Thursday, September 14, 2017

Antiques Roadshow and the Sconce Family Archives

Several years ago I obtained a sizable archive from the family of Robert Clement Sconce (1787-1846). It contains hundreds of photographs and negatives, dozens of letters and documents, a hundred or so drawings, sketches and watercolor paintings, and a number of books, journals and diaries.

Robert Clement Sconce, while born and raised in England, spent most of his adult life in the Mediterranean on the British controlled island of Malta. He held numerous positions in the British Admiralty that afforded him time and space to dabble in botany and art. He was in Malta as secretary to Admiral Sir John Duckworth and for ten years he was also Naval Agent Victualler for HM Dockyard, Malta. Although he was never wealthy, he and his family lived well and circulated in upper class English society.

Portrait of Robert Clement Sconce

In 1861 his daughter put together his life and Letters in two volumes:  LIFE AND LETTERS of ROBERT CLEMENT SCONCE, formerly Secretary to Admiral Sir John Duckworth, Compiled for his Grandchildren by his daughter Sarah Susanna Bunbury.
Title Page from Robert Clement Sconce Life and Letters
Sconce was an artist, among all of his other achievements and positions (see my earlier post) and his letters reveal some of his advice to his daughter Sally, who was an accomplished artist in her own right.

His pencil revelled in the glorious Swiss scenery, after his long imprisonment at Malta; and he made an immense number of sketches, colouring a great many on the spot, and making exquisitely-finished drawings from them on his return to Malta. There was at Malta a little valley near Boschetto, containing about half a dozen fine trees,—a species of ash and of these my Father had made some dozens of finished drawings, making portraits of them in every point of view.

Whatever you sketch, colour it from nature when you can. All the great authorities agree, and my own experience has amply proved it, that an hour's work from nature is more improving and more interesting than a month's from memory or imagination.

I believe some of the paintings in this archive are his, but these are not signed, so I cannot be sure. In the comments about publishing Sconce's Life and Letters, Sarah mentions that while she wished to have included copies of her father's paintings in the book, finances did not allow for it.

His son Herbert Sconce (1833-1867) was also an artist … the artistic talent seemed to pass on to the next generation. His real job was as Principal Commissioner and Captain in the Bengal Army, as he was stationed in Assam, India. Alas, as an ambassador from Britain in India, Herbert was a disaster. His arrogance and antagonism toward the people of the Pulagahri region led to the now infamous and deadly uprising in October of 1861.

According to family members, Herbert was just not into the “commissioner thing.” He left the administration and decision making largely up to his deputies. In official meetings he was bored and inattentive. He would spend his time drawing sketches, many of which he later would color at home. This archive has dozens of his sketches and drawings.
Herbert Sconce Self Portraits

Above are all by Herbert Sconce

Another relative of Sconce was John Lawrence Habberton (1842-1921) … he was the author of Helen’s Babies, published in 1866. Habberton’s daughter, Florence married Herbert Sconce’s son Robert Clement Sconce (grandson of the Robert Clement Sconce above). A couple of early copies of this book are in this archive … one was sent to a Capt. Swinnerton in 1896, who proceeded to annotate virtually every page with notes, criticisms, corrections and suggestions, and then returned it to the author!
The Helen's Babies book as sent to Capt. S. A. Swinnerton

The Helen's Babies books and Amy Sconce's journal

Another item I am taking from this archive is a book containing the observations of Amelia “Amy” Sconce (1869-1939), daughter of Herbert Sconce, on trips to Niagara Falls in 1904 and to New York City in 1906. Hand written and quite interesting.

Amy Sconce's journal entries of her travels in New York

The final item from this archive is the most special of all the items … the little book Robert Clement Sconce wrote for his daughter Sally in 1820. I covered this book in a previous post.
Plants Quadrupeds Birds by Robert Clement Sconce c1820
I think this archive is quite significant … and hope to get confirmation of that in this visit to the Roadshow. We will see.

Antiques Roadshow with a Special Powder Puff

Years ago we came across this little treasure in a San Anselmo antique store. It was just too precious to pass up. It is labelled "La Pomponette / Modele Depose / Made in France."

