With Brexit now triggered we are on the way out of the European Union, it is important to look to our past to see the future. For centuries we have been a great trading nation, intrepid explorers and traders have circumvented the globe, advising, conquering, buying and selling, from the basic commodities to desirable products. Just recently, with every seat taken in the gargantuan Guildhall in the City of London, Sir Simon Fraser spoke at the Worshipful Company of World Traders’ Tacitus lecture on ‘The World is Our Oyster’ Britain’s Future Trade Relationship. Explaining that the European Union and the United States constitute over 60% of our export market and we need to get out in to the big wide world and look for new markets.
It is a complicated and diverse subject, with many strands to understanding how good and great we have been at trading and how this legacy from our history can help continue to grow and expand. For an insight on how well we traded in gemstones and jewellery, dip in and enjoy Hazel Forsyth’s excellent book, London’s Lost Jewels on the Cheapside Hoard, which describes in detail how jewellery and gemstones were traded in London in the sixteenth and seventeen centuries and the path the traders took on the journey to London. At the turn of the twentieth century a huge and amazing hoard of jewellery, presumed hidden at the time of the great Fire of London in 1666 in a jewellers’ workroom in Cheapside in the City of London, opens Pandora’s Box on how we circumvented the globe collecting and amassing some of the most glorious jewels. Diamonds from Golkonda in India, Sapphires from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Rubies from Burma and Emeralds from South America. Five hundred pieces were displayed just before World War I in 1914 and then mostly hidden from view until a blockbuster exhibition curated by Hazel Forsyth at their home in the Museum of London in 2013. See Luxury Topping’s interview with jewellery expert Joanna Hardy at the time of the exhibition.
Thanks to a very kind and generous benefactor, a meeting was arranged to meet Hazel Forsyth, Curator of the Museum of London, who opened the vaults to have a private view of a few of the very special pieces from the Cheapside Hoard collection. To see at very close quarters (no touching) an un-set cameo carved from sardonyx and attributed to the Alexandrian worships of the second or first centuries BC, depicting the profile head of a Ptotemaic Queen with a vulture headdress cut from the upper brown layer of the stone, is breath-taking and illustrates the quality of the hoard. A magnificent emerald, which opens up to reveal a miniature watch is one of the most remarkable gems in the world, it raises so many questions to how, when and when it made. The visit was a privilege and a treat never to be forgotten.
Sadly, the Cheapside Hoard in its entirety is not on public display but when the museum moves in 2020 to Smithfield hopefully there will be the space for the whole collection to be seen and admired for the journey these jewels took over 500 years ago. To make this happen, it would be wonderful if a benefactor steps forward. In his excellent book, Rogues Gallery, Phillip Hook describes how over the centuries famous people have created legacies to enable museums to create galleries. In the USA this is very prevalent with the Altman Wing in the Metropolitan Museum (Altman was the owner of department stores in the USA). In London we have the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery; a big thank-you goes to William and Judith Bollinger, benefactors of the stunning Jewellery gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Duveen Gallery at the Tate. Hardly anyone outside of the art world will remember how Duveen made his fortune. He was an art trader of the highest order responsible for buying art from the old world of Europe and selling into the new world of USA. He knew he would not live forever and by giving his name to the Duveen Gallery at the Tate Britain he is remembered in perpetuity, long beyond how he amassed the money to fund the galleries. Their names live on long beyond how they amassed the money to fund the galleries.
If a fairy godmother was to wave her magic wand and grant us one wish, it would be to find a person or company who recognises the important of world trade and has the vision to fund a gallery to spark the imagination of people young and old. When the Museum of London move to their new home in Smithfield Market this will give the opportunity to enlarge, reimagine, reinvent and transform this museum, which shines the light on London’s pre-eminence as a trading city. A gallery to show and demonstrate how these wonderful jewels came to be buried under the floorboards in the heart of the City of London would make the story of the Cheapside Hoard accessible to everyone and a fitting reminder of the people who risked their lives to trade with the world. Perhaps it would also encourage and inspire the serious study of jewellery. There are many reasons why this hoard should have its own jewellery gallery.
At the Society of Jewellery Historians 40-year anniversary Study Day, Dr Jack Ogden called for more time, resources and a holistic approach to the study of jewellery and the importance in our heritage. Funds to support research would help Hazel and her team find out why it was buried and the history of the makers of such incredible pieces of work.
The last words have to go to Hazel Forsyth which are taken from her excellent book, London’s Lost Jewels “the collection serves to underline London’s position at the crossroads of the international gem and jewellery trade in one of the most dynamic periods of English History.”
Philip Hook, Rogues’ Gallery. A history of art and its dealers www.amazon.co.uk
London’s Lost Jewels – Hazel Forsyth, Museum of London Shop www.museumoflondon
Worshipful Company of World Traders www.world-traders.org
Society of Jewellery Historians www.societyofjewlleryhistorians
Images: Banner image, Roman onyx cameo of goddess Isis image and Watch set in a single Colombian emerald crystal: c. 1600 image from the Cheapside Hoard © Museum of London, Jewellery Gallery at the V&A image © Victoria and Albert Museum, market at West Smithfield image © TNR