Spiers Antique Sewing box
This antique figured rosewood fully fitted sewing box by John Joseph Mechi came on the market at a dealer of antique boxes in London in April 2008. One theory is that it may have originally belonged to the wife of Joseph Spiers, the younger, whose name was Maria, née Tisdall, purchased by her in 1839.
The sewing box contains a set of three visiting cards belonging to Mr J Spiers and Mrs J Spiers of 4 Carlton Villas, Maida Vale, Paddington and Mrs Charles Dando of 26 Portland Square.
The visiting card for Mr J Spiers quite possibly belonged to Maria's father-in-law, Joseph Spiers the elder, silk manufacturer, who lived at Carlton Villas.
The visiting card for Mrs J Spiers might have belonged to Maria herself if she had spent time at Carlton Villas after the death of her husband in 1839, unless the card was from an earlier or later period, in which case it could have belonged to one of Joseph the elder's, wives. His first wife had already died at the time the box was purchased and he didn't marry his second wife until much later. The most likely of the two is Elizabeth, née Tisdall, his second wife and older sister of Maria - we first see Joseph, the elder, at Carlton Villas during the mid 1840's. These cards could have been produced at any time and it seems they were still in the possession of the box's owner by the 1850's (see the next paragraph).
Mrs Dando would have referred to Joseph the elder's, daughter, Clarissa, who married Charles Tidmarsh Dando. They originally lived at number 13 Portland Square but appear to have moved to number 26 around 1850/51. This is born out by the fact that the number 26 on the visiting card seems to have been overwritten by hand, presumably having been originally printed with the number 13.
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Also in the box was a carnet de bal (dance card) with pencilled notes on the ivory leaves alluding to members of the family. These entries were probably written by Mrs Spiers with the silver propelling pencil made by Morden and Co. which is still in the box. The notes read...
- Edmund went too House at Maida veil Nover 26th We did remove to Maida vale December 9th 1840
- July 30 - 1840 Went to Brighton with Mrs Ward Augst 5th returned to London with Mrs W and Mr Spiers Clarissa (? this next word is uncertain, possibly 'moved') to London September 5th 1840 Charles came Octer 29th Clarissa and Charles returned November 19th
(note: Joseph Spiers, the elder, had a sister called Mary Ward)
- October 12 - 1839 paid £12 for this workbox
The way the writer expresses themselves in the diary-like fragments it is plausible that she is female. She refers formally to Mr Spiers and Mrs Ward as though being respectful towards her 'elders and betters'. On the other hand, she refers to Charles, Clarissa and Edmund with the familiarity of an equal, they being Maria's brothers-in-law and sister-in-law. This feasibly points to the owner of the box - or at least the writer of the notes - as being Maria Spiers née Tisdall, a widowed mother of several young children who was perhaps living with her widowed father-in-law around that time.
Important figured rosewood fully fitted sewing box by J.J. Mechi, of Leadenhall Market, London, with inset brass carrying handles. The rosewood is profusely and finely inlaid with mother of pearl depicting floral motifs. The fully fitted inside lined with red water-silk, has a set of eight turned and carved mother of pearl spools, winders, matching waxer, tape-measure, and needle cleaner. There are also two unmatched pairs of silver handled and sheathed scissors which have cabochon turquoise set in their silver handles. The box also has a silver handled folding corkscrew, a silver propelling pencil by Morden and Co., a mother of pearl handled pen-knife and a stiletto. There is also a cut silver toped crystal scent bottle, a wax-spoon/tweezers, a pair of thimbles and a mother of pearl carnet de ball with ivory leaves. The lid has a mirror, framed with water-silk embossed with gold, which opens down to reveal a document wallet.
Origin: UK by J.J. Mechi of 4 Leadenhall St. London
Size: 38.3cm wide by 25.5cm deep by 15.2 cm high : 15 inches wide by 10 inches deep by 6 inches high.
Condition: The condition and completeness of the box are almost incredible. It is of the highest quality and is virtually in the condition it was in when it was sold by Joseph Mechi, a well known and respected box maker, from his Leadenhall St. shop in 1839. £12 was a substantial sum of money in 1839 and it is clear from the box itself that it represents many hundreds of hours of highly skilled work using expensive materials.
The top of the box is prime quality figured rosewood, the same wood prized by makers of classical guitars. It is profusely inlaid with mother of pearl depicting foliate inspiration in a fluid and stylized way. This is mother of pearl inlay at its best. The accuracy and exactness of the cutting is masterful. There is no apparent use of filler. There is no room for a fret saw to have cut the mother of pearl and rosewood. The resulting inlay is fluid and light of touch in unyielding materials.
The edges of the box are rounded and have a rounded piece of solid rosewood. The rounded edges are also on the underside. This is also covered with velvet so as not to scratch the surface of furniture where the box was rested.
The mirror is framed with gold embossed silk. The facings are inlaid with mother of pearl. This is a very unusual feature.
The lift out tray has silver carrying handles. There are two mother of pearl backed needle cases turned and carved pull. The whole of the inside of the box is lined with red water silk.
There are two unmatched pairs of silver handled and sheathed scissors which have cabochon turquoise set in their silver handles. The box also has a silver handled folding corkscrew, a silver propelling pencil by Morden and Co., a mother of pearl handled pen-knife and a stiletto. There is also a cut silver toped crystal scent bottle, a wax-spoon/tweezers, a mother of pearl carnet de ball with ivory leaves and a pair of silver thimbles, one fully closed and the other part open.
There are matching waxer, tape-measure, and needle cleaner. The mother of pearl tops are the same design as the spools. The spools are turned and carved, pierced and engraved. These spools are particularly finely made. Thread was just beginning to be sold on wooden reels and the spools are designed to come apart to hold the new innovation.
There is one early reel made by J & P Cotes, "Best Six Cord". On the other side there is another label which reads: John Bunn Edgeware Road. Edgeware Road would probably have been the nearest shopping Street to Maida Vale where the Spiers, lived.
The fine thread winders are finely engraved with foliate patterns. The silk covering is embossed and decorated with gold leaf.
The box still has its original key and is labelled (inside the document wallet):
No 4 Leadenhall St.
J.J. MECHI, to prevent
Signs all his articles thus,
NONE ARE GENUINE.
Grateful thanks to Joseph O'Kelly of Antique Boxes at the Sign of the Hygra for the above information and photographs.
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