Monday, August 27, 2018


Jones the entrance

Threshold mosaics were common in shops in the early-20th century. These shops often had a doorway recessed in a small lobby, and the mosaic on the floor was a way of reinforcing the owner’s identity – another kind of advertising, if you like, to add to the name on the shopfront and the display in the window. Now customers and passers-by can enjoy them as charming bits of craftsmanship or as useful historical clues to the past owners of shop premises.

I have to say, though, that I don’t know who the Jones was who had this shop in the centre of Hereford. He or she* has long gone, but their mosaic remains, framed by the rich green tiles of the curving stall risers on either side. The mosaic isn’t in the best condition – it’s a shame about that crack, and the missing tesserae† – and perhaps the person who made it wasn’t the most accomplished mosaicist: I’ve seen other examples where all the ‘blank’ tesserae are laid in staggered courses, like a perfect brick bond. But there’s still much to enjoy, from the multicoloured border to the stylish lettering.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that it’s the lettering that caught my attention.¶ The N, with its curving cross-stroke, and the very curly J are my favourites. To create these, with tiny bits of stone or tile, would have taken plenty of art and effort, as did the serifs present on some letters, and as did the outline tesserae – look at the way the black line of the O is followed by the white pieces that surround it.

If threshold mosaics like this are modest compared to the work of master artists like Boris Anrep and the mosaicists with whom he worked, they still show their share of flair. They deserve to be noticed as we step over them or walk past, as reminders of a time when shopkeepers built their names into their premises in the hope that their businesses and their reputations would prosper and endure through the generations.

- - - - -

* Probably a he, but businesswomen’s names are sometimes concealed behind the gender-neutral initials of a shop sign. Did you know that the H. Samuel of the famous jewellery chain was a woman?

† Tesserae: the small individual pieces of stone or other material that make up a mosaic.

¶ Am I predictable, or am I predictable?

1 comment:

marlane said...

Hereford is the town where I was born. Nostalgic because I have lived in the USA for many years. Of course I have never noticed this doorway mosaic. Bur it is an amazing piece of work and thanks for pointing out the craftsmanship involved.