Happy New Year! We start the year with a rare piece of Irish sea glory: a gorgeous cabaret set made in parian china by Belleek in the 1860s.
The tiny village of Belleek is in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, and the factory is literally on the border with the Irish Republic. The factory was built in the 1850s by a local land owner, his architect/designer friend and an investor from Dublin, in response to the devastating famine only a few decades earlier. Soon, the impoverished locals were able to flower in their previously undiscovered design and craft skills, making some of the world's best parian porcelain using the local Belleek clay.
By 1863, Belleek made exquisitely designed teaware. This Echinus design, believed to be from 1867, is one of the most famous designs Belleek brought out. Queen Victoria loved it and ordered a little breakfast set just like this, which she used every morning the rest of her life. Echinus is the name of a sea urchin, and you can see why: the belly of the teapot is shaped and moulded like a sea urchin. But the references to sea life don't stop there: the handle, foot and spout are all shaped like coral, and the finial of the teapot is a little shell held up by little twigs of sea asparagus. The artwork of the moulding is exquisite, all the way from the urchin surface to the rather wild and slightly spooky coral handle. The tray has a beautiful imprinted pattern of what looks like large kelp leaves, and the same charming choral pattern around the edges matching the handles of the teapot and milk jug.
Belleek was terrible at keeping records, and with many designs it is not entirely clear who made them. These early designs are believed to be a collaboration between Mrs Annie Langley Nairne, wife of co-founder Robert Armstrong, and William Gallimore, the designer who trained up many previously unskilled workers in the village and was responsible for many early designs.
This set is extremely rare; this design was not made in huge quantities and there aren't that many surviving. You can find this very rare beauty here in my shop (and you can see all my Belleek items here), and if you always want to see the latest additions, follow me on Instagram... I post pictures and a story every single day 🐚🧜🏻♀️☘️.
Enjoy your weekend!
This week's new treasures:
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