Metal (and Enamel) Things Nᵒ.9: The Making of Gilt & Enamel Equipage (c. 1760s)

Equipage with egg-shaped containers and etui, c. 1760s.
Wolverhampton Museum Collection.

Object Focus

Yesterday's post (here) explored eighteenth-century equipage (also called chatelaines) which were hung from women's dresses at the waist, holding and displaying objects such as watches as well as the etui shown in these examples, etui being containers of useful items such as scissors, needles and bodkins.

Very similar examples of enamel equipage are held across several museums (see four pieces above and below), and this post considers how they were made for a broader consumer market.

Equipage with two hooks, containers and etui, c. 1760s.
MET Collection.

Equipage with two hooks and etui, c. 1760s.
Philadelphia Museum of Art Collection.

Equipage with elongated chain, containers and etui, c. 1760s.
V&A Collection.

Although unmarked, all the equipages and etui depicted were very likely made in Birmingham. The metal parts are stamped and gilt, and the enamelled parts either made in Birmingham, or in nearby towns such as Bilston or Wednesbury, and applied afterwards. Birmingham and nearby towns contained individuals with these diverse skills and knowledge of these processes, and new processes such as stamping were dominant in this area. One manufactory known to have contained workpeople with all these skills is John Taylor's in Birmingham.

Stamping was the process of making impressions in metal which imitated chasing, chasing being the hammering of metal to produce a decorative design. Rather than each design being chased individually, stamping required this to be done once and then the design could be stamped into metal again and again which is why the tops of these four equipages have the same design with rococo scrolling with two serpents at the base.

Despite this being the beginnings of mass production, "beginnings" is the key word as these were not the products of industrial machine-based production and still required several hand skills. This manner of making also allowed such goods to serve new markets, as if each item was chased by hand it would have increased the price making them only available to elite consumers. The development of stamping, though, required the same workmanship but chased once (or the opposite, repoussage, which was hammering from the other side) in reverse which would then be stamped to create the same repeated design, like intaglio printing but onto metal. Birmingham contained several skilled engravers and chasers, such as the Hancock's and the Wyon's, whose skills adorned goods such as these but the new processes allowed for them to be affordable to a new range of pockets.

Variety was introduced into each of the designs through the addition of enamelled plaques and etui, all designed slightly differently or, as with the example held at the V&A, a different drop section. Some of the enamelled parts seem to have been replaced but for the most part the different enamel sections contain matching imagery and designs, and these were hand painted. Despite being made by several hands, the finished articles came together into well-considered designs, but Birmingham and Black Country towns had been working this way, dividing labour between several hands, since at least the late 1600s with different cottage workshops produced different components for goods.* 

These articles provided their owners with both elegance and utility, with the appearance of chased gold, but ingeniously made and at a more affordable price.

Three loose etui made in Birmingham and/or the Black Country, c. 1760s.
One etui (blue with flowers) made c. 1900.
Sold at Christie's for £2000 in 2011.

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All text belongs to the author and is taken from PhD, contact

* For example: Robert Plot, The Natural History of Staffordshire (Oxford: The Theatre, 1686).

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