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Mid 19th Century Stationery Box by Edmund Nye

Mid 19th Century Stationery Box by Edmund Nye


circa 1840 - 1850

Mid 19th century Tunbridge ware stationery box by Edmund Nye, manufacturer.

The dome-shaped top is inlaid with a specimen parquetry panel, crossbanded with boxwood and ebony stringing and Tunbridge ware borders. The lid is hinged and lifts up to reveal four stationery dividers and retains the original embossed paper. The hinges are marked with the maker's impress: P. M & C patent. The hinges are made in such a way that they allow the lid to lay down completely. The entire box is veneered in a lively quilted ash and crossbanded in a broad floral Tunbridge ware border. The underside retains the maker's label: 'Edmund Nye, Manufacturer, Mount Ephrain and Parade Tunbridge Wells.

Tunbridge ware items originate from the beautiful spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Tunbridge became known in the 17th Century for its therapeutic waters and by the 18th century it had become a hugely popular spa resort. Shops and stalls were set up to sell local work of distinction to visitors as souvenirs.
The original Tunbridge ware boxes were decorated with all sorts of different kinds of designs. Many had a central image with views of castles, churches, pavilions, animals, country scenes and sometimes people, such as the Young Prince of Wales. These were surrounded by a variety of bandings and panels of floral and geometric designs. The famous makers of Tunbridge ware produced their most notable work from about 1830 to 1900.


Edmund Nye (b. 1797 d. 1863) of Parade and Mount Ephraim, Tunbridge Wells was a Tunbridge ware maker and print publisher.

Edmund was the son of James Nye. He became a junior partner to William Fenner Senior and they traded as Fenner & Nye until 1817 when the partnership was dissolved. Nye then opened his own workshop in the nearby market place. Nye was one of the makers considered for the production of a writing table for Princess Victoria in 1826, but William Fenner was ultimately chosen. Nye did however received patronage from the Duchess of Kent.

In 1840 the business of Fenner & Co was put into receivership; Nye and his father took over the repository, and then in 1844 the workshops on Mount Ephraim. Nye appears to have carried out extensive building works as trade card engravings depict a single larger and deeper building than the separate repository and workshops shown on the earlier Fenner & Co cards (a trade card for Edmund Nye, c.1830 is in the John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library).

Several prints published by Nye prior to this period are known. One decorated with an illustration of the Baths is dated 1827 and another of the Parade includes Nye’s shop, displaying its facia board reading: ‘MANUFACTURER E. NYE TUNBRIDGE WELLS’. During this period he also opened a shop in Hastings at 10 Castle Street Priory (1826-35). An 1827 print exists with this address on the imprint as well as the Tunbridge Wells one, although the view is of Mount Edgcumbe, Tunbridge Wells.

Nye was a regular user of paper labels on many of his products. One early label reads: ‘NYE/Late Fenner & Nye’/Manufacturer/Tunbridge Wells’, c. 1840. A rectangular one with a decorative border ‘FROM NYE’S/(LATE FENNER & NYE)’ c. 1845, and a third label, with a different decorative border, states ‘EDMUND NYE, MANUFACTURER/Mount Ephraim and Parade,/TUNBRIDGE WELLS’ c. 1848-1853.
By the mid-1850s larger rectangular and also circular labels were used.

During the same period metal dies were used to stamp the interiors of small boxes. These same 1850s labels and marks were used after 1864 with the name changed to Thomas Barton. Thomas Barton (1819–1903), previously apprenticed at the Wise factory, joined the Nyes in 1836, and worked as Nye's designer. His skills were dutifully recognised by Nye and he employed him to work on the exhibits Nye showed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Nye displayed four items: a table with the top exhibiting a mosaic ship in full sail (claimed to incorporate 110,800 pieces of wood); a ‘chromatrope table’ decorated with two North American birds (129,000 pieces of wood); a book stand with panels of tropical butterflies; and a workbox with a view of the ruins of Bayham Abbey. Nye received a commendation from the judges for his work.

Items decorated in a similar manner were included in Nye’s stock including a bookstand decorated with tropical birds and the use of such birds on boxes. Other views employed by Nye included Eridge Castle as shown on a rosewood reading stand c. 1845 bearing a later Fenner & Nye label. The veneer wood used for his marquetry objects – such as some of the 1851 exhibits – were often light in colour to highlight the marquetry. A number of new bandings were produced in this period often of geometrical form rather than those based on flowers and leaves. Veneers were produced copying tile patterns and were used for the tops of larger boxes. Nye claimed the colours of the wood that he used were natural and produced boxes of specimen woods (often 45 different specimens) which included the green wood resulting from fungus infected oak.

Nye died in 1863. His will provided for the business to be taken over by his ‘Foreman’ Barton, an option he readily accepted until his own death.

‘The Chalet’ was the home and workshop of Edmund Nye and Thomas Barton, in Tunbridge Wells and the building still has a plaque commemorating them.

Sources: DEFM; Austen, ‘Tables by Tunbridge Ware Makers’, Furniture History (1997);
Austen, ‘A Tunbridge Ware Work Table by Fenner & Co.’, FHS Newsletter (August 2002);
Stabler, ‘Furniture Makers’ Trade-Cards and Bill-Heads in the John Johnson Collection’, FHS Newsletter (May 2007).


Height 13.00cm (5.12 inches)

Width 23.00cm (9.06 inches)

Depth 11.00cm (4.33 inches)

Stock No: 19041


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