The Story of “Grandmamma”

By Sylvie Collett-Holmes

Many, many years ago, way back in 1999 in the good old days when Christies in London still had a specialist sewing tools sale, I purchased a little unmarked silver sewing set from around 1840. I knew it was by the well-known silversmith, Joseph Taylor as his mark “I.T.” was under the handle of the pincushion. I was particularly drawn to the set as on the lid was a small silver cartouche engraved “Grandmamma”, not because I have children or grandchildren (I have neither!) but because I simply thought it charming. After a bidding battle I secured the Lot for £300 including the premium which was a lot less than nowadays! It came home with me and was a cherished part of my small collection of sewing tools. As my favourite sewing tool to collect was, and still is, the little silver basket pincushions from the early 19th century, the set fitted right in perfectly. In addition to the basket pincushion, it also contained a stiletto, knife, tape measure, bodkin, a pair of scissors in a sheath and a pretty thimble which may not be original to the set but fits beautifully and is definitely contemporary age-wise.


I imagined someone giving the set as a gift to their beloved Grandmamma and how she would have loved it. Mostly because it was a gift from a grandchild and not as something to be used as the tools had little sign of wear so I don’t think Grandmamma was much of a needle woman!

Back in those days I was working full time as an antiques dealer in the lovely Georgian area known as The Pantiles in Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Finding fresh to the market stock of sewing tools in particular is not easy as any dealer will tell you. It’s a lot of trawling through auction catalogues for that one item in a sea of china, glass, furniture and silver, driving many miles to view auctions, fairs and private collections, both here in the UK and all over Europe, but sometimes you get very short of good items with which to tempt your customers. Not having a lot to sell means not having a lot of income so I made the tough decision to part with some of my little collection, including my dear “Grandmamma” sewing set.

I took it into the shop, putting a reasonably high price on it in the hope nobody would buy it but one of my best customers fell in love with it and bought it.  Although it was sad to part with the set, I knew this customer would love and cherish it as I had.

Time passes and I moved almost 200 miles away from Kent but continued my job as an antiques dealer.  One day in September 2017 I had a phone call from the lovely lady who had bought the set. She gave me the sad news that her husband had recently passed away and as she was down-sizing she needed to sell her collection.  My partner Mike and I drove the 200 miles to the Kent coast where she lived. I spent the afternoon with her, reminiscing about the times she visited Tunbridge Wells with her husband to call in to the shop where I traded. I bought lots of items from her, most of which I’d sold to her originally, including the Grandmamma set.

Yes, it is still in my own collection. That has grown over the years (along with my waistline but not my bank balance!) but it’s still the only sewing set I have kept. I’ve had numerous other Joseph Taylor style sewing sets which I’ve sold, some much more extensive and valuable, but I won’t part with Grandmamma again!

Sylvie will be found on Stand F34 at our Winter fair which opens on Thursday 24th November and runs until Sunday 27th November at the NEC Birmingham.