An Early Victorian Japanned Papier-Mâché Pedestal Table c.1840

Origin: English
Period: Early Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1840
Diameter at top: 24 inches
Height: 28 inches

The early Victorian period black lacquered, gilt and polychrome decorated pedestal occasional table, largely of papier-mâché construction, having a circular top depicting figures by a lake within a scrolling leaf border, on an octagonal tapering column and tripartite base decorated with chinoiserie inspired motifs, raised on three compressed bun feet survives from the second quarter of the nineteenth century.

The table has obviously been in use and as such the top has signs of wear, though it makes for a decorative piece as it appears lived in. All of the components of the table are true and original with no later replacements. She still remains relatively sturdy, with some movement to the top which you always find in pieces like this but nothing of serious concern. There is warping to the top so it is now a little more concave in shape and there are some scuffs and scratches to the base, with some shrinkage to the top of the column. One could use the table lightly but it is more of a decorative piece per-se.

It is quite possible that this table was made by Jennens and Bettridge aka Aaron Jennens and T.H. Bettridge (fl. 1815-1864) who are the name most people associate with this period and were highly regarded for producing quality papier mâché wares. The Birmingham company had shops in New York as well as London; producing some of the finest papier mache items of all time and many are now prized collector’s items or museum pieces today.

Papier-mâché itself became an industry in England in 1772 when Henry Clay of Birmingham took out a patent for its making. The process for making papier-mâché furniture was achieved either by pasting multiple layers of paper over shaped cores, or by pressing paper pulp between dies or molds to form a variety of shapes. Once dried, the resulting raw material could be carved and polished and was intended to be japanned and inlaid. The black lacquer on this table was made up of amber, linseed oil, resin and asphaltum (thinned with turpentine this was a bitumous substance from the Dead Sea).

“Among the many inventions of modern times for diffusing the luxuries, and even the conveniences of life, there are few which have greater claims to our admiration than papier-mâché. Whether it meets the eye in the shape of furniture, or in articles of domestic utility, its beauty and agreeableness are equally striking and effective. Nor is it less so when applied to ornamental purposes” - The World In Its Workshops, by James Ward, 1851.

The point in early Victoriana where, function and beauty meet.