Antiquing

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 It is not that I belong to the past, but the past that belongs to me.

I love antiquing and all flea markets and charity shops. Each item in a there has its own story, its own memory – the search the day you bought, who you were with. My husband collects cameras, art history literature; I love silvers, sparkle crystals, china and books. What are you collect? What favourite things have you accumulated over years that out now loving display around your home? I hope you collect smoothing that you love with passion. The trill of the hunt is only equalled by the discovery. You see it- over there its beauty beckoning you to come close for the better look. Quietly it whispers take me home. Today I accidently 🙂 bought silver toast rack, in the antique shop or flea market than anywhere else, among  the artefacts of the days gone by, I have discovery that toast rack history is really your story and my story.

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Some  conservator  or curators will be to says it is a serving piece having vertical partitions connected to a flat base, used for holding slices of toast, with a central ring handle for passing round the table. For me, it’s a story. The earliest known examples of toast racks date to the late 1700 s. These were simple servers made by soldering wires to a solid base. A ring at the top was used as a handle when the rack was being carried or passed. Over the years, a variety of additions was made.

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Toast racks became more embellished and some had butter dishes, areas for jam jars to be held, or even built in egg cups. Some antique brass letters or toast racks were made with figures on them like this gondolier. Others were simpler and meant to be set on a tray. By maintaining air gaps between the slices, the toast rack allows water vapor to escape from hot toast instead of condensing into adjacent slices and making them soggy. However, this increased air flow can also mean that the toast becomes cold more quickly. The toast rack’s design and shape follow prevailing fashion. The dividers were often made from silver wires and these in turn were soldered to either a wire-work or solid base that sat on four feet. Sometimes the base is separate and was used to dispose of any crumbs that fell. Some ingenious designs were made including expanding or folding types (so as to take up less space). The American way is to serve toast piled up, sometimes wrapped in a cloth napkin in a basket so that the heat is retained. Many British people find this horrible. They say; “but the toast gets soggy!” I do not understand this fear of soggy toast however I believe that full Scottish breakfast is toast rack included.

Albumen print of the designer Christopher Dresser, mounted on a card

I hope that all Glaswegians know that a designer renowned for his innovative take on the toast rack was Christopher Dresser (1834–1904), who studied at the Government School of Design in Glasgow from the age of 13 and is widely thought of as the ‘father of modern design’. Local talent ? Definitely no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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His signature was his brand – in that respect they were the first designer labels

Christopher Dresser has also been described as the forgotten figure of the Victorian art world, as he never gained the recognition of contemporaries such as William Morris.

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However, he created what were effectively some of the first designer labels in ceramics, wallpaper, textiles, glass and pottery ware. Dresser was keen to raise the awareness of design amongst the general population, stating “it is by bringing to the homes of the people, objects of art and beauty at a low price that more good is done in refining the middle and lower classes..” By embracing industrial manufacturing, Dresser was able to fulfil this ambition.

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This scientific deconstruction of form and structure see the diagram on the photo shows how Dresser reduced botanical drawings to their core structural elements. He hunted within these basic arrangements of stems, leaves and flowers to discover new models for design. http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/5654

The industrialised society was also providing a rising market of people with money who needed ‘guidance’ on how to decorate and furnish their homes. In 1879, he set up a business in London with his friend Charles Holme, importing Oriental and Indian items for wholesale. In 1878/9 he helped John Harrison set up the Linthorpe Pottery in Middlesbrough and in 1880 was appointed art editor for the journal – Furniture Gazette. At this time, Dresser was also a founder of the Art Furnishers’ Alliance, an association of art manufacturers with premises on London’s prestigious New Bond Street.

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Christopher Dresser, Chair, 1880-83

This shop contained everything required for ‘the complete artistic furnishing of a house’. The pace of work probably caused Dresser’s recorded ill-health at this time. The downturn in the national economy led to the demise of the Holmes partnership in 1882 and to Dresser selling his imposing house in the same year. In 1883, the Art Furnishers Alliance also ceased trading.

