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Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter #129 - July 2022

Enamelled Gold & Silver Vesta Cases

It wasn't until the late 19th century that 'on enamel painting', or painting 'en plein' (indicating that the enamel was applied directly to the silver as opposed to an inserted or applied plaque), started to appear on Pocket Vesta Cases, but it soon became hugely popular and the brightly coloured enamels adorn some of the finest and most sought after examples. The Vesta Case would have been something of a fashion accessory and part of everyday dress for the well heeled gentleman, carried in the waistcoat pocket attached to a swivel clip on one end of an 'Albert' watch chain or loose in the pocket. Hand painted and expensive enamelled examples would of course have demonstrated some affluence and good taste.

Creating a 'Picture Vesta' was a painstaking and skillful operation. The surface area of the silver would have first been cut out and then filled with a neutral opaque enamel and fired, this would create the 'canvas'. The outline of the design would then be traced onto this surface for the enamellist to then build up the image in several successive stages with individual colours and firings.The completed work would then be covered with a flux or clear enamel before the final firing.

Subject matter tended to be, although not exclusively, overtly masculine in taste. It was after all generally men that bought or received Vesta Cases as gifts. Sports and pastimes of the period tend to dominate - Hunting, Shooting, Fishing, Racing, Golf, Motoring and Sailing scenes can be found, but the female form in various states of dress and undress was very popular. Gambling and Smoking themes were frequently covered, often with visual puns, double entendres or riddles. Animals, birds and insects, nautical and maritime subjects are also encountered. The list is endless!

For practical reasons, it is not that likely that any subjects were painted directly from life onto enamelled vesta cases. The artists took their inspiration from existing paintings, prints, engravings or photographs. The same subject was often reproduced, although being hand painted, no two examples are exactly identical in every way.

Perhaps some of the finest and most detailed work in this field was produced by the firm of Sampson Mordan & Co, 41 & 43 City Road, London, E.C. Their 'Flat-Top' and sentry box series depicting 'Soldiers of the Queen' being some of the most desirable.

The large premiums placed upon enamel Vesta Cases have seen a number of forgeries on the market in recent times. It pays to be aware of originally plain cases that have been 'improved' with the addition of a (usually) applied enamel plaque. The original examples generally having inset enamel.


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Victorian Silver Castle-Top Card Case - Scott Memorial Extra Large Edwardian Novelty Silver Fish Pin Cushion 20th Century Arts & Crafts Hammered Silver Caddy Spoon - Two Storks Victorian Silver 'Castle-Top' Snuff Box Exeter Cathedral
 George V Silver & Enamel Kingfisher Vesta Case  Asprey 9 carat Gold 'Gatling Gun' Propelling Pencil Edwardian Novelty Silver Golf Club Pin Cushion  Large George V Silver Greyhound Vesta Case


I do hope that you will find this Newsletter informative and helpful and will allow us send it to you on a regular basis. I would welcome any feedback you may have, both positive and negative.

David W.A. Buck.
Steppes Hill Farm Antiques


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Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Ltd · PO Box 608 · Sittingbourne, Kent ME10 9GT · United Kingdom

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