Late Georgian seal fob depicting an early steam locomotive

  • A late Georgian seal fob with a remarkably early depiction of a steam locomotive in intaglio.

    The first steam locomotive was completed in 1804 by the Cornish engineer Roger Trevithick, who demonstrated it at the Penydarren ironworks in Wales during February of that year. In 1813 Matthew Murray designed the first commercially successful engine, the Salamanca, for the Middleton Railway in Leeds. These and similar early locomotives were primitive in design and used only for industrial purposes on private rail lines. It was not until 1825 that the engineer Stephen Darlington built the Locomotion engine for the Stockton and Darlington line, making it the first public steam railway, and by 1830 the design of locomotives had evolved into what we now recognise as the classic steam train form.

    The engine on this seal resembles several of the early locomotives, such as the Salamanca, with their workaday cart bodies, spoked wheels, and tall, thin smokestacks. We have been unable to match the image precisely with a known example, and some artistic license may have been involved — the smokestack here is unusually small and may have been compressed to better fit the stone. The body of the fob is made from the gold substitute pinchbeck, which was popular among the middling classes at this time, and the seal is a cut-glass intaglio in the style made fashionable by James Tassie during the late 18th century. The style and materials both point to a date in the 1810s, or perhaps the 20s, making this a particularly early representation of a steam locomotive. The relatively inexpensive materials make it likely that this fob reflects a burgeoning interest in this new technology among members of the general public, many years before passenger rail was a common aspect of British life. A wonderfully evocative piece and a rare survival.

  • England, c. 1810-1830.

    250 x 150 mm. Copper/zinc alloy seal fob set with a clear glass intaglio depicting an early steam locomotive. With a new, 20-inch gold-filled chain and housed in a gift box. Light wear commensurate with age and use, including some scratching on the seal face.

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