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Rare armorial m-o-p caviar dish




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Mother-of-pearl shells were clearly quite popular orders from Canton in the early 1800's; they were often produced in pairs and made to display on rootwood stands thus showing off their superb and intricate artwork. A very small number were made (probably at the same time as sets of gaming counters) with an armorial - such as the Robertson shell pictured in another article on this website. It is clear from this shell, that not all were produced to display upright on stands. This shell pictured here is different: the crest and monogram ( a lark with a columbine in its mouth, with monogram IML/ JML for the Larken family) would be upside down if it were on a stand. And the decoration on this shell is different in style as it is restricted to the edges and the center is plain. There is also a clear theme of fishes and crustaceans to the decoration: the fish may be sturgeons giving a clue to its purpose. This is likely to be a caviar dish in my view. There is also a very large and superbly carved prawn perhaps even large enough to be a lobster. It would seem clear that this was not primarily a display item but it was designed for serving seafood. The decoration is extremely well carried out - typical of the Canton craftsmanship of around 1830.

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