Monday, 1 June 2009
A number of months ago I saw this Victorian beetle brooch at an antiques fair. Unfortunately, at the time I didn't have cash on me, so this little guy was reserved for me until the next antiques fair was held in my locality. Last bank holiday weekend, after months of waiting, I was finally able to pay for him and take him home. The main body of the beetle exhibits a beautiful range of irridescent greens. He is mounted in silver, with some filigree work on his back, and has cabochon rubies for eyes. I've been proudly wearing him on my lapel for quite a few days now, to a mixed response. I just love the fact that one day, he was alive, scuttling around in the Middle East somewhere, and now 100+ years later he is in England, on my lapel, after decades of being passed from generation to generation, collector to collector (who knows where he's been?!). I had assumed he is a scarab beetle, but he is rather large compared to the ones I've seen...so anyone know anything about beetle identification? I got a bit too excited and took loads of pictures...but he just looked so good in the sunshine, I couldn't resist.
Quite by chance, I came across this little purse on ebay the other day. Dating from 1890, it is another example of how the Victorians used beetles as decorative items. Here, beetle wings have been embroidered onto the body of the bag. I've never seen beetles used in such a way, and must say I think it looks rather wonderful.
photo from ebay user 1860-1960
Of course, the Victorians didn't just stop at beetles to create fabulous jewellery. In fact, a general Victorian fascination with all of natures flora and fauna led to some crazy creations- even by todays standards. I remember seeing a pair of hummingbird head earrings a couple of weeks back, but I can't find the damn website again, nor did I save the picture. So, this hummingbird head brooch will have to do for now. This hummingbird has been given a replacement gold beak, and I believe either ruby or topaz eyes. Either way, its pretty scary stuff; even I have to draw the line somewhere. These images of the hummingbird brooch are from a collection of jewellery belonging to a lady called Cathy Gordon. Her fascinating (and enviable) collection is viewable here. Cathy describes the use of hummingbirds in jewellery as "a natural extension of the fashion for hummingbird cases of taxidermy ubiquitous in the Victorian house." I'm not entirely sure how 'natural' this extension was. A stuffed bird in a glass dome is one thing, but a stuffed birds head dangling from your ear is quite another.
The book Victorian Jewellery by Margaret Flower provides a fantastic quote relating to the Victorian usage of animals in accessories. A writer in the Ladies Treasury in 1884 noted how "We [ladies] do not require to go to the Zoological Gardens to see strange animals." Yeah, why go to the zoo when you can wear the zoo, hey?