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Pole screen

Pole screen

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (possibly, made)
    London (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1840-1860 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Jennens & Bettridge (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Japanned wood and papier-mâché

  • Credit Line:

    Given by M. L Horn

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Papier-mâché, literally 'chewed paper', is an ancient technique thought to have been invented by the Chinese. It became popular in Britain during the 18th century when the term was first coined in English (whereas in French the term was not recognized until the 20th century). At first it was used in architectural mouldings and frames but as the technology improved it became a popular material for all sorts of decorative objects ranging from household furnishings to carriages. Not prone to warping like wood or metal it was ideally suited to japanned decoration. This in turn provided an ideal smooth surface for painted decoration.

This pair of pole screens was made by the celebrated firm of Jennens & Bettridge (1816-1864) at a time when the fashion for papier-mâché japanned ware was at its height. The backs of these screens are stamped with the company’s name as well as the painted initials SR. These are probably the initials of the person who painted the floral and scrolling decoration on the screens. We do not know whether SR was employed by Jennens and Bettridge or if the work had been subcontracted out to an external workshop. However, we do know that the firm took pride in producing items of the highest quality, and at the pinnacle of their success they employed over sixty decorators.

Physical description

Stand and pole of wood, japanned black. Three short scroll legs with gilt foliate ornament support a circular base of flattened hemisphere form, decorated with flowers and foliage painted in polychrome. Series of stepped mouldings (ogee and beading) at the base of the pole and at intervals in three further places further up the pole, the top of the pole surmounted by a turned urn-shaped finial. The screen is supported on the pole by two brass rings attached to a flat brass plate screwed into the back of the screen; the plate stamped J & B with a *. The lower ring is considerably wider than the upper and has a screw and spring mechanism which allows the height of the screen to be adjusted; the upper ring serves merely to hold the screen in a vertical position. The screen is oval with scalloped edges, and is decorated with a border of gilt rocaille and flowers picked out with touches of yellow, red and whitish paint. This border encloses a naturalistic bunch of flowers painted in bright colours. The back of the screen is stamped 'Jennens & Bettridge' and is also signed with the initials 'SR' at the top in white.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (possibly, made)
London (possibly, made)


1840-1860 (made)


Jennens & Bettridge (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Japanned wood and papier-mâché

Marks and inscriptions

'Jennens & Bettridge' stamped on the back of the screen

'SR' painted in white on the back of the screen at the top.

Descriptive line

Pair of pole screens of japanned wood and papier-mâché painted with flowers; English, ca 1850; Jennens & Bettridge

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

The following excerpt is taken from Jones, Yvonne, Japanned Papier-Mâché and Tinware c. 1740-1940. Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 2012 (ISBN 978 1 85149 686 0), p.23-27:

‘Paper is believed to have been invented in China in the second century AD, and the Chinese art of making papier mâché objects is almost as ancient, but knowledge of paper-making spread only very slowly and it not reach Europe until the 12th century. Paper-mills were established in France in the late 15th century and soon after, French craftsmen began using paper pulp to make architectural ornaments, snuff boxes and other small articles. There were few paper mills in England until the late 17th century, so there was little pulp from which to make comparable articles, the paper imported from France being far too expensive to be pulped for the purpose.
By the 18th century, however, there were two quite distinct branches of paper mâché manufacture in England. One was allied to the making of paper hangings, and the other, to the japanning industry. Both branches took their lead from France and this, together with the name, has not only perpetuated the myth that papier mâché was French in origin, but also overshadowed its ancient eastern history.
Not only was the term papier mâché not recognised in 18th century French dictionaries, but the Journal de l’Agriculture du Commerce (1778) sourced it to England and to the first edition of Dossie’s book, The Handmaid to the Arts (1758). Its occurrence, much later in the French edition of the Paris Exhibition catalogue of 1855, may simply have been the result of the translation of texts supplied by English manufacturers. The term is, however, currently used in France today.
It has been suggested that the term derives from problems of communication between English employers and French émigré workers in the 17th century when papier mâché was probably taken to mean ‘mashed paper’ (or chewed paper)…. The crux was the cachet of a French sounding name and the penchant in some quarters if fashionable society in the late 18th century to look upon anything French as highly sophisticated.

Some of the advantages of papier mâché, gleaned from contemporary records, partly explain its attractions and may have been sufficient, at least until the mid-19th century, to outweigh what will be seen as its long and labour intensive production processes. Foremost was its suitability for japanning, which was much in vogue in the 18th century.
Furthermore, because it could be moulded into various forms, it required no joinery and was thus incredibly strong. As solid as wood, though less hard than most, it was said to blunt tools sooner, and although heavier in mass, its strength allowed it to be used in thin sections, rendering it perfect for small light objects….By the mid-19th century, it was found that it could be steam-moulded into any curve without fear of splitting. In short, it was considered superior to both wood and metal for being lighter, sounder, and admitting of a more beautiful finish’.

The following excerpt is taken from Jones, Yvonne, Japanned Papier-Mâché and Tinware c. 1740-1940. Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 2012 (ISBN 978 1 85149 686 0), p. 144.

"The partnership between Aaron Jennens (1788-1868) and John Bettridge (b.1790) is one of the best known in the history of the English papier mâché industry. It first appeared in the Birmingham Rate Book for the years 1810-13 when they occupied premises in Lionel Street, where one of their varnish suppliers, Messrs Thornley and Knight, was also situated.
Between 1851 and 1852, when they were described as the largest manufacturers of papier mâché in England, they had an office in New York, possibly in anticipation of the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, held there in 1853.
Though there is now a popular tendency for any unmarked yet good examples of Victorian papier mâché to be attributed to Jennens and Bettridge, there is no doubt that their reputation is justly deserved and of long standing; in their day, they were judged to have 'no rivals, or anything approximating to an equality' (Court, W.B., Rise of the Midland Industries 1600-1838, Oxford University Press, 1965, p.235)."




Japanning; Painting


Furniture; Household objects


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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