Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ladies on plates

Portrait plates are those that were crafted of fine porcelain by numerous makers, including Sevres, Limoges and Royal Vienna Porcelain, mostly during the latter half of the 19th century. My favorites are the ones that feature the likenesses of women of nobility and — especially — the ones in which the portraits are hand-painted and surrounded by gold moriage details.
This Viennese plate with gilt floral details features the great English beauty Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, née Spencer (she was the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales). Georgiana lived from 1757 to 1806. This plate is signed by the master artist Wagner and is after the famous painting of Georgiana by the Thomas Gainsborough, in which she wore one of the trendsetting feathered hats for which she was known. Georgiana immersed herself in fashion, politics and gambling – the latter of which amounted to millions.
Princesse de Lamballe (1749-1792) was counted among the more liberal of 18th-century French aristocrats and was a close confidant Queen Marie-Antoinette; like the queen, the princess was killed during the French Revolution. Here she is depicted in a hand-painted portrait plated bearing the Sevres mark (dated 1844), the Chateau des Tuileries mark and the signature of the artist "Victz." (Princesse de Lamballe was devoted to works of charity, but she also had her whimsical side: When molds became popular, she used baskets molded from sugar to serve her guests bonbons during supper.)
This 19th-century hand-painted portrait plate is of another French lady, Suzanne Curchod, a salonist and writer known as Madame Necker (after her husband, Jacques Necker). This is a Sevres plate with musical instruments set in the border and a signature by the artist, "J. Georget." Madame Necker founded a hospital in Paris in 1784; it still bears the Necker name and today treats sick children.
Portrait plates can function as decorative wall plates. Even the lesser ones are beautiful – and, thankfully, less expensive than those hand-painted by known artists. In fact, the range is broad; a simple portrait plate that was not hand-painted might cost a mere $30, while one of high quality can be $2,000.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goodbye, fair lady

The Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the famous (and infamous) Mitford sisters, passed away today at age 94. I'll always admire her for her style, for her tenacity in saving a historic estate and, certainly, for her love of chickens. There will never be another like her. Here is the New York Times obituary.
Here is one of the most famous photos ever taken of her, by Bruce Weber, in which she wears a Balenciaga gown while feeding her chickens. She sold the eggs from the farm shop on the grounds of her estate, Chatsworth.
Taken in 1952 by Norman Parkinson, this photo depicts the duchess in the "Gold Drawing Room" of Chatsworth with a painting of Henry VIII in the background.
Here Deborah is in 1941. The duchess was christened Deborah Mitford and was one of the six fabulous Mitford sisters, an aristocratic bunch that kept the newspaper headlines ablaze throughout the 1930s and 1940s. I've always loved that, despite her family's notoriety and upper crust lineage, Deborah was down to earth. She saved Chatsworth from falling into ruin. And she kept free-range chickens: Leghorns, Buff Cochins, Rhode Island Reds and others. What a dame.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer is over

I took a break from blogging this summer. But naturally, I made some blog-able discoveries. One was Cecily Rush, who is an amazing designer, sculpture and painter. She lives in a tiny New York town and makes whimsical party hats and other celebratory items under the name Cecily Rush & Co.
An example of a Cecily Rush party hat. 
I ordered this rabbit headband from Rush's Etsy site for my daughter's second birthday party, which was Peter Rabbit themed. The site is here:
And here's the hat on the little rabbit. 

With Day of the Dead coming up on Nov. 1, a special hat is in order, no? 
Or how about some Maleficent wings for your little one's Halloween costume?
Cecily Rush does it all: hats, crowns, favors, table pieces, gifts and decorations for birthdays, weddings and other occasions. Love this little dandy hat for that special boy's party.
And I must have this sash for Mother's Day 2015. Made of wool felt, glass glitter, paper, wire, paint, satin fabric and ribbons. Because this is a sash made for a queen, right?  
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Blendo versus Blenko

I recently wrote about this set of Blendo pitcher with six glasses that I found at GasLamp Too in Nashville. In pastels of yellow, pink, blue and green, this is the perfect set for a “Mad Men” style cocktail bar (available through 
Several readers contacted GasLamp Too about the piece. They all had the same question: Wasn't this called "Blenko" glass rather than "Blendo"? No, this is indeed Blendo; Blenko is another type of glassware entirely. But you can see how this is an easy mistake to make: The spelling is only one letter apart, with a "k" or a "d" making the difference. (Photo below: a lavender Blendo martini set at in the shop Chez Marianne.)
During the 1950s and 1960s the West Virginia Glass Company of Weston, West Virginia produced its line of beautiful, yet inexpensive, Blendo glassware that came in fabulous colors. Frosted up the sides until they faded to clear, in an ombré style of graduated shading, the glasses and their pitchers were trimmed with shiny gold rims. Blendo included a wide array of cocktail ware as well as serving ware. (Photo below: A Blendo relish set found at FreeLiving at
 Among the brighter Blendo colors were tangerine and yellow and among the pastel shades was a beautiful lavender. Blendo's maker, the West Virginia Glass Company, was formed in 1928 and was shuttered in 1987. 
Blenko, which still exists today, is also a West Virginia company; it is in Milton, WV. (Yet again, another confusing element of the "Blendo versus Blenko" story.)  Blenko makes hand-blown artisan glass that looks completely different from Blendo, as you can see from the photo, below. This is a Blenko water bottle. 
 Blenko has been in production since 1893. It was the brainchild of William John Blenko, who was born in London in 1854, apprenticed with a glass craftsman and moved to New York City at the age of 38. Interestingly, is still owned and operated by the Blenko family today.
Monday, May 12, 2014

Chinese children’s hats

Since having my adorable child, Stella, I don't have as much extra funds for collecting vintage finds. But if I had more coins to rub together, I would collect Chinese children’s hats. Such hats were typically made by Chinese nationals known as “the minority peoples” of certain Chinese northern and southwest provinces.
These two silk hats date to the late 1800s and are hand-sewn with embroidered silk appliqué and the three-dimensional faces of dragons. I found them at GasLamp Too in Nashville, which is one of my clients. One cap has a longer, scalloped flap at the back.
Like all Chinese minority hats, these would have been made by a child’s mother for the same purpose: To provide protection from demons, evil spirits and ghosts. Such hats were also thought to foster important qualities in the child who wore them, including academic success, happiness, wealth, health, courage, long life, grace and beauty.
I asked a friend to translate the symbols on one hat and discovered they mean “an ocean of blessings” or even “abundant blessings.”
This orange hat, created in the form of a dragon, is found online at a company called Cyber Rug that deals in Oriental rugs. I love that it has bug eyes and a tail. Children still wear such hats in the more isolated regions today, but most hats of this genre ceased to be made in the mid-20th century.
An excellent source of information on this genre is “Stories of Chinese Children's Hats, Symbolism and Folklore” by Phylis Lan Lin & Christi Lan Lin.