A George III polychrome decorated oval papier mâché tea caddy attributed to Henry Clay, the decoration in the manner of Robert Adam, the jasperware medallions attributed to Wedgwood
Lot 103*
A George III polychrome decorated oval papier mâché tea caddy
attributed to Henry Clay, the decoration in the manner of Robert Adam, the jasperware medallions attributed to Wedgwood
Sold for £ 10,625 (US$ 14,117) inc. premium


Lot Details
A George III polychrome decorated oval papier mâché tea caddy attributed to Henry Clay, the decoration in the manner of Robert Adam, the jasperware medallions attributed to Wedgwood
A George III polychrome decorated oval papier mâché tea caddy
attributed to Henry Clay, the decoration in the manner of Robert Adam, the jasperware medallions attributed to Wedgwood
The pale green ground decorated with running anthemions and leaf and berry decoration, scrolling foliage, classical urns and husks all around Wedgwood jasperware medallions within gilt metal slips to the front and reverse, the hinged lid with a small knop handle and lined to the interior of the lid with red velvet, the interior with a gilt metal rim and hinges and black decorated lid and foil lining, 12cm wide, 7.5cm deep, 12cm high (4.5in wide, 2.5in deep, 4.5in high).


  • A closely related tea caddy attributed to Clay with similar Wedgwood medallions was sold Christie's London, 6 June 2001, lot 563. Other ovoid caddies by or atrributed to Clay include one sold Christie's London, 29 November 2000l lot 531, A pair of landscape decorated caddies stamped 'Clay', (one illustrated) and another Etruscan style caddy (also stamped) in C.Gilbert, Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, Leeds 1996, p.141., figs 201 & 202. An ovoid caddy with jasperware medallions on a dusted ground is illustrated in Y.Jones, Jappaned Papier Mâché and Tinware, Suffolk 2012, p.116, fig 116.

    Henry Clay (fl.1767-1812) of Birmingham patented 'new improved paper-ware' in 1772. His patent specification which lasted until 1802 was:

    "Making, in Paper, High Varnished Pannels [sic) or Roofs for Coaches, and all Sorts of Wheel Carriages, and Sedan Chairs, Pannels [sic) for Rooms, Doors, and Cabbins [sic] of Ships, Cabinets, Bookcases, Screens, Chimney Pieces, Tables, Teatrays, and Waiters." This process involved "pasting several papers upon boards... [which are] put in a stove sufficiently hot to deprive them of their flexibility, and at the same time are rubbed over or dipped in oil or varnish, which so immediately drenches into them as to secure them from damps... they are capable of being sawed into different forms, and planed as wood.... then coated with colour and oils sufficient to make the surface even, and then japanned and high varnished."

    The position Clay held in the industry for the manufacture of decorative items is reflected by Eliza Meteyard (1816-1879) in her biography of Josiah Wedgwood published in 1873, in relation to Matthew Boulton (quoted in Y.Jones, idib.,, p.133-134):

    During 1775 and the early part of 1776, Boulton seems to have been too occupied in his negotiations with Watt, and with business relative to the steam engine, to take a very active part in his ornamental manufactory. But a man named 'Clay' a most ingenious cabinet-maker of Birmingham, was at this time doing much for Wedgwood's fame, by inserting the cameos in tea caddies, writing desks, dressing cases and similar articles; and so much were these admired, that he soon began to make small dressing and other box lids entirely out of one cameo. These signs of Clay's exceeding taste and ingenuity induced Boulton to suggest a partnership, but Clay for some reason declined.

    Clay produced items ranging from small caddies, trays, knife boxes and dressing cases to small pieces of japanned furniture. Clay moved from London to Birmingham establishing workshops at 18 King Street in Covent Garden, where his array of clients included the Royal Family, becoming 'Japanner in Ordinary to His Majesty and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales'. His other clients included numerous members of fashionable society notably Robert Child of Osterley, the Dukes of Bedford, Horace Walpole and Baron Scarsdale of Kedleston. A few of Clay's pieces of furniture, like the small decorative pieces, bear his impressed stamp including some of those with a wooden carcass, see a late Henry Clay side cabinet decorated in chinoiseries, sold Christie's London, 21 April 1994, lot 137. Clay died a wealthy man in 1812 and the business continued to trade as W Clay & Co until 1860 with a showroom in Fenchurch Street, London, see C.Gilbert, ibid., p.22.

    A pair of corner cupboards with similar decoration and believed to have been supplied to William Brummell for Donnington Grove, Berkshire (1783-94) were sold Bonhams London, 19 October 2011, lot 158. A corner cupboard of very similar construction and technique of decoration was sold Sotheby's, Shrubland Park, 19-21 September 2006 Lot 54, now in the collection of The V&A Museum.

    Clay is known to have adopted the Etruscan-style decoration seen on Shrublands cabinet and indeed a visitor to his workshop in Covent Garden in 1775 reported that he made boxes, tea-caddies, panels for coaches and sedan-chairs, coffee trays, and '... all kinds of other vessels, black with orange figures in the style of Etruscan vases' (see Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's 'Visits to England as described in his Letters and Diaries', transl. and annot. by M. L. Mare and W. H. Quarrell, 1938).The most celebrated 'Etruscan' room is the State Bedroom at Osterley Park, designed by the architect Robert Adam A table by Clay was among the contents of the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley listed in an inventory of 1782, described as 'A pembroke table richly Japanned by Clay' (see Maurice Tomlin 'Catalogue of Adam period Furniture', 1982, p. 84, cat.no.J/5, illus.). The full extent of the working relationship between Adam and Clay remains unclear but he certainly supplied papier-mache panels decorated with grotesque ornaments for the doors at Kedleston in 1776-7, the design for which, now in the collection of the Soane Museum, (SM 49:51) is inscribed 'A fair copy sent to Mr Clay at Birmingham'
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