The powder puff is held in a brass case which has a leather pouch made for it. The case has a compartment at the bottom where the  powder is added. Since it has a screen inside, when you give it a shake, it dusts the powder onto the puff inside the case. The top lid has a mirror like a compact.

BUT what is truly marvelous is the powder puff itself. Tug on the finial, which is decorated with a blue glass cabochon, and out pops this "umbrella" shaped goose or swan down powder applicator. Truly amazing!

We have seen just a few of these online, so while unusual and different, it is not truly a "rare" item ... but it is truly a wonderful 1920s treasure. We are anxious to find out if the Roadshow folks love it as much as we do.

Antiques Roadshow and Sewing Goodies

Susan has looked at her treasures and come up with three items she would like to take to the Roadshow. I know, she only gets two ... so she still has to choose. 

Susan's choices
The three items are shown above ... a Victorian sewing case ... a tiny celluloid "box" with a cute face ... and a leather pouch with a special surprise in it (more on this one in the next post).

The Victorian sewing case is just beautiful. It is made of mother of pearl with silver decoration. Inside are places for needles and pins and a little notebook too.

The other item is the cutest little miniature celluloid thing. What is it? What is it for? Wish we knew. Susan has several little cases of this type, but they are all bigger. Most are sewing cases, though a few are bottles, another a pencil holder.

The little head screws off the base revealing a little space below. It is too small for pills. Maybe it is for some kind of unguent or cream ... more probably for smelling salts. Women "suffered from the vapors" back in the 1920s!!!

This is made in Germany using French ivory, a type of celluloid (an early processed plastic) that is hand painted. I love the little "feather" in her hair.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Antiques Roadshow and a Civil War Journal

Susan and I have been lucky enough to win the Antiques Roadshow ticket lottery!! We will be heading out for a future Roadshow and are taking some interesting items ... we hope interesting enough to make it to the taping and maybe appear on the show! We will let you know how it goes when we go there.

Meantime, here is the story of a Civil War journal I am taking. (Other items to follow.)

I got this fantastic ledger about seven years ago. It was with some other ledgers and journals I picked up at an auction. Most were just nice old books, but one is truly special. It is the Short Autobiography of the Writer's Life by Mrs. Sarah Frances Hershey. WOW!

Sarah went by the name "Sallie." She was born Sarah Frances Walker in the little village of Gap, Pennsylvania in 1849. She lived her whole life in Gap and Philadelphia. Married Jacob Henry "Harry" Bair Hershey in 1871. Harry was born a year to the day after Sallie in 1850.

Sarah Frances Walker Hershey passed away barely six months after finishing this journal. In her lifetime she accomplished much. She bore five children, endured the loss of three when they were very young and raising two beyond youth and into successful lives. She tended to both house and business … as it appears that Henry Hershey was only able to earn enough to cover the bare needs of house and home.

She was clearly intelligent, well-read and a capable author and poet. I have accumulated many of her poems and stories in an additional book. Many of these are excellent … both in content and in thought. Her talents were rewarded by having many of her poems published in the Christiana Ledger.

Sallie began writing her autobiography in 1906, detailing her upbringing and how her family dealt with the Civil War, including the exploits of her brother who fled to Canada to escape the draft and her sister who worked in a confederate hospital and ran through enemy lines to bring medicine from Pennsylvania to Richmond for her patients. The family was conflicted by the war ... they had sympathies with the southern people, but were not in favor of slavery ... even more so as Mennonites, they were against war.

Sallie continued writing in the book as a journal from 1906 to her death in 1911. In the frugal fashion of her day, she used the back of the book to record the transctions from her "business" dealings and the center of the book as a scrapbook.

Photos, of course do not really do justice to this autobiography/journal/ledger/scrapbook. We will see if the Roadshow appraisers think it is a significant item or not. I know that I consider it a real treasure.

