Sunday, March 06, 2016

Local Fleur-de-lis

Weather: We’ve entered the killing season when the days are unusually warm, the nights still below freezing, winds on some days, and the only moisture in the air water that has been sucked from the ground; last snow 2/23.

What’s blooming: Some apricots have started to bloom. More men were out pruning their apples this past week.

What’s coming up: More cheat grass visible along the road sides.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, gold finches; crickets and earthworms active.

Weekly update: Conventional fleurs-de-lis were less common in my mother’s collection of cutlery than were the variations within the motif mentioned in my last post. When they did appear, it usually was to solve a technical problem.

Three metals have been used to mass produce flatware: sterling silver, copper with a thin silver veneer, and stainless steel. Each has its own internal atomic structures that are modified by other elements added as alloys. Ricci Argentieri says sterling is "very pliable and lends itself to intricate designs," while the hardness of stainless limits it to simple designs.

Silver plating was first done in Sheffield, England, after Thomas Boulsover discovered how to merge silver and copper in 1743 with heat. The use of chemistry to electroplate copper with silver began with the work of Alessandro Volta in 1800. George Elkington applied the scientific discoveries to manufacturing in Birmingham in 1840. When English manufacturers tried to stop attempts to introduce the processes into this county by lowering their prices, John Russell introduced automation in the 1860s.

Silver plate had the malleability of copper, which is slightly harder than silver, but could still retain detailed impressions from dies. I suspect the manufacturing problems came from finding designs that took the plating on all their surfaces. Ezekiel James says designs carrying the William Rogers name were simplified after it was merged into International Silver in 1898, no doubt to lower manufacturing costs.

My mother had a spoon on which the plain surfaces became scratched with use. The border with four-petaled flowers is at the end of the handle. Parallel grooves were used to separate that area from the central section. Rather than end the design area with a point, a design motif was used that rounded the area. I suspect that was because a point was a potentially difficult area to plate uniformly, and therefore likely to chip or wear away.

The particular motif was a fleur-de-lis simply because it was familiar. It was widely used as a small pattern that could be repeated on fabrics or in stone. More important, it was used in iron work where its durability was proven.

The primary reason fences exist is to keep people or animals in or out. Sharp points were used at the top before barbed wire to keep invaders from going over the top. Wooden pickets were no problem, but iron rusted.

Pointed caps were installed which served the same purpose, but could be replaced without replacing the fence. Buckingham palace installed gilded fleurs-de-lis that had three points in 1911. The application, which existed before, has been much copied. The parts are easily available to modern fence builders.

Here in the valley fleur-de-lis finials are used on railings that top lava stone walls. Iron isn’t as pliable as silver or copper, so the reinforcing between bars is done with scrolls.

One local gate uses short vertical bars between the main bars in the lower section to keep out larger dogs. The rods are topped by fleur-de-lis painted the same color as the iron bars.

The other place you see fleurs-de-lis is on the iron rails constructed around graves in the local cemeteries. The one on display at Larry’s Auto not only has gilded finials but the cross in the center of one end uses the motif in repeating patterns in the four arms.

Like the name fleur-de-lis, which many have tried to trace, the use of a flower symbol on local garden walls is neither coincidence nor deliberate. To say it’s merely the continuation of a number of cultural preferences is to understate the importance of inherited traditions.

James, Ezekiel. "How to Date Rogers Silver," ehow website.

Ricci Argentieri Company. "Flatware Care and Maintenance," company website.

1. Spoon handle, back side, "H, Wm Rogers Mfg Co, Original Rogers," purchased in Michigan in the 1960s.

2. Iris in my yard, 17 May 2009; two falls are still horizontal and resemble the classic fleur-de-lis form.

3. Same as #1, front side which reverses the direction of the fleur-de-lis.

4. Local iron fence with pickets.

5. "Fence with fleur-de-lis on Buckingham Palace in London," uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, April 2006, by Gryffindor. Fence was designed by Ashton Webb and manufactured by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts in 1911. The gilding is actual gold, which lasts about 30 years.

6. Local iron railing on lava stone wall with fleur-de-lis on top.

7. Local iron gate with fleur-de-lis in lower section.

8-9. Cemetery railing, displayed at Larry’s Auto Sales, Riverside at the intersection with the road to Chimayó. Fleur-de-lis are at the four corners. They are solid forms in the four arms of cross, and repeated in the filigree extensions of the arms.

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