Desk Folder

ca.1851 (made)
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 122
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
This decorative folder was possibly intended for holding note- or blotting-paper. It was one of many commemorative items available for sale to visitors of the Great Exhibition. Set in the front is a view of the Crystal Palace reverse-painted under glass; beneath is a silvered layer. This gives a sparkle to the glass of the Palace.

Materials & Making
The folder is made of japanned papier-mâché decorated with mother-of-pearl roses. The 18th-century craft of japanning ornaments made of papier-mâché became an industry after 1772 when Henry Clay of Birmingham invented a new method of manufacture. He pressed sheets of heat-resisting paper into wooden moulds. This was then removed, stoved and smoothed, providing a warp-free surface ideal for japanning. Japanning, in which pigment is suspended in a varnish medium, is a cheap method of imitating oriental lacquer.

Historical Associations
Many different papier-mâché articles were exhibited at the Crystal Palace. Jennens and Bettridge, who had bought Clay's factory in 1816, had one of the main displays. In 1825, this firm had also registered a patent for mother-of-pearl inlay. Richard Redgrave, the artist who was a member of the jury for prize medals at the Great Exhibition, also selected exhibits for acquisition by the Museum of Ornamental Art. In his 'Principles of Practical Art' in the Museum's catalogue, he criticised 'papier-maché hidden under a surface of pearl and gold' as an example of over-decoration and declared it a 'ruling vice of the Exhibition'. This was despite his own ventures into ornamental papier-mâché design. Indeed, papier-mâché tended to become fussier and by the 1860s the industry went into a gradual decline.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Painting under glass, papier-maché, mother-of-pearl, card and paper
Brief Description
Souvenir japanned papier-mâché desk folder decorated with mother-of-pearl and gilding with an inset view of the Crystal Palace reverse-painted under glass in the centre. The inside is lined with paper printed with a diapered pattern in green. A mother-of-pearl stud at each of the four corners of the front and the back of the folder. English, ca.1851
Physical Description
Souvenir japanned papier-mâché desk folder decorated with mother-of-pearl and gilding. To left and right are moss roses and rosebuds, and to top and bottom are other flowers, probably morning glory. The centre front of the folder is inset with a general view of the exterior of the Crystal Palace reverse-painted under glass. The scene shows visitors to the Great Exhibition and people strolling in Hyde Park. In the foreground is a tree, a carriage with horse, and separate horse with rider. Silver and copper foils back some of the painted parts to produce a light-catching effect. The inside of the folder is lined with paper printed with a diapered pattern in green. There are mother-of-pearl studs set at each of the four corners of the front and the back of the folder.
Dimensions
  • Height: 15.5cm
  • Width: 22.7cm
  • Depth: 1cm
Gallery Label
British Galleries: The eye-catching ornamentation used on this folder was created by placing silver foil behind the image of the Crystal Palace and using mother-of-pearl on the border. Papier-mâché was a popular light material often used in making souvenirs, boxes and trays.(27/03/2003)
Credit line
Given by Mrs Eric Hervey
Object history
From a group of Crystal Palace memorabilia which belonged to Gerald Smedley Hervey, MBE.



Acquired towards a travelling exhibition planned by the V&A's now defunct Circulation Department in the late 1960s. The exhibition was never realised.
Historical context
Probably for holding notepaper and/or blotting paper
Subjects depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
Object Type
This decorative folder was possibly intended for holding note- or blotting-paper. It was one of many commemorative items available for sale to visitors of the Great Exhibition. Set in the front is a view of the Crystal Palace reverse-painted under glass; beneath is a silvered layer. This gives a sparkle to the glass of the Palace.

Materials & Making
The folder is made of japanned papier-mâché decorated with mother-of-pearl roses. The 18th-century craft of japanning ornaments made of papier-mâché became an industry after 1772 when Henry Clay of Birmingham invented a new method of manufacture. He pressed sheets of heat-resisting paper into wooden moulds. This was then removed, stoved and smoothed, providing a warp-free surface ideal for japanning. Japanning, in which pigment is suspended in a varnish medium, is a cheap method of imitating oriental lacquer.

Historical Associations
Many different papier-mâché articles were exhibited at the Crystal Palace. Jennens and Bettridge, who had bought Clay's factory in 1816, had one of the main displays. In 1825, this firm had also registered a patent for mother-of-pearl inlay. Richard Redgrave, the artist who was a member of the jury for prize medals at the Great Exhibition, also selected exhibits for acquisition by the Museum of Ornamental Art. In his 'Principles of Practical Art' in the Museum's catalogue, he criticised 'papier-maché hidden under a surface of pearl and gold' as an example of over-decoration and declared it a 'ruling vice of the Exhibition'. This was despite his own ventures into ornamental papier-mâché design. Indeed, papier-mâché tended to become fussier and by the 1860s the industry went into a gradual decline.
Bibliographic Reference
Fiona Jordan, 'Reverse painting on glass in the British Galleries' in V&A Conservation Journal, issue 39, Autumn 2001.
Collection
Accession Number
CIRC.801-1969

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 createdMarch 27, 2003
Record URL