Long before the advent of Antiques Roadshow, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a fanatic for anything antique, and together with a small group of friends, he pursued his hobby. Rossetti's collection of fine china "was one of the first of its kind in England."
It was Rossetti's utmost delight to drive round in a cab, loading it with china and brass and carved oak picked out from the litter of second-hand furniture shops and pawnbrokers (Waugh, 118).
I guess Saturday afternoon antiquing is nothing new! What I found especially amusing though is that Rossetti loved to get together
When one of this elect little circle had made a particular "find," invitations were sent out and a dinner-party would be given. Then the new pot would be uncovered and its owner would be triumphant until the next discovery (Waugh 119).
It was at one of these little get togethers that Rossetti managed to humiliate himself in a most amusing way. I really enjoyed this story because most of the time, the amusing anecdotes are about William Morris, who was the butt of a great many jokes. Nevertheless, on this occasion it was Rossetti who managed to embarrass himself.
Rossetti's infamous agent, Charles Augustus Howell, was a bit of a Victorian celebrity. Today he is probably most famous for ordering that Rossetti's wife, Elizabeth Siddal, be exhumed so that Rossetti's poetry could be recovered. But in his own time, Howell was at the centre of numerous scandals, the most infamous of which was his collaboration in Felice Orsini's plot to assassinate Napoleon III. In addition to these adventurous exploits, Howell was also a voracious collector of blue china.
One day, Howell invited Rossetti and some friends over to see a spectacular piece of Nankin blue china that he'd picked up at a London shop. Rossetti was green with envy, and decided to have his revenge on Howell by stealing the plate and cleverly replacing it with an old piece of delft blue that was the same size and shape.
Rossetti held a dinner party of his own the next day. He brought out a box containing his prize and peeled away the layers of carefully wrapped paper to reveal...
A chipped delft blue plate.
Apparently, Howell had been aware of Rossetti's plot the entire time, and had switched his own plate for the broken delft. I don't think Rossetti was used to being on the losing end of a practical joke!
In addition to his penchant for china, Rossetti collected oak furniture and musical instruments “solely for their design and as properties for his pictures; he never showed any interest in music.” Rossetti also had a passion for all things Japanese, and really led the way for the oriental craze of the later 19th century.
Source consulted: Evelyn Waugh. Rossetti and his Circle. London: The Folcroft Press, 1969