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Chinese export mother of pearl gaming counters/ chips - all you need to know about them in one site: history, styles, dates, armorials, non-armorials, sets, lacquer boxe.....

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SUPERB NEW INDIAN GAMES BOX

A very recent acquisition is the Indian games box pictured - and it was full of surprises when it was opened! A beautiful box in itself, made around 1790 - 1800 of very well-decorated ivory on a fine wooden carcass and in remarkably good condition for its age. Inside it holds six very finely produced wood and ivory lift-out boxes, two larger ones for cards and four smaller, oval ones for counters. The workmanship is breathtaking. The six boxes all fit snugly into the recesses created for them; each has a tight-fitting lid and all are decorated in a penwork style typical of the time. The box is large: it  measures 15 inches by 11 by 3 1/2 high. The four counter boxes contained three part-sets of monogrammed counters, each with a different monogram: TD, JMW and RSW. Two of the sets were made in around 1780 and the third around 1800. The two earlier sets also were clearly special orders from Canton, comprising four and five shapes as opposed to the standard three shapes. 

The other two boxes contained the surprise. There were two decks of De La Rue playing cards, more or less unused. These were later than the counters, from around 1860. The surprise was a small hand-written, hand-stitched booklet which transformed a beautiful and interesting games box into a mine of historical information. The booklet is headed 'The owners of the monograms'  and presumably has been a family heirloom for many, many years. Here is the text:

 The owners of the monograms JMW/ DT /RSW

 

Dorothy Turner, nee Fowler, of Limehouse was married  in 1761 to John Turner only son of Thomas Turner, a canvas and sail cloth manufacturer of Limehouse. They had three sons, and three daughters.

After her husband’s death in 1776 she undertook the management of the business until her youngest son, Charles Hampden Turner, came of age in 1793, her elder sons having died earlier in India.

She lived with her surviving son in a small house on the river-side end of Narrow Street. She died about 1800.

 

Robert Wellbank was born in 1778; and was a captain in the United East India Company’s service from 1806 to 1815. He married Sarah Rohde, younger sister of Mary, wife of Charles Hampden Turner.

When Charles Hampden Turner, in 1817, bought Rook’s Nest, nr. Godstone, Robert Wellbank bought Fandridge Priory, nr. Oxted, close by; and died there in 1857, a year after his brother in law. His wife had predeceased him in 1845. The monogram contains her initial. They had no children.

 

John Woolmore was captain and owner of ships sailing in the United East India Company’s service from 1786 to 1809: Deputy Master of the Trinity House ( where his portrait still hangs in the reading room) from 1825 to 1834: and together with Sir Robert Wigram, Charles Hampden Turner and Captain Joseph Huddart, he assisted 1803 in originating the East India docks, of which he was Chairman or Deputy Chairman from 1803 to 1835. He was a personal friend of the Duke of Clarence  ( afterwards William IV), was knighted in 1834.

The monogram contains the initials of his first wife , Mary.

He married, as his second wife, in 1790, Harriet, the eldest daughter of John and Dorothy Turner.

He lived at 15 Bruton Street, where he died in 1837. His second wife survived him 8 years. He had no children.

What a delight! Just one of the revelations from the booklet is the evidence that two of these monograms referred to both husband and wife - a fact which had been suggested but which I had never had any personal experience of. A very personal and affectionate insight into these hardy sea-faring captains in a very tough world. This booklet has also prompted much further research and some intriguing insight into the lives of the people involved. Perhaps the most interesting person is John Woolmore who survived numerous trips to Canton and then  became Deputy Master and Master of Trinity House in London. He eventually became involved in the creation of the East India Docks and was knighted in 1834. There is a full and intriguing account of his life on the Mariners website. One further conundrum: by incredible coincidence I have in my collection an armorial gaming counter produced in around 1790 showing the arms of Woolmore impaling Turner. This counter was clearly produced for the very same man, probably to celebrate his marriage to Harriet Turner in 1790. Amazing. But it raises several questions: why did he use his arms and crest on this last counter and not on the set he had made ten years earlier?? There must be an answer somewhere! And one further twist: the arms are applied incorrectly in Canton: they were probably copied there from a seal matrix with the result that the whole arms are a mirror image of the correct arms. 

I hope you will agree that this was a very exciting find! 

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