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Sicilian Amber— Amber Cross

Amber Cross

In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Fanny Price’s brother William, who is in the navy, gives her an amber cross from Sicily.

…the almost solitary ornament in her possession, a very pretty amber cross which William had brought her from Sicily…
–Jane Austen, Mansfield Park Chapter 26

Pieces of a rare type of amber called simetite are found on some of Sicily’s beaches. It is often said that Jane Austen never mentions the Napoleonic Wars. However, I would ask, why did she choose to mention Sicily?

A 15th century map of Sicily. Jane and Cassandra received topaz crosses from their brother Charles. Below, a piece of amber. Surely the gift inspired Fanny's cross in Mansfield Park.
A 15th century map of Sicily. Jane and Cassandra received topaz crosses from their sailor brother Charles (top). Below, a piece of amber. Surely the gift inspired Fanny’s cross in Mansfield Park.

Sicily was of major strategic importance during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a source of a mineral that was an ingredient in a compound that was of vital importance to the British war effort–gunpowder. Sulfur is one of the components of gunpowder. Gunpowder is a mixture of potassium nitrate (saltpeter), sulphur, and charcoal in the ratio 6:1:1. The British interest in Sicily was rooted in the largest Sulphur deposits in Europe. Sulphur was mined at several locations on the island. By 1800, Sicily was the source of most sulphur used by the British government.

On the other hand, at that time, saltpeter was produced most efficiently under hot, humid environmental conditions. Ample firewood and inexpensive labour also rounded out the necessities for saltpeter production. A navigable river to enable large scale loading and cheap shipping was also needed. India was one of few places that combined all of these conditions. In the single year 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo, the East India Company exported 7,300 tons of saltpeter.

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, Alder Buckthorn was most often used in charcoal production in Great Britain. In the 18th century, the northern parts of the Lea Valley were densely planted with Alder, Crack Willow, and Alder Buckthorn. Once they became established, these trees were regularly coppiced (cut back to just above ground level every 15 years or so) to make high quality charcoal –one of the ingredients in gunpowder. Charcoal production consists of piling short lengths of wood around a chimney created by longer lengths of wood. Then all the wood pile is covered with clay, leaving openings at the bottom for air and at the top of the chimney. Burning fuel is dropped into the chimney, creating a low oxygen burn of the wood—creating charcoal.

Left to Right, a drawing of a gunpowder grinder from the 1768 the Diderot Encyclopedia, the remains of the and a portrait of Sir William Congreve, inventor of the Congreve Rocket.
Left to Right, a drawing of a gunpowder grinder from the 1768 the Diderot Encyclopedia, the remains of the Royal Gunpowder Mill, and a portrait of Sir William Congreve, inventor of the Congreve Rocket.

Sulphur and saltpeter were shipped back to the British Isles where they were combined with locally produced charcoal. Major William Congreve oversaw gunpowder manufacture during the Napoleonic Wars. He was responsible for improving the process by using a more scientific approach to manufacturing and quality control. Gunpowder was manufactured at the Royal Gunpowder Mills, at Waltham Abbey in Essex on the banks of the Lea, England, and Woolley near Bath on the Avon was also the site of a royal gunpowder mill. Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Mills was one of three Royal gunpowder mills that manufactured gunpowder for the British Government. It was located in Ballincollig near Cork in Ireland. About 2,000 barrels of gunpowder were produced per year at each site. In the Napoleonic Period there were four main types of powder casks; Barrels (holding 100 Ibs), half barrels (50 Ibs), quarters (25 Ibs), and budge barrels (38 lbs).

The importance of Sicily to the war effort would have been well known during the Napoleonic Wars. Even Miss Austen’s brief mention of the island would have conjured up images of its sulfur deposits, which supplied the Royal Gunpowder Mills, to people of the era. At over 200 years distance from Austen’s contemporary times, we must be reminded of facts that were then common knowledge.

Written for the Jane Austen Online Magazine by Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a historical tour through Regency London. Her novel, The Coronation, is available free of charge for the Amazon kindle.

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A Cameo Appearance by Jane Austen

 

When you write again to Catherine, thank her on my part for her very kind and welcome mark of friendship; I shall value such a brooch very much.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 7, 1808

For the past month, Miriam and I have paid homages—big and small—to that loveliest of authors.  We have tried to incorporate the sensibilities, tastes, styles, and customs of Jane Austen’s era and her works into our lives and into this blog.  We wish we could say that we now speak with British accents, and that our children are pictures of propriety, and that our husbands have taken to wearing long cloaks and cravats, but we can’t.  What we can say is that we have felt a little prettier, a little girlier, and a little more refined this month.  (And by refined, I mean that I plugged in an iron and used the word “wretched” recently.)

