English Enamels 

English enamels were produced for a period of less than 100 years, between 1750 and 1840. Initially everything had to be hand-painted,

but with the invention of transfer printing in the 1750s, producing a single colour outline, the new industry was able to thrive. Most popular were a variety of boxes which were decorated with flowers,
landscapes, portraits and messages.

These were considered very fashionable and often given as gifts or bought to commemorate a special event. Some, known as 'patch boxes',were made to keep black 'beauty spots', the finishing touch to an elegant woman's make-up. Antique enamels,particularly Georgian snuff boxes, are rare and highly sought-after.

Towards the end of the 18th century demand for enamel boxes fell. Patch boxes were not in such great demand as patches were no longer required to cover up scars from disease. Smoking tobacco became more fashionable rather than taking snuff, which all contributed to the demise of the enamel box during the 19th century.



The craft of enamelling has changed very little for thousands of years and remains labour intensive. Enamels are produced by coating copper shapes with a liquid mixture containing glass, firing them in a kiln to melt the glass so that it fuses to the metal and then decorating them in the final stage of manufacture. The main centres of manufacture were Bilston in Staffordshire, Birmingham and, for three years only, Battersea in London where transfer printing techniques were perfected, giving rise to the name 'Battersea Enamels' as a generic term  used by some collectors.

The rarest boxes tend to be the heavily hand-painted and ornate early examples in excellent condition. Some themed boxes, e.g. Royalty, also command a premium. Other rarities include boxes that were made with two painted lids, the second one hidden within the other, often concealing a pornographic scene.  



New enamels being produced at affordable prices today has introduced a new generation of collectors to the beauty of English enamels. The 18th century Georgian themed boxes have always been popular with collectors and this led to the introduction during the 1970s of 20th century replicas.

Today the scope and range of designs is enormous with hobbies such as sporting activities or favorite children's characters accounted for. Design inspiration for 21st century boxes is readily available from many sources, including the Wallace Collection and the Victoria & Albert Museum, with some companies making up special customer orders. Whether an antique, or a beautifully recreated model, enamel boxes make great gifts,

Enamels  Collectors Top Tips

 1 Damage to antique boxes is quite common - look out for crazing, chips arad cracks

2 Antique enamels do not bear the maker's mark and very few have an artist's signature.


3 Bonbonnierres are small boxes with a figural top, usually an animal or fruit, with a painted enamel      base,  used to hold small sweets.

4 Patch boxes were made to hold beauty patches during the 18th century and usually have small        silver mirrors inside the lid.

5 Although a certain number may have been marketed as a limited edition, anything between 50 and 500, some editions were retired after a time period. The edition size means that there is a maximum number produced but there is no guarantee that all were made.

6 If a box is marketed as limited production, a practice common with year boxes, this means that it is made only for a defined period, which is announced in advance.

7 Fake boxes may be identified by the crudeness of execution of design and painting.

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