Why Derbyshire Blue John is proving red-hot with collectors right now…
Derbyshire Blue John sounds like it could be a highly-fashionable type of cat or dog, or even a rare breed of cattle. However, you wouldn’t want any of those sitting on your coffee table or mantelpiece! What would look suitably cool and classy though would be a stylish antique urn, ornament, or even a piece of standout jewellery. Derbyshire Blue John is a semi-precious mineral that’s a beautiful form of fluorite. Its purple-blue or yellow bands of colour create striking patterns in the rock. These colours give the material its French name ‘bleu jaune’ – Blue John.
The use of the mineral became increasingly popular in the second half of the eighteenth century when it was mined for its value in ornamental pieces. Despite being notoriously fragile to fashion, Blue John was used to create various objects such as urns and light fixtures, as well as fashionable decorative and architectural arrangements. Here in the UK, the material is found only at Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern at Castleton in Derbyshire. But with mining happening on a very small scale in modern times, it is extremely rare and highly collectable. Objects can be found to suit all tastes and pockets, starting from as little as £30. If you’re after something truly dramatic you’ll need much deeper pockets – top items can go for prices in the region of £30,000. Some of the best of these will be previewed at the Antiques for Everyone Summer Fair that takes place at the NEC from 23 to 26 July. The 250 piece plus collection is being displayed prior to an auction in October in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
Among the highest quality pieces are the neo-classical style ornaments which reached their height of popularity in the Jane Austen period of the late 1700s. It’s likely that Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane Austen’s hero in Pride and Prejudice, would have had a collection of Blue John at his fictional country estate Pemberley as it was based on Chatsworth in Derbyshire – just a few miles away from the hills above Castleton where the mineral was mined. Regency Classicism includes some of the finest original Blue John pieces ever produced, several executed by the renowned Regency manufacturer, Matthew Boulton. They include a fabulous rare ormolu-mounted three-branch candelabrum using Blue John as its base with branches fashioned like lily stems.
Another prized ormolu-mounted Blue John chalice has three Egyptian caryatids at its base, probably after a design by William Chambers, while a museum-quality ormolu-mounted Blue John urn and cover with typical Classical motifs, featuring scroll handles and acanthus leaf decoration so popular in this period, is yet another of his masterpieces. It’s a sobering thought that a mineral mined by hand in the Derbyshire hills has become such an attraction today to collectors and dealers from across the UK and overseas.