Public taste is often very perverse and inconsistent as to the choice and appliance of material and ornament. For instance, there was, not many years ago, a great demand for bronze candlesticks, whereas brass is a far more brilliant material for the purpose, and is capable of being treated with greater richness of form and surface-decoration. But on fire-stoves and grates, where one would think lustre and delicacy out of place, the manufacturers continue to lavish gilding and polished steel to such an extent, that one is almost surprised at the housemaid's daring to light a fire upstairs at all. Of course the fire-irons are made to match, and it is a positive fact that in some houses each drawing-room fireplace has two pokers - a humble one for actual use, and the other, of burnished steel, kept simply to look at! It is needless to say, that while such absurd practices as these continue, we can hardly hope for a healthy and vigorous development of what may be called household art. If fire-irons are made at all, they should be made of a material which justifies their real purpose. The upper portions may be of polished steel, though even this seems a needless refinement; but the rest should be of iron, and as simple as possible in design. 'Berlin black.' is the best sort of lacquer for stoves and fenders, if in summer time they are required to look fresh and new. 'Blacklead' is a modern abomination, which should be very sparingly used. With regard to ornament, it should be borne in mind that incised patterns, however rudely executed, are much more effective than heavy mouldings. The last we feel almost instinctively to be out of place in solid metal-work. Light falls on polished steel, for example, too sharply and strongly to let it need the character and treatment of a wooden architrave. Of course, in the design of small objects executed in brass and the more precious metals, the case is different, for they are seen nearer the eye, and are for the most part made by hand from thin plates of the material used; but a complexity of cast mouldings is the most uninteresting mode of decoration which can be devised.

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Italian ironwork of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was often decorated with incised and punctured patterns. The town of Siena abounds in instances of this mode of decoration, which may be still seen on the rings, bolts, and torch-brackets of ordinary domestic use. The well-known examples in the streets of Florence are later in date and more florid in execution, though still very beautiful. But the glories of ancient iron and bronze-work are not confined to Italy. In Nuremberg, during the early Renaissance period, this art was practised by men who, like Peter Vischer, have left lasting monuments of their skill in the shape of fountains, shrines, etc. Indeed, much may be learnt at home if we examine with attention the treasures of metallic art which such churches as our own Westminster Abbey, and St. George's Chapel, Windsor, contain - to say nothing of humbler specimens - locks, hinges, grilles, etc, which may be met with in almost every old town of England.

As an example of the ingenuity and spirit with which the design of ancient metal-work was formerly treated in the manufacture of common articles of household use, I give an illustration of a curious iron candlestick in the possession of Professor Brewer. It was purchased in Switzerland, and was probably made in that country. In mode of construction it is most workmanlike, while the details display great fertility of invention. The ornamental portions are composed of small bars of iron beaten out flat at one end, and drawn to a point at the other. The pointed ends are twisted into a spiral form, and the flat ends are split into two straps shaped like volutes, the whole being put together with iron pins. This mode of treating ironwork is exceedingly suggestive, and so simple in character that it might be easily adopted by any village blacksmith. The candlestick stands about eighteen inches high. Its date can hardly be identified, but it is probably not later than the seventeenth century. At that period, no doubt, it answered its purpose very well; and although the reproduction of such an article now, in its original form, can hardly be recommended from a practical point of view, there are in modern use many objects of decorative metal-work, which might be successfully treated with the same spirit of design, if ever a time should arrive when the British workman becomes less of a machine, and more of an artist, in the exercise of his handicraft.

Old Swiss Iron Candlestick, in the possession of Professor Brewer.

Old Swiss Iron Candlestick, in the possession of Professor Brewer.

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It is, in fact, with the products of modern manufacture that we have now chiefly to deal; and here I cannot help regretting that, owing to the apathy of the public, an excellent step towards reform in this department of art, has fallen so short of what was expected from it some few years ago.

Messrs. Hardman and Messrs. Hart were, I believe, among the first who endeavoured to revive the principles of good design in connection with metal-work and ironmongery - an example which has since been followed by other manufacturers, who, like Messrs. Benham and Froud, have identified themselves with the specialite of mediaeval metal-work. The goods thus produced are infinitely superior to what is sold in the ordinary way of trade. From the most elaborate church-furniture down to the simplest article of domestic use, the work is solid and well executed. Instead of the vulgar cast-iron fenders and stove-fittings which are usually supplied for the domestic hearth, we have metal which has been wrought or punched into its legitimate form. The brass candlesticks and corona lamps, the 'closing-rings' and finger-plates, many of them treated with great elegance of design, are stoutly made and duly polished by machinery; whereas the meretricious sheen which we see on ordinary ware is the result of nothing but a coloured lacquer, which conceals the natural hue of the brass beneath it.

It may be wondered why, with establishments of this kind in London, the British public go on buying such trashy articles as are usually offered at the general ironmongers' - the sprawling chandeliers, the photographic coal-boxes, and Louis Quinze clocks in ormolu, which once passed muster as 'tasteful.' But here a delicate and difficult point arises. It is a question not only between good or bad taste, but between bad taste which is cheap, and good taste which is certainly somewhat dear. The manufacturers state they require a larger demand before they can lower their prices. The public say they must have more reasonable prices before they can afford to buy.

Meanwhile, an art from which much was expected at its late revival is allowed to remain in a state of stagnation. The examples which are produced for 'stock' year by year rarely improve in design. People have come to regard this modern dinanderie as something only fit for churches, or to suit the taste of young ladies whose ecclesiastical sentiment takes an aesthetic form. But, in point of fact, it ought to find its way into every household, and replace the absurdities which we have so long tolerated.

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