Tradesmen's Christmas gifts

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Christmas gifts


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This article by Betty Jean was first published in the 1985 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


In what are now spoken of as the good old days, many Jersey tradesmen gave their regular customers at Christmas a gift of china marked with the donor's name. One finds among these articles the names Bouchere, Samson, Le Feuvre, Bower, Alexandre, Le Brocq, Lowen, Morrisey, Syvret, Le Cheminant, Voisin, Cooper and the writer's namesake Jean, and there are probably others that have not yet come to light.

Victorian origins

This practice seems to have started just before the turn of the century, and continued into the 1930s, when less durable items began to replace chinaware. Little appears to have been published on the subject, and this article is written mainly from the writer's extensive collection of 85 different pieces. The numbers of each item issued annually is not known, and must have varied considerably, as some pieces are still very common while others are very scarce indeed.

Oil merchants

The oil merchant, E F Bouchere, of Elizabeth Street, Georgetown, was the largest oil importer of his day and his three horsedrawn wagons toured the countryside selling paraffin, lamps, wicks and household goods. He is believed to have supplied La Corbiere Lighthouse with oil and for some time at least one of his vans carried a model of the lighthouse atop the oil-carrying tank.

From 1898 to 1913 he gave a plate or a jug, usually of German make, fashioned in fine white china or porcelain, depiciting in colour a wide variety of fruit and flowers, with a scalloped edge bordered in gold. Across the front of each plate in black were the words 'With E F Bouchere's compliments'. The date completed a very attractive piece of china which made a most welcome gift. Although for most years pieces of identical design were given, 1908 saw a total of nine plates, each with a different transfer, and in 1909 three jugs appeared, depicting children dressed in adult clothes representing the Courtship, the Engagement and the Wedding. Another jug, presented in 1902, the year of Edward VII's coronation, featured a portrait of the King with Queen Alexandra.

E Morrisey was another oil merchant, with premises in Dorset Street, who gave plates. These were of a heavier English china with pink roses and green leaves around the edge and Morrisey's name on the reverse in small black lettering. Jugs similar to those issued by Bouchere were also given, but with different transfers of hunting scenes or a design of cherubs. All these pieces are dated from 1905 to 1909.

A third oil merchant was Samson, whose red motor vans continued to circulate in the island until well after the Second World War. His earliest gifts were large fruit bowls of various designs in heavy shades of green relieved by chrysanthemums or roses or a posy of simple flowers, with the rims embellished in gold and the name J A Samson on the back.

A quite different design of Samson's showed the traditional willow pattern in the usual blue with a gold rim. Unfortunately, none of these plates was dated. Later pieces, dating from the 1930s, were of a different type, much lighter in design and made of a very white china with hand-painted flowers or cherries in a French style.

More tradesmen's gifts

Grocery shops

Some of the small country grocery shops also gave similar gifts. Frank Jean, of Leoville Stores, presented his customers with various interesting items, the earliest and most unusual for that time being a very large calendar for 1900 depicting Field Marshal Lord Roberts on a fine white charger surrounded by pictures of the other British commanders of the Boer War. A footnote on this calendar adds 'St Ouen in the South African War was represented at the front by Sapper W P Brideaux RE, with Buller's force at the relief of Ladysmith etc, and by Able Seaman George Williams, HMS Powerful, with the Naval Brigade besieged in Ladysmith'.

A pretty plate, dated 1904, with brown and orange flowers around the border and Jean's name in fancy orange letters in the centre came from the same shop. In 1910 a large green plate with pink roses was presented, and 1911 saw a splendid white china jug with a portrait of King George V and Queen Mary, the reverse carrying in black letters 'With F G Jean's compliments'.

An attractive large pink fruit bowl was given in 1913, followed in 1914 by a white plate proudly showing the Allied flags.

Leoville Stores was eventually taken over by H P Alexandre who, in 1928, gave a white plate with a blue border. Later the shop's new owner, L Bower, continued the custom with a plate in orange and blue with birds and flowers, dated 1932. His plates dated 1934 and 1935 depart from the customary designs by depicting, respectively, a rural cottage and garden scene, and a stylised Arabian composition.

Perhaps the most attractive piece in the writer's collection is a beautiful fine white china teapot much decorated with gold lettering. From the same shop came a pair of opaline glass vases embossed with hand-painted white flowers and marked 'A F Le Brocq, Western Stores, St Peters' and a pale cream plate with roses with the name in black on the reverse, but like the teapot, all undated.

In 1937 S G Syvret, who kept a shop at St Mary, gave to his customers a fruit bowl with a design of yellow and orange flowers and green leaves. An undated plate with a Christmas motif, the gift of T J Lowen, of Belmont Supply Stores in Belmont Road, is an especially attractive item. Cooper & Company, the tea and coffee merchants, gave a variety of items; metal caddy spoons in the shape of a teapot, and several china plates, undated but in typical 1930s designs.

King Street

Although not coming under the heading of Christmas gifts, but a valued part of the collection, are a number of plates issued by Voisin & Company of King Street. They are of a cream-coloured pottery with the name of the shop around the rim in various colours, while a map of Jersey with the place names in French covers the centre. These plates are undated but are believed to have been made for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. An even earlier plate had Voisin's shop front in the centre and was possibly issued at the time of the Golden Jubilee. If this is so, they are the earliest items in the collection. A third Voisin plate was of white china bearing the Jersey Coat of Arms flanked by the Union and the Jersey flags, once again undated but perhaps issued for some other royal occasion.

Another King Street trader was Le Cheminant, whose red-painted shop was at Number 40. His customers were offered, although it is not known when, a miniature two-handled urn in fine porcelain with a map of Jersey, and a lovely bowl in Limoges porcelain. This fine piece is in an attractive shade of pink and decorated with poppies and gold daisies.

Similar items issued by a number of Guernsey shops have found their way into the collection, but this custom of bestowing gifts on their customers would seem to have been peculiar to the Channel Islands as all enquiries about it on the mainland have so far proved fruitless.

The following is a list of all the traders in Jersey known to have produced chinaware gifts for their customers. It is not necessarily complete and further examples and new names could well reward the diligent searcher.

H P Alexandre, St Ouen (1928) grocer - plate E F Bouchere, St Saviour (1898-1909) oil merchant - jugs and plates A H Bouchere, St Saviour (1913) oil merchant - jug L Bower, St Ouen (1932-38) grocer - jug and plates Cooper and Company, St Helier (1930s) tea merchant - plates F G Jean, St Ouen (1900-14) grocer - jugs, plates and calendar A F Le Brocq, St Peter (undated) grocer, teapot, vase and plate W Le Cheminant, St Helier (undated) Photographic dealer - plate and urn Le Feuvre Brothers, St Peter (1898) grocer - jug T J Lowen, St Helier (undated) grocer - plate E Morrisey, St Helier (1905-09) oil merchant - jugs and plates J A Samson, St Helier (undated) oil merchant - bowls and plates A P Samson, St Helier (1932-38) oil merchant - bowls and plates S C Syvret, St Mary (1937) grocer - bowl Voisin and Company, St Helier (undated) department store - plates

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