If you’ve had the chance to visit Kalmar Antiques recently you may have noticed some interesting developments happening in the retail space next door. The signage is up and the secret is out that after many months of careful planning, not to mention the uncertainty of a city lockdown, the wheels are in motion for the next exciting chapter at Kalmar Antiques. The long-standing QVB residents have plans to renovate the store, acquiring an additional retail space and expanding their extensive offering of antique jewellery and timepieces.
The new store will feature an incredible front window display spanning over 13 metres that will house antique jewellery and object D’art items from as early as the Georgian era. A specialised showcase will feature historical items that have never been available for public display before. Kalmar Antiques will also be increasing their offering of vintage watches and timepieces, and in addition to this, will be expanding their watch repair services with the addition of a state of the art watchmaking workshop to be built on site.
Professional valuers and gemologists will continue to be available for consultations if you have items you are wishing to have valued or are looking to sell. This expansion will make Kalmar Antiques the largest antique jewellery store in the Queen Victoria Building and a must-see for collectors.
The Kalmar family have been in business for over 30 years with Charles and Marlene Kalmar commencing trade at the Hyde Park Antique Centre in 1986. After three years they opened a store-front in the Imperial Arcade in 1989 where they traded for nineteen years before moving into the Queen Victoria Building. Their expertise and experience in the antiques trade puts them at the forefront of antique dealing in Sydney.
Like so many small businesses in Australia the Kalmar’s have faced two difficult years of Covid restrictions and lockdowns. Despite these challenges the Kalmar’s passion for the antiques trade has shone through. The store expansion is the next chapter for the Kalmar family and is fantastic for the future of the antiques industry in Sydney.
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Objects are important as they tell our human history by connecting us to past places and people. These tangible bonds offer us the rare opportunity to touch history. Never has this sentiment rung truer than in the instance of this imperial half pint measuring cup. One of the humbler items in the Kalmar’s collection, although it may not be crafted from the highest carat gold or covered with the finest jewels, the unique instrument offers us a direct lineage to our local history. From this measuring cup, the redemption tale of James Blanch, a convict, instrument maker and perhaps Australia’s first metrologist unfolds.
A Convict’s Tale
James Blanch was born in England in 1784 and at the age of fourteen it is surmised that he was apprenticed in the trade of mathematical instrument making. By the end of the 18th century, London had become the world’s leading centre for scientific instrument making with numerous piece-makers and wholesalers specialising in the manufacture of optical, mathematical and philosophical instruments (Holland, 2000). Despite this training, the first recorded occupation of James Blanch was from 1814 as a Customs House Officer working on the London docks. It was during his time working on the docks that opportunity mixed with poor judgement would lead Blanch to commit an act of petty theft. Together with a fellow official, Blanch stole ten yards of Russia Duck, a heavy linen fabric, worth 30 shillings from the ship, ‘Lord Harlington’. This misdemeanour would see the pair sentenced and bound for Botany Bay aboard the convict ship ‘Fanny’ which landed on Sydney shores in 1816.
Having served his time in the colony, Blanch gained his Ticket of Leave in 1821 and just one year later, his wife Sarah sailed out on the ‘Brixton’ to join him. Now open to start his life as a free member of society, Blanch set up his professional trade and established the Sydney Foundry and Engineering Works. “Blanch set up business in Pitt Street as a mathematical and philosophical instrument maker, brass founder, brazier, plater and general worker in silver and brass” (Holland, 2000). He would later move his business to the central location of George Street where he would also acquire further properties. Accompanied by other convicts and an apprentice of his own, Blanch would achieve reasonable success with his business whilst supporting his growing family. However, it would be the ‘Bill for preventing the use of false and deficient Weights and Measures’ passed in August 1832 that would forever weave the work of James Blanch into our country’s history.
The Measure of a Man
It was accountant and mathematician, Patrick Kelly, who first recorded the term of ‘metrology’ in an 1816 text in which he proposed universal standards, a central remit of discipline, aimed at the development of agreed standards for weights and measures in science and industry (MAAS, 2022). As it stood, “Victorian England and Colonial Australia were awash with interpretations about reliable and agreed standards, and the construction of artefacts to accurately measure them” (MAAS, 2022). It was therefore decided, that with the passing of the new bill the infant colony of New South Wales would develop a uniformed approach to measurement and weight based upon the imperial system of England.