A Wonderful Handwritten Antique Book -- Restored

One reason I love old ephemera, is that now and then I find true treasures. A while back, we found this marvelous little book … Plants Quadrupeds Birds. It is fully done by hand … all the text is hand printed in watercolor ink and it contains six ink and watercolor illustrations as well.
This note was inside the book, written by a later generation.
This little book is written and illustrated by Robert Clement Sconce (1787-1846). It is signed simply “Sconce” on the inside of the front cover and was written to Sally from her Papa. Sally is Sarah Susanna “Sally” Sconce Bunbury (1816-1897), who later compiled, annotated and edited the work Life and Letters of Robert Clement Sconce (1861). Numerous passages in that book have Robert Clement Sconce discussing, in letters to his daughter Sally, his drawing and sketching using watercolors.

The book begins:

Does dear Sally know that while she has been amusing herself gathering Plants, and learning their names, she has been learning Botany? And when she picks a Flower to pieces and Papa shews her the Calyx, Petals, Staminae, and Pistils, what is it Sally learns? Why Botany!

Little Children do not often learn such things, but as dear Sally is very able to learn them, and as she has great pleasure in learning, Papa is very glad to teach her.

He goes on to cover all sorts of details of life in the garden. Beautiful descriptions of plants and flowers. Tales of foxes and wrens. Stories about creatures and critters. It is simply a beautifully written and illustrated book for children … and adults as well.

The patience of Sconce demonstrated in handwriting this book, with nary a flaw, is remarkable. That trait is also shown in how he “talks” to his daughter throughout the book. Sconce, while born and raised in England, spent most of his adult life in the Mediterranean on the British controlled island of Malta. He held numerous positions in the British Admiralty that afforded him time and space to dabble in botany and art. Although he was never wealthy, he and his family lived well and circulated in upper class English society.

His artistic talents were inherited by some of his children … Robert Knox Sconce (1818-1852), who was a minister and author; Herbert Sconce (1833-1867), who was in the British foreign service in Assam, India, and a superb watercolorist; and his daughter Sally, whose watercolors (now in museums in Australia, where she lived as an adult) document her family's travel and life experiences. Alas, other than the little illustrations in this book, I have not been able to locate any of the works of Robert Clement Sconce.
Testimony of Antiquity written by Robert Knox Sconce in 1848

Watercolor Painting by Sally Sconce Bunbury 1841 Back of Our House Darebin Creek W. Melbourne

Watercolor Arial Map of 1864 Seebsagur Tank Assam India by Herbert Sconce
The Plants Quadrupeds Birds book is 177 years old and it was read many times … but it had condition issues. The pages, text and images are in very good condition, but the covers were detached, the binding was loose and the spine had been glued. I took it to a conservator for restoration, rebinding and stabilization. She did a marvelous job.

Book as originally found   

The Little Book Restored
The conservator that I used (since retired) also archivally restored the Assam Seebsagur Tank painting, which had been folded and torn over the years.
Restored Assam Seebsagur Tank Painting

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tiny Wooden Word Clock Can Be Worn as a Watch

This is really neat ... both the watch and the process. It never ceases to amaze me how some people get these great ideas and bring them to a reality even when it requires skills and knowledge outside of their normal realm. 

This guy, Harvard computer science grad Harnek Gulati, taught himself woodworking, materials characteristics and more. AND he did not let small issues, failures of sorts, keep him from iterating his design and improving his skills until he got it right.

I often have said that the process ... the learning and skills development ... are every bit as important as the end product. This was true in the semiconductor world I lived and worked in for 34 years, and is equally true when it comes to crafts and home projects. I do lots of family history research and find the research more interesting than what the final story might be.

Anyway, check out this project ... and the watch.

The Make: article points out:

Sometimes we tend to think in terms of X, Y, Z, but noting how your materials will react under certain circumstances is certainly a good skill to pick up.

Gulati also notes that he made 6 watches in total, only 3 of which were completed with no errors. So if you’re going to make something incredible yourself, don’t be surprised if you end up failing a few times along the way!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Postcards from Almaden

You might have noticed the change in the header on this blog. We are converting this blog to "rambling thoughts, cool ideas, historical tid-bits and stories ... as told by Bob." No more promo stuff (that's now on the Just Write Arts blog) ... just intriguing thoughts, cool images and interesting adventures. Hope you enjoy these Postcards from Almaden.

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