I’ve been fascinated by recent television programmes around antiques on which dealers say of an item ‘they used to get hundreds of pounds, but now you can expect to get about thirty.’ I think of copper bed warming pans and balloon back chairs, once much sought after in auction houses but which can now quite literally sell for – thirty dollars a piece. However there are a lot of other items out there due a second, or is that a third, moment in the limelight.
Rather like achieving a new victory in a long forgotten war, there is something nice about collecting objects that were once fought over but no longer get much notice. For a start there is usually plenty of information lying around in old abandoned textbooks but there is also a nice intersection between the authentic antique and reproductions – designed to meet the collector market in those first moments of revived fashion.
Lusterware is one of those materials desirable for its ability to deceive. The entire point of silver lusterware was to allow earthenware to simulate old English pewter or plate. Thus an earthenware body carrying fluted or beaded design with a coat of silver lustre might transform a brown earthenware teapot – suitable only for the kitchen – into an object worthy of the drawing room.
These pieces were intended for a middle class to whom silver plated items had not yet come down sufficiently in price. Of course silver plate did eventually come down in price and the highly breakable lustrewares became rare and therefore eventually collectable.
This was the story of silver lustre but I think the story of copper is a little different. Copper lustre pieces date from the same technological moment – in the later eighteenth century. Except that 100 years later in the late nineteenth century, when collecting silver lustre was probably an esoteric pastime, copper lusters were becoming mainstream again as decorative pieces in Arts & Crafts style homes.
Today I’m not sure it matters whether a lustre piece is original – probably over a brown earthenware body – or later reproduction – probably from the same factory that made the original. They do what they always did and that is – gleam in the half-light of an interior and add a little resonant richness to the patina of a room.