As I pondered what to do for our final day of Jane Austen month, I decided it would only be fitting if we had an appearance by the author herself—a silhouette appearance.  And what better way to keep “all-things-Austen” close to our hearts than putting her silhouette on a necklace?  (A small disclaimer here:  I haven’t made a necklace since I was five-years-old and enthralled with the multimedia potential of Fruit Loops and macaroni.)

Jane Austen Cameo:

jane austen cameo

To begin my Jane Austen cameo, I started by printing out Miss Austen’s silhouette on regular computer paper.  I then selected the most clear and uniform flat glass marbles I could find in my collection of craft odds-and-ends.  (If you don’t have these lying about, you can find them in the wedding and/or floral section of your local craft store.  The marbles I used were about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter).

After centering the marble on her image, I traced around the outside of the marble and cut the circle out with scissors.

I then put a thin layer of modge podge glue on the back of the marble and placed the paper silhouette on top with the image face down.  (And don’t worry.  You don’t see the glue after it dries.)

I then cut out a piece of black felt the size of the marble.  I held the marble against the felt as my template and cut around it.

Then, to gussy the pendant up, I glued some black lace around the edge of the felt using a glue gun.  When I flipped the felt over, this is what the backside looked like.

On the lace side of the felt, I glued on a pendant back with a chain hook at the top.  I then glued down my silhouette marble on top of that.  After letting the necklace dry for a few hours, I strung my favorite black ribbon through the clasp.

jane austen cameo

I had so much fun making this one, that I decided to do another, except with a little more bling and a little less lace.  Before I glued down the glass marble silhouette, I strung a teardrop pendant on some fishing line and laid the fishing line across the felt backing.  When I glued the marble down, it set the fishing line in the glue and the necklace was good to go.

jane austen cameo

Just a note: the final products are being modeled by my friend’s beautiful neck.  Had I done the modeling myself, I would have had to do it hanging upside-down so you didn’t see my second (and third) chin.

jane austen cameo

It is nice to know that with this necklace on, I can take a little bit of Jane with me wherever I go, even when our experiment is through.  May we all save a place for “everything Austen” in our days ahead (or on our necks).  Here’s to you, Jane . . .

Miriam and I are sisters who live 700 miles apart from each other in the southwestern United States.  Despite the distance that separates us, we share a love for good food, good fun, good decorating, and especially good books.  We began a blog to share all of the ways that literature inspires us in our daily lives, beginning with our favorite female author, Miss Jane Austen.  For 30 days, we tried to incorporate one “Austenesque” thing into our day, from picnics and paper quilling, to scones and silhouettes.  Our “30-Day Austen Experiment” was so enjoyable that we’ve continued the trend with other authors like Lucy Maud Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and William Shakespeare.  As “bookbound” sisters, we’ve never been closer, and as women, we’ve never been happier.

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The Choker Necklace

This supposed drawing of the Austen family shows Mrs. Austen wearing a fashionable black ribbon choker.

Chokers (necklaces that sit tight to the throat) have been popular throughout history– from Anne Boleyn’s famous “B”, to Empress Sisi’s simple black ribbon. Today they can be found made of anything from hemp to diamonds.

choker necklace
Georgian Aquamarine & Diamond Garland Choker

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, chokers were worn in many forms, from this vintage Georgian aquamarine and diamond creation, tied on with ribbon, to strands of pearls, to a simple ribbon tied about the neck. During the French Revolution, female French expatriots used to wear a thin red ribbon choker as a silent testament to their own narrow escape and in memory of their many friends and family members who were not as lucky. Soon all of London wanted to wear the red ribbon, beginning one of the first times in history when a ribbon has been used as a gesture of solidarity and sympathy with a class of victims.

Ribbon chokers might also be accented by a jeweled slide or cameo pin.

choker necklace
Georgian society women had a penchant for black ribbon chokers. Left: Young Georgiana with her Mother, Georgiana, Countess Spencer (1761) Right: Actress Sarah Siddons, 1785.

Here are a few images of chokers throughout history, from Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818) to Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Mary of Teck (1867–1953) who preferred the style with ropes of pearls.

choker necklace
Chokers have been a popular choice for Britain’s queens.

