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Antique Figured Rosewood Fully fitted Sewing Box By J.J. Mechi Circa 1839.

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Reference: Sb119

Description:
SB119: Important Figured rosewood fully fitted sewing box by J.J. Mechi, of Leadenhall Market.  London with inset brass carrying handles. The rosewood is  profusely and finely inlaid with mother of pearl depicting floral motifs. The fully fitted inside lined with red water-silk, has a set of eight turned and carved mother of pearl spools,  winders, matching waxer,  tape-measure, and needle cleaner. There are also two unmatched  pairs of silver handled and sheathed scissors which have cabochon turquoise set in their silver handles. The box also has a silver handled folding corkscrew, a silver propelling pencil by  Morden and Co. a mother of pearl handled pen-knife and a stiletto. There is also a cut silver toped crystal scent bottle a wax-spoon/tweezers  a pair of thimbles and  a mother of pearl  carnet de ball with ivory leaves.   The lid has a mirror framed with water-silk which has been embossed with gold, which opens down to reveal a document wallet.      

Origin: UK by J.J. Mechi of 4 Leadenhall St. London

Circa: 1839

Materials:

Size: 38.3cm wide by 25.5cm by 15.2 cm:  15 inches wide by   10 inches by   6 inches.

Condition: The condition and completeness of the box are almost incredible. The box looks as if it it is in the same condition as it would have had when it was sold by Mechi in 1839.

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The box is  fully fitted inside ,  lined with red water-silk, has a set of eight turned and carved mother of pearl spools,  winders, matching waxer,  tape-measure, and needle cleaner. 

There are also two unmatched  pairs of silver handled and sheathed scissors which have cabochon turquoise set in their silver handles. 

The lid has a mirror framed with water-silk which has been embossed with gold, which opens down to reveal a document wallet.      

There were three visiting cards in the wallet which enabled me to assemble something of the first owners of the box. 

 

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This sumptuous sewing box is  important for several reasons. It is of the highest quality and is virtually in the condition it was in when it was sold by Joseph Mechi a well known and respected box maker  from his Leadenhall St. shop in 1839.

It also comes with just enough documentation to give a glimpse of the lifestyle of successful and moneyed Victorian society. 

In the silk lined box there were three visiting cards and penciled notes on the mother of pearl and ivory carnet de ball. 

I was curious to know what sort of owner would have purchased such an expensive box. The carnet de ball  records cryptically " October 12 -1839, paid £12 for this work box". 

The entries on the carnet  are all written in pencil,  probably the silver propelling pencil made by Morden and co. which is still in the box.

With just this information I set off on a search which has connected long established hat makers  with silk merchants.

£12 in 1839 was a substantial sum. However, it is very difficult to equate with today's money. 

It is clear from the box itself that it represents many hundreds hours of highly skilled work using expensive materials. 

The calculator in www.measuringworth.com calculates that £12 in 1839 would be worth 

£779.99

using the retail price index

£1,116.27

using the GDP deflator

£8,616.44

using the average earnings

£11,588.79

using the per capita GDP

£26,775.98

using the share of GDP

in 2006.

There are three visiting cards in the box which link two documented families The Dandos of Bristol, hatmakers, with  the Spiers of Maida Vale, silk merchants and manufacturers, who were united by marriage in 1837.
Charles Dando Married Clarissa Spiers on 17th June 1837 in Chipenham, Wiltshire. 

Clarissa was the daughter of Joseph Spiers who was the proprietor of Messrs. Charles Spiers & Son who were important silk merchants and manufacturers. At various times there were premises in Church Street Spittlefields and Borough.

One of the Spiers factories was in Chipenham where the weading took place.

 

 

 

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The rosewood is  profusely and finely inlaid with mother of pearl depicting floral motifs.

 

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Detail of the elaborate mother of pearl escutcheon. This is mother of pearl inlay at its best. The accuracy and exactness of the cutting are unbelievable. There is no apparent use of filler. There is no room for a fret saw to have cut the mother of pearl and rosewood. The resulting inlay is fluid and light of touch in unyielding materials.
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Detail: the mirror is framed with gold embossed Silk. 

The facings are inlaid with mother of pearl. This is a very unusual feature. 

 

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The lift out tray has silver carrying handles. 

There are two mother of pearl backed needle cases turned  and carved pull.

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There are also two unmatched  pairs of silver handled and sheathed scissors which have cabochon turquoise set in their silver handles. The box also has a silver handled folding corkscrew, a silver propelling pencil by  Morden and Co. a mother of pearl handled pen-knife and a stiletto. There is also a cut silver toped crystal scent bottle a wax-spoon/tweezers  a pair of thimbles and  a mother of pearl  carnet de ball with ivory leaves. 

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The box has two pairs of similar but unmatched scissors stamped on the polished steel blades "Rodgers & sons". The handles  and sheaths are silver with turquoises. The handles are unmarked.

