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Newspaper Article: Beware Sorrento Ware

IF YOU discover a nice piece of Tunbridge ware going for a song, it was probably made in Sorrento.

This sun kissed Italian town still produces little boxes attractively veneered in wood mosaic, while in rain-soaked Tunbridge Wells the art has been forgotten for a generation.

So it is not surprising that there is quite a lot of Sorrento are around, and, naturally enough, many people confuse it with Tunbridge ware. But it can be a costly mistake.

Expert Derel Roberts of Tonbridge says: "We always get Sorrento ware brought to us by people who think it is Tunbridge ware.

"A lot is offered to us by dealers who don't realise the difference between the two."

Unfortunately, one is only worth half the price of the other and specialists like Mr. Roberts won't handle the Italian mosaic.

He says: "I keep one example of Sorrento in the shop so I can point out the differences to consumers. For instance, the quality is never as good as Tunbridge ware. Also the Italians use artificial colours like reds, blues and bright greens which we never did."

Strangely, Sorrento and Tunbridge wares evolved at about the same time – the beginning of the 19th century.

Just why the two towns began adorning novelties and gifts with intricate wood pictures is not clear.

In the Tunbridge area, the souvenir industry had played an important role ever since the wells were discovered a few miles down the road in the 1630s.

But the industry was given a tremendous boost with the advent of Tunbridge ware.

The technique was to build up a picture of different colours and grain–rather like paintings by numbers.

The strips were glued together into blocks, which were then cut across – like slicing a loaf – to produce thin sheets of patterned wood.

These veneers were applied to a great many objects including octagonal snap-top tables (about £500); Regency style work tables (around £900); musical instruments like najos (£700); tea caddies (as much as £250) and all manner of small boxes (from £10 to £100).

The earliest designed were of oak leaves and peacock features, soon followed by pictures of animals and then local buildings like Eridge castle and Penshurst Place.

Framed pictures of the famous Pantiles at Tunbridge Wells can be worth up to £150.

The value of Tunbridge ware depends mainly on size and detail. The largest views views contain up to 40,000 pieces of wood.

But remember, damaged Tunbridge ware is worth very little....unless you can find someone in Sorrento to repair it!

Sorrento ware article