Showcased by Fellows Auctioneers, this exhibition is believed to be the biggest single collection of Blue John prior to its auction in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter in October when over 250 lots will go on sale.
The Fashion for Blue John
It appears that Blue John was first used by Samuel Watson at Chatsworth House between 1690 and 1715. In about 1760 Robert Hall of Castleton, having perfected the art of polishing Blue John using a heat process and pine resin, became the first to manufacture items made from Blue John on a commercial scale. Blue John soon became world famous and was widely exported to France where the spar was known as Bleu Jaune and was mounted in ormolu and from where many of the vases and other ornaments were re-exported to England. King George III was an early patron, ordering a pair of perfume burners for the Royal Collection.
Matthew Boulton and Blue John
Matthew Boulton, Birmingham's famous inventor, manufacturer and entrepreneur, was heavily involved in the manufacture of Blue John as can be seen in some of the exhibits. He saw that quantities of Blue John were being exported to France where it was mounted in ormolu and re-exported back to England. So he decided set up his own production to an equivalently high standard. Between 1762 and 1775 he produced Blue John vases and candelabra mounted in ormolu at his Soho works near Birmingham. Indeed Catherine the Great of Russia purchased Blue John vases, clocks and an obelisk from Matthew Boulton between 1772 and 1774.
Mr Darcy and Pemberley aka Chatsworth
It’s likely that Mr Darcy, Jane Austen’s hero in Pride and Prejudice may have had a collection of Blue John at his fictional country estate Pemberley as it was based on Chatsworth in Derbyshire close to where the mineral was mined in the hills above Castleton. In fact Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire used to collect Blue John, and the largest Blue John vase ever made, ‘the Chatsworth Tazza’, was commissioned from William Adam of Matlock, by the Duke of Devonshire, in 1842. The bowl is 51 cms/ 20 inches in Diameter and is on display in the dining room at Chatsworth.