Another brilliant idea

I had a great idea, but not one so great that my foot fell off. Why not make a copy of the bracer in the British Museum?, I thought. It will be easy, I thought. I have the report with a nice clear drawing.


Dalton, Antiquities Journal, Volume 2, 1922 p209

It looks fine, right up to the point where you compare it with the photograph of the real thing…


Bracer in the british Museum. My photo. That is an awful lot of gold.

When you try to use the published drawing, you find out there’s all these little fiddles like changing the size of the spots to make it work. The height of the decorated panel is okay but the two narrow ones above it are compressed. The lettering is all over the place as well and the sides of each panel don’t line up with each other in the same way they do on the original. Oh well, I’ll have to redraw it for the next one. The photo also shows how the gilding runs.

The process is simple enough. Transfer your design to the leather – because this one is to be gilt and painted, I just used plain old office carbon paper.


Straight off one of the problems becomes apparent. The pockles on the right have considerably more room than those on the left. I cut the outlines with a small straight blade as we’re predating swivel knives by several hundred years.


Empockelate appropriately with a 1.6mm nail punch, using kitchen utensils and home made punches as appropriate. Punch the holes for the strap, realising that they are too close to the edges and are the reason all the other holes were put in later for thong. Also realise that one hole in the drawing is too far to the right when compared to the other three. I tried swearing at this point, but it didn’t move the hole, so you can skip that if you like.




Enstrap and buckle. I either have to get faster at buckle making or give it up and buy them, I spend far too much time making the wretched things. I’ve gone with a copper alloy double oval loop buckle with moulded pin rests, making it date to between 1550 and 1650. [Whitehead, R., Buckles 1250-1800, Greenlight Publishing, Chelmsford 1996]


Painted bracer, it’s still a work in progress, I’ve since changed the colour of the crown.

Paint. The BM says some trace of pigment remains, having contacted them, it’s just a possible hint of red on the letters but they couldn’t tell me what the pigment was and if it was colour or bole (primer for the gilding). I’m going with colour, mainly from an ostentation point of view. Minium (red lead) substitute, rather than iron red in this case because it will be the same as on the rose. I also think the gilding is shell gold rather than leaf due to the way it sits down into the background rings and the narrow strips along the top and back would just be way too fiddly. There’s no evidence of the use of size under the gold in this case, either.


The painting on the other side is restricted to just lining.

I’m doing a Tudor rose, contemporary with the text, rather than a Yorkist white rose to match the tradition. It’s slipped and crowned (which may make it as late as Henry VIII or even Elizabeth) which didn’t happen with York white roses and I’m doing brown and ochre oak leaves and acorns, just because.

Yeah, it’s acrylic paint. Yes, I know I’ll have to apologise to Jesus, but I’ve been lead to understand that he’s fairly forgiving.

So I think I’ve finished it, it’s gone well as a fair copy of the reported illustration but I’m largely unsatisfied with it. I’ll have to have another go later.

While we’re on the subject, I need to vent a bit. The report begins on p208 of the Antiquities Journal with the sentence, “THE archer’s bracer illustrated in the fig. on p. 209 is of cuir bouilli, …” The BM repeat the assertion in their online catalogue.

I’m not sure what the fascination of antiquaries/archaeologists of this period is with cuir bouilli, they see it everywhere. Cuir bouilli, as the name implies, is a heat curing process that by its nature precludes tooling of the finished article. If you’re after more information on the subject, have a look at Marc Carlson’s Hardened Leather which also has some experiments on different methods.


International Museum of Leather Craft

IMOLC have recently discovered that they don’t own the collection of jacks, bombards and bottels that they’ve had on display in the old museum for the past 70 years. They have until the start of March to crowdfund £33000 otherwise the collection will be broken up and sold off.   For details, see IMOLC’s blog post.


A small part of the collection

Shouting at the Internet (again)

A friend pointed this one out on the Internet and I had to share it and my musings.


