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will be sold at Christies in New York in December as part of the sale of Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery and effects.

Why may Jane Austen have admired it? Because it is made of 18th and early to mid 19th century ivory theatre tokens.( Well, in truth she may not have admired it at all, but it gives me an opportunity  to talk about theatre tokens with you, and you do remember how much I love the theatre of this period!)

Theatre tokens were used instead of paper tickets: paper was expensive and so permanent tickets in the form of these tokens were the preferred way of keeping track of the paying customers. They paid for their ticket, or token, and then surrendered them to the doorkeeper on the day of the performance. Above is a drawing of some metal tokens for the gallery at Drury Lane Theatre in London issued in 1790. It was, of course in the Lobby at Drury Lane where Sir John Middleton harangued Willoughby for his treatment of Marianne Dashwood in Chapter 44 of Sense and Sensibility :

“Last night, in Drury-lane lobby, I ran against Sir John Middleton, and when he saw who I was (for the first time these two months) he spoke to me. That he had cut me ever since my marriage, I had seen without surprise or resentment. Now, however, his good-natured, honest, stupid soul, full of indignation against me, and concern for your sister, could not resist the temptation of telling me what he knew ought to though probably he did not think it would , vex me horridly. As bluntly as he could speak it, therefore, he told me that Marianne Dashwood was dying of a putrid fever at Cleveland — a letter that morning received from Mrs. Jennings declared her danger most imminent — the Palmers all gone off in a fright, etc. I was too much shocked to be able to pass myself off as insensible, even to the undiscerning Sir John. His heart was softened in seeing mine suffer; and so much of his ill-will was done away, that when we parted, he almost shook me by the hand while he reminded me of an old promise about a pointer puppy…

I’m sure Sir John would have and a token such as these, though no doubt his would have been for a box, and would most probably have been ivory likes the ones in the necklace. Base metal was used for the lesser value seats, while those in the boxes or more expensive seats would have had tokens made from ivory. If you go here you can see the type of ivory token used for admission to the stalls at Drury Lane , now in the collection of the British Museum.

This photograph shows the reverse of the tokens. The necklace was first owned by the magnificent Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head. Elizabeth Taylor knew her from the time they both worked at MGM studios, and they had a very close and friendly relationship. apparently Dame Elizabeth was very taken with the necklace and Edith Head promised to leave it to her in her will. And she did.

It will be sold along with other items from Dame Elizabeth’s jewellery collection in New York on the 13th and 14th December to benefit the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation. I’d love to buy it but  I think that the sale estimate of $2,000 is going to be exceeded many times over. Owning the catalogues are my consolation!

It now forms part

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