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Ring

  • Place of origin:

    Europe (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1850 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Rock crystal (quartz) in a gold mount

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by the Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:

    1180-1869

  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 50, shelf L, box 112

Crystals of silica are known as quartz. Pure quartz is colourless and known as rock crystal. If a small amount of iron is present as an impurity, the colour may be purple (amethyst) or yellow (citrine). Sometimes quartz contains aluminium and by a process of natural radiation in the Earth, becomes smoky grey or brown in colour. This is known as ‘smoky quartz’.

This ring forms part of a collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet. Sir A. H. Church gave additional specimens in 1913. He also compiled the first catalogue Precious Stones: A Guide to the Townshend Collection. The first edition appeared in 1883. The stones are mounted as rings, although they may not have been intended to be worn.

Physical description

Ring, rock crystal in a gold setting

Place of Origin

Europe (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1850 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Rock crystal (quartz) in a gold mount

Dimensions

Height: 2.5 cm, Width: 2 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm

Object history note

This ring forms part of an important group of gemstones bequeathed to the V&A in 1868 by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868). Townshend was a minor poet, musician, amateur painter and a collector of paintings, gemstones and coins. He became acquainted with the poets Robert Southey and William Wordsworth and was a close friend of Charles Dickens who described him as a ‘poor dear fellow, good affectionate gentle creature’.

Dickens and Townshend had a shared interest in mesmerism, a wildly popular form of hypnotism named after the German doctor Franz Mesmer. Townshend’s interest led to the publication of his 1840 ‘Facts on Mesmerism: With Reasons for a Dispassionate Inquiry Into it’, a section of which described his experiments in applying gemstones to the foreheads of sleepwalkers, stating that the opal gave a soft feeling and the Brazilian diamond was particularly agreeable. Dickens gave Townshend his manuscript copy of ‘Great Expectations’, with an affectionate inscription and in return Townshend made Dickens his literary executor, a task which Dickens found unpleasantly onerous but which eventually resulted in the publication of a collection of Townshend’s notes under the title of ‘Religious opinions of the late Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend’.

An obituary published in the Times (7 April, 1868) described him thus:

“He was a lover of art, and collector of rare judgment and exquisite taste. Every house in which he lived had, indeed, the interest of an art museum, though they will chiefly be remembered for the refined and gracious hospitality with which they were thrown open to his friends during the brief periods in which they were occupied by their owner, for during the whole of his later life he spent the greater part of the year at his villa, "Monloisir," at Lausanne…. He bequeaths to the President of the Council for the time being, for the benefit of the South Kensington Museum, such of his pictures, water-colour drawings, and engravings as the Lord President may select; also his collection of Swiss coins and his boxes of precious stones and cameos, together with the ancient gold watch which, having been stolen by the celebrated Barrington, was the cause of his transportation; also the looking-glass and frame over his drawing-room chimneypiece, carved by Grinling Gibbons.”

The collection of 145 gems came to the V&A (then known as the South Kensington Museum) in the early days of the museum. The 19th century curator G.F. Duncombe described the circumstances which led to the bequest:

‘Some years ago, the Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend…while walking with me through the Museum stopped to examine the jewels exhibited in the South Court, and to compare them with those in his own collection. Mr Townshend having no children, it occurred to me that it would be a noble thing for him to leave his collection by will to the South Kensington Museum, which at that time, had no precious stones except on loan. I made the suggestion to him and he seemed pleased with the idea, and subsequently often referred to it… I have since had the satisfaction of learning that about three years ago, Mr Townshend added a codicil to his will , by which he more than carried out the suggestion that I ventured originally to him.’ .

The acquisition aroused great public interest, being featured in the ladies’ magazine ‘London Society’ as a plot device in ‘A Romance of South Kensington’ and was almost certainly the inspiration for Dorian’s collection of jewels in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.

Although the collection is not as comprehensive as that found at the Natural History Museum, it is of particular historic interest as its formation pre-dates the development of many synthetic gemstones and artificial enhancements. All the stones were mounted as rings before they came to the Museum, mainly in a series of standardised gold settings, often of the coronet or galleried type. However, several specimens are set with greater elaboration, with diamond borders surrounding the central stone. Some of these were originally in the possession of Henry Philip Hope (d.1839), a brother of the novelist and antiquary Thomas Hope (c. 1770-1831). H.P. Hope formed a famous collection of diamonds and precious stones which was largely inherited by his three nephews. His collection, which included the Hope blue diamond, now in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, was catalogued by B. Hertz in 1839.

Townshend is recorded as having made purchases from it and seems to have remounted several of his purchases, in whole or in part.

Descriptive line

Ring, rock quartz in a gold setting

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Sir A H Church, Precious Stones: A Guide to the Townshend Collection, 1883
Clare Phillips, Jewels and Jewellery, V&A Publications 2019, pp.18-19
Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend; Obituary in The Times (7 April 1868)
Scott, Rosemary; Townshend, Chauncy Hare (1798–1868); Dictionary of National Biography
https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/27622

Production Note

Attribution fields for date and place refer to the mount only.

Materials

Gold; Quartz crystal

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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