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The range of glass, called Clutha

These must have been serious blows to a man of Dresser’s standing. Arthur Liberty, a friend of Dresser, will have known of his plight. He commissioned Dresser to provide designs to the manufacturers supplying his London store. Many of these designs became extremely popular reviving Dresser’s fortunes and restoring his spirit. In 1888, Liberty commissioned Dresser to design a remarkable range of glass, called Clutha, now highly collectable. These must have been serious blows to a man of Dresser’s standing. Arthur Liberty, a friend of Dresser, will have known of his plight. He commissioned Dresser to provide designs to the manufacturers supplying his London store. Many of these designs became extremely popular reviving Dresser’s fortunes and restoring his spirit. In 1888, Liberty commissioned Dresser to design a remarkable range of glass, called Clutha, now highly collectable. His designs for James Couper had a fluid look that allowed the glass to express its molten state in the solid form. This quality was excentuated by, more often than not, muted colours with swirled effects, most usually pale greens swirled with white and aventurine, but transparent ambers and reds were also used by Dresser. Shapes included the classic rose sprinkler, as well as less formal asymmetric shapes, although he did produce some simple symmetrical forms as well. Dresser’s Clutha designs are usually, but not always, marked with a large acid etched logo on the base, often taking up the whole of the base of a vessel. The logo is a lotus flower and along with the name of ‘Clutha’ there is also that of Dresser. This logo was one of only two that were allowed to be used on pieces retailed by the famous London department store, Liberty’s – a rare accolade indeed! Dresser died of a heart attack in November 1904, on a trip to Mulhouse in France where he was visiting a local wallpaper manufacturer.

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 His designs, however ‘live on’ and continue to inspire.

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toast racks and more more toast racks

For years, toast racks collected dust in the dark recesses of attics, cabinets, and thrift shops. They were out dated and unwanted. After all, the toast could be easily stacked on a plate. People have discovered the variety and beauty of the toast rack. Where you could have bought almost any toast rack for few pounds a decade ago now you can expect to pay more for a small, plain toast rack and many times that for an unusual design. Silver, silver plate or china were the most popular materials for toast racks, although there are brass toast racks that can be found on occasion. Often you will find silver plated brass as well. Using them to hold toast and serving toast or other foods in the toast racks adds a bit of charm and Victorian elegance to the table. What are these people doing with these antique brass toast racks? Toast racks are most often used for holding mail these days. Because of the separate areas they allow you to easily file your letters, bills, and other items in an elegant way. Separate stationary and craft papers.

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Whether you love beautiful stationery or you scrapbook, toast racks organize those special papers beautifully. They are easy to get to and easy to see. Toast racks can be used to hold napkins at the table. They can be used to hold small files. They can be used to hold pictures of family and friends.  It is toast story finished, not yet.

Please remember if someone says “you’re toast” it means you are, or will soon be, in a trouble.

 The physical object can also be ‘toast’, which means it has been destroyed. I am sure that in this place I have to add that art conservator is toasted with that art object below.

With her Mona Lisa mosaic made of burnt toast, English artist Laura Hadland aroused the interest and curiosity of the inhabitants

With her Mona Lisa mosaic made of burnt toast, English artist Laura Hadland aroused the interest and curiosity of the inhabitants

Hope that any conservator not makes a mistake in your project/work and  will be no toast! I’ve thought of a linguistic angle on the toast rack issue, giving me a legitimate excuse to cast blame on toast racks again and more giving me a legitimate excuse to cast blame on toast racks again and more. Imperfect things and imperfect people!

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Places you need to visit. The Barcelona’s legendary flea market Els Encants Vells and sculptural metallic leaves above Barcelona’s flea market. I can’t find myself on my photo.

What I’ve learned over the years, is that learning to accept each others faults and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences, is one of the most important keys for creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship. Life is too short to wake up with regrets. Love the people who treat you right and have compassion for the ones who don’t.

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Following your feeling, trust your feeling

If you like to collect and you like to receiving riches from the past  please trusting your instincts, experimenting with different styles, listening to your heart. If you ever need to jump start your own abundant consciousness, spend the  day at an antique shop, flea market or charity shop in Glasgow, Florence, Barcelona, New York or other cities.

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My “art hunting” in Canada.

 Following your feeling, trust your feeling and may the Forces be with you.

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Ella

PS.

Toast racks are evil.

The entire point of toast is that it should be warm.

That way, the butter melts into it and it’s yummy. But cold toast, that is something to be feared!

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About conservationwithella

Hello, I'm Ella, Art on Paper Conservator & Preservation Manager at Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections. This blog is a walk through my daily life, work, arts & crafts history, my discovery that everything in my life is enough to be a continuous source of reflection. I started blogging to entertain myself but I hope you enjoy it too. I'm sure you agree, that Life without art is nothing. :)

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