In the Spotlight: 'Bilston' Enamel Boxes

Fellows' forthcoming sale of Antiques & Fine Art on March 5th will feature a single-owner collection of ‘Bilston’ enamel boxes, with strong links to local industry of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the period 1760-1800 these small boxes were produced using powdered coloured glass which, when painted onto copper and fused by firing, produce scenes of remarkable beauty and quality. Using techniques which seem to have been brought from France by Huguenot refugees, it is thought that the upsurge in quality and production of boxes in the Bilston area was triggered by the closure of the Battersea factory in 1756, when talented workers may have relocated.


Rather than being mass-manufactured at a single location, enamel production was very much a ‘cottage industry’ and, unusually for this time, women were recorded as being a crucial part of the workforce.


Amongst the charming examples to feature in the sale will be a nutmeg grater and a vinaigrette, both of decorated egg design, and a cowrie shell with rare enamelled lid (these shell boxes usually feature engraved silver lids).


There are also more typical oval boxes, inscribed with sayings of love and friendship to their lids and given as tokens of esteem. These boxes often feature a mirror beneath the lid, as an aid when applying beauty spots or ‘patches’ which were fashionable in the later 18th century – hence these boxes became known as ‘patch boxes’. Two excellent local exhibitions of this art can be found at the Black Country Living Museum and at Wolverhampton Museum of Industry.


Fellows will be holding a free antiques valuation day at Bilston Town Hall on Monday 30th January from 10am to 1pm, where it is hoped that further examples may be discovered. Entries for the March 5th sale close on Friday 3rd February.

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