 

Laura Boyle is an avid Regency enthusiast. Find more fashion information or purchase your own choker necklace from her shop, Austentation: Regency Accessories

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Coral Necklaces, Regency Style

 

Remember, I am to have a new Carriage hung as high as the Duttons’, and blue spotted with silver; and I shall expect a new saddle horse, a suit of fine lace, and an infinite number of the most valuable Jewels. Diamonds such as never were seen, and Pearls, Rubies, Emeralds, and Beads out of number…
-Jane Austen
The Three Sisters

Lady Maria Hamilton, 1802, by Thomas Lawrence.

You’ve probably seen the necklaces dozens of times without noticing them. I have. These beautiful single string coral necklaces worn by Regency ladies escaped my attention until my friend and blogging partner on Jane Austen Today, Laurel Ann of Austenprose, sent me some spectacular images, such as the one of Lady Maria Hamilton, who died in 1814, unmarried. Coral has enjoyed a long and ancient tradition, first worn as a talisman and later for its color and beauty. One of my favorite drawings by Peter Paul Rubens depicts his son with a coral necklace. At the time coral was thought to protect the wearer.

Nicolaas Rubens Wearing a Coral Necklace, Peter Paul Rubens, Red and black chalk heightened with white and some black ink on paper, c. 1619

The tradition of giving children coral necklaces continued through the 19th century, as shown in this detail of a late 18th century John Hoppner painting of one of the Sackville girls. The gemstone was considered a guardian of sorts, protecting children from illnesses like stomachaches, fever, typhus, smallpox, and rickets. The mala beads were polished to a smooth sheen and matched in color. Bead sizes could be similar or gradated from small to larger stones that were strung in the center.

The Sackville Children, detail, John Hoppner, 1796

Handmade jewellery created during the late Georgian Era (1760-1837) is extremely hard to find today.  As styles changed, the pieces were remade rather than tossed out or sold. Until the latter part of the 18th century, coral was harvested from the sea largely by dredging. Fine quality red coral came from the Mediterranean – Algeria, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, with some saying that the best corals came off the coasts of Algeria and Tunisia. Eighteenth century coral was a rich warm red and is unavailable today. In fact, original antique jewellery made with dark red coral is so difficult to find that it has become a highly prized collectible.

Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, John Hoppner, 1797

 

Early 19th century red coral necklace

Simple round necklaces, like the one worn by the Countess of Oxford, were popular and complimented low necklines, but chokers were also fashionable, like the Georgian Cannetille Sardinian red coral four strand necklace on the left. Coral is made up of the skeletal material built up by small animals that live in slow growing colonies in the sea. Colors range from vivid orange, red, and white, to salmon and pale pink (called angelskin coral). In jewelry making coral is either carved into beads, cameos, and other forms, or is left in its natural branch-like form and simply polished. (My mother had such a necklace, which I played with as a child.) The most sought after color (and the rarest) is a deep red, as in the necklace at left.  Coral manufacturing during the Regency Period consisted primarily of filing beads of smoothed coral and stringing necklaces. Because coral consists of calcium carbonate, it is extremely sensitive to chemicals,  perfumes, and body acids. Like pearls, the necklaces must be washed with a damp cloth (no detergents) and restrung periodically.

Little boy placing a coral necklace on a dog's neck, Martin Drolling
Drawing by Jacopo Vignali

Many mystical and medicinal properties were attributed to coral, among them vitality, physical strength, stronger marital relationships, wealth, increased sensuality, and protection while out to sea. Coral was also used as a medicinal powder. Primitive physics believed that coral oxides mixed with honey made a person strong. Mix it with betel leaf and it made a potent cure for cough and heart disease. Coral powder is still a popular aphrodisiac in India today, which prompts avaricious collectors to dynamite coral reefs, putting fragile reefs in acute danger. In the detail of a 17th century drawing by Jacopo Vignali at left, one can easily see why this semi-precious stone was considered to have sensual qualities. The combination of the coral necklace and her full lips make the young woman look both fragile and seductive.

More information about corals can be found in these links:

Modern Regency reproduction coral jewelry is available from Jane Smith’s Regency Collection


Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs. This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.

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A Cameo Appearance

 

Charlotte was to go: with excellent health, to bathe and be better if she could; to receive every possible pleasure which Sanditon could made to supply by the gratitude of those she went with; and to buy new parasols, new gloves and new brooches for her sisters and herself at the library, which Mr. Parker was anxiously wishing to support.
-Sanditon

Cameos seem as if they belong to the Regency. Often portraying Greek or Roman scenes and faces, they evoke a romantic mood and whispers of a time long past. In reality, though, these charming vignettes of time gone by hearken back over thousands, not hundreds of years.

