Date Made/Found: around 1820
Material and Medium: close plate, gilt, papier mâché
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2004.646
This blade of this knife is made from close plate, a form of silver plate. It is marked 'JONES' and 'PATENTEE'. A similar mark of 'JONES' next to a hat-like motif was registered at Sheffield Assay Office in 1824. Unfortunately, nothing is known about this craftsman. The blade was almost certainly made in Sheffield or Birmingham. Both of these cities were centres for the manufacture of articles from close plate.
The handle is made from papier mâché. It is has a rectangular profile and is decorated with flowers and stars in gilt and coloured paint. The decoration is Chinese in style, a fashionable choice of the time.
This knife is very unusual both in terms of the materials used and the shape of the blade. The blade is curved and does not have a particularly sharp cutting edge. Like many close plate knives, it might have been used at dessert. It could also have served an entirely different function, such as being used at a desk for opening letters.
Papier mâché is a material made from paper. It can consist of laminated paper or pulped paper and glue. Papier mâché is a French term, but the material has its origins in the Far East. Lacquered paper has been manufactured in China since at least 600 AD. It began to be used in Europe during the late 1600s.
Objects made from papier mâché were often formed using wooden moulds. Alternatively, it could be rolled out into sheets that were layered and glued together to form boards. These could then be sawn or pressed into different shapes. Finished objects could be painted or decorated using a technique called japanning. This involved the use of coloured varnish to imitate fashionable Japanese lacquer work. The most common colour used was black, onto which designs were painted in gilt. Red, green and yellow varnished were less frequently used.
Papier mâché was used in the manufacture of a very wide range of objects in the 1700s. This included linings for canteens or travelling sets and small personal items such as buttons. However, it could also be used on a much larger scale. Papier mâché boards could be used for making items of furniture, such as trays and tables. Architectural features, such as imitation plasterwork and mouldings, were also made from this material.
Find out more…
Find out more about the vast range of materials and techniques that can be used to make objects:
Trench, L. 2000 Materials & Techniques in the Decorative Arts. An Illustrated Dictionary. London: John Murray.
This object forms part of the Bill Brown Collection. Supported by The Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust.