2021

The Worcester porcelain tankard provides an example of Giles’ armorial ware and dates from around 1765. Its slightly tapered cylindrical body is finely enamelled with a coronet enclosing a broken spear above a floral ‘RS’ cypher between two delicately articulated broad sprays of fruit and flowers.

The spirit of industry, inventiveness and entrepreneurial skill expressed in the nation’s 18th and 19th century porcelain manufacturers and decorators is still to be found across the United Kingdom.

We have always brought together science, art, design, manufacturing and industry and I feel confident about the positive contribution we will continue to make in the world.

Marking Valentine’s Day

A 19th century sailor’s shell valentine of typical octagonal form, the glazed case enclosing a geometric pattern of various shells within coloured card borders, width 37cm © Toovey’s 2021

Music is so evocative often reminding us of points of love in our lives and I am looking forward to Andrew Bernardi’s online Valentine’s Day concert this Sunday.

Over the centuries people have found ways to mark love on Valentine’s Day. Amongst my favourite expressions of love are Sailor’s Valentines.
Sailor’s Valentines were made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Shells from the Caribbean were glued to cotton batting in intricate patterns. Contained within glazed octagonal frames they would be gifted to loved ones by the sailors when they returned home from their voyages.

At the centre of these designs you find love hearts, anchors and nautical emblems and, as you see here, flowers. It is often said that these love tokens were made by the sailors but they were actually made in the Caribbean where a cottage industry grew up, particularly in Barbados.

Amongst the best known retailers was Belgrave’s Curiosity Shop in Bridgetown which was run by the English brothers Benjamin Hinds and George Belgrave.
The brothers organised local women to create the designs using seashells. The design of the Sailor’s Valentine you see here is centred around a central flower head made from bi-valve sunrise tellin shells. The compartmentalised design includes olive shells, cowries, limpets, moon shells and small purple sea snails.
Barbados was often the last stop before the voyage home. Sailors could be away from home for years so although they purchased their valentines rather than making them the sentiment behind these exotic examples of shell art were expressions of genuine affection.

The feast of St Valentine, celebrated on 14th February, was inaugurated by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The day became associated with romantic love in the 14th and 15th centuries.

These shell tokens of love are still made today but early examples like the one you see here are highly prized by collectors. This one was sold at Toovey’s for £2600.

If you haven’t got a Sailor’s Valentines up your sleeve for this coming weekend perhaps you might celebrate love by joining Andrew Bernardi who will be holding a Valentine’s Day concert in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society this coming Sunday 14th February 2021. The concert will be streamed live from Leonardslee House. Andrew will be supported by pianist, Maria Marchant, cellist, Jonathan Few and Classic FM’s John Suchet. Our musicians, museums, theatres and art galleries have all faced enormous challenges because of Covid-19 and deserve our support.

At Toovey’s we strongly believe in the value of building communities through the arts and heritage here in Sussex. They are vital to the life of our county and we are proud to be continuing our sponsorship of the Shipley Arts Festival, especially in these times.

This innovative online concert will bless you with stunning musicianship and a wonderful romantic program – a ‘virtual’ evening out! Tickets cost just £10 and can be purchased by visiting

Icebergs and Oil Rigs

Cattle grazing on the coastal path between Blakeney and Cley, Norfolk

The north Norfolk coast has a special place in my heart. When I was a boy we would take a cottage with my Gran and Grandpa at Blakeney or Cley.
Dressed crab from Cromer was always a particular treat and picnics on the Sheringham line as the steam engine puffed along the coast to Holt with its lovely galleries and shops.

The shingle ridge at Cley was a favourite spot. My Grandpa would take my brother and I swimming there. He was of that particular generation where his face and hands were sun-kissed and brown but otherwise he was as white as porcelain standing there in his knitted trunks. “Come on boys” he would cry as my brother and I followed him into the freezing North Sea, “nothing between us and the North Pole except icebergs and oil rigs!” It really was that cold. I have said the same things to my girls many times swimming off the north Norfolk coast. It’s called wild swimming now but since childhood I’ve always enjoyed the excitement of swimming in the sea from April to October at Goring and elsewhere.

At Blakeney we would fish for baby crabs on the quayside. Delighted if we made a catch the crabs were always returned to the estuary and its fast flowing tide.
My wife, Teresa, and I were blessed to spend a long weekend at the wonderful Blakeney Arms Hotel late in the season last year. With its gathering English country house interiors and antique furniture the hotel provides a welcome retreat from the busyness of life. Wonderful food and the generous staff made for a special weekend.

The view from the Blakeney Arms Hotel, Norfolk

We arrived late in the evening and drank thermos tea on the quay as the sky darkened. When we awoke the following morning the rain had cleared. We drew our curtains and were greeted with a rich late autumn light illuminating the marshes and incoming tide. The sky always seems bigger on the north Norfolk coast and extends the horizon, a welcome experience in these times.
After breakfast we set out on the coastal path heading out to sea and then east towards Cley with its famous windmill and pottery. The path is raised above the marshes and to the side of us cattle grazed in a timeless scene reminiscent of a painting by Sir John Arnesby Brown RA.

News that we will probably all be holidaying in the UK and at home in Sussex this year is an exciting prospect.

Here in Sussex we are blessed with some of the most beautiful countryside and varied coastline in the country. Our museums, country houses, gardens, theatres and art galleries add to the cultural richness of our landscape and they will need our support.

Post lockdown I look forward to exploring our own county with you once again, celebrating the richness and beauty of Sussex, her history and her heritage.
Until then stay local and stay safe.