The name of Joseph Rodgers is often seen on English Scissors. They had letters patent going back to the 17th Century and were still one of the main manufacturers of quality scissors in the 19th C. 

 

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The corkscrew is particularly fine the handle and the sheath have chased decoration.   

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The silver propelling pencil is marked Morden and Co..

 

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 One side of this implement is a wax spoon the other a pair of tweezers.

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The blade of the mother of pearl handled penknife is marked "MECHI'S PECULIAR STEEL"  
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Cut green crystal scent bottle with glass stopper and silver top

 

 

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 Mother of pearl  carnet de ball with ivory leaves. 

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The writing on the thin ivory leaves of the carnet de ball seem more like diary entries than anything else. They seem to give the dates of arrival at Maida Vale.  

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This entry seems to read:

July ?? - 1840
Went to Brightonwith Mrs Warne?
Augst 5th returned
now? to London10th? May?  ??  ??

Mr SpiersClarissa came?
to London September5th 1840
Charles came
Octer 29th
Clarissa and
Charles returned
November? 19th

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This entry reads: 

"October 12 -1839
paid £12 for this
work box"

I was curious to know what sort of owner would have purchased such an expensive box. The carnet de ball  records cryptically " October 12 -1839, paid £12 for this work box". 

The entries on the carnet  are all written in pencil,  probably the silver propelling pencil made by Morden and co. which is still in the box.

With just this information I set off on a search which has connected long established hat makers  with silk merchants.

£12 in 1839 was a substantial sum. However, it is very difficult to equate with today's money. 

It is clear from the box itself that it represents many hundreds hours of highly skilled work using expensive materials. 

The calculator in www.measuringworth.com calculates that £12 in 1839 would be worth 

£779.99

using the retail price index

£1,116.27

using the GDP deflator

£8,616.44

using the average earnings

£11,588.79

using the per capita GDP

£26,775.98

using the share of GDP

in 2006.

 

Please click on images to enlarge |  slide show  | thumbnail index |

 

There were three visiting cards in the document wallet:

Mr. Joseph Spiers, 4 Carlton Villas Maida Vale, Paddington

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Mrs. Joseph Spiers, 4 Carlton Villas Maida Vale, Paddington

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Mrs. Charles Dando, 26 Portland Square. The "26" is written with a pen and obliterates another number.
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There are three visiting cards in the box which link two documented families The Dandos of Bristol, hat-makers, with  the Spiers of Maida Vale, silk merchants and manufacturers, who were united by marriage in 1837.
Charles Dando Married Clarissa Spiers on 17th June 1837 in Chipenham, Wiltshire. 

Clarissa was the daughter of Joseph Spiers who was the proprietor of Messrs. Charles Spiers & Son who were important silk merchants and manufacturers. At various times there were premises in Church Street Spittlefields and Borough.

One of the Spiers factories was in Chipenham where the wedding took place.

It is interesting to compare the success of the Spiers family as silk merchants with the general state of the English silk trade and manufacture.

See: SILK in ENGLAND   Alison Baird

 

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There are matching waxer,  tape-measure, and needle cleaner. The Mother of pearl tops are the same design as the spools

 

 Thread was just beginning to be sold on wooden reels. The spools are designed to come apart to hold the new innovation. There is one early reel made by J&P Cotes

"Six best cord". On the other side there is another label which reads: John Bunn Edgeware Road. 

Edgware Road would probably have been the nearest shopping Street to Maida Vale where the Spiers lived.

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The spools are turned and carved pierced and engraved. 

These spools are particularly finely made.

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 Detail of one of the fine Thread winders which are finely engraved with foliate patterns.  The silk covering is embossed and decorated with gold leaf. 

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The whole inside of the box is lined with red water silk.

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The box has two unmarked silver thimbles one fully closed the other part open.
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The whole inside of the box is lined with red water silk.

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The box is labeled (inside the document wallet)

No 4 Leadenhall St.
London
J.J. MECHI, to prevent
fraudulent imitations
Signs all his articles thus,
without which
None Are Genuine.

We have handled several boxes by Mechi and have recorded some of these in Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies, and Society, 1700--1880 
Antigone Clarke & Joseph O'Kelly,
ISBN: 076431688

"Item 1. Small gentleman's dressing box veneered in coromandel. Very fine quality. Interior beautifully lined in blue velvet and leather. Silver tops dated 1851, engraved with flowers and central visor with feathers. Central plaque on top of the box, with engraved visor encircled by a belt, containing the motto Nihil Sine Deo.

"Item 2. Lady's dressing box veneered in rosewood, with stylized floral inlay in mother of pearl. This is unusual, as most dressing boxes feature brass decoration. Sunk in side handles in brass. The interior lined in green leather and bright green silk. The internal mirror is edged in rosewood and can be removed from the lid and stand independently. Silver tops dating from the 1840s. Side jewelry drawer with separate lock. Very good subtle quality.