Lot 479: A Late 16th/Early 17th Century Leather Black Jack/Water Carrier.
The spouted vessel having a crown-form handle to the top and a ropetwist and beaded seam leading down to the circular foot. 14½ ins (37 cms) in height, 13 ins (33 cms) in width.
Be the first to bid on this item!
Sold For: £2200.00

This is a lovely piece and it’s really nice to have the dimensions. The person writing the catalogue entry probably honestly believed the bottle to be English based on the current location and of just an unusual form, optimistically dating it to the 17th century based on the patination and stitching.

I have a problem with the description: I think the bottle form is Arabic. You can see much earlier examples showing similar features here. If you look closely at the top, you can see a hole where a missing strap handle was attached. Similarly, there are a few stitches missing on the spout, it looks like the spout has been damaged and the leather trimmed to straighten it at some point.

I don’t like the date either. I’d be very surprised if it is earlier than 1850. It’s probably a souvenir of the Nile campaign of the 1890s, bought back by one of the soldiers. There’s a more complete example in the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln that is firmly dated to that period and that provenance. It even has the same decoration. Here’s my photos (you knew this was coming, didn’t you…)

Dervish water carrier
Note the height of the spout and the arrangement of strap and cord handles.

Dervish water carrier
Close up of the base showing the base and side stitching and the roped and beaded decoration.

Dervish water carrier
Handle decoration. The edges are bound with another layer of leather.

Dervish water carrier
View of the spout and showing the strap handle in profile.

Dervish water carrier
Inside spout, clearly showing welt and seam.

Dervish water carrier
Top-ish view showing handle attachment. Note the double row of stitching on the top seam.

Photography and historic sites – some bits off topic

This trip differed from the previous two in the proliferation of both steam trains and leather vessels.

Braunton City of Truro Waiting 34070 Manston at Corfe Castle
Obligatory steam train photos. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.

Another change was the number of sites that now allow photography that didn’t previously. The National Trust comes in for an honourable mention here, although it was inconsistently applied. I’ll share some of those photos later, there’d be more but a couple of sites absolutely littered with jacks and bottels got grumpy when I asked for permission to get the camera out, even after trying the “we just travelled 14,000 miles to get here”™ sob story, so a big theatrical boo! to Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust and the associated Hall’s Croft. The Birthplace Trust sites were inconsistent with their own rules, because Nash’s House explained how to get permission and I was able to take a couple of sneaky shots of the shoe horn and Mary Arden’s Farm let me blaze away to my heart’s delight as long as the flash was off. If anyone has a more easily concealable camera than mine, there’s a large bombard in the back room at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and a string of eight or ten costrels in the kitchen at Hall’s Croft.

The thing is, by not allowing photography several sites missed out on our Tourist Pounds. Over the space of a five week trip, this added up to a not inconsiderable amount.  There was no point going in to a site where we’d been before and had already bought the guide book if they weren’t going to let me take two photos in the back part of the building of something they considered too mundane to be in the guidebook or website. Some places with a camera ban were interesting enough that we went in and bought the guidebook and all the postcards instead, we knew about most of those before we left home and had budgeted for them. I shouldn’t be too harsh, these people own the places and objects and have the right to say yes or no, but some of them have some very funny ideas. My favourite was the group of lovely, helpful ladies a really nice place that claimed that non-flash photography of items in situ damaged things, yet had room lights on and curtains pulled back from the windows so it wasn’t UV degradation they were worried about. Maybe taking the image captured part of the object’s soul.

Karma obviously came in to play because each time, another place we visited shortly afterwards had a similar object and allowed photos.

Horn Cups
The following morning, in a museum we didn’t even know existed, surprise Elizabethan period horn cups. It was even the same number as at the place the day before with the curtains.
Corfe Castle Museum, Town Hall, West Street, Corfe Castle, Dorset. 

So people, please put your photography policy on your website so we can plan accordingly. I’ve organised permits in the past and did for one site on this trip, and other times it’s nice to leave the camera in the bag and just enjoy your place.