Most shops can be described as ‘maximal spaces’, and this is why I try to avoid featuring them on my blog – my fear is that one day I might spend hours taking photographs in Asda! This week, I decided to make an exception, after finding a shop which, like South Downs Heritage Centre, is 75% shop and 25% museum.
Shipton & Co are a high quality chain of jewellers, founded in 1870. Since this time, the business has been passed down through generations, with the current Managing Director being the great, great grandson of the company’s founder, Albert Edward Shipton.
Moments after entering the Hastings branch, located just a few doors down from Arthur Green’s, I was struck by the range of objects on display. Unlike your average jewellery shop, this space is filled with beautiful old display cases that house carefully-crafted trinkets – some available for purchase and some to be appreciated in this space alone.
As I started to browse the shop, one group of objects immediately caught my eye. Reflecting in the bright sunlight was a display of pictures typified by a vibrant blue background, and strong black outline. I have to admit that I have never seen anything like these striking images before. The thin glass and heavy outline were vaguely reminiscent of magic lantern slides, but on closer inspection (and with a few clues from the shop owner), I soon realised that the folded skirts of children, dazzling blue skies of beach scenes and tropical blue oceans, were in fact made from butterfly wings.
And so began a process of internal questioning. My initial thought was: is it possible to find something beautiful if it is the result of cruelty? To be honest, butterfly pictures and similarly constructed pendants are morbid. After a little research, I soon found out that most of the butterflies used to make products in Europe were actually farmed. My friend, who joined me on this visit, was similarly uncertain about her appreciation of these curiosities, consistently coming back to the same conclusion: they are beautiful though. I am still unsure how I feel. This sense of confusion was heightened, when I discussed the shop’s contents during a recent visit to my parent’s house. Following a hasty exit from the room, my mother reappeared with a butterfly pendant that had belonged to my grandmother. As she handed it to me, I began to wonder if I would ever wear it… I suspect not.
As with many ‘cruel’ antique or vintage objects, such as taxidermy animals and ivory carvings, time can distance our involvement. But the question of what animals, if any, it is acceptable to sacrifice for the sake of ornamentation, is one that would be answered differently from culture to culture. It goes well beyond the realms of this blog.
As well as these exotic and perplexing objects, Shipton and Co is also home to cases filled with exquisite precious stones. These attractive displays are so intricate in design that a great deal of time is required to examine every detail. Viewing the shop’s current stock alongside its historical collection enables one to gain a sense of shifting fashions and tastes. Whilst my visit provoked some uncomfortable thoughts, it was impossible not to admire the skilled craftsmanship that went into the production of every object on display.