The word cameo, actually refers to the method of carving an object such as an engraved gem, item of jewellery or vessel. These nearly always feature a raised (positive) relief image (in contrast with intaglio, which has a negative image.) Originally, cameo only referred to works where the relief image was of a contrasting colour to the background; this was achieved by carefully carving a piece of material with a flat plane where two contrasting colours met, removing all the first colour except for the image to leave a contrasting background.

An elaborate cameo necklace and earring set. Part of the Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion traveling exhibit.

Cameos are often worn as jewelry, but in ancient times were mainly used for signet rings, although the largest examples were probably too large for this, and were just admired as objets d’art. Stone cameos of great artistry were made in Greece dating back as far as the 3rd century BC. The Farnese Tazza (a cup) is the oldest major Hellenistic piece surviving. They were very popular in Ancient Rome, especially in the family circle of Augustus. The most famous stone “state cameos” from this period are the Gemma Augustea, the Gemma Claudia made for the Emperor Claudius, and the largest flat engraved gem known from antiquity, the Great Cameo of France.

the Gemma Augustea and the Gemma Claudia made for the Emperor Claudius

During the Roman period the cameo technique was used on artificial glass blanks, in imitation of objects being produced in agate or sardonyx. Cameo glass objects were produced in two periods; between around 25 BC and 50/60 AD, and in the later Empire around the mid-third and mid-fourth century.Roman glass cameos are rare objects, with only around two hundred fragments and sixteen complete pieces known, only one of which dates from the later period. During the early period they usually consisted of a blue glass base with a white overlying layer, but those made during the later period usually have a colourless background covered with a translucent coloured layer. Blanks could be produced by fusing two separately cast sheets of glass, or by dipping the base glass into a crucible of molten overlay glass during blowing. The most famous example of a cameo from the early period is the Portland Vase.

The Portland Vase

Although occasionally used in Roman cameos, the earliest prevalent use of shell for cameo carving was during the Renaissance. In the mid 18th century, explorations revealed new shell varieties. Helmet shells (Cassis tuberosa) from the West Indies, and queen conch shells (Eustrombus gigas) from the Bahamas and West Indies, arrived in Europe. This sparked a large increase in the number of cameos that were carved from shells.

An assortment of vintage cameos

In Britain, this revival first occurred during King George III’s reign. As with many fashion trends of the time, this one was imported from France and stemmed from a heightened interest in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, due to Napoleon’s campaigns in the south. A cameo diadem carved from a single shell, depicting a scene from greek mythology, framed by gold, pearls and precious and semiprecious stones, was a present to Josephine from her brother-in-law Joachim Murat in 1811.

Empress Josephine's cameo tiara

Napoleon, himself, was fascinated by cameos, and as you can see, Josephine, who did nothing by halves, had a large collection of them set in pins, bracelets, combs, and more.

The Empress Josephine painted in a variety of cameo accessories

 

In 1823 the diadem became part Josephine's grandaughter, Josephine of Leuchtenberg's dowry upon her marriage to the future King of Sweden, Oscar I. Now part of Swedish Crown jewels, the tiara has been worn by many royal brides, including Crown Princess Victoria, who married the Duke of Västergötland in 2010.

 

In Britain, King George’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, was a major proponent of the cameo trend, to the extent that they would become mass produced by the second half of the 19th century. After 1850 demand for cameos grew, as they became popular souvenirs of the Grand Tour among the middle class.

Antique Victorian Cameos

Cameos continue to be popular jewelry subjects for pins, necklaces, rings, hair clips, earrings and more. Both vintage and new models can be found for sale with little searching; perhaps because they evoke a romantic feel…perhaps because they are so innately elegant. However you look at it, though, cameos continue to be one of the longest lasting jewelry trends in history.

Cameo earrings
Cameo earrings

 We have a lovely range of cameo jewellery at our giftshop – click here to visit out market place.


 

A variety of vintage and reproduction cameo jewelry pieces can be found at Austentation: Regency Accesssories and Austenation: Etsy.

Historical information from Wikipedia.com

For more information about France’s Empress Josephine and her love of Cameo jewelry, visit Melanie’s in depth site.

To view more information about the Swedish Crown Jewels, try this page.