Monday, 25 February 2013

Halcyon Days - An Appreciation

If you've visited the shop recently, your eye may have been drawn to the colourful and lively details of my extensive display of Halcyon Days enamel boxes. They reflect a myriad of tastes and styles celebrating the work of artists, historical events, the reigns of monarchs, ranging from the song lyrics of the Beatles to the image of Baroness Thatcher; suiting a wide variety of occasions from birthdays and anniversaries to a simple but heartfelt thank you or a memento of time shared.

Founded by Susan Benjamin Halcyon Days began as a small antique shop in on Avery Row in London which specialised in 18th and 19th century trinkets and antiques in particular small enamel Keepsake boxes. Due the popularity and rarity of these boxes Susan decided to revive the craft of enamelling on copper and inspired by her visits to the vast collection of 18th century enamels at the Victoria and Albert Museum, she started to design her own keepsake boxes.

In 1970 The Queen Mother commissioned a box with an image of Clarence House and thereafter Halcyon Days has been a popular gift choice for the Royal Family. In 1989, Margaret Thatcher gave Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev the gift of a specially commissioned box. According to a Japanese site advertising the rare "Flying Scotsman 80th Anniversary box" John Major also gave a commissioned box as a wedding anniversary present to Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako.

Princess Diana was both an avid collector and giver of Halcyon Days boxes. Both her and Prince Charles commissioned small editions to give on royal tours, and she continued to do on her own official visits. According to a listing from Cheffins Auction House on March 19, 2003, from a collection of royal memorabilia that were part of the estate of a royal servant: "H.R.H. The Princess of Wales. Seven Halcyon Days enamel gift boxes, 6 with printed inscription inside lid “Presented by Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales”, commemorating tours to Nepal, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Tokyo, Hungary, and Lille and Paris, all in original blue box with crowned “D” monogram on upper cover; and one gift box with printed inscription inside lid “A Royal Fashion Gala, The Ritz, Madrid 22nd April 1987”, 3cm, all in original blue boxes decorated with The Prince of Wales's feathers"

Pieces have also been made in collaboration with the British Museum, the Tate and the National Gallery and Smithsonian Institutions. Halcyon Days also holds all three Royal Warrants as Suppliers of Objets d'Art and was a part of the prestigious Buckingham Palace Coronation Festival.

According to Cheryl M McCants Enamels site: "One-third of the collection is retired each season to make room for over 120 new designs introduced annually. Including corporate and other special commissions, Susan Benjamin created over 6,300 unique pieces since 1970."

Halcyon Days was sold in 2001 to Alessandro F. Uzielli the current owner, who paid tribute to Susan's "enthusiasm for this unique craft was infectious as she guided me through its many complex stages" in his introduction to the Halcyon Days 2010 collection. She continued to design special enamels for the company after retiring and she died in August 2010 aged 89, this Telegraph obituary has much more on her very interesting and varied career are here, it's well worth a read.



I love my collection of Halcyon Days boxes because not only are they a reflection and a celebration of the changing times they also serve as a personal memory of the times when I have made a selection for the shop, like a beautifully decorated diary. Collecting a Halcyon Days piece does that to you.

My favourite pieces are the Post Box because it is, like a lot of the collection, quintessentially British. The City landmark boxes, particularly the one with the London eye and the London Skyline box makes me nostalgic for London. The box that features Prince Albert's Dog Eos is so rich in colour and has some lovely stories behind it. I also like many of the boxes with messages on. One of my favourites is 'I only play golf on days that end in Y". Also the recent Kingfisher collection is so detailed and so colourful.

Everyone in the shop has a fondness for Everlasting Love and its organic Deco/Nouveau style and the message boxes are also popular with us all - there's something for everyone in the collection, male and female, young and old, they are a charming token of appreciation.

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