Monday, July 11, 2016

Bullion Animals - Casket Toys

There are a series of small animals that have been found in caskets that almost all share the same making technique.  A wire armature is padded and then wrapped with silk thread (or fabric) and a final finish of expanded silver or gilt bullion is wrapped around the entire animal, making it glitter.

The effect is quite charming and you can just imagine how cute these were and then the little girls making them to play with.

National Museum of Scotland, A.1961.502C (Snake), A.1961.502B (Stag) and A.1961.502D (Hound).

Quite a few snakes exist, including the one in the National Museum of Scotland collection of casket toys.  The snake is silver bullion that is expanded an wrapped around a wire that is wrapped with wool or cotton and then silk floss in yellow and pink stripes.  In this case there might have been a black silk thread going through the silver bullion, but it is degrading away.  The snake is about 11 cm in length and 3 cm in width max with the body about as wide as a pencil.

Domestic Needlework by Seligman and Hughes.  
Adam and Eve formerly of Mr. Percival Griffiths Collection
I have seen snakes listed in collections as well as around a sheaf of wheat in the Museum of London as well as a drawing of a piece in a private collection (in the 1930s).  I got to wondering why about the snake.  I mean, the stag and dog I totally get.  But a snake?  It certainly makes more sense when thinking about a scene of Adam and Eve... but why by itself?  Then I started trying to figure out the technique to make one of these animals and the snake was the natural first step you would try to make something! So I think the snake was the learning piece.

Museum of London Ornament ID No. 32.21/7  (1665-1699)
The Museum of London piece has some similarity to the National Museum of Scotland snake; it is about the same size and it is covered in silver bullion with blue and pink stripes in silk underneath.  But the mouth seems to be open like the snake in the drawing above and the wheat that it is wrapped around (Note those lacets, I suspect that they were actually what is wrapping the snake) has a lobed bottom to make it stand up - just like the tree in the drawing.

(Note - if ANYONE knows where this Adam and Eve pieces is - fess up!!).  My guess is that it is a velvet pillow with 3-D ceylon snakes on the green velvet and you can recognize the techniques for the leaves and apples... just hope someone gets inspired by that drawing!

While the Museum of London record says that the snake is around a tree, I don't agree as it looks exactly like five wheat sheafs that I have seen personally.  I'll bring the wheat up in another blog post.  There is one tree-like version that is also in the Museum of London.    (From both of these we get an idea of how the trees on the Royal Collection Casket stand up).

A close up view of my snake example
So back to the is a close up of my snake.  Which is now a Needlework Nibble!!  So learn this technique by trying out a snake and then see what you can extend the idea to for the Design Contest! It really is pretty easy and the effect just can't be explained in pictures as the expanded bullion just glitters so much.

It has been suggested that some of the wheat pieces with animals (there are more to show you!) were hair ornaments and I can believe that as they were so pretty and sparkly.

I have made two snakes!  One in silver and the other gold.


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