Elephants on your dinner table – looking at an old trade catalogue

Librarian Christine Kiddey browses for jelly moulds and other assorted household items in a trade catalogue from 1850.

What do you do with all those trade catalogues and advertisements that come through your letterbox? You probably glance through them and throw them out. But imagine someone looking at those same catalogues a century and a half from now – they’ll be a fascinating view of a bygone age.

That’s what old trade catalogues are now – a window on to the past. Te Aka Matua (Te Papa’s Research Library) possesses a copy of the catalogue put out by J.H.Hopkins & Son, Wholesale Tin & Plate Workers and Japanners in General. (Japanning refers to the use of a heavy lacquer-like paint). Their firm was located in Birmingham, and the catalogue probably dates from the 1850s.

For all your metal needs

It clearly aimed to provide every metal object that the Victorian household could possibly want, including umbrella stands, ink stands, sandwich boxes, tartlet cutters, spice boxes, deed boxes, cheese toasters, egg coddlers, tureens, lanterns, candlesticks, knife dippers, ale warmers, dressing cases, and every kind of pot and pan.

Cover page of catalogue

Cover page of catalogue for J.H.Hopkins & Son, wholesale tin and plate workers and japanners in general; Granville Street Works, Broad Street, Birmingham, 1850, Birmingham, by J.H.Hopkins & Son, Swan Brothers. Te Papa (RB001290)

Oddments from catalogue

Oddments from catalogue for J.H.Hopkins & Son, wholesale tin and plate workers and japanners in general; Granville Street Works, Broad Street, Birmingham, 1850, Birmingham, by J.H.Hopkins & Son, Swan Brothers. Te Papa (RB001290)

The Improved Recumbent Shower Bath, with pump, curtains, etc. (large, richly japanned) cost £6.15.0. That’s the equivalent of about £395 or NZ$766 in modern currency. A more modest hip bath (japanned oak outside, marble inside) could be bought for 24/- (large) – about £70 or NZ$135.

Shower from catalogue

Shower from catalogue for J.H.Hopkins & Son, wholesale tin and plate workers and japanners in general; Granville Street Works, Broad Street, Birmingham, 1850, Birmingham, by J.H.Hopkins & Son, Swan Brothers. Te Papa (RB001290)

In spite of the variety of products it’s clear what was really, really important for the Victorian housewife. Teapots and coffee pots came in dozens of different designs, and each design was available in a variety of different sizes. A plain model might cost 1/9d. for a 1 1/2 pint version, moving up to 1/10d. for an 8-pint version.

If something more upmarket was required then the Albert Coffee Pot could be purchased from 4/6d. (2 pints) to 6/6d. (6 pints). Another sixpence added a fancy knob to the lid. Along with the teapots and coffee cups came cream jugs, sugar basins (with or without lids), and urns.

Pots from catalogue

Pots from catalogue for J.H.Hopkins & Son, wholesale tin and plate workers and japanners in general; Granville Street Works, Broad Street, Birmingham, 1850, Birmingham, by J.H.Hopkins & Son, Swan Brothers. Te Papa (RB001290)

Jelly moulds from catalogue

Jelly moulds from catalogue for J.H.Hopkins & Son, wholesale tin and plate workers and japanners in general; Granville Street Works, Broad Street, Birmingham, 1850, Birmingham, by J.H.Hopkins & Son, Swan Brothers. Te Papa (RB001290)

A world of jelly moulds

The other item that was obviously dear to the heart of the Victorian housewife was the jelly mould. Jellies and aspics are not fashionable today, but in the past they were often spectacular dishes. (Look at these examples to see just how decorative they could be).

Victorian jellies in particular were often spectacular, multicoloured, and elaborately shaped. Our catalogue lists over a hundred different moulds, in tin and copper, many of them in several different sizes. If you wanted something more than an elaborate sandcastle-like shape, you could choose moulds with decorative fruit, flowers, or vegetables.

If you fancied something more active, then you could opt for chickens, doves, or hedgehogs. Something more assertive? Our catalogue offered moulds adorned with lions, elephants, eagles, or porcupines.

Elephant from catalogue

Elephant from catalogue for J.H.Hopkins & Son, wholesale tin and plate workers and japanners in general; Granville Street Works, Broad Street, Birmingham, 1850, Birmingham, by J.H.Hopkins & Son, Swan Brothers. Te Papa (RB001290)

2 Responses

  1. adele

    love the elephant reminds me on a Antiques Roadshow from UK the other week, they had a person bring in chocolate moulds from the 1800s… so interesting, all sizes and animals.. I have an old Copper mould, plus plastic ones of rabbits and the odd glass ones, always promised myself would make a rabbit jelly, go back to my childhood!!!

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Adele, you should definitely make yourself a rabbit jelly! Preferably a layered one, so it’s a multi-coloured rabbit. Christine

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