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Portable Desk - Warwick Castle

Portable Desk - Warwick Castle
Maker: English
Material: Papier mâché, mother of pearl, cloth and black lacquer

Provienance: Adelicia Franklin; to Sallie McGavock Lindsley; to her daughter, Margaret Elizabeth Lindsley Warner; to her daughter, Margaret Lindsley Warner White; to her daughter, Margaret Warner White Greenlee; to Mark Brown; to Belmont Mansion Association by gift

It is believed that Adelicia gifted each of this portable writing desk to a bridesmaid on the occasion of her wedding to Colonel Joseph A. S. Acklen. According to Margaret White, Sallie McGavock was the maid of honor in Adelicia and Joseph’s 1849 wedding and the McGavock Lindsley desk was most likely gifted at that time.

Papier mâché fit the Victorian taste very well, because it combines the Victorian’s love of elaborate ornate design and the exotic. Papier mâché, a French term meaning chewed paper, is made from mashed or layered paper that is molded and then covered with up to twenty four coats of lacquer or varnish. Some of the coats would be tinted with lamp-black. Paper making was invented in China in the second century and came to France in the late fifteenth century. Both China and France started making papier mâché soon after learning to make paper. Black lacquered or varnished furniture and other personal items first came to Europe from the east in the sixteenth century. By the 1750s, the making of papier mâché was well established in England and primarily located in the Midlands area [1]. By the 1840s, papier mâché was a popular decorative art form in many countries. Despite its popularity, the first company dedicated to its production did not open until circa 1849-1850. This company, Litchfield Manufacturing Company, opened in Connecticut and was associated with making clock case. Litchfield Manufacturing and Wadhams Manufacturing Company, also in Connecticut, were the two largest companies in the United States and unfortunately, both were out of business with the start of the Civil War [2].

While both of these pieces are unsigned, the English scene of Warwick Castle indicates that this piece was made in England. The castle was built on a rampart of earth constructed on orders of Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, in 914 [3]. In 1086, William the Conqueror granted Warwick Castle, a medieval fortresses on the River Avon in Warwickshire, to Henry de Newburgh, the first Earl of Warwick. For a fifty year period, beginning in the 1740s major work was undertaken on both the castle and the grounds. Italian painter, Canaletto painted five views of Warwick Castle in mid-18th century. The famous Roman vase which became known as the Warwick Vase was brought to the Castle in 1778. By 1788 a greenhouse was constructed to display the vase. From that time forward this much reproduced vase was the major attraction at the Castle [4]. The castle remained home to the Earl families until 1978.


[1] Jones, Yvonne. Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware: ca. 1740-1940. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd., 2012, 23-26.
[2] Ibid, 306-307.
[3] Warwick Castle / Historic Warwickshire Guide
[4] The Warwick Vase / History Today]

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