"Item 3. Sewing box veneered in rosewood. Mother of pearl escutcheon and fine pewter inlay. Tray inside lined with paper with a leafy gold pattern. Tops covered in soft blue taffeta silk. The inside of the lid is lined with an "envelope" covered in blue taffeta and opening with a silver catch. Very fine work. Regency period."

There is a writing box by Mechi illustrated on this website:

 

 

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 The box still has its original key.

In 1833 John Joseph Mechi who lived at 4 Leadenhall St gave evidence that  helped to convict Henry Gordon at the Old Bailey of steeling cloth and clothing from the Mechi dwelling. 

Gordon, aged 25, was sentenced to transportation for life.

See: www.oldbaileyonline.org/   

In Notes and Queries Number 65, January 25, 1851 
read the ebook Notes and Queries, Number 65, January 25, 1851:

"* * * * * WHERE TO BUY A DRESSING CASE. In no article perhaps is caution more necessary than in the purchase of a Dressing Case, for in none are the meretricious arts of the unprincipled manufacturer more frequently displayed. MECHI, 4. LEADENHALL STREET, near Gracechurch Street, has long enjoyed the reputation of producing a Dressing Case in the most finished and faultless manner. Those who purchase of him will be sure of having thoroughly-seasoned and well-prepared wood or leather, with the fittings of first-rate quality. The prices range from 1l. to 100l. Thus the man of fortune and he of moderate means may alike be suited, while the traveller will find the Mechian Dressing Case especially adapted to his necessities.--4. LEADENHALL STREET. * * * * *

John Joseph Mechi's brief biography is given at:
www.london-city-history.org.uk/biography.htm  

"Mechi, John Joseph (1802-1880)

"businessman, agriculturist and City activist was born in London on 22 May 1802. His father, Giacomo, was from Bologna and held a position in the Court of George 111. Royal connections were maintained as John claimed an early acquaintance with Queen Charlotte and a fishing companion in the Duke of Sussex. As a youth of 16 he was placed as a clerk in a mercantile house in Walbrook, concerned with Newfoundland trade. He remained here for ten years until, having saved enough money, he opened his own shop in Leadenhall Street. Here, he designed the ĎMagic Razor Stropí, making enough money from the business in the 1830s to move to larger premises but which thereafter suffered when beards became fashionable. Despite this setback and not for the first time, Mechi reinvented himself. This time, from 1859 to 1869, he went into partnership with Charles Bazan (Frederick Keats of Fortnum & Masonís was a colleague) marketing a patent in shop window lamps at 112 Regent Street.

"By this time he had began to construct a model farm at Tiptree Heath in Essex. This was the subject of extensive publications, including the best seller How to Farm Profitably (1857). The emphasis was on the use of deep drainage and steam power.

"Surprisingly, perhaps, Mechi found time to marry twice: first in 1823 to Fanny Frost, and second to Charlotte Ward in 1846. The combined product of both unions was several daughters and one son. He also gave his time to a number of other causes. He was member of the Council of the Society of Arts, Juror in the Department of Arts and Science at the 1851 General Exhibition and at the Industrial Exhibition in Paris in 1855, as well as founder of the Royal Agricultural Benefit Institution.

"Within the City of London he was appointed as a Sheriff in 1856 and Alderman in the ward of Lime Street in 1858. His luck run out in 1866, with the failure of the Unity Joint Stock Bank, and a hapless connection with the General Life Assurance Office eventually forced the liquidation of his assets. He resigned his Aldermanic gown and after several bad seasons on the farm, developed diabetes. He died at Tiptree Hall on 26 December 1880 and was buried at the local church on the first day of the New Year."

 

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The top of the box is prime quality figured rosewood. The same wood prized by makers of classical guitars. It is profusely inlaid with mother of pearl depicting foliate inspiration in a fluid and stylized way. The accuracy of the inlay is masterful.    

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 Detail of the inlay in the center of the top/

 

 The edges are rounded and have a rounded piece of solid rosewood.

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 The liftout tray has silver handles. The box has countersunk carrying handles

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The rounded edges are also on the underside. This is also covered with velvet  so as not to scratch the surface of furniture where the box was rested.

 

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My search for the story of this box brought me to Kensal Green Cemetery where Joseph Spires  Silk merchant and many of his family rest.

I was brought to Kensal Green by a  photo blog report:

myweb.tiscali.co.uk
/zucconi/biscuit/field/kensalgreen/kensal.htm

Sometimes the dead people want remind you that they have a nice house outside as well:

'The family vault of Joseph Spiers, Carlton Villas, Maida Vale, Paddington'

Well, that's one sentiment to take to eternity. Not one I would chose but I am not a self-made Victorian businessman.

Stef kindly sent me directions including a map.

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All text and images and linked images are © 1999-2008 Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly. If you require any further information on permitted use, or a licence to republish any material, email us at copyright@hygra.com