The provision of these items was awarded to James Blanch with the task of creating seven sets of instruments accurately determining weights, volume measurements and a standard yard. The sets were to include the below;
Series of weights: 1, 2, 4, and 8 drams, 1, 2, 4, and 8 ounces, 1, 2, 4, 7, 14, 28, and 56 pounds.
Series of volume measures: half gill, gill, half pint, pint, quart, half gallon, gallon, peck, half bushel and bushel
An instrument the length of one standard yard, better known as a yard stick.
The seven sets were “distributed to police offices in various regional towns – Parramatta, Windsor, Bong-Bong, Goulburn, Bathurst, Maitland – as well as one to the police office in Sydney” (Holland, 2000). These instrument sets would be the foundations of accurate and cohesive measurement units across the colony of New South Wales.
Embossed in the metal of the measuring cup is the maker’s mark ‘J.Blanch’ and the date ‘1833’. There is another symbol etched into the side of the measuring cup that resembles an arrow. This mark is described as the ‘broad arrow’ and was used across England and colonial Australia. “Every item made or used by government convicts had to be marked or stamped with a broad arrow, the mark of government property, to prevent theft and the selling-on of government goods and tools. The broad arrow was so widely used to mark objects used by convicts, that it became associated with the convict system itself, rather than just a symbol of government property” (Sydney Living Museums, 2022). At the time of this item being commissioned by the government James Blanch was a free member of society. Therefore, a distinction can be made that this mark was associated with the sets belonging to government property as opposed to being included due to Blanch’s prior convict status.
An Instrumental Legacy
From convict to successful businessman and pioneer of engineering practices within Australia, the tale of James Blanch is a true under-dog story. James Blanch passed away in 1841 with multiple properties to his name and is listed at number 182 of all –time richest Australians (Past Lives, 2012). His foundry was taken over after his death by Peter Nicol Russell who continued its operation with his two brothers under the company P.N Russell and Company. Peter Nicol Russell would live on to become a pioneering figure of the engineering industry within Australia and was a significant benefactor to the University of Sydney.
Workers photographed in front of the Sydney Foundry & Engineering Works operated by PN Russell & Co circa 1870-1875
Image source: The State Library of New South Wales Collections
The legacy of James Blanch and his contributions to engineering and instrument making within Australia live on, although they are far less noted than that of his successor. It is through objects such as this imperial half pint measuring cup, which bears his name, that the tale of James Blanch endures. Undoubtedly, there are many objects crafted by the hands of Blanch that would remain scattered across the state of New South Wales and afar, the imperial half pint measuring cup in the private collection of the Kalmar’s is but one example of his work. Another is an Imperial half bushel which can be viewed at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
Image source: Powerhouse Museum Collections
Australian Government National Measurement Institute (2010), ‘History of Measurement in Australia’; ‘History of Metric Conversion’, www.measurement.gov.au/measurementsystem/Pages/HistoryofMeasuremtin
Holland, Julia (2000), ‘James Blanch – Australia’s first meterologist?’; The Australian Metrologist, http://members.optusnet.com.au/jph8524/JHjames_blanch.htm
Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (2022), Imperial half bushel measure; Powerhouse Museum Collection, https://collection.maas.museum/object/550907
Past Lives (2012), ‘James Blanch (1784 – 1841): custom house officer, convict, and mathematical instrument maker’, https://mprobb.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/james-blanch-1754-1841-custom-house-officer-convict-and-mathematical-instrument-maker/
State Library of New South Wales (2022), ‘Fanny voyage to New South Wales, Australia in 1815 with 175 passengers’; Convict Records, https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/fanny/1815
Sydney Living Museums (2022), ‘Branding iron early to mid 19th century’; Objects Records, https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/taxonomy/term/18636#object-107796
As we celebrate the month of love it seems only appropriate to take a look into some of the most romantic jewels in our collection. Although the gifting of jewellery has been a symbol of love and affection since ancient times, it was in the Victorian era that sentimental jewellery surged in popularity. Jewellery of this time was all about expressing your deepest affections to those you loved the most. Packed with layers of meaning, secret messages of love and personal mementos jewellery of this era was deeply personal and achingly sentimental.
