Canterbury thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Canterbury

1830-1850 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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 pulp form for architectural mouldings and frames. As technology progressed a technique of moulding laminated sheets of paper was developed. The durable waterproof nature of this material meant it could be used for anything from trays, boxes and screens to chairs, pianos and even carriages.

Unlike wood, papier-mâché was not prone to warping which could cause painted decoration to crack, or inlay to lift. It was therefore ideally suited to the decorative techniques of japanning, gilding and pearl inlay found on this canterbury or music book stand. The durability of some forms of papier-mâché meant that it could be cut, joined and inlaid like wood, but complex items were usually made up of a combination of wood and papier-mâché components. Here the base, its drawer and legs are of wood, while the dividing panels above are papier-mâché.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Japanned wood and papier-mâché with painted and inlaid decoration
Brief Description
Canterbury of japanned wood and papier-maché with painted and inlaid decoration; English, 1830-1850
Physical Description
Four short legs of black japanned wood, turned as ribbed balls at the bottom then widening out as cylinders at which stage they are hidden by a black framework which depends from the main base of the canterbury; base and framework are of wood, japanned black. The edge of the base which projects beyond the frame as a moulding has a gilt zig-zag ribbon decoration around its top. The next stage has a convex profile and is decorated all round with swags of gilt leaves and mother of pearl flowers overpainted in colours. This stage appears to have a wooden base with papier-mâché facing; at the front it incorporates a single wide drawer with two mother of pearl knobs. The drawer and its framing are of black japanned wood. The top of this drawer stage has a moulded edge decorated on top with a band of gold speckling inlaid at random with fragments of mother of pearl, partly painted in colours, between two painted silver lines. The rack section of the canterbury is formed of four papier-mâché plates. That at the front has a fret-cut edge with scrollwork and leaf ornament around its border. This ornament is built up and decorated with random mother of pearl inlay, gilt leaves and foliate ornament partly painted green. The main field of the plate is decorated with a central group of flowers painted naturalistically in colours partly over mother of pearl inlay. Around this central group is scrolled foliate ornament combined with naturalistic flowers mainly gilt but also painted in colours and inlaid with mother of pearl. This surrounding ornament connects with the raised decorative border ornament. The central two plates have a similar fret-cut profile to the front one but have no other decoration than a narrow band of gilt scroll-work on their edges and top. The back plate has the same profile but is decorated on the centre of its outward face with a group of flowers naturalistically painted in colours, partly over mother of pearl inlay. The four plates are connected on each side by three turned wooden spindles; each with a broad knop in the centre with a band of gilt zig-zag ribbon decoration. At back and front these spindles project through the outside plates as raised and moulded circular bosses decorated with bands of gilding.
Dimensions
  • Height: 19.25in
  • Width: 25in
  • Depth: 12in
Dimensions taken from green file
Object history
Formerly on loan to the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (1978-2007).
Subjects depicted
Summary
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 pulp form for architectural mouldings and frames. As technology progressed a technique of moulding laminated sheets of paper was developed. The durable waterproof nature of this material meant it could be used for anything from trays, boxes and screens to chairs, pianos and even carriages.



Unlike wood, papier-mâché was not prone to warping which could cause painted decoration to crack, or inlay to lift. It was therefore ideally suited to the decorative techniques of japanning, gilding and pearl inlay found on this canterbury or music book stand. The durability of some forms of papier-mâché meant that it could be cut, joined and inlaid like wood, but complex items were usually made up of a combination of wood and papier-mâché components. Here the base, its drawer and legs are of wood, while the dividing panels above are papier-mâché.
Bibliographic Reference
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’.
Collection
Accession Number
W.59-1931

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdMay 31, 2007
Record URL