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Bill-head of Jonathan Collet, Glass Cutter, Pall, Mall, Charing Cross

This is an example of a conventional bill-head, distinguished by the rectangular plate. engraved lettering 'Bought of...' (often abbreviated to 'Bot. of...'). The plate would be printed at the very top of a sheet to leave enough room for the invoice and signature line below.

This bill was issued in 1767 from the shop of Jonathan Collet, 'successor to the late Thomas Betts', one of London's leading glass cutters, who had died in 1765. It was common for both trade cards and bill heads to include information about a shop owner's predecessors, to reassure customers that a business was carrying on as normal (for more information on trade cards, click here). It was especially important if the predecessor had a good reputation. Collet took over Betts's business and married his widow, Anne Charlotte, the same year. Collet did well out of the marriage, inheriting all Anne's wealth from her first husband, a shop on Cockspur Street opposite Pall Mall, a house and water mill at Lewisham, an extensive cutting workshop including stock and tools and, as importantly, Betts's good reputation. Betts had earned an estimated £5000 per year, and could boast a long list of royal and aristocratic patrons. The marriage brought him suffient wealth to petition parliament for a divorce, a prohibitely expensive business before the Divorce law of 1857. The case was heard on 20 June 1770, where Anne was charged with several cases of adultery ('particularly with a man in a meadow dressed in a scarlet or red coat') and found guilty.

Cut glass became a luxury industry in the early eighteenth century, first in the perfection of items of tableware and then in the manufacture of chandeliers. English glass cutters (or 'scallopers' as they were first known) benefitted from developments in glass production, namely coal-fuelled furnaces that produced much higher temperatures, and the introduction of lead oxide into glass production, making the end result more stable and lustrous. The reflective and refractive properties of cut glass helped to illuminate large rooms. Objects produced by glass cutters became more ambitious, culminating in the production of grand chandeliers, which incorporated latest developments in the craft, such as curved arms and hanging ornaments to bring movement to the structure as the drops turned and winked in the flickering candlelight.

© Bath and North East Somerset Council

In 1771 Collet received a prestigious commercial commission from the Assembly Rooms in Bath to produce five chandeliers for their new Ball Room. Unfortunately vibrations from the sprung floors caused some of the arms to weaken and fall to the floor, one of which was reported to have narrowly missed Thomas Gainsborough. After protracted negotiations, the Assembly Rooms eventually agreed to keep the largest forty-eight-light chandelier, but moved it to safer quarters. The image to the right shows the surviving object in situ the Card Room (now called the Octagon Room).

Collet's business went from strength to strength. Neither the very public divorce case nor the Assembly Room disaster seem to have hindered him greatly. In 1780 his business was described in trade directories and newspaper advertisements as a 'glass warehouse' or 'Magazin de Bijoux'. However the firm selected to produce replacement chandeliers for Bath Assembly Rooms, that of William Parker, became the first word in elegance. Parker's neo-classical chandeliers with tapering arms surpassed in current taste Collet's outmoded, bulkier forms with their trumpet stems and spherical central pieces. One of Parker's best documented commissions is the four pairs of candelabra produced for the the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, around 1782-83.

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