This trend of sentimentalism can be traced from the societal shifts in France following the French Revolution. The revolution challenged established monarchy and religious institutions within France and a new value system for its society emerged. The ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity became the basis of the value system for the French population. These shared ideals of a society based in freedom, equality and companionship saw an emphasis placed on personal relationships and affection between individuals. The development of these ideals saw a greater focus on sentimentality and this concept was soon being depicted across all creative pursuits including; art, literature, music, architecture, fashion and jewellery. British fashion was heavily influenced by French culture and these values of sentimentality resonated with Queen Victoria. It was the British monarch’s affinity for sentimental jewels that resulted in them becoming highly popularized across the Victorian era.
A mixture of French and English sayings became widely popular across jewellery design and were exchanged as tokens of love between couples and friends. The French term ‘souvenir’ which translates to ‘memory’ became a popular sentiment displayed on jewellery pieces. Other popular sentiments of deep affection included ‘regard’, ‘love’, ‘dearest’, ‘mizpah’ and ‘AEI’ which stood for ‘amity, eternity and infinity’. These sentiments were available across a range of different jewels including rings, lockets, brooches, bracelets and pendants.
One of the most creative ways that such sentiments were incorporated into jewellery design was through acrostic jewellery. Coloured gemstones would be ordered so that their first letters would spell out a word. “The Napoleonic taste for the symbolism of gemstones, and for names and mottoes spelt out with the initial letter of appropriate gemstones, quickly spread” (Bennett & Mascetti, 1989). The above brooch features a lock of hair in the centre with coloured gemstones set into the border. The first letters of each gemstone spell out the word ‘Regard’ – ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond. The hidden sentiment accompanied by the personal relic of a lock of hair shows how deeply personal this piece of jewellery was to the wearer. Read more about acrostic jewellery here.
Lockets were another highly popular keepsake to be exchanged between couples and family. Lockets during this time would be used to store mementos of their loved one, most commonly being a lock of hair or a photograph.
“Women of the 19th century would swap locks of hair as a love token the way young girls today might wear friendship bracelets” (Little, 2016).
It’s not surprising then, that so many Victorian Era rings and pendants feature lockets on the reverse to house these personal relics. “Locks of hair were still concealed in small compartments at the back of jewels. Veiled and unveiled messages of love, rebuses and mottoes, were inscribed at the back of brooches and pendants or inside ring shanks” (Bennett & Mascett, 1989).
Floriography, also known as the language of flowers, was another popular past time of the Victorian era. The attributing of particular meanings and sentiments to flowers and their arrangements created a whole world of cryptic communications.
The language of flowers was used as a secret code and the flowers that most often appeared in romantic jewels were those able to convey sentiments of love, friendship and affection, such as ivy leaves and forget-me-nots” (Bennett & Mascetti, 1989).
This adaptation of floriography into jewellery design calls for close consideration of all design elements. What could appear as a floral motif for decorative purposes could have layered meanings of affection intended for the wearer.
The change in societal values after the French Revolution saw the emergence of sentimentality throughout the Victorian era. The jewellery from the time reflects these cultural shifts and their influence on art and fashion within France and abroad. Love token jewellery from this era so strongly evokes the kinship between the gift-giver and recipient. The sentiments that rose in popularity are bold and deeply romantic. The exchange of personal relics in the form of hair, although no longer fashionable, creates a tangible connection to the wearers of these jewels and their connections to their loved ones. The creation of acrostic jewellery and the Victorian language of flowers causes us to read deeper into the design of these jewels and search for the hidden sentiments. These jewels are just a few examples of how meaning was incorporated into jewellery design during the Victorian era, though there are plenty more examples that have not been discussed here. These incredible pieces tell us the story of our human history and the connections of those who came before us.
Victorian Locket Designs Image: Hinks, Peter (1975) ‘Nineteenth Century Jewelry’