Noticing Toleware

by Annabel Bird

We are all familiar with the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, also known as the Frequency Illusion, although most of us won’t know it under that name. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is where we notice or are told something that piques our curiosity (whether consciously or unconsciously) and after we’ve noticed it, the item or word seemingly starts to appear everywhere.

This often happens when someone is thinking about buying a new car and starts seeing that make of car everywhere. For me, recently, it has been about Bobbin Bikes, white skinny jeans and toleware.

I first came across toleware in the form of an enormous botanical lamp at the home of Rita Konig, for whom I work. Many people will be familiar with this light from pictures of Rita’s well publicised Manhattan apartment. Curiosity piqued, I did some research and found out that it is toleware. And now I keep coming across the stuff with surprising regularity.

We might also have come across British toleware in the form of black, painted serving trays like this Regency Pontypool Tray which dates from around 1800.

Toleware was also popular in France during the same period, in particular in the production of Bouillotte Lights. Bouillotte is a French gambling card game similar to poker. The Bouillotte lamp consisted of a number of candlesticks (usually four) with a central standard holding a toleware shade. The shade shielded the card players’ eyes from the glare of the light and would be moved up and down according to the length of the candles. Fabric shades on candles are of course not a very good idea so a painted tin shade was the perfect alternative.

Personally, I find much of the original toleware a bit dark and old fashioned and I am drawn more to the French toleware lights of the mid-20th Century. These lights come in an incredible array of colours and shapes but are almost always floral in design. The lights teeter on the brink of kitsch and as with anything interiors-wise it’s all about the mix as one can definitely have too much of a good thing. But they are pretty, intricate and unusual and can add an often desperately needed jolt of eccentricity and fun to an interior.

Whether or not toleware is to your taste I guarantee you will now start seeing it everywhere, whether you want to or not!