Decorated with flowers, berry and scattered butterflies with brass handle to either end, stamped to the underside ‘CLAY, KING St COVt GARDEN’
Clay: A maker of great distinction whose trays can be seen from Frogmore house to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Provenance of this particular example: Wood Hall, Hilgay, Norfolk.
61cm x 48.5cm
Clay, Henry; W. Clay & Sons; H. Clay. Birmingham and London; japanner and papier-mâché manufacturer (fl.1772–d. 1812)
Wealth and fame were achieved, based upon a patent taken out on 20 November 1772 for a ‘new Improved Paper-ware’. This involved pasting sheets of paper together and then oiling, varnishing and stove-hardening them. It was claimed that the material could be ‘sawn, planed, dove-tailed or mitred in the same manner as if made in wood’. The trade in this new material developed rapidly with smaller furniture wares such as tea trays. These were japanned and decorated with painted scenes and classical (Etruscan) and Chinoiserie subjects;
The wares that emerged from his works at 19 New Hall St, Birmingham found favour with the rich and influential, and in 1790 his status was such that he was appointed High Sheriff of Warwickshire.
About 1785 Clay transferred his business to London, trading from 18 King St, Covent Garden. He had been reported in 1781 as producing ‘Several pieces of superb furniture which now adorn the royal residences and King George III seemed happy in expressing his utmost approbation.
In 1792 he claimed the title of ‘Japanner to His Majesty’ and by 1803 was incorporating in his billhead the words ‘Japanner in ordinary to His Majesty and to His Royal Highness the Princes of Wales’.
Clay died in 1812 reputably worth £80,000, all made from his manufactures. The business was however continued in London at his King St address until 1822,
Wares by Clay produced in this London phase are found with the impressed mark ‘CLAY, KING STREET, COVENT GARDEN’.
Clay’s commissions for the Royal family, the nobility and gentry are well documented, including Horace Walpole, Carlton House for the Prince of Wales (four tea trays at a cost of 25 guineas each) Queen Charlotte accepted a sedan chair and console table. Panels of the Hall doors at Chatsworth are of the paper manufacture of Mr.Clay’s. Other known patrons included Lady Howard de Walden, Lady Grenville, Sir Thomas Baring, 6th Duke of Bedford (1803–18), Lord Braybrooke (1810), the Duke of Northumberland etc.