Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter #10 - April 2012

William Hogarth's immortal print "Gin Lane" illustrates the Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter for April. It depicts the squalor and despair of a community raised on Gin. Desperation, death and decay pervade the scene. The only businesses that flourish are those which serve the gin industry: gin sellers; distillers (the aptly named Kilman); the pawnbroker where the avaricious Mr. Gripe greedily takes the vital possessions (the carpenter offers his saw and the housewife her cooking utensils) of the alcoholic residents of the street in return for a few pennies to feed their habit; and the undertaker, for whom Hogarth implies at least a handful of new customers from this scene alone. Most shockingly, the focus of the picture is a woman in the foreground, who, addled by gin and driven to prostitution by her habit - as evidenced by the syphilitic sores on her legs - lets her baby slip unheeded from her arms and plunge to its death in the stairwell of the gin cellar below. Half-naked, she has no concern for anything other than a pinch of snuff.

Three Decanter Labels are also illustrated, each with a different title, but all relating to the infamous white spirit flavoured with Juniper Berries. The extraordinary amount of names and pseudonyms used for Gin is fascinating and they include: Blue Ribbon, Blue Ruin, Blue Tape, Cat's Water, Cuckholds Comfort, Cholic and Gripe Water, Cream of the Valley, Flash of Lightening, Fullers Earth, Jackey King, Old Tom, Parliament Gin, Mothers Ruin, Sangree, Stark Naked, Strip-Me-Naked, Schiedam, Tom Roe, The Ladie's Delight, The Baulk, The Last Shift, White Lace, White Port, White Ribbon, White Satin, White Tape, White Velvet, White Wool and White Wine.

Most of the above are slang terms but some were used to disguise the true nature of what was being imbibed. The following amusing anecdote was taken from a book published in 1892 entitled "Drinks of the World";

"Gin has many popular names, but why gin should be called OLD TOM by the publicans and lower orders of London has sometimes puzzled those who are inquisitive enough to consider the subject etymologically. The answer may, perhaps, be found in a curious book, called "The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Captain Dudley Bradstreet, Dublin 1755." Captain Dudley, a government spy of the Court Fathom species, after declaring that the selling of Geneva in a less quantity than two gallons had been prohibited, says: Most of the gaols were full, on account of this Act, and it occurred to me to venture upon the trade. I got an acquaintance to rent a house in Blue Anchor Alley, in St.Luke's parish, who privately conveyed his bargain to me: I then got it well secured, and laid out in a bed and other furniture five pounds, and purchased in Moorefields the sign of a cat and had it nailed to a street window. I then caused a leaden pipe, the small end about an inch, to be placed under the paw of the cat, the end that was within had a funnel to it. When my house was ready for business I enquired what distiller in London was most famous for good gin, and was assured that it was Mr. Langdale, in Holborn. To him I went, and laid out thirteen pounds. The cargo was sent to my house, at the back of which there was a way to go in or out. When the liquor was properly disposed, I got a person to inform a few of the mob that gin would be sold by the cat at my window next day, provided they put the money in his mouth, from whence there was a hole which conveyed it to me. At night I took possession of my den, and got up early next morning to be ready for custom. It was over three hours before anybody called, which made me almost despair of the project; at last I heard the clink of money and a comfortable voice say "Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin!" I instantly put my mouth to the tube and bid them to receive it from the pipe under her paw" – the cat seems to have changed its sex in this short interval of time" - and then measured and poured it into the funnel, from whence they soon received it. Before night I took six shillings, and afterwards three or four pounds a day. From all parts of London people used to resort to me in such numbers that my neighbours could scarcely get in and out of their houses. After this manner I went for a month, in which time I cleared upwards of two-and-twenty pounds".

I am in the wrong job..!

This months featured item is a fabulous Victorian Novelty silver Mustard Pot in the form of a standing Owl, with textured plumage, red and black glass eyes and with a matching Spoon with Mouse finial held in the owls beak. It has a silver gilt interior and a blue glass liner. It is of lovely quality, by George Richards, London 1850.

Pair Coalport Vases with Landscape Scenes Early Worcester Sparrow Beak Jug First Period Worcester Sweet Meat Baskets First Period Worcester Condiment Spoon
Late 17th Century Silver Counter Box George III Scottish Provincial Silver Basting Spoons Pair Victorian Novelty Cast Silver Peppers Early George III Antique Silver Coffee Pot

I am pleased to be able to offer some interesting new items of stock this month and recent finds include; a magnificent pair of Coalport Vases painted with named landscape scenes on cobalt blue bodies, two fine quality early 18th century silver Counter Boxes, a fine early Worcester Sparrow Beak Jug painted with the Prunus Root pattern, three exceptionally rare pieces of Scottish Provincial Silver, a very rare First Period Worcester moulded Condiment Spoon, some great Victorian Novelty silver Peppers, a fine pair of First Period Worcester Sweet Meat Baskets on a Yellow Ground, and some nice additions to the silver Hollow-Ware category.

I do hope that you will find this Newsletter informative and helpful and will allow us send it to you on a regular basis. I would welcome any feedback you may have, both positive and negative.

David W.A. Buck.
Steppes Hill Farm Antiques